What I DON’T Admire about the Dalai Lama 56

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His Holiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (Nobel Peace Prize, 1989) is speaking at my local university and the place I got my law degree today, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. The title of his talks are “Turning Swords into Ploughshares: The Many Paths of Non-Violence” and “Non-Violence in the New Century: The Way Forward”.

Non-violence is something I believe strongly in and I applaud his frequent praise of the method of bringing about change, but if he is talking today about HIS role in active non-violence, specifically as it regards his homeland, Tibet, I call bullshit.

I don’t think he practices active non-violence at all. He might preach it, but he’s certainly not practicing any sort of active non-violence that I can see.

In short, I think he is completely miscast as some sort of guru of active non-violence, both by himself and his millions of adoring fans.

Before you scroll down and trash me in the comments for what is going to be a partly negative post about one of the most admired people on the planet, stick with me for a bit. Do what the Dalai Lama would undoubtedly do in your position as a reader…

potala palace tibet

Potala Palace Tibet

Read what I have to say. Think about it for a minute. And then, and only then reply, with this big, big consideration utmost in your mind:

I love the Dalai Lama’s message. Heck, I’ve never met the guy, but I can say that I love him as a person. He’s a great man. I have read a good bit about him and thought through most of this when I recently finished Pico Iyer’s book about the Dalai Lama, The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. It is a fantastic book that I recommend for everyone.

The Dalai Lama’s message of tolerance for others, humility in yourself, desire for improvements in the environment, and the necessity for all of us to work together to make the world safer, more peaceful, and more compassionate is something that I desperately wish more people would listen and pay heed to. It is a fabulous message.

As a Buddhist messenger, or tolerance messenger, or humility messenger, or messenger that asks us all to think about the small and big ways we can each make the world a better place to live, I admire the Dalai Lama perhaps more than anyone on the planet.

So please don’t make your comments anything along the line of, “how could you hate the Dalai Lama” or “he is a great man with a great message.”  I don’t hate him at all. I know he is a great man with a great message.  NO doubt about that at all. I count myself and one of his biggest fans… on that side of the coin that is his message.

free tibet flag

the flag for the cause

But as to the political side of his message — the “Free Tibet” or the more current incarnation of “Meaningful Autonomy” of Tibet inside China, I find his actions far less worthy of the near-universal praise he receives.

(Another insertion — yes, I know that the Dalai Lama has recently announced he will step down as Tibet’s political leader, but I still don’t think that makes him immune from critique for the last few decades of his actions and his current actions in this portion of his public arena.)

The Dalai Lama claims to be a follower of the practice of “non-violence” in the tradition of some of his oft-stated heros and idols in that arena, people like Martin Luther King, Jr. (Nobel Peace Prize, 1964) , Mohandas Gandhi (the admitted-worst oversight of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee), and Nelson Mandela (Nobel Peace Prize, 1993).

mahatma gandhi b&w hands in prayer

a true hero of active non-violence

Let me add some more to the pantheon of Heros of Active Non-Violence: Bishop Desmond Tutu (Nobel Peace Prize, 1984), Lech Walensa (Nobel Peace Prize, 1983), Aung San Suu Kyi (Nobel Peace Prize, 1991), Václav Havel, and recently from China no less, Liu Xiaobo (Nobel Peace Prize, 2010).

What do all those practitioners of have in common that is in direct opposition to what the Dalai Lama has done??

They didn’t leave.

They stayed in the countries they were trying to change. They actually committed acts of active non-violence — strikes, marches, public speeches against the law, non-cooperation, forming political parties against the law and so on and so forth.

None of them left the battleground of active non-violence, which is the country where you want the change happen.  They were imprisoned, beaten, spied on, kept from their families, denied the ability to make a livelihood, and in MLK’s case, assassinated. They not only talked about non-violent change… then did it.

They went face to face with some of the most violent and tyrannical governments of all time: the aparthaid governments of South Africa, the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe, the current Burmese dictatorship and so on. One of them is facing down the same current Chinese government in prison right now that the Dalai Lama has supposedly been practicing “non-violence” against for over 40 years.

Would the Dalai Lama have faced likely house arrest, imprisonment, beatings, or even death, if he’d returned at some point to practice active non-violence in Tibet against Chinese rule? Very, very likely. China has killed hundreds of thousands of Tibetans, including hundreds or thousands of monks, and destroyed countless monasteries and holy places. The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo is currently sitting in a Chinese prison.

