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Friday, May 25, 2007

Behind Dalai Lama's holy cloak

Dalai Lama show is set to roll into Australia again next month and again Australian politicians are getting themselves in a twist as to whether they should meet him.

Rarely do journalists challenge the Dalai Lama.

Partly it is because he is so charming and engaging. Most published accounts of him breeze on as airily as the subject, for whom a good giggle and a quaint parable are substitutes for hard answers. But this is the man who advocates greater autonomy for millions of people who are currently Chinese citizens, presumably with him as head of their government. So, why not hold him accountable as a political figure?

No mere spiritual leader, he was the head of Tibet's government when he went into exile in 1959. It was a state apparatus run by aristocratic, nepotistic monks that collected taxes, jailed and tortured dissenters and engaged in all the usual political intrigues. (The Dalai Lama's own father was almost certainly murdered in 1946, the consequence of a coup plot.)

The government set up in exile in India and, at least until the 1970s, received $US1.7 million a year from the CIA.

The money was to pay for guerilla operations against the Chinese, notwithstanding the Dalai Lama's public stance in support of non-violence, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

The Dalai Lama himself was on the CIA's payroll from the late 1950s until 1974, reportedly receiving $US15,000 a month ($US180,000 a year).


The funds were paid to him personally, but he used all or most of them for Tibetan government-in-exile activities, principally to fund offices in New York and Geneva, and to lobby internationally.

Details of the government-in-exile's funding today are far from clear. Structurally, it comprises seven departments and several other special offices. There have also been charitable trusts, a publishing company, hotels in India and Nepal, and a handicrafts distribution company in the US and in Australia, all grouped under the government-in-exile's Department of Finance.

The government was involved in running 24 businesses in all, but decided in 2003 that it would withdraw from these because such commercial involvement was not appropriate.

Several years ago, I asked the Dalai Lama's Department of Finance for details of its budget. In response, it claimed then to have annual revenue of about $US22 million, which it spent on various health, education, religious and cultural programs.

The biggest item was for politically related expenditure, at $US7 million. The next biggest was administration, which ran to $US4.5 million. Almost $US2 million was allocated to running the government-in-exile's overseas offices.

For all that the government-in-exile claims to do, these sums seemed remarkably low.

It is not clear how donations enter its budgeting. These are likely to run to many millions annually, but the Dalai Lama's Department of Finance provided no explicit acknowledgment of them or of their sources.

Certainly, there are plenty of rumours among expatriate Tibetans of endemic corruption and misuse of monies collected in the name of the Dalai Lama.

Many donations are channelled through the New York-based Tibet Fund, set up in 1981 by Tibetan refugees and US citizens. It has grown into a multimillion-dollar organisation that disburses $US3 million each year to its various programs.

Part of its funding comes from the US State Department's Bureau for Refugee Programs.

Like many Asian politicians, the Dalai Lama has been remarkably nepotistic, appointing members of his family to many positions of prominence. In recent years, three of the six members of the Kashag, or cabinet, the highest executive branch of the Tibetan government-in-exile, have been close relatives of the Dalai Lama.

An older brother served as chairman of the Kashag and as the minister of security. He also headed the CIA-backed Tibetan contra movement in the 1960s.

A sister-in-law served as head of the government-in-exile's planning council and its Department of Health.

A younger sister served as health and education minister and her husband served as head of the government-in-exile's Department of Information and International Relations.

Their daughter was made a member of the Tibetan parliament in exile. A younger brother has served as a senior member of the private office of the Dalai Lama and his wife has served as education minister.

The second wife of a brother-in-law serves as the representative of the Tibetan government-in-exile for northern Europe and head of international relations for the government-in-exile. All these positions give the Dalai Lama's family access to millions of dollars collected on behalf of the government-in-exile.


The Dalai Lama might now be well-known but few really know much about him. For example, contrary to widespread belief, he is not a vegetarian. He eats meat. He has done so (he claims) on a doctor's advice following liver complications from hepatitis. I have checked with several doctors but none agrees that meat consumption is necessary or even desirable for a damaged liver.

What has the Dalai Lama actually achieved for Tibetans inside Tibet?

If his goal has been independence for Tibet or, more recently, greater autonomy, then he has been a miserable failure.

