The Dalai Lama’s Letter to John F. Kennedy

I  received this  fascinating document from a researcher and friend of Tibet, Scott Forrester.  On reading this letter I hope those Tibetans and supporters “…engaged in this hard struggle for independence” as His Holiness puts it, will feel vindicated in their stand and know that their commitment  to Rangzen reflects a true and selfless devotion to Tibet and to His Holiness’s dream that “peace and independence may be secured for Tibet and her people.”

President Kennedy’s  reply is encouraging especially his hope that “Tibet will one day be governed in accordance with the manifest wishes of the Tibetan people.” The letter was not written on the presidential letterhead as Kennedy hadn’t been inaugurated yet.


37 Replies to “The Dalai Lama’s Letter to John F. Kennedy”

  1. The US did support Tibet’s struggle in the 50s and 60s, but the international political context then was the cold war, when America and PRC were arch enemies. During that time, America did not take clear and unambigious position. They used words like human rights and wishes of the Tibetan people, rather than saying Tibetan independent sovereign rights would be supported. This is because of the Taiwan factor, which was a permanent member of the US security council, and Taiwan pressurred US not to support outright Tibetan independence.

    Now PRC and America are closely linked in economic cooperaton. All the American companies, and the American leaders, have huge economic stakes in PRC market. That’s why they simply give verbal and vague assurances of human rights and cultural freedoms for Tibetans.

    Jamyang-la’s publishing this letter might be aimed at inspiring and encouraging the Tibetan readers, but it is also a double-edge sword- it could prolong the illusion, suffered by Tibetans till now, that America would some how one day restore Tibetan independence.

    Tibetans have every legal and moral right (thanks to our non-violent struggle) to self-determination/independence, and only Tibetans should spearhead the struggle in gaining their independence, rather than relying on others. Only then can we convince the world community to support our cause.

  2. I thought we ‘ve passed that phase of illusion where we thought America or the western countires were going to help us with our true cause. Is there anybody still in that delusion?

  3. This is just a presentation of a historical document and it is fascinating to see a document like that in the present time. Extrapolation beyond that is the responsibility of the readers themselves and limited to colorfulness of their own imagination.

  4. Serendipitous!
    The letter from His Holiness (original) is addressed in His Own handwriting to US President to be JFK; while the reply from JFK seems to be a carbon copy – these documents presumably being from President JFK’s archives.

    It’s hard not to escape the poignancy of the time this letter was written.

    The contents of the letter still hold true today – Independent nations, Human rights………
    United Nations – where were you???

  5. TDG: if you find the document fascinating, then there are other documents more ‘fascinating’ than that. Especially original documents in Tibetan…!

  6. It’s hard to escape the poignancy of the time this letter was written…..
    (THAT IS what i meant)

    So Jamyangla, and all other fellow ‘ARGUMENTATIVE’ Tibetans, I wish you “Losar Tashi Delek!”

  7. utsang chithue candidates:
    1. sonam sangpo
    2. jamyang dorjee
    3. tseten norbu
    4. yeshi phuntsok
    5. pasang tsewang
    6. ngawang lhamo
    7. pema jugne
    8. dolma tsering
    9. karma yeshi
    10. dawa tsering
    11. bhumo tsering
    12. dawa phunkyi
    13. jigme jugne
    14. ugyen tenzin
    15. godrukpa kalsang phuntsok
    16. geshe kalsang damdul
    17. tenzin dhardon
    18. tsering dolma
    19. chemi youngdung
    20. sonam sangpo
    21. tsering lhakyap
    22. pema dorjee
    23. samten choedon
    24. geshe ngawang palden
    25. kalsang youdon
    26. tsering dhondup
    27. tashi dolma
    28. tseten wangchuk
    29. tsewang sonam

    dhotoe chithue candidates:

