Dalai Lama’s Referendum Contradicts Vinaya

The purpose of this article is to examine whether or not the recent actions of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with respect to the practice of Dorje Shugden, are in accordance with the Vinaya, Buddha’s Code of Conduct. My intention here is not to engage in hurtful speech or divisive speech but rather to investigate the Dorje Shugden dispute through the lens of the Vinaya with a wish to determine which of the two opposing views on this practice is in accord with the Dharma.

In particular, the Dalai Lama has initiated referendums at each of the great Gelugpa monasteries on this issue and my efforts here are focused on checking the validity of these referendums.

During a speech made by the Dalai Lama in January 8th 2008 at Drepung Loseling Monastery (transcript from Voice of America) he said:

“In the Vinaya rules also, when there is a contentious issue, the monks take vote-sticks and decide, as mentioned in the seven methods of resolving conflict. In contemporary democratic practice, there is such a thing as ‘referendum’, ‘consulting the majority’. The matter has now reached this point of consulting what the majority wants. Therefore, when you return to your respective places after this programme at Loseling Monastery, put these questions:

  1. Whether you want to worship Dholgyal. This is the first question. Those who want to worship, should sign saying they wish to worship Dholgyal; those who don’t want, should sign saying that [they] don’t want to.
  2. ‘[Whether] we want to share the religious and material amenities of life with Dholgyal worshippers.’ You should sign saying so. ‘We do not want to share religious and material amenities of life with Dholgyal worshippers.’ (You should) sign saying so.’”

The particular section of the Vinaya to which the Dalai Lama is referring, known as “The Seven Methods for Resolving Conflict”, is the scriptural basis for the referendums at the great Gelugpa monasteries of Sera, Ganden, and Drepung. I decided to study these instructions to discern whether or not those procedures are being followed.

As I proceeded I was shocked to find that the protocols laid out by Buddha on how to handle such conflicts are being completely ignored by both the Dalai Lama and the abbots of those monasteries. In fact, the particular translation and commentary I referenced for this article offered many instructions that, if followed sincerely, would ease much of the suffering being endured by practitioners on both sides of this issue.

For the sake of readability and in the interest of space I will not insert all seven methods for resolving conflict here. I have based this article in its entirety upon The Buddhist Monastic Code, Volume I: The Patimokkha Training Rules Translated and Explained, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (see here for the full article: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/bmc1/bmc1.intro.html).

I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Thanissaro Bhikkhu for this work as I would be unable to investigate the scriptural validity of these referendums without his kindness in composing this work. In this instance it is not ideal to use the Pali translation of the Vinaya Pitaka because it would not be the translation that the Dalai Lama himself would follow. However, after some consideration, I realised that the violations of the protocols laid out by Buddha in the Pali translation of the Vinaya Pitaka would be reasonable objections to the referendums even if they were not mentioned in the Tibetan translations, thus I decided to compose this article.

The main reason why I didn’t use one of the Tibetan translations is that I could not find them translated into English. If you have access to a translation of these seven methods for resolving conflict from the Kangyur and Tangyur I would love to study those, please pass them along.

The particular method in question is method #5 which I have copied below.

“5. Acting in accordance with the majority. This refers to cases in which bhikkhus are unable to settle a dispute unanimously, even after all the proper procedures are followed, and – in the words of the Canon – are “wounding one another with weapons of the tongue.” In cases such as these, decisions can be made by majority vote.

Such a vote is valid if:

  1. The issue is important
  2. The procedures of “in the presence of” have all been followed but have not succeeded in settling the issue. (The discussion in the Cullavagga indicates that at least two Communities have tried settling the issue; the Commentary recommends trying the normal procedures in at least two or three)
  3. Both sides have been made to reflect on their position
  4. The distributor of voting tickets knows that the majority sides with the Dhamma
  5. He hopes that the majority sides with the Dhamma
  6. The distributor of voting tickets knows that the procedure will not lead to a split in the Sangha
  7. He hopes that the procedure will not lead to a split in the Sangha
  8. The tickets are taken in accordance with the Dhamma (according to the Commentary, this means that there is no cheating – e.g. one Bhikkhu taking two tickets – and the Dhamma side wins)
  9. The assembly is complete
  10. The bhikkhus take the tickets in accordance with their views (and not, for example, under fear of intimidation or coercion)”

(Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Buddhist Monastic Code I, Chapter 11 – Adhikarana Samatha)
This brings me to my first observation:

The Referendum is Under Fear of Intimidation or Coercion
(which invalidates the referendum according to #10)

    • On January 26th, 2008, the referendum was conducted in Sera-Je monastery.
    • On February 9th, 2008 the referendum was conducted in Ganden-Shartse Monastery.

