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Tibet - Preparation for the Future (II)

March 23, 2009

By Tsewang Namgyal
March 22, 2009 17:20]


As we commemorate 50 years in exile I took the
opportunity to reflect on the work of the Tibetan
Government in Exile (“TGIE”) and think how it can
do even better. The organization has successfully
set up schools/hospitals/monasteries in exile;
democratized our government; bought Tibet’s
attention to the world; put pressure on the
Chinese government to make sure Tibetans in Tibet
are treated humanely and worked hard to negotiate
a mutually beneficial agreement with the Chinese
government to name few concrete achievements. As
a Tibetan, it is not difficult to feel a deep
sense of gratitude and humility. All of us
Tibetans have greatly benefited directly or indirectly from TGIE.

Naturally, we all have a responsibility to make
sure the organization continues to succeed. Our
Buddhist culture reminds us through the teaching
of “dependent arising” that TGIE does not
inherently exist. Success or failure of the
organization is in a certain ways a reflection of oneself.

The organization now faces many old/new threats
and opportunities. Much of these I believe can be
mitigated and leveraged if TGIE continues to
attract high caliber individuals, think
creatively, strategically position itself and
move boldly. In analysis of our history, current
situation and experience of other countries I
believe one of the greatest threats and
opportunities we face are from the forces of
differing internal factions. Here I would like to
humbly share some thoughts related to it in case
aspects of it maybe of some use.

Internal Threats

With internal factions here I refer to those
driven both by religion and politics. In our
community, the religious aspect of factions has
mainly come in the form of selection of
reincarnate Lamas and sectarian issues. The
political factions have been primarily driven by
provincialism, personalities, ideology and tactics.

The challenges and benefits of internal factions
are not unique to our community. This was an
issue that the American founding fathers had
considered and they have in turn discussed
methods on how to deal with it as illustrated on
a commentary written by America’s fourth
President James Madison in the Federalist # 10

"By a faction, I understand a number of citizens,
whether amounting to a majority or a minority of
the whole, who are united and actuated by some
common impulse of passion, or of interest,
adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to
the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

There are two methods of curing the mischief of
faction: the one, by removing its causes; the
other, by controlling its effects.

There are again two methods of removing the
causes of faction: the one, by destroying the
liberty which is essential to its existence; the
other, by giving to every citizen the same
opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.

It could never be more truly said than of the
first remedy, that it was worse than the disease"
The second expedient is as impracticable as the
first would be unwise. As long as the reason of
man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to
exercise it, different opinions will be formed."

Without structural reforms internal factions in
our country has the potential to give a fatal
blow to TGIE. Currently, with the leadership and
respect of/for HHDL, I believe we have been able
to control much of the negative aspects but in
the future this will be very challenging.

Religious Factions


Buddhism since it’s entry to Tibet has greatly
enriched our country. We Tibetans have been able
to develop a unique culture and the ideology has
bought us all much happiness. To discuss the
benefits of this great teaching and kindness of
all our beloved teachers will comprise of many books.

On March 10, 2009, HHDL mentioned in his
Statement that, "in our efforts to realize the
cause of Tibet and uphold its religion and
culture, we should craft our future vision and
strategy by learning from our past experience."
Our history has shown that the mix of religion
and politics in Tibet had made the country very
vulnerable to manipulation by outside forces and weakened her politically.

To illustrate this case, between the reign of the
eighth and twelfth Dalai Lama (about 150 years),
Tibet was ruled by Regents and other officials
due largely to the premature deaths of several of
the Dalai Lamas. During this period the Gurkhas
and Manchus were both able to exploit the
situation occasionally pretending to be patrons
of our Tibetan Buddhist leaders.

To share a little more detail, in 1775 under the
pretext of settling a dispute between brothers of
the then Panchen Lama the Gurkhas attacked Tibet
and plundered its monasteries. This in turn gave
the opportunity for the Manchu troops to enter
Tibet on the pretext to stop the Gurkha attacks.
With the help of the Manchus, the Tibetans were
able to regain their lost territories while
giving the Manchus much influence in the region.
The Manchu emperor Ch’ien Lung further attempted
to increase his authority by initiating the
lottery system to select the Dalai Lamas and
Panchen Lamas. To this day the lottery system is
used by the Chinese government as a weapon.