    1. bawa kalsang gyaltsen
    2. konchok chodon
    3. serta tsultrim
    4. tashi wangdu
    5. geshe youngdung gyaltsen
    6. youdon aukatsang
    7. gang lhamo
    8. choekyong wangchuk
    9. lobsang yeshi
    10. dorjee wangdu
    11. jamyang soepa
    12. tenzin norbu
    13. gapa lhamo
    14. markham choephel
    15. choephel thupten
    16. pema delek
    17. yangchen dolkar
    18. dao tseten
    19. dawa dolma
    20. rinchen khando

    dhomey chithue candidates:

    1. penpa tsering
    2. gyalrong dawa tsering
    3. thubten lungrig
    4. phelgay domatso
    5. sonam gyaltsen
    6. kirti dolkar lhamo
    7. dolkar kyab
    8. tsering youdon
    9. yeshi dolma
    10. serta tsultrim woser
    11. menpa khenrap
    12. mokra tenpa
    13. gyarig thar
    14. kunthar dhondup
    15. tenzin gompo
    16. lobsang palden
    17. karma gelek
    18. lhamo kyap
    19. shinza rinpoche
    20. lukar jam
    21. tashi dhondup
    22. lungrig gyal
    23. tsayang gyatso
    24. sungtruk kyi

    north america chithue candidates:

    1. norbu tsering
    2. diki choeying
    3. tashi phuntsok
    4. tashi namgyal
    5. kunga thinley

    europe chithue candidates:

    1. thupten wangchuk
    2. wangpo tethong
    3. chungdak koren
    4. tsering dorjee
    5. jampa samdho
    6. sonam monkher
    7. rigzin d. worpa
    8. thupten gyatso
    9. tawo lobsang palden
    10. choegyal tenzin


    “”””””””””””””I am glad to see you as a chithue candidate. However, I like to have a direct glimpse of your views to my specific questions here. Your response with answers is very much appreciated. It means a lot to me. Please don’t direct me to your site. Time consuming! Brief answers are fine. Thanks. I as a voter need to know your mind, not your “explanations” to influence my mind!
    1. Independence?
    2. Multi party or bi-party system?
    3. Separation of religion from politics or abolishing the current cholog seats?
    4. One person one vote system?
    5. Opposition party?
    6. Population/residence based voting/representation system in lower house? 30 MPs?
    7. Equal provincial representation in upper house? 5 MPs each?
    8. Based on our history of pre 59 Tibet and in exile, what are the two issues/cancers that could set us against each other, esp after HH is gone, with uncle China laughing the last laugh?
    9. Which is MORE important, good system or good men?
    10. Isn’t secular party system the best antidote to negative regionalism and sectarianism apart from practising democracy in totality? If not, why not? If yes, then why are you not f***ING vocal about it? Are you afraid of something?
    11. When will we let go this “unique exile situation” excuse that is hampering the democratization of our system?
    I am thankful for this page where I can interact and learn from informed folks like you for the expansion and solidification of ideas related not just to election and exile stuff but our cause as a whole. I hope our fb friendship will continue even long after chithue climax! Your MA level education is good, your love to serve is even better, your experience is great! Your English, articulation, performance and humility are all beautiful. I believe you have the courage and integrity to speak up for your inmost conviction. I hope you will not find any excuses not to bare your views on core political issues that concerns us voters and the six million inhabitants of Tibet under foreign occupation. Thank you.

    Regardless of your stance, best of luck! “”””””””””””””””

  8. Egypt has shown us that the “unthinkable” is now thinkable. Or in Tibet’s case, what was obviously thinkable in 1961 and then eventually became “unthinkable,” now seems thinkable again. Or surely, after Egypt, there must be some glimmer of curiosity.

    Only several months ago very few would have considered freedom from Mubarak “thinkable;” yet in several short weeks, Egyptians threw off his 30-year reign. We can no longer indulge in the thought that triumphing over oppression is unthinkable. I have no doubt that the Egyptian people’s achievement is a huge reason our Wisconsin protests are so strong. I hope and pray this fire continues to grow and spread throughout the world, and I feel a deep debt of gratitude to the people in Tunis, Egypt, and other nations of the Mideast who have fed it–some with their lives.

