Tibetan dual system of government

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The Fifth Dalai Lama implemented the traditional Cho-sid-nyi (dual system) in Tibet. Lozang Gyatso.jpg
The Fifth Dalai Lama implemented the traditional Cho-sid-nyi (dual system) in Tibet.

The Dual System of Government is the traditional diarchal political system of Tibetan peoples whereby the Desi (temporal ruler) coexists with the spiritual authority of the realm, usually unified under a third single ruler. The actual distribution of power between institutions varied over time and location. The Tibetan term Cho-sid-nyi (Tibetan : ཆོས་སྲིད་གཉིས་, Wylie : chos-srid-gnyis; alternate spellings include Chhos-srid-gnyis, Chhoe-sid-nyi, and Chos-sid-nyi) literally means "both Dharma and temporal," [1] [2] but may also be translated as "dual system of religion and politics." [3]


Because the ultimate ruler is the patron and protector of state religion, some aspects of the dual system of government may be likened to the Supreme Governance of the Church of England, or even to theocracy. However, other aspects resemble secularism, aiming to separate the doctrines of religion and politics. Under the Cho-sid-nyi, both religious and temporal authorities wield actual political power, albeit within officially separate institutions. Religious and secular officials might work side by side, each responsible to different bureaucracies.


The Tibetan Kashag in 1938-39. From 1751 to 1951, the Kashag replaced the office of Desi in the Cho-sid-nyi (dual system) of Tibet Bundesarchiv Bild 135-S-13-11-31, Tibetexpedition, Minister.jpg
The Tibetan Kashag in 1938–39. From 1751 to 1951, the Kashag replaced the office of Desi in the Cho-sid-nyi (dual system) of Tibet

Since at least the period of the Mongol presence in Tibet during the 13th and 14th centuries, Buddhist and Bön clerics had participated in secular government, having the same rights as laymen to be appointed state officials, both military and civil. [1] This system stood in stark contrast with that of China, in which the Buddhist view of politics as a "dismal science" as well as the Confucian monopoly on the bureaucracy precluded such political activity by the Sangha. [1] By the Ming Dynasty (founded 1368), the Sakya held office above the heads of both components, embodying a government of both chos and srid. As a result, there were two sets of laws and officials, the religious (Tibetan : ལྷ་སདེ་, Wylie : lha-sde) and the temporal (Tibetan : མི་སྡེ་, Wylie : mi-sde), however the branches shared the government and did not operate exclusively of each other. [1] This system often operated under Mongol and Chinese overlordship [4] with the respective emperor above the local Tibetan administration.

The Tibetan form of government from 1642 until 1951 was the Cho-sid-nyi. [1] The dual system was implemented during a period of consolidation under the Fifth Dalai Lama (r. 1642–1682), who unified Tibet religiously and politically after a prolonged civil war. He brought the government of Tibet under the control of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism after defeating the rival Kagyu and Jonang sects and the secular ruler, the Tsangpa prince. The Tibetan model sought to produce a synthesis of the complementary components of the mundane norm: Dharma (Tibetan : ཆོས་ལུགས་, Wylie : chos-lugs) and Samsara (Tibetan : འཇིག་རྟེན་, Wylie : 'jig-rten). [1] [2] One basic assumption of this system is that the temporal lord depended on religion for legitimacy, while the institution of state religion depended on patronage and protection from the political élite. [1]

In 1751, the Seventh Dalai Lama abolished the post of Desi (or Regent), in whom too much power had been placed. The Desi was replaced by the Kashag (Council) to represent the civil administration. The Dalai Lama thus became the spiritual and political leader of Tibet. [5] [6] [7]

Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal instituted the Tibetan Cho-sid-nyi (dual system) in Bhutan Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.jpg
Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal instituted the Tibetan Cho-sid-nyi (dual system) in Bhutan

In Bhutan, the Cho-sid-nyi was established by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in the 17th century under the code known as the Tsa Yig. Having fled sectarian persecution in Tibet, Ngawang Namgyal established the Drukpa Lineage as the state religion. Under the Bhutanese system, the powers of the government were split between the religious branch headed by the Je Khenpo of the Drukpa Lineage and the civil administrative branch headed by the Druk Desi. Both the Je Khenpo and Druk Desi were under the nominal authority of the Shabdrung, a reincarnation of Ngawang Namgyal. After the death of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, Bhutan nominally followed the dual system of government. In practice, the Shabdrung was often a child under the control of the Druk Desi, and regional penlops (governors) often administered their districts in defiance of the Druk Desi until the rise of the unified monarchy at the beginning of the 20th century.

