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.


Postby admin » Fri Jun 19, 2015 1:41 am

Part II -- Ritual as Politics


Politics as Ritual:

The Shambhalization plan for Japan is the first step toward the Shambhalization of the world. If you participate in it, you will achieve great virtue and rise up to a higher world
-- Shoko Asahara

In order to be able to understand and to evaluate the person of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and the history of Tibet, we must first set aside all of our contemporary western conceptions in which the domains of religion and politics, of magic and government decisions, and of worldly and spiritual power are separate from one another. We must also not allow ourselves to be influenced by the public self-presentation of the exiled Tibetan head of state, by his declarations of belief in democracy, by his insistent affirmations of peace, by his ecumenical professions, or by his statements on practical politics. Then a closer examination reveals the entire performance, oriented to western values, which he offers daily on the world political stage, to be a political tactic, with the help of which he wants to put through his atavistic and androcentric world view globally — a world view whose dominant principles are steeped in magic, ritual, occultism, and the despotism of an ecclesiastical state.

It is not the individual political transgressions of the Dalai Lama, which have only been begun to be denounced in the Euro-American media since 1996, which could make his person and office a fundamental problem for the West. Even if these “deficiencies” weigh more heavily when measured against the moral claims of a “living Buddha” than they would for an ordinary politician, these are simply superficial discordances. In contrast, anybody who descends more deeply into the Tibetan system must inevitably enter the sexual magic world of the tantras which we have described. This opens up a dimension completely foreign to a westerner. For his “modern” awareness, there is no relation whatsoever between the tantric system of rituals and the realpolitik of the head of the Tibetan government in exile. He would hardly take seriously the derivation of political decisions from the Kalachakra Tantra and the Shambhala Myth. But it is precisely this connection between ritual and politics, between sacred sexuality and power which is — as we shall demonstrate — the central concern of Lamaism.

European-American ignorance in the face of atavistic religious currents is not limited to Tibetan Buddhism, but likewise applies to other cultures, like Islam for example. It is currently usual in the West to draw a stark distinction between religious fundamentalism on the one hand, and the actual human political concerns of all religions on the other. The result has been that all the religious traditions of the world were able to infiltrate Europe and North America as valuable spiritual alternatives to the decadent materialism of the industrialized world. In recent years there has not been much demand for a sustained critical evaluation of religions.

Yet anybody who reads closely the holy texts of the various schools of belief (be it the Koran, passages from the Old Testament, the Christian Book of Revelations, or the Kalachakra Tantra), is very soon confronted with an explosive potential for aggression, which must inevitably lead to bloody wars between cultures, and has always done so in the past. Fundamentalism is already present in the core of nearly all world religions and in no sense does it represent an essential misunderstanding of the true doctrine. [1]

The Dalai Lama is without doubt the most skilled and successful of all religious leaders in the infiltration of the West. He displays such an informed, tolerant, and apparently natural manner in public, that everybody is enchanted by him from first sight. It would not occur to anybody upon whom he turns his kindly Buddha smile that his religious system is intent upon forcibly subjecting the world to its law. But — as we wish to demonstrate in what follows — this is Lamaism’s persistently pursued goal.

Although understandable, this western naiveté and ignorance cannot be excused — not just because it has up until now neglected to thoroughly and critically investigate the history of Tibet and the religion of Tantric Buddhism, but because we have also completely forgotten that we had to free ourselves at great cost from an atavistic world. The despotism of the church, the inquisition, the deprivation of the right to decide, the elimination of the will, the contempt for the individual, the censorship, the persecution of those of other faiths — were all difficult obstacles to overcome in the development of modern western culture. The Occident ousted its old “gods” and myths during the Enlightenment; now it is re-importing them through the uncritical adoption of exotic religious systems. Since the West is firmly convinced that the separation of state and religion must be apparent to every reasonable person, it is unwilling and unable to comprehend the politico-religious processes of the imported atavistic cultures. Fascism, for example, was a classic case of the reactivation of ancient myths.

Nearly all of the religious dogmata of Tantric Buddhism have also — with variations — cropped up in the European past and form a part of our western inheritance. For this reason it seems sensible, before we examine the history of Tibet and the politics of the Dalai Lama, to compare several maxims of Lamaist political and historical thought with corresponding conceptions from the occidental tradition. This will, we hope, help the reader better understand the visions of the “living Buddha”.

Myth and history:

For the Ancient Greeks of Homer’s time, history had no intrinsic value; it was experienced as the recollection of myth. The myths of the gods, and later those of the heroes, formed so to speak those original events which were re-enacted in thousands of variations by people here on earth, and this “re-enactment” was known as history. History was thus no more and no less than the mortal imitation of divine myths. “When something should be decided among the humans,” — W. F. Otto has written of the ancient world view of the Hellenes — “the dispute must first take place between the gods” (quoted by Hübner, 1985, p. 131).

If, however, historical events, such as the Trojan War for example, developed an inordinate significance, then the boundary between myth and history became blurred. The historical incidents could now themselves become myths, or better the reverse, the myth seized hold of history so as to incorporate it and make it similar. For the ancient peoples, this “mythologizing” of history signified something very concrete — namely the direct intervention of the gods in historical events. This was not conceived of as something dark and mysterious, but rather very clear and contemporary: either the divinities appeared in visible human form (and fought in battles for instance) or they “possessed” human protagonists and “inspired” them to great deeds and misdeeds.

If human history is dependent upon the will of supernatural beings in the ancient view of things, then it is a necessary conclusion that humans cannot influence history directly, but rather only via a religious “detour”, that is, through entreating the gods. For this reason, the priests, who could establish direct contact with the transcendent powers, had much weight in politics. The ritual, the oracle, and the prayer thus had primary status in ancient societies and were often more highly valued than the decisions of a regent. In particular, the sacrificial rite performed by the priests was regarded as the actual reason whether or not a political decision met with success. The more valuable the sacrifice, the greater the likelihood that the gods would prove merciful. For this reason, and in order to be able to even begin the war against Troy, Agamemnon let his own daughter, Iphigeneia, be ritually killed in Aulis.

Very similar concepts — as we shall demonstrate — still today dominate the archaic historical understanding of Lamaist Buddhism. Religion and history are not separated from one another in the Tibetan world view, nor politics and ritual, symbol and reality. Since superhuman forces and powers (Buddha beings and gods) are at work behind the human sphere, for Lamaism history is at heart the deeds of various deities and not the activity of politicians, army leaders and opinion makers. The characters, the motives, the methods and actions of individual gods (and demons) must thus be made answerable in the final instance for the development of national and global politics. Consequently, the Tibetan study of history is — in their own conception — always mythology as well, when we take the latter to mean the “history of the gods”.

What is true of history applies in the same degree to politics. According to tantric doctrine, a sacred ruler (such as the Dalai Lama for example) does not just command his subjects through the spoken and written word, but also conducts various internal (meditative) and external rituals so as to thus steer or at least influence his practical politics. Ritual and politics, oracular systems and political decision-making processes are united not just in the Tibet of old, but also — astonishingly indeed — still today among the Tibetans in exile. Centrally, for the Lamaist elite, “politics” means a sequence of ritual/magical activities for the fulfillment of a cosmic plan which is finally executed by the gods (of whom the Lamas are incarnations). It is for this reason that ritual life has such an important, indeed central status in a Buddhocratic state system. This is the real smithy in which the reality of this archaic society was shaped. That apparently “normal” political processes (such as the work of a “democratic” parliament or the activities of human rights commissions for instance) exist alongside, need not — as the example of the exile Tibetans demonstrates - stand in the way of the occult ritual system; rather, it could even be said to offer the necessary veil to obscure the primary processes.

The battle of the sexes and history:

Let us return to Homer and his times. The Trojan War vividly demonstrates how closely the history of the ancient Greeks was linked to the battle of the sexes. A number of gender conflicts together formed the events which triggered war: The decision of Paris and the vanity of the three chief goddesses (Hera, Athena, Aphrodite), the theft and the infidelity of Helen and the sacrifice of Iphigeneia. The end of the long drawn out and terrible war is also marked by bloody sexual topics: The treacherous murder of Agamemnon by his wife Clytemnestra, her death at the hands of her son Orestes, the flight of Aeneas (from Troy) and his marriage to Dido (the Queen of Carthage), the suicide of the abandoned Dido and the founding of the Roman dynasties (through Aeneas).

The writer and researcher of myths, Robert Ranke Graves (1895-1985), in a study which has in the meantime received academic recognition, assembled a voluminous amount of material which adequately supports his hypothesis that hidden behind all (!) the Greek mythology and early history lies a battle of the sexes between matriarchal and patriarchal societal forms. This “subterranean” mythic/sexual current which barely comes to light, and which propels human history forwards from the depths of the subconscious, was also a fact for Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). In his comprehensive essay, Totem und Tabu [Totem and Taboo], he attempted to draw attention to the sexual origins of human culture.

As we shall show, this is no different for the Lamaist “writing of history”: on the basis of the sex-specific construction of the entire tantric universe (masculine, feminine, androgynous), Tibetan history also presupposes a mythologically based gender relation. Since Vajrayana essentially requires the suppression of the feminine principle by the masculine principle, of the woman by the man, the history of Tibet is analogously grounded in the repression of the feminine by the masculine. Likewise, we find “female sacrifice” carried out at the center of the tantric mysteries once more in the “myth-history” of the country.

The sacred kingdom:

In many ancient societies the “sacred king” was regarded as the representative of the gods. Worldly and spiritual power were concentrated within this figure. His proximity to the gods was judged differently from culture to culture. In the old oriental community the kings exceeded the deputizing function and were themselves considered to be the deity. This gave them the right to rule with absolute power over their subjects. Their godly likeness was in no way contradicted by their mortality, then it was believed that the spirit of the god withdrew from the human body of the holy king at the hour of his death so as to then incarnate anew in the succeeding ruler. The history of the sacred kings was thus actually an “epiphany”, that is, an appearance of the deity in time.

In the European Middle Ages in contrast, the “sacred rulers” were only considered to be God’s representatives on earth, but the concept of their dual role as mortal man and divine instance still had its validity. One therefore spoke of the “two bodies of the king”, an eternal supernatural one and a transient human one.

A further characteristic of the political theology of the Middle Ages consisted in the division of the royal office which formerly encompassed both domains — so that (1) the spiritual and (2) the secular missions were conducted by two different individuals, the priest and the king, the Pope and the Emperor. Both institutions together — or in opposition to one another — decisively determined the history of Europe up until modern times.

Every criterion for the sacred kingdom is met by the Dalai Lama and his state system. His institution is not even subject to the division of powers (between priesthood and kingship) which we know from medieval Europe, but orientates itself towards the ancient/Oriental despotic states (e.g., in Egypt and Persia). Worldly and spiritual power are rolled into one. He is not the human deputy of a Buddha being upon the Lion Throne; rather, he is — according to doctrine — this Buddha being himself. His epithet, Kundun, which is on everybody’s lips following Martin Scorsese’s film of the same name, means “the presence” or “precious presence”, i.e., the presence of a deity, or of a Buddha in human form. To translate “Kundun” as “living Buddha” is thus thoroughly justified. In Playboy, in answer to the question of the word’s meaning, His Holiness replied, “Precious presence. According to Tibetan tradition 'Kundun' is a term with which I alone can be referred to. It is taken to mean the highest level of spiritual development which a being [that is, not just a person, but also a god] can attain” (Playboy, German edition, March 1998, p. 40).

The visible presence (Kundun) of a god on the world political stage as the head of government of a “democratically elected parliament” may be difficult to conceive of in a western way of thinking. Perhaps the office can be better understood when we say that the Dalai Lama is strictly bound to his tantric philosophy, ritual procedures, and politico-religious ideology, and therefore possesses no further individual will. His body, his human existence, and hence also his humanism are for him solely the instruments of his divinity. This is most clearly expressed in a song the Seventh Dalai Lama composed and sang to himself:

Wherever you go, whatever you do,
See yourself in the form of a tantric divinity
With a phantom body that is manifest yet empty.

(Mullin, 1991, p. 61)

Nonetheless, it has become thoroughly established practice in the western press to refer to the Dalai Lama as the “god-king”. Whether or not this is meant ironically can barely be decided in many cases. “A god to lay your hands on”, wrote the Süddeutsche Zeitung in 1998 of the Tibetan religious leader, and at the same time the Spiegel proclaimed that, “Ultimately, he is the Dalai Lama and the most enlightened of the enlightened on this planet, that puts things in the proper light.” (Süddeutsche Zeitung November 1, 1998, p. 4; Spiegel 45/1998, p.101).

Eschatology and politics:

The history of the European Middle Ages was focused upon a single cosmic event: the Second Coming of Christ. In such an eschatological world view, human history is no longer a copying of myths or a playground for divine caprice (as in the Ancient Greek belief in the gods), but rather the performance of a gigantic, messianic drama played out over millennia, which opens with a perfect creation that then constantly disintegrates because of human imperfection and sin and ends in a catastrophic downfall following a divine day of judgment. At the “end of time” the evil are destroyed in a brutal cosmic war (the apocalypse) and the good (the true Christians) are saved. A Messiah appears and leads the small flock of the chosen into an eternal realm of peace and joy. The goal is called redemption and paradise.

Eschatological accounts of history are always salvational history, that is, in the beginning there is a transgression which should be healed. A Christian refers to this transgression as original sin. Here the healing takes place through the Resurrection and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, as well as through the resurrection from the dead of the goodly which this occasions. After this, history comes to an end and the people, freed from all suffering, enter an eternal paradise in a blissful time without history. For Christians it is primarily the Apocalypse of St. John (The Book of Revelations) which provides the script for this divine theater.

From a Buddhist/tantric point of view human history — and consequently the history of Tibet — is also experienced as a “salvational history”. Its eschatology is recorded in the Kalachakra Tantra, the highest cult mystery of the Dalai Lama. The Shambhala myth linked with this tantra also prophesies (like the Apocalypse of St. John) the appearance of a warlike messiah (Rudra Chakrin) and the terrible final battle between good and evil. It is just that this time the good are Buddhists and the evil are primarily Moslems. After Rudra Chakrin’s victory the total “Shambhalization” of the planet (i.e., a global Buddhocracy) awaits humanity. This is equated with an Eden of peace and joy.

A knowledge of the Shambhala vision is necessary in order to be able to assess historical events in Tibet (including the Chinese occupation) and the politics of the Dalai Lama. Every historical and practical political event must — from a Lamaist viewpoint — be assessed in the light of the final goal formulated in the Kalachakra Tantra (the establishment of a worldwide Buddhocracy). This also applies — according to the tantric teachings — to the evolution of humankind.

Thus, in terms of principle, the Tantric Buddhist vision resembles the traditional Christian one. In both cases a realm of bliss is found at the outset which decays due to human misdeeds and subsequently experiences a catastrophic downfall. It is then re-created through the warlike (!) deeds of a messianic redeemer. But in the Buddhist view this dramatic process never ends, according to cosmic laws it must be constantly repeated. In contrast to the conceptions of Christianity, the newly established paradise has no permanency, it is subject to the curse of time like all which is transient. History for Lamaism thus takes the form of the eternal recurrence of the eternally same, the ineluctable repetition of the entire universal course of events in immensely huge cycles of time. [2]

History and mysticism:

That the relationship between individuals and history may be not just an obvious, active one, but also a mystical one is something of which one hears little in contemporary western philosophy. We find such a point of view in the enigmatic statement of the German romantic, Novalis (1772-1801), for example: “The greatest secret is the person itself. The solving of this unending task is the act of world history”. [3]

In contrast, in the Renaissance such “occult” interdependencies were definitely topical. The micro/macrocosm theory, which postulated homologies between the energy body of a “divine” individual and the whole universe, was widely distributed at the time. They were also applied to history in alchemic circles.

Correspondingly, there was the idea of the Zaddik, the “just”, in the traditional Jewish Cabala and in Chassidism. The mission of the Zaddik consisted in a correct and exemplary way of life so as to produce social harmony and peace. His thoughts and deeds were so closely aligned with the national community to which he belonged that the history of his people developed in parallel to his individual fate. Hence, for example the misbehavior of a Zaddik had a negative effect upon historical process and could plunge his fellow humans into ruin.

Yet such conceptions only very vaguely outline the far more thorough-going relation of Buddhist Tantrism to history. A tantra master must — if he is to abide by his own ideas and his micro/macrocosmic logic — take literally the magical correspondences between his awareness and the external world. He must be convinced that he (as Maha Siddha, i.e., Great Sorcerer) is able to exert an influence upon the course of history through sinking in to meditation, through breathing techniques, through ritual actions, and through sexual magic practices. He must make the deities he conjures up or represents the agents of his “politics” much more than the people who surround him.

A king initiated into the mysteries of Vajrayana thus controls not just his country and his subjects, but also even the course of the stars with the help of his mystic breathing. “The cosmos, as it reveals itself to be in the tantric conception”, Mircea Eliade writes, “is a great fabric of magic forces, and namely these forces can also be awakened and ordered in the human body through the techniques of mystic physiology” (Eliade, 85, p. 225).

A dependency of events in the world upon the sacred practices of initiated individuals may sound absurd to us, but it possesses its own logic and persuasive power. If, for example, we examine the history of Tibet from the point of view of tantric philosophy, then to our astonishment we ascertain that the Lamas have succeeded very well in formulating an internally consistent salvational and symbolic history of the Land of Snows. [4] They have even managed to tailor this to the person of the Dalai Lama from its beginnings, even though this latter institution was only established as a political power factor 900 (!) years after the Buddhization of the country (in the eighth century C.E.).

It is above all the doctrine of incarnation which offers a cogently powerful argument for the political continuity of the same power elite beyond their deaths. With it their power political mandate is ensured for all time. But the incarnations have likewise been backdated into the past so as to lay claim to politically significant “forefathers”. The Fifth Dalai Lama made extensive use of this procedure.

Thus, in order to present and to understand the Tibetan conception of history and the “politics” of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, we are confronted with the four ideas from an ancient world view described above:

1. Tibet’s history and politics are determined by the Tibetan gods.

2. Tibet’s history and politics are the expression of a mythic battle of the sexes.

3. Tibet’s history and politics orient themselves to the eschatological plan of the Kalachakra Tantra.

4. Tibet’s history and politics are the magical achievement of a highest tantra master (the Dalai Lama), who steers the fate of his country as a sacred king and yogi.

Even if one discards these theses on principle as fantasy, it remains necessary to proceed from them in order to adequately demonstrate and assess the self-concept of Tantric Buddhism, of the Dalai Lama, the leading exile Tibetan, and the many western Buddhists who have joined this religion in recent years. Although we in no sense share the Tibetan viewpoint, we are nonetheless convinced that the “great fabric of magic forces” (which characterizes Tantrism in the words of Mircea Eliade) can shape historical reality when many believe in it.

In the following chapters we thus depict the history of Tibet and the politics of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama as a tantric project, as the emanation of divine archetypes, and as a sequence of scenes in the dramaturgy of the Kalachakra Tantra, just as it is also seen by Lamaists. We must therefore first of all introduce the reader to the chief gods who have occupied the political stage of the Land of Snows since the Buddhization of Tibet. Then on a metaphysical level the Lamaist monastic state is considered to be the organized assembly of numerous deities, who have been appearing in human form (as various lamas) again and again for centuries. We are confronted here with a living “theocracy”, or better, “Buddhocracy”. It is the Tibetan gods to whom Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, has made his human body available and who speak and act through him. This may be the reason why His Holiness, as he crossed the border into India on his flight from Tibet in 1959, yelled as loudly as he could, “Lha Gyelo — Victory to the gods!” (Dalai Lama XIV, 1993a, p. 168). With this cry he opened them the gateway to the world, especially to the West.



[1] Should a world civilization oriented to humane values wish to establish the causes of the “battle of cultures” and the current global incidence of fundamentalism, then it would be well advised to critically examine the “holy texts”, rites, mysteries, and history of the religious traditions and compare them with the requirements of a planetary, human political vision. Such research and comparison would produce sobering results. It was precisely such painful and disillusioning realizations which motivated us to write this study of Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama, in whom we had invested great hopes.

[2] Traces of a cyclical image of history are also found in the thought of Oswald Spenglers (1880-1936), for whom every historical cultural epoch behaved like an organism which exhibited the phases of life of birth, childhood, youth, adulthood, old age, and death. The study of history is thus for him a biography which must be written afresh for every culture.

[3] We can find a faint echo of this mystical historical speculation in the cult of the genius of the 19th and 20th century. In this, messiah figures and saviors are replaced by those exceptional figures whom Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) referred to as “heroes” and in whose thoughts and deeds the Zeitgeist is supposed to be focused. In this point of view it is not just in politicians and military leaders, but also in scientists, philosophers, or artists that the essence of history can be concentrated. For the cultural critic, Eugen Friedell (1878-1938), the spirit of a historical genius infected an entire epoch. He becomes a “god” of his period — even if he introduces rationalism, like René Descartes or dialectical materialism like Karl Marx.

[4] In the meantime the historical facts they have distorted have been taken up by numerous “respectable” scholarly works from the West. We shall go into the particulars of this.
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Postby admin » Fri Jun 19, 2015 1:57 am


The two principal divine beings who act through the person of the Dalai Lama are the Bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara (in Tibetan, Chenrezi), and the meditation Buddha, Amitabha. Spiritually, Amitabha is on a higher level (as a Buddha). He does not “lower” himself directly into the “god-king” (the Dalai Lama), but appears first in the form of Avalokiteshvara. Only Chenrezi then takes on the bodily form of the Dalai Lama.

Buddha Amitabha: The sun and light deity:

The meditation Buddha, Amitabha, rules –according to a point of doctrine of Mahayana Buddhism — as regent of the current age. Even the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, was considered his earthly emanation. The sun and light are assigned to him and summer is his season. The peacock, a classic animal of the sun, adorns his throne. The red color of Amitabha’s body also signals his solar character. Likewise, his mantra, “HRIH”, is referred to as a “sun symbol”: “It possesses not just the warmth of the sun, that is, the emotional principle of kindness and of pity — but also the brilliance, the quality of clarification, the discovery, the unmediated perception” (Govinda, 1984, p. 277). Amitabha is the Buddhist god of light par excellence and his followers thus pray to him as the “shining lord". As the “unbounded light” he shines through the whole universe. His luminance is described in ancient texts as “a hundred thousand times greater than the radiance of gold” (Joseph Campbell, 1973, p. 315).

The opulent sun symbolism which is so closely linked to the figure of this Buddha has led several western oriented scholars to describe Buddhism in total as a solar cult. For example, the tantra researcher, Shashibhusan Dasgupta, even sees an identity between the historical Buddha (the incarnation of Amitabha), the Dharma (the Buddhist doctrine) and the Indian solar deity (Surya) (Dasgupta, 1946, p. 337). The Dharma (the teachings) are also often referred to as the “sun” in traditional Buddhist writings, since the words of Buddha “radiate like sunshine”. Sometimes even the principle of “emptiness” is identified with the sun: “Dharma is Shunya [emptiness] and Shunya has the form of a zero”, writes Dasgupta, “Therefore Dharma is of the shape of a zero; and as the sun is also of the shape of a zero, Dharma is identified with the sun. Moreover, Dharma moves in the void, and void is the sky, and the sun moves in the sky and hence the sun is Dharma” (Dasgupta, 1946, p. 337).

Amitabha and the historical Buddha are not just associated with the sun, but also with the element of “fire”. “As for the Fiery-Energy,” Ananda Coomaraswamy tells us, “this is the element of fire present as an unseen energy in all existences, but preeminently manifested by Arhats [holy men] or the Buddha” (Coomaraswamy, 1979, p. 10).

There are a number of depictions of Gautama as a “pillar of fire” from as early as the third century B.C.E. (Coomaraswamy, 1979, p. 210). The column of fire is both a symbol for the axis of the world and for the human spine up which the Kundalini ascends. It further has a clear phallic character. A Nepalese text refers to the ADI BUDDHA as a “linga-shaped [phallic] flame” which rises from a lotus (Hazra, 1986, p. 30). This close relation of the Buddha figure to fire has induced such discriminating authors as the Indian religious studies scholar, Ananda Coomaraswamy, to see in Shakyamuni an incarnation of Agni, the Indian god of fire (Coomaraswamy, 1979, p. 65).

Yet the power of fire is not only positively valued in Indian mythology. In the hot subcontinent, destructive forces are also evoked by sun and flame. Notorious demons, not just gods, laid claim to be descended from Surya, the sun god. Hence, the Indologist, Heinrich Zimmer, recounted several traditional stories in which demonic yogis reached for divine power through the generation of inner heat. He calls this fiery yogic force tapas, which means roughly “inner blaze”.

Throne and Foot of the Buddha with sun symbols and swastikas

In contrast, Lama Govinda completely represses the destructive force of the tapas and simply declares them to be the main principle of Buddhist mysticism: “It is the all-consuming, flaming power, the inner blaze which overwhelms everything, which has filled the religious life of the people in its thrall since the awakening of Indian thought: the power of the Tapas ... Here, Tapas is the creative principle, which functions in both the material and the spiritual [domains] ... It is 'enthusiasm', in its most lowly form a straw fire fed by blind emotion, in its highest, the flame of inspiration nourished by unmediated perception. Both have the nature of fire” (Govinda, 1991, p. 188). With this citation Govinda leaves us with no doubt that Tantric Buddhism represents a universal fire cult. [1]

Already in Vedic times fire was considered to be the cause of life. The ancient Indians saw a fire ritual in the sexual act between man and woman and compared it with the rubbing together of two pieces of wood through which a flame can be kindled. The spheres assigned to the “fire Buddha”, Amitabha, are thus also those of erotic passion and sexuality. Of the sexual magic fluids, the male seed is associated with him. This makes him the predestined father of Tantric Buddhism. In his hand the “fire god” holds a lotus, by which his affinity to the symbolic world of the feminine is indicated. “The Lotus lineage is that of Amitabha”, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama writes in a commentary upon the Kalachakra Tantra, “practitioners of which especially should keep the pledge of restraining from, or abandoning, the bliss of emission, even though making use of a consort” (Dalai Lama XIV, 1985, p. 229).

Amitabha rules as the sovereign of the western paradise, Sukhavati. After their deaths, upright Buddhists are reborn here from out of a lotus flower. They all move through this hereafter in a golden body. Women, however, are unwelcome. If they have earned great merit during their earthly existence, then they are granted the right to change their sex and they are permitted to enter Amitabha’s land after they have been incarnated as men. [2]

Apart from this, the light Buddha is worshipped as the “lord of language”. Analytic thought and distinctions also belong to his area of responsibility. This induced Lama Govinda to make him the patron of the modern (and western) sciences. He is “differentiating”, “researching” and “investigative” (Govinda, 1984, p.123).

Let us summarize then: Buddha Amitabha possesses the character traits of a light, fire, and sun deity. His cardinal point is the West. As founding father of the Lotus family he stands in a deep symbolic connection to sexuality and through this to Tantrism.

In the light of his qualities as “fire god”, “lord of the West”, and “patron of science”, Amitabha could indeed be regarded as the regent of our modern age, then the last two hundred years of western civilization and technological development have been predominantly dominated by the element of fire: electricity, light, explosions, and the modern art of war count as part of this just as much as the greenhouse effect and worldwide desertification. The great inventions — the steam engine, dynamite, the automobile, the airplane, rockets, and finally the atomic bomb — are also the handiwork of “fire”. The fiery element rules the world as never before in history.

Committed Buddhists — headed by the Dalai Lama — describe our western civilization as decadent and unbalanced, because it is no longer fair to spiritual values. But, one could say, an elementary imbalance likewise determines the myth of the “world dominion” of Amitabha, who as the Buddha of a single (!) element ("fire”) controls our epoch. In terms of cultural history, fire and the sun can be considered the classic patriarchal symbols, whilst the moon and water represent the feminine. Hence, Amitabha is also a symbol for our global androcentric culture, which, however, can only develop its complete purity when totally freed of women in the paradise of Sukhavati.

The various masks of Avalokiteshvara:

As an emanation from the right eye of his spiritual father, Amitabha, emerged his son, Avalokiteshvara, with the Tibetan name of Chenrezi. He is the “Bodhisattva” of our age, the “chief deity” of Tibet and the divine energy which functions directly behind the person of the Dalai Lama. There is no figure in the Buddhist pantheon who enjoys greater respect than he does. His name means “he who looks down kindly”. He is identified by his chief characteristic of mercy and compassion for all living creatures. This close linkage to emotional life has won him the deep reverence of the masses.

Avalokiteshvara can appear in countless forms, 108 of which are iconographically fixed. In an official prayer, he is described as a puer aeternus (an eternal boy):

Generated from ten million rays,
his body is completely white.
His head is adorned
and his locks reach down to his breast. [...]
His kindly, smiling features
are those of a sixteen year old.

(Lange, n.d., p. 172)

His best known and most original appearance shows him with eleven heads and a thousand arms. This figure arose — the myth would have it — after the Bodhisattva’s head split apart into countless fragments because he could no longer bear the misery of this world and the stupidity of the living creatures. Thereupon his “father”, Amitabha, took the remnants with him to the paradise of Sukhavati and formed ten new heads from the fragments, adding his own as the tip of the pyramid. This self-destruction out of compassion for humanity and the Bodhisattva’s subsequent resurrection makes it tempting to compare this Bodhisattva’s tale of suffering with the Passion of Christ.

In some Mahayana Buddhist texts the figure of Avalokiteshvara is exaggerated so that he becomes an arch-god, who absorbs within himself all the other gods, even the Highest Buddha (ADI BUDDHA). He also already appears in India (as later in Tibet in the form of the Dalai Lama) as Chakravartin, i.e., as a “king of all kings”, as a “ruler of the world” (Mallmann, 1948, p. 104).

His believers prostrate themselves before him as the “shining lord”. In one interesting picture from the collection of Prince Uchtomskij he is depicted within a circle of flame and with the disc of the sun. His epithet is “one whose body is the sun” (Gockel, 1992, p. 21). He sits upon a Lion Throne, or rides upon the back of a lion, or wears the fur of a lion. Thus, all the solar symbols of Amitabha and the historical Buddha are also associated with him.

Avalokiteshvara in the form of the Death God Yama

In the face of this splendor of light it is all too easy to forget that Avalokiteshvara also has his shady side. Every Buddha and every Bodhisattva — tantric doctrine says — can appear in a peaceful and a terrible form. This is also true for the Bodhisattva of supreme compassion. Among his eleven heads can be found the terrifying head of Yama, the god of the dead. He and Avalokiteshvara form a unit. Hence, as the “king of all demons” (one of Yama’s epithets), the “light god” also reigns over the various Buddhist hells.

Yama is depicted on Tibetan thangkas as a horned demon with a crown of human skulls and an aroused penis. Usually he is dancing wildly upon a bull beneath the weight of which a woman, with whom the animal is copulating, is being crushed. Fokke Sierksma and others see in this scene an attack on a pre-Buddhist (possibly matriarchal) fertility rite (Sierksma, 1966, p. 215).

As god of the dead (Yama) and snarling monster, Avalokiteshvara also holds the “wheel of life” in his claws, which is in truth a “death wheel” (a sign of rebirth) in Buddhism. Among the twelve fundamental evils etched into the rim of the wheel which make an earthly/human existence appear worthless can be found “sexual love”, “pregnancy” and “birth”.

In the world of appearances Yama represents suffering and mortality, birth and death. So much cruelty and morbidity is associated with this figure in the tantric imagination that he all but has to be seen as the shadowy brother of the Bodhisattva of mercy and love. Yet both Buddha beings prove themselves to be a paradoxical unit. It is self-evident according to the doctrines of Tantrism that the characteristics of Yama can also combine themselves with the person of the Dalai Lama (the highest incarnation of Avalokiteshvara). This has seldom been taken into consideration when meeting with the god-king from Tibet who “looks down peacefully”.

A further striking feature of the iconography of Avalokiteshvara are the feminine traits which many of his portraits display. He seems, as an enigmatic being between virgin and boy with soft features and rounded breasts, to unite both sexes within himself. As it says in a poem addressed to a painter:

Draw an Avalokiteshvara,
Like a conch, a jasmine and a moon,
Hero sitting on a white lotus seat [...]
His face is wonderfully smiling.

(Hopkins, 1987, p. 160)

Avalokiteshvara as Androgyne

Shells, jasmine, and the moon are feminine metaphors. The Bodhisattva’s epithet, Padmapani (lotus bearer), identifies him (just like Amitabha) as a member of the Lotus family and equally places him in direct connection with feminine symbolism. All over Asia the lotus is associated with the vagina. But since Chenrezi generally appears as a masculine figure with feminine traits, we must refer to him as an androgyne, a god who has absorbed the gynergy of the goddess within himself. For Robert A. Paul, he therefore assumes a “father-mother role” in Tibetan society (Paul, 1982, p. 140). The two colors in which he is graphically depicted are red and white. These correspond symbolically to the red and the white seed which are mixed with one another in the body of the tantra master.

His androgyny is most clearly recognizable in the famous mantra with which Padmapani (Avalokiteshvara) is called upon and which millions of Buddhists daily mumble to themselves: OM MANI PADME HUM. There is an extensive literature concerned with the interpretation of this utterance, from which the sexual magical ones sound the most convincing. In translation, the mantra says, “Om, jewel in the lotus, hum”. The jewel should be assigned to the masculine force and the phallus, whilst the lotus blossom is a symbol of feminine energy. The “jewel in the lotus blossom” thus corresponds to the tantric union, and, since this takes place within a male person, the principle of androgyny. The syllable OM addresses the macrocosm. HUM means “I am” and signifies the microcosm. The gist of the formula is thus: “In the union of the masculine and feminine principles I am the universe”. Anyone who knows the magic of the famous mantra “possesses control over the world” (Mallmann, 1948, p. 101). Trijang Rinpoche (1901-1981), an important teacher of the current Dalai Lama, also offers a clear and unambiguous translation “... mani indicates the vajra jewel of the father, padma the lotus of the mudra, and the letter hum [indicates] that by joining these two together, at the time of the basis, a child is born and at the time of the [tantric] path, the deities emanate” (quoted by Lopez, 1998, p. 134).

The most famous living incarnation of Avalokiteshvara is the Dalai Lama. All the energies of the Bodhisattva are concentrated in him, his androgyny as well as his solar and fiery qualities, his mildness as well as his wrath as Yama, the god of the dead. Within the Tibetan doctrine of incarnation the Dalai Lama as a person is only the human/bodily shell in which Chenrezi (Avalokiteshvara) is manifest. It is — from a tantric point of view — the visions and motives, strategies and tactics of the “mild downward-looking Bodhisattva”, which determine the politics of His Holiness and thereby the fate of Tibet.

The Fourteenth Dalai Lama as the supreme Kalachakra master:

Since the Tibetan god-king acts as the supreme master of the Kalachakra Tantra, the androgynous time god (Kalachakra and Vishvamata in one person) is likewise incarnated within him. The goal of Time Tantra is the “alchemic” production of the ADI BUDDHA. We have described in detail the genesis, “art of functioning”, and the extent of the powers of the Highest Buddha in the first part of our study, with special attention to his position as Chakravartin, as “world ruler”. This global power role is not currently assumed by the Dalai Lama. In contrast — the western public sometimes refers to him as the “most powerless politician on the planet”. Thus, in precisely locating his position along the evolutionary path of the Kalachakra Tantra, we must observe that the Kundun has not yet reached the spiritual/real level of an ADI BUDDHA, but still finds himself on the way to becoming a world ruler (Chakravartin).

All the “divine” and “demonic” characteristics of Avalokiteshvara (and also ultimately of Amitabha) mentioned above are combined by the Tibetan “god-king” as the highest vajra master with the Kalachakra Tantra. According to what is known as the Rwa tradition, the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara even stands at the beginning of the Buddhist doctrine of time as the “root guru” (Newman, 1985, p. 71). Now, what do we know about the performance of the Kalachakra system by the current incarnation of the Chenrezi, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama?

Almost nothing is known in public about the eight “highest initiations” of the Time Tantra described in the first part of our study, but all the more is known about the seven lower initiations. They have been and continue to be conducted by His Holiness — frequently, publicly, on a grand scale and throughout the whole world. The ostentatious performance of a Kalachakra spectacle set in scene by the monks of the Namgyal Institute [3] in colorful robes is meanwhile an exotic sensation, which on each occasion attracts the attention of the world’s press. Thousands, in recent years hundreds of thousands, come flocking to experience and marvel at the religious spectacle.

The Kalachakra Tantra, whose aggressive and imperialist character we have been able to demonstrate in detail, is referred to by the Dalai Lama without the slightest scruple as a “vehicle for world peace”: “We believe unconditionally in its ability to reduce tensions”, the god-king has said of the Time Tantra. “The initiation is thus public, because in our opinion it is suited to bringing peace, to encouraging the peace of the spirit and hence the peace of the world as well” (Levenson, 1990, p. 304).

Interested westerners, who still block out the magic-religious thought patterns of Lamaism, are presented with the Kalachakra ritual and the associated sand mandala as a “total work of art, in which sound and color, gesture and word are linked with one another in a many-layered, significance-laden manner” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 1 February 1986). For the Dalai Lama, however, an assembly of the invoked gods actually takes place during the rite.

In the year 1953 His Holiness was initiated into the Kalachakra rites by Ling Rinpoche for the first time. To what level is unknown to us. Profoundly impressed by the beauty of the sand mandala, the young Kundun fell into a state of dizziness. Shortly afterwards he spent a month in seclusion and was internally very moved during this period. In saying the prayers the words often stuck in his throat through emotion: “In hindsight I understand this situation to have been auspicious, an omen that I would conduct the Kalachakra initiation much more often than any of my predecessors” (Dalai Lama XIV, 1993a, p. 118).

The Dalai Lama with the Kalachakra Mandala as aureole

Strangely enough, the first initiation into the Kalachakra Tantra he performed himself (in 1954) was in his own words “at the wish of a group of lay women” (Dalai Lama XIV, 1993a, p. 119). We can only speculate as to whether this euphemistic phrase is used to disguise a ganachakra with eight or ten karma mudras (real women). Yet this is to be strongly suspected, then how in the Tibet of old where women did not have the slightest say in religious matters should a “group of lay women” of all people have come to enjoy the great privilege of motivating the nineteen-year-old hierarch to his first Kalachakra ceremony? In light of the strict court ceremonial which reigned in the Potala, this was for those times completely unthinkable, and we must therefore presume that we are dealing with a tactful reformulation of a tantric ritual involving yoginis.

His Holiness celebrated two further Kalachakra initiations in Lhasa in 1956 and 1957. In 1970 the first public initiation in exile (in Dharamsala) was staged. He himself had a dream shortly before this: “When I woke up, I knew that in the future I would perform this ritual many times. I think in my previous lifetimes I had a connection with the Kalachakra teaching. It's a karmic force” (Bryant, 1992, p. 112). This dream was in fact to come true in the years which followed.

In the summer of 1981, the “iron bird year” of the Tibetan calendar, the god-king granted a public Kalachakra initiation for the first time outside of Asia. The date and the location (Wisconsin, USA) of the initiation were drawn directly from a prophecy of the Tibetan “religious founder”, Padmasambhava, who introduced Vajrayana to the Land of Snows from India in the eighth century: “When the iron bird flies and the horses roll on wheels … the Dharma will come to the land of the Red Man” (Bernbaum, 1982, p. 33). The iron birds — in the interpretation of this vision — are airplanes, the wheeled horses are automobiles, and the land of the Red Man (the American Indians) is the United States. During the ritual a falcon with a snake in its claws is supposed to have appeared in the sky. In it the participants saw the mythic bird, garuda, representing the patriarchal power which destroys the feminine in the form of a snake. [4] Do we have here the image of a tantric wish according to which the West is already supposed to fall into the clutches of Tibetan Buddhism in the near future?

