Singapore and the Dalai Lama

Tibetan Buddhist centre, Thekchen Choling in Singapore openly display anti Dorje Shugden sign in their temple grounds

By: Wong Kim Seng

The opinion piece below was sent to for publication. We accept submissions from the public, please send in your articles to [email protected].

When Singapore won its independence in 1965, it was a poor and almost insignificant island with few natural resources. If Singapore today is a great success story, it is because the deep sense of political, economic and social vulnerability in the early years drove its government to develop itself into a modern economy with a wise and socially responsible society.

The government of Singapore today has two significant goals:

  1. to maintain a thriving economy based on good international relationships with its political and trade partners, and
  2. to keep its society stable and respectful of the various races and religious groups that make up the nation.

Recognizing that religious dispute is one of the most dangerous elements that can destabilize the country, the government of Singapore passed the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act in 1990 aimed at preventing civil unrest due to faith-based tensions.

In addition, given its relatively small domestic market, Singapore’s relationship with external markets is critical. Without doubt, China represents an important factor in the country’s economic future and stability of the nation. It was not that long ago when Mr. Lim Swee Say, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, cautioned the country’s business community that it is “imperative that Singaporeans continue to augment our ability to engage China as part of our strategic vision to maintain global competitiveness and long-term economic vitality”. To the Singaporean government, a good relationship with China is an exercise of their responsibility towards their citizens by providing them with a stable economic future. It is not a question of taking sides in China’s geopolitics.

An up-closed picture of the sign posted publicly in Thekchen Choling, prohibiting Shugden practitioners from entering the temple complex

It is therefore the responsibility of every Singaporean citizen and organization to assist the government in its endeavors. To work against the government’s policies is to jeopardize the wellbeing and future of the people. It is behavior that might even be labelled seditious since these plans are initiated for the good of all Singaporeans, regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background. The responsibility to support a government acting for the collective good of its people is even more necessary for a Buddhist organization. The Buddha himself instructed that one should never do anything to oppose the government of one’s country that may result in great harm being inflicted on people’s lives and livelihood.

Thus it is alarming that despite the efforts the Singaporean government has made since 1965, there continue to be religious elements today that appear to be working against them. Instead of acting in the interests of all Singaporeans, such organizations have allowed themselves to fall suspect to foreign influences whose interests are not for the welfare of Singaporean society. For example, the Singaporean-based Buddhist society Thekchen Choling seems to regard itself beholden to the foreign theocrat, the Dalai Lama, more so than to its own government. Led by a Singaporean citizen Felix Lee (also known as Lama Namdrol), the organization has taken up the Dalai Lama’s fight against a Tibetan Buddhist sect that worships the deity Dorje Shugden.

In 1996, the Dalai Lama suddenly proclaimed Dorje Shugden practitioners to be enemies of the Tibetan people who are allegedly working for the Chinese. This is an accusation the Dalai Lama has never been able to substantiate. After banning this practice, the Dalai Lama then compelled all Tibetans to be loyal to him and to regard Shugden practitioners as enemies of the state. As a result, opposing this Buddhist practice became symbolic of standing with the Dalai Lama and opposing the Chinese government. Thus organizations like Lama Namdrol’s who wish to align themselves with the Dalai Lama for financial and material gain, will fervently oppose this practice and encourage anti-China sentiments.

The Dalai Lama explained his opposition to Shugden due to it being ‘demon-worship’. This is a cunning move because it portrays Chinese spiritual leaders such as the Panchen Lama (a well-known Shugden lama) and members of the Chinese government as demon worshippers. That makes them much easier to malign. It is for reasons like these that some Singapore Buddhist leaders have labelled the Dalai Lama a “political monk” and not a religious one.

Disappointingly, Thekchen Choling’s support for the Dalai Lama and their subsequent opposition to the 11th Panchen Lama clashes with Singapore’s support of this lama, as expressed through Foreign Minister Mr. George Yeo. The Singaporean government acknowledges the 11th Panchen Lama whom China recognizes but the Dalai Lama rejects. When Thekchen Choling and other likeminded groups promote the Dalai Lama’s stance instead of their own government’s, these organizations undermine their country’s efforts in building a positive relationship with an important trade partner. In 2013, China became Singapore’s main trading partner, with total trade amounting to US$91.4 billion. As of 2010, more than 7,000 companies from the United States, Japan and Europe operated from Singapore, along with 1,500 companies from China alone.

Singapore’s Foreign Minister George Yeo, who is on a six-day visit to Beijing, greets other members of the 11th Panchen Lama’s delegation at Xinhuang Temple yesterday (14 Sept). Mr Yeo became the first foreign leader to meet the 20-year-old monk who holds the second-highest position in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama. The meeting follows Mr Yeo’s visit to Tashilhunpo Monastery, the traditional seat of the Panchen Lamas, in Shigatse, Tibet’s second-largest city

It is therefore shocking that Thekchen Choling and some Singaporean citizens would chose not to support its own government and instead act against it. To support the Dalai Lama is to reject the Panchen Lama, and this will not have a positive impact on Singapore’s friendship with China. When Singapore’s Buddhist centres align themselves with the Dalai Lama, there is absolutely no benefit whatsoever to Singapore. In fact the opposite is true.

Wherever the Dalai Lama goes, this Shugden segregation takes root and his supporters make it a domestic problem. What is incredible is how willingly Singaporean organizations like Thekchen Choling have embraced a foreign conflict and ‘imported’ it into Singaporean society, where it is now spreading disunity amongst Singaporean followers of Tibetan Buddhism. While the Singaporean government has been fostering religious harmony, organizations like Thekchen Choling or even Amitabha Buddhist Centre openly call for a marginalization of Shugden believers.

Amitabha Buddhist Centre, which regularly organizes trips to visit the Dalai Lama, has on their registration forms a disclaimer stating those who worship Shugden are banned from their activities. Thekchen Choling’s Lama Namdrol has during religious teachings purposefully created ill will against Shugden followers by repeating the Dalai Lama’s false accusation of Shugden Buddhists. The danger of such actions is not limited to Shugden believers and non-believers. Once individuals and organizations sense that faith-based discrimination is not curtailed by the country’s authorities, it spreads. What begins as a simple disagreement can very quickly transform into inter-faith tension because there is little to stop someone from openly denouncing another person’s religion. Such organizations should remember that they have a duty of care to the Singaporean government and the people and should not be inciting religious disharmony. Openly courting the favour of a foreign institution is an indication that they do not respect the law of their own land but also that they do not respect the rights and freedom of Singaporeans to make their own choices with regards to their faith.

Amitabha Buddhist Centre openly prohibits Shugden practitioners from participating in their events despite being a Buddhist organisation, endorsed by the Singapore government
Click on image to enlarge

In this way, actions such as those from Amitabha Buddhist Centre and Thekchen Choling’s damage more than just Shugden Buddhists. It also damages Singapore as a country and her citizens as well, by infringing on a Singaporean citizen’s freedoms and rights. For example, Charitable Assistance Society of Thousand-Arm Chenrezig, Singapore (CASOTAC) were reported to be making a scene in front of a Buddhist exhibition in Suntec city. They insisted that the exhibition was not sanctioned by the Dalai Lama, and therefore it was inappropriate. Their actions led the Dalai Lama’s government to issue a statement against the exhibition, which had been legally approved by the Singaporean government. That CASOTAC followers distributed flyers in front of such an exhibition was challenged by followers of another group. The resulting religious disharmony for the entire organization behind the exhibition led to the exhibition being shut down, leaving many Buddhists confused and unsettled. Whose government are CASOTAC really following? Singapore’s or the Dalai Lama’s?

Religious harmony and freedom has always been a right in Singapore. Any member of the public may attend any religious events of their choosing without limitations of other religious dogmas as they are free to express themselves. The Amitabha Buddhist Centre, for example, states in print that those who practice Dorje Shugden are not allowed in their premise or teachings as it is in accordance with the Dalai Lama’s wishes. Why are these registered centres allowed to sideline other faiths and traditions, using foreign-derived influences, as opposed to living cohesively and fostering harmony with others?

Whether it is Singapore or any other sovereign state, no foreign influence should be allowed to be in position to manipulate its political, economic or social affairs like the way the Dalai Lama has managed to, via actions of organizations like Amitabha Buddhist Centre and Thekchen Choling. The legal and moral obligations of Singapore’s Buddhist centres should remain with the country that has supported, sustained and licenced their activities. Instead of working against the Singaporean government, the likes of Lama Namdrol should support the government and help to protect its people from corruptive foreign influences that only serve to disrupt a harmonious society and ruin important trade partnerships.

Disclaimer: This article was submitted by a third party author and does not necessarily reflect the official opinion of We accept submissions from the public, please send in your articles to [email protected]

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  1. gosh this is terrible , do you know that the New Kadampa tradition don’t allow books from other Buddhists in their dharma centers ? absolutely shocking as im sure you will agree , try mentioning HHDL and they go all red in the face , indeed religious intolerance is every where , im sure you would like to investigate , awaiting further instruction from our masters The prc .

  2. @shugdenmasive – I’m not particularly shocked. They were obviously hurt by what the Dalai Lama implemented with the ban. So I don’t blame them for their reaction. Just because they’re Buddhist doesn’t mean they’re attained and they don’t feel frustrated about the situation.

  3. Oh my, I am surprised that a progressive country like Singapore could have its citizens promoting discrimination so blatantly. And what more, Singapore is well known for their highly educated citizens and yet, here the members are practising a religion based on sectarianism of the Dalai Lama. Buddhism had always taught compassion for all sentient beings. Aren’t Shugden practitioners sentient beings in need of dharma? I seem to remember Buddha Shakyamuni offered his teachings even to the lowly, the killers, the traitors, etc. without any form of discrimination whatsoever. Its sad that we as seekers of the peace that relieves us from our sufferings would need to be confronted by more distress created out of ignorance.

  4. Dear Dalai Lama,

    Since you started the cruel ban against the 350 year Dorje Shugden practice, how has it benefit your Tibetan society and Buddhism in the world? Things have become worse and most educated Tibetans can see this. They don’t speak out not because they don’t see your ban as wrong, but you instill fear in them and not respect. It is like fear of a dictator. I am sorry to say so. Everyone is divided. There is no harmony. Before your ban there was more harmony and unity.

    By enacting the ban, you split the monasteries, split so many families, split regions in Tibet apart, split your disciples from you, split your own gurus from you, split Tibetan Buddhism apart. You have created so much disharmony.

    It is not democratic what you have done to ban a religion within your community. You always talk of tolerance and acceptance and democracy and yet you do not accept and tolerate something different from your beliefs. When people practice Dorje Shugden you ostracize them, ban them from seeing you, ban them from using Tibetan facilities. You know you have done that. There are videos that capture your speech and prove this point. You even had people expelled from monasteries just because they practice Dorje Shugden. Some of the monks you expelled have been in the monastery for over 40 years. Many older monks shed tears because of this.

    Many young educated Tibetans lost confidence in you as they saw the damage the Dorje Shugden ban created and they lose hope. Many have become free thinkers. They reject what you have done. So many people in the west left Buddhism because of the confusion you created with this ban against Dorje Shugden which is immoral.

    You could of had millions of people who practice Dorje Shugden to support, love and follow you, but you scared them away. They are hurt and very disappointed. They loved you and respected you deeply before the ban. It has been 60 years and you have failed to get Tibet back. Your biggest failure is not getting Tibet back after 57 years in exile. Now you are begging China to allow you to return to Tibet to the disappointment of thousands of people who fought for a free Tibet believing in you. So many self-immolated for a free Tibet and now you want Tibet to be a part of China with no referendum from Tibetans. Just like a dictator, you decide on your own. It was your government and you that lost Tibet in the first place. Your policies and style of doing things do not benefit Tibet and Buddhism. You have been the sole ruler of Tibet your whole life and you still have not gotten our country of Tibet back for us. Our families and us are separated. Yet you create more pain by creating a ban to further divide people. Please have compassion.

    No other Buddhist leader has banned or condemned any religion except for you. It looks very bad. You are a Nobel laureate and this is not fitting of a laureate. You should unite people and not separate them by religious differences.

    You said Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi did not do right to the Rohingya people in Myanmar due to religious differences, but you are doing the same thing to the Shugden Buddhists within your own society. There is a parallel in this. You separate the Shugden Buddhists from the others in Tibetan society.

    You have lost so many people who would have loved and supported you. You have lost so much support around the world. The Shugden Buddhists who love you number in the millions. When you are fast losing support from governments and private people, it will not do you well to lose more.

    After you are passed away in the future, the rift you created between the Dorje Shugden and non-Dorje Shugden people will remain for a while and that will be your legacy. Disharmony. You will be remembered for this. Not as a hero but a disharmony creator.

    Dorje Shugden will spread and further grow, but you will be no more as you are a human. No one wishes you bad and in fact we hope you have a long and healthy life, but we have lost so much hope and have so much despair because of you. All the hundreds of Dorje Shugden lamas, tulkus and geshes are maturing and there are hundreds of Dorje Shugden monasteries in Tibet who will not give up Dorje Shugden. You have made a mistake. These hundreds of teachers and teachers to be will spread Dorje Shugden further in the future.

    The gurus that gave us Dorje Shugden as a spiritual practice and you have called these holy gurus wrong and they are mistaken in giving us Dorje Shugden. How can you insult our gurus whom we respect so much? If they can be wrong, then you can be wrong. Then all gurus can be wrong. So no one needs to listen to any guru? You have created this trend. It is not healthy. Your own gurus practiced Dorje Shugden their whole lives. Your own gurus were exemplary and highly learned.

    Dalai Lama you have created so much pain with this ban against so many people due to religion. You are ageing fast. Are you going to do anything about it or stay stubborn, hard and un-moving. You show a smile and preach peace and harmony wherever you go. But will you do the same to your own people? Please rectify the wrong you have done. Please before it is too late. You can create harmony again or you can pass away in the future with this legacy of peace. May you live long and think carefully and admit what was a mistake in having this unethical ban against Dorje Shugden religion.

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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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