THE DALAI LAMAS, PRISONERS OF THE POTALA JUNTA
Everybody knows the Dalai Lama. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for a new sort of reason. Most people get it because they caused peace to break out in some region of the world where warfare had previously been the norm, but the Dalai Lama didn’t do that. Tibet is probably as un-peaceful as it’s ever been, and he never goes there. He’s the “leader of the Tibetan people in exile,” and his exile has not won the Tibetans peace, freedom, or anything else that is desirable. But let’s move on. This essay is about the history of the Dalai Lamas, that I almost guarantee will surprise you.
You probably know that the Dalai Lama, like many other Tibetan clerics, is said to be the latest in a long line of sacred “incarnations” of a single blessed being who migrates from one dead body to the next living one, getting smarter, more spiritual, more magical, and more worth bowing to with each successive “rebirth.” This means that the Fourteenth Dalai Lama should be at least thirteen times as experienced as any other human being, and therefore entitled to extraordinary deference for his past achievements, extending into the distant past.
You would expect, of course, that the First Dalai Lama might have known that he was the First Dalai Lama, and might have said something about planning on being reborn again. But that’s not the case. The First Dalai Lama never mentioned being a Dalai Lama, because he was only recognized "posthumously." Same with the Second Dalai Lama, who was also recognized posthumously. And since they never mentioned being the First and Second Dalai Lamas, who do you think identified them as such? Well, and I’ll tell you right now that you’re going to get better at this, they were both posthumously recognized by the Third Dalai Lama!
Under what circumstances did the Third Dalai Lama “recognize” his “previous incarnations?” Well of course, after he identified himself as the Third Dalai Lama. This tradition of picking your psychic ancestors and adopting their venerable character as your own might seem rather shabby, but Tibetan lamas have long engaged in retrospective embellishments of their past incarnations.
Furthermore, this tradition of burnishing one’s resume with illustrious past lives was not left behind in Tibet. On one of his first visits to the United States, while visiting Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate, Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, told a TIME Magazine reporter that he had a hunch he might have previously incarnated as Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, member of the First Constitutional Congress, and Third President of the United States. Let’s just assume that the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s hunch was correct, and he was T. Jefferson, Founding Father of the USA, born April 13, 1743, died July 4, 1826. During most of that time period, the Eighth Dalai Lama, Jamphel Gyatso, was on the throne in Tibet (1758-1804). But in 1743, when Jefferson was born, the Seventh Dalai Lama was on the throne, so let’s assume that the Seventh Dalai Lama was capable of generating a double to be reborn in Virginia, and that there was no hiccup in Thomas Jefferson’s energy when the Seventh Dalai Lama died, and the Eighth Dalai Lama took over. You might even think harder about this topic, because if the Dalai Lama can generate two incarnations, then it would be wise to have overlapping incarnations, to eliminate the interregnum between one incarnation and the next. Keep this question in mind as you read on, because you will see why the Tibetans would never want to eliminate the interregnum between incarnations – that’s where all the fun happens.
There’s just one more question I want to ask about Thomas Jefferson. Was Jamphel Gyatso’s character at all like Thomas Jefferson’s? According to an article on Minnestoa Public Radio (“MPR”) website, Jamphel Gyatso "was uninterested in politics, and for a 150-year period starting with his reign, day-to-day power was exercised in Tibet … by a series of regents. During Jamphel Gyatso's reign, Tibet fought wars with the Gurkhas of Nepal, and received a delegation from England, which was interested in Tibet because of its strategic location in relation to British India, China, and Czarist Russia."  So Jamphel Gyatso/Thomas Jefferson was simultaneously fighting a war with Britain on one side of the world, having them to tea on the other side, and the British none the wiser.
