Last year, we introduced important reforms in our administrative set-up by which we not only increased the number of the assembly members but also did away with the system which required the members to receive my approval before they could be declared elected. You, the present assembly members, have come up through an election in which the voters demonstrated unprecedented interest and zeal.
As we have often been saying, we are a generation born during the most trying and crucial period in our history. From the darker side, it would seem that we must have accumulated very bad karma in our previous lives to have been born during such a difficult time. On the other hand, we have been presented with a singular opportunity to develop and use our potential. It is only during hard times that we human beings get the opportunity to use, and thus develop, our intelligence and capabilities. People born without difficulties do not get this opportunity.
In Buddhism also, when we cite the special characteristics of the Buddha Sakyamuni, we make reference to his having chosen to be born in our aeon when the Buddha’s task of bringing enlightenment to the world is made all the more difficult as the human beings of this aeon are imbued with more negative qualities.
During the last forty years of Chinese rule in Tibet, Tibetans both in and outside Tibet have demonstrated unflinching courage and potential. In the 1960s many non-Tibetans, who were genuinely concerned with our cause, suggested to me that the cause of Tibet was dead one and that there was no hope for us. Now, 30 years later, we see the resuscitation of Tibet’s cause. This is not wishful talk by Tibetans alone. It is a phenomenon noticed by outsiders who are taking interest in our cause. That is why, as I often say, although the Chinese have managed to swallow Tibet, they have not been able to digest it. And this is the fruit of our courage and determination.
Although the Tibetans outside Tibet have been reduced to the status of refugees, we have the freedom to exercise our rights. Our brethren in Tibet, despite being in their own country, do not even have the right to life. They can lose their lives even for small things like “wrong” facial or verbal expressions. Therefore, those of us in exile, apart from striving for our livelihood, have the responsibility to contemplate and plan for a future Tibet. Of course, as I say often, the people are the ultimate masters and therefore should have the final say in deciding our future destiny. However, because of our singularly rich experience, derived both from within our community as well as from our exposure to the modern world, we in exile are in a unique position to do this.
When we first came into exile in 1959, we decided that the future Tibet would move with the times while retaining the virtues of our traditional value system. We decided that, although we would borrow the attributes of the modern world, we would retain our good traits, which are appreciated even by the outsiders. With this in mind, we made efforts towards the democratisation of our community through measures like the election of the members of the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies. We decided that the democratic reforms thus introduced should be documented in writing so that in future there would be clear-cut guidelines and a basis for further thinking and improvement. We started working on this in 1961 and promulgated a draft democratic constitution in 1963. Of course, the ultimate decision as to whether to adopt, amend or reject this constitution is left in the hands of the Tibetan people when we are re-united in Tibet in future.
Over the years in our exile life, we have tried through various means to achieve a model of true democracy for future Tibet. The familiarity of all Tibetan exiles with the world “democracy” is indicative of this. Although the Chinese have dubbed our national struggle as one aimed at reviving the old society, the steps taken by us so far prove their accusation wrong to all those who are aware of our situation. Therefore our efforts at democratisation have had a very strong impact in Tibet also.
More recently, it has been observed that it is not conducive to the effective working of democracy if all the power is vested in one individual. Therefore, the 1963 Constitution had a clause which authorised the elected members of the Assembly to change the power of the Dalai Lama by a two-thirds majority. This is one of the chief attributes of democracy. However, with the passage of time, it was felt that this constitution must be amended in order to provide for further democratisation. As for the Dalai Lama, as I stated clearly in my official 10 March statement in 1969, it is up to the people to decide whether to retain the institution of the Dalai Lama or not. Personally, I have been telling many people that the question whether the institution of the Dalai Lama will stay in future or not should be decided by the Tibetans themselves in view of the changing needs of the times.
Although we had been trying to follow democratic norms as far as possible, we felt that, due to various internal and external factors, it was necessary to further democratise our society. Therefore, we had this special meeting last year where we said that we would revise the constitution that was promulgated in 1963 and form a committee for this purpose. As a part of this, the previous Kashag resigned and the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies was dissolved.
We have had various suggestions and discussions on the need for the office of Prime Minister. However, since we are living in India and have to take many external factors into consideration, there are problems in creating this office immediately. For the moment, therefore, we have to be satisfied with the Kashag Office, which has been in existence for the last 32 years. However, the members of the Kashag will be elected by the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies.
