Tibet and its Guardians – between China and the West (1)

This article was first published in New View magazine Issue 48 3rd Quarter July – Sept 2008  

It’s a paradox. The more we human beings are willing to hear one another’s differences, the more hope there is that we can cooperate toward truly human ends. The more we accept our divergences, the greater the hope for convergence. For we cannot arrive at the truth of love without working through our various versions of the love of truth. This was the project which the American monk Thomas Merton was about when he died, in 1968, while on a visit to a Buddhist monastery in Thailand . As a Christian, he believed in Jesus Christ as God come among us human beings to suffer with us and to die and rise again for us. But he respected and learned from the Buddhist “enlightenment” way of confronting suffering. And he was eager to join hands with all vicarious fellow-sufferers, all who are deeply concerned—in thought and action—about the downside of the human condition.

 - Willis E. Elliott, American Baptist Minister

By the year 1000 Buddhism was fading fast in its homeland of India and had moved further east in two great streams, Theravada to the south (Sri Lanka, Indo-China) and Mahayana to the north (China, Korea, Japan, Tibet).  But only in Tibet did Lamaism become an institution with thoroughgoing powers on a par with the temporal pretensions of the mediaeval Papacy in Europe. How did this spiritual-temporal power develop to the point where today, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso , is internationally regarded as the natural spiritual and temporal leader and guardian of the Tibetan people? How is it that this particular form of Buddhism has become by far the most pervasive and fastest-growing in the West since the 1960s? Other would-be guardians of Tibet ‘s people and culture are the Chinese Communist Party and the glitterati of Hollywood and American academia. What is behind their concern for Tibet ? This article will attempt an answer to these questions in two parts. This first part will look mostly at Tibet itself; the second will focus more on the stance of China and the West towards Tibet.

One clue for understanding why Lamaism  (the form of Buddhism in which monks are both spiritual and temporal leaders of society) has come to dominate Tibetan society is in the title ‘Dalai’ Lama (Ocean Priest), for the word ‘Dalai’ is not Tibetan; it is Mongolian, and has been attributed to the Dalai Lamas since the 16th century Mongol ruler, Altan Khan, had the Tibetan word ‘Gyatso’ (ocean) translated into his language at the time he and his people readopted Buddhism in its Tibetan form as their national faith. ‘Readopted’, because that faith had first been adopted by the more famous Kublai Khan in the 13th century, when the Mongol Empire was at its height. In 1260 Kublai appointed the Tibetan monk Chögyal Phagpa of the Sakya sect (Red Hats)(1) Imperial Preceptor (supreme spiritual teacher and guardian) of the realm i.e. the whole Mongol Empire. In 1269 Chögyal Phagpa created a new writing system that was used throughout Eurasia until the Mongol Empire collapsed about a century later, and this facilitated the unification and pacification of the various subject peoples  of the Mongol Empire. In gratitude for this and other services, Kublai raised his monkish Preceptor to the position of supreme ruler of Tibet; Phagpa was the first in the tibeto-mongolian world to bring about, through Mongol power, the thoroughgoing  control of the State by the religious elite. Thus, when in 1959 the Dalai Lama fled from Tibet ‘into the world’, where he would become a global superstar in the age of globalisation, it was the Mongols, the  creators of the world’s first ‘globalised’ land empire,  who had laid the initial basis for his power and position some 700 years before. It was the Mongol, Altan Khan in the 16th century, who bestowed on the supreme lama the title ‘Dalai Lama’, and it was the Mongol warlord Gushi Khan, who, in a series of  bloody  wars in the 17th century, enabled Tenzin Gyatso’s famous   predecessor, the 5th Dalai Lama (1617 – 1682), to win victory for the Gelugpa sect (Yellow Hats) over the various rival sects, to unify Tibet as a political entity under his sole rule and thus be in a position to build the mighty Potala Palace in Lhasa, the symbol still today of Lamaist power in Tibet.

This destiny relationship between Tibetan Buddhism and the Mongols is important and deep-rooted(2). Ever since the awesome shock of the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, westerners have tended to see all East Asians too easily as one great inscrutable mass – the infamous ‘Yellow Peril’, who may once more overwhelm them. But this lumping together of all East Asians into one amorphous mass is far from being the case. Rudolf Steiner, for instance, several times drew attention to the greatest war in history – the long struggle c.3000 BC  between the ancient Iranians, a settled agricultural society and the Turanians, the shamanistic nomads of Central Asia. This antagonism between agriculture and nomadism, he said,  was a profound historical archetype in the evolution of human consciousness, and it was one that replayed itself in the struggle between the settled agricultural society of China and the shamanistic barbarian nomads who menaced China’s borders and occasionally overwhelmed the ‘Middle Kingdom’ e.g. the Huns, the Mongols, the Manchus and ….the Tibetans. Buddhism first arrived in Tibet in the early 7th century with, as the story goes, two brides for the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo (c.604-50), the semi-legendary Nepalese princess Bhrikuti Devi from Nepal c.624, and then (the historically verifiable) Princess Wencheng from China in 641. Until then, the view of civilised Buddhist societies such as those of India and China was that Tibet was a savage pagan country. Indeed, the story of Buddhism’s spiritual ‘conquest’ of Tibet bears many similarities with the conquest of pagan Europe by the Christian Church.