He has kept Tibet on the front pages around the world, but to what end? The main achievement seems to have been to become a celebrity. Possibly, had he stayed quiet, fewer Tibetans might have been tortured, killed and generally suppressed by China.

In any event, the current Dalai Lama is 72 years old. His successor — a reincarnation — will be appointed as a child and it will be many years before he plays a meaningful role. As far as China is concerned, that is one problem that will take care of itself, irrespective of whether or not John Howard or Kevin Rudd meet the current Dalai Lama.


The above artilce was written by Michael Backman. His website is http://www.michaelbackman.com.
The article was published at http://www.theage.com

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) History of religions is "are heavily laced with violence"---What about history of Maoism? How millions killed?
2) Neither Mongolian nor Manchu emperors were the Chinese. That time China was no more than a part of Mongolian and Manchu empires. So the 1st Dalai-lama was not installed by the Chinese.
3) Indicate names of the high priests killed five Dalai-lamas.
4) Lay rulers of Tibet use slogans of different Buddhist schools. There was no religious war.
5) Please, compare feudal suppression in old Tibet with the communist suppression. Communists confiscated all lands, destroyed whole culture, kill ca. 20% of people, use tortures. Communist suppression is more destructive than the feudal one.
6) "after 1959 they did abolish slavery and the serfdom system of unpaid labor, and put an end to floggings, mutilations, and amputations as a form of criminal punishment". ---Instead, of these singular accidents, communists established a reign of terror, mass tortures and executions throughout the country. Later they organized a huger with mass deaths.
7) "Chinese authorities do admit to “mistakes,” particularly during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution when religious persecution reached a high tide in both China and Tibet".---These "mistakes" led to destruction of almost whole cultural heredity of the Tibetans and mass mortality of them.
8) The medieval Europe was more humanistic than Europe governed by Nazis and Stalinists who are closer to Mao in ideology.

6:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Facts on religion in Tibet (http://www.tibet.com/WhitePaper/white7.html)
Introduction
Tibet's earliest religion is Bön, founded by Shenrab Miwo of Shangshung in Western Tibet. With the advent of Buddhism, the Bön religion diminished in influence, but it continues to thrive today with an active community of Tibetan refugees still practising their faith in India and Nepal. Tashi Menri, Yungdrungling, and Kharna were some of the major Bön monasteries in Tibet. The Bön religion has imbibed many characteristics of Buddhism over the course of its historical development. Tibetan Buddhism, in turn, has also taken much from Bön.

Buddhism flourished in Tibet in the seventh century. Receiving royal patronage, it spread throughout Tibet. With the assumption of power by the Dalai Lamas from 1642 onwards, the era of "harmonious blend of religion and politics" was established in Tibet. Since then, for three-and-a-half centuries, ten successive Dalai Lamas have been the spiritual and temporal rulers of Tibet.

The cumulative effect of its long patronage by successive kings of Tibet, and the country being later ruled by successive religious heads, has been immense, both to Tibet as a nation and to its people. Buddhism has not been a mere system of belief to the Tibetans; it encompasses the entirety of their culture and civilisation and constitutes the very essence of their lives. Buddhism permeated the daily lives of the Tibetan people and formed the social fabric connecting them to the land. Of all the bonds which defined Tibetans as a people and as a nation, religion was undoubtedly the strongest.

Through the centuries, highly qualified Tibetans studied, practised, expounded, preserved, and taught the meaning of this religion and its social and spiritual relevance to peoples throughout the Asian regions sharing the Tibetan cultural tradition, including Mongolia.

In the words of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Buddhism thus caused the "metamorphosis that changed the entire course of Tibet's history. Generations of Tibetan intellectuals studied and developed a profound culture that closely accorded with the original principles and philosophy of the Dharma. Down through the centuries their dedicated services brought about extraordinary developments which are unique among the literary and cultural achievements of the nations of the world."

Monasteries, temples, and hermitages were founded in every village and town throughout Tibet, together with resident monks and, as the case may be, nuns. Every Tibetan Buddhist home had its altar. Huge monasteries, which were more like monastic cities, such as Drepung, Sera, and Gaden in Lhasa, Tashilhunpo in Shigatse, Sakya Monastery in Sakya, Tsurphu in central Tibet, Mindroling in central Tibet, Tashi-kyil in Amdo Labrang, Gaden Jampaling in Chamdo, Lithang Gonchen, etc, became high seats of learning.

