Robert Thurman is promoted globally as a learned scholar and author of Tibetan Buddhism. He is also famous for being “personal friends” with the Dalai Lama. Which is more important then? The fact that he could be a strong authority of Buddhism in the West, bringing the many sacred, ancient teachings to millions in “the new world” or just getting on the good side of the Dalai Lama?
Since the ban on the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden, Thurman has maintained a deliberately offensive stance towards Shugden practitioners, comparing them to the Taliban, and accusing them of being Chinese spies against the Tibetans.
In 2008, the Western Shugden Society wrote a letter to Robert Thurman urging him to produce proof to support his statement that Shugden people are sectarian, like the Buddhist Taliban and “working for the Chinese.” The full letter is reproduced below:
10th September 2008
An Open Letter
To Robert Thurman,
We the Western Shugden Society are writing this letter regarding your previous public statement that Shugden people are sectarian, naming them “the Buddhist Taliban”; and your recent public statement that the Western Shugden Society protestors are “working for the Chinese”.
As you know, Shugden people want to practice the Gelug tradition purely, without mixing with the Nyingma tradition. Because of this the Dalai Lama has said to Shugden people that they are sectarian. In truth, the Nyingmapa also want to practice their Nyingma tradition purely without mixing with the Gelug tradition; and it is the same for the Sakyapa and Kagyupa. So according to the Dalai Lama’s view, the Nyingmapa, Sakyapa and Kagyupa are also sectarian, but he only says that Shugden people are sectarian. In reality he is lying.
If you, Robert Thurman, are not yourself lying, then you must show your evidence to prove your public statements: that Shugden people are sectarian, “the Buddhist Taliban” as you named them; and that the Western Shugden Society is working for the Chinese. You should show your evidence publicly through the internet before 25th October 2008. If your evidence does not appear by this date then we will conclude that you have lied publicly and are misleading people.
Western Shugden Society
By 25 October 2008, Thurman had not responded to the letter in any way. It wouldn’t be unfair therefore, to consider that he has indeed lied publicly and misled people by what he is saying.
Thurman is in an especially precarious situation as someone who has already garnered a reputation as a kind of authority in Buddhism. To make statements like this is not something to be taken lightly, especially when he has nothing to substantiate what he says.
Surely, as an academic, he should understand better than anybody else that when one conveys any statements as fact, the ability to produce supporting evidence is an indivisible part of the academic process. Above all else, as a respected academic, he can (and should) be held responsible for the accuracy and truth of whatever he communicates.
Thousands of people read his books, most likely with the view that it might help their understanding and practice of Buddhism. If he is reacting in such irresponsible and hurtful ways in relations to one of the most crucial issues of Tibetan Buddhism today, a shadow of doubt would surely be cast over the rest of his writings, talks and teachings too.
Further, as a Buddhist, he has a double responsibility to upholding the truth. He should be abiding by the most basic refuge vows of not lying and not using harsh speech by launching false accusations and defamatory comments at fellow practitioners. That is the least that can be expected of someone who was even a monk for two years and is considered a close friend of the Dalai Lama.
For all the unpleasant words he has issued against Shugden practitioners however, it is his silence in response to this open letter that has been most deafening. It proves, above all, the falsities of what he has been saying and a great disappointment that someone who is so highly respected in Buddhism could have such little empathy towards fellow Buddhists.
The information in the following article is extracted from the blogs http://robertthurman.wordpress.com, http://dorjeshugdentruth.wordpress.com and
http://www.westernshugdensociety.org. For more interesting reads on the subject, please visit the blogs directly.