The Shadow of the Dalai Lama – Part II – 6. Regicide as Lamaism’s myth of origin and the ritual sacrifice of Tibet

© Victor & Victoria Trimondi






In the first part of our study we described the “tantric female sacrifice” as the central cultic mystery of Tibetan Buddhism. To recap, in the sacrifice feminine energies (gynergy) are absorbed in the interests of the androcentric power ambitions of a yogi. The general principle behind this “energy theft”, namely to increase one’s own energy field via the life force of an opponent, is common to all ancient societies. In very “primitive” tribal cultures this “transfer” of life energy was taken literally and one fed upon his slaughtered enemies. The idea that the sacrificer benefited from the strengths and abilities of his sacrifice was a widely distributed topos in the ancient culture of Tibet as well. It applied not just to the sexual magic practices of Tantrism but rather controlled the entire social system. As we shall see, Lamaism sacrificed the Tibetan kingship out of such an ancient way of seeing things, so as to appropriate its energies and legitimate its own worldly power.


Ritual regicide in the history of Tibet and the Tibetan “scapegoat”

The kings of the Tibetan Yarlung dynasty (from the 7th to the start of the 9th centuries C.E.) derived their authority from a divine origin. This was not at all Buddhist and was only reinterpreted as such after the fact. What counted as the proof of their Buddhist origin was a “secret text” (mani kabum) first “discovered” by an eager monk 500 years later in the 12th century. In it the three most significant Yarlung rulers were identified as emanations of Bodhisattvas: Songtsen Gampo (617–650) as an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara, Trisong Detsen (742–803) as an embodiment of Manjushri, and Ralpachan (815–838) as one of Vajrapani. Their original, pre-Buddhist myth of origin, in which they were descended from an old race of gods from the heavenly region, was thereby forgotten. From now on in a Lamaist interpretation of history, the kings represented the Buddhist law on earth as dharmarajas ("law kings”).


Thanks to older, in part contemporary, documents (from the 8th century) from the caves of Dunhuang, we know that the historical reality was more complex. The Yarlung rulers lived and governed less as strict Buddhists, rather they played the various religious currents in their country off against one another in order to bolster their own power. Sometimes they encouraged the Bon belief, sometimes the immigrant Indian yogis, sometimes the Chinese Chan Buddhists, and sometimes their old shamanist magic priests. Of the various rites and teachings they only took on those which squared with their interests. For example, Songtsen Gampo, the alleged incarnation of Avalokiteshvara, permitted human and animal sacrifices at the ratification of contracts and his own burial as was usual in the Bon tradition but strictly condemned by the Buddhists.


Alone the penultimate king of the dynasty, Ralpachan, can be regarded as a convicted, even fanatical adherent of Buddhism. This is apparent from, among other things, the text of a law he enacted, which placed the rights of the monks far above those of ordinary people. For example, whoever pointed a finger at one of the ordained risked having it cut off. Anyone who spoke ill of the teaching of the Buddha would have his lips mutilated. Anyone who looked askance at a monk had his eyes poked out, and anyone who robbed one had to repay twenty-five times the worth of the theft. For every seven families in the country the living costs of one monk had to be provided. The ruler totally subjected himself to the religious prescriptions and is said to have joined a Sangha (monastic community). It is not surprising that he was murdered in the year 838 C.E. after pushing through such a harsh regime.


The murder of King Langdarma

It is just as unsurprising that his brother, Langdarma, who succeeded him on the throne, wanted to reverse the monastic despotism which Ralpachan had established. Langdarma was firmly resolved to work together with the old Bon forces once again and began with a persecution of the Buddhists, driving them out or forcing them to marry. All their privileges were removed, the Indian yogis were hunted out of the country and the holy texts (the tantras) were burned. For the lamas Langdarma thus still today counts as the arch-enemy of the teaching, an outright incarnation of evil.


But his radical anti-Buddhist activity was to last only four years. In the year 842 his fate caught up with him. His murderer rode into Lhasa upon a white horse blackened with coal and swathed in a black cloak. Palden Lhamo, the dreadful tutelary deity of the later Dalai Lamas, had commanded the Buddhist monk, Palgyi Dorje, to “free” Tibet from Langdarma. Since the king thought it was a Bon priest who had called upon him, he granted his murderer an audience. Beneath his robes Palgyi Dorje had hidden a bow and arrow. He knelt down first, but while he was still getting up he shot Langdarma in the chest at close range, fatally wounding him, and crying out: “I am the demon Black Yashe. When anybody wishes to kill a sinful king, let him do it as I have killed this one” (Bell, 1994, p. 48). He then swung himself onto his horse and fled. Underway he washed the animal in a river, so that its white coat reappeared. Then he reversed his black coat which now likewise became white. Thus he was able to escape without being recognized.


