Khyenrab is the deputy of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and his appointed successor.
The second wave of international protests of the New Kadampa Tradition against the Dalai Lama, 2008-2010, under the guise of a front group called "Western Shugden Society" (WSS).
- The Creditability of The Protesters
The first wave of international protests of the New Kadampa Tradition against the Dalai Lama, 1996-1998, under the guise of a front group called "Shugden Supporters Community" (SSC).
The person in the center of the imgage is Gen-la Kelsang Kunsang.
»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.« (July 23, 2008)
Freelance Journalist Andrew Brown in The Independent, »Battle of the Buddhists«, about the Shugden Supporters Community/New Kadampa Tradition:
»It was a powerful indictment, flawed only by the fact that almost everything I was told in the Lister's house was untrue. The figure of four million worshippers for Dorje Shugden is preposterous. There are only about six million Tibetans in the world at most, of whom less than half are members of the Gelugpa order (Steven Lane estimated 30 per cent), where the veneration of Shugden is concentrated. Even among the Gelugpa, only monks can be initiated into the cult of Shugden, and only a minority of those actually are. Most of the experts I talked to thought that about 100,000 people at most could be affected by the Dalai Lama's ban.« (July 15, 1996)
Dalai Lama protesters: International Shugden Community / Western Shugden Society - unlocked
by Tenzin Peljor
»Loud is the noise that ordinary men make. Nobody thinks himself a fool, when divisions arise in the Sangha, nor do they ever value another person higher than themselves.« – The Buddha, Mahavagga
- Introduction: A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing
- International Shugden Community (ISC) (2014–2015)
- News February – May 2014 (Background of the Dalai Lama protesters & expert opinion)
- News August 2014 (SOAS panel discussion)
- News October 2014 (concise articles by ‘New Kadampa Survivors’)
- News November 2014 (new press articles, Barnett statement)
- News December 2014 (Nobel Peace Prize Winner Summit in Rome, Barnett interview)
- News January / February 2015 (new press articles)
- News March 2015 (Foreign Policy & Dialogue)
- Western Shugden Society (2008–2014)
- Who is the dictator? Where are the ‘hypocrites’?
Introduction: A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing
Since 1996 there have been protests organized at public speaking venues of the Dalai Lama during his visits in ‘western countries’ (USA, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Australia etc.). The press has widely reported about these – though the articles are often very ill-informed.
During the protests from 1996–98 via Shugden Supporters Community (SSC) the protesters carried banners with slogans such as ‘Your smile charms, your actions harm’, ‘Dalai Lama, please grant us religious freedom’, ‘Dorje Shugden is a Buddha of compassion, please don’t lie’, ‘Dorje Shugden loves Nyingmapas, please don’t lie’. At that time the protests were accompanied by the repeatedly sang spiritual prayer “May everyone be happy, May everyone be free from misery, May no one be separated from happiness, May all abide in equanimity free from hate and attachment.” No drums, megaphones etc. were used.
The second wave of protests started in April 2008 via Western Shugden Society (WSS) and lasted (with a break in between) until the beginning of 2014. While during the first round the Dalai Lama was accused of lying (because he holds other views about the controversial deity Shugden than the protesters), the second wave used slogans that had as their target more explicitly the reputation of the Dalai Lama, e.g. accusing him of ‘hypocrisy’ and ‘ostracism’. Megaphones were used for the first time. Gen Kelsang Khyenrab and Gen Kelsang Dekyong used a megaphone to proclaim a pamphlet called 21st Century Buddhist Dictator – The Dalai Lama (from the WSS booklet The Tibetan Situation Today – Surprising Hidden News) in which the Dalai Lama was called a ‘very professional liar’, the ‘saffron robed Muslim’, and which aimed to establish that the Dalai Lama’s ‘real nature is cruel and very evil’. Some drums were used and in an endless loop the slogan ‘Dalai Lama stop lying’ was chanted. Some visitors of the Dalai Lama’s teachings described it as very hard to get this slogan out of their head, even days after the event had passed.
In 2014 the third round of protests has began via International Shugden Community (ISC). The Dalai Lama is now depicted as the ‘false Dalai Lama’ and ‘The World’s Worst Dictator’. The ISC produced a new book, “The False Dalai Lama”, with additional allegations. Some of them “are straightforward misrepresentations” (Barnett). Foreign Policy wrote about it:
The book describes its purpose as helping people to “understand the deceptive nature” of the Dalai Lama, who stands accused of “destroying pure Buddhism in this world.” If that weren’t enough, it depicts the Tibetan spiritual leader as a “Muslim” who is firmly in the grip of a “fascination with war and Nazism.”
The public protests are accompanied by the use of stylised placards, many drums, more megaphones, different musical instruments and the protesters have started to dance. Again, rhythmic slogans like ‘False Dalai Lama, stop lying!’ are repeated in an endless loop. The police officer-in-charge in Frankfurt a.M. / Germany (April 2014) called this method “psycho terror”. This round of protests have continued also into the year 2015.
The whole campaign is further based on the diligent spread of press packs, devotion towards getting the message through the media by contacting journalists, news outlets, sponsors of the Dalai Lama events and his contacts in advance of each of the Dalai Lama visits in the west. Numerous websites and blogs in different languages have been set up, Wikipedia articles edited, and booklets produced. The booklets are given for free and sold also on Amazon.
There is no official website of the Shugden Supporters Community (SSC), 1996–1998. The official website of the Western Shugden Society (WSS), 2008–2014, is westernshugdensociety.com. The International Shugden Community (ISC)’s official site is internationalshugdencommunity.com.
Without the NKT’s founder, Geshe Kelsang Gyaso’s, explicit wish and order, there would not be any of these types of protests and media savvy international campaigning. When he ordered in 1998 to stop the protests, they stopped. When he had the motivation to start them again, they started again. (Details, evidence, and inferences can be found in the rest of this article/page.)
As an insider I was very much amazed to see the tremendous lack of knowledge regarding the protests – who is behind them, the confusion about how reasonable all these accusations and claims are in reality, and what the motivations and circumstances might be that drive the protesters. To dispel this confusion and to give more details to empower others to make up their own minds, I started in 2008 to give more background knowledge about the Western Shugden Society, initially via Flickr. Responding to NKT’s pressure, Flickr suspended that account which is why I have had to find a safe place to provide the information I wanted to provide. (Flickr activated the account a while later again, but I was disillusioned by their arbitrary actions and deleted it altogether.) This is why this page came into existence – to ‘unlock’ the Western Shugden Society.After the NKT set up their third ‘front group’, the ISC, I started to update this page. These updates are rather something like a diary of events and they list often press articles and details which I found either useful, reasonable or worth mentioning.
I was a committed member of the NKT, from 1995–2000 and I am still in contact with many people who left the NKT and share documents and information. So the content of this page – especially about the Western Shugden Society / New Kadampa Tradition – is based on insider knowledge.
March 15, 2015
This page and the whole site is currently under revision
and will soon be relaunched.
International Shugden Community (ISC)
+++ NEWS February – May 2014 +++
The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) / Western Shugden Society (WSS), (formerly the Shugden Supporters Community or SSC) are now organizing “impassioned protests against the Dalai Lama” under yet another new name, the International Shugden Community (ISC).
The International Shugden Community is registered as a company in Norway. The two directors of this company are New Kadampa Tradition teachers at the Nordic Kadampa Meditation Centre in Oslo, Gen Kelsang Tubchen (Board Member) and Kelsang Jangdom (Chairman). (PDF)
The international spokesperson for the International Shugden Community was initially Rebecca Foley / Rebecca Gauthier, an NKT Resident Teacher at the Tushita Kadampa Buddhist Centre near Los Angeles and co-author of “The Celibate – Sex. Lies. Salvation.” For a while now, Len Foley has been mentioned in different press articles as another spokesperson of the protesters. Len Foley is a disciple of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, the founder of the NKT, and formerly a resident teacher for the NKT’s Tushita Kadampa Buddhist Center in Thousand Oaks, California, USA. He was listed as a teacher on their website in 2010 (see PDF). The current website for the Tushita Kadampa Buddhist Centre only lists Rebecca Gauthier as a teacher. The anti-NKT website, NKT World, gives some background about Len Foley’s publications with Rebecca Gauthier, the continuing teacher at the Tushita Centre.
