- When the Dalai Lamas Ruled
- Hell On Earth
- By Bill Gibbons
- I often hear people say, "If only
we had a more spiritual society. If only society could be run in a spiritual
way." While this example is not a Christian one, feudal Europe was
a Christian society and it was very similar to that run by the Dalai Lama
- First, the story is being spread by the
Dalai Lama, that the old society was based on nonviolence, spirituality
and a rejection of worldly desires. The Lamists paint a picture of a mellow,
pastoral society led by holy men where there was no hunger, class conflict
or injustice. However, you can't understand any society by looking through
the eyes of the ruling classes. The fact is the old Tibetan society was
an extremely oppressive place: the vast majority of people were enslaved
and exploited by a tiny ruling class of aristocrats and top lamas.
- Old Tibet was a feudal society. There
were two main classes: the serfs and the aristocratic serf owners. If you
think things were bad in the middle ages in Europe under religious order,
just look at Tibet. Things were just as backward and cruel in Tibet up
until 1949. The aristocratic and monastery masters owned the people, the
land and most of the animals. They forced the serfs to hand over most of
their grain and demanded all kinds of forced labor called ulag.
- The whole existence of the religious
order was based on a rigid and brutal class system. Serfs were treated
like despised "Inferiors." Serfs could not use the same seats,
vocabulary or eating utensils as serf owners. Even touching one of the
master's belongings could be punished by whipping. The masters and the
serfs were so distant from each other that in much of Tibet they spoke
different languages. It was the custom for a serf to kneel on all fours
so his master could step on his back to mount a horse. There are reports
of one ruling class girl who routinely had servants carry her up and down
stairs just because she was lazy.
- The only thing worse than a serf in Tibet
was a "chattel slave," who had no right to even grow a few crops.
The slaves were often starved, beaten and worked to death. A master could
turn a serf into a slave any time he wanted. Children were routinely bought
and sold in Tibet,s capital, Lhasa. About five percent of the Tibetan people
were counted as chattel slaves. And at least another ten percent were poor
monks who were really "slaves in robes."
- Revolutionary writer Anna Louise Strong
explains that "You could not live in Tibet without a Master. Anyone
might pick you up as an outlaw unless you had a legal owner."
- Today Tibetian monks claim that women
were well treated in feudal Tibet. The Dalai Lama writes, "In Tibet
there was no special discrimination against women." His biographer
argues that Tibetan women were content with their status and "influenced
their husbands." But in Tibet, being born a woman was considered a
punishment for "impious" behavior in a previous life. The very
word for "woman" in old Tibet,"kiemen," meant, "inferior
- superstition associated women with evil
and sin. Anything women touched was considered tainted--so all kinds of
taboos were placed on women. Women were forbidden to handle medicine. "No
woman was allowed to touch a lama's belongings, nor could she raise a wall,
or "the wall will fall"...A widow was a despicable being, already
a 'devil.' No woman was allowed to use iron instruments or touch iron.
Religion forbade her to lift her eyes above the knee of a man, as serfs
and slaves were not allowed to lift the eyes upon the face of the nobles
or great lamas. Monks rejected sexual intimacy (or even contact) with women,
as part of their plan to be holy.
- Before the revolution,
- no woman had ever set foot in most major
monasteries or the palaces of the Dalai Lama. It was common to burn women
for "witchcraft" --often for practicing folk medicine or pre-Buddhist
traditional religion called Bon. Twins were considered proof that a woman
had mated with an evil spirit. Women in rural areas were often burned for
this, together with their newborn twins. Custom allowed for a husband to
cut off the tip of his wife's nose if he discovered she had slept with
- The patriarchal practices
- included: polygyny, where a wealthy man
could have many wives; and polyandry, where in land poor noble families
one woman was forced to be wife to several brothers. Among the lower classes
Serfs could not marry or leave the estate without the master's permission.
Masters transferred serfs from one estate to another at will, breaking
up families forever, much like slavery in the U.S. south. Rape of women
serfs was common. Under the Ulag system, a lord could demand "temporary
- About two percent of Tibet's population
was upper class, and additional three percent were overseers, masters,
managers and private armies. "Only 626 people held 93 percent of all
land and wealth and 70 percent of all yaks in Tibet. Before the revolution
no one in Tibet was ever paid wages for their work. A quarter of the population
of the capital city of Lhasa survived by begging from religious pilgrims.