But that is the risk you take, if you believe in your cause and believe in active non-violence. That is the risk that all of these greats of non-violence willingly took. That is the risk that Gandhi took and he was imprisoned numerous times. Mandela spent most of his adult life in prison. MLK was assassinated. Aung San Suu Kyi has spent a vast majority of the last 20 years in prison or under house arrest in Burma.

They stayed. They fought, non-violently, though valiantly. They protested. They did the day-to-day things in the face of tyranny and injustice that made them the true Greats of Non-Violence.

I’m sorry, but the Dalai Lama isn’t on that list for me, at least not as a practitioner. He gives lovely speeches about it, but his mundane actions haven’t met the elegance of his prose.

I’ll end this where I started. I love and admire the Dalai Lama. He’s a great man. His message of compassion, love, tolerance, and yes, of non-violence, is a message that I applaud fully and wish more leaders and regular people took to heart and followed. That portion of his life, deeds, and words is one that I could not have any more admiration for.

But as to his personal actions of non-violence to free his homeland… for that, I can’t join the throngs that sing his praises.

One last thing I love about the Dalai Lama. If I were ever in a room with him with enough time to discuss this issue, I feel certain of this. He would listen completely. We’d have a spirited exchange of thoughts and ideas on the topic. He would give my opinions the full weight of his consideration, as I would of his.

And in the end, I also feel confident he’d turn to me and say something like, “Michael, you very well might be right. I really don’t know if the path I chose was the correct one. None of us is perfect, including me. And I appreciate you taking the time to talk about this with me.”

Love that dude. Wish I could meet him someday.

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About Michael Hodson

I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.

56 thoughts on “What I DON’T Admire about the Dalai Lama

  • Katie

    Thoughtful post on a very sensitive topic. I’ll be the first admit that I don’t know much about the Dalai Lama other than his message of non-violence and a vague association with Tibet. You’ve inspired me to read a few books and really dig into his personal application of his message.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I better chime in quickly, since the first comment was a nice one to say… THANK YOU. Appreciate you reading the post all the way through. You should try that book by Pico Iyer. He and his family have known the Dalai Lama for decades. Excellent read.

    • william herbert

      if you ever met him he would blame everything on bad karma which is total bullshit . He was the 3rd richest man on the planet when he left Tibet . He co-conspired with the nazi’s and is a wolf in sheeps clothing

  • Dave

    I don’t buy your argument as to why he doesn’t belong in the same company as the others you mentioned, just because he’s lived in exile, but of course it’s your personal perspective.

    I know he was young when he fled over the Himalaya. I read his autobiography about 10 years ago, so I can’t remember if there was a debate with his handlers, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was ushered out of Lhasa as his city was being bombarded.

    Personally, I think he was just as capable of helping his country and people from northern India, and by being able to travel around the world and spread his messages and talk directly to government leaders, then if he were to be under house arrest, or die a martyr in his homeland.

    The Chinese are already trying to line up his successor, which is ridiculous because you don’t just appoint a spiritual leader out of thin air, at least if it’s coming from a Communist government I’d have no faith they are appointing the right successor.

    Not sure what your point was with this rant. I think you’re just looking to stir up a debate that nobody else is having.

    As an aside, I’ve seen him in person twice. First in the MCI Center in DC where he gave a speech (was introduced by Pelosi), and second, after I listened in on a talk he gave to school kids in his home town of McLeod Ganj. I was no more than 10 feet from his smiling eyes, and waving hand, as he left in a motorcade, and it’s a moment I’ll never forget.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I don’t blame him at all for living. He was a kid. Doubt he had any say in the matter. His actions as an adult are the ones I am critical of. All of the others listed that I admire would have simply done what he did not — return and lead the actual fight for a non-violent change. They acted. He didn’t.

      Hope I wasn’t ranting. Have been thinking about it for weeks, actually. No more point in this post that one I have about liking Dahab. Just my opinions on stuff that I see, feel or think. In this case, he was speaking today in my hometown, it was a topic I’d thought about a lot, and I think it is interesting that this particular perspective is not one that I’ve heard him questioned too much on (though it does sort of come up some in Iyer’s book).

      Very envious you got to see him speak. I’d love that chance.

  • Andrea

    This is a very difficult thing to judge – I’ve always believed in the whole “Don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins” thing. I suspect that he fled because he is the most important deity in the Buddhist faith – the same way the people of the United States would expect the president to be protected or Catholics would protect the pope. And in this way, he can spread the teachings and beliefs of his faith as Dave said.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Well generally I agree with the whole “not-judging” thing, but in this case, I’m judging him on his words verses his actions. Just seeing if his actions match up with his rhetoric. If he didn’t want to talk about being a beacon for the cause of non-violence and just wanted to be a religious leader that talked about tolerance and compassion and understanding… I’d have absolutely nothing negative to say about him.

