Thursday, 11 September 2014

Tibet's Going Back to the Future?

A Democratic Theocracy is an Oxymoron

Few knew the Tibet under the Dalai Lamas. Belied by the enchanting charismatic smile and wonderfully pleasant personality of the 14th Dalai Lama, and under his and his predecessors’ direct political, social and religious leadership, was the darkest corner of China and possibly the world.  

Before 1959, Tibet was a feudal serfdom created by the integration of religion, politics and the dictatorship of monks and aristocrats, and one even darker and more backward than medieval Europe. The 14th Dalai Lama, like other Dalai Lamas before him, ruled over a Tibetan society which had integrated religion with politics as a feudal serfdom under a theocracy ruled by a combined dictatorship of monks and aristocrats.

The Dalai Lama’s Tibetan system tolerated no democracy, freedom or human rights in any form. In fact, the Tibetan serf slavery system was the darkest human slavery system in the history of mankind, and which spanned many centuries longer than the 400+ years of black slavery in the USA.  The Tibetan conditions were also more debasing and dehumanizing than medieval Europe in the latter’s darkest periods.

Similar as in medieval Europe, Tibetan aristocrats and High-Level Tibetan Buddhist monks and Officials in the Potala Palace, which is the Chief Residence of the Dalai Lama, who totaled less than 5% of Tibetans, owned more than 95% of Tibet’s livestock, farmland, pastures, forests, mountains and rivers.  All the food harvests belonged to them, and they allowed farmers only barely self-sufficient quantity for self-consumption only and none for trade or commercial exchange.

In the Dalai Lama’s Tibet, more than 90% of the people were peasants and serfs indebted generationally for many life-times. They also had to pay exorbitant taxes and levies by performing forced heavy labor. Poverty is therefore entrenched and deepened over every generation. People are considered debt collaterals and therefore commodities to be traded. In fact, family members, sons and daughters are routinely traded or abused due to no other reason save being “reincarnated in a lower human form than monks and nuns”.  

Unlike medieval Europe which was not under a completely theocratic system, the cocktail of religion and politics in the Dalai Lama’s Tibet was the guarantee of its feudal serf system. When their traditional indigenous animist and shamanistic belief systems lost out to the new progressive but agnostic Buddhism in the 8th Century AD, many Tibetans quickly embraced Buddhism and thus believe in an afterlife.  Gradually, the monks of a revised “Tibetan” Buddhism, with the Dalai Lama as its Head, quickly became the overlords and made their Tibetan Buddhist believers their serfs – never mind that this was not in accordance with Buddha’s original Buddhist scriptural teachings or principles! Tibetan Buddhists are expected to work ungrudgingly for their spiritual masters, to whom they owe a blind devotion.

And as political theocracy evolved in Tibet through the dictatorship of monks and nobles, the emergent religious authority came to dominate Tibetan's daily life with administrative power, and concurrent coercion by meting out rewards and punishments for their after-life with religious privileges. One is either doomed to the frightening karma of “endless reincarnation as any living creature” or, the “Dalai Lama can help to secure one’s rebirth as a human being in a high position, or, better still, as a monk or nun”.

Tibetan feudal serfdom combined and reinforced by its peculiar Buddhist Theocracy was a deadly social ideology that totally controlled and shackled the minds of the largely superstitious masses. It debased human dignity by expropriating personal freedom and deprived him/her the freedom of thought necessary to penetrate delusional religious truths for a better and trueful enlightenment impact.  There was no escape - social, economic, mental and spiritual - for any Tibetan from the dark karmic curse of the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan kingdom.

Accordance to Karl Marx, serfdom was one of the major slavery systems in human history and the essential representation of the feudal exploitation system. Karl Marx further pointed out that "Liberty in any form is all about bringing back to people the relationship between their world and themselves."  For Marx, the answer is Education.

Education is the most powerful human weapon to counter that insidious religious ideological control of people’s beliefs and thought. Education was the decisive social tool that broke medieval Europe out of its Dark Age.  The Church’s monopoly of education was unable to withstand the proliferation of secular schools resulting from the economic prosperity of the 13th century.  

