While the 60th Anniversary of the ‘peaceful liberation’ of Tibet was regarded as a cleverly masked attempt of the Chinese to ‘undermine the Dalai Lama’, the event has also marked a different sort of celebration. Whatever the intentions of the Chinese were for holding such an event and inviting leading Buddhist lamas to the celebrations, there is another more subtle truth that has emerged from this: there are some Tibetan Buddhist lamas who are beginning their decided return to Tibet – and long before the Dalai Lama does.
China certainly seems to be opening its (temple) doors to them and ushering them in with a warm welcome. Finally, there is an open crack in what has long been regarded as a closed door. These lamas are prying open the locks and making leeway for the return of Tibetans to Tibet.
Sadly however, these courageous lamas are not accorded the respect they well deserve for their efforts to unite Tibetans. Instead, they are publicly denounced and shunned by the Tibetan community for their practice of the Buddhist Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden – which has been banned by the Dalai Lama. Some, such as Gangchen Rinpoche, are even rudely mocked and degraded by the Tibetans in writing and various media. This video (also available here), for example, takes Gangchen Rinpoche’s practices grossly out of context and openly defames him. How can a spiritual leader like the Dalai Lama and his government allow this type of derogatory media against their own people and spiritual teachers? This only goes to prove their hostility towards the very people who are actually trying to further the cause of Tibet in the world.
By this single choice to continue their worship of Dorje Shugden, these lamas are labeled by the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and the Dalai Lama’s followers as traitors to the Dalai Lama, accused of being spies for China and receiving monetary support from the Chinese. These lamas are expelled from their monasteries, excluded and mocked throughout the Tibetan community. Great masters like H.H. 101st Gaden Trisur Lungrik Namgyal, H.E. Gangchen Rinpoche, Yongyal Rinpoche and Lama Thubten Phurbu have long been regarded as ‘enemies’ of the Dalai Lama’s camp and the cause for a Free Tibet – simply because they have chosen to continue their worship of Dorje Shugden.
Actually, these lamas are no less Tibetan than any other member of the CTA or any monk of any Tibetan Buddhist monastery. They love their homeland, culture, traditions and religion as much as any other Tibetan who has had to suffer the loss of their country. They also love the Dalai Lama and have a tremendous amount of respect for him. They are no different from any other Tibetan, with the same wishes and hopes for their people and country.
The claims that they have turned against their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and country are baseless and illogical. These lamas were not against the Dalai Lama nor the Tibetan cause before 1959, so why would they be traitors now? They are still just as Tibetan as they were six decades ago. They are still Buddhists, they are still deeply devoted practitioners and they still believe and have great love for their own people, culture and religion – if not more than before. They have not forsaken their culture although they have physically emigrated to other countries around the world. Like any other Tibetan in Switzerland, New York or Australia, they still hold firm to their Tibetan roots. You will notice that all these lamas still speak Tibetan and adhere to the values and traditions of Tibet and Dharma strongly, no matter where they are.
The Other Method: Connecting with China
These lamas differ from most of the Tibetan exiled community in that they understand the futility of challenging the might of China. It is becoming more and more apparent that Tibet will never be independent of China. Rather than continuing to fight against a giant as large and indomitable as the Chinese, these lamas have chosen to take another route to finding freedom. They have realized that if they continue to be at odds with China, their chances for returning to Tibet will become smaller and smaller. Instead, it has become more and more important for Tibetans to be humble and befriend China, acknowledge that what they are doing for Tibet is actually positive and concede to the terms China wishes for Tibet.
Out of great compassion for the Tibetans still in Tibet and concern for the preservation of the Buddhadharma, these lamas are now making the concerted effort to connect with Chinese leaders. By this, they work to pry an opening which would allow them back into Tibet. Once they are allowed back into Tibet, they will then be able to work from within the country to preserve the unique Tibetan culture, language and religion.
In recent years, we have seen an influx of lamas reconnecting with the Chinese government and even returning to Tibet. For example, H.H. the 101st Gaden Trisur Lungrik Namgyal Rinpoche has participated in Dorje Shugden initiations in Chengdu, China and also had an official audience with the Chinese-backed Panchen Lama. H.E. Gangchen Rinpoche makes annual trips to Gangchen Monastery in Tibet to expand the monastery and build schools. Gangchen Rinpoche is also highly respected within China and often requested to attend official events in China, such as the 1st China Tibetan Culture Forum.
At the same time, the Chinese government is now rebuilding monasteries, allowing ordinations, study, transmissions, practices and retreats. They are supporting a renaissance of Buddhism within Tibet again, many decades after the Cultural Revolution. By reconnecting with the Chinese, eminent lamas such as Gaden Trisur Rinpoche and Gangchen Rinpoche will be better positioned to bridge the gap between the Tibetans within and outside of Tibet, bringing spiritual authority back into Tibet. Far from betraying the cause of Tibet, they are creating headway for it to be achieved.
Out of Great Compassion
As these lamas are allowed back into Tibet, it is certain that they will begin to teach Dharma again to the Tibetans there. By transmitting Buddha’s teachings to a new generation there, they will play an important, central role not only preserving the Dharma in Tibet but in creating a resurgence and revival of Buddhist teachings and practices throughout China.
If they towed the same line and policy as the Dalai Lama and the CTA, and continued to be at loggerheads with the Chinese authorities, their chances of returning to Tibet to fulfill this would be much slimmer. Then, millions of Tibetans in Tibet would not be able to receive the Dharma and the roots of their culture will fall prey to decay and dilution. However, we should understand that these high-ranking Tibetan lamas are reconnecting with China not because they are against the Dalai Lama but out of a sincere and compassionate attempt to preserve the last of our most sacred and infallible religion.
Instead of treating these lamas with hostility, Tibetans should applaud and support their efforts. They have all suffered in exile for over six decades so this new window of opportunity being opened by these lamas should be widely supported and celebrated by Tibetans all around the world. To label these lamas as traitors to Tibet is absolutely wrong and shows nothing but ingratitude and close-mindedness on the part of the exiled Tibetan community.
It is precisely because of a great enduring love for their country and countrymen that they have actively chosen this path of befriending China – this is now the only way to open the doors for them to return to Tibet and bring the most precious treasure of Dharma back to the very people they love back ‘home’. By the Shugden lamas’ concerted effort to return to China, the whole world can anticipate nothing but benefit. The unwavering kindness of these lamas will help Tibetans in Tibet to reconnect to Dharma, bring exiled Tibetans one step closer to returning home and preserve this rich, beautiful, peaceful and powerful religious culture for the rest of the world to learn and benefit from.