The Shugden protesters are preparing for the U.S. Dalai Lama visit – and some journalists seem to become again their victims

False information increase more rapidly than true information. And what is not getting any better, is our ability to separate truth and lies. – Michael Lynch

The New Kadampa Tradtion (NKT) campaigners – via their front organizations International Shugden Society (ICS), Western Shugden Society (WSS), and Shugden Supporters Community (SSC) – have always contacted the media in advance to pass on their propaganda against the Dalai Lama – sending them press packages, contacting sponsors, donors, media people, participants of press conferences, dialogue partners of the Dalai Lama etc – long before the Dalai Lama arrived in a certain country to convince and influence them ahead about their point of view. According to a friend, psychological research about companies demonstrates that the person who bullies first a colleague first dominates the debate regardless of whether the accusations are true or not. This seems to true in the case of the NKT’s international Anti Dalai Lama campaign.

At the moment the New Kadampa Tradtion campaigners prepare for the upcoming Dalai Lama visit to the North America , and  seem to become once again successful in misinforming journalists who in turn unwittingly sometimes become  tools of the propaganda of the Shugden group by giving them a lot of space to express their allegations, ideas, and exaggerations unchallenged by any critical investigation or fact checking …

By far the majority of journalists have since 2008 missed any opportunity to balance the claims of the protesters, which they willingly repeated in their press articles and other media without seeking the expertise of independent academic experts. Either due to a lack of time, resources or effort to really investigate, or due to their own cultural bias, or sensationalist greed, or an arrogance that thinks they would be able to understand the complex Shugden conflict and cross cultural issues, the majority of journalists repeat the propaganda of the campaigning Shugden group again and again – thereby contributing to the sad situation of mistaken allegations becoming facts in the court of public opinion. I wonder if the press would be similarly naive or simplistic to repeat all the accusations of a Scientology front group without any skepticism or thorough investigation?!

The resent example of  a rather simplistic media  approach was given by Michael Carl in “The Dalai Lama accused of religious persecution“. A new journalistic piece that appeared recently and on first glance it seemed to be unbiased, reasonable and well informed. The author is Johannes Nugroho, and the title is “A lesson for the Dalai Lama“.

But what appears at first glance as a good journalistic piece turns out – if you check more deeply – to be just another piece by a journalist who fell pray to the propaganda of the Shugden protesters’ media team and the own lack background information, first-hand knowledge and cultural bias – if not also pride, to think that he would know more than an academic expert or there wouldn’t be a need to consult independent experts for an article about such a complex issue. I wrote a comment to Mr. Nugroho’s article which I post here for you too with a slight clean up and some improvements. Let me know what you think about it.

A lesson for Johannes Nugroho?

Dear Mr. Johannes Nugroho,
thank you for your article that tries to follow a balanced approach.
Nevertheless, some thoughts to your article where I see some problems.

When you write “There is undeniably a great difference in cultural values between Tibetan Buddhists who grew up within their community in India and the western converts who were raised with liberal western values.” in my eyes this distorts the background of the issue. Why? The protesters are members of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), a very cultish, sectarian group, similar to Scientology – there is an Ex member Yahoo self-help forum with more than 1,200 members (I am one of those many Ex members), called “New Kadampa Survivors“. So we, as Ex members of the protesting group, speak from first hand experience, and as Westerners and not primarily as Dalai Lama supporters.

Now, your article wrongly suggests that the protesters would value “liberal western values” while they – in our own experience from within the group – accept a thorough lack of such Western values in their own organization, the NKT, (see “Declaration by New Kadampa Survivors concerning the Demonstrations against His Holiness“) and deliberately abuse the term Human Rights in order to slander the Dalai Lama with a mixture of untruths, some truths, spin of the facts, taking things out of context, exaggerations – in short a skilfully made disinformation mixture which seems to be appealing or attractive to the press, Western ears and those who lack precise knowledge and (naively) feel safe enough to think they don’t need to ask independent academic experts before they judge these complex, cross cultural issues and write about it.

The whole issue is based on cross cultural confusion and the protesters skilfully exploit this confusion, increase and fuel it by abusing the topic of Human Rights while claims of Human Rights violations have never been approved by any Human Rights group and such claims were totally rejected by the Delhi High Court in India in 2010 – where the organized Shugden followers tried to file a law suit against the Dalai Lama and the CTA – due to ‘vague averments’ and ‘absence of any specific instances of any such attacks’.

