GUEST POST by Joanne Clark
At the SOAS conference, Rabten began his talk by stating:
“I’d like to make quite clear that we’re not here to argue. We very much want to move towards a resolution to this issue.
“We have tried to have dialogue on this with the Dalai Lama and his representatives for nearly twenty years … So even though they’re not here, maybe this is a step in that direction, who knows?”
Indeed, his stance was calm and reasonable. However, beside him on the table was a book entitled The False Dalai Lama: The Worst Dictator in the Modern World. How could the Dalai Lama ever have dialogue with people who write such things? In my mind, much of this dispute rests on the fact that many within the organized (rather fanatic) Shugden community have now demoted His Holiness from any position of religious or spiritual authority at all.
Given that the Dalai Lama’s stance regarding Shugden worship is based on him fulfilling his responsibility and duty as a religious leader, dialogue seems pointless. He made his points about Shugden, but insists that people should not follow him without investigating this issue and its 400 years of history thoroughly. He also states that its up to the individual to accept or to reject his advice. Shugden people can practice Shugden, Rabten can practice it. They have their own monasteries, their own places, but there are restrictions on the institutional level. So their rights to practice are met. However they cannot practice at places where the majority of the community decided against it– by a procedure laid down in the Vinaya (monastic code of discipline) by the Buddha. This is comparable to prohibiting smoking in public places because it harms the non smoker. So, the real point of difference is not about the rights of Shugden worshippers, but about the Dalai Lama’s right advice and the right of people to follow his advice and to decide against smoking (Shugden worship) at public places —and that’s a different topic entirely!
Further, if Shugden worshippers see hidden agendas behind everything the Dalai Lama’s says and won’t take his words on face value, what is the point of speaking with him? They will come to their own conclusions regardless of what he says! Further, to call the person whom you claim to seek dialogue with a liar, evil and cruel, ruthless dictator, worst dictator of the modern world—is this a basis for a dialogue? Are Kelsang Rabten and NKT, or the organised Shugden fanatics, really willing to listen to anyone’s point of view but their own in dialogue?
In addition, how can there be dialogue while there is still so much deceit? I have found evidence of fifteen incidents of deception just in a few videos on the International Shugden Community (ISC) website—fifteen and I’m still counting. (see here) Some of these are unsubstantiated claims and some can only be called outright lies. This was the problem Tibetans encountered with the Chinese, where finally dialogue was proven to be fruitless.
In my view, the only dialogue that would be worth having in this situation would be regarding living conditions of Shugden worshippers in India. These would include the claims that Shugden worshippers aren’t given basic services, community membership or proper housing and are subjected to violence. The Indian legal system and the Tibetan Government in Exile could be part of these dialogues—and the Dalai Lama’s presence wouldn’t be needed at all. However, in view of the impossible demands Rabten makes at the end of his SOAS talk, such a constructive approach is clearly not what he is advocating.
Sometimes it even seems as if the ISC is more interested in harming the Dalai Lama than in helping Shugden worshippers in India.
As to Rabten’s claim that concerned Shugden worshippers have been trying to have this dialogue for nearly twenty years, it is clear that the slanderous ideas in the past and in the book beside him on the table are not new. Claims that the Dalai Lama is a horrible “dictator” and a conniving conspirator have been slung at him for nearly twenty years now from Shugden worshippers. The following quote from Rabten’s own teacher, Kelsang Gyatso, was written in 1997:
In reality [the Dalai Lama] is misleading people in order to fulfill his wishes. His main wish is to destroy the practice of Dorje Shugden and then to change the entire Gelug tradition. He wants to integrate all the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism into one so that the leaders of the other traditions will no longer have a role and he will become the only leader of Tibetan Buddhism. In this way he can easily control the spiritual life of all practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism. I know this is his wish; he has been working towards this for many years.
Once again, how can there be dialogue if this is Kelsang Gyatso’s impression of who the Dalai Lama is? And how can there be dialogue if protesters are willing to go so far in their smear campaign as to hold insulting placards, depicting a revered teacher of Dharma, a fully ordained monk in robes in mocking caricature?
How can there be dialogue until the weapons are withdrawn?
