Copyrighted material


by Yoichi Shimatsu

China Under Pressure to Rethink Tibet Policy

(PNS) -- For decades, the Beijing government had recognized the Dalai Lama as its sole negotiating partner in Tibetan affairs. For the officialdom, it was simpler to deal with a single person -- the "pontiff" of Tibetan Buddhism -- to control the entire ethnic population. The facade of Tibetan unity was convenient to both sides but now it has unraveled, and it's the endgame for the Dalai Lama.

By ordering the monks of his Gelugpa or Yellow Hat sect to hold peaceful rallies on the 49th anniversary of the Chinese invasion, the Dalai Lama -- unwittingly -- ignited pent-up emotions among Lhasa residents. Scenes like the head bashing, stoning and kicking of a prostrate bicycle owner arose from popular grievances against runaway price inflation and perceived discrimination against Tibetans in their own land. Such cruelty, regardless of past injustices, has nothing to do with Buddhist teachings but arises from the human condition.

Unfortunately for the Dalai Lama, the loyalists in his once-powerful organization inside Tibet are being selectively investigated, arrested and detained for causing the violence. The Beijing government has repeatedly stated that only a small minority of Tibetans loyal to the Dalai Lama were involved in the protests. Whatever its legal flaws, there's more than a grain of truth in the official assertion.

Amid the mayhem and anarchy, a decisive factor in the Tibetan equation has gone practically unnoticed: Key major players did not join or support the protests:


The Panchen Lama, a top prelate of the Gelugpa or Yellow Hat school, second in rank only to the Dalai Lama himself, has spoken in no uncertain terms against the rioting and instead backed the government.


Leaders of the Nyingma and Sakya schools, as well as the native Bon religion, did not endorse the protests and are tight-lipped about the wave of arrests.


Laymen with the re-ascendant Kagyupa or Black Hat school, are furious with the Dalai Lama after being targeted by Gelugpa supporters during the horsemen's raid on the Hezuo local district office in south Gansu and in several counties in Sichuan Province.

In this negative light, the rallies by the Gelugpa monks seemed a desperate bid to reassert the Dalai Lama's authority by accusing their Tibetan rivals of being "collaborators" and presenting themselves as the "resistance." Due to the unintended violence, however, the Yellow Hats find themselves as the odd man out. Following the crackdown, rival sects are moving to dismantle the remnants of the Gelugpa organization, which had the monopoly of power over the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and other districts as recently as five years ago.

If the facade of Tibetan unity was convenient, it now no longer serves.

In January 2000, the Chinese view of the Dalai Lama started to undergo a radical change during the affair known as the "Flight of the Karmapa" -- covered in a documentary by Nachtvision. The Karmapa is the head lama of the Kagyupa, or Black Hat school, which ruled Tibet until the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama began in 1642.

At the turn of the millennium, the teenage Karmapa, born Ogyen Trinley Dorje, began a secret journey from his seat in Tsurphu monastery, west of Lhasa, to Sikkim in north India to recover the mystic Black Crown of the Kagyupa. In the bid to strengthen his nomination against other contenders, the Karmapa rode horseback on a tortuous path through the frozen wilderness of Nepal's Mustang region. At the 4,500-meters altitude Thorong-La Pass, he was separated from his Nepalese Kagyupa guide and whisked aboard a mountain-rescue helicopter. He soon turned up under virtual house arrest near the Dalai Lama's headquarters in Dharamsala, India.

As told by his guide, the Venerable Gyaltsen Rimpoche, nicknamed the "Tall Manangi," the Ogyen Trinley had to retrieve the charismatic crown because "in Lhasa the Karmapa was rising and becoming more popular, so the Gelugpa did not like it and the situation was becoming dangerous for him." Only the magic talisman could turn the tables on the powerful Yellow Hats.

In the eyes of many Kagyupa monks, the Karmapa has been abducted by the Dalai Lama's exile government and remains a hostage to the senior leader of a rival sect. The Black Hats responded furiously with demands to Beijing that Gelugpa monks should be stripped of their control over the Tibet province budget and other privileges.

Feeling sorely betrayed by the Dalai Lama, who had earlier backed the appointment of Orgyen Trinley as Karmapa, Beijing consented to the Black Hat's harsh demands. Thus ended the Yellow Hats' monopoly on power inside Tibet. Since then, the local governments of many Tibetan zones have been taken over by laymen loyal to the Black Hats. Hezuo, the scene of the horsemen's well-publicized raid, is the site of the Kagyupa's Milarepa Shrine. Horses were used in the attack because the raiders came from the Xiahe district, the stronghold of the rival Gelugpa's Labrang Monastery.

This realignment of sectarian power in Tibet, which can be compared with the Protestant Reformation in Europe, is only now coming to light in public discourse after the Lhasa riots. A People's Daily editorial, titled "No return to old Tibet" (March 18), stated: "the political exile (Dalai Lama) has continued his rule with an iron fist that smashes any challenge to his power from anyone or any sect. . . . Local Tibetans have managed their affairs well without his interference."

In private, many exiles across the Himalayas, including former Khampa guerrillas who fought the Chinese army in the 1960s, recount disturbing allegations of the Dalai Lama's security team's involvement in the murdering of his critics by poisoning and bombing. This dark side of intra-Tibetan intrigue is yet to be factually uncovered before world opinion.

In an ultimate irony, the only person who can prevent the coming demolition and disgrace of the Gelugpa school is Gyeltshen Norbu, the Beijing-appointed Panchen Lama.

The Panchen Lama probably won't rush to their defense, not after pro-Dharamsala lamas lobbied furiously against Beijing's attempt to appoint the young lama as a delegate to the National People's Congress, held in early March, arguing that he was not yet 18 years of age. To avoid controversy, Beijing reluctantly conceded, even though the official birth date of Gyeltshen Norbu was February 13, 1990, making him 18 and eligible.

The Panchen Lama is likely to receive Buddhist VIPs at the Beijing Olympics. An audience and blessing from the bright young monk will certainly win international support for his confirmation of the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. It is the traditional custom for the Panchen Lama to confirm the reincarnated Dalai Lama and vice versa. By contrast, high-ranking monks have scoffed at the Dalai Lama's idea of forming a committee to elect a successor.

The recent uprising in Lhasa, despite its grim pathos, is a reminder of the tragic 1959 insurrection that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Tibetans. In both cases, the 14th Dalai Lama badly miscalculated the divisions among his own people, Beijing's strategic determination, and the moral hypocrisy of the international community.

In the Buddhist view, all things come full circle. In the 17th century, the 5th Dalai Lama called in a Mongol general to overthrow the Karmapa's theocracy. Today, the Karmapa's men are ousting the Gelugpa power structure. Ceaseless change is unstoppable, taught Sakyamuni Buddha. Thus, attachment only results in suffering -- our attachment to wealth, power, pride, respect and, most of all, to love, the meanest vice yet highest virtue of human existence. Not even his bitter opponents can dispute the deep love of His Holiness the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso for his homeland, Tibet. How difficult it must be now, to let go.

Yoichi Shimatsu, former editor of the Japan Times Weekly in Tokyo, was executive producer of the video documentary "Flight of a Karmapa"

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor   March 22, 2008   (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.