‘buddhism and democracy’ by dalai lama

Washington, D. C., April 1993

1. For thousands of years people have been led to believe that only an authoritarian organization employing rigid disciplinary methods could govern human society. However, because people have an innate desire for freedom, the forces of liberty and oppression have been in continuous conflict throughout history. Today, it is clear which is winning. The emergence of peoples’ power movements, overthrowing dictatorships of left and right, has shown indisputably that the human race can neither tolerate nor function properly under tyranny.

2. Although none of our Buddhist societies developed anything like democracy in their systems of government, I personally have great admiration for secular democracy. When Tibet was still free, we cultivated our natural isolation, mistakenly thinking that we could prolong our peace and security that way. Consequently, we paid little attention to the changes taking place in the world outside. We hardly noticed when India, one of our closest neighbours, having peacefully won her independence, became the largest democracy in the world. Later, we learned the hard way that in the international arena, as well as at home, freedom is something to be shared and enjoyed in the company of others, not kept to yourself.

3. Although the Tibetans outside Tibet have been reduced to the status of refugees, we have the freedom to exercise our rights. Our brothers and sisters in Tibet, despite being in their own country do not even have the right to life. Therefore, those of us in exile have had a responsibility to contemplate and plan for a future Tibet. Over the years, therefore, we have tried through various means to achieve a model of true democracy. The familiarity of all Tibetan exiles with the word ‘democracy’ shows this.

4. I have long looked forward to the time when we could devise a political system, suited both to our traditions and to the demands of the modern world.

A democracy that has nonviolence and peace at its roots. We have recently embarked on changes that will further democratize and strengthen our administration in exile. For many reasons, I have decided that I will not be the head of, or play any role in the government when Tibet becomes independent. The future head of the Tibetan Government must be someone popularly elected by the people. There are many advantages to such a step and it will enable us to become a true and complete democracy. I hope that these moves will allow the people of Tibet to have a clear say in determining the future of their country.

5. Our democratization has reached out to Tibetans all over the world. I believe that future generations will consider these changes among the most important achievements of our experience in exile. Just as the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet cemented our nation, I am confident that the democratization of our society will add to the vitality of the Tibetan people and enable our decision-making institutions to reflect their heartfelt needs and aspirations.

6. The idea that people can live together freely as individuals, equal in principle and therefore responsible for each other, essentially agrees with the Buddhist disposition. As Buddhists, we Tibetans revere human life as the most precious gift and regard the Buddha’s philosophy and teaching as a path to the highest kind of freedom. A goal to be attained by men and women alike.

7. The Buddha saw that life’s very purpose is happiness. He also saw that while ignorance binds beings in endless frustration and suffering, wisdom is liberating.



‘buddhism and democracy’ by dalai lama