Gyari Lodi (taken from the unfinished book “Dharamsala Stories”)
October 31, 2018
Translated by ICT
Gyari Lodi has played a very important role in exiled Tibet. In his identity as the Dalai Lama’s special envoy, he has two key areas of responsibility: one is the relationship with the United States, the other is contact with China. To some extent their relationship with the United States can be seen as the lifeblood of exiled Tibet, and this relationship rests almost entirely in the hands of Gyari Lodi. He has lived in the United States for decades and worked for years, creating countless relationships among the upper echelon in America, from the White House to Congress to celebrities; he can handle them all with ease. In this regard, there’s no one in exiled Tibet who could take his place. His achievements are known and recognized by all.
Contact with China is exiled Tibet’s future, and Gyari Lodi’s trajectory in that respect has been a fluctuating line. From the beginning the exiled Tibetans were full of hope, but after a series of fruitless meetings he was subjected to increasing criticism. Some people on the internet have even accused him of “seeking profit, like a typical Western politician,” saying he “accepts Chinese hospitality, tours around like a tourist, and then says China has good intentions,” and there are Tibetans who told the Dalai Lama that he “chose the wrong person and sent him to negotiate, pointlessly, which will never achieve any results.”
Woeser wrote an article about this, entitled “Talk talk, watching the Special Envoy’s hair turn gray I feel sad.” The article says: “From 2002 to 2008 we could all see it, talks occurring every year, every year has long days and short days, and the representatives of the Dalai Lama and officials from the Chinese Communist Party United Front Work Department meet up; what they talk about isn’t very clear to the outside world, but what their talks won’t do is very clear to the outside world… There’s never a miracle, all we have is the cold truth becoming increasingly clear, that during the talks which take place far from Tibet and out of sight of the people of the Land of Snows, the representatives of the Dalai Lama turned into China’s alleged Tibetan compatriots returning to visit China. During the recently-concluded seventh meeting, the Chinese official media referred to
requests from the Dalai’s side, reporting that even the Chinese side can’t
stand it, saying that these aren’t negotiations or talks, they should be called
reprimands.” Woeser’s article concludes:
“All of this media attention means we’ve seen the Special Envoy’s image many
times. Taken six years apart, his
exhaustion and aging is surprising and sad - is his white hair from age, or has
it been accelerated by the talks? So
then, how many more times do you want to talk?
Can’t the two sides end this game of cat and mouse that has no end in
This time in the United States I met with Gyari Lodi when he sent someone to drive me to his home. I’ve been to his home on the outskirts of Washington before, and from the outside it looks humble, but it’s said that the area is good, a place where the rich convene. Gyari Lodi is wearing a red Tibetan shirt, and he hugs me like an old friend. We haven’t seen each other in seven years, and in the meantime we’ve both experienced many things. As we chatted, I said that he looks good, and he smiled and said that he got a special haircut yesterday and put on some red clothes today so that I would see that he has a good complexion, and that he’s not as tired and old as the Woeser article said. He hopes that I’ll tell Woeser about his appearance! (Later I told Woeser about his complexion online, and Woeser said ‘nying je,’ a Tibetan interjection with no exact equivalent in Chinese, with multiple meanings such as ‘it’s a pity’ and ‘heartache’ and more.)
I told Gyari Lodi: It certainly isn’t his responsibility that the talks haven’t borne fruit. This kind of negotiation won’t get results no matter who tries to lead it. Although I’ve been watching it from the start, I didn’t think it would work (that was the difference between Gyari Lodi and I in the beginning): First, history is developing, and the current government cannot rule China forever. Right now the talks are going nowhere, but that doesn’t mean they’ll go nowhere in the future. From this perspective the current talks can prepare us for the future; another important thing is that the lack of results shows people that there is no hope of settling the Tibet issue with an authoritarian China. It’s always right to go on the road of negotiation, and if the weaker side doesn’t try all kinds of paths to reach reconciliation, it will always regret missed opportunities for reconciliation. Seven years of fruitless negotiations makes people realize that actually there is no such opportunity, dispelling unrealistic fantasies. You’ve made all this effort yourself, and you’re no longer expecting the other side to give you a gift. I said, you’ve done this because of your humility and perseverance. This is part of the Bodhisattva spirit of saving all living things - “I won’t go to Nirvana until everyone can go to Nirvana.”
These words aren’t a compliment, they’re my sincere thoughts, and it’s basically the same as an article I wrote entitled “The Talks Without Results have an Impact.” From his demeanor, Gyari Lodi seemed quite perceptive as I spoke. However, I later learned that he had seen my article earlier, because his people translate Chinese articles about him into Tibetan, and it’s said that he takes those articles very seriously.