Separately, in the beginning of the last century
much discussion was held in the selection of our
Regent. According to Warren Smith in his book
Tibetan Nation, “After the death of the
Thirteenth Dalai Lama, lay officials of the
Tsongdu suggested a Council of Regents of two or
three members" The system of monastic regents had
been proven to have its faults; past regents were
either excessively other worldly or so enamored
of power that their involvement in the premature
deaths of several Dalai Lamas was suspected
(231).” Despite these concerns, Reting Rimpoche
was selected and he held much of the spiritual
and political power. His later power struggle
with Taktra Rimpoche, Sera war and eventual
controversial death proved the fears of the Tsongdu.

In recent years there is much discussion about
our leadership post HHDL. Rather than considering
on quick fixes it is critical that we review our
past experience. If we are not able to learn from
history, we are likely going to enter into another period of chaos.

It is true that mixing religion and politics has
its benefits. Most importantly it is a strong
unifying force and for many of us it is our
appreciation of our religion that inspires us to
make Tibet politically strong. However, I believe
we need to think deeper, longer term and more
strategically to find ways how we can capture the
benefits of our current mix of religion in
politics without compromising our entire position.


I humbly believe the only long term solution to
resolving religious factions by TGIE is through
secularization. The concept is not a new one. In
fact one of the reasons why I feel it is a
solution is that it has proven to be very
effective in other countries and adopted by most
countries in the modern political world. In the
past, Tibetan intellectuals have called for
secularization and few thoughtful articles have
been written on the subject in

Through separation of religion and politics it
will allow our political leaders to focus on
politics and our religious leaders focus on
spiritual matters. If not, our political leaders
will be forced to make religious related
decisions like endorsing reincarnate lamas. Our
political leaders in general are not qualified to
make spiritual decisions but also this would be a
distraction to their normal work of running a
government. In addition, making such decisions
would alienate large sections of populations on
religious lines when they share the same political goals.

Similarly, our religious leaders maybe forced to
wear a political hat something that they may have
no interest or qualification. In addition, they
maybe unable or not able to make decisions that
may not conform to their religious vows. For
example to make extreme decisions related to
whether to use violence as a mean or how to
revitalize the economy that may make political
economic sense but not necessarily meet spiritual guidelines.

I would like to note that secularization does not
mean our Sangha should not be able to participate
in politics or Buddhism should have no influence
on Tibet. In fact, every Tibetan should be
encouraged to actively participate in the
democratic process. HHDL is a living proof that
Buddhist monks can make great politicians. Also
Buddhist values like compassion and protecting
the weak should influence our politics similar to
the way Quakers have influenced the US constitution.

In addition, I believe secularization with
Tibetan characteristics should also consider
having HHDL as a nominal leader like the King of
Thailand or Queen of England to unify the
community and act as a moral force. However, the
real power should always lie with the
democratically elected leader for a fixed period of time.

On the subject of selecting the next HHDL, I
believe this should be kept a strict spiritual
matter. Personally, I still fail to understand
how political leaders whether Tibetan or Chinese
can play a role in such a decision. If we need
someone to do a heart surgery one will look for a
heart surgeon. It would be preposterous to select
someone based on their ethnicity or political power.

Selection of the Dalai Lamas is even more
complicated than heart surgery and requires skill
sets that are even more specific. I note many
well motivated Tibetans are forced to think of
out of the box solutions to prevent the Chinese
government from trying to exploit the situation.
However, after careful thought I fear
politicization of it whether from Tibetan or
Chinese side for political purpose will demean
the institution of the Dalai Lama and history
will question the future credibility of the Dalai
Lamas. I feel this decision must be left to our
wise spiritual teachers and the oracle.

Finally, although I believe secularization is the
best mitigant I believe there is a great danger
if our effort to try to separate religion from
politics is not executed properly. The medicine
has the potential to be more harmful than the disease itself.

We are a very religious community and based on
our current condition it is clear our political
sophistication level is relatively lower compared
to our passion. Manipulators (whether instigated
by the Chinese government or those who naively
feel they are protecting our precious teachings)
can knowingly/unknowingly create rift between
secular and religious forces. Therefore it is
critical that if in the future we do look to
become a true secular government the proper
tactics we adopt in executing the vision is as critical as the goal itself.

