GUCCI, iPod, Facebook, Tibet - these are among the world's hot brands, for which brand integrity is everything.

Tibet, as a brand, works particularly well. It brings in millions, and Hollywood A-listers queue to endorse it. What's more, they do it for free. Creative director and brand chief executive, the Dalai Lama, will visit Australia again next week. He will preside over a five-day Tibetan prayer instruction course in Sydney. A company has been set up to handle the visit - Dalai Lama in Australia Limited.

Tickets for the event can be bought online even from The Age's own Box Office website along with tickets for Bjorn Again and The Pink Floyd Experience. But few are as expensive as the Dalai Lama experience, with tickets ranging from $800 for front seats to $450 for seats at the back. Tickets for good seats for the Sunday session alone are $248. Lunch is extra - between $18 and $27 for a pre-ordered lunch box. A clothing range has even been created. There are polo shirts, baseball caps - even men's muscle tees emblazoned with the endless Buddhist knot. From street chic to urban cool, baby, this monk has funk.

Saving Tibet, like Saving Private Ryan, is a good earner. Everyone's into it, even China. Back in April, a factory in China's Guangdong province was exposed as one of the manufacturers of the Free Tibet flags so prominent in the anti-Olympic torch protests in Britain, France and the US. The factory workers claimed they had no idea what the colourful flags represented. Blame China's state-controlled media for that.

But dark clouds threaten the Tibet brand. The Dalai Lama has just been in Britain where an appearance at Royal Albert Hall was marred by more than a thousand protestors, most of whom were supporters of Dorje Shugden, a controversial deity in the complex pantheon of Tibetan Buddhist deities. The Dalai Lama, who apparently once supported this deity but then issued edicts against it, has attracted the ire of the deity's supporters.

Shugden supporters plan to protest against the Dalai Lama next week in Sydney too. Several are flying in from the US and Britain to help organise the protests. They have been tailing the Dalai Lama recently, popping up wherever he does with placards labelling him a liar and a persecutor. It's embarrassing for the Dalai Lama because these are his people.

One called on me recently in London. She was accompanied by two bodyguards, which is suggestive of how hot tempers are getting on both sides, despite the ostensible support for non-violence. The precaution might be well founded. In 1997, three monks were murdered in Dharamsala, India, where the Tibetan government-in-exile has its headquarters. A year earlier, a former Tibetan government-in-exile minister was stabbed and wounded. Both events seem to be linked to the Shugden controversy.

Selling Tibet to The World - Page 2

By Michael Backman

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