New Kadampa Tradition, Shugden and the Dangers of an Exclusivist Attitude

GUEST POST by Joanne Clark

Recently, I sat for long hours throughout the night and day beside my mother’s bed as she lay dying. I sang her hymns. I read her verses from the bible. My mala was around my wrist, ready, but it remained mostly unused. Instead, I entered my mother’s devout Christian world in order to better help her. Not only did this give her comfort, it comforted me as well to know that she could be helped. I felt a strong gratitude towards Christianity for that fact.

Unfortunately, this was not the case eleven years before, when I sat beside my father’s deathbed. All I could do then was recite mantra. I lacked the courage and insight to see what he might find comforting and what his unique needs were. I dared not enter his theistic world to better help him die and provide him comfort—because I was Buddhist. I was exclusively Buddhist, “pure” Buddhist, born-again, Kagyu Buddhist. I had taken a vow to help all sentient beings, down to the smallest insect, until every one is totally helped—yet I lacked a perspective broad enough to help my own father.

I was also psychologically damaged at that time, a cult-follower. I dressed, acted, decorated my house and spoke in ways that divorced me from my family and friends. I thought in ways that divorced me from my greater intelligence. My life had become narrowed to a single, totalistic view of the world, a simplistic menu of mantra, devotion and puja practice—nothing like the vast expanse of the Buddha’s wisdom—of Nagarjuna and Tsongkhapa’s teachings. I did not read or commune with any views outside of my single Tibetan Buddhist lineage of the time. I was a nice person, but I was unprepared for reality, unable to help a soul. This is what I call cultism—and sectarianism—at their very worst.

When I turned away from my last Dharma center and decided to study and practice in exile, through the guidance of HH Dalai Lama, it took me many years to break free of that exclusivist, narrow outlook. I wanted one practice, one thought, one “pure tradition” that would help me get better. Instead, I found myself in a nuanced, multi-dimensional, contextual, complex reality—the Buddha’s reality. There was this approach to a bad day—and that approach—and yet another approach still. I kept my vows and commitments strictly, but I discovered that they also were vast and inclusive of many realities and approaches. This new outlook became the source of my mental health and my ability finally to sit beside my mother’s deathbed and provide some small assistance in her greatest time of need.

In this context, whenever I hear protestors accusing the Dalai Lama of limiting their religious freedom, I am always shocked. That is very far from my own experience! The Dalai Lama’s approach to dharma gave me back my religious freedom—it freed me from deep biases and exclusivism. In those dark, early days of my recovery, the words that penetrated most deeply were his instructions to “read more books,” to “become a 21st century Buddhist,” to “know the reality” and “study, study, study.” By this, he did not mean his own books—he meant the texts by the Nalanda scholars and Buddha himself and many other great Buddhist scholars, such as Kamalashila and Tsongkhapa. He also meant books by scientists and leaders of other religions. He meant that we live in a world of mass communication and interdependence and it is no longer appropriate or wise or compassionate to hide away and practice in a narrow, exclusive reality.

Recently, my courage in this regard was challenged when I found myself engaged in debate with bloggers on the website Dialogue Ireland. The comments there were full of vitriol and venom towards my teacher, the Dalai Lama, accusing him of deceit and evil intentions, of being the mastermind of a great conspiracy to take over the minds of millions of human beings. They called him a “lamaist cult leader.” Despite the fact that their comments were mostly silly, illogical and childish, they seemed to have a momentum and power and so I took upon myself the job of checking on their allegations to see if they contained any truth.

I read widely. I read Tibetan history according to legitimate mainstream scholars—and also according to biased reports such as the Trimondis, Chinese propaganda and Dalai Lama devotees. I read from the Dalai Lama’s autobiographies. I read from the websites that were quoted on Dialogue Ireland. I discovered that their allegations were all either complete fabrications, statements and facts taken out of context, or flagrant exaggerations.

Later, I discovered that there was a strong possibility these commenters had some connection to Geshe Kelsang Gyatso—because he was the only Tibetan Buddhist lama they refused to criticize. So I started reading his books as well. I have been surprised to find within them an exclusivist approach to the Dharma that is very different from the approach of my own teacher. So today I am asking how far that exclusivism goes? I ask if those protestors shouting themselves hoarse outside a Dalai Lama teaching would allow themselves the freedom to do as I am doing? Would they read the Dalai Lama’s two autobiographies? Would they read his Buddhist teachings and books on secular topics? Would they attend his conferences with scientists and religious leaders? Would they read histories of Tibet by peer-reviewed scholars? If not, how can they give themselves the right to shout?

Last October, I attended a teaching with the Dalai Lama in New York city. While waiting in line, I was subjected to a small band of protestors, shouting over and over “Dalai Lama go home.” I smiled to myself, thinking how silly that sounded, thinking to myself, “The Dalai Lama would love to go home.” But then I noticed the elderly Tibetan woman in front of me. She looked hurt and bewildered by the shouting. I wondered about her life in Tibet before leaving, whether she had suffered badly. I wondered whether she had family still in Tibet whom she worried about.

I write this only to remind Shugden protestors that reality is much bigger than their one narrow view, that there are suffering human beings involved and so, it is their duty to read widely and objectively—to know all the details and complexities of the reality they are claiming to know.

In this context, I question the exclusivist approach to dharma being taken within the NKT study program. I question its potential danger to students and to others. I question whether it is realistic—or does it limit students’ ability to help others and honor their bodhisattva vows? With only one teacher interpreting the entire Buddhist canon, with very few exceptions, I believe that the NKT study program risks being biased and dangerously limited. In his commentary on Lamrim, Geshe Kelsang writes:

If possible, we should study Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way and Chandrakirti’s Guide to the Middle Way together with their commentaries, especially the commentaries by Je Tsongkhapa. A commentary to the Guide to the Middle Way can be found in the book Ocean of Nectar [by Geshe Kelsang himself]. The texts by Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti are like doors that open the meaning of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, and Je Tsongkhapa’s texts are like keys to those doors. However, if we cannot study so extensively we should study and practice according to the following Lamrim instructions because they contain the essential meaning of all the other great texts. (p. 518)

Given that “the following Lamrim instructions” are Geshe Kelsang’s own interpretation of Lamrim, and given that he lists another of his commentaries in the list of important texts students should read, it would seem that he is telling students that his teachings are sufficient and all that they need to read in order to tread on the Buddhist path.

I have never read such a statement from any teacher before. One trouble with this statement is that it might easily feed laziness and wrong views in a practitioner. For example, we in the West are prone to searching for that quick fix, that pill, that easy, cheap, fast path to enlightenment. If someone says we don’t need to work as hard as Milarepa or other great masters of the past, we might not want to argue!

I have learned from hard experience myself that the greatest, most precious of freedoms is the freedom to be informed. The first step in any totalitarian effort, whether of governments or cults, is to limit access to information. This can be blatant or very subtle—externally imposed or internally imposed. Robert Lifton (1986), who is still quoted today in discussions about cultic characteristics in groups, listed “milieu control” as the first of eight such characteristics:

  1. Milieu Control.  This involves the control of information and communication both within the environment and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in a significant degree of isolation from society at large.

Ex-NKT students claim that milieu control exists in the NKT culture. They say that it is subtle in the early years of students’ involvement, but by the time a student becomes a teacher, the milieu control is blatant and rigid. They claim that teachers are not allowed to study from texts other than Geshe Kelsang’s prescribed texts—and are expelled if they bring texts from outside into NKT premises. Is that true?  I cannot judge myself, but I think NKT students need to ask it—again and again.

Recently, I read a comment by an NKT student on this website which alarmed me:

… the Heart Commitment of Dorje Shugden is to follow one tradition purely without mixing while respecting everyone else’s spiritual path as appropriate for them. So individually, we choose to not mix, but externally we respect everyone’s freedom to practice as they wish.

Is this true? What does it mean to make this “Heart Commitment” (with capital letters) and not mix? I would ask Shugden worshippers if this heart commitment means any of the following:

  • Not reading the texts or scriptures from other religious traditions.
  • Not singing hymns or chanting from another tradition in order to provide comfort to another human being or bring a spirit of religious tolerance within one’s community.
  • Not finding out about other Buddhist traditions, such as other Tibetan Buddhist lineages, Zen, Theravada etc., in order to deepen one’s own understanding and ability to help others.
  • Not investigating the words of one’s teacher and being prepared to question them if necessary.
  • Not doing any of these things because of fear. Not reading a Nyingma text or a text by the Dalai Lama because the thought of doing so brings fear.

If Shugden supporters answer yes, would that be milieu control? Is the NKT approach to dharma exclusive and sectarian? Here is another passage from Geshe Kelsang’s commentary on Lamrim, that demonstrates his perspective on this:

If we know how to practice the whole Lamrim, we shall know how to practice all other scriptures. Whenever we receive any other teaching, we shall know where to place it within Lamrim. In this way, each new instruction we receive will amplify and reinforce those we have already learnt. Suppose someone is given a handful of rice that he or she cannot use immediately.  If that person has nowhere to store the rice he will not be able to put it to good use and will have to throw it away, but if he has built a storeroom to hold bags of different cereals he will be able to put the rice in the appropriate bag and increase his store. When the time is right he will be able to put the rice to good use. Lamrim is like such a storeroom.  For example, Hinayana teachings can be stored amongst the stages of the path of a person of intermediate scope. Mahayana teachings can be stored amongst the stages of the path of a person of great scope, Vajrayana teachings can be stored amongst the stages of Secret Mantra within Lamrim, teachings on dependent relationship and the middle way can be stored within the stage of superior seeing, and so forth. Without studying the entire Lamrim we may receive many different instructions and still be wondering what to do, like a person standing with a handful of rice wondering where to put it. If we are like this, we shall waste most of the instructions we receive.

Indeed, this simile lays a broad outline for Lamrim, one that could easily incorporate a non-sectarian and inclusive approach to dharma practice and study. However, in the next paragraph, Geshe Kelsang narrows this perspective down dramatically:

While the great Tibetan Master Kyabje Phabongkha was living in Kham in eastern Tibet, a Geshe arrived there from one of the great Gelug monasteries and went to receive practical instructions from a Nyingma Lama. The local people concluded that the Gelugpas had no practice since such a great Geshe needed to go looking for one. When Kyabje Phabongkha heard of this he said that it was a great shame that this Geshe had wasted so many years of instruction by failing to realize that all his previous study was to be put into practice. It was possible for the Geshe to lose so much time because he had not built the storeroom of Lamrim within his own mind. (p. 21)

Would Tsongkhapa agree with such a sectarian division carved into Lamrim? Though he was often critical of unethical practices within other lineages, he himself studied and received vows from teachers of different Tibetan Buddhist lineages. In fact, Atisha’s lineage of Lamrim spread throughout Tibet and not only to the Gelug lineage. HH Dalai Lama states in his commentary on Lamrim Chenmo:

Following Atisha’s arrival in Tibet and composition of the Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, each of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism in some way adopted the pattern and structure of the stages of the path teachings. For example, in the Nyingma tradition, Longchenpa’s Mind at Ease presents the path in a way that follows the basic structure of Atisha’s approach. The same is true of Sakya Pandita’s Clear Elucidation of the Buddha’s Intent, which could be seen as a fusion of the stages of the path teachings with mind-training (lojong) teachings. Similarly, in the Kagyu tradition, Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation presents the basic structure of the path in a manner just like what Atisha lays out. Sometimes, slightly different sequences are adopted, but basically in all of these traditions the stages of the path are very similar. For example, the Jewel Ornament of Liberation speaks of turning one’s mind away from four things.  If you look at these four turnings of the mind, they echo teachings in the stages of the path tradition. (p.20)

Historically, it has been a tradition among Tibetan masters to study and also to practice all the lineages—Sakya, Kagyu, Gelug, Nyingma—and Jonang as well. This is an excellent model. We should adopt a nonsectarian approach, not just studying all of these lineages but also putting all of their teachings into practice. (p. 24)

Why couldn’t the great, inclusive “storehouse” of Lamrim that Geshe Kelsang describes be used to store “grains” from other religious traditions? Why does he use the simile to exclude? Here is what Tsongkhapa says in Lamrim Chenmo about how inclusive students need to be in their practice:

Bodhisattvas make it their goal to accomplish the good of the world [all living beings]. Since bodhisattvas must take care of students who are followers of all three lineages [those of sravakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas], they must train in the paths of these lineages…

By stating, ‘Those benefactors of beings who accomplish the good of the world through the knowledge of paths…’ Ajita indicates in the Ornament for Clear Knowledge that knowing the paths of the three vehicles is the method for bodhisattvas to achieve the goal they have set. Also the Mother of Conquerors [The Eighteen-Thousand-Verse Perfection of Wisdom Sutra] says:

Bodhisattvas should produce all paths—whatever is the path of a sravaka, a pratyekabuddha,or a Buddha—and should know all paths. They should also perform the deeds of these paths and bring all of them to completion. (Vol. 1: pp. 46-47)

This is in line with the words of HH Dalai Lama, who states,

… Tsong-kha-pa cites many texts, including the Perfection of Wisdom sutras, where the Buddha states that a practitioner must study, understand and actually practice all aspects of the path. If you really aspire to help many billions of living beings with diverse mental dispositions, then you have to understand and practice many diverse teachings and approaches. This is what prepares you.

Later in his commentary on Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim Chenmo, His Holiness furthers his inclusive and pluralistic viewpoint by quoting from the Buddha:

For example, in Lankavatara sutra, (Descending Into Lanka sutra), there is a statement where the Buddha identifies various types of vehicles and he calls them the vehicles of the celestial beings, vehicles of the humans, and vehicles of the disciples, vehicles of the bodhisattvas and so on– and where the point is made that as long as there would exist, among the sentient beings, tremendous diversity of mental dispositions and spiritual inclinations, there will evolve tremendously diverse forms of vehicles, spiritual vehicles. So in this sutra, the spirit of pluralism is very clearly presented. (Day Four am: HH Dalai Lama; Teaching on Tsongkhapa’s Great Treatises on the Stages of the Path; 2008, Pennsylvania, USA

The Dalai Lama bases his nonsectarian, inclusive approach on quotes from the Buddha and Tsongkhapa. Where are the scriptural sources for the heart commitment of Shugden? Where are the scriptural sources for the claim that Shugden is a Buddha and not a mundane spirit? If one looks at the bibliographies provided in the three volumes of Tsongkhapa’s great text on Lamrim, one will find pages and pages, listing a great number of sources. However, if one looks at the bibliography of Geshe Kelsang’s commentary on Lamrim, one will find only book titles from Tharpa Publications—only books (with one exception) that are authored by Geshe Kelsang himself! Is this a subtle milieu control?

HH Dalai Lama’s main objection to the worship of Shugden is that it promotes sectarianism. NKT claim that they are not sectarian, that they practice “one tradition purely” while respecting others’ rights to practice as they please. Sectarianism is a big term, one that includes many meanings, such as partisanship, exclusivism and prejudice. Here, I have primarily focused on its meaning of exclusivism, in order to start addressing the issue in meaningful ways. I suggest that respecting others’ rights to practice as they please is limited if it does not include the freedom to share, understand and learn about others’ traditions. When you don’t permit yourself to better understand and experience another person’s reality, then it is difficult to do anything but lip service to the idea of respecting his/her religion. It is also difficult to benefit that being!

