Thursday, 1 January 2015

Comparison of Tibetan Theocracy and Bhutanese Dual System

The following points are drawn from the book "The Fourteen Dalai Lamas" by Glenn H Mullin, Jaico Publishing House, 2008 and the authors readings on Bhutan history.

1. Besides Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, there were others who were zhabdrungs by title in Tibet. Some of the zhabdrungs in Tibet played some roles in the reincarnate lives of the Dalai Lamas.

2. Of the many regional leaders in Tibet, the Desi of Tsang region, located in the southeast of Tibet, has been powerful to influence some events in the reincarnations of Dalai Lama, but there seems to be no effective national political leader. The leaders of other regions went by the titles gongma, gongsa, ponpo, wangchen, gyelpo, gyelchen, miwang, etc. Thus Tibet was considered a federation of nations.

3. The Dual System of Government, established by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in Bhutan, in my opinion, was a system that was less susceptible to absences of reincarnations and whims and incapacities of regents in its contemporary Tibet. While Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel immediately began on his political work soon after arrival in Bhutan in 1616 marked by the construction of Simtokha Dzong in 1629, the contemporary Tibetans established the Fifth Dalai Lama as their Spiritual and Temporal Rulers only in 1642.

In Tibetan system, the Dalai Lama is the spiritual and temporal head of Tibet. Under the Dalai Lama, he appointed his chief attendant, changdzo, as desi and gave him the authority over most of the temporal affairs. However, this system of desi, drawn from lay people (including monks who turned lay people) died off by the time of Sixth Dalai Lama. Since then, the country was ruled by the Dalai Lama and by the Regents during the absence or during minority years of the Dalai Lama. It is seen that aristocrats in Lhasa has many dealings with Regents some of whom were mere puppets. The English equivalent for desi in the office of Dalai Lama is “viceroy”.

In the Bhutanese system, when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel entered long and final retreat in Punakha Dzong in 1651, the polity of Bhutanese nation was firmly established through the Dual System. In this, the spiritual authority was given to the Je Khenpo while the temporal authority was given to the Druk Desi, his three Poenlops and Dzongpoens. This system had a well-defined chain of power, accountability and geopolitical regions of control and dzongs as regional offices. The added advantage of this system is it did not depend on the reincarnation of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namyel while the Tibetans spent so much time and risked while in the search of Dalai Lama reincarnate.

4. When Zhabdring Ngawang Namgyel entered into retreat in 1651, his death was kept secret for so many years. The Fifth Dalai Lama entered retreat and his death in 1682 was kept secret for many years by his trusted Desi. While this technique helped consolidate the Bhutanese state, in the case of the Dalai Lama, it led to some complications in the process of recognition of the Sixth Dalai Lama.

5. In the biography of Sixth Dalai Lama (1683-1706), references are made to Arunachal Pradesh but there are not many evidence to say it was part of Tibet. However, in this part of the story, Bhutan is written as a separate nation. In fact, the attendants of Dalai Lama express fear of Bhutanese military, their might and power in the nearby regions of Mon Tawang, present day India.

6. Kazi Ugyen Dorji had been involved in mediation processes with Tibet before the Younghusband mission of 1904. Over time, it becomes difficult for him to carry out his work to the satisfaction of the British and the Tibetans alike. Thus, First King Ugyen Wangchuck steps in to work as the mediator, which in fact (looking at it from the present standing) was a marvellous diplomatic feat.

7. The Younghusband mission of 1904 (of which First King Ugyen Wangchuck was a part of) made gains for the British India through the Anglo-Tibetan Treaty. However, in the process of getting this treaty signed, Younghusband fell out of favour of the Home Office of the United Kingdom (as described below).

The mission to Tibet in 1902-03 was jointly led by Lord Curzon, the viceroy of British government in Calcutta and Colonel Francis Younghusband. This mission travels up to the western Tibetan border and returns.

In 1904, the mission is led by Colonel Francis Younghusband. He travels up to Yatang, the border town in western Tibet and waits for order from the British Government to invade Tibet with much caution in the context of the Great Game of the British and Russian empires. He was a kind invader as he compensates the locals for the damage and pays for food for his soldiers.

While in Tibet, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama was in a losum retreat, and Younghusband forces the Regent to sign the Anglo-Tibetan Treaty of 1904. The terms of the treaty greatly favours British India. These manners of Younghusband is not favoured by the Home Office in UK, Lord Curzon is replaced by someone less knowledgeable of the situation. The gains made here is lost in the following years as all terms of this treaty was repudiated by the British-China Treaty of 1906 and British-Russia Treaty of 1907.

This mission and events surrounding 1907 was undesirable to Tibetans. However, it did so much good for Bhutan leading to establishment of secular monarchy and knighthood of Sir Ugyen Wangchuck.

8. In 1905 when Trongsa Poenlop Ugyen Wangchuck attended the reception of Prince of Wales in India, it was clearly understood that Bhutan had political unison and a state leadership. For this event as a representative of Tibet, the Panchen Lama attends it after much political, diplomatic and bureaucratic harassment in his own country.

9. The political predicament of Tibet can be understood in the context of the Great Game of Empires. Notable of the legal documents relating to this is the Chefoo Convention 1876 and revised 1886, British-China Treaty of 1906, British-Russia Treaty of 1907 and Shimla Convention 1913-14 (interested readers may explore more on this point).

10. Through the biography of series of reincarnation of Dalai Lamas, it can be seen that the Chinese (also through the course of change in their own history) claims control over Tibet using events long gone in history through interpretations suited to fit the interest of present times. As mentioned earlier in point number 4, 5 and 7, Bhutan has stood independent and stood clearly away from the Tibetan political situations through the functions of the Dual System since 1651 and the Wangchuck Monarchy since 1907.

In conclusion, I would like to focus on the significance and relevance of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and King Ugyen Wangchuck to the understanding of the present standing of a prospering Bhutanese nation. These thoughts came about after reading the book, "The Fourteen Dalai Lamas" by Glenn H Mullin, Jaico Publishing House, 2008.

The book was a biography on the sacred legacy of the Dalai Lama reincarnations. The stories and events cover almost all of Tibetan history. As biographies of lamas are written in Tibetan or Bhutanese context, it gives more importance to the religious activities and less on other activities. The comparisons drawn here are only few aspects of political state of contemporary Tibet through history.

The Dalai Lama and many other sacred lineages of reincarnations associated and mentioned in the book merit its own reverence and respect.

In this write up, the names and dates of events are not mentioned to avoid loaded-information and readers are welcome to explore on these from other sources.

To end this write up, I acknowledge that I am neither learned on the sacred masters of Tibetan and Mahayana Buddhism nor a studied scholar on history. Written on the New Year Day of 2015, Thinley Dorji, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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