Up until the present day official Tibetan history legitimates this “tyrannicide” as a necessary act of desperation by the besieged Buddhists. In order to quiet a bad conscience and to bring the deed into accord with the Buddhist commandment against any form of killing, it soon became evaluated as a gesture of compassion: In being killed, Langdarma was prevented from collecting even more bad karma and plunging ever more people into ruin. Such “compassionate” murders, which — as we shall see — were part of Tibetan state politics, avoided using the word “kill” and replaced it with terms like “rescue” or “liberate”. “To liberate the enemy of the doctrine through compassion and lead his consciousness to a better existence is one of the most important vows to be taken in tantric empowerment”, writes Samten Karmay (Karmay, 1988, p. 72). In such a case all that is required of the “rescuer” is that at the moment of the act of killing he wish the murdered party a good rebirth (Beyer, 1978, pp. 304, 466; Stein, 1993, p. 219).


The sacred murder

But all of this does not make the murder of King Langdarma an exceptional historical event. The early history of Tibet is full of regicides (the murder of kings); of the eleven rulers of the Yarlung dynasty at least six are said to have been killed. There is even a weight of opinion which holds that ritual regicide was a part of ancient Tibetan cultural life. Every regent was supposed to be violently murdered on the day on which his son became able to govern (Tucci, 1953, p. 199f.).


But the truly radical and unique aspect to the killing of Langdarma is the fact that with him the sacred kingship, and the divine order of Tibet associated with it, finally reached its end. Through his murder, the sacrifice of secular rule in favor of clerical power was completed, both really and symbolically, and the monks’ Buddhocracy thus took the place of the autocratic regent. Admittedly this alternative was first fully developed 800 years later under the Fifth Dalai Lama, but in the interim not one worldly ruler succeeded in seizing power over all of Tibet, which the great abbots of the various sects had divided among one another.


Ritual regicide has always been a major topic in anthropology, cultural studies, and psychoanalysis. In his comprehensive work, The Golden Bough, James George Frazer declared it to be the origin of all religions. In his essay, Totem and Taboo, Sigmund Freud attempts to present the underhand and collective killing of the omnipotent patriarchal father by the young males of a band of apes as the founding act of human culture, and sees every historical regicide as a repetition of this misdeed. The arguments of the psychoanalyst are not very convincing; nevertheless, his basic idea, which sees an act of violence and its ritual repetition as a powerful cultural performance, has continued to occupy modern researchers.


The immense significance of the regicide becomes clear immediately when it is recalled that the ancient kings were in most cases equated with a deity. Thus what took place was not the killing of a person but of a god, usually with the melodramatic intent that the ritually murdered being would be resurrected or that another deity would take his place. Nonetheless, the deed always left deep impressions of guilt and horror in the souls of the executors. Even if the real murder of a king only took place on a single occasion, the event was ineradicably fixed in the awareness of a community. It concentrated itself into a generative principle. By this, René Girard, in his study of The Violence and the Sacred, means that a “founding murder” influences all the subsequent cultural and religious developments in a society and that a collective compulsion to constantly repeat it arises, either symbolically or for real. This compulsive repetition occurs for three reasons: firstly because of the guilt of the murderers who believe that they will be able to exorcise the deed through repetition; secondly, so as to refresh one’s own strengths through those which flow from the victim to his murderers; thirdly as a demonstration of power. Hence a chain of religious violence is established, which, however, be comes increasingly “symbolized” the further the community is removed from the original criminal event. In place of human sacrifices, the burning of effigies now emerges.


The cham dance

The murder of King Langdarma was also later replaced by a symbolic repetition in Tibet. The lamas repeat the crime in an annually performed dance mystery, the ham dance. There are particular sequences which depend upon the location and time, and each sect has its own choreography. There are always several historical and mythical events to be performed. But at the heart of this mystery play there always stands the ritual sacrifice of an “enemy of the religion” for whom Langdarma furnishes the archetype.


As it is a ritual, a cham performance can only be carried out by ordained monks. It is also referred to as the “dance of the black hats” in remembrance of the black hat which the regicide, Palgyi Dorje, wore when carrying out his crime and which are now worn by several of the players. Alongside the Black Hat priests a considerable number of mostly zoomorphic-masked dancers take part. Animal figures perform bizarre leaps: crows, owl, deer, yak, and wolf. Yama, the horned god of the dead, plays the main role of the “Red Executioner”.