      But we all judge public figures on their actions. Was it good or bad or moral or immoral for George Bush to invade Iraq? A common public debate. Was apartheid as a government policy good or bad or should we have “judged” it by its actions? Judging actions, especially of those in public is something we shouldn’t always shy away from… nor do we, in reality.

  • Kelsey

    I had the honor to meet him once, when I was 12 years old. He came to speak at the University of Houston, and my mother was the official photographer, and was able to photograph him privately ahead of time. I was my mom’s assistant that day. He was the friendliest, most smiley person I’ve ever met. Years later, in college, he spoke at a neighboring university, and I got to hear him speak (something I did not get to do while helping my mom move lights and tripods around). He’s a really amazing person.

    That said, I do agree with what you said.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I can’t tell you how jealous I am of those two encounters. How fabulous. You’d really like Pico Iyer’s book. His father is a lifetime friend of the Dalai Lama’s — so his insights are amazing (and over decades of meetings).

  • Shanti Francis

    I’m just glad that His Holiness didn’t meet the same fate as The Panchen Lama

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Yep, that would have been a bad fate for the Dalai Lama, but perhaps the proper thing to rouse people around the world to act on behalf of his cause. (And to be clear, just like I posted below, I’m not advocating that the child Dalai Lama should have stayed there — but at some point on his rise to fame, partly on the back of advocating non-violent protest — I think it would have been better to back up his words with action).

  • James

    Shanti, I think you answered this man’s question. If Dalai Lama had not escaped, the CCP (chinese communist party) would have taken him away never to be seen again just like Panchen Lama when he was a child. The world would have never known who Dalai Lama is besides the Tibetan people and there admirers. His escape to India is the sole reason why he is able to give teachings and spread his message of non-voilence today. Dalai Lama is not just a political figure head of Tibet but many Tibetans believe him to be the reincarnation of buddha Avalokiteshvara (buddha of compassion). None of the noble laureate you just mentioned fit this bill so therefore I don’t see the point of you putting these people in the same category as his Holiness.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I guess I should have been more clear in the post. I am NOT saying that the Dalai Lama should have stayed during the invasion. For one, he was a child and had no choice. But at some point in the last couple decades (ideally, I would think, right after he won the Nobel Peace Prize and became a huge celebrity), I think he should have backed up with talk of non-violent protest with action and gone back home. Would he have been imprisoned? Very likely. Just like Mandela, and Gandhi, and the others that have walked-the-walk of active non-violence. And just like those heros, we would have lost his voice for a time, but that is one of the possible costs of actually acting in a non-violent way and not just talking about it.

      And who knows. Just like Gandhi in prison or Mandela, perhaps THAT would have been just the thing to rouse the world’s collective anger and ire, in order to put pressure on China to come up with a more just resolution — just as it put immense pressure on the British Empire and the white government of South Africa.

      • James

        His Holiness didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize recently but in 1989. During that time, his popularity or presence in the world scene was limited to few countries and his followers. As you suggested, if he had gone back during that time, he would have likely been imprisoned. Well from what I know about China, he would have likely been killed or MIA, and never to be heard from again. We are dealing with CCP not the apartheid government of South Africa, communist regions of eastern Europe and Burma. To rouse the world’s collective anger and ire, we need the backing of the most powerful state in the world (USA). What did they do during the tiananmen square massacre of 1989? Absolutely nothing. If USA can ignore this brutal event, the death or imprisonment of one man will surely go unnoticed. Other powerhouse in the world scene are too afraid to stand up to China and will surely have turned there backs.

        • Michael Hodson Post author

          1990, 2000. Or NOW. He’s got the clout to go back. And he simply doesn’t.

          Makes me chuckle a bit that somehow you think that Chinese government is somehow much, much worse than the other governments where other non-violent protesters have been. The South African government killed a vast number of blacks. Burma isn’t exactly shy about violence and neither were the communist governments in eastern Europe.

          But more to the point is this… the Dalai Lama doesn’t believe what you apparently do. He has said, over and over, that non-violent protest WILL make China reform its policies. In fact, his optimism on that front has been one of his constant themes for decades. And if he thinks it will (or can) work… maybe he should actually try it.

      • Chris

        Mandela? Non violence? . In latter years, yes. He founded a violent organisation, Mkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the nation) Supermarkets were bombed, the Pretoria bombing, Magoo’s pub on the beachfront. The organzation was responsible for systematic violence in black communities against other black opposition, no matter what side of the political spectrum. Thousands died. Many more than under apartheid.