Not more than 1200 people took part in the first western initiation in Wisconsin. In1983 the Kalachakra ceremony was performed in Switzerland and thus for the first time in Europe. Now there were already 6000 western participants. In the same year more than 300,000 people appeared at the initiation in Bodh Gaya (in India). This grandiose spectacle was declared by the press to be the “Buddhist event of the century” (Tibetan Review, January 1986, p. 4). Many very poor Tibetans had illegally crossed the Chinese border in order to take part in the festivities. It is certainly worth mentioning that at least fifty people died during the ritual! (Tibetan Review, January 1986, p. 6).

In 1991, in Madison Square Gardens in New York City, there was a further Kalachakra ceremony in front of 4000 participants which attracted much public attention. At the same time a sand mandala was constructed in the Museum of Asian Art which drew tens of thousands of visitors. By the beginning of 1998, the Dalai Lama could look back over 25 public initiations into the Time Tantra which he had conducted as the supreme vajra master.


The great significance which the Dalai Lama accords the Kalachakra Tantra and its worldwide distribution, demands that all of his political activities be interpreted in the light of the visions and intentions of the Time Tantra. The Kalachakra Tantra is a major political event. It is the magic metapolitical instrument with which the Kundun hopes to conquer the West and the rest of the world. He himself, or rather the forces and powers which operate behind him, wish(es) to become the ruler of history and time itself. [5]

Statements of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama on sexuality and sexual magic:

We know almost nothing (publicly) from the Kundun about the eight highest initiations in the Kalachakra Tantra and the associated sexual magic rites. Outwardly the god-king presents a strictly asexual image. In answer to the question what he thought about sex, he replied in Playboy: “My goodness! You ask a 62-year-old monk who has been celibate his entire life a thing like that. I don’t have much to say about sex — other than that it is completely okay if two people love each other” (Playboy, German edition, March 1998, p. 46). Or he resolves the delicate topic with colloquial humor, as for example when he quotes the Indian scholar, Nagarjuna, with a three-line thought on the question of erotic love:

If one is itchy, then one scratches himself.
Better than any number of scratches
However, is when one does not itch at all.

(Dalai Lama XIV, 1993a, p. 301)

Such sayings are reminiscent of the philosophy of life of a humorous Mahayana Buddhist, but not that of a Tantric. Whether the Kundun himself conducts or has conducted sexual magic practices is a secret which is for understandable reasons not betrayed. Only through incidental remarks — the taboo topic would never be spoken about in public otherwise — can it be gauged that the Dalai Lama is completely informed about the consequences which proceed from the tantric rites.

Thus, at an event in San Francisco (in 1994) His Holiness was discussing the topics of “sexuality and Buddhism” with students. When the talk came around to the “wise fool” Drungpa Kunley, who became known through his erotic escapades, his huge male member, and through the Tibetan literature, the Kundun justified this figure’s wild sex life: in Drungpa we are dealing with a highly developed enlightened being, and his erotic activities — no matter how bizarre they may seem to an ordinary person — were always carried out for the benefit of all living beings. “He could”, the Dalai Lama said with a smile, “enjoy excrement and urine just like fine foods and wine,” and then he joked of the modern Tibetan lamas that, “If you put into their mouth some urine, they will not enjoy it” (Arianna, Newsgroup 3). From this it can be logically concluded that every enlightened one must pass the tantric “taste test” and that contemporary lamas are not prepared to undergo this test.

At an academic seminar on dream research in Dharamsala the Kundun commented upon a paper with the following sentence: “Such work with dreams by which it comes to ejaculation could be important” (Dalai Lama XIV, 1996a, p. 115). Anyone who knows about the tantric seed gnosis also knows how fundamental the god-king’s interest in this topic must be. At the same meeting he chatted about orgiastic encounters as if they were a constant part of his world of experiences. A comparison of the mystic clear lights with orgasm is also self-evident for him (Dalai Lama XIV, 1996a, p. 116).

Some years later, at the "Mind and Life” conference in Dharamsala (in 1992), he spoke in great detail about tantric practices and even mentioned the offensive Vajroli method: "One training method that can be used as a standard of measurement of the level of one’s control entails inserting a straw into the genitals. In this practice the Yogi first draws water, and later milk, up through the straw. [Later again, we would add, the sukra from out of the vagina of his sexual partner] That cultivates the the ability to reverse the flow during intercourse (Varela, 1997, p. 172). With a somewhat insinuating smile the Dalai Lama then explained the various typologies of the mudras to the western scholars who were attending: “In tantric literature, four types of women, or consorts (Skt. mudra) are discussed. These four types are lotus-like, deer-like, conch-shell-like, and elephant-like.” He then joked that: “If the classification had originated in Tibet instead of India, they would have called it yak-like. These distinctions all have primarily to do with the shape of the genitals, but they also refer to differences in terms of bodily constitution. There are no such categories for men” (Varela, 1997, p. 173).

Like all priests the Kundun’s attitude towards marriage is benevolent and paternalistic, without granting it any special spiritual significance. “At first glance married life appears full and attractive and that of the celibate as miserable. But I believe the life of a monk is more well balanced, there are less extremes, less highs and lows. I also always tell this to my young monks and nuns as consolation” (Zeitmagazin, no. 44, 22 October 1998, p. 24). It is nonetheless very important to him as reproduction for the maintenance of the Tibetan race and he is not at all happy when exiled Tibetans choose marriage partners of another race. He finds it likewise repulsive when ordained monks suddenly decide to marry. As his brother Lobsang Samten told him of his marriage plans, the Kundun shouted at him in a reference to the Chinese repression, “Even a dog doesn't copulate while it's actually being beaten” (Craig,1997, p. 260). He later excused himself for this uncontrolled outburst.

In 1997 on his journey through the USA, the Dalai Lama named oral and anal intercourse for both hetero- and homosexuals as being sexually taboo, and masturbation as well. The latter is condoned by the secret tantras when no real partner is available. Fellatio and cunnilingus are — as we have described in detail in Part 1 — even prescribed in the four highest initiations of the Kalachakra Tantra. But among common mortals both sexual practices are — according to a relevant sutra — punished after death by the destruction of the sexual organs in the Samghata hell. The Kundun declared sexual relations with a monk or a nun who has made a vow of celibacy to be especially reprehensible, naturally only when this takes place outside of the tantric rites. Likewise, the sexual act is forbidden in temples. In contrast, intercourse with a prostitute is allowed when the customer himself pays and does not receive the money from a third party.

Both male and female homosexuality are allowed — according to the Kundun — as long as no oral or anal contact is practiced. It was at least a politically unwise mistake to have made this statement in San Francisco, the Mecca of the American gay movement. The sexual ban immediately led to the strongest protests. “Many Americans” have been disappointed, a statement from the homosexual scene said, since they “embraced Buddhism because they thought it was not nonjudgmental in sexual matters” (Peterson, Newsgroup 6). [6]



[1] In light of this emphasis on the solar and fiery nature which characterizes the historical Buddha, his close connection to the symbolism of snakes is puzzling, above all because snakes are associated with water and the feminine. They are known to every student of Buddhism as nagas, and reign as kings of the springs, brooks, streams, and lakes. In his book, The Sun and the Serpent, the Englishman, C. F. Oldham, has attempted to prove that Buddhist snake worship is a solar institution. During his lifetime, Buddha already enjoyed widespread adoration as Maha Naga, the great serpent (Oldham, 1988, p. 179). Since he and his tribe belonged to the “sun race”, conjectures this author, the snake gods also ought to be “solar”. Among other sources, he makes reference to an old sutra, where we can read of “The lord of the overpowering serpents belonging to Surya [the sun god]” (Oldham, 1988, p. 66). Nonetheless, we believe Oldham’s thesis, that the Buddhist snake cult had an originally solar nature, to be a false conclusion. The close connection of heliocentric Buddhism to the sphere of the snake can therefore only be explained in that Buddha subjected the nagas so as to consolidate his supreme rule as patriarchal sun god with this victory. This is precisely the procedure which we also know from tantric practices, where the feminine, ignited by the masculine fire energy, ultimately serves the androcentric yogi. The ignited feminine element is, as we know, referred to as Kundalini, that is, fire serpent.

[2] The “pilgrimage” of the soul to the “pure land” of the light god has in Asia become — above all in China and Japan — a widely distributed religious belief and has led to the formation of various Buddhist schools.

[3] An institution especially established for the performance of the great public initiations of the Kalachakra Tantra, which is under the direct supervision of the Dalai Lama.

[4] Garuda, the bird of prey, is presented in Tibetan mythology as a powerful snake killer. It is the fire eagle, which feeds upon the flesh of the nagas (snakes). We know already from the Indian national epic, the Mahabharata, that it belongs to the race of the sun, and that it was a totemic figure for tribes which worshipped the sun as their highest deity. The garuda is also the protective animal of the Dalai Lama and is mentioned in the Kalachakra Tantra. Does it represent the fiery masculine power over the feminine snake world? Albert Grünwedel saw it in these terms when he wrote: “We know the garuda-like, awful, high-flying bird of prey which tears girls [nagis] apart ...” (Grünwedel, 1924, vol. II, p. 68). The author is further convinced that there is talk in the Kalachakra Tantra of a transformation of the nagas into garudas (Grünwedel, 1924, vol. II, p. 68; Kalacakra IV, p. 182). Whatever one may think of Grünwedel’s interpretation, it at any rate draws attention to the tantric mystery which can be seen to sparkle behind the garuda myth: the transformation of feminine water energy (the snake) by masculine fire (the garuda), or the absorption of the moon (the snake) by the sun (the garuda) as the culmination of the development of patriarchal power.

[5] Perhaps his role as supreme time god has something to do with the fact that the Kundun has a very special fondness for taking apart, repairing, and then reassembling modern watches? A Swiss organization of exiled Tibetans sells clocks featuring the main symbol of the Kalachakra Tantra (the dasakaro vasi) and markets these via the Internet. The monk Daoxuan (596-667) had already compared Buddhism to a clock. When a Buddha appears in the world — we learn from him — then the clock also functions. If the clock does not keep the time, this means that the people no longer follow the Dharma. When Shakyamuni died, “the clockwork no longer functioned” (Forte, 1988, p. 259).

[6] In this connection, a text on homosexuality recently published by one of the most intimate of His Holiness’s western collaborators appears quite bizarre. The most recent book by Jeffrey Hopkins, currently Professor of Tibetan Studies at the University of Virginia, has the title of Sex, Orgasm and the Mind of Clear Light: The 64 Arts of Gay Male Sex (Hopkins, 1996). In reading through the text we naturally asked ourselves the question: Can the tantric exchange of energies also take place between men? Is a female wisdom consort necessary at all for the performance of the sexual magic practices or may it also be a male consort? The book does not offer an answer to this and must therefore, as Hopkins himself stresses, not be regarded as a tantric text. It is much more a matter of — as he himself puts it — a homosexual Kama Sutra, a guide to erotic amusement. Quite a number of lecherous lines are devoted to anal intercourse, which is one of the sexual taboos for His Holiness. — One text in which homosexual tantric practices are discussed by a guru is The Dawn Horse Testament by Da Free John, the former spiritual teacher of the American evolutionary theorist, Ken Wilber. The author approves of homosexual rites to a limited degree, but strongly emphasizes that during the sexual magic act strictly one man must play the masculine role and the other should take the feminine role (Da, 1991, p. 348). One of the men is thus used in terms of energy as a substitute woman, which only confirms the fundamentally heterosexual orientation of Tantrism.
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History as understood in the Kalachakra Tantra is apocalyptic salvational history, it is — as we have said — an alchemic experiment aimed at producing an ADI BUDDHA. The protagonists in this drama are no mere mortals but gods. History and myth thus form a union. If we take the philosophy of Vajrayana literally then all the events of the tantric performance ought to be able to be found again in the history of Tibet. The latter should therefore be interpreted as the expression of a sexual dynamic. Before we ourselves begin to search for symbolic connections and mythic fields behind the practical political facts of Tibetan history, we should ask ourselves whether the Tibetans have not of their own accord conducted such a sex specific and sexual magic interpretation of their historical experiences.

We know that the rules of the game demand two principal actors in every tantric performance, a man and a woman, or, respectively, a god and a goddess. In any case the piece is divided into three acts:

1. The sexual magic union of god and goddess

2. The subsequent “tantric female sacrifice”

3. The production of the cosmic androgyne (ADI BUDDHA)

Let us turn our attention, then, to the individual scenes through which this cosmic theater unfolds on the “Roof of the World”. Here, the country’s myths of origin are of decisive significance, as they provide the archetypal framework from which, in an ancient conception of history, all later events may be derived.

The bondage of the earth goddess Srinmo and the history of the origin of Tibet:

The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is considered the progenitor of the Tibetans, he thus determines events from the very beginning. In the period before there were humans on earth, the Buddha being was embodied in a monkey and passed the time in deep meditation on the “Roof of the World”. There, as if from nowhere, a rock demoness by the name of Srinmo appeared. The hideous figure was a descendent of the Srin clan, a bloodthirsty community of nature goddesses. “Spurred on by horniness” — as one text puts it — she too assumed the form of a (female) monkey and tried over seven days to seduce Avalokiteshvara. But the divine Bodhisattva monkey withstood all temptations and remained untouched and chaste. As he continued to refuse on the eighth day, Srinmo threatened him with the following words: “King of the monkeys, listen to me and what I am thinking. Through the power of love, I very much love you. Through this power of love I woo you, and confess: If you will not be my spouse, I shall become the rock demon’s companion. If countless young rock demons then arise, every morning they will take thousands upon thousands of lives. The region of the Land of Snows itself will take on the nature of the rock demons. All other forms of life will then be consumed by the rock demons. If I myself then die as a consequence of my deed, these living beings will be plunged into hell. Think of me then, and have pity” (Hermanns, 1956, p. 32). With this she hit the bullseye. “Sexual intercourse out of compassion and for the benefit of all suffering beings” was — as we already know — a widespread “ethical” practice in Mahayana Buddhism. Despite this precept, the monkey first turned to his emanation father, Amitabha, and asked him for advice. The “god of light from the West” answered him with wise foresight: “Take the rock demoness as your consort. Your children and grandchildren will multiply. When they have finally become humans, they will be a support to the teaching” (Hermanns, 1956, p. 32).

Nevertheless, this Buddhist evolutionary account, reminiscent of Charles Darwin, did not just arise from the compassionate gesture of a divine monkey; rather, it also contains a widely spread, elitist value judgment by the clergy, which lets the Tibetans and their country be depicted as uncivilized, underdeveloped and animal-like, at least as far as the negative influence of their primordial mother is concerned. “From their father they are hardworking, kind, and attracted to religious activity; from their mother they are quick-tempered, passionate, prone to jealousy and fond of play and meat”, an old text says of the inhabitants of the Land of Snows (Samuel, 1993, p. 222).

Two forces thus stand opposed to one another, right from the Tibetan genesis: the disciplined, restrained, culturally creative, spiritual world of the monks in the form of Avalokiteshvara and the wild, destructive energy of the feminine in the figure of Srinmo.

In a further myth, non-Buddhist Tibet itself appears as the embodiment of Srinmo (Janet Gyatso, 1989, p. 44). The local demoness is said to have resisted the introduction of the true teaching by the Buddhist missionaries from India with all means at her disposal, with weaponry and with magic, until she was ultimately defeated by the great king of law, Songtsen Gampo (617-650), an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara (and thus of the current Dalai Lama). “The lake in the Milk plane,” writes the Tibet researcher Rolf A. Stein, “where the first Buddhist king built his temple (the Jokhang), represented the heart of the demoness, who lay upon her back. The demoness is Tibet itself, which must first be tamed before she can be inhabited and civilized. Her body still covers the full extent of Tibet in the period of its greatest military expansion (eighth to ninth century C.E.). Her spread-eagled limbs reached to the limits of Tibetan settlement ... In order to keep the limbs of the defeated demoness under control, twelve nails of immobility were hammered into her” (Stein, 1993, p.34). A Buddhist temple was raised at the location of each of these twelve nailings.

Mysterious stories circulate among the Tibetans which tell of a lake of blood under the Jokhang, which is supposed to consist of Srinmo’s heart blood. Anyone who lays his ear to the ground in the cathedral, the sacred center of the Land of Snows, can still — many claim — hear her faint heartbeat. A comparison of this unfortunate female fate with the subjugation of the Greek dragon, Python, at Delphi immediately suggests itself. Apollo, the god of light (Avalokiteshvara), let the earth-monster, Python (Srinmo), live once he had defeated it so that it would prophesy for him, and built over the mistreated body at Delphi the most famous oracle temple in Greece.

"The outer darkness is a great dragon, whose tail is in his mouth, outside the whole world and surrounding the whole world. And there are many regions of chastisement within it. There are twelve mighty chastisement-dungeons and a ruler is in every dungeon and the face of the rulers is different one from another.

-- Pistis Sophia: A Gnostic Miscellany, Translated by G.R.S. Mead

The earth demoness is nailed down with phurbas. These are ritual daggers with a three-sided blade and a vajra handle. We know these already from the Kalachakra ritual, where they are likewise employed to fixate the earth spirits and the earth mother. The authors who have examined the symbolic significance of the magic weapon are unanimous in their assessment of the aggressive phallic symbolism of the phurba.

In their view, Srinmo represents an archetypal variant of the Mother Earth figure known from all cultures, whom the Greeks called Gaia (Gaea). As nature and as woman she stands in stark contrast to the purely spiritual world of Tantric Buddhism. The forces of wilderness, which rebel against androcentric civilization, are bundled within her. She forms the feminine shadow world in opposition to the masculine paradise of light of the shining Amitabha and his radiant emanation son, Avalokiteshvara. Srinmo symbolizes the (historical) prima materia, the matrix, the primordial earthly substance which is needed in order to construct a tantric monastic empire, then she provides the gynergy, the feminine élan vitale, with which the Land of Snows pulsates. As the vanquisher of the earth goddess, Avalokiteshvara triumphs in the form of King Songtsen Gampo, that is, the same Bodhisattva who, as a monkey, earlier engendered with Srinmo the Tibetans in myth, and who shall later exercise absolute dominion from the “Roof of the World” as Dalai Lama.

Tibet’s sacred center, the Jokhang (the cathedral of Lhasa), the royal chronicles inform us, thus stands over the pierced heart of a woman, the earth mother Srinmo. This act of nailing down is repeated at the construction of every Lamaist shrine, whether temple or monastery and regardless of where the establishment takes place — in Tibet, India, or the West. Then before the first foundation stone for the new building is laid, the tantric priests occupy the chosen location and execute the ritual piercing of the earth mother with their phurbas. Tibet’s holy geography is thus erected upon the maltreated bodies of mythic women, just as the tantric shrines of India (the shakta pithas) are found on the places where the dismembered body of the goddess Sati fell to earth.

Srinmo with different Tibetan temples upon her body

In contrast to her Babylonian sister, Tiamat, who was cut to pieces by her great-grandchild, Marduk, so that outer space was formed by her limbs, Srinmo remains alive following her subjugation and nailing down. According to the tantric scheme, her gynergy flows as a constant source of life for the Buddhocratic system. She thus vegetates — half dead, half alive — over centuries in the service of the patriarchal clergy. An interpretation of this process according to the criteria of the gaia thesis often discussed in recent years would certainly be most revealing. (We return to this point in our analysis of the ecological program of the Tibetans in exile.) According to this thesis, the mistreated “Mother Earth” (Gaia is the popular name for the Greek earth mother) has been exploited by humanity (and the gods?) for millennia and is bleeding to death. But Srinmo is not just a reservoir of inexhaustible energy. She is also the absolute Other, the foreign, and the great danger which threatens the Buddhocratic state. Srinmo is — as we still have to prove — the mythic “inner enemy” of Tibetan Lamaism, while the external mythic enemy is likewise represented by a woman, the Chinese goddess Guanyin.

Srinmo survived — even if it was under the most horrible circumstances, yet the Tibetans also have a myth of dismemberment which repeats the Babylonian tragedy of Tiamat. Like many peoples they worship the tortoise as a symbol of Mother Earth. A Tibetan myth tells of how in the mists of time the Bodhisattva Manjushri sacrificed such a creature “for the benefit of all beings”. In order to form a solid foundation for the world he fired an arrow off at the tortoise which struck it in the right-hand side. The wounded animal spat fire, its blood poured out, and it passed excrement. It thus multiplied the elements of the new world. Albert Grünwedel presents this myth as evidence for the “tantric female sacrifice” in the Kalachakra ritual: “The tortoise which Manjushri shot through with a long arrow ... [is] just another form of the world woman whose inner organs are depicted by the dasakaro vasi figure [the Power of Ten]" (Grünwedel, 1924, vol. II, p. 92).

The relation of Tibetan Buddhism to the goddess of the earth or of the country (Tibet) is also one of brutal subjugation, an imprisonment, an enslavement, a murder or a dismemberment. Euphemistically, and in ignorance of the tantric scheme of things it could also be interpreted as a civilizing of the wilderness through culture. Yet however the relation is perceived — no meeting, no exchange, no mutual recognition of the two forces takes place. In the depths of Tibet’s history — as we shall show — a brutal battle of the sexes is played out.

Why women can’t climb the pure crystal mountain:

Even the landscape is sexualized in Tibetan folk beliefs (this too squares with the ideas of Tantrism). In mountain lakes, the water of which has taken on a red color (probably because of mercury), the lamas see the menstrual blood of the goddess Vajravarahi. In rivers, lakes, and springs dwell the Lu, who resemble our nixies. They are hostile towards we humans, yet they were nonetheless preferred as spouses by the kings of the highlands in ancient times and brought their magic abilities with them in the marriage. We learn from the Fifth Dalai Lama that they leave no corpse behind when they die.

The myths have also divided the massive snow capped peaks along sexual lines. It was hence not uncommon for particular mountains to marry and the descendants of such alliances are supposed to have grounded powerful royal houses. One of the mountain goddesses is world famous, because it rises above the other peaks of the planet as the highest mountain of all. We know her under the name of Mount Everest, the Himalayan peoples, however, pray to her as the “Mother of the Earth”, the “White Heavens Goddess”, the “White Glacier Lady”, the “Goddess of the Winds”, the “Lady of Long Life”, the “Elephant Goddess”.

In his study with the descriptive title of Why can’t women climb pure crystal mountain?, the Tibet researcher Toni Huber describes an interesting mythic case where a mountain goddess was deprived of her power by a tantric Siddha and since then the location of her former rule may no longer be visited by women. The case concerns the Tsari, a mountain which was the seat of a powerful female deity in pre-Buddhist times. She was defeated by a yogi in the twelfth century. The brutal battle between her and the vajra master displays clear traits of a tantric performance. As the yogi entered the region under her control, the goddess let a series of vaginas appear by magical manipulation so as to seduce her challenger, yet the latter succeeded in warding off the magic through a brutal act of subjugation. As she then, lying on the ground, showed herself willing to sleep with her conqueror, she was at first rejected on the grounds that she was of the female sex (!). But after a while the yogi accepted her as a wisdom consort and took away all her magic powers once they had united sexually (Huber, 1994, p. 352).

From this point in time on, Tsari, which was among the most holy mountains of the highlands, became taboo for women, both for Buddhist nuns and for laity. This ban has remained in force until modern times. Groups of pilgrims who visited the mountain in the eighties sent their women back in advance. Toni Huber questioned several lamas about the significance of this misogynist custom. The majority of answers made reference to the “purity of the location” which in the view of the monks formed a geographic mandala: “Because it is such a pure abode, .... women are not allowed. ... The only reason is that women are of inferior birth and impure. There are many powerful mandalas on the mountain that are divine and pure, and women are polluting” (Huber, 1994, p. 356).

But there was also another justification for the exclusion of the female pilgrims which likewise shows how and with what presumption the androcentric power elite of the land seize possession of the formerly feminine geography: “The reason why women can't go up there is that at Tsari are lots of small, self-produced manifestations of the Buddha genitals made of stone. If you look at them they just appear ordinary, but they are actually miraculous phalluses of the Buddha, so if women go there these miracles would become spoiled by their presence, and the women would get many problems also. They would get sick and perhaps die prematurely. It is generally harmful for their health so that is why they stopped women going to the holy place in the past, for their own benefit. The problem is that women are low and dirty, thus they are too impure to go there” (Huber, 1994, p. 357). It is no wonder that in feminist circles the future climbing of Tsari by a woman and its “re-conquest” has become a symbol for female resistance against patriarchal Lamaism.

Matriarchy in the Land of Snows?:

Siegbert Hummel sees remnants of a long lost maternal cult in the Tibetan female mountain deities and their attributes. These could have already reached India and the Tibetan plateau from Mediterranean regions in the late stone age (from 4000 B.C.E.). It is a matter of one of the two contrary cultural currents, which may have embedded themselves deeply in the Tibetan popular psyche thousands of years ago: “The first is lunar in character and could be connected with the Tibetan megalithic. ... Its world view is triadic, exhibits chthonic, demonic and phallicist tendencies, snake and tree cults, as well as the worship of maternal deities ... The other component is markedly solar, dualist and heaven-related, primarily nomadic. Shamanist elements, probably from an earlier solar, hunting basis, are numerous” (Hummel, 1954, p. 128).

In that he nominates the sexual discord which has kept the civilizations of the Land of Snows in suspense since the earliest times, Hummel speaks here with the vocabulary of Tantrism, probably without knowing it. In his view then, the two heavenly orbs of moon and sun already stood opposed as two polar, culture-shaping forces in pre-Buddhist Tibet. Following the solar Bon cult Tantric Buddhism has taken over the sunly role since the eighth century. In contrast, the moon cults have been — the myth of the nailing down of Srinmo teaches us — overthrown by the sun warriors.

According to Hummel the lunar and solar cultural currents are graphically demonstrated in the very popular garuda motif in Tibetan art. The garuda is a mythical sun-bird. Not infrequently it holds in its beak a snake, which must be assigned to the lunar, matriarchal world. There was thus a fundamental clash between the two cultures: “Since the garuda is thereby understood as an enemy of the snakes, it seems natural to suspect that where the snake-killing garuda arose, the lunar and solar cultures encountered and opposed one another as enemies” Hummel writes (Hummel, 1954, p. 101).

There are in fact numerous historically demonstrable matriarchal elements in the old Tibetan culture. In this connection there are the still unexplained and mysterious stone circles which have been brought into connection with matriarchal cults and were already discovered by Sven Hedin on his research trips. In contrast, numerous prehistoric shrines found in caves offer us less ambiguous information. It has been clearly proven that female deities were worshipped at these chthonic sites. In this century such caves were still considered as birth channels and a visit to them was seen as an initiation and hence as a rebirth (Stein, 1988, pp. 2-4).

A further secret concerns the mythic female kingdoms which are supposed to have existed in Tibet — one in the West, another in the East, and the third in the North of the Land of Snows. The in part detailed reports about these stem from Chinese sources and may be traced back to the seventh century C.E. We learn that these realms, depicted as being very powerful, were ruled by queens who had command over a tribal council of women (Chayet, 1993, p. 51). When they died several members of court voluntarily joined the female rulers in death. The female nobles had male servants, and women were the head of the family. A child inherited its mother’s name.

On one of his first expeditions to Tibet, Ernst Schäfer encountered a matriarchal tribe who distinguished themselves through their cruelty. In his book, Unter Räubern in Tibet [Among Robbers in Tibet], he reports: “As we learn in Dju-Gompa, primitive matriarchy is still practiced by the wild Ngoloks. A great queen, Adjung de Jogo by name, reigns autocratically over the six main tribes that are governed by princes. As the reincarnation of a heavenly being she enjoys divine honors and at the same time is the spouse of all her tribal princes on earth. She rules with a strong hand, is pretty and clever, possesses a bodyguard of seven thousand warriors, and handles a gun like a man. Once a year Adjung de Jogo proceeds up the God-mountain with her seven thousand men in a grand procession in order to meditate in the glacial isolation before she returns to the black tents of her mobile residence.

It is not just about the intrepid courage of the Ngoloks but also their cruelty that people tell the most terrible stories. Of all the Tibetan tribes they are supposed to have figured out the most ingenious ways of despatching their victims off to join their ancestors. Chopping off hands and splitting skulls are minor things; they can be left to the others! But sewing [people] up in fresh yak skins and letting them roast in the sun — disemboweling while alive, or launching the entrails skywards on bent rods, these are the methods that are loved in Ngolokland.

At nearly all times of the year, but especially in early fall when the marshes are dried out and the animals are best nourished, the Ngoloks undertake their large-scale plundering raids to as far as Barum-Tsaidam in the north, Sungpan in the south, and Dju-Gompa in the West. Even for Chinese merchants they are the epitome of all the terrible things that are said of the “Western barbarian country” in the Middle Kingdom. (Schäfer, 1952, pp. 164-165)

In the nineteen fifties, to the south of Bhutan a matriarchally organized tribe by the name of “Garo” still existed, the members of which were convinced that they had emigrated from a province in Tibet in prehistoric times (Bertrand, 1957, p. 41). We may also recall that in the Shambhala travel books of the Third Panchen Lama there is talk of regions in which only women live.

It would certainly be somewhat hasty to conclude the existence of a matriarchy across the whole Himalayas solely on the basis of the material at hand. But at any rate, the male imagination has for centuries painted the inaccessible highlands as a region under the control of female tribes and their queens.

The western imagination:

As early as the thirteenth century the myth of the Tibetan female kingdoms had reached Europe. Speculations about this have had a hold upon western travelers up until the present day. Likewise noteworthy is the frequent allegorical connection of Tibet to something enigmatically feminine, that is, a western imagining which is congruent with the traditional Tibetan conception. Since the nineteenth century European researchers, mountain climbers, and followers of the esoteric have enthused about the Land of Snows as if it were a woman who ought to be conquered, whose veil should be lifted, and into whose secrets one wished to “penetrate”. The Tibet researcher, Peter Bishop, has devoted a detailed study to this occidental fantasy (Bishop, 1993, p. 36).

Probably the most absurd depiction of a western encounter with the “Great Mother Tibet” can be found in the travel report of the Englishman, Harrison Forman, from the nineteen thirties. To offer the reader some amusement, but above all to show how strongly the culture of the Land of Snows can over-stimulate the masculine fantasy of a westerner, we would like to present one of Forman’s lively recounted experiences in detail.

The Briton had heard of the Abbess Alakh Gong Rri Tsang (Krisang), a living “female Buddha” who aroused his curiosity immensely. He visited her convent and was given a most friendly reception. During a tour he asked about a mysterious grotto, the entrance to which could be seen on a mountainside. The Abbess gave him a sharp look and announced she was prepared to show him the “shrine”. In that moment Forman felt a painful bout of nausea, but was nonetheless prepared to follow. Thus, after a difficult climb, they both — he and the Abbess — reached the grotto. Alakh Gong Krisang lit two torches and they entered the cave. They were met by a thick darkness, a musty smell, and dancing shadows. Squeaking bats fluttered through the stale air. The ghastly ambience made the Briton nervous and he asked himself, “A thought struck me. Good Lord! Just what was this woman Living Buddha? Reason struggled with emotion. This was Tibet, where millions believed in ever present evil spirits and their capriciousness” (Forman, 1936, p. 179).

Without looking back, and with a firm footstep, the Abbess proceeded further into the grotto. "Do not be afraid, my friend!”, she calmed Forman. They progressed deeper and deeper through passages filled with stalactites and stalagmites. Then they came to a space in the center of which four pyramids of human bones rose up, with a golden statue in the middle of them. The Abbess smiled as if in a “hysterical ecstasy”, writes Forman. Immobile, she stared at the golden sculpture.

Alakh Gong Rri Tsang, the woman Grand Buddha of Drukh Kurr Gomba

And now we should let the author speak for himself: "And as I watched her, my jaw dropped. I stared as she began to disrobe. A shrug of the shoulders and her long toga slipped to the floor. Then she loosened the silken girdle at her waist and let drop the voluminous skirt-like garment. Her other garments followed, one by one, until they formed a red pile at her feet. And I saw, what I am sure no white man ever saw before me, or ever will see again, the nude body of Alakh Gong Rri Tsang, the woman Grand Buddha of Drukh Kurr Gomba. Her body was amazingly voluptuous, and, I suppose, beautiful. Her breasts stood like those of a schoolgirl, firm and round – like hemispheres of pure alabaster. Her figure was magnificent and of sinuously generous proportions. I was minded of the substantial nudes of Michelangelo and his school. And amid the ever-encircling bats she stood there – still gazing ecstatically upward” (Forman, 1936, p. 183). If we examine the photo which Forman took of the Abbess in the convent and in which she is not to be distinguished from a portly male Abbot, one is indeed most amazed at just what is supposed to be hidden beneath the clothes of the Living Buddha.

But there is better to come: "The bats had suddenly settled on her - like vultures to a feast. In a moment she was covered from head to foot. Like lustful vampires they sank their horrible libidinous beaks into her flesh and the blood began to flow from a hundred wounds” (Forman, 1936, pp. 183, 184). Forman turned to stone, but then — even in the most hopeless of situations a gentleman — he came to his senses, and began to shoot madly at the bloodsuckers with his revolver. He emptied more than seven magazines before the Abbess, to his great astonishment asked him with a smile to calm down. With a majestic gesture she reanimated the bats which he had killed. There was not the slightest trace of a wound to be seen on her body any more. "And in that moment”, Forman reports further, "had she been the loveliest woman in all the world [...] Nothing remained of the grisly scene of a few moments before to prove to me that it had ever happened at all, save the nude woman and the solid golden idol with its four guardian pyramids of human bones. Somewhere off in the blackness I could still hear faintly the obscene screaming of the hordes of bats” (Forman, 1936, p. 185). As they left the grotto, Forman commented upon the incident — typically British — with the lapidary words: "It must be the altitude!” (Forman, 1936, p. 186).

As absurd as this story may seem, it nonetheless quite exactly hits the visual world which dominates the tantric milieu, and it in no way exaggerates the often still more fantastic reports which we know from the lives of famous yogis.

Women in former Tibetan society:

How then is the fate of Srinmo expressed in Tibetan society? We would like to present the social role of women in old Tibet in a very condensed manner, without considering events since the Chinese occupation or the situation among the Tibetans in exile here. Their role was very specific and can best be outlined by saying that, precisely because of her inferiority the Tibetan woman enjoyed a certain amount of freedom. Fundamentally women were considered inferior creatures. Appropriately, the Tibetan word for woman can be literally translated as “lowly born”. Man, in contrast, means “being of higher birth” (Herrmann-Pfand, 1992, p. 76). A prayer found widely among the women of Tibet pleads, “may I reject a feminine body and be reborn [in] a male one” (Grunfeld, 1996, p. 19). The birth of a girl brought bad luck, that of a son promised happiness and prosperity.

The institution of marriage itself is definitely not one of the Buddhist virtues – the historical Buddha himself traded married life for the rough life of a pilgrim. To be blessed with children was, because of the curse which rebirth brought with it, something of a burden. Shakyamuni thus fled his father’s palace directly following the birth of his son, Rahula. With unmistakable and decisive words, Padmasambhava also expressed this anti-family sentiment: "When practicing the Dharma of liberation, to be married and lead a family life is like being restrained in tight chains with no freedom. You may wish to flee, but you have been caught in the dungeon of samsara with no escape. You may later regret it, but you have sunk into the mire of emotions, with no getting out. If you have children, they may be lovely but they are the stake that ties you to samsara” (Binder-Schmidt, 1994, p. 131).

According to the dominant teaching, women could not achieve enlightenment, and were thus considered underdeveloped. A reincarnation as a female being was regarded as a punishment. The consequence of all these weaknesses, inabilities and inferiorities was that the patriarchal monastic society paid little attention to the lives of women. They were left, so to speak, to do what they wanted. Family life was also not subject to strict rules. Marriages were solemnized without many formalities and could be dissolved by mutual consent without consulting an official institution. This disinterest of the clergy led, as we said, to a certain independence among the women of Tibet, often exaggerated by sensation-hungry western travelers. Extramarital relationships were common, especially with servants. A wife nevertheless had to remain faithful, otherwise the husband had the right to cut off her nose. Of course such privileges did not exist in the reverse situation.

The much talked about polyandry, discussed with fascination by western ethnologists, was also less of an emancipatory phenomenon than an economical necessity. A wife served two men because this spared the money for a further woman. Naturally, twice the work was expected of her. Male members of the upper strata tended in contrast toward polygyny and maintained several wives. This became quite a status symbol and having more than one wife was consequently forbidden for the lower classes. In the absence of cash, a husband could pay his debts by letting his creditors take his wife. We know of no cases of the reverse.

A liberal attitude towards women on behalf of the clergy arises out of Tantrism. Since the lamas were generally viewed to be higher entities, women and girls never resisted the wishes of the embodied deities. The Austrian, Heinrich Harrer, was amazed at the sexual freedom found in the monasteries. Likewise, the Japanese monk, Kawaguchi Eikai, wondered on his journey through Tibet about "the great beauty possessed by the young consorts of aged abbots” (quoted by Stevens, 1990, p. 80). A proportion of the female tantric partners may have earned a living as prostitutes after they had finished serving as mudras. There were many of these in the towns, and hence a saying arose according to which as many whores filled the streets of Lhasa as dogs.

But there was a married priesthood in Tibet. For members of a monastery the relaxation of the oath of celibacy was nonetheless considered an exception. These married lamas and their women primarily performed “pastoral” work in the villages. As far as we can determine, in such cases the wife was only very rarely the tantric wisdom consort of her husband. In the Sakyapa sect the great abbots were married and had children. A proper dynasty grew up out of their families. We know of precisely these powerful hierarchs that they made use not of their wives but rather of virgin girls (kumaris) for their rites.

The “freedom” of the Tibetan women was null and void as soon as sacred boundaries were crossed — for example the gates of the monastery, which remained closed to them. Only during the great annual festivals were they sometimes invited, but they were never permitted to participate actively in the performances. In the official mystery plays the roles of goddesses or dakinis were exclusively performed by men. Even the poultry which clucked around in the Dalai Lama’s gardens consisted solely of roosters, since hens would have corrupted the holy grounds with their feminine radiation. A woman was never allowed to touch the possessions of a lama.

The Tibetan nuns do admittedly take part in certain rites, but have in all much more circumscribed lives than those of lay women. Did not the historical Buddha himself say that they stood in the way of the development of the teaching, and long hesitate before ordaining women? He was convinced that the “daughters of Mara” would accelerate the downfall of Buddhism, even if they let their heads be shaved. Still today the rules prescribe that a nun owes the lowliest monk the greatest respect, whilst the reverse does not apply in any sense . Rather than being praised for her pious decision to lead a life in a convent, she is abused for being incapable of building up an orderly family life. Despite all these degradations, to which there have been no essential changes up to the present, the nuns have, without concern for life and limb, stood at the head of the emergent protest movement in Tibet since 1987.

The alchemic division of the feminine: The Tibetan goddesses Palden Lhamo and Tara:

In our explanation of Buddhist Tantrism we repeatedly mentioned the division of the feminine into a gloomy, repellant, and aggressive aspect and a bright, attractive, and mild one. The terrifying and cruel dakini is counterpointed by the sweet and blessing-giving “sky walker”. Femininity vacillates between these two extremes (the Madonna and the whore) and can be kept under control because of this inner turmoil. In the same context, we drew attention to parallels to Indian and European alchemy, where the dark part is described as the prima materia and the bright as the feminine elixir (gynergy) yearned for by the adept. Does such a splitting of the feminine also find expression in the mythical history of the Land of Snows?