Prior to either of these referendums there were actions already taken against Dorje Shugden monks. Here is the timeline of events:

    • On January 8th:
      In the assembly hall of Ganden-Jangtse Monastery, each monk had to stand up in turn and declare that he will never practise Dorje Shugden. Twelve monks who practise Dorje Shugden did not attend and were expelled from the monastery.In Phukang Khangtsen (also in Ganden-Shartse) signed statements were collected from each monk, declaring that the signatory never practises Dorje Shugden. Monks who did not want to sign the statement and take the oath to forgo the practice of Dorje Shugden were pressured to do so. The signature and oath campaign was conducted in ten monastic sections. When the signatures were collected in Phukang Khangtsen, one monk was expelled for refusing to sign.
    • o On January 11th 2008:
      The abbot of Ganden-Jangtse Monastery, Gen Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Tsephel was publicly scolded by the Dalai Lama in a public meeting for being a Dorje Shugden practitioner. He was accused of being ‘two-faced’ for seemingly following the Dalai Lama’s advice while secretly practising Dorje Shugden.

Before any referendum was held at Sera-Je or Ganden-Shartse, monks were already being expelled and humiliated. This is a very important point.

In the shadow of these events, the Ganden and Sera monks were asked to participate in a referendum for which they were already aware of the consequences should they vote against the majority.

My question, is this what we call a referendum? Does it sound like this referendum was held wholly without intimidation or coercion? I ask the reader to consider how you would vote in such a situation if your livelihood was on the line, knowing as well that you would have no more access to physical or spiritual nourishment and would be effectively disowned by your spiritual family. Might it be more prudent to vote against Dorje Shugden in public while continuing to practice in secret? This is precisely what many lay and ordained Tibetans are doing.

When these pre-loaded referendums were being held the Dorje Shugden practitioners had to cast their vote in the face of definite expulsion from their monastery. They also had to consider that non-Dorje Shugden practitioners had signed the oath to not to share material amenities of life. The choice made publically by Dorje Shugden practitioners would clearly impact their ability to survive outside the monastery. It is difficult to conclude that such a ‘choice’ is not coercion in its grossest form and that as such the Dalai Lama’s so-called referendums directly contradict the Vinaya and the spirit of Buddha’s teachings as a whole.

The Referendum will lead to a split in the Sangha
(which invalidates the referendum according to #6 and #7)

The second question put forth by the Dalai Lama is: “[Whether] we want to share the religious and material amenities of life (live together in the monastery) with Dholgyal worshippers.”

What this means is that practitioners who formerly lived together in the same Monastery would now not be able to use the same kitchen, do Sojong together, or use the same Khangtsen at all.

“A schism (saṅgha-bheda, literally a split in the Saṅgha) is a division in the Community in which two groups of bhikkhus of common affiliation, with at least five in one group and four in the other, conduct Community business separately in the same territory.” (Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Buddhist Monastic Code II, Chapter 21)

On February 7th 2008, in the assembly hall of Shartse Monastery, the disciplinarian – with tears in his eyes – announced: ‘Now Dhokhang Khangtsen will be separated from Shartse Monastery.’

This clearly meets Buddha’s definition of a schism (which I will explore in a future article). It is clear that the vote itself is on whether or not to split the Sangha. Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s commentary clearly indicates that if it is understood that the referendum would lead to a split in the Sangha the referendum is invalid.

Furthermore, on the issue of how to handle a schism according to the Vinaya, the present Dalai Lama has not been following Buddha’s advice.

“As for the laity, the texts quote the Buddha as saying that they should give gifts to both factions and listen to their Dhamma. Then, on consideration, they should give their preference to the Dhamma-faction. Notice, however, that in advising the laity to give preference to one faction over another, the Buddha does not say that only one faction should receive alms. After all, the laity may be misinformed about the Dhamma and in a poor position to tell the right faction from the wrong. At the same time, the Buddha has never been recorded as declaring a living being as unworthy of gifts, for that would be tantamount to saying that the being was unworthy to live.” (Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Buddhist Monastic Code II, Chapter 21)

This means that the signature campaign being conducted in the lay community by the CTA (within which the Dalai Lama is the final authority) to not share material amenities with Dorje Shugden practitioners directly contradicts the Vinaya. The language of the Vinaya makes clear that both Dorje Shugden practitioners and non-Dorje Shugden practitioners should be able to purchase goods and receive services like any other Tibetan living in exile. If the reader has any doubts as to whether this discrimination is really happening please refer to the France24 documentary which reveals such religious discrimination. http://www.france24.com/en/20080808-dalai-lama-demons-india-buddhism-dorje-shugden

The Referendum has not followed Buddha’s Protocols in the Vinaya
(which invalidates the referendum according to #2)

According to the commentary the referendum is only valid if the procedures of “in the presence of” have all been followed but have not succeeded in settling the issue. “In the presence of” means that the community has to meet and try to settle the issue before the referendum is taken (emphasis added).