In the center of a outdoor theater the lamas have erected a so-called lingam. This is an anthropomorphic representation of an enemy of the faith, in the majority of cases a likeness of King Langdarma. Substitutes for a human heart, lungs, stomach and entrails are fashioned into the dough figure and everything is doused in a red blood-like liquid. Austine Waddell claims to have witnessed on important occasions in Lhasa that real body parts are collected from the Ragyab cemetery with which to fill the dough figure (Waddell, 1991, p. 527).


Yama – the death god as Cham dancer


Afterwards, the masked figures dance around the lingam with wild leaps to the sounds of horns, cymbals, and drums. Then Yama, the bull-headed god of the dead, appears and pierces the heart, the arms and legs of the figure with his weapon and ties its feet up with a rope. A bell tolls, and Yama begins to lop off the victim’s limbs and slit open his chest with his sword. Now he tears out the bloody heart and other internal organs which were earlier placed inside the lingam. In some versions of the play he then eats the “flesh” and drinks the “blood” with a healthy appetite.


In others, the moment has arrived in which the animal demons (the masked dancers) fall upon the already dismembered lingam and tear it apart for good. The pieces are flung in all directions. Assistant devils collect the scattered fragments in human skulls and in a celebratory procession bring them before Yama, seated upon a throne. With a noble gesture he takes one of the bloody pieces and calmly consumes it before giving the rest free for general consumption with a hand signal. At once, the other mystery players descend and try to catch hold of something. A wild free-for-all now results, in which many pieces of the lingam are deliberately thrown into the crowded audience. Everybody grabs a fragment which is then eaten.


In this clearly cannibalist scene the clerical cham dancers want to appropriate some of the life energy of the royal victim. Here too, the ancient idea that an enemy’s powers are transferred to oneself through killing and eating them is the barely concealed intention. Thus every cham performance repeats on an “artistic” level the political appropriation of secular royal power by Lamaism. But we must always keep in mind that the distinction between symbol and reality which we find normal does not exist within a tantric culture. Therefore, King Langdarma is sacrificed together with his secular authority at every cham dance performance. It is only all too understandable why the Fifth Dalai Lama, in whose person the entire worldly power of the Tibetan kings was concentrated for the first time, encouraged the cham dance so much.


Why is the victim and hence the “enemy of the religion” known as the lingam? As we know, this Sanskrit word means “phallus”. Do the lamas want to put to service the royal procreative powers? The psychoanalyst, Robert A. Paul, offers another interesting interpretation. He sees a “symbolic castration” in the destruction of the lingam. Through it the monks demonstrate that the natural reproductive process of birth from a woman represents an abortive human development. But when applied to the royal sacrifice this symbolic castration has a further, power-political significance: it symbolizes the replacement of the dynastic chain of inheritance — which follows the laws of reproduction and presupposes the sexual act — by the incarnation system.


In his fieldwork, Robert A. Paul also observed how on the day following a cham performance the abbot and his monks dressed as dakinis and appeared at the sacrificial site in order to collect up the scattered remains and burn them in a fire together with other objects. Since the “male” lamas conduct this final ritual act in the guise of (female) “sky walkers”, it seems likely that yet another tantric female sacrifice is hidden behind the symbolic regicide.


The substitute sacrifice

The sacrifice of a lingam was a particular specialty of the Fifth Dalai Lama, which he had performed not just during the cham dance but also used it, as we shall soon see, for the destruction of enemies. We are dealing with a widely spread practice in Tibetan cultural life. On every conceivable occasion, small pastry figurines (torma or bali) were created in order to be offered up to the gods or demons. Made from tsampa or butter, they were often shaped into anthropomorphic figures. One text requires that they be formed like the “breasts of Dakinis” (Beyer, 1978, p. 312). Blood and pieces of meat, resins, poisons, and beer were often added. In the majority of cases substitutes were used for these. Numerous Tibet researchers are agreed that the sacrifice of a torma involves the symbolic reconstruction of a former human sacrifice (Hermann, Hoffmann, Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Paul, Sierksma, Snellgrove, and Waddell).