The disturbances in Tibet that broke out on 10 March 2008 were part of a series of demonstrations planned to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the failed Tibetan Uprising of 1959, when the Dalai Lama fled to India. They began at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, for most Tibetans the most sacred temple in the country. It goes right back to the time of that first great king, Songtsen Gampo, and the celebration of his marriage to the Chinese Buddhist princess, Wencheng. How, and why, probably in the year 642, did the king build this ‘House of Mysteries’, as it was known? He did so by means of a magical ritual.

….the Chinese Princess Wencheng …. brought with her many fantastic treasures, including a magnificent Buddha statue, Jowo. Their original attempts to build a temple failed, being mysteriously undone at night. To determine the source of the trouble, the king and Princess Wencheng ….divined the presence of a supine demoness [Srinmo] who inhabited the whole of Tibet . Upon perceiving the demoness, King Songtsen Gampo set out to tame it. He determined that her heart was contained in a lake at the site of the present day Jokhang: The most important and vital landmark of the “Srin-land” is the “Plain of Milk” at Lhasa . It is of crucial importance, because this is the very spot where her heart-blood is pulsating. [The] mountains which encircle the “Plain of Milk” denote her two breasts, and are her lifeline…Her subjugation is successfully achieved by the erection of  Buddhist structures upon her body, at cardinal and other significant points. Having been pinned down by brute force, she is now completely immobilized, and the construction of the temples can begin: on her arms and legs, on her hips and shoulders, and on her knees and elbows, thirteen temples in total are raised. By erecting these edifices [with] the Jokhang as the dominant structure-placed on top of her heart – her life force is repressed and she is pacified, but not defeated.(3)

Writing in the Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, Kumar Narayanan (Stanford and Yale Universities), comments:   the Srinmo demoness can be thought of as an “exponent of chthonic and telluric forces of the cosmic substratum,” supporting the relationship of the demoness to the physical landscape.  If the demoness stands for the harsh landscape and unruly aspects of Tibetan culture, then Buddhism can be seen as an impetus to tame the land and transform it into a sacred, habitable space. However,…. the demoness transcends a simple metaphor for the landscape. In her insightful piece “Down with the Demoness, Reflections on Feminine Ground in Tibet ,” Janet Gyatso identifies the subjugation of feminine ground as domination over a pointedly female force…the demoness-subduing myth [as] a kind of rape of Tibet.(4)

Narayanan goes on to cite Rolf Stein’s observation in his book Tibetan Civilisation (p.39):  The conquering and civilizing function…was performed in accordance with Chinese ideas: in square concentric zones, each boxed in by the next and extending further and further from the centre. This construct has to be seen as mandala — the explicit reference to the cardinal direction and the concentric zones of temples are the hallmarks of mandala space. Furthermore, it is telling that the impetus for the subjugation of the demoness stems from Princess Wencheng , who we may think of the long arm of Chinese influence. The Jowo statue, a marriage present from China , is a rather obvious attempt to convert and pacify the heathen Tibetans, whom the Chinese view as a “savage race” threatening their western trade routes.(5)

This is no simple story of Chinese imperialism seeking to impose its cultural values on a helpless society of neighbouring barbarians. From a European perspective, however, we recognise all too well the common historical gesture, which was happening in similar ways in Europe at that time. Just as the Christian priesthood took care to build their churches on pre-Christian sacred sites, so Buddhists did the same in Tibet . The foreign Buddhist masters sought to ‘fix and control’ the local deities;

…intent on desacralizing places such as mountains, and imposing on them the abstract space of their monasteries, they became engrossed in enshrining relics and erecting stupas [large reliquaries] in order to fix dangerous chthonian influences, the creating of new centres, new sacred spaces or places that were protected by local gods and were in due time identified with them. (6)