In Ladakh and Sikkim, two related Chogyal dynasties reigned with absolute control, punctuated by periods of invasion and colonization by Tibet, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and the British Empire. The basis of the Chogyal monarchy in both Ladakh and Sikkim was its recognition by Three Lamas, and the title Chogyal (Tibetan : ཆོས་རྒྱལ་, Wylie : chos-rgyal; "Dharma Raja" or "Religious King") itself refers to the dual system of government. Ladakh's Namgyal dynasty lasted from 1470 until 1834. The autonomy of the Tibetan élite in Ladakh, as well as their system of government, ended with the campaigns of General Zorawar Singh and Rajput suzerainty. Ladakh became a region within the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir until 2019, when it was formed into a separate union territory. The Namgyal dynasty continued in Sikkim from 1542 until 1975, when the kingdom voted by plebiscite to join the union of India.

Contemporary systems

Kingdom of Bhutan

The Bhutanese Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is the embodiment of the Cho-sid-nyi under the Constitution of Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (edit).jpg
The Bhutanese Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is the embodiment of the Cho-sid-nyi under the Constitution of Bhutan

The only modern example of a sovereign government operating under the Cho-sid-nyi is Bhutan, although it exists in a highly modified form. In 1907, in an effort to reform the dysfunctional political system, the penlops (governors) of Bhutan orchestrated the establishment of a Bhutanese monarchy with Ugyen Wangchuck, the penlop of Trongsa installed as hereditary king, with the support of Britain and against the wishes of Tibet. Since the establishment of the Wangchuck dynasty in 1907, the office of the Druk Desi has been held by the reigning Druk Gyalpo (King of Bhutan). Under the monarchy, the relative influence of the Je Khenpo has diminished. Nonetheless, the position remains a powerful one and the Je Khenpo is typically viewed as the closest and most powerful advisor to the Druk Gyalpo.

The office of Shabdrung has fared less well, and has been subsumed by the office of the Druk Gyalpo. The royal family suffered from questions of legitimacy in its early years, with the reincarnations of the various Shabdrungs posing a threat. According to one Drukpa source, the Shabdrung's brother Chhoki Gyeltshen challenged the 1926 accession of King Jigme Wangchuck. He was rumored to have met with Mahatma Gandhi to garner support for the Shabdrung against the King. The Seventh Shabdrung, Jigme Dorji was then "retired" to Talo monastery and died in 1931, under rumors of assassination. He was the last Shabdrung recognized by Bhutan; subsequent claimants to the incarnation have not been recognized by the government. [8] [9] In 1962, Jigme Ngawang Namgyal, known as Shabdrung Rimpoche to his followers, fled Bhutan for India where he spent the remainder of his life. Until 2002, Bhutanese pilgrims were able to journey to Kalimpong, just south of Bhutan, to visit with the Master. On April 5, 2003, the Shabdrung died. Some of his followers claim he was poisoned, while Kuensel took pains to explain he died after an extended bout with cancer. In early 2007, reports alleged that the current Shabdrung Pema Namgyel, then a small child, had been held under house arrest in Bhutan along with his parents since 2005 after being invited to Bhutan from his home in India. [10]

The Constitution of Bhutan, enacted in 2008, confirms Bhutan's commitment to the Cho-sid-nyi system. However the title "Druk Desi" never appears in the Constitution, and all administrative powers are vested in the Druk Gyalpo and civilian offices directly. Furthermore, the Druk Gyalpo appoints the Je Khenpo on advice of the Five Lopons, and the democratic Constitution itself is the supreme law of the land, as opposed to a Shabdrung figurehead. [3] In the 2008 Constitution, there is no reference whatsoever to the office of Shabdrung.