This has not happened. In fact, the Dalai Lama has never met with the community of Dorje Shugden monks from these monasteries. There has not even been a reply from the Dalai Lama or his representatives to the requests of Shugden practitioners to have a dialogue on this issue. This is a clear contradiction with the commentary given. The referendum is not the result of a meeting within the monastic community but rather it has been unilaterally decreed by the Dalai Lama himself (please refer to the January 8th, 2008 talk at Drepung for evidence of this).

This brings up the question, is the Dalai Lama a member of these monastic communities? If the answer is yes, then he (or a representative of his) has to meet with the Dorje Shugden communities at these monasteries prior to any referendum. If the answer is no, which can be stated in terms of the Dalai Lama not residing within that monastery, then on what basis is he even involving himself? Where does the Vinaya say that to resolve a conflict, high lamas should adjudicate? This is what the Dalai Lama’s supporters are saying but it has no basis in Buddha’s teachings.

Others might argue that the Dalai Lama is not involving himself but simply saying the matter should go to a vote. To refute this point please watch the France24 video (web link to this piece is above) where the Dalai Lama is on video saying from the teaching throne, “These monks must be expelled from all monasteries. If they are not happy, you can tell them that the Dalai Lama himself asked that this be done, and it is very urgent.”

The most compelling argument on this point is that the Vinaya provides an opportunity for any monk in the assembly to protest against having the matter settled by the group. If this happens then the group is deemed incompetent to resolve the issue. The purpose of this is to protect the Dharma from bhikkhus who advocate what is not truly Dhamma or Vinaya yet hold sway over the group. Surely if such a meeting would have occurred the Dorje Shugden monks would have protested.

The Outcome of the Referendum is not in Accordance with the Dharma
(which invalidates the referendum according to #4, #5, and #8)

Venerable Atisha said,
“Friends, until you attain enlightenment the spiritual teacher is indispensable, therefore rely upon the holy Spiritual Guide. Until you realise ultimate truth, listening is indispensable, therefore listen to the instructions of the Spiritual Guide.”

The referendum contradicts the words of this holy teacher because the practitioners of Dorje Shugden received a commitment to do this practice from their Gurus Trijang Rinpoche, Ling Rinpoche, Geshe Rabten, Zong Rinpoche, Dagom Rinpoche, etc. To abandon their teachers’ advice by voting in favor of the ban would be non-Dharma according to Venerable Atisha.

The irony is that this puts the Dalai Lama and his followers in the position where if they are to establish their view as Dharma then they would have to say that Trijang Rinpoche and Ling Rinpoche (the Dalai Lama’s Gurus) taught non-Dharma thus invalidating his own teachers’ qualifications as authentic Gurus. How can a valid teacher teach non-Dharma? If the Dalai Lama’s teachers are not valid teachers then by what lineage is the Dalai Lama a lama himself?

Therefore, for all the reasons mentioned here, the referendum on Dorje Shugden practice is non-Dharma. Since the Dalai Lama is presenting the referendum as Dharma when in reality it is non-Dharma he is deceiving Buddhist practitioners around the world.

Furthermore, by denying these practitioners the basic necessities of life (by these I mean the aforementioned material amenities) the Dalai Lama and the abbots carrying out these referendums are breaking their refuge vows to Buddha which include not harming any living being.

Typically, those who have spoken out against the Dalai Lama on this issue have been portrayed as gullible, naive, and unaware of the harmfulness of Dorje Shugden. I would like to point out however that those in the Tibetan and Western communities who practise Dorje Shugden have experienced considerable slander and libe,l thus making this issue a point of internal reflection and consideration for many of us.

This article is the result of one Dorje Shugden practitioner’s investigation, my own. What I ask to all those who disagree, can you establish – based on Buddha’s teachings – the validity of these referendums?

Source: DorjeShugden Blog

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  1. I wonder whether in the Tibetan Sangahood are you allowed to be involved in Politics. This issue looks like Politics to me. And having to vote for or against is Politics. It should be alright if lay people are involved in voting but not monks and nuns. And everyone is made to vote against their will under duress. Otherwise they will be penalise or be expelled from their Monastery. My thinking is that once you are a Sangha you would not have to be involved in this stress. Like being forced to do things against your will. The monks, the nuns and lay Tibetan people have lost their freedom of choice.

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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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