The Middle Way Approach of the Dalai Lama – A Self-Deception?

Tibet belongs to Tibetans. Victory to Tibet! – Jamphel Yeshi

Recently the German Buddhist Magazine Tibet und Buddhismus asked Elliot Sperling – a well known and frequently quoted Tibetologist at Indiana University (US) who had just been barred from China – to write an essay that sums up some of his positions he has taken on Tibet issues over the years.

In that essay he thoroughly questions the effectiveness of the Middle Way Approach of the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and a cult of personality of the Dalai Lama that prevents to question the effectiveness of the Middle Way Approach and that undermines and ignores all other opinions. According to Sperling, the drive within the CTA has led to a situation where “the Dalai Lama was unwittingly turned into the prime spokesperson against Tibetan independence, to the benefit of China.”

The analysis of Elliot Sperling with the title “Self-Delusion” (in German Selbsttäuschung – „Die Politik des Mittleren Weges ist realitätsfern“) Sperling is pointing out how the CTA and the Dalai Lama have undermined unintentionally the Tibet independence movement and have weakened thereby the Tibet cause.

When one examines and thinks about Elliot Sperling’s essay it is hard not to agree with him. In order to appease the Chinese and to get international support the Dalai Lama and the CTA gave up the correct claims of an independent Tibet (experts of the US congress and the German Bundestag agreed that Tibet has been occupied against international law by China). China has illegally colonized Tibet and the Tibet support groups and people who support the Tibetans and their rights for an independent country or self determination about living in their country base their support on the injustice China has done to the Tibetans. Some of the people who self immolated killed themselves for an independent Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama but not for autonomy or a Tibet under Chinese control. The Tibetan Rangzen movement has been largely ignored and even treated animus by the CTA – as a threat to their idea of a Middle Way. In a way the own exile government seems to have betrayed Tibetans and their wish for independence. I hope this situation can change. Tibetans started to challenge and to question as well as to document the changes of the CTA’s /Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Approach, and it would be very useful I think, if the whole approach is really reconsidered instead of silencing down critical voices of the Middle Way Approach and becoming unwillingly a devoted and effective arm of China.

The Tibet support groups have been seriously weakened by Samdhong Rinpoche who asked the Tibet support groups on the international level to stop to protest when Chinese officials visit their countries. China demanded from the CTA that if the CTA wants to have any dialogue with them the CTA/Kashag should stop the protests which are performed where ever Chinese officials visit a Western country. China was fed up with loosing face in the West. The CTA was naive enough to follow this instruction and Samdhong Rinpoche became unwittingly the arm of China by trying to silence down all those international Tibet support groups for three years. There was no open discussion just pushing through this policy (there was a conference held in Berlin about this issue where Samdhong Rinpoche was present). After those three years China of course didn’t make any move forward with respect to the Tibet issue but the power of the international support groups was broken and has not yet recovered – except for those who chose to ignore Samdhong Rinpoche’s demands.

Its quite interesting to read this article by Tibetans in the Tibetan Political Review in which they explore the differences in the terms of 1) Freedom, 2) Independence, and 3) Autonomy and how the Kashag edits out clear voices for independence:

The Kashag effectively edits out even crystal-clear voices for independence. According to the Kashag, the self-immolators’ demands are “freedom for the Tibetan people and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet.”  While not technically inaccurate (since freedom could include independence or autonomy), it is misleading for two reasons:

– First, some self-immolators have expressly called for independence, while none have called for autonomy.

– Second, the Kashag and Sikyong often use the word “freedom” to promote their specific Middle Way policy of autonomy, implying that the goals are either “freedom” (really meaning “autonomy”) or “independence”.

Furthermore, it is a conspicuous omission when the Kashag argues that self-immolation is caused by “political repression, economic marginalization, cultural assimilation and environmental destruction”.  This list prominently ignores that many self-immolators demanded independence.  So it seems this list should also include not just “repression” (which is a human rights issue) but also “a demand for Tibet’s independence”. That would make it far more complete.

In another recent example, at a book-launch about Takna Jigme Sangpo, the Sikyong discussed the former political prisoner’s “activism”, “various political activities”, and “slogans of Tibetan freedom” while in prison.  This was a painful omission: the core motivation of Sangpo’s heroism was, quite simply, Tibetan independence.  This should not be edited out even if one supports autonomy.

In fact, Sangpo was originally sentenced for “seeking ‘Tibetan independence’ among other reactionary propaganda”, according to Chinese documents.

However the Sikyong merely referred to Sangpo’s “opposition against harsh policies”, implying that Sangpo merely disagreed with certain Chinese policies.   It is truly regrettable that, in this case, Chinese sentencing documents are more accurate than the Sikyong’s remarks.

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