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THE SHADOW OF THE DALAI LAMA: SEXUALITY, MAGIC AND POLITICS IN TIBETAN BUDDHISM; THE FOUNDATIONS OF TIBETAN BUDDHOCRACY, Part 1

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The cult drama of Tibetan/Tantric Buddhism consists in the constant taming of the feminine, the demoness. This is heralded already in the language. The Tibetan verb dulwa has the following meanings: to tame, subjugate, conquer, defeat; and sometimes to kill, destroy; but also to cultivate the land, civilize a nation, convert to Buddhism, bring up, discipline. Violent conquest and cultural activities thus form a unit for the Lamaist. The chief task of the Tibetan monastic state consists in the taming of wilderness (wild nature), the “heathen” barbarians, and the women. In tantric terminology this corresponds with the method (upaya) with which the feminine wildness (Candali or Srinmo) is defeated. Parallel to this, state Buddhism and social anarchy stand opposed to one another as enemies since the beginning of Tibetan history — they conduct their primordial struggle in the political, social, philosophical, divine, and cosmic arenas. Even though they battle to the bitter end, they are nonetheless — as we shall see — dependent upon one another.

The history of Buddhist state thought:

The fundamental attitude of the historical Buddha was anarchist. Not only did he leave his family behind, the king’s son also laid aside all offices of state. With the founding of the Buddhist community (the sangha), he assumed that this was a purely spiritual union which was ethically far superior to worldly institutions. The sangha formed the basic pattern for an ideal society, whilst the secular state was constantly receiving karmic stains through its worldly business. For this reason the relationship between the two institutions (the sangha and the state) was always tense and displayed many discordances which had arisen even earlier — in the Vedic period — between kshatriyas (warriors and kings) and brahmans (priests).

However, the anti-state attitude of the Buddhists changed in the third century B.C.E. with the seizure of power by of the Emperor Ashoka (who ruled between 272–236 B.C.E.) Ashoka, a ruler from the Maurya dynasty, had conquered almost the entire Indian subcontinent following several terrible campaigns. He converted to Buddhism and set great store by the distribution of the religion of Shakyamuni throughout the whole country. In accordance with the teaching, he forbade animal sacrifices and propagated the idea of vegetarianism.

His state-political status is not entirely clear among the historians, and a number of contradictory documents about this are extant. In one opinion he and the whole state submitted to the rule of the sangha (the monastic community) and he let his decisions be steered by them. According to another document, he himself assumed leadership of the community and became a sangharaja (both king and supreme commander of the monastic community). The third view is the most likely — that although he converted to the Buddhist faith he retained his political autonomy and forced the monastic community to obey his will as emperor. In favor of this view is the fact that it was he who summoned a council and there forced through his “Buddhologicalideas.

Up until today the idea of the just “king of peace” has been celebrated in the figure of Ashoka, and it has been completely overlooked that he confronted the sangha with the problem of state power. The Buddhist monastic community was originally completely non-coercive. Following its connection with the state, the principle of nonviolence necessarily came into conflict with the power political requirements this brought with it. For example, the historical Buddha is said to have had such an aversion to the death penalty that he offered himself as a substitute in order to save the life of a criminal. Ashoka, however, who proclaimed an edict against the slaughter of animals, did not renounce the execution of criminals by the state.

Whether during his lifetime or first due to later interpretations — the Emperor was (at any rate after his demise) declared to be a Chakravartin (world ruler) who held the “golden wheel” of the Dharma (the teaching) in his hands. He was the first historical Bodhisattva king, that is, a Bodhisattva incarnated in the figure of a worldly ruler. In him, worldly and spiritual power were united in one person. Interestingly he established his spiritual world domination via a kind of “cosmic sacrifice”. Legend tells how the Emperor came into possession of the original Buddha relic and ordered this to be divided into 84,000 pieces and scattered throughout the entire universe. Wherever a particle of this relic landed, his dominion spread, that is, everywhere, since at that time in India 84,000 was a symbolic number for the cosmic whole. [1] This pious account of his universal sovereignty rendered him completely independent of the Buddhist sangha.

In the Mahayana Golden Shine Sutra, a few centuries after Ashoka, the coercive power of the state is affirmed and presented as a doctrine of the historical Buddha. With this the anarchic period of the Sangha was finally ended. By 200 C.E. at the latest, under the influence of Greco-Roman and Iranian ideas, the Buddhist concept of kingship had developed into its fully autocratic form which is referred to by historians as “Caesaropapism”. An example of this is provided by King Kanishka from the Kushana dynasty (2nd century C.E.) In him, the attributes of a worldly king and those of a Buddha were completely fused with one another. Even the “coming” Buddha, Maitreya, and the reigning king formed a unit. The ruler had become a savior. He was a contemporary Bodhisattva and at the same time the appearance of the coming Buddhist messiah who had descended from heaven already in this life so as to impart his message of salvation to the people. (Kanishka cultivated a religious syncretism and also used other systems to apotheosize his person and reign.)

The Dalai Lama and the Buddhist state are one:

Tibet first became a centralized ecclesiastical state with the Dalai Lama as its head in the year 1642. The priest-king had the self-appointed right to exercise absolute power. He was de jure not just lord over his human subjects but likewise over the spirits and all other beings which lived “above and beneath the world”. One of the first western visitors to the country, the Briton S. Turner, described the institution as follows: “A sovereign Lama, immaculate, immortal, omnipresent and omniscient is placed at the summit of their fabric. [!] He is esteemed the vice regent of the only God, the mediator between mortals and the Supreme ... He is also the center of all civil government, which derives from his authority all influence and power” (quoted by Bishop, 1993, p. 93).

Turner, who knew nothing about the secrets of Tantrism, saw the Dalai Lama as a kind of bridge (pontifex maximus) between transcendence and reality. He was for this author the governor for and the image of Buddha, his majesty appeared as the pale earthly reflection of the deity. This is, however, too modest! The Dalai Lama does not represent Buddha on earth, nor is he an intermediary, nor a reflection — he is the complete deity himself. He is a Kundun, that is, he is the presence of Buddha, he is a “living Buddha”. For this reason his power and his compassion are believed to be unbounded. He is world king and Bodhisattva rolled into one.

