q: How did this current chic perception of Tibet get to be this way?
a: Well, actually it's a long story. I don't think I'm absolutely
accurate in this. Good research has yet to be conducted on this; it has yet
to be done.
But, for one thing when we Tibetans first came into exile in the '60s very
little attention was paid to us except by the CIA, and certain charitable
organizations like CARE and so on.
But at that time in the 60's, a whole bunch of hippies and people of that
nature came to India. And they came up straight where the Tibetans were. And
they were not concerned with the political problems of the Tibetans people--
that they were exiles, and they were fighting Communist China.
I've talked to many at the time, they considered our kind of resistance
against the Communist Chinese very bad. Because a lot of these people admired
Mao Tse-tung. A lot of them couldn't understand why we didn't want to live in
But, they subscribed to the karma, to the Tibetan Buddhism, especially because
Tibetan religion is very rich in color and in ritual and in ceremony. It's not
much fun for a Western hippie to be a kind of... (inaudible) Buddhist, which is
very stark. It doesn't have all that color and music and all the mysticism.
So, Tibetan Buddhism was the in thing. And it became quite a small industry in
India with a lot of Lamas.
And a lot of the younger generation at that time picked up on it. A lot of
the hippies now had become fairly affluent, maybe even powerful people out in
the west. A lot these people are ones who are still pushing their kind of
flower power type perception, and they're pushing it on us Tibetans.
Like, I'm a Tibetan --when I talk about my politics, about my country,
oftentimes the critics I get are not Chinese or other Tibetans, but Westerners.
They say, "How dare you contradict the Dalai Lama? How dare you say Tibetans
should take up arms against the Chinese?"
And, I reply to them, " I'm a Tibetan. This is my country. These are issues
that are close to me. You are living in a country where democracy is already
there, freedom is already there. You may not like it, it may not be perfect,
but we don't have anything." Whether the Tibetans want to get their country
back to peace or violence or whatever, that's their business.
But, the problem is that in our situation, a lot of these people have become
very powerful in the context of our politics, because they have money. They
sponsor a lot of the monasteries; they sponsor a lot our people in power within
the Tibetan world, especially Lamas. They become big patrons. So, they call
the shots as far as Tibetans politics are concerned.
You may have noticed a lot of the issues that the Tibetans debate in their
politics is very fuzzy, the question of environment, religious issues,
environmental issues. That's not the real issue, at all. The real issue is a
question of the survival of the people. But that issue is not debated at
q: Explain to me this western phenomenon of Richard Gere's and the Steven
Segal's -- the celebrity patronage of Tibet and what that's about.
a: I am not at all condemning anyone. I'm sure Richard Gere's kind of
faith in Tibetan Buddhism is genuine. In fact, his patronage of Tibetan
Buddhism and even the society and the cause, has been a rather low key one.
Even Steven Seagal, although he may want to be a Lama and has himself
recognized as one-- I don't think it's a question of blame of these people.
Now, the problem with the whole celebrity thing is that -- our exposure to the
West is a fairly recent one. Even when exiled in India, we were in a very
remote area. Our ideas on the West are not that well-formed. But when someone
says, "There's an important person from the West," they really don't know.
Even actors, no matter how wonderful they may be, really don't have that much
power in the sense of politics.
I think we are making a big mistake in not really trying to get our cause out
there to the intellectuals, to writers, to artists, instead concentrating on
celebrities who sometimes as wonderful as they may be, a lot of them have very
short attention spans and have to move onto another cause; maybe one or two or
five years from now.
q: How do you understand this trend? How do you explain it to someone?
a: That's very simple. You just have to look at lot of these people, a
lot of the New Age people. Look at the way they think. There's tremendous
inadequacy in their kind of spiritual lives. And, I'm not saying blaming
society or anything for it, but this is the way a lot of these people feel.
And one feels this even more when one is affluent. When you are poor,
actually, all you want is some food and to survive, send your kids to school,
college. But when you are rich, you have to move on. It's only human, it's
not a question of condemnation or making fun of these people. But there is
Since traditional Christianity in this country is not fashionable anymore for
real or imagined reasons, people are moving on. Tibetan Buddhism is
fascinating. I am a Tibetan Buddhist, myself. I do find the religion to be
First thing, for a lot of academic types and even for, let's say, our people
here, it's a very ......religion. It's not just like shamanism. There are a
lot of things you can do. It's so broad that you will find a niche for
And, at the same time, it's not so organized like the Catholic church, so you
don't have to go to church; you don't have get up early on Sunday and wear a
suit. You're not obliged to do anything. So, it's really wonderful for
someone living, let's say, in a studio out in New York for a religion for him
to have. Any time it's convenient, he does his little thing. His little
Buddha, and he can feel good. It's not like Judaism or Islam. There are no
dietary regulations. There's nothing really.