The difference  is that in East Asia, unlike in Europe, these local gods were not banished completely or demonised but were given places, albeit much lesser ones in the Buddhist pantheon, as ‘converted’ but wrathful guardian deities of the threshold, often hideously fearsome and bloodcurdling, whose energies would now be put at the  service of the new faith.(7) It was as if the dragon, having been defeated by St. George, had not been slain, but turned into a tame but fierce, snarling guard-dog that could be used to guard the princess’s palace or anything belonging to the Faith. Says Narayanan: The fate of many local gods, then, is to be fixed (or, if you’re a Srinmo demoness, impaled) – and then converted to guardians of the very spaces where they were themselves ‘converted’. Narayanan goes on to show how this long complex process whereby Tibetan local deities were transformed into guardians of the Faith affected Tibetan Buddhism just as much as it did the local deities, and here those westerners who tend to wear rose-coloured spectacles when it comes to Tibet will need to take them off, because it becomes clear that Tibet is, and always was, far from being some kind of tranquil Shangri-la where Man and Nature live in enlightened harmony under the benevolent guidance of incarnate Buddhas, as some modern propagandists for Tibet such as Robert Thurman and his Hollywood friend Richard Gere would have us think. Life in Tibet on that harsh high plateau was always hard, and the culture, despite the centuries of Buddhism, could often be violent and cruel.

The subjugation of the local pre-Buddhist deities, which have been recast as wrathful guardian deities of Buddhism, and the manipulation of the female spirit in general by the all-male Buddhist culture of monks has over the centuries indeed come back to ‘haunt’ Tibetan Buddhism. The popular worship of wrathful deities can become overly zealous and even turbulent. Examples of this have appeared over the last dozen years, for instance. Largely ignored by the western media which, being overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Tibetan cause, does not want to draw attention to dirty washing in the Tibetan household, that household has been wracked by dissension since 1996, when the Dalai Lama himself put an implacable ban on the practice of the worship of the protector deity Dorje Shugden. This has utterly bewildered many Tibetans, as not only numerous great lamas over the past 100 years, but also the Dalai Lama himself, have previously engaged in this very practice.(8) Dorje Shugden was one such wrathful deity who was at first supposedly associated with the destructive spirit of a murdered lama and as such, opposed by the powerful 5th Dalai Lama (17th century), who was forced by the strength of the spirit deity to mollify his attitude. The present 14th Dalai Lama has often associated himself with the 5th Dalai Lama. Worship of Dorje Shugden has become enormously popular among Tibetans over the years; on this Kumar Narayanan comments:                   Statues

…mundane protectors are guardians in a universe alive with forces which can quickly become threatening, and are considered by Tibetans to be particularly effective because they are mundane, i.e. unenlightened. They share human emotions such as anger or jealousy, which makes them more effective than the more remote supra-mundane deities, but also more prone to take offence at the actions of humans or other protectors….(9)

The place for such wrathful guardians is held by the lamas to be rightfully at the threshold of the sacred space, and not in its inner sanctum. Narayanan: Their links to the demonic world, from which they originate, allow them to be more effective at dealing with the obstacles to Buddhism, invariably manifested in the form of demons. As transformed demons themselves, they are best equipped to deal with their wayward brethren, and convert them to Buddhism.  The appeal of such guardians  to Tibetans is rather like the greater attention that people will pay to former criminals and drug addicts  when they speak about crime and addiction because they have been there themselves. Narayanan sums up the situation :

This conflict [over Dorje Shugden ], then, is the natural product of the tension set in motion by the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet centuries ago. Dorje Shugden exemplifies the resilience of indigenous religion. Through Dorje Shugden, we are partially able to explain the wrathful motif that runs deep in Tibetan religion…. wrathful deities are perhaps guardians who, after serving their time on the periphery, have ascended to more sacred, less peripheral positions within Tibetan religion. However, the wrathful iconography of these successful aspirants bears the demonic mark of their profane origins.(10)

When such deities are embraced by the people too zealously, some of the priesthood become concerned: guardians like Dorje Shugden have ‘forgotten their place’, as it were, and need to be removed  back to the threshold. The Dalai Lama’s leading campaigner in America and the first initiated American Buddhist monk in the Tibetan tradition, Robert Thurman,(11) rallying to the Dalai Lama’s side, has already castigated the followers of Dorje Shugden as the ‘Tibetan Taliban.’ Clearly, with all the various sects, schools, lineages of famous lamas, and cults of guardian deities, the world of Tibetan Buddhism is exceedingly complex.

