Uncovering the deception

Professor Robert Thurman and Samdhong Rinpoche

By: Steve Lee

An article was published on DorjeShugden.com on April 6 2013 entitled ‘Thupten Jinpa prostrates to his Guru’s Throne‘ and that sparked a very interesting response from Thupten Jinpa himself in the comment section right below the article.

The article itself is interesting as it is about Thupten Jinpa, the Dalai Lama’s personal translator, and presumably an insider of His Holiness’s close circle, paying respects to the throne of his teacher, Zemey Rinpoche, a well-known Dorje Shugden practitioner. Dorje Shugden is the Buddhist deity whose practice the Dalai Lama banned, thus forbidding any Tibetan to be associated with the deity and its practitioners. The writer of the article questioned if Jinpa’s decision to be seen in public venerating the throne of a Shugden lama was indicative of the Dalai Lama’s relaxation of the ban, and was in fact written in celebration of Jinpa’s guru devotion. The significance of Jinpa’s visit to Zemey Rinpoche’s throne was due to the fact that the ban literally made it a crime to be related in any way with all matters Shugden. Such actions would be punishable by severe persecutions both by the Tibetan government in exile and the Tibetan community at large.

In his response, Thupten Jinpa denied practicing Dorje Shugden and in a shocking turn, also denied a very well-known fact that his Guru, Kyabje Zemey Rinpoche was a loyal practitioner, and even claimed that Zemey Rinpoche who was the author of the famous Yellow Book, was ever serious about the practice.

The Dalai Lama with Thupten Jinpa by his side translating

Thupten Jinpa’s claims cannot be further from the truth – ask any monk from GandenShartse Monastery where both Zemey Rinpoche and Thupten Jinpa hailed from, and they will tell you firsthand accounts of Kyabje Zemey Rinpoche performing Dorje Shugden pujas and giving Dorje Shugden life-entrustment initiations (sogtaes) in the monastery itself and loyally maintaining his practice of Dorje Shugden right to the end. Thupten Jinpa himself received sogtae and continued to sponsor Dorje Shugden pujas before and after each successful translation trip with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Considering that Thupten Jinpa is a fully qualified Geshe in the Tibetan monastic tradition, commanding respect within Western intellectual circles and with a good standing in the monastery, the question is, why would such a scholar sink to ignobility and resort to such brazen untruths. If there is any real basis for the Shugden ban, then Thupten Jinpa should have defended his and indeed the Dalai Lama’s position vis-à-vis the ban, by presenting a sound argument a posteriori, based on religious scripture while keeping within pure reason. This would have been simple for a Geshe of the scholarly Gelug tradition, for it should only be by the same process that Dorje Shugden, long acknowledged as a Buddha can suddenly be declared a demon. In the absence of this necessary course, a ban on a religious practice is sinister and dishonest and illegitimate at best.

However, Thupten Jinpa is not alone in his approach to this thorny issue. It is not uncommon for those who are critical of Dorje Shugden’s practice and supportive of the Dalai Lama’s ban on the deity to have to resort to distortion of facts. It seems that they have to resort to lies in order to cover up facts that they are unable to deny. That is why their initial explanations and accusations are easily refuted and are usually met with silence. Their silence reflects their inability to produce further evidence that can back up their stance against Dorje Shugden.

Besides Thupten Jinpa’s statement, another example would be the statements made by Robert Thurman, a well recognized scholar of Tibetan Buddhism in America and a staunch follower of the Dalai Lama. Thurman in a public statement, called Dorje Shugden practitioners a ‘sectarian’ group and that they were the ‘Taliban of Tibetan Buddhism’. He even went on to claim that the members of the Western Shugden Society are agents of the Chinese, suspiciously echoing statements made by Samdhong Rinpoche, the ex-Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister) of the Tibetan Government in Exile (renamed Central Tibetan Administration) regarding Dorje Shugden practitioners. Thurman’s approach to justifying the ban again was not based on logic. In fact it cannot even be considered a debate worthy of academia, but merely a smear campaign. To refer to Shugden practitioners as ‘Taliban’ was a deliberate way of instilling public fear of a holy practice when the very word ‘Taliban’ was synonymous with terrorism, at a time when tensions ran high over the matter.

As it turned out, these allegations were proven untrue and therefore easily refuted. The “crime” of Dorje Shugden practitioners of the Western Shugden Society was only to have organized peaceful protests and raised awareness of their plight and situation through online and printed material. So how can they be compared to the Taliban who are a violent terrorist group? On top of that, Dorje Shugden practitioners are basically practitioners of the Gelug tradition and naturally, they would want their practitioners to be loyal, practice and master the vast teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa. The same can be said for practitioners of the Nyingma, Kagyu and Sakya traditions as well. Therefore, Dorje Shugden practitioners are not sectarian for wanting to protect the purity of their lineage.

Needless to say, there has never been any proof that the Chinese ever supported Dorje Shugden practitioners. In fact, when an ordained nun, Kelsang Pema of the New Kadampa Tradition approached Robert Thurman at the Lehigh University Protest to ask him about such allegations, he just curtly replied, “Of course you’re funded by the Chinese.” When pressed for evidence, Robert Thurman, the Tibetan Buddhist scholar could only respond by saying, “You use the same terminology as the Chinese like ‘feudalism’ and ‘theocracy’.” That, sadly, is sufficient for a Buddhist scholar who was once a monk himself, to discredit a religious practice.

It is clear that there is no evidence to back their claims and such allegations were fabricated merely to justify their stance. In their case, a lie is required because there is actually no truth behind their allegations, and because they may actually have something to hide, the lie is actually meant to distract one from finding out the truth. Such methods are characteristic of cover-ups where the truth is inconvenient and even damaging to the perpetrator’s malicious objectives.

It is beyond a shadow of a doubt that Thupten Jinpa lied about his practice and he deliberately distorted facts about his own Guru’s practice as well. The author of the abovementioned article, Mar Nee wrote quite an extensive and well-informed response to debunk Thupten Jinpa’s claims on this matter. But why would a Tibetan Buddhist scholar like Thupten Jinpa lie about something so fundamental as one’s personal practice? What was he trying to conceal by lying? There are a number of possibilities and one of them is his attempt at defending the Dalai Lama’s position – if he was to indicate his true beliefs, it would jeopardize everything (including his livelihood) that he receives from serving the Dalai Lama as his translator. On the other hand, he may truly believe in the ban and have developed a myopic view of the whole Dorje Shugden affair, deliberately ‘refashioning’ his beliefs to adhere to his view. Another possibility would be the fact that he may have been receiving a lot of criticism for his natural association with his Guru, Kyabje Zemey Rinpoche, a well-known Dorje Shugden master and so he sought to redefine his practice and his Guru’s with the hopes that the public would not know any better. These are mere speculation, as we cannot ascertain for sure what were his true intentions.

At the end of the day, whatever Thupten Jinpa’s real reasons for coming up with such deception, it doesn’t really matter because the truth will always prevail. Real Dorje Shugden practitioners will continue to maintain their practice and samaya with their lineage masters regardless of what Thupten Jinpa, Robert Thurman or any other personalities say. Why is that? The beliefs and practices of Dorje Shugden practitioners are based upon the truth of an authentic lineage and that lineage is based on the solid foundation of a truly enlightened being. This is based on the fact that Dorje Shugden is recognized to be an enlightened being by the Nyingmas, Kaygyus, Sakyas and of course the Gelugs. In the past, there were numerous High Lamas of each tradition composing praises to Dorje Shugden and many regard him as an enlightened being. In the Gelug tradition, Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche, one of the greatest Gelug lineage lamas of the 20th century regarded him as the emanation of Manjushri. This was continued by Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, the junior tutor of the Dalai Lama till this day.

In contrast, the Shugden ban is supported by haphazard reasoning and cover-ups as evident by Thupten Jinpa’s statement and the statements of many other similar personalities. Now, the question of why would a great scholars like Thupten Jinpa and Robert Thurman lie? It seems that out of the many possible reasons, political and the need to protect one’s livelihood seemed to be the closest possible reasons that could explain why these scholars lie. Therefore, the reader is invited to come to their own conclusion based upon the presentation of facts.

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  1. We’ve been into this subject many times already. Though on a personal level I do not think it’ll be beneficial to discuss one person’s matter and project onto the issue of the controversy, there’s a need to point out how disappointed I am to know that Thubten Jinpa has resorted to make such replies online.

    I hope he realizes that his Guru, even though no longer manifesting physically is still very much alive today especially in the hearts of whom Kyabje Zemey Rinpoche has touched so deeply like myself.

    Jinpa, is it worth it?

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.…Instead of turning away people who practise Dorje Shugden, we should be kind to them. Give them logic and wisdom without fear, then in time they give up the ‘wrong’ practice. Actually Shugden practitioners are not doing anything wrong. But hypothetically, if they are, wouldn’t it be more Buddhistic to be accepting? So those who have views against Dorje Shugden should contemplate this. Those practicing Dorje Shugden should forbear with extreme patience, fortitude and keep your commitments. The time will come as predicted that Dorje Shugden’s practice and it’s terrific quick benefits will be embraced by the world and it will be a practice of many beings.

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