However that works out, you'd figure that, having integrated his lessons from occupying the Oval Office on the other side of the world, the Ninth Dalai Lama would drop the apolitical stance of the Eighth Dalai Lama and import some democratic reforms into Tibet. Let's check the Ninth Dalai Lama’s record. Whoops! He didn't get much of a chance to adopt democratic reforms, since he was "likely murdered" at age 11 by his compassionate tutors. According to MPR, the Ninth Dalai Lama, Lungtok Gyatso (1806-1815) enjoyed a very brief reign. He "died at age 11 in the Potala palace. Some historians believe that, given the tumultuous state of Tibetan politics, he was assassinated. The subsequent three Dalai Lamas also died young. Some theories suggest they, too, were murdered." So the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Dalai Lamas all died young in the Potala Palace? Well, maybe he did come back from America with some ideas for reform, and those ideas didn’t receive a warm reception.
However, we have gotten a little ahead of ourselves. Let’s get back to the Third Dalai Lama, who recognized himself as the incarnation of two men who had apparently never prophesied that, in the future, they would be reborn in the person of the Third Dalai Lama. That’s interesting, because one of the bulwarks of "credibility" for the serial-reincarnation hypothesis is that the births of the reincarnated ones are foreseen by the prior incarnation. This slim warrant of authority is lacking for the real first Dalai Lama, i.e., the Third. But no one argued with him about it, or if they did, they didn’t fare well, because the Third Dalai Lama had Mongol muscle to back his claim.
Whatever he might have lacked in sanctity, the Third Dalai Lama made up for in political savvy. In 1578, he was hanging out with a Mongolian warlord named Altan Khan when suddenly he had a flash, and saw that in a past life, Khan had been a famous Tibetan warlord, whose spiritual mentor had been a prior incarnation of the Third Dalai Lama! It was a Happy Reunion, and both Altan Khan and the Third Dalai Lama made the most of it. The Mongols built huge temples, made massive offerings to the Buddhist faith, and both sides cemented their relationship to such a degree that when it came time to select a Fourth Dalai Lama, he turned out to be …. the grandson of Altan Khan. In this twist of fate you can see how, by skillfully re-defining the past, you can control the future.
The Fifth Dalai Lama, also known as the “Great” Dalai Lama, took full advantage of his close collaboration with the Mongolian armed forces. My source of Tibetan history for this comes from a website maintained by a Tibetan lama called the “Sharmapa,” whose own sect came into conflict with the Dalai Lama’s several hundred years ago, a wound that has not healed over the centuries, resulting in his willingness to provide a candid assessment of those olden times now so happily remembered by today’s New Agers as the golden age of Buddhist monarchy:
The landscape of the old Tibet was dotted with wars, political intrigue, and bloody feuds. For centuries, two old, “red-hat" Buddhist schools, the Sakya and the Kagyu, held, one after the other, undisputed sway over the country. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, a new power had emerged and began to threaten the political status quo: the Gelugs, or Virtuous Ones, a "yellow-hat," reformed Buddhist order, founded around 1410 by a disciple of the 4th Karmapa. Led by the mighty 5th Dalai Lama and his authoritative ministers, the Gelugs invited Gushri Khan, the Mongolian warlord, into Tibet in 1638. Their design was to break the power of the Kagyus, take over the government, and secure a hold on Kham in the east and the rebellious Tsang in the south of the country. Given free rein, the ferocious Mongol hordes razed to the ground or converted to the Gelugpa tradition a large number of Nyingma monasteries. The 10th Karmapa had to flee into a thirty-year exile after his camp was attacked by an army operating on orders from the Dalai Lama's ministers. The school of the Virtuous Ones imposed their political hegemony with sword and fire.
“Sword and fire,” eh? That usually is indicative of the activities of pious rulers eager to avoid bloodshed, right? Well, no worries – the Fifth Dalai Lama was enthusiastic about what he had to offer the Tibetan people, and to paraphrase Rumsfeld, you don’t go to temple with the followers you wish had…. Yes, the Fifth Dalai Lama was a powerful figure, so powerful in fact that after he died, his "Regent" concealed his death for about fifteen years. According to MPR, "Lozang Gyatso's death in 1682 was not announced until 1697, as the regent of Tibet attempted to monopolize power."
