My Diary – The Ticking Bomb That Took 23 Years To Explode
My name is Tenzing Wangdak. I woke up at around 8 a.m. on Wednesday morning, December 17th, 2014. I was in no mood to go to work. Looking around my bedside, I saw my small computer. I picked it up to navigate through the websites on the internet. There were messages from my Facebook friends. There was one particularly interesting message. The title was “We need to talk about Shugden.” My younger brother Zoksang, who lives in Kingston, New York City, sent it to me. It was about one western Buddhist nun who tells the story of her woeful life when she was studying in the New Kadampa Tradition. She is one of those ex-students of the NKT who came out very strongly against the high level of religious fanaticism and sexual scandals prevailing in the tradition. I asked myself a question – is it the right time to tell my part of the story of the Shugden controversy?
It was way back in March 1991 when I had a face-to-face confrontation with Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. It all started with the decision taken by the FPMT of not allowing any teachers working under the spiritual direction of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso to teach Buddhism at any Buddhist centre affiliated to the FPMT. In Menorca, we had a Dharma centre run under the direction of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. The resident lama was Geshe Tamding Gyatso, and I was his translator at this modest centre, on this small and beautiful island of Spain. Every year we visited some Buddhist centres in other parts of Spain, mainly in Madrid, Valencia, Alicante and Seville. The FPMT run those centres. Unfortunately, they informed us that Geshe Tamding Gyatso was not allowed to teach anymore at these centres from now onwards.
Well, I thought there might be some good reason that the FPMT had for taking such a decision. Quickly, we learnt that Geshe Kelsang Gyatso had taken the drastic step of transforming the face of all his centres on the pretext of establishing and following a pure Gelugpa tradition. He removed the pictures of H.H. the Dalai Lama from Manjushri Institute, Cumbria, and from all other centres in the United Kingdom. In those days he was a Buddhist teacher highly admired by his disciples, both in England and Spain, for gentleness, simplicity, pure ethical discipline, knowledge and meditation. I thought a great meditation master would never make such a mistake. Someone who, I thought, was a role model for those who followed the model of study and practice established and guided by Lama Tsongkapa.
Here at Menorca, we learnt the true news. Geshe Tamding Gyatso, our resident teacher, was very upset. It was in the middle of November, 1990, we were at the house of the director of our centre. I said to Geshe-la that there might be some kind of misunderstanding, and Geshe Kelsang Gyatso would not make such a mistake. I even insisted he make a call to clarify the situation. At the beginning he was hesitant but decided to do so. They talked for almost one hour and we were wondering what was going on. He was not saying much. Yes, yes, here and there, nothing more. The person on the other end of the phone line was doing all the talking. After the call, Geshe Tamding Gyatso said to me; “How could he be such a ruthless sectarian?” There was a deep frown on his face. I found him really upset. The board members of our centre were nervous and very unhappy. They openly told us that the attitude of Geshe Kelsang was not justifiable, and they were thinking of having a separate Dharma centre independent of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
After a few days, we invited Geshe Kelsang Gyatso to come over to our centre to clarifying the on-going controversy of Shugden worship. At that time he was at Manjushri Institute, he accepted the invitation and decided to impart some basic Buddhist teachings during one weekend in March, the following year.
Our director was so sure of himself that the prospect of opening an independent Dharma centre under the direct spiritual direction of the resident Lama, Geshe Tamding Gyatso seemed a reality. The visit of Geshe Kelsang was drawing near and we were cleaning the centre to welcome him. The centre was in a three-storey building on the main street of Notario Quintana in Cuitadella de Menorca. Geshe Kelsang was to stay in my room. So I cleaned it up. One night I dreamt of Geshe Kelsang entering the main door of the centre and giving me a stick. I woke up in the morning with a strong feeling that something unpleasant was going to happen.
On Friday 23rd, March 1991 he visited our centre. I greeted him warmly. He reciprocated with the same customary Tibetan greeting. One Spanish nun accompanied him wherever he went. He looked thin and frail. On the same day, in evening, the centre performed the Dorjee Shugden Invocation Ritual. From September 1987 to March 1991 when the centre performed the Shugden Invocation Ritual, there were not usually more than three or four persons participating. It was always done on the 29th day of every month. That same evening, Geshe Tamding Gyatso, the resident teacher, invited Geshe Kelsang Gyatso to assist in the ceremony, but he was too tired and too weak to attend. I was on the ground floor, lying on the sofa, watching TV. I saw more and more people coming one after another to join the ritual for the first time in more than three years. Later, I could hear the sound of damarus, ringing bells and chanting in perfect harmony. I felt very sad, frustrated and helpless. There was nothing I could do to prevent them from joining the ceremony. I was completely broken inside. They were completely overwhelmed by Geshe Kelsang’s presence. After the completion of the ritual, the people returned home happily. The director saw me sullen and sulky. I had a brief conversation with him. “Well”, he said to me, “we are very happy to have you here as our translator. We want you to stay with us.” I looked straight at his face.