By 1959 there were more than a total of 6,259 monasteries with about 592,558 resident monks and nuns. These religious centres also housed tens and thousands of statues, religious artifacts made of gold, silver and other metals - studded with jewels. Similarly, tens and thousands of chorten (stupas) were built out of precious metal. Besides texts on Buddhism, these centres were store-houses of works on literature, medicine, astrology, art, politics, etc, and thus were the real "treasure houses" of the Tibetan people.

Tibetan national identity became indistinguishable from its religion. Buddhist folklore and teachings regulated the people's lives, festivals, holidays, work ethics, family chores as well as national issues. Tibet remained a proud and independent Buddhist nation until its occupation by China. Tibet also had a compact community of Muslims, who had their own mosques. These, too, suffered damage at the hands of the Chinese. In addition, there were small numbers of followers of Hinduism and Christianity. They were all tolerated and given equal rights.

Violation of religious freedom: 1949-79

The Chinese Government initially proclaimed that while complete consolidation of its annexation of Tibet was underway, no restrictions would be imposed on the practice of religion. Their formal pledge to protect and respect Tibet's religious tradition was set forth even in the "17-Point Agreement" of 1951. This "Agreement" explicitly stated that the traditional status, functions and powers of the Dalai Lama would not be altered and that "the policy of freedom of religious beliefs laid down in the Common Programme of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference will be protected."

However, the Chinese soon began to undermine the traditional social system and religion of Tibet. People were told that "Religion is the enemy of our materialist ideology and believing in religion is blind faith. Therefore, you should not only not have faith in religion but should also condemn it." While the Chinese constitution and initial assurances made to the Tibetans purported to allow a semblance of religious freedom, their resolve to undermine Tibetan religion was absolute from the very beginning. The Chinese Government pronounced:


The Chinese Communist Party considers that its ideology and that of religion are two forces that cannot co-exist and occupy the same spot at the same time. ... the differences between the two (ie, science and religion) can be likened to those between light and darkness, between truth and falsehood. There is absolutely no possibility to reconcile the mutually-opposed world views of science and religion.

This Communist Chinese view was all-pervasive. In Mao Zedong's own words, "... but of course, religion is poison. It has two great defects: It undermines the race ...(and) retards the progress of the country. Tibet and Mongolia have both been poisoned by it."
By the middle of the 1950s, the Chinese authorities realised that religion was the principal obstacle to their control of Tibet. Therefore, from the beginning of 1956, a so-called "Democratic Reform" was carried out, first in Kham and Amdo, and later (in 1959) in Central Tibet. Monasteries, temples, and cultural centres were systematically looted of all articles of value and then dismantled.

First, special teams of mineralogists visited religious buildings to locate and extract all the precious stones. Next came the metallurgists who marked all metal objects which were subsequently carted away in trucks requisitioned from army head- quarters. The walls were then dynamited and all the wooden beams and pillars taken away. Clay images were destroyed in the expectation of finding precious metals inside. Finally, whatever remained - bits of wood and stone - were removed. Literally, hundreds of tons of valuable religious statues, thangkas (scroll paintings), metal artifacts, and other treasures were shipped to China either to be sold in international antique markets or to be melted down.

When a team of Tibetans visited China in 1982-83 to retrieve Tibetan artifacts, a Chinese man in Beijing told them that "(m)ost of the Tibetan cultural artifacts carted to China were destroyed. The statues and ritual objects of pure gold and silver were never seen again. Those of gilded copper, bell-metal, red copper, brass, etc, were ferried to Luyun, from where they were eventually sold to foundries in Shanghai, Sichuan, Tai Yun, Beijing, Tianjin, etc. The foundry called Xi-you Qing-shu Tie (precious metal foundry) situated about five kilometers to the east of Beijing city, alone purchased about 600 tons of Tibetan crafted metals." The team found out that almost all artifacts taken by other foundries had already been melted down.

This physical desecration and destruction was accompanied by public condemnation of religion, and humiliation and ridicule of religious persons. Religious texts were burnt and mixed with field manure; the sacred mani stones (stones or slates with prayer inscriptions) were used for making toilets and pavements; monks and nuns were forced to have sex in public and demanded to perform miracles; ruined monasteries and temples were turned into pigsties; starving monks and nuns in Chinese prisons were told to get "food from the Buddha".