The latest Anti-Dalai Lama campaign by the NKT via the International Shugden Community was launched to highlight the US visit of the Dalai Lama and, in particular, his meeting with President Barack Obama, a meeting which outraged the Chinese government. Protests were organized to take place on Feb 22 in San Francisco, Feb 23 in Berkeley, Feb 24 in Santa Clara, and Feb 25 in Los Angeles.
The International Shugden Community will follow the Dalai Lama in 2014 all over the world to highlight what they claim is his “hidden intensive persecution campaign of thousands of Tibetan citizens in exile who practice a 400 year old tradition where one prays to the Buddhist deity Dorje Shugden.” and what Len Foley claims to be “religious discrimination, ruthlessly suppressing what he regards as religious dissent among Tibetan Buddhists and by extension thousands of Buddhists around the world for the past 20 years.”
For details of the mutually inclusive relationship of the NKT/WSS/ISC/SSC, together with a response to their allegations by Robert Thurman, see here.
On May 1st, 2014, the German Buddhist Monastic Association (DBO) issued a statement about the protests in which the DBO formally dissociated itself from the protests against the Dalai Lama, and corrected some of the many wrong assertions propagated by the campaigning group.
The accusations made by the Shugden group that the Dalai Lama is suppressing freedom of religion have been pointed out as illogical by Dr Nathan W. Hill, Lecturer in Tibetan and Linguistics at London University SOAS’ (School of Oriental and African Studies), in an article by The Foreigner (May 8, 2014):
“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.
Tibetologist Thierry Dodin stated in an interview about the Shugden conflict (May 8, 2014):
It is true that the cult is shunned by the community. But the claim that its remaining followers are systematically discriminated on the basis of an official directive cannot go unchallenged, if for no other reason than the fact that they themselves choose to live in groups largely cut off from the rest of the community.
As always in socio-political conflicts, unfortunate incidents did in fact occur here and there. Still, it would be unfair to make the Dalai Lama responsible for the actions of a few overly-zealous individuals. He neither called upon anyone to carry out such actions nor approved of these actions in retrospect. Moreover, such incidents have been wildly exaggerated by Shugden propagandists in terms of their frequency and gravity. Yes, there have certainly been social tensions, but violence has been the exception. The tensions have instead been released in heated debates, demonstrations and boycotts. And if one takes into account that the problem has been in existence since the 17th century and already led to severe tensions in old Tibet, even local wars, one must say that overall this conflict has been quite peacefully managed in the last 30 years.
+++ NEWS August 2014 +++
During the SOAS panel discussion “The Shugden Controversy and the 14th Dalai Lama” ICS representative Gen Kelsang Rabten – NKT-IKBU National Spiritual Director for New Zealand and Australia – said that the International Shugden Community (ICS) is a registered non-profit in the USA. (see PDF) The registered address of the charity is also the address of New Horizon Health Inc. in Westlake Village founded in 2008. (See company information here and here – and note the multimillion turnover (PDF)). The CEO of the business is Len Foley (see here).
There are now two registered ISC groups in 2014. A registered business in Norway and this charity in California (USA) which shares an address with a large health food business of which Len Foley is CEO.
The SOAS Panel discussion can be watched on YouTube:
Former New Kadampa Tradition members („NKT Survivors“) issued a “Declaration concerning the Demonstrations against His Holiness” on August 19th 2014 in which they express their sadness “that those who were once our NKT sangha demonstrate against and defame His Holiness the Dalai Lama” and address “inaccuracies, disinformation, and outright lies”. (For a revised version of the declaration see this PDF.)
For a brief inquiry into the validity of the ICS claims see Joanne Clark’s post “Protests by the International Shugden Community (ISC) Against the Dalai Lama—Is There Any Truth in Them”.
+++ NEWS October 2014 +++
In October 2014 the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) / International Shugden Community (ISC) have appointed another spokesperson for the U.S. visit of the Dalai Lama and their media campaign against him, William Fettig. William Fettig was ordained as a NKT monk by Kelsang Gyatso in 2004 and has the ordination name Kelsang Rigpa. He is currently the resident teacher of the “Mahakankala Buddhist Center in Santa Barbara”, where he teaches the NKT study programs. Fettig is also the NKT’s “Spiritual Director for the Western United States”. Fettig dresses himself in lay clothes when he speaks to the press.
A new website (with the support of the Tibet Houses New York, Delhi and Barcelona) was set up that addresses the allegations of the protesting Shugden group and the background of the Shugden controversy: www.shugdeninfo.com.
“New Kadampa Survivors” offer three concise handouts for a broader public about the background of the protests:
- Who is protesting against His Holiness the Dalai Lama?
- Dalai Lama & Dorje Shugden: Was this really the beginning of ‘religious persecution’?
- Kelsang Gyatso’s Tibetan Relations
- What is the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT)?
The first press articles about the Shugden Controversy and the protests in preparation of the Dalai Lama’s October visit in Canada and the U.S. appreared. For an analysis by Tenzin Peljor see: “The Shugden protesters are preparing for the U.S. Dalai Lama visit – and some journalists seem to become again their victims”.
NKT/ISC spokesperson in Canada was Darren Prout (in lay clothes). He is actually “Kelsang Tekchen”, Canadian-born resident teacher at NKT’s second largest centre, Madhyamaka Centre in Yorkshire.
One of the few Canadian and US American media that contacted an academic expert instead of repeating the accusations of the campaigners is The Daily Princetonian. Zanyab Zaman quotes Jonathan Gold, a professor of religion and scholar of Buddhism in “Group to protest Dalai Lama talk at Princeton next week”. Gold notes that the Dalai Lama does not have the authority to ban or to legitimize any practice … “The Dalai Lama is just a religious leader. He cannot control their ability to travel or to stop them from practicing their religion,” Gold said.
Due to the parliament attack in Canada no major news in Canada reported about the protesters.
+++ NEWS November 2014 +++
The NKT follow the Dalai Lama via their front group ISC from Birmingham to Boston and Princeton to New York City. Many media repeat their allegations without analysis into their validity and without asking any academic expert. Different spokespersons – all of them NKT teachers – are presented to the press: Len Foley, Rebbecca Gauthier and Gen Kelsang Rabten alias Nicholas Pitts.
There are a few exceptions where either a scholar was inteviewed or wrote an article. Matthew Bell states in PRI's “The World”, “Breakaway Buddhists take aim at the Dalai Lama”, that Tibet scholar Robert Barnett said that Shugden practitioners in the Tibetan exile community have faced persecution. (In an email from Nov. 5th 2014 to ISC campaigner “IndyHack” Barnett corrects this: “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.”) According to Bell, Barnett also said that the Dalai Lama’s administration hasn’t dealt with that very well. About the protests Bell quotes Barnett:
“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.”
In a Facebook comment Barnett clarifies some additional points, stating that “issuing a religious ruling is not a question of human rights or an abuse” and that the allegation to be the “false Dalai Lama”
“… 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.”
In an article for GlobalPost “Here’s why demonstrators are trolling the Dalai Lama’s US tour” Matteo Piston – author of “Fearless in Tibet” and “In the Shadow of the Buddha” – recollects the bloody events abroad, far away from the protesters: “In the 1990s, he [the Dalai Lama] became outspoken against Shugden worship, and by the middle of that decade the conflict erupted into bloodshed. An anti-Shugden abbot who was a personal friend of the Dalai Lama was ritually murdered in 1997, along with two assistants, just a stone’s throw from the Tibetan leader’s residence in Dharamsala, India. Indian police identified Tibetan Shugden followers as the culprits but they were said to have escaped to China. In India, where many Tibetans refugees who have fled China live, brawls between pro- and anti-Shugden groups are not uncommon.”
Piston argues against unsubstantiated claims that China is behind the protesters, stating “No, they have not been sent by the Dalai Lama’s opponents in the Chinese government — at least, there’s no conclusive evidence of that — although the Communist Party does play a role in this story.” He concludes, “The conflict about Dorje Shugden is no longer mysterious but rather brings to the surface fractures in Tibetans’ solidarity for their freedom struggle, as well as in the long-standing Western support for their political cause.”