Government of Tibet in exile

The Parliament of the Tibetan government in exile consists of 43–46 members including 10 religious delegates (2 members each from the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism and the traditional Bön school). Aside from seats reserved for religious representatives, offices are generally open to clerics: the Prime Minister of its Parliament is Lobsang Tenzin, a Buddhist monk. The administration of the government in exile was headed for decades by the Dalai Lama, but in 2011, he ceded his temporal (secular) powers, keeping only his role as spiritual leader.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Sinha, Nirmal C. (1968-11-12). "Chhos Srid Gnyis Ldan" (PDF). Bulletin of Tibetology, Vol. V, No. 3. pp. 13–27. Retrieved 2010-10-18.
  2. 1 2 "Tibetan-English-Dictionary of Buddhist Teaching & Practice". Diamond Way Buddhism Worldwide. Rangjung Yeshe Translations & Publications. 1996. Archived from the original on 2010-03-28. Retrieved 2010-10-18.
  3. 1 2 "Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan (English)" (PDF). Government of Bhutan. 2008-07-18. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-06. Retrieved 2010-10-13.
  4. Whether historical Mongol/Chinese power over Tibet is classified as suzerainty or sovereignty is debated, with views often split along modern political lines.
  5. "His Holiness the Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso". Namgyal Monastery: Personal Monastery of His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama . 2009-12-18. Archived from the original on 2011-07-14. Retrieved 2010-10-18.
  6. Samphel, Thubten; Samphel, Tendar (2004). The Dalai Lamas of Tibet. New Delhi: Roli & Janssen. p.  101. ISBN   81-7436-085-9.
  7. Shakabpa, Tsepon W. D. (1967). Tibet, a Political History. New Haven: Yale. p. 150.
  8. Rose, Leo E. (1977). The Politics of Bhutan . Ithaca: Cornell University Press. p.  27. ISBN   0-8014-0909-8.
  9. Rongthong Kunley Dorji (2003). "My understanding of Shabdrung". The Bhutan Today. Retrieved 4 March 2009.
  10. "Respected Buddhist teacher under house arrest in Bhutan". The Buddhist Channel. Feb 3, 2007. Retrieved 4 March 2009.

Related Research Articles

History of Bhutan aspect of history

Bhutan's early history is steeped in mythology and remains obscure. Some of the structures provide evidence that the region has been settled as early as 2000 BC. According to a legend it was ruled by a Cooch-Behar king, Sangaldip, around the 7th century BC, but not much is known prior to the introduction of Tibetan Buddhism in the 9th century, when turmoil in Tibet forced many monks to flee to Bhutan. In the 12th century, the Drukpa Kagyupa school was established and remains the dominant form of Buddhism in Bhutan today. The country's political history is intimately tied to its religious history and relations among the various monastic schools and monasteries.

Drukpa Lineage Drukpa Kargyud Rinpoches

The Drukpa Lineage, or simply Drukpa, sometimes called either Dugpa or "Red Hat sect" in older sources, is a branch of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. The Kagyu school is one of the Sarma or "New Translations" schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Ngawang Namgyal Bhutanese Lama (1594-1651)

Ngawang Namgyal and known colloquially as The Bearded Lama, was a Tibetan Buddhist lama and the unifier of Bhutan as a nation-state. In addition to unifying the various warring fiefdoms for the first time in the 1630s, he also sought to create a distinct Bhutanese cultural identity separate from the Tibetan culture from which it was derived.

Chogyal Monarchs of the former kingdoms of Sikkim and Ladakh in present-day India

The Chogyal were the monarchs of the former kingdoms of Sikkim and Ladakh in present-day India, which were ruled by separate branches of the Namgyal dynasty. The Chogyal was the absolute monarch of Sikkim from 1642 to 1975, when the monarchy was abolished and its people voted in a referendum to make Sikkim the 22nd state of India.

