Behind Dalai Lama's Holy Cloak, by Michael Backman

The impulse to believe the absurd when presented with the unknowable is called religion. Whether this is wise or unwise is the domain of doctrine. Once you understand someone's doctrine, you understand their rationale for believing the absurd. At that point, it may no longer seem absurd. You can get to both sides of this conondrum from here.

Behind Dalai Lama's Holy Cloak, by Michael Backman

Postby admin » Wed Dec 20, 2017 3:34 am

Behind Dalai Lama's Holy Cloak
by Michael Backman
May 23, 2007



Photo: AFP

THE Dalai Lama show is set to roll into Australia again next month and again Australian politicians are getting themselves in a twist as to whether they should meet him.

Rarely do journalists challenge the Dalai Lama.

Partly it is because he is so charming and engaging. Most published accounts of him breeze on as airily as the subject, for whom a good giggle and a quaint parable are substitutes for hard answers. But this is the man who advocates greater autonomy for millions of people who are currently Chinese citizens, presumably with him as head of their government. So, why not hold him accountable as a political figure?

No mere spiritual leader, he was the head of Tibet's government when he went into exile in 1959. It was a state apparatus run by aristocratic, nepotistic monks that collected taxes, jailed and tortured dissenters and engaged in all the usual political intrigues. (The Dalai Lama's own father was almost certainly murdered in 1946, the consequence of a coup plot.)

The government set up in exile in India and, at least until the 1970s, received $US1.7 million a year from the CIA.

The money was to pay for guerilla operations against the Chinese, notwithstanding the Dalai Lama's public stance in support of non-violence, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

The Dalai Lama himself was on the CIA's payroll from the late 1950s until 1974, reportedly receiving $US15,000 a month ($US180,000 a year).

The funds were paid to him personally, but he used all or most of them for Tibetan government-in-exile activities, principally to fund offices in New York and Geneva, and to lobby internationally.

Details of the government-in-exile's funding today are far from clear. Structurally, it comprises seven departments and several other special offices. There have also been charitable trusts, a publishing company, hotels in India and Nepal, and a handicrafts distribution company in the US and in Australia, all grouped under the government-in-exile's Department of Finance.

The government was involved in running 24 businesses in all, but decided in 2003 that it would withdraw from these because such commercial involvement was not appropriate.

Several years ago, I asked the Dalai Lama's Department of Finance for details of its budget. In response, it claimed then to have annual revenue of about $US22 million, which it spent on various health, education, religious and cultural programs.

The biggest item was for politically related expenditure, at $US7 million. The next biggest was administration, which ran to $US4.5 million. Almost $US2 million was allocated to running the government-in-exile's overseas offices.

For all that the government-in-exile claims to do, these sums seemed remarkably low.

It is not clear how donations enter its budgeting. These are likely to run to many millions annually, but the Dalai Lama's Department of Finance provided no explicit acknowledgment of them or of their sources.

Certainly, there are plenty of rumours among expatriate Tibetans of endemic corruption and misuse of monies collected in the name of the Dalai Lama.

Many donations are channelled through the New York-based Tibet Fund, set up in 1981 by Tibetan refugees and US citizens. It has grown into a multimillion-dollar organisation that disburses $US3 million each year to its various programs.

Part of its funding comes from the US State Department's Bureau for Refugee Programs.

Like many Asian politicians, the Dalai Lama has been remarkably nepotistic, appointing members of his family to many positions of prominence. In recent years, three of the six members of the Kashag, or cabinet, the highest executive branch of the Tibetan government-in-exile, have been close relatives of the Dalai Lama.

An older brother served as chairman of the Kashag and as the minister of security. He also headed the CIA-backed Tibetan contra movement in the 1960s.

A sister-in-law served as head of the government-in-exile's planning council and its Department of Health.

A younger sister served as health and education minister and her husband served as head of the government-in-exile's Department of Information and International Relations.

Their daughter was made a member of the Tibetan parliament in exile. A younger brother has served as a senior member of the private office of the Dalai Lama and his wife has served as education minister.

The second wife of a brother-in-law serves as the representative of the Tibetan government-in-exile for northern Europe and head of international relations for the government-in-exile. All these positions give the Dalai Lama's family access to millions of dollars collected on behalf of the government-in-exile.

The Dalai Lama might now be well-known but few really know much about him. For example, contrary to widespread belief, he is not a vegetarian. He eats meat. He has done so (he claims) on a doctor's advice following liver complications from hepatitis. I have checked with several doctors but none agrees that meat consumption is necessary or even desirable for a damaged liver.

What has the Dalai Lama actually achieved for Tibetans inside Tibet?

If his goal has been independence for Tibet or, more recently, greater autonomy, then he has been a miserable failure.

He has kept Tibet on the front pages around the world, but to what end? The main achievement seems to have been to become a celebrity. Possibly, had he stayed quiet, fewer Tibetans might have been tortured, killed and generally suppressed by China.

In any event, the current Dalai Lama is 72 years old. His successor — a reincarnation — will be appointed as a child and it will be many years before he plays a meaningful role. As far as China is concerned, that is one problem that will take care of itself, irrespective of whether or not John Howard or Kevin Rudd meet the current Dalai Lama.
Site Admin
Posts: 20692
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Behind Dalai Lama's Holy Cloak, by Michael Backman

Postby admin » Wed Dec 20, 2017 3:35 am

Dalai Lama Misses Sex, Shoots Guns (Cool!)
by Ruth Gledhill



THE Dalai Lama has admitted that, in a lifetime dedicated to celibacy and non-violence, he has missed out on sex and that he shoots at hawks in anger.

Asked in an interview what experiences he had missed that ordinary people had not, he pointed towards his groin and laughed, saying: "I obviously missed this."

He was not sorry, however: "For monks and nuns, the practice of celibacy is not just a rule. Our target is to try and reduce negative emotions. Sexual desire and attachment are enjoyable, but act as a basis to anger, hatred and jealousy."

He was not convinced that he would have made a good father, admitting to having a bad temper. That temper led him to aim his air rifle at hawks, he told Conrad Kiechel, international editorial director of Reader's Digest.

"I feed birds, peaceful birds. I'm non-violent, but if a hawk comes when I'm feeding birds, I lose my temper and get my air rifle." He did not shoot to kill, "only to scare the hawks".

Speaking in Dharamsala, India, where he has lived since China put down a Tibetan uprising against communist rule, he admitted to having enjoyed spending time with Mao Zedong.

"At official dinners he made me sit beside him and treated me like his son, sometimes feeding me with his chopsticks.

"I was afraid that since he coughed so much I would catch something. He was no doubt a great revolutionary, but at the same time, his behaviour was often that of a peasant."

He said there was a softening towards Tibet by the current Chinese regime.
Site Admin
Posts: 20692
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Behind Dalai Lama's Holy Cloak, by Michael Backman

Postby admin » Wed Dec 20, 2017 3:41 am

Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth
by Michael Parenti
July 7, 2003



Throughout the ages there has prevailed a distressing symbiosis between religion and violence. The histories of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam are heavily laced with internecine vendettas, inquisitions, and wars. Again and again, religionists have claimed a divine mandate to terrorize and massacre heretics, infidels, and other sinners.

Some people have argued that Buddhism is different, that it stands in marked contrast to the chronic violence of other religions. But a glance at history reveals that Buddhist organizations throughout the centuries have not been free of the violent pursuits so characteristic of other religious groups. (1) In the twentieth century alone, from Thailand to Burma to Korea to Japan, Buddhists have clashed with each other and with non-Buddhists. In Sri Lanka, huge battles in the name of Buddhism are part of Sinhalese history. (2)

Just a few years ago in South Korea, thousands of monks of the Chogye Buddhist order---reputedly devoted to a meditative search for spiritual enlightenment---fought each other with fists, rocks, fire-bombs, and clubs, in pitched battles that went on for weeks. They were vying for control of the order, the largest in South Korea, with its annual budget of $9.2 million, its additional millions of dollars in property, and the privilege of appointing 1,700 monks to various duties. The brawls left dozens of monks injured, some seriously. (3)

But many present-day Buddhists in the United States would argue that none of this applies to the Dalai Lama and the Tibet he presided over before the Chinese crackdown in 1959. The Dalai Lama's Tibet, they believe, was a spiritually oriented kingdom, free from the egotistical lifestyles, empty materialism, pointless pursuits, and corrupting vices that beset modern industrialized society. Western news media, and a slew of travel books, novels, and Hollywood films have portrayed the Tibetan theocracy as a veritable Shangri-La and the Dalai Lama as a wise saint, "the greatest living human," as actor Richard Gere gushed. (4)

The Dalai Lama himself lent support to this idealized image of Tibet with statements such as: "Tibetan civilization has a long and rich history. The pervasive influence of Buddhism and the rigors of life amid the wide open spaces of an unspoiled environment resulted in a society dedicated to peace and harmony. We enjoyed freedom and contentment." (5) In fact, Tibet's history reads a little differently. In the thirteenth century, Emperor Kublai Khan created the first Grand Lama, who was to preside over all the other lamas as might a pope over his bishops. Several centuries later, the Emperor of China sent an army into Tibet to support the Grand Lama, an ambitious 25-year-old man, who then gave himself the title of Dalai (Ocean) Lama, ruler of all Tibet. Here is a historical irony: the first Dalai Lama was installed by a Chinese army.

To elevate his authority beyond worldly challenge, the first Dalai Lama seized monasteries that did not belong to his sect, and is believed to have destroyed Buddhist writings that conflicted with his claim to divinity. (6) The Dalai Lama who succeeded him pursued a sybaritic life, enjoying many mistresses, partying with friends, writing erotic poetry, and acting in other ways that might seem unfitting for an incarnate deity. For this he was "disappeared" by his priests. Within 170 years, despite their recognized status as gods, five Dalai Lamas were murdered by their enlightened nonviolent Buddhist courtiers. (7)

Shangri-La (for Lords and Lamas)

Religions have had a close relationship not only to violence but to economic exploitation. Indeed, it is often the economic exploitation that necessitates the violence. Such was the case with the Tibetan theocracy. Until 1959, when the Dalai Lama last presided over Tibet, most of the arable land was still organized into religious or secular manorial estates worked by serfs. Even a writer like Pradyumna Karan, sympathetic to the old order, admits that "a great deal of real estate belonged to the monasteries, and most of them amassed great riches. . . . In addition, individual monks and lamas were able to accumulate great wealth through active participation in trade, commerce, and money lending." (8) Drepung monastery was one of the biggest landowners in the world, with its 185 manors, 25,000 serfs, 300 great pastures, and 16,000 herdsmen. The wealth of the monasteries went to the higher-ranking lamas, many of them scions of aristocratic families, while most of the lower clergy were as poor as the peasant class from which they sprang. This class-determined economic inequality within the Tibetan clergy closely parallels that of the Christian clergy in medieval Europe.

Along with the upper clergy, secular leaders did well. A notable example was the commander-in-chief of the Tibetan army, who owned 4,000 square kilometers of land and 3,500 serfs. He also was a member of the Dalai Lama's lay Cabinet. (9) Old Tibet has been misrepresented by some of its Western admirers as "a nation that required no police force because its people voluntarily observed the laws of karma." (10) In fact. it had a professional army, albeit a small one, that served as a gendarmerie for the landlords to keep order and catch runaway serfs. (11)

Young Tibetan boys were regularly taken from their families and brought into the monasteries to be trained as monks. Once there, they became bonded for life. Tashì-Tsering, a monk, reports that it was common practice for peasant children to be sexually mistreated in the monasteries. He himself was a victim of repeated childhood rape not long after he was taken into the monastery at age nine. (12) The monastic estates also conscripted peasant children for lifelong servitude as domestics, dance performers, and soldiers.