Robert Thurman, Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism at Columbia University and co-founder and President of Tibet House US, wrote a detailed analysis of the protesters, their claims and the situation for Shugden practitioners in India and the West in a Huffington Post article “Concerning The Current Wave of ‘Protest Demonstrations’ Against His Holiness the Dalai Lama”. He states:
“The bottom line is that they are attempting to confuse public opinion and ruin the Dalai Lama’s reputation.”
Two more articles were posted in the Huffington Post that cover the protests and shine light on the protesters’ background and claims. Tenzin Dorjee, a Tibetan activist, writer and musican, lists “6 Things You Should Know About the Anti-Dalai Lama Protesters”. Dorjee highlights especially the traditional role of Shugden in the Tibetan context of which the protesters are not aware of:
“The protesters belong to a fringe group of Buddhist extremists who worship a deity called Shugden and pursue an ideology of Geluk supremacy. Tibetan Buddhism has five sects, namely Geluk, Sakya, Nyingma, Kagyu and Jhonang. Within the Geluk school, there is a subgroup whose propitiation of the Shugden deity has historically forbidden its members to read the scriptures of other sects and study with lamas of non-Geluk schools. This controversial ideology of Geluk supremacy, which fueled sectarian tensions among Tibetans for hundreds of years, is what the Dalai Lama set out to eradicate when he discouraged the worship of this deity. In keeping with his progressive and reform-driven policies, the Dalai Lama (who traditionally belongs to the Geluk school himself) has gone out of his way to study with various lamas from other traditions, urging that all sects must be accorded equal respect. These reformist measures of the Dalai Lama, aimed at promoting inter-sectarian harmony, has made him anathema to the Geluk supremacists.”
The Huffington Post article “The Dalai Lama Gives New Yorkers A Lesson On Wisdom As Opponents Protest Outside” interviewed Dr. Suzanne Newcombe from INFORM about the protesters:
Newcombe said the protests were likely set up by individuals or by front organizations, rather than by the NKT directly.
“Individual members take it upon themselves to protest what they call ‘gross injustices’ being thrust on them because of the Dalai Lama’s policy,” Newcombe told HuffPost over the phone. “His advice against practicing Shugden became emphatic in 1996. Then there was a vote in the major Gelug monasteries not to allow the practice in 2007. But now independent Shugden monasteries have been set up around the world.”
Newcombe suggested that while followers of the NKT may strive to reach enlightenment and “be good Buddhists,” many who have left the movement report that NKT authorities did not allow them the space to develop their own faith.
+++ NEWS December 2014 +++
For the Dalai Lama’s Rome visit the ISC/NKT started a massive campaigning on Twitter under the hash tags #dalailama and #nobelpeacesummit and flood it with tweets. Free flights, accommodation and food were offered for protesters by the International Shugden Community (see PDF). La Repubblica published an interview with the Dalai Lama I valori del Dalai Lama: "Come Malala, combatto per la verità" by Raimondo Bultrini on 11 Dec. 14 (English translation here.)
Tibet scholar Robert Barnett from Columbia University was interviewed by www.info-buddhism.com about the protests. Read the full interview here.
While no Shugden follower has ever been jailed for practicing Shugden, China started now to imprison Tibetans who discourage Shugden practice:
- Elderly Tibetan is Jailed For Discouraging Worship of Controversial Deity – RfA
- Another Tibetan is Jailed For Discouraging Worship of a Controversial Deity – RfA
+++ NEWS January / February 2015 +++
Newsweek (January 29, 2015) covers the protests and the Shugden controversy in an extensive article that also mentions “The Yellow Book”: Relentless: The Dalai Lama’s Heart of Steel. The printed Feb. 6 Newsweek edition put this article on its cover.
Feb 1, 2015: “Savage Minds” published an essay by Ben Joffe – a PhD candidate at the University of Colorado: Angry White Buddhists and the Dalai Lama: Appropriation and Politics in the Globalization of Tibetan Buddhism. On February 06, 2015 Joffe’s article was posted on Tricycle blog.
Feb 25, 2015: With respect to alleged discrimination against Shugden followers, Mark Hay (www.vice.com) quotes Barnett and the Office of H.H. the Dalai Lama in The Followers of a Wrathful Buddhist Spirit Take on the Dalai Lama,
“It’s completely normal for any religious leader to say, ‘I think your understanding of this religious practice is wrong,’” said Robert Barnett, a Columbia University scholar of Tibetan politics. “But then Tibetans in the exile community around him began to impose a ban on all members of the Shugden community, whether they were followers of the Dalai Lama or not.”
The Dalai Lama’s office acknowledges that some Tibetans do discriminate against Shugden followers—frequently by denying known devotees access to shops or refusing to do business with them—but it condemns this and denies its role in encouraging such actions. Barnett thinks they’re not taking enough responsibility for how people interpret the Dalai Lama’s words.
About the protesters, Barnett comments,
Prominent scholars like Barnett say that the entire sect (Thurman calls it a cult), including the many Westerners who've joined up, is a training camp for bitter anti–Dalai Lama activists. "It's not unusual that a new... quasi-Buddhist cult emerges and a lot of Westerners join it," Barnett told me. "But what is really worrying is that [Shugden followers] also take on the idea that they should become activists to take on the Dalai Lama."
Gavin Kilty, a well known translator and Tibetan language teacher, posted an open letter to the protesters from the NKT: Open Letter to Followers of the New Kadampa Tradition on 26 February 2015.
+++ NEWS March 2015 +++
March 13, 2015: There is a new and thorough article by the Foreign Policy, Meet the Buddhists Who Hate the Dalai Lama More Than the Chinese Do, that covers the recent press coverage, who is behind the protests, and the Shugden followers’ claims. Hitting the nail on the head, Foreign Policy states:
And though the spirit’s followers in the Western world probably number only a few thousand, they’ve been surprisingly successful at generating attention for themselves and their campaign to discredit the Dalai Lama. Recently, Bloomberg, Reuters, and the Washington Post, among other outlets, have covered the Shugden followers’ protests, and in a measured tone — surprising for the absurdity of the Shugden followers’ claims.
Have the Dalai Lama protesters sought dialogue?
The ISC / Dalai Lama protesters are now frequently claiming that they have sought dialogue with the Dalai Lama but the Dalai Lama has never accepted dialogue with them. Once again however, this claim is misleading.
If you really seek dialogue, you try to put yourself in the shoes of the other person. You try to understand as well as you can the way of thinking of the person with whom you seek dialogue. While you are working towards that aim you don’t denigrate the other person as ‘false’ or a ‘hypocrite’, ‘very professional liar’, ‘worst dictator’ etc, because this isn’t a basis for a dialogue. The Dalai Lama protesters have not done the former but rather stress the latter. Does this behaviour reveal a genuine motivation for a dialogue or is ‘dialogue’ just more rhetoric like the terms ‘human rights’ and ‘religious freedom’?
During the first round of the protests (1996–98) the protesters didn’t seek dialogue. They issued demands. The demand of Kelsang Gyatso – who “masterminded” and led the protests¹ – and the demand of the NKT protesters was that “the Dalai Lama signs a declaration promising freedom to propagate worship of Dorje Shugden.”¹ If the Dalai Lama does so, Kelsang Gyatso said in an interview to The Daily Telepgraph, they will “immediately cease all activity.”¹
Before that interview with The Daily Telegraph in 1996, a dialogue had been arranged in London, at Tibet House, between representatives of the Tibetan Government in Exile (TGIE, now CTA) and Jim Belither and Lucy James of the NKT, amongst others. However, whilst these NKT members were on the train from Yorkshire to the meeting, a person on the train suffered a heart attack and the train was delayed. This was interpreted by the NKT members as an inauspicious sign and because of this as well as the fact that the time of the meeting coincided with a demonstration arranged at Eccleston Square, they did not attend the meeting. The meeting was portrayed as a trap to disturb the arranged demonstration and no other meeting was arranged. It seems likely, based on the protesters refusal to accept the TGIE offer for a dialogue, that Kelsang Gyatso said to The Daily Telegraph:
“There is no point in us meeting. He will reject what I say. He will never agree. Demonstrations are our only outlet.”¹
On May 1st, 1998 a petition was delivered to the Dalai Lama in New York, asking him to sign a declaration. In this declaration the Dalai Lama was asked to confirm that former statements he made were “untrue”, and to acknowledge that his “false information” had created “great suffering”. It concluded, “Therefore, I declare that from now on everyone has the complete freedom to worship Dorje Shugden, and that no one should interfere in any way with their worship.” The petition was signed on behalf of the Dorje Shugden International Coalition, Morten Clausen, an NKT teacher.
