- In-Country Power
- International Power
- Military Strength
- Special Skill: Bodacious Buddhist
- Official Title: 14th Dalai Lama
- Government: State-less
- Years Left in Office: Life
- Political Classification: N/A
- Education: PhD in Buddhist Philosophy
- Age: 85 (born July 5, 1935)
Dalai Lama Facts and Information
Buddhist buddies to catch up with the grand pooh-bah of all the Buddhist monks, the main man, the Lama of all lamas: the Dalai himself. Dig this:
The Dalai Lama is one dude who stays on the move…which is made easier by the fact he no longer has a place to call home! The Lama is revered around the world as a most peaceful and righteous dude that is the spiritual leader of Buddhism, a most chill and enlightened religion. He’s kind of like a religious rock-star that travels the world, spreading love, spreading knowledge about Tibetan culture, teaching about the enlightened path, and meeting world important peeps all over the planet. Maybe today with the President of the United States, and then maybe day or two with the Chancellor of Germany, a stop off at a a religious pilgrimage in Indonesia, and then fly to party with admirers in Argentina. He’s hanging out with all the modern day big names, kind of a big deal. Everybody wants a photo op with the king of compassion and living legend named Lama.
And all these visits really piss off the Chinese government. Now, the Chinese may just have gotten hot and bothered when the Lama went to Austria and Canada, but they were full-fledged infuriated by the fact that Germany allowed a meeting with the Lama and Chancellor Merkel. So pissed that now China is said that diplomatic ties between the two states have been permanently damaged! Say what? Damaged ties because a dude in a maroon toga talked to Angela for an hour? A little extreme don’t you think? What gives?
I’m glad you asked my plaid friends, because that is the reason for this Dalai dialogue….well, that and about 13 straight hours of Buddhist chanting and mediation while burning some Nepalese incense candles. But I digress as usual. Who the heck is this Lama guy, why is he important, and why do his visits with the world’s big dogs leave the Chinese government seeing red?
Well, this particular Lama (his given name is Tenzin Gyatso) is the 14th of his kind: the successive His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama–the head honcho and spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism! Dalai Lamas form a lineage of allegedly reborn magistrates which traces back to 1391. The Dalai Lama position is to be the spiritual leader of a main branch of Buddhism referred to as Northern Buddhism, or Tibetan Buddhism. (This division is more geographic than dogmatic: it does not necessarily correspond to philosophical or doctrinal divisions among Buddhist worldwide, since they all share a common belief system and share most practices.) However, it is not his religious position that irks the Chinese: the Dalai Lamas have also been historically the ‘head of state’ of a geographic body we refer to as Tibet.
Wait…what!? No separation of church and state! Now that’s just asking for trouble. More troubling than the non-secular nature of this supposed state is the fact that is is actually not a state at all! It of course is a sub-region of China proper! At least it technically is in today’s world, and that is just the way China wants to keep it….thus their infatuation and infuriation with any dude that holds the title of supposed ‘head of state’ of this area that China claims it has full sovereignty over. Starting to see the complications here? This is one sticky situation.
Now, there is no way to keep this brief without pissing lots of folks off….but I’m going to do it anyway. The area we refer to as Tibet has been various things at various times in the last thousand years: it was an independent kingdom, a vassal state, an autonomous region, a semi-autonomous region, a colonial holding, and a fully absorbed territory into a state we call China. For purposes of understanding today’s world, we need only concern ourselves with that last description…as part of Chinese territory.
Rewind a couple hundred years, during the heyday of the Manchu Empire in China, Tibet increasingly came under the influence of the Chinese. But Chinese power was destroyed by internal factors and civil war combined with Western and Japanese imperialism in the 1800’s. As China was falling apart, Tibet first became a pawn between competing Western powers (mostly Russian and British, who at various times each claimed to be ‘helping’ Tibet achieve sovereignty, mostly for their own political gains), and later began asserting its outright independence—and to keep the record straight for you, their ‘independence’ was proclaimed while China was self-destructing and the ‘West’ was preoccupied with World War 1. Basically, Tibet was largely just left to its own devices while all the other world powers were busy kicking the carp out of each other, and China was imploding.
