New Distortions: Robert Barnett rejects claims by International Shugden Community (ISC)

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The ISC site “AreBuddhistsRacist.com” – another domain by proxy site run by NKT’s ISC, and a spin machine of “IndyHack” – was very active in the past days to issue more distortions and spin of the facts. Among others they claim about Robert Barnett (Columbia University, NY):

Dr. Robert Barnett

Dr. Barnett is the founder and director of Columbia’s Modern Tibet Studies Program, which is part of their Weatherhead East Asian Institute. It is the only program in the West dedicated to Modern Tibetan Studies and he is the only researcher in that field who focuses on contemporary politics. In this respect he is possibly the most qualified academic in the west to be able to comment on the existence or non-existence of the ban on Dorje Shugden.

What he said to me has such bearing on the protests and is so overwhelmingly in the public interest I felt there was no choice but to share it. In his address to me he stated:

“As you know, the exile authorities do not accept that there is a ban on Dorje Shugden practice…and does not accept that there is discrimination towards Dorje Shugden practitioners within the exile community…my view is the opposite on both these questions.”

This was the first time I had encountered an academic with such close ties to the leaders of the Tibetan exile community being so outspoken. Yet here he was confirming categorically, without any doubt, that in his professional opinion there is a ban and there is discrimination.

Whilst he is known to disagree with the protesters on their other claims regarding the qualifications of the Dalai Lama, he agrees with them on the most fundamental and key aspect of the controversy – the ban and subsequent discrimination exists.

Robert Barnett states on his Facebook account:

Certain members of the pro-Shugden campaign against the Dalai Lama, in particular an anonymous site named “arebuddhistsracist.com”, have circulated a comment attributed to me. It was taken from a private letter, without permission, and expressly against my wishes. It was deliberately presented out of context and gave a highly misleading impression of the situation. Those involved have so far refused to issue a retraction or a clarification and do not allow comments on the relevant website. I am therefore providing that context here.

The current Shugden campaign in the West has three main demands. One concerns their claim that the Dalai Lama’s rulings about certain religious practices within Tibetan Buddhism are an abuse of religious freedom. While the Dalai Lama’s rulings are certainly open to theological debate and disagreement, it is normal and useful for religious leaders to issue rulings to their immediate followers about what they consider safe or appropriate practices. As such, issuing a religious ruling is not a question of human rights or an abuse.

The second allegation claims that the ruling or its effects have been imposed on those who are not immediate followers of the Dalai Lama. This is a human rights issue and relates to some reports of discrimination within the exile community. This question merits further assessment by the community, as well as appropriate efforts within the community to stem any discriminatory practices.

The third allegation, which is the most prominent one in the literature distributed by the campaign, asserts that the Dalai Lama is “false”, is “the worst dictator in the world”, and is in fact a Muslim. The Shugden campaigners’ explanation for this claim can be found at http://www.westernshugdensociety.org/…/the-false-dalai-lama/. This allegation has little or no historical or factual foundation, has no connection whatsoever to human rights issues, and is morally repugnant and offensive. In addition, it is of absolutely no relevance to western Shugden practitioners or to practitioners of their religion, since they do not follow the Dalai Lama. Instead, it represents a decision by them and their leaders to revive an earlier legacy of extreme and aggressive sectarianism within Tibetan history, which is associated with the promotion of acute division, bitterness, and violence. This aspect of the Shugden campaign is certain to provoke conflict and enmity within the Tibetan community, and most observers will understandably conclude that it was and is designed to do so.

Taken together, the Shugden campaign therefore appears to be deeply involved with aggressive sectarian politics. Its methods and literature in large part reflect that involvement, despite its other stated concerns. In my view, its claims concerning human rights issues and other matters should be understood within this context.

Robert Barnett
Nov 6 2014

As a reminder with respect to the campaigners’ credibility, Robbie Barnett, “possibly the most qualified academic in the west to be able to comment”, stated in 2008 to the Time Magazine:

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. (PDF)

Robert Barnett said recently to PRI’s The World in “Breakaway Buddhists take aim at the Dalai Lama” that Shugden practitioners in the Tibetan exile community have faced “persecution” (without specifying what type of persecution he is referring to; nobody is arrested, tortured, killed etc., and Tibetans live in India under the justification of India),* According to The World Barnett also said that the Dalai Lama’s administration hasn’t dealt with that very well. But this is no agreement to the protesters’ claim, that the CTA/Dalai Lama would persecute Shugden practitioners, rather it indicates that there were – according to Barnett instances of “persecution”* – that were not addressed and treated well by the CTA.

About the protesters “the most qualified academic in the west to be able to comment”, Robert Barnett states:

What we’re really seeing is the streets of America being used by a new form of Buddhism to try to promote itself and to consolidate its own followers by asking them to do these rather unusual, unorthodox [and] social difficult practices of attacking [the Dalai Lama] … We see this being done under the name of human rights, which is not really quite what is at issue here.

Last and least, what the protesters really suffer from is their own confusion, bias, ignorance, hate and racism towards Tibetans. It is not the Dalai Lama who makes them suffer. John Makransky, an American professor of Buddhism and comparative theology at Boston College, hits the nail on its head when he states about the cross cultural confusion going along in this context:

A stunning recent example of this: some Tibetan monks who now introduce Westerners to practices centred on a native Tibetan deity, without informing them that one of its primary functions has been to assert hegemony over rival sects! The current Dalai Lama, seeking to combat the ancient, virulent sectarianisms operative in such quarters, has strongly discouraged the worship of the ‘protector’ deity known as Dorje Shugden, because one of its functions has been to force conformity to the dGe lugs pa sect (with which the Dalai Lama himself is most closely associated) and to assert power over competing sects. Western followers of a few dGe lugs pa monks who worship that deity, lacking any critical awareness of its sectarian functions in Tibet, have recently followed the Dalai Lama to his speaking engagements to protest his strong stance (for non-sectarianism) in the name of their ‘religious freedom’ to promulgate, now in the West, an embodiment of Tibetan sectarianism. If it were not so harmful to persons and traditions, this would surely be one of the funniest examples of the cross-cultural confusion that lack of critical reflection continues to create.**

But, what to say the fools will continue to create their own spin of the facts and don’t listen to the wise, and so the production of non-sense and propaganda continues until we all are dead ;-)

Update

Prof. Nathan Hill from SOAS London commented the “AreBuddhistsRacist.com”’s tactics: “The same site did the same sort of nonsense to me. Asked for my comments, took something out of context against my express wishes and refused to change or amend it.”

* UPDATE: In an email to “Indy Hack” from 5th November 2014 – posted without permission from Robbie Barnett on the “AreBuddhistsRacist.com” site – Barnett corrects the use of the term “persecution”, stating: “… I did not use the word ‘persecution’, which was added by the journalist, but he was summarizing my remarks about the existence of discriminatory practices, for which I think the word harassment is more appropriate.”

** Makransky, John (2000). Buddhist Theology: Critical Reflections by Contemporary Buddhist Scholars, John J. Makransky, Roger Reid Jackson, p. 20, in Introduction to Contemporary Academic Buddhist Theology; Its emergence and rationale

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