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The Speaker of Parliament is an important position and it is the Speaker’s duty to interpret parliamentary rules impartially, maintain order, and to defend the rights and privileges of members of parliament, including the right to freedom of speech. Most importantly, the Speaker’s actions must be impartial and his first duty is to moderate debates so that all voices of the people’s representatives are fairly heard.
But this is not a role that Penpa Tsering, the Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile respects and honors. In a speech to students of Upper TCV School on 4 June 2014, Penpa Tsering openly abused his position of influence and showed the world the CTA’s true colors.
In a speech filled with lies and distortions of history, the Speaker attacked Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche Dechen Nyingpo, one of the most respected high lamas of Tibetan Buddhism and no doubt one of the greatest Gelugpa Lamas of the past century. Not only is Pabongka Rinpoche the root Guru of virtually all Gelugpa masters in modern times, he is also the source of Dharma for both the 14th Dalai Lama’s principal teachers, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and Kyabje Ling Rinpoche. Therefore, almost all the present Dalai Lama’s Dharma knowledge flows from Pabongka Rinpoche and yet all these meant nothing to Penpa Tsering.
In an environment that is already highly sensitive and on an issue that has divided the Tibetan people, Penpa Tsering referred to Dorje Shugden as the devil and denigrated Pabongka Rinpoche in a most offensive way. This must be the first time that an elected politician (in what is supposedly a democracy) maligns a Buddha and one of its holiest saints in such a terrible way and thinks nothing of it.
Amongst other false accusations, the Speaker inferred that Pabongka Rinpoche was under the influence of the devil and created the Shugden practice to serve its own evil intentions. Not only is it wrong for an ordinary person to judge and insult a highly respected lama who has done much for Tibetan Buddhism, it is worse that a politician tries to influence the minds of young Tibetans on a contentious religious issue with blatant lies.
The CTA has always denied that they have imposed a religious ban on the Shugden practice because to admit so would mean they admit to an unlawful breach of human rights. Instead, they claim that the Dalai Lama has merely advised people against the practice. If that is true, and since the spiritual leader of the people has already given his opinion, why would the Speaker involve himself in trying to turn the minds of young Tibetans against a religious practice, especially since he is not a spiritual figure and does not have any spiritual authority to do so? Why did the Speaker not use this precious time and opportunity with the future generation of the Tibetan people to encourage them in their harmonious and democratic endeavours? Why did the Speaker instead abuse his power to tell lies and twist facts? Some of the lies are so base it is an insult to the intelligence of the young Tibetans.
For instance, Penpa Tsering claimed that Dorje Shugden “sogtae” (life entrustment) means giving one’s life to the spirit and that before Pabongka Rinpoche, there was no history of sogtae whatsoever. Either Penpa Tsering is totally ignorant of a subject that he was lecturing the Tibetan students on, or he meant to brainwash them with gross deception.
Dorje Shugden sogtae is a commitment rite for a practitioner to follow Je Tsongkapa’s teachings all the way till enlightenment and to trust Dorje Shugden as the principle protector until the practitioner gains Bodhicitta. Life entrustment rituals existed much earlier on before Pabongka Rinpoche’s time.
For example, in the 17th century, life entrustment rituals of the protector Dorje Barwa were conducted by the Fifth Dalai Lama. Similar life entrustment rituals for Nechung, an unenlightened spirit who is the Tibetan state’s protector, can be found in the collected works of Thuken Dharmavajra (1737-1802). There are many other such examples [See Note 1]. The Dalai Lama himself has given teachings on life entrustments of the ‘Five Great Kings’ (Nechung).
Therefore it is utterly dishonest for Penpa Tsering to distort facts on a spiritual matter that he should abstain from commenting on as a politician. But it does show the extent to which the CTA will go to trick the Tibetan people into supporting an unholy and illegal ban they are now desperate to defend.
