The Tibetocracy

Photo: Ebet Roberts/Getty Images

The Dalai Lama likes to say he’s just a simple monk, but as the leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile in India and the most-recognized face of Buddhism (not to mention a human incarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the quality of universal compassion), he means a lot of things to a lot of people. This week, His Holiness returns to the city for four days of talks at Radio City Music Hall; here, a guide to the Tibet Establishment.

Photo: Patrick McMullan

“I would say to him, ‘You don’t have to worry about these political things, let’s go study and teach the Dharma.’ And he would tell me, ‘Well, I’d like nothing better, but I have a duty.’ ”
Bob Thurman on the Dalai Lama.

Tibet House
Founded in 1987 by Richard Gere and Columbia Buddhism scholar Bob Thurman at the request of the Dalai Lama, it’s the primary New York cultural outpost for all things Tibet. Getting off the ground was a struggle: “Even the Grateful Dead wouldn’t do a benefit concert for us because they hoped to tour in China,” says Thurman. Now they raise about $2 million annually—board members include Philip Glass, Fortuna Valentino, and Bob’s daughter Uma, while performers at their most recent benefit concert included Iggy Pop and Regina Spektor.

Tibet Fund
Founded in 1981 to aid Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal, it’s the heavyweight humanitarian NGO of the Tibetan world works closely with the Dalai Lama’s government (it shares a city address with his embassy, the Office of Tibet). Raised $6.6 million last year, much of it from State Department grants (the fruits of the International Campaign for Tibet’s lobbying efforts.)

Students for a Free Tibet
An East Village–headquartered group founded in 1994 with financial assistance from Beastie Boy Adam Yauch (who also organized several all-star Tibetan Freedom Concerts during that decade). Known for hanging free tibet banners from world landmarks, it advocates full Tibetan independence while the Dalai Lama seeks only autonomy under Chinese rule, so “they don’t really get the official time of day from him,” says Tibet House executive director Ganden Thurman (Bob’s son). Raised $1.2 million in 2008.

Tibetan Community of New York and New Jersey
Founded in 1979 with support from the Office of Tibet, it was the first community organization for Tibetan immigrants in North America. During his visit, the Dalai Lama will appear at a TCNYNJ benefit for a planned $3 million community center in Queens.

International Campaign for Tibet
The Dalai Lama’s D.C. based political outreach arm, chaired by Gere. Raised $5.4 million in 2008; members of its various boards include Václav Havel, Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel, and Marvin Hamlisch.

Tibet Center
A Buddhist meditation and-study organization founded in 1975 and run by Nicholas Vreeland (famed Vogue editor Diana’s grandson), it’s never amassed enough money to buy a permanent home, renting out space in the Chinatown YMCA on Houston—but has still co sponsored five of the Dalai Lama’s city visits.

New York City’s Tibetan Population
1965: 7
2010: 7,000

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Dalai Lama
• Doesn’t read newspapers; gets news from BBC radio.
• Eats meat but not seafood. Doesn’t eat solid food after lunch.
Joined Twitter on February 22 this year.
• Gets up at 3:30 A.M.
• Tries to get to sleep every night by 8 P.M.
• Stays at the Waldorf-Astoria when he’s in New York.

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The Tibetocracy