GUEST POST by Robert – a former NKT monk
If you have tried to attend one of the Dalai Lama’s teachings in the west over the last six years, you will have noticed a peculiar mob of people gathered outside in a loud, formal protest. This mob is composed almost entirely of western Buddhists, both ordained as well as lay, who have determined to follow the Dalai Lama wherever he teaches, to demand he give religious freedom and stop lying. These are the chants you will hear, “Dalai Lama, stop lying!” and, “Dalai Lama give religious freedom!” It is quite a peculiar thing to behold, as rather than a visibly angry protest, the protesters all have big smiles on their faces, as if they are in some kind of blissful trance, and the chants have a definite rhythm to them, and are even accompanied by musical instruments, such as drums and tambourines. You will even see ordained monks and nuns dancing. It’s almost as if you’ve stumbled into a Hare Krishna street festival.
This apparent blissful harmony may at first seem contradictory to their very message which is summarised in their deafening chants. It may seem contradictory to the hateful and racist speech found in their leaflets they hand out that call the Dalai Lama such names as “The Saffron-Robed Muslim”. The reality is that the majority of these protesters know very little about which they are protesting, aside from what they are spoon-fed from their teachers.
Central to the NKT’s daily practice is “reliance on the spiritual guide”, which in their eyes requires the development of an unshakeable faith in their teacher, or Guru. To ‘doubt’ their teacher is considered a delusion, and it is also believed that those who doubt their Guru will create the bad karma to be without religion in the future, and furthermore, to abandon their teacher means they will create the bad karma which will cause them to be reborn in hell for a near-infinite period of time. So this is an example of how fear works in a belief-system. Because this belief-system is so strongly ingrained in practitioners, they don’t dare let their mind wander to doubt and these protests are a prime example of this. They happily protest, because they will do virtually anything their Guru asks, even without understanding all of the facts for themselves.
I know this first-hand, as during the year 2008 I found myself partaking in one of these ‘blissful protests’. Back then, I was an ordained monk in the New Kadampa Tradition. I remember the day our Buddhist Centre, where we lived, received a letter from the Guru, requesting us to take part in a protest against the Dalai Lama. For many of us, it was the first time we had heard of this conflict between our Guru and the Dalai Lama, so we were quite shocked. I personally did a little research online at the time, but I really didn’t understand the situation, and did not know who was right or wrong. So I fell back on my ‘faith’ and assured myself that my Guru was enlightened and he knew what was best and I shouldn’t doubt him.
So I found myself engaging in the 2008 protests in London and Cambridge. I had a peaceful mind and no aggression in the slightest towards the Dalai Lama. If anything, I was looking forward to seeing him, and I felt a little elated as he waved to us all from his car window, as he approached his teaching venue. With my peaceful mind, I protested loudly, holding a banner that read “Dalai Lama stop lying”, shouting the same chants that they still chant today, “Dalai Lama give religious freedom!”, “Dalai Lama stop lying!” I was able to remain at peace, as this wasn’t really my protest. I didn’t really understand it, but I was told I was creating good karma, as I was following my Guru, and it was for a good cause.
However, my faith began to waver a little, when I read the booklets we were handing out. The language used was very crude and full of insults, like an angry child had written it. This was the booklet that contained the phrase “The Saffron-Robed Muslim”, which was a phrase that stuck in my mind and disturbed me. I thought to myself, “was this written by my Guru, who I believe is an enlightened Buddha? Even if it was not written by him, surely he must have approved this booklet!” It did not add up for me at all. I had joined Buddhism to become a better person; someone more peaceful and kind. This was not what I had imagined Buddhism to be.
I even had a dream, the night after my second protest. Some may say dreams are meaningless, and sometimes I agree, though other times I think our deeper self has an important message for us. In the dream I was among the followers of the Dalai Lama, almost like a spy, and we were standing behind some barricades. The Dalai Lama came walking by, like he was on the way to a teaching. Everyone was cheering him except for me. I tried to shout out my words of protest, but the others around me kindly and warmly tried to stop me by putting their hands over my mouth, but I did it anyway. “Stop lying!” I shouted out and the moment the words left my lips, there was complete silence. The Dalai Lama had stopped and was now facing me. He approached me and warmly spoke, “you must not make up your mind, until you understand all the facts.” This advice was like a lightning bolt and I will never forget that dream.
The Tibetan Situation
My dream showed me the reality, that I did not understand the situation in Dharamsala, the situation of the Tibetan people in exile, and the controversy surrounding the practice of Dorje Shugden. The only information I had was what had been fed to me by the NKT. Often this information was watered-down, very narrow-minded and superficial, even twisting the facts. In this world you can find circumstantial evidence to support virtually any claim, and if you piece it together just right, it can become very convincing, especially to those so deep in the bias that results from the brain-washing of a belief-system such as this, that it’s an absolutely necessity for them to believe in it. The NKT’s campaign against the Dalai Lama is not at all about the unbiased revealing of information. It is about slandering the Dalai Lama by whatever means possible. They have gone out of their way to attack the Dalai Lama’s reputation and the reputation of Tibetan Buddhism as a whole.
