Embed from Getty Images
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.
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
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 from power by Kelsang Gyatso due to unexplained reasons.
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
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. http://www.prweb.com/releases/DalaiLama/ReligiousDiscrimination/prweb11592622.htm
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
- The Dalai Lama And The Cult Of Dolgyal Shugden – Robert Thurman in The Huffinton Post
Update June 2015
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)