That's cool. Yeah, let’s conceal the Dalai Lama’s death for fifteen years, so we can run the country and -- wait a minute -- how the hell do you conceal the Dalai Lama's death for fifteen years? Wouldn't somebody notice? That will give you an idea how tightly lips were sealed in the Potala. And if you think you can keep a political secret for fifteen years without killing a few people and bribing a hell of a lot more, then you should definitely be a Tibetan Buddhist, 'cause you can believe anything.
But eventually, someone figured out that the Dalai Lama was dead (“He never drinks his tea!” say the servants) and you gotta pick a new one. No problem. Grab another kid and let’s go. And you don’t have to take the child of anybody famous – after all, they’re just going to kill him when he starts to mature. The Sixth Dalai Lama died young, at age 23. He made the mistake of alienating the Mongols who had made the Dalai Lamas the puppet leaders of the nation. The Mongols invaded, kicked him off the throne, and killed him when he tried to flee Tibet. From the MPR site: "Tsangyang Gyatso (1683-1706). Because of the delay in announcing the Fifth Dalai Lama's death, Tsangyang Gyatso was well into his teens before he was recognized as the Sixth Dalai Lama. He is considered to be the most unconventional Dalai Lama. He dressed as a layperson, drank wine, enjoyed the company of women and composed love songs that are still popular in Tibet. His eccentric style alienated him from Mongol leader Lhabzang Khan, who invaded Tibet during this time and deposed Tsangyang Gyatso. He died while leaving the country; many historians believe he was murdered. Lhabsang Khan appointed another monk, Yeshe Gyatso, as the Seventh Dalai Lama, but his legitimacy has never been recognized by the Tibetan people."
The Seventh Dalai Lama knew better than to annoy the politicians, and he played both sides against the middle. He got the Chinese to push out the Mongols who had deposed the Sixth Dalai Lama. But you know how it is with the Chinese – you invite them in to smoke a little opium, and they never go home! The Seventh Dalai Lama was a figurehead political leader, because the Chinese installed a governor, called the "Amban" to make all the decisions pursuant to Chinese law.
The Eighth Dalai Lama we already discussed. Another hands-off leader, thanks perhaps to having transferred his political spirit through the ether to his co-incarnation, Thomas Jefferson.
The Ninth Dalai Lama, as we know, died young. The stats on the 10th, 11th, and 12th Dalai Lamas make it clear that here was a position with no job security. From the MPR website again:
10th -- Tsultrim Gyatso (1816-1837). Like his predecessor, Tsultrim Gyatso died suddenly in Potala before assuming temporal power. During his brief life, Tibet continued to isolate itself, while keeping a suspicious eye on its borders.
11th -- Khendrup Gyatso (1838-1856). He was the third in a series of Dalai Lamas who died at an early age. During Khendrup Gyatso's life, China's influence in Tibet weakened further because of the Opium War and the Taiping Rebellion. Tibet's struggles continued with Nepal and Ladakh to the west.
12th -- Trinley Gyatso (1856-1875). His reign was a time of severe unrest among Tibet's neighbors. The weaker Qing dynasty was unable to provide military support because of its own battles. At the same time, the British intensified pressure on the Tibetan borders, from their colonial bastion in India.
Now we can discuss why the interregnum between incarnations is so useful. The point of “finding” a Dalai Lama and then killing him before he assumes power is to perpetuate Regent-Rule. Let the people have their Dalai Lama, but always keep him either in the cradle or in the grave, and never let him assume the throne. Then the Potala Junta can rule in his stead. Victor and Victoria Trimondi have written a book entitled The Shadow of the Dalai Lama, which alludes to murder and human sacrifice as elements of Tibetan Buddhist ritual. Before you discard this notion, you must consider this fact: the Holy Men in the Potala somehow killed the God-king Four Times! Serially going through this charade of "finding a reincarnation," taking him from his family, mummifying him in state regalia, then sending him off to the heavenly realms, after performing careful rituals to protect his soul from bruising during frequent deaths and rebirths. When you think of it that way, it makes all those images of little boys in silk robes and yellow hats somehow a little sinister, doesn’t it?