Now, the main task of the committee is to draft a constitution for future Tibet. No doubt, we did have some sort of a democratic constitution which we have tried to follow so far. But since that constitution was drafted for a free country, we could not implement it faithfully in our exiled setting. Therefore, we thought that apart from the constitution for future Tibet, we should have some sort of documented guidelines according to which the exiled Administration would function. Since this document takes into account the reality of our exiled situation, it will be possible for us to follow it faithfully. Therefore, it has been decided that the committee will also prepare a charter for the exiled community. As for the new constitution, there are certain provisions which come into our minds immediately. Democratic, no doubt. For numerous reasons, I have made up my mind that I will not be the head of, or play any role in, the government when Tibet becomes free. The future head of the Tibetan government must be someone popularly elected by the people. Such a step, as I have been saying repeatedly, has many advantages and will enable us to become a true and complete democracy. This means the new constitution will be a big change from the 1963 one as far as the power and the responsibility of the Dalai Lama are concerned.
Now the ideological basis of the new constitution. When the outsiders looked at Tibet, they saw a land that was peaceful and environmentally clean. They also observed that the people born and brought up in this environment were naturally peaceful, gentle, loving, caring and patient with faces that were happy. These are good characteristics, not because we are Tibetans, but because as human beings, people everywhere make efforts to cultivate these qualities. Therefore, if these qualities come naturally to us Tibetans, we should really cherish them. The future Tibet, therefore, should be a zone of peace. We keep on saying “all sentient beings” all the time. But we should try to translate this utterance into action and for this it is important that we constitutionally make Tibet a zone of peace. This will benefit not only our own people, but our neighbours as well. Since Tibet’s two neighbours, China and India, are powerful and the two most populous nations on this earth, any benefit accrued to them will have its positive fallout for the whole world. As a means to achieving this, we should make non-violence our official policy. We Tibetans cannot expect to achieve anything through military might. In the international arena, also, there are lots of changes taking place regarding this matter, especially since the Gulf War, many people have been compelled to look at this matter from a new perspective.
Now, when we try to become a complete democracy, the present election system becomes a bit of a problem. We have used the word “secularism” in our draft charter. Experts interpret this word differently. But in our Charter the word is defined in Tibetan as remey (it roughly means that the state will not discriminate among different religions). However, non-violence and peace, as I said earlier, are the essence of religion. What I normally think is that the concept of re-birth and a future life, and so on, as we have in Buddhism, may not be acceptable to all religions. However, I feel that all religions do believe in the innate goodness of human beings and that different religions exist to develop and strengthen this quality. Therefore, if our constitution is based on this principle, it, for all practical purposes, incorporates the essence of all religions, whether we give it the name of religion or not. However, if we use the word religion, we will be narrowing the scope of this constitution. On the contrary, if we use the phrase “natural and innate spiritual qualities of human beings”, it will embrace the whole of humanity. Therefore, from this point of view also, it will ensure the dovetailing of spiritual and secular values.
As opposed to other democracies, our democracy will have non-violence and peace at its roots. Which means we will have an administration based on, as we often say, the combination of spiritual and temporal values. When we see this word “secularism” in any constitution, it sounds very appropriate and good. In our case, also, it is something which we should seriously consider. But some people take secularism to mean the absence of religion. This definition goes against our tradition and the present reality of our situation. Even now, in Tibet, many people have been sacrificing their lives in the struggle for freedom of Tibet which, in their minds, is associated with the Buddhist Dharma. As for me, also, if I am working for the Tibetan cause, it is with the conviction that I am struggling not only for political freedom, but also for the freedom related to the Buddhist Dharma. This makes me feel that as a monk of the Sakyamuni Buddha, I am accumulating good karma. So, although we may understand this word secularism differently, we will have time to discuss it in detail.
Let us now come to economic policy. Generally speaking, as Mahayana Buddhists, we talk in terms of all sentient beings, meaning we will not discriminate between animals and human beings and that we will take upon ourselves the responsibility for bringing happiness to, and alleviating the sufferings of, all sentient beings.
From this point of view, China and many communist countries claim to be socialist, but when we try to analyse how much the producers actually benefit from this system, many disquieting questions come into our minds. But socialism, as generally understood in the world, if really practicable, is closer to Buddhism than other economic systems. But when one looks at the reality of today’s world, one realises that individual motivation is greater when the person sees the fruits of his effort coming directly to him. But when he is asked to do something for the whole community, he seems to lack the required motivation. Therefore, we see that whenever there is more individual incentive the progress is greater, be it in economy, culture, science or technology. Therefore, the future economic system, I personally feel, should be a mixed economic system wherein we should incorporate the good features of both the systems. I am not a legal expert, nor an economist. But these are the points we can discuss gradually.
