A Critique of ‘Why the Dalai Lama Matters’ by Robert Thurman

Part One

Extracted from from the Wisdom Buddha Dorje Shugden Blog

Robert Thurman is the Je Tsongkhapa Professor of Buddhism at Columbia University, New York. He is also a close friend of the Dalai Lama and his chief advocate in the West.

This year (2008) he has written a book: ‘Why the Dalai Lama Matters’. Its purpose seems to be to praise the Dalai Lama and to propose how the People’s Republic of China could benefit by making friends with the Dalai Lama and establishing an autonomous Tibet to which the Dalai Lama could return. Thurman suggests that the Tibetan plateau could be designated as a ‘Zone of Peace’, a giant environmental preserve.

The rather sycophantic book is clearly intended to improve the popularity of the Dalai Lama and support him in his stated political goal of gaining autonomy for Tibet.

The purpose of this critique is to exhibit how the Dalai Lama is quite a different man to the one depicted by Thurman, by examining the Dalai Lama’s actions of the past thirty years in relation to both the Karmapa and the Dorje Shugden issues. It will hopefully raise questions as to whether the Dalai Lama is as trustworthy as Robert Thurman would have it appear; and also show that Thurman’s depiction is so out of touch with reality that his views are not to be trusted either.

The reason for this critique is to call Thurman and the Dalai Lama into question so as to reduce the power of their speech. Why? Because both men are adept at poisoning Dharma with politics and have sadly used their considerable reputations to cause harm to pure spiritual practitioners and the Buddhadharma over the past thirty years. This has to be stopped — already their sectarianism and politicking has caused much damage in the Buddhist community.

This critique is not motivated by Chinese or Tibetan politics, nor concerned with Thurman’s proposal for an autonomous Tibet. We wish only to show the discrepancy between the characters of the two men (as presented in the book) and their actions. We do not intend to harm anyone by doing this. Our motivation is to disclose various facts and inconsistencies so that people can see themselves if they are being deceived by Thurman or the Dalai Lama. The worst deception is one that is given in the guise of spiritual teaching that causes others to go in the wrong spiritual direction. This is something that both these men are guilty of.

For the purposes of this critique, only the first three chapters that comprise Part 1: Who is the Dalai Lama and why is he key? will be examined. The rest of the book is Thurman’s political solution and of no interest from a religious point of view.

Introduction of the book

The book starts with a sweeping generalization:

Everyone tends to like the Dalai Lama, even when they don’t think they will.

Not everyone tends to like the Dalai Lama. This sentence alone reveals how out of touch this book is. Even Buddha had to deal with people who didn’t like him. Does Thurman think that the Chinese leadership likes the Dalai Lama? If they liked or even trusted him, he would be back in Tibet by now. In some ways, the Chinese have been quite shrewd judges of character when it comes to not trusting the Dalai Lama because, as will be shown, he is a consummate wily politician — adept at saying one thing and doing another.

From the Mongoose-Canine letter, this is what at least one Tibetan thinks of the Dalai Lama:

In your words you always say that you want to be Gandhi but in your action you are like a religious fundamentalist who uses religious faith for political purposes. Your image is the Dalai Lama, your mouth is Mahatma Gandhi and your heart is like that of a religious dictator. You are a deceiver and it is very sad that on top of the suffering that they already have the Tibetan people have a leader like you.

Not everyone tends to like the Dalai Lama, even when they think they will or they should – interviews of the audience after his public teachings have shown that people of course have differing opinions of him, and that some of these are surprisingly unfavourable (one of the most common being “he doesn’t seem sincere”). Although in general the Dalai Lama is a media darling, he has also received criticism from journalists and writers over the years because of seemingly commercially motivated actions, such as advertising Apple Computers, guest editing Vogue Magazine, wearing Gucci shoes or staying in very expensive hotels, that are not in keeping with the spiritual leader image that people expect. Whether these opinions of him are valid or not, it is a fact that he is not universally admired or liked. No one is.

Thurman also writes (pages x -xi):

The Dalai Lama’s wish and vision for humanity are absolutely right and reliable, realistic and not far-fetched, helpful and not harmful. And he has been living his act of truth for the last sixty years, as you’ll see throughout this book. I present to you his exemplary act of truth and the implications of his wise words as the key to solving the problems of China and Tibet and, indeed, flowing away from the planetary crisis into which we are plunging headlong.