They believe so strongly in their cause, and need to believe so strongly, that they will do anything to achieve their goals. It’s not about making information available, it’s about destroying someone’s reputation. This is why they will call the Dalai Lama such names as ‘the saffron-robed Muslim’ and the ‘false Dalai Lama’, and producing derogatory imagery of him. Here is a direct quote from an NKT monk, who is actually one of the leaders and organisers of the protests:
Demonstrations my friend, and lots of them. Using every peaceful and wrathful method at our disposal to make the Dalai Lama realize what a horrible mistake he has made.
So you can understand from this statement above, it is clearly not about making information freely available to people, as they claim, rather it is a personal attack on the Dalai Lama. It is about winning. Those who they upset or offend along the way, and those who have their experience of the Dalai Lama’s teachings ruined by their protests, these are just acceptable losses to them.
The whole drama has come about from the Dalai Lama advising against worshipping a particular diety called Dorje Shugden. This is not, as the NKT would have us believe, a violation of religious freedom. The NKT would have you believe there is even violence against Shugden practitioners, and they went so far as to take the Dalai Lama and his administration to court. It is important to note, however, that the charges were thrown out, as there was no evidence of ANY specific instances of these attacks.
After studying scriptures of religious texts in-depths, the Dalai Lama concluded that Shugden was an evil spirit and worship of him did not belong in the Tibetan monasteries, so he advised everyone against the practice. It was voted upon in individual monasteries, whether to continue the practice or not, and the result was not to continue, and those who wished to remain in the monasteries were asked to take an oath that they would not practice. The local people also wanted to take this oath, but were denied, so they decided to gather together and take oaths of their own. Unfortunately this has caused a division between those who are against Shugden practice and the minority of those that still choose to practice it. It is not, however, how the NKT would portray these circumstances. Shugden practitioners are not ostracised from society and there is no evidence of violence against them. On the contrary, there are investigations into Shugden practitioners themselves, surrounding the deaths of monks close to the Dalai Lama. Also, one Tibetan monk recounted an event he personally witnessed at only 15 years old, where he witnessed pro-Shugden monks violently beating anti-Shugden monks.
The NKT would have you believe that Shugden worshippers are banned from even grocery shops, so they cannot even buy food, and are treated as real outcasts. The reality is they are restricted by certain monasteries and religious shops, as their practice is not compatible with the mainstream practices of those monasteries. In other words, it is against their belief system. We wouldn’t expect Catholic monasteries to allow Wiccans and Pagans to live with them, because that would be in contradiction to the beliefs of the monastery as a whole.
To those who are non-religious or don’t believe in spirits, evil or otherwise, this whole situation may seem absurd. It may seem absurd for the Dalai Lama to ask people to stop worshipping an evil spirit if they don’t exist! We have to remember though, that for Tibetan Buddhism and for the NKT, these spirits are considered as real. These are religious communities after all, where the existence of good-natured enlightened spirits and also evil spirits are regarded as real. So we have to think in this proper context, without bringing in our own beliefs about spirits. In this context, if there really is an evil spirit who can harm people, then of course the Dalai Lama is going to want to restrict this practice.
We also have to remember that the Tibetan country in exile is not like countries here in the west. It is a religious country, where the political leader and the religious leader is the same person, so the effects of alterations in the religion are further-reaching than similar alterations would be here in the western world. So we cannot think of this situation in terms of how we live in the west. There are always problems and disputes when things change, but this is not a matter of religious freedom. Just as Wiccans are allowed to do their own practices freely, as long as they are not living in a Catholic monastery, Shugden practitioners are allowed to do their own practices freely, as long as they don’t do it in a Tibetan monastery that has taken oaths not to do the practice. We must also bear in mind that these Shugden monastics are not homeless in the slightest, as there are monasteries they can live in that endorse the practice of Shugden, such as Shar Gaden. One only has to visit DorjeShugden.com and click on ‘Places’ in the top menu, to see the many monasteries that support Shugden practitioners.
The problem is that Shugden practitioners are angry that their practice is no longer part of the mainstream of Tibetan Buddhism, and they blame the Dalai Lama for this and want to discredit him and try to force him to reverse his decision, through harassment. It is certainly a shame that some of the Shugden monastics had to leave the mainstream monasteries and find new homes, but this inconvenience for them is the far lesser of two evils, from the point of view of the Dalai Lama, who we must remember is the spiritual leader of a society that deeply believes in good and evil spirits. We should never forget this context of the Tibetan culture and religion, and we should not impose our own beliefs on this matter. We must respect the right of the Dalai Lama to make decisions on behalf of his people, in respect to this culture and religion, which is different to ours, here in the west.
Robert set up a Facebook group, Exposing the NKT. The description of the group is:
This community is for those who wish to share and discuss their experiences within the New Kadampa Tradition, so we can support each other, and also we hope that this information may prove valuable to those interested in the tradition, who want to learn more about what they are getting themselves into.
This is also a community for the research into the Dorje Shugden controversy, and the elaborate campaign the NKT has undertaken against His Holiness The Dalai Lama.
We are not a hate community, and we believe in unbiased research. Our goal is simply to make information available to people, with which they can make up their own minds.
We believe that current NKT practitioners, as well as ex-practitioners, deserve our kindness and respect, so this community will not tolerate any hurtful speech, and we wish only to benefit all parties.