The Speaker went on to say that with sogtae, the practitioner risks not taking a good rebirth and instead becomes a wandering spirit that moves around ‘Dolgyal’ Shugden. So how does Penpa Tsering explain the return of acclaimed Shugden masters like Pabongka Choktrul Rinpoche, Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche, Zemey Choktrul Rinpoche, Domo Geshe Rinpoche, Lama Osel (Lama Yeshe’s reincarnation), and many more? And for that matter, it would also mean that Lama Zopa would become a wandering spirit since he took Dorje Shugden sogtae from Trijang Rinpoche.
There are also many contradictions in Penpa Tsering’s statements. On the one hand, he referred to Pabongka Rinpoche as a great Lamrim master, so great that the 13th Dalai Lama would send Pabongka Rinpoche to teach the Lamrim instead of the Ganden Tripa (head of the Gelugpa lineage with perfect mastery of the Sutras and Tantras). On the other hand, Penpa Tsering accused Pabongka Rinpoche of being under the influence of the devil Shugden and doing the devil’s work. Why would a lama who is under the devil’s power spread great dharma teachings like the Lamrim which Pabongka Rinpoche was famous for? That Pabongka Rinpoche did so much to spread Je Tsongkapa’s teachings is proof that Dorje Shugden is not an evil spirit but the Protector of Tsongkapa’s teachings. Additionally, in insulting Pabongka Rinpoche in such a terrible way, Penpa Tsering was actually saying that the 13th Dalai Lama had no clairvoyance at all to detect a devil worshipper.
And to inflame the young listeners, the Speaker accused Pabongka Rinpoche of attempting to eradicate Nyingma teachings and even destroying statues of Guru Rinpoche and burning Nyingma monasteries. This statement by Penpa Tsering is malicious, dangerous and an outright lie and it is easily proven. When the regency of the 14th Dalai Lama was offered to Pabongka Rinpoche, he declined. Surely if Pabongka Rinpoche had intentions of destroying the Nyingma or any other traditions as Penpa Tsering claimed, then being the Regent would give him the political power to do so and yet Pabongka Rinpoche refused the opportunity. On the contrary Pabongkha Rinpoche regarded it as malpractice of Dharma even to disparage the teachings of other lineages, and wrote in the Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, Phabongkha wrote:
Abandoning Dharma is, in the final analysis, disparaging the Hinayana because of the Mahayana; favoring the Hinayana on account of the Mahayana; playing off sutra against tantra; playing off the four classes of the tantras against each other; favouring one of the Tibetan schools—the Sakya, Gelug, Kagyu, or Nyingma—and disparaging the rest; and so on. In other words, we abandon Dharma any time we favor our own tenets and disparage the rest.
Not only did Penpa Tsering fail to acknowledge the purity of Pabongka Rinpoche as a spiritual master, he instead poisoned the reputation of one of the greatest masters of Tibetan Buddhism.
Penpa Tsering did not limit his offense to Pabongka Rinpoche. In his speech, he also commented on masters of the Sakya lineage, the 9th Panchen Lama and also Trijang Rinpoche, unashamedly claiming that the present Trijang Rinpoche is living in miserable conditions due to his Dorje Shugden practice. It is shocking that Penpa Tsering did not see anything wrong in passing derogatory comments about the Guru of the present Dalai Lama, and it will be interesting to see if the Dalai Lama will censure the Speaker for such rudeness or whether the Dalai Lama will allow a precedent that ordinary people can insult high lamas without any recourse.
If the Dalai Lama has made an exception for Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche to continue in his worship of Dorje Shugden, then who is Penpa Tsering to comment on it? If there is any truth in the allegation that Dorje Shugden is a demonic force, it would also mean that the Dalai Lama has no compassion in letting the reincarnation of his holy Guru to continue in a practice that would be harmful to practitioners as the accusations go.
It is amazing that an ordinary man such as Penpa Tsering would not hesitate to pass judgement on so many great Tibetan masters. It shows that the Speaker places himself above all these high lamas even though he has no spiritual authority and obviously even less spiritual knowledge.
In the Speaker’s comments on the Sakya lineage, whether he intended it or not, Penpa Tsering actually let slip the CTA’s interference in religious matters and forcing their decisions on Sakya Gongma Rinpoche to abandon Dorje Shugden. The Speaker acknowledged that it was only in 1996 after a chitue meeting (Parliament meeting) that the Sakya lineage stopped their propitiation of Dorje Shugden. By right, such decisions would be made amongst the leadership of the Sakya lineage who have practiced Shugden for hundreds of years, and not suddenly after a parliament meeting. Clearly the Sakyas were forced just as the CTA has been forcing Gelugpa lamas to part with this ancient practice.