Destructions before the Cultural Revolution

Contrary to official Chinese assertions, much of Tibet's culture and religion was destroyed between 1955 and 1961, and not during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) alone. This was confirmed by Bhuchung, the then Vice-President of the so-called TAR People's Government, at a press conference on 17 July 1987, when he stated that what little remained to be destroyed was obliterated during the Cultural Revolution under the slogan "Smash the Four Olds".

Out of Tibet's total of 6,259 monasteries and nunneries only about eight remained by 1976. Among those destroyed were the seventh-century Samye, the first monastery in Tibet; Gaden, the earliest and holiest monastic university of the Gelugpas; Sakya, the main seat of the Sakyas; Tsurphu, one of the holiest monasteries of the Kagyus; Mindroling, one of the most famous monasteries of the Nyingmapas; Menri, the earliest and most sacred Bön monastery, etc. Out of 592,558 monks, nuns, rinpoches (reincarnates) and ngagpas (tantric practitioners), over 110,000 were tortured and put to death, and over 250,000 were forcibly disrobed.

The extent of religious destruction in Tibet was referred to by the late Panchen Lama in 1988 in Beijing during the first General Meeting of China's Institute of Tibetology. He said:


The destruction suffered by monasteries in the Tibetan inhabited areas was total and hundred per cent. About 99 percent suffered total destruction. Those seven or eight which remained also did not escape damage. The condition of the Potala Palace was the best among those which remained. But it too suffered damage. Therefore, I say that the destruction caused was hundred per cent.

1979-92: Religious freedom, a ritualistic facade
Since 1979, a much-heralded programme of "liberalisation" began in Tibet under which some superficial facade of religious freedom was allowed. This included limited and selective renovation of places of worship, and allowing people a degree of ritual practices - such as making prostrations, circumambulating places of worship, offering butter lamps, reciting mantras, turning prayer wheels, burning incense, putting up prayer flags, etc. These are only external acts of worship. But propagation of the teachings of the Buddha is either banned or, when permitted, strictly controlled.

The essence of Buddhism lies in mental and spiritual development achieved through intensive study with qualified lamas, understanding and practice. But the Chinese discourage this in their campaign to misrepresent the Tibetan religion as nothing more than practices in superstition and blind faith rather than what it really is: a functional and scientific philosophy. The Dalai Lama, in his 10 March 1987 statement, said:


The so-called religious freedom in Tibet today amounts to permitting our people to worship and practice religion in a merely ritualistic and devotional way. There are both direct and indirect restrictions on the teaching and study of Buddhist philosophy. Buddhism, thus, is being reduced to blind faith which is exactly how the Communist Chinese view and define religion.

Today's Chinese policy is aimed at bringing about a gradual and natural death of Tibetan culture and religion, thus reducing the Tibetans to an uncultured, superstitious nation, fit only to be ruled and reformed by them. In this way they hope to validate their "liberation" of - and claim to - Tibet.
Reconstruction and renovation

Almost all Chinese state-sponsored reconstruction of Tibetan monuments has been highly selective, intended only to serve their political and economic aims. These serve as museums for tourist attraction rather than living cultural and religious institutions. Also, contrary to the Chinese claim, most of the rebuilt or renovated monasteries, including the "state-sponsored" ones, came through the initiative of Tibetans who contributed their labour and finances. The aid sanctioned by the Chinese Government forms only a very small fraction of the total expenses incurred. On the other hand, China confiscates income of the monasteries from entry fees (imposed by the Chinese) and offerings made by pilgrims. Reconstruction and renovation of monasteries can be done only after receiving permission from the Chinese Bureau of Religious Affairs. Such permission is given with great reluctance following a long period of bureaucratic red tape during which Tibetans have to make repeated appeals and listen, in return, to constant lectures about the negative influences of religion to "national interest". The limited number of monks allowed in them serve more as showpieces and, in most cases, caretakers rather than religious students and practitioners.