Now there are several views about what the offering of a substitute sacrifice signifies. For example, all that is evil, even one’s own bad features, can be projected onto the torma so as to then be destroyed. Afterwards, the sacrificer feels cleansed and safe from harmful influences. Or the sacrifice may be offered up for the demons to devour, whether to render them favorable or to avert them from harming a particular individual. Here we are dealing with the bali ritual codified by the Fifth Dalai Lama. The purpose of the ceremony consists in hampering the dakinis or other malignant spirits from taking a sick or dying person with them into their domain. So that the patient is not tempted by them, a lama depicts the land of the dakinis in a truly terrible light and portrays its female inhabitants as monsters:


They consume warm human flesh as food

They drink warm human blood as a beverage

They lust to kill and work to dismember

There is not a moment in which they cease to battle and fight.

And the addressee is then abjured:

Please do not go to such a country,

stay in the homeland of Tibet!

(Herrmann-Pfand, 1992, p. 463)


With this, the soul of the sick person has indeed been deterred, but the dakinis who wanted to seize him or her have not yet been satisfied. For this reason the texts recommend a substitute sacrifice. The female cannibals are offered a bali pyramid consisting of a skull, torn-off strips of skin, butter lamps filled with human fat, and various organs floating in a strong-smelling liquid made from brain, blood and gall. This is supposed to assuage the greed of the “sky walkers” and distract them from the sick person (Herrmann-Pfand, 1992, p. 466).


The Tibetan “scapegoat”

The anthropologist, James George Frazer, likewise draws a connection between ritual regicide and the symbolic sacrificial rites practiced by many peoples at the beginning of a year. The past year, represented by the old ruler, is sacrificed, and the new year celebrates its entry in the figure of a young king. In the course of time the reigning kings were able to escape this rite, deeply anchored in human history, by setting up substitutes upon whom the ritual violence could be let out. Such sacrificial substitutes for the king were attributed with all kinds of negative features like illnesses, weaknesses, barrenness, poverty, and so on, so that these would no longer be a burden on the community following the violent death of the substitute.


This role of a human “scapegoat” during the Tibetan New Year’s feast (Monlam) was taken on by a person who bore the name of the “king of impurity”, “ox demon”, or “savior king”. Half of his face was painted white and the other half black, and he was dressed in new clothes. He then took to the streets of Lhasa, swinging a black yak’s tail as a scepter, to collect offerings and to appropriate things which appealed to him. Many also gave money, but the former owners invested all of these objects with every misfortune with which they might reckon in the future.


This continued for several days. At a pre-arranged time the “ox demon” appeared in front of Lhasa’s cathedral, the Jokhang. There a monk from the Drepung monastery was waiting for him in a magnificent robe. In the scene which was now played out he represented the Dalai Lama. First up there was a violent battle of words in which the scapegoat mocked the Buddhist teachings with a sharp tongue. Thereupon the pretend Dalai Lama challenged him to a game of dice. If the “king of impurity “ were to win, the disastrous consequences for the whole country would have been immense. But preparations had been made to ensure that this did not happen, then he had a die which displayed a one on every face, whilst his opponent always threw a six. After his defeat the loser fled from the town on a white horse. The mob followed him as far as it could, shooting at him with blanks and throwing stones. He was either driven into the wilderness or taken prisoner and locked in one of the horror chambers of the Samye monastery for a time. It was considered a good omen if he died.


Even if he was never deliberately killed, he often paid the highest price for his degrading treatment. Actually his demise was expected, or at least hoped for. It was believed that scapegoats attracted all manner of rare illnesses or died under mysterious circumstances. If the expelled figure nonetheless save his skin, he was permitted to return to Lhasa and once again take on the role.


Behind the “scapegoat ritual” — an event which can be found in ancient cultures all the world — there is the idea of purification. The victim takes on every repulsiveness and all possible besmirchment so as to free the community of these. As a consequence he must become a monster which radiates with the power of darkness. According to tradition, the community has the right, indeed the duty, to kill or drive off with an aggressive act this monster who is actually nothing more than the repressed shadowy side of his persecutors. The sacrificers are then freed of all evil, which the scapegoat takes to its death with him, and society returns to a state of original purity. Accordingly, the ritual power applied is not a matter of self-interest, but rather a means of attaining the opposite, social peace and an undisturbed state. The scapegoat — René Girard writes — has to “take on the evil power in total so as to transform it via his death into benevolent power, into peace and fruitfulness. ... He is a machine which changes the sterile and contagious power into positive cultural values” (Girard, 1987, pp. 143, 160).