    For those who place nonviolence first, Egypt has shown again that freedom can be achieved through largely peaceful means. The fact that some people died is not enough to label the movement “violent.” Humans are violent by nature; if violence sparks here and there, it doesn’t mean a movement itself is “violent.” China is extremely violent towards Tibetans on a daily basis–physically, spiritually, psychologically, and economically. It is clear that independence and nonviolence are not mutually exclusive.

    Hopefully we won’t allow the deaths of any of these people–Tibetans, Egyptians, and all others who’ve believed freedom was thinkable–to have been vain, and we will all wake up from our unthinkable slumber.

  9. pretty rhetoric as always.

    Unfortunately, the PLA is not the Egyptian Army, and the Tibetan cause does not enjoy popular support in the PRC.

    Slumber away, friend.

  10. yea, Tibetan cause does not enjoy support in PRC, so Tibetans should give up fighting for Tibet and blend with Hans.

    Chinese engineer, I dont know if u are engineer by profession, but the message you are ‘engineering’ here is clear from your day one.

  11. I’m simply pointing out that one shouldn’t draw too much of a parallel between what’s happening in Egypt to the current situation in the PRC.

    How you (mis)read it is your problem.

  12. Engineer, the point for me is that people can achieve the “unthinkable.” It doesn’t necessarily matter what the unthinkable is; what matters is that the unthinkable can be accomplished.

    By the way – does anyone know why ༼མེ་ཏོག་བ་སྤྲུའི་གསར་བརྗེ༽ is being used for Jasmine Revolution? Is batru a modern word for jasmine, or is there some deeper meaning? I’m afraid folk music took a back seat to the Great Batru Mystery today, heh.

  13. Some else’s comment from Tibettimes:

    ཐེངས་འདིའི་གསར་བརྗེ་ལ་དབྱིན་ཡིག་ནང་ (Jasmine Revolution) ཞེས་བཀོད་འདུག་ཅིང་། ( Jasmine ) ཞེས་པ་ནི་མེ་ཏོག་ཅིག་གི་མིང་ཡིན་ཚོད་འདུག་ལ། དེར་ཚིག་མཛོད་དག་ཏུ་བསྒྱུར་སྟངས་མི་འདྲ་ཁ་ཤས་འདུག ༼ དབྱིན་བོད་ཚིགས་མཛོད་གསར་མ ༽རུ་”མེ་ཏོག་ཀུནྔ་” ཞེས་བསྒྱུར་འདུག་ཅིང་། ༼རྒྱ་བོད་ཚིག་མཛོད ༽ ནང་ ” མེ་ཏོག་སྤུ ” ཞེས་བསྒྱུར་འདུག དེ་བཞིན་༼ བོད་རྒྱ་དབྱིན་གསུམ་ཚིག་མཛོད་༽ ནང་ “མེ་ཏོག་བ་སྤྲུ” དང་ ” མེ་ཏོག་ཀུནྡ་” བཅས་སུ་བསྒྱུར་འདུག


  14. Kennedy did write that letter when he was President. He was inaugurated on January 20, 1961. The letter was written a couple weeks later. The decision not to use Presidential letterhead was probably political.

  15. Tenzin Nyinjey, I liked your comments very much and agree, though I would modify the following: “Tibetans have every legal and moral right (thanks to our non-violent struggle) to self-determination/independence”.

    You DO NOT possess these rights BECAUSE OF your nonviolent struggle. You possess these rights because they are your birthright. You will possess these rights if and when you do choose violence. These rights can not be taken from you. Rangzen is just your right, whether you approach it violently, nonviolently, semi-violently, or whatever! At present the movement is nonviolent, and if that is the most efficient method, it should continue.