Two other ‘wrathful beings’ – of the more mundane kind – causing difficulties for the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism since about the same time, the mid-1990s, have appeared in Germany, where Tibetan Buddhism  has been booming since the early 1990s. Herbert and  Mariana Röttgen (who write under the pen names Victor and Victoria Trimondi), in their 1999 book, The Shadow of the Dalai Lama – Sexuality, Magic and Politics in Tibetan Buddhism(12), provide with copious documentation a  searching critique of the very roots of Tibetan esotericism, notably in one of its central texts and practices – the Kalachakra (Wheel of Time) Tantra. They argue that this contains a well-hidden doctrine of manipulation of female sexual energies through tantric rituals – the attempt of the male lamas to become through ritual means, in effect, hermaphrodites drawing into themselves the energy of the female, through actual secretive ritual sex acts with young females.  The Kalachakra Tantra ritual has 15 stages, 7 lower and 8 higher, the last 8 divided into two groups of four. Stages 8-11 required

 …the presence of a young woman of ten, twelve, sixteen, or twenty years of age. Without a living karma mudra [wisdom consort] enlightenment cannot, at least according to the original text, be attained in this lifetime. The union with her thus counts as the key event in the external action of the rituals. Thus, as the fourth book of the Kalachakra Tantra says with emphasis, “neither meditation nor the recitation of mantras, nor the preparation, nor the great mandalas and thrones, nor the initiation into the sand mandala, nor the summonsing of the Buddhas confers the super natural powers, but alone the mudra.(13)

While seeming to be honoured in tantrism, the female is in fact used so that the Tantric adept can develop “unlimited power as a man-woman…the lord of both sexes”(14), and indeed, increasingly since the 1980s, female adherents of Tibetan Buddhism in the West have been coming forward with evidence and accusations of sexual abuse and manipulation by Tibetan teachers. This tends to be ignored by the western media, who prefer to concentrate their fire on sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. Does the modern world, awash with pornography, sexualisation and sexual abuse of all kinds, argue the Trimondis,  really need a religious practice in which a key focus is sexual congress, real and/or imagined, between a male monk and a sensual karma mudra?

Less convincing perhaps but equally thought-provoking is the Trimondis’ claim that not only has the Dalai Lama associated with the CIA and a number of well-known fascists and extremists  over the years, from S.S.-man Heinrich Harrer (author of Seven Years in Tibet) to the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo cult leader Shoko Asahara,(15) but  the 11th century Kalachakra Tantra details Tibetan Buddhism’s ultimate plans for ‘buddhocratic’ control of the world(16) after an eventual pan-Asian mega-conflict, a ‘Shambhala War’ (17) against the monotheistic religions in the year 2424; the ‘Outer’ Kalachakra text even goes into abstruse technological detail of war machines. The website of the International Kalachakra Network, led by Robert Thurman and Alexander Berzin states:

According to the Kalachakra presentation of historical cycles, barbaric hordes periodically invade the civilized world and try to eliminate all possibilities for spiritual practice. A future invasion is predicted for the year 2424 of this common era, when it is said there will be another brutal world war. At that time help will come from Shambhala to defeat the barbarians. A new golden age will dawn, with everything conducive to spiritual practice, particularly of Kalachakra. All those who have previously received the Kalachakra initiation will be reborn at the time on the victorious side…. people have traditionally flocked to the initiation with the motivation of planting karmic seeds to connect themselves with this future golden age so as to complete its practice then.(18)

The Buddhist practitioners are expected to go to war as ‘Shambhala warriors’ for Raudrachakrin, the 25th King of Shambhala, against the mleccha (non-Indic barbarians). Who are these mleccha? Their leaders are named in the text: Verse I.154 from The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra reads:

Adam, Noah, Abraham, and five others – Moses, Jesus, the White-Clad One [= Mani], Muhammad, and Mahdi – with tamas [darkness, ignorance, sloth], are in the asura-naga [demonic serpent] caste. The eighth will be the blinded one. The seventh will manifestly come to the city of Baghdad in the land of Mecca , (the place) in this world where a portion of the asura caste will have the form of the powerful, merciless mlecchas.

This will all sound utterly bizarre to most westerners, who, if they are not so well-informed about Tibetan Buddhism, are used to a positive spin on all things Tibetan from the mainstream media, but then they discover the links between Tibetan Buddhism, Kalachakra, and the doomsday cult of Aum Shinrikyo in Japan , which attempted mass killings with the release of sarin gas in the Tokyo underground in 1995 and began to mine uranium in Australia in 1993. The Dalai Lama met the Aum leader Shoko Asahara a number of times (19) (photo left) but obviously, despite the almost superhuman powers attributed to him by Thurman and others, either did not see through Asahara or did not wish to. The Trimondis do not accuse the Dalai Lama himself of actually supporting or encouraging Asahara, but they do offer chapter and verse on the various connections between Asahara and Dharamsala (The Dalai Lama’s residence in India and seat of the self-styled Tibetan Government-in-exile), and their enquiries certainly raise the question: is this mediaeval ritual about an Armageddon-like ‘Shambhala War’, parts of which seem to reflect millennial Buddhist fear and anxiety about the Muslim invasions 1000 years ago, really suitable for today’s world? Defenders of the Tantric rituals claim that the Kalachakra’s often warlike language is all to be understood symbolically in terms of an inner struggle, a Buddhist inner ‘jihad’, so to speak, but readers of this article are encouraged to draw their own conclusions by studying the Trimondis’ account for themselves (20) and comparing it with the website of the leading American Tibetan Buddhist scholar, Alexander Berzin, who discusses the Kalachakra in detail. (21)