The scapegoat of Gyantse, adorned with animal intestines


Yet it is not just an annual psycho-purification of Lamaism which is conducted through the Tibetan Monlam feast, but also the collective cleansing of the historical defilement which bleeds as a deep wound in the subconscious of the monastic state. The driving off or killing of the scapegoat is, just like the cham dance, a ritual of atonement for the murder of King Langdarma. In fact, numerous symbolic references are made to the original deed in the scenario of the festivities. For example, the “ox demon” (one of the names for the scapegoat) appears colored in black and white and flees on a white horse just like the regicide, Palgyi Dorje. The “ox” was also Langdarma’s totem animal. During the feast, from a mountain where the grave of the apostate king could be found, units of the Tibetan Artillery fired off three cannon, two of which were called the “old and the young demoness”. “Since the Dalai Lamas are actually, in a broad historical sense, beneficiaries of Palgyi Dorje's [Langdarma’s murderer] crime,” the ethnologist Robert A. Paul writes, “we may suppose that part of the purpose of the annual scapegoat ritual is to allow the guilt for that act to be expressed through the figure of the Ox-demon; and then to reassert the legitimacy of the Dalai Lama's reign by demonstrating his ability to withstand this challenge to his innocence” (R. Paul, 1982, p. 296).


Authors like James George Frazer and Robert Bleichsteiner are even of the opinion that the “king of impurity” in the final instance represents the Dalai Lama himself, who indeed became the “illegitimate” successor of the killed regent as the worldly ruler of Tibet. “The victim in older times was certainly the king himself,” Bleichsteiner informs us, “who was offered up at the beginning of a new epoch as atonement and guarantee for the well-being of the people. Hence the lamaist priest-kings were also considered to be the atoning sacrifice of the New Year ... “ (Bleichsteiner, 1937, p. 213). It also speaks in favor of this thesis that in early performances of the rite the substitute was required to be of the same age as the god-king and that during the ceremony a doll which represents the Dalai Lama is carried along (Richardson, 1993, p. 64). The evil, dark, despotic, and unfortunate shadow of the hierarch would then be concentrated in the scapegoat, upon whom the populace and the hordes of monks let loose could let out their rage.


Then, once the “Great Fifth” had institutionalized the celebrations, anarchy reigned in Lhasa during the period of the New Year’s festivities: 20,000 monks from the most varied monasteries had cart blanche. Everything which was normally forbidden was now permitted. In bawling and wildly gesticulating groups the “holy” men roamed the streets. Some prayed, others cursed, yet others gave vent to wild cries. They pushed each other around, they argued with one another, they hit each other. There were bloody noses, black eyes, battered heads and torn clothes. Meditative absorption and furious rage could each become the other in an instant. Heinrich Harrer, who experienced several feasts at the end of the forties, describes one of them in the following words: “As if awakened from a hypnosis, in this instant the tens of thousands plunge order into chaos. The transition is so sudden that one is stunned. Shouting, wild gesticulation ... they trample one another to the ground, almost murder each other. The praying [monks], still weeping and ecstatically absorbed, become enraged madmen. The monastic soldiers begin their work! Huge blokes with padded shoulders and blackened faces — so that the deterrent effect is further enhanced. They ruthlessly lay into the crowd with their staffs. ... Howling, they take the blows, but even the beaten return again. As if they were possessed by demons” (Harrer, 1984, p. 142).


The Tibetan feast of Monlam is thus a variant upon the paradoxes we have already examined, in which, in accordance with the tantric law of inversion, anarchy and disorder are deliberately evoked so as to stabilize the Buddhocracy in total. During these days, the bottled- up anti-state aggressions of the subjects can be completely discharged, even if only for a limited time and beneath the blows of the monastic soldiers’ clubs.


It was once again the “Great Fifth” who recognized the high state-political value of the scapegoat play and thus made the New Year’s festival in the year 1652 into a special state occasion. From the Potala, the “seat of the gods”, the incarnation of Avalokiteshvara could look down smiling and compassionately at the delirium in the streets of Lhasa and at the sad fate of his disgraceful doppelganger (the scapegoat).


The scapegoat mechanism can be considered part of the cultural heritage of all humanity. It is astonishingly congruent with the tantric pattern in which the yogi deliberately produces an aggressive, malicious fundamental attitude in order to subsequently transform it into its opposite via the “law of inversion”: the poison becomes the antidote, the evil the cure. We have indicated often enough that this does not at all work out to plan, and that rather, after practicing the ritual the “healing priests” themselves can become the demons they ostensibly want to drive out.