The points I have mentioned so far are to be the inspiration behind the constitution which we are drafting for the future Tibet. The document prepared for the interim period of exile is also based on these principles as our exile life should be an educational experience for the implementation of the future constitution. The Constitution Redrafting Committee has been working on it and taking suggestions, as far as possible, from all Tibetans, and incorporating useful points put forward by anyone. As I said earlier, the present Assembly, the Eleventh Assembly of the Tibetan People’s Deputies, has emerged under a new system. The present Assembly is a legislative organ as well. Therefore, you should discuss, and debate the charter thoroughly. You may also consider the suggestions that have come in from various quarters. These are available for consultation. It will be good if you can examine the charter before finalising it. However, if there are some clauses which you think are far too important for you alone to decide, then we can call for a referendum, as the charter has made this provision also. Since this document was made by human beings, we can change or amend it. Actually this document is based on the statement I made in last year’s meeting and the ensuing discussions held at the meeting. However, if you think that there are certain points in it which need to be amended, then you, as the Assembly members, have the full authority to do so. It would not do to say, “although I do see some drawbacks in the charter, I would not say anything about it since it has already been finalised”.
In short, our efforts so far have been directed towards achieving progress. But in view of our critical position, we should be making even greater and more effective efforts. In order to achieve greater success, we must make sure that each and every individual shares the responsibility and makes a contribution towards the common cause. If each and every Tibetan makes his or here own contribution, there will definitely be a concomitant development of society. It should not be assumed that Tibetan national cause is the responsibility of the Dalai Lama alone. This kind of attitude will breed national inertia. The efforts made so far to achieve true democracy are aimed only at making our developmental efforts more effective.
Secondly, we have come a long way in establishing the truth about our cause and now the time has come when we can more or less determine how much longer it will take to accomplish this work. If we can now state unequivocally how we shall proceed in future, we will be able to muster greater international support for our cause. No doubt, the support for our cause is very much there and it keeps increasing with the passage of time. However, if we can clearly document the future course of our actions, it will give clear directions to our supporters in their efforts to continue supporting our cause. Not only in Tibet, but in China also, many people are demonstrating a new interest in, and concern for, our issue. From this point of view also, it is going to give a fillip to our cause.
The guidelines for our future direction should not be just a beautiful showpiece, but something which we are seriously going to implement.
Now, so long as we are in exile, I think it is better for the Dalai Lama to continue to take his responsibility. But the constitution of future Tibet should not give any role to the Dalai Lama. Even in exile, our society should be as democratic as possible.
Regarding the Sino-Tibetan relationship, it has now reached a new phase. Since 1970 we have had direct contact with China. Based on this I made some proposals recently. However, China has refused to respond to my proposals. On the other hand, there have been some misgivings expressed by many Tibetans. There have been opinions that my proposal gave away too many concessions to China. I made that with the hope of finding a solution to the Tibetan problem. It was aimed at the urgent need to put an end to Chinese demographic aggression in Tibet and the unlimited repression which our people continue to suffer in Tibet. However, the proposal has not succeeded in doing this. Therefore, as I said in my 10th March statement this year, if China did not respond positively, I would not consider myself bound by the concessions made in the Strasbourg statement. This means there is now no existing agenda for future Sino-Tibetan negotiations: the table is empty. So Tibetans, or the foreign friends of Tibet, should note that the solution to the Tibetan problems must come only through non-violence and human contact. There is no other course. With the Assembly of the Tibetan People’s Deputies at its core, we will have time to think and discuss this matter also.
As for the members of the Assembly, although you have come up through an election conducted on the basis of regions and religious schools, you must take the interests of the whole of Tibet into consideration and not just the narrow interests of your own region or religious school. Because once you are elected, you become members of the Assembly of Tibetan people as a whole. What happens sometimes is that, when there is work to be done for the national cause, we have to search for people or associations. But when it comes to narrow parochial interests, they seem to go out of their way to approach us and fight for them. Therefore, what we must aim at is the common cause of our society. If society as a whole is well-off, every individual or association within it will naturally gain from it. They will naturally be happy. However, if society as a whole collapses, then where can we turn to fight for, and demand, our rights? The very fact that we have somewhere to go to fight for our rights is because we have a common organisation. Therefore, so long as you sit on an Assembly seat, you should never forget that you are the representative of every Tibetan. If you can work with this attitude, then the purpose is served. This, I think, is important.
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.