Ignorance in our world is clearly the source of intolerance, sectarian violence and hatred. Without full access to knowledge about other religions and cultures, intolerance and sectarianism cannot be combatted. This is my belief, gained through hard experience. By all means, it is important for us to embrace our own religious traditions fully and single-pointedly. However, doing this cannot be done in a narrow chamber. It cannot be done at the expense of broad knowledge and understanding. Otherwise, over time, prejudice and bias creep in and real trouble starts.

So my question to NKT students is finally this: If your mother was a devoted Nyingma practitioner, would you be able to help her if she needed you? Would your heart commitment to Dorje Shugden allow you to step into the role of a true bodhisattva and chant her Nyingma mantras and prayers?

The NKT/WSS/ISC Campaign Against the Dalai Lama’s ‘Ban’ of Shugden Worship


… they use the word “ban.” I never use that. – The 14th Dalai Lama¹

Over the past two decades and, more recently during his tour of the US, the International Shugden Community (the latest New Kadampa Traditionfront organization‘ and its political wing) have protested against the Dalai Lama’s decision to ‘ban’ the worship of the gyalpo Shugden.

When asked to provide explicit evidence of such a ban, supporters of the deity frequently point to the following statement, purportedly from the Dalai Lama, which appears at YouTube (see 2:53 onwards):

I began this ban to continue the Fifth Dalai Lama’s legacy, I started this by myself and I have to continue, and carry it to the end.

The word “ban” has Western, ecclesiastic connotations and refers to a practice whereby a Church authority can prohibit any member of the congregation or denomination from doing something on pain of excommunication from the Church.

The YouTube video the NKT/ISC claim as ‘evidence’ that the Dalai Lama used that word—and thus invoked their demand for redress—uses clips from a  speech in Tibetan by the Dalai Lama to Tibetan monks. The  text of the English translation and voice-over are supplied by supporters of the deity and it is they who use the word ‘ban’.

In fact, as any Tibetan speaker will confirm, the Dalai Lama uses a Tibetan word translatable as ‘disapprove’, or even stronger, ‘condemnation’, in the sense of to ‘consider it unworthy of doing’ in the video. The Shugden devotees however translate this as “ban,” in their subtitles, clearly with the deceptive intent that English speaking persons, opponents, neutrals and even their own followers, will assume that the Dalai Lama actually said it [which he did not], and  thus invoke horrifying images of the Catholicism of the Inquisition, with its connotations of burning at the stake, direct descent into hell, and so forth.

This is not the first instance of such cynical  manipulation of the truth. In 2010, Shugden devotees (this time in the guise of ‘The Dorjee Shugden Devotees’ Charitable and Religious Society-the Indian office of the ISC, with close links to Chinese Government officials) went to the High Court in Delhi with allegations of ‘violence and harassment’. When the issue was not resolved in their favour, it was claimed that the Court had been ‘unable to reach a conclusive decision’.

Examining Court documents however, we learn that the case was actually thrown out of Court, even before the proceedings commenced, with the presiding judge stating that ‘the allegations of violence and harassment were ‘vague averments’ and that the raised issues ‘do not partake of any public law character and therefore are not justiciable in proceedings under Article 226 of the Constitution.’

Citing the ‘absence of any specific instances of any such attacks’ on Shugden practitioners, the Court noted the counter affidavit submitted by the respondents,referring to ‘an understanding reached whereby it was left to the monks to decide whether they would want to be associated with the practices of Dorjee Shugden.’ (ie the practice had not been ‘banned’)

Closing the doors on the possibility of similar complaints in the future, Justice Muralidhar concluded that the ‘matters of religion and the differences among groups concerning propitiation of religion, cannot be adjudicated upon by a High Court in exercise of its writ jurisdiction.’ (See

It is difficult to understand how this can be construed as the Court being ‘unable to reach a conclusive decision’. Indeed the decision to close the doors on similar complaints in the future, because the allegations were ‘vague’ and there was an ‘absence of any specific instances of any such attacks’ seems quite final. One can only assume that, as with the translation of the term ‘ban’ in the YouTube video, the decision to publicly misconstrue the truth was a cynical propagandist manipulation of fact in order to provide ‘evidence’ to support the ongoing divisive activities of Shugden devotees in the East and West.

Yeshe Dorje

¹ see The Dalai Lama on Sectarianism, Religious Freedom and the Shugden Issue, spoken during a teaching in Madison, Wisconsin, 2008


See also

Academic Research about Shugden

Overview about Shugden

  • Dorje Shugden – An overview article mainly based on academic papers

Dorje Shugden and Wikipedia

The Dalai Lama on Sectarianism, Religious Freedom and the Shugden Issue

So in fact, restricting a form of practice that restricts others’ religious freedom is actually a protection of religious freedom. So in other words, negation of a negation is an affirmation.

Spoken During a Teaching in Madison, Wisconsin, 2008

This particular spirit, called Shugden … start[ed] during Fifth Dalai Lama, so now over 370 years. Since fifth Dalai Lama, almost I think, 300 years, this spirit, this deity, [has] always remain[ed] very very controversial. Only last 70 years, after 13th Dalai Lama’s death, then this spirit became more prominent in some area, in Lhasa area. That also, I think, almost like reaction to 13th Dalai Lama’s restriction.

… Since ’51 to early ’70, I myself [was] also a sincere worshipper of this spirit. I made [a] great mistake with [the] Dalai Lama’s name to worship this, due to my junior tutor. So eventually, I notice[d] this [was] something wrong, as a result of reading the autobiography of the fifth Dalai Lama and then many reliable, well known Gelugpa masters’ biographies. Then it became clear, this is wrong. This is evil spirit. So, Fifth Dalai Lama {translator}“clearly wrote and identified this spirit to be a spirit that has arisen on the basis of a distorted aspiration and its nature is that of destructive[ness] and its consequence is also harmful to the Buddha dharma and sentient beings in general.

So therefore, eventually I noticed that and then I dropped my practice. And then eventually [I] made [this] known to those monasteries , to those scholars or monks. Then they also [were] fully convinced because [there were] sufficient reasons or facts there. And 13th Dalai Lama also put restrictions.

Then [there are several reasons that] I feel [this]. Number one: Tibetan Buddhism [is] Nalanda tradition, such a profound tradition … Some Tibetans now not only [worship] this deity, but also some [other] spirits—Tibetans sometimes [put] too much emphasis on the importance of these spirits, rather than Buddha—or Nagarjuna—that’s a disgrace. So there’s real danger, such profound Nalanda tradition eventually degenerate [and] become something [like] spirit worship. It is [a] pity. Number one.

Of course, we can offer [to] those local spirit[s], or something like [asking] someone, please do some help, like that, then ok. But worship, or something very important, it is totally a mistake. {Translator} “In fact, the 13th Dalai Lama has actually made this statement to Gyabje Phabonkha Rinpoche, very clearly that if someone worships Shugden with such devotion, there is a danger that it could conflict with one’s precepts of taking refuge in the Three Jewels.”

So that is one factor, one reason. Second reason [is] I think part of [the] first reason … The second reason is: As you know, I [am] fully committed [to] non-sectarian principle. As fifth Dalai Lama and Second Dalai Lama, First Dalai Lama, Third Dalai Lama, all these previous masters, previous Dalai Lamas, as well as many great masters from all sects, Gelug, Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, Chonang, and many sects, many great masters, well known masters, [follow] according to non-sectarian principle. So worshipper of this spirit, they are very sectarian …

So therefore, I [am] fully committed to [the] promotion of nonsectarian principle. So therefore, this Shugden spirit—There are reliable stories [which] mention, according to my Junior tutor’s verbal accounts, [that] some of the Gelugpa lamas, as well as high officials, who practice Nyingma tradition, because of that, this deity destroyed [them], killed [them]. It’s recorded. About 13 cases mentioned in that story. So very sectarian.

So therefore, these two reasons. Then third, because the fifth Dalai Lama consider this [to be an] evil spirit, I have the name of 14th Dalai Lama, so therefore, I have to follow the principle of previous Dalai Lamas, fifth Dalai Lama and 13th Dalai Lama. So, I am trying to follow their example.

Then … religious freedom. Now here, firstly, spirit worship is not, I think, genuine religious practice. Certainly, this is not genuine Buddhist religion. But aside [from that], … now, my own story. In late 60’s, as I mentioned … this morning, 1967, I received teaching [from] Shantideva’s book from late Khunu Lama Rinpoche. Then, [I] received many other teachings from him, very rare teachings, which [were] not available from my two tutors.

Then later, I developed one desire to receive some text according to Nyingma tradition. I asked Ling Rinpoche, my senior tutor, [that] I have that kind of desire to receive one important Nyingma text, that I very much want to receive oral transmission from late Khunu Lama Rinpoche. {Translator} “Guhyagarbha Tantra”. Then, although Ling Rinpoche himself was very cautious about this spirit [Shugden], … he also you see, heard that if Gelugpa lama touch Nyingma tradition, then this spirit will harm them. So Ling Rinpoche [was] a little cautious. Then, [he] advised me, “Be cautious, not good [to] receive Nyingma tradition from him.”

Although I already [had] received many texts, many teachings from [Khunu Lama Rinpoche] already, but [about receiving] this particular Nyingma text, Ling Rinpoche [was] very very cautious. So then I stopped. {Translator} “So at that time, it seems I did not get my own religious freedom.”

Because [of] fear, exaggerated fear, I lost genuine religious freedom. Because I dropped this practice, then I got religious freedom. I received teachings from Nyingma tradition, from Sakya tradition, from Kagyu tradition, from various reliable lamas, I received teachings. Now, I think I can say, with a little pride, I think I have some knowledge of all these traditions. So it is very useful.

Another sort of sad story. In the late 60s, one old Kuno (?) monk, I think age around—I still remember his face—age around 60, like that. Physically also quite small. He came to see me and ask me for some Nyingma teachings. Then I [had] no knowledge of that teaching. So I asked him, “That subject I do not know. Please go to Varanasi or Bodhgaya”– and Khunu Lama Rinpoche still alive, so—“approach Khunu Lama Rinpoche and ask him. I have no [knowledge about] that teaching.”

So later, I found, “Oh I’m Buddhist.” {Translator} “For example, the Buddha states in the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra that the bodhisattva should cultivate the knowledge of all the paths, the paths of the disciples, the paths of the self-enlightened ones and the paths of the bodhisattvas. So the bodhisattvas may be able to fulfill the needs of all people who aspire for teachings that are appropriate to their own mental faculties.”

So at that time, I really felt very sad … I failed to fulfill the wishes of that poor monk. Still I feel like that.

Now today, suppose that person come, then I proudly explain …

So also, past Tibetan history. Unnecessary conflict in the name of religion also happen, frankly speaking. Sometimes we call Sarma—“So sometimes when two monasteries clash with each other, it’s called the yellow war.” Very sad. Really sad.

Actually, after 13th Dalai Lama passed away, due to this deity, this spirit, some small Nyingma monastery or temple in some cases actually destroyed—because of the sectarian conflict. These things I later came to know. So therefore, religious freedom: {Translator} “So in fact, restricting a form of practice that restricts others’ religious freedom is actually a protection of religious freedom. So in other words, negation of a negation is an affirmation.”

So, now some of their accusations, including Chinese officials also accuse me—the Dalai Lama … sort of violated religious freedom because of Shugden worshipper. Now Chinese officially accuse me. So therefore, they use the word “ban.” I never use that. I am fully committed about freedom of speech, freedom of expression. So, right from the beginning, I made it very clear. It is my moral responsibility to make clear what is wrong, what is right. But whether listen or not, it’s up to them, [up to each] individual. I have no power to impose.

So I am happy these people enjoy their freedom of speech, freedom of expression, very good. So the other day, in Germany, [during] my recent visit, again a group [of protestors] shouting. I hear their voice, particularly one lady’s, I think one nun maybe, so quite strong. So I think at least three or four hours shouting. Then I got real sort of worry, “oh her throat may suffer.”

Madison, Wisconsin, July, 2008

See also

Academic Research about Shugden

Overview about Shugden

  • Dorje Shugden – An overview article mainly based on academic papers

Dorje Shugden and Wikipedia

Dalai Lama fake quotes

This week I got twice the “18 Rules for Living” attributed to the Dalai Lama. The first time I received it via a Powerpoint presentation attached to an email asking me to share it within 96 hours with many people, claiming tremendous benefit I would receive by spreading it. The second time I received it today via a Newsletter of a respected Buddhist organization, included in the Losar New Years’ greetings of a most wonderful, kind and wise teacher. There it was said:

Let us all remember The Dalai Lama’s 18 Rules for Living:

  1. Take into account that great love & great achievements involve great risk.
  2. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
  3. Follow the three Rs: – Respect for self – Respect for others – Responsibility for all your actions.
  4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
  5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
  6. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.
  7. When you realize you have made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
  8. Spend some time alone every day.
  9. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.
  10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
  11. Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older & think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.
  12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
  13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don’t bring up the past.
  14. Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.
  15. Be gentle with the earth.
  16. Once a year, go someplace you have never been before.
  17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
  18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.

Now, look more closely on those rules: is this the way the Dalai Lama expresses himself? Is this his way he puts things or is it the Dalai Lama’s style of phrasing things? Does he have an attitude or a tendency to render things in such slogans? Would he really say: “Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly”? – a man, who always lists among the good qualities a human being should cultivate self-discipline?

I replied to both persons, that I think these 18 rules are a fake. To the Buddhist teacher I expressed my doubts and added some reasons why I believe that this is not from the Dalai Lama. After I sent the email I checked on the internet if these 18 rules are by the Dalai Lama, and, indeed they are a fake: Not again! The Dalai Lama’s 18 Rules for Living: Another fake

But there are more Dalai Lama fake quotes and recordings.

Did you ever stumble upon “The Paradox of Our Time” by the Dalai Lama?

The paradox of our time.

We have bigger houses but smaller families.

We have more degrees but less sense;
more knowledge but less judgements;
more experts but more problems;
more medicines, but less healthiness.

We’ve been all the way to the moon and back,
but we have trouble crossing the street
to meet the new neighbour.

We build more computers
to hold more information,
to produce more copies than ever,
but we have less communication.

We have become long on quantity
but short on quality.

These are times of fast foods,
but slow digestion;
tall man, but short character;
steep profits, but shallow relationships.

It is time when there is much in the window
but nothing in the room.

Dalai Lama

You can apply the same analysis: is this the way the Dalai Lama renders things? Would he say this? I doubted that always, and I always saw it as a fake. In Italy, at Istituto Lama Tsong Khapa, where I studied they sell it even in the shop to people.

The attribution of “The Paradox of Our Time” to the Dalai Lama is also wrong:

The reason why I became more cautious in these matters is that I was fooled in the past by a mantra that was given to me by prisoners some years ago on a CD that claimed that “This is a recording of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his entourage chanting prayers at the sickbed of his dear friend Vaclav Havel.” I believed it naively to be true and posted it on New Kadampa Survivors. You can find it here on YouTube:

Later a member of the New Kadampa Survivor forum found out that it is simply a Hindu Mantra called the Gayatri Mantra: Details of the recording’s origin can be found here:

Realize how you are fooled believing what the video claims:

This is a recording of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his entourage chanting prayers at the sickbed of his dear friend Vaclav Havel.