Now consider also that the old lamas who committed the god-murders were supposedly also reincarnating. The histories don’t say that the Potala Junta was finally broken up and the Twelfth Dalai Lama was therefore not murdered, and all of his killers were forbidden to reincarnate. No, the story is that the Potala Junta leaders continued to reincarnate, and their later incarnations still hold positions of power within the Gelugpa power structure.
So ask yourself this: When the Fourteenth Dalai Lama draws inspiration from his lineage, how does he do it? He of course knows the history of his past incarnations, although he never discusses it, but wouldn’t it be nice to ask him, “What's it like to be surrounded by the reincarnations of people who serially killed your past incarnations?” It would also be fun to ask: “How do you draw inspiration from the Third Dalai Lama, who was apparently a total opportunist? How do you draw inspiration from the Fourth Dalai Lama, the grandson of Altan Khan, whose ascension to the apex of ecclesiastical power was obviously rigged? How do you draw inspiration from the Fifth Dalai Lama, who converted people by the sword and acquired monasteries from competing sects in a gangsterish takeover assisted by Gushri Khan's Mongol thugs? How does this past history of your many incarnations, of whom so many were murdered, and so many others were involved in killing and political gamesmanship, add up to a Nobel Peace Prize?”
But let's move on. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama lived a normal lifespan. How? Well, he probably got to thinkin' about what had happened to the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Dalai Lamas, and caught a clue. He refused to live in the Potala Palace. He moved into the Summer Palace, the “Norbu Lingka,” and wouldn’t be budged. And he left the country for very long trips – spending several years in Russia as a guest of Gurdjieff (called Dorjieff in most of the books), and also spent some time in India. Supposedly he did this to escape Chinese aggression, but I suspect that was an excuse for getting out of Lhasa any damn way he could. Much better out there traveling amongst the poor people who think you're god, than in the castle, where everyone thinks they're god, and you're just a pawn in their game. All of the old conniving lamas stayed in Lhasa, with their wealth, concubines, and ceremonies. Out there on horseback with the yak herders, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama was a lot safer.
Take note that the Fourteenth Dalai Lama has followed the same tactic, at least by getting out of Lhasa. Of course, you probably think he made a wise move when he relocated to India in 1951 with financial assistance from the United States Central Intelligence Agency (a fact that you can independently confirm with an Internet search of “dalai lama admits cia payment”). But let’s take note that few heroic leaders whose people survived a hostile attack ever did so by fleeing to another country. When London was being bombed with V2 rockets and buzz bombs, did Churchill flee to America? Why did Israel push so hard to evict Arafat from Palestine? Because when the leader abdicates, his followers are leaderless. A leader in exile is no leader at all.
From a strategic, diplomatic viewpoint, the Dalai Lama’s abdication was detrimental to the Tibetan people. The first time the Fourteenth Dalai Lama left, on December 20, 1950, he simultaneously sent a delegation from Lhasa to Beijing to negotiate a deal with Mao’s diplomats. The delegates unanimously signed an agreement that destroyed the legal foundation for any claim to Tibetan autonomy, and still provides the basis for the PRC claim that Tibet is part of China.  The Fourteenth Dalai Lama was supposedly very displeased with this agreement that his diplomats signed, but he didn’t repudiate it for years.
But although it was not a good political move, it was probably the right move for the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, who was still young, and wanted to stay alive. Tibet, a far-flung, ungovernable land controlled by nobles who were easy prey for the organized Chinese soldiers, could not maintain a national unity it had never possessed. There were no newspapers, no radios, no automobiles, none of the infrastructure that binds a nation together. Unlike the Bhutanese royal family, that accepted an offer from British to defend their country against Chinese aggression, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, urged by arrogant Tibetan autocrats, had rejected the same offer.
