Who is protesting against His Holiness the Dalai Lama?
by Tsultrim Palmo & Carol McQuire
March / June 2015
Though the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) tries to distance itself from the International Shugden Community and from another of its groups, the Western Shugden Society, there is clear evidence that senior members of the NKT created and run both organizations.
The International Shugden Community (ISC)
On March 26, 2014, corporation papers were filed in the United States with the California Secretary of State under the name of the International Shugden Community, Inc. It is listed as an “active” domestic non-profit corporation under the jurisdiction of the State of California. In addition, the International Shugden Community filed an Application for Recognition of Exemption under Section 501 (c) (3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. They were granted tax-exempt status by the U.S. Federal Government as they are considered a charity.
The IRS application requires that the officers and/or representatives of the corporation be identified. They are as follows:
- Leonard Foley, Director
- Rebecca Gauthier, Secretary
- Kelsang Ringyal, Manager
The registered address of the charity is the business address of Len Foley: 3835 R, E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Westlake Village, California, 91362 USA. Len Foley is a spokesperson on ISC videos. Rebecca Gauthier and Len Foley are married and both are teachers at NKT’s Tushita Meditation Center, Westlake, California. Kelsang Ringyal is Secretary to the NKT’s General Spiritual Director (Kelsang Dekyong). Kelsang Ringyal resides at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Center – the ‘Mother Center’ of the NKT – in Ulverston, Cumbria, England where she has been involved with their Special Teacher Training Program. She is also Chair of Governors of the NKT’s Kadampa Primary School at Tara Center, South Derbyshire, UK.
The NKT European connection to the ISC is in Norway. Corporation papers were filed on March 21, 2014, with the Registered Directors listed as Kelsang Jangdom, Chairman, and Kelsang Tubchen, Board Member. Both teach at the Nordic Kadampa Meditation Center in Oslo. Kelsang Tubchen is the National Spiritual Director for the NKT Nordic Region.
The Western Shugden Society (WSS)
- Before it was known as the ISC, the Western Shugden Society was the front organization for the demonstrations authorized by Kelsang Gyatso. The WSS was formed in London on June 26, 2008, with its officers listed as Susan Jenkins and Helen Gradwell, aka Kelsang Pema.
- Both women were listed on the Board of Directors of two other entities related to the New Kadampa Tradition: the Manjushri Mahayana Buddhist Center, and Tharpaland Kadampa Meditation Center. Kelsang Pema was Kelsang Gyatso’s personal assistant for more than a decade and was the main WSS spokesperson in 2008.
ISC Spokespersons, 2014
- William Fettig, aka Kelsang Rigpa, Western US National Spiritual Director and Resident Teacher at Hollywood and Santa Barbara Mahakankala Kadampa Meditation Centers, CA.
- Kelsang Rabten, NKT National Spiritual Director of New Zealand and Australia and Resident Teacher in Hong Kong appears as Nicholas Pitts in the ISC videos to be found on YouTube (not in monastic robes).
- Len Foley, Teacher at Tushita Kadampa Meditation Center , Westlake, CA. Featured with Kelsang Rabten in ISC videos and Rebecca Gauthier, Resident Teacher at Tushita Meditation Center, Westlake, CA.
It is clear that senior NKT teachers organize and enact the demonstrations against His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Their commitment as NKT teachers is to ‘promote the pure Dharma’ of the NKT and while taking part in the demonstrations some receive NKT stipends. It can be questioned whether they are, as they state, acting as ‘individuals’ who are independent from the NKT.
For a detailled account with links to documents and further information about the campaigners see:
- International Shugden Buddhist Community (2017– )
- International Shugden Community (ISC, 2014–2016)
- Western Shugden Society (WSS, 2008–2014) |
- Shugden Supporters Community (SSC, 1996–1998)
- New Kadampa Tradition (NKT, 1991– )
- Once and For All: Who’s Organizing the Protests? – Joanne Clark (June 23, 2015)
- Who is demonstrating against the Dalai Lama? [Questions and Answers about the New Kadampa Tradition] – Carol McQuire (September 13th 2015)
- Certain Beliefs and Uncertain Evidence – the Case of Shugden – Suzanne Newcombe (2020)
- "Trust Me, You Can't Trust Them": Stigmatised Knowledge in Cults and Conspiracies – Suzanne Newcombe (2018)
- Notes on the Shugden protests (2015) – Robert Barnett
- Protests against the Dalai Lama over Dorje Shugden (2014) – An interview with Robert Barnett
- The Dorje Shugden Conflict (2014) – An interview with Thierry Dodin
- The Dalai Lama and the Shugden Cult (2014) – Jens-Uwe Hartmann
- A quick note on Dorje Shugden (rDo rje shugs ldan) (1996) by Paul Williams
Inform, an independent charity providing information on New Religious Movements (NRMs) based at the London School of Economics, first responded to enquiries regarding the relationship between the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) and a previous NKT ‘front organization’, the Western Shugden Society (WSS), after the 2008 demonstrations by listing the WSS as one of the NKT’s “associated organizations”.
They did this because of the “substantial demonstrable connections” and “visible overlap of the membership base and spokespersons of both groups”. Citing Sun Yung Moon’s Church of Unification, the ‘Moonies’ as an example, an Inform spokesperson confirmed NRMs often set up ostensibly legally independent charities and companies then “encourage” their members to become actively involved in their activities.
Inform added that the extent to which the registered directors of these registered companies, the WSS and indeed its subsequent incarnation, the International Shugden Community are simultaneously monks and nuns within the NKT, means that any ‘voluntary’ work they carry out for them can be considered a ‘donation in kind’ by the NKT and that any such contribution certainly could not happen without the sect’s agreement.
In 2014, Inform further clarified the relationship between the ISC and the NKT to journalists from both The Huffington Post and The Foreigner. General enquiries concerning the NKT and ‘independent’ Shugden groups elicited the following statement:
There were active protests against the Dalai Lama attended by significant numbers of individuals associated with the NKT, including monastic members in 1996–1998, 2008, and 2014.
The current organisation actively protesting the Dalai Lama’s appearances is the International Shugden Community (Norwegian Registered Company No. NO913401964), which includes a number of senior NKT-IKBU members, as does the Western Shugden Society (England & Wales Registered Company No. 06631434). The NKT-IKBU stresses that it is an independent organisation with no official political position or formal association with the Western Shugden Society or the International Shugden Community.
The extent to which the registered directors of these registered companies are monks and nuns within the NKT-IKBU, and/or those who are supported by full-time positions in the NKT-IKBU – any voluntary work with the International Shugden Community and Western Shugden Society could be considered a ‘donation in kind’ from the NKT and certainly could not happen without the agreement of the New Kadampa Tradition.
Inform has concerns that those becoming involved with the NKT-IKBU are not fully aware of the controversial status this group within the wider Tibetan community. Those new to Tibetan Buddhism are unlikely to have an educated understanding of complex and contested history of the figure of Dorje Shugden in Tibetan history and theology.