It was recorded on a battery powered hand-held tape recorder. His Holiness gave his permission to for it to be reproduced and given as a non-commercial FREE gift.

Why do I think it matters to be careful in this regard?

Some yeas ago in Germany, the Dalai Lama was nastily attacked by an online newspaper article for his “naive sayings” but when I checked what they claimed the Dalai Lama said, I found out, that it was not from the Dalai Lama but an anonymous website full of such sayings. So they attacked him as being naive and foolish for things he never said, and a lot of people believed this online newspaper article.

I think this is not a good development and I wish people are more careful. In the long run it distorts the real message of His Holiness the Dalai Lama which is by far profounder than many of those superficial sayings that sound nice but don’t have much of a substance. The Dalai Lama has a special way of expressing himself and how he renders things, with some carefulness you can prevent to spread things the Dalai Lama never said. And I would like to invite you also to be more careful. Thank you.

See also

Kelsang’s monks and nuns protest again, accusing the Dalai Lama of religious persecution and human rights abuses

His Holiness the Dalai Lama just met US President Barack Obama and the American people, while a Western Shugden group launched via the newly founded International Shugden Community (ISC) a PR Campaign to attack him.

Here is some background information about this Shugden group and a response to the group’s Feb. 19, 2014 PRWEB attack, and the subsequent street protests staged in San Francisco by Prof. Robert Thurman – posted with kind permission.

The Background of the Shugden Group

Behind these protests is a controversial UK-based New Religious Movement called the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), founded in 1991 by the Tibetan Kelsang Gyatso. Ex members harmed by the group have founded a self-help support group, New Kadampa Survivors, a group which currently has 1224 members. In recent years, Inform, an independent charity providing information about what many refer to as ‘cults’, sects, New Religious Movements (NRMs), non-conventional religions etc. and which is based at the London School of Economics and was founded by Professor Eileen Barker, received more inquiries about NKT than about Scientology. Indeed the NKT was explicitly mentioned in their leaflet “Extremism on University Campuses”.

It is not the first wave of protests that was initiated and conducted by Kelsang Gyatso and the NKT under the guise of a front organization. It’s already the third world wide media campaign of that group against the Dalai Lama. Unlike the first campaign in  1996-98¹ the last two campaigns (2008-ca. 2013) and the new campaign in 2014 demonstrate a severe inability and a thorough lack of investigation of the international media in their reports about who the protesters are and what their background is. So far I have not seen any newspaper article, TV news or video that provides proper background information about the protesters.


NKT’s first world wide campaign from 1996–98 under the name Shugden Supporters Community (SSC). Here Germany, Berlin 1998

The NKT launched the first campaign against the Dalai Lama – according to NKT’s Newspeak a “ruthless dictator” and “oppressor of religious freedom” – under a front group with the name Shugden Supporters Community (SSC) in 1996-98.¹ In 1998 Kelsang Gyatso wrote in an Open Letter to the Washington Times that “in October 1998 we decided to completely stop being involved in this Shugden issue because we realized that in reality this is a Tibetan political problem and not the problem of Buddhism in general or the NKT. We made our decision public at this time — everyone knows the NKT and myself completely stopped being involved in this Shugden issue at all levels.”

Loud is the noise that ordinary men make. Nobody thinks himself a fool, when divisions arise in the Sangha, nor do they ever value another person higher than themselves. – The Buddha, Mahavagga


Kelsang Pema (Helen Gladwell), personal assistant of Kelsang Gyatso and spokes person of the Western Shugden Society (WSS), speaks to the press

However, some years later he changed his mind and asked (or better pressurized) his students² by writing to them “To stop this evil action, as the representative of the Western Shugden Society, I personally will organize demonstrations against the Dalai Lama directly. I requested Kelsang Pema and Kelsang Thubchen to do this job for me and they have accepted. Please help Pema and Thubchen with whatever they need. With much love and prayers, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso”. Kelsang Pema, a NKT nun, was at this time his personal assistant. With Kelsang Pema as the spokes person a second campaign was launched under a new front group, the Western Shugden Society (WSS), from 2008–ca.2013.³ The Dalai Lama was depicted by the NKT/WSS/Kelsang Gyatso as a “21st Century Buddhist Dictator”, a “liar”, “the saffron robed Muslim”, a man whose “real nature is cruel and very evil”. Pema was later stripped form power by Kelsang Gyatso due to unexplained reasons.


NKT resident teacher Rebecca Gauthier and spokes person of the International Shugden Community (ISC) speaking to the press in San Francisco

For the campaigning from 2014 onwards the NKT founded again another front group, the International Shugden Community (ISC), whose spokes person is Rebecca Foley / Rebecca Gauthier, NKT Resident Teacher at the Tushita Kadampa Buddhist Centre near Los Angeles and co-author of “The Celibate – Sex. Lies. Salvation.” (She seems to have married Len Foley, the other author of that book.) Len Foley has been mentioned in different press articles as another spokes person of the protesters.

NKT now runs the common PR strategy:

Hundreds of Buddhists⁴ Protest, Accusing the Dalai Lama of Religious Persecution and Human Rights Abuses


NKT resident teacher Gen Kelsang Rabten (left) protesting with other NKT followers under the second front group NKT founded, Western Shugden Society (WSS)
[Image & caption added by blog owner]

Impassioned protests against the Dalai Lama will be staged this week during his speaking engagements in California by the International Shugden Community. Demonstrators are accusing the Dalai Lama of using his political power to ban a mainstream religious practice and create a religious apartheid, segregation, and system of persecution in the Tibetan exile community, including refusal of medical treatment, violent attacks on citizens and making hundreds of monks homeless.

Len Foley, NKT teacher, co-author of “The Celibate – Sex. Lies. Salvation.” and inventor of the “bionic burger” goes in this video even so far as to mention the holocaust (0:57):

With respect to the claims the group makes Tibet scholar Robert Barnett from Columbia University said already to the editors of Time Magazine in the past:

I also made it clear that the Western Shugden group’s allegations are problematic: they are akin to attacking the Pope because some lay Catholics somewhere abuse non-believers or heretics. The Western Shugden Group is severely lacking in credibility, since its form of spirit-worship is heterodox, provocative and highly sectarian in Buddhist terms and so more than likely to be banned from mainstream monasteries – while its claimed concerns about cases of discrimination in India should be addressed by working within the Tibetan community instead of opportunistically attacking the Dalai Lama in order to provoke misinformed publicity for their sect.


A Response by Robert Thurman, President, Tibet House US

Ever since 1997, when, according to detailed Indian police investigations, pseudo- monks who infiltrated to Dharamsala from China murdered the Venerable Lobsang Gyatso, a noted lama close to the Dalai Lama, and his two young disciples, the cult of the Dolgyal-Shugden spirit has been on the attack. The well-evidenced culprits were not tried as they escaped back into Tibet and China, but the cult continued its campaign at the behest of, and with substantial funding from, the United Front department of the People’s Republic of China, the agency handling relations with non-Chinese “minority nationalities.” The futile effort of the cult backed by the agency seeks to alienate Tibetans from the Dalai Lama, their beloved leader and even to turn world public opinion against the acclaimed Nobel Laureate and Gandhi heir. The final aim is to disrupt the Dalai Lama’s fifty-year-long nonviolent “truth and justice” campaign, to free the six million Tibetan people to be themselves in the special autonomous minority region offered them by the Chinese constitution, so far only on paper.

The cult and agency attack campaign is futile since its main claims are so easy to refute:

1) The worship of their chosen deity was not “banned” by the Dalai Lama, since he has no authority to “ban” what Tibetan Buddhists practice. “Banning” and “excommunicating” are not Tibetan Buddhist procedures.

Although they are Buddhists who should focus on emulating the Buddha, members of the cult are free to worship their chosen “protector deity,” whom they call Dorje Shugden, as much as they like. The young Dalai Lama himself did propitiate it as a minor worldly spirit or angel, until he studied the history of its cult and decided it was not a protector at all, but instead a mischievous “king” spirit known as Dolgyal (“king demon from Dol”). Once his historical studies brought him to that conclusion, he recommended that other lamas in his school cease their relationship, or at least keep it to themselves, since its liturgy contains condemnation of the minority sects of Tibetan Buddhism and of non-Buddhist religions. In the late 80s’, when certain individual lamas began to proselytize its cult, inducting even Western practitioners new to Buddhism, especially in England, he took the step of asking such persons to refrain from attending his initiations and associated advanced teachings, on the grounds that they were not following his advice and so should not take him as their teacher. They then went on the attack, claiming they had been “banned” and “excommunicated,” etc., when in fact the Dalai Lama was exercising his religious freedom by not accepting students who reject his advice, and actually go so far as to condemn him!

2) The cult of Dolgyal Shugden is that of a minor angel or demon, and never has been mainstream, To claim that “four million” people belong to it, or even “millions,” is untrue.

3) The members of the cult do not come from numerous Tibetan sects, but exclusively from the super-orthodox fundamentalists of the majority Gelukpa sect or order.

4) The Dalai Lama has never asked anyone to persecute anyone, and members of the cult who mind their own business and do not attack the Dalai Lama are not bothered by other Tibetans. Those who do attack the Dalai Lama with outrageous name-calling—”dictator,” “false lama,” even “demon,” and “liar,” etc., naturally do provoke the vast majority of Tibetans, who adore their Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama himself has never approved of either the provocations or any harsh responses, and remains steadfast in his adherence to nonviolence in principle and practice.

5) The whole fuss would have died down long ago except for the fact that the “hard-line” operatives of the “United Front Work Department” of the People’s Republic of China, the agency in charge of dealing with China’s “minority nationalities,” sees the cult as a potential wedge they hope to drive between the Dalai Lama and his people and between him and world opinion. They therefore fund the leaders of the cult in Tibet, Mongolia, India and the West, and provide them the means to carry on their expensive propaganda campaigns. Evidence for this is very plain on the surface. For example, the so-called “Panchen Lama” reincarnation, whom the Communist party chiefs appointed after abducting and disappearing the five year old boy properly chosen in the traditional way by a committee of his monastery with approval of the Dalai Lama, is shown on the internet in various photographs sitting in front of a large icon of Dolgyal Shugden, as a sign of aggressive defiance of the Dalai Lama. The obvious fact is that the clearly stated purpose of the cult and the United Front agency of the PRC is to try to prove to the world that the Dalai Lama is not as nice as we all think, but is a bad, even “evil,” person.

Whatever one believes about the reality of fierce angels or demons, it is clear that the leaders of the Dolgyal Shugden  cult have done nothing over the last 30 years but cause trouble, both to their own followers and to the unity of the Tibetan people, both in exile and in Tibet. It has benefited no one except those misguided operatives in the Chinese government who wish to destroy Tibetan Buddhist culture, in order to assimilate systematically deracinated Tibetans into becoming second class Chinese citizens, and thus, through such a policy of crushing the identities and even lives of the “minority nationality” Tibetans, to secure forever their claim to the vast territories and resources of the Tibetan plateau. But as we have seen all over the world—and as aware persons can attest here in America with our still very much present First Americans—history never does end, people do not give up their distinctive identities, and truth and justice inevitably arise from the ashes of even genocidal flames.

Those who would like to read a thorough study of the Dolgyal Shugden cult by a distinguished professional journalist, can download a kindle copy of R. Bultrini, The Dalai Lama and the King Demon, published by Tibet House US.

Robert A. F Thurman

President, Tibet House US


Update March 3rd, 2014


¹ See some press articles from the UK like “Battle of the Buddhists” by The Independent, The Guardian’s Shadow boxing on the path to Nirvana, or the BBC documentary »An Unholy Row« (1998) about the New Kadampa Tradition and the Dorje Shugden Controversy. For a summery of this first campaign see here.

² Kelsang Gyatso for instance removed the NKT resident teacher and editor of his books, Lucy James, immediately from her positions and power when she dared to remind him of what he said in 1998, that the protests are political and that NKT (also according to the UK charity laws) should not engage in political actions. This set an example for all NKT people that those who object the protests will be removed from their positions and status.

³ From 2008 onwards the campaigning by the NKT students of Kelsang Gyatso included the manipulation of Wikipedia articles.

⁴ Those protesters who dress themselves in the Tibetan robes of Buddhist monks and nuns are not members of the monastic order of the Buddha, they are not even novice monks or nuns, and therefore they cannot act on behalf of those who are full members or partial members of the Buddhist monastic order, fully ordained monks and nuns or novice monks and nuns. However, they have of course freedom of speech but if slander is “freedom of speech” or an unethical or illegal act everybody has to check and judge for themselves.

  Last edited by tenpel on March 16, 2014 at 1:16 pm
(the Shugden/Panchen Lama image was removed,
new images were added,
Len Foley information and video were added,
a better introduction, a quote by Robbie Barnett  and two headlines were added,
added information about NKS & Inform,
added link to Bob Thurman article, Huffington Post
added Mahavagga quote from Buddha)

The followers of the New Kadampa Tradition revive their protests against the Dalai Lama

It seems to me it becomes more obvious why the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) / Western Shugden Society (WSS) use Google ads to defame the Dalai Lama, they revived their protests against him and undermine his activities in the United States now:


Followers of Kelsang Gyatso/NKT protest in San Francisco

Norden Kelsang – a 38-year-old nun of the New Kadampa Tradition and a Shugden adherent, who practices in New York – at Saturday’s rally said the demonstrators want religious freedom. But she doesn’t seem to see that this wish contradicts her own statement (and reality) when she says: “We don’t need the Dalai Lama to practice our religion or for us to practice his”.

Everybody in NKT can practice Shugden, none has to respect the Dalai Lama (images of him are not welcomed in NKT as it is in Tibet under Chinese occupation), and though there is a certain amount of dependent arising trouble in India, the Tibetans in India who practice Shugden have their own monasteries and can practice Shugden there …

It is also somewhat strange to me, that Norden Kelsang sees Shugden practice as a religion and seems to believe that her religion (Tibetan Buddhism, Gelug order) would be another religion than that of the Dalai Lama …

The Dalai Lama said during the speech in San Francisco, California, USA, 22 February 2014, the following things about the protesters and Shudgen practice in general (excerpt taken from a summery of the speech by the American Himalayan Foundation):

At this point His Holiness digressed to speak about the worshippers of the perfidious spirit Dolgyal or Shugden who had been demonstrating in the street outside the hall as he arrived. They were shouting and waving banners, their faces contorted in aggressive expressions. It was people like these who murdered a good monk and his students as they worked to translate a scripture into Chinese one night in 1997 near His Holiness’s residence in Dharamsala, he said. Today, their slogan was ‘Stop lying’, but the question is who really is lying.

Turning back once more to the topic of Shugden he declared that he had once worshipped the spirit himself. Gradually, however, he came to realise that there was something wrong with it, particularly in the context of the Buddhist tradition. He looked into its history and discovered that it had come about during the time of the 5th Dalai Lama, who had referred to it as a malevolent spirit arisen from distorted prayers that harms the Dharma and sentient beings. He suggested the protestors complain to the 5th Dalai Lama.

