Are Buddhsist Racist

Read my one & only interview in the New Statesman

What is Racism?


Race can be defined as:

"A classification system used to categorise humans into distinct populations or groups by anatomical, cultural, ethnic, genetic, geographical, historical, linguistic, religious, and/or social affiliation.”


Racism can be defined as:

“The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”


When a group of people are labeled according to a certain religious belief or affiliation and their access to public services, jobs, livelihoods and social freedoms are denied or restricted on the basis of this belief or affiliation this is racism.

The Illusion of Independence

For over 50 years the Dalai Lama has been traveling the world preaching to anyone who will listen about the benefits and rights of Tibetan independence. Free Tibet became a popular movement in the 80's and 90's and the string-line of Tibetan prayer flags became as obligatory as a Che Guevara t-shirt for anyone attending College or University.

Times change, but the Dalai Lama's message hasn't - he still pleads with the West to broker some kind of a deal that will return him to his palace in Lhasa as the ruler of Tibet. The Chinese are vilified as oppressive, yet present themselves as liberators of an oppressed people, so who is right?

The Chinese have a terrible human rights record, however the Dalai Lama isn't too great at practicing what he preaches either. Prior to the final Chinese invasion of Tibet the Dalai Lama was the supreme leader of a theocratic state that included an aristocracy which profited greatly from the slavery and oppression of the masses.

The Dalai Lama was so wealthy he had his own personal treasury in the government of which a very small fraction was carried to India. This tiny slice of his wealth took 1,000 pack animals to carry and consisted of gold bars, silver coins, and rare treasures, accumulated over centuries. So neither party are really the ideal role models embodying free and fair societies.


The Illusion

The illusion of the Dalai Lama being a 'humble/simple monk' is as false as the illusion of Tibetan independence. For all the spin and slick campaigning Tibet hasn't been independent for the past 800 years, way before the Chinese decided to move in and set up home. Tibet's history of independence is actually a history of negotiated submission, whereby they agree to another country providing a guarantee of their security whilst allowing them to carry on governing their own domestic affairs.

In the time of Genghis Khan (1162-1227) the Mongols came to dominate the Central Asia region and seriously worried the Tibetans. According to Snellgrove & Richardson (1995) the Tibetans, fearing the inevitable invasion, offered submission to the Mongols in return for their accepting the ruler of Tibet as their head Lama. Thus the Tibetans would exercise some balance of power through religion.

By using religion for political gain the Tibetans were able to govern their own people, whilst the Mongols ultimately controlled their territory and could roam freely within it, enabling them to expand their dominion. This priest/patron relationship, or Cho Yon, has characterised Tibetan 'independence' for the past eight centuries.


Enter the Dragon

At the time when the Mongol empire was in decline and the Chinese empire was ascending the Tibetans switched their Cho Yon agreement to the Chinese. They would provide patronage and security for the Tibetans in exchange for accepting the Dalai Lama as their highest spiritual authority.

Although there were occasions when this relationship faltered it was only in the time of the 13th Dalai Lama that it was seriously weakened. During the time of the Qing dynasty China had become less interested in the Cho Yon relationship, seeing very little benefit for themselves in what the Dalai Lama had to offer. In 1910 they took control of the Tibetan government and the Dalai Lama fled to exile in India.

All of the Dalai Lama's subsequent attempts to garner the support of another powerful backer eventually failed. He sought to negotiate with the Russian and British, however none were willing to provide the support he wished. Sir Charles Bell in his book, "Portrait of a Dalai Lama", explained that this indecisiveness by the Dalai Lama caused the Tibetans to miss out on the opportunity of an agreement with the British that Bhutan had secured. Under the Bhutan agreement the British took care of all their International dealings, whilst they could administer their own domestic policies.

It was only due to a twist of fate, rather than diplomacy, that the 13th Dalai Lama was able to return to Tibet. In 1911 the Qing dynasty had been overthrown by the Xinhai Revolution, and by 1913 all of the Chinese troops had left Tibet. So he returned, still without the backing of a powerful ally to secure Tibet from any future invasion.

Being unable to use religion for political leverage outside of Tibet the Dalai Lama continued to strive to create some basis for independence. He declared Tibet to be independent of China and produced a Tibetan flag, currency and so on. However all these symbols of independence are worthless if you are unable to maintain the security of your country's borders.

Tibet had been unable to do so for the previous 700 years and was still unable to do so without the support of a foreign nation. Thus Tibet's claims to independence were nothing more than a claim of co-dependence, and without anyone to protect it from invasion the die was cast for the eventual Chinese control of the territory.

Over the years various attempts were made to negotiate a compromise between the Chinese and Tibetans. One such example is the Simla Convention of 1913/14 conducted between the British, Tibetans, and the Republic of China. Failing to reach agreement between all parties the convention only succeeded in splitting Tibet into two distinct regions, thereby weakening the Dalai Lama's claims to governance over the entire area of Tibet.

The following four decades consisted of China gradually consolidating and building its strength until their final invasion of Tibet which caused the 14th Dalai Lama to flee to India in 1959.


Drumming up Support

What we see played out in the media nowadays is a glamourisation of the age old Tibetan approach to its domestic politics. The Dalai Lama travels the world still trying to find powerful backers who will return him to his palace in Lhasa and his role as supreme leader of Tibet.

The problem is that the hipsters, middle aged women, and lost celebrities that are so drawn to his magical, mystical tours have nothing to give him other than money. The politicians who have the power to stand up to China are as disinterested in his magical beans of spirituality as they were with his predecessor's. Given the choice between essential trade agreements versus the Dalai Lama's 'get happy quick scheme', the political choice is clear.

His attempts to use religion for political gain on the world stage have reduced him to resembling a spoiled teenager having temper tantrums because the Chinese have taken away the keys to his most treasured ride - his golden throne in the Potala Palace. All we get to see now are the final acts of a desperate showman trying to drum up support for the cause - His Cause.

No matter the wealth, depth, and beauty that Buddhism offers, the Dalai Lama will forever be reduced to a poster on some teenager's wall with a quote about how happiness is easy and attainable, despite the fact that Tibetan independence is as unattainable as it has been for the past 800 years.

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