During the second round (2009–2014) and during the third round (2014–??) of protests there were no calls for a dialogue, but ultimata were issued (if you don’t do as we wish we will organise protests against you, it is now in your hands). These ultimata were again unreasonable demands, such as to revert a democratic decision made via majority vote (Stick Referendum) by monks in the monasteries in 2008. There, the majority of Buddhist monks decided to remove Shugden worship from their monastic practices and to separate themselves from monks who wished to continue Shugden worship. It is the right of the monks to decide under which contitions they want to live. As a single individual, the Dalai Lama cannot go against a monastic procedure and the majority vote within monastic communities.
For analyses with further details regarding the claims of having sought dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, see:
- Kelsang Rabten Calls for Dialogue at the SOAS Conference: Is Dialogue Possible? – Joanne Clark
- “Geshe-La Says” Part Four: No Point In Negotiating! – Joanne Clark
- Trijang Rinpoche’s view about Shugden … The protesters never asked for a dialogue – T. Peljor
- Is the Dalai Lama Refusing a Dialog with the Shugden Followers? – by Dalai Lama Protesters Info
- UPDATE: NKT/ISC Refuse Dialog Offer – by Dalai Lama Protesters Info
¹ Dalai Lama Faces Revolt For Barring ‘Death Threat’ Deity, The Daily Telegraph, July 15,1996.
Western Shugden Society
A New Religious Movement (NRM) called the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) is mainly behind the world wide media campaign against the Dalai Lama and is orchestrated under the label Western Shugden Society (WSS) although some Tibetans also support the Western Shugden Society. The founder, leader and sole authority of the New Kadampa Tradition is Geshe Kelsang Gyatso who was expelled in 1996 by 15 Abbots and Geshes from his monastic community at Sera Je in India, because the monastic community felt that Kelsang Gyatso’s “unbearable spite towards the unsurpassed omniscient 14th Dalai Lama” “will foul the Sangha community’s spiritual purity and serenity and will have a negative influence for the whole community”.
That the Western Shugden Society was probably funded by the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), an UK charity trust, is indicated by these signs:
Press speaker: Kelsang Pema (Helen Gradwell) – personal assistant to Geshe Kelsang Gyatso for more than 8 years
Front man and leader in the USA: Gen-la Kelsang Khyenrab – Deputy Spiritual Director of the NKT (PDF)
- Leader in Australia: Gen Kelsang Rabten (Nicholas Pitts) – National Spiritual Director of NKT Australia and New Zealand (PDF)
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has asked all his students by email to participate the protests. Among other things he wrote in one of his emails: “[…] To stop this evil action, as the representative of the Western Shugden Society, I personally will organise demonstrations against the Dalai Lama directly. I requested Kelsang Pema and Kelsang Thubchen to do this job for me and they have accepted. Please help Pema and Thubchen with whatever they need. With much love and prayers, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso”. (see Buddhism under assault)
Lucy James (USA), official editor of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s books and Resident Teacher for several NKT centers, who did not encourage her students thoroughly enough, was immediately removed by Geshe Kelsang from her position as a NKT resident teacher. So there seems to be pressure to local NKT resident teachers to convince their members to go to the protests.
The identity of the website of the Western Shugden Society is made hidden via proxy server (Domains by Proxy), however some media data in the files refer to “Tharpa”, a NKT enterprise, which publishes only Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s books, and to a translator of Kelsang Gyatso’s books in Spain.
A public letter of the NKT Bodhisattva Centre indicates the WSS website as being a NKT website stating “You may be interested to visit the following websites for further information about our Centre, our tradition – the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) the WSS: Bodhisattva Buddhist Centre [..] Western Shugden Society website: www.westernshugdensociety.org [..] for information about the NKT and our side of the story!!”
The 1996-1998 media campaign of the New Kadampa Tradition against the Dalai Lama was performed under the label Shugden Supporters Community (SSC) and NKT tried likewise to hide their identity. (see The Independent). However, Kelsang Gyatso clearly identified himself as the mastermind behind the protests when he spoke with The Daily Telegraph. (Dalai Lama Faces Revolt For Barring ‘Death Threat’ Deity, The Daily Telegraph, July 15,1996)
Although the Western Shugden Society spokesperson Kelsang Pema (Helen Gradwell) claims publicly that the WSS “has no leader nor registered office”, in reality, Kelsang Gyatso, by his own admission is the leader of the group (see email), and, when the Society was set up on 26 June 2008 as a ‘Private Limited’ by guarantee with assets, it was registered to a specific address (Studio 177 56 Tavistock Place, London, WC1H 9RG, United Kingdom – see Company entry). On 08.02.13 the Duedil entry of the Western Shugden Society listed a cash amount of 17,705 GBP and a Book Value of 25,372 GBP (see PDF).
Publicly available information lists two NKT centres as “Related Companies” to the Western Shugden Society: The New Kadampa Tradition’s Manjushri Mahayana Buddhist Centre (MMBC) and Tharpaland Kadampa Meditation Centre (TKMC). The same information makes it clear that Susan Mary Jenkins, who is currently a director of the Western Shugden Society, has also been a director of TKMC, while Helen Gradwell has been an officer and director of both ‘companies’, the WSS and MMBC (see PDF). A number of other WSS directors are also listed, all of whom coincidentally, are relatively senior NKT personnel.
Helen Gradwell also petitioned the UK Parliament. (PDF) In 2011 the Western Shugden Society wrote “Open Letters to British Political Leaders“, among them British Prime Minister David Cameron MP, Foreign Secretary William Hague MP, and to Home Secretary Theresa May MP. The letters are signed by “John McBretney, PhD, BSc (Hons), Retired Civil Servant Representative, Western Shugden Society”, John McBretney is the Resident Teacher of the NKT’s Heruka Centre in London.
In the image above one can see Gen-la Kelsang Khyenrab (the man in red who shows the WSS broshure “The Tibetan Situation Today”), a NKT-monk and present successor of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, and the future spiritual leader of the NKT.
The standard letter Inform – an information network on religious movements founded by Professor Eileen Barker based at the London School of Economics – issue when contacted about the NKT states that “the NKT-IKBU stresses that it is an independent organisation with no official political position or formal association with the Western Shugden Society.” The file Inform hold on the New Kadampa Tradition lists the Western Shugden Society as an ‘associated organization’ because of the “substantial demonstrable connections between the two,” and what an Inform spokesperson described as “the visible overlap of the membership base and spokespersons of both groups.”
What has the Western Shugden Society to say about the Dalai Lama and is this based on Buddhist principles?
The heart of the WSS booklet “The Tibetan Situation Today” (PDF) spread during the protests is an Anti-Dalai-Lama-Manifest called “21st Century Buddhist Dictator – The Dalai Lama”:
21st Century Buddhist Dictator
The Dalai Lama
Dalai Lama, right now you are removing the Tibetan Shugden worshippers from the Buddhist community saying that Shugden worshippers are not Buddhist because they worship an evil spirit—Shugden, and at the same time you are preparing to remove the Western Shugden worshippers from the Buddhist community for the same reasons. Through your religious discrimination and extreme view, you have already expelled thousands of Tibetan Shugden practitioners from the Tibetan society. Not satisfied with this, you are now collecting signatures from people in the West and the East in which they state that they abandon Shugden worship and that they will not support materially or spiritually anyone who does practice Shugden worship.
We understand that your aim in collecting these signatures is simply to protect your reputation—you want to blame the people for your breaking the law. Dalai Lama, you are a very professional liar. Your actions of Deity discrimination are directly against the constitution of the Indian Government, which means you are breaking Indian law. This is your fault alone; not the people’s fault. You should not blame others for your breaking the law. Many people are giving their signatures stating they abandon Shugden worship ONLY because they are afraid of your punishment if they do not. There are clear reports in the newspapers about these punishments. Others sign because they are your friends who are trying to protect your reputation.