As His Holiness left his hotel, some nuns told him that it was a matter of religious freedom, but he sees it the other way. Worship of this spirit goes hand in hand with sectarianism and restrictions on religious freedom. He recalled wanting to receive transmission of a Nyingma teaching from Khunu Lama Rinpoche, and consulting his main tutor Ling Rinpoche. Despite having no connection at all with the worship of this spirit, Ling Rinpoche cautioned him against receiving the transmission for fear of the harm the spirit might do. He cited this as an example of his own religious freedom being constrained. He declared that it was only when he stopped worshipping Dolgyal that he was really able to enjoy religious freedom. The audience broke into applause.

“Due to ignorance and distorted information, the followers of this practice are completely confused. In India, they have their own monasteries where they can do what they want. Kelsang Gyatso, one of their teachers once told a reporter in England that the 14th Dalai Lama had done nothing beneficial for the cause of Tibet. Isn’t this something of a lie?”

New Kadampa Tradition uses Google ads to defame the Dalai Lama

I was thinking that the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) and their front organisation, Western Shugden Society (WSS), settled their Character assassination attack against the Dalai Lama. It’s not so.


Today someone sent me an email, that lists an ad to the NKT/WSS site when you type in the search word “Dalai Lama”. The site claims to “expose” “the dark side of the Dalai Lama”. It is anonymously (as always in NKT’s front organisations’ contexts) and it is hosted by

The site promotes NKT’s renamed booklet – previously promoted under the title “A Great Deception” (which indeed was a fair title for the content of the booklet) – with the new title “The False Dalai Lama”. An anonymous review at GoodReads hits the nail on its head regarding its content and style:

Childishly written (“we wrote to the Dalai Lama for his side and he didn’t respond, so that proves he’s guilty” a paraphrase true to the book’s spirit), and mostly unsubstantiated “facts” (sometimes citations for works also produced by the same group as the book – notice the book doesn’t actually have an author.) I don’t think it is likely that EVERYTHING in the book is just made up, but it certainly can’t all be true either (the Dalai Lama, nor anyone else, could not possibly be Muslim, Communist AND Fascist as this volume breathlessly claims.)

I wish Kelsang Gyatso and NKT peace of mind: Learn to love your enemy. This approach brings you the best spiritual benefits. If you are looking for spiritual benefits, to love your enemy is the way:

All things have the nature of mind. Mind is the chief and takes the lead. If the mind is clear, whatever you do or say will bring happiness that will follow you like your shadow.

All things have the nature of mind. Mind is the chief and takes the lead. If the mind is polluted, whatever you do or say leads to suffering which will follow you, as a cart trails a horse.

“They would harm me. They would embarrass me. They would rob me. They would defeat me.” Those who think in such a way will never be released from their hatred.

“They would harm me. They would embarrass me. They would rob me. They would defeat me.” Those who do not think in such a way will be released from their hatred.

Your enemies will never make peace in the face of hatred – it is the absence of hatred that leads to peace. This is an eternal truth.

We are but guests visiting this world, though most do not know this. Those who see the real situation, no longer feel inclined to quarrel.

See also

Interview with the Dalai Lama about ethics in the teacher-student relationship & Two papers about mindfulness

Since 2002 I collect information about the teacher student relationship in the context of Tibetan Buddhism and try to get information about approaches if one has taken on a misleading guru, or a guru who abuses his or her students.

Recently we had a brief discussion about this topic in the Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa in Italy in the context of our tantra studies. After this discussion a Bhikshuni sent two files to the students, one contained an interview with HH the Dalai Lama about this topic in 1993 and the other file contained an interview with Geshe Sönam Rinchen about “Guru devotion”. Both texts have not been available online by now.

I asked the Bhikshuni if I could post the interview with HH the Dalai Lama on my website, and she clarified the copyrights/editor permission and just some minutes ago I posted it. I think in this interview with HH the Dalai Lama, he gives clear, very good and straight forward advice what to do if Gurus misbehave or abuse their students:

… if someone is supposed to propagate the Dharma and their behavior is harmful, it is our responsibility to criticize this with a good motivation. This is constructive criticism, and you do not need to feel uncomfortable doing it. In “The Twenty Verses on the Bodhisattvas’ Vows,” it says that there is no fault in whatever action you engage in with pure motivation. Buddhist teachers who abuse sex, power, money, alcohol, or drugs, and who, when faced with legitimate complaints from their own students, do not correct their behavior, should be criticized openly and by name. This may embarrass them and cause them to regret and stop their abusive behavior. Exposing the negative allows space for the positive side to increase. When publicizing such misconduct, it should be made clear that such teachers have disregarded the Buddha’s advice. However, when making public the ethical misconduct of a Buddhist teacher, it is only fair to mention their good qualities as well.

For more read:

We had also some discussion on the blog and in Italy during our study review of the Abhidharmakosha about mindfulness and its modern use e.g. within the context of MBSR (Jon Kabat-Zinn), Psychology etc. There are two excellent papers by Georges Dreyfus and Jay Garfield that discuss this topic in detail, showing that modern interpretations of mindfulness do not really touch its deeper meaning as meant in Buddhist practice – which doesn’t mean that modern interpretations of mindfulness and practice don’t have an impact on the practitioners or don’t have a value. However, there is a danger to water down the more profound and deeper meanings of mindfulness as it is meant within Buddhism and as it is crucial to really transform the mind and not just to find some relaxation in stressful times. If you are interested, enjoy to read these two papers:

Geshe Michael Roach – The Sad Case of a Gifted Man

Sorry, I don’t want to add more on this. There has been said enough already. I just want to make you aware of two recent articles about Michael Roach, one in Rolling Stone and one by Scott Carney (in Playboy). You find more material and links at the end of the article by Scott Carney.

When I read the Interview with Geshe Michael Roach & Christie McNally (PDF) in 2003 and especially the passage where Roach tries to defend himself, skillfully avoiding to answer the question what his teacher, Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Tharchin, says about his (strange) behavior, I realized that Michael Roach has created an own inner world where voices can only reach him if they suit his own views. Since there are still some people who think it might be worth to follow Mr. Roach or that he might be a genuine Buddhist teacher, I added the article by Scott Carney on my website. Food for Thought! I am grateful that Alexander Berzin warned me personally to be careful with Roach – though at that time, I was not pleased to hear it because I placed my spiritual hopes already in Michael Roach …

During a tantric teaching the teacher of Roach, Khen Rinpoche, was asked about Roach, and he clearly distanced himself from Roach. Sadly, so far I was not able to get the recording but it exists. That this explicitly alienation by Roach’s teacher exists was told to me by a person I trust who listened to these teachings by Khen Rinpoche.

Last and least, Robert Thurman about Roach in the RollingStone interview:

Robert Thurman, a Columbia University religion professor and a leading expert on Eastern religions, calls Roach’s version of Tibetan Buddhism “an American pop-religion knockoff.”  …

The office of the Dalai Lama issued a rebuke, and Roach’s associates urged him to remove his robes to indicate that he was not celibate. When he refused, Robert Thurman, a former ordained monk, tried to reason with him. “I asked him to meet,” says Thurman, who is married and long ago resigned his robes. “He finally came with his consort to Columbia. I told him to go back to being a lay minister, to take off the robes. Bottom line is, he said he wouldn’t give up the robes. He said, ‘I have never consorted with a human female,’ and I said to Christie, ‘Are you human?’ And she didn’t say yes or no. She said, ‘He said it, I didn’t.’”

Thurman felt McNally was young and naive and being manipulated by Roach, but McNally felt empowered. According to her, the retreat had altered their dynamic. She had gone into it as Roach’s lesser, emerging as his equal. “The roles in the play now had changed from teacher and student to ‘partners,’” she says, and goes on to say that since Roach was interested in embracing his feminine side, “normal sexual relations between two married partners were absent from this relationship.”

Instead of waiting for new acolytes to come to them, Roach and McNally began holding classes at popular New York yoga studios like Jivamukti, whose clientele included Wall Street bankers, fashionistas like Donna Karan and celebrities such as Sting, Russell Simmons and Madonna. He had translated the Yoga Sutra from Sanskrit and spoke of how yoga could lead to enlightenment. “His teaching was the missing link in the writings on the Yoga Sutra,” says Morris. “Nobody had accomplished what was described in there, and here was somebody who had. I was moved. He was a good, holy, honest man then.”

Is the NKT a Personality Cult? – A Check Based on Word Statistics

In Germany there is a politician, Peer Steinbrück, who runs a campaign “More We, less I”. Spiegel Online investigated in a ‘Münchhausen Check’ if Steinbrück really says what he preaches by investigating two of his speeches and making a use-of-words statistic. For this they used among others a tool called Wordle to create a word cloud that makes the results easily visible. For the creation of a word statistic cloud the website or blog must have an Atom or RSS feed. The more a word is used the bigger it is written. In that way you get easily what is been stressed the most.

Now, I wondered what would be the result if I check the official New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) start page as well as their official site about Buddhism. I expected that at the centre of NKT and Buddhism is not the Buddha or Buddhism but NKT and its founder Kelsang Gyatso – this is what I would expect at least from a ‘good personality cult’ or based on my experiences.

Here are the results

Result of the official Homepage of the New Kadampa Tradition,, relying on the Atom or RSS feed of that site:

Wordle: New Kadampa Tradition

The result of the official “Buddhism” page of the New Kadampa Tradition,, relying on the words displayed, is:

Wordle: New Kadampa Tradition about "Buddhism"

To create the use-of-words statistic of NKT’s official “Buddhism” page I used all the words displayed on that page. The reason for this approach is that the Wordle javascript program relies on the Atom or RSS Feeds of the blog or site, and is therefore on all pages of a site the same. Hence, it doesn’t convey what words are really displayed to the reader of a specific page.

While the first result above shows that at the very centre of NKT is one person only “Venerable Geshe Kelsang founding NKT-IKBU”, the second result above demonstrates that “Kadampa” is what “Buddhism” is all about for NKT, and since the term “Kadampa” is synonymous with NKT – at least in the cosmos of NKT, as well as in their self-promotional approach – the meaning it conveys is ‘Kadampa=NKT=Buddhism’ or in brief ‘We are Buddhism.’

Another question I had is, who is the focal object of NKT’s Western Shugden Society? Is it Buddhism, Shugden or the Dalai Lama?

Here is the result of

Wordle: Western Shugden Society

Using those statistic tools based on the NKT’s own Atom or RSS feeds and words displayed respectively it becomes somewhat more clear that the main object of ‘the Buddhism’ the New Kadampa Tradition is advertising is not so much Buddhism or the Buddha but mainly one person, NKT’s founder Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. The main object of NKT’s Western Shugden Society is not Dorje Shugden but one person, the Dalai Lama.

In that way it is also somewhat statistically explainable what drove Gen Kelsang Sangye to promote a new book of his guru at a BBC World News talk about Mindfulness in Schools. He has no other choice if he speaks about Buddhism or mindfulness than being compelled to stress his guru Kelsang Gyatso and one of his new books respectively because only HE is the center of his life, his tradition and his Buddhism.

But shouldn’t we begin with ourselves first? I checked this blog. Who is the focal object of this blog, NKT, Shugden, Tibet, the Dalai Lama, Sogyal, I (tenpel)? The RSS Feed gives this result:

Wordle: The Dorje Shugden Group WordPress Blog

Applying the approach of getting the statistics not based on the RSS Feed but on the mere words the start page displays, the following result is given:

Wordle: Blog The Dorje Shugden Group - Start Page

To make the investigation complete, here also the words-displayed statistics – which means not relying on the RSS or Atom Feeds – of the NKT’s and the Western Shugden Society’s official start pages:

Wordle: NKT official Homepage - use of words statistic

Wordle: Western Shugden Society - Use of words displayed on start page.

In case you have problems with the Javascript on Wordle, here are the results in a gallery:

Last edited by tenpel on May 3, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Human Rights in Tibet before China’s Invasion or Liberation – ‘The Truth’ about Tibet, the Dalai Lamas and Tibetans

Torture and Execution Ordered by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama

Throughout the time of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, various foreign journalists, officials and explorers visited Tibet and were astounded by the atrocities that met them in place of their expectations of the supposed ‘Shangri-la’. They published accounts of what they saw, and from these works we can gain a more accurate insight into the actual brutality of the theocracy and the Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s role in it. (Western Shugden Society)

What were the conditions regarding human rights in Tibet before democratic reform?

Before 1959, all except 5 percent of the Tibetan population were slaves or serfs in a feudal system in which they were regarded as saleable private property, had no land or freedom, and were subject to punishment by mutilation or amputation. The serfs were liable to be tortured or killed. Economy and culture were stagnant for centuries, life expectancy was 35.5 years, illiteracy was over 90 percent, 12 percent of Lhasa’s population were beggars, and the Dalai Lama was responsible for all of this. (Booklet published by the Chinese government in 1989)

One can find in the internet quite a lot of accounts which either portray Tibet as a heaven or a hell on earth. The depictions of Tibet as a hell on earth are by far more widespread nowadays—as far as I can see. Also on YouTube there are a lot of videos or documentaries that tell the audience how evil and cruel Tibetans and the Dalai Lamas had been. Sometimes such documentaries are even produced by rather reputable media such as ARD’s magazine “Panorama“¹—a national German TV station.

What is tenable among those many claims about Tibet as a Feudal Serfdom, cruelties such as mutilations and amputations—brutalities for which quite often the Dalai Lamas are accused to be the sole culprits?

Robert Barnett (Columbia University) addressed the above claims by the Chinese government in a book called Authenticating Tibet: Answers to China’s “100 Questions”:

For those interested to deepen their understanding the book Authenticating Tibet: Answers to China’s “100 Questions” might be a good starting point. The publisher, University of California Press, describes it as to offer “clear and unbiased responses to a booklet published by the Chinese government in 1989, which sought to counter the criticism generated by the Dalai Lama and his followers and offer the PRC’s ‘truth’ about Tibet and Tibetans. In Authenticating Tibet, international Tibet scholars provide historically accurate answers to 100 Questions and deal evenhandedly with both China’s ‘truth’ about Tibet and that of the Dalai Lama and his followers. Designed for use by a general audience, the book is an accessible reference, free of the polemics that commonly surround the Tibet question. Although these experts refute many of the points asserted by China, they do not offer blanket endorsements for the claims made by the pro-Tibet movement. Instead, they provide an accurate, historically based assessment of Tibet’s past and its troubled present.”

More about Tibet as a Feudal Hell

The Serfdom in Tibet Controversy

The Tibet-China Conflict: History, Polemics & Propaganda

¹ for more about this Panorama documentary see:

Last edited by tenpel on April 14, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Rigpa, Cults, The Catholic Church and HH Dalai Lama – A Pep Talk


Recently Mike Garde recommended in an email that the best approach to take regarding this trouble within Rigpa is one based on successes in dealing with Tony Quinn and Scientology. I felt very uneasy about this. In exploring my unease, I came to two important conclusions.  The first is that these Rigpa troubles are best viewed in the context of troubles within mainstream religion, such as within the Catholic Church, rather than in the context of fringe cults such as Scientology.  In this context, HH Dalai Lama has played more of a role towards reform than he is often given credit for.  Second, the word, “cult”, was not created by God. While there are harmful practices which can be discussed in the context of cults, there is no magic line that a group crosses in order to become a “cult.” Using that word is dangerous because it closes down thinking and possibilities. The discussion becomes an either-or, dichotomous debate, instead of one open to all possibilities and solutions.

