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.

Who Governs the Tibetans?

Much of the discussion into the ban of Dorje Shugden practice revolves around the central principle of governance. For instance the Dalai Lama's supporters have claimed that there is no ban because Tibetans in exile are ruled by the Indian government not the Tibetan government. So understanding the issue of governance and how a ban would be implemented is essential for a clear view of the situation.


Life in Exile

The vast majority of Tibetans in exile live in India, however since 1963 the Indian government has refused to recognise them as refugees, instead recognising them as foreigners and stipulating that they register as foreigners to be allowed to travel within the country. It was only in May 2014 that exile Tibetans were allowed to vote in Indian elections for the first time.

They are not granted the same protections under the law as Indian citizens and the Indian government perceive the Dalai Lama as the ruler of the Tibetans in exile, as explained by the late Dr Dawa Norbu of the Centre for Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in India, "The government of India tacitly accepted the Dalai Lama's assumption of leadership over the refugees from Tibet".

The Dalai Lama further clarified the role of the Tibetan government in exile in a keynote speech at the 2nd International Conference of Tibet Support Groups in Bonn, Germany (14th June 1996) stating:

"In 1959 when I escaped with a few cabinet ministers, the Tibetan government, which has a history of 300 years, also came into exile. The exiled Tibetan government is not a new creation. Wherever the Dalai Lama resides, the Tibetan people consider that as the seat of the Tibetan government."

The continuation of Tibetan culture and society in exile was applied to all areas of life, not just the government, as Dr Norbu continues to explain, "Tibetan refugee settlements in India were deliberately designed [to] recreate Tibetan society with its core values intact".

So when the Dalai Lama fled from Tibet to India in 1959 he took with him the government of Tibet and established an exile community based on the same structures and values that had existed in Tibet. Furthermore the Indian government assented to his authority over the Tibetan exile community.


The Question of Authority

The next question is how the Tibetans in exile view the Tibetan government - do they consider themselves under the authority of the Indian government, the Tibetan government or a combination of both and how the CTA view their role in governance.

Tsering Tsomo of the CTA explains about the Charter for Tibetans in Exile which the Tibetan Parliament passed in 1991, "The Charter is the supreme law governing the Central Tibetan Administration and is binding on all Tibetans under the jurisdiction of the Government-in-Exile". Clearly illustrating that the CTA believe it has jurisdiction (which is the official power to make legal decisions and judgements) over Tibetans in exile.

Tsewang Phuntso of the CTA explained, "The Tibetans, both inside and outside Tibet, recognise the CTA as their sole and legitimate government. It is also increasingly recognised as the legitimate government and the representative of the Tibetan people by parliaments around the world."

Although parliaments around the world often tread carefully when it comes to publicly recognising the CTA as the government of the Tibetan people for fear of upsetting China there is some evidence that this statement is correct.

On 7th April 2011 the European Parliament passed a resolution in response to Nepal's banning of the CTA elections amongst Tibetans in Nepal. The resolution, "Calls on the Government of Nepal to uphold the democratic rights of the Tibetan organise and to participate in democratic elections." [2011/2657 (RSP)]

It would seem that the Indian government, the European Parliament and the Tibetans in exile all view the CTA as being not just an administrative body, but the actual government of authority with jurisdiction over the Tibetan community in exile. That being the case it is worth examining the process by which the CTA governs its people.


The CTA Power Structure

In 2003 the then Prime Minister of the CTA, Samdhong Rinpoche cast some light on the inner workings of the CTA stating, "His Holiness is the head of the government, as well as the head of state. So whatever the government decides, the decision is made and implemented in the name of His Holiness. His Holiness has the final authority to make any executive decision."

Tsewang Phuntso of the CTA concurred, "The Dalai Lama is and always has been the head of state and all executive power is vested in him."

The Prime Minister went on to explain, "If we propose anything as advice to His Holiness the convention, the tradition is that the advice of the Kashag [Cabinet] is not binding on His Holiness. He has his free will to take any decision and that would be binding on the Kashag." He also went on to explain that every law to be created by Parliament has to be approved by the Dalai Lama before it can be passed.

So it is without doubt that when the Tibetan Parliament in Exile passed the legislation in 1996 banning the practice of Dorje Shugden it was with the express approval of the Dalai Lama. Given the explanations of how the CTA runs it is very likely that the ban was introduced at the specific request of the Dalai Lama following his strong advice against the practice in various teachings.


Enforcing Laws in Exile

As well as passing laws the CTA has also been involved in the enforcement of those laws. Again this is a point which some western scholars have taken exception to, basing their beliefs on the assumption that only the Indian authorities would be able to enforce laws on the Tibetans in exile.

The CTA however state quite clearly on their official website that their Parliament in Exile pass laws which are then enacted throughout Tibetan settlements and enforced by the welfare and settlement officers.

The Tibetan Prime Minister briefly touched on this topic in 2003 when he was asked how the government in exile practices the principles of non-violence.

Samdhong Rinpoche stated, "some kind of discipline has to be imposed. Any person can commit illegalities or irregularities. Then we have to punish them and we are hurting people."

Samdhong didn't elaborate on exactly what types of punishment he was referring to but it is worth bearing in mind that traditional sentences which were carried out in Tibet up to the time of exile of the Dalai Lama include floggings, removal of the eyeballs and removal of the hand, feet, ears or nose. Whilst it is unlikely that mutilations were carried out as penalties amongst the exile community it is most likely that Samdhong was referring to the common punishments of beatings and floggings.



In conclusion it would seem that amongst the Tibetan exile community there is little doubt as to who governs them. It would appear quite clearly that the CTA as the democratically elected government in exile represents the Tibetan people, passes laws for them to abide by and carries out judicial or extra-judicial punishments on those who break them.

Although the Dalai Lama officially retired from politics in 2011 he was very much in control of the CTA when it passed the resolution banning the practice of Dorje Shugden. Even if the ban wasn't created at his specific request it was certainly implemented and enforced with his personal approval and authority over the Tibetan people. People who for over 300 years considered his presence as, "the seat of the Tibetan government".

Even 3 years after 'retiring' from politics there is ample evidence that the Dalai Lama is still regarded as the principle politician both within the Tibetan exile community and the International community. Read more on this topic here.

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