The Speaker in his speech did not hesitate to demote Dorje Shugden, a protector the Sakya clan regarded as Avalokisteshvara (Khri chen Drag shul ‘Phrin las rin chen. Rdo rje ‘chang drag shul ‘phrin las rin chen gyi rtogs brjod [The Autobiography of Khri-chen Drag-shul-phrin-las-rin-chen of Sakya). Dehra Dun: Sakya Centre: 1974, pp. 29-31] Note 2) to the lowest level protector. At least he did not accuse the highest lamas in the Sakya lineage to have worshipped the devil as he accused Pabongka Rinpoche of, although it is the same deity he was referring to. This is how much respect the CTA has for the feelings of not only the Gelugpa Shugdenpas but also for anyone who has been forced to give up their religious practice.
Penpa Tsering’s speech to the young Tibetans is clear proof:
- That the CTA has no respect for even the most distinguished high lamas and masters such that an ordinary man like Penpa Tsering feels no shame in defaming a highly attained and respected master like Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche;
- That the CTA does actively interfere in religious matters even though they have no authority over spiritual affairs other than to preserve and promote the rich Tibetan spiritual culture. In fact it would be even more accurate to say that the CTA manipulates religion for their own gain and does not hesitate to destroy the truth along the way. How are they better off than the Chinese they condemn?
- That the Dorje Shugden ban is not based on scriptural facts and evidence but on lies that the CTA manufacture and impose as justification, by force. Since 1996, the CTA and representatives of the Dalai Lama have insisted that they have done ‘extensive research’ and discovered Dorje Shugden to be a malicious demon. With the Tibetan people and the Gelugpa community worldwide divided, the CTA must now produce evidence of their so-called extensive research that over three centuries of Buddhist masters have missed. If indeed there is any proof of Dorje Shugden’s demonic nature, why don’t they produce it instead of defiling the good name of a high Gelugpa lama who entered clear light over half a century before the Shugden ban?;
- That prominent politicians within the CTA such as Sikyong Lobsang Sangay and now the Speaker Penpa Tsering would stoop so low as to tell blatant lies to young Tibetans, and destroy the authenticity of Tibetan history. If this is the top level of the leadership, what does it say about the rest of the CTA? What does it say about the Dalai Lama who endorsed them? How can anyone trust them?
- That the CTA is two-faced; they object to protests and accusations against the Dalai Lama on the basis that it is disrespectful and yet the CTA themselves engage in hurting the feelings of religious practitioners by insulting past and present high masters;
- That the CTA is a dishonest and disrespectful government who at first denied that they persecute Shugden monks and lay practitioners but is now openly antagonistic towards the practitioners not sparing even past masters who have entered clear light after doing so much for the Tibetan people.
How can this government be trusted to lead the Tibetan people into the future? Instead of focusing on efforts to re-establish cordial relations with China so that independent or autonomy discussions can proceed, instead of busying themselves on how to progress the well-being of the Tibetan people in exile, instead of cultivating harmony amongst the Tibetan people, the CTA and politicians like Penpa Tsering engage in deception of their own people and blatant acts of contempt for high lamas who have preserved the Buddha’s teachings and made it synonymous with the Tibetan people. And along the way completely distort facts and history.
How can people of the world respect the Tibetan community and the Tibetan Buddhist religion when they see leaders such as Penpa Tsering putting down lineage masters like Pabongka Rinpoche whose reputation has been held in high esteem until now when it is sullied by a morally and spiritually corrupt politician?
Penpa Tsering’s behaviour shows that the CTA is getting increasingly desperate as more and more truths about their human rights abuse surface. When at first they denied that a religious ban existed, they now resort to outright lies and more lies to cover their dishonesty. Penpa Tsering’s insolence towards some of the most beloved high lamas of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition has hurt many Tibetans and infuriated them, not to mention carrying the potential for an angry response by the public. It is only by the counsel of Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche that hurt feelings did not give rise to flared tempers and action by the community in general, regardless of which side of the Shugden issue they stand on.