    Now, about the Chinese Engineer. Dude, you are the ENEMY. The people on this site are not interested in NEGOTIATION with people like you. Why are you still here? Chinese loser! Go back to Beijing you dim-witted numbskull. No one wants anything from you, and no one is going to be nice to you, so why don’t you quit with all your pseudo-scholastic crap, go find a nice bride in Beijing, speak Mandarin, eat rice, make little Chinese children, and let Tibet and Tibetans be? DUDE….NOBODY WANTS YOUR PEOPLE INSIDE TIBET. It’s not like the whole “genuine autonomy” crap is what tibetans want. No one wants to live with the Chinese except the Chinese. The GA junk just came up because people didn’t feel they had the ability or possibility of driving out all the Chinese, due to the sheer numbers of the Han immigration. Chinese, you are fooling yourselves if you think Tibetans like you. You can be liked….from a distance….so this message goes out to all Chinese in Tibet….GO BACK TO BEIJING! You are not Tibetan. Tibetans are not Chinese. May each be happy IN THEIR OWN COUNTRIES.

  16. Just read this ! Very important piece of history ! Kennedy´s answer states clearly and honestly that the USA never intended to DO anything !

    The words ” sympathy ” and ” hope ” symbolize the rubber foundation on which the whole Tibetan Cause is built on !

    It wobbles left, it wobbles right, it ducks and bends in the wind !

    It still exists but it´s going nowhere !

    A Cause gets you sympathy
    A Movement gets you change

    But only if you don´t depend on anyone else to help we see in Libyia !

    Tibetans in Exile are just as alone as Tibetans inside Tibet…don´t let the illusion of the West fool you !

  17. Here’s an exchange between Eisenhower & Kennedy which touched on Tibet – it would be interesting to put together an archive of all presidential mentions of Tibet, I think.


    Eisenhower: They take any spot in the world. They don’t care where it is.

    President Kennedy: That’s right.

    Eisenhower: And it’s just [that] the question is: Are you in such a place you either can’t or won’t resist?

    President Kennedy: That’s right. Yeah.

    Eisenhower: When we got into Tibet. What is it with Tibet? Goddamned mountainous country over there, we couldn’t even reach it.1

    President Kennedy: Right.

    Eisenhower: And so, well, what we could do then was to [unclear] itself, that’s all.

    President Kennedy: Right. Right.

    Eisenhower: Now. So they get you, and they probe when it . . . when you can’t do anything. Then if they get another place where they think that you just won’t [resist] for some reason or other—

    President Kennedy: Yeah.

    Eisenhower: —why then they go ahead.

    President Kennedy: That’s right.

  18. One more tidbit:

    October 13, 1960

    The Third Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate

    R. CATER: Mr. Vice President, I’d like to return…to this area of dealing with the Communists. Critics have claimed that…you have overstated the Administration position, that you have taken a more bellicose position than President Eisenhower. Just two days ago you said that you called on Sen. Kennedy to serve notice to Communist aggressors around the world that we’re not going to retreat one inch more any place, where as we did retreat from the Tachen Islands, or at least Chiang Kai-shek did. Would you say this was a valid criticism of your statement of foreign policy?

    MR. NIXON: …you should not indicate to the Communists in advance that you’re going to surrender an area that’s free. Why? Because they know as Senator Kennedy will have to know that if you do that you encourage them to more aggression.

    MR. KENNEDY: …the pre-Vice President suggests that we should keep the Communists in doubt about whether we would fight on Quemoy and Matsu. That’s not the position he’s taking. He’s indicating that we should fight for these islands come what may because they are, in his words, in the area of freedom. He didn’t take that position on Tibet. He didn’t take that position on Budapest. He doesn’t take that position that I’ve seen so far in Laos. Guinea and Ghana have both moved within the Soviet sphere of influence in foreign policy; so has Cuba.

