Should the Dalai Lama step down from politics?

See Article: Electing a New Dalai Lama

In this article by exiled Tibetan writer and activist Jamyang Norbu, the issue of the Dalai Lama’s political role is discussed. He believes that the Dalai Lama should modify his role to that of a constitutional monarchy comparable to that of the King of Thailand’s. Jamyang explains that in this way “His Holiness need not be burdened with the routine problems of government or with the unpleasant squabbles and strife of political life, but still retain a constitutional role to advise perhaps even arbitrate, in the case of a major national crisis.”

The system we have now can in no way be regarded as a genuine democracy. The closest thing I can think of is Nepal’s former “panchayat” democracy. You can also quite safely compare it to those “managed” or “guided” democracies that you find in Russia, Zimbabwe, and other places in the third world.

Jamyang also believes that by giving full political power to the Tibetan people, this would in fact help in dealing with the eventual absence of the Dalai Lama by maintaining the hope and unity of Tibetans and averting a possible breakdown of the governmental system.

“…the promise of a true democratic Tibet will be an effective repudiation of repeated Chinese propaganda claims that Tibetan independence would mean a reversion to theocratic feudalism”

“…the early and effective implementation of a genuine democratic process in our exile-society becomes a clear proof to the Tibetan people of the Dalai Lama’s absolute sincerity in his commitment to democracy for Tibet”.

Jamyang believes that there are many Tibetans who wish to make their marks on Tibetan politics and make a difference in their society but he believes they are marginalized by the lack of the ability to truly effectuate change due to the lack of real power within the government. By giving real power to the Tibetan Government in Exile he believes this will help bolster the ranks of it’s current demoralized officials, who largely leave in large numbers to emigrate to the West.

“…the Kashag (the advisory board of the Tibetan government-in-exile) and the Assembly are marginalized in terms of real political power and have no meaningful role in formulation of national policy”.

The Tibetan people’s strong criticism of the current Tibetan government while praising the Dalai Lama is also said by Jamyang to be linked to the administration disregard by foreign officials who instead choose to deal directly with the Dalai Lama.

“Gradually the government has become marginalized and even Beijing has managed to add to this with its so-called “negotiation” that has created the impression that the Tibet issue is nothing but a personal matter of the Dalai Lama’s return”.

“…[during] the Gold Medal ceremony at Washington DC, it was observed that some front-row seats at the function were reserved for heads of Dharma centres in the West, such as Sogyal Rimpoche and Nyarakhentul Rimpoche. The Tibetans involved in the organizing had not even bothered to issue an invitation to the Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile, who I understand was finally instructed by Parliament to attend, and just managed to do so at the last minute.”

“If the Tibetan Parliament and Kashag continually become sidelined and trivialized, then the government-in-exile will almost certainly collapse when His Holiness is not with us. The only way for it to survive and even gain legitimacy and authority is if Tibetan people all over the world feel they have a direct stake in its formation and operation, and also feel that their participation in the process is necessary, meaningful, and will bring about genuine results. Such an outcome can only be realized through a multi-party based democracy. Such a system, because of the role of a standing legitimate opposition, will also produce accountability and when required, change. No other system will be able to keep the Tibetans united when His Holiness is not with us.”

See Article: As Dalai Lama gains, Tibetans lose

In this article by Claude Arpi, an expert on Tibetan history, Arpi writes that as the Dalai Lama is recognized with international awards and honorary citizen awards, Tibetans in Tibet are further oppressed by harsher measures by the Chinese government which are directly in retaliation of these awards.

“When the Dalai Lama received the Gold Medal in the Washington, the Chinese authorities, recalling the massive demonstrations of 1987, deployed the PAP in several strategic monasteries. Another incident of shooting at Tibetans fleeing to Nepal through the Nangpa Pass was reported on October 18; nine have gone missing and four were arrested from the original group of 46 Tibetans.”