When you state that the New Kadampa Tradition is identified as the main force behind the protests by the Dalai Lama supporters you are in my eyes already a “victim” of the propaganda tactics of the Shugden protesters. These tactics aim to divide voices into pro Shugden / anti Shugden and pro Dalai Lama / anti Dalai Lama factions but this is incorrect and serves only as a propaganda tool that narrows down the complexity of things and slanders those who correct the protesters (to be “blind Dalai Lama sheep”) for the sake of distorting the facts as well as over simplifying the situation and events, making things more suitable for simplistic propaganda that misinforms the public. As if those who state facts as facts would all be Dalai Lama supporters. Also, if you agree with the Dalai Lama does this make you a Dalai Lama follower? And if you disagree with him does this make you an Anti Dalai Lama proponent? What a simplistic world view!

That the NKT is behind the protests was mentioned for instance by INFORM (an reputable academic institution that researches on New Religious Movements, based at the London School of Economics) as well as the German Evangelische Zentralstelle für Weltanschauungsfragen (EZW) neither of which can be identified as Dalai Lama supporters – and you can find this out yourself if you do proper research. To see this fact – that the NKT via front groups (similar to Scientology) are running these protests (from 1996-98 and from 2008 onwards) –  wouldn’t make you a Dalai Lama supporter, would it? It’s just a fact no matter which religious figure you follow.

With respect to banning Shugden from the institutional echelons of exiled governance, the anthropologist Prof Martin Mills writes in his paper, “This Turbulent Priest:Contesting Religious Rights and the State in the Tibetan Shugden Controversy“:

The allegation has been laid against the CTA (specifically, the 12th Session of the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies) that they changed Article 63 of the Tibetan Democratic Constitution such that the presiding judge of the Judiciary Commission, along with its two juries, should not be worshippers of Shugden. This specific accusation has not been rejected by the CTA (however, I have yet to confirm it either way), who see it as within their remit to constitute governance as they wish. If true, however, it is indicative of the particular place that the Shugden controversy plays within Tibetan cultural politics: it is a debate about the foundations of the rule of law. In banning Shugden from the institutional echelons of exiled governance, the Dalai Lama is not simply reacting to intolerance of a sectarian minority: he is also acting to remould the exiled Tibetan polity as constitutionally non-sectarian.

It would be quite narrow minded and Western-centric (based on cultural bias and pride) to apply a “Western understanding” 1:1 onto other cultures, especially cultures that are by nature deeply religious, where religion and politics go together, and where there are other values of social context/living together that are different than those of Western cultures. Only a very ignorant person would compare the Aborigines, their society and modes of living, with Western values and standards and then state one-sidedly that the Aborigines (or their leader) would have a lesson to learn. The Tibetans and the Dalai Lama try to find a middle way between their own way of living and good Western modes of living, however, Tibetan democracy has been always special as Tibetans admit themselves (see “Tibetan democracy” by Dhondup Tsering).

The protesters and many Western observers (including you in your article) totally ignore the social/religious background and Tibetan society when they judge this issue. Anthropologists and scientists, who are well educated and knowledgeable, balanced and not too biased, don’t follow such extremes.

It is also incorrect when you state that “Tibetan Shugden followers [are] living under the jurisdiction of the CTA” because exiled Tibetans in India live under the jurisdiction of India and the Indian constitution. The CTA does not have any police, prison, court etc. That’s why academic experts such as Prof. Nathan Hill (University of London, SOAS) states in an article by TheForeigner (May 8, 2014) that the accusations made by the Shugden group that the Dalai Lama is suppressing freedom of religion are non-sense:

“This accusation makes no sense,” states Dr Hill. “The Dalai Lama is not head of any state; he has no military or police at his command; he has no political jurisdiction over which he can exercise suppression.”

“Some members of the Gelug sect left the authority of the Dalai Lama in order to follow what they see as a purer form of religion. These people may not be very popular in other parts of the Gelug sect, but their human rights have not been violated nor their freedoms suppressed; even if some people did want to suppress or silence the pro-Shugen side, they simply have no means of doing so,” Dr Hill concludes.

Again, when you insinuate or clearly state that the topic is based on a difference of values in both cultures, this is a simplification that in my eyes doesn’t accord with the actual situation. These Western protesters do within their own organization, the NKT, exactly the things they accuse the Dalai Lama of doing. For many of us Ex members these accusations are projections / reflections of the internal state and situation right within the NKT and its autocratic leadership. Moreover if you dig deeper and if you study what the NKT leader, Kelsang Gyatso, said and wrote over the last decades about the Dalai Lama you could see that he has a personal vendetta against the Dalai Lama and that he exploits his naive Western followers as foot soldiers in his unilateral war against the Dalai Lama – again, I speak of my own experience and investigation from within the group that stages these protests. My impression is based on my own experiences within  the group – other ex NKT members confirmed these findings.

