A cursory glance at this photo would lead most people to believe that it is nothing more than three monks posing for a simple photograph. But all is not quite what it appears to be, for hidden beneath the surface of this seemingly inconsequential photograph is a multitude of conclusions that give rise to many concerns for us here at DorjeShugden.com.
The photograph shows a known Dorje Shugden practitioner, His Holiness Gaden Trisur Lungrik Namgyal, the previous head of the Gelug sect posing for a photograph with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa Urgyen Trinley, who is the current head of the Karma Kagyu sect, and His Eminence Drakyab Tokden Rinpoche, the current abbot of Drepung Loseling Monastery, which is the location of the Dalai Lama’s monastic residence. In other words, this is a photograph of three lamas who are at the highest ranks of their respective traditions.
The Hidden Secrets of Body Language
The lama who immediately captures our attention is of course Gaden Trisur Rinpoche. At the time the photograph was taken, the Gaden Trisur was known as the Gaden Tripa, a title given to the spiritual head of the Gelug sect. After completing his term as the 101st Gaden Tripa, the Gaden Trisur revealed his Dorje Shugden practice and left Gaden Shartse Monastery to join Shar Gaden.
In this photograph, what is most significant about the Gaden Trisur is his expression. When Tibetan monks pose for pictures, it is traditional for the lama of the highest rank in the photograph to look away from the camera, in his humility that others would want to take a picture with him. Contrast this with the Karmapa’s and Drakyab Tokden Rinpoche’s expressions – both of them are smiling directly at the camera, clearly pleased to have the honour of appearing in a picture with the Gaden Trisur. Although he is the abbot of Drepung Loseling monastery, one of the three main Gelug monasteries, Tokden Rinpoche is also slightly stooped, out of respect for the Gaden Trisur.
Also significant is the position of the Karmapa’s hand in relation to the Gaden Trisur’s. The Karmapa’s hand is below the Gaden Trisur’s, in the gesture of supporting him even though the Gaden Trisur does not need help standing. Although the Karmapa himself is the head of a lineage, this symbolic gesture of support reflects his belief that he is lower in seniority and attainments compared to the Gaden Trisur. This element of body language allows the Karmapa to subtly express his support for the more senior, elderly lama.
The final notable aspect of this photograph is what the lamas have in common – they were all personally selected and approved by the Dalai Lama in their respective positions and have publicly received His Holiness’ support. To be selected by the Dalai Lama for any office, and to have one’s reincarnation supported by Him, implies that the Dalai Lama is confident in the lama’s attainments. One can therefore conclude that having being selected by the Dalai Lama, the lamas in this picture are more than qualified for the high offices that they occupy.
Lapse in Omniscience?
To understand why this photograph is so important, we go back to the date it was shot. Taken in 2005, the lamas were pictured together with the Gaden Trisur prior to his revelation as a Dorje Shugden practitioner and defection to Shar Gaden. The photograph has since been removed from the public domain and unsurprisingly, no longer exists on the Internet, the original website having been removed.
Consider that the Karmapa is respected as the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage, has 16 previous incarnations and has received the Dalai Lama’s support for his teachings and work. Thus, one can safely assume that the Karmapa has attained some level of omniscience, being attained enough to lead an entire tradition.
Likewise, Drakyab Tokden Rinpoche is the former abbot of Gyuto Tantric College and the current abbot of Drepung Loseling. Being practised enough to oversee the administration and education of a community of learned tantric monks and scholars, one can also safely assume that Drakyab Tokden Rinpoche has attained some form of clairvoyance.
That the two omniscient lamas would pose with the Gaden Trisur in 2005 gives rise to the following question – how is it possible these two attained beings did not know about the Gaden Trisur’s faith in Dorje Shugden, whom he relied on throughout his term in office? Never mind that talk in the Tibetan community spreads quickly, and secrets are kept very badly. When one reaches the same level of attainments as the Karmapa and Drakyab Tokden Rinpoche, omniscience is no longer a quality that is affected by external factors such as gossip and rumours. Simply put, when you know, you know.
Therefore it is inconceivable that there was a lapse in the Karmapa and Drakyab Tokden Rinpoche’s omniscience. It is impossible that these two lamas did not know about the Gaden Trisur’s on-going reliance on Dorje Shugden whilst he was holding the highest office in the Gelug lineage. They must have known about his practice and despite that, pose for the photograph anyway. It cannot be an accident that they decided to appear in this picture, despite knowing what risks there may be.