So it's the ideal, for the 21st century, in that sense. It gives you a lot
of space. And people take to it. And, it's fashionable also, especially with
the whole Zen thing that's happened earlier on in this country. It's a kind of
progression from there. It's very fashionable.
q: What is your sense of the impact that will come from the two big Hollywood
films coming out. What is your sense of the impact and awareness they'll
a: The two Hollywood movies that are coming out on Tibet will create
some impact. But like the impact of movies on the populace it is really
overestimated. We had a wonderful movie like that won even the Academy Award
for a number of reasons-- "Killing Fields." How much did that change the
perception of people on Cambodia? Even after that movie was aired, there were
many academics going around saying that the Camerouge didn't massacre all that
many Cambodians. That this is all kind of Western hype.
So, I don't know with movies. Sometimes you do feel in the immediacy there is
some impact. But I think with feature films, sometimes the story alone
captures you; everything else is background. I really don't know. I hope
there will some impact and that people will respond. But, I keep my fingers
That alone, even some response from the ordinary people will not really change
q: What would your dream be for the impact of these films?
a: My hope is that people will see this film and realize that Tibet was
an independent country. That to a certain extent, responsible people out in
the west, ought to put some kind of time and effort to see that this great
injustice is readdressed. Especially, the younger generation in university and
schools see this movie and are moved enough to take up the Tibetan cause and do
something to readdress this great injustice that the Tibetan people have
I think with the younger people gradually it will. There's a wonderful kind
of, let's say, lack of cynicism in American universities. Sometimes you feel
in Britain-- I lived in Britain for a long time-- There's a sort of "can do"
attitude with a lot of people-- younger people here. So, I hope the movie will
have some impact on them.
q: You talked about bringing young people to the Tibetan cause... People say
bring awareness to the Tibetan cause. What is the Tibetan cause? What are we
a: The Tibetan cause is really about independence; it's about freedom of
the Tibetan people. It's been misrepresented. To a certain extent, because it
is such a difficult, let's say a cause. Everyone knows the Chinese are not
going give up Tibet just like that. It's far more difficult than, let's say,
even the Palestinian and Israeli issue, or even South Africa.
The Chinese are infinitely far more stronger and vaster than the Tibetans.
Tibetans' size, the numbers, everything is insignificant. So, people see this
and somehow, before they even take up the cause, they get tired, just imagining
how it could be done. Therefore, a lot of times they seek alternative kind of
action. They go in for smaller things like human rights and Tibetan
environment, maybe religious freedom, this and that.
But, all of these actually hinge on one factor--Tibet is not free. Why are
there human rights abuses in Tibet? Because the Chinese are oppressing
Tibetans. Because Tibetans are not independent. Why is there environmental
degradation of Tibet? that's never happened before? Because the Chinese are
there. Why do you have religious persecution in Tibet? Because the Chinese
The fact is, unless the Chinese go away, unless the Tibetans have
independence, none of these, let's say, ills in Tibetan society, none of this
real tragedy that is going on will, in any way, be addressed or solved. But
people don't see this, because it's such a difficult thing to look at.
It affects our own leadership, because of the kind of realistic advice you get
from many people, who say, "There's no way you can challenge China; it's
impossible. You'd better make peace with them." They carry on and on with the
point, where you know the Dalai Lama has given up on this. He's saying, "I
don't think it's a good idea. Maybe we should make our peace with them."
If China was a democracy, if it was an empire even like the Roman Empire where
local provinces and local separate kingdoms were given some kind of autonomy
and opportunity to deal with their own problems in their own way, yes--there
could be a place for us, like even, let's say, in part of the British empire or
something. But, the system in China is not like that at all. We know now from
what's happening in Hong Kong. That so many promises were made about the basic
laws, about the legislature and all that is finished now. Whatever it is, the
Chinese are not going to change; they're not going give us anything.
So, the Tibetans, I really feel, should go all out for independence. And,
this is the main cause, I think, that everyone should propagate. It may not
immediately seem possible, but it is in the nature of every revolution and
great cause that it is not something that is foreseeable. That is why you have
revolutionaries. That's why revolutionaries are always dreamers and madmen.
Revolutions are not made by stockbrokers... ... or politicians, it's made by
these sort of crazy people who have dreams.
This, to a certain extent, is a dream, of Tibetan independence. The main
factor is that it is a worthwhile dream, and it is true dream. It is not a
dream that has been tainted in any way. The Tibetans have never massacred
Chinese; thousands of Chinese. They had never done anything, really, that has
hurt Chinese interest.
Old Tibetan society may have been old-fashioned, may have not been
egalitarian, but it was not an evil society. So, all the support that is given
to this cause is worthy. And, I think that is a good basis for people to start
on, not whether it's possible or not. The very fact that we survived is a
miracle, when you think about it. We could be anything else, the planet could
be destroyed in way or the other. There are a thousand other things going on
all the time. Anything can happen.
But, the fact is this is a cause worthy of moral indignation for people. And,
if one starts off from there and keeps on real moral lines, I think the faint
possibility of Tibetan freedom will become a reality. But if one surrenders
right from the beginning because this is not possible, that is not possible,
then it's not even a cause. That's why it's so fuzzy these days. Because too
many people; too many experts are coming into it.