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso commanded respect and submission. The sight of him fascinated them with awe and reverence. They idolised him the way I used to idolise some Bollywood hero when I was a teenager.
Next day, March 24th, Geshe Kelsang gave Dorjee Shugden initiation for which some new people joined to receive it. It was shocking to see people happily participating it in the hope of receiving protection from the worldly spirit in their lives. I found the arrangement manipulative in the hope of attracting more people to spread it far and wide.
On 25th/26th March, in the morning around 10 a.m., the two Geshes met in the room where Geshe Kelsang was staying. Their talk lasted for 2 hours. I was in the kitchen, and suddenly Geshe Tamding Gyatso entered to prepare momo (Tibetan dumplings) for lunch. He was not his usual self, but a bit agitated. So, I asked him, “What has happened to you?” Geshela replied, “Geshe Kelsang Gyatso was accusing me of trying to separate him from his centre. I told him frankly that I would never do such thing. It was, in fact, the board members of the centre who wanted to do it.” Geshe Kelsang continued, “If it was not you, then, most probably, it was Tenzing, the translator, who influenced them to do so, because he was from Dharamsala.” Geshe Tamding Gyatso came to my defence telling him that it was not true at all. What prompted me to meet Geshe Kelsang in his room to have a private talk was his sheer lack of respect towards a senior geshe. Geshe Tamding Gyatso was senior to Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. He was an authentic geshe of the highest class, whose mastery over tantric knowledge of Shri Guhasamaja, Heruka, Yamantaka, Kalachakra and Vajra Yogini was just breath taking. All kinds of tantric rituals were at his fingertips. I saw him performing them by heart. The wrong accusation was the last straw that broke the camel´s back.
After lunch, I went straight into Geshe Kelsang´s room. I greeted him warmly and hesitantly asked him if I could have a talk with him. He called me in warmly and I sat down on the floor. He was sitting upright on the bed. So I took the initiative of breaking the ice.
“Geshela, I am not happy with the way that the Shugden empowerment was given here yesterday, because there were several new people who had never received the basic Buddhist teaching and have no idea whatsoever of the protector Dorjee Shugden. They received the Empowerment. I think it is against the basic guideline of Tibetan Buddhism.” My explanation provoked a strong anger in him. He angrily replied, “Tenzing, it is not your business.” He repeated the phrase several times. Then he continued, “the work of a translator is to translate and nothing more, and the work of a resident teacher is to teach, nothing more. It is the board members who run the centre.” He continued, “Yesterday, the board members came up here to tell me that, not only you hate Dorjee shugden, you also hate me?” I was bewildered, could not believe my ears. However, I kept my cool and answered him firmly, “It is a sheer lie, and how could I hate Dorjee Shugden when I don´t know him. I continued saying, “I have never hated you. Had I hated you I would have never read your books and manuscripts!” I looked up at him and saw him seething with sheer anger, taking in a deep breath, and looking up at the ceiling. Suddenly he looked down and questioned me defiantly, “I want to test your skill in the art of debate, for you have studied Buddhist philosophy for many years. “Is Kyabje Trijang Dorjeechang a root spiritual teacher of H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama?” I replied, ”He, indeed, is one of them.” Kelsang Gyatso continued, “If he is one of the root teachers, how could Dalai Lama possibly go against the words of his own teacher?” At this point, he went ballistic and yelled, “He cannot go against his own teacher´s words. When we do Dorjee Shugden practice we are doing a favour to the Dalai Lama. We do not bring disgrace to him.” He then kept silence for a moment and came out with more aggressive, cold and calculated comments.
“He (the Dalai Lama) is Nyingmapa, Zogchenpa, and the one who has broken the spiritual relationship between himself and his teacher. His lineage is impure.” At this stage of the conversation I found the atmosphere in the room unbearable. I felt unsettled. Anyhow, I kept cool and retaliated with the following answer, “If a disciple can not comply with the words of his lama, he can tell this politely to his teacher.” I cited the 24th stanza from the text of Ashavagosha, Fifty stanzas of Guru yoga”.
Intelligent disciple, with joyful mind,
Listen the lama’s words with enthusiasm.
Explain to him in words
If you can´t comply with it.
For a moment, silence reigned in the room and I took the opportunity to end the conversation with the following comforting words.