In Old Tibet there were small numbers of farmers who subsisted as a kind of free peasantry, and perhaps an additional 10,000 people who composed the "middle-class" families of merchants, shopkeepers, and small traders. Thousands of others were beggars. A small minority were slaves, usually domestic servants, who owned nothing. Their offspring were born into slavery. (13)

In 1953, the greater part of the rural population -- some 700,000 of an estimated total population of 1,250,000 -- were serfs. Tied to the land, they were allotted only a small parcel to grow their own food. Serfs and other peasants generally went without schooling or medical care. They spent most of their time laboring for the monasteries and individual high-ranking lamas, or for a secular aristocracy that numbered not more than 200 wealthy families. In effect, they were owned by their masters who told them what crops to grow and what animals to raise. They could not get married without the consent of their lord or lama. A serf might easily be separated from his family should the owner send him to work in a distant location. Serfs could be sold by their masters, or subjected to torture and death. (14)

A Tibetan lord would often take his pick of females in the serf population, if we are to believe one 22-year old woman, herself a runaway serf: "All pretty serf girls were usually taken by the owner as house servants and used as he wished." They "were just slaves without rights." (15) Serfs needed permission to go anywhere. Landowners had legal authority to capture and forcibly bring back those who tried to flee. A 24-year old runaway serf, interviewed by Anna Louise Strong, welcomed the Chinese intervention as a "liberation." During his time as a serf he claims he was not much different from a draft animal, subjected to incessant toil, hunger, and cold, unable to read or write, and knowing nothing at all. He tells of his attempts to flee:

The first time [the landlord's men] caught me running away, I was very small, and they only cuffed me and cursed me. The second time they beat me up. The third time I was already fifteen and they gave me fifty heavy lashes, with two men sitting on me, one on my head and one on my feet. Blood came then from my nose and mouth. The overseer said: "This is only blood from the nose; maybe you take heavier sticks and bring some blood from the brain." They beat then with heavier sticks and poured alcohol and water with caustic soda on the wounds to make more pain. I passed out for two hours. (16)

In addition to being under a lifetime bond to work the lord's land -- or the monastery's land -- without pay, the serfs were obliged to repair the lord's houses, transport his crops, and collect his firewood. They were also expected to provide carrying animals and transportation on demand. "It was an efficient system of economic exploitation that guaranteed to the country's religious and secular elites a permanent and secure labor force to cultivate their land holdings without burdening them either with any direct day-to-day responsibility for the serf's subsistence and without the need to compete for labor in a market context." (17)

The common people labored under the twin burdens of the corvée (forced unpaid labor on behalf of the lord) and onerous tithes. They were taxed upon getting married, taxed for the birth of each child, and for every death in the family. They were taxed for planting a new tree in their yard, for keeping domestic or barnyard animals, for owning a flower pot, or putting a bell on an animal. There were taxes for religious festivals, for singing, dancing, drumming, and bell ringing. People were taxed for being sent to prison and upon being released. Even beggars were taxed. Those who could not find work were taxed for being unemployed, and if they traveled to another village in search of work, they paid a passage tax. When people could not pay, the monasteries lent them money at 20 to 50 percent interest. Some debts were handed down from father to son to grandson. Debtors who could not meet their obligations risked being placed into slavery for as long as the monastery demanded, sometimes for the rest of their lives. (18)

The theocracy's religious teachings buttressed its class order. The poor and afflicted were taught that they had brought their troubles upon themselves because of their foolish and wicked ways in previous lives. Hence they had to accept the misery of their present existence as an atonement and in anticipation that their lot would improve upon being reborn. The rich and powerful of course treated their good fortune as a reward for -- and tangible evidence of -- virtue in past and present lives.

Torture and Mutilation in Shanghri-La

In the Dalai Lama's Tibet, torture and mutilation -- including eye gouging, the pulling out of tongues, hamstringing, and amputation of arms and legs -- were favored punishments inflicted upon thieves, runaway serfs, and other "criminals." Journeying through Tibet in the 1960s, Stuart and Roma Gelder interviewed a former serf, Tsereh Wang Tuei, who had stolen two sheep belonging to a monastery. For this he had both his eyes gouged out and his hand mutilated beyond use. He explains that he no longer is a Buddhist: "When a holy lama told them to blind me I thought there was no good in religion." (19) Some Western visitors to Old Tibet remarked on the number of amputees to be seen. Since it was against Buddhist teachings to take human life, some offenders were severely lashed and then "left to God" in the freezing night to die. "The parallels between Tibet and medieval Europe are striking," concludes Tom Grunfeld in his book on Tibet. (20)

Some monasteries had their own private prisons, reports Anna Louise Strong. In 1959, she visited an exhibition of torture equipment that had been used by the Tibetan overlords. There were handcuffs of all sizes, including small ones for children, and instruments for cutting off noses and ears, and breaking off hands. For gouging out eyes, there was a special stone cap with two holes in it that was pressed down over the head so that the eyes bulged out through the holes and could be more readily torn out. There were instruments for slicing off kneecaps and heels, or hamstringing legs. There were hot brands, whips, and special implements for disembowling. (21)

The exhibition presented photographs and testimonies of victims who had been blinded or crippled or suffered amputations for thievery. There was the shepherd whose master owed him a reimbursement in yuan and wheat but refused to pay. So he took one of the master's cows; for this he had his hands severed. Another herdsman, who opposed having his wife taken from him by his lord, had his hands broken off. There were pictures of Communist activists with noses and upper lips cut off, and a woman who was raped and then had her nose sliced away. (22)

Theocratic despotism had been the rule for generations. An English visitor to Tibet in 1895, Dr. A. L. Waddell, wrote that the Tibetan people were under the "intolerable tyranny of monks" and the devil superstitions they had fashioned to terrorize the people. In 1904 Perceval Landon described the Dalai Lama's rule as "an engine of oppression" and "a barrier to all human improvement." At about that time, another English traveler, Captain W.F.T. O'Connor, observed that "the great landowners and the priests . . . exercise each in their own dominion a despotic power from which there is no appeal," while the people are "oppressed by the most monstrous growth of monasticism and priest-craft the world has ever seen." Tibetan rulers, like those of Europe during the Middle Ages, "forged innumerable weapons of servitude, invented degrading legends and stimulated a spirit of superstition" among the common people. (23)

In 1937, another visitor, Spencer Chapman, wrote, "The Lamaist monk does not spend his time in ministering to the people or educating them, nor do laymen take part in or even attend the monastery services. The beggar beside the road is nothing to the monk. Knowledge is the jealously guarded prerogative of the monasteries and is used to increase their influence and wealth." (24)

Occupation and Revolt

The Chinese Communists occupied Tibet in 1951, claiming suzerainty over that country. The 1951 treaty provided for ostensible self-government under the Dalai Lama's rule but gave China military control and exclusive right to conduct foreign relations. The Chinese were also granted a direct role in internal administration "to promote social reforms." At first, they moved slowly, relying mostly on persuasion in an attempt to effect change. Among the earliest reforms they wrought was to reduce usurious interest rates, and build some hospitals and roads.

Mao Zedung and his Communist cadres did not simply want to occupy Tibet. They desired the Dalai Lama's cooperation in transforming Tibet's feudal economy in accordance with socialist goals. Even Melvyn Goldstein, who is sympathetic to the Dalai Lama and the cause of Tibetan independence, allows that "contrary to popular belief in the West," the Chinese "pursued a policy of moderation." They took care "to show respect for Tibetan culture and religion" and "allowed the old feudal and monastic systems to continue unchanged. Between 1951 and 1959, not only was no aristocratic or monastic property confiscated, but feudal lords were permitted to exercise continued judicial authority over their hereditarily bound peasants." (25) As late as 1957, Mao Zedung was trying to salvage his gradualist policy. He reduced the number of Chinese cadre and troops in Tibet and promised the Dalai Lama in writing that China would not implement land reforms in Tibet for the next six years or even longer if conditions were not yet ripe. (26)

Nevertheless, Chinese rule over Tibet greatly discomforted the lords and lamas. What bothered them most was not that the intruders were Chinese. They had seen Chinese come and go over the centuries and had enjoyed good relations with Generalissimo Chiang Kaishek and his reactionary Kuomintang rule in China. (27) Indeed the approval of the Kuomintang government was needed to validate the choice of the present-day Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama. When the young Dalai Lama was installed in Lhasa, it was with an armed escort of Chiang Kaishek's troops and an attending Chinese minister, in accordance with centuries-old tradition. (28) What really bothered the Tibetan lords and lamas was that these latest Chinese were Communists. It would be only a matter of time, they were sure, before the Communists started imposing their egalitarian and collectivist solutions upon the highly privileged theocracy.

In 1956-57, armed Tibetan bands ambushed convoys of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). The uprising received extensive material support from the CIA, including arms, supplies, and military training for Tibetan commando units. It is a matter of public knowledge that the CIA set up support camps in Nepal, carried out numerous airlifts, and conducted guerrilla operations inside Tibet. (29) Meanwhile in the United States, the American Society for a Free Asia, a CIA front, energetically publicized the cause of Tibetan resistance. The Dalai Lama's eldest brother, Thubtan Norbu, played an active role in that group.

Many of the Tibetan commandos and agents whom the CIA dropped into the country were chiefs of aristocratic clans or the sons of chiefs. Ninety percent of them were never heard from again, according to a report from the CIA itself. (30) The small and thinly spread PLA garrisons in Tibet could not have captured them all. The PLA must have received support from Tibetans who did not sympathize with the uprising. This suggests that the resistance had a rather narrow base within Tibet. "Many lamas and lay members of the elite and much of the Tibetan army joined the uprising, but in the main the populace did not, assuring its failure," writes Hugh Deane. (31) In their book on Tibet, Ginsburg and Mathos reach a similar conclusion: "The Tibetan insurgents never succeeded in mustering into their ranks even a large fraction of the population at hand, to say nothing of a majority. As far as can be ascertained, the great bulk of the common people of Lhasa and of the adjoining countryside failed to join in the fighting against the Chinese both when it first began and as it progressed." (32) Eventually the resistance crumbled.

The Communists Overthrow Feudalism

Whatever wrongs and new oppressions introduced by the Chinese in Tibet after 1959, they did abolish slavery and the serfdom system of unpaid labor. They eliminated the many crushing taxes, started work projects, and greatly reduced unemployment and beggary. They built the only hospitals that exist in the country, and established secular education, thereby breaking the educational monopoly of the monasteries. They constructed running water and electrical systems in Lhasa. They also put an end to floggings, mutilations, and amputations as a form of criminal punishment. (33)

The Chinese also expropriated the landed estates and reorganized the peasants into hundreds of communes. Heinrich Harrer wrote a bestseller about his experiences in Tibet that was made into a popular Hollywood movie. (It was later revealed that Harrer had been a sergeant in Hitler's SS. (34)) He proudly reports that the Tibetans who resisted the Chinese and "who gallantly defended their independence . . . were predominantly nobles, semi-nobles and lamas; they were punished by being made to perform the lowliest tasks, such as laboring on roads and bridges. They were further humiliated by being made to clean up the city before the tourists arrived." They also had to live in a camp originally reserved for beggars and vagrants. (35)

By 1961, hundreds of thousands of acres formerly owned by the lords and lamas had been distributed to tenant farmers and landless peasants. In pastoral areas, herds that were once owned by nobility were turned over to collectives of poor shepherds. Improvements were made in the breeding of livestock, and new varieties of vegetables and new strains of wheat and barley were introduced, along with irrigation improvements, leading to an increase in agrarian production. (36)

Many peasants remained as religious as ever, giving alms to the clergy. But people were no longer compelled to pay tributes or make gifts to the monasteries and lords. The many monks who had been conscripted into the religious orders as children were now free to renounce the monastic life, and thousands did, especially the younger ones. The remaining clergy lived on modest government stipends, and extra income earned by officiating at prayer services, weddings, and funerals. (37)

The charges made by the Dalai Lama himself about Chinese mass sterilization and forced deportation of Tibetans have remained unsupported by any evidence. Both the Dalai Lama and his advisor and youngest brother, Tendzin Choegyal, claimed that "more than 1.2 million Tibetans are dead as a result of the Chinese occupation." (38) No matter how often stated, that figure is puzzling. The official 1953 census -- six years before the Chinese crackdown -- recorded the entire population of Tibet at 1,274,000. Other estimates varied from one to three million. (39) Later census counts put the ethnic Tibetan population within the country at about two million. If the Chinese killed 1.2 million in the early 1960s then whole cities and huge portions of the countryside, indeed almost all of Tibet, would have been depopulated, transformed into a killing field dotted with death camps and mass graves -- of which we have seen no evidence. The Chinese military force in Tibet was not big enough to round up, hunt down, and exterminate that many people even if it had spent all its time doing nothing else.

