Dalai Lama Says His "Feudal System...Should End"
BANGKOK, Thailand -- In a surprise reversal, the Dalai Lama said his
Tibetan Buddhist tradition of reincarnated dalai lamas "should end
now" because the hierarchy created "a feudal system," a description
echoing decades of communist China's condemnation.
The Dalai Lama's public
statement comes amid attempts by Beijing to
control who can be legally recognized as a reincarnated lama in Tibet
and what laws they must obey.
to be owned by the people, not by an individual,"
the self-exiled 14th Dalai Lama said in a speech at his residence in
McLeod Ganj, a small town on the outskirts of Dharamsala, India.
"Like my own institution, the Dalai
Lama's office, I feel it is linked
to a feudal system. In 1969, in one of my official statements, I had
mentioned that it should continue...but now I feel, not necessarily.
"It should go. I feel it should not be
concentrated in a few people
only," he told college students from Bhutan and India on October 25.
tradition should end now, as reincarnation has some
with the feudal system.
"There have been
cases of individual lamas who use reincarnation
personal gains] but never pay attention to study and wisdom," he said,
according to the Times of India.
Dalai Lama did not express doubt about the concept
reincarnation. Buddhism claims all people are reincarnated even if
they are not Buddhists.
on October 28, U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom
D. Brownback and his delegation met the Dalai Lama in McLeod Ganj.
"The U.S. government supports the Dalai
Lama and supports for the
succession of the Dalai Lama to be done by the Tibetan Buddhist
leadership," Mr. Brownback said, criticizing China's interference in
"The role of picking a successor to the Dalai
Lama belongs to the
Tibetan Buddhist system, the Dalai Lama, and other Tibetan leaders. It
does not belong to anybody else, not any government or any entity,"
Mr. Brownback said.
Beijing swiftly responded to the U.S. ambassador's remarks and visit.
"We strongly urge the U.S.
side to stop any form of contact with the
Dalai clique, stop making irresponsible remarks, stop using
Tibet-related issues to interfere in China's internal affairs, and do
more to advance China-U.S. mutual trust and cooperation," China's
foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters.
The current 14th
Dalai Lama fled his majestic Potala Palace in
Tibet in 1959 along with 80,000 Tibetan refugees to escape invading
communist Chinese troops. They secured sanctuary in India's Himalayas.
Since the 1950s, China
repeatedly said Tibetan Buddhism and the
institutional power of dalai lamas and other senior clergy was one of
the main reasons Tibetans lived in "feudal" poverty, often treated as
serfs by Tibetan officials, nobles and lamas.
Tibetan historians said the centuries-old system of
lamas, panchen lamas and other clergy contributed to repression in
Tibet, but Tibetans should have been allowed to fix their homeland
instead of submitting to anti-Buddhist Chinese.
"For centuries, Tibet
was ruled by feudal serfdom under theocracy,"
China's State Council Information Office reiterated in March.
"Millions of serfs were subjected to cruel
exploitation and oppression
until [China's] democratic reform in 1959," it said in a report
titled, Democratic Reform in Tibet, 60 Years On.
"Even as they were aware
that feudal serfdom under theocracy was
coming to an end, the 14th Dalai Lama and the reactionaries in Tibet's
upper class had no wish to conduct reform.
"Instead, they tried to maintain the system for
fear that reform would
deprive them of their political and religious privileges, together
with their huge economic benefits," the report said, according to
Beijing's official Xinhua news agency.
beginning in the 1950s, the U.S. Central Intelligence
trained and financed Tibetan guerrillas to conduct scattered assaults
against China's powerful People's Liberation Army.
The CIA secretly trained ethnic Khampas
and other Tibetans in Colorado
state's Rocky Mountains before giving them supplies and parachuting
them into Tibet.
The CIA manipulated that small, bloody insurgency
until 1972 when
President Richard Nixon abruptly ended U.S. armed support and traveled
to Beijing to improve ties with Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong.
destroyed most of Tibet's monasteries and shrines
during the 1960s and 70s. Thousands of Tibetans reportedly perished
from persecution, economic disruption and other policies.
The Dalai Lama repeatedly said he is a Marxist
and would accept
autonomy for Tibet under China's domination. But Beijing suspects he
is a "splittist" conspiring to achieve independence.
Buddhism arrived in Tibet from India during the seventh century.
is a Mongolian title meaning "Ocean of Wisdom."
also refer to him as, "His Holiness" or "Wish-Fulfilling Gem."
Dalai lamas and others senior lamas
are revered even though they have
not achieved the spiritual enlightenment and nirvana of a Buddha.
they are described as incarnations of Avalokitesvara
Bodhisattva of Compassion, who delays achieving nirvana to
altruistically help others.
The first dalai
lama was born in 1390. Tibetan Buddhists believe
same person has been reincarnated 14 times.
The current Dalai Lama was born on July 6, 1935 shortly after the 13th died.
Two years later, a delegation of high lamas
searched Tibet for the
Dalai Lama's reincarnation and conducted traditional tests with
several children born amid "prophetic signs."
Clergymen selected an infant named
Lhamo Thondup. He picked out, from
among various items, things which belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama and
performed other feats which they interpreted as evidence of
Today, the 84-year-old Dalai
Lama appears jovial and spontaneous,
frequently traveling abroad.
Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based
journalist from San Francisco,
California, reporting news from Asia since 1978 and winner of Columbia
University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He co-authored three
non-fiction books about Thailand, including "'Hello My Big Big Honey!'
Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews," "60
Stories of Royal Lineage," and "Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News
Since 1946." Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the chapter "Ceremonies
and Regalia" in a book published in English and Thai titled, "King
Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in
Perspective." Mr. Ehrlich's newest book, "Sheila Carfenders, Doctor
Mask & President Akimbo" portrays a 22-year-old American female mental
patient who is abducted to Asia by her abusive San Francisco
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