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Podcast Episode 4: Tibet


Podcast Episode 4: Current Events In Tibet

I’m Brian, your host and welcome to the Daily Buddhism podcast. I have finally returned from Japan, and I’m getting settled in pretty quickly. The regular Daily Buddhism emails will resume on Monday, so watch your mailbox. And this time, I have a very special and timely subject to discuss with you: the situation in Tibet and the developments in the past few days.


OK, this isn’t exactly what I would consider to be a basic Buddhist topic, but since it’s all over the news, I thought I’d interrupt our regular schedule and do a quick overview of the situation in Tibet. The problems with Tibet are very seriously connected with Buddhism, and in part are caused by Buddhism, so it’s worth looking at very closely. If you had not heard the news elsewhere, the Chinese government is killing large numbers of Tibetan protesters. The Dalai Lama has threatened to resign if the violence doesn’t stop very soon. The Chinese claim the protesters are terrorists trying to sabotage the Chinese Olympics. So what’s this all about?

The first question is “What is Tibetan Buddhism?

Tibetan Buddhism is a flavor of Buddhism that originated in Tibet. It’s one of the more “religious” forms of Buddhism, and does indeed have gods, rituals, prayers, chanting, and magical occurrences. Beyond this starter information, the specific details aren’t really relevant to the political situation, so we can talk about that another time. The traditional leader of the Tibetan Buddhists is known as the Dalai Lama.

OK, so the next question is simply: “Who is the Dalai Lama anyway?”

The current Dalai Lama’s real name is Tenzin Gyatso. The title of Dalai Lama is handed down to the leader of Tibet and the leader of the Buddhists in that country. That’s right: He’s both the head priest and the “king” of Tibet. He’s often referred to as a “god-king,” although that’s not strictly accurate. The current Dalai Lama is the 14th man to hold the title, although there is only one Dalai Lama. How does that work, you might ask? Simple: Reincarnation. When the current Dalai Lama dies, he is reborn as a baby somewhere and a search goes on to identify this child. There are usually several candidates who must undergo rigorous testing. Eventually one of these candidates is identified as the reincarnated Dalai Lama.

What’s the Problem in Tibet?

So as I said, Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th man to hold the title, so this lineage of one Tibetan leader after another continued and has gone on for centuries. Until 1959, that is. In that year, China invaded Tibet, quickly killing or running off the non-violent Buddhist monks. Since the Buddhists vow to never harm anyone, they weren’t able to put up much in the way of defense, and the country was quickly overrun by the Chinese. The Dalai Lama fled to India, but since has travelled the world gathering more and more support for his cause. If you’ve ever seen one of those “Free Tibet” bumper stickers, this is what they are talking about. The Chinese government has always feared the Dalai Lamas charismatic way of gaining support, and today they consider him to be a terrorist leader. It’s only my opinion, but if the Dalai Lama is a terrorist, then well, … I dunno, but it just seems incredibly unlikely to me. If you’ve ever seen him interviewed, then you know what I mean.

That’s not to say that the protesters in China aren’t taking advantage of the upcoming Olympics to make their position known. I’m sure they are. But over the past week or so, protests have increased, and so has the severity of the Chinese response to the protests. China, of course, is blaming the Dalai Lama as being the mastermind behind the attacks. Today, the Dalai Lama has stated that he will resign if the violence does not stop. That’s really an interesting point: Can the Dalai Lama resign? He didn’t choose this position or become elected to it, he was born into it. You cannot quit being who you are. It’s an interesting statement from a fascinating situation. Let’s keep our eyes on the news and see where this all leads us.

And that’s it for this week’s podcast. If you have any questions on this story, please send me an email at or post your question on the show notes at . Until then, see you next time!


Dalai Lama To Resign If Violence Worsens:

Dalai Lama on Wikipedia:

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