It is also not the case that Tibetans accept the Dalai Lama’s words as law (see “The power of the 14th Dalai Lama …“).
The Dalai Lama has repeatedly insisted that people should not accept his stance on Shugden out of blind faith but they should really research into its history and background and they should accept his stance only when they have gained a conviction based on their own research. He also repeatedly said that people are free to ignore and to reject his advice. He also said that he will accept any result of the (democratic) Vinaya “Stick Referendum” held in the monasteries of South India, if the majority wanted to practice Shugden, he would accept that and never mention a word about this topic again:

If the final result of voting shows more than 60% want to propitiate Doegyal, then from this day onward I shall never utter even a single word about Doegyal. – see “The Call of the Dalai Lama to settle the Shugden controversy by majority vote

As an Ex member of the NKT I would not call the NKT heretical but just a destructive cult that uses Buddhism for empire building and to gratify the ego of the NKT leader, Kelsang Gyatso. This is an opinion often expressed by EX NKT and this criticism doesn’t make us Dalai Lama supporters – though naturally many ex members start to cultivate faith into the Dalai Lama because he is the exact opposite of this sectarian, intolerant and narrow minded cult with its black and white thinking and Anti Tibetan / Anti Dalai Lama stance. Those who criticize the NKT are up to 95% EX NKT. For a very very long time the far majority of Tibetans, as well as Westerners, journalists and academics have been totally unaware about the damage this group is doing to their Western followers, and started only recently to pay more attention to their suffering and to listen to them.

I don’t share your conclusion that the Dalai Lama would have to “somehow reconcile himself with the Shugden followers” I would rather suggest that Shugden followers have to somehow  reconcile with the Dalai Lama and they have to accept the decisions within the monasteries that are based on majority vote and Vinaya (Monastic Law) procedures. They should also get back to being more grounded because they totally hyped this topic as if it would be of utmost importance and more important than other REAL injustices (such as torture, real persecution etc) while NONE of them has been killed, tortured, put in prison, starved, or died due to “religious discrimination” etc. The instances of discrimination not nearly as heavy or widespread as they claim. If they are more reasonable and grounded and stop to hype their egos up with the importance of Shugden there would be a better basis to live together (again, I speak from my own experience and observations within Shugden communities).

This doesn’t mean that the Dalai Lama or the CTA/Tibetan Society don’t also have something to learn. But your conclusion that the Dalai Lama would have to “reconcile himself with the Shugden followers” does not take into account dependent arising and that there are more sides to be considered in this issue than that of the Dalai Lama or Human Rights. (Again you fell prey in my eyes to the Shugden propaganda that the Dalai Lama would be the sole culprit of the Shugden issue and its complications and to their abuse of the concept and understanding of Human Rights.)

BTW, Interpol still searches with red wanted notices for three Shugden followers for the alleged triple murder of a Shugden opponent (Gen Lobsang Gyatso) and two of his students, and Shugden followers tried to murder the assistant of Trijang Chogtrul Rinpoche (a Shugden proponent) with the vile plan to accuse the Dalai Lama/CTA of this murder. This vicious plan of Shugden fanatics has been made public by Trijang Chogtrul Rinpoche himself and this obvious fanatisation of many (but not all!) Shugden followers is a fact the Indian police acknowledges too. All these facets are totally faded out in your analysis as if they didn’t exist although they form an important basis for the Dalai Lama’s approach on Shugden. Your article also ignores the underlying sectarianism, elitism and power struggle that goes along with Shugden worship … – in short the article ignores and fails to consider the multi-faceted layers of the Dorje Shugden Controversy and the Anti Dalai Lama protesters in order to offer a rather simplified understanding that suggests the Dalai Lama has to change.

That’s why the article is one sided in my eyes and my conclusion is that you have a lesson to learn 😉 It would be good to contact academic experts and to read their works instead of writing a simplistic article such as this one.

The question I would find useful – if one understands the organized Shugden protesters as fanatics or fundamentalists (which they are in my and others’ eyes) – is: how can one be tolerant with the intolerant and how does one approach this radicalization, fanaticism and fundamentalism in Buddhism? This is a challenge to our whole society, the Tibetan society, and in different countries and religions – fanaticism seems to become an important topic in the 21st Century – and it is just too simple to call for tolerance for the intolerant or to ask the Dalai Lama to learn a lesson.

The Bristol-based Buddhist specialist Prof. Paul Williams remarked in a Guardian article about the Shugden controversy in 1996:

The Dalai Lama is trying to modernize the Tibetans’ political vision and trying to undermine the factionalism. He has the dilemma of the liberal: do you tolerate the intolerant?

See also

Concise information for a broader public by EX NKT

Background information on this blog

Last edited by tenpel on October 19, 2014 at 4:50 pm