Palden Lhamo — The Dalai Lama’s protective goddess:

A monumental dark and wrathful mother par excellence is Palden Lhamo, who, like her “sister” Srinmo, was a wild, free matriarch in pre-Buddhist times, but then, brought under control by a vajra master, began to serve the “true doctrine” — but in contrast to Srinmo she does so actively. She is the protective deity of the Dalai Lama, the whole country, and its capital, Lhasa. This grants her an exceptionally high position in the Tibetan pantheon. The Fifth Dalai Lama was one of her greatest worshippers, the goddess is supposed to have appeared to him several times in person; she was his political advisor and confidante (Karmay, 1988, p. 35). One of her many names, which evoke both her martial and her tantric character, is "Great Warrior Deity, the Powerful Mother of the World of the Joys of the Senses” (Richardson, 1993, p. 87). After the “Great Fifth” had repeatedly recited her mantra for a while, he dreamt “that the ghost spirits in China [were] being subdued” (Karmay, 1988, p. 35). Since then she has been considered to be one of the chief enemies of Beijing.

In examining a portrait of her, one becomes convinced that Palden Lhamo would be among the most repulsive figures in a worldwide gallery of demons. With gnashing teeth, bulging eyes and a filthy blue body, she rides upon a wild mule. Beneath its hooves spreads a sea of blood which has flowed from the veins of her slaughtered enemies. Severed arms, heads, legs, eyes and entrails float around in it. The mule’s saddle is made from the leather of a skinned human. That would be repulsive enough! But the horror overcomes one when one discovers that it is the skin of her own (!) son, who was killed by the goddess when he refused to follow her example and adopt the Buddhist faith. In her right hand Palden Lhamo swings a club in the form of a child’s skeleton. Some interpreters of this scene claim that this is also the remains of her son. With her left hand the fiendess holds a skull bowl filled with human blood to her lips. Poisonous snakes are entwined all around her. [1]

Like the Indian goddess, Kali, she appears with a loud retinue. One can encounter her of a night on charnel fields together with her noisy flock. Just what unbridled aggression this army of female ghosts kindled in the imaginations of the monks is best shown by a poem which the lamas of the Drepung monastery sing in honor of their protective lady, Dorje Dragmogyel, who is one of Palden Lhamo’s horde:

You glorious Dorje Dragmogyel ...
When you are angry at your enemies,
Then you ride upon a fiery ball of lightning.
A cloud of flames — like that at the end of all time -
Pours from your mouth,
Smoke streams from your nose,
Pillars of fire follow you.
Hurriedly you collect clouds from the firmament,
The rumble of thunder pierces
through the ten regions of the world.
A dreadful rain of meteors
and huge hailstones hurtle down,
And the Earth is flooded in fire and water.
Devilish birds and owls whir around,
Black birds with yellow beaks float past,
one after another.
The circle of Mnemo goddesses spins,
The war hordes of the demons throng
And the steeds of the tsen spirits race galloping away.
When you are happy,
then the ocean beats against the sky.
If rage fills you, then the sun and moon fall,
If you laugh, the world mountain collapses into dust ....
You and your companions
Defeat all who would harm the Buddhist teaching,
And who try to disrupt the life of the monastic community.
Wound all those of evil intent,
And especially protect our monastery,
this holy place ....
You should not wait years and months,
drink now the warm heart’s blood of the enemies,
and exterminate them in the blink of an eye.

(Nebesky-Wojkowitz, 1955, 34)

In our presentation of the tantric ritual we showed how the terror goddesses or dakinis, whatever form they may assume, must be brought under control by the yogi. Once subjugated, they serve the patriarchal monastic state as the destroyers of enemies. Hence, to repeat, the vajra master is — when he encounters the dark mother — not interested in transforming her aggression, but rather much more in setting her to work as a deadly weapon against attackers and non-Buddhists. In the final instance, however — the tantras teach us- the feminine has no independent existence, even when it appears in its wrathful form. In this respect Palden Lhamo is nothing more than one of the many masks of Avalokiteshvara, or — hence -- of the Dalai Lama himself.

We know of an astonishing parallel to this from the kingdom of the pharaohs. The ancient Egyptians personified the wrath of the male king as a female figure. This was known as Sachmet, the flaming goddess of justice with the face of a lioness (Assmann, 1991, p. 89). Since the rulers were also obliged to reign with leniency as well as justly wrath, Sachmet had a softer sister, the cat goddess Bastet. This goddess was also a characteristic of the king pictured in female form. Correspondingly, in Tibetan Buddhism the mild sister of Palden Lhamo is the divine Tara.

Even if the dreadful demoness is in the final instance an imagining of the Dalai, this does not mean that this projection cannot become independent and one day tear herself free of him, assume her own independent form and then hit back at her hated “projection father” as an enemy. Such radical “emancipations” of Tibetan protective deities are not at all rare and the collected histories of Tibet are full of reports, where submissive servants of the lamas free themselves and attempt to revolt against their lords. Right now, the Tibetan exile community is being deeply shaken by such a rebellious protective spirit by the name of Dorje Shugden, who has at any rate managed to disfigure the until now completely pure image of the Kundun in the West with some most persistent stains. We shall return to report on this often. From Shugden circles also comes the suspicion that Palden Lhamo has failed completely as the spiritual protector of Tibet, Lhasa, and the Dalai Lama, and has delivered the country into the hands of the Chinese occupiers. Whatever opinion one may have of such speculations, the extreme aggression of the demoness and the practical political facts do not exclude such a view of the matter.

In the life story of Palden Lhamo her relationship to her son is particularly cruel and numinous. Why a woman who is revered as the supreme protective spirit of Tibet and the Dalai Lama must be the slaughterer of her own child, may seem monstrous even to one who has become accustomed to the atrocities of the tantras. If we interpret the case psychologically we must ask ourselves the following questions: As a mother, is Palden Lhamo not driven by constant horror? Is her bottomless hate not the expression of her abominable deed? Must she not in her heart be the arch-enemy of Buddhism, the cause of her infanticide?

Is this repellant cult even more murderous than it already appears? Is the goddess perhaps offered sacrifices which simultaneously appease and captivate her? Since the demoness had to slaughter the utmost which a mother can give, namely her child, for Tibetan Buddhism, the sacrifice which is to fill her with satisfaction must also be the highest which Lamaism has to offer.

In fact, the early deaths of the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Dalai Lama give rise to the question of whether a deliberately initiated sacrificial offering to Palden Lhamo could be involved here? All four god-kings died at an age before they were able to take over the business of government. In each case, the regents who were exercising real power until the new Dalai Lamas came of age were suspected with good reason of being the murderer. In the Tibet of old poisonings were a regular occurrence. There is even said to have been a morbid belief that whoever poisoned a highly respected man would obtain all the happiness and privileges of his victim.

These are the historical facts. But there is a mysterious event to be found in the brief biographies of the four unhappy “god-kings” which could lend their fate a deeper, symbolic meaning. We mean the visit to a temple about a hundred miles southeast of Lhasa which was dedicated to one of the emanations of Palden Lhamo. We must imagine such shrines (gokhangs), dedicated to the wrathful deities, to be a real cabinet of horrors. Stuffed full of real and magic weapons, padded out by all manner of dried human body parts, they aroused absolute repugnance among visitors from the West.

In order to test the psychological hardiness of the young Kunduns, at least once in their lives the children were locked in the morbid temple mentioned and probably exposed to the most terrible performances of the goddess. “Young as they were, they had insufficient knowledge to persuade her to turn away the wrath, which came so easily to her, and, accordingly, they died soon after the meeting”, Charles Bell wrote of this cruel rite of initiation (Bell, 1994, p. 159). Whatever may have taken place within this gokhang, the children emerged from this hell completely disturbed and were all four close to madness.

The lot of the young Twelfth was particularly tragic. His chamberlain, one of his few intimates, was caught thieving from the Potala on a large scale. He fled upon discovery of the deed, was caught up with, and killed. The body was strapped astride a horse as if it were alive. The dead man was thus led before the young Kundun. Before the eyes of the fifteen year old, the head, hands and feet of the wrongdoer were struck off and the trunk was tossed into a field. The god-king was so horrified by the spectacle of the body of his “best friend” that he no longer wanted to see anyone at all any more and sought refuge in speechlessness. Nevertheless, the visit to the horrifying temple of Palden Lhamo was still expected of him afterwards. In contrast the “Great Thirteenth” did not visit the shrine of the demoness before he was 25 years old and came away unscathed. Even the Chinese were amazed at this. We do not know if the Fourteenth Dalai Lama has ever set foot in the shrine.

If one pursues a Tibetan/tantric logic, it naturally makes sense to interpret the premature deaths of the four Dalai Lamas as sacrifices to Palden Lhamo, since according to tradition it is necessary to constantly palliate the terror gods with blood and flesh. The demoness’s extreme cruelty is beyond doubt, and that she desires the sacrifice of boys is revealing of her own tragic history. Incidentally, the slaughter of her son may be an indicator of an originally matriarchal sacrificial cult which the Buddhists integrated into their own system. For example, the researcher A. H. Francke has discovered rock inscriptions in Tibet which refer to human sacrifices to the great goddess (Francke, 1914, p. 21). But it could also– in light of the tantric methods — be that Palden Lhamo, converted to Buddhism not from conviction but because she was magically forced to the ground, was compelled by her new lords to murder her son and that she revenged herself through the killings of the young Dalai Lamas.

Even an apparently paradoxical interpretation is possible: as a female, the demoness stands in radical confrontation to the doctrine of Vajrayana, and she may have sold her loyalty and subjugation for the highest possible price, namely that of the sacrifice of the god-kings. Such sadomasochist satisfactions can only be understood from within the tantric scheme, but there they are — as we know — not at all seldom. Hence, if one set a limit on the sacrifice of the boys in terms of time and headcount, then they may have been of benefit to later incarnations of the god-king, specifically, that is, to the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dalai Lamas. The exceptionally long reign of the last two Kunduns would, according to tantric logic, support such an interpretation.
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Tara —Tibet’s Madonna:

In the mytho-historical pantheon of Tibetan Buddhism, the gentle goddess Tara represents the exact counterimage of the terrible Palden Lhamo. Tara is — in the words of European alchemy — the “white virgin”, the ethereal-feminine supreme source of inspiration for the adept. In precisely this sense she represents the positive feminine counterpart to the destructive Palden Lhamo, or hence to the earth mother, Srinmo. The divided image of femininity found in every phase of Indian religious history thus lives on in Tibetan culture. “Witch” and “Madonna” are the two feminine archetypes which have for centuries dominated and continue to dominate the patriarchal imagination of Tibet just like that of the west. If all the negative attributes of the feminine are collected in the witch, then all the positive ones are concentrated within the Madonna.

The Tara cult is probably fairly recent. Although legends recount that the worship of the goddess was brought to the Land of Snows in the seventh century by one of the women of the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo, it is historically more likely that the Indian scholar Atisha first introduced the cult in the eleventh century.

Unlike the many repellant demonic gods who attack the tormented Tibetans, Tara has become a place of refuge. Under her, the believers can cultivate their noble sentiments. She grants devotion, love, faith, and hope to those who call upon her. She exhibits all the characteristics of a merciful mother. She appears to people in dreams as a guardian angel. She takes care of all private interests and needs. She can be trusted with one’s cares. She helps against poisonings, heals illnesses and cures obsessions. But she is also the right one to turn to for success in business and politics. Everyone prays to her as a “redemptress”. In translation her name means “star” or “star of hope”. It can be said that outside of the monasteries she is the most worshipped divinity of the Land of Snows. There is barely a household in Tibet in which a small statue of Tara cannot be found.

A number of colors are assigned to her various appearances. There is a white, green, yellow, blue, even a black Tara. She often holds a lotus with 16 petals which is supposed to indicate that she is sixteen years old. Her body is adorned with the most beautiful jewels. In a royal seated posture she looks down mildly upon those who ask pity of her. Naturally, one gains the impression that she is not suitable for tantric sexual practices. The whole positive aspect of the motherly appears to have been concentrated within her. She is experienced by Europeans as a Madonna untouched by sexuality. This is, however, not the case, then in contrast to her occidental sister with whom she otherwise has so much in common, the white Tara is also a wisdom consort. [2]

Sometimes, as is also known of the European worship of Mary, her cult tips over into an undesirable (for the clergy, that is) expansion of the goddess’s power which could pose a danger to the patriarchal system. Tara is known, for example, as the “Mother of all Buddhas”. A legend in which she refuses to appear as a man is also in circulation and is often cited these days: when she was asked by some monks whether she did not prefer a male body, she is said to have answered: “Since there is no such thing as a 'man' or a 'woman', this bondage to male and female is hollow. ... Those who wish to attain supreme enlightenment in a man's body are many, but those who wish to serve the aims of beings in a woman's body are few; therefore may I, until the world is emptied out, serve the aim of beings with nothing but the body of a woman” (Beyer, 1978, p. 65). Such statements are downright revolutionary and are in direct contradiction to the dominant doctrine that women cannot attain any enlightenment at all, but must first be reborn in a male body.

Tantric Buddhism’s first protective measure against the potential feminine superiority of Tara is the story of her origin. Firstly, she does not have the status of a Buddha, but is only a female Bodhisattva. Her head is adorned by a small statue of Amitabha, an indicator that she is subject to the Highest Lord of the Light (who allows no women into his paradise) and is considered to be one of his emanations.

Furthermore, Tara is nothing more or less than the personified tears of Avalokiteshvara. One day as he looked down filled with compassion upon all suffering beings he had to weep. The tear from his left eye became the green Tara, that which flowed from his right became her white form. Even if, as according to some tantric schools, Chenrezi selects both Taras as wisdom consorts, they nevertheless remain his creation. He gave birth to them as androgyne, as “father-mother”.

Green Tara

An even cleverer taming of the goddess consists in the fact that she incarnates in the bodies of men. Countless monks have chosen Tara as their yiddam and then visualize themselves as the goddess in their meditative practices. “Always and in all practices, he must visualize himself as the Holy Lady, bearing in mind that the appearance is the deity, that his speech is her mantra, and that his memory and mental constructs are her knowledge” (Beyer, 1978, p. 465). Her role as the “mother of all Buddhas” is also taken on by the male meditators, who thus say the following words: “[I am] the mother who gives birth to the Conquerors and their sons; I possess all her body, speech, mind, qualities, and active functions” (Beyer, 1978, p. 449). In one of his works, Albert Grünwedel reproduces the portrait of a high-ranking Mongolian lama who is revered as an incarnation of Tara. Even modern western followers of Buddhism would like to see the Sixteenth Karmapa as the green Tara.

Like Palden Lhamo, Tara also plays a role in Tibetan realpolitik, then the latter is — in their own view — played out by gods, not human agents. Hence, the official opinion from out of the Potala was that the Russian Czars were supposed to be an embodiment of Tara. Such image transferences are naturally very well suited to exciting the global power fantasies of the lamas. Then, since the goddess arose from a tear of Avalokiteshvara, the Czar as Tara must also be a product of the Dalai Lama, the highest living incarnation of Avalokiteshvara. Further to this there is the idea derived from the tantras that the Czar (and thus Russia) as Tara could be coerced via a sexual magic act. This appears downright fantastic, but — as we know — the tantra master does use his karma mudra as symbols for the elements, planets, and also for countries.

Chapter 2: Tara’s Tantra, the Origin of All Rites

General Remarks

As Tara became a major Buddhist deity, references to Her in Tantras of other deities were no longer enough. She had to have Tantras of Her own.

Long ago, Taranatha tells us, [1] Lord Avalokita taught some ten million slokas, or well over a hundred million words, of Tantras of Tara, but in the course of time most of them have been lost to the human world. In particular, although many of these Tantras were transmitted to Naropa and Atisa they were not taught in Tibet, because of feelings that they were liable to misuse. Thus the present Tantra was not translated into Tibetan until the late twelfth century, when this feeling had weakened. [2] Kadrup Je, in his Introduction to the Buddhist Tantric Systems, [3] describes it as the most important Tantra of Tara – at least among those extant in Tibetan. Beyer, in his very thorough and readable survey, The Cult of Tara, [4] mentions it as a central text of the cult, ‘the closest thing we have to a complete textbook on the practice of Tara’s cult, although it gives every appearance of being late and synthetic.’ No doubt it was compiled from sections from a number of works – its component parts are sometimes rather weakly related and vary considerably in atmosphere.

Analysis of Contents

In its present form, the Tantra is divided into thirty-five chapters, as follows:

[Opening section]
1. Introduction (nidana)
2. Offering (puja)
3. Praise (The Praise in Twenty-one Homages)
4. Deities (devata) ( The mandala of nine Taras)
5. Empowerment (abhiseka)
6. Mantras
[The Rites of the Four Activities]
7. The Rite for Pacifying (santi-karman)
8. The Rite for Increasing (pusti-karman)
9. The Rite for Subjugating (vasya-karman)
10. The Fierce Rite (raudra-karman)
11. All Activities (visva-karma)
[The Mothers of the Five Families]
12. The Mother of the Vajra Family
13. The Mother of the Lotus Family
14. The Mother of All the Tathagatas
15. The Mother of the Jewel Family
16. The Mother of the Action Family
17. Burnt-offering (homa) [for any of the rites]
[Circles: A. Protective Circles (raksa-cakra)]
18. Pacifying Protective Circle
19. Subjugating Protective Circle
20. Increasing Protective Circle
21. Greatly Increasing Protective Circle
22. Protective Magic Circle of Great Pacification
[B. Circles for the rites of the Four Activities]
23. Pacifying Circle
24. Great Pacification
25. Increasing Circle
26. Fierce Subjugating Circle
27. Dividing and Subjugating Circle
[C. Miscellaneous Circles]
28. Driving-away Circle (uccatana-cakra)
29. Dividing Circle (bhedana-cakra)
30. Killing Circle (marana-cakra)
31. Insanity-Inducing Circle (madana-cakra?)
32. Subduing Circle
33. Enemy-Subduing Circle
34. Sorcery-subduing Circle
[Closing section]
35. The Teaching of the Pledges and Vows (samaya-samvaranirdesa)

The Tantra opens with some relatively long chapters forming a more or less coherent narrative. The place of the Teaching and those present are given; the Goddess appears. Questioned by the Bodhisattva Manjusri, the Lord gives teachings on Her – how She is the Mother of all the Buddhas, how to make offerings to Her; Her praise, the famous Praise in Twenty-one Homages, given in the original Sanskrit as a dharani or long mantra; how to visualize Her mandala; and how empowerment is given. These chapters contain verses and explanations in the manner of the Prajnaparamita-sutras.

Early in Chapter 6, the Tantra turns into a catalogue of information and instructions, and the original mood does not return until the final chapter. After a list of mantras in Chapter 6, we have five chapters describing the rites for achieving the four main activities and ‘all activities.’ Having prepared the place – for the first two, the peaceful rites, in a room; for the others, in wilder places such as cemeteries – and set out the requisite offerings on a mandala, one visualizes Tara in the colour corresponding to the activity and recites the mantra. These colours – white for pacification, yellow for increasing, red for subjugating, green for fierce activity, and dark blue for ‘all activities’ – form the dominant colour symbolism of this Tantra, often alluded to in the chapters on the magic circles.

Next, Tara’s aspects as Mother of each of the five Families of Buddhas are described. For an extensive and clear account of the Five Families (panca-kula), Lama Govinda’s Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism may be consulted. These five apparitions are all four-faced and eight-armed, the colour of the body and principal face corresponding to the Family – white for the Vajra Family, whose Lord is Aksobya; red for Amitabha’s Lotus Family (to which Tara is normally assigned); yellow for Vairocana’s Tathagata Family; blue for Ratnasambhava’s Jewel Family; and green for Amoghasiddi’s Action Family. (Usually one would expect yellow for the Jewel Family and blue or white for the Tathagata Family.) The right face is white, the left red, and the rear yellow, unless one of these is the principal colour, in which case dark blue is substituted; except that the rear face of the Action Mother is said to be green. Each holds in Her principal right hand the emblem of Her Family – vajra, lotus, wheel, jewel and sword respectively. To each is assigned a bizarre, magical rite, tacked on at the end of the chapter without any discernible logical connection.

Chapter 17 describes (in the form suitable for the rite of Pacification) the Burnt-offering with which the practice of any rite should be concluded.

Then come seventeen very short chapters giving brief instructions for a variety of magic circles based on Tara’s mantra – circles for the devotee to wear as a protection, circles to aid in the rites of the main activities, and finally circles for various purposes of sorcery such as driving away enemies and even for killing them or driving them mad. Small wonder that there was some initial reluctance to propagate this Tantra among the aggressive Tibetans! Such rites as killing, of course, are intended to be used only with pure motivation of Bodhicitta and Compassion, to prevent enemies of the Dharma from creating further bad karma and causing more suffering for themselves and others. In order to interpret the Tantra’s sketchy instructions correctly and actually perform these rites, one would need extensive training under a qualified teacher. Nevertheless, since even to attempt them with wrong motivation would create strong negative karma, Geshe Rabten thought it best to omit the circles for fierce rites.

Finally, with Chapter 35, to one’s relief, the atmosphere switches abruptly back to that of the opening chapters with some verses on the behavior expected of Tara’s devotees. Not only should they avoid killing, stealing and lying, they should abandon eating meat and should be respectful towards women. The Tantra concludes like any Mahayana Sutra with the rejoicing of all the beings present.

The Magical Rites

The rites at the ends of Chapters 12 to 16 are not easy to follow, but some help comes from comparison with the sadhanas of Vajra-tara in the Tangyur. Vajra-tara, with four faces and eight arms, differs no more from the Goddesses described in these chapters than they do from each other. [5] She is used especially for such sorcery. As Ghost points out, [6] in Her sadhanas, ‘The maximum number of magical practices and charms with the help of the Tara-mantra is prescribed for bewitching and overpowering women … some … extremely crude and even cruel.’ Of the mantras of our five rites (forms of four of which are found in these sadhanas), three are for subjugating, two of these being aimed specifically at women; one is for driving away enemies, and one apparently for killing.

But someone has been playing a practical joke on Tibetan would-be magicians for the last eight centuries – the mantras have been shuffled. Anyone who thought he was summoning a woman with the rite of Chapter 16 was actually driving her away – the mantra given there should have been in Chapter 12. As the best arrangement of the other mantras is uncertain, I have left them all where they appear. Their uses according to the Vajra-tara-sadhanas will be explained in the notes.

Since the other elements of the rites may well be as mixed up as the mantras, it would be foolhardy in the extreme to try to use them. Even with the correct and complete spell to hand, an attempt to injure another person by magic is liable to rebound, causing one’s own death or insanity; [7] if the spell itself contains errors, how could it possibly go right?

What are these degraded and revolting practices doing in Tara’s Tantra? Are they not contrary to the moral injunctions of Chapter 35? Their presence does not come as a shock, but in fact it is hard to find a major Tantra that is free of such material. Tara was an extremely popular deity in India; the great bulk of Her devotees must have been ordinary, far from saintly people who sought worldly benefits from their religion just as most Christians do. And we cannot conclude from the male orientation of some of these rites that Tara’s cult in general was largely confined to men, for many stories testify to the involvement of women at all levels from the most mercenary, self-interested worship to the attainment of the highest realizations.

—In Praise of Tara: Songs to the Saviouress, by Martin Willson

In the nineteenth century the idea likewise arose that the British Queen, Victoria, was a reincarnation of Tara, yet on occasion Palden Lhamo was also nominated as being the goddess functioning behind the facade of the English Queen. It was thus more natural for the Dalai Lama to cooperate with the British or the Russians — since the Chinese had been possessed for centuries by a “nine-headed demoness” with whom it was impossible to reach an accord. The China-friendly Panchen Lama, however, saw this differently. For him, the Chinese Emperors of the Manchu dynasty, who professed to the Buddhist faith, were incarnations of the Bodhisattva, Manjushri, and could thus be considered as acceptable negotiators.

Tara and Mary:

A comparison of the Tibetan Tara with the Christian figure of Mary has by now become commonplace in Buddhist circles. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama also makes liberal use of this cultural parallel with pious emotionalism. For the “yellow pontiff” Mary represents the inana mudra (the “imagined female”) so to speak of Catholicism. "Whenever I see an image of Mary,” — the Kundun has said — "I feel that she represents love and compassion. She is like a symbol of love. Within Buddhist iconography, the goddess Tara occupies a similar position” (Dalai Lama XIV, 1996c, p. 83). Not all that long ago, the "god-king” undertook a pilgrimage to Lourdes and afterwards summarized his impressions of the greatest Catholic shrine to Mary with the following moving words. "There — in front of the cave — I experienced something very special. I felt a spiritual vibration, a kind of spiritual presence there. And then in front of the image of the Virgin Mary, I prayed” (Dalai Lama XIV, 1996 c, p. 84).

The autobiographical book with the title of Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna by the American, China Galland, reports on the attempt to incorporate the Catholic cult of Mary via the Tibetan cult of Tara. After the author’s second marriage failed, she returned to the Catholic Church and devoted herself to an excessive Mary worship with feministic undertones. The latter was the reason why Galland felt herself attracted above all to the black Madonnas worshipped in Catholicism. The “Black Virgin” has already been worshipped for years by feminists as an apocryphal mother deity.

One day the author encountered the Tibetan goddess, Tara, and the American was instantly fascinated. Tara struck her as a pioneer of “spiritual” women’s rights. The goddess had — this author believed –proclaimed that contrary to Buddhist doctrine enlightenment could also be attained in a female body. The author felt herself especially attracted to figure of the “green Tara”, whom she equates with the black Kali of Hinduism at one point in her book: “The darkness of the female gods comforted me. I felt like a balm on the wound of the unending white maleness that we had deified in the West. They were the other side of everything I had ever known about God. A dark female God. Oh yes!” (Galland, 1990, p. 31).

In Galland we are thus dealing with a spiritual feminist who has rediscovered her original black mother and is seeking traces of her in every culture. In the Buddhist Tara cult this author thus also sees archetypal references to the many-breasted Artemis of Ephesus, to the Egyptian Isis, to the Phoenician Alma Mater, Cybele, to the Mesopotamian goddess of the underworld, Ishtar. Once more her trail leads from the dark Tara to the “black Madonnas” of Europe and America. From there the next link in the chain is the Indian terror goddess Kali (or Durga). “Was the blackness of the virgin a connecting thread of connection to Tara, Kali or Durga, or was it a mere coincidence?” asks Galland (Galland, 1990, p. 50). For her it was no coincidence!

With one word Galland activates the gynocentric world view which is familiar enough from the feminist literature. She sees the great goddess at work everywhere (Galland, 1993, p. 42). The universal position which she grants herself as the first creative principle is depicted unambiguously in a poem. The author found it in a Gnostic Christian text. There a female power, who sounds “more like Kali than the Mother of God”, says the following words:

For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin


I am the silence that is incomprehensible

(quoted by Galland, 1990, p. 51)

In spite of her unmistakable pro-woman position, the feminist met her androcentric master in October 1986, who transformed her black Kali (or Tara or Mary) into a pliant Tantric Buddhist dakini. During her audience, for which she feverishly waited for several days in Dharamsala, she asked His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama: “Did it make sense to link Tara and Mary?” — “Yes,” — the Kundun answered her — “Tara and Mary create a good bridge. This is a direction to go in” (Galland, 1990, p. 93).

He then told the feminist how pro-woman Tibetan Buddhism is. For example, the Sakya Lama, the second-highest-ranking hierarch of the Land of Snows, had a wife and daughter. Somewhere in Nepal there lived a 70-year-old nun who was entitled to teach the Dharma. When he was young there was a famous female hermit in the mountains of Tibet. For him, the Dalai Lama, it made no difference along the path to enlightenment whether a person had a male body or a female one. And then finally the climax: “Tara” — the Kundun said — “could actually be taken as a very strong feminist. According to the legend, she knew that there were hardly any Buddhas who had been enlightened in the form of a woman. She was determined to retain her female form and to become enlightened only in this female form. That story had some meaning in it, doesn’t it?” — he said with “an infectious smile” to Galland (Galland, 1990, p. 95).

"Smiling” is the first form of communication with a woman which is taught in the lower tantras (the Kriya Tantra). The next tantric category which follows is the “look” (Carya Tantra), and then the “touch” (Yoga Tantra). Galland later reported in fascination what happened to her during the audience: “He [the Kundun] got up out of his chair, came over to me as I stood up, and took me firmly by the arms with a laugh. The Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is irrepressibly cheerful. His touch surprised me. It was strong and energetic, like a black belt in aikido. The physical power in his hands belied the softness of his appearance. He put his forehead to mine, then pulled away smiling and stood there looking at me, his hands holding my shoulders. His look cut through all the words exchanged and warmed me. I sensed that I was learning the most about him and that I was being given the most by him, right then. Though what it was could not be put into words. This was the real blessing” (Galland, 1990, p. 96).

From this moment on, the entire metaphysical standpoint of the author is transformed. The revolutionary dark Kali becomes an obedient “sky walker” (dakini), the radical feminist becomes a pliant “wisdom consort” of Tantric Buddhism. With whatever means, the Dalai Lama succeeded in making a devout Buddhist of the committed follower of the great goddess. From now on, Galland begins to visualize herself along tantric lines as Tara. She interprets the legend in which the goddess offers to help her tear-father, Avalokiteshvara (Tara arose from one of the Bodhisattva’s tears), lead all suffering beings on the right path, as her personal mission.

The “initiation” by the Kundun did not end with this first encounter, it found its continuation later in a dream of the author’s. There Galland sees how the Dalai Lama splashes around in a washtub, completely clothed, and with great amusement. She herself also sits in such a tub. Then suddenly the Kundun stands up and looks at her in an evocative silence. “There was nothing between us, only pure being. It was a vivid and real exchange. — Suddenly a blue sword came out of the crown of the Dalai Lama’s head over and across the distance between us and down to the crown of my head, all the way down my spine. I felt as though he had just transmitted some great, wordless teaching. The sword was made of blue light. I was very happy. Then he climbed into the third tub, where I was now sitting alone. We sat side by side in silence. I was on the right. Our faces were next to one another, faintly touching” (Galland, 1990, p. 168). The Dalai Lama then climbs out of the tub. She tries to persuade him to explain the situation to her, and in particular to interpret the significance of the sword. “But every time I asked him a question, he changed forms, like Proteus, the old man of the sea, and said nothing” (Galland,1990, p. 169). At the end of the dream he transformed himself into a turquoise scarab which climbed the wall of the room.

Even if both of the dream’s protagonists (the Dalai Lama and China Galland) are fully clothed as they sit together in the washtub, one does not need too much fantasy to see in this scene a sexual magic ritual from the repertoire of the Vajrayana. The blue sword is a classic phallic symbol and reminds us of a similar example from Christian mysticism: it was an arrow which penetrated Saint Theresa of Avila as she experienced her mystic love for God. For China Galland it was the sword of light of the supreme Tibetan tantra master.

Soon after the spectacular dream initiation, the “pilgrimages” to the holy places at which the black Madonnas of Europe and America are worshipped described in her book began. Instead of Marys she now only sees before her western variations upon the Tibetan Tara. The tear (tara) of Avalokiteshvara (the Dalai Lama) becomes an overarching principle for the American woman. In the dark gypsy Madonna of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (France), in her famous black sister of Czestochowa (Poland), in the copy of the latter in San Antonio (Texas), but above all in the Madonna of Medjugorje, whom she visits in October 1988, Galland now only sees emanations of the Tibetan goddess.

Whilst she reflects upon Mary and Tara in the (former) Yugoslavian place of pilgrimage, a prayer to the Tibetan deity comes to her mind. “In it she is said to come in what ever form a person needs her to assume in order for her to be helpful. True compassion. Buddha Tara, indeed all Buddhas, are said to emanate in billions of forms, taking whatever form is necessary to suit the person. Who can say that Mary isn’t Tara appearing in a form that is useful and recognizable to the West? When the Venerable Tara Tulku [Galland’s Buddhist Guru, a male emanation of Tara] came [...], we spoke about this. From the Buddhist perspective, one cannot say that this isn’t possible, he assured me: 'If there is a person who says definitely no, the Madonna is not an emanation of Tara, then that person has not understood the teaching of Buddha'. Christ could be an emanation of Buddha” (Galland, 1990, p. 311).

What lies behind this flowery quotation and Galland’s eccentric Mary-worship can also be referred to as the incorporation of a non-Buddhist cult by Vajrayana. Then Mary and Tara are both so culture-specific that a comparison of the two “goddesses” only makes sense at an extremely general level. Neither does Tara give birth to a messiah, nor may we imagine a Mary who enters sexual magic union with a Christian monk. Despite such blatant differences, Tantrism's doctrine of emanation allows the absorption of foreign gods without hesitation, yet only under the condition that the Tibetan deity take the original place and the non-Buddhist one be derived from it. In this connection, the report of a Catholic (Benedictine) nun who participated in the Kalachakra initiation in Bloomington (1999). For her, the rite set off a Christian experience: “I’m Christian. Never before has that meant so much. This past month I sat at the Kalachakra Initiation Rite in Bloomington with H.H. the Dalai Lama as the master teacher, a tantric guru. I have never felt so Christian. […] I was sitting in the VIP section on the stage very near the Dalai Lama. The Buddhist audience seemed like advanced practitioners. The audience was nearly 5,000 people under this one huge tent. When dharma students would know that I was a nun they’d ask me what was in my mind as the ritual progressed through the Buddhist texts, recitations, deity visualizations and gestures. At the time, I must confess, I sat with as much respect, openness and emptiness as possible. My Christian heart was simply at rest being there with ‘others’. […] There’s no one-to-one correspondence with Buddhist rituals especially one as complex and esoteric as the Kalachakra, but there is a way that we live that creates the same feeling, the same attitude and dispositions. (Funk,. HPI 001) The literature in which Buddhist authors present Christ as a Bodhisattva and as an emanation of Avalokiteshvara grows from year to year. We shall come to speak about this in the chapter on the ecumenical politics of the Dalai Lama.

The lament of Yeshe Tshogyal:

The tantric partner of Padmasambhava, the founding father of Tibetan Buddhism, is frequently offered as the historical example of a female figure who is supposed to have integrated all the contradictory powers of the feminine within herself. She goes by the name of Yeshe Tshogyal and is said to have achieved an independence unique in the history of female yoginis. Some authors even say (contrary to all doctrines) that she attained the highest goal of full Buddhahood. For this reason she has currently become one of the rare icons for those, primarily western, believers who keep a lookout for emancipated female figures within Tantric Buddhism.

The legend reports that Yeshe Tshogyal married the Tibetan king Trisong Detsen (742–803) at the age of thirteen. Three years later, he gave her to Padmasambhava as his karma mudra. Such generous gifts of women to gurus were, as we know, normal in Tantrism and taken for granted.

Yeshe Tshogyal became her master’s most outstanding pupil. When she was twenty years old, he initiated her in a flame ritual. During the ceremony the guru, in the form of a terror deity "took command of her lotus throne [the vagina] with his flaming diamond stalk [the penis]“ (quoted by Stevens, 1990, p. 70). This showed that she had to suffer the fate of a classic wisdom consort; she was symbolically burnt up.

Later she practiced Vajrayana with other men and subsequently underwent a long ascetic period as an “ice virgin” in the coldest mountains of Tibet. Like the historical Buddha she was also tempted by lecherous beings, it was just that in her case these were no “daughters of Mara” but rather handsome young devils. She recognized their lures as the work of Satan and resolutely rejected them. But out of compassion she subsequently slept with all manner of men and gave "her sexual parts to the lustful” (quoted by Stevens, 1990, p. 71). Her devotion in love is so convincing that she could convert seven highwaymen who raped her to Buddhism.

Padmasambhava is supposed to have said to her: "The basis for realizing enlightenment is a human body. Male or female, there is no great difference. But if she develops the mind bent on enlightenment the woman’s body is better” (quoted by Stevens, 1990, p. 71). This statement is admittedly revolutionary, but nevertheless we can hardly accept that Yeshe Tshogyal traveled an essentially different path to the countless anonymous yoginis who were “sacrificed” on the altar of Tantrism. [4]

Through constant visions she was repeatedly urged to offer herself up completely to her master — to sacrifice her own flesh, her blood, her eyes, nose, tongue, ears, heart, entrails, muscles, bones, marrow, and her life energy. One may also begin to seriously doubt her privileged position within Tibetan Buddhism, when one hears her impressive and resigning lament at her woman’s lot:

I am a woman
I have little power to resist danger.
Because of my inferior [!] birth, everyone attacks me.
If I go as a beggar, dogs attack me.
If I have wealth and food, bandits attack me.
If I do a great deal, the locals attack me.
If I do nothing, gossip attacks me.
If anything goes wrong, they all attack me.
Whatever I do, I have no chance for happiness.
Because I am a woman it is hard to follow the Dharma.
It is hard even to stay alive.

(quoted by Gross, 1993, p. 99)

Many centuries after her earthly death, Yeshe Tshogyal became for the Fifth Dalai Lama a constant companion in his visions and advised him in his political decisions. During a meeting, “Tshogyal appears in the form of a white lady adorned with bone ornaments. She enters into union with him. The white and the red bodhicitta [seed] flow to and fro” (Karmay, 1988, p. 54). Such scenes of union with her are mentioned several times in the Secret Visions of the “Great Fifth”. Some of these are described so concretely that they probably concern real human mudras who assumed the role of Yeshe Tshogyal. Once His Holiness saw in her heart “the mandala of the Phurba [ritual dagger] deity” (Karmay, 1988, p. 67). Perhaps she wanted to remind him with this vision of the agonizing fate of Srinmo, the Mother of Tibet, in whose heart a ritual dagger is also stuck. In another vision she appeared together with the goddess Candali and three further dakinis. They danced and sang the words “Phurba is the essence of all tutelary deities.” (Karmay, 1988, p. 67). [5]

Even if, as is claimed by many contemporary tantra masters and feminists, Yeshe Tshogyal is supposed to be the most prominent historical representative of an “emancipated” Vajrayana female Buddhist, her unhappy fate shows just how degradingly and contemptuously the countless unknown and unmentioned karma mudras of Tibetan history must have been treated. The example she provides should be more a deterrent than a positive one, then she was more or less an instrument of Padmasambhava’s. Her current rise in prominence is exclusively a product of the contemporary Zeitgeist, which needs to generate counterimages to an essentially androcentric Buddhism so as to gain a foothold in the western world.

The mythological background to the Tibetan-Chinese conflict:

Avalokiteshvara versus Guanyin:

We would now like to point out that, in the historical relationship between Tibet and China, the latter played and continues to play the feminine part, as if the sky-high mountains of the Himalayas and the Chinese river plains were a man and a woman in stand-off, as if a battle of the sexes had been being waged for centuries between “masculine” Lhasa and “feminine” Beijing. This is not supposed to imply that, in contrast to the patriarchal Land of Snows, a matriarchy has the say in China. We know full well how the “Middle Kingdom” has from the outset pursued a fundamentally androcentric politics and how nothing has changed in this regard up until the present. Hence, what we primarily wish to say here is that from a Tibetan viewpoint the conflict between the two countries is interpreted as a gender conflict. We hope to demonstrate in this chapter that the Dalai Lama is opposed by the threatening and ravenous “Great Female”, the terror dakini which is China and which he must conquer and subjugate along tantric lines.