Long story short, once China got their act together (after WWII and their Chinese Civil War came to a conclusion), they came back to the area in the late 1940’s to find a freedom-seeking-Tibet led by the Dalai Lama! Can you say “China pissed”? China immediately started re-establishing their presence in Tibet and in fact had never renounced their claim of sovereignty on the area. The Dalai Lama continued to partially rule in Tibet with, to some extent, autonomous power given by contemporary Chinese governments, until the People’s Republic of China invaded the region in 1949 and then took full control in 1959. With Tibet falling before his eyes and cries for help to other nations falling on deaf ears, the Dalai Lama hauled ass to India.
With the Dalai Lama out of the picture, all the Chinese had to do it is make Tibet more Chinese! How do you make Tibet, a place filled with Tibetan people practicing Tibetan culture and speaking Tibetan language more “Chinesey”? Well, how about moving in a bunch of Chinese people? So, if we take a bunch of Chinese people and put them in Tibet, it’s no longer Tibetan, its Chinese, right? How do we get a bunch of Chinese people move out to Tibet? Money, of course! The Chinese government offered its citizens economic incentives to move out to Tibet. And it is slowly working: Fifty years ago this place called Tibet was 100% Tibetan people,….now the ratio is more like 90% Tibetan and 10% Han Chinese. And that 10% Han Chinese are the government workers, business owners, and basically the controllers or the area.
As every year passes, the Tibetan Autonomous Region (so dubbed by China in 1965) becomes more culturally Chinese, and certainly more controlled by the Chinese. For his part, the Dalai Lama has insisted for years that he and his movement are not actually trying to make Tibet into an independent sovereign state, but rather want more economic and political control over the region…that is, more local autonomy, and more Tibetans actually in charge of the running of, and the future of, Tibet. The Lama is also a preserver and promoter of Tibetan culture as a whole…and he believes that the culture is effectively being ‘stamped out’ by the ‘China-fication of the province.
Again, the Dalai Lama claims only to want more autonomy and control over the area by locals, not to make the place into an independent state by pulling way from China entirely…but the China does not believe that. They have for decades insisted that the Lama is a terrorist, an agitator for independence, and sometimes an outright terrorist that incites Tibetan people to violent actions against the Chinese government. They have called for him to come back to China, where they would certainly imprison him, and probably ‘re-educate’ him in order to more effectively control the entire Tibetan situation. Which is why he of course has not been back to his homeland since 1959, and will likely not be able to return to in his lifetime.
Which brings us up to date enough to understand today’s world…
In summary, the 14th Dalai Lama seeks greater autonomy for Tibet. Not outright independence, but greater self-rule autonomy. The Chinese have interpreted this as a threat to their ‘sovereignty’—and let’s just call a spade a spade here….they hate the guy! They hate that he is so popular. They hate that he is well respected, and even venerated, as a world figure. They probably even hate his sweet-ass flowing robes. And they really, really, really, really, really, really hate it when any world leaders meet with the Dalai Lama because the Chinese think that the more recognition the guy gets, the more the world will demand that China give back Tibet to him. It’s a similar issue to their Taiwan situation–the Chinese want NO ONE to officially recognize the guy for fear that Tibet will someday claim independence.
What is the Dalai Lama really up to nowadays? Well, the dude tours the world—and he is the first Dalai Lama to go abroad—spreading the Buddhist message and preserving Tibetan culture. He is a fantastic speaker, promotes world peace, wildlife conservation, and a host of other awesome stuff that has won him great respect, acclaim, and even a Nobel Peace Prize. Let’s face it: the dude is the Buddhist shizzle….how about we call him the Budd-izzel? Unfortunately, in recent months old age has caught up with them, and Mother Nature is taking its toll and has forced the Dalai Lama to slow his roll a little bit. Even with the clock ticking and the Tibetan hope diminishing, he continues to plead for the preservation of Tibet.
And if you have been following any Tibetan events from 2009 to the present, you know the action has gotten quite hot again. With the 50th anniversary of the Chinese invasion of Tibet falling in 2009, the Chinese government ramped up their presence to ensure that no independence or revolt-style action would happen. But of course it did. And continues to. And any political protest in Tibet is smashed fairly harshly by the Chinese military, and denounced even more harshly by the Chinese government…who continue to make the claim that all protests that happen in Tibet unfold at the order of the Dalai Lama himself. Thus, they still label him as chief trouble-maker and riot-inciter that is threatening Chinese sovereignty in the area.
