The Dalai Lama often said that without Buddhism we Tibetans are nothing. He explained that the fact we find people around the world who like us is not because we are wealthy or intellectual or beautiful as a people, but because we have Buddhism in its purest form to offer to the world.
I look at it differently. For that let’s walk to the past and come back to the present and we will get a good idea about what the future holds for us if it holds anything at all.
The Tibetan Empire
The only period in Tibetan history that we can rightfully boast of is the Tsenpo era from Songtsen Gampo to Odhum Tsenpo, that is, from 7th ACE to 9th ACE for roughly 240 years. Not only were all the Tibetan-speaking people on the roof of the world united under one political administration for the first time in Tibet’s well over two-thousand-year old recorded history, but also the Tibetan empire reached twice the 2.5 million-sq-km territorial size we claim from China. Our sphere of political influence easily galloped over 10 million sq km. That is by no means a small achievement on the Asian continent, with control over the trade routes known as the “Silk Road” connecting Asia and Europe long before waterways became the best trade route. Of course 500 years later Genghis Khan and his sons stretched their empire well over 30 million sq km, and much later the British empire, and now the US empire. Impermanence seems inevitable. But that’s no excuse for inaction.
The credit for the golden era of Tibet’s history, whether in the field of literature, trade, administration, medicine or security goes to the practical Tsenpo kings, who did not lose touch with the reality on the ground and their military preparedness 24/7/365. Although Buddhism was by then sneaking in for some foothold in the Tsenpo court, Tibetans were by all definition Bonpos, whose courage, ferocity and tactics in the battlefield were well recorded by the Chinese, Persian, and Arab military historians.
Bonpos were not free from superstition either, but they were far more practical in geopolitics and military defense. Win or lose, one thing was certain. They wouldn’t wait for hope and compassion to take care of every worldly business. But, today’s Bon is no different from any other Tibetan school of Buddhism because it incorporated much of the pacifist Buddhist ideas.
India became weak when Indian kings such as Ashoka, Kanishka, and Harsha established Buddhism as the state religion. Mongols became weak when they embraced Buddhism.
Tibet fell because of religion
The Dalai Lama in one of his recent speeches argued that Tibet fell because of politics, not because of religion. The implication is that laymen politicians were responsible for the death of Tibet. This is not true. Lamas and monasteries were far more powerful and subjugated Tibetan people for centuries. Lhalung Buddhist monk and his cohorts brought down the Tibetan empire by assassinating the last practical and far-sighted King of Tibet, Odum Tsenpo, whose major focus was further militarization of Tibet surrounded by hostile neighbors.
Before the Buddhist era began, sectarian clashes were unheard of in Tibet. Tibetans were Bonpos and united as one nation. Two centuries later in the mid-9th ACE that changed forever. Tibet disintegrated into principalities and we were headless for nearly 400 years. True, nature hates a power vacuum. The internal unity and strength brought about by our focus on borders and external forces came to an end when our attention moved to Buddhist faith, pacifism and internal resources and forces which inevitably turned us against each other. Nyingmapas persecuted Bonpos: Bonpos persecuted Nyingmapas. Sakyapas slaughtered 10,000 Kagyu monks in a single day. Kargyupas overthrew Sakyapas: Kargyupas persecuted Gelugpas. 5th Dalai Lama vs Dhepa Tsangpa, Miwang Pholha vs 7th Dalai Lama, Tagdra vs Reting, and finally Gelukpas consolidated power by dominating and persecuting all other sects.
Sectarian clash continues
In exile too, this sectarian clash continues, though less violently, due to the fact that we don’t have an inch of land in our hand and also due to the law of the host nations. Shamar vs Situ over deceased Karmapa’s billion-dollar property. Two Karmapas and two Panchen Lamas. Shugden vs non-Shugden gelugs over some entity called Buddha or Shugden. Nobody knows for sure if it even exists! Neither side could prove either exists.
Sectarianism is the curse of believing without thinking and questioning. It is the curse of disrespecting facts, evidence, and reason. Next time you are around Nechung or Shugden in a trance, stab a needle up their rear and my point will reach home.
With the arrival of the Buddhist faith to Tibet in the 9th ACE, Tibetan political leadership suffered a major blow. Tibetan political pragmatism began eroding. In its place rose blind faith and the following:
Divination performers, suppression of demonic spirit crap, oracles, monastic institutions and depopulation of Tibet through monks and nuns for 1100 years.
Sectarianism, religious rivalry, isolationism, and exploitation of the common people.
Opposition to modern education and modernization in general.
Negligence of the border and abandonment of military defense system.
Opposition to skepticism and critical thinking.
These costly mistakes eventually brought Tibet to its knees, and today we are history. Have you ever wondered why Tibet hardly suffered invasion during the Bonpo era? And why Tibet suffered no occupation at all before the arrival of Buddhism? A huge population, practical leadership, and a military defense system was one obvious answer. The defense system could round up 1.4 million horsemen in no time. As soon as Buddhism got the royal backing, it persecuted Bonpos who were guarding the frontiers, thereby sowing the first seeds of national disunity.
Buddhist faith literally decimated our military defense in history. In the name of Buddhism and nirvana, we abandoned national defense since the 9th century ACE. And we looked down on soldiers as sinners. In the name of Buddhism and karma, our Lama-Aristo government made no effort to fight to the finish in the 1950s. In the name of Buddhism and pragmatism, our leaders abandoned the struggle for independence in the late 1980s.
Monks and lamas enter politics and parliament through an unbelievably cancerous channel called 10 religious seats which are never practiced in democracies around the world for a number of good reasons. Faith-driven Tibetans now dare not question lamas on any issue lest bad karma ambushes them. Questioning gets construed as lacking faith.