Summarizing, we can thus say that, over and above the “tantric female sacrifice”, Tibetan Buddhism has made all possible variants of the symbolic sacrifice of humans an essential element of its cultural life. This is also no surprise, then the whole tantric idea is fundamentally based upon the sacrifice of the human (the person, the individual, the human body) to the benefit of the gods or of the yogi. At least in the imaginations of the lamas there are various demons in the Tibetan pantheon who perform the sacrificial rites or to whom the sacrifices are made. The fiends thus fulfill an important task in the tantric scenario and serve the teaching as tutelary deities (dharmapalas). As reward for their work they demand still more human blood and still more human flesh. Such cannibal foods are called kangdza in Tibetan. They are graphically depicted as dismembered bodies, hearts that have been torn out, and peeled skins in ghastly thangkas, which are worshipped in sacred chambers dedicated to the demons themselves. Kangdza means “wish-fulfilling gifts”, unmistakably indicating that people were of the opinion that they could fulfill their greatest wishes through human sacrifices. That this really was understood thus is demonstrated by the constant use of parts of human corpses in Tibetan magic, to which we devote the next chapter.


Ritual murder as a current issue among exile Tibetans

The terrible events of February 4, 1997 in Dharamsala, the Indian seat of government of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, demonstrate that ritual human sacrifice among the Tibetans is in no way a thing of the past but rather continues to take place up until the present day. According to the police report on that day six to eight men burst into the cell of the 70-year-old lama, Lobsang Gyatso, the leader of the Buddhist dialectic school, and murdered him and two of his pupils with numerous stab wounds. The bloody deed was carried out in the immediate vicinity of the Dalai Lama's residence in a building which forms part of the Namgyal monastery. The Namgyal Institute is, as we have already mentioned on a number of occasions, responsible for the ritual performance of the Kalachakra Tantra. The world press — in as far as it reported the crime at all — was horrified by the extreme cruelty of the murderers. The victims' throats had been slit and according to some press reports their skin had been partially torn from their bodies (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 1997, No. 158, p. 10). There is even a rumor among the exile Tibetan community that the perpetrators had sucked out the victims' blood in order to use it for magical purposes. All this took place in just under an hour.


The Indian criminal police and the western media were united in the view that this was a matter of a ritual murder, since money and valuable objects, such as a golden Buddha which was to be found there for example, were left untouched by the murderers. The “mouthpiece” for the Dalai Lama in the USA, Robert Thurman, also saw the murder as a ritual act: “The three were stabbed repeatedly and cut up in a way that was like exorcism.” (Newsweek, May 5, 1997, p. 43).


In general the deed is suspected to have been an act of revenge by followers of the protective deity, Dorje Shugden, of whom Lobsang Gyatso was an open opponent. But to date the police have been unable to produce any real evidence. In contrast, the Shugden followers see the murders as an attempt to marginalize them as criminals by the Dalai Lama. (We shall discuss this in the next chapter.)


As important as it may be that the case be solved, it is not of decisive significance for our analysis who finally turns out to have committed the deed. We are under any circumstances confronted with an event here, in which the tantric scheme has become shockingly real and current. The ritual murders of 4 February have put a final end to the years of “scientific” discussion around the question of whether the calls to murder in the tantras (which we have considered in detail in the first part of this study) are only a symbolic directive or whether they are to be understood literally. Both are the case. On this occasion, this has even been perceived in the western press, such as, for example, when the Süddeutsche Zeitung asks: “Exorcist ritual murders? Fanatics even in the most gentle of all religions? For many fans of Buddhism in the West their happy world falls a part.” (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 1997, No. 158, p. 10). It nonetheless remains unclear which metaphysical speculations were involved in the bloody rite of February 4.


The ritual sacrifice of Tibet

In dealing with the occupation of Tibet by the Chinese, the otherwise most “mystical” lamas prefer to argue in exclusively western and non-mythological terms. There is talk of breaches of human rights, international law, and “cultural genocide”. If, however, we consider the subjugation of the Land of Snows and the exodus of the Dalai Lama from a symbolic/tantric viewpoint, then we reach completely different conclusions.


Primarily, as we have extensively demonstrated, a politically oriented tantra master (especially if he practices the Kalachakra Tantra as does the Dalai Lama) is not at all interested in strengthening and maintaining an established and orderly state. Such a conservative position is valid only for as long as it does not stand in the way of the final goal, the conquest of the world by a Buddhocracy. This imperial path to world control is paved with sacrifices: the sacrifice of the karma mudra (the wisdom consort), the sacrifice of the pupil’s individual personality, the symbolic sacrifice of worldly kingship, etc.