In our report on 29th February 2008, we asked you to show your evidence to prove that Shugden is an evil spirit: ‘If you are not telling lies and you have valid evidence to support your actions you should show such evidence publicly, and you should do this yourself not through your people who until now you have hidden behind, having them perform your dirty work’. You received a copy of our previous report and have not replied. Your silence proves that you have no valid evidence and that you have lied.
Since 1996, you have continually said publicly that Shugden practice is harming your life and Tibetan independence. Many people who have blind faith in you believe what you say without investigating the actual truth. Consequently, they are extremely angry with Shugden practitioners and try to remove them from their society by many different means such as humiliation, provocation, intimidation, threatening, ostracism, removing jobs and positions, denying services, spreading false rumours, lies, manipulation, not allowing others to have material or spiritual relationship with them, not giving the monks food in their monasteries, not allowing the monks to attend classes and services at their monasteries, and forcing them to sign a promise that they will abandon the worship of the Deity Shugden.
Through your actions of this lie, all Tibetans throughout the world are divided into two groups: 1) those who believe what you say concerning Dorje Shugden and who are consequently angry with Dorje Shugden practitioners, and 2) those who do not believe what you say concerning Dorje Shugden and are experiencing ostracism and great suffering and sorrow. This situation pervades everywhere in the East and in the West.
The entire Tibetan community have lost their trust, peace and harmony, and are experiencing a very dangerous situation. The source of all these problems is you. Through your negative policies, the Kagyupas are divided into two groups, and they have lost their trust, peace and harmony, and their common spiritual activities. Gelugpas are also divided into two groups 1) those who follow your view believing that Shugden is an evil spirit, and 2) those who believe that Shugden is a Wisdom Buddha, and have subsequently lost their trust, peace and harmony, and their common spiritual activities and live in a dangerous situation. The source of all these problems is you.
Until now you have repeatedly said that you are not seeking Tibetan independence and that you have not done anything to promote Tibetan independence, yet now you organise demonstrations against China! You are enjoying life in your luxurious palace while the poor Tibetan people are experiencing great suffering and danger. Your actions have caused all the Tibetans who live in Tibet to have a very difficult life because you have destroyed their internal trust, peace and harmony.
As soon as you arrived to India as a refugee you made a plan to transform the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism—Nyngma, Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug—into one single tradition called Rigme (Non Lineage) tradition. This was your method to destroy the pure lineages of the Nyngma, Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug and make you alone the head of all of them by establishing a new tradition. In this way you now have complete power and control of everything at a spiritual, political and material level.
At that time, the Tso Kha Chusum (“Thirteen Groups of Tibetans”) were against your plan and because of this for many years the Tibetan community lost their harmony and peace. Finally, the leader of the Tso Kha Chusum, Gungthang Tsultrim, was murdered by a shotgun. Tibetan people believe that Gungthang Tsultrim was killed by people working for you. Later, some other important members of the Tso Kha Chusum suddenly died, and people believed your organizations created the conditions for their death. It is said that you have a secret organization in New Delhi, led by your brother whose function is to destroy or kill anyone who opposes your plan.
According to some sources, you were born in a Muslim family. When you were a child who did not know anything, some ignorant Tibetans acting as representatives of the Tibetan Government chose that boy as the reincarnation of the Tibetan Dalai Lama. Since that time, that boy wore saffron robes, and the local people jokingly nicknamed you as ‘The Saffron Robed Muslim’. In this way, you received the position of the Tibetan Dalai Lama. Because of this, many people now keep your photograph on their shrines and worship you.
You have received a higher education in Buddhism from your kind teacher Trijang Rinpoche. However, the sad situation is that after you arrived to India your behaviour changed. You were continually against the intention of your Root Guru, Trijang Rinpoche, who is the lineage holder of Je Tsonghapa’s doctrine. You strived strongly to destroy Trijang Rinpoche’s spiritual tradition, which is the pure tradition of Je Tsongkhapa’s doctrine.
Since 1996, you have regarded Trijang Rinpoche’s followers as your enemies and you are now giving orders to the ordinary people and monasteries to expel them from their society. Following your views and your orders, many people believe that Trijang Rinpoche’s followers who practise Dorje Shugden are their enemies.
In both India and Tibet, many Shugden temples, shrines, statues, paintings and texts have been unlawfully destroyed, and many monks have been expelled from their monasteries. Following your orders, the authorities of the monasteries are continually making efforts to expel the monks who have devotion for Trijang Rinpoche and who practise Dorje Shugden. In this way, you have caused millions of people great suffering and sorrow.
All these horrible situations have developed through the power of your evil actions. This is our valid evidence to prove that you are not Buddhist. Because of this, we also believe that you are the saffron robed Muslim.
Throughout your life you have pretended to be a Buddhist holy being giving Buddhist teachings that you have stolen from Trijang Rinpoche. By doing this, you have cheated people throughout the world. In summary, it is clear that your real nature is cruel and very evil.
Source: “21st Century Buddhist Dictator - The Dalai Lama” (pp. 11–14)
© 2008 www.westernshugdensociety.org
All Rights Reserved.
The Western Shugden Society is only the community or confederation of Wisdom Buddha Dorje Shugden practitioners it has no leader nor registered office.
The Western Shugden Society softened this vitriolic manifest a little bit after receiving complaints by some Shugden-Lamas who feared their reputation would be destroyed irretrievably. The complete text was probably written by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. His successor, Gen-la Kelsang Khyenrab, read it aloud during the USA protests at Colgate University, NY, April 22 2008. Rao Jin’s website www.anti-CNN.com posted this Anti-Dalai-Lama-Manifest immediately after its release. A new version of it can be read at the WSS-Website. In general the website of the WSS gives the impression of a hate-filled denigration campaign against the Dalai Lama.
The WSS website clearly breaks the Buddhist guidelines of Right Speech. The website and the protesters are using deliberately abusive language and they misuse the word ‘liar’. When H.H. the Dalai Lama publishes his opinion about Shugden and advises against this practice and monasteries agree with him and put restrictions on that practice, then this can be considered wrong by others but it cannot be portrayed as lying. Pointing out the dangers of the Shugden ‘cult’ (a view which is held by the majority of Tibetan Buddhists, especially among Kagyu and Nyingma practitioners) and discouraging its practice can also be considered as wrong but it cannot be portrayed as ‘hypocrisy’. The WSS approach of putting the blame onto a single person, H.H. the Dalai Lama, is violating Buddhist principles and reality. All phenomena are interconnected and arise due to many different causes and conditions, they are dependent arising. The WSS hold at least two of “The 16 Wrong Conceptions” which contradict The 16 Aspects of the Four Noble Truths. These two wrong conceptions on which the WSS base their accusations and actions are the “apprehension of sufferings as being produced by a single cause” & “apprehension of sufferings as being produced by others (such as a creator god)”. The strategy of WSS/NKT: Blame the Dalai Lama! cannnot create a constructive result nor can it be seen as being realistic or based on common sense. As a result WSS/NKT will be faced with more problems in the future and the loss of trust and credibility.
Ten years ago The Independent wrote about the first media campaign of the New Kadampa Tradition (Shugden Supporters Community):
»The view from inside the Shugden Supporters Community was almost a photographic negative of everything the outside world believes about Tibet and the Dalai Lama.«
»But the dispute over Dorje Shugden makes no sense in terms of practical politics in the West. It has already directed a great deal of media attention on the NKT and its elastic ways with truth. Some of the mud being flung at the Dalai Lama will probably stick. The reputation of Tibetan Buddhism as a uniquely clean and rational religion will certainly be damaged. The only lasting winners from the row will be the Chinese, who have mounted a fresh campaign of repression inside Tibet this spring.«
To understand the setting of the present protests it may be helpful to read the press articles about the NKT’s first media campaign (1996-1998) against the Dalai Lama in The Independent and The Guardian:
- Battle of the Buddhists by Andrew Brown (PDF) in The Independent, London, 15 July 1996
- Shadow boxing on the path to Nirvana by Madeleine Bunting in The Guardian, London, 6 July 1996 (PDF).
Also this article (Sept. 1996) by Deepak Thapa seems to be a good mirror of the actual situation:
- It’s Dalai Lama vs Shugden (PDF) by Deepak Thapa.
