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Preserving Some Customs, Modifying Others|
For obvious reasons, Tibet's exiled lamaists don't talk publicly about preserving central Tibetan traditions like ulag (forced labor) and serfdom. In the recent pro-lamaist film Little Buddha, for example, lamas are shown carrying whips when they instruct courtyards filled with young monk-novices--but the whips are portrayed as a gentle instructional device (like a coach's whistle)
In his 1990 autobiography, the Dalai Lama admits that he had to forbid some traditional "formalities" in front of foreigners. For instance, by tradition lower-class Tibetans were punished if they looked above the knees of their masters. In the old society, many had never seen the faces of their oppressors. And everyone was required to "prostrate" themselves face-and-belly-down in front of the Dalai Lama. Outsiders seeing those customs got a glimpse of the repulsive elitism so central to the Lamaist teachings--the rulers of old Tibet claim to be divine, perfected reincarnations of immortal Buddha-like spirits. The Dalai Lama modified such "formalities" to help create a romanticized version of "traditional Tibetan culture" for public consumption.
At the same time, the lamaists set up highly conservative communities that did, in fact, preserve many core feudal traditions. For example, Grunfeld writes: "Women are even worse off than their male counterparts, for they need permission--from a male--to leave the camp; they cannot vote; and they are given second preference when it comes to education."
Grunfeld estimates that half the Tibetan children in exile receive no education--in keeping with lamaist hostility toward mass education. And those youth who go to school are often indoctrinated in lamaist teachings hostile to science, innovation and work. Grunfeld cites one discontented Tibetan who claimed that his nephew, after nine years of schooling, had never read a newspaper or an entire book.
Another hypocrisy must be pointed out here: For years, Tibetan exiles have denounced Maoists for the fact that, even during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, advanced education in Tibet was often taught in the Han (Chinese) language. There were two reasons for this: There were basically no books or teachers available to teach many advanced political and scientific subjects in the Tibetan language, and it helped the unity of the revolutionary movement to have Tibetan activists and cadre able to communicate in the written language widely used by many language groups in China. At the same time, Maoist revolutionaries mobilized the Tibetan people to develop Tibetan-language typewriters and to create condition where the Tibetan language could be used far more broadly in higher education and government.
Meanwhile, it must be pointed out that the lamaists adopted English as the main language of instruction in their exile school system. The Dalai Lama tries to justify this practice in his 1990 autobiography by repeating the argument used in India's neocolonial school system--that English is "the international language of the future."
There is more hypocrisy: In their propaganda, the Tibetan upper class exiles make a fetish about "Tibet's traditional culture." In reality, many have contemptuously shed this traditional culture, sending their children to expensive English boarding schools. The Dalai Lama's authorized biographer Roger Hicks describes how, by the late 1960s and early 1970s, that younger generation was becoming largely westernized.
The Dalai Lama's youngest brother, Tendzin Choegyal, is a famous example of this. He is supposed to be the eighth incarnation of an immortal spirit called Ngari Rimpoche. He was educated at the prestigious Catholic St. Joseph prep school in Darjeeling, where the rector claimed Choegyal had "forgotten all that nonsense about being an Incarnation." Hicks reports that Choegyal himself says, "I'm a banana--yellow on the outside and white on the inside."
Grunfeld points out that the exiled Dalai Lama's money and power only continues as long as there are many stateless refugees. Consequently, it was to the benefit of the exile leadership to keep the masses of Tibetans in children's homes, transit camps and temporary facilities for decades. For the same reasons, the Dalai Lama's "government" opposes mixed marriages between Tibetan exiles and Indians and opposes masses of exiled Tibetans applying for citizenship in India--even though this legal status would make their lives much easier. Meanwhile it is common for the wealthy Tibetan upper class to apply for non-Tibetan status--including two of the Dalai Lama's brothers who are U.S. citizens.
Many poor Tibetan exiles have their own reasons for rejecting the ways of old feudal Tibet. Grunfeld writes: "An anthropologist who interviewed many of the poorer refugees reported that they viewed the old society with some sense of shame and discussed it with outsiders only with extreme reluctance; he reported that `a number indicated to me that they would prefer to remain in Mysore [India] rather than return to Tibet as it was under the old system."
The Dalai Lama's public relations apparatus feeds the outside world a travel brochure image of Tibetan exile life: as a spiritual Shangrila of noble monks waiting to bring their blessed "traditional culture" back to an impatiently waiting Tibetan people. This media image is essentially a cruel and brutal hoax.
The True Story of Maoist Revolution in Tibet
Life Under the Dalai Lama in Exile
Revolutionary Worker #765, July 17, 1994