What is a cult? It appears that this word has evolved over time and is still evolving. On Wikipedia, there is quite a long entry on the word.  There is a lack of agreement between sociologists and psychologists about the term. Here is one definition:

Sociologists have said that unlike sects, which are products of religious schism and therefore maintain a continuity with traditional beliefs and practices, cults arise spontaneously around novel beliefs and practices.

By this definition, Scientology certainly fits as being a cult, but I would argue that Rigpa does not fall into the category either of sect or of cult. First, Sogyal Rinpoche has not invented a new religion. And while there are gaps in the education program within Rigpa, Sogyal Rinpoche has not turned away from mainstream Buddhist thought either.

In addition, Rigpa regularly invites teachers from outside to teach at its centers. In typical “cults” the social structure is closed. It does not allow for challenges from outside.  This is how they control students. However, Rigpa does not use this ploy, thus allowing students to grow spiritually in ways that a closed “cult” would prevent.

It seems that much of our use of the word “cult” on the threads comes from an assumption that if there are certain harmful practices within a group, then the group is a cult.  Again, I refer to Wikipedia:

In the mass media, and among average citizens, “cult” gained an increasingly negative connotation, becoming associated with things like kidnapping, brainwashing, psychological abuse, sexual abuse and other criminal activity, and mass suicide… Secular cult opponents like those belonging to the anti-cult movement tend to define a “cult” as a group that tends to manipulate, exploit, and control its members. Specific factors in cult behavior are said to include manipulative and authoritarian mind control over members, communal and totalistic organization, aggressive proselytizing, systematic programs of indoctrination, and perpetuation in middle-class communities. The media was quick to follow suit, and social scientists sympathetic to the anti-cult movement, who were usually psychologists, developed more sophisticated models of brainwashing.

While some psychologists were receptive to these theories, sociologists were for the most part skeptical of their ability to explain conversion to NRMs [new religious movement]  In the late 1980s, psychologists and sociologists started to abandon theories like brainwashing and mind- control. While scholars may believe that various less dramatic coercive psychological mechanisms could influence group members, they came to see conversion to new religious movements principally as an act of a rational choice.

While I acknowledge that a quick check of Wikipedia does not constitute a definitive argument, it appears that professionals have not reached much agreement about defining this beast called “cult,” even with the presence of certain, harmful practices in a group.  Because of that fact, I suggest that it would be more fruitful for our discussions on these threads if we addressed these troubles more in terms of old, familiar terms such as “abuse of power” or “sexual abuse” or “greed” or “manipulation” rather than the emotively charged term of “cult.” (Of course, I acknowledge that this might entail taking our conversations off such websites as Dialogue Ireland, which is dedicated to exposing and dissembling cults).

Along these lines, I suggest that it would be helpful to consider the strong similarities between troubles within Rigpa and those within the Catholic Church.  One similarity is the fact that the Rigpa troubles are an example of misbehavior by a spiritual leader and subsequent, shoddy attempts at cover-up.  Students are leaving Rigpa, just as Catholics are leaving the church and though it is difficult for them to do so, though it causes them emotional pain and spiritual trauma, they would rather leave than remain part of such an operation. This becomes a mandate for reform in Rigpa, just as it is for the Catholic Church.  Momentum is building.

The second similarity between troubles within Rigpa and those within the Catholic Church is the antiquated, feudal hierarchies that they both expose. Just as the misbehaviors of priests are a symptom and exposure of even bigger troubles higher up, so many of us believe that Sogyal Rinpoche’s mischief is a symptom of a bigger trouble within Tibetan Buddhist society. This fact, added to recent troubles with young tulkus and lamas, charges the mandate for reform within Tibetan Buddhism with new urgency.

In this context, I would like to observe that HH Dalai Lama has been enormously pro-active towards resolving the troubles within Rigpa—because he has been enormously busy rebuilding the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy and vision.  While he has not engaged in the infinite regress of finger pointing or name calling, he has made enormous reforms within Tibetan Buddhism that facilitate and empower students and teachers to move forward.  Appreciating the ways in which he has done that could be useful for us. Some examples of this are:

Two decades ago, he met with Western teachers and broke with habitual Tibetan Buddhist approaches to empower westerners to speak out.  The relevant conclusions reached by that meeting are as follows:

4) An individual’s position as a teacher arises in dependence on the request of his or her students, not simply on being appointed as such by a higher authority. Great care must therefore be exercised by the student in selecting an appropriate teacher. Sufficient time must be given to making this choice, which should be based on personal investigation, reason, and experience. Students should be warned against the dangers of falling prey to charisma, charlatans, or exoticism.

5) Particular concern was expressed about unethical conduct among teachers. Both Asian and
 Western teachers have been involved in scandals concerning sexual misconduct with their students,
 abuse of alcohol and drugs, misappropriation of funds, and misuse of power. This has resulted in
 widespread damage both to the Buddhist community and the individuals involved. Each student must be encouraged to take responsible measures to confront teachers with unethical aspects of their conduct. If the teacher shows no sign of reform, students should not hesitate to publicize any unethical behavior of which there is irrefutable evidence. This should be done irrespective of other beneficial aspects of his or her work and of one’s spiritual commitment to that teacher. It should also be made clear in any publicity that such conduct is not in conformity with Buddhist teachings. No matter what level of spiritual attainment a teacher has, or claims to have, reached, no person can stand above the norms of ethical conduct. In order for the Buddha dharma not to be brought into disrepute and to avoid harm to students and teachers, it is necessary that all teachers at least live by the five lay precepts. In cases where ethical standards have been infringed, compassion and care should be shown towards both teacher and student.

2. He has written out in texts and spoken out in teachings about the dangers of the tantric instruction to “see everything the lama does as perfect” or “to see the lama as a Buddha.”  He advises caution with these instructions.

3. He has stepped down as temporal leader of Tibet in order for full Democratic reforms to be implemented.  He has spoken of the dangers inherent in combining temporal and spiritual power.

4. For several decades, he has been engaged in dialogues with the scientific community and has added science to the monastic curriculum.  As a result of these exchanges, he has stated clearly that he disagrees with certain (outdated) aspects of the Abbhidharma (Buddhist) literature on cosmology and matter.  His dialogues with scientists are grounded in deep mutual respect.  His stated goal is to move Buddhism into the 21st century, by calling on Buddhists to be fully informed and critically aware.

5. He is an avid promoter of religious tolerance and actively discourages propagation of Buddhism.  He states repeatedly that it is safest to keep one’s own traditional religion.

6. While he doesn’t point fingers at specific lamas or name names, he is the only Tibetan Buddhist leader to speak of misbehavior on the part of lamas.  He is the only leader to acknowledge that there is a problem and to advise students on how to proceed.

7. He has initiated reforms such that female monastics can now achieve the “geshe” degree (comparable to a doctorate in Buddhist science, philosophy and religion).  Recently, at his home in Macleod Ganj in Northern India, he hosted historic debates between nuns.  In the past, Tibetan nuns frequently couldn’t even read or write and were rarely given full ordination or Buddhist studies.

All of these actions are radical and they push Tibetan Buddhism into 21st century.  This vision from the top calls for democracy and empowerment from the bottom up.  It calls for practitioners to look into their own rational minds, their own wisdom, their own common sense.  Whether we are talking about nuns standing equal to monks or about the Tibetan government-in-exile being run by a democratic system instead of a god king, this vision of His Holiness is about we-the-people.  It is a huge step from the feudal society existent in Tibet only a half century ago.

I suggest that we view our actions today within the optimism of that progress instead of within the pessimism of the problems still existent.  I suggest that Tibetan Buddhist leaders will fit it in with this changed vision or they will begin to face diminishing sanghas.  As Sogyal Rinpoche is doing.

These days, I am no longer certain that there will be a moment when we can say that this trouble has been completely resolved or finished.  However, whether Sogyal Rinpoche steps forward and does that final right thing or not, his actions and our outcries are having an effect that will make it harder for such actions to be committed by lamas in the future. Whether women file criminal/civil charges or not, our sane conversations are having an effect and women are being empowered to say—NO.  Whether we siege Rigpa bedrooms or not, we are here for those women who will need support and care.   We are here for disillusioned men as well.  They know that.

I don’t believe we can draw the line definitively and say, Rigpa is fixed now. Nor do I believe that there is the will in any of us to shut Rigpa down.  However, what we can do is empower each other so that our minds are free to think and analyze and reach sound, unbiased conclusions. What we can do is reach out to each other with warmth and kindness and attempt within ourselves to better embody the Buddha’s teachings.

Joanne Clark
Minor revision on March 18, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Why the Dalai Lama cannot condemn Tibetan self-immolations

“This is a very, very delicate political issue. Now, the reality is that if I say something positive, then the Chinese immediately blame me. If I say something negative, then the family members of those people feel very sad. They sacrificed their own life. It is not easy. So I do not want to create some kind of impression that this is wrong. So the best thing is to remain neutral.”

There are discussions and opinions from Westerners that the Dalai Lama should condemn the Tibetan self-immolations. We had these discussions also here on the blog. Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of “The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation,” states on CNN Belief Blog:

I know it is impolitic to criticize the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who is revered as a bodhisattva by many Buddhists. But he deserves criticism in this case. Why not “create some kind of impression” that killing is wrong? Why not use his vast storehouse of moral and spiritual capital to denounce this ritual of human sacrifice?

If the Dalai Lama were to speak out unequivocally against these deaths, they would surely stop. So in a very real sense, their blood is on his hands. But the bad karma the Dalai Lama is accruing here extends far beyond Tibet and these particular protesters.

In a reply to it, Tenzin Dorjee, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, states on CNN blog:

In a crass display of moral blindsight, Stephen Prothero’s blog post on Tibetan self-immolations blames the victim instead of the bully.

Tibetans are stuck in one of the world’s last remaining and most brutal colonial occupations. It is through this lens, more than anything else, that we must understand the self-immolations.

Since 2009, at least 44 Tibetans – monks, nuns and lay people – have set themselves on fire to protest China’s rule; 39 self-immolations have occurred this year alone. Every one of these acts is a direct result of China’s systematic assault on the Tibetan people’s way of life, their movements, their speech, their religion, and their identity.

Instead of responding to China’s oppression with revenge – a path far more tempting to the basic human instinct – Tibetans have chosen a means far more peaceful. Without harming a single Chinese, they set aflame their own bodies to shine a light upon the atrocity taking place in their homeland. They sacrifice their own lives not in the name of “God” or “Buddha,” as Mr. Prothero so dismissively suggests, but in an altruistic intention of alerting the world to their people’s suffering.

By demanding that the Dalai Lama condemn these individuals who have shown compassion beyond our imagination, Mr. Prothero has betrayed a colossal indifference to the courage and circumstances of those fighting for the same democratic freedoms and human rights that he himself enjoys.

How can the Dalai Lama condemn the self-immolators when their motivation was evidently selfless and their tactic nonviolent? Would we ask Gandhi to condemn activists in the Indian freedom struggle who were killed while lying on the road to block British police trucks? Or the hunger strikers who were starving themselves to death in order to protest the injustices of British rule in India?

By every measure, it’s the Chinese leaders and not the Dalai Lama who are responsible for the self-immolations in Tibet. They have the power to ease tensions, reverse restrictions, and stop the self-immolations overnight. But instead of seeking a lasting solution to the Tibet issue, they continue to aggravate the situation by intensifying the repression.

No one is more tormented by the self-immolations than the Dalai Lama, whose bond with the Tibetan people goes deeper than language can express. In fact, it is the singular calming influence of the Dalai Lama that has kept the movement nonviolent to date.

As a universal icon of peace, the Dalai Lama’s spiritual influence goes well beyond the Buddhist world. Nevertheless, his moral authority is not an infinite resource. There is an invisible moral rope with which the Dalai Lama has bound the Tibetans to nonviolence for four decades. But this rope is wearing thin as China’s escalating tyranny drives Tibetans into a corner.

Self-immolation, which emerged as a tactic from being cornered for too long, represents the final outpost in the spectrum of nonviolent resistance. If this last remaining space for expression, no matter how drastic, is taken away, the rope might just snap. Chaos will ensue, vastly increasing the chances of a full-blown ethnic conflict that even the Dalai Lama will have exhausted his moral capital to stop.

From all of Mr. Prothero’s accusations, the most offensive is his comparison of self-immolations to sati – a social system in ancient India where widows were pressured to throw themselves into the funeral pyre of their deceased husbands. Self-immolation – a political act of reason – is the polar opposite of sati – a blind act of superstition.

There is not a single case of Tibetan self-immolation that was prompted by social pressure or religious obligation. Every incident of it, unexpected as it is, shakes the nation, the community, not to mention the family, to its foundations. Every Tibetan prays in his or her heart that the latest might be the last.

The image of a person engulfed in flames is shocking, often disturbing, to people living in the free world. For all our obsession with violent movies, graphic video games, and live coverage of wars, it still rips our hearts to pieces when we see a human in flames.

Rather than indulging in philosophical investigations into the morality of self-immolations, we must see these actions for what they are: urgent pleas for help from a people pushed to the brink by decades of ruthless repression.

One hopes that most people are focused on the real question at hand: how shall we answer this call?

Personally, as a Western Buddhist, I try to be cautious not to condemn others but to start any judgement from first trying to understand the events, situations and background of it. Only if I can understand, if I am able to put myself into the shoes of others, there is the opportunity for a fair judgement of things.

One argument sticks to me as being misleading in this context, and that is that – as Prothero and the Chinese official say – “If the Dalai Lama were to speak out unequivocally against these deaths, they would surely stop.” I think such a belief is based on a wrong mental image that imposes omnipotent powers to the Dalai Lama. This imagination is not based on reality. Why?

First, Tibetans themselves remark self-critically, that they usually never did what their spiritual or political leaders advised them – ‘this tradition’, as Buddhist Tibetans humorous remark – of disobeying the advice of their leaders started already at the time of King Trison Detsen (742–97). The saying goes as follows: Padmasambhava recommended Trison Detsen not to partake in the Tibetan New Year’s annual ceremonies, but Trison Detsen didn’t heed Padmasambhava’s advice (as a king he had to partake, he argued), then Padmasambhava asked him at least not to partake in the horse race, but Trison Detsen didn’t listen. During the horse race he, so it is said, fell off the horse and died. Also the 13th Dalai Lama intensively pleaded to the Tibetans to heed his advice in his “political testament” (PDF):

Therefore take measures now. Maintain friendly relations with the two great powers, China and India, conscript able soldiers to guard the borders and make them sufficiently strong to ward off those countries with whom we have had border disputes. The armed forces should be drilled and disciplined so as to be effective and strong to overcome those who threaten us. These precautions should be taken at a time when the forces of degeneration are most prevalent and when Communism is on the spread. Remember the fate that befell the Mongolian nation when Communists overran the country and where the Head Lama’s reincarnation was forbidden, where property was totally confiscated and where monasteries and religion were completely wiped out. These things have happened, are happening and will happen in the land which is the Centre of Buddhism (i.e. Tibet). So, if you are not able to defend yourselves now, the institutions of the Dalai Lama, venerable incarnates and those who protect the Teachings shall be wiped out completely. Monasteries shall be looted, property confiscated and all living beings shall be destroyed. The memorable rule of the Three Gardian kings of Tibet, the very institutions of the state and religion shall be banned and forgotten. The property of the officials shall be confiscated; they shall be slaves of the conquerors and shall roam the land in bondage. All souls shall be immersed in suffering and the night shall be long and dark.