Je Khenpo

The Je Khenpo, formerly called the Dharma Raj by orientalists, is the title given to the senior religious hierarch of Bhutan. His primary duty is to lead the Dratshang Lhentshog of Bhutan, which oversees the Central Monastic Body, and to arbitrate on matters of doctrine, assisted by Five Lopen Rinpoches . The Je Khenpo is also responsible for many important liturgical and religious duties across the country. The sitting Je Khenpo is also formally the leader of the southern branch of the Drukpa Kagyu sect, which is part of the Kagyu tradition of Himalayan Buddhism. Aside from the King of Bhutan, only the Je Khenpo may don a saffron kabney.

Zhabdrung Rinpoche title used when referring to or addressing great lamas in Tibet, particularly those who held a hereditary lineage

Zhabdrung was a title used when referring to or addressing great lamas in Tibet, particularly those who held a hereditary lineage. In Bhutan the title almost always refers to Ngawang Namgyal (1594–1651), the founder of the Bhutanese state, or one of his successive reincarnations.

House of Wangchuck dynasty

The House of Wangchuck has ruled Bhutan since it was reunified in 1907. Prior to reunification, the Wangchuck family had governed the district of Trongsa as descendants of Dungkar Choji. They eventually overpowered other regional lords and earned the favour of the British Empire. After consolidating power, the 12th Penlop of Trongsa Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck was elected Druk Gyalpo, thus founding the royal house. The position of Druk Gyalpo is more commonly known in English as King of Bhutan.


Penlop is a Dzongkha term roughly translated as governor. Bhutanese penlops, prior to unification, controlled certain districts of the country, but now hold no administrative office. Rather, penlops are now entirely subservient to the House of Wangchuck.

The Druk Desi was the title of the secular (administrative) rulers of Bhutan under the dual system of government between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Under this system, government authority was divided among secular and religious administrations, both unified under the nominal authority of the Zhabdrung Rinpoche. Druk, meaning "thunder dragon", refers symbolically to Bhutan, whose most ancient name is Druk-yul. Desi, meaning "regent", was the chief secular office in realms under this system of government.

The Khamtrul tulku lineage is part of the Dongyud Palden section of the Drukpa Lineage of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Penlop of Trongsa Bhutanese royal title

Penlop of Trongsa, also called Chhoetse Penlop, is a Dzongkha title meaning "Governor of the Province of Trongsa (Chhoetse)". It is generally given to the heir apparent of the Kingdom of Bhutan. The most recent holder of the title was King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who was then a prince. The current heir apparent is Prince Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck, because the title is reserved for the officially designated heir apparent, and is subject to change by the reigning king. Also, the reigning Druk Gyalpo may retain the office or award it to another person after coronation. The proper reference style is His Royal Highness Trongsa (Chhoetse) Penlop.


Dzongpen is a Dzongkha term roughly translated as governor or dzong lord. Bhutanese dzongpens, prior to unification, controlled certain areas of the country, but now hold no administrative office. Rather, dzongpens are now entirely subservient to the House of Wangchuck.

Trongsa Province Historical Province of Bhutan

Trongsa Province was one of the nine historical Provinces of Bhutan.

Punakha Province

Punakha Province was one of the nine historical Provinces of Bhutan.

Wangdue Phodrang Province

Wangdue Phodrang Province was one of the nine historical Provinces of Bhutan.

Daga Province

Daga Province was one of the nine historical Provinces of Bhutan.

Bumthang Province

Bumthang Province was one of the nine historical Provinces of Bhutan.

Kurtoed Province

Kurtoed Province was one of the nine historical Provinces of Bhutan.

Provinces of Bhutan

The Provinces of Bhutan were historical regions of Bhutan headed by penlops and dzongpens. Provincial lords gained power as the increasingly dysfunctional dual system of government eventually collapsed amid civil war. The victorious Penlop of Trongsa Ugyen Wangchuck gained de jure sovereignty over the entire realm in 1907, marking the establishment of the modern Kingdom of Bhutan and the ascendancy of the House of Wangchuck. Since this time, the provinces of Bhutan have been reorganized several times into what are now the twenty Districts of Bhutan (Dzongkhag). Provincial titles such as Penlop of Trongsa and Penlop of Paro carry on, however, wholly subordinate to the Royal House.