The Dalai Lama has connected himself especially with the Kalachakra Tantra ritual, originally one of the most complex and secret Tantra rituals, and his performances of it at specific locations around the world have become major public events, such as at Graz, Austria, in 2002, where 10,000 people participated, and Toronto in 2004. He has said: Other Tantric practices are related to the individual, but the Kalachakra seems to be related to the community, to the global society as a whole.(22) Urban Hammar of Stockholm University, well-disposed towards the Dalai Lama and Kalachakra, notes:

The Kalachakra initiations offered by the fourteenth Dalai Lama have during the last thirty years become a nationalistic event very important for the Tibetans in exile, but also for Tibetans inside Tibet . Almost all the exiled Tibetans have received the Kalachakra initiation from the Dalai Lama today and this has resulted in a stronger feeling of solidarity and a hope of being able to return to Tibet . Ritually, having received such an important initiation from the Dalai Lama also makes all the participants in some way disciples of him and creates a sort of brotherhood bond between everybody who have received the initiation.(23)

Here again, we can ask, does not this central importance in Tibetan Buddhism of  the Kalachakra Tantra with its Shambhala holy war, both the inner and the outer, have to do with the fact that something very martial and violent lives within Tibetan culture, as in that of the  Mongols, who are these days resurrecting the cult of Genghis Khan as a national totem for their new post-communist state? Extending the benefit of the doubt, can it be said that in the Kalachakra Tantra and other texts and iconography which include violence and wrathfulness, Buddhist lamas were trying, out of compassion, to work with the ethnic grain of the Tibetan and Mongolian peoples, so to speak, in order to wean them off war and violence? Or did the martial aspects of Tibetan Buddhist practice rather reflect the same martial and violent, even pre-Buddhist elements in the Tibetan lamas themselves? Warrior monks were common in Tibet , as in other parts of the Buddhist world, and physical violence between monks of different monasteries and sects has frequently broken out over the centuries. The Kalachakra includes both venusian and martial elements; it combines a tantric sex ritual with forecasts and descriptions of apocalyptic war – a powerful mix. Exalted feelings of nationalism can all too easily lead to violence. It is interesting that as the Nazis were just beginning their rise to power in Germany, Rudolf Steiner indicated that there is a deep link between  nationalism and sexuality.

The timing of the emergence of the difficulties outlined above for Tibetan Buddhism is noteworthy. Just as the global profile of the Dalai Lama rises to a peak in the late 1990s with the approach of the millennium, just as Tibetan Buddhism seems to be carrying all before it in the developed countries with doors opening everywhere, along come the two Trimondis, and the problem of Dorje Shugden. Tibetan Buddhism is still advancing in the West, the Dalai Lama is just completing a well-publicised ten day trip to Britain as I write, but more searching questions are being asked these days; people are waking, Tibetans and non-Tibetans, as if from a dream. (24) The broad threefold historical development of Buddhism also needs to be taken into account here. The historical Gautama Buddha (c.6th-5th cent. BC; dates uncertain), out of his great compassion for the suffering of human beings, taught a doctrine and a path of personal liberation from this world that would free one of the need to reincarnate again. After his passing into nirvana, Theravada, the first phase or stream of Buddhism, which developed very approximately  between the time of Buddha and Christ , can be said to have been primarily concerned with individual liberation through attention to individual ethical and mental behaviour. Amongst other things, Buddhist logic and philosophy saw a great development in this phase.  The second broad phase of Buddhism, Mahayana, which developed around the time of Christ , concerned itself more with the liberation of others and indeed all beings through the compassionate deeds of the Boddhisattvas, who abjured Nirvana until all sentient beings were saved. Out of this stream would come the more devotional and social action-oriented aspects of Buddhism. Buddhism as philosophy of life began to give way to, or rather include, Buddhism as a consoling religion for all and not just a spiritual practice for an elite. The key spiritual insight of this time was not complex logic and systematic thought to understand how the mind and phenomena work, as in the highly abstruse Abidhamma teachings of the first period (400-250 BC), but rather, the Mahayana concept of sunyata, voidness, which would lead among other things, to the silence of Zen. The third broad phase came from the 5th-6th centuries onwards as an extension of Mahayana: this was Vajrayana, also known as Mantrayana, Tantric or Esoteric Buddhism. This phase reached down more into the will and reflected the influence of indigenous ethnic cultures on Buddhism; on the one hand there was the development of a vastly more exalted cosmography; on the other, much more emphasis on ‘skilful means’, working through the senses, magical actions and shamanistic practices. This was the Buddhism that made its mark on Tibet. Vajrayana emphasised less the mind and more the rest of the human being – the body, the senses, even the passions, the transformation of evil habits into good.(25) This was a Buddhism that would appeal more to the Turanian type of nomadic peoples whose spiritual roots were wilder and more elemental, more related to outer, sense-world phenomena. This goes some way to explain the gruesome nature of much Tibetan Buddhist iconography and artwork. Imported from China , Vajrayana exerted a tremendous influence in Japan from the early 9th century on, but the more modest Chinese and Japanese Buddhists were evidently not so interested in the writhing, blissful couplings of the Tibetan Buddhist deities and their sexual consorts.

