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 Millionaire Monk

Prior to hearing about this conflict my view of the Dalai Lama was the same as most other westerners - a humble monk, the embodiment of Buddhist values, an icon of peace in this busy and turbulent world. That view had been created, fostered and developed through the various media representations of the Dalai Lama, and unfortunately, just like most other media personalities the reality is very different to the illusion.

In researching this conflict I had to undergo several uncomfortable challenges to my previously held beliefs about the Dalai Lama and face the truth that he is not what he appears to be. The details I was discovering about him led me further along a path that would uncover not just his political ruthlessness, but also his material desires.

I had always believed that the Dalai Lama was a simple monk who had shunned the trappings of wealth and fame to follow his faith. I always assumed his role on the world stage was about raising public awareness of the plight of his people, but as it turns out he is just as addicted to wealth, fame and power as most other politicians and celebrities.

 

Life in Exile

In the early 1960's after fleeing from Tibet to India for the last time, the reality of the Dalai Lama's situation in exile was beginning to sink in. In 1950 when he fled to India during his previous exile he took with him a small quantity of his personal funds in gold, silver bars, and coins, which he retrieved in 1959.

This, "relatively small share", of his personal wealth took 1,000 pack animals, each loaded with 120lbs of treasures, several months to carry out of Tibet. Avedon states, "Forty mules bore gold, six hundred carried silver, and the remaining animals sacks of centuries-old coins"

According to John Avedon in his work, "In exile from the land of the snows", the Dalai Lama noted that this exile would be more permanent than the previous one so he converted his valuables into cash, using $987,500 (equivalent to approximately $7.5million in today's money) of it to create a trust fund.

In January 1964 the Dalai Lama established a trust fund called, "His Holiness the Dalai Lama Charitable Trust". Although named a Charitable Trust, it was actually a private trust fund established to invest the Dalai Lama's personal wealth and fund the Tibetan government in exile.

In, "Exile as Challenge: The Tibetan Diaspora", Tsewang Phuntso of the Tibetan government stated that money to, "run the Central Tibetan Administration, comes from the Dalai Lama's personal funds".

It has been claimed that this trust was established as a necessary means to channel funds from the Indian government to the Tibetan refugees. If this was the case then why would the Dalai Lama use $1million of his personal funds to create it, why not use $10,000?

Also, if it was established to channel funds to Tibetan refugees why did it invest its funds in a paper mill in Madhya Pradesh, and a steelworks in Bihar? Why not use its funds to build properties for Tibetans and establish the infrastructure so desperately needed?

Further evidence about the real nature of the trust is shown by the manner in which it was registered with the Indian authorities. The trust was registered under the Indian Trusts Act in January 1964 in Calcutta. The act provides for the creation of private trust funds. As explained by Allied Legal, "Despite popular belief a Charitable Trust will be registered under Indian Registration Act not under the Indian Trusts Act." The fact that it was established under the Indian Trusts Act indicates that it is a private trust fund rather than a charitable trust.

The trust has been responsible for establishing some very useful businesses for the Tibetan refugee community. For instance towards the end of 1978 it cashed in the shares it held in Indian businesses, moved the trust to New Delhi, and invested directly in Tibetan exile businesses such as Tibetan Handicraft Exports in New Delhi and the Tibetan Woollen Yarn centre in Panipat. As well as providing jobs for refugees these businesses also returned a healthy profit which the Dalai Lama could use to fund his government and his lifestyle.

Given that the Dalai Lama was at that time the head of the government and part of its responsibilities were to look after his welfare he can be considered a primary benefactor of the trust. His accommodation, food, travel, and various assistants would all be funded from the Tibetan government which in turn received funding from the Charitable Trust. In this respect the Charitable Trust would be considered to be a form of tax avoidance scheme according to modern standards. It provided a means for the Dalai Lama to store and speculate his considerable personal wealth, whilst at the same time avoid paying taxes on its proceeds.

Whilst it did engage in some charitable acts they are somewhat smaller than you would expect for a charitable trust. In their 25th Anniversary Souvenir Brochure, published in 1989, the trust states that it contributed approximately $136,400 towards social, cultural, health and educational projects between 1964 and 1989.

That equates to $5,456 per year in donations it made to these projects. In comparison if you were to deposit $1million in a bank account offering a 1% interest rate, this would generate $10,045.96 per year. So if their investments were better than a very low paying bank account what else are they spending the money on?

 

Wall of silence

Discovering information about the "charitable trust" proved to be extraordinarily hard. It is administered by the Tibetan government, in fact the Prime Minister, Dr. Lobsang Sangay is its chairman, so this seemed a logical place to start.

Requests were made to the Tibetan Prime Minister's office for more information about the trust and its charitable activities, but they ignored them. So requests were sent to the head of the trustees, Mr. Tsering Dhundup (also a member of the Tibetan Parliament), who failed to respond.

We then made several requests to the Tibetan government's various departments such as the Department of Finance which administers the trust. All of our requests were routinely ignored. In frustration we reached out to the Office of Tibet in London for help with our enquiries. Chonpel Tsering, the special projects co-ordinator there was unable to provide us with any specific details about the trust, but at least he had the courtesy to respond to our request and also forward it to the Department of Finance, who again proceeded to ignore it.