        • Michael Hodson Post author

          Yes, I am aware that Mandela’s early protests were far from non-violent, but at a point, he became a advocate for non-violence, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for those efforts (and reconciliation) and most importantly for the purposes of this post… is one of the leaders of the non-violent movement that the Dalai Lama has cited as one that he admires.

          As to the rest of your comment, which seems to indicate that somehow “things were better under apartheid” than under black rule… if you think you could get any significant portion of the black community to agree with you in South Africa…. good luck with that. Not seeing a lot of movement or wistful longing for the good ole’ days of apartheid down there, save in some of the Afrikaner communities. Thanks for finding and reading the blog.

      • Yeshe

        “Would he have been imprisoned? Very likely”

        No, he would be dead. Please educate yourself about the tactics of the PRC in relation to political dissidents. How would His Holiness have benefited his people, let alone the rest of the world with his messages, which even yourself declare of benefit, if he were dead?

        I knew from the beginning of this article that your argument would be based on a shaky premise, simply because you spent the first half defending yourself before you even said anything.

        I am wary of westerners who denounce the Dalai Lama. I can’t help but feel there has to be some ulterior motive. Also, it’s very easy as a white American male to sit and say what a leader of a whole country should do/should have done.

        Really a weak argument. Think again.

  • Laura

    Thoughtful post, but I have to disagree after reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and another book I’m currently reading on South African politics. That said though, I will be completely upfront and say I don’t know nearly as much about the Dalai Lama and his situation so I am speaking from my knowledge in South Africa. I don’t think apartheid would have come to an end when it did unless there were people working from inside and outside the country. After apartheid there was quite a bit of friction between those that had stayed and lived through it and those that fled. But there were people high up in the ranks of the ANC living in Zambia, London, and essentially all over the world that were able to speak out politically because they weren’t being hushed by the system. Even Mandela says himself that he thinks his life was much easier in prison than it was for many people who fled. I think there is a place for martyrs and for those that leave but are able to speak out.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      you make the assumption that if the Dalai Lama was in prison in China or Tibet that somehow there wouldn’t be anyone else on the outside to publicize his plight. I think that is really far from what happened. Gandhi and Mandela were the leaders of their non-violent movement, but when they were imprisoned, other Indians and South Africans filled the void. Same would happen in TIbet. And like in India or South Africa… more non-Tibetians would likely rise to the cause also.

      • Laura

        I agree. However, who’s to say that the Dalai Lama should play the role of Nelson Mandela and not Oliver Tambo? I just think that whether he works in exile or within the country is up to him. Either way is a respectable role to dedicate your life to and I have no less admiration for him in either role.

    • Chris

      So did you live in South Africa? I did and most of my friends are black people. 5,000 people died under 48 years of apartheid rule. 175,000 died from the release of Mandela in 1990 until the end of his term of 5 years as president. Not reported in the media, at the time as it would have tarnished what they wanted the world to believe about him.

      • Matthew Cheyne

        What did the 175,000 die from? This is the first time I’ve heard of any deaths under Mandela.

  • Roy | cruisesurfingz

    Wow, thoughtful post. I see where you’re coming from and while I do agree, I think the Dalai Lama does more good living in exile, then say in a prison/dead in Tibet.

    The difference is, in the case of South Africa and Burma, most of the world criticized their policies. With China’s occupation of Tibet, most of the world is complicit and simply ignores their plight!

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      personally, I think the world critique of China on Tibet is a lot more than the concern about Burma at all. Certainly the critique of China is a hell of a lot more than what the world said about Britain in India at the beginning of the 20th century. But that really isn’t the point. Would his being at home, perhaps going through what Mandela and Gandhi went through (imprisonment and such) would have been JUST THE THING that would have brought Tibet more to the world’s concern. As it is, there is no particular face to Tibetian non-violent protest. No one really talks about it. It has no person there that is the example of that country standing up against China.

      The Dalai Lama could have been that person — but he passed.

  • Matthew Cheyne

    It’s an interesting post you write Michael. You said in your comments that the Dalai Lama should have stayed through the invasion of Tibet. He in fact did. The invasion occurred in 1949 and the Dalai Lama did stay through all of it. In fact he stayed for another ten years right up until the 1959 uprising where he indeed fled because his life was in danger. Hence he fled Tibet and sought and gained political asylum as a refugee in India. Those are the facts.

    As for what could have happened to him if he had stayed…well he would have become of the 1.2 million Tibetans killed at the hands of the Chinese forces most likely. This is out of a population of 6 million people of Tibetan ethnicity in Tibet proper, not just the so called “autonomous” region.

