16 April 2008
“Religious prosecution”, “Human rights violation”, “Demand religious freedom”. If you heard these words from a Tibetan in exile, you would think they’re talking about the P.R.C. Can you imagine that they may be referring to the Tibetan government in exile?
In December of 1996, a protest was held in India against a newly issued ban of worshipping “Dorje Shugden” (a.k.a Dholgyal), a respected religious deity Tibetans have worshiped for the last 300 years. The ban was issued by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. He regarded the worshipping of such a deity harmed the Tibetan cause and his personal health. Anonymous threats were issued out against anyone who disobeyed his directive. The Assembly of Tibetan people’s Deputies also officially instructed the Shugden worshipper to make an “independent” decision after they had listened to the teaching of His Holiness and cleared the doubts in their minds (Jun. 1996).
Statues of Dorje Shugden were removed from temples and destroyed. A forced signature event was also held to make people promise to stop Shugden worship. Those who refused to sign lived their lives in great fear. Their names and addresses and their children’s names and schools were posted in public. People threw stones at their houses. Sometimes their houses got burned. They were treated as outcasts in their communities. Swiss public TV filmed a documentary about the Shugden conflict in 1998.
An old Lama interviewed who expressed his discontent over the ban was later attacked by a knife and barely survived. The response from the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile was denial. “Some people have been spreading lies that individuals were harassed and their objects of worship seized for propitiating Shugden, and that government officials were expelled from job, etc. Not a single of these allegations were found to be true”. When the Dalai Lama was asked about the violence during an interview by Swiss public TV, he insisted that those incidents did not happen, even after the interviewer told him that he had seen it with his own eyes.
In the Tibetan in exile community in India, it’s against the law to object to the Dalai Lama’s teachings and decisions. And it’s been repeatedly told that practicing Shugden worship would endanger His Holiness’s life. Some Shugden activists were declared murderers and had to go into exile again. The exiled Shugden activists often found support in the West. They have also established their own organization to demand their right of religious freedom. The Tibetan government in exile declared that those organizations are funded and supported by the Chinese authorities.
The Tibetan government in exile insisted that they didn’t violate religious freedom, since religious freedom does not include the freedom of choosing which deity to worship.
On Feb 13 2008, Tibetan Government in exile tried to resolve the conflict once and for all with a vote, which was taken in 14 monasteries of Gelug establishments. Those who did not want to share spiritual and material relations with Dorje Shugden followers would pick the yellow colored vote-stick. Those who wished to continue Dholgyal worship and who wanted to share spiritual and material relations with them would pick the red colored vote-stick. Coincidently, yellow is the color of Tibetan Lamaism (yellow hat religion) and red is usually regarded as the color for the communist China.
Ironically, when the Dalai Lama fled China in 1959, it was Dorje Shugden’s oracle that told him to escape to India. The specific escape routes were also told by the oracle. Along the routes chosen by Dorje Shugden, the U.S. military and CIA dropped numerous supplies, otherwise he and his body guards could not survive. Some of his bodyguards were confused later when they learned Dorje Shugden was declared a demon and was trying to harm the Dalai Lama’s life.
The Tibetan government has been led by the Dalai Lama since 1963. The deputies can be elected but the Dalai Lama is forever the highest government official. Not a single bill has been passed against the Dalai Lama and, according to an interviewed official, never will be. Moreover, the passed billed has to be approved by the Dalai Lama before it is effective. It is unimaginable how the Dalai Lama and his government has brought the Shugden conflict from a small Indian village of 110,000 Tibetans, to a 2.4million square kilometers land of 6 million Tibetans.
Please note that this article was written in 2008, prior to the retirement of His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the political head of Tibet in 2011. With this apparent giving up of political and secular power by His Holiness, we are waiting to see whether this change of power is for real or superficial, and this would be most evident in how the new administration treats Shugden practitioners. We hope that Dr Lobsang Sangay, the new head of the Central Tibetan Administration, previously known as the Tibetan government in exile, will lift all discrimination against Shugden practitioners.