The Dorje Shugden ban enforced by the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), seemingly with the support of the Dalai Lama’s office, is fast becoming one of the human rights issues that the world is increasingly becoming aware of. For decades, the Dalai Lama via the “Tibetan cause” has appealed to the sense of justice that the people of the modern western world treasure, and to that extent the assistance given to the CTA thus far by the progressive nations have been sought and received largely on false pretenses.
But, as the saying goes, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. And so, with the launch by the Canadian Government of an international watchdog program for religious freedom, the badly persecuted Shugden monks and lay practitioners may have found an honest champion. DorjeShugden.com writes to The Hon. Andrew Bennett, Canadian Ambassador For Religious Freedom.
20th December 2013
The Hon. Dr. Andrew Bennett (Ambassador For Religious Freedom)
Foreign Affairs & Trade
The Government Of Canada
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON K1A 0G2
Let me first congratulate you on being appointed the first Ambassador to the Office of Religious Freedom. It is quite common these days to hear of the rights of people who are in the minority in their environment being trampled on and it is much less common to hear that those who can, those with the means and ability, also have the will and decency to stand up to oppressors on behalf of the victims.
Having followed your cause for some time I am very pleased to learn that your office has indeed embraced that noble purpose and when your swift actions led to the successful procurement of the release of Azath Salley from unfair detention by the Sri Lankan police, I became convinced that the Canadian Office For Religious Freedom was good for its word. For certain, your office answered its critics when your intervention brought much-needed attention to the unfair and politically motivated arrest of Mr. Salley as a means of curtailing his human rights effort.
On a personal note I was extremely encouraged to see that a man of influence living in the free world would take upon himself the struggle of an unknown person facing injustice in another part of the world. Justice prevailed that day. Therefore it is with considerable hope that I am writing to you to bring your attention to probably one of the most serious transgressions of a people’s right to practice their religion that has been going on since 1996.
Just about everyone in the world is aware of how the Tibetans lost their country to China and how they continue to accuse the Chinese government of suppressing the practice of Buddhism in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Much less known is how the Tibetan government-in-exile (now known as the Central Tibetan Administration or CTA) are themselves guilty of religious persecutions against a section of their own community. Tibetans treasure their religion above most things and therefore to control their faith is to control them in a way far stronger than the use of fear or threat of the law. Religion can be used to harness the unity of the people; but it can also be used to divide and rule the people. It is by such use of religion that the CTA has come to divide and rule its own people.
By the early 1990s, the Tibetan people in exile were beginning to get restless as promises by their government to return them to their homeland proved unfulfilled. As cries for Tibet’s independence became louder, the CTA had to find a way to diffuse the voice of its people.
In 1996, the CTA pounced on a piece of advice given by the Dalai Lama regarding the practice of a Buddhist deity known as Dorje Shugden, and translated that advice into a full, outright ban of the practice. The CTA outlawed the practice of this 350-year old Buddhist tradition claiming that it harms the cause of Tibetan independence. This is notwithstanding the fact that by 1996, the CTA had already decided to give up its pursuit of Tibet’s independence and now needed a distraction to deflect attention away from itself.
The reasons given by the CTA were lies and that is to say nothing about the fact that neither the CTA or in fact the Dalai Lama have the authority to meddle in individual Tibetan Buddhist sect’s religious affairs. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, each sect has its own head that is empowered by their own sect to manage all spiritual matters and not even the Dalai Lama has a right to interfere in such internal spiritual matters.
Dorje Shugden is a core practice of the Gelugpa School within Tibetan Buddhism, preserved by tens of thousands of Tibetans for hundreds of years. The Dalai Lama himself prayed to this deity in his earlier years. But suddenly, the secular government, CTA, was stepping in to curtail the religious freedom of its people to continue this practice. The CTA announced that,
… it has initiated a programme to be prevailing upon those still following Dolgyal [a derogatory reference to Dorje Shugden] to make a break with it
No modern democratic government has ever banned a religious practice nor would they be allowed to. But the CTA has. By banning the Dorje Shugden practice, the CTA divided one of the largest Tibetan communities in exile and set an example to instill fear in the community.
Anyone who chose not to give up the practice was denied the most basic welfare of health, education, travel documents and voting rights. Dorje Shugden practitioners still live in fear that their homes and families will be physically attacked; they are not permitted to associate with non-Shugden practitioners and even denied entry into Tibetan-owned shops. To be seen with a Shugden worshipper is regarded as a crime amongst the Tibetan community.
In the face of all this discrimination, they are not offered any protection from their leaders, the CTA. Instead the previous Prime Minister Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche even encouraged violence to be inflicted upon Shugden practitioners:
Now, without fear and hesitation, we, Tibetans, must fight and destroy Shugden followers. I am urging you to act against hesitation and fear, but of course, I will not blame you if you fear – they will fight back fearlessly and may beat some of us or kill, but if you fear and do nothing that means Shugden followers are winning. Even though you may die or face beating you must fight – it is very important.
No public discussion about the ban was permitted. All requests for dialogue with the Dalai Lama or representatives of the Tibetan leadership have been ignored. And yet, year after year since 1996, the CTA celebrates the Tibetan’s “Democracy Day” and makes speeches about how committed to the principles of freedom and liberty they are, as opposed to China. All this time, a large section of their own people live in fear and have been denied the most basic human rights.
It is precisely these kinds of atrocities that need your help because it would take someone who values the freedom to express one’s faith more important than political gamesmanship. We seek your assistance to bring some light into the plight of Shugden worshippers amongst the Tibetan people.
It has never been a question of religion – these people were made scapegoats and used as red herrings. The only question that need be asked is by whose authority (seeing that the CTA claims to be a democratic government) and on what basis has the CTA banned the practice of a religion when its own Charter and that of India, its host nation, guarantees the freedom of religion. Why the discrepancy and how have they been allowed to get away with it.
As you correctly pointed out in your keynote address at the 11th Annual North American Religious Liberty Dinner, the issue with religious freedom has little to do with theology but everything to do with one’s core rights as a human being.
Every human being has the right to practice his or her religion regardless of what everyone else may think of it. We cannot allow a small group of men to decide which faith is worthy of consideration and which religion one should not practice. And for certain we cannot tolerate the assault of any government that seeks to outlaw the religious practice of those who do not agree with them politically as a means to wipe them from the social and therefore political landscape of the community. And yet this is precisely what has happened in the Tibetan settlements in Dharamsala, India.
The Shugden worshippers in various exiled Tibetan communities have been driven underground and they continue to suffer in silence as the CTA continue in their charade as a fair and democratic government. These victims need someone like you to voice their suffering aloud and on the world stage. They desperately need the people of the free world to demand answers from the CTA, and to ask them by what right and what authority has the CTA outlawed an ancient religion and demonized its practitioners.
With this appeal, we humbly attach some very useful information and materials so that you can get a comprehensive picture and background to this terrible crime against humanity.
We thank you in advance for bringing hope to so many people who are otherwise invisible and voiceless against the might of bullies and we sincerely hope that you will lend the weight of your virtuous cause to this issue and bring to light an injustice that has been allowed to continue for far too long.