    Its widely known that the fate of Buddhist monks who refuse to acknowledge that Tibet as part of China and refuse to renounce their faith is one of reeducation, forced labor camps, long term imprisonment and summary executions. These have been long documented by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations.

    My recommendation : Get yourself a copy of Fire Under The Snow on DVD (www.fireunderthesnow.com). It’s a documentary about the life of Palden Gyatso, a Buddhist monk who was imprisoned for 33 years, 6 years longer than Nelson Mandela for non violently advocating for a free and independent Tibet. The DVD graphically documents using real footage in most cases what happened to this monk at the hands of the Chinese. Simply replace the name Palden Gyatso with the Dalai Lama and you’ll get my point. The same thing would have happened to him if not a lot worse.

    I respect that you have thought for weeks before posting your article however I do not buy your argument if it is indeed an argument that your making that the Dalai Lama’s profile is somewhat diminished simply because he fled his country rather than stayed inside to practice his non violent struggle. Non violence can be practiced be anybody, anywhere at any time. All who practice it should be commended for their efforts.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Actually, I didn’t advocate that he stay after the invasion, as I’ve pointed out in a number of comment replies now. He was a child. I doubt he had the ability to stay, even if he wanted to and the considerations of a child are quite different than as a knowing, thinking adult.

      What I do think he should have done was go back after he won his Nobel Peace Prize. He was (and is) a huge world figure. At this point, taking his talk of non-violent change to the actual country he is trying to change would have made a lot of sense. Still makes sense today for that matter.

      I am well aware of what the Chinese have done to monks and others in Tibet, though I appreciate your DVD suggestion. As I said, what would have happened if he’d have gone back, then or now?? Very likely, he’d be imprisoned. I tend to doubt that they would do anything other than house arrest at this point, given his fame, but even if he’d subjected himself to imprisonment, beatings and even death….

      that is exactly what the others have done on the list of Actual Greats of Non-Violence that I listed. Mandela, MLK, Gandhi. They all put their freedom and lives on the line. They practiced change by active non-violence.

      You close with “All who practice it (non-violence) should be commended for their efforts.” I agree 100%. But the Dalai Lama isn’t practicing non-violence. He is just talking about it. I have a lot higher praise (in the area of non-violent practice) for Palden Gyatso.

      Palden Gyatso practiced active non-violence. The Dalai Lama hasn’t practiced it actively for a single day in Tibet. Not a day. Not a single action of his. Nadda.

  • Barbara Weibel

    Ahh, Michael, you make me so sad. I honor your right to have you own opinion but I completely disagree with it. I specifically take issue with your comment: “But the Dalai Lama isn’t practicing non-violence. He is just talking about it.” You tie together the practice of non-violence with the need to be in a specific geographic locale in order to practice it. True, he has not returned to Tibet, but just because he is not there does not preclude him practicing non-violence. Your argument especially makes no sense if you turn it around – if he does not practice non-violence, that implies that he supports violence, and that is simply untrue. The Dalai Lama has, for his entire life, been committed to achieving resolution through peaceful, non-violent means. I call that practicing non-violence, regardless of where he is physically.

    One last point, you tie the Dalai Lama to the Free Tibet movement. His Holiness is not a proponent of the Free Tibet movement in any way, shape or form. This is being promoted by Tibetan splinter groups. Rather, the Dalai Lama has always said that he is in support of Tibet being a part of China, although an autonomous region, where they would have freedom of religion, the ability to teach Tibetan in the schools, and an array of other rights that would serve to preserve the Tibetan culture. This is not a “more current incarnation” of his policy, as you state, but his position since the beginning.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      there is no logical corrollary at all that would indicate that somehow “turning around” the argument would mean some support of violence. That is a logical non-starter.

      Active protest by non-violence means actually…. DOING SOMETHING to protest. There is action implied in the whole concept of non-violence. Hell, I am not an active participant in the non-violent protest of the Chinese occupation of Tibet by writing a post about it while in Egypt. That isn’t any sort of active participation. That is merely talking about non-violence (which in and of itself, is a good thing, but certainly isn’t actual protest).

      The Dalai Lama hasn’t done any active non-violent protest. To do so… you need to be under the thumb of the rule that you are protesting. That is a simple prerequisite of protesting. If Mandela would have been giving speeches in London during the 70s and 80s, he would have been playing a role in the South African movement (and very likely a valuable role), but he would not have been an active participant in the non-violent protest to change the South African government.