The reverse cannot be so simply stated: the Chinese Emperor admittedly saw the rulers of Potala as powerful spiritual opponents, but understood himself thus only in a very few cases to be the representative of a “womanly power”. Yet such historical exceptions do exist and we would like to consider these in more detail. There is also the fact that China’s androcentric culture has been repeatedly limited and relativized by strong female elements. Real feminine influences can be recognized in Chinese mythology, in particular national philosophies (especially Taoism), and sometimes also in the politics, far more than was ever the case in the masculine Tibetan monastic empire. For example, Lao-tzu, the great proclaimer of the Dao De Jing, clearly stresses the feminine factor (or rather what one understood this to be at the time) in his practical “theory of power”:

Nothing is weaker than water,
But when it attacks something hard
Or resistant, then nothing withstands it,
And nothing will alter its way.
[...] weakness prevails
Over strength and [...] gentleness conquers
The adamant [...]

It says in the 78th chapter of the Dao De Jing. Among Chinese Buddhists the greatest reverence is up until the present day reserved for a goddess (Guanyin), a female Buddha and no god. China’s few yet famous/notorious female rulers in particular showed a unique tension in dealings with the kings and hierarchs of the Tibetan “Land of Snows”. For this reason we shall consider these in somewhat more detail. But let us first turn to the Chinese goddess, Guanyin.

China (Guanyin) and Tibet (Avalokiteshvara):

How easily the ambivalent gender role of the male androgyne Avalokiteshvara could tip over into the feminine is demonstrated by “his” transformation into Guanyin, the “goddess of mercy”, who is still highly revered in China and Japan. Originally, Guanyin had no independent existence, but was solely considered to be a feminine guise of the Bodhisattva (Avalokiteshvara). In memory of her male past she sometimes in older portrayals has a small goatee. How, where, and why the sex change came about is considered by scholars to be extremely puzzling. It must have taken place in the early Tang dynasty from the seventh century on, then before this Avalokiteshvara was all but exclusively worshipped in male form in China too.


There is already in the early fifth century a canon in which 33 different appearances of the “light god” are mentioned and seven of these are female. This proves that the incarnation of a Bodhisattva in female form was not excluded by the doctrine of Mahayana Buddhism. To the benefit of all suffering beings — it says in one text — the “redeemer” could assume any conceivable form, for example that of a holy saying, of medicinal herbs, of mythical winged creatures, cannibals, yes, even that of women (Chayet, 1993, p. 154). But what such exceptions do not explain is why the masculine Avalokiteshvara was essentially supplanted and replaced by the feminine Guanyin in China. In the year 828 C.E. each Chinese monastery had at least one statue of the goddess. The chronicles report the existence of 44,000 figures.

There is more or less accord among orientalists that Guanyin is a syncretic figure, formed by the integration into the Buddhist system imported from India of formerly more powerful native Chinese goddesses. A legend recounts that Guanyin originally dwelled among the mortals as the king’s daughter, Miao Shan, and that out of boundless goodness she sacrificed herself for her father. This pious tale is, however, somewhat lacking in vibrancy as the genesis of such an influential religious lady as Guanyin, but nonetheless interesting in that it once more offers us a report of a female sacrifice in the interests of a patriarch.

We find the suggestion often put forward by the Tibetan side, that the worship of Guanyin is a Chinese variant of the Tibetan Tara cult, similarly unconvincing, since the latter was first introduced into Tibet in the eleventh century, 400 years after the transformation of Avalokiteshvara into a goddess. In view of the exceptional power which the goddess enjoys in China it seems much more reasonable to see in her a descendant of the great Taoist matriarchs: the primordial mother Niang Niang, or the great goddess Xi Wangmu, or Tianhou Shengmu, who is worshipped as the “sea star”.

If Avalokiteshvara represents a “fire deity”, then Guanyin is clearly a “water goddess”. She is often pictured upon a rock in the sea with a water jug or a lotus flower in her hand. The “goddess on the water lily”, who sometimes holds a child in her arms and then resembles the Christian Madonna, fascinated the royal courts of Europe in the seventeenth century already, and the first European porcelain manufacturers copied her statues. Her epithets, “Empress of Heaven”, “Holy Mother”, “Mother of Mercy”, also drew her close to the cult of Mary for the West. Like Mary then, Guanyin is also called upon as the female savior from the hardships and fears of a wretched world. When worries and suffering make one unhappy, then one turns to her.

The transformation of Avalokiteshvara into a Chinese goddess is a mythic event which has deeply shaped the metapolitical relationship between China and Tibet. Historical relations of both nations with one another, although they both exhibit patriarchal structures, may thus be described through the symbolism of a battle of the sexes between the fire god Chenrezi and the water goddess Guanyin. What is played out between the gods also has — the tantras believe — its correspondences among mortals. Via the fate of the three most powerful female figures from China’s past, we shall examine whether the tantric pattern can be convincingly applied to the historical conflicts between the two countries (Tibet and China).

Wu Zetian (Guanyin) and Songtsen Gampo (Avalokiteshvara)

Following the collapse of the Han kingdom in the third century C.E., Mahayana Buddhism spread through China and blossomed in the early Tang period (618–c. 750). After this a renaissance of Confucianism begins which leads from the mid-ninth century to a persecution of the Buddhists. In the Hua-yen Buddhism of the seventh century (a Chinese form of Mahayana with some tantric elements), especially in the writings of Fa-Tsang, the cosmic “Sun Buddha”, Vairocana, is revered as the highest instance.

At the end of the seventh century, as the Guanyin cult was forming in China, a powerful woman and Buddhist reigned in the “Middle Kingdom”, the Empress Wu Zetian (c. 625–c. 705). Formerly a concubine of two Emperors, father and son — after their deaths Wu Zetian took, step by step and with great skill, the “Dragon Throne” in the year 683. She conducted a radical shake-up of the country’s power elite. The ruling Li family was systematically and brutally replaced by members of her own Wu lineage. Nonetheless, the matriarch did not recoil from banishing her own son even on the basis of power political concerns nor from executing other family members when these opposed her will. Her generals were engaged with varying success in the most bloody battles with the Tibetans and other bordering peoples.

Probably because she was a woman, her unscrupulous and despotic art became proverbial for later historians. The outrageousness which radiated out from this “monstrous” Grande Dame upon the Dragon Throne still echoes today in the descriptions of the historians. The German Sinologist, Otto Franke, for example, characterizes her with what is for an academic exceptionally strong emotions: “Malicious, vengeful, and cruel to the point of sadism, thus she began her career, unbridled addiction to power, insensitivity even to the natural maternal instinct, and a unquenchable desire for murder accompany her on the stolen throne, grotesque megalomania combined with religious insanity distorts her old age, childish helplessness in the face of every form of charlatanism and complete lack of judgement in administration and politics lead finally to her fall and bring the state to the edge ... A demoness in her unbridled passion, Wu Zetian allied herself with the dark figures of Chinese history” (Franke, 1961, p. 424).

Wu Zetian supported Buddhism fanatically, so as to establish it as the state religion in place of Doism. “The Empress who takes God as her example”, as she called herself, was a megalomaniac not just about political matters but also in religious ones, especially because she let herself be celebrated as the incarnation of the Buddha Maitreya, of the ruler of the coming eon. Here she appealed to prophecies from the mouth of the historical Buddha. In the Great Cloud Sutra it could be read that, 700 years after his death, Shakyamuni would be reborn in the form of a beautiful princess, whose kingdom would become a real paradise. “Having planted the germs of the Way during countless kalpas [ages], [she as Maitreya] consents to the joyous exaltation by the people”, it says of the Empress in one contemporary document. (Forte, 1988, p. 122). According to other sources, Wu Zetian also allowed herself to be worshipped as the Bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara, and as the Sun Buddha, Vairocana.

As Buddhist she oriented herself to the Abhidharmakosa’s cyclical conception of the four ages of the world we have described above, and which we also find in the Kalachakra Tantra. Thus, at the end of the dark and at the dawn of the new age to come, stood this Chinese Empress in the salvational figure of the Buddha Maitreya. Her chiliastic movement, which she led as a living Buddhist messiah, had no small following among the people, yet came into hefty conflict with established Buddhism and the Confucian powers at court, above all because this savior was also a woman.

From the Buddhist teachings Wu Zetian also adopted the political doctrine of the Chakravartin, the wheel turner who reigns over the entire globe. She would lead her people, we may read in a prophesy, by “turning the golden wheel” (Forte, 1988, p.122). One of her titles was “The Golden Wheel of Dominion Turning God-Emperor”. (Franke, 1961, p. 417). But even this was not enough for her. Two years later she intensified her existing epithet and let herself be known as “The Holy God-Emperor Surpassing The Former Golden Wheel Turning God-Emperor” (Franke, 1961, p. 417). The “golden wheel”, along with the other appropriate emblems of the Chakravartin were hung in her hall of audience.

So as to visibly demonstrate and symbolically buttress her control of the world, she ordered the entire kingdom to be covered with a network of state temples. Each temple housed a statue of the Sun Buddha (Vairocana). All of these images were considered to be the emanations of a gigantic Vairocana which was assembled in the imperial temple of the capital and in which the Empress allowed herself to be worshipped.

Among the sacred buildings erected at her command was to be found what was referred to as a time tower (tiantang). According to Antonino Forte, the first ever mechanical clock was assembled there. The discovery of a “time machine” (the clock) is certainly one of the greatest cultural achievements in the history of humankind. Nevertheless we today see such an event only from its technical and quantitative side. But for people with an ancient world view this “mechanical” clock was of far greater significance. With its construction and erection a claim was made to the symbolic and real control over time as such. Hence, following the assembly of the tiantang (time tower), Wu Zetian allowed herself to be worshipped as the living time goddess.
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Alongside the “time tower” she built a huge metal pillar (the so-called “heavenly axis”). This was supposed to depict Mount Meru, the center of the Buddhist universe. Just as the tiantang symbolized control over time, the metallic “heavenly axis” announced the Empress’s control of space. Correspondingly her palace was also considered to be the microcosmic likeness of the entire universe. She declared her capital, Liaoyang, to be not just the metropolis of China, but also the domicile of the gods. Space and Time were thus, at least according to doctrine, firmly in Wu Zetian’s hands.

It will already have occurred to the reader that the religious/political visions of Wu Zetian correspond to the spirit of the Kalachakra Tantra in so many aspects that one could think it might have been a direct influence. However, this ruler lived three hundred years before the historical publication date of the Time Tantra. Nevertheless, the influence of Vajrayana (which has in fact been found in the fourth century in India) cannot be ruled out. Hua-yen Buddhism, from the ideas of which the Empress derived her philosophy of state, is also regarded as “proto-tantric” by experts: “Thus the Chou-Wu theocracy [of the Empress] is the form of state in China which comes closest to a tantric theocracy or Buddhocracy: the whole world is considered as the body of a Buddha, and the Empress who rules over this sacramentalized political community is considered to be the highest of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas” (Brück and Lai, 1997, p. 630). [6]

Although no historical connection between the Kalachakra Tantra and the “proto-tantric” world view of Wu Zetian can be proved, striking parallels in the history of ideas and symbols exist. For example, alongside the claim to the “world throne” as Chakravartin, the implied control over time and space, we find a further parallel in Wu Zetian’s grab for the two heavenly orbs (the sun and moon) which is characteristic of the Time Tantra. She let a special Chinese character be created as her own name which was called “sun and moon rising up out of the emptiness” (Franke, 1961, p. 415).

But the final intentions of the two systems are not compatible. The Empress Wu Zetian is hardly likely to have striven towards the Buddhocracy of an androcentric Lamaism. In contrast, it is probable that gynocentric forces were hidden behind her Buddhist mask. For example, she officially granted her female (!) forebears bombastic titles and epithets of “Mother Earth” (Franke, 1961, p. 415). In the patriarchal culture of China this feminist act of state was perceived as a monstrous blasphemy. Hence, with reference to this naming, we may read in a contemporary historical critique that, “such a confusion of terms as that of Wu had not been experienced since records began” (Franke, 1961, p. 415).

The unrestrained ruler usurped for herself all the posts of the masculine monastic religion. In her hunger for power she even denied her femininity and let herself be addressed as “old Buddha lord” — an act which even today must seem evilly presumptuous for the androcentric Lamaists. At any rate it was seen this way by an exile Tibetan historian who, a thousand years after her death, portrayed the Chinese Empress as a monstrous, man-eating dragon obsessed with all depravities. “The Empress Wu,” K. Dhondup wrote as recently as 1995 in the Tibetan Review, “one of the most frightening and cruel characters to have visited Chinese history, awakened her sexual desire at the ripe old age of 70 and pursued it with such relentless zeal that the hunger and voracity of her sexual fulfillment into her nineties became the staple diet of street whispers and gossips, and the powerful aphrodisiacs that she medicated herself gave her youthful eyebrows ...” (Tibetan Review, January 1995, p. 11).

Did Wu Zetian stand in religious and symbolic competition with the cosmic ambitions of the ruler of the great Tibetan kingdom of the time? We can only speculate about that. Aside from the fact that she was involved in intense wars with the dreaded Tibetans, we know only very little about relations between the “world views” of the two countries at the time of her reign. It is, however, of interest for our “symbolic analysis” of inner-Asian history that the Lamaist historians posthumously declared the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo, who died forty years before the reign of Wu Zetian in the year 650, a Chakravartin. It was Songtsen Gampo (617-650) — the reader will recall — who as the incarnation of Avalokiteshvara nailed the mother of Tibet (Srinmo) to the ground with phurbas (ritual daggers) so as to build the sacred geography of the Land of Snows over her.

Behind the life story of Wu Zetian shines the archetypal image of Guanyin as the female, Chinese opponent to the male, Tibetan Avalokiteshvara. She herself pretended to be the incarnation of a Buddha (Vairocana or Maitreya), but since she was a female it is quite possible that she was the historical phenomenon which occasioned Avalokiteshvara’s above-mentioned sex change into the principal goddess of Chinese Buddhism (Guanyin).

At any rate Songtsen Gampo and Wu Zetian together represent the cosmic claims to power of Avalokiteshvara and Guanyin. We can regard them as the historical projections of these two archetypes. Their metapolitical competition is currently completely overlooked in the conflict between the two countries (China and Tibet), which leads to a foreshortened interpretation of the Tibetan/Chinese “discordances”. In the past the mythical dimensions of the struggle between the “Land of Snows” and the “Middle Kingdom” have never been denied by the two parties; it is just the western eye for “realpolitik” cannot perceive it.

Wu Zetian was not able to realize her Buddhist gynocentric visions. In the year 691 the tiantang (time tower) and the clock within it were destroyed in a “terrible” storm. Her reign was plunged into a dangerous crisis, then, as several influential priests claimed, this “act of God” showed that the gods had rejected her. But she retained sufficient power and political influence to be able to reassemble the tower. However, in 694 this new Tiantang was also destroyed, this time by fire. The court saw a repetition of the divine punishment in the flames and concluded that the imperial religious claim to power had failed. Wu Zetian had to relinquish her messianic title of “Buddha Maitreya” from then on.

Ci Xi (Guanyin) and the Thirteenth Dalai Lama (Avalokiteshvara)

One thousand years later, the cosmological rivalry between China (Guanyin) and Tibet (Avalokiteshvara) was tragically replayed in the tense relation between the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and the Empress Dowager Ci Xi (1835-1908).

Ci Xi appeared on the political stage in the year 1860. Like her predecessor, Wu Zetian, she started out as a noble-born concubine of the Emperor, and even as a seventeen year old she had worked her way up step by step through the hierarchy of his harem and bore the sole heir to the throne. The imperial father, Emperor Xian Feng, died shortly after the birth, and the ambitious mother of the new son of heaven took over the business of governing the country until he came of age, and de facto beyond that. When her son died suddenly at the age of 18 she adopted her nephew, who ascended the Dragon Throne as Emperor Guangxu but likewise remained completely under her influence until his death.

Officially, Ci Xi supported Confucianism, but privately, like many members of the Manchu dynasty (1644-1911) before her, she felt herself attracted to the Lamaist doctrine. She was well-versed in the canonical writings, wrote Buddhist mystery plays herself, and had these performed by her eunuchs. Her apartments were filled with numerous Buddha statues and she was a passionate collector of old Lamaist temple flags. Her favorite sculpture was a jade statue of Guanyin given to her by a great lama. She saw herself as the earthly manifestation of this goddess and sometimes dressed in her robes. "Whenever I have been angry, or worried over anything,” she said to one of her ladies in waiting, "by dressing up as the Goddess of Mercy it helps me to calm myself and to play the part I represent ... by having a photograph taken of myself dressed in this costume, I shall be able to see myself as I ought to be at all times” (Seagrave, 1992., p. 413).

Ci Xi and attendants

Such dressings-up were in no sense purely theatrical, rather Ci Xi experienced them as sacred performances, as rituals during which the energy of the Chinese water goddess (Guanyin) flowed into her. She publicly professed herself to be a Buddhist incarnation and likewise affected the male title of “old Buddha lord” (lao fo yeh), a label which became downright vernacular. We are thus dealing with a gynocentric reversal of the androgynous Avalokiteshvara myth here, as in the case of the Empress Wu Zetian. Guanyin, the Chinese goddess of mercy, makes an exclusive claim for masculine control, and thus has, within the body of a woman, the gender of a male Buddha at her disposal. In the imperialist, patriarchal West, Ci Xi was, as the American historian Sterling Seagrave has demonstrated, the victim of a hate-filled, defamatory, sensationalist press who insinuated she was guilty of every conceivable crime. "The notion,” Seagrave writes, "that the corrupt Chinese were dominated by a reptilian woman with grotesque sexual requirements tantalized American men” (Seagrave, 1992, p. 268). Just like her predecessor, Wu Zetian, she became a terrible "dragoness”, a symbol of aggressive femininity which has dominated masculine fantasies for thousands of years: "By universal agreement the woman who occupied China’s Dragon Throne was indeed a reptile. Not a glorious Chinese dragon — serene, benevolent, good-natured, aquarian – but a cave-dwelling, fire-breathing Western dragon, whose very breath was toxic. A dragon lady” (Seagrave, 1992, p. 272).

Thus, in mythological terms the two Bodhisattvas, Avalokiteshvara and Guanyin, met anew in the figures of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and the Empress Dowager. From the moment Ci Xi realized her claim to power the two historical figures thus faced one another in earnest competition and a discord which extended far beyond questions of practical politics. The chief imperial eunuch, Li Lien Ying, foresaw this conflict most clearly and warned Ci Xi several times against meeting the Tibetan god-king in person. He even referred to an acute mortal danger for both the Empress and her adoptive son, the Emperor Guangxu. The following words are from him or another courtier: “The great lama incarnations are the spawn of hell. They know no human emotion when matters concern the power of the Yellow Church” (Koch, 1960, p. 216).

But Ci Xi did not want to heed such voices of warning and peremptorily required the visit of the Hierarch from the “roof of the world”, so as to discuss with him the meanwhile internationally very complex question of Tibet. Only after a number of failed attempts and many direct and indirect threats was she able to motivate the mistrustful and cautious prince of the church to undertake the troublesome journey to China in the year 1908.

The reception for the Dalai Lama was grandiose, yet even at the start there were difficulties when it came to protocol. Neither of the parties wanted with even the most minor gesture to make it known that they were subject to the other in any way whatsoever. In the main, the Chinese maintained the upper hand. It was true that the Hierarch from Lhasa was spared having to kowtow, then after lengthy negotiations it was finally agreed that he would only have to perform those rituals of politeness which were otherwise expected of members of the imperial family — an exceptional privilege from Beijing’s point of view, but from the perspective of the god-king and potential world ruler an extremely problematic social status. Did the Thirteenth Dalai Lama revenge himself for this humiliation?

On October 30, Ci Xi and Guangxu staged a banquet in the “Hall of Shining Purple”. The Dalai Lama was already present when the Emperor cancelled at the last minute due to illness. Three days later, on the occasion of her 74th birthday, the Empress Dowager requested that the ecclesiastical dignity conduct for her the “Ceremony for the Attainment of Long Life” in the “Throne Hall of Zealous Government”. This came to pass. The Dalai Lama offered holy water and small cakes which were supposed to grant her wish for a long life. Afterwards tea was served and then Ci Xi distributed her gifts. At midday she personally formulated an edict in which she expressed her thanks to the Dalai Lama and promised to pay him an annuity of 10,000 taels. Additionally he was to be given the title of “Sincerely Obedient, through Reincarnation More Helpful, Most Excellent through Himself Existing Buddha of the Western Heavens”.

This gift and the bombastic title were a silk-clad provocation. With them Ci Xi did not at all want to honor the Dalai Lama, rather, she wished in contrast to demonstrate Tibet’s dependency upon the “Middle Kingdom”. For one thing, by being granted an income the god-king was degraded to the status of an imperial civil servant. Further, in referring to the incarnation of Avalokiteshvara as a “Sincerely Obedient Buddha”, she left no doubt about to whom he was in future to be obedient. Just how important such “clichés” were for the participants is shown by the reaction of the American envoy present, who interpreted the granting of the title as marking the end of the Dalai Lama’s political power. The latter protested in vain against the edict and “his pride suffered terribly” (Mehra, 1976, p. 20). All of this took place in the world of political phenomena.

From a metaphysical point of view, however, Guanyin Ci Xi wanted to make the powerful Avalokiteshvara her servant. The actual “match of the gods” took place on the afternoon of the same day (November 3) during a festivity to which the “Obedient Buddha” was once again invited by Her Imperial Highness. Ci Xi, as the female “old Buddha lord” dared to appear before the incarnation of the humiliated fire god, Avalokiteshvara (the Thirteenth Dalai Lama), in the costume of the water goddess Guanyin, surrounded by dancing Bodhisattvas and sky walkers played by the imperial eunuchs. There was singing, laughter, fooling around, boating, and enormous enjoyment. There had been similar such “divine” appearances of the Empress Dowager before, but in the face of the already politically and religiously degraded god-king from Tibet, the mocked patriarchal arch-enemy, the triumphal procession of Guanyin became on this occasion a spectacular and provocative climax.

The Empress Dowager probably believed herself to be protected from any attacks upon her health by the longevity ceremony which she had cajoled from the Dalai Lama the day before. In the evening, however, she began to feel unwell, and became worse the next day. Forty-eight hours later the Dalai Lama came to the Empress and handed her a statuette of the “Buddha of Eternal Life” (a variant of Avalokiteshvara) with the instruction that she erect it over the graves of the emperors in China’s east. Prince Chong, although he objected strongly because of premonition, was with harsh words entrusted by Ci Xi to do so nonetheless. When he returned to the imperial palace on November 13, the female “old Buddha lord” felt herself to be in a good mood and was fit again, but the Emperor (her adoptive son) now lay dying and passed away the next day. He had been prone to illness for years, but the fact that his death was so sudden was also found most mysterious by his personal doctors and hence they did not exclude the possibility that he had been poisoned. [7]

But the visit of His Holiness brought still more bad luck for the imperial family, just as the chief eunuch, Li Lien Ying, had prophesied. On November 15, one day after the death of the regent, the Empress Dowager Ci Xi suffered a severe fainting fit, recovered for a few hours, but then saw her end drawing nigh, dictated her parting decree, corrected it with her own hand and died in full possession of her senses.

It should be obvious that the sudden deaths of the Emperor and his adoptive mother immediately following one another gave rise to wild rumors and that all manner of speculations about the role and presence of the Dalai Lama were in circulation. Naturally, the suspicion that the “god-king” from Tibet had acted magically to get his cosmic rival out of the way was rife among the courtiers, well aware of tantric ideas and practices. On the basis of the still to be described voodoo practices which have been cultivated in the Potala for centuries, such a suspicion is also definitely not to be excluded, but rather is probable. At any rate, Avalokiteshvara the Hierarch likewise represents the death god Yama. Even the current, Fourteenth Dalai Lama sees — as we shall show — with pride a causal connection between a tantric ritual he conducted in 1976 and the death of Mao Zedong. Even if one does not believe in the efficacy of such magical actions, one must concede an amazing synchronicity in these cases. They are also, at least for the Tibetan tradition, a taken-for-granted cultural element. The Lamaist princes of the church have always been convinced that they can achieve victory over their enemies via magic rather than weapons.

What is nonetheless absolutely clear from the events in Beijing is the result, namely the triumph of Avalokiteshvara over Guanyin, the patriarch destroying the matriarch. Perhaps Guanyin had to lose this metaphysical battle because she had not understood the fine details of energy transfers in Tantrism? As Ci Xi she had grasped masculine power, as water goddess, fire, and then in her superhuman endeavors she allowed herself to be set alight by the flames of ambition. Perhaps she played the role of the ignited Candali (of the “burning water”), without knowing that it was the tantra master from the Land of Snows who had set her alight ?

But the Dalai Lama’s political plans did not work out at all. The new Regency held him in Beijing until he agreed to the Chinese demand that Tibet be recognized as a province of the Chinese Empire. England and Russia had also given the Chinese an undertaking that they would not interfere in any way in their relations with Tibet, so as to avoid a conflict with each other. Only in 1913, two years after the final disempowerment of the Manchu dynasty (1911) did it come to a Tibetan declaration of independence, and that with an extremely interesting justification. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama issued a proclamation which said literally that the Manchu throne, which had been occupied by the legal Emperor as “world ruler” (Chakravartin), was now vacant. For this reason the Tibetan had no further obligations to China and worldly power now automatically devolved to him, the Hierarch in the Potala — reading between the lines, this means that he himself now performs the functions of a Chakravartin (Klieger, 1991, p. 32).

Jiang Qing (Guanyin) and the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (Avalokiteshvara)

There is an amazing repetition of the problematic relation of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama (Avalokiteshvara) to the Empress Dowager Ci Xi (Guanyin) in the 1960s. We refer to the relation of Jiang Qing (1913–1991), the wife of Mao Zedong, to His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. To this day the Kundun remains convinced that the chairman of the Communist Party of China was not completely informed about the vandalistic events in Tibet in which the “Red Guard” ravaged the monasteries of the Land of Snows, and that he probably would not have approved of them. He sees the Chinese attacks against the Lamaist clergy as primarily the destructive work of Jiang Qing. Mao’s companion did in fact drive the rebellion of the young to a peak without regard for her own party or the populace, significantly worsening the chaos in the whole country. In this assessment the Tibetan god-king agrees, completely unintentionally, with the official criticism from contemporary China: “During the cultural revolution the counter-revolutionary clique around ... Jiang Qing helped themselves to the left error under concealment of their true motives, and thus deliberately kicked at the scientific theories of Marxism-Leninism as well as the thoughts of Mao Zedong. They rejected the proper religious politics which the Party pursued directly following the establishment of the PR China. Thereby they completely destroyed the religious work of the Party” — it says in a Chinese government document from 1982 (MacInnis, 1993, p. 46).

In these contemporary events, so significant for the history of the Land of Snows, the feminine also appears -- in accordance with the tantric pattern and the androcentric viewpoint of the Dalai Lama -- as the radical and hate-filled destructive force which (like an uncontrollable “fire woman”) wants to destroy the Lamaist monastic state. Then in the view of the Tibetans in exile the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is regarded as the beginning of the “cultural genocide” which is supposed to have threatened Tibet since this time. Not without bitterness, the current god-king thus notes that the Red Guard gave Mao’s wife the chance, “to behave like an Empress” (Dalai Lama XIV, 1993a, p. 267).

In the case of Jiang Qing it is nevertheless not as easy to see her as an incarnation of Guanyin and an opponent of Avalokiteshvara (the Dalai Lama) as it is with Ci Xi, who deliberately took on this divine role. With her Marxist-Leninist orientation, the Communist Jiang Qing can only unconsciously or semiconsciously have become a “vessel” of the Chinese water goddess. Publicly, she projected an atheist image — at least from a western viewpoint. But this fundamentally anti-religious attitude must — more and more historians are coming to agree — be exposed as a pretence. Maoism was — as we shall later discuss at length — a deeply religious, mythic movement, located totally within the tradition of the Chinese Empire. The Dalai Lama’s suspicion that Jiang Qing felt like an Empress is thus correct.

Incidentally, she did so quite consciously, when she openly compared herself to the Empress Wu Zetian, who — as we have shown — tried as a female Buddha to seize control of the world, and who symbolically preempted the ideas of the Kalachakra Tantra in the construction of a time tower. Jiang Qing also wanted to seize the time wheel of history. In accordance with the Chinese predilection for all manner of ancestral traditions, she (the Communist) had clothes made for her in the style of the old Tang ruler (Wu Zetian).


“Jiang Qing, who had previously taken little interest in Chinese history, became an avid student of the career of Wu [Zetian] and the careers of other great women near the throne. Her personal library swelled with books on the subject. Teams of writers from her fanatically loyal faction scurried to prepare articles showing that Empress Wu, until then generally regarded as a lustful, power-hungry shrew, was ‘anti-Confucian’ and hence ‘progressive’. ‘Women can become emperor,’ Jiang would say to her staff members. ‘Even under communism there can be a woman ruler.’ She remarked to Mao’s doctor that England was not as feudal as China because it was ‘often ruled by queens.’“ (Ross, 1999, p. 273) - “Jiang Qing was deeply interested in the ideas and methods of Empress Dowager Ci Xi. But it was impossible for her to praise Ci Xi publicly because ultimately Empress Dowager Ci Xi failed to keep the West at bay and because she was too vivid a part of the ancien régime that the Communist Party had gloriously buried.” (Ross, 1999, p. 27)


But can we conclude from Jiang Qing’s preference for the imperial form of power that she is an incarnation of Guanyin? On the basis of her own view of things, we must probably reject the hypothesis. But if — like the Buddhist Tantrics — we accept that deities represent force fields which can be embodied in people, then such an assumption seems natural. The only question is whether it is in every case necessary that such people deliberately summon the gods or whether it is sufficient when their spirit and energy “inspire” the people in their possession to act. What counts in the final instance for a Tantric is a convincing symbolic interpretation of political events: The mythic competition between China and Tibet, between the Chinese Emperor and the Dalai Lama, between the Empress Wu Zetian and the Tibetan kings, between the Empress Dowager Ci Xi and the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, all give the conflict between the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and Jiang Qing a metapolitical meaning and render it comprehensible within a tantric scheme of things. The parallels between these conflicts are so striking that from an ancient viewpoint they can without further ado be seen as the expression of a primordial, divine scenario, the dispute between Avalokiteshvara and Guanyin over the world throne of the Chakravartin.

Before we in conclusion compare the religious-political role of the three “Empresses” with one another, we would like to once more emphasize that it is not us who see in China a matriarchal power which opposes a patriarchal Tibet. In contrast we plan in the rest of this study to report several times upon Chinese androcentrism. What we nonetheless wish to convey is the fact that from a Lamaist/tantric viewpoint the Chinese-Tibetan conflict is perceived as a battle of the sexes. Tantrism does not just sexualize landscapes, the elements, time, and the entire universe, but likewise politics as well.

From a Chinese (Taoist, Confucian, or Communist) viewpoint this may appear completely different. But we must not overlook that two of the female rulers we have introduced were fanatic (!) Buddhists with tantric (Ci Xi), or proto-tantric (Wu Zetian) ideas. Both will thus have perceived their political relationship to Tibet through Vajrayana spectacles, so to speak.

Wu Zetian let herself be worshipped as an incarnated Buddha and a Buddhist messiah. Her religious-political visions display an astonishing similarity to those of the Kalachakra Tantra, although this was first formulated several centuries later. As Chakravartin she stood in mythically irreconcilable opposition to the Tibetan kings, who, albeit later (in the 17th century), were entitled to the same designation. Admittedly, one cannot speak of her as an incarnation of Guanyin, since the cult of the Chinese goddess first crystallized out of her time. But there are a number of indications that she was the historical individual in whom the transformation of Avalokiteshvara into Guanyin took place. She was — in her own view — the first “living Buddha” in female form, as is likewise true of Guanyin.

Most unmistakably, Guanyin is “incarnated” in Ci Xi, since the Empress Dowager openly announced herself to be an embodiment of the goddess. There are many indications that the Chinese autocrat was deeply familiar with the secrets of Lamaist Tantrism. She must therefore have seen her encounter with the Thirteenth Dalai Lama as an elevated symbolic game for which in the end she had to pay with her life.

With Jiang Qing, the statement that she was an incarnation of Guanyin is no longer so convincing. The fanatical Communist was no follower of Buddha like her two predecessors and maintained an atheist image. But in her “culturally revolutionary” decisions and “proletarian” art rituals, in her contempt for all clergy, she acted and thought like a “raging goddess” who revolted with hate and violence against patriarchal traditions. Her radical nature made her into an avenging Erinnye (or an out-of-control dakini) in a tantric “match of the gods” (as the Tantrics saw history to be). There is no doubt that high-ranking Tibetan lamas interpreted the historical role of Jiang Qing thus. All three “Empresses” failed with their politics and religious system.

Wu Zetian had to officially renounce her title as “Coming Buddha”. After her death, Confucianism regained its power and began a countrywide persecution of the Buddhists.

Ci Xi died during the visit of her “arch-enemy” (the Thirteenth Dalai Lama). Within a few years of her death the reign of the Manchu dynasty was over (1911).

Jiang Qing was condemned to death by her own (Communist) party as a “left deviationist”, and then pardoned. Even before she died (in 1991), the Maoist regime of “the Red Sun” had collapsed once and for all.

Starting once more from a tantric view of things, one can speculate as to whether all three female historical figures (who as incarnations of Guanyin are to be assigned to the element of “water”) had to suffer the fate of a “fire woman”, a Candali. Then in the end, like the Candali, they founder in their own flames (political passion). All three, although staunch opponents of a purely men-oriented Buddhism, deliberately grasped the religious images and methods of the patriarchally organized world. Wu Zetian and Ci Xi let themselves be addressed with a male title as “old Buddha lord”; Jiang Qing drove all feminine, erotic elements out of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and issued the young women of the Red Guard with male uniforms. In light of the three Chinese “Empresses” the thought occurs that an emancipatory women’s movement cannot survive when it seizes and utilizes the androcentric power symbols and attitudes for itself. We turn to a consideration of these thoughts in the chapter which follows.

Feminism and Tantric Buddhism

Once the majority of the high-ranking Tibetan lamas had to flee the Land of Snows from the end of the 1950s and then began to disseminate Tantric Buddhism in the West, they were willingly or unwillingly confronted with modern feminism. This encounter between the women’s movement of the twentieth century and the ancient system of the androcentric monastic culture is not without a certain delicacy. In itself, one would have to presume that here two irreconcilable enemies from way back came together and that now “the fur would fly”. But this unique relation — as we shall soon see — took on a much more complicated form. Yet first we introduce a courageous and self-confident woman from Tibetan history, who formulated a clear and unmistakable rejection of Tantric Buddhism.
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Tse Pongza — the challenger of Padmasambhava

Shortly after Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, entered the “Land of Snows”, a remarkable woman became his decisive opponent. It was no lesser figure than Tse Pongza, the principal wife of the Tibetan king, Trisong Detsen (742–803), and the mother of the heir apparent. The ruler had brought the famous vajra master into the country from India in order to weaken the dominant Bon religion and the nobility. With his active assistance the old priesthood (of the Bon) was banished and the cult was suppressed by drastic measures. A proportion of the Bonpo (the followers of Bon) succumbed to the pressure and converted, another division fled the country, some were decapitated and their bodies thrown into the river. Yet during the whole period of persecution Tse Pongza remained a true believer in the traditional rites and tried by all means to drive back the influence of Guru Rinpoche.

To throw a bad light on her steadfastness, later Buddhist historians accused her of acting out of unrequited love, because Padmasambhava had coldly rejected her erotic advances. Whatever the case, the queen turned against the new religion with abhorrence. “Put an end to these sorcerers” — she is supposed to have said — “... If these sort of things spread, the people’s lives will be stolen from them. This is not religion, but something bad!” (Hermanns, 1956, p. 207). The following open and pointed rejection of Tantrism from her has also been preserved:

What one calls a kapala is a human head placed upon a stand;
What one calls basuta are spread-out entrails,
What one calls a leg trumpet is a human thighbone
What one calls the ‘Blessed site of the great field’
is a human skin laid out.
What one calls rakta is blood sprinkled upon sacrificial pyramids,
What one calls a mandala are shimmering, garish colors,
What one calls dancers are people who wear garlands of bones.
This is not religion, but rather the evil, which India has taught Tibet.

(Hoffmann, 1956, p. 61)

With great prophetic foresight Tse Pongza announced: “I fear that the royal throne will be lost if we go along with the new religion” (Hoffmann, 1956, p. 58). History proved her right. The reign of the Yarlung dynasty collapsed circa one hundred years after she spoke these words (838) and was replaced by small kingdoms which were in the control of various Lamaist sects. But it was to take another 800 years before the worldly power of the Tibetan kings was combined with the spiritual power of Lamaism in the institution of the Dalai Lama, and a new form of state arose which was able to survive until the present day: the tantric Buddhocracy.

As far as we are aware, Tse Pongza, the courageous challenger of the Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), has not yet been discovered as a precursor by feminism. In contrast, there is not a feminist text about Tibetan Buddhism in which great words are not devoted to the obedient servant of the guru, Yeshe Tsogyal (the contemporary of Tse Pongza and her counterpole). Such writings are also often full of praise for Padmasambhava. This is all the more surprising, because the latter — as the ethnologist and psychoanalyst, Robert A. Paul, has convincingly demonstrated and as we shall come to show in detail — must be regarded as a sexually aggressive, women and life-despising cultural hero.

Western feminism

We can distinguish four groups in the modern western debate among women about tantric/Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan history:

The supporters, who have unconditionally subjected themselves to the patriarchal monastic system.

The radical feminists, who strictly reject it and unconditionally damn it.

Those women who strive for a fundamental reform so as to attain a partnership with equal rights within the Buddhist doctrine.

The feminists who have penetrated the system so as to make the power methods developed in Tantrism available for themselves and other women, that is, who are pursuing a gynocentric project.

Outside of these groups one individual towers like a monolith and is highly revered and called as a witness by all four: Alexandra David-Neel (1868–1969). At the start of this century and under the most adventurous conditions, the courageous French woman illegally traversed the Tibetan highlands. She was recognized by the Tibetans as a female Lama and — as she herself notes — revered as an incarnation from the “Genghis Khan race”. (quoted by Bishop, 1989, p. 229).

In 1912 she stood before the Thirteenth Dalai Lama as the first western woman to do so. Despite her fascination with Tibet and her in-depth knowledge of the Lamaist culture she never allowed herself to become completely captivated or bewitched. When it appeared there would be a second audience with His Holiness, the Frenchwoman, the daughter of a Calvinist father and a Catholic mother, said : “I don't like popes. I don't like the kind of Buddhist Catholicism over which he presides. Everything about him is affected, he is neither cordial nor kind” (Batchelor, 1994, p. 311).

Alexandra David-Neel had both a critical and an admiring attitude towards Lamaism and the tantric teachings. She was also repulsed by the dirty and degrading conditions under which the people of Tibet had to live, and thus approved of the Chinese invasion of 1951. On the other hand, she was so strongly attracted to Tibetan Buddhism that she proved to be its most eager and ingenious student. We are indebted to her for the keenest insights into the shady side of the Lamaist soul. Today the author, who lived to be over 100, has become a feminist icon.