And what did the Lhasa elite do – especially the conservative wing of the (Gelug) monasteries (most often Shugden proponents btw) – after the death of the 13th Dalai Lama? They reverted almost all of his reforms. Such deep is the “obedience” many superimpose onto the Tibetans and their relation to the Dalai Lamas or their spiritual leaders. Also the case of the 14th Dalai Lama shows many such examples, that while the Tibetans revere him tremendously most often they don’t heed his advice. To take just one example: in 1998 the Dalai Lama personally asked the “Hunger Unto Death” strikers to stop their strike in India. He clearly said that he regards this as violence against oneself and cannot agree with it. Nevertheless, though initially heeding, some of the hunger strikers picked up the political protest again and it ended in the first self-immolation of a Tibetan, the death of Thubten Ngodup.

I would like to ask those who wish to form an opinion, to do this carefully, to first take time to fully investigate the background otherwise one risks to elevate oneself over others based on a narrow minded ethical point of view, and this mode of thinking would easily go into the direction of an unfair discrimination of the Tibetans. (Westerners have this tendency – and I think Stephen Prothero might have stepped into this trap too – to place themselves higher than others based on their assumed superior ethical views without understanding the complex background of events and other cultures.) There is also another risk: shouldn’t we be ashamed about the Western countries’ silence to these self-immolations and our moral corruption with respect to the legal rights of the Tibetans as a people? Isn’t there a risk, that we project our own moral failings onto the Dalai Lama and Tibetans, attacking them, instead of asking us: Why are we silent and leave the Tibetans alone, doing nothing about the brutal colonisation of their country? As anthropologist Katia Buffetrille commented:

What is happening in Tibet is very rarely covered by the media, firstly because of the many events that shock the world, secondly, because the Western countries greatly restrain themselves when it comes to anything to say against China. They are afraid that they might miss a business …

And the Tibetan author and writer Jamyang Norbu states in a more desperate mood:

Seventy Tibetans have, one after the other, in relentless and purposeful succession, set themselves on fire for the cause of their people’s freedom. If anything so heroic, selfless, spontaneous, non-instigated, and entirely non-violent* had happened anywhere else in the world, especially in the West or in places important to Western interests, like the Middle East or North Africa, these self-immolations would not only have become headline news but would have been discussed to death (if you will forgive the expression) in TV news-shows, chat-rooms, newspaper op-eds, editorials, blog-rooms, think-tank forums and so on. The issue could even have come up in the American presidential elections, and Tibetan TV viewers watching the foreign policy debate might have been amused by the vision of Mitt Romney scolding president Obama for ignoring the immolations in Tibet and “apologizing” to China – or its equivalent in this alternate reality.

But, of course, nothing of the kind has happened in our space-time continuum. Far from being the subject of international discussion the world media has given the Tibetan immolations the absolutely minimum attention it is possible to give to a major news story, without actually opening itself to the charge of deliberately and cynically ignoring the issue altogether.

I must make it clear that I am not saying that the New York Times, the BBC or CNN have not reported the immolations. Clearly they have all done so, though only to the minimally acceptable extent – CNN being the worst offender. Even the tone of the published reports have been uniformly clinical and impersonal as weather reports. But the big evasion in these reports is the lack of discussion on the fundamental cause for which these Tibetans burnt themselves.

So before we judge another people in despair maybe it’s good to first question our own silence instead of questioning Tibetans, and the Dalai Lama’s supposed silence, isn’t it?

After having done this self-introspection, one might be able to ask in a fairer way why the Dalai Lama cannot condemn Tibetan self-immolations as many Westerners expect him to do.

The Dalai Lama says in The Hindu:

This is a very, very delicate political issue. Now, the reality is that if I say something positive, then the Chinese immediately blame me. If I say something negative, then the family members of those people feel very sad. They sacrificed their own life. It is not easy. So I do not want to create some kind of impression that this is wrong. So the best thing is to remain neutral.

Westerners who are so used to feel compelled to say something, to judge, to give an opinion on everything at hand seem to be unable to tolerate this neutral approach, and subsequently they project – as Prothero does it – that now there would be the self-immolators’ “blood is on his [the Dalai Lama's] hands”. Hello! The Dalai Lama didn’t kill any body, the Chinese mistreat, kill and torture Tibetans!

Moreover, according to Kelsang Gyaltsen, the Dalai Lama supported the appeals of the elected Tibetan government in Exile (CTA) who appealed to the Tibetans to not grasp to such drastic measures as self-immolations. Dr. Lobsang Sangay, elected prime minister of the CTA, said that while he highly discourages the drastic action, it is the “sacred duty” of the exiled community to support it.

“We have made so many appeals (to stop self-immolations), but they are still doing it,” said Sangay, the political successor of the Dalai Lama, as the number of self-immolations by monks, nuns and others swelled to 68 since March 2011.

I think it is save to say, what the Dalai Lama said already: “This is a very, very delicate political issue.”

Kelsang Gyaltsen, the Dalai Lama’s special representative for Europe, explained in an interview with the German radio station Deutschlandfunk (mp3 file, 01. December 2012, translation by Tenpel – sorry for the mistakes):

HEUER: At the moment, people are dying in Tibet. China now says one word of the Dalai Lama were sufficient to stop self-immolations. Why doesn’t he say anything?

GYALTSEN: The Dalai Lama is very, very worried about the situation in Tibet. And the whole world knows his attitude to non-violence and also violence towards oneself. The Dalai Lama has clearly emphasized, when the first case of self-immolation 1998 in Delhi took place that also violence against oneself is an act of violence and should be avoided.

HEUER: But that’s 14 years ago. Why doesn’t he say anything now?

GYALTSEN: Why now he says nothing about it? If the Dalai Lama in this situation cannot offer Tibetans any alternatives in how they can achieve their rights then he simply cannot prohibit the Tibetans to protest against the Chinese’s policy of oppression. Since years he offered to engage in talks [with China].

He makes clear that he doesn’t strive for independence and separation but for a genuine autonomy within the People’s Republic of
China. But the Chinese government is not responding to this offer. If the Chinese government would give any sign that the Chinese leadership is willing to address the concern of the Tibetans, the dissatisfaction of the Tibetans seriously, then I’m convinced that the Dalai Lama would offer every help and cooperation.

HEUER: Mr. Gyaltsen, but then I understand you correctly: As long as that is not the case, the Dalai Lama approves the suicides because they are a protest against Chinese rule and because they create publicity?

GYALTSEN: That’s not the case at all. There can be no talk of his [supposed] endorsement! He must offer an alternative to the Tibetans,
how they can gain their [basic human] rights without immolating themselves. Tell me this alternative!

HEUER: I can not tell you any, but it is clear that people continue to kill themselves. And that you do not do anything against it, that the Dalai Lama does not intervene.

GYALTSEN: But! That’s not right. The elected Tibetan leaders have repeatedly appealed to the Tibetans in Tibet, not to resort to such drastic forms of protest. And the Dalai Lama has supported all of these appeals from the elected Tibetan leaders [in exile].

HEUER: Mr. Gyaltsen, the international community is predominantly silent given to what we’re seeing now in Tibet.
I want to focus this on Germany. We have last experienced that Angela Merkel has publicly criticized Russian President Putin and has tangled with him. Do you wish something like this in dealing with the Chinese Government?

GYALTSEN: Of course! The question, Ms. Heuer, in the frame we are discussing had to be: What does the Chinese government do to stop the self-immolation of Tibetans? What does the international community do to convince the Tibetans thereof not to resort to these forms of protest? You can not, as the Chinese do, blame the Dalai Lama for all the problems that exist in Tibet. The Dalai Lama lives since 50 years outside of Tibet. About 95 percent of the Tibetans who live in Tibet have never seen the Dalai Lama. And still the Chinese explain that for every protest in Tibet, for each of these self-immolations the Dalai Lama as the culprit. I think in this context, of course, Germany is in a very good position, to take effect on China. Germany is China’s largest trading partner in Europe and has a major impact. And an active involvement of the German government, to relax the situation in Tibet and to create a real Dialogue between the Tibetans and the Chinese leadership, would be seen by us Tibetans as being very, very welcomed.


So, why the Dalai Lama cannot condemn Tibetan self-immolations? Ask this yourself but please based on an informed perspective. In my opinion it is strange to expect from a person to condemn actions that are the last means of an oppressed people against their oppressors, a means that does not inflict harm on the oppressors but “only” on themselves. How can I condemn this or expect others to do this?

However, based in the immense suffering self-immolation is creating for oneself and the families, I would highly welcome any action that can stop the self-immolations, right now. This is even more so, since more than 100 self-immolations of Tibetans haven’t turned any thing to the better but only increased China’s oppression. The more than 100 Tibetan self-immolations have not achieved any similar result to the self-immolation of Quảng Đửc, or the self-immolation of Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi that became the catalyst for what has become known as the Arab Spring.

It was the Dalai Lama himself who – besides his known stance on non-violence – also questioned the effectiveness of the Tibetan self-immolations. He said, that these actions would lead to increased repression (see Katia Buffetrille).

Self-Immolations in Perspective

Appeals to Stop Self-Immolations

The Power of the Dalai Lama in Perspective

Further Readings

On this blog

Last edited by tenpel on March 16, 2013 at 12:35 pm

The Guru-Disciple Relationship – Advice by HH the Dalai Lama

In “Healing Anger – The power of patience from a Buddhist perspective” pub. Snow Lion, USA 1997, pp 83-85, H.H. the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, states:

Q: What do you think about Dharma teachers who speak and write about Dharma beautifully, but do not live it?

A: Because Buddha knew of this potential consequence, he was very strict in prescribing the qualities that are necessary for a person to be qualified as a teacher. Nowadays, it seems, this is a serious issue. First on the teacher’s side: the person who gives some teaching, or gives talks on Dharma must have really trained, learned, and studied. Then, since the subject is not history or literature, but rather a spiritual one, the teacher must gain some experience. Then when that person talks about a religious subject with some experience, it carries some weight. Otherwise, it is not so effective. Therefore, the person who begins to talk to others about the Dharma must realize the responsibility, must be prepared. That is very important. Because of this importance, Lama Tsongkhapa, when he describes the qualifications that are necessary for an individual to become a teacher, quotes from Maitreya’s Ornament of Scriptures, in which Maitreya lists most of the key qualifications that are necessary on the part of the teacher, such as that the teacher must be disciplined, at peace with himself, compassionate, and so on. At the conclusion, Lama Tsongkhapa sums up by stating that those who wish to seek a spiritual teacher must first of all be aware of what the qualifications are that one should look for in a teacher. Then, with that knowledge, seek a teacher. Similarly, those who wish to seek students and become teachers must not only be aware of these conditions, but also judge themselves to see whether they possess these qualities, and if not, work towards possessing them. Therefore, from the teachers’ side, they also must realize the great responsibility involved. If some individual, deep down, is really seeking money, then I think it is much better to seek money through other means. So if the deep intention is a different purpose, I think this is very unfortunate. Such an act is actually giving proof to the Communist accusation that religion is an instrument for exploitation. This is very sad.

Buddha himself was aware of this potential for abuse. He therefore categorically stated that one should not live a way of life which is acquired through five wrong means of livelihood. One of them is being deceptive and flattering toward one’s benefactor in order to get maximal benefit.

Now, on the students’ side, they also have responsibility. First, you should not accept the teacher blindly. This is very important. You see, you can learn Dharma from someone you accept not necessarily as a guru, but rather as a spiritual friend. Consider that person until you know him or her very well, until you gain full confidence and can say, “Now, he or she can be my guru.” Until that confidence develops, treat that person as a spiritual friend. Then study and learn from him or her. You also can learn through books, and as time goes by, there are more books available. So I think this is better.

Here I would like to mention a point which I raised as early as thirty years ago about a particular aspect of the guru-disciple relationship. As we have seen with Shantideva’s text Guide to the Bodhisatva’s Way of Life, we find that in a particular context certain lines of thought are very much emphasized, and unless you see the argument in its proper context there is a great potential for misunderstanding. Similarly, in the guru-disciple relationship, because your guru plays such an important role in serving as the source of inspiration, blessing, transmission, and so on, tremendous emphasis is placed on maintaining proper reliance upon and a proper relationship with one’s guru. In the texts describing these practices we find a particular expression, which is, “May I be able to develop respect for the guru, devotion to the guru, which would allow me to see his or her every action as pure.”

I stated as early as thirty years ago that this is a dangerous concept. There is a tremendous potential for abuse in this idea of trying to see all the behaviours of the guru as pure, of seeing everything the guru does as enlightened. I have stated that this is like a poison. To some Tibetans, that sentence may seem a little bit extreme. However, it seems now, as time goes by, that my warning has become something quite relevant. Anyway, that is my own conviction and attitude, but I base the observation that this is a potentially poisonous idea on Buddha’s own words. For instance, in the Vinaya teachings, which are the scriptures that outline Buddha’s ethics and monastic discipline, where a relationship toward one’s guru is very important, Buddha states that although you will have to accord respect to your guru, if the guru happens to give you instructions which contradict the Dharma, then you must reject them.

There are also very explicit statements in the sutras, in which Buddha states that any instructions given by the guru that accord with the general Dharma path should be followed, and any instructions given by the guru that do not accord with the general approach of the Dharma should be discarded.

It is in the practice of Highest Yoga Tantra of Vajrayana Buddhism where the guru-disciple relationship assumes great importance. For instance, in Highest Yoga Tantra we have practices like guru yoga, a whole yoga dedicated toward one’s relation to the guru. However, even in Highest Yoga Tantra we find statements which tell us that any instructions given by the guru which do not accord with Dharma cannot be followed. You should explain to the guru the reasons why you can’t comply with them, but you should not follow the instructions just because the guru said so. What we find here is that we are not instructed to say, “Okay, whatever you say, I will do it,” but rather we are instructed to use our intelligence and judgment and reject instructions which are not in accord with Dharma.

However we do find, if we read the history of Buddhism, that there were examples of single-pointed guru devotion by masters such as Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, and Milarepa which may seem a little extreme. But we find that while these masters, on the surface, may look like outcasts or beggars, or they may have strange behaviours which sometimes lead other people to lose faith, nevertheless when the necessity came for them to reinforce other people’s faith in the Dharma and in themselves as spiritual teachers, these masters had a counterbalancing factor – a very high level of spiritual realization. This was so much so that they could display supernatural powers to outweigh whatever excesses people may have found in them, conventionally speaking. However, in the case of some of the modern-day teachers, they have all the excesses in their unethical behaviours but are lacking in this counterbalancing factor, which is the capacity to display supernatural powers. Because of this, it can lead to a lot of problems.