      Instead, he went to South Africa. Organized protests. Protested himself. Got people to act in the land where the injustice was being promulgated. Active non-violent protest is exactly that… activity. Not merely talk. The same can be said of everyone else on the list I provided above.

      As to the latter point of whether the Dalai Lama supports a Free Tibet, I pointed out in the post that his position has changed over time and is now for “Meaningful Automony.” Whatever the term is being used, he posits himself as an active participant in the non-violent protest to somehow change the rule of China over Tibet.

      But he’s hasn’t actually gone there to do any protesting. Unlike the various actors in the field of non-violence that I personally admire. He preaches non-violence absolutely. More power to him. I love that message.

      But he merely talks about non-violence bringing about change. He doesn’t, or more specifically hasn’t, acted on it in any meaningful way.

  • Earl

    The argument seems to be that if he went to prison you would commend him for his practice of non-violence. But what if by doing so, it resulted in Tibetans inside of TIbet turning to extreme violence against the Chinese? Given that the majority of TIbetans, both inside and outside of TIbet, look to HH for guidance and strive to follow the example he sets, being silenced while locked up in a Chinese prison would have removed his influence.

    While at university, I spent a great deal of time with Tibetans (there was a large Tibetan refugee community where I went to school) and spent many weekends with them deep in discussion about these matters. And what I learned from them is that if His Holiness was ever silenced and his guidance removed, the practice of non-violence inside of Tibet would have almost certainly given way to constant armed conflict. The refugees I met informed me that a majority of Tibetans inside of Tibet wanted to fight back, preferring to die in battle than live under the Chinese. However, they chose non-violence in the end because that is what their leader encouraged them to practice. So it seems a little strange to ‘not admire’ His Holiness when his decision not to return home has led to so many of his people practicing non-violence themselves!

    If he did return home, was imprisoned or killed by the Chinese, and Tibet was turned into a river of blood, would that really be a reason to admire him even more than now?

    I can see your point about him not actively practicing non-violence himself but I respectfully just can’t see the point of making that argument.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I find it interesting that people seem to be able to predict with some accuracy what would happen in the future if the Dalai Lama returned, because I have read a good number of his writings and one thing he says is that HE has no idea what would happen in Tibet/China if he did this or that.

      To the same degree, I don’t think anyone here would reasonably have predicted what would have happened in South Africa, or India, or the downfall of various Eastern European countries before their non-violent protests started. Or what is still yet to happen in Burma. But since everyone seems to have a perfect crystal ball on what China would do….. let’s talk about that.

      So your argument is that the Tibetians, practicers of a religion of which a fundamental tenet is non-violence, would somehow be LESS able to practice non-violent protest if their leader was imprisoned or killed than South Africans or Indians or Poles or Czechs? That seems to be a pretty big indictment on an entire culture — and if that is that case, I’m not sure I should really give much of a shit about whether they get any reforms from the Chinese in the first place.

      My argument is simple. The Dalai Lama argues, quite frequently and quite persuasively, that non-violent protest, over time, can overcome ANY obstacle in its path. He literally proposes that non-violence is the only way to address conflict between nations and such. I’m generally cool with that (though I don’t agree to his extreme). It is a great, healing, wonderful message.

      And if one believed that was the case… I’d have a lot more admiration for the message if you actually did anything to implement it.

      Earl, under your reading of the inherently violent Tibetian people… massive bloodshed is only a matter of time. The Dalai Lama is one that is born in Tibet, under general readings of Tibetian Buddism. The 14th Dalai Lama will die at some point and a new one (a child) will be selected and unless the entire history of that religion is overturned, it is going to be someone in occupied Tibet and is likely to be imprisoned and never heard from again.

      So what will the Tibetians do at that point, with their religious leader in chains and perhaps killed?

      I don’t know, but I do know the world won’t give half a shit about it. What WOULD the world give a shit about (and possibly put enough pressure on China to make changes??), if the famous and universally revered 14th Dalai Lama went back to Tibet and underwent the scenerio of imprisonment you have put forth.

      it is only a matter of time, if you reading of Tibet is correct. Why not use your fame, your power, and your belief to TRY, before the inevitable downfall into bloodshed (as you lay it out) will happen.

  • Matthew Cheyne

    I agree with and second everything that Earl just said. And Earl; I love reading your blog and I hope you are well:)

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Same here. I love his message. One of the greatest messengers in the world today. Thanks for finding the post and the blog!

  • Natalie

    Read the whole post and all the comments. One minute I was in agreement and then the next, I was not. heads a bit of a shed now! Cheers Michael! Re this bloke, don;t really know much about him but can anyone really be that much of a peace lover? I mean human nature at some point just makes you want to react against the people that are oppressing or abusing you right?