The main tactic I believe should be to focus on
the benefits of secularism and not mistakes of
our past. Such reflections would likely lead to
defensive attitudes rather than looking
optimistically towards the future. In addition,
one of the pre conditions to moving forward is to
first have the full endorsement and backing of
all the heads of our different religious schools before we act on this path.

Buddhism and Political world

Buddhism’s mix with politics has its own unique
challenges. Granted there is much wisdom in
Buddhism that we can get guidance politically
especially the teachings related to compassion,
impermanence and dependent arising. However, I
feel there are two key differences between the
Buddhist and political world that we should be mindful.


For a Buddhist, in ones spiritual practice the
right motivation is critical. Without proper
motivation one’s actions is tainted and efforts
near useless. This makes sense because the goal
of a Buddhist is to transform ones mind. How can
one move forward in ones spiritual practice if the brakes are on?

In politics motivation is not the key but the end
results. A resourceful and educated politician
has a greater chance of bring practical benefits
to a community than a kind and well intentioned politician.

Just as an entrepreneur opens a restaurant not
necessarily to feed the public but to make money.
A politician may run for office not necessarily
to benefit a community but for his/her love for
power or for other selfish reasons.

We should not view motivation as a litmus test
especially in a future Tibet where politicians
will be driven for less than altruistic reasons
when there is a real personal benefit that one
can generate in running for office. In short we
should not expect our politicians to be
Bodhisattvas but real people with human flaws.

Being mindful of this I believe we will better
able to prioritize our interest in selection of
our political leaders. Hopefully we will find
ones that have the best of both worlds but in our
selection of our leaders we should give proper weight as we make choices.

Nature of humans

Our spiritual teachers remind us that all
sentient beings have been our mothers. In
addition, we are taught that we all have the
Buddha nature. These teachings help us to
empathize with others, develop equanimity and
generate compassion. This is key for our
spiritual practice because without the foundation
of compassion true spiritual wisdom is impossible.

However, in the political world it is better to
assume the negative aspects of human nature. This
is critical because assuming the worst of humans
it allows us to put in place a robust system to
protect society from the worst aspects of human nature.

In our community, we occasionally hear
allegations of corruption of certain TGIE
government officials and leaders of certain NGOs.
Our lack of proper system has unfortunately
fueled a mob like environment in which
individuals are judged in the world of public
opinion. Many a time good and bad individuals are
accused and the system can be easily used to settle personal scores.

Many of those who launch the accusations,
normally anonymously, are likely driven by the
right motivation but without understanding of the
whole story. In the future if we are able to set
up a more transparent system with appropriate
checks and balance based on the worst case of
human nature we will be more likely to reduce
future problems. In addition, people who have
credible evidences of wrong doings by any public
figure should be encouraged (if not rewarded) to
speak out as we have a right considering many of
the officials are paid staff and it has an effect
on all of us. However, the call should be for
independent investigation by qualified
individuals and a transparency of the end results
like it is done in a mature society.

This will most importantly clear the names of
individuals who have been wrongly accused. Those
who have actually hurt the public trust should be
appropriately disciplined. Such a system would
also allow farsighted government officials to
take calculated risks. When success is not
appropriately recognized in proportion to the
potential condemnation of failure fear will
prevent people from taking even low. It will also
place our public figures on a defensive mode
which will prevent excitement, creativity and energy.

Political Factions


Pre 1959, conflicts among the different political
factions were one of the primary factors that
prevented Tibet from modernizing. Factions spent
much of their time destroying each other and
manipulating the Tibetan government. To name a
few cases: (i) neutralization of the Drog Drag
regiment and false accusation of Kunphela on the
death of the XIII Dalai Lama; (ii) arrest of
Lungshar with allegation of attempting to
overthrow the Tibetan government; (iii)
Reting/Taktra power struggle; (iv) flogging and
banishing of Khyungram and (v) persecution of
Gendun Chopell are all case illustrations of this point.

For more details of this period I personally
found helpful reading the works of Shakabpa,
Tsepon W. D. Tibet: A Political History,
Goldstein, Melvyn C. A History of Modern Tibet
1913 1951, and Smith, Warren W. Tibetan Nation.

