Western Shudgen Society – The Spin Doctors

Currently the Western Shugden Society / New Kadampa Tradition are issuing press releases.

Here some of the press releases published by NKT monk Kelsang Thubchen (see ‘media contacts’) who was asked by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso to organise the campaign together with Kelsang Pema:

Besides articles on Buddhist Channel (Thousands of supporters of the Dalai Lama shouted and “spit”) another one (and probably there are many more) has been published here.

It depends on the perspective and understanding of the respective background if one portrays this campaign as a “Compassionate Fight for Religious Freedom”, an “Aggressive Smear Campaign against the Dalai Lama” or something else.

In fact the main target of the WSS websites and public statements is the Dalai Lama. The reason WSS offers is that he would “inflict terrible human rights abuses on his own people and interfering with the religious freedom of thousands and thousands of people around the world.”

After checking the details with information offered by witnesses and different sources the conclusion is that the information the Western Shugden Society offers is a mix of semi-truths, untruths and some truths. WSS exaggerates events which occur in India, puts a spin on the facts, takes them out of context and interprets certain events as systematic “religious persecution”. (see WSS-unlocked.)

In effect, the WSS/NKT are ‘manufacturing’ dissent, as well as ‘news’ – they are using all the spin-doctor PR tricks they can think of while consequently hiding behind anonymous websites with “no legal office”.

How the Western Shugden Society / New Kadampa Tradition operate

It can be argued ‘we cannot prove what happened in India’ and therefore ‘we don’t know if the claims of WSS are correct or not’. However, Westerners can check how WSS operates in the West and from this they can make their own conclusions about the reliability and accuracy of the Western Shugden Society.

The pattern of WSS – to take events, exaggerating them, taking them out of context and biasing them against the Dalai Lama (or his supporters) and presenting themselves as the victims of his “religious persecution” and “ban” – can be recognised also in the currently published press releases.

As a brief example, reading and analysing only one of the WSS press releases and comparing it with the article of the New York Times can offer a better understanding how WSS/NKT operates:

  1. Exaggerating and blurring the facts: “500 Tibetan and Western Buddhists” instead of 200 protesters with much fewer Tibetan supporters,
  2. Using deliberately abusive language, by portraying the supporters of the Dalai Lama as a ‘Mob of Thousands of Hostile Dalai Lama Supporters’ or ‘aggressors’, ‘spitting at, and yelling at the demonstrators’
  3. Portraying themselves as ‘peaceful’ and ‘contained’.
  4. They offer only a narrow-minded one-sided perspective and fractions of the full situation. Even if some Tibetans got upset with them, not thousands of Tibetans attacked them with a ‘mobbing mentality’. At 10 other places in the world, where WSS protesters expressed “deeply upset their distress“, nothing remarkable happened. Some Tibetans are understandably emotional. For Tibetans it is a great challenge to be faced with a Chinese-Communist-Party-like propaganda at all places in the world where their respected leader and teacher is teaching. In their country, they are not permitted to hear the Dalai Lama’s talks or to have pictures of him, now in the West they wish to see and hear their Spiritual Leader (maybe for the first time) and his teachings are interrupted by yelling Westerners and a handful of Tibetans who are using a deliberately abusive speech to denounce the Dalai Lama. There is no perspective how painful such confrontation may be for them or how these protests undermine the Tibetan freedom struggle, and blur the actual persecution and torture of nuns, monks and lay people in Tibet, Burma and other countries. As O’Brien puts it: “At a time when the majority of monks from Lhasa’s three largest monasteries are in prison or detention camps, and possibly being tortured, it shouldn’t be hard to understand why some Tibetan Buddhists might be infuriated by the Shugden protesters, as His Holiness’s Radio City audience was. The Shugden cult is undermining the fragile coherence of the Tibetan diaspora and the future of Tibetan Buddhism itself. And for what?”

To sum up the WSS strategy: By establishing a very one-sided perspective, choosing certain events, exaggerating them, taking them out of context and putting a spin on the facts, WSS presents finally a ‘horror story’ about a ‘Mob of Thousands of Hostile Dalai Lama Supporters’, ‘aggressors’ or ‘persecution’ and ’segregation’ and so forth. Everything they say boils down to blaming the Dalai Lama as the sole cause of what they portray as their suffering. The motto seems to be “Be creative, victimise yourself and blame the Dalai Lama”. According to WSS, the Dalai Lama is an ‘evil and cruel’ ‘hypocrite’. Are the WSS protesters compassionate heroes? What motivation led Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, a monk who split from the Gelug school and who was expelled from his monastic community to “personally organise demonstrations against the Dalai Lama directly”?

Some Doubts

If one takes the statement of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso:

»The Dalai Lama has been very successful in destroying this ancient religious tradition. He is very clever at destroying the spiritual practice taught by his root Guru Trijang Rinpoche, but he is very ignorant and foolish at achieving Tibetan independence. This should be his main job because he is the Tibetan political leader, but in this he is paralyzed, without any direction. Everyone can see this situation now. The Dalai Lama is using these three reasons, repeating them over and over like a weapon to destroy the spiritual practice taught by his root Guru. He is continually saying these things, and people believe him, and their minds are gradually changing. In reality he is misleading people in order to fulfil 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. Ven. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, “Re: RELIGIOUS ISSUES – related to DORJE SHUGDEN and the DALAI LAMA”, 01/12/1997«

When one recognises how Geshe Kelsang Gyatso established himself as the sole spiritual authority in NKT, and what history is really behind his organisation while knowing the background of the Dalai Lama and his approach, it is hard to believe that Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s actions against the Dalai Lama are motivated by impartial compassion for others and understanding, rather they appear as a projection of his own desires and hostility or jealousy of the Dalai Lama, based on fundamentalist beliefs. In some NKT centres a quote, without scriptural reference, has been spread and has become popular: “Buddha said …in degenerate times…a great being will appear who is actually a mara and also a small being will appear who you should know is me”. This sounds like the continuation of the Third Buddha claim, when in 1995 Gen Thubten, at that time the successor of Geshe Kelsang, claimed Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is the “Third Buddha, because he has restored the essential purity of Buddha’s doctrine and shown how to practice it in extremely impure times”. (NKT magazine Full Moon, Spring 1995)

Geshe Kelsang the Buddha, HH the Dalai Lama the mara? Yes, this is what people will gradually learn in NKT.

Conclusion & Encouragement

As Kelsang Pema, press speaker of WSS, puts it “I hope that the western media will investigate.” There are two objects to be investigated, the organisation and people behind the protests, and the events in India.

Maybe this complex issue overburdens western media, and maybe it is just not important enough to be investigated compared with the major problems of the present world and the deep basic sufferings of so many human beings. From that perspective it looks like there are noisy Buddhists who have too much ego and a grandiose sense of self-importance, trying to draw the attention of the global media, bathing in the press’ attention and happily collecting press articles like trophies in a spate of unilateral battles against the “The Saffron Robed Muslim”, the “21st Century Buddhist Dictator – The Dalai Lama“.

One thing which Buddhists can do is to respond to every situation with honesty, patience, impartial compassion, understanding, humility and restraint. Bodily, mental and verbal actions based on these attitudes are seen as constructive.

The WSS and the people behind it should try to aim for dialogue, listen to other Buddhists, and to think about the Statement of the Australian Sangha Association.

See Also