The heart of this system was exploitation. Serfs worked 16 or 18 hour days
to enrich their masters--keeping only about a quarter of the food they
raised. The aristocratic lamas never worked. They spent their days chanting,
memorizing religious dogma and doing nothing.
- Today Tibetian monks claim that the rulers
of old Tibet were nonviolent. When Tantric Buddism was introduced to Tibet,
it was merged with earlier animist beliefs to create a new religion, Lamaism.
This new religion had to be imposed on the people for a century and a half
by the ruling class, using violence. King Trosong Detsen decreed, "He
who shows a finger to a monk shall have his finger cut off; he who speaks
ill of the monks shall have his lips cut off; he who looks askance at them
shall have his eyes put out..."
- Tibetian monks claim that Tibet had no
prisons. Tibetan monasteries were not holy, compassionate Shangrilas, like
in some New Age fantasy. These monasteries were dark fortresses of feudal
exploitation. They were armed villages of monks complete with military
warehouses and private armies. The main activity of monasteries was robbing
the surrounding peasants. The huge idle religious clergy grew little food--feeding
them was a big burden on the people. The monasteries made up countless
religious taxes to rob the people. The class relations of Tibet were reproduced
inside the monasteries: the majority of monks were slaves and servants
to the upper abbots and lived half starved lives of menial labor, prayer
chanting and routine beatings.
- exploitation in the monasteries was also
prevalent. Upper monks could force poor monks to take their religious exams
or perform sexual services. After the revolution, Anna Louise Strong asked
a young monk, Lobsang Tele, if the monastery life followed Buddhist teachings
about compassion. The young lama replied that he heard plenty of talk in
the scripture hall about kindness to all living creatures, but that he
had personally been whipped at least a thousand times.
- Hardships under the feudal system continued
up to the time of revolution. One 1940 study of eastern Tibet says that
38 percent of households never got any tea. Seventy five percent of households
were forced at times to eat grass. Half of the people couldn,t afford butter,
the main source of protein available. Meanwhile a major shrine, the Jokka
Kang, burned four tons of yak butter offerings daily. It has been estimated
that one third of all the butter produced in Tibet went up in smoke in
nearly 3,000 temples, just for the cause of superstition.
- In old Tibet, nothing was
known about basic hygiene,
- sanitation, or the fact that germs caused
disease. For ordinary people, there were no outhouses, sewers, or toilets.
The lamas taught that disease and death was caused by sinful "impiety."
They said that chanting, obedience, paying monks money and swallowing prayer
scrolls was the only real protection from disease. Old Tibet's superstition,
feudal practices and low productive forces cause the people to suffer terribly
from disease. Most children died before their first year. Even most Dalai
Lamas did not make it to 18 years of age. A third of the population had
smallpox. Feudal sexual customs spread venereal disease, including in the
monasteries. Before the revolution a high percentage of the population
was infected--causing widespread sterility and death.
- In old Tibet, the upper classes preached
mystical Buddhist nonviolence. But, like all ruling classes in history,
they practiced reactionary violence to maintain their rule. The lamaist
system of government came into being through bloody struggles. The historical
facts alone prove that lamaist doctrines of "compassion" and
"nonviolence" are hypocrisy. Revolutionary historians have documented
uprisings among Tibetan serfs in 1908, 1918, 1931 and the 1940s. Daily
violence was aimed at the masses of people. Each master punished "his"
serfs, and organized armed gangs to enforce his rule. Squads of monks brutalized
the people. They were called "Iron Bars" because of the big metal
rods they carried to batter people.
- It was a crime to "step
out of your place"
- --like hunting fish or wild sheep that
the lamaists declared were "sacred." It was even a crime for
a serf to appeal his master's decisions to some other authority. When serfs
ran away, the master's gangs went to hunt them down. Each estate had its
own dungeons and torture chambers. Pepper was forced under the eyelids.
Spikes were forced under the fingernails. Serfs had their legs connected
by short chains and were released to wander hobbled for the rest of their
lives. Buddhist belief precludes the taking of life, so that whipping a
person to the edge of death and then releasing him to die elsewhere allowed
Tibetan officials to justify the death as 'an act of God.' Other brutal
forms of punishment included the cutting off of hands at the wrists, using
red hot irons to gouge out the eyes, hanging by the thumbs; and crippling
the offender, sewing him into a bag and throwing the bag in to a river.