  19. Dear Jamyang La, I would like to have your contact email address to ask you about my Tibetan translation of your article Kyegu, On My Mind. Can you please contact me on my email Id:
    thank you.

  20. I have been following the events unfolding in Libya. The United Nations (and the USA), for the first time is doing something that is right and justified; although it may be a little delayed. As usual China and Russia, the worst regimes in the world, abstained from voting as was predicted.

    I was wondering how would our principle of non-violence hold up against some one like Qadaffi, who doesn’t hesitate for a moment to bomb his own people. Do we have a threshhold at which point we would deem violence as justified? Or is it non-violence thru and thru until no one is left to struggle? Which is more important to Tibetans, the principle of non-violence or achievement of our freedom?…just wondering…………..

  21. Aggh, TibetCul has been permanently (well…) vaporised; High Peaks Pure Earth confirms Tibet closed to all foreigners…what is going on?? They are truly afraid of a Jasmine-type revolution spreading to Tibet, imho. That must be the CPC’s number-one issue right now – revolution in China and Tibet.

  22. It is an anecdote between Dalai Lama and foreign dignities of the past and this is a piece of old information which does not make any diffrence in the status of Tibet at the time given the historical fact from its own historical reality which show vivd evidence that Tibet is an independent country. Therefore, we should not only remian the level of playing words and making the case of Tibet in the empty paper. Come out and do something concret thing which really help us to perserve out culture and save the people who suffered in Tibet.

    Jia you, Jamyang Norbu la……

  23. Its was a piece of history that when exile tibet was too young to take a gaint step in deciding the future of our country and as so his holiness .lets not repeat the history and breath a fresh air in our struggle for Tibetan issue.

  24. It is more meningful to read aritcle below than looking at American shit

    Dawa T. Norbu

    originally published as the editorial of Tibetan Review (Feb.-March 1975)

    It is now twenty-five years since the Chinese invasion, and sixteen years since the Lhasa Uprising when China turned Tibet, for all practical purposes, into a Chinese province. During this period Tibet has witnessed the biggest upheavals in her history, and Tibetan response to such challenges has also changed according to changing circumstances and situations.

    It is only inevitable that the old-fashioned Khampa-type of resistance should come to an end. For one thing that gallant but cumbersome generation is ageing, but more importantly the Tibetans have acquired in the course of their protracted struggle valuable experience. They have learned new ideas and new techniques of guerilla warfare. Now with the emergence of a new generation of Tibetan freedom fighters both in and outside Tibet, the whole conception of Tibetan nationalism has changed. If the ageing generation fought for the glory of their faith, the new generation is at pains to view the struggle in terms of nationalism as it is prevalent in the third wolrd today. Although there is some confusion at present as it usually happens during a transition, the new conception of Tibetan national liberation struggle has the potential to acquire greater clarity and in due course to crystalise into something concrete.

    One of the tragedies of the Tibetan struggle has been the agonising dilemma between a total armed struggle and a ‘peaceful means’. In the past both the nature of the Tibetan leadership and prudence preferred a ‘peaceful means’. As such the struggle has been characterised by a conspicuous lack of hatred against the enemy; at best it is a strange love-hate struggle. It is a monumental tribute to the all-embracing compassion preached by Tibetan Buddhism. But while praiseworthy in the realm of ethics, it has played a significant negative role in the Tibetan freedom struggle.