The Dalai Lama unites spiritual and worldly power in one person — a dream which remained unfulfilled for the popes and emperors of the European Middle Ages. [2] According to doctrine, the Kundun is the visible form (nirmanakaya) of this comprehensive divine power in time; he exists as the earthly appearance of the time god, Kalachakra; he is the supreme “lord of the wheel of time”. For this reason he was handed a golden wheel as a sign of his omnipotence at his enthronement. He is prayed to as the “ruler of rulers”, the “victor” and the “conqueror”. Even if he himself does not wield the sword, he can still order others to do so, and oblige them to go to war for him.

There was just as little distinction between power-political and religious organization in the Tibet of old as in the Egypt of the Pharaohs. As such, every action of the Tibetan god-king, regardless of how mundane it may appear to us, was (and is) religiously grounded and holy. The monastic state he governs was (and is) considered to be the earthly reflection of a cosmic realm. In essence there was (and is) no difference between the supernatural order and the social order. The two vary only in their degree of perfection, and the ordo universalis (universal order) which is apparent in this world is marred only by flaws due to the imperfection of humanity (and not due to any imperfection of the Kundun). Anarchy, disorder, revolt, famine, disobedience, defeat, expulsion are a matter of the deficiencies of the age, but never incorrect conduct by the god-king. He is without blemish and only present in this world in order to instruct people in the Dharma (the Buddhist doctrine).

The state as the microcosmic body of the Dalai Lama:

Ashoka, the first Buddhist Emperor, was considered to be the incarnation of a Bodhisattva and probably as that of a Chakravartin (world ruler). His role as the highest bearer of state office was, however, not of a tantric nature. Fundamentally, he acted like every sacred king before him. His decisions, his edicts, and his deeds were considered holy — but he did not govern via control of his inner microcosmic energies. The pre-tantric Chakravartin (e.g., Ashoka) controlled the cosmos, but the tantric world ruler is (e.g., the Dalai Lama) the cosmos itself. This equation of macrocosmic procedures and microcosmic events within the mystic body of the tantric hierarch even includes his people. The tantra master upon the Lion Throne does not just represent his people, rather — to be precise — he is them. The oft-quoted phrase “I am the state” is literally true of him.

He controls it — as we have described above -- through his inner breath, through the movement of the ten winds (dasakaro vasi). His two chief metapolitical activities consist of the rite and the bodily control with which he secretly steers the cosmos and his kingdom. The political, the cultic, and his mystic physiology are inseparable for him. In his energy body he plays out the events virtually, as in a computer, in order to allow them to become reality in the world of appearances.

The tantric Buddhocracy is thus an interwoven total of cosmological, religious, territorial, administrative, economic, and physiological events. Taking the doctrine literally, we must thus assume that Tibet, with all its regions, mountains, valleys, rivers, towns, villages, with its monasteries, civil servants, aristocrats, traders, farmers, and herdsmen, with all its plants and animals can be found anew in the energy body of the Dalai Lama. Such for us seemingly fantastic concepts are not specifically Tibetan. We can also find them in ancient Egypt, China, India, even in medieval Europe up until the Enlightenment. Thus, when the Kundun says in 1996 in an interview that “my proposal treats Tibet as something like one human body. The whole Tibet is one body”, this is not just intended allegorically and geopolitically, but also tantrically (Shambhala Sun, archives, November, 1996). Strictly interpreted, the statement also means: Tibet and my energy body are identical with one another.

Tibet on the other hand is a microcosmic likeness of the sum of humanity, at least that is how the Tibetan National Assembly sees the matter in a letter from the year 1946. We can read there that “there are many great nations on this earth who have achieved unprecedented wealth and might, but there is only one nation which is dedicated to the well-being of humanity and that is the religious land of Tibet, which cherishes a joint spiritual and temporal system” (Newsgroup 12).

The mandala as the organizational form of the Tibetan state:

There is something specific in the state structure of the historical Buddhocracy which distinguishes it from the purely pyramidal constitution of Near Eastern theocracies. Alone because of the many schools and sub-schools of Tibetan Buddhism we cannot speak of a classic leadership pyramid at the pinnacle of which the Dalai Lama stands. In order to describe in general terms the Buddhocratic form of state, S. J. Tambiah introduced a term which has in the meantime become widespread in the relevant literature. He calls it “galactic politics” or “mandala politics” (Tambiah, 1976, pp. 112 ff.) What can be understood by this?

As in a solar system, the chief monasteries of the Land of Snows orbit like planets around the highest incarnation of Tibet, the god-king and world ruler from Lhasa, and form with him a living mandala. This planetary principle is repeated in the organizational form of the chief monasteries, in the center of which a tulku likewise rules as a “little” Chakravartin. Here, each arch-abbot is the sun and father about whom rotate the so-called “child monasteries”, that is, the monastic communities subordinate to him. Under certain circumstances these can form a similar pattern with even smaller units.

Mandala-pattern of the tibetan government (above) and the corresponding government offices around the Jokhang-Temple (below)

A collection of many “solar systems” thus arises which together form a “galaxy”. Although the Dalai Lama represents an overarching symbolic field, the individual monasteries still have a wide ranging autonomy within their own planet. As a consequence, every monastery, every temple, even every Tulku forms a miniature model of the whole state. In this idealist conception they are all “little “ copies of the universal Chakravartin (wheel turner) and must also behave ideal-typically like him. All the thoughts and deeds of the world ruler must be repeated by them and ideally there should be no differences between him and them. Then all the planetary units within the galactic model are in harmony with one another. In the light of this idea, the frequent and substantial disagreements within the Tibetan clergy appear all the more paradox.

Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, forms the cosmic center of this galaxy. Two magnificent city buildings symbolize the spiritual and worldly control of the Dalai Lama: The cathedral (the Jokhang temple) his priesthood; the palace (the Potala) his kingship. The Fifth Dalai Lama ordered the construction of his residence on the “Red Mountain” (Potala) from where the Tibetan rulers of the Yarlung dynasty once reigned, but he did not live to see its magnificent completion. Instead of laying a foundation stone, the god-king had a stake driven into the soil of the “red mountain” and summoned the wrathful deities, probably to demonstrate here too his power over the earth mother, Srinmo, whose nailed down heart beats beneath the Jokhang.

Significantly, a sanctuary in southern India dedicated to Avalokiteshvara was known in earlier times as a “Potala”. His Tibetan residence, which offers a view over all of Lhasa, was a suitably high place for the “Lord who looks down from above” (as the name of the Bodhisattva can be translated). The Potala was also known as the “residence of the gods”.

Tibet is also portrayed in the geometric form of a Mandala in the religious political literature. "While it demonstrates hierarchy, power relations, and legal levels”, writes Rebecca Redwood French, "the Mandala ceaselessly pulsates with movement up, down and between its different parts” (Redwood French, 1995, p. 179).

The mchod-yon relationship to other countries:

What form does the relationship of a Chakravartin from the roof of the world to the rulers of other nations take in the Tibetan way of looking at things? The Dalai Lama was (and is) — according to doctrine — the highest (spiritual) instance for all the peoples of the globe. Their relationship to him are traditionally regulated by what is known as the mchod-yon formula.

With an appeal to the historical Buddha, the Tibetans interpret the mchod-yon relation as follows:

The sacred monastic community (the sangha) is far superior to secular ruler. The secular ruler (the king) has the task, indeed the duty, to afford the sangha military protection and keep it alive with generous “alms”. In the mchod-yon relationpriest” and “patron” thus stood (and stand) opposed, in that the patron was obliged to fulfill all the worldly needs of the clergy.

After Buddhism became more and more closely linked with the idea of the state following the Ashoka period, and the “high priests” themselves became “patrons” (secular rulers), the mchod-yon relation was applied to neighboring countries. That is, states which were not yet really subject to the rule of the priest-king (e.g., of the Dalai Lama) had to grant him military protection and “alms”. This delicate relation between the Lamaist Buddhocracy and its neighboring states still plays a significant role in Chinese-Tibetan politics today, since each of the parties interprets them differently and thus also derives conflicting rights from it.

The Chinese side has for centuries been of the opinion that the Buddhist church (and the Dalai Lama) must indeed be paid for their religious activities with “alms”, but only has limited rights in worldly matters. The Chinese (especially the communists) thus impose a clear division between state and church and in this point are largely in accord with western conceptions, or they with justification appeal to the traditional Buddhist separation of sangha (the monastic community) and politics (Klieger, 1991, p. 24). In contrast, the Tibetans do not just lay claim to complete political authority, they are also convinced that because of the mchod-yon relation the Chinese are downright obliged to support them with “alms” and protect them with “weapons”. Even if such a claim is not articulated in the current political situation it nonetheless remains an essential characteristic of Tibetan Buddhocracy. [3]

Christiaan Klieger has convincingly demonstrated that these days the entire exile Tibetan economy functions according to the traditional mchod-yon (priest-patron) principle described above, that is, the community with the monks at its head is constantly supported by non-Tibetan institutions and individuals from all over the world with cash, unpaid work, and gifts. The Tibetan economic system has thus remained “medieval” in emigration as well.

Whether the considerable gifts to the Tibetans in exile are originally intended for religious or humanitarian projects no longer plays much of a role in their subsequent allocation. "Funds generated in the West as part of the religious system of donations,” writes Klieger, "are consequently transformed into political support for the Tibetan state” (Klieger, 1991, p. 21). The formula, which proceeds from the connection between spiritual and secular power, is accordingly as follows: whoever supports the politics of the exile Tibetans also patronizes Buddhism as such or, vice versa, whoever wants to foster Buddhism must support Tibetan politics.

The feigned belief of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama in western democracy:

However authoritarian and undemocratic the guiding principles of the Buddhist state are, these days (and in total contrast to this) the Fourteenth Dalai Lama exclusively professes a belief in a western democratic model. Now, is the Kundun’s conception of democracy a matter of a seriously intended reform of the old feudal Tibetan relations, a not yet realized long-term political goal, or simply a tactical ploy?

Admittedly, since 1961 a kind of parliament exists among the Tibetans in exile in which the representatives of the various provinces and the four religious schools hold seats as members. But the “god-king” still remains the highest government official. According to the constitution, he cannot be stripped of his authority as head of state and as the highest political instance. There has never, Vice President Thubten Lungring has said, been a majority decision against the Dalai Lama. The latter is said to have with a smile answered a western journalist who asked him whether it was even possible that resolutions could be passed against him, “No, not possible” (Newsgroup 13).

Whenever he is asked about his unshakable office, the Kundun always repeats that this absolutist position of power was thrust upon him against his express wishes. The people emphatically demanded of him that he retain his role as regent for life. With regard to the charismatic power of integration he is able to exercise, this was certainly a sensible political decision. But this means that the exile Tibetan state system still remains Buddhocratic at heart. Nonetheless, this does not prevent the Kundun from presenting the constitution finally passed in 1963 as being “based upon the principles of modern democracy”, nor from constantly demanding the separation of church and state (Dalai Lama XIV, 1993b, p. 25; 1996b, p. 30).

In the course of its 35-year existence the exile Tibetan “parliament” has proved itself to be purely cosmetic. It was barely capable of functioning and played a completely subordinate role in the political decision-making process. The “first ever democratic political party in the history of Tibet” as it terms itself in its political platform, the National Democratic Party of Tibet (NDPT), first saw the light of day in the mid nineties. Up until at least 1996 the “people” were completely uninterested in the democratic rules of the game (Tibetan Review, February 1990, p. 15). Politics was at best conducted by various pressure groups — the divisive regional representations, the militant Tibetan Youth Association and the senior abbots of the four chief sects. But ultimately decisions (still) lay in the hands of His Holiness, several executive bodies, and the members of three families, of whom the most powerful is that of the Kundun, the so-called “Yabshi clan”.