Let us now take a closer look at the four orientations of women towards Lamaism described above:

1. The supporting group first crystallized out of a reaction to the other three positions mentioned. It has solely one thing in common with a “feminist” stance, namely that it’s proponents dare to speak out in matters of religion, which was very rarely permitted of Tibetan women in earlier times. The group forms so to speak the female peace-keeping force of patriarchal Buddhism. Among its members are authors such as Anne Klein, Carole Divine, Pema Dechen Gorap, and others. Their chief argument against the claim that woman are oppressed in Vajrayana is that the teaching is fundamentally sexually neutral. The Dharma is said to be neither masculine nor feminine, the sexes forms of appearance in an illusionary world. Karma Lekshe Tsomo, a Buddhist nun of western origin, thus reacts to modern radical feminist current with the following words of rejection: “A growing number of women and also some men feel the need to identify enlightenment with a feminine way. I reject the idea that enlightenment can be categorized into gender roles and identified with these at all. ... Why should the awareness be so intensely bound to a form as the genitals are?” (quoted by Herrmann-Pfand, 1992, p. 11). With regard to the social situation of women in the Tibet of old, the authors of the first group proclaim, in comparison with those in other Asian countries they enjoyed the greatest freedoms.

2. The discrimination against the female sex in all historical phases of Buddhism is, however, so apparent that it has given rise to an extensive, in the meantime no longer surveyable, literature of feminist critiques, which very accurately and without holding back unmask and indict the system at all levels. For early Buddhism, it is above all Diana Y. Paul who has produced a sound and significant contribution. Her book, Women in Buddhism, has become a standard work in the meantime.

The sexual abuse of women in the modern Buddhist centers of the West has been made public by, among others, the American, Sandy Boucher. In many of these feminist critiques social arguments — on the one side an androcentric hierarchy, on the other the oppressed woman — are as frequent as theological and philosophical ones.

The points which the neo-shaman and Wicca Witch, Starhawk, brings against the Buddhist theory of suffering seem to us to be of such value that we would like to quote them at length. Starhawk sees herself as a representative of the witch (Wicca) movement, as a feminist dakini: “Witchcraft does not maintain, like the First Truth of Buddhism, that 'all life is suffering'. On the contrary, life is a thing of wonder. The Buddha is said to have gained this insight [about suffering] after his encounter with old age, disease and wealth. In the Craft [i.e., the witch movement], old age is a natural and highly valued part of the cycle of life, the time of greatest wisdom and understanding. Disease, of course, causes misery but it is not something to be inevitably suffered: The practice of the Craft was always connected with the healing arts, with herbalism and midwifery. Nor is death fearful: It is simply the dissolution of the physical form that allows the spirit to prepare for new life. Suffering certainly exists in life — it is part of learning. But escape from the wheel of Birth and Death is not the optimal cure, any more than hara-kiri is the best cure of menstrual cramps.” (quoted by Gross, 1993, p. 284).

This radical feminist critique naturally also extends to Vajrayana: the cynical use of helpless girls in the sexual magic rituals and the exploitation of patriarchal positions of power by the tantric gurus stand at the center of the “patriarchal crimes”. But the alchemic transformation of feminine energy into a masculine one and the “tantric female sacrifice”, both of which we discussed so extensively in the first part of our study, are up until now not a point of contention. We shall soon see why.

3. The authors Tsultrim Allione, Janice Willis, Joana Macy, and Rita M. Gross can be counted among the third “reform party”. The latter of these believes it possible that a new world-encompassing vision can develop out of the encounter between feminism and Buddhism. She thus builds upon the critical work of the radical feminists, but her goal is a “post-patriarchal Buddhism”, that is, the institutionalization of the equality of the sexes within the Buddhist doctrine (Gross, 1993, p. 221). This reform should not be imposed upon the religious system from outside, but rather be carried through in “the heart of traditional Buddhism, its monasteries and educational institutions” (Gross, 1993, p. 241). Rita Gross sees this linkage with women as a millennial project, which is supposed to continue the series of great stages in the history of Buddhism.

For this reason she needs no lesser metaphor to describe her vision than the “turning of the wheel”, in remembrance of Buddha’s first sermon in Benares where, with the pronouncement of the Four Noble Truths, he set the “wheel of the teaching” in motion. If, as is usual in some Buddhist schools, one sees the first turning as the “lesser vehicle” (Hinayana), the second as the “great vehicle” (Mahayana), and the third as Tantrism (Tantrayana), then one could, like Gross, refer to the connection of Buddhism and feminism as the “fourth vehicle” or the fourth turning of the wheel. “And with each turning,” this author says, “we will discover a progressively richer and fuller basis for reconstructing androgynous [!] Buddhism” (Gross, 1993, p. 155). Many of the fundamental Buddhist doctrines about emptiness, about the various energy bodies, about the ten-stage path to enlightenment, about emanation concepts would be retained, but could now also be followed and obeyed by women. But above all the author places weight on the ethical norms of Mahayana Buddhism and gives these a family-oriented twist: compassion with all beings, thus also with women and children, the linking of family structures with the Sangha (Buddhist community), the sacralization of the everyday, male assistance with the housework, and similar ideas which are drawn less from Buddhism as from the moderate wing of the women’s movement.

Like the Italian, Tsultrim Allione, Gross sees it as a further task of hers to seek out forgotten female figures in the history of Buddhism and to reserve a significant place for them in the historiography. She takes texts like the Therigatha, in which women in the Hinayana period already freely and very openly discussed their relationship to the teachings, to be proof of a strong female presence within the early phase of Buddhism. It is not just the lamas who are to blame for the concealment of “enlightened women”, but also above all the western researchers, who hardly bothered about the existence of female adepts.

She sees in Buddhist Tantrism a technique for overcoming the gender polarity, in the form of an equality of rights of course. One can say straight out that she has not understood the alchemic process whereby the feminine energy is sucked up during the tantric ritual. Like the male traditionalists she seizes upon the image of an androgyny (not that of a gynandry), of which she erroneously approves as a “more sexually neutral” state.

4. Fourthly, there are those women who wish to reverse the complex of sexual themes in Buddhism exclusively for their own benefit. The American authors, Lynn Andrews and, above all, Miranda Shaw, can be counted among these. In her book, Passionate Enlightenment — Women in Tantric Buddhism, she speaks openly of a “gynocentric” perspective on Buddhism (Shaw, 1994, p. 71). Shaw thus stands at the forefront of western women who are attempting to transform the tantric doctrine of power into a feminist intellectual edifice. With the same intentions June Campbell subtitles her highly critical book, Traveller in Space, as being “In Search of Female Identity in Tibetan Buddhism”. She too renders tantric practices, which she learned as the pupil of the Kagyu master, Kalu Rinpoche, over many years, useful for the women’s movement. Likewise one can detect in the German Tibetologist, Adelheid Herrmann-Pfand’s study about the dakinis the wish to detect female alternatives within the tantric scheme of things.

But of all of these Miranda Shaw has the most radical approach. We shall therefore concentrate our attention upon her. Anybody who reads her impassioned book must gain the impression that it concerns the codification of a matriarchal religion to rival Vajrayana. All the feminine images which are to be found in Tantrism are reinterpreted as power symbols of the goddess. The result is a comprehensive world view governed by a feminine arch-deity. We may recall that such a matriarchal viewpoint need not differ essentially from that of an androcentric Tantric. He too sees the substance of the world as feminine and believes that the forces which guide the universe are the energies of the goddess. Only in the final instance does the vajra master want to have the last say.

For this reason the “tantric” feminists can without causing the lamas any concern reach into the treasure chest of Vajrayana and bring forth the female deities stored there, from the “Mother of all Buddhas”, the “Highest Wisdom”, the goddess “Tara”, to all conceivable kinds of terror dakinis. These formerly Buddhist female figures — the nurturing and protective mother, the helper in times of need, and the granter of initiations — apparently stand at the center of a new cult. Shaw can rightly draw attention to numerous cases in which women were inducted into the secrets of Tantrism as the dakinis of Maha Siddhas. It was they who equipped their male pupils with magic abilities. Their powers, the legends teach us, vastly exceeded those of the men. The tantra texts are also said to have originally been written by women. The ranks of the 84 official Maha Siddhas (great Tantrics) at any rate include four women, one of whom, Lakshminkara, is considered to be the founder of a teaching tradition of her own. In the more recent history of Vajrayana as well, “enlightened women” crop up again and again: the yoginis Niguma, Yeshe Tshogyal, Ma gcig, and others.

As evidence for the hypothesized power of women in Buddhist Tantrism the feminist side likes to parade the Candamaharosana Tantra with those passages in it in which the man is completely subordinate to the dictates of the woman. But the hymn to the goddess quoted in the following is still no more a sequence in the tantric inversion process, despite its depiction of the servitude of the male lover: as usual, in this case too it is not the female deity but rather the central male who is the victor in the guise of a guru. Here are the words, which the goddess addresses to her partner:

Place my feet upon your shoulders and
Look me up and down
Make the fully awakened scepter (Phallus)
Enter the opening in the center of the lotus (Vagina)
Move a hundred, thousand, hundred thousand times
in my three-petaled lotus
of swollen flesh.

(Shaw, 1994, pp. 155-156)

Shaw comments upon this erotic poem with the following revealing sentences: “The passage reflects what can be called a 'female gaze' or gynocentric perspective, for it describes embodiment and erotic experience from a female point of view. ... [The man] is instructed not to end the worship until the woman is fully satisfied. Only then is he allowed to pause to revive himself with food and wine — after serving the woman and letting her eat first, of course! Selfish pleasure-seeking is out of the question for him, for he must serve and please his goddess” (Shaw, 1994, p. 156). But the tantra is in fact dedicated to a wrathful and extremely violent male deity and differs from other texts solely in that the adept has set himself the difficult exercise of being completely sexually subordinate to the woman so as to then — in accordance with “law of inversion” — be able to celebrate an even greater victory over the feminine and his own passions. The woman’s role as dominatrix, which Shaw proudly cites, must also be seen as an ephemeral moment along the masculine way to enlightenment.

Yet Miranda Shaw sees things differently. For her it was women who invented and introduced Tantrism. They had always been the bearers of secrets. Thus nothing in the tantras must be changed in the coming “age of gynandry” other than that the texts once more lay the foundations for the supremacy of the woman, so that she can take up her former tantric post as teacher and grasp anew the helm which had slipped from her hands. From now on the man has to obey once more: “Tantric texts “, Shaw says, “specify what a man has to do to appeal to, please and merit the attention of a woman, but there are no corresponding requirements that a woman must fulfill” (Shaw, 1994, p. 70). At another point we may read that, “the woman may also see her male partner as a deity in certain ritual contexts, but his divinity does not carry the same symbolic weight. She is not required to respond to his divinity with any special deference, respect, or supplication or to render him service in the same way that he is required to serve her.” (Shaw, 1994, p. 47). In place of the absolute god, the absolute goddess now strides across the cosmic stage alone and seizes the long sought scepter of world dominion.

Such feminist rapprochements with Vajrayana Buddhism, however, prove on closer inspection to walk right into a well-disguised tantric trap. Precisely in the moment where the modern emancipated woman believes she has freed herself from the chains of the patriarchal system, she becomes without noticing even more deeply entangled in it. This effect is caused by the tantric “law of inversion”. As we know, within the logic of this law, the yogini must be elevated to a goddess before her defeat and domination at the hands of the guru, and the vajra master is under no circumstances permitted to recoil if she comes at him in a furious and aggressive form. In contrast, he is — if he takes the “law of inversion” seriously — downright obliged to “set fire to” the feminine, or better, to bring it to explosion. The hysterical terror dakinis of the rituals are just one of the indicators of the “inflaming” of female emotions during the initiations. In our analysis of the feminine inner fire (the Candali) as a further example, we showed how the “fire woman” ignited by the yogi stands in radical confrontation to him who has set fire to her, since she is supposed to burn up all of his bodily aggregates. On the astral plane the tantra master likewise uses the feminine “apocalyptic fire” (Kalagni) to reduce the cosmos to smoking rubble. The aggressively feminine, which can find its social expression in the form of radical gynocentric feminism, is thus a part of the tantric project. Who better represents a flaming, wrathful, dangerous goddess than a feminist, who furiously turns upon the fundamental principles of the teaching (the Dharma)?

If we consider the feminist craving for fire as an element of power in the work of such a prominent figure as the American cultural researcher Mary Daly, then the question arises whether such radical women have not been outwitted by the Tibetan yogis into doing their work for them. Daly even demands a “pyrogenetic ecstasy” for the new woman and calls out to her comrades: "Raging, Racing, we take on the task of Pyrognomic Naming of Virtues. Thus lightning, igniting the Fires of Impassioned Virtues, we sear, scorch, singe, char, burn away the demonic tidy ties that hold us down in the Domesticated State, releasing our own Daimons/Muses/Tidal Forces of creation ... Volcanic powers are unplugged, venting Earth’s Fury and ours, hurling forth Life-lust, like lava, reviving the wasteland, the World” (Daly, 1984, p. 226). Such an attitude fits perfectly with the patriarchal strategy of a fiery destruction of the world such as we find in the Buddhist Kalachakra Tantra and likewise in the Christian Book of Revelations. In their blind urge for power, the “pyromaniac” feminists also set Mother Earth, whom they claim to rescue, on fire. In so doing they carry out the apocalyptic task of the mythic Indian doomsday mare, from whose nostrils the apocalyptic fire (Kalagni) streams and who rises up out of the depths of the oceans. They are thus unwilling chess pieces in the cosmic game of the ADI BUDDHA to come.

Let us recall Giordano Bruno’s statements about one of the fundamental features of a manipulator: the easiest person to manipulate is the one who believes he is acting in his own egomaniac interests, whilst he is in fact the instrument of a magician and is fulfilling the wishes of the latter. This is the “trick” (upaya) with which the yogi dazzles the fearsome feminine, the “evil mother”, and the dark Kali. The more they gnash their razor-sharp teeth, the more attractive they become for the tantra master. According to the “law of inversion” they play out a necessary dramaturgical scene on the tantric stage. As magic directors, the patriarchal yogis are not only prepared for an attack by radical feminism, but have also made it an element in their own androcentric development. Perhaps this is the reason why Miranda Shaw was allowed to conduct her studies in Dharamsala with the explicit permission of the Dalai Lama.

There are internal and external reasons for this unconscious but effective self-destruction of radical feminism. Externally, we can see how in contest with patriarchy they grasp the element of fire, which is also seen as a synonym of the term “power” by the followers of the great goddess. The element of water as the feminine counterpart to masculine fire plays a completely subordinate role in Daly’s and Shaw’s visions. Thus the force under which the earth already suffers is multiplied by the fiery rage of these women. Avalokiteshvara and Kalachakra are — as we have shown — fire deities, i.e., they feed upon fire even if or even precisely because it is lit by “burning” women.

The internal reason for the feminist self-destruction lies in the unthinking adoption of tantric physiology by the women. If such women practice a form of yoga, along the lines Miranda Shaw recommends, then they make use of exactly the same techniques as the men, and presume that the same energy conditions apply in their bodies. They thus begin — as we have already indicated — to destroy their female bodies and to replace it with a masculine structure. This is in complete accord with the Buddhist doctrine. Thanks to the androcentric rituals her femininity is dissolved and she becomes in energy terms a man.

Between March 30 and April 2, 2000, representatives from groups three and four convened in Cologne, Germany at a women-only conference. Probably without giving the matter much thought, the Buddhist journal Ursache & Wirkung [Cause and Effect] ran its report on the meeting at which 1200 female Buddhists participated under the title of “Göttinnen Dämmerung” [Twilight of the Goddesses] — which with its reference to the götterdämmerung signified the extinction of the goddesses (Ursache & Wirkung, No. 32, 2/2000).

Now whether the yogis can actually and permanently maintain control over the women through their “tricks” (upaya) is another question. This is solely dependent upon their magical abilities, over which we do not wish to pass judgment here. The texts do repeatedly warn of the great danger of their experiments. There is the ever-present possibility that the “daughters of Mara” see through the tricky system and plunge the lamas into hell. Srinmo, the fettered earth mother, may free herself one day and cruelly revenge herself upon her tormentors, then she too has meanwhile become a central symbol of the gynocentric movement. Her liberation is part of the feminist agenda. "One senses a certain pride”, we can read in the work of Janet Gyatso, "in the description of the presence of the massive demoness. She reminds Tibetans of fierce and savage roots in their past. She also has much to say to the Tibetan female, notably more assertive than some of her Asian neighbours, with an independent identity, and a formidable one at that. So formidable that the masculine power structure of Tibetan myth had to go to great lengths to keep the female presence under control. […. Srinmo] may have been pinned and rendered motionless, but she threatens to break loose at any relaxing of vigilance or deterioration of civilization” (Janet Gyatso, 1989, p. 50, 51).

The Fourteenth Dalai Lama and the question of women's rights

The relationship of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama to the female sex appears sincere, positive, and uninhibited. Leaving the tantric goddesses aside, we must distinguish between three categories of women in his proximity: 1. Buddhist nuns; 2.Tibetan women in exile; 3. Western lay women.

Buddhist nuns

At the outset of our study we described the extremely misogynist feelings Buddha Shakyamuni exhibited towards ordained female Buddhists. In a completely different mood, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama succeeded in becoming a figure of hope for all the women assembled at the first international conference of Buddhist nuns in 1987 in Bodh Gaya (India). It was the Kundun and not a nun (bhiksuni) who launched proceedings with his principal speech. It surely had a deep symbolic/tantric significance for him that he held his lecture inside the local Kalachakra temple. There, in the holiest of holies of the time god, the rest of the nuns’ events also took place, beginning each time with a group meditation. It is further noteworthy that it was not just representatives of Tibetan Buddhism who turned to the god-king as the advocate of their rights at the conference but also the nuns of other Buddhist schools. [8]

In his speech the Kundun welcomed the women’s initiative. First up, he spoke of the high moral and emotional significance of the mother for human society. He then implied that according to the basic principles of Mahayana Buddhism, no distinction between the sexes may be made and that in Tantrayana the woman must be accorded great respect. The only sentence in which the Kundun mentioned Tantrism in his speech was the following: “It is for example considered an infringement when tantra practitioners do not bow down before women or step around them during their accustomed practice of the yoga [in their meditations]" (Lekshe Tsomo, 1991, p. 34). The Buddhist women present would hardly have known anything about real women (karma mudras) who participate in the sexual magic practices, about the ceremonial elevation of the woman by the lama so as to subsequently absorb her gynergy, or about the “tantric female sacrifice”.

The Dalai Lama continued his speech by stressing the existence of several historical yoginis in the Indian and Tibetan traditions in order to prove that Buddhism has always offered women an equal chance. In conclusion he drew attention to the fact that the negative relationship to the female sex which could be found in so many Buddhist texts are solely socially conditioned.

When the decisive demand was then aired, that women within the Buddhist sects be initiated as line-holders so that they would as female gurus be entitled to initiate male and female pupils, the Kundun indicated with regret that such a bhiksuni tradition does not exist in Tibet. However, as it can be found in China (Hong Kong and Taiwan), it would make sense to translate the rules of those orders and to distribute them among the Tibetan nuns. In answer to the question — “Would they [then] be officially recognized as bhiksunis [female teachers]?” — he replied evasively — “Primarily, religious practice depends upon one’s own initiative. It is a personal matter. Now whether the full ordination were officially recognized or not, a kind of social recognition would at any rate be present in the community, which is extremely important” (Lekshe Tsoma, 1991, p. 246). But he himself could not found such a tradition, since he saw himself bound to the traditional principles of his orders (the Mulasarvastivada school) which forbade this, but he would do his best and support a meeting of various schools in order to discuss the bhiksuni question. Ten years later, in Taiwan, where the “Chinese system” is widespread, there had indeed been no concrete advances but the Kundun once again had the most progressive statement ready: “I hope”, he said to his listeners, “that all sects will discuss it [the topic] and reach consensus to thoroughly pass down this tradition. For men and women are equal and can both accept Buddha's teachings on an equal basis.” (Tibetan Review, May 1997, p. 13).

Big words — then the reformation of the repressive tradition of nuns dictated to by men is fiercely contested within Lamaism. But even if in future the bhiksunis are permitted to conduct rituals and are recognized as teachers in line with the Chinese model, this in no way affects the tantric rites, which do not even exist within the Chinese system and which downright celebrate the discrimination against women as a cultic mystery.

Tibetan women in exile

As far as their social and political position is concerned, much has certainly changed for the Tibetan women in exile in the last 35 years. For example, they now have the right to vote and to stand as a candidate. Nonetheless, complaints about traditional mechanisms of suppression in the families are a major topic, which thanks to the support of western campaigners for women’s rights do not seldom reach a wider public. Nonetheless, here too the Kundun plays the reformer and we earnestly believe that he is completely serious about this, then he has had for many years been able to experience the dedication, skillfulness, and courage of many women acting for his concerns. All Tibetan women in exile are encouraged by the Kundun to participate in the business of state. The Tibetan Women's Association, extremely active in pursuing societal interests, was also founded with his support.

Despite these outwardly favorable conditions, progress towards emancipation has been very slow. For example, the three permanent seats reserved for women in the parliament in exile could not be filled for a long period, simply because there were no candidates. (There are 130,000 Tibetans living in exile.) This has improved somewhat in the meantime. In 1990 the Kundun induced his sister, Jetsun Pema, to be the first woman to take up an important office in government. In 1996 eight women were elected to the public assembly.

Sometimes, under the influence of the western feminism, the question of women’s rights flares up fiercely within the exile Tibetan community. But such eruptions can again and again be successfully cut off and brought to nothing through two arguments:

1. The question of women’s rights is of secondary nature and disrupts the national front against the Chinese which must be maintained at all costs. Hence, the question of women’s rights is a topic which will only become current once Tibet has been freed from the Chinese yoke.

2. The chief duty of the women in exile is to guarantee the survival of the Tibetan race (which is threatened by extinction) through the production of children.

The Kundun’s encounters with western feminism

In the West the Dalai Lama is constantly confronted with emancipation topics, particularly since no few female Buddhists originally hailed from the feminist camp or later — the wave has just begun — migrated to it. As in every area of modern life, here too the god-king presents an image of the open-minded man of the world, liberal and in recent times even verbally revolutionary. In 1993, as critical voices accusing several lamas of uninhibited excessive and degrading sexual behavior grew louder, he took things seriously and promised that all cases would be properly investigated. In the same year, a group of two dozen western teachers under the leadership of Jack Kornfield met and spoke with His Holiness about the meanwhile increasingly precarious topic of “sexual abuse by Tibetan gurus”. The Kundun told the Americans to “always let the people know when things go wrong. Get it in the newspapers themselves if needs be” (Lattin, Newsgroup 17).

In 1983, at a congress in Alpach, Austria, His Holiness came under strong feminist fire and was attacked by the women present. One of the participants completely overtaxed him with the statement that, “I am very surprised that there is no woman on the stage today, and I would have been very glad to see at least one woman sitting up there, and I have the feeling that the reason why there are no female Dalai Lamas is simply that they are not offered enough room” (Kakuska, 1984, p. 61). Another participant at the same meeting abused him for the same reasons as “Dalai Lama, His Phoniness!” (Kakuska, 1984, p. 60).

The Kundun learned quickly from such confrontations, of which there were certainly a few in the early eighties. In an interview in 1996, for example, he described with a grin the goddess Tara as the “first feminist of Buddhism” (Dalai Lama XIV, 1996b, p. 76). In answer to the question as to why Shakyamuni was so disdainful of women, he replied: "2500 years ago when Buddha lived in India he gave preference to men. Had he lived today in Europe as a blonde male he would have perhaps given his preference to women” (Tibetan Review, March 1988, p. 17). His Holiness now even goes so far as to believe it possible that a future Dalai Lama could be incarnated in the form of a woman. “In theory there is nothing against it” (Tricycle, 1995, V (1), p. 39; see also Dalai Lama XIV, 1996b, p. 99). In 1997 he even enigmatically prophesied that he would soon appear in a female form: “The next Dalai Lama could also be a girl” (Tagesanzeiger, June 27, 1995).

According to our analysis of Tantrism, we must regard such charming flattery of the female sex as at the very least a non-committal, albeit extremely lucrative embellishment. But they are more likely to be a deliberately employed manipulation, so as to draw attention away from the monstrosities of the tantric ritual system. Perhaps they are themselves a method (upaya) with which to appropriate the “gynergy” of the women so charmed. After all, something like that need not only take place through the sexual act. There are descriptions in the lower tantras of how the yogi can obtain the feminine “elixir” even through a smile, an erotic look or a tender touch alone.

It has struck many who have attended a teaching by the Dalai Lama that he keeps a constant and charming eye contact with women from the audience, and is in fact discussed in the Internet: “Now it is quite possible”, Richard P. Hayes writes there regarding the “flirts” of the Kundun, “that he was making a fully conscious effort to make eye-contact with women to build up their self-esteem and sense of self-worth out of a compassionate response to the ego crushing situations that women usually face in the world. It is equally possible that he was unconsciously seeking out women's faces because he finds them attractive. And it could well be that he finds women attractive because they trigger his Anima complex in some way” (Hayes, Newsgroup 11). Hayes is right in his final sentence when he equates the female anima with the tantric maha mudra (the “inner woman”). With his flirts the Kundun enchants the women and at the same time drinks their “gynergy”.

The role of women in the sacred center of Tibetan Buddhism can only change if there were to be a fundamental rejection of the tantric mysteries, but to date we have not found the slightest indication that the Kundun wants to terminate in any manner his androcentric tradition which at heart consists in the sacrifice of the feminine.

Nevertheless, he amazingly succeeds in awakening the impression — even among critical feminists — that he is essentially a reformer, willing and open to modern emancipatory influences. It seems the promised changes have only not come about because, as the victim of a traditional environment, his hands are tied (Gross, 1993, p. 35). This pious wishful notion proves nothing more than the fascination that the great “manipulator of erotic love” from the “roof of the world” exercises over his female public. His charming magic in the meantime enables him to enthuse and activate a whole army of women for his Tibetan politics in the most varied nations of the world.

The “Ganachakra” of Hollywood

Relaxed and carefree, with a certain spiritual sex appeal, the Kundun enjoys all his encounters with western women. As the world press confirms, the “modest monk” from Dharamsala counts as one of the greatest charmers among the current crop of politicians and religious leaders. "Any woman”, Hicks and Chogyam write in their biography of the Dalai Lama, "who has had been fortunate enough to be granted an audience will tell you what a charming host he is” (Hicks and Chogyam, 1990, p. 66). But Alexandra David-Neel had a completely different opinion of his previous incarnation, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, whom she described as stiff, obsessed by power, and heartless.

Just as a major film star is surrounded by enthusiastic fans, so too the Dalai Lama — at a higher level — attracts a crowd of enthusiastic male and female film stars. The proportion of world-famous actresses and singers in his “retinue” has notably increased in the meantime, and among them are to be found many of the most well-known faces: Sharon Stone, Anja Kruse, Uma Thurman, Christine Kaufmann, Sophie Marceau, Tina Turner, Doris Dörrie, Koo Stark, Goldie Hawn, Meg Ryan, Shirley MacLaine and a number of others count among them. “Even Madonna has ‘come out’ spiritually”, the Spiegel reflects, “The 'Material Girl' soon possibly a Tibet sister?” (Spiegel, 16/1998, p. 109). “In Hollywood the leader of Tibet is currently revered like a god”, writes Playboy (Playboy [German edition], March 1998, p. 44).

But what motivates these international celebrities to join the Kundun and his tantric Buddhist teachings with such enthusiasm? We shall speak later about the male stars who are followers in particular, and thus in this section cast a glance at the famous women who have adopted the Buddhist faith in recent years. Bunte, a high-circulation German magazine, has attempted to identify the female stars’ motives for their change of faith. Alongside the usual descriptions of peace, calm, and quiet, we can also read the following:

"More and more women are turning to Buddhism, both in Europe and America. And when you look at them, you might think: hello, looks like she’s had a facelift? — No, it’s the teaching of Buddha which is making her desirable and attractive. Buddhism ... gives them peace — and peace is the basis of the harmony from which alone erotic love can grow. ... In the great religions of the world people, in particular women, are constantly under siege: from commandments, bans, taboos, guilt complexes and mystic visions of purgatory, Judgment Day, and hell. But Buddhism does not threaten, does not punish, does not damn. ... And then — the “boss”: Buddha is no invisible, punitive, wrathful or even loving god. He is a visible person ... a person, who has found his way and is therefore constantly smiling in likenesses of him. But you don’t have to pray to him — you’re supposed to follow him. For women, Buddha is not the omnipotent patriarch in heaven, but rather a living guru [!]. This makes him especially appealing to women. In Buddhism women do not have to deny their sensuality”. Goldie Hawn, Hollywood sex comedian, rapturously claims, “I meditate and I feel sexy, I am sexy”. Anja Kruse, a German film star, enthuses that through Buddhism she has “gained more positive energy and erotic radiance”. The singer Laurie Andersen believes “Buddhism is so antiauthoritarian that it is attractive”. The actress Shirley MacLaine knows that “You learn that you are also god” (all quotations are from Bunte, no. 46, November 6, 1997, pp. 20ff.).

The manipulation of the feminine sense of the erotic can hardly be better demonstrated than through such articles. Here, the whole misogynist history of Buddhism is transformed into its precise opposite with a few snappy words. This is only one of the deceptions, however. The other is the fact that according to such statements Buddhism holds the dolce vita of the “rich and the beautiful” to be an elevated “spiritual” goal. “For Christians and Moslems”, it says further in Bunte, “paradise beckons from the beyond. Celebrities already have it on earth — completely in accord with the beliefs of Buddhism” (Bunte, no. 46, November 6, 1997, p. 22). The historical Buddha’s rejection of the comforts of life — an important dogma for his salvational way — is turned into its blatant opposite here: Buddhism, the stars would like us to believe, means luxury and complete independence.

This is deliberate and very successful manipulation. The western press is certainly not responsible for this alone. In that the Tibetan lamas further intensify the egocentricity and the secret wishes of the celebrity women and guarantee their fulfillment through Buddhism, they bring them under their control with a similar method (upaya = trick) to that with which they elevate the karma mudras (real women) to goddesses in their tantric rituals. Who as woman would not reach out for the offers which are promised them, according to Bunte, by the monks in orange robes: “Buddhism is eternal life. If one is lucky, eternal youth as well” (Bunte, no. 46, November 6, 1997, p. 22).

In light of the hells, the taboos, the day of judgment, the homelessness, the apocalyptic battle, the absolute obedience, the unconditional worship of the gurus, the patriarchal authority, the disdain for women and for life and much more of the like, with which the “true” doctrine is traditionally weighed down, the temptations offered by Bunte magazine are purely illusory, especially when we consider the harsh discipline and the strictness which must be borne in the Buddhist lamaseries. Perhaps one of the most famous Buddha legends has now been reversed: A future Buddha who wishes to attain enlightenment will no longer be tempted by the “daughters of Mara” (the daughters of the devil), rather, the “daughters of Mara” (the female stars of Hollywood) who are prepared to step out along the path to enlightenment are tempted by Buddha (the Dalai Lama). It only remains to hope that they like the historical Shakyamuni succeed in seeing through the sweet and charming “devil ghost” of the “sincere” and smiling Kundun.

If we adopt a tantric viewpoint then we may not rule out that all these famous women have in a most sublime manner been made a part of the worldwide Kalachakra project by the lamas. They form — if we may exaggerate slightly — a kind of symbolic ganachakra which is supposed to support the apotheosis of the Dalai Lamas (Avalokiteshvara) into the ADI BUDDHA. With the example of the pop singer Patty Smith we would like to demonstrate how finely and “cleverly” feminine energies can be steered by the Kundun in the meantime.

Patty Smith and the Dalai Lama

Already anticonventional to the point of radicalism in her youth, a great fan of the poètes maudits — Arthur Rimbaud, Frederico Garcia Lorca, Jean Genet, William S. Burroughs and others, Patty Smith grew up in the Factory of Andy Warhol, where she learned her “antiauthoritarian” attitude to life. Anarchist and libertarian, she built a career upon a repertoire which opposed every social norm. Outside of society is where I want to be is the name of one of her most famous pieces. In the eighties her spouse and several of her closest friends died suddenly, which affected her deeply. In order to overcome her pain she turned to Tibetan Buddhism. She remembered having wept and prayed as a twelve-year-old girl at the fate of the Dalai Lama. But she first met the god-king in September 1995 in Berlin and was spellbound: “"I learned quite a bit from that man”, she later said, “he had to be constantly putting things into balance” (Shambhala Sun, July 1996).

The antiauthoritarian Patty Smith had met her master. In the face of the smiling Kundun she would hardly have thought that she had before her a pontiff whose history, ideology and visions opposed all of her libertarian and anarchic freedoms as their exact opposite. No — like a compliant mudra this social rebel bowed to the omnipotent tantra master, without asking where he came from, who he is, or where he is headed. In a poem she wrote about His Holiness she shows how unconditionally she as a woman submits to the divine guru and coming ADI BUDDHA. It opens with the lines

May I be nothing
but the peeling of a lotus
papering the distance
for You underfoot

In this poem the entire sexual magic dramaturgy of Tantrism is played out in an extremely fine way. “Peeling” can suggest “peeling off” in the sense of “stripping naked so as to make love”. The “lotus” is a well-known symbol for the “vagina”. Underfoot also connotes being “under (his) control”. Patty Smith, the social rebel and poet of freedom has become an obedient dakini of the Tibetan god-king.

All these beautiful singers and actresses have forgotten or never even known about the heart of their nailed down sister, Srinmo, which still bleeds beneath the Jokhang (the sacred center of Tibetan Buddhism). The lamentations of the Tibetan earth mother, waiting to be rescued and freed from the daggers which nail her down, do not reach the ears of the unknowing film stars. Also forgotten are all the anonymous girls who over the course of centuries have had to surrender their feminine energies to the tantric clergy, so that the latter could construct its powerful Buddhocracy. Palden Lhamo, who still rides through a sea of boiling blood, driven by the terrible trauma of having murdered her son, is forgotten. The apocalyptic future which threatens us all if we follow the way to Shambhala is forgotten. These women — as many say of them — believe they have escaped the Christian churches and the “white pontiff” but have run directly into the net (in Sanskrit: tantra) of the “yellow pontiff”.



[1] A terrible sister of the Palden Lhamo is the goddess Ekajati, the “Protector of the Mantra”. One-eyed and with only one tooth she dances on bodies covered in scratches, swinging a human corpse in one hand, and placing a human heart in her mouth with the other. As adornment she wears a chain of skulls. She is a kind of war goddess and is thus also worshipped under the name of “Magic Weapon Army”.

[2] But Tara like all Tibetan Buddhas and Bodhisattvas also has her terrible side. If this breaks out, she is known as the red Kurukulla, who dances upon corpses and holds aloft various weapons. A rosary of human bones hangs around her neck, a tiger skin covers her hips. In this form she is often surrounded by several wild dakinis. She is invoked in her cruel form to among other things destroy political opponents.

I prostrate to She crowned by a crescent moon
Her head ornament dazzlingly bright
From the hair-knot Buddha Amitabha
Constantly beams forth streams of light.

(Dalai Lama I, 1985, p. 130)

We can read in a poem to the wrathful Tara by the first Dalai Lama. Above all it is the Sakyapa sect who worships her in this wrathful form. She is considered to be the specific protective patroness of this order. It is most revealing that the “flesh-eating and horny” rock demoness, Srinmo, who seduced Avalokiteshvara and with him parented the Tibetan people, is also supposed to be an embodiment of Tara.

[3] To see Mary the Mother of God as an emanation of Tara is not historically justified; rather, the opposite would be more likely the case since the Tara cult is more recent than the cult of Mary. It was first introduced to Tibet in the eleventh century C.E. by the scholar Atisha.

[4] How closely enmeshed Yeshe Tshogyal was with the tantric dakini cult is revealed by the scenario of her “being called to her maker”. They are no angels to bring her to paradise following her difficult life, rather “huge flocks of flesh-eating dakinis, a total of twelve different types, who each consume a part of her human body: breath takers, flesh eaters, blood drinkers, bone biters, and so forth — followed by beasts of prey” (Herrmann-Pfand, 1992, pp. 460, 461). Then spirits and demons appear. The queen of the night sings a song in honor of the yogini’s merits. This goes on for some nine days until she disappears as a blue light into a rainbow on the tenth day and leaves her ghostly flock to its sorrow.

[5] The names and life stories of a number of other yoginis from Tibetan history are known, and these biographies can be read in a book by the Italian, Tsultrim Allione. All these “practicing” women form so much of an exception in the total culture of Tibet that they primarily act to confirm the misogynist rule. The current intensive engagement with them is solely due to western feminism which is eagerly endeavoring to “win back” the tantric goddesses. Hence we refrain from presenting the Tibetan yoginis individually. In a detailed analysis of their lives we would at any rate have to return again and again to the tantric exploitation mechanisms which we described in the first part of our analysis.

[6] Hua-yen Buddhism, which propagates a Buddhocratic/totalitarian state structure, today enjoys special favor among American academics. The two religious studies scholars, Michael von Brück and Whalen Lai, see it as a none too fruitful yet exotic playing around, and in fact recommend turning instead to the “totalistic paradigm” of the Dalai Lama, which is said to be the living model of a Buddhocratic idea. This recommendation is meant in a thoroughly positive manner: “Yet Hua-yen is no longer a living tradition. ... This does not mean that a totalistic paradigm could not be repeated,” — and now one would think that the two western authors were about to pronounce a warning. But no, the opposite is the case — “but it seems more sensible to seek this in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, then the Tibetan Buddhists have a living memory of a real 'Buddhocracy' and a living Dalai Lama who leads the people as religious and political leadership figure” (Brück and Lai, 1997, p. 631).

[7] In connection with the relationship between the retention of semen and tantric power obsessions which we have dealt with at length in our book, it is worth mentioning that the weak willed Guangxu suffered from constant ejaculations. Every stress, even loud noises, made him ejaculate.

[8] In Bodh Gaya the nuns who attended and founded the so-called Sakyadhita movement ("Daughters of Buddha”). This has in the meantime led to an international organization representing women from over 26 countries.
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The cult drama of Tibetan/Tantric Buddhism consists in the constant taming of the feminine, the demoness. This is heralded already in the language. The Tibetan verb dulwa has the following meanings: to tame, subjugate, conquer, defeat; and sometimes to kill, destroy; but also to cultivate the land, civilize a nation, convert to Buddhism, bring up, discipline. Violent conquest and cultural activities thus form a unit for the Lamaist. The chief task of the Tibetan monastic state consists in the taming of wilderness (wild nature), the “heathen” barbarians, and the women. In tantric terminology this corresponds with the method (upaya) with which the feminine wildness (Candali or Srinmo) is defeated. Parallel to this, state Buddhism and social anarchy stand opposed to one another as enemies since the beginning of Tibetan history — they conduct their primordial struggle in the political, social, philosophical, divine, and cosmic arenas. Even though they battle to the bitter end, they are nonetheless — as we shall see — dependent upon one another.

The history of Buddhist state thought:

The fundamental attitude of the historical Buddha was anarchist. Not only did he leave his family behind, the king’s son also laid aside all offices of state. With the founding of the Buddhist community (the sangha), he assumed that this was a purely spiritual union which was ethically far superior to worldly institutions. The sangha formed the basic pattern for an ideal society, whilst the secular state was constantly receiving karmic stains through its worldly business. For this reason the relationship between the two institutions (the sangha and the state) was always tense and displayed many discordances which had arisen even earlier — in the Vedic period — between kshatriyas (warriors and kings) and brahmans (priests).

