I would like to speak on one point today. In this world in order to enable the society to develop, all its members have to assume responsibilities and make their contributions. If we do not make collective contributions then there will be no developments. On account of differences in the capability of individuals, initiatives may come only from a few persons and not from the entire population. But all members need to make a common effort and only then will the society develop, including in the fields of culture, religion, economy, etc. It is very important to make collective efforts. In order to encourage collective efforts it is necessary to have collective responsibilities. In order to bring about collective responsibilities there has to be common benefits and rights. If there is benefit there will be responsibility. Therefore, here comes what is called democracy. Democracy as a political term is a recent phenomenon. However, concerning the basic mental attitude, Buddhism in general, and Mahanaya tradition in particular, embraces democracy. Therefore, a person who has an understanding of Buddhist tenets will have a clear perception of what is called democracy and will be familiar with it when he thinks in terms of development of the society.
Secondly, on the Tibetan issue, in our arguments with the Chinese on the true issue of Tibet, when they are unable to reply directly to us on the matter they wash their hands by referring to the old Tibetan society as one that was extremely backward, extremely uncivilised, etc. Due to these accusations, too, our democracy assumes much importance. Even before we could overcome our confusion upon becoming refugees, we framed a Constitution in 1961. However, this was not something new that we thought of only upon arrival in India. Even while in Tibet I discussed the issue with our officials like Lhandhing Khenchen Ngawang Dhakpa. Prior to that we had set up a reforms committee. Be that as it may, the thought that it is important to keep up with the times and change accordingly had occurred to us even at that time.
Having become refugees, and specially as we have to respond to Chinese challenges on international platforms, we should not hold on to the old tradition, like a dog holding onto a bone. Rather, even if we are not able to give satisfactory verbal explanations, we should depict through our actions (when we want). Therefore, after we framed the main features of our Constitution we circulated it among the Tibetan community. People from many of the Tibetan settlements expressed their discomfort and inability to accept this by saying that “it will not do if the Dalai Lama’s prerogatives are affected”. However, unless the majority has the right to alter the powers of the leader, which is the main feature of democracy, democratic identity will be lost. As this clause formed an essential feature of democracy it was retained.
Since then over 28 years have passed during which I have thought of having a review of the draft constitution by having a wide range of discussions, and making necessary amendments. During this period there have been lots of changes in the situation: for example, in 1969 I mentioned in my 10th March statement that it would depend on the wishes of the majority of the Tibetan people what would be the position of the Dalai Lama in future. A decision would be taken on the wishes of people of Tibet. Then recently, in my address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, I mentioned my decision not to lead the future elected democratic government in Tibet. Thus, what is contained in the draft constitution, as well as many other things, have changed as a result of official statements made under changing circumstances.
Also, in real terms too, I suggested a few years back that it would be good if we had a person between the Dalai Lama and the Kashag, no matter whether you call him Prime Minister or something else. As there was no particular person suitable for the job, and also because there was difficulty in carrying out the suggestion, the matter remained unimplemented. Again, a few years back I had mentioned that it would be good if the Kashag assumed more responsibilities so that it would not matter whether the Dalai Lama was there or not. We are attempting to implement this. The main objective of all these are to have a genuine democracy.
Now, as our saying “a farmer should imitate his neighbours” goes, when we look at the USSR, China, Poland and Hungary (the later two countries are slightly more progressive), there are talks of allowing political parties to come into being. Hungary is the most changed communist country followed by Poland. Be that as it may, as mentioned earlier, in those countries practising centralised democracy, if the respective governments are not to the people’s satisfaction there will not be economic development. Much as they dislike doing so, they pay lip service to democracy because democracy is what is required to fulfil the wishes of the people. On the people’s part too, in order to attain democracy and freedom they try to benefit from all areas. However, if we look at the source of the disorder then it will be seen that the communist party is unwilling to let go its centralised authority. Thus when the root is not changed, whatever democracy they try to implement will be like patching up a bad tree and will not be pure. Thus drawbacks can be seen easily.