The same is true of the freedom of the press and freedom of speech in general. “The historian Wangpo Tethong,” exiled Tibetan opponents of the Dalai Lama wrote in 1998, “whose noble family has constantly occupied several posts in the government in exile, equates democratization in exile with the ‘propagation of an ideology of national unity’ and 'religious and political unification'. This contradicts the western conception of democracy” (Press release of the Dorje Shugden International Coalition, February 7, 1998; translation). The sole (!) independent newspaper in Dharamsala, with the name of Democracy (in Tibetan: Mangtso), was forced to cease publication under pressure from members of the government in exile. In the Tibet News, an article by Jamyang Norbu on the state of freedom of the press is said to have appeared. The author summarizes his analysis as follows: “Not only is there no encouragement or support for a free Tibetan press, rather there is almost an extinguishing of the freedom of opinion in the Tibetan exile community” (Press release of the Dorje Shugden International Coalition, February, 7, 1998).

The Tibetan parliament in exile and the democracy of the exiled Tibetans is a farce. Even Thubten J. Norbu, one of the Dalai Lama’s brothers, is convinced of this. When in the early nineties he clashed fiercely with Gyalo Thondop, another brother of the Kundun, over the question of foreign affairs, the business of government was paralyzed due to this dispute between the brothers (Tibetan Review, September 1992, p. 7). The 11th parliamentary assembly (1991), for instance, could not reach consensus over the election of a full cabinet. The parliamentary members therefore requested that His Holiness make the decision. The result was that of seven ministers, two belonged to the “Yabshi clan”, that is, to the Kundun’s own family: Gyalo Thondop was appointed chairman of the council of ministers and was also responsible for the “security” department. The Dalai Lama’s sister, Jetsun Pema, was entrusted with the ministry of education.

In future, everything is supposed to change. Nepotism, corruption, undemocratic decisions, suppression of the freedom of the press are no longer supposed to exist in the new Tibet. On June 15, 1988, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama announced to the European Parliament in Strasbourg that upon his return a constitutional assembly would be formed in the Land of Snows, headed by a president who would possess the same authority as he himself now enjoyed. Following this there would be democratic elections. A separation of church and state along western lines would be guaranteed from the outset in Tibet. There would also be a voluntary relinquishment of some political authority vis-à-vis the Chinese. He, the Dalai Lama, would recognize the diplomatic and military supremacy of China and be content with just the "fields of religion, commerce, education, culture, tourism, science, sports, and other non-political activities” (Grunfeld, 1996, p. 234).

But despite such spoken professions, the national symbols tell another tale: With pride, every Tibetan in exile explains that the two snow lions on the national flag signify the union of spiritual and worldly power. The Tibetan flag is thus a visible demonstration of the Tibetan Buddhocracy. Incidentally, a Chinese yin yang symbol can be found in the middle. This can hardly be a reference to a royal couple, and rather, is clearly a symbol of the androgyny of the Dalai Lama as the highest tantric ruler of the Land of Snows. All the other heraldic features of the flag (the colors, the flaming jewels, the twelve rays, etc.), which is paraded as the coat of arm of a democratic, national Tibet, are drawn from the royalist repertoire of the Lamaist priesthood.

The Strasbourg Declaration of 1989 and the renunciation of autonomy it contains are sharply criticized by the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), the European Tibetan Youth Association, and the Dalai Lama’s elder brother, Thubten Norbu. When the head of the Tibetan Youth Congress came under strong attack because he did not approve of the political decisions of the Kundun, he defended himself by pointing out that the Dalai Lama himself had called upon him to pursue this hard-line stance — probably so as to have the possibility of distancing himself from his Strasbourg Declaration (Goldstein, 1997, p. 139).

This political double game is currently intensifying. Whilst the god-king continues to extend his contacts with Beijing, the TYC’s behavior is increasingly vocally radical. We have become too nonviolent, too passive, declared the president of the organization, Tseten Norbu, in 1998 (Reuters, Beijing, June 22, 1998). In the countermove, since Clinton’s visit to China (in July 1998) the Dalai Lama has been offering himself to the Chinese as a peacemaker to be employed against his own people as the sole bulwark against a dangerous Tibetan radicalism: “The resentment in Tibet against the Chinese is very strong. But there is one (person) who can influence and represent the Tibetan people [he means himself here]. If he no longer existed the problem could be radicalized” he threatened the Chinese leadership, of whom it has been said that they want to wait out his death in exile (Time, July 13, 1998, p. 26).

Whatever happens to the Tibetan people in the future, the Dalai Lama remains a powerful ancient archetype in his double function as political and spiritual leader. In the moment in which he has to surrender this dual role, the idea, anchored in the Kalachakra Tantra, of a “world king” first loses its visible secular part, then the Chakravartin is worldly and spiritual ruler at once. In this case the Dalai Lama would exercise a purely spiritual office, which more or less corresponds to that of a Catholic Pope.

How the Kundun will in the coming years manage the complicated balancing act between religious community and nationalism, democracy and Buddhocracy, world dominion and parliamentary government, priesthood and kingship, is a completely open question. He will at any rate — as Tibetan history and his previous incarnations have taught us — tactically orient himself to the particular political constellations of power.