When I first visited America in 2000 he asked me to meet, as he was quite appreciative of an article I had published a few months earlier entitled “The Dalai Lama is the Key to the Tibet Issue,” and said that he could recommend it to be published in The Diplomat, America’s most important magazine. Unfortunately, I had already sent it out in Chinese, and The Diplomat will not use articles that have already been published. In my nearly 17,000 Chinese character article, my main argument concluded:
“For China’s long-term interests, Beijing’s wisest approach isn’t the current strategy of delay, nor is it to pin their hopes on the death of the current Dalai Lama. This is deeply unwise. They should instead seize the opportunity of the Dalai Lama being alive and healthy, and when addressing the Tibet issue they should try reach a permanent solution as quickly as possible. The passage of time is not only unfavorable to the Dalai [Lama], it’s equally bad for China and even more disadvantageous. The Dalai Lama shouldn’t be put forward as an obstacle and enemy to the resolution of the Tibet issue, because he’s more like the key that completely solves the Tibet issue. Of course, if handled poorly the same key that opens the door can also be the key that locks it shut.”
As for the “locked door,’ I wrote: “Whichever way the Tibet issue develops, his [the Dalai Lama’s] attitude is very important, as the people of Tibet follow him in their hearts and follow his will, the monks would go through hell or high water for him, the exile government would do anything for him, and the international community respects his opinion and gives him the utmost support. If he’s pushed into a hostile position, with no dialogue and no way for cooperation, harboring grievances, then once the shockwave of social transformation arrives there’s no guaranteeing that he won’t be tempted to follow the tide and turn towards the position of Tibetan independence. At that time, the various factors that have promoted Tibetan independence would integrate and join forces under his banner, and the chances of Tibet separating from China would be greatly increased. In this regard he plays a greater role than 100,000 troops, and his old lama’s body could mobilize the endless wealth of the West. Anyone who looks down on him is making a great mistake, and will pay a heavy price.”
The impact of my saying this, as Chinese person, wasn’t the same as when Tibetans say it. Tibetans generally appreciated my article, including the Communist Party’s aging Tibetan high official Phuntsok Wangyal, who included it in a letter to General Party Secretary Hu Jintao on how to resolve the Tibet issue. This put my conclusion in an important position. Tibetans regard the Dalai Lama as the key to the Tibet issue, both out of great trust in and reliance on the Dalai Lama, but also because of the great difference in strength, as Tibet has almost no capital with which to compete with China. He undoubtedly greatly increases Tibet’s weight and bargaining power, and can also inspire confidence among the Tibetans.
Later some people looked at the dates; my article was published in 2000, the Chinese government began contacting the Dalai Lama in 2001, and in 2002 they began talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives. Could there be a connection? Although the purpose of my article was to encourage Beijing to be wise, I had no expectation that they would really put these solutions into practice. Even if they hear about some thinking from outside the system, this small and unseen abacus can’t change the underlying strategy, and no one is being responsible for the nation’s long-term interests. I later met Professor Elliot Sperling of America’s Indiana University in Dharamsala. He believed that the only purpose of the talks between Beijing and the Dalai Lama is to get the Dalai Lama to repeatedly declare to the world that Tibet belongs to China and that Tibet does not pursue independence, depriving appeals for independence inside Tibet of their legitimacy.
Beijing has largely achieved this goal. On October 29, 2008, British Foreign Secretary Miliband said, in a statement on the British Foreign Ministry website, that the British government explicitly recognizes Tibet as a part of China and that China has sovereignty over Tibet. This is the first time in history that Britain formally recognized China’s sovereignty over Tibet. Although everyone on Earth knows that Britain is doing this as a transaction to get China’s help during the financial crisis, when Woeser and I met the Counsellor of the British Embassy during a party in Beijing and asked him about it, he responded that even the Dalai Lama has acknowledged Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, and that we can’t refrain from acknowledging it if he doesn’t.
Back then, I looked at one the proposals in my article: “Early on he (the Dalai Lama) expressed his acceptance of ‘Tibet staying in China,’ if said in a legal statement, could completely legitimize China’s sovereignty over Tibet, immediately resolving the long-standing Tibet issue. One of the reasons for the dispute over Tibetan sovereignty is the lack of such a legal statement in line with international norms. The Dalai Lama is an internationally-accepted representative of the Tibetan people, and if he were to sign such a statement it could be regarded as the Tibetan people’s choice, and would be the best guarantee for putting an end to Tibetan independence. There would be no need to mention Tibetan independence ever again in Tibetan or Western society, and the tangled history would be limited to academic debate, with politics written off. Such a legal statement could only be recognized by the world if it was written by the Dalai Lama, and only the Dalai Lama could get the majority of Tibetans to agree.” If Beijing was really inspired by these words, then what I advocated – resolving the Tibet issue through dialogue with the Dalai Lama – was cast aside, and the negotiations were only used as bait, inducing hope in the Dalai Lama to get him to repeatedly declare to the world that Tibet is not independent, achieving the effect Sperling spoke about. This certainly wasn’t my intent, and the idea pains and torments me, but some Tibetans still think I gave the Chinese government this idea.