Chinese authorities do admit to "mistakes" in the past, particularly during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution when religious persecution reached a high tide in both China and Tibet. After the uprising in the late 1950s, thousands of Tibetans were incarcerated. During the Great Leap Forward, forced collectivization and grain farming was imposed on the peasantry, sometimes with disastrous effect. In the late 1970s, China began relaxing controls over Tibet "and tried to undo some of the damage wrought during the previous two decades." (40) In 1980, the Chinese government initiated reforms reportedly designed to grant Tibet a greater degree of self-rule and self-administration. Tibetans would now be allowed to cultivate private plots, sell their harvest surpluses, decide for themselves what crops to grow, and keep yaks and sheep. Communication with the outside world was again permitted, and frontier controls were eased to permit Tibetans to visit exiled relatives in India and Nepal. (41)

Elites, Émigrés, and CIA Money

For the Tibetan upper class lamas and lords, the Communist intervention was a calamity. Most of them fled abroad, as did the Dalai Lama himself, who was assisted in his flight by the CIA. Some discovered to their horror that they would have to work for a living. Those feudal elites who remained in Tibet and decided to cooperate with the new regime faced difficult adjustments. Consider the following:

In 1959, Anna Louise Strong visited the Central Institute of National Minorities in Beijing which trained various ethnic minorities for the civil service or prepared them for entrance into agricultural and medical schools. Of the 900 Tibetan students attending, most were runaway serfs and slaves. But about 100 were from privileged Tibetan families, sent by their parents so that they might win favorable posts in the new administration. The class divide between these two groups of students was all too evident. As the institute's director noted:

Those from noble families at first consider that in all ways they are superior. They resent having to carry their own suitcases, make their own beds, look after their own room. This, they think, is the task of slaves; they are insulted because we expect them to do this. Some never accept it but go home; others accept it at last. The serfs at first fear the others and cannot sit at ease in the same room. In the next stage they have less fear but still feel separate and cannot mix. Only after some time and considerable discussion do they reach the stage in which they mix easily as fellow students, criticizing and helping each other. (42)

The émigrés' plight received fulsome play in the West and substantial support from U.S. agencies dedicated to making the world safe for economic inequality. Throughout the 1960s the Tibetan exile community secretly received $1.7 million a year from the CIA, according to documents released by the State Department in 1998. Once this fact was publicized, the Dalai Lama's organization itself issued a statement admitting that it had received millions of dollars from the CIA during the 1960s to send armed squads of exiles into Tibet to undermine the Maoist revolution. The Dalai Lama's annual share was $186,000, making him a paid agent of the CIA. Indian intelligence also financed him and other Tibetan exiles. (43) He has refused to say whether he or his brothers worked with the CIA. The agency has also declined to comment. (44)

While presenting himself as a defender of human rights, and having won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, the Dalai Lama continued to associate with and be advised by aristocratic émigrés and other reactionaries during his exile. In 1995, the Raleigh, N.C. News & Observer carried a frontpage color photograph of the Dalai Lama being embraced by the reactionary Republican senator Jesse Helms, under the headline "Buddhist Captivates Hero of Religious Right." (45) In April 1999, along with Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, and the first George Bush, the Dalai Lama called upon the British government to release Augusto Pinochet, the former fascist dictator of Chile and a longtime CIA client who had been apprehended while visiting England. He urged that Pinochet be allowed to return to his homeland rather than be forced to go to Spain where he was wanted by a Spanish jurist to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

Today, mostly through the National Endowment for Democracy and other conduits that are more respectable-sounding than the CIA, the US Congress continues to allocate an annual $2 million to Tibetans in India, with additional millions for "democracy activities" within the Tibetan exile community. The Dalai Lama also gets money from financier George Soros, who now runs the CIA-created Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and other institutes. (46)

The Question of Culture

We are told that when the Dalai Lama ruled Tibet, the people lived in contented symbiosis with their monastic and secular lords, in a social order sustained by a deeply spiritual, nonviolent culture. The peasantry's profound connection to the existing system of sacred belief supposedly gave them a tranquil stability, inspired by humane and pacific religious teachings. One is reminded of the idealized imagery of feudal Europe presented by latter-day conservative Catholics such as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. For them, medieval Christendom was a world of contented peasants living in deep spiritual bond with their Church, under the protection of their lords. (47) The Shangri-La image of Tibet bears no more resemblance to historic reality than does the romanticized image of medieval Europe.

It might be said that we denizens of the modern secular world cannot grasp the equations of happiness and pain, contentment and custom, that characterize more "spiritual" and "traditional" societies. This may be true, and it may explain why some of us idealize such societies. But still, a gouged eye is a gouged eye; a flogging is a flogging; and the grinding exploitation of serfs and slaves is still a brutal class injustice whatever its cultural embellishments. There is a difference between a spiritual bond and human bondage, even when both exist side by side.

To be sure, there is much about the Chinese intervention that is to be deplored. In the 1990s, the Han, the largest ethnic group comprising over 95 percent of China's vast population, began moving in substantial numbers into Tibet and various western provinces. (48) These resettlements have had an effect on the indigenous cultures of western China and Tibet. On the streets of Lhasa and Shigatse, signs of Chinese preeminence are readily visible. Chinese run the factories and many of the shops and vending stalls. Tall office buildings and large shopping centers have been built with funds that might have been better spent on water treatment plants and housing.

Chinese cadres in Tibet too often adopted a supremacist attitude toward the indigenous population. Some viewed their Tibetan neighbors as backward and lazy, in need of economic development and "patriotic education." During the 1990s Tibetan government employees suspected of harboring nationalist sympathies were purged from office, and campaigns were launched to discredit the Dalai Lama. Individual Tibetans reportedly were subjected to arrest, imprisonment, and forced labor for attempting to flee the country, and for carrying out separatist activities and engaging in political "subversion." Some arrestees were held in administrative detention without adequate food, water, and blankets, subjected to threats, beatings, and other mistreatment. (49)

Chinese family planning regulations that allow a three-child limit for Tibetan families have been enforced irregularly and vary by district. If a couple goes over the limit, the excess children can be denied subsidized daycare, health care, housing, and education. Meanwhile, Tibetan history, culture, and religion are slighted in schools. Teaching materials, though translated into Tibetan, focus on Chinese history and culture. (50)

Still, the new order has its supporters. A 1999 story in The Washington Post notes that the Dalai Lama continues to be revered in Tibet, but

. . . few Tibetans would welcome a return of the corrupt aristocratic clans that fled with him in 1959 and that comprise the bulk of his advisers. Many Tibetan farmers, for example, have no interest in surrendering the land they gained during China's land reform to the clans. Tibet's former slaves say they, too, don't want their former masters to return to power.

"I've already lived that life once before," said Wangchuk, a 67-year-old former slave who was wearing his best clothes for his yearly pilgrimage to Shigatse, one of the holiest sites of Tibetan Buddhism. He said he worshipped the Dalai Lama, but added, "I may not be free under Chinese communism, but I am better off than when I was a slave." (51)

To support the Chinese overthrow of the Dalai Lama's feudal theocracy is not to applaud everything about Chinese rule in Tibet. This point is seldom understood by today's Shangri-La adherents in the West.

The converse is also true. To denounce the Chinese occupation does not mean we have to romanticize the former feudal régime. One common complaint among Buddhist proselytes in the West is that Tibet's religious culture is being destroyed by the Chinese authorities. This does seem to be the case. But what I am questioning here is the supposedly admirable and pristinely spiritual nature of that pre-invasion culture. In short, we can advocate religious freedom and independence for Tibet without having to embrace the mythology of a Paradise Lost.

Finally, it should be noted that the criticism posed herein is not intended as a personal attack on the Dalai Lama. He appears to be a nice enough individual, who speaks often of peace, love, and nonviolence. In 1994, in an interview with Melvyn Goldstein, he went on record as having been since his youth in favor of building schools, "machines," and roads in his country. He claims that he thought the corvée and certain taxes imposed on the peasants "were extremely bad." And he disliked the way people were saddled with old debts sometimes passed down from generation to generation. (52) Furthermore, he reportedly has established "a government-in-exile" featuring a written constitution, a representative assembly, and other democratic essentials. (53)

Like many erstwhile rulers, the Dalai Lama sounds much better out of power than in power. Keep in mind that it took a Chinese occupation and almost forty years of exile for him to propose democracy for Tibet and to criticize the oppressive feudal autocracy of which he himself was the apotheosis. But his criticism of the old order comes far too late for ordinary Tibetans. Many of them want him back in their country, but it appears that relatively few want a return to the social order he represented.

In a book published in 1996, the Dalai Lama proffered a remarkable statement that must have sent shudders through the exile community. It reads in part as follows:

Of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability. Marxism is concerned with the distribution of wealth on an equal basis and the equitable utilization of the means of production. It is also concerned with the fate of the working classes-that is the majority -- as well as with the fate of those who are underprivileged and in need, and Marxism cares about the victims of minority-imposed exploitation. For those reasons the system appeals to me, and it seems fair. . . .

The failure of the regime in the Soviet Union was, for me not the failure of Marxism but the failure of totalitarianism. For this reason I think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist. (54)

And more recently in 2001, while visiting California, he remarked that "Tibet, materially, is very, very backward. Spiritually it is quite rich. But spirituality can't fill our stomachs." (55) Here is a message that should be heeded by the affluent well-fed Buddhist proselytes in the West who cannot be bothered with material considerations as they romanticize feudal Tibet.

Buddhism and the Dalai Lama aside, what I have tried to challenge is the Tibet myth, the Paradise Lost image of a social order that was little more than a despotic retrograde theocracy of serfdom and poverty, so damaging to the human spirit, where vast wealth was accumulated by a favored few who lived high and mighty off the blood, sweat, and tears of the many. For most of the Tibetan aristocrats in exile, that is the world to which they fervently desire to return. It is a long way from Shangri-La.

Michael Parenti is an internationally known author and lecturer. He is one of the nation's leading progressive political analysts. Parenti received his Ph.D. in political science from Yale University in 1962. He has taught at a number of colleges and universities, in the United States and abroad. Parenti's most recent books are To Kill a Nation (Verso); The Terrorism Trap (City Lights); and The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome (New Press). You can find more information about Michael Parenti at



1. Melvyn C. Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon: China, Tibet, and the Dalai Lama (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 6-16.

2. Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 113.

3. Kyong-Hwa Seok, "Korean monk gangs battle for temple turf," San Francisco Examiner, December 3, 1998.

4. Gere quoted in "Our Little Secret," CounterPunch, 1-15 November 1997.

5. Dalai Lama quoted in Donald Lopez Jr., Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West (Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 1998), 205.

6. Stuart Gelder and Roma Gelder, The Timely Rain: Travels in New Tibet (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1964), 119.

7. Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 123.

8. Pradyumna P. Karan, The Changing Face of Tibet: The Impact of Chinese Communist Ideology on the Landscape (Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1976), 64.

9. Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 62 and 174.

10. As skeptically noted by Lopez, Prisoners of Shangri-La, 9.

11. See the testimony of one serf who himself had been hunted down by Tibetan soldiers and returned to his master: Anna Louise Strong, Tibetan Interviews (Peking: New World Press, 1929), 29-30 90.

12. Melvyn Goldstein, William Siebenschuh, and Tashì-Tsering, The Struggle for Modern Tibet: The Autobiography of Tashì-Tsering(Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1997).

13. Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 110.

14. Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 15, 19-21, 24.

15. Quoted in Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 25.

16. Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 31.

17. Melvyn C. Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet 1913-1951 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 5.

18. Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 175-176; and Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 25-26.

19. Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 113.

20. A. Tom Grunfeld, The Making of Modern Tibet rev. ed. (Armonk, N.Y. and London: 1996), 9 and 7-33 for a general discussion of feudal Tibet; see also Felix Greene, A Curtain of Ignorance (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961), 241-249; Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet 1913-1951, 3-5; and Lopez, Prisoners of Shangri-La, passim.

21. Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 91-92.

22. Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 92-96.

23. Waddell, Landon, and O'Connor are quoted in Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 123-125.

24. Quoted in Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 125.

25. Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon, 52.

26. Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon, 54.

27. Heinrich Harrer, Return to Tibet (New York: Schocken, 1985), 29.

28. Strong, Tibetan Interview, 73.

29. See Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison, The CIA's Secret War in Tibet (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2002); and William Leary, "Secret Mission to Tibet," Air & Space, December 1997/January 1998.

30. Leary, "Secret Mission to Tibet."

31. Hugh Deane, "The Cold War in Tibet," CovertAction Quarterly (Winter 1987).

32. George Ginsburg and Michael Mathos Communist China and Tibet (1964), quoted in Deane, "The Cold War in Tibet." Deane notes that author Bina Roy reached a similar conclusion.

33. See Greene, A Curtain of Ignorance, 248 and passim; and Grunfeld, The Making of Modern Tibet, passim.

34. Los Angeles Times, 18 August 1997.

35. Harrer, Return to Tibet, 54.

36. Karan, The Changing Face of Tibet, 36-38, 41, 57-58; London Times, 4 July 1966.

37. Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 29 and 47-48.

38. Tendzin Choegyal, "The Truth about Tibet," Imprimis (publication of Hillsdale College, Michigan), April 1999.

39. Karan, The Changing Face of Tibet, 52-53.

40. Elaine Kurtenbach, Associate Press report, San Francisco Chronicle, 12 February 1998.

41. Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon, 47-48.

42. Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 15-16.

43. Jim Mann, "CIA Gave Aid to Tibetan Exiles in '60s, Files Show," Los Angeles Times, 15 September 1998; and New York Times, 1 October, 1998.

44. Reuters report, San Francisco Chronicle, 27 January 1997.

45. News & Observer, 6 September 1995, cited in Lopez, Prisoners of Shangri-La, 3.

46. Heather Cottin, "George Soros, Imperial Wizard," CovertAction Quarterly no. 74 (Fall 2002).

47. The Gelders draw this comparison, The Timely Rain, 64.

48. The Han have also moved into Xinjiang, a large northwest province about the size of Tibet, populated by Uighurs; see Peter Hessler, "The Middleman," New Yorker, 14 & 21 October 2002.

49. Report by the International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet, A Generation in Peril (Berkeley Calif.: 2001), passim

50. International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet, A Generation in Peril, 66-68, 98

51. John Pomfret, "Tibet Caught in China's Web," Washington Post, 23 July 1999

52. Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon, 51.

53. Tendzin Choegyal, "The Truth about Tibet."

54. The Dalai Lama in Marianne Dresser (ed.), Beyond Dogma: Dialogues and Discourses (Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, 1996).