The Dalai Lama had no means to exercise leverage against the Chinese. The people he sent to negotiate with China came back to Lhasa, having given away the country. Lhasa was crawling with war profiteers selling supplies to the Chinese garrison. Worst of all, in exchange for a year of non-aggression, the young Dalai Lama allowed the Chinese to build a road from the Chinese frontier all the way to Lhasa, opening an avenue for military transports to penetrate the heart of Tibet. Talk about bad feng shuei! Facilitating transportation for an attacking army is the ultimate strategic blunder. In Europe, the barbarians always tried to destroy the Roman roads on which the Emperor’s armies travelled with deadly speed. So by the time the Fourteenth Dalai Lama abdicated, he likely had no choice.
So what's the box score?
Let’s examine the history of the 14 Dalai Lamas:
In the end, the illustrious history of the Dalai Lamas just doesn't exist. Their sad legacy is a testament to the Byzantine manipulations of the Potala Junta. The credulous Tibetan people have been taught that they are led by a god-king, but that king is an invention of unscrupulous political strategists who sell influence as their primary product.
Considering the undisputed facts, it is absurd to imagine the Fourteenth Dalai Lama as the product of some refining process that has produced him as the distilled essence of human virtue. The entire lineage is a sham that was (1) raised into being by the Third Dalai Lama’s exploitation of the reputations of two dead clerics, (2) converted to a super-executive position by uniting military might with sacred authority in the person of the Fourth Dalai Lama, (3) enhanced in power through the exercise of military might by the Fifth Dalai Lama, (4) subordinated in power by the execution of the Sixth Dalai Lama for refusing to obey the will of the Mongol leaders, (5) subordinated to Chinese influence during the reigns of the Seventh and Eighth, (6) subordinated to the Regent Rule of the Potala Junta during the serial assassinations of the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth, (7) living on the outskirts of town or in foreign domains during the reign of the Thirteenth, and now, (8) represented by a man who fled Lhasa in his teens, has not set foot in his native land for fifty eight years, and is politically relevant only as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy to irritate the Chinese.
But, you may ask, am I not being terribly unkind to a man who has lost his throne, seen his countrymen trampled by tyranny, and made a dignified effort to keep the Tibetan cause before the international media in an era when that is not an easy job? He is no Baby Doc, and has led his followers less into harm’s way than … say … Yasser Arafat! He could have moved to Paris, or Geneva, or Buenos Aires, and exploited his advantages to enjoy a sybaritic lifestyle with female companionship.
He certainly could have, and these comparisons show him to be a man of restraint and dignity. But now that we have disposed of the venerable belief that his prior thirteen incarnations have suited him for the highest office on the planet, and that we should exalt him by acclamation to Secretary General of the UN, let’s ask how well he’s done his job of being the primary representative of the Tibetan people. He is the only Tibetan that most Europeans and Americans have ever heard of, and they think he is a saint. As for Tibetans, he has been their only political leader for fifty-eight years.
Think of what it has cost the Tibetan people to have the Dalai Lama as their only representative during the entire time since the Chinese came to plant their “revolution” on the Tibetan plateau! Do you really think that the Tibetans are well-represented in their struggle against Chinese oppression by a man who is never in the country, cannot set foot inside its borders, and for all his efforts has not achieved a single diplomatic victory in more than a half-century on the job?
This is the cost to the Tibetans of deifying one who is simply a man. The myth of the Dalai Lamas was always used to deprive the Tibetan people of real representation, and it continues to be used for that purpose today. However good the intentions of this man who wears the mantle of a god, by occupying that position, he obstructs the process of democracy, that is based on the belief in the equality of all people, and their right to representation in government.
© Copyright, Charles Carreon 2009