BBC documentary (1998)
- »An Unholy Row« — British-Asian current affairs series. An interview with the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, about his decision to stop the worship of a spirit known as Dorje Shugden.
Amnesty International’s position:
- Document - China: AI’s position on alleged abuses against worshippers of Tibetan deity Dorje Shugden; AI Index: ASA 17/14/98; June 1998 (PDF)
For a detailed discussion about the Western Shugden Society see:
- Resource Blog ‘Western Shugden Society - unlocked’ by Tenzin Peljor
New Kadampa Tradition vs. Dalai Lama
NKT insiders the allegations against the Dalai Lama as being a
“dictator”, “hypocrite”, “liar”
etc. are seen as the reflections of the actual situation in the NKT
itself. The protests came up after a number of internal scandals,
regarding the former NKT successor, Gen-la Samden (Steve W.), and the
resident teacher Gen Kelsang Lodro (Brighton, UK). Ordained NKT monks
and nuns did have active sexual relationships with each other as well
as lay members and these relationships were not disciplined within the
organisation. Members report that they complained to the NKT leadership
and addressed requests for help to Geshe Kelsang himself. But instead
of doing something he threw the blame back and said those people
reporting the events to him would destroy the pure tradition, and “harm
the Buddhadharma and all sentient beings”. In this way the scandals
could be covered up for a very long time. When the scandals became
finally public via Internet (E-Sangha)
the involved persons were immediately removed from their positions and
the NKT websites. The leadership tried to hide the facts by giving
different misleading information, such as Gen Samden wishes to go into
retreat etc. (see Dharma Sights)
Open discussions were suppressed and finally Geshe Kelsang forbade his
followers to engage in online forums (“meaningless activities”),
ordering all NKT internet chats to close. The internal scandals were
not cleared or counselled, victims received little support or help.
(see New Kadampa Survivors)
Some former members of the NKT see the present campaign as a means to bring the confused members together again by the NKT leadership. They argue the protests against the Dalai Lama distract the NKT members from their internal struggles and scandals. They refer to the fact that a similar situation, regarding sexual abuse, of another successor of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Gen-la Thubten (Neil E.), preceded the protests 1996-1998. The NKT leadership similarly covered up these abuses for a long time and when they became finally public they gave misleading information and claimed that the successor was tired and would go into retreat (see Sect disrobes British monk). From that perspective it seems that the unresolved emotions within the NKT are now projected against an outer enemy.
Although the above is a theory of some former members it is difficult to find reasons why the NKT is now engaging in these protests again. In 2002 Geshe Kelsang wrote in an Open Letter to the Washington Times: “in October 1998 we decided to completely stop being involved in this Shugden issue because we realized that in reality this is a Tibetan political problem and not the problem of Buddhism in general or the NKT.” Similar Open Letters he wrote to The Sydney Morning Herald and the Ming Pao Daily News, stating: “everyone knows the NKT and myself completely stopped being involved in this Shugden issue at all levels. I guarantee you that the NKT and myself have never performed inappropriate actions and will never do so in the future, this is our determination. We simply concentrate on the flourishing of holy Buddhadharma throughout the world - we have no other aim. I hope people gradually understand our true nature and function.” The NKT internal rules do not allow political actions. Also the NKT was never interested or engaged to improve the situation of the Tibetan exile community or of the Tibetans in Tibet; they do not accept the Dalai Lama or the Ganden Tripa (head of the Gelugpas) or other Buddhist teachers as spiritual authorities; and nobody in NKT is in any way ‘oppressed’ by the Dalai Lama. From an outer perspective a possible altruistic motivation is contradicted by the fact that the NKT is since its inception a very self-centred organisation more focused on its expansion, described by Geshe Kelsang as “We simply concentrate on the flourishing of holy Buddhadharma throughout the world”, than anything else. What NKT portrays as a “ban” does not effect the NKT, and according to Geshe Kelsang’s statements in these Open Letters the NKT “is completely independent from Shugden groups in India, Nepal and other countries; we have absolutely no political affiliations.”
The Media specifies the protesters as ‘Buddhist monks and nuns’. This is not correct. NKT monks and nuns, who were ordained by Kelsang Gyatso and bear his name Kelsang, are not ‘real’ Buddhist monks and nuns. They are neither novice Buddhist monks or nuns (Tib. Getsul / Getsulma) nor fully ordained Buddhist monks or nuns (Tib. Gelong / Gelongma). Due to this fact they are not members of the Buddhist order of monks and nuns according to the Vinaya. The Vinaya (code of conduct for Buddhist monks and nuns) with its democratic basis and rules, established by the Buddha, is not active in the NKT. The ordination of the NKT can be seen as a kind of the so-called “Rabjung-ordination”. This kind of ordination makes the person who receives it to an “intermediate ordained one”, a phrase which “refers to someone who is preparing to become a Getsul” (novice). Such a person is neither a lay person nor an ordained person. Rabjungs can wear the monastic robes but not the yellow upper robe. Because they do not belong to the Buddhist monastic order they are not allowed to attend the fortnightly Purification Ritual (Tib. Sojong) or to act as members of, or in the name of the Buddhist monastic order. In the Indian-Tibetan ordination tradition (Mulasarvastavada lineage) the Rabjung ordination is given as an intermediate ordination to someone who aspires to become a monk or nun. The purpose of this intermediate ordination is to allow the trainee to approach the lifestyle of a monk or nun before the trainee eventually becomes a novice or a fully ordained one. Usually this kind of Rabjung ordination is given to Tibetans from an early age until they reach adulthood when they are free to decide whether to follow the life of a monk. Geshe Kelsang actively discourages his followers to take the actual ordination claiming the NKT ordination is sufficient and can be understood as being in line with explanations of Geshe Potowa. The opinion of the Australian Sangha Association is “that for NKT members to represent themselves to the public as authentic Buddhist monks and nuns is wrong and misleading.”
According to David Barett NKT is “one of the newest and most controversial Buddhist movements”. INFORM, Rick Ross Institute and the Cult Information Centre London are faced with complaints about the New Kadampa Tradition. The Yahoo! Groups-Forum, The New Kadampa Survivors,
had in October 2008 more than 750 members. Due to the many complaints
INFORM started independent research on NKT. Whoever wishes to receive
independent research information about NKT can contact INFORM, which was founded in
1988 by Professor Eileen Barker with the help of British Home Office funding
and the support of the mainstream Churches. It is based at the London School of
The Western Shugden Society portrays their unilateral attacks and their “war of words-campaign” against the Dalai Lama as “Dalai Lama Controversy”. The accusations of the Western Shugden Society against the Dalai Lama are based on some events which occurred in India. WSS exaggerates them, puts a spin on the facts, takes them out of context and interprets certain events as systematic “religious persecution”. After checking the details with information offered by witnesses and different sources the conclusion is that the information the Western Shugden Society offers is a mix of semi-truths, untruths and some truths.
For a background on the events in India one can read this well-informed article:
»I resided at Sera for a total of about 20 months from 2003-2006. From 2004 onwards I had a basic enough understanding of Tibetan to know what was going on. My teacher was selected by HHDL to serve as Abbot and held that position for 10 years, partly because of his ability to handle the Shugden issue.
At first, the Sera administration tried a “live and let live approach”, where the Shugden monks could do prayers in Pomra khangtsen but those of us who didn’t want to participate didn’t have to. And during the kangso pujas very few monks attended unless they were financially destitute and needed the money. I would say there were only about 90-120 monks who sincerely believed in the practice, out of a khangtsen of at least 400.
Things came to a head because the Shugden supporters pushed the issue, handing out copies of the prayer to all monks during pujas and pressuring them to recite. Hanging large Shugden thangkhas in the khangtsen, and fining those Pomra monks who did not attend puja.
Because of this situation, my teacher and the administration at Sera Mey felt they had no choice but to draft the oath for monks to sign. But this was after extensive discussion with HHDL and patiently waiting to see if the Shugden people would lighten up. After they tied up a visiting Dharamsala politician to a chair, the situation was sealed. Khen Rinpochey felt Shugden had to be controlled into the monastery, for the future of the lineage.