    While Muslim leaders can declare jahed against their national enemies, the Dalai Lama has made no such declaration: he has so far stuck to his belief. His stand is to be defended both on grounds of pragmatism and his non-violent creed. While Arafat forced his way into the UNO and occupy a seat in the world body, the Tibetans in exile continue to petition and pray. It is true the Palestinian Liberation Organisation is being greatly aided and armed by the Arab countries, while the Tibetans are not so fortunate. But unless a movement is at least moving in some direction and unless its leaders can demonstrate their capacity and show promising results, no external aid can be expected.
    No power wants to be involved uselessly in a cause that shows no substantive results. It is up to those who are commited to a cause to convince other friendly powers by their demonstrative results, not by pleading.
    At the same time to ignore the serious handicaps of the Tibetan struggle would be unfair. In Tibet, for example, although the nature and dialectic of the struggle has changed remarkably for the better, the young freedom fighters face greater difficulties than ever before. The Chinese occupation troops are deeply entrenched and Chinese colonial power is considerably consolidated during the past 25 years. This means that the Tibetan populace is kept under an efficient military subjugation and the chances of revolt are minimised by terror. Added to all this is that the Tibetan population is scattered over a continental area which makes mass mobilisation difficult. All thesepartly explain the phenomena that resistance exists mostly in pockets and generally lacking co-ordination.

    But the redeeming feature of the new trend is that it is not the old Tibetans who have now more or less resigned to their fate but the young, many of whom are educated in China, who are now spearheading a more effective, though on a smaller and less colourful scale, resistance against the Chinese overlordship in Tibet. Their perception of nationalism is clear and simple: Tibet belongs to the Tibetan people. And the dialectic of their struggle is that they see an ‘antagonistic contradiction’ between what they have learnt in Chinese socialist schools and what the Chinese actually practise in Tibet.

    There is nothing surprising about the emerging new trend in Tibetan resistance against the Chinese. The recent history of Marxism indicates the Marxist ideology in a closed society in which it must necessarily function if it is to paradoxically succeed, has promoted more nationalism and chauvinism than proletarian internationalism. Sadly proletarian internationalism and exploitation-free society remain as romantic and remote as the pious goals of various religions. Such lofty goals are reverendly shelved away in the time future and therefore do not concern much except for occasional invocations. What matters most and hence shapespolicy thinking is what matters now and here: ‘national interest’

  25. This is an amazing piece of history .you can tell the dalai lama has sevoted his all life for that purpose and he is truely a real leader .

    i will send this link to all my friends this must be distributed every where possibley .


  26. Hi Jamyang Norbu la,

    Tashi Delek!~

    I read some of you articles, those are great!
    I think you have to save these articles in other place. because PRC Hikers are very aggressive.

  27. Thank you Jamyang la for the letters.

    These PRC hikers are very aggressive for sure. 😉 Look how far and long they hiked to get to Tibet and conquer it. Sad we didn’t get them.

    LOL Sonam la.

  28. Thank you Jamyang la for sharing this.

    It continues to be evident even today that the Dalai Lama continues to travel and share his heart for this cause and for the tibetan struggle to gain freedom particularly america. It would be unfair on our part to say that they don’t have their interests, what ever it may be. It could always be argued from all aspects but we’d get no where, despite all claims that america is the world’s police. They’re hands are as equally tied as the next countries.

    I think every tibetan deep in their hearts feels the same pain and anguish of His Holiness. Every tibetan is trying to do something about this cause in what ever limited capacity they can.

    Tibet’s fate is in the hands of God. What we need to do is continue to pray. History records the fate of so many countries being under the British raj. I would like to take particularly india as an example. The British ruled India for almost for 200 years. Like so, Israel was also under ruled by the ancient Egyptains for about 400 to 430 years. My intention to write this today is not to say its ok to be ruled by another nation despite inhumanity, but China’s time will also come. It may not come today, tomorrow, or in our generation, but let us be reassured it will come. Despite a chaotic and disturbed world good has always prevailed. We need to find comfort in this. Our people need to be wise and start loving our own people instead of working for ourselves. We need to respect our leaders and each other and need to be a committed nation with hope that when that day arrives we are ready.

  29. Thank you for a nice Historical document and it is fascinating to see a document like that in the present time.Historical to fate under the British.

  30. yes justin,how can you proof that it wasn’t JFK signature and of course president of America don’t have time to sit and write reply in his own style of you think..

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