Rabten then closes his talk at the SOAS conference by listing Shugden worshippers’ “requests” (which sound very much like demands). He states,
So to resolve this issue, we would request that everyone, especially those of you who care about the Dalai Lama’s image and reputation, to ask the Dalai Lama to accept the following four points:
- To allow anyone who wishes to practice Dorje Shugden the freedom to do so.
- To stop completely the discrimination against Shugden practitioners.
- To allow all Shugden monks and nuns who have been expelled to return to their monasteries and nunneries. And to receive the same spiritual and material rights as non-shugden practitioners.
- To write to Tibetan communities throughout the world telling them that they should apply practically the above three points.
The moment this happens, all our demonstrations will finish. I don’t think any of those requests are unreasonable. We simply want these people to have genuine and complete religious freedom. If that happens, all of our protesting will finish.
This is not a statement for dialogue; it is an ultimatum. Rabten repeats several times that if the demands are met, “protests will finish.” Rabten needs to understand first that the Dalai Lama cannot over rule the majority vote of the monks in the monasteries, who decided democratically, and based on the Buddha’s Vinaya, to separate from Shugden monks. If the Dalai Lama were to force the monasteries to go against their majority vote this would be an act of a dictator. On the other hand, His Holiness was clear: whatever the outcome of the vote is, also if it is pro Shudgen, he would definitely accept it. Now the NKT/ICS/Shugdenists should accept the rights of the majority and practice at their own places—which they can do freely.
Rabten also demonstrates his complete lack of understanding as to what followers of the Dalai Lama “care about.” This is not about “the Dalai Lama’s image and reputation.” Rabten’s is a jaded viewpoint regarding sincere students and followers of the Dalai Lama—who see his message as a world treasure.
Let me say to Rabten clearly: The Dalai Lama can take care of himself. His image and reputation are only important as tools towards fulfilling his life’s work. Beyond that, they have no role or importance.
And I would also remind Rabten that everywhere the Dalai Lama goes, people gather in the thousands and continue to be inspired to become more caring, decent human beings. Many people are so deeply moved by his words and presence that they start to weep – no matter what background, be they criminal, atheist, Christian or Muslim, scientist or old lady. A few small bands of protesters have barely scratched the surface of his popularity or his work to make the world a better place. Recently, when he was in Ladakh, 140,00- 200,000 attendees came to hear him teach and give an empowerment. The countryside was a sea of attendees.
Rabten’s last words sounded to me like a threat from a man who imagines he has more power than he possesses. He imagines that the protests and the smears will force the Dalai Lama to change his mind. At the same time, he calls for dialogue! I fear he has little understanding of the situation. He fails to understand that the Dalai Lama spent years of investigation, reflection and contemplation regarding the issue of Shugden worship before he came to the difficult decision to restrict this practice. He is not going to change that because of a few people shouting themselves hoarse outside his events! He has said on different occasions that he has done his research expressed the results and now it is up to others to do their own unbiased, open research into the 400 years of Shugden worship.
From my own point of view, watching the aggressive faces or the dancing, hypnotic hilarity, or the robotic repetitions of protesters—or listening to accounts from X-NKT students—I have only gained a greater conviction that the Dalai Lama’s decision was the right and wise one. By its results, particularly within the NKT, Shugden worship appears like a dangerous, cult practice to me. The Dalai Lama is clearly protecting the Buddha Dharma by restricting it. How can there be dialogue while Shugden worshippers behave in these ways?
This morning, (August 25), during the question-and-answer at HH Dalai Lama’s teaching on the Bodhicharyavatara in Hamburg, a questioner asked something to this effect:
“If Trijang Rinpoche saw Dorje Shugden as an enlightened being, then why have you gone against your guru’s advice and banned the practice?”
His Holiness replied, “Good question.” and proceeded to answer.
However, the questioner immediately interrupted him and shouted loudly, “Stop lying!”
His Holiness then attempted to explain that as a Buddhist monk, he was committed to telling the truth.
Whereupon the questioner continued to shout loudly, “Stop lying, stop lying, stop lying.” He had a microphone, so it was quite loud!
This man was ultimately asked to leave by security and we could hear him shouting his slogan off in the distance as he was escorted out of the venue.
Is this what Rabten and the ISC/NKT mean by dialogue?