How a leading Dalai Lama supporter and Buddhist scholar begged for Dorje Shugden’s initiation.
Anyone interested in the subjects of Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama will know of Robert Thurman, a self-professed “personal friend” of the Dalai Lama and prolific writer about the Dalai Lama and his teachings.
In light of the Dorje Shugden issue over the last decade or so, Robert Thurman has remained significantly quiet on the subject, refusing to answer any open letters to him nor engage in debate. He is even known to have launched accusations against Dorje Shugden practitioners, calling them Chinese spies. He seems to be very stoically on the side of the Dalai Lama, and not at all empathetic to the plight of Shugden practitioners suffering under the ban.
Now, we learn that in fact, Thurman was known to have “begged” very prominent high Lamas for Dorje Shugden initiation.
In his paper, “Dalai Lama Dorje Shugden”*, respected translator Helmut Gassner – who worked very closely with the Dalai Lama as his translator for many years – recalls,
For his part, Robert Thurman thought it appropriate to portray for Newsweek magazine a murderous Dorje Shugden cult describing it as “the Taliban of Buddhism.” Yet Robert Thurman, presumably before he begot Uma, had been one of the first Western monks with Buddhist vows and had tried twice to obtain Dorje Shugden initiation from revered masters well before the controversy began. Both masters, however, had refused on grounds of his fickle character. Thurman should know quite well what Dorje Shugden actually is about.
(It is interesting to note also that Robert Thurman was one of the first Westerners to have been ordained as a monk in the Tibetan tradition. However, he was also among the first to disrobe, returning his vows only 2 years after taking them. Fickle? It certainly seems so.)
An online commentator and former supporter of the Dalai Lama who goes by the moniker “Thomas Canada” further confirms that these Lamas who denied Thurman the initiation were the renowned Dromo Geshe Rinpoche and Gelek Rinpoche. He writes,
Gelek told me […] that Thurman even begged him, and it was no. For however that is decided. [Dr. Ursula Bernis] (personal attendant to Dromo Geshe Rinpoche) told me Dromo Geshe Rinpoche denied Bob several times. [She told me] that Bob used to push and connive for the Empowerment and he was always denied. Dromo Geshe said, Bob crawled across his floor begging and crying for it and he told him no way.”
Interestingly, it wasn’t that these lamas had denied everyone the initiation. Thomas Canada himself reveals that he had received the initiation, along with other prominent personalities at the time, such as poet Alan Ginsberg. Also, these lamas did have close connections with Thurman; they were not just lamas that he met in passing.
For example. Dromo Geshe Rinpoche founded the New York and New Delhi Tibet House and Thurman is very much involved in running the New York branch. So their decision not to have given him the initiation cannot have been an arbitrary one, but one they made in full knowledge of how Thurman is or how he would maintain the practice.
Observing the way he now behaves towards Dorje Shugden practitioners, it is clear why the lamas had refused him the initiation “on grounds of his fickle character”. Would he have done even more harm if he had been given the initiation? Perhaps. And if he did, he would have damaged both his own spiritual path and the faith of the many thousands who read his books and follow his writings.
The information in this article was extracted from the blog http://robertthurman.wordpress.com For more interesting reads on the subject, please visit the blog directly.