However, the anti-state attitude of the Buddhists changed in the third century B.C.E. with the seizure of power by of the Emperor Ashoka (who ruled between 272–236 B.C.E.) Ashoka, a ruler from the Maurya dynasty, had conquered almost the entire Indian subcontinent following several terrible campaigns. He converted to Buddhism and set great store by the distribution of the religion of Shakyamuni throughout the whole country. In accordance with the teaching, he forbade animal sacrifices and propagated the idea of vegetarianism.

His state-political status is not entirely clear among the historians, and a number of contradictory documents about this are extant. In one opinion he and the whole state submitted to the rule of the sangha (the monastic community) and he let his decisions be steered by them. According to another document, he himself assumed leadership of the community and became a sangharaja (both king and supreme commander of the monastic community). The third view is the most likely — that although he converted to the Buddhist faith he retained his political autonomy and forced the monastic community to obey his will as emperor. In favor of this view is the fact that it was he who summoned a council and there forced through his “Buddhological” ideas.

Up until today the idea of the just “king of peace” has been celebrated in the figure of Ashoka, and it has been completely overlooked that he confronted the sangha with the problem of state power. The Buddhist monastic community was originally completely non-coercive. Following its connection with the state, the principle of nonviolence necessarily came into conflict with the power political requirements this brought with it. For example, the historical Buddha is said to have had such an aversion to the death penalty that he offered himself as a substitute in order to save the life of a criminal. Ashoka, however, who proclaimed an edict against the slaughter of animals, did not renounce the execution of criminals by the state.

Whether during his lifetime or first due to later interpretations — the Emperor was (at any rate after his demise) declared to be a Chakravartin (world ruler) who held the “golden wheel” of the Dharma (the teaching) in his hands. He was the first historical Bodhisattva king, that is, a Bodhisattva incarnated in the figure of a worldly ruler. In him, worldly and spiritual power were united in one person. Interestingly he established his spiritual world domination via a kind of “cosmic sacrifice”. Legend tells how the Emperor came into possession of the original Buddha relic and ordered this to be divided into 84,000 pieces and scattered throughout the entire universe. Wherever a particle of this relic landed, his dominion spread, that is, everywhere, since at that time in India 84,000 was a symbolic number for the cosmic whole. [1] This pious account of his universal sovereignty rendered him completely independent of the Buddhist sangha.

In the Mahayana Golden Shine Sutra, a few centuries after Ashoka, the coercive power of the state is affirmed and presented as a doctrine of the historical Buddha. With this the anarchic period of the Sangha was finally ended. By 200 C.E. at the latest, under the influence of Greco-Roman and Iranian ideas, the Buddhist concept of kingship had developed into its fully autocratic form which is referred to by historians as “Caesaropapism”. An example of this is provided by King Kanishka from the Kushana dynasty (2nd century C.E.) In him, the attributes of a worldly king and those of a Buddha were completely fused with one another. Even the “coming” Buddha, Maitreya, and the reigning king formed a unit. The ruler had become a savior. He was a contemporary Bodhisattva and at the same time the appearance of the coming Buddhist messiah who had descended from heaven already in this life so as to impart his message of salvation to the people. (Kanishka cultivated a religious syncretism and also used other systems to apotheosize his person and reign.)

The Dalai Lama and the Buddhist state are one:

Tibet first became a centralized ecclesiastical state with the Dalai Lama as its head in the year 1642. The priest-king had the self-appointed right to exercise absolute power. He was de jure not just lord over his human subjects but likewise over the spirits and all other beings which lived “above and beneath the world”. One of the first western visitors to the country, the Briton S. Turner, described the institution as follows: “A sovereign Lama, immaculate, immortal, omnipresent and omniscient is placed at the summit of their fabric. [!] He is esteemed the vice regent of the only God, the mediator between mortals and the Supreme ... He is also the center of all civil government, which derives from his authority all influence and power” (quoted by Bishop, 1993, p. 93).

Turner, who knew nothing about the secrets of Tantrism, saw the Dalai Lama as a kind of bridge (pontifex maximus) between transcendence and reality. He was for this author the governor for and the image of Buddha, his majesty appeared as the pale earthly reflection of the deity. This is, however, too modest! The Dalai Lama does not represent Buddha on earth, nor is he an intermediary, nor a reflection — he is the complete deity himself. He is a Kundun, that is, he is the presence of Buddha, he is a “living Buddha”. For this reason his power and his compassion are believed to be unbounded. He is world king and Bodhisattva rolled into one.

The Dalai Lama unites spiritual and worldly power in one person — a dream which remained unfulfilled for the popes and emperors of the European Middle Ages. [2] According to doctrine, the Kundun is the visible form (nirmanakaya) of this comprehensive divine power in time; he exists as the earthly appearance of the time god, Kalachakra; he is the supreme “lord of the wheel of time”. For this reason he was handed a golden wheel as a sign of his omnipotence at his enthronement. He is prayed to as the “ruler of rulers”, the “victor” and the “conqueror”. Even if he himself does not wield the sword, he can still order others to do so, and oblige them to go to war for him.

There was just as little distinction between power-political and religious organization in the Tibet of old as in the Egypt of the Pharaohs. As such, every action of the Tibetan god-king, regardless of how mundane it may appear to us, was (and is) religiously grounded and holy. The monastic state he governs was (and is) considered to be the earthly reflection of a cosmic realm. In essence there was (and is) no difference between the supernatural order and the social order. The two vary only in their degree of perfection, and the ordo universalis (universal order) which is apparent in this world is marred only by flaws due to the imperfection of humanity (and not due to any imperfection of the Kundun). Anarchy, disorder, revolt, famine, disobedience, defeat, expulsion are a matter of the deficiencies of the age, but never incorrect conduct by the god-king. He is without blemish and only present in this world in order to instruct people in the Dharma (the Buddhist doctrine).

The state as the microcosmic body of the Dalai Lama:

Ashoka, the first Buddhist Emperor, was considered to be the incarnation of a Bodhisattva and probably as that of a Chakravartin (world ruler). His role as the highest bearer of state office was, however, not of a tantric nature. Fundamentally, he acted like every sacred king before him. His decisions, his edicts, and his deeds were considered holy — but he did not govern via control of his inner microcosmic energies. The pre-tantric Chakravartin (e.g., Ashoka) controlled the cosmos, but the tantric world ruler is (e.g., the Dalai Lama) the cosmos itself. This equation of macrocosmic procedures and microcosmic events within the mystic body of the tantric hierarch even includes his people. The tantra master upon the Lion Throne does not just represent his people, rather — to be precise — he is them. The oft-quoted phrase “I am the state” is literally true of him.

He controls it — as we have described above -- through his inner breath, through the movement of the ten winds (dasakaro vasi). His two chief metapolitical activities consist of the rite and the bodily control with which he secretly steers the cosmos and his kingdom. The political, the cultic, and his mystic physiology are inseparable for him. In his energy body he plays out the events virtually, as in a computer, in order to allow them to become reality in the world of appearances.

The tantric Buddhocracy is thus an interwoven total of cosmological, religious, territorial, administrative, economic, and physiological events. Taking the doctrine literally, we must thus assume that Tibet, with all its regions, mountains, valleys, rivers, towns, villages, with its monasteries, civil servants, aristocrats, traders, farmers, and herdsmen, with all its plants and animals can be found anew in the energy body of the Dalai Lama. Such for us seemingly fantastic concepts are not specifically Tibetan. We can also find them in ancient Egypt, China, India, even in medieval Europe up until the Enlightenment. Thus, when the Kundun says in 1996 in an interview that “my proposal treats Tibet as something like one human body. The whole Tibet is one body”, this is not just intended allegorically and geopolitically, but also tantrically (Shambhala Sun, archives, November, 1996). Strictly interpreted, the statement also means: Tibet and my energy body are identical with one another.

Tibet on the other hand is a microcosmic likeness of the sum of humanity, at least that is how the Tibetan National Assembly sees the matter in a letter from the year 1946. We can read there that “there are many great nations on this earth who have achieved unprecedented wealth and might, but there is only one nation which is dedicated to the well-being of humanity and that is the religious land of Tibet, which cherishes a joint spiritual and temporal system” (Newsgroup 12).

The mandala as the organizational form of the Tibetan state:

There is something specific in the state structure of the historical Buddhocracy which distinguishes it from the purely pyramidal constitution of Near Eastern theocracies. Alone because of the many schools and sub-schools of Tibetan Buddhism we cannot speak of a classic leadership pyramid at the pinnacle of which the Dalai Lama stands. In order to describe in general terms the Buddhocratic form of state, S. J. Tambiah introduced a term which has in the meantime become widespread in the relevant literature. He calls it “galactic politics” or “mandala politics” (Tambiah, 1976, pp. 112 ff.) What can be understood by this?

As in a solar system, the chief monasteries of the Land of Snows orbit like planets around the highest incarnation of Tibet, the god-king and world ruler from Lhasa, and form with him a living mandala. This planetary principle is repeated in the organizational form of the chief monasteries, in the center of which a tulku likewise rules as a “little” Chakravartin. Here, each arch-abbot is the sun and father about whom rotate the so-called “child monasteries”, that is, the monastic communities subordinate to him. Under certain circumstances these can form a similar pattern with even smaller units.

Mandala-pattern of the tibetan government (above) and the corresponding government offices around the Jokhang-Temple (below)

A collection of many “solar systems” thus arises which together form a “galaxy”. Although the Dalai Lama represents an overarching symbolic field, the individual monasteries still have a wide ranging autonomy within their own planet. As a consequence, every monastery, every temple, even every Tulku forms a miniature model of the whole state. In this idealist conception they are all “little “ copies of the universal Chakravartin (wheel turner) and must also behave ideal-typically like him. All the thoughts and deeds of the world ruler must be repeated by them and ideally there should be no differences between him and them. Then all the planetary units within the galactic model are in harmony with one another. In the light of this idea, the frequent and substantial disagreements within the Tibetan clergy appear all the more paradox.

Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, forms the cosmic center of this galaxy. Two magnificent city buildings symbolize the spiritual and worldly control of the Dalai Lama: The cathedral (the Jokhang temple) his priesthood; the palace (the Potala) his kingship. The Fifth Dalai Lama ordered the construction of his residence on the “Red Mountain” (Potala) from where the Tibetan rulers of the Yarlung dynasty once reigned, but he did not live to see its magnificent completion. Instead of laying a foundation stone, the god-king had a stake driven into the soil of the “red mountain” and summoned the wrathful deities, probably to demonstrate here too his power over the earth mother, Srinmo, whose nailed down heart beats beneath the Jokhang.

Significantly, a sanctuary in southern India dedicated to Avalokiteshvara was known in earlier times as a “Potala”. His Tibetan residence, which offers a view over all of Lhasa, was a suitably high place for the “Lord who looks down from above” (as the name of the Bodhisattva can be translated). The Potala was also known as the “residence of the gods”.

Tibet is also portrayed in the geometric form of a Mandala in the religious political literature. "While it demonstrates hierarchy, power relations, and legal levels”, writes Rebecca Redwood French, "the Mandala ceaselessly pulsates with movement up, down and between its different parts” (Redwood French, 1995, p. 179).

The mchod-yon relationship to other countries:

What form does the relationship of a Chakravartin from the roof of the world to the rulers of other nations take in the Tibetan way of looking at things? The Dalai Lama was (and is) — according to doctrine — the highest (spiritual) instance for all the peoples of the globe. Their relationship to him are traditionally regulated by what is known as the mchod-yon formula.

With an appeal to the historical Buddha, the Tibetans interpret the mchod-yon relation as follows:

The sacred monastic community (the sangha) is far superior to secular ruler. The secular ruler (the king) has the task, indeed the duty, to afford the sangha military protection and keep it alive with generous “alms”. In the mchod-yon relation “priest” and “patron” thus stood (and stand) opposed, in that the patron was obliged to fulfill all the worldly needs of the clergy.

After Buddhism became more and more closely linked with the idea of the state following the Ashoka period, and the “high priests” themselves became “patrons” (secular rulers), the mchod-yon relation was applied to neighboring countries. That is, states which were not yet really subject to the rule of the priest-king (e.g., of the Dalai Lama) had to grant him military protection and “alms”. This delicate relation between the Lamaist Buddhocracy and its neighboring states still plays a significant role in Chinese-Tibetan politics today, since each of the parties interprets them differently and thus also derives conflicting rights from it.

The Chinese side has for centuries been of the opinion that the Buddhist church (and the Dalai Lama) must indeed be paid for their religious activities with “alms”, but only has limited rights in worldly matters. The Chinese (especially the communists) thus impose a clear division between state and church and in this point are largely in accord with western conceptions, or they with justification appeal to the traditional Buddhist separation of sangha (the monastic community) and politics (Klieger, 1991, p. 24). In contrast, the Tibetans do not just lay claim to complete political authority, they are also convinced that because of the mchod-yon relation the Chinese are downright obliged to support them with “alms” and protect them with “weapons”. Even if such a claim is not articulated in the current political situation it nonetheless remains an essential characteristic of Tibetan Buddhocracy. [3]

Christiaan Klieger has convincingly demonstrated that these days the entire exile Tibetan economy functions according to the traditional mchod-yon (priest-patron) principle described above, that is, the community with the monks at its head is constantly supported by non-Tibetan institutions and individuals from all over the world with cash, unpaid work, and gifts. The Tibetan economic system has thus remained “medieval” in emigration as well.

Whether the considerable gifts to the Tibetans in exile are originally intended for religious or humanitarian projects no longer plays much of a role in their subsequent allocation. "Funds generated in the West as part of the religious system of donations,” writes Klieger, "are consequently transformed into political support for the Tibetan state” (Klieger, 1991, p. 21). The formula, which proceeds from the connection between spiritual and secular power, is accordingly as follows: whoever supports the politics of the exile Tibetans also patronizes Buddhism as such or, vice versa, whoever wants to foster Buddhism must support Tibetan politics.

The feigned belief of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama in western democracy:

However authoritarian and undemocratic the guiding principles of the Buddhist state are, these days (and in total contrast to this) the Fourteenth Dalai Lama exclusively professes a belief in a western democratic model. Now, is the Kundun’s conception of democracy a matter of a seriously intended reform of the old feudal Tibetan relations, a not yet realized long-term political goal, or simply a tactical ploy?

Admittedly, since 1961 a kind of parliament exists among the Tibetans in exile in which the representatives of the various provinces and the four religious schools hold seats as members. But the “god-king” still remains the highest government official. According to the constitution, he cannot be stripped of his authority as head of state and as the highest political instance. There has never, Vice President Thubten Lungring has said, been a majority decision against the Dalai Lama. The latter is said to have with a smile answered a western journalist who asked him whether it was even possible that resolutions could be passed against him, “No, not possible” (Newsgroup 13).

Whenever he is asked about his unshakable office, the Kundun always repeats that this absolutist position of power was thrust upon him against his express wishes. The people emphatically demanded of him that he retain his role as regent for life. With regard to the charismatic power of integration he is able to exercise, this was certainly a sensible political decision. But this means that the exile Tibetan state system still remains Buddhocratic at heart. Nonetheless, this does not prevent the Kundun from presenting the constitution finally passed in 1963 as being “based upon the principles of modern democracy”, nor from constantly demanding the separation of church and state (Dalai Lama XIV, 1993b, p. 25; 1996b, p. 30).

In the course of its 35-year existence the exile Tibetan “parliament” has proved itself to be purely cosmetic. It was barely capable of functioning and played a completely subordinate role in the political decision-making process. The “first ever democratic political party in the history of Tibet” as it terms itself in its political platform, the National Democratic Party of Tibet (NDPT), first saw the light of day in the mid nineties. Up until at least 1996 the “people” were completely uninterested in the democratic rules of the game (Tibetan Review, February 1990, p. 15). Politics was at best conducted by various pressure groups — the divisive regional representations, the militant Tibetan Youth Association and the senior abbots of the four chief sects. But ultimately decisions (still) lay in the hands of His Holiness, several executive bodies, and the members of three families, of whom the most powerful is that of the Kundun, the so-called “Yabshi clan”.

The same is true of the freedom of the press and freedom of speech in general. “The historian Wangpo Tethong,” exiled Tibetan opponents of the Dalai Lama wrote in 1998, “whose noble family has constantly occupied several posts in the government in exile, equates democratization in exile with the ‘propagation of an ideology of national unity’ and 'religious and political unification'. This contradicts the western conception of democracy” (Press release of the Dorje Shugden International Coalition, February 7, 1998; translation). The sole (!) independent newspaper in Dharamsala, with the name of Democracy (in Tibetan: Mangtso), was forced to cease publication under pressure from members of the government in exile. In the Tibet News, an article by Jamyang Norbu on the state of freedom of the press is said to have appeared. The author summarizes his analysis as follows: “Not only is there no encouragement or support for a free Tibetan press, rather there is almost an extinguishing of the freedom of opinion in the Tibetan exile community” (Press release of the Dorje Shugden International Coalition, February, 7, 1998).

The Tibetan parliament in exile and the democracy of the exiled Tibetans is a farce. Even Thubten J. Norbu, one of the Dalai Lama’s brothers, is convinced of this. When in the early nineties he clashed fiercely with Gyalo Thondop, another brother of the Kundun, over the question of foreign affairs, the business of government was paralyzed due to this dispute between the brothers (Tibetan Review, September 1992, p. 7). The 11th parliamentary assembly (1991), for instance, could not reach consensus over the election of a full cabinet. The parliamentary members therefore requested that His Holiness make the decision. The result was that of seven ministers, two belonged to the “Yabshi clan”, that is, to the Kundun’s own family: Gyalo Thondop was appointed chairman of the council of ministers and was also responsible for the “security” department. The Dalai Lama’s sister, Jetsun Pema, was entrusted with the ministry of education.

In future, everything is supposed to change. Nepotism, corruption, undemocratic decisions, suppression of the freedom of the press are no longer supposed to exist in the new Tibet. On June 15, 1988, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama announced to the European Parliament in Strasbourg that upon his return a constitutional assembly would be formed in the Land of Snows, headed by a president who would possess the same authority as he himself now enjoyed. Following this there would be democratic elections. A separation of church and state along western lines would be guaranteed from the outset in Tibet. There would also be a voluntary relinquishment of some political authority vis-à-vis the Chinese. He, the Dalai Lama, would recognize the diplomatic and military supremacy of China and be content with just the "fields of religion, commerce, education, culture, tourism, science, sports, and other non-political activities” (Grunfeld, 1996, p. 234).

But despite such spoken professions, the national symbols tell another tale: With pride, every Tibetan in exile explains that the two snow lions on the national flag signify the union of spiritual and worldly power. The Tibetan flag is thus a visible demonstration of the Tibetan Buddhocracy. Incidentally, a Chinese yin yang symbol can be found in the middle. This can hardly be a reference to a royal couple, and rather, is clearly a symbol of the androgyny of the Dalai Lama as the highest tantric ruler of the Land of Snows. All the other heraldic features of the flag (the colors, the flaming jewels, the twelve rays, etc.), which is paraded as the coat of arm of a democratic, national Tibet, are drawn from the royalist repertoire of the Lamaist priesthood.

The Strasbourg Declaration of 1989 and the renunciation of autonomy it contains are sharply criticized by the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), the European Tibetan Youth Association, and the Dalai Lama’s elder brother, Thubten Norbu. When the head of the Tibetan Youth Congress came under strong attack because he did not approve of the political decisions of the Kundun, he defended himself by pointing out that the Dalai Lama himself had called upon him to pursue this hard-line stance — probably so as to have the possibility of distancing himself from his Strasbourg Declaration (Goldstein, 1997, p. 139).

This political double game is currently intensifying. Whilst the god-king continues to extend his contacts with Beijing, the TYC’s behavior is increasingly vocally radical. We have become too nonviolent, too passive, declared the president of the organization, Tseten Norbu, in 1998 (Reuters, Beijing, June 22, 1998). In the countermove, since Clinton’s visit to China (in July 1998) the Dalai Lama has been offering himself to the Chinese as a peacemaker to be employed against his own people as the sole bulwark against a dangerous Tibetan radicalism: “The resentment in Tibet against the Chinese is very strong. But there is one [person] who can influence and represent the Tibetan people [he means himself here]. If he no longer existed the problem could be radicalized” he threatened the Chinese leadership, of whom it has been said that they want to wait out his death in exile (Time, July 13, 1998, p. 26).

Whatever happens to the Tibetan people in the future, the Dalai Lama remains a powerful ancient archetype in his double function as political and spiritual leader. In the moment in which he has to surrender this dual role, the idea, anchored in the Kalachakra Tantra, of a “world king” first loses its visible secular part, then the Chakravartin is worldly and spiritual ruler at once. In this case the Dalai Lama would exercise a purely spiritual office, which more or less corresponds to that of a Catholic Pope.

How the Kundun will in the coming years manage the complicated balancing act between religious community and nationalism, democracy and Buddhocracy, world dominion and parliamentary government, priesthood and kingship, is a completely open question. He will at any rate — as Tibetan history and his previous incarnations have taught us — tactically orient himself to the particular political constellations of power.

The democratic faction:

Within the Tibetan community there are a few exiled Tibetans brought up in western cultures who have carefully begun to examine the ostensible democracy of Dharamsala. In a letter to the Tibetan Review for example, one Lobsang Tsering wrote: "The Tibetan society in its 33-years of exile has witnessed many scandals and turmoils. But do the people know all the details about these events? ... The latest scandal has been the 'Yabshi vs. Yabshi' affair concerning the two older brothers of the Dalai Lama. [Yabshi is the family name of the Dalai Lama’s relatives.] The rumours keep on rolling and spreading like wildfire. Many still are not sure exactly what the affair is all about. Who are to blame for this lack of information? Up till now anything controversial has been kept as a state secret by our government. It is true that not every government policy should be conducted in the open. However, in our case, nothing is done in the open” (Tibetan Review, September 1992, p. 22). [4]

We should also take seriously the liberal democratic intentions of younger Tibetans in the homeland. For instance, the so-called Drepung Manifesto, which appeared in 1988 in Lhasa, makes a refreshingly critical impression, although formulated by monks: "Having completely eradicated the practices of the old society with all its faults,” it says "the future Tibet will not resemble our former condition and be a restoration of serfdom or be like the so-called ‘old system’ of rule a succession of feudal masters or monastic estates.” (Schwartz, 1994, p. 127). Whether such statements are really intended seriously is something about which one can only speculate. The democratic reality among the Tibetans in exile gives rise to some doubts about this.

It is likewise a fact that the protest movement in Tibet, continually expanding since the eighties, draws together everyone who is dissatisfied in some way, from upright democrats to the dark monastic ritualists for whom any means is acceptable in the quest to restore through magic the power of the Dalai Lama on the “roof of the world”. We shall return to discuss several examples of this in our chapter War and Peace. Western tourists who are far more interested in the occult and mystic currents of the country than in the establishment of a “western” democracy, encourage such atavisms as best they can.

For the Tibetan within and outside of their country, the situation is extremely complicated. They are confronted daily with professions of faith in western democracy on the one hand and a Buddhocratic, archaic reality on the other and are supposed to (the Kundun imagines) decide in favor of two social systems at once which are not compatible with one another. In connection with the still to be described Shugden affair this contradiction has become highly visible and self-evident.

Additionally, the Tibetans are only now in the process of establishing themselves as a nation, a self-concept which did not exist at all before — at least since the country has been under clerical control. We have to refer to the Tibet of the past as a cultural community and not as a nation. It was precisely Lamaism and the predecessors of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, who now sets himself at the forefront of the Tibetan Nation, who prevented the development of a real feeling of national identity among the populace. The “yellow church” advocated their Buddhist teachings, invoked their deities and pursued their economic interests — yet not those of the Tibetans as a united people. For this reason the clergy also never had the slightest qualms about allying themselves with the Mongolians or the Chinese against the inhabitants of the Land of Snows.

The “Great Fifth”: Absolute Sun King of Tibet:

Historians are unanimous in maintaining that the Tibetan state was the ingenious construction of a single individual. The golden age of Lamaism begins with Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617–1682) and also ends with him. The saying of the famous historian, Thomas Carlyle, that the history of the world is nothing other than the biography of great men may be especially true of him. None of his successors have ever achieved the same power and visionary force as the “Great Fifth”. They are in fact just the weak transmission of a very special energy which was gathered together in his person in the seventeenth century. The spiritual and material foundations which he laid have shaped the image of Tibet in both East and West up until the present day. But his practical political power, limited firstly by various Buddhist schools and then also by the Mongolians and Chinese, was not at all so huge. Rather, he achieved his transtemporal authority through the adroit accumulation of all spiritual resources and energies, which he put to service with an admirable lack of inhibition and an unbounded inventiveness. With cunning and with violence, kindness and brutality, with an enthusiasm for ostentatious magnificence, and with magic he organized all the significant religious forms of expression of his country about himself as the shining center. Unscrupulous and flexible, domineering and adroit, intolerant and diplomatic, he carried through his goals. He was statesman, priest, historian, grammarian, poet, painter, architect, lover, prophet, and black magician in one — and all of this together in an outstanding and extremely effective manner.

The grand siècle of the “Great Fifth” shone out at the same period in time as that of Louis XIV (1638–1715), the French sun king, and the two monarchs have often been compared to one another. They are united in their iron will to centralize, their fascination for courtly ritual, their constant exchange with the myths, and much more besides. The Fifth Dalai Lama and Louis XIV thought and acted as expressions of the same temporal current and in this lay the secret of their success, which far exceeded their practical political victories. If it was the concept of the seventeenth century to concentrate the state in a single person, then for both potentates the saying rings true: l'état c'est moi ("I am the state”). Both lived from the same divine energy, the all-powerful sun. The “king” from Lhasa also saw himself as a solar “fire god”, as the lord of his era, an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara. The year of his birth (1617) is assigned to the “fire serpent” in the Tibetan calendar. Was this perhaps a cosmic indicator that he would become a master of high tantric practices, who governed his empire with the help of the kundalini ("fire serpent”)?

In the numerous visions of the potentate in which the most important gods and goddesses of Vajrayana appeared before him, tantric unions constantly took place. For him, the transformation of sexuality into spiritual and worldly power was an outright element of his political program. Texts which he himself wrote describe how he, absorbed by one such exercise by a divine couple, slipped into the vagina of his wisdom consort, bathed there “in the red and white bodhicitta” and afterwards returned to his old body blissful and regenerated (Karmay, 1988, p. 49).

Contemporary documents revere him as the “sun and moon” in one person. (Yumiko, 1993, p. 41). He had mastered a great number of tantric techniques and even practiced his ritual self-destruction (chod) without batting an eyelid. Once he saw how a gigantic scorpion penetrated into his body and devoured all his internal organs. Then the creature burst into flames which consumed the remainder of his body (Karmay, 1988, p. 52). He exhibited an especial predilection for the most varied terror deities who supported him in executing his power politics.

The Fifth Dalai Lama was obsessed by the deliriums of magic. He saw all of his political and cultural successes as the result of his own invocations. For him, armies were only the executive organs of prior tantric rituals. Everywhere, he — the god upon the Lion Throne — perceived gods and demons to be at work, with whom he formed alliances or against whom he took to the field. Every step that he took was prepared for by prophecies and oracles. The visions in which Avalokiteshvara appeared to him were frequent, and just as frequently he identified with the “fire god”. With a grand gesture he dissolved the whole world into energy fields which he attempted to control magically — and he in fact succeeded. The Asia of the time took him seriously and allowed him to impose his system. He reigned as Chakravartin, as world ruler, and as the Adi Buddha on earth. Chinese Emperors and Mongolian Khans feared him for his metaphysical power.

One might think that his religious emotionalism was only a pretext, to be employed as a means of establishing real power. His sometimes sarcastic, but always sophisticated manner may suggest this. It is, however, highly unlikely, then the divine statesman had his occult and liturgical secrets written down, and it is clear from these records that his first priority was the control of the symbolic world and the tantric rituals and that he derived his political decisions from these.

His Secret Biography and the Golden Manuscript which he wrote (Karmay, 1988) were up until most recently kept locked away and were only accessible to a handful of superiors from the Gelugpa order. These two documents — which may now be viewed– also reveal the author to be a grand sorcerer who evaluated anything and everything as the expression of divine plans and whose conceptions of power are no longer to be interpreted as secular. There is no doubting that the “Great Fifth” thought and acted as a deity completely consciously. This sort of thing is said to be frequent among kings, but the lord from the roof of the world also possessed the energy and the power of conviction to transform his tantric visions into a reality which still persists today.

The predecessors of the Fifth Dalai Lama:

The organizational and disciplinary strength of the Gelugpa ("Yellow Hat”) order formed the Fifth Dalai Lama’s power base, upon which he could build his system. Shortly after the death of Tsongkhapa (the founder of the “Yellow Hats”) his successors adopted the doctrine of incarnation from the Kagyupa sect. Hence the chain of incarnated forebears of the “Great Fifth” was fixed from the start. It includes four incarnations from the ranks of the Gelugpas, of whom only the last two bore the title of Dalai Lama, the first pair were accorded the rank posthumously.

The chain begins with Gyalwa Gendun Drub (1391–1474) , a pupil of Tsongkhapa and later the First Dalai Lama. He was an outstanding expert on, and higher initiand into, the Kalachakra Tantra and composed several commentaries upon it which are still read today. His writings on this topic, even if they never attain the methodical precision and canonical knowledge of his teacher, Tsongkhapa, show that he practiced the tantra and sought bisexuality in “the form of Kalachakra and his consort” (Dalai Lama I, 1985, p. 181).

His androgynous longings are especially clear in the hymns with which he invoked the goddess Tara so as to be able to assume her feminine form: “Suddenly I appear as the holy Arya Tara, whose mind is beyond samsara” he writes. “My body is green in color and my face reflects a warmly serene smile ... attained to immortality, my appearance is that of a sixteen-year-old-girl” (Dalai Lama I, 1985, pp. 135, 138).

This appearance as the goddess of mercy did not, however, restrain him from following a pretty hard line in the construction of the legal system. He determined that prisons be constructed in all monasteries, where some of his opponents lost their lives under inhuman circumstances. The penal system which he codified was intransigent and cruel. Days without food and whippings were a part of this, just like the cutting off of the right hand in cases of theft or the death penalty for breach of the vows of celibacy, insofar as this took place outside of the tantric rituals. His severity and rigor nonetheless earned him the sympathy of the people, who saw him as the arm of a just and angry god who brought order to the completely deteriorated world of the monastic clergy.

The title Dalai Lama first appears during the encounter between the arch-abbot of Sera, Sonam Gyatso (1543–1588) and the Mongolian Khan, Altan. The prince of the church (later the Third Dalai Lama) undertook the strenuous journey to the north and visited the Mongols in the year 1578 at their invitation. He spent a number of days at the court of Altan Khan, initiated him into the teachings of the Buddha and successfully demonstrated his spiritual power through all manner of sensational miracles. One day the prince of the steppes appeared in a white robe which was supposed to symbolize love, and confessed with much feeling to the Buddhist faith. He promised to transform the “blood sea” into a “sea of milk” by changing the Mongolian laws. Sonam Gyatso replied, “You are the thousand-golden-wheel-turning Chakravartin or world ruler” (Bleichsteiner, 1937, p. 89).

It can be clearly gathered from this apotheosis that the monk conceded secular authority to the successor of Genghis Khan. But as an incarnated Buddha he ranked himself more highly. This emerges from an initiatory speech in which one of Altan's nephews compares him to the moon, but addresses the High Lama from the Land of Snows as the omnipotent sun (Bleichsteiner, 1937, p. 88). But the Mongol prince called his guest “Dalai Lama”, a somewhat modest title on the basis of the translation usual these days, “Ocean of Wisdom”. Robert Bleichsteiner also translates it somewhat more emotionally as “Thunderbolt-bearing World Ocean Priest”. The god-king of Tibet thus bears a Mongolian title, not a Tibetan one.

At the meeting between Sonam Gyatso and Altan Khan there were surely negotiations about the pending fourth incarnation of the “Dalai Lama” (Yonten Gyatso 1589–1617), then he appeared among the Mongols in the figure of a great-grandchild of Khan’s. Bleichsteiner refers to this “incarnation decision” as a “particularly clever chess move”, which finally ensured the control of the “Yellow Hats” over Mongolia and obliged the Khans to provide help to the order (Bleichsteiner, 1937, p. 89). The Mongolian Fourth Dalai Lama died at the age of 28 and did not play a significant political role.

This was taken over by the powerful Kagyupa sect (the so-called “Red Hats”) at this stage in time. The “Red Hats” recruited their members exclusively from national (Tibetan) forces. They had attacked Sonam Gyatso’s (the III Dalai Lama’s) journey to the Mongols as treason and were able to continually expand their power political successes so that by the 1630s the Gelugpa order was only savable via external intervention.

Thus, nothing seemed more obvious than that the “Great Fifth” should demonstratively adopt the Mongolian title “Dalai Lama” so as to motivate the warlike nomadic tribes from the north to occupy and conquer Tibet. This state political calculation paid off in full. The result was a terrible civil war between the Kagyupas and the followers of the prince of Tsang on the one side and the Gelugpas and the Mongol leader Gushri Khan on the other.

If the records are to be trusted, the Mongol prince, Gushri Khan, made a gift of his military conquests (i.e., Tibet) to the Fifth Dalai Lama and handed over his sword after the victory over the “Red Hats”. This was not evaluated symbolically as a pacifist act, but rather as the ceremonial equipping of the prince of the church with secular power. Yet it remains open to question whether the power-conscious Mongol really saw this symbolic act in these terms, then de jure Gushri Khan retained the title “King of Tibet” for himself. The “Great Fifth” in contrast, certainly interpreted the gift of the sword as a gesture of submission by the Khan (the renunciation of authority over Tibet), then de facto from now on he managed affairs like an absolute ruler.

The Secret Biography:

The Fifth Dalai Lama took his self-elevation to the status of a deity and his magic practices just as seriously as he did his real power politics. For him, every political act, every military operation was launched by a visionary event or prepared for with an invocatory ritual. Nevertheless, as a Tantric, the dogma of the emptiness of all being and the nonexistence of the phenomenal world stood for him behind the whole ritual and mystic theater which he performed. This was the epistemological precondition to being able to control the protagonists of history just like those of the spiritual world. It is against this framework that the “Great Fifth” introduces his autobiography (Secret Biography) with an irony which undermines his own life’s work in the following verses:

The erudite should not read this work, they will be embarrassed.
It is only for the guidance of fools who revel in fanciful ideas.
Although it tries frankly to avoid pretentiousness,
It is nevertheless corrupted with deceit.
By speaking honestly on whatever occurred, this could be taken to be lies.

As if illusions of Samsara were not enough,
This stupid mind of mine is further attracted
To ultra-illusory visions.
It is surely mad to say that the image of the Buddha's compassion
Is reflected in the mirror of karmic existence.

Let me now write the following pages,
Though it will disappoint those who are led to believe
That the desert-mirage is water,
As well as those who are enchanted by folk-tales,
And those who delight in red clouds in summer.”

(Karmay, 1988, p. 27)

Up until recent times the Secret Biography had not been made public, it was a secret document only accessible to a few chosen. There is no doubting that the power-obsessed “god-king” wanted to protect the extremely intimate and magic character of his writings through the all-dispersing introductory poem. One of the few handwritten copies is kept in the Munich State Library. There it can be seen that the Great Fifth nonetheless took his “fairy tales” so seriously that he marked the individual chapters with a red thumbprint.

Everything about Tibet which so fascinates people from the West is collected in the multilayered character of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Holiness and barbarism, compassion and realpolitik, magic and power, king and mendicant monk, splendor and modesty, war and peace, megalomania and humility, god and mortal — the pontiff from Lhasa was able to simplify these paradoxes to a single formula and that was himself. He was for an ordinary person one of the incomprehensibly great, a contradiction made flesh, a great solitary, upon whom in his own belief the life of the world hung. He was a mystery for the people, a monster for his enemies, a deity for his followers, a beast for his opponents. This ingenious despot is — as we shall later see — the highest example for the current Fourteenth Dalai Lama.

The regent Sangye Gyatso:

The Fifth Dalai Lama did not need to worry about a successor, because he was convinced that he would be reincarnated in a child a few days after his death. Yet with wise foresight the time between his rebirth and his coming of age needed to be organized. Here too, the “Great Fifth's" choice was a brilliant piece of power politics. As "regent” he decided to appoint the lama Sangye Gyatso (1653–1705) and equipped him with all the regalia of a king already in the last years of his life. He seated him upon the broad throne of the fearless lion as the executor of two duties, one worldly and one religious, which are appropriate to a great Chakravartin kingship, as a lord of heaven and earth (Ahmad, 1970, p. 43). The Dalai Lama thus appointed him world ruler until his successor (who he himself was) came of age. It was rumored with some justification that the regent was his biological son (Hoffmann, 1956, p. 176).

In terms of his abilities, Sangye Gyatso must be regarded not just as a skilled statesman, rather he was also the author of a number of intelligent books on such varied topics as healing, law, history, and ritual systems. He proceeded against the women of Lhasa with great intolerance. According to a contemporary report he is said to have issued a command that every female being could only venture into public with a blackened face, so that the monks would not fall into temptation.

So as to consolidate his threatened position during the troubled times, he kept the demise of his “divine father” (the Fifth Dalai Lama) secret for ten years and explained that the prince of the church remained in the deepest meditation. When in the year 1703 the Mongolian prince, Lhazang, posed the never completely resolved question of power between Lhasa and the warrior nomads and himself claimed regency over Tibet, an armed conflict arose.

The right wing of the Mongol army was under the command of the martial wife of the prince, Tsering Tashi. She succeeded in capturing the regent and carried out his death sentence personally. If she was a vengeant incarnation of Srinmo in the “land of the gods”, then her revenge also extended to the coming Sixth Dalai Lama, over whose fate we report in a chapter of its own.

The successors of the “Great Fifth”: The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dalai Lamas:

The Seventh and Eighth Dalai Lamas only played a minor role in the wider political world. As we have already reported, the four following god-kings (The Ninth to the Twelfth Dalai Lamas) either died an early death or were murdered. It was first the so-called “Great Thirteenth” who could be described as a “politician” again. Although in constant contact with the modern world, Thubten Gyatso, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama (1874–1933), thought and acted like his predecessor, the “Great Fifth”. Visions and magic continued to determine political thought and activity in Tibet after the boy moved into the Potala amid great spectacle in July 1879. In 1894 he took power over the state. Shortly before, the officiating regent had been condemned because of a black magic ritual which he was supposed to have performed to attack the young thirteenth god-king, and because of a conspiracy with the Chinese. He was thrown into one of the dreadful monastery dungeons, chained up, and maltreated till he died. A co-conspirator, head of a distinguished noble family, was brought to the Potala after his deeds were discovered and pushed from the highest battlements of the palace. His names, possessions and even the women of his house were then given to a favorite of the Dalai Lama’s as a gift.

In 1904 the god-king had to flee to Mongolia to evade the English who occupied Lhasa. Under pressure from the Manchu dynasty he visited Beijing in 1908. We have already described how the Chinese Emperor and the Empress Dowager Ci Xi died mysteriously during this visit. He later fell out with the Thirteenth Dalai Lama with the Panchen Lama, [5] who cooperated with the Chinese and was forced to flee Tibet in 1923. The “Great Thirteenth” conducted quite unproductive fluctuating political negotiations with Russia, England, and China; why he was given the epithet of “the Great” nobody really knows, not even his successor from Dharamsala.