55. Quoted in San Francisco Chronicle, 17 May 2001.
Site Admin
Posts: 20692
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Behind Dalai Lama's Holy Cloak, by Michael Backman

Postby admin » Wed Dec 20, 2017 3:43 am

His Material Highness
by Christopher Hitchens
July 13, 1998




The Dalai Lama has come out in support of the thermonuclear tests recently conducted by the Indian state, and has done so in the very language of the chauvinist parties who now control that state's affairs. The "developed" countries, he says, must realize that India is a major contender and should not concern themselves with its internal affairs. This is a perfectly realpolitik statement, so crass and banal and opportunist that it would not deserve any comment if it came from another source.

"Think different," says the ungrammatical Apple Computer advertisement that features the serene visage of His Holiness. Among the untested assumptions of this billboard campaign is the widely and lazily held belief that "Oriental" religion is different from other faiths: less dogmatic, more contemplative, more ... transcendental. This blissful, thoughtless exceptionalism has been conveyed to the West through a succession of mediums and narratives, ranging from the pulp novel "Lost Horizon," by James Hilton (creator of Mr. Chips as well as Shangri-La), to the memoir "Seven Years in Tibet," by SS veteran Heinrich Harrer, prettified for the screen by Brad Pitt. China's foul conduct in an occupied land, combined with a Hollywood cult that almost exceeds the power of Scientology, has fused with weightless Maharishi and Bhagwan-type babble to create an image of an idealized Tibet and of a saintly god-king. So perhaps the Apple injunction to think differently is worth heeding.

The greatest triumph that modern PR can offer is the transcendent success of having your words and actions judged by your reputation, rather than the other way about. The "spiritual leader" of Tibet has enjoyed this unassailable status for some time now, becoming a byword and synonym for saintly and ethereal values. Why this doesn't put people on their guard I'll never know. But here are some other facts about the serene leader that, dwarfed as they are by his endorsement of nuclear weapons, are still worth knowing and still generally unknown.

Shoko Asahara, leader of the Supreme Truth cult in Japan and spreader of sarin nerve gas on the Tokyo subway, donated 45 million rupees, or about 170 million yen (about $1.2 million), to the Dalai Lama and was rewarded for his efforts by several high-level meetings with the divine one.

Steven Seagal, the robotic and moronic "actor" who gave us "Hard to Kill" and "Under Siege," has been proclaimed a reincarnated lama and a sacred vessel or "tulku" of Tibetan Buddhism. This decision, ratified by Penor Rinpoche, supreme head of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, was initially received with incredulity by Richard Gere, who had hitherto believed himself to be the superstar most favored. "If someone's a tulku, that's great," he was quoted as saying. "But no one knows if that's true." How insightful, if only accidentally. At a subsequent Los Angeles appearance by the Dalai Lama, Seagal was seated in the front row and Gere two rows back, thus giving the latter's humility and submissiveness a day at the races. Suggestions that Seagal's fortune helped elevate him to the Himalayan status of tulku are not completely discounted even by some adepts and initiates.

Supporters of the Dorge Shugden deity -- a "Dharma protector" and an ancient object of worship and propitiation in Tibet -- have been threatened with violence and ostracism and even death following the Dalai Lama's abrupt prohibition of this once-venerated godhead. A Swiss television documentary graphically intercuts footage of His Holiness, denying all knowledge of menace and intimidation, with scenes of his followers' enthusiastically promulgating "Wanted" posters and other paraphernalia of excommunication and persecution.

While he denies being a Buddhist "Pope," the Dalai Lama is never happier than when brooding in a celibate manner on the sex lives of people he has never met. "Sexual misconduct for men and women consists of oral and anal sex," he has repeatedly said in promoting his book on these matters. "Using one's hand, that is sexual misconduct." But, as ever with religious stipulations, there is a nutty escape clause. "To have sexual relations with a prostitute paid by you and not by a third person does not constitute improper behavior." Not all of this can have been said just to placate Richard Gere, or to attract the royalties from "Pretty Woman."

I have talked to a few Dorge Shugden adherents, who seem sincere enough and who certainly seem frightened enough, but I can't go along with their insistence on the "irony" of all this. Buddhism can be as hysterical and sanguinary as any other system that relies on faith and tribe. Lon Nol's Cambodian army was Buddhist at least in name. Solomon Bandaranaike, first elected leader of independent Sri Lanka, was assassinated by a Buddhist militant. It was Buddhist-led pogroms against the Tamils that opened the long and disastrous communal war that ruins Sri Lanka to this day. The gorgeously named SLORC, the military fascism that runs Burma, does so nominally as a Buddhist junta. I have even heard it whispered that in old Tibet, that pristine and contemplative land, the lamas were the allies of feudalism and unsmilingly inflicted medieval punishments such as blinding and flogging unto death.

Yet the entire Western mass media is uncritically at the service of a mere mortal who, at the very least, proclaims the utter nonsense of reincarnation and who affirms the sinister if not indeed crazy belief that death is but a stage in a grand cycle of what appears to be futility and subjection. What need, then, to worry about nuclear weaponry, or sectarian frenzy, or the sale of indulgences to men of the stamp of Steven Seagal? "Harmony" will doubtless kick in. During his visit to Beijing, our sentimental Baptist hypocrite of a president turned to his dictator host, recommended that he meet with the Dalai Lama and assured him that the two of them would get on well. That might easily turn out to be the case. Both are very much creatures of the material world.
Site Admin
Posts: 20692
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Behind Dalai Lama's Holy Cloak, by Michael Backman

Postby admin » Wed Dec 20, 2017 3:45 am

Psychic in Columbia Prosecutor's Office Sparks Outcry: Psychic Causes Scandal for Columbia Prosecutor
by Joshua Goodman
Associated Press
Sep. 20, 2006



BOGOTÁ, Colombia -- Colombia's chief prosecutor hired a psychic who hypnotized his staff and even performed an exorcism over a voodoo doll in exchange for a government paycheck and use of an armored car.

The ensuing scandal has mesmerized the nation.

The federal prosecutor, Mario Iguarán, says he hired Armando Martí last year to help his stressed-out staff deal with a crushing caseload and to improve human relations.

Martí, a self-described clairvoyant, claims to have implicated corrupt workers in illegal wiretaps and bribery during the months he spent roaming the prosecutor's heavily fortified bunker, hypnotizing officials and writing up classified reports for Iguarán about staff loyalty.

He says workers confessed to deep secrets and ratted out colleagues as they stared into his eyes. The operation, according to leaked documents published by the newsweekly Semana, was code-named ``Mission Perseus of Zeus.''

The revelation that Martí was granted unfettered access has plunged into scandal one of Colombia's most respected institutions, an independent body responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes in a nation torn by decades of violent, drug-fueled conflict.

In one incident, recounted by Marti to Semana, he performed a candlelit exorcism to neutralize a voodoo doll found stabbed with needles in the wastebasket of Iguaran's former top assistant.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Marti called the Semana article, titled "The Federal Prosecutor's Rasputin," accurate but sought to dispel the emphasis it placed on black magic.

"My work didn't consist of witchcraft or anything paranormal, but scientifically proven techniques to boost morale and release tension among the staff,'' he said.

The fact that Marti rubbed shoulders with the rich and powerful came as little surprise in Columbia. Posted on his Website -- before overloaded bandwidth took it offline -- are photos with a bevy of famous former clients, including President Alvaro Uribe.

What scandalized Colombians were revelations that the federal prosecutor's office paid the psychic as much as $1,800 a month and authorized him to carry a pistol, an employee badge, and to ride around in a government-issued armored vehicle.

"I needed protection, not from outside the (federal prosecutor's) bunker, but from the internal divisions within,'' Martí told the AP.

Martí said he became a confidante of Iguarán, one of the country's most trusted politicians, by helping him overcome marital problems. When the Dalai Lama visited Columbia in May, Marti arranged a private, two-hour meeting for the chief prosecutor with the Tibetan spiritual leader.

On Monday, Iguarán delivered a televised apology to the nation for the "unfortunate incident that began as something folksily quaint but that has now ended up affecting the institutional well-being of the federal prosecutor's office.''

He said he had ordered his office to terminate its contract with the consulting team to which Martí belongs. He also offered to cooperate with any congressional investigation.

What remains unanswered is who leaked the embarrassing information -- and why.

Iguarán has attributed the leak to "dark forces.'' His potential enemies include cocaine kingpins trying to prevent extradition to the United States and government officials accused of working on their behalf.

Iguarán insists his relationship with Martí didn't affect his professional duty to uphold the law, but his loyalty to the psychic, even in the wake of the scandal, has left Colombia spellbound.

In an interview Monday evening, Iguarán said: `"I have to confess he was my friend and as such I opened my hands, my house and my heart to him.''
Site Admin
Posts: 20692
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Behind Dalai Lama's Holy Cloak, by Michael Backman

Postby admin » Wed Dec 20, 2017 3:49 am

Spy Robert Schaller's Life of Secrecy, Betrayal and Regrets
by Carol Smith
Seattle Post Intelligencer
March 26, 2007



The Goddess looms in his memory. She is both muse and Mata Hari, and for a brief moment nearly half a century ago, she was his.

But Nanda Devi, the Himalayan peak known as the Goddess for her beauty and her wrath, is a fickle mistress. She has stolen other men's lives and sent a woman to her grave. She has claimed a piece of Robert Schaller as well.

In 1965, Schaller was part of an American spy team that tried to place a nuclear-powered surveillance device on top of Nanda Devi, one of the highest mountains in the world.

That mission was a spectacular failure. The device and its nuclear core vanished along with, or so the CIA hoped, any news about it.

But even secrets leave traces. Today, India restricts access to the mountain. Climbers whisper she is radioactive. And information the government likely hoped would remain buried forever has slowly begun to surface.

Now, Schaller's participation in that covert expedition has sent him on a new, perhaps equally remote quest. He wants to reclaim something else he lost on Nanda Devi -- something now in a place even less accessible than the ice vault of the mountain.

Robert Schaller, a former pediatric surgeon who still teaches at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle, looks over a copy of "The Ascent of Nanda Devi." In 1965, Schaller tried to scale the peak to install a listening device that never made it to the top. (March 26, 2007). Credit: Grant M. Haller/Seattle Post-Intelligencer

For Schaller, there is no half-life for regret.

In 1965, Robert Schaller was a golden boy Harvard grad who could run a mile in a second shy of four minutes. Recently arrived from the East Coast, he had come to Seattle to start his medical residency at the University of Washington. Blue-eyed and engaging, Schaller had a wife, two young children and an addiction the day the CIA came calling.

Schaller is 72 now, his surgeon's hands crippled by arthritis, but two moments sear like snow blindness in his memory -- the day he got hooked on mountain climbing and the day the government took advantage of that.

Schaller had been a climbing fanatic since the instant he had arrived in Seattle in 1960. He had driven his beat-up Mercury cross-country to start his residency, and it broke down, still packed with all his belongings, on what was then a two-lane highway near the Issaquah turnoff. The car gasped to a stop at precisely the gap in the view where Mount Rainier presided over the horizon. Stranded, the Detroit-raised Schaller stared at the mountain for several hours.

"It blew me away," he said.

After that, he spent every available weekend learning to climb, testing his endurance equally against the rock and his long hours on call as a young surgeon.

Schaller had just returned from climbing Mount McKinley when the CIA reached out.

The front desk at University Hospital paged Schaller out of rounds in the middle of a spring day in 1965. He hurried to the lobby, his imposing frame -- 6 feet 3 inches -- still clad in the short white lab coat, white pants and the white shoes typical of interns of that era. The man in the entrance foyer wore a trench coat and dark glasses.

The agent sneaked open his coat, and Schaller glimpsed an airline ticket.

"How would you like to go to the Himalayas?" the agent asked.

Schaller couldn't say yes fast enough.

The government was looking for a physician with some interest in electronics who also had a background in high-altitude medicine for a classified mission to place a "listening device" somewhere on the Roof of the World.

"There weren't very many IBM cards that dropped out with those qualifications," Schaller said.

Schaller had an additional qualification that appealed to the CIA -- he was a patriot.

A few months earlier, the Chinese government had set off a nuclear test, triggering an anxiety attack throughout the West.

"They waved the American flag at me," he said "This was a unique opportunity to do something really exciting and serve my country."

Spies in the Sanctuary

In the 1960s, the Himalayas were still a climber's Shangri-La, a wild, legend-making place free of the commerce and celebrity that would characterize climbing in the late 20th century.

The last-wilderness aspect of it appealed to Schaller.

"We had to really struggle just to get to the mountains," Schaller said. "We were very much out there on our own. We didn't have the help of modern telecommunications, or weather reports. Porters were hard to come by."

Nanda Devi is one of the 25 highest peaks in the world -- the second-highest in India -- and stands at the heart of a vortex of stunning crests that form a geographical fortress known as the Sanctuary. The ice fields of the Sanctuary feed the headwaters of the Ganges, which in turn sustains one of the world's densest population bases. The Ganges is also considered sacred in the Hindu tradition. A sip of its waters with your last breath is said to guarantee the soul's passage to heaven.

Bathing in its waters will cleanse the soul of sin.

No recorded expedition had breached the Sanctuary until 1934, and Nanda Devi, rising to more than 25,000 feet, wasn't climbed until 1936.