Just as the guru is able to evoke mental states in his sadhaka (pupil) which lead to the fragmentation of the latter’s psyche so that he can be reborn on a higher spiritual plane, so too he applies such deliberately initiated practices of dismemberment to the state and society as well, in order for these to re-emerge on a higher level. Just as the tantra master dissolves the structures of his human body, he can likewise bring down the established structures of a social community. Then the Buddhist/tantric idea of the state has an essentially symbolic nature and is fundamentally no different to the procedures which the yogi performs within his energy body and through his ritual practices.


From the viewpoint of the Kalachakra Tantra, all the important events in Tibetan history point eschatologically to the control of the universe by a Chakravartin (world ruler). The precondition for this is the destruction of the old social order and the construction of a new society along the guidelines laid down in the Dharma (the teaching). Following such a logic, and in accordance with the tantric “law of inversion”, the destruction of a national Tibet could become the requirement for a higher transnational Buddhocratic order.


Have — we must now ask ourselves — the Tibetan people been sacrificed so that their life energies may be freed for the worldwide spread of Lamaism? As fantastic and cynical as such a mythical interpretation of history may sound, it is surreptitiously widely distributed in the occult circles of Tantric Buddhism. Proud reference is made to the comparison with Christianity here: just as Jesus Christ was sacrificed to save the world, so too the Tibet of old was destroyed so that the Dharma could spread around the globe.


In an insider document which was sent to the Tibetologist Donald S. Lopez, Jr. in 1993, it says of the Chinese destruction of Tibetan culture: “From an esoteric viewpoint, Tibet has passed through the burning ground of purification on a national level. What is the 'burning ground'? When a developing entity, be it a person or a nation (the dynamic is the same), reaches a certain level of spiritual development, a time comes for the lower habits, old patterns, illusions and crystallized beliefs to be purified so as to better allow the spiritual energies of inner being to flow through the instrument without distortion ..... After such a purification the entity is ready for the next level of expansion in service. The Tibetans were spiritually strong enough to endure this burning ground so as to pave the way for its defined part in building the new world”. In this latter, the authors assure us, the “first Sacred Nation” will become a “point of synthesis” of “universal love, wisdom and goodwill” (quoted by Lopez, 1998, p. 204).


Or was the exodus of the omnipotent l and the killing of many Tibetan believers by the Chinese even “planned” by the Buddhist side, so that Tantrism could conquer the world? The Tibetologist Robert Thurman (the “mouthpiece of the Dalai Lama” in America) discusses such a theory in his book Essential Tibetan Buddhism. “The most compelling, if somewhat dramatic [theory],” Thurman writes, “is that Vajrapani (the Bodhisattva of power) emanated himself as Mao Tse-tung and took upon himself the heinous sin of destroying the Buddha Dharma's institutions [of Tibet], along with many beings, for three main reasons: to prevent other, ordinarily human, materialists from reaping the consequences of such terrible acts; to challenge the Tibetan Buddhists to let go the trapping of their religion and philosophy and force themselves to achieve the ability to embody once again in this terrible era their teachings of detachment, compassion, and wisdom, and to scatter the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist teachers and disseminate their teachings throughout the planet among all the people, whether religious or secular, at this apocalyptic time when humanity must make a quantum leap from violence to peacefulness in order to preserve all life on earth” (quoted in Lopez, 1998, p. 274).


Such visions of purification and sacrifice may sound bizarre and fantastic to a western historian, but we must nevertheless regard them as the expression of an ancient culture which recognizes the will and the plan of a supreme being behind every historical suffering and every human catastrophe. The catastrophe of Tibet is foreseen in the script of the Kalachakra Tantra. Thus for the current Dalai Lama his primary concern is not the freedom of the nation of Tibet, but rather the spread of Tantric Buddhism on a global scale. “My main concern, my main interest, is the Tibetan Buddhist culture, not just political independence”, he said at the end of the eighties year in Strasbourg (Shambhala Sun, Archive, November 1996).


How deeply interconnected politics and ritual are felt to be by the Kundun’s followers is shown by the vision described by a participant at a conference in Bonn ("Mythos Tibet”) who had traveled in Tibet: he had suddenly seen the highlands as a great mandala. Exactly like the sand mandala in the Kalachakra Tantra it was then destroyed so that the whole power of Tibet could be concentrated in the person of the Dalai Lama as the world teacher of the age to come.


