By Li Hongmei
Not a "spiritual leader," but a political figure clad in kasaya.
Perhaps, the followers and supporters of the 14th Dalai Lama have seldom questioned the role of the political monk in essence in Tibetan history, nor realized what it would mean for the Tibetan people if the Dalai Lama and his clique returned to power.
The memory should unfold from 1959, in the year the Dalai Lama fled China and went into exile in India, where he set up a state apparatus called "Tibetan government-in-exile" run by aristocratic, nepotistic monks that collected taxes, jailed and tortured dissenters and engaged in all the usual political intrigues.
Was this a myth? The monastic nobility headed by the Dalai Lama controlled all land on behalf of the "gods". They monopolized the common wealth by exacting tribute and labor services from peasants and herders. This system was somewhat akin to how the medieval Catholic Church exploited peasants in feudal Europe.
Tibetan peasants and herders had little personal freedom. Without the permission of the priests, or lamas, they could not do anything. They were considered appendages to the monastery. The peasantry lived in dire poverty while enormous wealth accumulated in the monasteries and in the Dalai Lama's palace in Lhasa.
In 1956 the Dalai Lama, fearing that "the Chinese central government would soon move on Lhasa," issued an appeal for gold and jewels to construct another throne for himself. This, he argued, would help rid Tibet of "bad omens". One hundred and twenty tons were collected. When the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, he was preceded by more than 60 tons of treasure.
What makes the "colorful" Dalai Lama more "legendary" is nothing more than his close links with the CIA.
His "government" set up in exile in India, at least until the 1970s, received $US1.7 million a year from the CIA.
The money was to pay for guerilla operations against the Chinese PLA, notwithstanding the Dalai Lama's public stance in support of non-violence, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
The Dalai Lama himself was on the CIA's payroll from the late 1950s until 1974, reportedly receiving $US180,000 a year.
But apparently the guerrilla army never did more than engage in border skirmishing. As early as 1964, in fact, its effectiveness and efficiency were called into question by the CIA, which nevertheless stuck with the plan. Funds to pay this army were funnelled through the Dalai Lama and his organization, which received US$1.7 million a year, later reduced to $1.2 million. (Of this, the Dalai Lama himself was paid $186,000 a year.
One former CIA agent named Ralph McGehee, admittedly a professional thorn in the side of his former employer, alleged that the CIA has been a prime funder of the Dalai Lama's media profile as a symbol of "meditative peace and Buddhist mindfulness."
However, the romantic notions about the "peaceful" and "harmonious" Shangri-la the Dalai Lama has all along preached and boasted of should be tested against reality.
When suddenly the words "democracy" and "human rights" entered the vocabulary of the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile in India's Dharamsala, some Western media, so intoxicated, might have cheered for it.
But Dharamsala is by no means a Shangri-la, as where Dalai Lama's commitment to "democracy" seems weak.
An Office of Tibet document claims "soon after His Holiness the Dalai Lama's arrival in India, he re-established the Tibetan Government in exile, based on modern democratic principles". Yet it took more than 30 years for an Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies to be directly elected from among the 130,000 exiles. Of 46 assembly members, only 30 are elected. The other 16 are appointed by religious authorities or directly by the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama's proposals now amount to calling for negotiations with Beijing to allow him and his exiled government to resume administrative power in an "autonomous", albeit larger, Tibet.
The Dalai Lama's call for international pressure on Beijing seeks only to achieve this.
The political monk has since turned to the "underground battle", stealthily sowing discord between Tibetans and the Han Chinese and inciting ethnic hatred, while trotting globally and lobbying for international support.
The Tibetan people deserve due respect. But the Dalai clique and his "government-in-exile" can only be judged from their actions and, their willingness to tell the truth.