The democratic faction:

Within the Tibetan community there are a few exiled Tibetans brought up in western cultures who have carefully begun to examine the ostensible democracy of Dharamsala. In a letter to the Tibetan Review for example, one Lobsang Tsering wrote: "The Tibetan society in its 33-years of exile has witnessed many scandals and turmoils. But do the people know all the details about these events? ... The latest scandal has been the 'Yabshi vs. Yabshi' affair concerning the two older brothers of the Dalai Lama. (Yabshi is the family name of the Dalai Lama’s relatives.] The rumours keep on rolling and spreading like wildfire. Many still are not sure exactly what the affair is all about. Who are to blame for this lack of information? Up till now anything controversial has been kept as a state secret by our government. It is true that not every government policy should be conducted in the open. However, in our case, nothing is done in the open” (Tibetan Review, September 1992, p. 22). [4]

We should also take seriously the liberal democratic intentions of younger Tibetans in the homeland. For instance, the so-called Drepung Manifesto, which appeared in 1988 in Lhasa, makes a refreshingly critical impression, although formulated by monks: "Having completely eradicated the practices of the old society with all its faults,” it says "the future Tibet will not resemble our former condition and be a restoration of serfdom or be like the so-called ‘old system’ of rule a succession of feudal masters or monastic estates.” (Schwartz, 1994, p. 127). Whether such statements are really intended seriously is something about which one can only speculate. The democratic reality among the Tibetans in exile gives rise to some doubts about this.

It is likewise a fact that the protest movement in Tibet, continually expanding since the eighties, draws together everyone who is dissatisfied in some way, from upright democrats to the dark monastic ritualists for whom any means is acceptable in the quest to restore through magic the power of the Dalai Lama on the “roof of the world”. We shall return to discuss several examples of this in our chapter War and Peace. Western tourists who are far more interested in the occult and mystic currents of the country than in the establishment of a “westerndemocracy, encourage such atavisms as best they can.

For the Tibetan within and outside of their country, the situation is extremely complicated. They are confronted daily with professions of faith in western democracy on the one hand and a Buddhocratic, archaic reality on the other and are supposed to (the Kundun imagines) decide in favor of two social systems at once which are not compatible with one another. In connection with the still to be described Shugden affair this contradiction has become highly visible and self-evident.

Additionally, the Tibetans are only now in the process of establishing themselves as a nation, a self-concept which did not exist at all before — at least since the country has been under clerical control. We have to refer to the Tibet of the past as a cultural community and not as a nation. It was precisely Lamaism and the predecessors of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, who now sets himself at the forefront of the Tibetan Nation, who prevented the development of a real feeling of national identity among the populace. The “yellow church” advocated their Buddhist teachings, invoked their deities and pursued their economic interests — yet not those of the Tibetans as a united people. For this reason the clergy also never had the slightest qualms about allying themselves with the Mongolians or the Chinese against the inhabitants of the Land of Snows.

The “Great Fifth”: Absolute Sun King of Tibet:

Historians are unanimous in maintaining that the Tibetan state was the ingenious construction of a single individual. The golden age of Lamaism begins with Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617–1682) and also ends with him. The saying of the famous historian, Thomas Carlyle, that the history of the world is nothing other than the biography of great men may be especially true of him. None of his successors have ever achieved the same power and visionary force as the “Great Fifth”. They are in fact just the weak transmission of a very special energy which was gathered together in his person in the seventeenth century. The spiritual and material foundations which he laid have shaped the image of Tibet in both East and West up until the present day. But his practical political power, limited firstly by various Buddhist schools and then also by the Mongolians and Chinese, was not at all so huge. Rather, he achieved his transtemporal authority through the adroit accumulation of all spiritual resources and energies, which he put to service with an admirable lack of inhibition and an unbounded inventiveness. With cunning and with violence, kindness and brutality, with an enthusiasm for ostentatious magnificence, and with magic he organized all the significant religious forms of expression of his country about himself as the shining center. Unscrupulous and flexible, domineering and adroit, intolerant and diplomatic, he carried through his goals. He was statesman, priest, historian, grammarian, poet, painter, architect, lover, prophet, and black magician in one — and all of this together in an outstanding and extremely effective manner.

The grand siècle of the “Great Fifth” shone out at the same period in time as that of Louis XIV (1638–1715), the French sun king, and the two monarchs have often been compared to one another. They are united in their iron will to centralize, their fascination for courtly ritual, their constant exchange with the myths, and much more besides. The Fifth Dalai Lama and Louis XIV thought and acted as expressions of the same temporal current and in this lay the secret of their success, which far exceeded their practical political victories. If it was the concept of the seventeenth century to concentrate the state in a single person, then for both potentates the saying rings true: l'état c'est moi ("I am the state”). Both lived from the same divine energy, the all-powerful sun. The “king” from Lhasa also saw himself as a solarfire god”, as the lord of his era, an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara. The year of his birth (1617) is assigned to the “fire serpent” in the Tibetan calendar. Was this perhaps a cosmic indicator that he would become a master of high tantric practices, who governed his empire with the help of the kundalini ("fire serpent”)?

In the numerous visions of the potentate in which the most important gods and goddesses of Vajrayana appeared before him, tantric unions constantly took place. For him, the transformation of sexuality into spiritual and worldly power was an outright element of his political program. Texts which he himself wrote describe how he, absorbed by one such exercise by a divine couple, slipped into the vagina of his wisdom consort, bathed there “in the red and white bodhicitta” and afterwards returned to his old body blissful and regenerated (Karmay, 1988, p. 49).

Contemporary documents revere him as the “sun and moon” in one person. (Yumiko, 1993, p. 41). He had mastered a great number of tantric techniques and even practiced his ritual self-destruction (chod) without batting an eyelid. Once he saw how a gigantic scorpion penetrated into his body and devoured all his internal organs. Then the creature burst into flames which consumed the remainder of his body (Karmay, 1988, p. 52). He exhibited an especial predilection for the most varied terror deities who supported him in executing his power politics.

The Fifth Dalai Lama was obsessed by the deliriums of magic. He saw all of his political and cultural successes as the result of his own invocations. For him, armies were only the executive organs of prior tantric rituals. Everywhere, he — the god upon the Lion Throneperceived gods and demons to be at work, with whom he formed alliances or against whom he took to the field. Every step that he took was prepared for by prophecies and oracles. The visions in which Avalokiteshvara appeared to him were frequent, and just as frequently he identified with the “fire god”. With a grand gesture he dissolved the whole world into energy fields which he attempted to control magically — and he in fact succeeded. The Asia of the time took him seriously and allowed him to impose his system. He reigned as Chakravartin, as world ruler, and as the Adi Buddha on earth. Chinese Emperors and Mongolian Khans feared him for his metaphysical power.