Christianity arose in time between the two world faiths of Buddhism and Islam, which began approximately 600 years on either side of it. Rudolf Steiner saw Christianity in the course of time entering into a relationship with both of these and gaining something from both over periods of time lasting 600 years. From its often difficult encounter with Islam, among many other things, a particular gain for the western Christian world was natural science; the cultural transfer took place from 600-1200 and then was elaborated in the West from 1200-1800. From approximately 1800 onwards, according to Steiner (lecture of 19.3.1911), the Christian culture of the West would enter into a relationship with the world of Buddhism. We are still only 200 years into the first phase of this, which will end c.2400 – interestingly, that is around the time given in the Kalachakra for the Shambhala War. 600 years of elaboration by the Christian world of what it has learned from Buddhism will then follow. According to Steiner , that learning will, above all, relate to the understanding of karma and reincarnation, and it is noteworthy that Tibetan Buddhism focuses on this more than do other types of Buddhism due to its need for illustrious reincarnation lineages for its grand lamas. Robert Thurman and those on the opposite pole to him, such as the cyberneticist Ray Kurzweil, (26) imagine that Christianity will largely or entirely have disappeared from the West by 2400, just as Buddhism itself disappeared from India. Thurman hopes that by then much of the world will have become a Buddhocracy, ruled by the ‘spiritual science’ of the Tibetan lamas and governed in accord with the omniscient wisdom of Chenrezig, the Boddhisattva of Compassion, who is said to be an incarnate presence in the successive Dalai Lamas.

For Steiner, however, the relationship between Christianity and Buddhism will not at all bring any illumination of the essence of Christianity from the Buddhist side, and indeed, the Dalai Lama has had little enlightening to say on the matter; he seems to see Christ as simply another great enlightened teacher of love and compassion. Steiner , by contrast, emphasised not so much Christ ‘s teachings as His Deeds, notably His Resurrection. How then does Steiner , a Christian esotericist, view Tibetan Buddhism? He was quite forthright about it. Tracing Tibetan culture back to Atlantean times, he said: “the things that developed later in Tibet are such that they cannot be used anymore today….in this Tibetan culture something has been preserved in a bad form that originally had a relatively good form. Above all, the principle of rulership has taken a not very acceptable form.” He went on to describe the process of choosing a new Dalai Lama,  a process which in its present form originated in the 13th century and was systematised by the 2nd Dalai Lama Gendun Gyatso (1475-1541):

You can imagine that the worst kind of abuse was rife. If the old Dalai Lama was no longer wanted they would simply look for a child and say: ‘The soul of the old Dalai Lama has to enter into this child. First he had to die, however. And the priests made sure that this happened at the right time. The people then believed that the soul of the old Dalai Lama had entered into the soul of the child. …They thought it was always the same soul, and to them it was always the same Dalai Lama; he merely changed his outer body. It was not like this in the original culture, and extraordinary mischief has developed out of it. You can see from this that the priests had gradually found ways of managing affairs in such a way that their supremacy was assured.(27)