Years later, Nanda Devi would earn her reputation as an angry goddess when Devi Unsoeld, daughter of famed Washington climber Willi Unsoeld, died while climbing her namesake.

What captivated the U.S. government about Nanda Devi in 1964, however, was not the grail of its summit, nor its mystic powers, but its unobstructed view over Tibet and beyond to the Xinjiang province, site of the Chinese missile-testing ranges.

In October 1964, the Chinese government had detonated its first nuclear test near Lop Nor. That combined with its burgeoning missile program worried the U.S. and India sufficiently for the two governments to hatch what even at the time must have seemed a 007-esque scheme. With the American fledging satellite system unlikely to be able to track the Chinese tests, they needed a different vantage point.

Schaller and a team of elite American and Indian climbers were to scale Nanda Devi and secure an instrument, powered by a plutonium generator. The device would intercept and transmit radio signals from the Chinese missile tests. The plutonium mixture would generate enough heat to make the electricity needed to power the transceiver, making the equipment self-sustaining in a hostile environment, a strategy since deployed in space as well.

It was a seemingly brilliant plan that hinged on one task -- getting such a device planted atop one of the most unforgiving mountains in the world.

Lessons in the trade

The government dangled $1,000 a month in front of Schaller for his participation.

"That was a lot of money then," he said.

But in the months after Schaller's first meeting with the federal agent, he would begin to understand the cost of his participation. For months at a time, he would leave his family for training in tradecraft.

"It was very cloak-and-dagger," Schaller recalls. "We would go to a place, be blindfolded and led into a canvas tunnel to an airplane with blacked-out windows."

He guessed some of his fellow mission specialists were college professors because of their nuclear knowledge. Some also were renowned alpinists, including famed big-wall climber Tom Frost, who made history with his Yosemite climbs in the early 1960s.

Frost, a friend of Schaller's, continues to honor his oath of secrecy, although both he and Schaller were named by Indian expedition leader M.S. Kohli and author Kenneth Conboy in their book, "Spies in the Himalayas," and later by Pete Takeda in his book "An Eye at the Top of the World."

"I can't talk about that," Frost said recently when given the opportunity once again to field questions about the missions.

But he did say Schaller was a good guy to climb with.

"We've spent some time together," Frost said. "He has a real passion, a love for climbing and he does it well. He's a good companion. He's the kind of person you like to hang out with, particularly if you're in a tough spot."

"Whatever Rob says," he said, "you can take that to the bank."

Kholi, the Indian expedition leader, was a noted climber as well, having just put nine climbers on top of Everest in 1965.

The Americans operated with pseudonyms. "Mine was of someone who was dead -- Norris P. Vizcaino," Schaller said. "I never did find out who he was."

The team flew to undisclosed locations. "We learned to blow up things using C3 and C4 (plastic explosives)," he said. "We jumped out of helicopters."

The training missions lasted two to three weeks. "I couldn't tell my wife or family," he said.

That was the beginning of the secret keeping.


There would be a half-dozen missions in all over a period of three years.

Retired surgeon Tom King, who was a young resident alongside Schaller in the 1960s, recalls how his fellow doctor would just disappear.

"He would come back and have lost weight," he said. "One time he came back with a broken leg. We all wondered what he was doing. But he would never say anything about it."

His chief of staff, Dr. K. Alvin Merendino, now in his 90s, also confirmed granting Schaller multiple absences.

Schaller's cover, if asked, was that he was training as a scientist-astronaut, and in some ways, the operation was as complex as putting a man in space.

According to Takeda, who spent years researching the history of the spy mission, only a half-dozen climbers had stood on the summit, and only three had survived to talk about it.

Schaller faced his own personal hurdles as he prepared in the spring and summer of 1965. Training injuries threatened to keep him off the mountain, grounding him from a training climb on Mount McKinley. At another point he got violently ill with typhoid fever and was forced off the initial attempt on Nanda Devi to recuperate in Delhi.

If he worried about his body breaking down, though, he kept it to himself and retained his focus on gritting his way to the Himalayas. The government's agenda may have been a secret, but Schaller had a mission of his own.

The weather turns

In the fall of 1965, a year after the first Chinese nuclear test, the assembled climbers made their first push to put the spy device on top of Nanda Devi. About a dozen climbers and Sherpas portaged the equipment in pieces up the knife-edge route toward the summit.

The generator, which weighed about 40 pounds, held at least a half-dozen cells -- each about the size of a cigar -- containing an alloy of plutonium 238 and plutonium 239.

It was the potent combination of the two that made the device both hardy and heat-generating, so warm that the Sherpas would cozy up to it at night, Schaller said.

Just as the team reached Camp 1V, the last camp before the peak, however, a blizzard blew up and forced them to abandon the summit ascent. With no choice but to turn back, Kohli made a fateful decision -- to lash the contraption to a ledge of rocks and leave it behind to avoid having to carry it a second time up the mountain.

The plan was to return in the spring climbing season to finish the job, Schaller said.

Throughout his training, Schaller had tried not to think about potential radiation damage in personal terms, though handling the warm cells made him nervous. With the equipment now at the mercy of the mountain, he remembers having qualms on a larger scale.

"I was very much against leaving the device," he said.

A shocking discovery

In the spring of 1966, Schaller and the team returned to Nanda Devi with the goal of packing the equipment the rest of the way to the top. When the climbers arrived at the location where they had left the instrument, however, the entire rock ledge was wiped away, sheared off by a huge avalanche.

"The generator was completely gone," Schaller said. "It caused great distress -- a nuclear-powered device lost on a glacier on Nanda Devi."

There were two concerns. The first was that the technology might fall into the wrong hands. The second, perhaps more ominous, was that the radioactive core might melt its way through the mountain's glacier and into the headwaters of the Ganges.

After numerous searches were unable to locate the lost device on Nanda Devi, Robert Schaller climbed in the Himalayas again to install a similar device on the neighboring peak of Nanda Kot. The device, like the lost one, contains plutonium fuel cells to power its transceiver. (March 26, 2007) Courtesy of Robert T. Schaller, M.D.

In his book, Takeda estimates the amount of plutonium at 4 pounds -- enough, he writes, to potentially threaten the lives of millions of Indians if released into the water.

The plutonium fuel cells had been rigorously tested. Schaller himself had helped drop them out of airplanes from 10,000 feet onto granite.

"They were known to be sturdy," he said. "It's hard to imagine how they could ever be destroyed."

But if the fuel cells burned their way to bedrock, could the massive tonnage of the glacier, grinding away for decades, or centuries, destroy the core and release the plutonium to the environment?

No one can say.

This month, however, a potential clue emerged. In 2005, Takeda took a sample of sediment from waters in the Sanctuary. Recent tests on that coarse sample show the likely presence of plutonium 239, an isotope that does not occur in nature.

Stealing the instrument was, perhaps, the Goddess' way of getting even, Takeda said in an interview between climbs from his base in Boulder.

"They had brought poison to her flanks, and she responds by batting it down and burying it where we can't find it," he said. "It was like a hand slap -- a reminder that though we had this knowledge, control of it was out of our grasp."

At the top of the world

The loss of the generator triggered fallout in the Indian government, according to Kohli's book, and a massive joint effort to save face and recover the device. Between 1966 and 1968, the CIA flew stripped-down Husky helicopters through the thin air of the Sanctuary, scouring the side of Nanda Devi where the device was lost. They photographed each grid, and sent climbers in to search for debris with Geiger counters.

The loss also spawned a second mission -- successful this time -- to place a similar device on Nanda Kot, a neighboring peak.

For Schaller, the recovery effort and Nanda Kot expedition were bonuses. They gave him more time to climb in the Himalayas. He had been warned not to climb when he was off duty, but he couldn't resist the mountains' siren call.

"I climbed everything in sight on my off days," he said.

He carried his small half-frame Olympus camera and a journal with him, recording his personal feelings and logging notes about the climbs, a personal record of his life at the top of the world.

One pre-dawn in September 1966, Schaller and his tent-mate Frost stole away from the high camp on Nanda Devi and started toward the summit. At their first rest point, Frost abandoned the ascent. He wasn't feeling well, Schaller said.

But Schaller pressed on.

"The weather was perfect," he said. It was a windless, dark-blue sky day and the sun was shining. He knew this was his shot.

Crampons on, he slogged for hours toward the peak until he reached what looked like the final cliff between himself and the summit. The route should have taken him around the cliff and to the top, but he thought he would forge a shortcut.

"Altitude plays tricks on your mind," he said. About 40 feet up the rock face, breathless and dizzy, he toppled backward. He lay in the snow, regrouping and feeling for broken bones.

"I was lucky," he said. "I wasn't killed."

After 40 minutes of rest, he followed the known route, and finally, after all the months and failed starts and doubts, he reached it.

"I was laughing. I was exhilarated, and exhausted," he said. "It was spectacular to be up there -- to look out at the world around me."

He snapped a photo of himself at the top.

Over the next several decades, Schaller would climb more than a dozen times in the Himalayas -- scaling the Northeast Ridge of K2 among others. But that one morning on Nanda Devi stood out above all others as his personal zenith.

"This was long before (Reinhold) Messner had soloed Everest," said Jim McCarthy, a retired trial lawyer from Jackson Hole who climbed alongside Schaller for the CIA. "Schaller's ascent might well have been the singular achievement of the '60s -- if it had been known."

The climbers never did find the instrument lost on Nanda Devi.

Toward the end of the final Himalayan expedition, the federal operative on the team asked to see Schaller's journals and his film. He told Schaller he thought it would help him file his report to headquarters. Schaller, who to this day is an eager teacher, shared it readily, assuming he would get them right back.

When he asked for his materials later, however, the agent refused.

Schaller realized that he had just made what Kohli, Takeda and others have since called the greatest alpine climbing feat accomplished by an American up to that time.

But it was Schaller's word, and the mountain's secret.

He had no proof.

The cost of secrets

Schaller received an Intelligence Medal of Merit for his contributions to the espionage missions. Two agents came to his house and draped a silvery medal on ribbons around his neck. Then they took it away. He presumes it is locked in a vault at the CIA's Langley headquarters along with myriad other artifacts that officially don't exist.

Along with his journals and photographs.

At home, his absences exacted a different price. His wife, Jane, was left to handle two young children and a demanding job on her own. The two had met in medical school, where she was one of only four female students. They were a handsome, accomplished couple -- and had fallen hard in love.

"We eloped after two dates," he said.

Though she also loved the mountains and climbed Mount Rainier with him in their early years of marriage, she didn't love the obsession, or the risk, their son said. And the unexplained absences frayed their connection, until it finally broke.

"He couldn't tell her where he was going," said Robert Schaller, the couple's first-born, who was only 2 years old when his father began disappearing. Over time, his father adapted to his clandestine way of life, but his mother never could.

"The culture of secrecy itself became for my father a valid way of conducting his affairs," said Schaller, now a filmmaker, who is attempting to document his father's CIA life. The senior Schaller eventually left the family in a bitter parting after 13 years of marriage.

He married twice more and has seven children. But he has just begun assessing the cost of his secret life.

"It had a lot to do with the end of my first marriage," he said. "I never should have left my first wife."

A personal wilderness

Today, Schaller is a man reckoning with legacies.

After his government service, and three years as an Army doctor, he settled into a long, prestigious surgical career in Seattle that included a wide range of operations, from separating conjoined twins to organ repairs in the tiniest preemies, work he loved.

"I would buy tickets to do this job," he said.

"He was the go-to pediatric surgeon in Seattle," said Dr. Bob Sawin, current chief of surgery at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center. "At one point, he personally did more surgeries than all the other pediatric surgeons combined. He has always been very, very busy."

He was also a meticulous documentarian, compiling thousands of slides of his surgeries over the years, an effort Sawin called unparalleled.

They've piled up in boxes at the Bellevue house where he now lives alone, separated from his third wife, wishing for a reconciliation and struggling with a failing body.

He regrets he will never be able to show his younger children the mountains in the way he once knew them.

He feels he has paid for his secrets. "I gave (the government) quite a lot of my life," he said.

A self-described workaholic, he believes his single-mindedness in pursuit of his goals -- both in climbing and in medicine -- cost him his dearest relationships, and his health.

He has had both knees replaced, and his spine fused. He is 4 inches shorter than he was as a young man. He faces the likelihood of more surgery on his hands. He gave up operating about three years ago. His solace now is teaching.

He still lectures once a week at Children's and sprinkles his talks with slides of mountains he has climbed.

On a recent weekday, Schaller, wearing a bulky neck brace, hunched over the computer in his cramped hospital office. He fiddled with the color on one of his slides, trying for a digital match. His hope is to turn his personal archive into a working atlas for medical educators.

Schaller seems reassured, if somewhat overwhelmed, to have this project. It's evidence of his years of work as a doctor.

"This will be my legacy," he said.

About his other legacy, he is less certain. He regrets the CIA team was never able to find the remains of the device and recover the plutonium. Although he believes a serious environmental threat is only a remote possibility because of the vast dilution any leak would face, he subscribes to the mountaineer's ethic to leave nothing behind.