When I met with Gyari Lodi again in the United States, eight or nine years had passed. Time is the greatest teacher, and we all come to understand some issues. I told Gyari Lodi that when I wrote: “The Dalai Lama is the Key to the Tibet Issue,” the main objective in my heart was Communist Party decision-makers, and that I wanted them to read it, and to affect them so they understood that settling the Tibet issue with the Dalai Lama through a win-win situation is the best way. But the Dalai Lama’s role as the key may or may not be played, depending on whether or not the Communist Party chooses to use him as a key; if not, then he loses his role as the key. From the experience of these years we can already see very clearly that the Communist Party can’t be counted on to solve the Tibet issue, you can only count on yourself. The key has changed, and for this reason I would take “The Dalai Lama is the Key to the Tibet Issue” and change it to “Democracy is the Key to Resolving the Tibet Issue.”
In addition to replacing “Dalai Lama” with “Democracy,” I also added the word “resolving.” At the time there were many people who put the title of my article as “The Dalai Lama is the Key to Resolving the Tibet Issue,” and I always wanted to correct them by pointing out that the word “resolving” isn’t there because, as the article says, “if handled poorly the same key that opens the door can also be the key that locks it shut.” I think it’s very important to highlight this point for China, because where China is concerned an independent Tibet certainly isn’t the solution to the Tibet issue. But if we see democracy as the key, then the resolution of the Tibet issue has been put into the hands of the Tibetans themselves, and now independence is fine, and staying within China is fine too, they’re both resolutions. Moving the issue from China’s hands to Tibet’s hands is a natural change. And I haven’t changed my position because I’ve changed, but rather because those who decide China’s position haven’t changed, forcing me to make a change.
There’s another reason for this. When people are young, they think they have more time. Back in 2000 I felt like 2020 was very far away, so I wrote in the article that “the Dalai lama is 65 years old, and with today’s standards of human health it’s no challenge to live for another 20 years. China’s political transformation will almost certainly arrive within the next 20 years. With these time constraints, the Dalai Lama’s role is very important.” After another decade the Dalai Lama is almost 75, and the Communist Party believes it has entered “the best period,” and now at this age I know that another decade will pass by very quickly, and the Dalai Lama will be 85, and I dare not conclude that China’s political transformation will certainly arrive. So, I need to take into account a scenario where the Dalai Lama passes away while the Communist Party still holds power, and the Tibet issue still hasn’t been resolved. Without the Dalai Lama, what could be the key? In my view there is nothing other than democracy.
Tibetans don’t necessarily like the idea of changing the key to the Tibet issue. “The Dalai Lama is the Key to the Tibet Issue” has become a common saying, and many people know the title of my article. If I change it, would that be misunderstood as me losing confidence in the Dalai Lama? Would it bring other reactions? Gyari Lodi’s assistant, Bhuchung, tactfully told me not to put it that way in public.
Bhuchung is the Vice President of the International Campaign for Tibet, which has tens of thousands of members and is one of the most powerful Western organizations working to aid Tibet. He’s also a member of the Tibetan negotiating delegation, so it’s reasonable to say he doesn’t have a lowly position, but the impression that he gave me was that he’s mainly an assistant to Gyari Lodi. Many of Gyari Lodi’s affairs are handled by Bhuchung, and he arranged my first meeting with Gyari Lodi in 2000. With other people Bhuchung is often cracking jokes, whereas in front of Gyari Lodi he always maintains a respectful and subordinate posture, like a secretary always ready to take notes. He was there every time I meet with Gyari Lodi, but he almost never made any statements. Suggesting that I not publicly change the key was the first time he ever expressed his own opinion to me, and I could see that he either strongly disagreed with the idea himself, or knew clearly that Gyari Lodi would agree.
But Gyari Lodi himself didn’t echo Bhuchung’s statement; he told me a story: He had recently met an old lama who had come out of Tibet in Nepal. The old lama was very troubled by the impasse in the Sino-Tibetan dialogue- with the Dalai Lama’s age increasing, once he was gone what could Tibet do in the future, who could they rely on? The old lama hoped Gyari Lodi could give him an answer. Gyari Lodi told him not to worry, because the Dalai Lama already has a madey trulku.