Indeed, only one of the Dalai Lamas between the 7th and the 13th survived into his adult years; most were removed by assassination before they grew up. For Steiner then, the rule of the monastic priesthoods of Tibet no longer has spiritual validity; it has become decadent and even dangerous; this is evidenced today in the phenomena surrounding the Dorje Shugden controversy. But the modern age, which began in the early 15th century at the very time the Gelugpa sect (Yellow Hats) were formed by the great lama saint Tsongkhapa, is not an age that will suffer theocracies (or ‘clerocracies’) of any kind. Rule by monasteries belonged to a previous epoch, and the spirit of all-male priesthoods to an even earlier one. The time for esoterically sealed oligarchies of any kind is over. Clearly, for hundreds of thousands of Tibetans inside and outside the country, their culture revolves around their lamas and monasteries, but it has been obvious, since Britain ‘s bloody invasion of Tibet in 1904, that this mediaeval culture could no longer remain apart from the rest of the world. The British had forced China to open, the Americans did the same to Japan, then the British to Tibet; now China has in effect forcibly ‘exported’ Tibetan Buddhism around the globe and is bringing the modern world into Tibet. For good or ill, Tibet is no longer a Forbidden Land , a ‘Lost Horizon’. For centuries, the Tibetans had idealised  their country as Avalokitesvara’s Pure Land; that is the meaning of the Potala palace of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa – ‘the abode of Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara)’, Buddhisattva of Compassion, who is said to be incarnate in the Dalai Lama, who ruled from that palace. The Tibetans believed they were the people who had been saved by Chenrezig.  Tibetans do not see their country as the centre of world civilisation, like the Chinese have seen China ; rather, they see it as the proper land for Buddhism.”… if foreigners entered this land, the pure Buddhist land would be instantly spoiled, the people would lose their happiness, receive the Buddha ‘s punishment, and fall into misery forever….Thus the Tibetans prohibited  the entrance of foreigners into their country. When they found strange travellers, they would at once chase them out….Some explorers were killed….Tibetans who tried to invite foreigners were punished in a cruel manner.” (28)

It must of course be deeply painful for Tibetans to see that these things have now happened: foreigners have entered, the pure land has been spoiled, many of the people have lost their happiness, have been punished, and have fallen into misery – for the time being. The more reflective among them have asked, why has this happened, and the more conservative answer: because the foreigners pushed their way in. Yet the bolder thinkers, such as Tenzin Gyatso himself, dare to suggest that this was inevitable and even necessary. When he dies, and he is 72 now, the Chinese will likely try to arrange his successor to suit themselves. Last year Beijing introduced a law requiring lamas who were going to reincarnate to submit applications to the government beforehand (!) – for westerners, a bewildering act,  which suggests either great cynicism on the part of the Chinese authorities or else that they too are falling in with  the magical, occult-political worldview of the lamas. For the Tibetan faithful, however, even more than his pronouncement on Dorje Shugden , Tenzin Gyatso ‘s speculation that the 14th might be the last Dalai Lama is surely even more bewildering. A very different spirit flowed through the short life and great work of Dhondup Gyal (1953-1985), considered the founder of modern Tibetan literature:

A thousand brilliant accomplishments of the past

Cannot serve today’s purpose,

Yesterday’s salty water cannot quench today’s thirst.

In the withered, tired and lifeless body of history,

Without the soul of today,

The pulse of progress will not beat,

The blood of progress will not run…

From The “Waterfall of Youth” (1983)

What actually motivates westerners in their support for Tibet ? What underlies Beijing ‘s strong determination to keep control of Tibet ? Why is 2008 proving to be such a significant year for China ? The second part of this article will consider the interaction between Tibet and its would-be guardians in Beijing and the West.


(1) There are two  main groups in Tibetan Buddhism, the  older, Red Hat group, which includes the Nyingma, Sakya, Kadampa, and Kagyu sects, and the  Yellow Hats, or Gelugpa Sect. The Dalai Lama is the temporal, but not the nominal spiritual head, of the Yellow Hat sect, founded in the 15th century.

(2) Tibetans and Mongols share the great epic of King Gesar , who was a kind of East Asian Arthur, the longest epic in the world. Incidentally, the original birthplace of Gesar is now understood to be Axu in the mainly Tibetan Garze prefecture of Sichuan Province . This is literally next door to Ngawa Prefecture (53% Tibetan in 2008), and also in Sichuan Province . Ngawa is  where the recent 8.0 earthquake occurred on 12 May.

(3) Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, Vol. 2 (Spring 2002)

(4) ibid.

(5) ibid.

(6) Bernard Faure , Space and Place in Chinese Religious Traditions. p355

(7) Exactly the same thing happened in Japan too after its adoption of Buddhism, although its  Buddhist guardian deities tended not to be quite as ferocious as the Tibetans’.

(8) This problem is dealt with from different angles in videos posted at Youtube.com on the Internet. Search for videos about ” Dorje Shugden “. For a more thorough and scholarly perspective, see George Dreyfus . The Shuk-den Affair in  “Perspectives”, Volume 4, No. 3, Tuesday September 30. Online at http://www.tibet.com/dholgyal/shugden-origins.html

(9) See n.3

(10) See. n.3

(11) Robert Thurman : father of the Hollywood actress Uma Thurman and close friend of Richard Gere . Thurman’s  wife Nena was formerly married to Timothy Leary , who in the 1960s popularised the use of LSD in a Tibetan Buddhist ritual context.