Abandoning plutonium on the mountain was a violation of its sacred trust, he said.

And a violation, perhaps, of another oath he took: First, do no harm.

He has made an amend of sorts. In 1968, he testified before Congress in support of establishing the North Cascades National Park.

"Wilderness has intrinsic value that cannot be priced," he testified. "What would you pay for a view of snow-sparkling, glaciated mountain peaks? ... Once this wilderness is lost, it can never be reclaimed."

His testimony, along with that of others, helped secure the park's wilderness status.

An unclaimed past

A final historic legacy still eludes him -- his unverified first solo ascent of Nanda Devi.

In 2005, after reports had surfaced in Kohli's book and in magazine articles about U.S. climber-spies in the Himalayas, Schaller began another quest -- to reclaim his records from those secret climbs.

Three times he appealed to the government through Freedom of Information Requests asking for his personal diary and photographs from the Nanda Devi and Nanda Kot climbs.

Each time he was denied.

"The CIA can neither confirm nor deny the existence or non-existence of records responsive to your request," the letters said. "Such information -- unless it has been officially acknowledged -- would be classified for reasons of national security ... . The fact of the existence or non-existence of such records would also relate directly to information concerning intelligence sources and methods."

The CIA made a similar denial when the Seattle P-I made a request for records of the expedition.

Schaller also appealed to Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, as well as Rep. Dave Reichert, but has gotten nowhere.

Under a new law, the government automatically declassifies documents more than 25 years old, unless a specific exemption is sought.

"I feel betrayed by this process," he said. "I can't see how my personal diaries and photographs would be of any risk to national security, and they certainly don't reveal anything about the operations of the CIA.

Schaller's agitation brims, and he turns from his computer. He gazes out the window toward the Olympic Mountains in the distance.

"Look," he says. "The Brothers are out."

The view makes him wistful. He is a man facing the most unassailable peak of all -- his mortality.

There is a piece of his life likely boxed and forgotten in some deep CIA archive.

He just wants it back.

Former CIA mountain climber, Robert Schaller, at Children's Hospital has kept mum on what he did as a mountain climber for the CIA, but now he's telling his story to the P-I.

Rob Schaller taking in the view during a break from climbing on Nanda Devi. SChaller took part in six CIA missions to place, and later search for a surveillance device designed to track Chinese missile activity. (All photos supplied by Robert T. Schaller, M.D. taken during various missions to search for a missing CIA instrument on Nanda Devi.)

A government photographer takes a break from flying in helicopters to make photo grids of the side of Nanda Devi to aid the climbers in their search for the missing instrument. (Robert T. Schaller)

Unidentified team members take a meal break during the search for the missing instrument. (Robert T. Schaller)

Tom Frost cooking at a high camp on Nanda Kot. Climbers lived for months at a time on rock scree over ice. (Robert T. Schaller)

An abandoned village with rock huts below Nanda Kot. According to Schaller, the Indian and American governments evacuated the village, which was primarily occupied during grazing season, to ensure the climbers weren't observed during their expedition. (Robert T. Schaller)

View down the valley from inside the Sanctuary, a region of Himalayan peaks that surrounds Nanda Devi. Taken during one of Schaller's recreational climbs on his days off. (Robert T. Schaller)

Sunrise over Longstaffs Col. (Robert T. Schaller)

Looking at the main summit of Nanda Devi, which Schaller claims to have climbed in 1966. (Robert T. Schaller)

(Robert T. Schaller)

Rob Schaller works on the transceiver portion of the device near the peak of Nanda Kot.

The generator containing plutonium fuel cells in place on Nanda Kot. The two white boxes are the transceivers that relayed intercepted signals from the Chinese missile tests to a station on the plains below where they were recorded and interpreted. (Robert T. Schaller)

(Robert T. Schaller)

Sherpas built these cairns of rock for prayer and to mark trails. (Robert T. Schaller)

Nanda Devi in the distance. (Robert T. Schaller)

A crevasse and snow bridge on Nanda Devi. (Robert T. Schaller)

Looking over Longstaffs Col (the dip in the horizon), which is the high ridge that leads to Nanda Kot. (Robert T. Schaller)

An unidentified climber using ice screws on Nanda Kot during the mission to place a second plutonium-powered listening device for Chinese surveillance. (Robert T. Schaller)

Climbing on Nanda Kot. circa 1966 to place a sensor. (Robert T. Schaller)

Nanda Devi from the side of Nanda Kot. (Robert T. Schaller)

A camp below and ice face on Nanda Kot. The climbers spent several months at a time on the mountain during each expedition. They would move between the base camp and higher elevations as they conducted their work. (Robert T. Schaller)

A roped up climber on Nanda Devi. (Robert T. Schaller)

Taking in the view toward Nanda Devi from Nanda Kot, its sister peak. (Robert T. Schaller)

Climbers used Geiger counters to comb the glacier on Nanda Devi in the Indian Himalayas for signs of radioactive debris. (Robert T. Schaller)

Climber Tom Frost on Nanda Kot with the peak of Nanda Devi behind him. Circa 1966. (Robert T. Schaller)

A view of the two peaks at Nanda Devi. (Robert T. Schaller)

The summit of Nanda Kot as the weather starts to turn circa 1966. A joint U.S. and Indian team placed a sensor near the peak of Nanda Kot after a similar sensor was lost on Nanda Devi in 1965. (Robert T. Schaller)



"An Eye at the Top of the World: The Terrifying Legacy of the CIA's Most Daring CIA Operation," see

"Spies in the Himalayas: Secret Missions and Perilous Climbs" by M.S. Kohli and Kenneth Conboy,
Site Admin
Posts: 20692
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Behind Dalai Lama's Holy Cloak, by Michael Backman

Postby admin » Wed Dec 20, 2017 4:13 am

Shriver Turns a Staid Event Into Political Prime Time
by Carla Marinucci
San Francisco Chronicle Political Writer
September 27, 2006



The Dalai Lama addresses the audience as he sits with Maria Shriver at the Conference on Women in Long Beach.

(09-27) 04:00 PDT Long Beach -- While Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his Democratic challenger, Phil Angelides, pounded the campaign pavement Tuesday talking about issues such as Iraq and jobs, California first lady Maria Shriver did some high-profile political outreach of her own -- convening with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, business mogul Martha Stewart, the Duchess of York and 12,000 women at a signature conference that highlighted her considerable political talents.

Shriver hosted the California Governor's and First Lady's Conference on Women at the Long Beach Convention Center, a once-staid annual event that has morphed into one of the country's premier gatherings of female superstars in the political, literary, social and yes, even fashion worlds.

With guests such as Stewart, Sarah Ferguson, Bush political insider Karen Hughes and supermodel Tyra Banks on board, Shriver's goal as a first lady has been to showcase accomplished women she calls "architects of change.''

But she starred in her own right, with a personal keynote address about her life that mesmerized the sold-out arena and showed off political and oratory skills that frequently put her famous husband in the shade.

"She's unbelievable. She does it all, and her commitment to her family and the community is unmatched -- yet she doesn't say it's easy,'' said Karen Baker, executive director of the California Service Corps, an organization that Shriver has helped encourage volunteerism. "She's honest about it ... and very few public figures speak so openly.''

Shriver's husband showed up, but with no intent to steal the show, particularly after his infamous stop at the same conference two years ago, when he directed an impromptu and later infamous remark at protesters from the California Nurses Association -- calling them "special interests" and saying he would "kick their butts.''

This year, Schwarzenegger -- who angered some women when a tape released earlier this year included him making a reference to a "hot" Latina legislator -- only seemed intent on keeping up a positive front as he runs for re-election.

"As a man, I can honestly say I've been blessed by surrounding myself with so many smart, savvy, independent and accomplished women,'' said the governor, who noted that his inspirations include his wife and his mother-in-law, Eunice Kennedy Shriver -- the sister of President John F. Kennedy and Sens. Robert and Edward Kennedy -- who sat in a wheelchair in the front. And he added that his chief of staff, Democrat Susan Kennedy, is "absolutely essential in the success of my administration.''

The governor's presence still sparked raucous protests from the nurses' union, whose members gathered in front of the convention to protest what they called Schwarzenegger's "real record of failure for working women.'' Leaders of the group, which numbered about 150 people, cited the governor's veto of bills that would mandate maternity care, universal health care, gender pay equality and children's health care.

But inside the hall, many women said that Shriver's presence -- and her message -- have contributed mightily to Schwarzenegger's support from female voters this year, including many Democrats who never believed they would vote Republican.

"You have 12,000 women in this room, and he just got a standing ovation,'' said former Democratic political consultant Elena Stern. "Maria does it behind the scenes -- with her influence and in his administration, in the policymaking.''

Stern noted that the first lady has influenced California politics by helping persuade her Republican husband to add key Democrats for a "balancing input" to the administration.

Though Stern said that as a Democrat, she will not vote for Schwarzenegger against Angelides, she gives Schwarzenegger more attention and more of a break "because he's with" Shriver.

Indeed, political insiders have speculated about Shriver's role, some even beginning to look ahead and speculate about her own political future. "Maria Shriver? She's smart, she's got great genes, she's got money and name recognition, she knows issues -- it's like, which job do you want, Maria?'' says Democratic strategist Chris Lehane.

But Shriver, for her part, appeared Tuesday to be looking only to the immediate future -- advising women in her keynote address to explore new options with caution and care.

Shriver related her emotional struggles last year, when she said she was "teetering on the edge'' thanks to a barrage of family issues: Her mother had suffered a stroke, she had just turned 50, her children no longer needed her so much, and her career as a famous broadcast journalist was gone. Then her husband "got what we could politely call a comeuppance in the polls,'' with a beating by voters in November's special election, she said.

Shriver told the audience that she "came unglued" when she realized that "my old life ... really was gone, and I was scared.''

"The road ahead is often broken and unlit, and very bumpy,'' she said. "And that's just the way life is.''

Shriver counseled the overwhelmingly female audience that in such times, women must realize that "there's no plan out there, no award ... and no man who can fix us.''

She said she found peace by taking time to look outside herself -- and to commit more to public service and the needs of others. And from "the fields of the Central Valley, and in the tenements of East Los Angeles,'' she said, she found stories of extraordinary courage and strength that renewed her sense of purpose.

E-mail Carla Marinucci at
Site Admin
Posts: 20692
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Behind Dalai Lama's Holy Cloak, by Michael Backman

Postby admin » Wed Dec 20, 2017 4:15 am

Tenzin Choegyal, Rebel: Choegyal, the Dalai Lama's Brother 81
by Lobelia Toadfoot



A Group Interview in Dharamsala

I was with a sangha staying in Dharamsala, India, a Tibetan exile community where the Dalai Lama lives. Our group was split into two guesthouses; the one I stayed at belonged to the local maharaja, and the other belonged to the Dalai Lama’s sister-in-law, Rinchin Kunin, who runs the Tibetan Nuns Project (, a program that helps exiled Tibetan nuns gain an education equal to that of monks.

One evening, we gathered into the guesthouse’s living room to have a talk with the Dalai Lama’s brother, Tenzin Choegyal. Like the Dalai Lama, he was identified as a reincarnate lama at an early age, but he ditched the post because it didn’t suit him. I was one of the first people in the room, and I plopped down on the floor. Shantum, our teacher and travel guide, walked up to the dais in the bay window and pulled up a seat for our Tibetan visitor, but Tenzin Choegyal mischievously plopped down in the center of the couch next to David and grinned.

I looked up at Tenzin Choegyal from about three feet away and couldn’t help but stare: the Dalai Lama was in disguise! I thought he looked remarkably like the Dalai Lama, except he had short hair instead of a shaved head, and instead of red robes he wore Western pants, an oxford shirt, and a brown jacket with the message “SF San Francisco” on the upper left side. He wore squarish glasses like the Dalai Lama’s. Shantum had said something to the effect that Tenzin Choegyal isn’t very sociable and spends a lot of time in retreat, so I had visualized a crazy, stern, cave-dwelling yogi with long braided hair and traditional Tibetan clothing. In the course of the discussion, we learned that he’s sixty-one years old. He looks a lot younger than his seventy-three-year-old brother and still has totally black hair.

Shantum introduced Tenzin by saying, “This is my teacher. Well, a friend.”

Tenzin said, “A friend who led him astray!” He even sounds a lot like the Dalai Lama! Well, his voice isn’t quite that deep, and his English is more fluent. Members of the sangha asked him questions, and he happily, eagerly, answered.

“Some people think Buddhism is pessimistic, because it talks about suffering. All spiritual traditions talk about suffering. If you mention spiritual traditions, people automatically think of fighting,” he said. He mentioned that religions become political parties, for there is tremendous division instead of uniting, and this is a big challenge we have at this age. It’s a great time to make amends, to transform. He condemned political parties as being about selfishness and imposing one’s view on others, including through money. It’s no wonder I now refuse to even try associating myself to a political party; actually, I think it is very limiting and narrow-minded to do so.

Shantum introduced Paula as the rabbi who took the Three Refuges, and Tenzin said, “Should we throw a party?”