There are so many-- these days ..self-appointed Henry Kissinger types, who
come with 220 different ways to solve the Tibetan issue. Their kind of State
Department type who come there, some lawyers and this and that from the West,
all kinds of hustlers are coming, selling some kind of idea ... on how to make
a deal with the Chinese.
Nobody talks of a struggle or a revolution. Everyone is saying, "There's a
way we can do a deal with the Chinese." And, there's no way you can do any
deal with them.
q: Has the Dalai Lama lost the dream of Tibet?
a: I think Dalai Lama has lost his dream for Tibetan independence. And,
primarily because he lives, to some extent, high above the normal Tibetans.
He lives, to some extent in the ivory tower. And, all he meets really are sort
of leaders even from the West; and, I think, they give him really wrong advice.
The kind of influence he gets from those people are absolutely wrong.
They see things as it is now; they look at the status quo. The leadership
that you have now all over the world are not people who can see something in
the future. What they see is now. Business now. China now. That's why they
advise him, make a deal, cut a deal, whatever, do it. Don't go violent,
whatever it is. "We don't want to rock the boat."
Revolution is not--as Mao Tse-tung said, "It's not a Tea Party." Or, maybe
dinner party or whatever. You have to rock the boat. It has to dislocate
something. It causes unhappiness; but there's a result in the end. Unless you
do that, you won't get anything. What the Dalai Lama and all his friends want
is not to disturb anybody; not to offend the Chinese; not to offend the
Americans, not to offend Clinton; not to offend anybody, and get Tibetan
freedom. That is not going to happen.
It's not even in our control, in some ways. These things are spontaneous; it
happens because of people's moral indignation and their suffering. When it
happens, blood is shed. It's not for me to approve or disapprove of this.
This is the nature of life. I think His Holiness sometimes forgets this.
Whatever it is, he is a spiritual leader. But, he is a Buddhist monk also.
He's cut off from the normal life of the Tibetans.
We are ordinary Tibetans. We drink; we eat; we feel passion; we love our
wives and kids. If someone sort of messes around with them, even if they're an
army, you pick up your rifle. If you don't defend your wife and your kid, you
cannot survive. What will happen to you in the end. People do these things.
This is something that I don't think the Lamas and his Holiness understand in
We don't all want enlightenment. We are quite happy, sometimes with our
little field, and our horses and the guns and your wife and your kids. Some
people don't want to be enlightened, at least not immediately. They are really
happy in their landscape and in Tibet. They have a kind of affinity to their
place they live in. And, they don't want the Chinese there. And, his Holiness
cannot understand this.
The need of lay people--in Tibetan we are called the "Black Haired People."
People with long hair. People with long hair--- really, Why do they need
freedom? People in monasteries, to a certain extent, they live in their
discipline. But we don't want to live in discipline. We are like horseman-- I
put this in -- Not me, I'm talking for the Tibetan people. I haven't written or
asked for the last 20 years-- But, these are people who want space, who want
their freedom, who don't like to be ordered about.
Who is speaking for them? And, I don't think His Holiness is speaking for
them. Neither is Richard Gere nor his Holiness, his friends out in the West.
They are talking about a very specific Tibet; they're talking about the monks
and the nuns. Yes, of course, we love the monks and nuns and we respect them.
But, we are the ones who pay the taxes in the end. We are the ones who support
the monasteries. You know, when the monasteries are attacked, we're the ones
Our children become monks and nuns. The monks and nuns don't have children to
continue their institutions. This is something that is done by the ordinary
Tibetan who is neglected in this factor. That factor is not even accounted
sometimes. Therefore, I think His Holiness in wrong.
And I'm not saying this in any way as a kind of propaganda-- It's not a
propaganda speech. There is a mystical kind of power, I think, as far as
revolutions and uprisings and all. We don't know what is going on in Tibet.
But, what I know is every demonstration they've had in Tibet, every cry for
freedom that has come out from there, has been for independence. It has not
been for autonomy. All the placards that you see in these documentaries, the
slogans that the demonstrators shout, the screams from prison cells where nuns
are being beaten, are for independence. They're all shouting, 'Ransen' which
means independence. They're not calling for the Dalai Lama solution or for
autonomy or for some adjustment with the Chinese. But, this is something that,
I think, His Holiness really doesn't understand, neither do a lot of our
friends out in the west.
They say, "Why don't you live-- Why don't you adjust?" We've done all the
adjusting we can. We have nothing left. We have nothing to give the Chinese.
q: What should America do for Tibet?
a: Right now, I really couldn't say. But, essentially, Tibetans should
be able to start a campaign, let's say an economic boycott of Chinese goods.
But, this is something that we have to push on the Americans; we have to sell
this to the Americans. And, it is possible-- maybe it's not going to realized
overnight, or maybe in five, ten, thirty years even. Initially one or two
companies may subscribe to this. But, you have had companies subscribing to
this-- Like Holiday Inn in ... (inaudible). Because of a boycott, they pulled
out. Now, you could try to sell this to other companies trading with China.
It's not immediately foreseeable that all these companies would agree. But
that was not foreseeable even with South Africa with apartheid government
there. But eventually it happened. And, now we see a South Africa that
promises wonderful things for the future.