Letter to Newsweek – False Accusations Against the Innocent

Letter to the editor of Newsweek from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in response to the article ‘Cult Mystery’ that appeared in Newsweek International, the 28th of April 97, and in Newsweek USA, 5th of May 97

(Click here to read the content of the original Newsweek article)

Allow me to introduce myself; my name is Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Since July of last year NKT people, including myself, have remained peacefully without any further involvement in the Dorje Shugden controversy. We received messages from many people, including some Tibetans in London, thanking us for leaving the controversy in peace and indicating their appreciation. Now we are very surprised by this article in Newsweek, which includes very unpleasant quotations from Robert Thurman and HH the Dalai Lama, and which causes new problems to arise.

We find that most of the information in this article is false. Amongst other things, for example, it says that the First Dalai Lama was Je Tsongkhapa’s nephew. We believe that Je Gendundrub became the First Dalai Lama. Are you saying that Je Gendundrub was Je Tsongkhapa’s nephew? If so, this is incorrect.

Robert Thurman is quoted as saying: “I think there’s no doubt that Shugden was behind the killings.” Of course, killing people is very bad, and I utterly condemn these appalling murders, but by reading the letter addressed to HH the Dalai Lama known as the ‘Mongoose Canine Letter’, we can clearly understand that HH the Dalai Lama has many enemies, so why are only Shugden supporters suspected? It is a great pity that Lobsang Gyatso who was a 70-year old Geshe died in the most horrible of circumstances, seemingly because HH the Dalai Lama has many enemies.

Thurman continues: “It would not be unfair to call Shugdens the Taliban of Tibetan Buddhism.” This really is a false accusation against innocent people. We have never done anything wrong. We simply practise our own religion, as passed down through many generations. But since HH the Dalai Lama encouraged people to stop worshipping Dorje Shugden, claiming that this practice is bad, we have been insulted as ‘sectarian’ and ‘fanatic’, and have received constant criticism, humiliation, and threats from many people. In this way, we are indeed becoming as Geshe Dragpa Gyaltsen says, like the Jews of Tibetan Buddhism – victims of irrational persecution.

Many thousands of disciples of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, the Spiritual Guide of the present Dalai Lama, have suffered under this treatment but we do not wish to give up this practice because it is a commitment received from our root Gurus, and because we know from our own experience that it is a very meaningful practice for the development of spiritual realizations. So now we are in a very sad and difficult situation.

Thurman also says: “Once you get involved (in the NKT), you’re told you have to devote your lives to the cult, because the god gets very angry if you don’t attend to him every day. It’s really bad stuff, the way they’re draining money out of people.” This is completely untrue: can Thurman please give the name of even one person within the NKT who says this nonsense, and can he provide proof of a single instance of the NKT pressuring anyone to give money?

HH the Dalai Lama says: “That cult is actually destroying the freedom of religious thought. Say I want to practise Nyingma. They say this Protector will harm me.” This is also completely untrue. We would like to ask HH the Dalai Lama: who are these Shugden practitioners saying these meaningless things? His words are causing disharmony between Shugden practitioners and Nyingma practitioners. Why is HH the Dalai Lama creating this new problem? Until now there have been no problems between Gelugpas and Nyingmapas, and there has been no arguing or criticism. Some scholars debate with each other, such as the well-known Gelugpa scholar Yonten Gyatso and Dongthog Tulku, a scholar from another tradition, who conducted a debate by letter over a number of years. They have written many books replying to each other’s assertions, but this does not mean they are criticising each other. They are simply clarifying the doctrines of their own traditions, with good motivation. There is nothing wrong with this. I would like to ask: what is the problem between the Nyingma and Gelug traditions? There is none. The majority of people from both traditions naturally live in harmony, so why is HH the Dalai Lama destroying this harmony by saying things like “Shugdens say you should not even touch a Nyingma document”? Although we concentrate on our own tradition we respect all other Buddhist traditions, including the Nyingma, and we rejoice very much in their sincere practice.

The article says: “The Yellow Hats were far more grand than the austere Red Hats in their clothes and magnificent palaces, but the Dorje Shugden sect would become grander still.” Again, this is untrue. The majority of Gelugpa practitioners, including Shugden practitioners, live simply and practise sincerely and are not interested in politics. Within the exile Tibetan community, it is HH the Dalai Lama alone who has power. He controls every aspect of Tibetan society.