The most recent trend in the area for the last 2 years is Buddhist monks and regular Tibetan citizens who immolate themselves as a form of political protest against Chinese rule. Don’t know what immolation is? That’s when you set yourself on fire in public and burn yourself to death in protest of your situation. Extreme stuff. And while you may think it would have no real affect, I assure you that it terrifies the Chinese government. Why? Well, do you know what started the current ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions across the Middle East which have seen government after government get toppled? Yep: it was self-immolation by a fruit vendor in Tunisia that tipped the scales on all that. SO CHina gets really pissed when people catch themselves on fire, and almost consider it an act of terrorism designed to destabilize the state!
FYI: when you meet and talk with actual Chinese people about the Tibetan situation or the Dalai Lama himself, please be aware that virtually all of them support their government’s position in the situation, and do not be surprised when even really highly educated Chinese citizens would openly show disdain and outright hate for the Dalai Lama. The government’s propaganda and ‘news’ that it distributes to its 1.3 billion citizens about Tibet has been exceedingly thorough for decades as painting the whole situation as an independence movement specifically structured to embarrass and humiliate China itself, and the Lama is portrayed as one of the most villainous humans to walk the face of the earth. I’m just saying: be aware. Don’t offend your Chinese friends by assuming that everyone loves the Lama. And China works really hard to pressure other world leaders and states into not meeting with the dude, or even letting him into their countries….and as China’s power grows in the world, their ability to isolate the Lama has grown too: in 2011, South Africa refused to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama to come into their country to attend the birthday party of fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. Wow birthday party-denied because of China’s increasing clout, even a continent away!
So a political stalemate in the Himalayas? Kind of. But recently the Lama shocked the world and blindsided China when he proposed a change to the Tibetan constitution which would replace himself as the ‘head of state’ with an elected leader. Say what?! What kind man would give up his own power and give it up to someone else? Take a second and think about it: the 14th Dalai Lama is pushing 80. There’s going to be a new Dalai Lama born soon. Born in what used to be Tibet… which is currently under Chinese rule. So, the new Dalai Lama will be raised in a Chinese dominated society…. with Chinese values. You might as well kiss classic Tibetan Buddhist goodbye.
So I ask again, what kind man would give up his own power and give it up to someone else? A political genius. He has set into motion a plan that denies China outright control of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibet itself by indicating that the people should select their own leaders, and not rely on a reincarnated leader that China could easily control the selection and upbringing of. BTW, China has already identified the next reincarnated leader of Tibet, and had been grooming him in Beijing, and will put him on the throne as soon as the current Dalai Lama dies. But now that may not work!
And as if the entire world didn’t know what the Dalai Lama was up to when he proposed the change, he went even a step farther and even stated, “Bear in mind that, apart from the reincarnation recognized through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China.” If you think this just irked China, boy are your wrong—they were furious! Here they have been waiting for the old guy to kick the bucket and he goes and pulls this! Now no matter how “Chinesey” they make Tibet, they will now never have full control over the Tibetan religious and cultural values.
The Plaid Avenger’s take on the Chinese position? How about this: get over it China! This is a moot issue, and everyone in the world knows it except you guys! No one is recognizing Tibetan sovereignty; no one is encouraging the Lama to declare a free Tibet; and no one is proposing any Tibetan independence resolutions at the UN! Just because a shitload of Americans have ‘Free Tibet!’ bumper stickers on their SUVs doesn’t make it so… Relax!
In fact, the Chinese-Tibet situation is extremely similar to another outdated, goofball relationship in the world…and that would be the one between the US and Cuba. Come on China! You guys mock the US for its blockheaded policies toward the tiny island state. Can’t you see that your issues with the Lama are just as foolish? Pony up and make peace with the guy, and give Tibet the limited democratic autonomy they are asking for. Dudes, its a few million people scattered across a desolate Himalayan mountainous landscape..I daresay local control over the yak population will likely never threaten stability of your state! And any Chinese leader that bites the bullet and makes peace with the Lama and gives true limited autonomy to the Tibetan region would likely win the Nobel Peace Prize for that year. Seriously.
So know you know the real deal about the man with the flowing robes and how this worldly sage causes so much consternation in China…even as his pre-Nirvana time is running out, he is still a world figure of note and is closely followed by supporters as well as haters worldwide.