DHARAMSALA, India, March 18, 2008— -- A Chinese crackdown can test even a monk's patience.
What else could explain the dozens of monks who burned a Chinese flag in Dharamsala a few hundred feet from the Dalai Lama's home on Tuesday? What else could explain the 500 monks in Choephel Shing Dogo, Tibet who on Tuesday walked willingly into waiting, armed police, according to Tibetan exile groups?
Their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has preached a "third-way" politics for more than 20 years, a policy that insists on non-violence protest and diplomacy with the Chinese government.
But the man Buddhists believe is Buddha reincarnated acknowledged on Tuesday that after so many years of Chinese control in Tibet, his politics have led to no change. And he said he understands why many of the protestors who follow him are resorting to a more violent and aggressive stance against the Chinese than the one he won a Nobel Peace Prize for preaching.
"Recent years, our approach, good approach, no concrete improvement inside Tibet. So naturally, more and more sign of frustrations of people living inside Tibet and also outside," he told reporters in the room where he created his political philosophy.
"Our only weapon, our only strength, is justice, truth," he said. "But effect of truth, justice sometimes take longer time. Weapons power -- immediate effect."
The Dalai Lama says he is sleeping well despite the most significant protests in Tibet in 20 years. But he is facing a movement that is getting angrier and hungrier, one filled with critics not of his history or his spiritual leadership, but of his politics.
"There is a growing frustration within the Tibetan community, especially the younger generation," said Tsewang Rigzin, the president of the Tibetan Youth Congress. "His holiness' brand of 'middle way' has been in existence for the last 20 years. And as of right now, nothing has come of it whatsoever."
Which is not to say he is not the protestors' spiritual inspiration. While he sits in exile in Dharamsala, thousands of people have flooded streets in Tibet, risking everything.
"We are ready to die, if that is the way to get Dalai Lama back," a Tibetan monk in Xiahe, China, told a television station on Monday. "We don't have weapons, just some rocks. If the army starts shooting, some of us will escape, but some will continue fighting."
In a brief interview after his press conference here, ABC News asked the Dalai Lama whether protestors willingly walking into the line of fire help the Tibetan cause.
"No," he responded.
When asked why not, he said "even thousands of Tibetans sacrifice their lives, not much help."
Does that mean they should stop? "No use," he replied.
He may believe that, but according to Tibetan exile groups here, tens of thousands of people are marching in Tibet, knowing they are at risk, believing that dying for their cause will help Tibet gain autonomy or independence.
The Dalai Lama, who has angered some of his supporters by calling only for Tibetan autonomy, held a media conference on Tuesday so he could respond to accusations leveled by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
"There is ample fact -- and we also have plenty of evidence -- proving that this incident was organized, premeditated, masterminded and incited by the Dalai clique," Wen said in Beijing on Tuesday morning of the protests throughout Tibet.
"By staging that incident, they want to undermine the Beijing Olympic Games, and they also try to serve their hidden agenda by inciting such incidents," Wen said.
The Dalai Lama, who laughed and joked with the press during the almost two-hour press conference, directly denied the accusation.
"We also want to make clear to the Chinese -- these movements, public movements, beyond our control. How can I control?" he said. "Morally speaking also, I always consider myself free spokesman for the Tibetan people, not their leader or master. So I do not want to say them, do this, do not do this."
He leveled his own criticisms of the Chinese government, accusing it of overseeing a "rule of terror" in Tibet and of deliberately misrepresenting the Tibetan community's stance.
"They create artificial fact. Out of fear. Out of suspicion. And to some extent hatred."
The Dalai Lama may be able to control his own hatred. But he can't control that of his followers.
"Of course I am angry, when I see my people get hurt," a Tibetan monk in Kumbum in Qinghai, China, told a television network.
Over the weekend monks at the Kumbum monestary held demonstrations in the streets. Since then, though, the Chinese military has surrounded the monastery, and the monks haven't dared repeat their protests.
"People are not treated equally in this country," the monk said.
But Chinese see the protestors as the criminals.
"The Dalai group and some other people in the western countries look at the beating, burning and smashing activities in the riots in Lahsa as 'peaceful demonstrations.' They described our handling of the violence that harms people's life, security and social order as a crackdown on peaceful protests," said Champa Phuntsok, Tibet's governor. "It's groundless. No democratic country in the world will tolerate this kind of crime."
Recognizing the possibility that things may get out of control, the Dalai Lama reiterated a stance he took during the last mass protests in Tibet in the late 1980s: that he step down as head of the government in exile if his followers abandoned his non-violent philosophy.
In 1987, he said, he was interviewed by the British journalist Jonathan Mirsky. "And he asked me, if things become out of control, violence, then what you do? Then I categorically, immediately, I told [him], if things become out of control, then my only option is complete resign. Complete resign," the Dalai Lama said.
After a pause, he said he still held the "same position."
But, he said, he hopes that the situation calms down. And in an acknowledgement that his own supporters were beyond his control, he appealed not to Tibetans to calm the hostilities down, but to the world.
"Please international community," he said, "help us to cool down situation."