Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Father Navarette, in one of his letters to Don John of Austria, relates the following speech of the dalai-lama to his privy council: “My venerable brothers, you and I know very well that I am not immortal; but it is proper that the people should think so. The Tartars of great and little Thibet are people with stiff necks and little information, who require a heavy yoke and gross inventions. Convince them of my immortality, and the glory will reflect on you, and you will procure honors and riches.

“When the time shall come in which the Tartars will be more enlightened, we may then confess that the grand lamas are not now immortal, but that their predecessors were so; and that what is necessary for the erection of a grand edifice, is no longer so when it is established on an immovable foundation.

“I hesitated at first to distribute the agremens of my water-closet, properly inclosed in crystals ornamented with gilded copper, to the vassals of my empire; but these relics have been received with so much respect, that the usage must be continued, which after all exhibits nothing repugnant to sound morals, and brings much money into our sacred treasury.

“If any impious reasoner should ever endeavor to persuade the people that one end of our sacred person is not so divine as the other — should they protest against our relics, you will maintain their value and importance to the utmost of your power.

“And if you are finally obliged to give up the sanctity of our nether end, you must take care to preserve in the minds of the reasoners the most profound respect for our understanding, just as in a treaty with the Moguls, we have ceded a poor province, in order to secure our peaceable possession of the remainder.

“So long as our Tartars of great and little Thibet are unable to read and write, they will remain ignorant and devout; you may therefore boldly take their money, intrigue with their wives and their daughters, and threaten them with the anger of the god Fo if they complain.

“When the time of correct reasoning shall arrive — for it will arrive some day or other — you will then take a totally opposite course, and say directly the contrary of what your predecessors have said, for you ought to change the nature of your curb in proportion as the horses become more difficult to govern. Your exterior must be more grave, your intrigues more mysterious, your secrets better guarded, your sophistry more dazzling, and your policy more refined. You will then be the pilots of a vessel which is leaky on all sides. Have under you subalterns continually employed at the pumps, and as caulkers to stop all the holes. You will navigate with difficulty, but you will still proceed, and be enabled to cast into the fire or the water, as may be most convenient, all those who would examine whether you have properly refitted the vessel.

“If among the unbelievers is a prince of Calkas, a chief of the Kalmucks, a prince of Kasan, or any other powerful prince, who has unhappily too much wit, take great care not to quarrel with him. Respect him, and continually observe that you hope he will return to the holy path. As to simple citizens, spare them not, and the better men they are, the more you ought to labor to exterminate them; for being men of honor they are the most dangerous of all to you. You will exhibit the simplicity of the dove, the prudence of the serpent, and the paw of the lion, according to circumstances.”

The dalai-lama had scarcely pronounced these words when the earth trembled; lightnings sparkled in the firmament from one pole to the other; thunders rolled, and a celestial voice was heard to exclaim, “Adore God and not the grand lama.”

All the inferior lamas insisted that the voice said, “Adore God and the grand lama;” and they were believed for a long time in the kingdom of Thibet; but they are now believed no longer.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01