How Low Can Shugden Supporters Stoop? Dear NKT students, brothers/sisters in the Dharma: Please Pause!

By Joanne Clark

On several occasions, people have asked HH Dalai Lama about grief and how to deal with the loss of someone close. His Holiness responds by telling the story of his own grief over the death of his senior tutor, Ling Rinpoche. This is a moving story, clearly coming from his heart, in which he describes his loss as a feeling of losing some rock on which he can rest and be supported.

Recently, I was deeply disturbed to see a 1 ½ minute video clip distributed by Shugden worshipper “Atisha’s Cook,” in which this story of simple human feeling is mangled and distorted beyond recognition. The video clip shows a few seconds of His Holiness speaking of his feelings regarding Ling Rinpoche’s death. In the middle, there is a flash to a dark, very old black and white video—Ling Rinpoche? Then, there are a few seconds of an interview with Professor Thurman explaining guru worship and some problem from a guru passing away—with a strange flash to an old, creepy looking video of someone prostrating with a dirty sink in the background. Then there are a few seconds of His Holiness responding to an NKT nun, who accosts him in a hotel lobby.

The title of the video clip is: “Is Bob Thurman saying the Dalai Lama’s a Megalomaniac?

First, let me be clear. Thurman makes no reference to the Dalai Lama in this interview—the content of the interview makes it clear that he is not speaking about the Dalai Lama. The video clip is a horrible and false insinuation.

Here is what Thurman says: “The guru passed away—his particular lama—I won’t blame him because he was gone and there was maybe no other one who was there to sort of check up against. In that esoteric thing, the relationship with the teacher is very very important, not because you obey the teacher, but because the teacher puts you in a position there where you’re in that sort of pressured state and then you can kind of bounce against the teacher. If you get off base, the teacher will help you.”

Interviewer: “A reality check.”

Thurman: “That’s right, a reality check. He didn’t have that, and you become a megalomaniac.”

Interviewer: “And you’re not dealing with the real world.”

The video then shifts immediately to His Holiness speaking strongly, with feeling, to the protesting nun. Here is that conversation:

Nun: Stop lying.

Dalai Lama: No no no no.

Nun: You must stop lying.

Dalai Lama: I know Buddha’s teachiings.

Nun: Dalai Lama, a lying Dalai Lama.

Dalai Lama: I know Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings.

Nun: Religious freedom for everyone equally.

Dalai Lama: No no, this is not religion.

Nun: All people religious freedom no matter what tradition you’re from.

Dalai Lama: This is not religion.

Nun: Religious…

Dalai Lama: This is worship of spirit. So that’s wrong.

Nun: Religious freedom, must have religious freedom.”

Here is what I find deeply disturbing:

  1. Human decency is transgressed. A story of simple human feeling is cut and ridiculed beyond recognition. The title of the video alone stirs up hatred and it is horribly demeaning.
  2. The video is a total distortion of fact. It insinuates a complete lie. It is based on the assumption that Bob Thurman is talking about the Dalai Lama in his interview. However, it is clear from his statement that Bob Thurman is not talking about the Dalai Lama—I have not located the complete interview, but it is likely that Thurman is speaking about someone such as Michael Roach—or even Kelsang Gyatso himself— because it is clear that he is explaining some serious misconduct by a lama—which he simply would not do regarding his own teacher.
  3. The cut and paste mentality is one that promotes complete ignorance and horrible bias. Wisdom, as found in the great tradition of Tsongkhapa, is cultivated through reading entire texts, entire statements, entire histories—and reflecting on the truth of those—not jumping to conclusions from little sound bites. Viewing this 1 ½ minute video clip objectively, it is clear that its only motivation is to incite feelings—ignorant, mob-mentality feelings.
  4. HH Dalai Lama’s response to the nun in the hotel lobby is the response of a bodhisattva who is passionately concerned with truth and the welfare of others. If one views the “dialogue” between the nun and the Dalai Lama objectively, the nun’s words are clearly passive aggressive. Statements such as “Dalai Lama, a lying Dalai Lama,” spoken to his face, cannot be viewed as “peaceful.” They are insulting and aggressive. The words by His Holiness are strongly spoken, with feeling, but they never come even close to attacking the person of the nun—or even attacking her actions. He speaks with the same passion and emotion during public talks when he is advising attendees to avoid harm. In addition, the nun’s words are like words from a robot, who is not engaged in thinking or responding to the others’ statement—but simply engaged in the one line, over and over, in mind-numbing fashion.
  5. The manner in which the video clip is cut and pasted insinuates that the Dalai Lama is a megalomaniac because he has strong opinions about the dangers of Shugden worship—and the teachings of Tsongkhapa. Like so much of the Shugden propaganda machine, it is based on falsity and a breach of logic. It is based on dumbing down sincere practitioners of dharma to the point where they commit actions that compromise their own human decency.

Dear sincere NKT students and Shugden worshippers. I would never shout “Kelsang Gyatso, lier” while he was in the midst of teaching the precious dharma. I would never look him in the face and say, “Kelsang Gyatso, a lying Kelsang Gyatso” and fool myself that because my voice was quiet, these words were not horribly aggressive and harmful. I have differences with your teacher, but I would never stoop to such a level—nor would I insult any person whatsoever in that way. Never. I believe that you also have values of human decency that you hold dear. I believe that you value the teachings of Tsongkhapa as I value those teachings. I believe that you value honesty and kindness, as I value those attributes.

So please, be careful. When you hear stories of how there were “mobs” of protestors outside of the Dalai Lama’s teachings in Italy and that those teachings contained many empty seats, know that these are lies and that once more you are being duped. Know that this is an ancient ploy to lead you into believing that you have a just and true cause, with many supporters. Know that there is a chain of little, seemingly insignificant lies such as these leading you to compromise yourself and your own intelligence and human decency.

Most importantly, when you are told that HH Dalai Lama has broken his sacred connection to his “root guru Trijang Rinpoche” know that this is one more lie you are being fed to incite your hatred. You will not find any statement from His Holiness in which he speaks of Trijang Rinpoche with disrespect. On several occasions, I have heard him quote from Trijang Rinpoche, in order to make a point in a teaching or book. He clearly respects Trijang Rinpoche’s teachings and sets a great example for us all in that regard on how to properly follow a guru, even if you disagree with that guru on a serious issue. His approach is one totally supported by scriptural authority. It is the same approach taken by Atisha himself.

His Holiness has simply disagreed with Trijang Rinpoche on the matter of Shugden worship, nothing more. has inflated that into a horrible lie.

In Lamrim Chenmo, Tsongkhapa quotes from Cloud of Jewels Sutras which says, “With respect to virtue, act in accord with the gurus’ words; But do not act in accord with the gurus’ words with respect to nonvirtue.” And then he says, “Therefore, you must not listen to nonvirtuous instructions. The twelfth birth story [of the Buddha, who was asked in a former life to commit a nonvirtue and refused] clearly gives the meaning of not engaging in what is improper.”(Vol. 1, p. 86)

So we must all follow the example of the Buddha and the instructions of Tsongkhapa and look closely at what we are being asked to do by any lama or teacher. So please, dear fellow brothers and sisters in the Dharma, think before the next protest, think of those human values of decency and kindness that you hold dear. Ask yourself: If I have been lied to once, can I trust the next statement as well? Should I look more closely at each statement? Look within yourself and see if you are being asked to compromise your treasured human values, being asked to sacrifice yourself to an unworthy and harmful cause.