Tenzin Choegyal is so not a fan of blind faith, which is something people have if they don’t examine or analyze things; I think that is connected to fundamentalism.

“May I ask a question?” Richard asked.

“No, you may not,” Tenzin joked.

“Is the empowerment ceremony appropriate for householders, or just monastics?” (The Dalai Lama did the empowerment ceremony for at least a couple days, in addition to teachings.)

“The empowerment ceremony is OK for householders.”

“I’d like to ask you a personal question,” Etiel said.

“No personal questions!” Tenzin joked with a grin.

“Why didn’t you remain a monk?”

“I wasn’t up to the task. It was like wearing the skin of a tiger.”

Tenzin Choegyal told us a lot about himself, about his life, and about how different his views are from his brother’s. While he’s a big fan of nonviolence and dialogue, he’s not so serious a fan of the monastic system, which has a lot of power. While he does believe in reincarnation, he doesn’t have faith in the Rinpoche system of identifying little kids who are supposedly reincarnations of specific lamas. As he pointed out, everyone’s reincarnated, not just lamas.

“Our community still suffers from following rituals and not looking at the creed. It’s not about religion but psychology.” He mentioned that meditation is about attempting to lose negative thoughts. What a challenge, given the conditioning we grow up with!

“I have no authority except my big ego.”

“Identifying with religion gives you pressure to identify yourself,” said a sangha member.

“Labels are very misleading. If you identify with the label, attachment comes,” Tenzin Choegyal said. He talked quite a bit about labels, including money, which is just paper, but we’ve labeled it and given it the meaning of currency, so we accept it. “How do you remove the label? If you skillfully handle it, it’s OK. All names are labels. Even a label is subjective. All depends on how we handle it.” He said, “I think I’m talking like a wise person, but I’m not.” But he wasn’t done with labels yet, saying that “I” and “myself” are just labels; “it’s functional, but it lacks all substantiality.”

“We tend to return to events that are pleasant and block out unpleasant events. It goes to things not being the way we want.” I guess that’s how people are nostalgic; they remember a vacation or even childhood and focus on the good parts.

He said, “I don’t like rituals…I don’t like temples.” At some point in the conversation, he said, “I’m kind of a nut, you know.”

John said, “All of us are in some continuity of mental balance.”

Richard asked about depression and meditation, and Tenzin said to embrace it. “Probably it’s grounded in self-centeredness.” Tenzin experienced depression during the winter (seasonal affective disorder). Depression is physical and mental, interdependently between the physical and spiritual. He went to doctors, was diagnosed as bipolar, which is both depression and mania. A doctor treated him with lithium. “Incidentally, the greatest deposit of lithium is in Tibet.” It helped and people were encouraging. Depression is what drove him to a regular meditation practice, and he’s feeling so much better because of it. Now he’s focused on studying the dharma.

“When people are desperate, thoughts are going everywhere. Then I became interested in Buddhism and it helped. People who become depressed are undisciplined. We are meditating all the time, but not properly.”

“What if you were in that role [Rinpoche], and it was discovered you were bipolar?” someone asked.

“They’d know they made a mistake,” Tenzin replied. “We are all reincarnates from previous lives—identifying reincarnation, it only exists in Tibet, and I don’t know why—this continuity of the practice and to a particular lineage. In history, it became a problem. I personally don’t feel it’s a good idea.”


“Look at me…. There are many loopholes—it is not handled properly, a tulku [one who is identified as a reincarnate lama] becomes a symbol of earthly existence. When I talk like this, people think I’m a traitor.”

“Do you discuss this with your brother?”

“He accepts.”

“There’ve been a lot of books written on mindfulness,” Richard said.

“And they made a lot of money,” Tenzin said with a grin. He encouraged us to read root text. As a Theravada practitioner, I translate that as, in particular, the Pali Canon, which is more or less the words of the Buddha, passed down for centuries. He added, “We should read more deeply and study more deeply.”

Marsha said, “Your wife is a delight. How did you meet her?”

“I don’t think she’s a delight,” Tenzin said. They met in Darjeeling when she was in college, in 1964.

“Are there arranged marriages in Tibet?”

“It was self-arranged.” He added that they first met in a movie theater; the film was George Scott Flimflam Man.

Someone asked him about nonviolence, and Tenzin said, “Nonviolence—most people think it’s passive, but it’s active. You’ve got to have the right understanding.”

He went on to talk about attachment and emptiness, and dependent origination, not to mention impermanence and our failure to recognize things as impermanent, which leads to suffering. “If you have tremendous anger, impermanence means it’ll go away.” Rather relevant to his comments about political parties, Tenzin talked about how attachment means that “lots of arguments take place.”

“What are your views on vegetarianism?” Natalie asked.

“I’m strictly nonvegetarian.” He added, “I think it’s very desirable to be vegetarian. But you must get requirements for your body. Among Tibetans—Younger ones are becoming vegetarian, it’s becoming more common. Tibetans subsist on carbohydrates in monasteries, some have overweight, have diabetes, not enough exercise.” Tenzin said. “Three cheers for vegetarianism!”

“In attachment to the Tibetan land, is there a difference between generations?” Paula asked.

“I have walked on the soil of so-called Tibet. Yes, there is a difference. Sons and daughters have not been there, and it’s all a mind thing.”

“I think human beings are going through an evolution. I don’t think one hundred years ago people talked about this,” someone said.
“Jews did—going back to the land,” Paula said.

“Everyone in the world thinks Tibetans are perfect!” Tenzin said with a laugh. “If Tibet becomes peaceful, where spiritual pursuit is encouraged, I’d go for it. Otherwise, I’m happy elsewhere.” Someone asked him why people think Tibetans are perfect, and he said, “I think it’s because of the novel Lost Horizons by James Hilton.”

He mentioned that he thinks a family person has more compassion than a sangha member; if you’re around difficult people rather than secluded, then you have on-hands experience practicing compassion and all. This has certainly occurred to me often enough, but if you’re in such a painful situation that you’re crippled with depression all the time, you’ve got to get out of that unhealthy situation; I don’t think that meditation alone is enough in abusive situations.

Tenzin is highly critical of the Tibetan monastic system and explained that it’s intellectual understanding rather than practice. They do practice meditation and chanting, but that’s not the same thing as experiencing equanimity when mean people are attacking you. It’s much more challenging to practice when you’re not in a monastery. He said some people join the monastery because they get free food. Basically, there are some things he likes about Tibetan Buddhism (otherwise he wouldn’t be so into studying the dharma now), and other things he doesn’t like about Tibetan Buddhism. He would like practice to be more secular.

“Mishandling freedom is a universal problem,” Tenzin said, reminding me how unfathomably hypocritical war-mongering white male Americans are with their talk of freedom, when obviously they don’t even know what it means. “The most difficult thing to do today is how to handle freedom.”

“I can’t resist…” John said.

“Go ahead. Use your freedom,” Tenzin said.

John is critical of the level of monasticism and the Dalai Lama’s support of this. He called it “confinement of thought of the worst kind.” He said, “Isn’t this monasticism a cancer to the Tibetan cause?”

“I share your view,” Tenzin said. “In monasteries we have trouble with discipline. Are these people genuine?” John mentioned that nobody agreed with him about this, but as it turned out the Dalai Lama’s brother agrees with him.

“Shantum, why did you bring him to this kind of teaching?” Tenzin asked with a grin.

I really know nothing,” Tenzin said. “My ignorance—I’m an exhibitionist. I like to show off. I’m quite sincere in my feeling. I try to call a spade a spade.”

Tenzin said, “The Tibetan issue—it’s a small speck.” This has occurred to me often enough, like when I’ve donated to the International Campaign to Tibet, even though I don’t think that organization is half as important as the Global Fund for Women. “The Tibetan problem comes from carelessness, not caring, so what does it say?”

“Why did the Dalai Lama mostly read from the Dhammapada?” someone asked, referring to the teachings that we were attending that week. Several people expressed dismay that the Dalai Lama did this.

“I think we should go on strike?” Tenzin said. Someone asked if he has discussed this with his brother, but he said, “Since the teachings, I haven’t seen him. I’m a crowd-shy guy.”

He also said, “I think it’s a genuine grievance here.” For those who don’t speak Tibetan, the lack of commentary is not fair.

“He’s teaching primarily for the Tibetan community,” Shantum said. Some Tibetans are illiterate or barely literate, or otherwise have reasons why they won’t ever get a hold of the Dhammapada; Westerners on the other hand can easily get the book in English at a bookstore or library.

“But that doesn’t help these people,” Tenzin said. “I’m listening at home on the FM. I thought it was odd that he didn’t explain for two days…in his commentary, tremendously powerful.”

Tenzin said, “For people who are interested in spiritual tradition, study it, and study it in groups, with no leader.”

After a little more discussion, Tenzin asked, “Any more questions?” He looked around the room, but we were silent. “I think everyone is shocked.”

Our lively and enthusiastic discussion lasted at least two hours.

The discussion went to plans for having dinner at the other guesthouse. “Can someone give me a ride?” Tenzin asked.

“No, you have to walk.”
Site Admin
Posts: 20692
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Behind Dalai Lama's Holy Cloak, by Michael Backman

Postby admin » Wed Dec 20, 2017 4:17 am

The Dalai Lama's Brothers Worked for the CIA
Excerpt from "The CIA's Secret War in Tibet," by Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison



Thubten Jigme Norbu

Twenty-nine years old, Thubten Norbu was an important Tibetan religious figure in his own right. As a child, he had been named the incarnation of a famed fifteenth-century monk. Studying at the expansive Kumbum monastery not far from his home village in Amdo, Norbu had risen to chief abbot by 1949. When Amdo was occupied by the PLA that fall, he came under intense Chinese pressure to lobby his brother on Beijing's behalf. Feigning compliance, he ventured to Lhasa in November 1950. But rather than sell the PRC, he presented a graphic report of Chinese excesses in Amdo. [14]

Because Beijing no doubt viewed Norbu's act as treachery, the Dalai Lama was anxious to see his brother leave Tibet. He succeeded up to a point, spiriting Norbu to Kalimpong by the first week of June 1951. But with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru doing his best to remain warm with the Chinese, there was ample reason to suspect that the Indian authorities would soon make life uncomfortable for him. The promise of a U.S. visa offered the chance for a timely exit from the subcontinent.

Just when Norbu's departure seemed secure, however, complications arose. Neither he nor his accompanying servant had passports, and they had fled Tibet with insufficient funds to pay for extended overseas travel. Thus, both of them needed to quickly secure some form of sponsorship.

At that point, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) stepped forward with a ready solution. By coincidence only weeks earlier the agency had inaugurated the perfect vehicle for discreetly channeling financial support to persons like the Dalai Lama's brother. On 18 May, the San Francisco-based Committee for a Free Asia (CFA) had been formally unveiled to the public as a means to "render effective assistance to Asians in advancing personal and national liberty throughout their homelands." The committee's charter further declared its intention to assist noncommunist travelers, refugees, and exiles in order to "strengthen Asian resistance to communism." Left unsaid was the fact that the committee was made possible by financial assistance from the CIA. [15]


After a brief refueling stop in Bangkok, the Khampas were again aloft and heading over the South China Sea. Curving north, they arrived at Kadena and were taken to the small CIA compound on the air base for a three-day physical examination. Doctors found them to have well-developed chests and musculature -- no surprise, given their active lifestyles at high altitude. Notable was their low, even pulse rates. A brief aptitude test showed that although none spoke any English, they exhibited good native intelligence. "Being merchants," noted one CIA case officer, "most had a certain sophistication stemming from their contact across the region." [1]

While still on Okinawa, the group was met by the Dalai Lama's brother Norbu, who joined them on the C-118 as they took to the air and veered Southeast. Four hours later, they descended toward a teardrop-shaped island in the middle of the western Pacific. Though the Tibetans were never told the location -- some would later speculate it was Guam -- they had actually arrived at the U.S. trust territory of Saipan. [2] …

For his part, Norbu did not much care for the cloistered life on Saipan. Limited to a single classroom building and pair of sleeping quarters, the Tibetans were rarely allowed to leave their isolated corner of the training base. Moreover, cooks and cleaning crews were forbidden in the name of operational secrecy. As a result, all present -- trainees as well as interpreters -- were required to rotate chores and eat the same meals. As an incarnation and brother of the Dalai Lama, Norbu found this too much to take and at one point refused the food. The CIA cadre was not amused. "If you don't eat it," said Mustakos sternly, "the students won't eat it." Norbu eventually backed down and consumed his proletarian meal.

Communications training proved even more difficult. The main stumbling block: Khampas traditionally received little formal language instruction. The six students, who were barely able to read or write, could hardly be expected to transmit coherent radio messages. Not realizing the seriousness of this critical deficiency until nearly halfway through the training cycle, the CIA instructors scrambled to find someone who could teach basic Tibetan grammar. Norbu, who was acting as primary interpreter for the other course work, could not be spared for double duty. Neither could Jentzen, who in any event was weak in language skills.

