Monday, July 25, 2011

The Dalai Lama's Gold

The Dalai Lama Cables: Follow the Money – Part 1

February 14, 2011
February 13, 2011

Recently declassified US State Department cables reveal the workings of the Dalai Lama and his inner circle.

Throughout the 1950s the Dalai Lama negotiated with the US government for military and financial assistance. In the State Department document ‘United States Policy Concerning the Legal Status of Tibet – 1942 – 1956’, a summary of the US government’s response is given:
‘The United States was prepared to provide light arms, but it was not prepared to pay the expenses of the Dalai Lama and his retinue if they sought asylum abroad, because it assumed that the Dalai Lama had enough treasure to pay his own expenses.’
When the Dalai Lama finally did flee Tibet in early 1959, he sent his brother, Gyalo Thondup, to ask for financial and military assistance. Gyalo Thondup let it be known that:
‘The Dalai Lama did not bring out any treasures from Tibet and consequently was very hard up financially’.
dalai lama information
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The declassified documents show that the Dalai Lama received a personal subsidy from the US government – a covert payment arranged by the CIA – of 180,000 US Dollars per year from 1959 through till at least 1974. To put this in a modern context 180,000 dollars in the 1950s would be worth nearly 1.5 million today, and 180,000 dollars in the seventies would be worth nearly 800,000 today. Considering the US intended not to support the Dalai Lama financially that’s a pretty generous subsidy to have squeezed out of them.

An alternative version of the ‘no treasure brought from Tibet’ story can be found in The Struggle for Modern Tibet: The Autobiography of Tashi Tsering on pages 57 – 58:
‘In 1950, when it had seemed like a Chinese invasion was imminent, the Dalai Lama’s substantial stocks of gold and silver had been transported out of the country to safety in Sikkim. During the 1950s, though the Dalai Lama himself was in Tibet, the gold and silver remained in one of the storehouses of the maharaja of Sikkim. The Chinese had asked for its return but had not made an issue of it at the time. Following the Lhasa Uprising and the flight of the Dalai Lama, they claimed that the money was not the Dalai Lama’s personal fortune but belonged to the country–which they now considered to belong to them. At that point the Tibetan leaders decided it was time to secure their treasure more permanently and farther away from the border; and because of my association with Gyalola [Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s brother], I found myself involved. It was quite an operation.’

‘The gold and silver were in the form of coins and ingots. When I became involved, the gold and silver were being hand-loaded onto trucks in Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, and driven south to Siliguri, the location of the nearest airstrip. At the airport the literally millions of dollars’ worth of gold were loaded onto Dakota cargo planes and flown to Calcutta.’

‘When this precious cargo reached Calcutta, the gold was immediately put into the banks. But for a while the silver was stored in a single room on the third floor of a trusted Tibetan merchant’s house. It was my responsibility to stand guard over it, and for nearly a month I stood sentinel in a silent room full of coins and odd pieces of silver.’
It is estimated that the Dalai Lama had nearly 5 tons of solid gold at his disposal in India. For a man with tens of millions of dollars in the bank to successfully plead poverty to the United States government is quite a feat.

Admittedly, the Dalai Lama had left the bulk of his fortune back in Lhasa – for example, in the west chapel of the Potala Palace there is a tomb with nearly 5 tons of solid gold encasing it, there’s no need to mention the thousands of other golden statues, tombs and works of art.

This rather clever con trick wasn’t the only time the Dalai Lama rolled the US over, as we’ll see in part 2 (coming soon). 

For more:

While the mass of peasant refugees were sent to the camps in inhospitable Madhya Pradesh and South India, the lamas with their monks were permitted the freedom to establish religious bases wherever they could. The lamas and their monks constituted a disproportionate number of the exiles, and a large proportion of the lamas were from Kham. In just a few years there were Tibetan temples, or at least shrinerooms in old colonial style houses, in virtually every Indian hill station and at the major places of Buddhist pilgrimage on the Indian plains, particularly Bodhgaya and Sarnath. This was achieved through the financial liquification of the treasure that some lamas had managed to bring out of Tibet, through international government aid funnelled through the Dalai Lama's government in Dharamsala, through Western refugee organisations, and also through a few sympathetic private Indians and Europeans. In this way the old religious traditions and the lineal teaching were given a home and the lamas some security out of which they could provide their refugee communities with the customary religious support and also offer the Tibetan Buddhists of the southern Himalayan slopes the kind of vital mainstream Buddhist attention that they had never known before.

Where did the Dalai Lama get his gold? Why wasn't it used in Tibet to feed the hungry? This photo is of a serf in Tibet:

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