Madey trulku refers to a Tibetan Buddhist rinpoche (called ‘Living Buddha’ by the Chinese) who personally selects their reincarnation while still alive and instructs and nurtures the reincarnation before they die. This way the reincarnation can take over immediately after the previous one passes away, thus avoiding the interval between two incarnations of a rinpoche. The old Tibetan lama was very surprised when he heard Gyari Lodi’s words, and asked, “Where is this madey trulku?” Gyari Lodi replied, you ought to see it! Madey trulku is by the Dalai Lama’s side every day, and is carefully nurtured by the Dalai Lama, and has already begun to shoulder the heavy task of leading the Tibetan people. The old lama asked, even more urgently, who is this madey tulku? This time Gyari Lodi smiled and told him- it’s democracy!
This is a truly moving story, like one of the classics. But the simple word ‘democracy’ can be a blurry concept, because nowadays which country on Earth doesn’t strike up the banner of ‘democracy?’ Even the Communist Party flaps its mouth about ‘democracy.’ This gives ‘democracy’ an almost absurd nature. If we want it to be the Dalai Lama’s madey trulku, we need to look at the specific contents of democracy. This kind of democracy must be able to unite Tibetans behind the Dalai Lama, and lead to wisdom and reason. Exiled Tibet has always been very proud of its democratic achievements, and Gyari Lodi’s remarks at a seminar in America are representative. He said: “Today we have a fully-functional democracy, so if at last we return to Tibet, I tell my friends, we won’t have returned empty-handed. We will bring a precious gift – a gift called democracy – back to our home in Tibet, and perhaps this gift could enrich China.”
I’m doubtful about this kind of argument. I’ve analyzed the exiled Tibetan democratic system, and if this system were implemented in Tibet in the future it’s very likely that there would be a trend towards the pursuit of Tibetan independence, defeating the Dalai Lama’s promise of “remaining in China.” Then Chinese ethnic sentiment would also use the banner of “democracy” to defend the country, inciting large-scale Chinese support. The result of democracy would be war between Chinese and Tibetans (including other minorities who seek independence), which would bring disaster to both peoples. In this the Tibetan people would have more to lose, while fascism would return to China.
I see it like that because the transition from authoritarianism to representative democracy is often accompanied by a serious “public square effect,” in which the elite, the public, and the media have extreme interactions. The elites fight over popular votes, the public grows more intense because of elite incitement, and the media links the entire society together, like a group of people in a public square becoming more excited, cheering, or creating a disturbance. Especially during early democratic transitions, political parties and the media suddenly have free space, but a system of checks and balances has yet to be formed. The goal is to stake claims, and all parties fight for the upper hand, to see who can get the most votes and popular support. On any topic – for Tibet, it would be independent statehood – there’s extreme speculation, so that social sentiment increasingly runs in just one direction. Modern media and communication technologies can greatly magnify this “square,” expanding it rapidly, so that rulers and power blocs can only give up on rationality and join the “square.” The “public square effect” is an important part of why modern democratic transitions and ethnic conflict go hand in hand. If Tibet doesn’t want to fall victim to Bosnian War-style bloodletting, it must seek to avoid the “public square effect” democratic model, instead of just unthinkingly taking the concept of democracy to be a politically-correct concept.
Although there are successful democratic models in the world, that doesn’t mean that societies with different base conditions can adopt the same model. Copied carelessly, democracy very rarely produces pleasant fruit. It’s easy to see that in reality, some countries that copy the same democratic model get real democracy, others get the mere form of democracy, and others remain essentially authoritarian. This is enough to explain the problem with copying democracy. When people do small projects there are normally several options to compare and choose; how can there be just one model for implementing social changes?
In the end, what kind of democracy does exiled Tibet have? The institutional design on paper is another copy of the Western representative framework. If we can say it has a difference, it’s in the combination of politics and religion. Is that a step forward, or backward? This is debated within the exile community. However, after a system is implemented it creates “inertia,” just as “path dependence” makes raw rice into cooked rice. Vested interest groups form within the system, which use the rules to hinder any changes to the system. They’re strong inside the system, and the rules are in their favor (which benefits them, and makes them strong), and want to use the rules themselves make it almost impossible to change the rules- and this is why social change sometimes requires revolution. In a so-called revolution the old rules are essentially unable to make change, and so the original rules are abolished and a new set of rules are created to make change.