I doubt any of the protestors have visited the monasteries of South India in the past ten years so really the information they are receiving is not first hand, but rather hearsay. It is simply an opportunity, I feel, for those who have grudges against His Holiness the Dalai Lama to try to damage his image.
Leading up the oath circulated against Shugden at Sera Mey there were also several other important developments. One was that my teacher, then abbot of Sera Mey, received threats to his personal safety when he tried to bring the situation under control by having the monks at least not try to promote Shugden openly. This is well documented and HH Dalai Lama mentioned it himself at the Kalachakra I attended in 2004 in Toronto.
The khangtsen was also being torn apart by the dispute because a new shrine hall was being built and the Shugden elements wanted a protector chapel in the back, and planned on ordering large statues. This further aggravated the situation. Once again, not from the side of the abbot and HHDL’s supporters, but from the Shugden side who kept trying to push the issue.
The harmony of such a large monastery (Jey and Mey combined form Sera, which has about 5,000 monks) is essential and the Shugden situation was becoming out of control. Not only were threats being made but there were arguments between monks and a deep feeling of disharmony.
In addition, some of those practising Shugden were even attending high tantra initiations with HHDL despite the fact that HH stated that to do so would harm the lineage, his life etc. … In short, they were taking HHDL as vajra master but deciding not to follow his direction in practice.
When I asked one monk whom I knew supported Shugden why he was attending an initiation HH was granting in India, he told me to shut up and mind my own business. I was later warned by friends to be less open about my disapproval for such matters because people had been previously physically harmed.
So, that is pretty much all the information I have to share. Of course it is my experience and the experience of my teacher. But, because I stayed at Sera for a reasonable period and speak decent colloquial Tibetan, I feel I am better qualified to inform people about what is going on rather than NKT cadres who have never set foot in India. I doubt even GKG has been there in the past decade.«
Whilst the Western Shugden Society, and some Tibetan Shugden followers accuse the Dalai Lama of oppressing Shugden worshippers, putting a “ban” on the Shugden worship, making them “untouchable”, having “stolen the teachings from Trijang Rinpoche” and so forth (see www.westernshugdensociety.org), according to Kasur Tashi Wangdi, the Dalai Lama’s representative in America:
“There’s no suppression! His Holiness made it very clear that according to his own observations over many years—in fact, he himself used to worship Shugden—and over many years of his own experience and observation and investigation, he found that this practice is not according to Buddhist practice. That practice is also bringing in divisions within the Buddhist traditions. The practitioners are attaching more importance than the basic Buddhist practice, and therefore he felt that it’s a practice that he would not approve of and therefore he advised people to not engage in it. But he made it very clear right from the beginning it was up to the individuals. He has a responsibility to explain the negative aspects of it and then it’s up to the individuals to decide on their own. Officially there has never been any repression or denial of rights to practitioners. But after His Holiness’ advice many monastic orders adopted rules and regulations that would not accept practitioners of Shugden worship in their monastic order. The followers have set up their own groups and they are free to function. But it’s in the right of institutions to make their own decisions.” and “There’s some misunderstanding that groups taking their own actions is the policy of the Tibetan government, but it’s not. Institutions take advice and it is within their right to say they do not want Shugden worship. But now if a group of people say they want to set up their own institution because they are different practitioners, which is within their right.” (see Interview with Tashi Wangdi)
What the expelled monks can do is to stop to violate their monk’s ethic by refraining from:
- Causing a Division within the Sangha (monastic order)
- Siding with a schismatic (Geshe Kelsang Gyatso)
- Causing lay people to lose faith in the Sangha
- Not Heeding advice about one’s offences
monk these are grave faults. The Buddha set up those and other rules
for the sake of harmony and peace in the order, and to protect lay
people from losing faith in the members of the order. To ignore these
rules will not bring peace and happiness.
The monks and everybody else can practice Shugden at their own place, privately or they can set up an independent monastery. The NKT can help them to do that. What the Western Shugden Society did however was to try and blackmail the Dalai Lama saying he should reverse the decision of the monastic communities in India. The WSS stated “If you do not accept the first point, we will immediately organise worldwide public demonstrations directly against the Dalai Lama whenever he visits any country. If you have some wisdom you should understand how important the Dalai Lama’s reputation is—this is now in your hands.” reveals their deep rooted ignorance regarding Buddhism, democracy, and the Vinaya of the Buddha.
Moreover, no NKT member is in any way oppressed by the Dalai Lama or any outer Buddhist authority, because NKT members accept nobody as a spiritual authority, besides their own leader Geshe Kelsang and his 22 books. There is no outer “persecution” or “subtle fear and repression”, as they claim.
John Makransky about the cross-cultural confusion in the Dorje Shugden issue:
»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.«
(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)
Tibet scholar Robert Barnett of Columbia University about the Western Shugden Society:
»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.«
- Tibet scholar denies making Time magazine Shugden comment by TibetanReview.net (July 23, 2008) (PDF)
- Australian Sangha Association Statement by ASA (22 July 2008)
- Provocations of the Gyalpo by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche (2005)
- A Spirit of the XVII Century by Raimondo Bultrini (2006)
- BBC (Nottingham), BBC Video (Nottingham) (27 May 2008)
- Spirit Worship is not Buddhist by TripleGem (12 June 08) (PDF-Copy)
- Interview with Kelsang Pema “Dalai Lama protests”, at ABC National Radio, Australia (11 June 2008)
- Dalai Lama Fans Clash With Protesters by The New York Times (17 July 2008)
- The Dalai Lama’s Buddhist Foes by The Time Magazine (18 July 2008)
- The Dalai Lama responds to Shugden Practitioners protest - Video Part I, Part II (14 July 2008)
- The Dalai Lama’s demon by France 24 (Aug 2008)
- New Kadampa Truths run by “an independent, non-sectarian group whose members have at one time or another been involved in the NKT” (2008)
- The Western Shugden Society by Jigme Duntak (2008)
- Dorjee Shugden, The Spirit and the Controversy by TGIE
As in any other religion Buddhism and Buddhists are also faced with religious extremists.
Where is the extremism in the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), the Western Shugden Society (WSS), and among many Shugden followers coming from?
A short analysis
The main force for religious extremism from a Buddhist point of view is grasping to an idea and holding onto it as an independent “truth”. In NKT, the main idea is the conception of “purity”. Robert Jay Lifton recognized in his research that fundamentalist groups share as a common sign a conception of “purity”. Once the conception of purity is established, based on the mind’s dualistic thinking, it follows that there must also be impurity.
As Chan master Huihai put it, true purity is a state beyond purity and impurity. By getting caught up in such dualisms, we “bind ourselves without a rope.” (Loy : 2008)
You’ll find similar statements in Buddhist scriptures. The Mahayana Uttaratantra Shastra by Arya Maitreya states, “The Dharma is without defilement” and the Samadhiraja Sutra says, “Purity and Impurity are as well extremes.”
If a Buddhist teacher strongly emphasizes “purity,” then fear against what may be possibly “impure” is induced indirectly. If such a teacher establishes further the urgent need of “not mixing” the “pure tradition”, because such “mixing” will cause the “pure tradition” to “lose its essential purity”; then beings are bound by fear (of mixing) and clinging to the concept of “purity” increases. This clinging to purity is a consequence of attachment towards ideological ideas / concepts; it produces an aversion or a subtle hostility against everything which may be possibly “impure” and finally, it undermines compassion, placing ideology over compassion.
The problem of religious fundamentalism in such a context stems from establishing a conception of “purity” and grasping to it as truly existent or as an independent truth, i.e. it is believed that the proclaimed purity is really there, that the purity is really an essential part and characteristic in the object, independent from the mind’s designation. Believing in inherent (independent) purity and impurity, will naturally generate attachment to the pure and aversion to the impure. This mental process is totally contrary to the Buddhist path, which aims to free beings from attachment, ignorance and aversion and not to further bind beings with these “mind poisons”.