The article also says that the NKT has been “denounced by the London press and HH the Dalai Lama as a cult that fleeces its own followers”. One or two English newspapers in 1996 made claims of financial wrong-doing by the NKT. These claims were unsubstantiated and we deny them entirely. What proof does HH the Dalai Lama have for saying this?

HH the Dalai Lama claims: “Nobody would pray to Buddha for better business, but they go to Shugden for such favours – and this is where it has become like spirit worship.” This is not true. Many Tibetans pray to other Buddhas such as Tara and make prayers to other Dharma Protectors for success in business and for the removal of obstacles. Why are Shugden practitioners singled out? Particularly, in the Kadampa tradition we do not pray for worldly attainments such as wealth, reputation, success in business, etc., we pray for the welfare of all beings and the attainment of spiritual realizations.

HH the Dalai Lama is also contradicting himself. He previously regarded Dorje Shugden as a Buddha, and composed verses of praise to him that can still be seen today. It is his responsibility to resolve this contradiction.

Now, my main point is that people should know that all the present problems regarding Dorje Shugden within the Mahayana Buddhist world have no creator other than HH the Dalai Lama. He is the source of all these problems because it was he who first publicly claimed that Dorje Shugden is an evil spirit who harms both himself and Tibetan independence, and many Tibetans believe what he said. It is HH the Dalai Lama’s wish to destroy the practice of Dorje Shugden, and to fulfil his wish Tibetan people within the exile community have removed statues and destroyed them, coercing other Tibetans to abandon this practice. If HH the Dalai Lama had not engaged in this policy of religious discrimination there would have been no basis for these problems. I clearly understand that the responsibility for this lies with HH the Dalai Lama.

If the practice of Dorje Shugden is harmful then it follows that Je Phabongkhapa was not an authentic Buddhist master, and if he was not then there is no doubt that his heart disciples, Kyabje Ling Rinpoche and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche (the Senior and Junior Tutors of HH the Dalai Lama) were also not authentic. These three Lamas are the most important Gelugpa Lamas of recent times. If these three are not pure Teachers then there is no doubt that the entire practice of the Gelug Tradition is invalid. This is the main issue that needs clarification.

HH the Dalai Lama alone has the power to solve all these problems. If he stops completely his policy of religious discrimination and gives religious freedom, these problems will be solved automatically. I believe that he will do this soon because I believe that he has compassion for his people.

Please do not think I am criticising HH the Dalai Lama in a negative way; I am writing this simply to clarify the situation.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
Spiritual Director of the New Kadampa Tradition

[Although in the Newsweek article you do not refer to me as a Geshe, I am a Geshe. If you wish to understand how I became a Geshe I will be happy to provide you with details.]

Click here to read the content of the original Newsweek article)

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  1. “Bickering Buddhists”
    Midwest Enclave, Beset By Factional Strife, Braces for the Arrival of the Dalai Lama
    By Jason Vest
    Tuesday, Jul 20 1999

    Bloomington, Indiana—Having just had its national profile raised by a hate crime, this small midwestern city is looking forward to a round of positive news coverage a few weeks hence when His Holiness the Dalai Lama— after stopping in New York for a spiritual gathering in Central Park with Richard Gere— arrives here to perform the Kalachakra Initiation, described in local literature as “the most reverent of all Buddhist rituals” devoted to furthering the cause of “peace and harmony.”

    Just how peaceful and harmonious HH’s presence here will be is, however, a subject for speculation among knowledgeable locals. Despite its image as one of the world’s most benign religions, Tibetan Buddhism has been in discord for the past few years, thanks to the Dalai Lama’s zealous condemnation of Dorje Shugden, a deity he formerly held sacred. Though hardly a spot one would expect to be a flashpoint in a Tibetan Buddhist theological battle, Bloomington is a microcosm of schismatic Buddhism about which His Holiness is reportedly less than pleased.

    It so happens that Thomas Canada— husband of an heiress to the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical fortune, a longtime practicing Buddhist, and the former patron of the local Tibetan Cultural Center (run by Thubten J. Norbu, the Dalai Lama’s oldest brother and Canada’s former mentor)— has a particular affinity for Dorje Shugden. So much so, in fact, that he’s helped to establish a Shugden monastery in town. For his troubles, he’s received at least one death threat (he suspects from Buddhists in India), says he’s been made to feel unwelcome on land he and his wife gave to the cause of Tibetan Buddhism, and now openly wonders whether money, not spirituality, has more to do with the cultural center he helped build. Thubten Norbu— or Takster Rimpoche, as he’s known to some— contends that Canada and Shugden followers are welcome and that the rift between HH and Shugden sectarians is much ado about nothing.