One might think that his religious emotionalism was only a pretext, to be employed as a means of establishing real power. His sometimes sarcastic, but always sophisticated manner may suggest this. It is, however, highly unlikely, then the divine statesman had his occult and liturgical secrets written down, and it is clear from these records that his first priority was the control of the symbolic world and the tantric rituals and that he derived his political decisions from these.

His Secret Biography and the Golden Manuscript which he wrote (Karmay, 1988) were up until most recently kept locked away and were only accessible to a handful of superiors from the Gelugpa order. These two documents — which may now be viewed– also reveal the author to be a grand sorcerer who evaluated anything and everything as the expression of divine plans and whose conceptions of power are no longer to be interpreted as secular. There is no doubting that the “Great Fifththought and acted as a deity completely consciously. This sort of thing is said to be frequent among kings, but the lord from the roof of the world also possessed the energy and the power of conviction to transform his tantric visions into a reality which still persists today.

The predecessors of the Fifth Dalai Lama:

The organizational and disciplinary strength of the Gelugpa ("Yellow Hat”) order formed the Fifth Dalai Lama’s power base, upon which he could build his system. Shortly after the death of Tsongkhapa (the founder of the “Yellow Hats”) his successors adopted the doctrine of incarnation from the Kagyupa sect. Hence the chain of incarnated forebears of the “Great Fifth” was fixed from the start. It includes four incarnations from the ranks of the Gelugpas, of whom only the last two bore the title of Dalai Lama, the first pair were accorded the rank posthumously.

The chain begins with Gyalwa Gendun Drub (1391–1474) , a pupil of Tsongkhapa and later the First Dalai Lama. He was an outstanding expert on, and higher initiand into, the Kalachakra Tantra and composed several commentaries upon it which are still read today. His writings on this topic, even if they never attain the methodical precision and canonical knowledge of his teacher, Tsongkhapa, show that he practiced the tantra and sought bisexuality in “the form of Kalachakra and his consort” (Dalai Lama I, 1985, p. 181).

His androgynous longings are especially clear in the hymns with which he invoked the goddess Tara so as to be able to assume her feminine form: “Suddenly I appear as the holy Arya Tara, whose mind is beyond samsara” he writes. “My body is green in color and my face reflects a warmly serene smile ... attained to immortality, my appearance is that of a sixteen-year-old-girl” (Dalai Lama I, 1985, pp. 135, 138).

This appearance as the goddess of mercy did not, however, restrain him from following a pretty hard line in the construction of the legal system. He determined that prisons be constructed in all monasteries, where some of his opponents lost their lives under inhuman circumstances. The penal system which he codified was intransigent and cruel. Days without food and whippings were a part of this, just like the cutting off of the right hand in cases of theft or the death penalty for breach of the vows of celibacy, insofar as this took place outside of the tantric rituals. His severity and rigor nonetheless earned him the sympathy of the people, who saw him as the arm of a just and angry god who brought order to the completely deteriorated world of the monastic clergy.

The title Dalai Lama first appears during the encounter between the arch-abbot of Sera, Sonam Gyatso (1543–1588) and the Mongolian Khan, Altan. The prince of the church (later the Third Dalai Lama) undertook the strenuous journey to the north and visited the Mongols in the year 1578 at their invitation. He spent a number of days at the court of Altan Khan, initiated him into the teachings of the Buddha and successfully demonstrated his spiritual power through all manner of sensational miracles. One day the prince of the steppes appeared in a white robe which was supposed to symbolize love, and confessed with much feeling to the Buddhist faith. He promised to transform the “blood sea” into a “sea of milk” by changing the Mongolian laws. Sonam Gyatso replied, “You are the thousand-golden-wheel-turning Chakravartin or world ruler” (Bleichsteiner, 1937, p. 89).

It can be clearly gathered from this apotheosis that the monk conceded secular authority to the successor of Genghis Khan. But as an incarnated Buddha he ranked himself more highly. This emerges from an initiatory speech in which one of Altan's nephews compares him to the moon, but addresses the High Lama from the Land of Snows as the omnipotent sun (Bleichsteiner, 1937, p. 88). But the Mongol prince called his guest “Dalai Lama”, a somewhat modest title on the basis of the translation usual these days, “Ocean of Wisdom”. Robert Bleichsteiner also translates it somewhat more emotionally as “Thunderbolt-bearing World Ocean Priest”. The god-king of Tibet thus bears a Mongolian title, not a Tibetan one.

At the meeting between Sonam Gyatso and Altan Khan there were surely negotiations about the pending fourth incarnation of the “Dalai Lama” (Yonten Gyatso 1589–1617), then he appeared among the Mongols in the figure of a great-grandchild of Khan’s. Bleichsteiner refers to this “incarnation decision” as a “particularly clever chess move”, which finally ensured the control of the “Yellow Hats” over Mongolia and obliged the Khans to provide help to the order (Bleichsteiner, 1937, p. 89). The Mongolian Fourth Dalai Lama died at the age of 28 and did not play a significant political role.

This was taken over by the powerful Kagyupa sect (the so-called “Red Hats”) at this stage in time. The “Red Hats” recruited their members exclusively from national (Tibetan) forces. They had attacked Sonam Gyatso’s (the III Dalai Lama’s) journey to the Mongols as treason and were able to continually expand their power political successes so that by the 1630s the Gelugpa order was only savable via external intervention.

Thus, nothing seemed more obvious than that the “Great Fifth” should demonstratively adopt the Mongolian title “Dalai Lama” so as to motivate the warlike nomadic tribes from the north to occupy and conquer Tibet. This state political calculation paid off in full. The result was a terrible civil war between the Kagyupas and the followers of the prince of Tsang on the one side and the Gelugpas and the Mongol leader Gushri Khan on the other.