An American envoy gained the impression that His Holiness (the Thirteenth Dalai Lama) "cared very little, if at all, for anything which did not affect his personal privileges and prerogatives, that he separated entirely his case from that of the people of Tibet, which he was willing to abandon entirely to the mercy of China” (Mehra, 1976, p.20) When we recall that the institution of the Dalai Lama was a Mongolian arrangement which was put through in the civil war of 1642 against the will of the majority of the Tibetans, such an evaluation may well be justified.

As an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the thirteenth hierarch also (like the “Great Fifth”) saw himself surrounded less by politicians and heads of state than by gods and demons. David Seyfort Ruegg most astutely indicates that the criteria by which Buddhists in positions of power assess historical events and personalities have nothing in common with our western, rational conceptions. For them, “supernatural” forces and powers are primarily at work, using people as bodily vessels and instruments. We have already had a taste of this in the opposition between the god-king as an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara and Guanyin in the form of the Empress Dowager Ci Xi. Further examples in the coming chapters should show how magic and politics, war and ritual are also interwoven here.

Now what is the situation with regard to these topics and the living Fourteenth Dalai Lama? Has his almost 40--year exposure to western culture changed anything fundamental in the traditional political understanding? Is the current god-king free of the ancient, magical visions of power of his predecessors? Let us allow him to answer this question himself: in adopting the position of the Fifth Dalai Lama, the Kundun explained in an interview in 1997, “I am supposed to follow what he did” (Dalai Lama, HPI 006). As a consequence we too are entitled to accredit the Fourteenth Dalai Lama with all the deeds and visions of the great fifth hierarch and to assess his politics according to the criteria of his famous exemplar.

Incarnation and power:

Lamaism’s particular brand of controlling power is based upon the doctrine of incarnation. Formerly (before the Communist invasion) the incarnation system covered the entire Land of Snows like a network. In Tibet, the monastic incarnations are called “tulkus”. Tulku means literally the “self-transforming body”. In Mongolia they are known as “chubilganes”. There were over a hundred of these at the end of the nineteenth century. Even in Beijing during the reign of the imperial Manchus there were fourteen offices of state which were reserved for Lamaist tulkus but not always occupied.

The Tibetan doctrine of incarnation is often misunderstood. Whilst concepts of rebirth in the West are dominated by a purely individualist idea in the sense that an individual progresses through a number of lifetimes on earth in a row, a distinction is drawn in Tibet between three types of incarnation:

When the incarnation as the emanation of a supernatural being, a Buddha, Bodhisattva, or a wrathful deity. Here, incarnation means that the lama in question is the embodiment of a deity, just as the Dalai Lama is an embodiment of Avalokiteshvara. The tulku lives from the spiritual energies of a transcendent being or, vice versa, this being emanates in a human body. When reincarnation arises through the initiatory transfer from the master to the sadhaka, that is, the “root guru” (represented by the master) and the deities who stand behind him embody themselves in his pupil. When it concerns the rebirth of a historical figure who reveals himself in the form of a new born baby. For example, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama is also an incarnation of the Fifth Dalai Lama.

The first and third concepts of incarnation do not necessarily contradict one another, rather they can complement each other, so that a person who has already died and deity can simultaneously be embodied in a person. But come what may, the deity has priority and supreme authority. It seems obvious that their bodily continuity and presence in this world is far better ensured by the doctrine of incarnation than by a natural line of inheritance. In a religious system in which the person means ultimately nothing, but the gods who stand behind him are everything, the human body only represents the instrument through which a higher being can make an appearance. From the deity’s point of view a natural reproduction would bring the personal interests of a family into conflict with his or her own divine ambitions.

The incarnation system in contrast is impersonal, anti-genetic, and anti-aristocratic. For this reason the monastic orders as such are protected. through the rearing of a “divine” child it creates for itself the best conditions for the survival of its tradition, which can no longer be damaged by incapable heirs, family intrigues, and nepotism.

On a more fundamental symbolic level, the doctrine of incarnation must nevertheless be seen as an ingenious chess move against the woman’s monopoly on childbirth and the dependence of humanity upon the cycle of birth. It makes things “theoretically” independent of birth and the woman as the Great Mother. That mothers are nonetheless needed to bring the little tulkus into the world is not significant from a Buddhological point of view. The women serve purely as a tool, they are so to speak the corporeal cradle into which the god settles down in the form of an embryo. The conception of an incarnated lama (tulku) is thus always regarded as a supernatural procedure and it does not arise through the admixture of the male and female seed as is normal. Like in the Buddha legend, where the mother of the Sublime One is made pregnant in a dream by an elephant, so too the mother of a Tibetan tulku has visions and dreams of divine entities who enter into her. But the role of the “wet nurse” is taken over by the monks already, so that the child can be suckled upon the milk of their androcentric wisdom from the most tender age.

The doctrine of reincarnation was fitted out by the clergy with a high grade symbolic system which cannot be accessed by ordinary mortals. But as historical examples show, the advantages of the doctrine were thoroughly capable of being combined now and again with the principle of biological descent. Hence, among the powerful Sakyapas, where the office of abbot was inherited within a family dynasty, both the chain of inheritance and the precepts of incarnation were observed. Relatives, usually the nephews of the heads of the Sakyapa order, were simply declared to be tulkus.
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Postby admin » Fri Jun 19, 2015 2:14 am



Let us consider the Lamaist “lineage tree” or “spiritual tree” and its relation to the tulku system. Actually, one would assume that the child recognized as being a reincarnation would already possess all the initiation mysteries which it had acquired in former lives. Paradoxically, this is however not the case. Every Dalai Lama, every Karmapa, every tulku is initiated “anew” into the various tantric mysteries by a master. Only after this may he consider himself a branch of the “lineage tree” whose roots, trunk, and crown consist of the many predecessors of his guru and his guru’s guru. There are critics of the system who therefore claim with some justification that a child recognized as an incarnation first becomes the “vessel” of a deity after his “indoctrination” (i.e., after his initiation).

The traditional power of the individual Lamaist sects is primarily demonstrated by their lineage tree. It is the idealized image of a hierarchic/sacred social structure which draws its legitimation from the divine mysteries, and is supposed to imply to the subjects that the power elite represent the visible and time transcending assembly of an invisible, unchanging meta-order. At the origin of the initiation tree there is always a Buddha who emanates in a Bodhisattva who then embodies himself in a Maha Siddha. The roaming, wild-looking founding yogis (the Maha Siddhas) are, however, very soon replaced in the generations which follow by faceless “civil servants” within the lineage tree; fantastic great sorcerers have become uniformed state officials. The lineage tree now consists of the scholars and arch-abbots of the lama state.

The “Great Fifth” and the system of incarnation:

Historically, for the “yellow sect” (the Gelugpa order) which traditionally furnishes the Dalai Lama, the question of incarnation at first did not play such a significant role as it did, for example, among the “Red Hats” (Kagyupa). The Fifth Dalai Lama first extended the system properly for his institution and developed it into an ingenious political artifact, whose individual phases of establishment over the years 1642 to 1653 we can reconstruct exactly on the basis of the documentary evidence. The “Great Fifth” saw himself as an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. The embodiment of the Tibetan “national god” was until then a privilege claimed primarily by the Sakyapa and Kagyupa orders but not by the Gelugpa school. Rather, their founder, Tsongkhapa, was considered to be an emanation of the Bodhisattva Manjushri, the “Lord of Transcendental Knowledge”. In contrast, already in the thirteenth century the Karmapas presented themselves to the public as manifestations of Avalokiteshvara.

An identification with the Tibetan “national god” and first father, Chenrezi (Avalokiteshvara), was, so to speak, a mythological precondition for being able to rule the Land of Snows and its spirits, above all since the subjugation and civilization of Tibet were associated with the “good deeds” of the Bodhisattva, beginning with his compassionate, monkey union with the primal mother Srinmo. Among the people too, the Bodhisattva enjoyed the highest divine authority, and his mantra, om mani padme hum, was recited daily by all. Hence, whoever wished to rule the Tibetans and govern the universe from the roof of the world, could only do so as a manifestation of the fire god, Chenrezi, the controller of our age.

The “Great Fifth” was well aware of this, and via a sophisticated masterpiece of the manipulation of metaphysical history, he succeeded in establishing himself as Avalokiteshvara and as the final station of a total of 57 previous incarnations of the god. Or was it — as he himself reported — really a miracle which handed him the politically momentous incarnation list? Through a terma (i.e., a rediscovered text written and hidden in the era of the Tibetan kings) which he found in person, his chain of incarnations was apparently “revealed” to him.

Among the “forebears” listed in it many of the great figures of Tibetan history can be found — outstanding politicians, ingenious scholars, master magicians, and victorious military leaders. With this “discovered” or “concocted” document of his, the “Great Fifth” could thus shore himself up with a political and intellectual authority which stretched over centuries. The list was an especially valuable legitimation for his sacred/worldly kingship, since the great emperor, Songtsen Gampo, was included among his “incarnation ancestors”. In his analysis of the introduction of the Chenrezi cult by His Holiness, the Japanese Tibetologist, Ishihama Yumiko, leaves no doubt that we are dealing with a power-political construction (Yumiko, 1993, pp. 54, 55).

Now, which entities were — and, according to the Fifth Dalai Lama’s theory of incarnation, still are — seated upon the golden Lion Throne? First of all, the fiery Bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara, then the androgynous time turner, Kalachakra, then the Tibetan warrior king, Songtsen Gampo, then the Siddha versed in magic, Padmasambhava (the founder of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet), and finally the Fifth Dalai Lama himself with all his family forebears. This wasn’t nearly all, but those mentioned are the chief protagonists, who determine the incarnation theater in Tibet. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, as the successor of the “Great Fifth” also represents the above-mentioned “divinities” and historical predecessors.

In an assessment of the Buddhocratic system and the history of Tibet, the power-political intentions of the two main gods (Avalokiteshvara and Kalachakra) must therefore be examined and evaluated in the first place so as to deduce the intentions of the currently living Dalai Lama on this basis. “It is impossible”, the Tibetologist David Seyfort Ruegg writes, “to draw a clear border between the 'holy and the 'profane', or rather between the spiritual and the temporal. This is most apparent in the case of the Bodhisattva kings who are represented by the Dalai Lamas, since these are both embodiments of Avalokiteshvara ... and worldly rulers” (Seyfort Ruegg, 1995, p. 91).

If we assume that the higher the standing of a spiritual entity, the greater his power is, we must pose the question of why in the year 1650 the Fifth Dalai Lama confirmed and proclaimed the first Panchen Lama, Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen (1567–1662), his former teacher, as an incarnation of Amitabha. For indeed, Amitabha, the “Buddha of unending light”, is ranked higher in the hierarchy than the Bodhisattva who emanates from him, Avalokiteshvara. This decision by the extremely power conscious god-king from Lhasa can thus only be understood when one knows that, as a meditation Buddha, Amitabha may not interfere in worldly affairs. According to doctrine, he exists only as a principle of immobility and is active solely through his emanations. Even though he is the Buddha of our age, he must nevertheless leave all worldly matters to his active arm, the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Through such a division of responsibilities, a contest between the Panchen Lama and Dalai Lama could never even arise.

Nevertheless, the Panchen Lamas have never wanted to fall into line with the nonpolitical role assigned to them. In contrast — they have attempted by all available means to interfere in the “events of the world”. Their central monastery, Tashi Lhunpo, became at times a stronghold in which all those foreign potentates who had been rebuffed by the Potala found a sympathetic ear. While negotiations were conducted with the Russians and Mongolians in Lhasa at the start of last century, Tashi Lhunpo conspired with the English and Chinese. Thus, the statesmanly autonomy of the Panchen Lama has often been the cause of numerous and acrid discordances with the Dalai Lama which have on several occasions bordered on a schism.

The sacred power of the Tibetan kings and its conferral upon the Dalai Lamas:

So as to legitimate his full worldly control, it seemed obvious for the “Great Fifth” to make borrowings from the symbolism of sacred kingship. The most effective of these was to present himself as the incarnation of significant secular rulers with the stated aim of now continuing their successful politics. The Fifth Dalai Lama latched onto this idea and extended his chain of incarnations to reach the divine first kings from prehistoric times.

But, as we know, these were in no sense Buddhist, but rather fostered a singular, shamanist-influenced style of religion. They traced their origins to an old lineage of spirits who had descended to earth from the heavenly regions. Through an edict of the Fifth Dalai Lama they, and with them the later historical kings, were reinterpreted as emanations from “Buddha fields”. As proof of this, alongside a document “discovered” by the resourceful hierarch, a further “hidden” text (terma), the Mani Kabum, is cited, which an eager monk is supposed to have found in the 12th century. In it the three most powerful ruling figures of the Yarlung dynasty are explained to be emanations of Bodhisattvas: Songtsen Gampo (617–650) as an embodiment of Avalokiteshvara, Trisong Detsen (742–803) as an emanation of Manjushri, and Ralpachan (815–883) as one of Vajrapani. From here on they are considered to be bearers of the Buddhist doctrine.

After their Buddhist origins had been assured, the Tibetan kings posthumously took on all the characteristics of a world ruler. As Dharmarajas (kings of the law) they now represented the cosmic laws on earth. Likewise the “Great Fifth” could now be celebrated as the most powerful secular king reborn (Songtsen Gampo, who was likewise an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara) and through this could combine the imperium (worldly rule) with the sacerdotium (spiritual power). This choice legitimated him as national hero and supreme war lord and permitted a fundamental reform of the Lamaist state system which S. J. Tambiah refers to as the “feudalization of the church”.

The great military commander and tribal chief, Songtsen Gampo (617–650), who during his reign forged the highlands into a state of unprecedented size, was thus included into the Buddhist pantheon. Still today we can find impressive depictions of the feared warlord — usually in full armor, and flanked by his two chief wives, the Chinese Wen Cheng, and the Nepalese Bhrikuti.

The king is said to have commanded a force of 200,000 men. His conduct of war was considered extremely barbaric and the “red faces”, as the Tibetans were known by the surrounding peoples, spread fear and horror across all of central Asia. The extent to which Songtsen Gampo was able to extend his imperium roughly corresponds to the territory over which the Fourteenth Dalai Lama today still claims as his dominion. Hence, thanks to the “Great Fifth” the geopolitical dimensions were also adopted from the sacred kingship.

From the point of view of a tantric interpretation of history, however, the greatest deed of this ancient king (Songtsen Gampo) was the nailing down of the earth mother, Srinmo, and the staking of her heart beneath the holiest of holies in the land, the Jokhang temple. The “Great Fifth”, as a confirmed ritualist, would surely have considered the “mastering of the demoness” as the cause of Songtsen Gampo's historical successes. Almost a thousand years later he too would precede almost every political and military decision with a magic ritual.

One day, it is said, Songtsen Gampo appeared to him in a dream and demanded of him that he manufacture a golden statue of him (the king) in the “style of a Chakravartin” and place this in the Jokhang temple. When, in the year 1651, the “Great Fifth” visited locations at which the great king was once active, according to the chronicles flowers began to rain from the skies there and the eight Tibetan signs of luck floated through the air.

The Fourteenth Dalai Lama and the question of incarnation:

On July 6, 1935, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama was born as the child of ordinary people in a village by the name of Takster, which means, roughly, “shining tiger”. In connection with our study of the topic of gender it is interesting that the parents originally gave the boy a girl’s name. He was called Lhamo Dhondup, that is, “wish fulfilling goddess”. The androgyny of this incarnation of Avalokiteshvara was thus already signaled before his official recognition.

The story of his discovery has been told so often and spectacularly filmed in the meantime that we only wish to sketch it briefly here. After the death of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, the then regent (Reting Rinpoche) saw mysterious letters in a lake which was dedicated to the protective goddess Palden Lhamo, which together with other visions indicated that the new incarnation of the god-king was to be found in the northeast of the country in the province of Amdo. A search commission was equipped in Lhasa and set out on the strenuous journey. In a hut in the village of Takster a small boy is supposed to have run up to one of the commissioners and demanded the necklace of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama which he held in his hands. The monk refused and would only give him it if the child could say who he was. “You are a lama from Sera!”, the boy is said to have cried out in the dialect which is only spoken in Lhasa. [6] Afterwards, from the objects laid out before him he selected those which belonged to his predecessor; the others he laid aside. The bodily examination performed on the child also revealed the necessary five features which distinguish a Dalai Lama: The imprint of a tiger skin on the thigh; extended eyelashes with curved lashes; large ears; two fleshy protuberances on the shoulders which are supposed to represent two rudimentary arms of Avalokiteshvara; the imprint of a shell on his hand.

For understandable reasons the fact that a Chinese dialect was spoken in the family home of His Holiness is gladly passed over in silence. The German Tibet researcher, Matthias Hermanns, who was doing field work in Amdo at the time of the discovery and knew the family of the young Kundun well, reports that the child could understand no Tibetan at all. When he met him and asked his name, the boy answered in Chinese that he was called “Chi”. This was the official Chinese name for the village of Takster (Hermanns, 1956, p. 319). Under difficult circumstances the child arrived in Lhasa at the end of 1939 and was received there as Kundun, the living Buddha. Already as an eight year old he received his first introduction into the tantric teachings.

Every little tulku who is separated from his family at a tender age misses the motherly touch. For the Fourteenth Dalai Lama this role was taken over by his cook, Ponpo by name. Not at the death of his mother, but rather at the demise of his substitute mother, Ponpo, the Kundun cried bitter tears. “He fed me,” he said sadly, “most mammals consider the creature that feeds them as the most important in their lives, That was the way I felt about Ponpo. I knew my teachers were more important than my cook, but emotionally the strongest bond was with him” (Craig, 1997, p. 326).

In a discussion which the Dalai Lama later conducted with academics, he showed a keen interest in the maternal warmth and tender touching of the child as an important element in the development of personality. He became reflective as one (female ) speaker explained that the absence of such bodily contact in childhood could result in serious psychic damage to the person affected (Dalai Lama XIV, 1995, p. 319).

All young tulkus must do without all motherly contact in the purely masculine society of the monasteries and this may be an unspoken psychological problem for the whole Lamaist system. The Tibetan guru, Chögyam Trungpa has unintentionally captured this longing for contact with the family in the moving words of his "defiant poem”, Nameless Child: "Suddenly,” it says there "a luminous child without a name comes into being ... In the place where metal birds croak instantaneously born child can find no name ... Because he has no father, the child has no family line. He has never tasted milk because he has no mother. He has no one to play with because he has no brother and sister. Having no house to live in, he has no crib. Since he has no nanny, he has never cried. There is no civilization, so he has no toys ... Since there is no point of reference, he has never found a self” (quoted and Italics by June Campbell, 1996, p. 88). The poem is supposed to glorify the “instantaneously born child”, but it more resembles the despairing cry of a being who had to renounce the joys of childhood because it was tantrically turned into the vessel of a deity.

The introduction of the doctrine of incarnation to the West:

These days, the West is downright fascinated by the idea of reincarnation. In the last twenty years it has like lightning seized the awareness of millions. A large percentage of north Americans today believe in rebirth. Books upon the topic have become legion in the meantime. People are also fascinated by the idea that in the figure of a Tibetan lama they are face to face with a real “deity”. Thus, the concept of being reborn has become a powerful instrument in the Lamaist conquest of the West. Earlier, a few Europeans had already formed the idea that they were the reincarnation of former Tibetans or Mongolians. In theosophical circles such speculative incarnations were in vogue. A Tibetan lama also drew Alexandra David-Neel’s attention to the fact that she came from the race of Genghis Khan.

In 1985 it was discovered that the honorable Lama Yeshe had incarnated as the child of two Spanish parents. His Holiness commented upon the spectacular event in the following words: “[Buddhism] also provides many different methods to practice, understand and meditate, so it has the attraction of the supermarket. So the fact that Lama Yeshe, whose main work was in the West, should be born in Spain, seems quite logical. Actually there are quite a few western reincarnated lamas now” (Mackenzie, 1992, p. 155).

The idea of western reincarnations is also cultivated by Bernardo Bertolucci’s film, Little Buddha. The plot involves a lama who simultaneously embodies himself in a white boy from Seattle and, amazingly, in a girl as well.

An amusing anecdote, likewise from the world of film, brought the Tibetan doctrine of incarnation into discredit a little. Namely, the famous Aikido fighter and actor Steven Seagal announced he was the reincarnation of an important lama (Chung-rag Dorje), who had lived several centuries earlier and had made his name as a treasure hunter (terton). [7] It was not at all the case that Seagal had arbitrarily adopted his former identity, rather he was able to appeal to the confirmation of Penor Rinpoche, the head of the Nyingmapa school. This “revelation” raised many questions and some confusion among western Buddhists. There was speculation on the Internet as to whether Seagal had purchased the “incarnation title”, whether this was not an act of religious political propaganda designed to exploit the actor’s popularity, and much more. For others the incident was more embarrassing, since Seagal appeared in monastic robes shortly after his recognition. When he was in Bodh Gaya in India at the beginning of the year 1997, he sat down upon the place where the historical Buddha experienced enlightenment, “giving his blessings to hundreds of baffled Tibetan monks” (Time, September 8, 1997, p. 65).

The action films in which Seagal plays the lead are considered the most brutal of the genre. “Scenes in which he rams a knife through his opponent’s ear into his brain or tears out his larynx”, says the journalist H. Timmerberg, “captivate through their apparent authenticity. He fights dispassionately, one could say he fights coldly, and when he kills neither hate nor anger are to be read in his eyes, at best contempt and a trace of amusement. Precisely the eyes of a killer, or the look of a Samurai. It could be both” (Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin No. 28, July 16, 1999). Timmerberg also characterizes the star as “a grand master in the art of killing”. Admittedly, in his last two films Seagal has made an effort to appear a bit more well-mannered, but it is not his religious obligations which have compelled him to do so. At least, this was the opinion of his master, Penor Rinpoche: “Some people think Steven Seagal cannot be a true Buddhist because he makes brutal films. This is not the case. Such films are pure entertainment and have nothing to do with that which is true and important. In the view of Buddhism compassionate beings reincarnate in every kind of life so as to help their fellow people. Seen thus, of course a holy person can be an action star” (Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin No. 28, July 16, 1999). Penor further informed the surprised journalist that tulkus (the reincarnations of high lamas) liked to watch vampire films.

At the major Kalachakra event conducted this year (1999) by the Dalai Lama in Bloomington (USA), Seagal was the shooting star. He is said to have donated a meal for over a thousand participants there. This time Richard Gere, the “god-king’s” second big draw, was not head of the celebrity bill. In fact, the two Buddhist stars cannot stand one another.

Such a sensational and liberal spread of incarnations in the West could, however, be of harm to the whole idea in the future. The system has after all not just its strengths but also its weaknesses, which lie above all in the minority of the incarnated child, of whom one does not know exactly what will later happen with him, and who remains incapable of acting until his coming of age. Appointments by the Dalai Lama would probably be a much more effective means of ensuring his centralist power. In fact, there are for this reason discussions in the circles surrounding him about whether the reincarnation of monks is at all sensible. It would be better to give up the whole tulku system, Dahyb Kyabgö Rinpoche wrote in the Tibetan Review, since it has led to an uncontrollable inflation in the number of monastic reincarnations (Tibetan Review, July 1994, p. 13).

At times the Kundun has also speculated in public about whether it would not be politically more clever to name a successor rather than embodying himself anew. But he has not committed himself. At a conference of 350 tulkus in the year 1989 he announced that he would under no circumstance reincarnate in the territory under the control of the Chinese (Tibetan Review, January 1989, p. 5).

In all, the Dalai Lama is interested in a well-functioning incarnation elite, very small in number, which would be combined with an effective system of appointments. He knows that an overly liberal expansion or even a democratization of the idea of incarnation would completely undermine its exclusivity. Appointments and initiations by a guru are thus basically more important to him, but he would never want to give up the system as such, which exercises so bewitching a hold over the western imagination.

His answer to the question of whether he himself will reincarnate as the Dalai Lama once more has for years been the same statement: “Should the Tibetan people still want a Dalai Lama after my death then a new Dalai Lama will also come. I shall at any rate not attempt to influence this decision in any manner. If my people should in the next years decide to make an end to old traditions, then one must accept that” (Playboy, German edition, March 1998, p. 44).

We must leave it to the judgment of our readers how seriously they take such a “democratic” solution to the question of tradition by the Tibetan Buddhocrats. That the gods bow to the will of the people is completely new, at least in the history of Tibet. But at any rate we shall not have to do without the “precious presence” (Tibetan: Kundun) of His Holiness in our next incarnations, even if he no longer appears in the form of a Dalai Lama. At the end of his interview with Playboy which we have already quoted from on a number of occasions, he gives his readers the following parting thought: “For as long as the cosmos exists, and as long as there are living creatures, I will be present here so as to drive out the suffering of the world” (Playboy, German edition, March 1998, p. 44).

The various orders of Tibetan Buddhism:

Three of the four main schools which determined the religious life of Tibet were all formed in the period from the 11th to the 14th century: The Sakyapa, the Kagyupa and the Gelugpa. The Nyingmapa in contrast has been in existence since the start of the ninth century. All four “sects” are still today the most important pillars of tantric culture. It was the ingenious work of the “Great Fifth” to, like an alchemist, distill the spiritual and political essence out of all the traditional orders and to impressively assimilate these into his institution as “Dalai Lama” — a power-political act, which is currently being repeated by his incarnation, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.

The Gelugpa order:

The “Great Fifth” came from the Gelugpa order. Of all the Tibetan schools the so-called “Yellow Hats” were the most tightly organized. Their founder, the outstanding scholar Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), had begun with a moral campaign against the decline of the teaching and the dissolution in the monasteries. He forbade the consumption of intoxicating liquors, demanded the strict observance of celibacy, insisted upon a rigorous work discipline, improved the dress code and reformed the daily liturgy. Towards the end of his life he succeeded in arresting the general decadence in the various schools through the establishment of a new order. In keeping with his program, this was called Gelugpa, that is, “Followers of the path of virtue”. Although there were precursors, in the final instance Tibetan Buddhism has the “virtuous” to thank for its Buddhocratic/clerical structure. The three “most scholarly” monasteries of the highlands belong to the “yellow church”: Ganden, Drepung, and Sera. These “three jewels” of the spirit accommodated thousands of monks over centuries and were considered the most powerful religious and political institutions in the country alongside the Potala, the residence of the Dalai Lama, and Tashi Lhunpo, the seat of the Panchen Lama.

Like no other school, the “Yellow Hats” can be talked about as being scholastic. They possessed the best libraries, the best educational system, the most stringent training program. What they lacked was the fantasy and the often picturesque wildness of the other orders. The Gelugpas have not produced a single original work, but saw their mission rather as solely to study the already codified Buddhist texts, to prepare commentaries on these, and, in most cases, to learn them by heart. Even the sixteen volumes of Tsongkhapa’s writings are commentaries upon the canonized literature found in the Kanjur ("translations of the word” of Buddha) and the Tanjur ("translation of the textbooks”). The strength of the Gelugpas thus lay not in their creativity, but rather in their superior political and organizational talents which they combined with the teachings of the tantras in an extremely effective manner. Despite his “puritanical” politics which earned him the title of the Tibetan Luther, Tsongkhapa was an outstanding expert in and commentator upon the tantric secret writings, especially the Kalachakra teachings. His pupils continued this tradition with extensive works of their own. This made the Gelugpa order a stronghold of the Time Tantra.

Tsongkhapa was “puritanical” only in the sense that he demanded absolute discipline and iron-clad rules in the performance of the sexual magic rites and in determining that they could only be conducted by celibate monks. Although he became an object of emotional reverence after his death, because of their precision and systematicity his commentaries upon the sacred love techniques seem especially cold and calculating. They are probably only the product of his imagination, since he himself is supposed to have never practiced with a real karma mudra (wisdom consort) — yet he wrote extensively about this. He saw in the tantric exercises an extremely dangerous but also highly effective practice which ought only be conducted by a tiny clerical elite after traversing a lengthy and laborious graduated path. The broad mass of the monks thus fell further and further behind in the course of the academic and subsequent tantric training, eventually forming the extensive and humble “lower ranks”.

It lay — and still lies — in the logic of the Gelugpa system to produce a small minority of intensively schooled scholars and an even smaller number of tantric adepts, whose energies are in the end gathered together in a single individual. The entire monastic “factory” is thus, in the final instance, geared to the production of a single omnipotent Buddhist deity in human form. In accordance with the metapolitical intentions of the Kalachakra teachings which, being its highest tantra, form the main pillar of the Gelugpa order, it must be the time god himself who rules the world as a patriarchal Chakravartin in the figure of the Dalai Lama. In the final instance, he is the ADI BUDDHA.

Although the institution of the Dalai Lama did not yet exist when the Gelugpa order was founded, its essence was already in place. Hence the “virtuous” built the “Asian Rome” (Lhasa) step by step, with the “yellow pontiff” (the Kundun) at its head. Thanks to their organizational talents they soon controlled the majority of central Asia. From the banks of the Volga and the Amur, from the broad steppes of inner Asia to the Siberian tundra, from the oases of the Tarim Basin, from the imperial city of Beijing, from the far Indian river valleys came streams of pilgrims, envoys, and tributary gifts to the god-king in Lhasa. Even his opponents recognized him as a spiritual force towering over all.

The Kagyupa order:

Whilst the Gelugpas began cooperating with the Mongolians very early on and regarded these as their protective power, we can more or less call the Kagyupas, with the Karmapa at their head, the national Tibetan forces (at least up until the 17th century). The first Dalai Lama was already caught up in military skirmishes with the “Red Hats” (Kagyupa). 150 years later and with the support of Prince Tsangpa, they had extended their power so far that the Gelugpas had good reason to fear for their lives and possessions. In the 1730s Tsangpa seized Lhasa and handed the holy temple, the Jokhang, over to the priests of the “Reds”. Even the powerful Gelugpa monastery of Drepung fell to his onslaught. In the course of these battles an unsuccessful assassination attempt on the Fifth Dalai Lama is said to have been carried out. In his stead, however, his biological mother was murdered.

In his hour of need the “Great Fifth” succeeded in forming an alliance with Gushri Khan (1582–1654), the chief of the Oirat Mongols. The Khan descended upon the “Land of Snows” with a force tens of thousands strong. A bloody “civil war” ensued, in which two admittedly worldly rulers, the king of the Tsang and Gushri Khan, faced one another on the open field, but behind whom, however, were hidden the real forces of the two most powerful monastic hierarchs in the country, the “Dalai Lama” and the “Karmapa”, the most influential religious leader within the circle of the Red Hats.

This civil war concerned more than worldly power. According to the tantric obsessions which drove both parties, the battle was for the world throne and control over the spirit of the times. (The “Red Hats” also practiced the Kalachakra Tantra.) During the conflict, the Dalai Lama visited the Ganden monastery and there above an altar saw the huge, grinning, and black face of a demon with many human heads flying into its gaping maw. He interpreted this vision as signaling final victory over the Kagyupas.

In accord with the laws of his ancestors, Gushri Khan intervened with ruthless violence. Through him, the interior of Tibet was, according to one of the “Red’s” documents, “turned into a land of hungry ghosts, like the Domains of the Lord of Death” (Bell, 1994, p. 125). We recall that as a incarnation of Avalokiteshvara the Dalai Lama also represents the god of death, Yama.

The Mongol ordered that the leaders of the opposing force be sewn into fur sacks and drowned. In the year 1642, after much fierce resistance, the red order was finally defeated. Many Kagyupas were driven from their monasteries which were then turned into Yellow Hat sites, as had been the case in reverse before. A mass flight was the result. Sections of the defeated Red Hats emigrated to Sikkim and to Bhutan and joined forces with the local dynasties there.

Yet, being an intelligent despot the “Great Fifth” did not give in to a desire for revenge. He knew from history that the various Kagyupa factions did not form a united front. Hence, after his control had been secured he covered some of them with great honors, thus splitting their ranks. But he even went a step further. Namely, he invaded the mysteries of the Red Hats by taking over from them the “national” Bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezi), as his personal incarnation god. This usurpation was — as we have already shown — a political master stroke.

The Nyingmapa order:

Because of his wild lifestyle, the founder of the Nyingmapa, the half-mythic yogi and magician, Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), was thought to be a dubious character by the Gelugpas. Even today, the name “Guru Rinpoche” provokes strong defensive reactions among some “Yellow Hats”. But the Fifth Dalai Lama adopted a completely different attitude in this case. Not only did he indicate that Padmasambhava was, as an emanation of Avalokiteshvara, an earlier incarnation of his, but he also felt himself to be almost magnetically attracted to the tantric practices which Guru Rinpoche had employed to gain control over the Land of Snows. The achievements of the king, Songtsen Gampo, in the military political domain are outstripped by those of Guru Rinpoche on a metapolitical/magical level. We shall return later to discuss the unconventional yogi’s deeds of conquest in detail.

Padmasambhava (eighth century) is the founding hero and the icon of the Nyingmapas, the oldest of the Buddhist schools. They elevated the sorcerer (Siddha) to such a high status that he was sometimes even ranked higher than the historical Buddha. Although the “Old”, as the Nyingmapas are known, had the patina of the original about them (they were the first), over the course of the centuries they nevertheless managed to draw the worst reputation of all upon themselves. As wandering beggars, unkempt and restless, they roamed Tibet, were considered licentious in sexual matters, and supplemented their alms through the sale of all manner of dubious magical pieces. The depravity and anarchy they cultivated, through which they expressed their contempt for the world (of samsara), nevertheless fostered their reputation as powerful magicians among the superstitious populace. In general they were not unpopular with ordinary people because (unlike the tightly organized monasteries of the other sects) they rarely demanded taxes or forced labor.

Their attitude towards the pre-Buddhist Bon cult and remnants of ancient shamanism was extremely relaxed, so that many unorthodox elements flowed into the religious practices of the Nyingmapa. For example, alongside the classic tantras they practiced the so-called Dzogchen method in which enlightenment can be achieved without lengthy preparations and graded progression. Sometimes they were mocked as vagrants, at others they were feared as powerful sorcerers. But it was above all the strict and “puritanical” Gelugpas who punished the “Old” with detestation and great contempt.

Here too, the “Great Fifth” felt and acted at complete odds to the dominant opinion among his own order. His own teacher had been an important Nyingmapa and he had been informed about their “heretical” writings in great detail. With great success he put to use the terma doctrine (concerning the discovery of old mystic texts) fostered in this school. But above all his especial interest was captured by the magic practices of the order, and Golden Manuscript which he wrote is an ingenious compendium of barbaric spells such as are taught by the Nyingmapas.
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The Sakyapa Order:

The “Great Fifth” learned his grand politics and the subtleties of diplomacy from the Sakyapas who, as powerful ecclesiastical princes, had cooperated with the Mongolians and the Chinese between the 12th and 14th century.

Like every school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Sakyapas were also tantric ritualists. 150 years after the founding of the first monastery (in 1073) the order had developed into one of the most influential institutions in Tibet at that time. Within it the foundations were laid for a “modern political science” which welded together the administration of state and international relations, transpersonal energy fields (the Tibetan “gods”) and the sexual magic ritual system into a single discipline — a combination which exerted a lifelong attraction over the Fifth Dalai Lama.

According to legend, one of the most important abbots of the monastery, the influential Sakya Pandita (1182–1251), is said to have been in correspondence with Genghis Khan. All that has been historically verified, however, is that almost two decades after the death of the great military leader, in the year 1244, he traveled to Mongolia so as to successfully establish Buddhism there as the state religion. In gratitude, Godan Khan appointed him vice regent of the Land of Snows.

This historic alliance was so important to the “Great Fifth” who lived 400 years later that he without ado declared himself to be an incarnation of Sakya Pandita’s nephew and successor, the similarly gifted statesman, Phagspa Lama (1235-1280). The latter’s meeting with Kublai Khan (1260–1294) shortly before the Mongol prince seized the Chinese throne was legendary. The future Emperor was so impressed by the knowledge and rhetoric of the lama that he adopted the Buddhist faith and even let himself be initiated into the Hevajra Tantra.

The “Great Fifth” correctly saw this historical encounter as a corner-stone of world politics which dovetailed perfectly into the foundations of his own global vision. He hence simply declared the conversations between himself and the Mongolian potentate, Gushri Khan, which took place in the year 1637 and which concerned the defeat of the Kagyupa order, to be the “incarnatory” continuation of the dialog which commenced in 1276 between Kublai Khan and the then powerful Phagspa Lama and continued afresh in the year 1578 between the Third Dalai Lama and Altan Khan. During the meeting with the god-king (the Fifth Dalai Lama), Gushri Khan is supposed to have recalled their previous joint “incarnation meetings” (as Kublai Khan and Phagspa Lama and as the Third Dalai Lama and Altan Khan). This example shows, how politics was conducted across the centuries. Death no longer played a role in these political events which were so important for Asia.

The Jonangpa order:

The no longer extant school (up until the 17th century) of the Jonangpas was a small but powerful offshoot of the Sakyapa order. During the “civil war” between the Gelugpas and the Kagyupas its followers allied themselves with the king of the Tsang (the “Red Hat” alliance). They were therefore branded as heretics by the “Great Fifth” and de facto destroyed. This is all the more surprising since an abbot of the school, the famous historian Taranatha (1575–1634), was asked by the parents of the Fifth Dalai Lama to name their child. However, it demonstrates once more the unsentimental, uncompromising manner in which the god-king pursued his political goals. He ordered that the printing plates of the sect (i.e., their writings) be sealed and incorporated the order’s funds along with the majority of its monks into the Gelugpa system. It is of interest that at that stage this school was the prime specialist in matters concerning the Kalachakra Tantra, to which Taranatha also devoted a number of writings. Perhaps a cause for the conflict can also be found here, then there can be no doubt that the “Great Fifth” took the cosmic power system of the Time Tantra literally and laid exclusive claim to it.

The Bon religion:

The eclectic on the Lion Throne (the Fifth Dalai Lama) was also not at all ill-disposed towards the pre-Buddhist Bon religion. Avalokiteshvara appeared to him in a vision and called upon him “to invite Bonpos often to carry out rituals which ensure the prosperity of the country.” (Karmay, 1988, p. 64). This liaison is not quite as paradoxical as it may appear at first glance. Admittedly, the Bon priests had been fiercely persecuted as the exact opposite of Buddhism since time immemorial -- over the centuries they had been reviled as the practitioners of black magic, the sacrificers of animals, the worshippers of demons. This negative Tibetan evaluation has been shared by many western researchers up until of late. However, more recent studies have shown that the Bon religion was closer to Buddhism than was previously thought. It is not — as is often erroneously believed — the original, shamanist religion of the highlands.

Bon – Dharmapala (Yeshe Walmo)

Just like the Indian Buddhist gurus at a later time, the first Bonpos were brought into the country (in the sixth century, probably from Persia). They brought with them a marked doctrine of light unknown in Tibet, which is reminiscent of the Amitabha cult. They worshipped Shen Rab, a supernatural being who exhibits many of the criteria of Avalokiteshvara, as a messianic savior. The Bon also believed in the existence of an inaccessible mythical kingdom, Olmolungring, which shares essential traits with Shambhala. The doctrine of emanation was likewise as familiar to them as a well-organized priesthood. They were even well versed in tantric practices and other yoga doctrines. The Tibetan lama Namkhai Norbu suspected that the famous Dzogchen meditation practice, through which enlightenment can be reached directly without intermediary stages, could be traced back to them. Both religions (that of the Buddhists and that of the Bonpos) worship the swastika as a cult symbol, but the widespread belief that the Bon followers only used the left-armed “evil” hooked cross and the Buddhist Tantrics the right-armed “good” one as a symbol is untrue.