Therefore, as students, you should first watch and investigate thoroughly. Do not consider someone as a teacher or guru until you have certain confidence in the person’s integrity. This is very important. Then, second, even after that, if some unhealthy things happen, you have the liberty to reject them. Students should make sure that they don’t spoil the guru. This is very important.

In The Gelug/Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra, pp. 209–211, His Holiness the Dalai Lama states:

Premature Commitment To An Unsuitable Guru

In some cases it happens that disciples do not examine a spiritual teacher very carefully before accepting him or her as their guru and committing themselves to a guru/disciple relationship. They may even have received tantric empowerments from this teacher. But then they find they were wrong. They see many flaws in this teacher and discover many serious mistakes he or she has made. They find that this teacher does not really suit them. Their minds are uneasy regarding this person and they are filled with doubts and possibly regret. What to do in such a circumstance?

The mistake, of course, is that originally the disciples did not examine this teacher very carefully before committing themselves to him or her. But this is something of the past that has already happened. No one can change that. In the future, of course, they must examine any potential guru much more thoroughly. But, as for what to do now in this particular situation with this particular guru, it is not productive or helpful to continue investigating and scrutinizing him or her in terms of suspicions or doubts. Rather, as The Kalachakra Tantra recommends, it is best to keep a respectful distance. They should just forget about him or her and not have anything further to do with this person.

It is not healthy, of course, for disciples to deny serious ethical flaws in their guru, if they are in fact true, or his or her involvement in Buddhist power-politics, if this is the case. To do so would be a total loss of discriminating awareness. But for disciples to dwell on these points with disrespect, self-recrimination, regret or other negative attitudes is not only unnecessary, unhelpful and unproductive, it is also improper. They distance themselves even further from achieving a peaceful state of mind and may seriously jeopardize their future spiritual progress. I think it best in this circumstance just to forget about this teacher.

Premature Commitment To Tantra And Daily Recitation Practices

It may also occur that disciples have taken tantric empowerments prematurely, thinking that since tantra is famous as being so high, it must be beneficial to take this initiation. They feel they are ready for this step and take the empowerment, thereby committing themselves to the master conferring it as now being their tantric guru. Moreover, they commit themselves as well to various sets of vows and a daily recitation meditation practice. Then later these disciples realize that this style of practice does not suit them at all, and again they are filled with doubts, regrets, and possibly fear. Again, what to do?

We can understand this with an analogy. Suppose, for instance, we go to a store, see some useful but exotic item that strikes our fancy and just buy it on impulse, even though it is costly. When we bring it home, we find, after examining the item more soberly now that we are out of the exciting, seductive atmosphere of the marketplace, that we have no particular use for it at the moment. In such situation, it is best not to throw the thing out in the garbage, but rather to put it aside. Later we might find it, in fact, very useful.

The same conclusion applies to the commitments disciples have taken prematurely at a tantric empowerment without sufficient examination to determine if they were ready for them. In such situations, rather than deciding that they are never going to use it at all and throwing the whole thing away, such disciples would do better to establish a neutral attitude toward it, putting tantra and their commitments aside and leaving it like that. This is because they may come back to them later and find them very precious and useful.

Suppose, however, disciples have taken an empowerment and have accepted the commitment to practice the meditations of a particular Buddha-form by reciting a sadhana, a method of actualization, to guide them through a complex sequence of visualization and mantra repetition. Although they still have faith in tantra, they find that their recitation commitment is too long and it has become a great burden and strain to maintain it as a daily practice. What to do then? Such disciples should abbreviate their practice. This is very different from the previous case in which certain disciples find that tantric practice in general does not suit them at the present stage of their spiritual life. Everyone has time each day to eat and to sleep. Likewise, no matter how busy they are, no matter how many family and business responsibilities they may have, such disciples can at least find a few minutes to maintain the daily continuity of generating themselves in their imagination in the aspect of a Buddha-form and reciting the appropriate mantra. They must make some effort. Disciples can never progress anywhere on the spiritual path if they do not make at least a minimal amount of effort.

In The Gelug/Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra, pp. 185–186, His Holiness the Dalai Lama states about

The Root Guru

Sometimes we differentiate a root guru from our other gurus and focus particularly on him or her for our practice of guru-yoga. Our root guru is usually described in the context of tantra as the one who is kind to us in three ways. There are several manners of explaining these three types of kindness. One, for example, is the kindness to confer upon us empowerments, explanatory discourses on the tantric practices and special guideline instructions for them. If we have received empowerments and discourses from many gurus, we consider as our root guru the one who has had the most beneficial effect upon us. For deciding this, we do not examine in terms of the actual qualifications of the guru from his or her own side, but rather in terms of our own side and the benefit we have gained in our personal development and the state of mind this guru elicits in us. We consider the rest of our gurus as emanations or manifestations of that root guru …

More about the Teacher-Student-Relationship

Spiritual Teacher and Sexual Abuse / Sexual Exploitation

See also

  • Open Letter – Conference of Western Buddhist Teachers

Posts on this Blog


  Last edited by tenpel on February 26, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Dangerous Cult Leaders – Psychology today

Dangerous Cult Leaders

There is an article by Joe Navarro, a former FBI Counterintelligence Agent, about “Dangerous Cult Leaders“.

Navarro is investigating the topic from the perspective of cult leader’s pathological patterns and from the point of view when he or she becomes a danger to others. For Navarro there is a “historical record of suffering and hurt caused by various cult leaders around the world.” Joe Navarro bases his article on his studies of cults and cult leaders during his time in the FBI.

In my opinion one of the pattern behind cult leaders is a personality disorder, usually I stress that it is good to get to know the signs of a Narcissistic personality disorder in order to understand cults and one’s own or others’ experiences in the context of so-called “cults”.

Navarro seems to come also to such a conclusion and he states that the individuals whose life, teachings, and behaviours he studied have “or had an over-abundant belief that they were special, that they and they alone had the answers to problems, and that they had to be revered. They demanded perfect loyalty from followers, they overvalued themselves and devalued those around them, they were intolerant of criticism, and above all they did not like being questioned or challenged. And yet, in spite of these less than charming traits, they had no trouble attracting those who were willing to overlook these features.”

Joe Navarro offers a list of 50 typical traits of a pathological cult leader and suggests that “you should watch for and which shout caution, get away, run, or avoid if possible”:

  1. He has a grandiose idea of who he is and what he can achieve.
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, or brilliance.
  3. Demands blind unquestioned obedience.
  4. Requires excessive admiration from followers and outsiders.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement – expecting to be treated special at all times.
  6. Is exploitative of others by asking for their money or that of relatives putting others at financial risk.
  7. Is arrogant and haughty in his behavior or attitude.
  8. Has an exaggerated sense of power (entitlement) that allows him to bend rules and break laws.
  9. Takes sexual advantage of members of his sect or cult.
  10. Sex is a requirement with adults and sub adults as part of a ritual or rite.
  11. Is hypersensitive to how he is seen or perceived by others.
  12. —> for more please read the article: Dangerous Cult Leaders, Published on August 25, 2012 by Joe Navarro, M.A. on Psychology today blog.

The Dalai Lama as a god king in the eyes of a psychologist who has no understanding of Tibet’s history, Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lamas

Another article on Psychology today blog shows rather the opposite of a thoughtful investigation: Dr. Joachim Krueger’s “The Dalai Lama as a Brand – neither god nor king“. After Krueger portrays the image of the current Dalai Lama as “a unique phenomenon in today’s world. More than anyone else, he transcends ordinary social categories …” etc. he puts him high above human categories and claims he would be “the closest thing to a god-king we currently have.”

God king? No Tibetan, not the Dalai Lama, nor anybody else who has some understanding calls the Dalai Lama “a god king”. The term derives from Western projections as scientists like Michael von Brück made clear. The Dalai Lama stresses himself quite often – including in his books – that he is just a human being like everybody else. When the Dalai Lama was asked in 1960 that it is believed he were a “living Buddha” or “a god king”  he replied: “What a strange remark! I am just a blessed follower of the Buddha.”

However, Krueger has to ignore those things to be able to follow Goldner’s presentation of a Dalai Lama, an image that is based on an “Anti-religious”, “Anti-lamaistic” stance (Golzio). To make it short, though it is highly welcome to balance the overall present rather enthusiastic image of the Dalai Lama, Goldner’s work is just a skilfully distorted, one-sided portray of Tibet, monasticism, and the Dalai Lama which FAZ reviewd as “Excessive doom-saying in such an amount and in such disparaging, abusive lingo, it’s not every day.” Although there exist some positive reviews of Goldner’s book in some news outlets too (NR, FR), the journalists in those outlets clearly lack any knowledge about the history of Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lamas, and missed to contact Tibetologists, Historians, Indologists or Anthropologists to verify Goldner’s presentation. A trap in which Krueger stepped too.

When I hinted to Krueger that Colin Goldner is a highly questionable source and gave some brief background information in the comment section Krueger wrote immediately another post Comments on Dalai Lama Post. There he wrongly claimed that

“The commentator gets more specific with regard to the last charge by noting that Goldner lost a court case when suing a reviewer who accused him of racism. … A Viennese court apparently saw it differently. I ask the commentator to supply the entire text of the court’s decision so I can form an informed opinion.

What strikes me is what did not happen. The suit was brought by Goldner with respect to an issue of language and not of fact. I would be interested to learn if there are cases of successful suits against Goldner, showing that critical parts of the evidence presented in his book are false, made-up, or grossly distorted.”

My request to clarify and to change this he ignored.

However, the “Dalai Lama as a Brand” is still an interesting topic. But I think if one wants to really investigate it in a serious and thoughtful manner one needs also enough knowledge about Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lamas, and reliable sources. — Not only knowledge is required but one must be free from prejudices and ideological delusions, and one should understand the inner logic of phenomena too. “Schuster bleib bei Deinen Leisten” we would say in German: “Cobbler, stick to your last!”*

* A cobbler makes shoes and their last is the thing they fashion or repair the shoes on. The phrase means stick to what you’re good at, or more negatively, don’t get above yourself. (see

Update 04 April 2013

Update 20 April 2013

Tibet’s Independence – Tibet as a Feudal Hell

Many leftists seem to have a problem with religion and the power of religious figures and therefore tend towards to have a problem with Tibet and the Dalai Lama too.

Though there is a lot one can criticise in Old Tibet (like in every country), the ideological delusions of some (rather extreme) leftists tend towards not to see all of the facts, and they miss very often to put into context what they actual criticise.

Nowadays China’s propaganda machine, together with ideologically biased journalists (like Michael Backman, Michael Parenti, John Goetz, Gerald Lehner etc.) – and of course the NKT’s political arm, the Western Shugden Society – seem a bit to dominate the critical voices of the history and presentations of Tibet – in the internet as well as sometimes also in the press/media.* Often they follow a line of arguments that are rather based on conspiracy theories – like those Victor and Victoria Trimondi have established with their “The Shadow of the Dalai Lama” (1999) – than unbiased and thoughtful investigation.

Putting events into context

If one looks back from today’s points of view it is easy to criticise other societies of the past, especially if they are somewhat alien to oneself like Tibet. But I would like to remind Westerners that the liberties we enjoy in the West today are rather very new, and one has to look on societies according to the standards of their time. For instance the right to elect for women was formally established in Swiss at 7. February 1971. An it was only on 27. November 1990 that the last Swiss Kanton, Appenzell Innerrhoden, was forced by law to allow women to participate elections. In 1959 Mildred and Richard Loving were sentenced one year to prison because it was forbidden in the USA that people of different ethnic “races” marry. It was only in 1967 that the Supreme Court of the USA abolished the “Anti-Miscegenation Laws” that forbade the mixing of two different “races”.**

Tibet had also a progressive stance

As Jamyang Norbu writes in his essay Independent Tibet – The Facts:

Tibet was a fully functioning and independent state before the Chinese invasion. It threatened none of its neighbours, fed its population unfailingly, year after year, with no help from the outside world, and owed nothing to any country or international institution. Although insular, theocratic and not a modern democracy, Tibet maintained law and order within its borders and conscientiously observed treaties and conventions entered into with other nations. It was one of the earliest countries to enact laws to protect wildlife and the environment – recurrently cited in the “Mountain Valley Edicts” issued since 1642 [1], and possibly earlier. [2]

Tibet abolished capital punishment in 1913 (noted by many foreign travellers [3]) and was one of the first nations in the world to do so. There is no record of it persecuting minorities (e.g. Muslims [4]) or massacring sections of its population from time to time as China (remember Tiananmen) still does. Although Tibet’s frontiers with India, Nepal and Bhutan were completely unguarded and Tibetans were “great travellers” [5] , very few Tibetans fled their country as economic or political refugees. There was not a single Tibetan immigrant in the USA or Europe before the Communist invasion.

The connection between Tibet’s Independence and Tibet as a Feudal Hell

Very often the distorted portrays of Tibet as a hell on earth and China’s distorted claims of having freed Tibet from “feudal serfdom” (when China occupied Tibet their proclaimed aim was btw to free Tibet from the evil (British) imperialists) are nothing more than justifications of the violent and unrightful occupation of Tibet by the PR China, bringing Tibet under aggressive, colonialist rule.

No matter whose propaganda – the PRC’s or the TGIE’s – is more distorted, the Tibetans’ right to decide themselves how they want to live, is a basic human right which no authority can question. And it is very clear that the majority of Tibetans don’t want to live in an Old Tibet nor under China’s violent rule.

For a balanced account about Tibet, Tibet as a Hell on Earth, Tibet’s independence, and Tibet propaganda see:


* This might be also the case because persons with sympathy for the Tibetan’s plight have missed to express also criticism, and portrayed Tibet often too much in a (distorted) “positive” light.
** passage taken from Stephen Schettini about Tibetan Buddhism – When Buddhism is a Cult

Footnotes of JN’s essay

1. In 1642, the Fifth Dalai Lama issued the Rilung Tsatsik (རི་ཀླུང་རྩ་ཚིག་ri klung rtsa tshig) generally translated as the Mountain Valley Edict. Another source describes it as a Decree for the Protection of Animals and the Environment. Since then, this edict was re-issued annually till 1958. Following the New Year Festivities, copies of the edict were distributed nationwide, and were displayed and read out to the assembled public by district officials. In order that its message suitably awe and instruct the document itself was physically impressive: about 3 feet wide and 6 or 7 feet in length, richly decorated with auspicious symbols and artwork around the border, and with the seal of the Dalai Lama at the bottom. French, Rebecca Redwood. The Golden Yoke, p 208, 209 & 213.

2. According to the scholar, Tashi Tsering (director of the Amnye Machen Institute) there are references to “Mountain Valley” edicts being issued during the Rimpung dynasty and the Tsangpa kings.

3. Bell, Charles. Tibet Past and Present. London: Oxford University Press, 1924. See index: “Capital punishment abolished in Tibet, 142, 143, 236.”