(12)  Available as a free online e-book at http://www.iivs.de/~iivs01311/SDLE/Contents.htm

(13) Trimondi, Shadow of the Dalai Lama, 6.7 online, see n.12

(14) Trimondi, Shadow of the Dalai Lama, 5.3 online, see n.12

(15)  The German author Rüdiger Sunner quotes a member of the SS Expedition to Tibet (1938) who referred to a meeting with Karl Maria Wiligut , Himmler ‘s spiritual adviser. Wiligut was in a trance-like state, and spoke of : “my friends…in Abyssinia and America , in Japan and Tibet …  all who come from another world in order to construct a new empire. The occidental spirit is thoroughly corrupted, we have a major task before us. A new era will come, for creation is subject to just one grand law. One of the keys lies with the Dalai Lama [!] and in the Tibetan monasteries.” The SS man said that Wiligut then referred to “the names of monasteries and their abbots, of localities in eastern Tibet which I alone knew about … Did he draw these out of my brain? Telepathy? To this day I do not know, I know only that I left the place in a hurry. Quoted by Trimondi, see n.11 above.

(16) ‘Buddhocracy’ and the ‘buddhocratic’ takeover, first of America and then the world, have been concepts enthusiastically promoted by Robert Thurman .

(17) Shambhala (Sanskrit: a place of peace/tranquillity/happiness) is an especially importamt concept in the Kalachakra Tantra. As with everything in Tantrism, it has an outer exoteric and an inner esoteric aspect. Thus it is believed to be a physical place somewhere beyond the Himalayas and also an inner state of being. “… nevertheless it is not a physical place that we can actually find. We can only say that it is a pure land, a pure land in the human realm. And unless one has the merit and the actual karmic association, one cannot actually arrive there.”  – the Dalai Lama, 1985, Bodhgaya, India. For Steiner, Shambhala this was the etheric world, the first realm of spiritual existence and the world in which the Christ Being currently ‘resides’. Shambhala withdrew from general human perception c.3000 BC but since 1900 it is slowly becoming spiritually visible again. (lec. 6th March, 1910, The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric; online at http://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/19100306p01.html)

(18) http://kalachakranet.org/kalachakra_tantra_war_peace.html

(19) Asahara also met Kalu Rinpoche (a patriarch of the Tibetan Kagyupa sect) and Khamtrul Jamyang Dondrup Rinpoche (former General Secretary of the Council for Cultural and Religious Affairs in Tibetan Government in Exile)  At their meeting in Feb. 1987, the Dalai Lama said to Aashara: Dear friend, … Look at the Buddhism of Japan today. It has degenerated into ceremonialism and has lost the essential truth of the teachings. … If this situation continues, … Buddhism will vanish from Japan. Something needs to be done. You should spread real Buddhism there [in Japan]. … You can do that well, because you have the mind of a Buddha. If you do so, I shall be very pleased. It will help me with my mission. -  quoted by the Trimondis in The Shadow of the Dalai Lama http://www.iivs.de/~iivs01311/SDLE/Part-2-13.htm

(20) See n.12

(21) http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/x/nav/n.html_554862326.html

(22) http://kalachakranet.org/kalachakra_tantra_miscellaneous.html

(23) Dalai Lama and the Modern Kalachakra Initiations By Urban Hammar, Dept. of History of Religions, Stockholm University at www.teol.lu.se/indiskareligioner/conference04/13996670/panel2hammer.pdf

(24) During the Dalai Lama’s visit to Britain in May 2008, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a programme about China and Tibet 29 May. At first, it seemed even-handed, but soon shifted into the familiar media partiality. There was no mention of the CIA role in the uprising of 1959 or of CIA support for Tibetan guerillas from 1956-69; no mention of the role of Tibetans in the destruction of monasteries during the Cultural Revolution, and no mention of high-level western involvement behind the new impetus which has sustained the Dalai Lama’s ever-increasing global presence since the mid-1980s.

(25) It is possible that Tibetan and Indian Tantra were influenced to some extent by Manichaeism in this sense, due to the geographical proximity, but there is not the space here to go into this.

(26) See his book The Age of Spiritual Machines, in which he eagerly looks forward to the end of biological humanity by 2099. Interestingly, the model in his book is not Dolly, but Molly, a 23-year old woman who ‘evolves’ into a mechanical ‘sub-entity’, when there is no longer any difference between a human and a machine, so here too, we see a manipulation of the female: not use of the female for the sake of the male as in Tibetan Buddhist ritual, but actual abolition of both male and female altogether.

(27) 20 May 1924 Collected Works GA 353

(28) H.Nakamura, Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples (1964), p.332

© Terry Boardman 2008

This page was uploaded 30.9.2008. Last updated 2.7.2012