See Article: Dalai Lama must balance politics, spiritual role

In this article the authors write about how the Dalai Lama “must balance the concerns of a wary Indian government – which hosts his government in exile – and the desperation that Tibetans in China have expressed through their recent unrest”. The Dalai Lama also must “as a Buddhist monk, match his words and actions in the worldly political arena with the nonviolent philosophy at the heart of his spiritual practice”.

“What the Dalai Lama is currently doing is walking a tightrope,” says Srikanth Kondapalli, a Tibet expert at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

That balancing act, adds John Bellezza, a Tibet scholar who knows the Dalai Lama, is made all the harder because “his temporal and spiritual leadership don’t always harmonize as well as they might. Many of his difficulties are due to the underlying tensions he feels between the two hats that he wears.”

For now, however, the Dalai Lama “is the only unifying force” capable of delivering any kind of agreement with Beijing, says Baker. “If he disappears,” he says, “all the pent-up frustrations will arise in ways that no one will have the moral authority to control any longer.”

See Article: China Needs the Dalai Lama
In this article by professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies Robert Thurman, The Dalai Lama is said to be vital to the Chinese government if they wish to solve the current problems in Tibet.

“the Nobel Laureate, the living Gandhi, and the apostle of nonviolence, intelligent dialogue, and unbending hope. He has all along continued to offer them the open hand of friendship, aiming to find a solution that will be satisfying for China as well as for Tibet. It’s time, now, for President Hu Jintao to reach out and welcome his help”.


Should the Dalai Lama step down from politics?

Would the granting of real political powers to the Tibetan government:

  1. Entice more Tibetans to get involved in their own government?
  2. Repudiate Chinese propaganda claims that Tibetan independence would mean a reversion to theocratic feudalism?
  3. Eliminate the Chinese oppressive reactionary measures against the Tibetan people in Tibet whenever the Dalai Lama is given praise through awards by various countries?
  4. Allow the policies of the Tibetan people to reflect the will of the Tibetan people through democratic process and representation?
  5. Help the Tibetan government in possibly being recognized in international politics? (See Article: Reflections on a political solution)
  6. Diminish the Dalai Lama’s abilities to help the Chinese government and Tibetan people in finding a solution to the problems of Tibet and its people?

6 thoughts on “Should the Dalai Lama step down from politics?

  1. Dava

    Hi Jigme-laa,

    I just thought you’d like to know that “Tibetalk” has been honored as one of the thousand “search terms” forbidden by the Peoples Republic.

    I imagine you may not especially feel great being placed in the company of all those obscenities. Does it bother you at all?

    The list has been put up here:

    In Tinyurl:

    Have a look!

    The moral is, if you really would only like top party leaders to read your blog, type all those words into your “subject” box. No guarantees, but you can be pretty sure most people in the PRC won’t be able to go there.


  2. I cannot escape the feeling that if Tibet had been a healthy democracy in 1959, the Chinese takeover would not have been as successful. Or Tibet might not have been such an inviting target.

    If you look at it from the Communist point of view: Here’s Tibet, a feudal country ruled over by unproductive parasites (the lamas)and religious parasites besides! That’s like waving the red flag in front of the Communist bull! Exactly what they fought against in China, a parasitic class ruling over the “suffering” masses. From the Communist point of view, Tibet certainly needed “liberating”. But as usual with fanatics and demagogues, they didn’t take into account the wishes of the people they were “liberating”.

  3. Rusty Freedom


    While the Dalai Lama has threatened to step down as the “Head of the Tibetian Government (in exile)”, actually doing so would bolster his claims of having no interest in Independance and personal political aspirations.

    His followers killed many Han Chinese and Muslims in the 2008 Tibet riots. But he has he never spoken out against these killings. In fact, his spokesman explained that the killings did not violate the principle of nonviolence!

    Achmed Chalabi helped lead the US into the Iraq war with his charm, his altruistic claims, and his generious offer to rule the country after the overthrow of the government! Are the Dalai Lama’s aspirations any different?

    Signed: An American Buddhist

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