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Updated 21 June 2014: Penpa Tsering on Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen
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Prior to delivering his inflammatory remarks about Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche and Kyabje Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche, and referring to Dorje Shugden as the devil, Tibetan Speaker of Parliament Penpa Tsering had already put his foot in his mouth with a series of lies about Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen delivered to the students of Upper TCV School.
Penpa Tsering began by casting aspirations on Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen, claiming that the high lama came to power through the manipulations of his mother and that he died of a disease as the result of the demon’s curse.
In fact, it was the 4th Panchen Lama Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen who by divination chose Lobsang Gyatso as the reincarnation of the 4th Dalai Lama. The was the same Panchen Lama who recognized Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen as the unmistaken incarnation of his predecessor, Ngawang Sonam Geleg Pelzangpo.
The Panchen Lama even wrote a prayer listing Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen’s previous incarnations as including Bodhisattva Manjushri, Mahasiddha Birupa, Sakya Pandita, Buton Rinchen Drub, Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen, and Panchen Sonam Dragpa. The same line of predecessors of Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen have also been confirmed by no less than Kyabje Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche.
Once again, Penpa Tsering clearly presumes to know better than the esteemed Pabongka Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche, and even dares to naysay the 4th Panchen Lama, who was the teacher of both the Fifth Dalai Lama as well as Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen.
If Penpa Tsering is correct that Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen came to power by the craftiness of his mother, then the 4th Panchen Lama in fact had no clairvoyance whatsoever. That would also mean that the Panchen Lama’s selection of the Fifth Dalai Lama must be called into question.
How can the same Panchen Lama who had the omniscience to select a candidate who arose to become The Great Fifth Dalai Lama be so easily outwitted when it came to his other student, Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen? But that is what Penpa Tsering, whose statement claims a higher wisdom than the Panchen Lama, Kyabje Pabongkha Rinpoche and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, wanted the young Tibetan students of Upper TCV to believe. And if that is not outrageous enough, Penpa Tsering insisted that Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen, who was of the same mind continuum as Manjushri, was possessed by an evil spirit and died as the result of that. By Penpa Tsering’s definition, not even enlightened beings are safe from demon possessions and in that way, he challenged everything the Buddha himself taught.
In an environment that is already highly sensitive and on an issue that has divided the Tibetan people, any good leader would do what is necessary to calm emotions. However, Penpa Tsering clearly feels it is more important to push forward the views of the CTA at all costs, regardless of the consequences to the Tibetan society at large. Even schoolchildren are not to be spared in the CTA’s efforts to justify their actions in enforcing the Dorje Shugden ban.
- By the 19th century, life entrustments can be found in some Gelug masters’ collected works. In the collected works of Changlung Pandita (1770-1845), one finds a life entrustment to the Five Warriors connected with the Hayagriva Most Secret Form (rta mgrin yang gsang). The collected works of Gendun Dargye has a life entrustment ritual for Setrabchen per the instructions of his teacher Gomang Tenpa Choepel (1840-1907/1908). Life entrustment rituals for various protectors can be found in the collected works of Rongchen Kirti Lobsang Trinley (1849-1904), including Setrabchen and Dorje Shugden. In addition, there existed a different life entrustment for Dorje Shugden written down by Rinchen Wangyal (1741-1812) of Sera Monastery.
- “So when we consider the relationship of the Sakya Tradition to the Practice of Dorje Shugden we see that, contrary to the claims of some present-day Sakya Lamas, for more than three hundred years Dorje Shugden has been viewed in Sakya as an Enlightened protector. Not among the provincial practitioners or those without education, but by the Throneholders of the lineage, and the holders of the Sakya’s most precious Tantric transmissions, Lamdre Lineage holders like Morchen Dorjechang who wrote praises to Dorje Shugden as an enlightened being”. [Source: http://truthaboutshugden.wordpress.com/2010/03/08/a-sakya-tale-part-three-dorje-shugden-the-great-compassionate-one/]