- As signs of their power, the lamas traditionally
used human body parts in their ceremonies: flutes made out of human thigh
bones, bowls made out of skulls, drums made from human skin. After the
revolution a rosary was found in the Dalai Lama's palace made from 108
different skulls. Serfs widely reported the lamas engaged in ritual human
sacrifice--including burying serf children alive in monastery ground breaking
- The Buddhist religion was used to keep
people down, particularly the central Lamaist belief in reincarnation.
The doctrine was a most ingenious and pernicious form of social control.
To the ordinary Tibetan, the acceptance of this doctrine precluded the
possibility of ever changing his or her fate in this life. If one were
born a slave, the doctrine of karma taught, it was not the fault of the
slaveholder but rather the slaves themselves for having committed some
misdeeds in a previous life. In turn, the slaveholder was simply being
rewarded for good deeds in a previous life.
- Tibet's feudal abbot- lamas
- taught that their top lama was a single
divine god king being--whose rule was demanded by the natural workings
of the universe. These myths and superstitions teach that there can be
no social change, that suffering is justified, and that to end suffering
each person must patiently tolerate suffering. This is almost exactly what
Europe's medieval Catholic church taught the people, in order to defend
a similar feudal system. Also like in medieval Europe, Tibet's feudalists
fought to suppress anything that might undermine their watertight system.
All observers agree that before the Maoist revolution, there were no newspapers,
magazines, printed books, radios or non religious literature of any kind
in Tibet. The masses created folklore, but the written language was reserved
for religious dogma and disputes. The masses of people and probably most
monks were kept completely illiterate.
- I hope in the future people will be critical
of the Dalai Lama and that they will have less romantic perspectives on
feudal society both in the east and the west.
- The information in this letter was gleaned
from an article written by Mike Ely, entitled When the Dalai Lamas Ruled:
Hell On Earth, which appeared in the Revolutionary Worker newspaper--March
- Bill Gibbons
- BEIJING (AP) - Chinese-backed Tibetan leaders today marked the defeat
of a pro-independence uprising 40 years ago by hailing the Himalayan region's
development under Communist rule.
- The Communist overthrow of the theocracy
run by the Dalai Lama has freed land-bound serfs and brought rapid development,
said the two highest-ranking ethnic Tibetans in the regional government.
They cited gains in grain production, incomes, public education and energy
production among other achievements.
- The tenor of their comments dovetailed
with a Communist Party-backed propaganda offensive of exhibits and editorials
celebrating the suppression of the Tibet uprising, which began 40 years
- The anniversary arouses longstanding
tensions inside Tibet. Riots surrounding the anniversary 10 years ago led
to martial law.
- For many Tibetans, March marks a tragic
milestone. The uprising was intended to oust the Chinese forces that marched
into Tibet in 1950. But it ended after 20 days with the flight of the Dalai
Lama into exile in India along with the cream of the Buddhist government.
- ``Generally speaking the past four decades
represent the fastest development in Tibet. It was a period in which Tibetans
enjoyed full human rights and became masters of their own fate,'' Raidi,
head of Tibet's legislature and No. 2 in the region's Communist Party,
- Tibet produced $165 million in goods
and services last year and average farmer and shepherd annual incomes hit
$140, he and Legqog, head of the Tibetan government said. Those numbers
are well-below China's national averages, proving Tibet is still strikingly
- Raidi and Legqog each go by only one
- Raidi, a former Buddhist monk who joined
the party 38 years ago, said Tibet would have made greater strides if not
for the interference of the Dalai Lama.
- ``He and his people resent the development
and happy life enjoyed by the Tibetan people and very often do things which
undermine and obstruct the development at home,'' added Legqog, head of
the party-controlled Tibetan government.
- Although he declined to elaborate on
the scope or nature of pro-Tibetan independence activities, Legqog said
``should such activities take place we will crack down upon them.''
- Their government has pressed a three-year
campaign to discredit the Dalai Lama and purge his supporters from the
government and clergy. Still, monasteries and prisons sporadically erupt
in protest. A bomb exploded near police headquarters in the Tibetan capital
of Lhasa in June.
- In remarks for a speech to be delivered
in India on Wednesday, the Dalai Lama said China has stepped up repression
in Tibet since President Clinton's trip to Beijing in June. The Nobel Peace
Prize winner also said that China broke off secret talks.
- ``Late last autumn, without any obvious
reason, there was a noticeable hardening of the Chinese position on dialogue
and their attitude towards me,'' he said. There has been no movement since
- ``I remain committed to the process of
dialogue,'' the Dalai Lama said. ``There is no realistic alternative to