When we look at ourselves, we find that we Tibetans have been attempting sincerely for democracy. However, we have not achieved satisfactory and beneficial results so far. When we try to find out why this has been so, we find that unless there is a change in the indisputable leadership of the Dalai Lama, our attempts at democracy will be like I mentioned about the communist countries. Although it is not forced by me, nor people do it out of fear, they respect me like “the king respected by many” mentioned in the scriptures. However, unless there is a change in the leadership of the Dalai Lama, even if we try to have democracy separately it will be something like putting a new patch on an unstable old tree.
Our constitution for the future Tibet details the powers and status of the Dalai Lama. Also, as mentioned earlier, our official statements have depicted clearly the status of the Dalai Lama. Now we have to see that we do not have to base them on the leadership of the Dalai Lama. Instead, the leader should be elected according to democratic norms. We have examples in the American system where the president is elected or the Indian and British systems where the prime minister is chosen by the elected political party. In brief, I think, we have to make changes so that being the Dalai Lama does not automatically make the individual the spiritual and temporal head.
As mentioned earlier, leave alone the situation in future Tibet, even during our period in exile our present administrative structure is not sound. On the one hand, everyone has united voluntarily, sincerely respecting the leadership of the Dalai Lama. Even though there may be sectarian and provincial arguments at the individual level, everyone eulogises the Dalai Lama. Personally, I am grateful; everyone listens to me. However, we have gone on like this for 30 years. I am now in my mid-fifties. When I reach the age of eighty or ninety I will be an old Bhikshu. At that time I will not be of any use. I will be of use till I am between sixty and seventy, that is, for another 20 years. After that the Dalai Lama will be a useless individual. Therefore, if within the next 20 years we are able to return to our country, that would be excellent. Even if we are unable to return to our country, and have to continue in exile, I think we should think of making our administration stable irrespective of the presence of the Dalai Lama. Those with responsibility should shoulder it, those giving directions should do so, and those implementing the task should do so to ensure that we have a smooth procedure.
As long as I live I will be doing my best. Irrespective of the name Dalai Lama as the spiritual and temporal head, as everyone desires me to, I will be performing sincerely whatever possible. Therefore, everything will be organised during the lifetime of the Dalai Lama. When the day comes when the Dalai Lama is no longer there, as total preparations have been made during his lifetime, it will be stable. Under the present circumstances, if something suddenly happens to the Dalai Lama it seems that we will not know what to do and there is every danger of committing a blunder. It is dangerous to put the entire responsibility on one individual. I think we now have to really ponder on this.
The current session of the National Assembly should set up a committee to look into the entire issue based on the draft democratic constitution. The committee should study the official speeches made in the recent past and see what are the good points and the bad points of our efforts for the last 30 years in India in attempting to have democracy in true terms. The committee should see how far, as per the Tibetan experience we will be able to achieve? In addition, the committee should consult eminent Indian experts on law or politics, as well as foreign experts who have sympathy for us Tibetans, and get their suggestions. Discuss and also organise special discussion sessions. There is no hurry, it could go on for one or two years. After researching and reviewing fully the committee should come out with its findings which should be circulated among the Tibetan community in India and other free countries. The findings could also be sent into Tibet through different ways so that we will have the reaction of all the Tibetan people. Thereafter, there could be a meeting which could discuss the amendments needed in the democratic constitution. The meeting could also lay clear administrative guideline for the period in which we will be in exile. If these meetings are held then I think we will not have any cause for regrets.
You should keep this in mind. I don’t have anything else in particular to say. I thank everyone.
What I have said is not something inauspicious. As we have to face the reality, I felt that it might be good if we thought along these lines. I need not repeat. It is not that I am withdrawing from my responsibilities or have become discouraged. So far, I have done everything possible and will continue to do so. Although it is not possible to do much, I will try my best. Tashi Delek! Thukje Che!
Note: His Holiness the Dalai Lama delivered the above speech extempore in Tibetan. This English translation is not issued by the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and any comparison, therefore, should not be made with the one in Tibetan. This is only for information of the visitors who can’t read Tibetan. In case of doubts, consider the original speech in Tibetan.