To look as pleased as they do standing next to the Gaden Tripa is as good as an endorsement of His Dharma practices, teachings and spiritual choices. Furthermore, to imply their support for him in the way the Karmapa respectfully does, is indeed a bold statement on the part of these two lamas when others like His Holiness Penor Rinpoche have been vilified. for their sympathy towards Dorje Shugden practitioners
The Abbot of the Dalai Lama
The other person of interest to us in this photograph is Drakyab Tokden Rinpoche, who is the abbot of Drepung Loseling Monastery, the residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. As with all other lamas of rank within the Tibetan tradition, Drakyab Tokden Rinpoche was personally appointed into his position by the Dalai Lama. There is a little-known secret about Drakyab Tokden Rinpoche, the eminent lama who is known to all as a pure monk and accomplished scholar: that this lama himself is a Dorje Shugden practitioner.
We should of course, give the Dalai Lama the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps He was misinformed and did not know that Drakyab Tokden Rinpoche relies on Dorje Shugden, and when He selected the abbot of Drepung Loseling, it was a genuine error. This however, is illogical both from a secular and spiritual perspective.
From a secular perspective, it is illogical that the person who instituted the ban can be so misinformed on such a significant topic, about such a significant person for such a significant role. From a spiritual perspective, those who believe the Dalai Lama has omniscience will believe that there is no way He did not know about Drakyab Tokden Rinpoche’s practice.
Therefore, it is inconceivable that the Dalai Lama did not know his chosen candidate continued to practise Dorje Shugden and we can approach this information about Drakyab Tokden Rinpoche from two angles.
(1) Mistakes and hypocrisy
The Dalai Lama knows Drakyab Tokden Rinpoche practises but does not highlight the issue, hoping to maintain the Tibetan view that he is without fault. Aside from His unwillingness to admit His mistakes, perhaps the Dalai Lama is also unwilling to highlight His hypocrisy in choosing monks to represent one of the main Gelug monasteries when that monk does not uphold all of His (the Dalai Lama’s) policies. One cannot help but wonder why the Dalai Lama continues to place Dorje Shugden lamas into high offices, whilst simultaneously encouraging the monasteries to expel monks who do not conform to the ban.
(2) Making a tough choice
Drakyab Tokden Rinpoche’s reliance on Dorje Shugden, and the Dalai Lama’s non-response to this knowledge gives rise to unsettling questions about His putting two lamas into the uncomfortable position of choosing between the help their high office can bring to others, and their personal practices given to them by their teachers.
Saying Nothing At All
The Dalai Lama has previously been very enthusiastic about implementing the ban, even publicly calling for the expulsion of monks who do not comply. Therefore his lack of a reaction to information about two high-ranking lamas practising a banned deity is confusing indeed.
For those who have been affected by the persecution resulting from the ban, it is nigh on unfair that the Dalai Lama has not yet called for these lamas’ removal, or applied pressure for them to step down. After all, the Dalai Lama has previously ignored lamas without office, including those like Kyabje Zemey Rinpoche who was ostracised for writing about Dorje Shugden, much less rely on him and practice him.
His Holiness’ students are quick to assert that the Dalai Lama implemented the ban out of compassion for sentient beings, to prevent them from propitiating a so-called ghost. If these lamas were practicing Dorje Shugden during their time in office, one can only wonder why the Dalai Lama did not dismiss them from their positions, out of compassion that their practices might be causing harm to their monasteries and multitude of students.
Not So Unwavering After All
Perhaps the question we all most want to have answered is, what will the Tibetans do now? Recently, the Tibetan community was in an uproar that a respected essayist like Jamyang Norbu would pose with a Dorje Shugden lama. In his scathing reply to the criticisms, Jamyang Norbu questioned the Tibetan people’s propensity for jumping to conclusions, by vilifying someone for merely appearing in a photo with a so-called pariah.
With the Karmapa and Drakyab Tokden Rinpoche in a photograph with the Gaden Trisur, there is a possibility that these two highly respected lamas will now receive the same treatment as Jamyang Norbu did. After all, once widely-revered lamas like His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche now receive death threats. Having been unsettled by their need to be politically correct, it would appear that the Tibetans’ faith in their lamas is no longer unwavering and that in this day and age, no one is beyond their reproach.
It will be interesting to see how selective the Tibetan response really is. If the Karmapa and Drakyab Tokden Rinpoche are ostracised just like Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche, Zemey Rinpoche and Geshe Rabten, perhaps the Tibetans then ought to cast their net much wider for many of their lamas have appeared in photographs with the Gaden Trisur. How far will the Tibetans go, and how many lamas will they arbitrarily deem unfit and unsuitable to turn the wheel of Dharma, in their zealous pursuit to be seen “clean” and politically correct?
In the end, it seems that in the Tibetan world, spiritual genocide is still well and truly alive.