Gyalo Thondub

The other brother, Gyalo Thondup, was residing in Darjeeling. Six years Norbu's junior, Gyalo was the proverbial prodigal son. The problem was, he was the figurative son to a number of fathers. He was the only one of five male siblings not directed toward a monastic life. As a teen, he had befriended members of the Chinese mission in Lhasa and yearned to study in China. Although this was not a popular decision among the more xenophobic members of his family, Gyalo got his wish in 1947 when he and a brother-in-law arrived at the Kuomintang capital of Nanking and enrolled in college.

Two years later, Gyalo, then twenty-one, veered further toward China when he married fellow student Zhu Dan. Not only was his wife ethnic Chinese, but her father, retired General Chu Shi- kuei, had been a key Kuomintang officer during the early days of the republic. Because of both his relationship to General Chu and the fact that he was the Dalai Lama's brother, Gyalo was feted in Nanking by no less than Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

The good times were not to last. With the communists closing in on Nanking during the final months of China's civil war, Gyalo and his wife fled in mid-1949 to the safer climes of India. Once again because of his relationship to the Dalai Lama, he was added to the invitation list for various diplomatic events and even got an audience with Prime Minister Nehru.

That October, Gyalo briefly ventured to the Tibetan enclave at Kalimpong before settling for seven months in Calcutta. While there, his father-in-law, General Chu, attempted to make contact with the Tibetan government. With the retreat of the Kuomintang to Taiwan, Chu had astutely shifted loyalty to the People's Republic and was now tasked by Beijing to arrange a meeting between Tibetan and PRC officials at a neutral site, possibly Hong Kong. [6]

Conversant in Chinese and linked to both the Dalai Lama and General Chu, Gyalo was a logical intermediary for the Hong Kong talks. The British, however, were dragging their feet on providing visas to the Tibetan delegation. Unable to gain quick entry to the crown colony, Gyalo made what he intended to be a brief diversion to the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan. But Chiang Kai- shek, no doubt anxious to keep Gyalo away from General Chu and the PRC, had other plans. Smothering the royal sibling with largesse, Chiang kept Gyalo in Taipei for the next sixteen months. Only after a desperate letter to U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson requesting American diplomatic intervention did the ROC relent and give Gyalo an exit permit.

After arriving in Washington in September 1951, Gyalo continued to dabble in diplomacy. Within a month of his arrival, he was called to a meeting at the State Department. Significantly, Gyalo's Chinese wife was at his side during the encounter. Because of the couple's close ties to Chiang, department representatives assumed that details of their talk would quickly be passed to the Kuomintang Nationalists. [7]

Gyalo, in fact, was not a stooge of Taipei, Beijing, or, for that matter, Washington. Despite State Department efforts to secure him a scholarship at Stanford University, he hurriedly departed the United States in February 1952 for the Indian subcontinent. Leaving his wife behind, he then trekked back to Lhasa after a six- year absence.

By that time, Beijing had a secure foothold in the Tibetan capital. Upon meeting this wayward member of the royal family, the local PRC representatives were pleased. As a Chinese speaker married to one of their own, Gyalo was perceived as a natural ally. Yet again, however, he would prove a disappointment. After showing some interest in promoting a bold land reform program championed by the Dalai Lama, Gyalo once more grew restive. In late spring, he secretly met with the Indian consul in Lhasa, and after promising to refrain from politicking, he was given permission to resettle in India. [8]

Although not exactly endearing himself to anyone with his frequent moves, Gyalo was not burning bridges either. Noting his recent return to Darjeeling, the U.S. embassy in early August 1952 cautiously considered establishing contact. Calcutta's Consul General Gary Soulen saw an opportunity in early September while returning from his Sikkim trek with Princess Kukula. Pausing in Darjeeling, Soulen stayed long enough for Gyalo to pass on the latest information from his contacts within the Tibetan merchant community. [9]

Although he had promised to refrain from exile politics, Gyalo saw no conflict in courting senior Indian officials. In particular, he sought a meeting with India's spymaster Bhola Nath Mullik. As head of Indian intelligence, Mullik presided over an organization with deep colonial roots. Established in 1887 as the central Special Branch, it had been organized by the British to keep tabs on the rising tide of Indian nationalism. Despite several redesignations before arriving at the title Intelligence Bureau, anticolonialists remained its primary target for the next sixty years.

Upon independence in 1947, Prime Minister Nehru appointed the bureau's first Indian director. Rather than suppressing nationalists, the organization now had to contend with communal violence and early problems with India's erstwhile Muslim brothers now living in the bisected nation of Pakistan.

Three years later, Mullik became the bureau's second director. A police officer since the age of twenty-two, the taciturn Mullik was known for his boundless energy (he often worked sixteen-hour days), close ties to Nehru, healthy suspicion of China, and (rare for a senior Indian official) predisposition against communism. Almost immediately, the Tibetan frontier became his top concern. This followed Beijing's invasion of Kham that October, which meant that India's military planners now had to contend with a hypothetical front besides Pakistan. Moreover, the tribal regions of northeastern India were far from integrated, and revolutionaries in those areas could now easily receive Chinese support. The previous year, in fact, the bureau had held a conference on risks associated with Chinese infiltration. [10]

Despite Mullik's concerns, Nehru was prone to downplay the potential Chinese threat. Not only did he think it ludicrous to prepare for a full-scale Chinese attack, but he saw real benefits in cultivating Beijing to offset Pakistan's emerging strategy of anticommunist cooperation with the West. "It was Nehru's idealism against hard-headed Chinese realism," said one Intelligence Bureau official. "Mullik injected healthy suspicions."

Astute enough to hedge his bets, Nehru allowed Mullik some leeway in improving security along the border and collecting intelligence on Chinese forces in Tibet. To accomplish this, Mullik expanded the number of Indian frontier posts strung across the Himalayas. In addition, he sought contact with Tibetans living in the Darjeeling and Kalimpong enclaves. Not only could these Tibetans be tapped for information, but a symbolic visit by a senior official like Mullik would lift morale at a time when their homeland was being subjugated. Such contact, moreover, could give New Delhi advance warning of any subversive activity in Tibet being staged from Indian soil. [11]

Of all the Tibetan expatriates, Mullik had his eye on Gyalo Thondup. Besides having an insider's perspective of the high offices in Lhasa, Gyalo had already passed word of his desire for a meeting. Prior to his departure for his first visit to Darjeeling in the spring of 1953, Mullik asked for -- and quickly received -- permission from the prime minister to include the Dalai Lama's brother on his itinerary. Their subsequent exchange of views went well, as did their tete-a-tete during Mullik's second visit to Darjeeling in 1954. [12]

Apart from such occasional contact with Indian intelligence, Gyalo spent much of the next two years removed from the tribulations in his homeland. To earn a living, he ironically began exporting Indian tea and whiskey to Chinese troops and administrators in Tibet. For leisure, he and his family were frequent guests at the Gymkhana Club. Part of an exclusive resort chain that was once a playpen for the subcontinent's colonial elite, the Gymkhana's Darjeeling branch was situated amid terraced gardens against the picturesque backdrop of Kanchenjunga. A regular on the tennis courts, the Dalai Lama 's brother was the local champion. [13]

In the summer of 1956, Gyalo's respite came to an abrupt end. The senior abbot and governor from the Tibetan town of Gyantse had recently made his escape to India and in July wrote a short report about China's excesses. Gyalo repackaged the letter in English and mailed copies to the Indian media, several diplomatic missions, and selected world leaders. One of these arrived in early September at the U.S. embassy in the Pakistani capital of Karachi, and from there was disseminated to the American mission in New Delhi and consulate in Calcutta. [14]

Although the letter was less than accurate on several counts, it served two important purposes. First, it corroborated the reports of China's brutality provided by the crown prince of Sikkim in June. Second, it brought Gyalo back to the attention of Washington as a concerned activist. For the past four years, there had been virtually no contact between him and American diplomats in India. In particular, he was completely unknown among CIA officers in Calcutta. [15]

This was set to change, and quickly. Once word reached India in early November that the Dalai Lama would be attending the Buddha Jayanti, John Hoskins got an urgent cable from headquarters. Put aside your efforts against the Chinese community, he was told, and make immediate contact with Gyalo. A quick check indicated Gyalo's predilection for tennis, so Hoskins got a racket and headed north to Darjeeling. After arranging to get paired with Gyalo for a doubles match, the CIA officer wasted no time in quietly introducing himself.

First impressions are lasting ones, and Hoskins was not exactly wowed by Gyalo's persona. "There was a lot of submissiveness rather than dynamism," he noted. At their first meeting, little was discussed apart from reaching an understanding that, to avoid Indian intelligence coverage in Darjeeling, future contact would be made in Calcutta using proper countersurveillance measures.

Later that same month, the Dalai Lama and a fifty-strong delegation departed Lhasa by car. Switching to horses at the Sikkimese border, the royal entourage was met on the other side by both Gyalo and Norbu, who had rushed to India from his teaching assignment in New York. The party was whisked through Gangtok and down to the closest Indian airfield near the town of Siliguri, and by 25 November the monarch was being met by Nehru on the tarmac of New Delhi's Palam Airport. [16]



The New York Office of Tibet, which included three Cornell graduates, formally opened in April 1964 following a U.S. visit by Gyalo Thondup. This office concentrated on winning support for the Tibetan cause at the United Nations, which was becoming an increasingly difficult prospect. In December 1965, Gyalo was successful in pushing a resolution on Tibet through the General Assembly for the third time, but some twenty-six nations -- including Nepal and Pakistan -- joined the ranks of those supporting China on the issue. [5]

During a break from lobbying at the United Nations, Gyalo had ventured down to Washington for meetings with U.S. officials. Among them was Des FitzGerald; one of the strongest advocates of the Tibet program within the CIA, he had since left his Cuba assignment and in the spring of 1965 was promoted to deputy director of plans, putting him in charge of all agency covert operations. FitzGerald used the opportunity to invite Gyalo to dinner at the elite Federalist Club. Joining them was Frank Holober, who had returned from an unpaid sabbatical in September 1965 to take over the vacant Tibet Task Force desk within the China Branch. Remembers Holober, "Des loved Gyalo, fawned over him. He would say, 'In an independent country, you would be the perfect foreign minister.'"

Gyalo proved his abilities in another CIA-supported venture. Because the Dalai Lama had long desired the creation of a central Tibetan cultural institution, the agency supplied Gyalo with secret funds to assemble a collection of wall hangings -- called thankas -- and other art treasures from all the major Tibetan Buddhist sects. A plot of land was secured in the heart of New Delhi, and the Tibet House -- consisting of a museum, library, and emporium -- was officially opened in October 1965 by the Indian minister of education and the Dalai Lama. It remains a major attraction to this day.


In 1966, Soviet intelligence officers had approached Gyalo in New Delhi with a proposal to assume support for Tibetan paramilitary operations. During the course of eight meetings over the next three years, the Soviets spoke fancifully of establishing a joint operation in Tashkent; from there, they promised, Tibetan agents could be parachuted back to their homeland.

Intrigued but noncommittal, Gyalo requested that Moscow, as a sign of good faith, first raise the Tibet issue at the United Nations. Do not make preconditions, the Soviets sniffed, and ultimately ceased contact. [16]

Gyalo Thondup, the key link with the CIA, had stayed away from the resistance since 1969. Not until late 1978, with the Chinese government apparently loosening its constraints on Tibet, did he rejoin the cause and lead a negotiating team to Beijing; results from this trip ultimately proved scant. Gyalo currently shuttles between residences in New Delhi and Hong Kong.

Lobsang Samten

Fosmire also received help from yet another of the Dalai Lama's older brothers, Lobsang Samten. A gentle sort, the twenty-five-year-old Lobsang had already suffered one nervous breakdown. Briefly serving as lord chamberlain in Lhasa, he had escorted the Dalai Lama to India during the Buddha Jayanti and decided not to return. Instead, he had made his way to the United States, and the CIA had arranged for him to study English at Washington's Georgetown University. When this did not prove to his liking, the agency periodically drove him down to Peary to help with translations. "He was never really in the resistance mood," said Greaney. "He preferred to come over to my house and play with the kids."


The Office of Tibet in Geneva, led by the Dalai Lama 's older brother Lobsang Samten, focused on staging cultural programs in neutral Switzerland.

As a teenager, Lobsang had joined the entourage that fled Tibet with the monarch in 1959. Midway through the semester, half of the class was quietly taken down to Silver Spring, Maryland, where they were kept in a CIA safe house for a month of spy-craft instruction; all eight later reassembled, completed their studies at Cornell, and went back to India together. [3]

These first dozen Cornell-trained Tibetans were put to immediate use. Three were assigned to the Special Center. Others were posted to one of the CIA-supported Tibet representative offices in New Delhi, Geneva, and New York. The New Delhi mission -- officially known as the Bureau of His Holiness the Dalai Lama -- was headed by a former Tibetan finance minister and charged with maintaining contact with the various embassies in the Indian capital. The Office of Tibet in Geneva, led by the Dalai Lama 's older brother Lobsang Samten, focused on staging cultural programs in neutral Switzerland. [4]
Site Admin
Posts: 20692
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Return to Religion and Cults

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest