Should Religion Be a Condition for the Right to Livelihood?

Although the Tibetan President Lobsang Sangay proclaims democracy, in reality his actions are very much the contrary, as he upholds segregation and discrimination against a segment of the Tibetan populace based purely on their religious faith.

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



By: Shashi Kei

How can you tell if a government is a good one?

Common sense would say that a good government carefully deliberates on issues that affect the people it represents and behaves responsibly to safeguard their rights and interests. It obeys its own laws and works to ensure that the state apparatus is free of prejudice and discrimination. A good government acts morally and is prepared to be held accountable for its actions and decisions.

Perhaps most importantly, the fruits of its actions are positive and beneficial. By the same logic, a government that does the opposite and brings harm to the community is not a good government.

The Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) based in Dharamsala, claims to be a good government that is guided by Buddhist principles. It insists that it is a far better alternative for the people of Tibet (today called the Tibet Autonomous Region or TAR) than the Chinese Communist Party and has asked the world to support its struggle for independence.

For decades, publicity campaigns commissioned by CTA-related organisations like the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) and Tibet House, which has branches around the world, have extolled the virtues of the CTA. And yet, evidence points strongly to the contrary.

In 1996, the CTA’s Department of Health issued this chilling memo to all doctors and staff associated with them. The memo states that all Dorje Shugden practitioners should immediately resign from their positions. Click to enlarge

One chilling example is a 1996 memorandum issued by the CTA’s Department of Health (their equivalent of a Ministry) to all doctors and staff of organizations associated with them. In a few short passages, the memo manages to reveal the CTA’s true colors and expose how far removed the Tibetan government-in-exile actually is from even the most basic principles of democracy.

The document was, in fact, a ministerial order to discriminate against a segment of the Tibetan community purely because of their religious beliefs. Since 1996, Tibetan Buddhists who worship the ancient Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden have had to bear the brunt of the CTA’s persecution and this memo, calling for the resignation of all Dorje Shugden practitioners, was no different.

In truth, Shugden Buddhists have not been the only victims of the authoritarian Tibetan leadership. While it is unheard of in progressive societies, especially those that claim to be liberal and democratic, the alienation, subjugation and destruction of segments of the population were common in old feudal Tibet.

Gaden Phodrang, the political base of the Dalai Lamas, frequently used religious pretexts to excommunicate those they perceived as threats or political rivals. For example, the spiritual lifelines of Tibetan Buddhist luminaries would be unilaterally banished, effectively extinguishing their existence and, hence, the supposed threat to the Dalai Lamas. Such was the case with the 10th Shamarpa, one of the highest incarnations in the Karma Kagyu lineage. Similarly, in the 17th Century, the 5th Dalai Lama’s response to a territorial dispute with the Jonang lineage was to ban the Jonangpa’s religious tradition and force its practitioners to embrace the Gelug school of Buddhism.

Jonang monks protesting in front of the Tibetan Parliament (Dharamsala) on 15th September 2015 for their right to parliamentary representation. In the end, the Jonangpas were forced to go on a hunger strike. Click here to find out more.

Most people are unaware of this dark history and fewer still know that the culture of oppression and bullying continues today in exile. The same ruling class that has bullied and discriminated against so-called ‘threats’ to the historical Dalai Lamas, today dominates the present Dalai Lama’s exile government; the CTA’s 1996 ban on Dorje Shugden worship is simply a modern manifestation of the Tibetan leadership’s old feudalistic ways.

The only difference is that this oppression is now practiced under the cloak of democracy. According to the Dalai Lama and the heads of the Tibetan government-in-exile, the CTA is a democratic government with a Charter that guarantees religious freedom. However, the memo from the CTA Department of Health proves that this is not the case.


Who Is Calling the Shots?

The very first line of the memo itself reveals that the CTA is neither a progressive nor a responsible government. Its entire premise is a decision given by State Oracles who are unseen, unelected and unaccountable individuals that reveal information under possession by spirits.

The simple fact is that the CTA’s elected representatives do not actually want to take responsibility for their decisions. By consulting Oracles, if things go awry, it is easier for the CTA to direct their people’s ire towards unseen spirits who cannot be held accountable.

Why else would the CTA take its cues from oracles? Why would it not instead carefully deliberate the pros and cons of key government decisions that impact lives, livelihoods and social harmony?

Nechung oracle in trance

It is well known in Tibetan circles that the Dalai Lama and the CTA habitually consult oracles for answers. The Dalai Lama even regards the State Oracle that takes trance of a fierce spirit, Nechung (also known as Pehar or Dorje Drakden) as his closest and most trusted adviser.

In his memoirs, the Dalai Lama wrote,

“I seek his (Nechung’s) opinion in the same way as I seek the opinion of my Cabinet.”

In fact, the Nechung Oracle is given the standing of a deputy Cabinet Minister although, as we can see, his sway over Tibetan affairs is far more potent. This would explain why CTA officials tend to take the Oracle’s proclamations as equivalent to, if not higher than, Acts of Parliament.

It is alarming that an elected government would take instructions from a spirit. This is especially so when the instructions are not only brazenly unlawful but also excessively punitive to a large segment of the Tibetan populace, serving to undermine the unity and fellowship of an already disenfranchised community.

To put the Department of Health’s directive into perspective, Dorje Shugden Buddhists were denied employment and livelihood not because they were unqualified or incompetent, nor for breaking any laws or breaching conditions of their employment. It was solely because the CTA’s Oracles said so.

A certificate that CTA requires attendees to sign, to the effect that the holder does not share anything with Shugden devotees. Those who do not have this certificate are denied participation in important religious events central to the Tibetan community.

This raises many questions. Who really controls the Tibetan government? Can Tibetans trust a government that is steered by invisible forces with an unknown agenda?

For certain, the CTA is the only ‘democratic’ government today that carries out the instructions of a supernatural entity. If there was ever any doubt that this is a recipe for disaster, then the invasion of Tibet, the plight of Tibetan refugees that is now in its 60th year, and the many false and unfulfilled promises made by the CTA should provide the answer.

An alternative explanation is that the CTA is a counterfeit democracy that uses superstition to bypass its own laws when this suits its purpose. If so, then there is merit to allegations that the CTA is neither an authentic democratic government nor a genuine keeper of the Buddhist faith.

Instead, both religion and politics are merely tools the Tibetan leadership employs interchangeably and inseparably to accomplish its objectives, unlike any other government or spiritual body in the world. The Dalai Lama’s CTA does not operate as a democracy should, and certainly not as the democracy the Dalai Lama appears to have attempted to set up in the 1960s.


The Democracy Charade

In 1963, the Dalai Lama pushed for a draft democratic Constitution to provide governing principles for his people. On its official website, the CTA declares that the Tibetan Parliament adopted the Tibetan Charter (democratic Constitution) in 1991 and that it is “the supreme law governing the functions of the CTA”.

However, it appears that this outward embrace of libertarian principles is merely a charade to persuade the global community to support the Tibetan leadership’s political ambitions. In reality, the Dalai Lama continues to wield unfettered power.

During a religious event in 1996, the Dalai Lama expressed how he “personally feels strongly about how negative this (Dorje Shugden) practice is”. The Dalai Lama went on to strongly discourage Tibetan Buddhists from propitiating ‘Dolgyal’ (a derogatory term that disparages Dorje Shugden).

The ban has even come to the extent of expelling monks who practice Dorje Shugden. Click here to watch the video.

Not only was it improper for the head of a democratic government to attack a religious practice, but it was also disingenuous for him to have done so after proclaiming to uphold religious freedom.

The CTA took the statements of the Dalai Lama, who is regarded as both a god and a king, and turned them into an absolute law with no room for negotiation. The Tibetan Parliament, an institution whose role it is to uphold democratic principles, passed official resolutions which effectively turned Shugden Buddhists into outcasts and outlaws.

Similarly, the Tibetan Cabinet-in-exile issued official statements declaring that:

…rejecting Dolgyal has become a matter of the highest importance to the cause of Tibet… It is the duty of the Tibetan Government-in-exile to encourage compliance with any advice given out of concern for the cause of Tibet, the security of its head of state and the honor of all Tibetan Buddhist traditions including the Geluk tradition. Consequently, it has initiated a programme to be prevailing upon those still following Dolgyal to make a break with it.

In effect, the Tibetan Parliament and Cabinet made it a crime to worship Dorje Shugden and sanctioned what has become a witch-hunt. The Department of Health memo was simply one of many expressions of this religious persecution. Similar directives were issued by all CTA Departments, monasteries under the Dalai Lama’s control and community bodies eager not to be seen to be disagreeing with the Dalai Lama for fear of being accused of colluding with the enemy.

After all, if a segment of society can be summarily branded as traitors and criminals purely on the basis of their religious faith, what safeguards are there to prevent the CTA from falsely accusing other groups as being enemies of the state?

These actions are reminiscent of a feudal theocracy, not a democracy.

The great Democracy Charade. The CTA celebrates ‘Democracy Day’ annually and at the same time behaves more like a totalitarian state.

In a barefaced attempt to escape any kind of backlash or financial repercussion, the CTA has made many attempts to explain away this abuse of power and unabashed breach of the human rights of Dorje Shugden Buddhists.

For example, it has claimed that there is no ban on the Dorje Shugden practice itself and that the Dalai Lama was merely giving advice. However, the CTA has thus far failed to explain why there was a need for the Tibetan Parliament and Cabinet to pass laws against the practice of Dorje Shugden on the back of the Dalai Lama’s “advice”. It has also failed to explain why they had to “initiate a programme” (as per their statement) against the practice, if the Dalai Lama was only giving advice.

Neither has the CTA explained why its elected representatives breached its own Charter on the orders of an unelected spirit in trance. If it is so easy to breach the Charter, it is questionable how dedicated the CTA really is to the principles of democracy. Where the American government and people, for example, holds their Constitution sacrosanct, the same cannot be said of the CTA’s attitude towards their own Charter.

At the time of this writing, the CTA’s official website still proclaims the Tibetan Charter as the supreme law. And yet the same official website carries material that encourages the persecution of Dorje Shugden practitioners.

This should serve as a constant reminder of the CTA’s faux democracy. It is a testimony to how closely the CTA resembles the Chinese regime it accuses of breaching human rights.

There is no other democracy in the world where worshipping the right god is a condition for keeping one’s job and where one is required to denounce one’s faith to remain in the community. Nowhere else is it a “stringent responsibility” for government staff to “urge relatives” to abandon their religion.

23 years after it implemented this disastrous campaign that has wreaked havoc on Tibetan unity and undermined the Tibetan Cause, the CTA still refuses to desist. Perhaps it is a means of distraction from the CTA’s failures.

The CTA argues that the Chinese Government is oppressive and unfair. They point to the Chinese government making it an offence for anyone in the TAR to be in possession of the Dalai Lama’s picture. But the Chinese have never claimed to be democratic. It is the CTA which is the pretender as it makes it a crime to merely exercise one’s basic human rights because the Dalai Lama said so.

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15 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. I think if a government had broken their promise for 60 years, they are not a good government. The Tibetans have been living in exile in India for 60 years now. The CTA had promised them to return to Tibet a long time ago and they are still stuck in India now.

    Tibetans are deeply disappointed with their leadership and they are desperate to leave India to fight for a better future elsewhere.

  2. This so-called democracy by CTA is a shame to the real democratic world. I am quite surprised how this is acceptable by the west. The author is right, China never claimed that they are democratic, yet they are criticized for not granting democracy to their people, whereas this fake democracy by the CTA is widely accepted and supported by the west. What’s actually behind it? Dorje Shugden ban is never a real religious issue, it is a political issue since the very beginning. This is political persecution that should be condemned by the world.

  3. Religion should not be one of the criteria for someone’s right to livelihood. Religion has always been a very sensitive issue and everyone should the right to choose their own belief system and not being judged or discriminated based on their choice of religion. Modern democracy countries give their citizens full freedom to choose their own religion on the basis that the religion does not breach the law or harm society.

    There are so many belief systems out there nowadays and a good democratic government will respect all of them and not penalise any one of them even if they are different from the national religion. What the CTA does is not a practice of democracy. They are in fact practising dictatorship.

  4. CTA always says that they are democratic but in actual they are not. Democratic governments will not discriminate or ostracise their people just for spiritual practice differences. Real democratic is to respect differences as long as it doesn’t harm the people and the government and it doesn’t against the law of the country.

    Shugden practice has it’s own lineage and history that been practiced by great masters and the practice has never harmed anyone. The Tibetan leadership failed to keep their promises to bring the Tibetan back to Tibet and use Shugden practice as the scapegoat to cover their failure. When CTA said that the Chinese violate human rights they forgot to reflect themselves that they are worse as they harm their own people. Tibetan already lost their country and CTA further added salt to the wound by separating and ostracise their own people to make their entire Tibetan in exile so weak and hopeless.

    This is how CTA work and how do you think they are able to do anything positive to give hope for the Tibetan to return to their homeland?

  5. Regardless of what spiritual lineage you are, your government you accept you and look after your welfare. Respect and peace are key for everyone to live together. All spiritual practice teaches us to be a good person and as a leader, should encourage their people to stay strong with their spiritual practice. With this, their people will respect their government which accepts differences. No government will want to see separation in their country. This will create a lot of problems and especially the stability of the country. Tibetan leadership is very childish to create separation among its people. Their action will not gain respect and causes many people to run away from them. Tibetan leadership forgot that the refugee and the people they have with them in India is what they have and if the Tibetan run away, there is nothing for them already. No more Tibetan cause. Tibetan leadership can really just stay in their own world and serve themselves.

  6. I really like this article!

    The Tibetan polity has not changed in exile.

    They are just a continuation of the bad system of organizing society which many, many other countries have since abandoned and progressed from. The same system which put them where they are today.

    The administration in exile is littered with the same old aristocrats, their brothers, sisters, uncles, nephews, cousins, cronies, …. and the Dalai Lama and Nechung are used, and intermittently respected, at their convenience.