As cynical as it may sound, through such imaginings the suffering the Tibetans have experienced under Chinese control attain a deeper significance and spiritual solemnity. It was the greatest gift for the distribution of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. [1]


The spectacular self-sacrifice has since the spring of 1998 become a new political weapon for both the Tibetans who remained and those in exile: in 1997, the majority of monks from the Tibetan Drepung monastery were convinced that the Dalai Lama would soon return with the support of the US in order to free Tibet. Thus, now would be the right moment to sacrifice oneself for His Holiness, for the religion, and for Tibet (Goldstein, 1998, p. 42). To bring the situation in their home country to the world’s attention and above all to raise the question of Tibet in the UN, Tibetan monks protested in India with a so-called “hunger strike to the death”. When the Indian police admitted the protesters to hospital after a number of days, the 50-year-old monk, Thubten Ngodub, publicly self-immolated, with the cry of “Long live the Dalai Lama!” on his lips. [2] He was declared a martyr of the nation and his funeral in Dharamsala was a moving demonstration which went on for hours. Youths wrote Free Tibet on their chests in their own blood. In a public communiqué from the youth organization (TYC) it was said that “The Tibetan people have sent a clear message to the world that they can sacrifice themselves for the cause of an independent Tibet ... More blood will flow in the coming days” (AFP, New Delhi, April 29, 1998). The names of many more Tibetans who were prepared to die for their country were placed on a list.


On the one hand, the Dalai Lama condemned such proceedings because they were a resort to violent means (suicide is violence directed against the self), on the other hand he expressed that he admired the motivation and resolve of these Tibetans (who sacrifice themselves) (The Office of Tibet, April 28, 1998). He visited the hunger strikers and blessed the national martyr, Ngodub, in a special ritual. The grotesque aspect of the situation was that, at the same time and under American pressure, the Kundun was preparing for an imminent encounter with the Chinese. Whilst he repeatedly stresses in public that he renounced an “independent Tibet”, his subjects sacrifice themselves for exactly this demand. We shall come to speak later of the discordance which arises between Lamaism and the national question.


Real violence and one’s own imaginings

Is perhaps the violence which the Land of Snows has had to experience under Chinese occupation a mirror image of its own culture? If we look at the scenes of unbounded suffering and merciless sadism which are depicted upon countless thangkas, then we have before our eyes an exact visual prognosis of what was done to the Tibetans by the Chinese. In just casting a glance at in the Tibetan Book of the Dead one is at once confronted with the same infernal images as are described by Tibetan refugees. The history of horrors is — as we know — codified in both the sacred iconography of Tantric Buddhism and in the unfolding scenes of the tantras.


In light of the history of Tibet, must Lamaism’s images of horror just be seen as a prophecy of events to come, or did they themselves contribute to the production of the brutal reality? Does the deed follow the meditative envisioning, like thunder follows lightning? Is the Tibetan history of suffering aligned with a tantric myth? Were the Buddhist doctrine of insight applied consistently, it would have to answer this question with “yes”. Joseph Campbell, too, is one of the few western authors to describe the Chinese attacks, which he otherwise strongly criticizes, as a “vision of the whole thing come true, the materialization of the mythology in life” and to have referred to the depiction of the horrors in the tantras (Joseph Campbell, 1973, p. 516).


If one spins this mythological net out further, then the following question at once presents itself: Why were Tibet and the “omnipotent” lamas not protected by their deities? Were the wrathful dharmapalas (tutelary deities) too weak to repel the “nine-headed” Chinese dragon and drive it from the “roof of the world”? Perhaps the goddess Palden Lhamo, the female protective spirit of the Dalai Lama and the city of Lhasa, had freed herself from the clutches of the andocentric clergy and turned against her former masters? Had the enchained Srinmo, the mother of Tibet, joined up with the demons from the Middle Kingdom in order to avenge herself upon the lamas for nailing her down? Or was the exodus of the omnipotent lamas intentional, in order to now conquer the world?


Such questions may also appear bizarre and fantastic to a western historian; but for the Tibetan/tantric “discipline of history”, which suspects superhuman forces are at work behind politics, they do make sense. In the following chapter we would like to demonstrate how decisively such an atavistic view influences the politics of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama through a consideration of the Tibetan oracle system and the associated Shugden affair.



[1] On the other hand, the “sacrificing” of Tibet is lamented on all sides or seven linked to the fate of all humanity: “If one allows such a spiritual society to be destroyed,” writes the director Martin Scorcese, “we lose a part of our own soul” (Focus, 46/1997, p. 168).

[2] There is a passage in the Lotus Sutra in which a Bodhisattva burns himself up as a sacrifice for a Buddha.


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