Tibetan Feelings Hurt by Shugden Protests in California
We, the members of Tibetan Community Associations of Northern California and Los Angeles, have been dismayed by the behavior of a small group of people shouting insults at His Holiness the Dalai Lama during his recent visit to California. Many of them appear to have been monastics shouting insulting slogans like “Dalai Lama, stop lying” outside venues where His Holiness was speaking. They have distributed pamphlets containing the outrageous accusation that His Holiness is “the worst dictator of modern time.” It is hard to describe the deep hurt Tibetans feel in the face of such slander of their respected leader. It is particularly painful for us Tibetan Americans since we are acutely aware that His Holiness represents the only source of hope for millions of our compatriots inside Tibet. Their dignity and freedom are under constant threat under repressive communist Chinese rule.
On the one hand, given the preposterous and offensive nature of their allegations – “His Holiness being the worst dictator of our modern time” – it is tempting to dismiss these protestors as crazy people. On the other, the way they conducted their campaign makes us wonder if there is not more to their operation than meets the eye. Who, for example, is meeting the expenses for the transport, accommodation etc of this group, many of whom do not sound like Americans?
Ostensibly, the group describe themselves as members of the International Shugden Community. However, monastic names given by their spokespersons suggest that the majority belong to the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) a sect headquartered in the United Kingdom that has voiced an animosity towards His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the past. In his capacity as the pre-eminent Tibetan Buddhist leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama encourages his Tibetan Buddhist followers to engage with the Buddha’s teachings in a spirit of critical enquiry and understanding, rather than blind faith. In this context, he has spoken of the negative aspects of the worship of Shugden – a form of spirit worship – that has also historically been a source of sectarian disharmony, including violence, among Tibetan Buddhists. And as the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism His Holiness feels that it is his moral responsibility to explain to his followers what he understands to be in the best interest of the tradition.
The NKT sect has, for whatever reason, chosen to identify with the already highly divisive worship of Shugden and have for some time sought to slander His Holiness personally. They claim his advice violates their religious freedom. Since they do not consider themselves his followers, it is hard to understand how his advice has any bearing on their freedom to worship whatever they want. They further claim that Tibetans who worship Shugden have been banned from conducting such practice. This, again, is completely untrue, since Tibetan monastics who choose to worship the spirit Shugden continue to do so. They have been able to establish their own communities in the Tibetan settlements of Mundgod and Bylakuppe in Karnataka, known respectively as Shar Ganden and Pompora monasteries. They remain completely free to pursue their worship of the spirit Shugden and whatever else they choose.
We know for a fact that no Tibetans in the exile community have been deprived of their rights, whether these relate to education, health, jobs in the administration or their retirement plans, on account of their attachment to the worship of Shugden. We see no motive for these protests other than to cast insults on our spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We register our strong objections and urge whoever is orchestrating them, be they the leadership of the NKT or other forces, to cease this belligerent activity immediately.
Out of respect for the compassionate leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, we have restrained the members of our community from confronting these provocative protestors on this occasion. To approach these issues more rationally, if members of NKT or their affiliates have any specific complaints against the Tibetan community and its leaders, we urge them to bring them to the attention of our representatives in the appropriate way rather than resorting to insulting one of the most acclaimed men of our time.
Tenzin Dorjee Kunjo Tashi
Tibetan Association of Southern California Tibetan Association of Northern California
February 27, 2014