As the trust is registered with the Indian government we changed tack and tried requesting information from them. All but one of our requests for information and assistance were ignored. The one response we received was from Anu Aga, a member of the Indian parliament who was also unable to help with our enquiries.

In total we made over 250 individual requests to the Tibetan and Indian governments for basic information about "His Holiness the Dalai Lama Charitable Trust". We received no information about its finances or its charitable status or acts, instead all of our requests were met with a wall of silence.

I can think of no other comparable situation where a charitable trust would have no public accountability, no public information and no response from its chairman or trustees as to its activities. In circumstances like this I am only left with a single question, "What are they hiding?".

 

Dubious Donations

Over the years the Dalai Lama's personal wealth has continued to grow through various individual donations, public appearances, books and even by taking part in an advertising campaign for Apple. It seems the only income stream he hasn't yet tapped into is appearing in a movie, although he does carefully maintain his links to the Hollywood industry.

Of the more dubious donations he has received several were from Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult leader Shoko Asahari. In exchange for donations totalling over $1.2 million Shoko was rewarded with personal meetings with the Dalai Lama. Following the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway that Shoko's followers carried out in 1995, killing 13 people and injuring 6,252, the Dalai Lama sought to distance himself from this friend.

He has also had to backtrack on previous statements regarding his personal finances. For instance in 1974 he stated, "The accusation of CIA aid has no truth behind it." However with the release of previously classified documents it was shown that he lied.

For instance the 303 committee which provides oversight of United States covert operations granted initial approval of covert support for the Dalai Lama on May 20th 1959, less than 2 months after he had been given exile in India. The Dalai Lama later admitted to having received $180,000 a year from the CIA as part of this covert support. He did however claim that the source of the money was kept secret from him by his brother, although this is somewhat disputed.

Despite all of these various sources of income combined with his already impressive personal wealth the Tibetan community in exile continued to live in poverty. Social programmes were funded by foreign agencies including the US who funded the healthcare system, the Indian government who funded the school system, and the UN who funded refugee relief.

Meanwhile the Dalai Lama continues to travel the world in what can only be described as luxurious conditions, charging surprisingly high admission fees for anyone wishing for some timeless Buddhist advice.

 

Pop Star Lifestyle

During his recent trip to Frankfurt for example His Holiness stayed in the Presidential suite at the 5 star Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof. They describe the 300 sqm suite as, "a particularly luxurious residence and excellently suited to international delegations from politics, business and entertainment. It houses every imaginable comfort...if required we can even arrange a personal butler for you." Rumoured to cost over €3,000 per night this kind of opulence not only contrasts dramatically with the Buddhist concept of renouncing worldly pleasures but it goes some way to explaining the high ticket price for his events.

In Hamburg the Dalai Lama is to teach over a 4 day period at the CCH conference centre. Although ticket prices start at €35, this is just for the Saturday. For the majority of the event ticket prices range from €95 - €390, but this doesn't include the various VIP packages with front row seats that can run into a few thousand euros. Taking into account the various ticket prices if you consider an average cost to be €80 and multiply that by the 7,000 seats you get €560,000 per day. Over the course of the 4 day event ticket receipts will likely be €2.25 million or more.

Of this income, after the costs for venue hire, publicity and the Dalai Lama's personal expenses have been removed the final profit from the event is kept tax-free because the event itself is organised by a non-profit company, "Tibetisches Zentrum Event gGmbH", set up by Tibetische Zentrum eV in Hamburg. This company was established for the previous visit of the Dalai Lama in 2007 and managed to keep its profits from that event tax-free as well. Tibetische Zentrum eV say that after costs are deducted any profits will be used, "in consultation with the Dalai Lama for charitable purposes".

The Tibetische Zentrum eV don't explain what they spend the profits from these events on, but it's website does state that they are involved with providing assistance to Tibetan refugees in India. The Tibetisches Zentrum Event gGmbH itself only records skeleton financial information on its activities with the Unternehmensregister in Germany.

Since 2007 the only document on public record with the Unternehmensregister are their brief annual financial statements from 1/1/2012 to 31/12/2012. In these they show that they have spent €91,903.02 during the year, but don't specify what they have spent it on. It also shows that they still hold €123,299.56 in funds over 5 years after the event.

For someone who is supposedly living a humble, simple life as a Buddhist monk, renouncing worldly pleasures, the Dalai Lama seems to travel the world in unabashed luxury and at great expense to his fans. His lifestyle is more akin to a pop star travelling between arenas packed with adoring fans than that of a monk.

Is it because we have been sold the lie that this is what Buddhist monks do that we choose to accept it unquestioningly? Would we also accept the Pope charging €100/person to listen to his sermon whilst also appearing in an advert for Samsung? Or is this just the behaviour we accept from the Dalai Lama because he is exceptionally good at marketing this as normal for a monk?

But then again what is normal for a Buddhist monk who is a multi-millionaire that has been backed by both the CIA and terrorists, and lives the life of a Hollywood star?

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