My objective is not to offend the reader, but like any sensible Tibetan, I am concerned too. If the clergy chooses to join politics, they can do so through their provincial tickets. No one can deny them this right. Let’s not forget the fact that these social vampires propagated the abandonment of military defense in the past and also the abandonment of independence struggle in the present.
But to be fair, one Commander-in-Chief Tsarong sensed the threat from the Chinese empire in the 1910s. He strengthened the Tibetan army from 8,000 soldiers to 30,000 soldiers with modern weapons and training. The aim was to raise it to 300,000 strong or more. But the 20,000 orthodox monks from Sera, Gaden, and Drepung monasteries opposed the move on the superficial ground that a strong military threatened Buddhism and that our culture was in peril. They even shut down the only modern school in Tibet and uprooted all the modernization efforts such as telephone and electricity system. And guess what, we went back to the caves, we went back to 8,000 troops which PLA crushed in 1950 with ease. Mixing Buddhism with politics indeed killed our nation.
It is wrong to invade other nations without provocation or justification. It is also wrong to open the gates for invasion and occupation of your own country. By exposing ourselves in the name of Buddhist faith and peace we let neighbors inflict violence on us. We inflicted violence on ourselves by letting the neighbors inflict violence on us. Abandoning military self-defense was a suicidal decision of our Buddhist leaders. It was also the Buddhist lamas who pushed for the policy of isolationism. This kept our ancestors in the dark about the changes taking place in the outside world, so the leaders could control us and continue with their exploitation at their leisure. Monks and lamas in pre-1959 Tibet lived on a luxury welfare where they were sheltered, fed, and clothed for free for life. What did they give back to the country? Nothing.
Buddhist faith has blinded Tibetans
Buddhist faith has blinded Tibetans into believing that any so-called high lamas are manifestations of a Buddha or a bodhisattva. The Dalai Lama’s concern and contribution to his people in difficult times are immense. Perhaps no other Tibetan has served like he has for 60 long years. But when it came to defending Tibetan independence and sovereignty in the 1950s this manifestation of Chenrezig was zero. The independence struggle has been abandoned for nearly three decades for this so-called realistic Middle Way Approach seeking genuine autonomy. Now when it comes to the fruition of this so-called feasible autonomy from China, he is again a big zero. Same goes for all the religious heads such as Sakya Lama or Nyingma Lama or Karmapa Lama. All those powers of magic and miracles evaporated!
Decades ago he said Tibetan lamas were being reborn in China as influential Chinese leaders to turn the tide in our favor! And we believed him. But lo and behold! Not once did a single Chinese leader for nearly five decades utter independence or autonomy for Tibet! Not once could the Dalai Lama superimpose Xi Jinping’s consciousness with his own and scream free Tibet from his mouth before the world media!
Challenges such as this may seem childish, but you cannot deny Buddhist faith abounds in such childish claims on powers of a bodhisattva, arahat, and Buddha. Their defensive excuse is that displaying supernatural feats by a bodhisattva harms people when the timing is not right!
In 1997 the Dalai Lama said to a large gathering of Tibetans in Tsuklakhang that the 13th Dalai Lama visited him sometimes at night in his bedroom and that he questioned the 13th Dalai Lama why he paid so much attention to politics and horses and not so much to Buddhism when he ruled Tibet. The 13th Dalai Lama was a practical ruler who gave all his support to Commander-in-Chief Tsarong for the remilitarization of Tibet, but unfortunately, his own monk followers ruined each and every plan of his to take Tibet into the 20th century.
Well, hundreds of people around the world display supernormal abilities despite otherwise being regular people. But there is no evidence that their skills, real or magic, harm people. There is this man who climbs Mount Everest topless and he is fine. There is another in France who fed on 4 tons of metals and he is fine too. There are thousands who display unbelievable powers on documentaries. Yet we experience no more harm from their display than watching a movie or a rocket launch.
Native Americans numbered around 100 million 500 years ago. They were, by and large, a just, simple, and peaceful people. Many of their tribes look a bit like us. Perhaps they migrated to the Americas from Tibet 19,000 years ago. Some of the tribes use the same words we use for water (chu) and death (shi). But the price they had to pay for being so peaceful and welcoming was devastating. They were forced to join the list of functionally extinct human races. European colonialists reduced their population to just 3 million, many of whom are bi-racial now, with swords, guns, and germs.
The gain of some sympathetic noises here and there occasionally is definitely better than nothing, but the loss of independence is the death of Tibet whose coffin is nailed— the wilful abandonment of struggle for independence — by our leadership.
We take great pride in perceiving ourselves as the most peaceful and nonviolent people on earth. Isn’t it ironic that this kind and peaceful people are today reduced to the bottom of every nation, wandering and begging for sympathy and mercy, the last gypsy, a disgusting state of affairs from which it might not recover for good?
Some healthy changes
However much I refuse to have the same fate as the American Indian, unfortunately, that’s all I see. But if we introduce some healthy changes to our political system, it could give rise to a glimmer of hope. We must accept with open arms the following:
The multi-party system
Kicking Lukar Jam out of the 2016 Sikyong race through official manipulation is to deny the Rangzen people the Rangzen voice. This governmental platform is not owned by Umaylam people. So it must be made accessible to all Tibetans regardless of their political stand and vision.
This is indispensable to a true democracy. A bit of party politics is inevitable, but when it comes to defending the core interests of the people, the party in power will rise to the challenge. An everyday example would be India, UK, and the US — the three biggest democracies around the world that never let go of their core national interests in spite of party politics, especially during elections.
Total eradication of the so-called 10 religious seats in the Parliament
Religion, or in our case Buddhist faith, is anathema to politics and its pragmatic vision. This is the lesson of our history and the experience of our people. Never again. More on this later.