  • Caz Makepeace

    Michael!! I was getting to jump straight to the comments to give you the How could you!!! The Dalai Lama is one of my favourite human beings who has offered me so much guidance in my own life. I understand that you are not questioning that at all though, so I have calmed down. LOL

    I think you were spot on at the end when you said he would listen intently to your argument, this is the type of man he is. So full of respect and wisdom. For me, I think if he stayed or went back to Tibet, we could safely say he wouldn’t be with us now and affecting so many lives in a positive way. A good friend of mine’s sister has done art work for him and some other Tibetan monks and has met him. She speaks so highly of the gentle, peaceful spirited man that he is.

    I agree with Earl and a couple of other comments. I think there would have been bloodshed had something happened to him in Tibet, and this is not what he wanted to happen at all. I think he had the foresight to see this and made his decision based upon this and other things. I am sure he would have wanted to stay and fight, but realized that was not the best way to do it.

    I think every fight is different and can be fought in a way that is best for the situation and the people involved. There is no set way for non-violence acts of protest. If we look at the total impact he has had on all people of the planet then I do believe he made the right choice and earns his place amongst these other admirable people, who I love equally as much.

    Ghandi reminds me every day to be the change I wish to see, Mandela to forgive, MLK to believe in your dreams, and Dalai to be gentle, kind, and compassionate. These are very powerful and important people and I think all their life’s paths have been perfect as it has allowed their messages to be heard.

    • Matthew Cheyne

      Beautifully put Caz! As for the Sydney Harbour Bridge; I did the Bridge Climb back in 2006. It was one of the moments of my life that I will never forget. I climbed the bridge at dusk and was the first of my group to get up there and so I had five minutes to myself and got to soak up the beautiful views of Sydney. I highly recommend it to anybody who has not done it before. Expensive but well worth the money.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I sort of want to be clear… again, on how I feel about the Dalai Lama. I completely appreciate his message. Great man. Great message. Inspiring guy.

      The question for me is whether he deserves to be place in the list of “Great Leaders of Non-Violent Protest” with Gandhi, MLK, Mandela and others. For me, that is a very, very simple answer.

      Of course not. Those others actually DID something about active non-violent protest. And a good number of them actually got what they (and their followers, of course) wanted in the end. A free India, end of apartheid, civil rights laws in the US. The Dalai Lama, though inspiring people like you and others, hasn’t really done anything in the one cause he has been most associate with — Chinese respect for Tibet.

      And I really don’t understand the whole “Tibetans would go crazy and violent if the Dalai Lama was in prison.” (1) the next Dalai Lama WILL be in prison, so I guess that is just a matter of time and (2) how is it that the Tibetians couldn’t manage to stay non violent when so many other peoples have — the Syrians right now are staging non-violent protests, the Egyptians just did, the Tunisans, former Soviet Republics recently did, South Africans, and so on and so forth.

      Somehow the Tibetians would disobey the requests of their god incarnate, the Dalai Lama, and go on a rampage, if he was imprisoned? Kinda speaks ill of their basic worth as a race, in my book.

  • Don Faust

    I’m kind of in Dave’s corner – I don’t really understand the whole purpose of the rant, but I will say there there is no prize in dying or even being put in prison. The only people who would be impressed are those who do not have to suffer the same consequences. The initial argument is almost like a macho stance – “Oh yeah, Your Holiness, you know how to talk a good game…”.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      There actually IS a prize for getting imprisoned or killed (not that I really think either would happen if he actually went back right now, but to highlight the point). The prize is that you might actually get what you want. People need reasons to rise up to a cause — they need simple things to grasp on and not let go. Such as “the South African government has unjustly imprisoned Mandela for 22 years now” or “the British government has thrown Gandhi in jail, yet again, for simply wanting his country’s freedom.”

      Look at it this way. What positive good has come from the Dalai Lama’s position on Tibet to this point? Nothing in Tibet or China is (or has been for quite some time) going on. No international pressure whatsoever. Nothing at the UN level. Nadda.

      Now let’s assume the Dalai Lama went back tomorrow and got thrown in jail by the Chinese government. How much more international pressure would be immediately imposed on China at that point? How many more governments would stand up and take notice? How many more average people would start putting pressure on their government to do something.

      Remember, that is exactly what did happen in South Africa. The US government was a long time ally of the apartheid government, because they viewed it as a bulwark against communism in southern Africa. It was only after consistent pressure by American activists (and other countries that were more forward looking) that the US government started sanctions and such. And that cause had an easy thing to point to…. Mandela in prison.