Byron, Robert. First Russia then Tibet. London: Macmillan & Co., 1933. pg 204: “Capital punishment was now abolished.”

McGovern, William. To Lhasa in Disguise. New York: Century Co., 1924. pg 388-389.

Kingdon-Ward, Frank. In the Land of The Blue Poppies. New York: Modern Library, 2003. pg 22.

Winnington, Alan. Tibet: The Record of a Journey. London: Lawrence & Wishart Ltd., 1957. pg 99.

Brauen, Martin. Peter Aufschnaiter’s Eight Years in Tibet. Bangkok: Orchid Press, 2002. Pg 77: “There was no death penalty…”

4. The few books available on Muslims in Tibet clearly reveal the tolerance of Tibetan government, church and society for this minority group:

Henry, Gray. Islam in Tibet. Louisville, Kentucky: Fons Vitae, 1997.

Nadwi, Dr. Abu Bakr Amir-uddin. Tibet and Tibetan Muslims, Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, 2004.

5. The plant hunter Kingdon-Ward writing of Khampas mentions that “the men are great travellers and leave their wives behind for months at a time, and these good folk solace themselves as best they can with other travellers.” Kingdon Ward sees this contributing to the Tibetan custom of polyandry. He sees supporting evidence for his conjecture in the Lutzu who though in contact with Tibetans “…as far as I am aware, are monogamous, which adds weight of negative evidence in favour of the above theory, since the tribes are notorious stay-at-homes.”

Kingdon-Ward, Frank. (ed. Tom Christopher) In the Land of The Blue Poppies. New York: Modern Library, 2003. P175

Last edited by tenpel on January 1, 2013 at 1:26 pm

The Dalai Lama’s Compassion – A Healing Experience

“I had no idea how deeply spiritual our visit would become. The meeting with His Holiness would rank as one of the most emotional and treasured moments of my life — along with the births of my children, climbing high mountain peaks and other deeply personal experiences.”  — Ted Wilson, formerly Salt Lake City mayor (from 1976 to 1985)

The healing powers of the Dalai Lama

By Ted Wilson | The Salt Lake Tribune


We entered the Dalai Lama’s residence, each holding a white Buddhist blessing scarf. He placed the scarves around our necks and uttered a few blessing words. We sat on comfortable couches with the holy man, surrounded by a group of muscular monks. I surmised they were a security detachment. The Dalai Lama opened with small talk, his wit and iconic smile bringing resonate laughter from the guards. A group of designated laughers, I thought with some amusement.

We formally invited him to Utah. Then, suddenly, the formality dissolved. Looking intently at the couple that had joined us that morning, and with no visible cue from anyone he said, “You are sad.”

Our new friends broke down. Through gentle sobs, they explained their young son had recently committed suicide. A pause hung in the air. The Dalai Lama simply waited. And waited.


Read full story …

If you meet „The Evil“ you must be „evil“ yourself? Tibet’s & the Dalai Lama’s CIA connections + Nazi myths

Often we apply our present knowledge to situations or events without seeing these in their respective contexts. Due to this there are a lot of judgemental opinions, or “ethical condemnations” – which means one judges another person’s ethic as wrong or distorted etc. and feels oneself a bit better or higher than the other.

Such things can also be observed with respect to Tibet and the Dalai Lama. The internet is full of it and also newspapers and magazines tend towards simplified views of events.

Some of the main arguments to put down Tibetans or the Dalai Lama is an alleged “Nazi-Tibet connection” and that some Nazis or Shoko Asahara were able to meet with the Dalai Lama. The Western Shugden Society (see details for their background) has picked up many if these allegations to depict the Dalai Lama as a “hypocrite”, “liar” etc. Sometimes also journalists with firm ideological views pick up de-contextualised “facts” and semi-truths to project based on them their own imaginations.

I started already to briefly pick up some points and to address them. Today I will add some more points and two new sources of information.

CIA, Tibet and the Dalai Lama

When the Tibetans in their despair for help against China’s brutal invasion asked finally the USA for help (after all trials to receive help from the UK and India failed), at that time, the US had a rather good reputation and the CIA was not necessarily seen as “the devil in person”. So when the USA via the CIA “helped” (with poor weapons and equipment) the Tibetans at that time of China’s invasion this was rather something normal, not very surprising. And who can condemn a people under attack to look for help and to accept what they were able to get?

The money the TGIE and the Dalai Lama received by the CIA was used for setting up exile structures and the Dalai Lama wasn’t on “payroll”. He was no spy, no secret agent etc. Of course if today someone brings the nowadays negative image of the CIA together with the Dalai Lama, this is a tempting but also a cheap method to denounce the latter, and it is also not utterly true with respect to the CIA, who also helped Poland / Solidarnosc and other movements to find their independence in the past. Tibetans and the Dalai Lama never denied the connection with the CIA. The Dalai Lama called it in a New York Times interview in 1993 “not healthy” because the US / CIA had no serious motivation to help Tibetans but rather used them to harm the influence of Communism.

Moreover the Dalai Lama rejected to be in any way the Tibetan guerrilla’s spiritual head but said also he cannot morally condemn them for seeing no other way than to defend their beloved people and country by using violence.

The contact with the CIA was made by the brothers of the Dalai Lama without the Dalai Lama’s knowledge. Later he must have got knowledge and met also with the CIA chief operator who said that this was the coldest meeting he ever had. So obviously the Dalai Lama was not enthusiastic about this.

I lack time to go further or to add the exact sources for this. Its just a bit food for thought. Here a  “new” article about the CIA in Tibet:


Another problem involved in evaluating and judging if the Dalai Lama is not only a proponent of non-violence but really lives it is the term “non-violence” itself. “Non-violence”, as the Dalai Lama understands, it is not synonym with Western ideas of “pacifism”. In »Buddhist Warefare«, an academic approach to violence in Buddhism, it is correctly stated on page 6:

… the Sanskrit term for violence [is] hiṃsa. Hiṃsa is the root of ahiṃsa, the word for nonviolence made popular by Mohandas Gandhi. The literal definition of hiṃsa means “to desire to harm.”

Non-violance (skt.: ahimsa; tib.: rnam par mi ‘tshe ba) is defined in Abidharmasamuccaya (Asanga) as:

“What is non-violence? It is an attitude of loving kindness belonging to non-hatred. Its function is not to be malicious.”

So, the Buddhist meaning of it is mainly not to have a malicious mind or to not the have the desire to harm. That’s why some translators translate it as “non-harmfulness” (it’s the last of the eleven virtuous mental factors). However, this doesn’t mean that violence might not be used under certain circumstances “with a good motivation”+seeing that a violent action will bring more benefit than harm to a majority. Subsequently the Dalai Lama’s point of view is not that simplistic like most people think. He said different times that violence might be justified for instance in the case of terrorists (“Terrorism is the worst kind of violence, so we have to check it, we have to take countermeasures.”). He never was a proponent of “strict pacifism”, in the sense that he rejects violence under all circumstances and in all situations.

Avalon states the position of the Dalai Lama in one of his books:

“In theory violence and religious views can be combined but only if a person’s motivation, as well as the results of his actions, are solely for the majority of people. Under these circumstances and if there is no other alternative, then it is permissible. Now regarding Tibet, I believe that a militant attitude is helpful for maintaining morale among our youth, but a military movement itself is not feasible. It would be suicidal.”

The Dalai Lama said this at a point when the Tibetan Youth Congress became more and more militant and Tibetans witnessed that Arafat was warmly welcomed (with a big applause!) by the UN after his terrorist fights. The Tibetan youth were frustrated that the peaceful way doesn’t bear fruits, while the violent way of Arafat was successful.

The alleged “Nazi-Tibet connection”

Finally, the paper by Isrun Engelhardt (PhD) about the Nazi-Tibet myths is online, and I think, it speaks for itself. Especially the section about Conspiracy Theory might be interesting for some.

Who meets with whom and what does it tell?

Dalai Lama and Shoko Asahara.
What does this really tell, that they met?

A last thought. The same problem in applying present understanding to past events is the criticism that Shoko Asahara met the Dalai Lama. At that time Shoko Asahara was not known to be a gift gas murderer, and Asahara met also with other dignitaries and politicians. If one follows the argument “the Dalai Lama is ‘bad’ because he met with Shoko Asahara” it follows also Rosalynn Carter, the wife of the US President, is ‘bad’ because she met with the serial killer John Wayne Gacy in 1978.

Rosalynn Carter, wife of US President Carter, met the serial killer John Wayne Gacy
And what does this tell?

Moreover, the Dalai Lama met with so many, is he therefore necessarily near to others’ ideologies and beliefs? He met amongst others with Mao, Hippies, with left wing, right wing, liberal, and green politicians, with scientists, religious figures, atheists, Nobel prize winners, Chinese, Germans, Schugden followers ;-), presidents, and some criminals, yes even with some few former Nazis … and what would be the problem for a saint to meet with a person shunned by society, what crime was it that Jesus met with a prostitute?

However, this doesn’t mean, that it might not have been a fault that the Dalai Lama met with Asahara or Beger etc. It’s up to the observer how he/she puts those things together …

  Last edited by tenpel on October 26, 2012 at 12:12 am

SS Expeditions, Nazis in Tibet, The Dalai Lama Has Close Ties to the Nazis?

The prevailing and persistent occult perception of the Schäfer mission has retained far-reaching consequences to the present day, with the result that the Tibetans and the Dalai Lama are both unjustly co-opted by the right wing and neo-Nazis, or demonized by the Left as agents of a Tibeto-Buddhist global conspiracy.¹

One can find in the internet an incredible amount of misleading information which try to attach to the Tibetans and the Dalai Lama close ties to the Nazis. These misleading information are also repeatedly reported by ill-informed press or ill-informed journalists, and journalists who are deluded by ideological bias and a sensationalist emphasize respectively. Often they use sources like Victor and Victoria Trimondi (the couple Röttgens) and other questionable sources who are strongly influenced by conspiracy theory, and who utter misrepresent Tibetan Buddhism, Tibet and the Dalai Lama.  A “good example” for a main stream magazine that has fallen pray to sensationalism and dubious sources is the German magazine STERN. A recent example of a information mess up has been given by The Guardian (for details see: The Press, The Nazis, and Tibet). There are also a lot of Tibet-Nazi claims produced by the Nazis themselves.

(c) Bundesarchiv Bild 135-S-05-02-36, Tibetexpedition, Geer & Krause, filming. Photographer: Schäfer, Ernst / Licence CC-BY-SA 3.0. From among 1,000 images of 20,000 from the Schäfer expedition I have seen these two are the only ones with the SS symbol, yet these two images are repeatedly shown.

The Tibetans seem to underestimate how harmful it is to not to correct these wrong claims and allegations.  (And in a way why should they, they cannot be blamed for the projections of Westerners). I remember that about two years ago when the Dalai Lama was in the US in many US media online comment sections these allegations about a “Nazi-Tibet connection” popped up frequently and very strongly. I assume quite likely the comments were placed by Chinese propagandists, the Western Shugden Society, but also anti-religious persons or leftists from the extreme wing (who rather innately have a problem with religion and any type of authority/power).

(c) Bundesarchiv Bild 135-KA-10-072; Tibetexpedition, Welcome for Dignitaries. Eating. Photographer: Krause, Ernst / Licence CC-BY-SA 3.0. Among others left: Beger, Geer; head: Tsarong Dzasa, Schäfer; right: Wienert, Möndro (Möndo)

To go into all the details is a bit endless because the spins are just too many. Most often the distorted information are based on either ideological prejudices, half-truths or sensationalist curiosity. For those interested in reliable information that is free from such faults one might have to start quite anew, and the first major step is to discriminate reliable from unreliable sources.

When I contacted some years ago Robert Barnett (Columbia University, NY), he strongly recommended Isrun Engelhardt as the expert par excellence on this subject. Many other Tibetologists have confirmed this, saying that there is quite likely none who has as vast and precise knowledge about this than she. As a first stepping stone, to help those seeking reliable information, I am happy to make known that one of her research articles is online since this early morning:

I might address some of the issues related to the alleged “Nazi-Tibet connection” on this blog in the future. For today just let me add these few thoughts and facts:

The Dalai Lama has been criticized by some because he met with Shoko Ashahara (a gift gas murderer), Bruno Beger (a member of the Schäfer expedition and later sentenced to prison due to war crimes) or Heinrich Harrer (a famous alpinist, who was also member of the SS). But these meetings have to be seen in context. First of all it were they who sought the contact to the Dalai Lama and not He. Secondly, meeting someone does not mean that one shares the point of view of the other person. The Dalai Lama met also Mao, Hippis, Bush, poor people, Nobel Peace Prize winners, Angela Merkel …

Let’s look briefly into the details with respect to these three persons:

  • Shoko Asahara  (AUM cult) met also with German politicians (see Focus), and he met many religious figures claiming they approved his special qualities. For details see Robert Jay Lifton here in this footnote.
  • Heinrich Harrer was a mountaineer and according to Martin Brauen (who has access to many sources incl. Harrer’s unpublished diaries) though Harrer was an opportunist, he was not a convinced Nazi. Brauen says that in none of Harrer’s writings or talks one can find any racist or fascist statement. Moreover, that Harrer was a SS member (NSDAP, SS, NS-Lehrerbund) became only known in 1997, 50 years after he met the Dalai Lama for the first time. Why would a religious leader who preaches love have to abandon that man? (Brauen, Martin, Dreamworld Tibet: Western Illusions, p. 168)
  • Bruno Beger was indeed a convinced Nazi. But it was Beger who was able to manage to come to a public talk of the Dalai Lama and introduced himself to the Dalai Lama as being a member of the Schäfer expedition. The Dalai Lama (knowing nothing about his political background) asked him to report to the audience how he experienced Tibet before Chinese occupation. For details see my German summery: Dalai Lama-Bruno Beger.

¹ Preface from »Nazis of Tibet: A Twentieth Century Myth.« by Isrun Engehardt, In: Monica Esposito (ed.), Images of Tibet in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Paris: École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO), coll. Études thématiques 22, vol. I, 2008, page 63.

Update 24 Oct. 2012

Update 24 April 2013

  Last edited by tenpel on April 27, 2013 at 10:59 pm

The Dalai Lama’s Reflections on the Realistic Approach of Buddhism: Buddhism in the Twenty-first Century

I’m always telling the Tibetans and also the Chinese and Japanese, and the Ladakhis and all the Himalayan Buddhists – I’m always telling them that now we are in the twenty-first century, we should be twenty-first-century Buddhists. That means having a fuller knowledge about modern education, modern science, and all these things, and also utilizing modern facilities, but also at the same time having full conviction about Buddha’s teachings about infinite altruism, bodhichitta and the view of interdependency, pratityasamutpada [dependent arising]. Then you can be a genuine Buddhist and also belong to the twenty-first century.

There is an inspiring talk by His Holiness about how to practice Buddhism in the 21st Century, I would like to share:

The talk includes many different topics, ranging from the “Importance of Scepticism”, “Potential Dangers of Guru Devotion” to “Should We Act in the Name of Humanity or in the Name of Buddhism?”. Enjoy!


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