“I am an ordinary monk who works as a Dharma translator and you are a Dharma teacher. So, there is no comparison whatsoever. We do have very distinct viewpoints with regard to Shugden issue. You think you are always right, and I think I am right. But, who knows who is right? I follow H.H. the Dalai Lama. I, therefore, will leave the centre for good. You find a good Dharma translator for Geshela, someone who propitiates Dorjee Shugden. The voice within me says that I am right, not wrong. Excuse me if I am wrong.” He was completely taken aback by my final words. He kept silent meanwhile I went out of the room.
He realized that I could not be pushed over easily. I kept my cool under the most difficult situation. At the end of the day, I found him callous, ruthless, devious, obstinate and unyielding. Indeed, he was a hard nut to crack.
After the summer, 1991, I left the centre. In Menorca, life was easy and comfortable. I enjoyed summer life on beautiful beaches for three years with my Spanish friends. However, I decided to leave the centre. I worked there for more than three years without any payment. I had nothing to lose and more to gain from such a decision. I stepped out of my comfort zone and took the risk to find a better future life.
I used to admire Geshe Kelsang. At one stage of my life I thought he was a role model for many Buddhist practitioners. Unfortunately, he turns out to be one of the worst Buddhist fundamentalists the Buddhist world has seen in many years. He has completely forgotten the life of Lama Tsongkapa who studied under the great masters of other schools. My teacher, Gen Lobsang Gyatso, was completely right when he said to me in 1986, “It is ironic that when you meet Kelsang Gyatso for the first time, he appears be a gentle, soft, and simple monk. He gives you the impression of someone who is on the verge of attaining Buddhahood in two or three days, but, he is rotten from inside in real life.”
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso was once considered a great meditation master, but now he is outcast officially not only from his own monastery of Sera Je, but also from the Gelukpa Society. At present, he is lying low, but still he is using his students to defame the Dalai Lama at all costs. He accuses the Dalai Lama of the violation of Human Rights, but he is blind to his own act of destroying lives of NKT survivors. He accuses the Dalai Lama of banning religious freedom but he prohibits people from reading Dharma books of fellow Buddhist teachers. How dare he say that he is following the pure lineage of Lama Tsongkhapa, while not allowing his own students to read Lama Tsongkapa’s books! I was flabbergasted to realize that there were no Dharma books other than his own books in the bookstores of his centres.
He says that the Shugden is Lama Tsongkapa’s manifestation, when more than 95% of Tibetan Buddhists consider him as a terrifying worldly spirit. He, in fact, degrades Tsongkapa to the status of a worldly deity. What a shame!
His long, reclusive life has taken a mental toll on him. He has gone insane to the point of no return. His hatred and resentment towards the Dalai Lama is clearly reflected on the banners and the placards written with “21st century Buddhist Dictator”, a “liar”, “the saffron robed Muslim”, a man whose “real nature is cruel and very evil”, etc.
It was in January, 1993, one year and a half after I left their dharma centre, when Geshe Kelsang Gyatso revisited it and carried out the so-called “Lineage cleansing”. He threw out some old members of the centre, who were his fervent admirers and Dorjee Shugden worshippers, without obvious reason.
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso once said that Geshe Tamding Gyatso was the most qualified dharma teacher to come to the west. This time, he gave him no choice but to leave the centre. Geshe Kunchok Tsewang, then resident teacher at Manjushri Institute, retired at the age of 68 without choice. They sent him back to his monastery in South India. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is now 83 years old, but still holds a firm grip on all the centres of NKT. He does not want to renounce the absolute power he enjoys. What I find so unbelievable is that a man who is considered “the third Buddha” by his own followers is not spared from the unholy trinity of power, status and wealth.
The big difference between the two geshes is that Geshe Tamding Gyatso went on to become the abbot of Ganden Shartse Monastery, thus fulfilling his lifelong dream before his death, whereas Geshe Kelsang Gyatso remains a monastic outcast of Gelugpa Society.
The devil inside him makes his Dharma
Resentment flows deep in his blood,
Nipping the bud of empathy in his heart.
Ignorance obscures his mind completely
His frenzied mind runs like a wild elephant
His ego fills up like a balloon
That is sure to burst.
His behaviours do not match his preaching.
Hence, his books are worthless scrap of paper.
I feel sorry for him.
I write this testimony to fully support the NKT survivors who have taken the right decision to break away from the NKT. One of my Tibetan friends insisted that I do this. Personally, I have nothing against Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. His attitude and behaviour in the recent years are so intolerable for Tibetans that I take the opportunity to tell the truth. The people of the NKT need to take the blindfolds off their eyes and see the wider world of Buddhism. It is high time for them to stop running the ugly show of protest and come to their senses. Geshe Kelsang needs to recover from his spiritual madness. He can still rectify his mistakes and leave them behind as if they were a terrible nightmare. It is not surprising that a human being makes mistakes – one after another. Man is the only animal who trips over the same stone twice. After all, we are emotional creatures.
By Tenzing Wangdak.
20th January 2015