      I’ll say it yet again — the Dalai Lama argues that non-violent protest can positively change any situation. He is the one making that argument, not I. But if you truly believe that position…. then go ahead and do it. Don’t know why that would be so controversial, especially because it has worked in a good number of cases in the last 100 years and would likely be even more effective these days, in the time of Twitter, Facebook, instant communications, youTube and the like.

      It is good enough for nameless and faceless Syrian protesters right now. THEY are the ones implementing the Dalai Lama’s words, while many of them are dying in the process of completely non-violent protest — good enough for their cause, even better for one of the leaders of the talk about it.

  • Angela

    Thanks for this post, Michael. I met the Dalai Lama in London and I completely agree with his message, what I don’t agree with is the things he keeps omitting in his speeches, such as that TIbet before 1959 had an educational level lower than any other part of South Asia. In 1951, year of the Dalai Lama-led liberation, 2% of school-age Tibetan children were going to school and the officially estimated illiteracy rate in Tibet was 95%.
    True, the ten years of the Cultural Revolution was a disaster education-wise, but this is for all China, not just for Tibet.
    Last but not least, the Chinese government today is spending an outrageous amount of money to develop and modernize the region of Tibet, building roads and infrastructures in an extremely poor area. Sorry, but I really don’t buy the argument that in Tibet people don’t care about development and they want just to be free to pray, they do care and they do want to live in a more comfortable environment, with the facilities they had never had before, like in other rural areas of the mainland.
    I’ll be going to Tibet soon, I hope I’ll be able to observe more.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Thanks for your contribution, Angela. While I actually partly agree that the Chinese being there might be good in the end for Tibet economically, educationally and otherwise, I am also a believer that people should freely (and democratically) determine their futures. The Tibetians might not want schools, universal education, roads, and bridges and I am all for them determining their future.

  • Theodora

    I think one notable thing about your other practitioners of non-violence, Michael, is that they survived. It’s very questionable as to whether the Dalai Lama would, or could have, survived in his own country — and his successor would have faced precisely the same challenges (and, of course, unlike the others you list, his is a heritable role, so he has to operate not as an individual but as one of a series). So I don’t think it’s entirely fair to critique him for leaving. That said, it’s a thought-provoking post.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Well, not all the others lived. MLK was gunned down, for one. And saying the difference was that the others lived and the Dalai Lama wouldn’t seems a high bit of 20/20 hindsight and also huge assumptions of the present/future. I highly, highly doubt that the Chinese would kill the Dalai Lama right now if he returned. They aren’t that dumb. And if you would have asked Mandela whether he was going to live or die during his imprisonment (as the aparheid government wasn’t exactly shy about killing people), I am sure he wouldn’t have been to optimistic about his chances. Same goes for most of the others.

  • Jarrett

    dude, your article doesn’t match the title, and know a bit about Dalai Lama and Tibet history. The old Tibet under his rule was in a serfdom system, it’s the most primitive slavery, ordinary people there were enslaved to serve the theocrats like Dalai Lama, talk about why he’s thrown out of China. He is the ultimate hypocrite, he practices the exact opposite of what he preaches.

    Dalai Lama is a living god in Tibetan mind. His supreme leadership in Tibetan religion and political influence is part of the most anti democratic system in the old Tibetan buddhism and political systems. Actually, he was born with those supreme powers as he is the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama. His return to power in Tibet, if it becomes true, will not be good news for most ordinary Tibetans, no matter his government is theocracy or “buddhist democracy”.

  • Helen

    Dear everyone,

    For a real look into the life of a Tibetan individual (a layperson’s), read The Struggle for Modern Tibet: The Autobiography of Tashi Tsering.

    One review: “[Tashi] His idea, due to his experiences, was to try to help his people, not by freeing Tibet, but by other means, because he felt that the feudal system in the hands of the lamas was cruel, with the lamas gaining riches and the people being poor. In fact, the Dalai Lama left Tibet with tons of gold and silver, being carried out in truck loads, but the claim is that he is helping his people with it, if so, why does he need all of our donations? He certainly will never return to Tibet with it.”

    READ IT.

  • Lee.Z.Y

    There’s some link you should see actually.


    I am from Malaysia, I do not speak of the goods or bad but I give proof.

    As far I know, I used to listen to his wise words but no more. I can say he is a pure hypocrite. At first I argued with lots of people because I hate to hear bad reviews about him but right now after I have a roommate from Tibet China, he told me lots of things about Dalai Lama and now I finally understand the true nature of this evil.

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