    Dorje Shugden practice has been a bogeyman for the aristocrats to practise divide and rule and to legitimize themselves as the Dalai Lama’s most loyal subjects. The same can be said with regards to the 2 Karmapas and 2 Panchen Lamas, and others.

    The Dalai Lama himself has attest to the fact that both Karmapas are real Karmapas and this is further strengthened by the fact that both of them have met, acknowledged the legitimacy of each other, and recently wrote joint prayers for the long life of the Sharmapa.

    The Dalai Lama has also hinted that both Panchen Lamas are Panchen Lamas.

    It is high time the Tibetans put this bad episode of lynching who is clearly an enlightened Dharma Protector Manjushri Dorje Shugden and examine what they have achieved in the last 50 years.

    Are they looking at another 50 years of playing sides and nepotism?

    Surely modern Tibetans deserve better!


  7. CTA must accept that Tibet is under China and the Tibetans are living better in China than those in India. CTA can complain and say anything they want but the fact the Chinese still look after the Tibetan in China and invested in repairing and refurbishing monasteries. Looking at the Chinese influences at this moment many countries are looking to work with them to bring growth in their economies. CTA doesn’t even look after its own people in India and we don’t have to ask what CTA will do to support the countries that have been supporting them. CTA will just keep taking and no contribution to support back the people that have helped Tibetan before. This is what happens in India where the local people feel so unfair for the treatment of Tibetan.

    CTA should show more gratitude to the people that have been supporting them especially the Indian which given the land to until now.

  8. It’s funny that in this era, CTA cannot make their decision as a key government for their political matters. Since Dalai Lama has retired from the political scene, CTA which is a secular entity should be professional and should be inspired as a leader in leading the Tibetanwith the rest of their cabinet to bring benefit and improvement in their livelihoods. If they can’t manage and dependant on the oracle to make the decision then what is CTA for? Now we know why they lost Tibet and after 60 years CTA still cannot self-sustain and Dalai Lama and Tibetan unable to return to Tibetan.

  9. It’s really a joke to see CTA claim that they are democratic but they put in their official website discriminating and ostracise Dorje Shudgen practice which been practice for 500 years and there is nothing to do any of the political matter. You can have all sort of spiritual belief in the country but what important is the government have to respect and give freedom for practice. How a spiritual practice can affect the Tibetan cause? They didn’t elaborate and the ban is really violating human rights. Looking at their situation which is a refugee in India why are they creating all this separation and suffering to their own people which already in a bad situation. Instead of uniting the people who already lost their country, CTA is just creating more disharmony and it doesn’t benefit the Tibetan as a whole. No one can understand their thinking and people will just lose confidence in them and I don’t people would want to donate to CTA looking at how they manage the situation. No progress on their Tibetan cause and yet create more trouble for their people. Really shame.

  10. Looking at how CTA carried out the ban it shows that there is no democracy in Tibetan. Dalai Lama advice not to practice Dorje Shugden and CTA immediately carried out as instruction and even stated the ban in their charter. Why a government wants to discriminate their people just because their people have their own preference of religious practice which didn’t harm anyone.

    As a government that supposed to look after the welfare of their people has CTA considers their people’s religious freedom and as well as their human rights?

  11. CTA really shows their incompetence and unprofessional act towards taking advice from Nechungwith regards to the state matters. Isn’t this sounds like a joke, when the government needs to make a certain decision they have to get the answer from the oracle instead of the elected leaders discussed and make a decision from their best knowledge and experience in term of protecting the Tibetan interest? If this everything has to depend on the oracle, then my as well just elect the oracle as the leader. Why do we need CTA?

    CTA really has to act matures and professional. They cannot be a bunch of superstitious kids that running around to look for an answer instead of being a grown-up and as a responsible leader to make a rational decision for their people. It really sad to see this and how would the sponsors feel when is their money being handled by a group of people that is incompetence? Who else will respect and willing to contribute to them? Something that everyone needs to think and consider!

  12. It is a fact there is no justice in the Tibetan community in India. People who are against or do not agree with the CTA will be penalised. For example, people who do not want to give up Dorje Shugden practice are segregated and not allowed to be integrated in the Tibetan community. Basic rights as a Tibetan such as working in a government agency, receiving medical treatments from government run hospitals, attending the Dalai Lama’s talks (religious or political) are taken away by the CTA. As a result, there is no harmony and unity in the Tibetan community, there is no progress in the free Tibet movement.

  13. The CTA is using the Tibetan plight to get free money from their supporters. Free Tibet movement is only a tool for the CTA to achieve their goal. For the past 60 years, the CTA did not have to work hard because they have received so much financial aids from the west. Thus, why would the CTA make the free Tibet movement a success? This will never happen.

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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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