There are two types of revolution: bottom-up and top-down. The former requires the transfer of power and the overthrow of the old authorities, and the implementation of new rules by new authorities, which often leads to significant unrest during the process of taking power, and comes at a significant price. In the latter, the original power-holders consciously carry out what is referred to as reform or change, but in fact this is also a revolution in which the old rules are abolished and new rules are created. It costs much less, as long as personal interests are put aside, and with far-sightedness, wisdom, and skillful operation, the resistance of vested interests of the high-ranking authorities can be overcome. Someone who can play this role only comes by once in a hundred years, or perhaps a thousand.
I regard the Dalai Lama as someone who could play such a role. The reason I wanted to go to exiled Tibet to investigate the progress towards democracy is because the Dalai Lama is there. Whether or not their experiment will succeed, without the authority of the Dalai Lama it could not have been done at all. So I said the following to Gyari Lodi:
“Although I no longer describe the Dalai Lama as the key to the Tibet issue, and instead say that democracy is the key to resolving the Tibet issue, I think that having the sort of democracy that can resolve the Tibet issue depends on the Dalai Lama. This sort of democracy isn’t just democracy for exiled Tibet, it’s also democracy for inside Tibet, and for Chinese society, and it could even make a contribution to world democracy. From this point of view, the Dalai Lama is the key to Tibetan democracy, and we can therefore say that the Dalai Lama is the key to the key to resolving the Tibet issue.”
Saying it like this seemed to be more acceptable, and everyone seemed satisfied. While I waited in America to head to India I repeatedly contacted Gyari Lodi, and met with him in his home a good number of times, eating meals prepared by his wife. He often received important people, I forget their names; not American senior figures or State Department officials, but Indian defense ministers and their like. I used each of our contacts to speak about topics related to democracy by stages, and although it wasn’t clear what he could do to help, he had a high position and having his support would always have some benefit.
Unfortunately Gyari Lodi and I could only communicate through interpreters, which is a considerable obstacle. Generally communicating through interpreters isn’t an issue, but during in-depth conversations the quality of interpreting becomes crucial. In 2002, during a four-week visit to the United States, a professional interpreter from the State Department who accompanied me and who was, in my opinion, quite capable, told me at the end of the trip that he had only been able to translate 85% of my ideas. At the time I thought, oh god, the essence of my words must be among the 15% which wasn’t translated! When Gyari Lodi and I spoke we used two interpreters, so they could rotate in and out or complement each other, and one of them had previously been a scholar at the Central Nationalities University in Beijing. Neither of them were good at expressing themselves, or at least the Chinese I heard had many problems. What I said to Gyari Lodi about democracy by stages would be even more indecipherable if the interpreting was incomprehensible. Gyari Lodi was confused about democracy by stages until right before I went to India, but what he said on that day was interpreted very well, like poetry. He said:
“I believe you’re very clear about democracy by stages, but, like in tantric study, will the disciple be able to learn? Looking at opportunities and blessings, I still don’t have this good fortune, but I’ve certainly taken advantage of your time here to take the opportunity to thoroughly understand it. Or so I’d say! Our Tibetan Buddhism has terma and to retrieve them you need a dakini [a female being who acts as a muse for spiritual practice], which you already have, but you also need Dharma Protectors, and I can be one. Today is the first day of Saga Dawa, indicating good fortune in the future.
“Saga Dawa” is the month-long festival for Tibetan Buddhists commemorating Sakyamuni’s birth, enlightenment, and death.
Terma is a word referring to hidden treasure, a means of passing on the Dharma in Tibetan tantric Buddhism. The last hopes of Tibetan tantric Buddhism may be pinned on terma, because terma can never be destroyed! Terma materials can repair the Dharma, and they can take the form of Buddhist statues, heavenly nectar, and more, but the most important ones are Buddhist scriptures, which must be recovered at a specific time by a treasure-revealer. When Gyari Lodi said these words he put a metaphor into my heart, of a treasure-revealer uncovering the Dharma, and the Dakini refers to Woeser. The treasure-revealer will get married, and his wife is a Dakini who can help him reveal treasures. I wrote down Gyari Lodi’s poem and sent it to Woeser, making her very happy. And, I think I have a truly powerful Dharma Protector…
(Note: This unfinished section ends here. If not for the death of Mr. Gyari Lodi, it would still just be on my computer. I hope to finish “Dharamsala Stories” one day, with my observations on exiled Tibet and my reflections on Tibet’s future from the three months I lived in Dharamsala. This section was written before I went to Dharamsala, and later I replied to a suggestion from Gyari Lodi, who invited me to help write a book – “Reflections from a distance” and “The wisdom of writing a great history.”)