If the records are to be trusted, the Mongol prince, Gushri Khan, made a gift of his military conquests (i.e., Tibet) to the Fifth Dalai Lama and handed over his sword after the victory over the “Red Hats”. This was not evaluated symbolically as a pacifist act, but rather as the ceremonial equipping of the prince of the church with secular power. Yet it remains open to question whether the power-conscious Mongol really saw this symbolic act in these terms, then de jure Gushri Khan retained the title “King of Tibet” for himself. The “Great Fifth” in contrast, certainly interpreted the gift of the sword as a gesture of submission by the Khan (the renunciation of authority over Tibet), then de facto from now on he managed affairs like an absolute ruler.

The Secret Biography:

The Fifth Dalai Lama took his self-elevation to the status of a deity and his magic practices just as seriously as he did his real power politics. For him, every political act, every military operation was launched by a visionary event or prepared for with an invocatory ritual. Nevertheless, as a Tantric, the dogma of the emptiness of all being and the nonexistence of the phenomenal world stood for him behind the whole ritual and mystic theater which he performed. This was the epistemological precondition to being able to control the protagonists of history just like those of the spiritual world. It is against this framework that the “Great Fifth” introduces his autobiography (Secret Biography) with an irony which undermines his own life’s work in the following verses:

The erudite should not read this work, they will be embarrassed. It is only for the guidance of fools who revel in fanciful ideas. Although it tries frankly to avoid pretentiousness, It is nevertheless corrupted with deceit. By speaking honestly on whatever occurred, this could be taken to be lies.

As if illusions of Samsara were not enough, This stupid mind of mine is further attracted To ultra-illusory visions. It is surely mad to say that the image of the Buddha's compassion Is reflected in the mirror of karmic existence.

Let me now write the following pages, Though it will disappoint those who are led to believe That the desert-mirage is water, As well as those who are enchanted by folk-tales, And those who delight in red clouds in summer.” (Karmay, 1988, p. 27)

Up until recent times the Secret Biography had not been made public, it was a secret document only accessible to a few chosen. There is no doubting that the power-obsessed “god-king” wanted to protect the extremely intimate and magic character of his writings through the all-dispersing introductory poem. One of the few handwritten copies is kept in the Munich State Library. There it can be seen that the Great Fifth nonetheless took his “fairy tales” so seriously that he marked the individual chapters with a red thumbprint.

Everything about Tibet which so fascinates people from the West is collected in the multilayered character of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Holiness and barbarism, compassion and realpolitik, magic and power, king and mendicant monk, splendor and modesty, war and peace, megalomania and humility, god and mortal — the pontiff from Lhasa was able to simplify these paradoxes to a single formula and that was himself. He was for an ordinary person one of the incomprehensibly great, a contradiction made flesh, a great solitary, upon whom in his own belief the life of the world hung. He was a mystery for the people, a monster for his enemies, a deity for his followers, a beast for his opponents. This ingenious despot is — as we shall later see — the highest example for the current Fourteenth Dalai Lama.

The regent Sangye Gyatso:

The Fifth Dalai Lama did not need to worry about a successor, because he was convinced that he would be reincarnated in a child a few days after his death. Yet with wise foresight the time between his rebirth and his coming of age needed to be organized. Here too, the “Great Fifth's" choice was a brilliant piece of power politics. As "regent” he decided to appoint the lama Sangye Gyatso (1653–1705) and equipped him with all the regalia of a king already in the last years of his life. He seated him upon the broad throne of the fearless lion as the executor of two duties, one worldly and one religious, which are appropriate to a great Chakravartin kingship, as a lord of heaven and earth (Ahmad, 1970, p. 43). The Dalai Lama thus appointed him world ruler until his successor (who he himself was) came of age. It was rumored with some justification that the regent was his biological son (Hoffmann, 1956, p. 176).

In terms of his abilities, Sangye Gyatso must be regarded not just as a skilled statesman, rather he was also the author of a number of intelligent books on such varied topics as healing, law, history, and ritual systems. He proceeded against the women of Lhasa with great intolerance. According to a contemporary report he is said to have issued a command that every female being could only venture into public with a blackened face, so that the monks would not fall into temptation.

So as to consolidate his threatened position during the troubled times, he kept the demise of his “divine father” (the Fifth Dalai Lama) secret for ten years and explained that the prince of the church remained in the deepest meditation. When in the year 1703 the Mongolian prince, Lhazang, posed the never completely resolved question of power between Lhasa and the warrior nomads and himself claimed regency over Tibet, an armed conflict arose.

The right wing of the Mongol army was under the command of the martial wife of the prince, Tsering Tashi. She succeeded in capturing the regent and carried out his death sentence personally. If she was a vengeant incarnation of Srinmo in the “land of the gods”, then her revenge also extended to the coming Sixth Dalai Lama, over whose fate we report in a chapter of its own.

The successors of the “Great Fifth”: The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dalai Lamas:

The Seventh and Eighth Dalai Lamas only played a minor role in the wider political world. As we have already reported, the four following god-kings (The Ninth to the Twelfth Dalai Lamas) either died an early death or were murdered. It was first the so-called “Great Thirteenth” who could be described as a “politician” again. Although in constant contact with the modern world, Thubten Gyatso, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama (1874–1933), thought and acted like his predecessor, the “Great Fifth”. Visions and magic continued to determine political thought and activity in Tibet after the boy moved into the Potala amid great spectacle in July 1879. In 1894 he took power over the state. Shortly before, the officiating regent had been condemned because of a black magic ritual which he was supposed to have performed to attack the young thirteenth god-king, and because of a conspiracy with the Chinese. He was thrown into one of the dreadful monastery dungeons, chained up, and maltreated till he died. A co-conspirator, head of a distinguished noble family, was brought to the Potala after his deeds were discovered and pushed from the highest battlements of the palace. His names, possessions and even the women of his house were then given to a favorite of the Dalai Lama’s as a gift.