In independent Tibet, the major Tibetan monastic universities served as cultural and learning centres for large numbers of students from Inner Asia. These institutions each had from three to ten thousand students and the rigorous curriculum began around the age of eighteen and culminated around the age of forty-five. The basic units of Tibet's monastic universities were its colleges, each university having at least two. These had their own administration, faculty and textbooks. For centuries, the monastic colleges functioned to promote critical and creative spiritual thoughts.

Chinese government control over religious institutions

China today refuses to let the colleges - the functioning units of the monastic universities - to continue in the traditional way. It has also placed a ceiling on the number of monks allowed in each university. Before the Chinese invasion, Sera had 7,997 monks on its rolls; it is now permitted to have only about 300; Drepung which used to have 10,000 monks is now permitted only 400; and Gaden which numbered 5,600 monks is now permitted only 150. In addition, the daily functions of the monasteries are regimented through a maze of state bureaucracies, such as the United Front Work Department, Religious Affairs Bureau, Tibetan Buddhist Association, Democratic Management Committee, political education and investigation Work Inspection Teams, security organs, etc.

China has, in part, laid down the following criteria for admission in a monastery: The candidate should be at least 18 years old; should "love" the country and the Communist Party; should have the consent of parents; should obtain formal approval from the monasteries' Democratic Management Committee; should have consent of local authorities; should have consent of county or provincial authorities; should obtain clearance from Public Security Bureau; the candidate and the candidate's parents should have "good political background"; should have been raised in a certain geographical area (eg, Tibetans from Kham and Amdo may not be admitted to monasteries in Central Tibet); should study Marxism; should be aware that materialism and spiritualism are contradictory, etc, etc.

Admit only the "politically correct"

China's guiding principle behind admission is that "We must foster a large number of fervent patriots in every religion who accept the leadership of the Party and government, firmly support the Socialist path, and safeguard national and ethnic unity", and that "seminaries should hold entrance examinations and admit upright, patriotic young people ... who have reached a certain level of cultural development." These principles are clearly laid down in the Chinese "Basic Viewpoint and Policy on the Religious Question during Our Country's Socialist Period," and "Rules for Democratic Management of Temples," etc. Yet another organ known as the Tibetan Buddhism Guidance Committee is being set up to "oversee the practice of Buddhism in Tibet (TAR), Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan (Amdo and Kham parts of Tibet incorporated into Chinese provinces). Foremost among its tasks will be the implementation of government policies, education of monks and nuns in the patriotic mould, and supervision over monastery management."

In addition to the above, there are other subtle and insidious methods of undermining religion which are not easily discerned by the uninformed. These include: persistent anti-religious publications and theatrical performances, restricting religious teachings, educating Tibetan youths along Marxist lines with heavy anti-religious overtones, lack of regular curriculum in the monasteries, lack of textbooks and teachers, forcing monks to perform for tourists, keeping police and para-military forces at the monasteries, arresting and torturing those suspected of having independent thoughts, planting informers in the monasteries, conducting political education and investigation in the monasteries by Work Inspection teams, ban on prayers composed by the Dalai Lama though being utterly devoid of any political overtone, etc. On account of such restrictions, the Panchen Lama, on 28 September 1988, called for the eradication of Chinese "administrative interference in the religious activities in Tibet (read TAR) and other Tibetan-inhabited regions and increased Tibetan regulation of religious affairs."

Conclusion

Though China no longer bombs or sends Red Guards to destroy Tibet's monasteries, its aim still remains the same as before: total elimination of Tibetan religion and culture. This is clear official document, Policy on Religious Freedom, prepared by Ganze (Kanze) Prefectural Propaganda Committee and dated February 1990, which states: "With the development of our socialist system, the social system for the natural extinction of religion was established." Yet, another official document licy on Nationalities and Religion brought out in 1991, states: "We should oppose all those who work to split the motherland in the name of nationality and religion. There should be no hesitation in taking harsh decision to deal with any political disturbance carried out in the name of nationality and religion, and in doing so the state's political, judiciary, and even military powers should be used."

In carrying out its unremitting persecution of Tibetan religion, China continues to violate not only the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also all the clauses of the United Nation's Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion and Belief. In its reports of 1959 and 1960, the Legal Inquiry Committee of the International Commission of Jurists said:


The Committee found that acts of Genocide had been committed in Tibet in an attempt to destroy the Tibetans as a religious group, and that such acts are acts of genocide independently of any conventional obligation."

7:01 AM  

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