In the NKT there is a strong emphasize on “purity” and “not mixing”. Researcher Kay observed:
“In order to obtain spiritual realisations and to ensure that the pure tradition of Tsongkhapa remains in the world, NKT students are encouraged to ‘practise purely’. This means that they must not mix their spiritual practice — their study, meditation, or sadhana recitation and visualisation exercises — with worldly or political activities or with other, non-NKT spiritual teachings. The books and sadhanas prepared by Geshe Kelsang upon which all NKT practice is based, and the infrastructure of the NKT organisation itself, are considered to have placed a boundary around Tsongkhapas’s pure tradition, the survival of which depends entirely upon a widespread diligence in boundary maintenance. As part of the emphasis on pure practice, students within the NKT are discouraged from attending teachings or reading books by other Buddhist teachers and authors.”
From the clinging to the purity of the New Kadampa Tradition and the teachings of Geshe Kelsang, a strong attachment to the presentation of NKT, its leader and his books arises and also a hostility and fear against anything which corrupts this established “purity”. The resultant afflictions and superimpositions are then projected onto those persons who are deemed to be “mixing” (like His Holiness the Dalai Lama) or are “keeping purity” (like Geshe Kelsang Gyatso). Through the power of these afflictions of attachment and aversion the mind loses its clarity and ability to discriminate correctly and this gives rise to the manifold projections NKT members direct now openly in public towards the Dalai Lama.
Among many Shugden followers there is not only a strong conception of purity/not mixing, but also a very literally taken emphasis on the Guru. What the Guru says, one has to do (Guru obedience). Although genuine and experienced Buddhist teachers are seen in general as authorities, they are not unfailing, that’s why the student must be aware and avoid to follow the faults the Guru may have or to accept faulty teachings he may have taught. The requirement for such a critical attitude is established in the Buddhist teachings by the Buddha himself and in Tsongkhapa’s teachings, and it is expected for a Buddhist to be able to discriminate between wrong and correct teachings of the Dharma. However the majority of Shugden followers seem to grasp on a more literal approach: ‘You have to do what the Guru said’.
Because the Dalai Lama rejected a teaching of one of his teachers, the Dorje Shugden practice, which was taught to him by Trijang Rinpoche, he has done the most evil sin according to Shugden followers. They say the Dalai Lama has “broken with his root-Guru”, therefore he is completely wrong, he is someone who from their point of view is misleading people and once such a view is established it works like sunglasses, one will see any action of the Dalai Lama in the mode of the colour of the glasses. So he can only be wrong, his actions can only be wrong in their view. Such sunglasses are also the basis for the accusations against the Dalai Lama by the Chinese Communist Party, Trimondis or Goldner. Hopefully in the future there is more research about these topics.
The following articles & book may be useful:
- The Shuk-Den Affair: Origins of a Controversy by Prof. Dr. Georges Dreyfus
- Canonicity and Divine Interference: The Tulkus and the Shugden Controversy by Prof. Dr. Michael von Brück
- Schisms, Murder, and Hungry Ghosts in Shangra-La: Internal Conflicts in Tibetan Buddhist sect by Mike Wilson
- Interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama by Raimondo Bultrini
- Why the Dalai Lama rejects Shugden by Gareth Sparham
- The Battle of Sixth Avenue by Barbara O’Brien
- The Dorje Shugden Controversy: Destroying Tibetan Buddhism in Order to Save It? by Barbara O’Brien
- Money, Sex, War, Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution by Prof. Dr. David R. Loy
- The Real Enemy is Religious Extremism – And it doesn't belong exclusively to Islam by Nayomi Munaweera
- The Dorje Shugden Controversy and Fundamentalism by Tenzin Peljor
Who is the dictator? Where are the ‘hypocrites’?
In the New Kadampa Tradition everything is based on Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s sole authority: only his books are studied; only his followers are allowed to teach; and only his teachings, his centres and what he says matter. He installed a system where nobody is equal or higher than him and everything is dependent on him. Bunting: “The NKT is an entirely self-referential system. The total dependence on a single charismatic figure is unorthodox in Tibetan Buddhism.” The phrase “Geshe-la said” is the mantra of the NKT. Teachers from their own school, the Gelug school, Geshes, Tulkus, Rinpoches, monastics are banned from his centres. He installs & removes the NKT resident teachers as he likes to do, without relying on any democratic process or sensibility towards those followers who have built up a close connection to those NKT teachers. Former members refer to NKT mostly as a cult, and INFORM has received many complaints about the NKT.
The NKT leadership works with double truths (e.g. in the public Kelsang Gyatso states one can attend teachings of other Buddhist teachers, but when close devoted followers actually do it, he threatens them, if they do, he is no longer their teacher; or if they are resident members, they are asked to quickly leave their centre) and ethical double standards (e.g. “we are pure Kadampas” but violations of the vow of celibacy is tolerated as long as the person is beneficial for the organisation, and it can be kept secretly). New recruits’ opinions are affirmed in the beginning and later they are turned into the NKT point of view (e.g. the Dalai Lama is a destroyer of the Buddhadharma, the world outside NKT is very degenerated, NKT is very pure). A former NKT manual described this process: “Be very careful not to give the impression it is a recruitment drive … to start with we need to agree with people, to show that we understand where they are at, not to resist them or argue with them. If we have a wild horse the best way to tame it is to mount it, to go with it.”
The suppression and manipulation regarding unwelcomed events and NKT’s history and identity is striking. Researcher Kay:
»Most often, what is forgotten is forgotten because it no longer fits in with the current version of events, especially one constructed by an elite group. Sometimes, indeed, unwelcome memories are systematically destroyed by leaderships. (Coney 1997)
Leaderships exclude memories by expelling individual malcontents or by simply not referring to unwelcome historical facts until they ‘cease to be part of the group repertoire of memories’. Changing the name of the leader or group also allows memories associated with previous designations to fade whilst promoting the creation of new memories. The project of deliberately excluding histories, however, is not always completely successful because repressed memories ‘can return to haunt the margins of a discourse and continue, despite their apparent absence, to influence its structure’. Alternatively, competing versions of events may only become temporarily submerged within the dominant account and may later ‘rise again to the surface of the collective memory’.
The NKT is a religious movement in which the dynamics of history construction, as outlined by Coney, are well exemplified. Multiple ‘histories’ exist on an individual and public group level both inside and outside the movement. As the pre-history of the group is rooted in conflict and schism the social organisation of memory and forgetfulness especially the group’s leadership is particularly striking. Accounts of current and former members either reinforce or contradict and compete with each other. They diverge widely over points of historical detail and often interpret the same events and processes in very different ways, reflecting a wide range of personal experience, depth of involvement, bias, opinion and loyalty. At the level of public discourse, the history and identity of the NKT has also, during the course of its development, undergone considerable realignment. Of course, such revision and reconfiguration of the past is commonplace within religious movements that are more concerned with issues of identity and ideology than with notions of historical veracity.« (Kay 2004 : 82, PDF)
- The search for religious Truth by ABC National Radio, Australia
- Information about the New Kadampa Tradition by EKC - member of the New Kadampa Survivors
- Dangers in Devotion: Buddhist Cults and the Tasks of a Guru by John Crook
- Warning signs of destructive cults based on M. T. Singer’s research on cults
13 June 2008
last update: 01 Nov 2014
Phurbu Thinley, Phayul, May 10, 2008: Organisations accuse Dhoegyal Society of undermining Tibetan Freedom struggle
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von Brück. M. (1999). Religion und Politik im Tibetischen Buddhismus, Kösel Verlag, Seite 159
Riedl, Peter (2006). Magazin “Ursache und Wirkung“, Ein Geist geht um …, No. 56, Seite 73
Western Shugden Society: http://www.westernshugdensociety.org/
Bunting, Madeleine (1996). “Special Report: Shadow Boxing on the Path to Nirvana”. The Guardian, London, 6 July 1996. (PDF)
Kay, David N. (2004). Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation. London and New York: Curzon Press. (PDF)
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Makransky, John J. (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
Tibet scholar denies making Time magazine Shugden comment by TibetanReview.net, July 23, 2008
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Geshe Jampa Thekchok, “Monastic Rites”, Wisdom Publication, 1995 : 8
A Talk at the Ordination Ceremony by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Kadampa Buddhist Temple, Manjushri Mahayana Buddhist Centre, July 1999
Declaration of Expulsion of Kelsang Gyatso from Sera Je Monastery by the General Assembly of Sera Je Monastery, August 22, 1996
To the Tibetan Buddhists around the World … by Sera Je Dratsang