Since the Bon religion was able to continue to exist following the Buddhization of the Land of Snows (since the seventh century) despite extreme persecution, the historians have until now assumed that it took on many Buddhist elements so as to protect itself from pursuit. This is sure to have been the case here and there. But, it is becoming ever clearer on the basis of newly discovered documents that the original Bon cult possessed “Buddhist” elements from the outset, indeed, some important authors — such as David Snellgrove for example — even talk of a “heterodox” Buddha doctrine which penetrated the highlands via Persia and united with the local shamanist religion there. Where there is a real difference is in the approval of animal and occasional human sacrifices in the Bon cult. But then even this is supposed to be not entirely foreign to the tantric rites. There was thus no need for the “Great Fifth” to fear contact with the religion of the “black hat magicians”, as the Bonpo are sometimes called. His own system could only be strengthened through their “integration”.

Through his politics of integration the Fifth Dalai Lama demonstratively revealed that he saw himself as the ruler of all sects and all Tibetans, and that he was not striving to achieve absolute hegemony for the “yellow order” (the Gelugpas), but rather the unrestricted sovereignty of his own institution. Where the “Yellow Hats” were always wanting that the other schools be reduced to second or third-order powers; the Fifth Dalai Lama in contrast aspired to a situation where all schools equally bowed down before him as the supreme tantra master. Tensions with his own order were also preordained for another reason. Traditionally, the Gelugpas supplied the regent to the god-king who, once the “living Buddha” (Kundun) attained his majority, had to abdicate and renounce his power.

Let us summarize once more: It was the “Great Fifth's" political intention to establish a Buddhocratic system in Tibet with the institution of the Dalai Lama at its helm. To achieve this he required all the material and spiritual resources of the country. From the Gelugpas he took the discipline, organizational talent, administrative skill, reasons of state, and learning; from the Kagyupas the doctrine of incarnation, his incarnation god Avalokiteshvara, and his national roots; from the Nyingmapas the ritual magic; from the Sakyapas the diplomatic skill; from the Jonangpas a well-organized Kalachakra system; and from the Bonpos the support of those ecclesiastical forces which had primarily propagated the idea of the ancient, sacred kingship, an idea which was vital for the establishment of the world throne on the Potala.

According to the laws of the micro/macrocosmic conceptual world in which the Fifth Dalai Lama lived, he must have seen in his power politics a symbolic act which encompassed the entire cosmos: Once he had achieved absolute control over the Land of Snows (the microcosm), then, homologously, as Chakravartin he also had power over the whole world (the macrocosm). He ingeniously understood how to bundle together all the spiritual energies of the country within his person and the institution of the Dalai Lama which he occupied. He collected the most potent extracts from schools of every orientation and mixed them together in his magic cauldron into a potion of power, the consumption of which was supposed to grant him control over the universe.

Through his political application of the doctrine of incarnation, the fifth Kundun could with aplomb draw upon all the important political figures of Tibetan history and employed these as marionettes in his cosmic theaters. He made the tantric idea the driving force of his age. It was not him as a person, but rather the gods he invoked, especially Avalokiteshvara and Kalachakra, the time god, who were the organizing principle, the creative, the one true thing, the ADI BUDDHA.

Unification of the Tibetan Buddhist orders under the absolute reign of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

It is almost uncanny how exactly the Fourteenth Dalai Lama has continued and intensified the integrative politics of his ingenious, unscrupulous, and highly revered predecessor from the 17th century which was aimed at strengthening his own position of power, only this time truly on a global scale. It is primarily the Kalachakra Tantra which serves as his most effective means of bringing the various sects into line. In the meantime each of the various schools of Tibetan Buddhism is committed to the Time Tantra and offers small scale Kalachakra initiations all around the world. On the official Kalachakra homepage in the Internet (, the following “Dharma masters” are presented with photos as the most prominent contemporary “WARRIORS” of the time wheel:

1. Dalai Lama (Gelugpa)
2. Gelek Rinpoche (Gelugpa)
3. Chögyam Trungpa (Kagyupa)
4. Namkhai Norbu (Nyingmapa)
5. Jamgon Kongtrul (Kagyupa)
6. Minling Terchen Rinpoche (Nyingmapa)
7. Sharmapa Rinpoche (Kagyupa)
8. Tai Situ Rinpoche (Kagyupa)
9. Thrangu Rinpoche (Kagyupa)
10. Tsem Tulku (Gelugpa)
11. Zurman Garwang Rinpoche (Kagyupa)
12. Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche (Nyingmapa)
13. Sakya Trizin (Sakyapa)
14. Dzongsar Khyentse (Nyingmapa)
15. Sogyal Rinpoche (Rime Tradition)
16. Tulku Urgyen (Nyingmapa)
17. Gelek Rinpoche (Gelugpa)
18. Kalsang Rinpoche (Kagyupa)
19. Nan Huai Chin (Kagyupa and Chan)
20. Rev Shen Yan (?)
21. Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche (Bon)
22. Thrinly Norbu Rinpoche (Nyingmapa)
23. Tsoknyi Rinpoche (Kagyupa)
24. Lama Choedak (Sakyapa)
25. Ani Choying Drohna (Arya Tara School)

It is immediately apparent from this summary that of the 25 high lamas who publicly represent the Kalachakra Tantra, there is only four Gelugpa masters. This is astounding indeed.

His unique exiled situation allows the fourteenth Kundun to set himself up as the head of all the schools even more than the “Great Fifth”. This is not just true on the level of practical politics as head of state, but also in the initiatory system. Hence His Holiness allowed himself to be initiated into all the significant lineages of the various sects. In 1986 a Nyingmapa teacher initiated him into his tradition. His Holiness also received a tantric initiation at the hands of the highest master of the Sakyapa sect. It was a Nyingmapa lama, Lopon Tsechu Rinpoche, who in 1994 presided over the erection of the first, thirteen-meter high Kalachakra stupa in the West (in Spain).

Traditionally, the Gelugpas were the only ones who had any real influence on the affairs of state — primarily through the position of the “regents”, who were selected from their ranks and conducted the business of state until the Dalai Lamas came of age. In the face of a superior Kundun, the “Yellow Hats” are now set on the same level as the other sects. Their privileges have disappeared. "Today the activities of His Holiness the Dalai Lama serve the whole world and all of Tibetan Buddhism as well as the indigenous Bön faith impartially”, an official statement from Dharamsala says, "The inclinations of the Gelug monasteries to continue to link themselves with the government, even administratively, causes damage and obstacles rather than benefit and support for His Holiness and the exile government” (Tibetan Review, July 1994, p. 12).

The god-king’s claim to spiritually and politically represent all sects has, just as in the past with the “Great Fifth”, in recent times led to a spirited protest movement amidst the ranks of his own order (Gelugpa), whose power is reduced by this. From this wing, the Kundun is accused of creating a “religious hotchpotch” or his personal ambitions are even openly designated. “According to my understanding”, writes Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, a bitter opponent of the god-king from his own ranks (he is an ordained Gelugpa monk), “ the Dalai Lama's main wish is to integrate the four Tibetan traditions into one. The leaders of the other traditions will gradually disappear, leaving him alone as head of Tibetan Buddhism. In this way he will be able to control all aspects of Tibetan Buddhism. In the beginning this plan was rejected by the leaders of Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma Traditions, while the Gelugpa remained neutral. Later, the Dalai Lama changed his approach. He is now trying to destroy the practice of Dorje Shugden and change the Gelug tradition, while at the same time developing a close relationship with the other traditions, especially the Nyingmapa. Gradually he hopes to fulfill his wishes in this way” (Gyatso, Newsgroup 7).

According to Kelsang Gyatso, the Kundun is supposed to have held a number of meetings with the head abbots of the four main schools in the early 1960s at which he proposed uniting the sects under his leadership. This proposal was rejected. The Sakyapa, Kagyupa, and Nyingmapa then joined together in 13 exile-Tibetan establishments so as to protect themselves from the imposition of the Dalai Lama’s will. The leader of all 13, Gongtang Tsultrim, was murdered under mysterious circumstances. To date the murder case has still not been solved (Sky Warrior, Newsgroup 18).

It has in the meantime become established practice that for all incarnations of great lamas, regardless of sect, the Kundun’s confirmation is sought as the final word. This was not the case in the past. Free from any competition, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama outshines all other hierarchs from the Land of Snows. Even his often abrasive political/religious rivalry with the pro-China Panchen Lama no longer exists, since the latter died in 1989.

The Rime movement, which began in the 19th century and has as its goal a united church in which all schools are absorbed (retaining certain individual features), is also a boon to the absolutism of the god-king. Even the Bon priests in exile have in the meantime recognized the Kundun as their de facto authority. Like his predecessor from the 17th century (the “Great Fifth”), he maintains good contacts with them and prays in their monasteries.

“The Dalai Lama”, one of his Buddhist opponents polemicizes, “tries to teach everything: Kagyu, Nyingma, Sakya, Gelugpa, Bonpo, and recently he even gave teachings on Christianity! Later may be he will teach on Sufism, Hinduism, Shamanism and so on. What is his motivation here? It is clear to me that his motivation is to gather as many disciples as possible from all these different traditions. In this way he will become their root guru and thereby gain more power and control” (Sky Warrior, Newsgroup 18). Hence, his followers celebrate him not just as the “supreme spiritual and worldly leader of six million Tibetans”, but likewise as the “Head of Buddhists World Wide” (Ron, Newsgroup 14). In a resolution of the Tibetan Cholsum Convention, of which representatives from all (!) organizations of Tibetans in exile are members and which was held from August 27 to 31, 1998, it says: “He [The Dalai Lama] is the Captain of Peace in the world; he is the overall head of all Buddhist traditions on this earth; he is the master acclaimed by all the religious traditions of the world”.

The “Karmapa affair”:

A spectacular example of how the Kundun is able to turn the divisions within the other sects to his advantage is offered by the so-called “Karmapa affair”. The turbulent events played out between various factions within the Kagyupa sect since the start of the nineties have included radical confrontations and court cases, violent brawls and accusations and counter-accusations of murder.

The cause of this un-Buddhist disagreement was that in the search for the 17th incarnation of the new Karmapa, the leader of the Kagyupa, two principal candidates and their proponents confronted one another — on the one side, Situ Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche, who advocated a youth in Tibet, on the other, Shamar Rinpoche, who proposed a boy in India. Shortly before the decision, a third abbot, Jamgon Kongtrol Rinpoche, whose voice would have been very influential in the choice, was the victim of a mysterious fatal car accident. Shortly afterwards, the remaining parties accused one another of having brought about the death of Jamgon Kongtrol via magical manipulation. Brawls between the two monastic factions and bloody heads resulted in India, shots were even exchanged, so that the Indian police were forced to intervene (Nesterenko, 1992).

Situ Rinpoche advocated a Sino-Tibetan boy (Urgyen Trinley) as his Karmapa candidate, who also had the support of the Kundun and the Tibetan government in exile. Shamar Rinpoche, however, presented his own Karmapa (Thaye Dorje) to the public in Delhi on March 17, 1994. Since that time a great rift has divided the Kagyupa lineage, affecting the numerous groups of western believers as well. Superficially, one could gain the impression that Situ Rinpoche represented the Asian, and Shamar Rinpoche the Euro-American segment of the Red Hat followers. However, closer inspection proves this to be an erroneous picture, as Shamar Rinpoche has established a notable power base in the kingdom of Bhutan and Situ Rinpoche also has many supporters for his candidate in the West. There are no small number of groups who would like to mediate between the two rivals. But one knows full well what is at stake for the Kagyupa lineage in this fundamental difference. At the end of an open letter by “neutral” Red Hat abbots is to read, that if the differences continue then it is certain that no side will emerge as the 'winner' or the 'loser'. The sole loser will be the Karmapa Kagyupa lineage as a whole (Tibetan Review, October 1993, p. 8).

The two Karmapas: Urgyen Trinley Dorje (l) and Thinley Thaye Dorje (r)

But this split among the Kagyupa is useful for the Dalai Lama. Since the dawn of Tibetan history the Karmapa has been the main opponent of the Kundun and has already been involved in military conflicts with Lhasa on several occasions. He was his major enemy in the Tibetan civil war described above.

This rivalry did not end with the flight of both hierarchs from Tibet. From the outset (since the end of the sixties) the Kagyupa sect have been incomparably more popular in the West than the orthodox Yellow Hats: the Red Hats were considered to be young, dynamic, uncomplicated, informal, and cosmopolitan. The unconventional appearances of the Kagyu tulku, Chögyam Trungpa, who in the seventies completely identified himself with the artistic avant-garde of Europe and America also set an example for many other masters of the sect. Up until the mid-eighties, Western pupils of Buddhism in any case preferred the red order. Here, in their view, an autonomous counterforce, independent of rigid traditions, was emerging, at least this was how the Kagyupas outwardly presented themselves. They developed into a powerful opponent of the Gelugpa, who likewise attempted to attract proselytes in the West. Among others, this would be one of the reasons why the Kundun allied himself with “detested” China in supporting Situ Rinpoche’s candidate, Ugyen Trinley, who is resident in the Tsurphu monastery on Chinese territory.

But in the meantime the Fourteenth Dalai Lama has succeeded in binding the Kagyupa (Situ and Gyaltsab lineages) so strongly to himself that it seemed more sensible to place the young Karmapa under his direct control. At first, Ugyen Trinley appeared to function completely as the Chinese intended. In October 1995, the former nomadic boy was the guest of honor during the national holiday celebrations in Beijing and conversed with important Chinese government leaders. The national press corps reported at length on his subsequent journey through China, organized for the young hierarch with much pomp and circumstance. He is supposed to have exclaimed “Long live the People’s Republic of China!”

It is noteworthy that Beijing is attempting less and less to explain the history and basic doctrines of Tibetan Buddhism and is instead deliberately and with more or less success establishing and encouraging a “competing Lamaism” or “alternative Lamaism” directed against the politics of the Dalai Lama. The most powerful incarnation supported by China is undoubtedly the young Eleventh Panchen Lama, about whom we will come to report later. On January 17, 2000, the South China Morning Post reported that the Chinese had discovered a reincarnation of Reting Rinpoche who had died in February 1997. The two-year-old boy was given a Buddhist name and ordained in front of a statue in the Jokhang Temple (in Lhasa). The ceremony took place in the presence of Chinese party officials. Reting Rinpoche is considered to be one of the few lamas who in the event of the Dalai Lama’s death could assume the regency until his reincarnation came of age. It is obvious that the “China-friendly Lamaism” is setting a completely new tone in the relationship between the two powers (China and the Tibetans in exile).

China is waiting for the charismatic leader to die, and the Dalai Lama has had to think seriously about the issue of succession, not just of his own reincarnation, but also the individual who as regent will represent his state and religion whilst he is still a minor. The successful and purposeful policy of integration which the Kundun has been pursuing for years within the context of the individual schools makes it possible that upon his death a Kagyupa hierarch could also take on the task of representing all the sects just as the chief of the Gelugpas (the Dalai Lama) de facto does. At any rate these are speculations being discussed in the Western press. Time Magazine says of Ugyen Trinley, “He has the potential to become a leading figure for the next generation, just as the Dalai Lama is for the current one. … What counts today is one who embodies the Tibetan religious identity and the national claims – and can be a focus for Western sympathy. If the Karmapa continues to show the courage and charisma which he has shown up until now, then he could make an excellent symbol of the resistance to the occupation of Tibet by China” (January 24, 1999; retranslation).

The current incarnation issue brings the undisguised power interests of all involved out into the light of day. [8] And these have a long tradition. For example, the power political competition between the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and the Sixteenth Karmapa is the reason why the rumor has persisted in western Kagyupa circles that the Kundun used magic practices to murder the Karmapa (Tibetan Review, August 1987, p. 21).

This “accusation of murder” calls to mind not just the Tibetan civil war but also another mysterious incident. After the death of the Fifteenth Karmapa (in 1922), a powerful Gelugpa minister wanted to push through the recognition of his own son as the next incarnation of the Kagyupa hierarch against the will of the Red Hats. This autocratic decision was ratified by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and the monks of the Tsurphu monastery were forced against their will to accept the Yellow Hats’ boy. But it did not take long before the child inexplicably fell to his death from the roof of a building. There was never an explanation of the “accident”, at any rate it was of benefit to the genuine candidate of the Red Hats, who was now recognized as the Sixteenth Karmapa.

Incidentally, the official chronicles of the Gelugpas accuse the tenth incarnation of Shamar Rinpoche, of having incited the Nepalese to war against Lhasa in the 18th century. Thereupon his assets were either seized or razed to the ground. A subsequent reincarnation of the great abbot was not accepted by the Yellow Hats. "Merit was becoming less and less!”, the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa has commented upon this period. "There was much political interference. Black was becoming white. The real was becoming unreal. At that time it was not practicable to have any Sharmapa recognized or enthroned. Everything was kept secret” (Nesterenko, 1992, p. 8). Not until the year 1964, following a lengthy meditation and on the basis of dreams, did the Fourteenth Dalai Lama permit the official reinstatement of the Shamarpa lineage. The Kundun should have known that according to his own doctrine history repeats itself and that old conflicts do not just flare up afresh, rather, the laws governing incarnation determine that time and again the same individuals stand opposed to one another (in this case the Shamarpa versus the Dalai Lama).

Accordingly the relations between the god-king and the Nepalese are very tense once again. Nepal has over many years established good contacts with its neighbor, China, and currently (1998) has a “communist” government. Tibetan refugees are constantly expelled from the country. In the past there were several armed conflicts between the Royal Nepalese Army and Tibetan underground fighters (ChuShi GangDrug).

Accusations against The Dalai Lama and the Gelugpas of imposing their will upon the “red sect” (the Kagyupa) and attempting to split them are also heard from government circles in the kingdom of Bhutan. The so-called “Switzerland of the Himalayas” and its ruling house (who today are in cooperation with the Shamarpa) traditionally belong to the Kagyupa school, and have therefore had in part very serious disputes with Lhasa for hundreds of years. The Yellow Hat monasteries and their abbots, which have been tolerated in the country as refugee settlements since the sixties, are accused by the Bhutanese of nothing less serious than the politically motivated murder of the Prime Minister, Jigme Dorji, (in 1964) and a long-planned revolt in order to seize control of the country.

In this, the “Yellow Hats” are supposed to have attempted to liquidate the Bhutanese heir to the throne. Alongside one of the king’s mistresses who was under the influence of the Gelugpas, the Dalai Lama’s brother, Gyalo Thondrup, is also supposed to be involved in this assassination attempt, discovered before it could be carried through. In the light of such accusations it is immediately apparent why the Bhutanese have backed Shamar Rinpoche’s decision in the dispute about the new Karmapa, and reject Ugyen Trinley, the candidate of Situ Rinpoche ratified by Dharamsala, as a marionette of the Dalai Lama.



[1] We are obviously dealing with a Buddhaization of a Vedic myth of origin here, according to which the universe arose from the self-dismemberment of the first human, Prajapati.

[2] The philosophers and theologists of the European Middle Ages developed a “two body theory” of sacred kingship. The scholars drew a distinction between the mortal and mundane body of a king and an eternal royal meta-body. This was fundamentally independent of its human appearance. After the death of the body which had served as his residence he withdrew from this so as to then be reincarnated in the successor of the old king. This model corresponds broadly with the Tibetan Buddhist doctrine of incarnation.

[3] The mchod-yon relation to China is also interpreted as the relation pertaining between the sun and the moon by the Lamaist side. Hence we can read in a text from the 17th century that the potentates from Beijing and Lhasa stood opposed to one another as sun and moon, where the Dalai Lama occupied the throne of the sun (Klieger,1991, p. 45). As the moon the feminine and thus subordinate role is assigned to the Emperor in this classification.

[4] In the Tibetan Review, the public relations advertisement for the West, even the shallow dualism "Tibet — good and China — bad” is seen as a problem in one article: "Tibet is the embodiment of the powers of the holy; China is the embodiment of the powers of the demonic; Tibetans are superhuman, Chinese are subhuman. In this Orientalist logic of oppositions, China must be debased in order for Tibet to be exalted; in order for there to be a spiritual and enlightened Orient, there must be a demonic and despotic Orient" (Tibetan Review, May 1994, p. 18).

[5] Following the Dalai Lama the second highest authority in the Gelugpa sect.

[6] Sera is the monastery to which the regent belonged.

[7] As we have already mentioned, such “treasures” (terma) are understood to be secret doctrines hidden by dakinis or the “founder of the religion”, Padmasambhava. Many years later they are discovered by chosen individuals and then put into practice.

[8] Tangible material interests also play their role in the “Karmapa affair”. The assets of the Rumtek monastery, the main western monastery of the Karmapa, are being claimed by Dharamsala (i.e., by the Kundun) because it is an object of contention between Situ and Shamar Rinpoche who both lay claim to the monastery for their respective candidates.
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Just how casual the Tibetans in exile are in dealing with scholarly works on their history and social reality in ancient Tibet is shown by an example from the Tibetan Review, the English-language mouthpiece for the exile community. In April 1991, the renowned American historian Melvyn C. Goldstein could publish an article in which he presented for discussion a picture of Tibetan history that contradicted the official line from Dharamsala. In the subsequent debate a Tibetan scholar candidly admitted that Goldstein’s investigations were so well documented "that he is probably correct in his analysis” — and then the Tibetan continues, "But his presentation has succeeded in deeply offending most Tibetans” (Tibetan Review, January 1992, p. 18).

Thus, among the exile Tibetan community, historical truths lead not to a self-critical stance towards their own history, but rather one was insulted and thus believed oneself justified in repudiating Goldstein’s works and denigrating them as Chinese propaganda. (See above all Phintso Thondon’s article in the May 1991 issue of Tibetan Review). Goldstein’s reply to the attacks against him addresses what exactly is to be held of the freedom of opinion among Tibetans in exile: "Mr. Thondon seems to believe that anything which criticizing or contradicting Tibetan nationalist rhetoric coming out of Dharamsala and Tibetan Support Groups must be pro-Chinese. His 'rejoinder', therefore, clearly sets out to discredit - a priori - my findings and observations by creating the impression I have a pro-Chinese bias. In using tactics resembling those of the McCarthy era in the US, Mr. Thondon takes sentences out of context, distorts meanings, and worse yet, imputes meanings, that were not there. His response represents the darkest and most unpleasant side of the Tibetan exile movement” (Tibetan Review, September 1991, p. 18)

One can safely assume that official statements from Dharamsala will defame as communist propaganda every historical analysis of Tibet which strives for neutrality. To give a further example, we quote their reaction to A. Tom Grunfeld‘s well-researched book, The Making of Modern Tibet. "This book”, a review in the Tibetan Review says, "can only be considered a sophisticated presentation of Peking’s version of events. Although a lot of material is included in the book which is often overlooked by pro-Tibetan, and the author has evidently made an attempt to be impartial [!], his Sinocentric and Marxist seem to be so extreme that he is quite unable to master them” (Tibetan Review, July 1989, p. 13).

The western image of Tibet:

Western observers have in the meantime become more and more blind to the shadowy sides of the Tibetan monastic state. In countless recent books and publications the Tibet of old is depicted as a peaceful state, a sanctuary of calm, the heart of compassion, an ecological oasis, an island of wisdom, a refuge of knowledge, a home of the blissful — in short as a lost earthly paradise, inhabited by enlightened, peace-loving people and mysterious, shining gods. As early as the 1940s, Marco Pallis praised the Tibetans as “one of the earth's most civilized peoples” (quoted by Bishop, 1989, p. 231). “All the residents of Lhasa, rich and poor, high and low, are peaceful”, we can read in a contemporary report. “Even the beggars of Lhasa have only to ply their trade for some time in the morning to get enough food for the day. In the evening they are all nicely drunk. The people of Lhasa were physically relaxed, mentally contented and happy. The food of the city is also nutritious. No one has to strive to make a living. Life takes care of itself, as a matter of course. Everything is splendid” (quoted by Craig, 1997, pp.86-87).

The Kundun also knows to only report only the most positive aspects of the past of the Land of Snows: “The continuing influence of Buddhism produced a society of peace and harmony. We enjoyed freedom and contentment” (Panorama no. 553, November 20, 1997, p. 2). Or at another point: “A poor Tibetan had little cause to envy or be hostile towards the rich lord of his estate, then he knew that everybody harvested what he had sown in his earlier lives. We were quite simply happy” (Panorama no. 553, November 20, 1997, p. 2). This image of a poor, deeply religious, pure, and blissfully happy Tibet has meanwhile become fixed in the consciousness of millions.

It has become a favored topic in, amongst other things, the esoteric literature, but above all in the American film industry. The actor Brad Pitt, who played the role of the German teacher of the Dalai Lama, Heinrich Harrer, in a melodramatic story (Seven years in Tibet), came to the following conclusion once the film had been shot: “Look at the Tibetans, how poor they are in material terms. And then look at them, how happy and peaceful they are, and their attitude to life with which they go their way. This is simply fantastic. It gets under your skin. It is the hearts of the people which make Tibet into Shangri-La, into paradise. In America this has become a real movement” (Panorama no. 553, November 20, 1997, p. 1).

Such glorifications have spread like wildfire in recent years. “The result is a one-sidedly bright image of spiritual purity”, writes Tibet researcher Peter Bishop. “Many contemporary western studies go to the great length to avoid confronting the shadow side of Tibetan spirituality. One can often encounter a sociological naiveté that stands in stark contrast to claims of scientific scrutiny” (Bishop, 1993, p. 73).

In contrast, among the majority of the earlier travelers, the Tibet of old made a deeply negative impression, at least with respect to its social situation, which are these days all too readily dismissed as imperialist arrogance and European racism, although identical criticisms of social conditions were also articulated by admirers of Tibetan culture. Alexandra David-Neel, for example, was just as repelled by the general misery of the country as by the corruption of the priestly caste. Even such a fanatic devotee of the Kalachakra Tantra as Nicholas Roerich complained about the general decadence in the Tibet of the time.

Likewise, Heinrich Harrer does not paint a rosy picture of Lhasa in the forties, but rather depicts the land as an unjust albeit fascinating anachronism. In his world famous travelogue, Seven Years in Tibet, the German mentor of the young Dalai Lama writes: “The power of the monks in Tibet is unique and can only be compared to a strict dictatorship. They keep a mistrustful eye on every influence from outside which could threaten their power. They themselves are clever enough to not believe in the limitlessness of their strength, but would punish anyone who expressed doubts about this” (Harrer, 1984, p. 71).

Dozens of such assessments like that of the “Dalai Lama’s best friend” can be found in the early literature on Tibet. Many visitors prior to the year 1959 report that dictatorial decisions, the arbitrary use of power, brainwashing and paranoid belief in demons, spiritual control and crawling servility, bitterest poverty and oriental wealth, slavery, serfdom, hunger, diseases, a lack of any hygiene, alcoholism, cruel punishments, torture, political and private murder, fear and violence, theft, robbery, and mutual mistrust were everyday features of the kingdom of the Dalai Lamas. The Chakravartin from Lhasa ruled over a vale of tears.

Of course, these negative conditions in no way exclude the possibility that the Land of Snows also had oases of peace, equanimity, erudition, joy, helpfulness, noble-mindedness, or whatever all the Buddhist virtues may be. But what is peculiar about the current image of Tibet is that it only stresses its bright sides and simply denies and represses its shady side.

The social structure of former Tibet:

For centuries, the education system, the administration of finances, jurisdiction, and the police lay in the hands of monastic officials. Bureaucracy and sacredness have long been compatible in Asia. Hence we are familiar from the Chinese example with a boring Confucian heaven of civil servants, inhabited by heavenly emperors and their ministers, mandarins, scribes and administrators. Such images are also known in Tibet. We may recall how bureaucratic the administrative structure of the wonderland of Shambhala was even imagined to be.

The clerical administration functioned well for as long as it concerned the immediate affairs of a monastery. But it could hardly cope with all the state and social political divisions of the highlands. Western researchers who visited Tibet in the 19th and 20th centuries thus encountered a completely inflexible administration: decision-making processes stretched out over weeks, ignorance and timidity dominated the incapable civil service and nowhere could anything be attained without bribery. [1]

The social structure of the Tibet of old in no way corresponded to an ideal-typical model of happy individuals as it is so often depicted as being. Alongside the omnipresent clergy, the country was ruled by circa 150 to 300 “secular” families. Different groups were distinguished among the aristocracy. The highest stratum traced their ancestry to the old Tibetan kings, then followed the members of the Dalai Lamas' families. These were ennobled simultaneously with the enthronement of the new god-king. Every family in the country was proud to have a monk as a son. For aristocrats, however, it sufficed that the novice spend just one night in the monastery in order to — for an appropriate fee — be considered ordained. Equipped with the considerable privileges of a lama he could then return home.

The absolute majority of the sedentary population were the “serfs” of a wealthy ruling elite, and saddled with high taxes. The lives of these Tibetans was hard and frugal, they were badly nourished and the medical services now praised in the West were largely unsuccessful. Forms of slavery were known up until the twentieth century — something which is denied these days by the Tibetans in exile. As in India there was a caste of untouchables. Among these were to be counted beggars, prostitutes, blacksmiths (!), fishermen, musicians and actors. In many parts of the country members of these stigmatized groups were not even permitted to become monks.

In contrast, the nomads preserved a relative autonomy, in relation to both the clergy and Chinese or Mongolian invaders. This was even true of their customs and traditions. For example, the killing of animals — strictly forbidden in Buddhism — was normal practice among them. The monks in Lhasa — none of them vegetarians — had the animals slaughtered by Muslim butchers who thus brought the bad karma from the killings down upon themselves, then the consumption of meat is not a “sin” for the Tibetans, but the slaughter of animals decidedly is. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, himself a meat-eater for “reasons of health”, nevertheless campaigns constantly (in the West) for a vegetarian lifestyle.

On the basis of the doctrine of karma, the privileged strata of the Tibet of old saw their advantages as a reward for previous good deeds in past lives. Anyone born into the lower castes had a badly led past life to blame for this and was marked from the outset as a former villain. Such degrading judgments are still prevalent among the Tibetans in exile. Rebecca Redwood French reports on a case, for example, where a child who made strange noises and threw a picture of the Dalai Lama to the ground was recognized as the reincarnation of a dog (Redwood French, 1995). One can imagine how easily such classifications could lead to a general social arrogance and the abuse of power.

Tibetan criminal law:

On the basis of a western orientation towards democracy and human rights, we would have to describe the Tibet of old as a totalitarian state. The legal system was for three hundred years unchangingly based upon the Ganden Podrang Codex which was commissioned by the “Great Fifth”. Yet criminal law was already codified in the thirteenth century by the Sakyapa sect. It displayed a strong Mongolian influence, was derived from the Yasa (statute-book) of Genghis Khan, and, like the penal system of the European Middle Ages, was extremely cruel. Bizarre mutilations like blindings, the cutting off of limbs or tearing out of tongues, deliberately allowing people to freeze to death, the pillory, shackling, yoking, lifelong imprisonment in damp pits all count as common punishments up until the 20th century, even after the Thirteenth Dalai Lama had introduced a number of moderations. In 1940, a British envoy still saw "all over Tibet […] men who had been deprived of an arm or a leg for theft” (Grunfeld, 1996, p.24).


Since Buddhism fundamentally forbade the killing of a living creature, criminals were often tortured to the point of death and then left to fend for themselves. If they now died of the consequences this was purely a matter of their own karma. These days the power elite in Dharamsala maintains an embarrassed silence about such inhuman acts and brushes them aside as Chinese propaganda; western observers of the Tibet of old and their reports are considered to be prejudiced and examples of European arrogance. It is truly astonishing how this obscuration of their own dreadful past by the lamas in the West has succeeded. And there is a lot of authentic photographic evidence; a public whipping, which took place in the middle of Lhasa in 1950 was reproduced in the American magazine, Life, for example (Life, November 13, 1950, pp. 130–136).

The punishment of criminal delinquents was by no means confined to this world, rather the monks condemned people to millions (!) of years in the most dreadful hells, more grotesque and sadistic even than their counterparts in the Christian Middle Ages. Voltaire’s cry of “Remember your cruelties”, by which he primarily meant the politics of the Christian clergy and with which he launched his struggle for human rights, ought to be heard in Dharamsala as well!

Equality before the law varied in Tibet according to social status and wealth. For a murder, one had to pay a so-called “life tax” (mistong) to the surviving dependents and could thus avoid criminal prosecution. According to a statement from one of the current Dalai Lama’s brothers, this practice was still being followed in the mid-twentieth century. The price was naturally related to the status of the victim. Hence, in the fifties the life of a high monastic official was worth between US $8,000 and $10,000. (Grunfeld, 1996, p. 24). For the murder of a woman from the lower castes, 10 Liang (about 11 ounces) of silver was to be paid.

Clerical commerce:

The Buddhist clergy was also commercially active and the most important monasteries were regarded as significant trading centers. The lamas even dealt in credit. Production was mostly devotional objects which the monks usually manufactured themselves: holy images, statuettes of gods, amulets, and similar things. As services, soothsaying, astrology, and the performance of all manner of rituals were offered for sale. A further source of income was mendicancy. Bands of monks were dispatched through the country to collect donations. They often returned with great cargoes. The rent for a domestic cell within a monastery had to be paid by the monk’s relatives. If this was not possible, then the novice had to earn his keep. Franz Michael thus referred to the Tibetan monastery as a "private, profit-making, ‘capitalist’ enterprise. It was capitalist in the sense that the manager’s [the administrator of the monastery] aim was clearly and admittedly to make the greatest possible profit for its owner, the incarnation [of the abbot]" (Michael, 1982, p. 49).

The Lamaist dispensaries bloomed splendidly. The excreta (stools and urine) of higher tulkus were manufactured into pills and sold as valuable medicines. The supreme palliative was of course the excrement of the “living Buddha” (Kundun). When the Fourteenth Dalai Lama was staying in China, his chamberlain collected his excrement daily in a golden pot so as to then send it to Lhasa to be manufactured into a medication (Grunfeld, 1996, p. 22).

Traditional Tibetan medicine, now on offer worldwide, and which the western admirers claim can cure cancer, had to be content with less success in its home country. The majority of the population suffered from sexual diseases. Smallpox was widespread and even the Thirteenth Dalai Lama fell victim to it.

Political intrigue:

There is no question that the lamas constantly employed their charismatic religious aura to amass worldly power and to generate personal grandeur. “The original Buddha teaching”, Matthias Hermanns writes, “of the 'flight from worldly life‘ was transformed into the Machiavellian principle of unrestrained, moral-free power politics” (Hermanns, 1956, p. 372). Only the monks would never have called it this. It was a part of their ruling ideology to present every expression, no matter how secular and decadent, as the decision of a deity.

An important instrument of Tibetan power politics was the political intrigue. This is admittedly a universal phenomenon, but in Tibet it developed such a high status because the worldly resources available to the lamas were barely adequate to the task of controlling central Asia. Above all there was only a rudimentary army. Hence, time and again it was necessary to seek armed allies, or to play armed opponents off against one another. The great abbots, regents and Dalai Lamas have made extensive use of these strategies over the course of history. They were masters of the game of political intrigue and were for this reason as much feared by the Chinese emperors as the Mongolian Khans.

Poison and assassinations dominated even the internal Lamaist scene. Not all “living Buddhas” reached the age at which they could govern. As we have already described above, the four divine children (the Ninth to Twelfth Dalai Lamas) fell victim to powerful cliques within the clerical establishment. The great abbots were especially feared because of their magical abilities which they employed against their enemies. Alongside the authority of state, magic was the other significant control mechanism of which constant use was made. It played a more important role at an elevated political level than the bureaucratic administration and international diplomacy.

More recent developments in the historical image:

The marked differences of opinion in the assessment of the Land of Snows and its culture are not just a product of the western imagination, but must likewise be explained in terms of a gaping disparity between Lamaism’s own ideal-typical claims and an “underdeveloped” social reality. A devout Tibetan Buddhist tends to have his eyes fixed upon the ideals of his doctrine (Dharma) and to be blind to the social realities of his country. This is almost always true when the Tibet of old is concerned. As Tantric, the “law of inversion” also grants him the possibility of seeing all that is bad and imperfect in his surroundings as the formative material for the work of spiritual transformation, then according to the logic of inversion Vajrayana makes the base social reality into an element of the becoming whole, into the prima materia of the tantric experiment.

It goes without saying that the lamas thankfully adopted the western ideal-world vision of a peaceful and spiritual Tibet. They combined this with images of paradise from their own Buddhist mythology and added historical events from the times of the Tibetan kings to the mix. The result was the picture of a society in which all people had lived happily since time immemorial, with a smile on their face night and day. All the needs of a meaningful human existence could be filled in the Tibet of old; nothing was lacking. Everyone respected all others. Humans, animals, and nature lived together peacefully with respect. The ecological balance was assured. The Tibetan kings ruled like goodly fathers and the ecclesiastical princes followed in their stead. Then came the Chinese military with guns and artillery, enslaved the people, tortured the priests, destroyed the culture and planned to totally exterminate the Tibetan race.

With such or similar images, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama has up until most recently largely succeeded in implanting the image of a pure, noble, humane, ecological, spiritually highly developed Tibet, a stronghold against materialism and inhumanity, in the awareness of the world’s public. Even the German news magazine, Der Spiegel, normally extremely critical of such matters, becomes rapturous: “Tibet as a symbol of the good, as the last stronghold of spirituality, where wisdom and harmony are preserved, while the world lies in darkness and chaos: Has the 'Roof of the World' become a projection of all our longings? What is the secret behind the western fascination with this distant land, its religion and its god-king?” (Spiegel, 16/1998, p. 110).

But under the pressure of the vehement critique of the history of the country which has been building since 1996, and which can table indisputable evidence, in Dharamsala one is also becoming more careful of unrestrainedly glorifying the Tibet of old. For this reason the Dalai Lama ever more often now employs the handy formula that Tibet, like all nations, has its good sides and its bad sides; the future will, however, only stress the good. That is more or less all. Hence, the shadows which cast their pall over the history of the Land of Snows are only referred to in very general terms — roughly in the sense that where there is much light there is also much darkness.

It is not our task here to offer an assessment of the improvements much praised by the Chinese which they claim to have brought to the medieval country. We personally believe that in social terms the Tibetan people today live better than they did under the rule of Lamaism. But we in no sense mean by this that the current social situation in the Land of Snows is ideal. We hold many of the accusations and criticisms leveled at Beijing’s “minority politics” by the Tibetans in exile to be thoroughly relevant. It can also not be denied that resistance to China is today growing among the Tibetans and that it primarily makes use of religious arguments. Like everywhere in the world, there has also been a religious renaissance on the “roof of the world” since the mid-eighties. We see a problem in this Lamaist revival, not in the Tibetan democracy movement. What is peculiar and confusing about the political situation is, however, that the clerical revival itself very successfully pretends to be the democracy movement, and manipulates the awareness of both the Tibetans and the West with this deception.



[1] On a spiritual plane this bureaucracy corresponded to a meticulously detailed regulation of the monasteries and a dry scholasticism which often resulted in hair-splitting and an unending process of commentary upon the original texts. Thus commentaries upon the commentaries upon the commentaries on a particular Tantra arose. The Tibetan pleasure in the eternal repetition of the same formulas, the untiring circling of the same topics had led to the invention of the prayer mill — a unique construction which most vividly demonstrates how mechanistic and stereotyped this religion was. This was a metal cylinder, which was rotated for hours by hand by believers, usually with the mantra om mani padme hum on their lips.
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