In our community today as indicated earlier we
have different factions mainly driven by
provincialism, personalities and differing
visions for a future Tibet. As of now, greatly
due to HHDL influence, the factions have not been
able to manipulate TGIE. In the future in the
absence of HHDL and without urgent structural
changes, there is a grave danger that factions
may manipulate the public, marginalize/demonize
TGIE depending on their needs and create a rift
between the TGIE and the community. This would be
particularly dangerous if the factions are well organized and capitalized.


Communism’s solution to factions have been
through (i) taking away the liberty of others and
(ii) through an effort to create a utopian
society where everyone thinks alike and is equal.
Needless to say this has not succeeded as it goes
against the very nature of the human mind and
discourages innovation/hard work. Adoption of
such tactics has created suffering for all those who have been affected.

The first step I believe TGIE should take to
mitigate the negative forces of faction is to
have clear generally acceptable goals. The goals
should not create a perception of threat to any
faction. Personally, I believe the focus of TGIE
should be through a transparent platform (i)
invest equally (via education and guidance) in
every Tibetan so that they can succeed to their
full potential; (ii) protect the weak and old;
(iii) become largely financially self sustainable
through revenues from within the community; (iv)
diversify geographically our power base; (v) find
a just solution with the Chinese government; and
(vi) empower our community so that they are ready
to execute any fair political agreement.

Secondly, unlike the tactics to handle religious
factions or by communistic means, TGIE should
welcome political driven factions as long as it
is not illegal or immoral. TGIE should encourage
factions to focus on specific problems depending
on their expertise, encourage debates and the
government should give fair hearings to different
factional forces. The organization should
creatively think of ways to see how they can use
the factions to either cooperate or compete among
each other to benefit our society and accomplish TGIE’s strategic goals.

One place for inspiration and guidance I believe
is from America’s founding fathers. To quote
President Madison, “ambition must be made to
counteract ambition. The interest of the man must
be connected with the constitutional rights of
the place. It may be a reflection on human
nature, that such devices should be necessary to
control the abuses of government… In framing a
government which is to be administered by men
over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you
must first enable the government to control the
governed; and in the next place oblige it to
control itself. A dependence on the people is, no
doubt, the primary control on the government; but
experience has taught mankind the necessity of
auxiliary precautions (”

As indicated above, TGIE in order to continue to
stay legitimate they should make sure that the
organization itself governs itself, has the
appropriate internal checks/balance and represents the people.

Pre 1959 the various factions were led by very
capable individuals, not necessarily bad people.
If their energy was instead channelized properly
they could have greatly strengthened Tibet. For
example if the government was able to find a way
to make Kunphela and Lungshar work
collaboratively this itself would have made much
difference in the modernization of Tibet. Both of
them were very visionary politicians and cared much about Tibet’s future.

In the future TGIE will again come across
visionary and ambitious individuals like Kunphela
and Lungshar. The organization will also face
powerful factions. Viewing factions as friends,
through proper tactics and skillful execution
TGIE can use this energy to enter into even greater heights.


Through my father I had the opportunity to get a
glimpse of TGIE officials’ daily sacrifice and
the sense of joy they feel through their work.
All of us make our own efforts in our different
ways depending on our skill sets. However,
undoubtedly TGIE is our spine. It is critical,
while we continue to keep a watchful eye on our
government officials, we must continue to show
our officials the utmost respect and provide
support whenever possible. They deserve it.
Equally important unless we do this we will not
be able to attract future great talents to serve
the administration. Without qualified people the
organization will eventually die.

Shantideva used the beautiful metaphor that
covering one’s feet with leather sandals is the
same as covering the entire world with leather.
He used this metaphor to indicate that if we are
able to restrain our mind it is the same as
restraining external phenomena. Similarly, I
believe if TGIE is able to make the right
structural changes and strategically position
itself this would be the same as neutralizing
much of Tibet’s external threats and leveraging outside opportunities.

The author is an MBA graduate (Beta Gamma Sigma
Honor Society member) from the Thunderbird School
of Global Management and currently works in the
Investment Banking field in New York City.
Besides his regular work, Tsewang has traveled
extensively throughout the three provinces of
Tibet and provided consulting and voluntary
services to a number of Tibetan organizations. He
can be reached at
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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