The Renaissance broke forth in Italy in the late 14th century and reached Central Europe (Eastern Germany, Bohemia, and Poland) by the beginning of the 16th century. The Enlightenment period also started in the late 17th century and the same happened for the Scientific Revolution. The Enlightenment liberated the human mind and produced such innovative and unorthodox ideas and knowledge called “Science” and prodded its scientists towards new spheres of knowledge and means to acquire it. Science proved and gave the opportunity for the Enlightenment to thrive. Concurrently, the Catholic Church divided and reformed. The first large Protestant movement was the Hussite Revolution in Bohemia (1419-34). The Reformation gathered momentum and flourished after Luther's theses in Saxony in the early 16th century.

In the 400 years as Europe freed itself of feudal servitude and superstitions, it eventually invented the steam engine to drive the industrial revolution and itself into the modernity of 20th century. Tibet, located on the highest plateau of the world, was however oblivious of how the world had actually moved ahead towards the social realisation of Enlightenment; when in fact a similar reference could be repeatedly found in the original Buddhist scriptures. 


In the Dalai Lama’s Tibet, education and the right to education were monopolised by the ruling class of monks and nobles. The only way to get access to education was to enter the monasteries to "read scriptures". Parent eagerly enrolled their children into the monasteries since education was easily available to any children to become monks. They soon realized that they had merely changed their children’s status from a "serf" of the ruling lords to a "serf" of the monasteries. There is no escaping from ubiquitous servitude to the Potala Palace should one desire to be educated. The complete domination of Theocracy in Tibetan life has also retarded the development of traditional Tibetan history and culture, when compared to the other 53+ tribes in China.

Tibetan serfdom under the Dalai Lama is the single most responsible factor for the persistent abject poverty of the Tibetan people, causing them to lag way behind other parts of China. This should not have happened if the Tibetan people were free and encouraged so that their human-ness,   enterprise and creativity can be brought into full deployment like the rest of the world.

Recalling that it was progressive, agnostic Buddhism that overwhelmed the traditional indigenous animist and shamanistic belief systems of the Tibetans 1,800 years ago, before it was hijacked by the variant Tibetan Buddhism which enslaved common Tibetans in a Feudal Theocratic Serfdom, it is therefore not ironic that the Dalai Lama’s Theocratic Tibet should finally be liberated from the legacy of its dark pasts by an atheistic Communist Party of China in 1959, and who had thereafter invested hugely on Tibetan education, commercial and social development in a manner never before done nor contemplated by all the Dalai Lamas combined in the previous 550 years.  

As the world today ponders over the future of Tibet, the author cautions against seeing the Dalai Lama’s Tibet as a romantic “Shangri-La”, portrayed in the movie “Lost Horizon”. Ancient Tibet under the rule of all the Dalai Lamas was very far from being “Shangri-La”. It was darker than darkest medieval Europe.  

The clamour by the 14th Dalai Lama and his government-in-exile for an “Independent Tibet with Democracy” sounds very strange and hollow when it had enslaved 90% of Tibetans as serfs for centuries. Indeed, the unpleasant truth for many “democracy” advocates is that Tibetans today under the Chinese have never been freer than they, their forefathers and ancestors have ever been under all the Dalai Lamas.

His charmed wisdom notwithstanding, neither the 14th Dalai Lama nor his “government-in-exile” has any experience in either democracy or independence. They are therefore not relevant to Tibet’s future.

Whatever Tibet’s future solution options are, one thing is certain.  There is no role for a theocracy nor should any allowance be made for Tibetan Buddhism other than to treat it on equal footing with any other religious beliefs whilst respecting the inherent right of Tibetans to their personal freedom of religion. The future is a secular Tibet as it regains its place among equals with other Chinese Provinces. 

Tibet’s own future does not criss-cross with or into its past.  Tibetans have to choose paths never before travelled, through their vast and beautiful mountain valleys to reach their true Shangri-La, where they would discover to be a wonderful place of sanctuary, true enlightenment and personal development with the freedom to choose and believe in an even better future for their children and grandchildren.


[Acknowledgment and gratitude to my Bhutanese friend who in 1983 first shared with me the Tibetan conditions.  They were validated by many other friends in the region who also confirmed my research and enabled a true picture of Tibetan struggles in my mind.]

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