    So much for harmony.

    At first blush an incongruous location for a Buddhist enclave, Bloomington became part of the Tibetan diaspora in 1965, when then Indiana University president Herman B Wells asked Norbu if he’d be interested in leaving his position as curator of Tibetan artifacts at New York’s Museum of Natural History to create a Tibetan studies program in the school’s Central Eurasian Studies department. While the program quickly gained an international reputation— it was, after all, one of a kind in American academe— it was also a subject of campus curiosity; some speculated it might have ties to the CIA. (In an interview with the Voice, although Norbu confirmed that he worked with the CIA before coming to IU, he declined to comment on alleged connections between IU’s Tibetan studies program and the agency.)

    Even without the spook ties, Norbu has been one of Bloomington’s more compelling citizens. According to John Knaus’s recently released Orphans of the Cold War, in 1950 Norbu, rather than accept the Chinese government’s quiet offer to become a puppet ruler of occupied Tibet (provided he’d kill his younger brother), instead warned the Dalai Lama of impending danger, and— after his brother sent him West for his own safety— became one of the most vociferous crusaders for an independent Tibet. According to several current and former associates, it was in the late 1960s that a handful of students sought him out, and asked him to again embrace his clerical identity as Takster Rimpoche— the reincarnation of an enlightened master.

    “There weren’t that many of us, but we were very serious about it, and some of us did a lot of reading and traveling to further our studies— I spent time in the Moroccan desert with nothing more than a bag of clothes and four books on Tibetan Buddhism,” Canada recalls. By the mid ’70s, Canada had married Kathy Noyes— a scion of the Lilly family— and they decided to help support Tibetan Buddhism locally as well as globally. To that end, they gave 90 acres of a 1200-acre tract of land they owned to the cause.

    Over the next decade, Canada and others worked with Norbu to clear the land, first building a stupa, or shrine, before breaking ground for a cultural center that would serve as a lesser counterpart to Dharmsala, the Indian home of the Tibetan government-in-exile. “The Dalai Lama himself came to Bloomington in 1987 to dedicate the center, and it was amazing— he gave me a blessing and when I looked into his eyes, it was like looking into kaleidoscopes,” Canada says. “That experience convinced me he was indeed the incarnation of the compassionate Buddha.”

    Since 1996, however, the Dalai Lama has, in some respects, been looking a bit less like the epitome of gentleness to Canada and many others. In 1978, he stunned his followers when he decreed that Dorje Shugden, a prominent protector god in his majority Gelugpa order, was not a paladin who kept the meditating masses free of evil spirits but a malevolent wraith. HH didn’t press the issue, however, until 1996, when he warned the world’s Tibetan Buddhists who pay homage to Shugden that they were effectively excommunicated if their worship of the specter continued.

  2. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is doing right by having Guru Devotion. Guru Devotion is the 1st thing we were taught when we started to go on the Spiritual path in Buddhism. Although Dalai Lama says to stop the Dorje Shugden practice, Geshe Gyaltsen Gyatso did not stop but still continue with his students to practice as a sign of Guru Devotion to his Gurus Ling Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche. Robert Thurman should not have stirred up the issues again by his letter to newsweek in a quotation with false accusations. I am sure there must be a deeper meaning and reason to why Dalai Lama should say such sort of accusations only to Dorje Shugden practitioners.

  3. Long Live H.H holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.We know the dorji shugden is harming us.I have seen and know the story of my friend’s father who died all of sudden because of this dhogyal practice .Her father’s parents continuing the practice of dhogyal and one sudden they stop the work shipping of this spirit and he died because of discontinuing .That is not my view or blabbing around .It is what my friend told me when i was school time.You cannot blame on His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

  4. The crux of the matter is… as stated by Ven. Geshe-la towards the end of his letter… by denouncing these great Gelug Lamas the whole credibility of both the Gelug Tradition and in turn the Dalai Lama’s own teachings are invalid!
    So, do we withdraw all the Dalai Lama’s books?. Do we destroy all his teachings? Perhaps an apology to his millions of “Friends” on Facebook that he has duped them with false teachings?
    The whole matter is clearly absurd, and the Dalai Lama has made these accusations without realizing the impact on his own credibility.

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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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