In 1904 the god-king had to flee to Mongolia to evade the English who occupied Lhasa. Under pressure from the Manchu dynasty he visited Beijing in 1908. We have already described how the Chinese Emperor and the Empress Dowager Ci Xi died mysteriously during this visit. He later fell out with the Thirteenth Dalai Lama with the Panchen Lama, [5] who cooperated with the Chinese and was forced to flee Tibet in 1923. The “Great Thirteenth” conducted quite unproductive fluctuating political negotiations with Russia, England, and China; why he was given the epithet of “the Great” nobody really knows, not even his successor from Dharamsala.

An American envoy gained the impression that His Holiness (the Thirteenth Dalai Lama) "cared very little, if at all, for anything which did not affect his personal privileges and prerogatives, that he separated entirely his case from that of the people of Tibet, which he was willing to abandon entirely to the mercy of China” (Mehra, 1976, p.20) When we recall that the institution of the Dalai Lama was a Mongolian arrangement which was put through in the civil war of 1642 against the will of the majority of the Tibetans, such an evaluation may well be justified.

As an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the thirteenth hierarch also (like the “Great Fifth”) saw himself surrounded less by politicians and heads of state than by gods and demons. David Seyfort Ruegg most astutely indicates that the criteria by which Buddhists in positions of power assess historical events and personalities have nothing in common with our western, rational conceptions. For them, “supernatural” forces and powers are primarily at work, using people as bodily vessels and instruments. We have already had a taste of this in the opposition between the god-king as an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara and Guanyin in the form of the Empress Dowager Ci Xi. Further examples in the coming chapters should show how magic and politics, war and ritual are also interwoven here.

Now what is the situation with regard to these topics and the living Fourteenth Dalai Lama? Has his almost 40--year exposure to western culture changed anything fundamental in the traditional political understanding? Is the current god-king free of the ancient, magical visions of power of his predecessors? Let us allow him to answer this question himself: in adopting the position of the Fifth Dalai Lama, the Kundun explained in an interview in 1997, “I am supposed to follow what he did” (Dalai Lama, HPI 006). As a consequence we too are entitled to accredit the Fourteenth Dalai Lama with all the deeds and visions of the great fifth hierarch and to assess his politics according to the criteria of his famous exemplar.

Incarnation and power:

Lamaism’s particular brand of controlling power is based upon the doctrine of incarnation. Formerly (before the Communist invasion) the incarnation system covered the entire Land of Snows like a network. In Tibet, the monastic incarnations are called “tulkus”. Tulku means literally the “self-transforming body”. In Mongolia they are known as “chubilganes”. There were over a hundred of these at the end of the nineteenth century. Even in Beijing during the reign of the imperial Manchus there were fourteen offices of state which were reserved for Lamaist tulkus but not always occupied.

The Tibetan doctrine of incarnation is often misunderstood. Whilst concepts of rebirth in the West are dominated by a purely individualist idea in the sense that an individual progresses through a number of lifetimes on earth in a row, a distinction is drawn in Tibet between three types of incarnation:

When the incarnation as the emanation of a supernatural being, a Buddha, Bodhisattva, or a wrathful deity. Here, incarnation means that the lama in question is the embodiment of a deity, just as the Dalai Lama is an embodiment of Avalokiteshvara. The tulku lives from the spiritual energies of a transcendent being or, vice versa, this being emanates in a human body. When reincarnation arises through the initiatory transfer from the master to the sadhaka, that is, the “root guru” (represented by the master) and the deities who stand behind him embody themselves in his pupil. When it concerns the rebirth of a historical figure who reveals himself in the form of a new born baby. For example, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama is also an incarnation of the Fifth Dalai Lama.

The first and third concepts of incarnation do not necessarily contradict one another, rather they can complement each other, so that a person who has already died and deity can simultaneously be embodied in a person. But come what may, the deity has priority and supreme authority. It seems obvious that their bodily continuity and presence in this world is far better ensured by the doctrine of incarnation than by a natural line of inheritance. In a religious system in which the person means ultimately nothing, but the gods who stand behind him are everything, the human body only represents the instrument through which a higher being can make an appearance. From the deity’s point of view a natural reproduction would bring the personal interests of a family into conflict with his or her own divine ambitions.

The incarnation system in contrast is impersonal, anti-genetic, and anti-aristocratic. For this reason the monastic orders as such are protected. through the rearing of a “divine” child it creates for itself the best conditions for the survival of its tradition, which can no longer be damaged by incapable heirs, family intrigues, and nepotism.

On a more fundamental symbolic level, the doctrine of incarnation must nevertheless be seen as an ingenious chess move against the woman’s monopoly on childbirth and the dependence of humanity upon the cycle of birth. It makes things “theoretically” independent of birth and the woman as the Great Mother. That mothers are nonetheless needed to bring the little tulkus into the world is not significant from a Buddhological point of view. The women serve purely as a tool, they are so to speak the corporeal cradle into which the god settles down in the form of an embryo. The conception of an incarnated lama (tulku) is thus always regarded as a supernatural procedure and it does not arise through the admixture of the male and female seed as is normal. Like in the Buddha legend, where the mother of the Sublime One is made pregnant in a dream by an elephant, so too the mother of a Tibetan tulku has visions and dreams of divine entities who enter into her. But the role of the “wet nurse” is taken over by the monks already, so that the child can be suckled upon the milk of their androcentric wisdom from the most tender age.

The doctrine of reincarnation was fitted out by the clergy with a high grade symbolic system which cannot be accessed by ordinary mortals. But as historical examples show, the advantages of the doctrine were thoroughly capable of being combined now and again with the principle of biological descent. Hence, among the powerful Sakyapas, where the office of abbot was inherited within a family dynasty, both the chain of inheritance and the precepts of incarnation were observed. Relatives, usually the nephews of the heads of the Sakyapa order, were simply declared to be tulkus.



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