The Dalai Lama’s vision for humanity as expressed in his public teachings is indeed right and reliable because it comes from the holy masters of the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism and ultimately from Buddha himself. However, the Dalai Lama does not ‘walk the talk’. He has been using the Buddhist teachings of his root Guru Trijang Rinpoche to bolster his own reputation worldwide. Through these teachings he has managed to gather a circle of followers and maintain power and status as a political and spiritual leader. Given that the teachings themselves are so effective, anyone in his powerful position, with a little charisma, could have become as popular.

Thurman claims “he has been living his act of truth for the last sixty years…I present to you his exemplary act of truth”; and the subtitle of the book is ‘His act of truth as the solution for China, Tibet and the world’. According to one plausible sequence of events, the Dalai Lama’s ‘career’ began with deceit, not with truth, although this deceit was not his own fault. The Reting Rinpoche, regent of Tibet, caused a false boy to be chosen as Dalai Lama over the true candidate, who was the son of a rival. Tibetan history has always been full of such intrigues and misuse of the Tulku (reincarnate Lama) system.

What is this ‘act of truth’ that is so important to Thurman? He says:

The act of truth is an ancient Indian concept refering to an action of a person of great integrity who confronts seemingly overwhelming power and yet, without violence, stands on the truth and justice of her or his intention and real situation; the impossible becomes possible…Inspired by these ancient and modern sources, the Dalai Lama has always said that against the great might of China, Tibet’s only weapon is the truth.

The problem is that the Dalai Lama is not a person of great integrity as Thurman claims. One of the Western Shugden Society’s slogans at demonstrations against the Dalai Lama’s ban of Dorje Shugden practice is “Dalai Lama, stop lying!” This can seem surprising to some when they first hear it, but becomes clearer when you tot up the number of things the Dalai Lama has lied about in relation to this controversy. For example, he says:

  • There is no ban on Dorje Shugden practice (when speeches prove that he himself introduced it)
  • Dorje Shugden is a harmful spirit.
  • His Teachers were ‘wrong’ to worship Dorje Shugden
  • Dorje Shugden harms his health and the cause of Tibetan independence
  • Shugden practitioners are murderers, terrorists and arsonists
  • Shugden practitioners are Chinese agents
  • The oracle for the Deity Nechung was responsible for his safe escape from Tibet (when in fact it was the oracle of the Deity Dorje Shugden, whose practice he has banned)

Proof that these are lies will be given later. Suffice it to say that the Dalai Lama is not a person of integrity but has been shown to act out of political expediency in order to maintain his own power and influence over Tibet and the Tibetan people. Although he claims to want to introduce democracy in ruling the Tibetan people, he has made little effort to do so and still behaves like an autocrat.

The Tibetan Government in Exile is still a theocracy controlled by him. From the news report by Al Jeezera:

The decision to ban the worship of Shugden was taken here in Dharamsala. Since 1960 there are 46 MPs working here to decide the affairs of Tibet and the refugees living here. This is the heart of Tibetan democracy.

Reporter: “Did you debate about Shugden in parliament?”

(Tsultrim Tenzin, parliament member): “There was no argument. There was no argument. If there is some opposition then there will be argument. But there is no opposition. We do not have any doubt about Dalai Lama’s decisions. We do not think he is a human being. He’s a supreme human being and he is god. He’s Avalokiteshvara. He has no interest of himself. He always thinks of others. Everybody is happy. In our system everybody is happy because there is full democracy. Everybody can express whatever he likes.”

There is no argument because everyone does what the Dalai Lama says.

Since the Dalai Lama lacks integrity, what ‘act of truth’ is he performing? This is another romantic fiction of Thurman’s. Can Thurman really not see the political machinations of the Dalai Lama and his ‘government’? These are clear to see, even for those with limited experience of the Dalai Lama, but Thurman claims to have known him for forty years! He is liberal with his praise:

He is a Prince of Peace and Philosopher King of Tibet, by which I mean that he walks successfully in the path of loving meekness so powerfully pointed out and exemplified by Jesus, while also fulfilling the ideals of Plato in action. He is the champion of the Buddha’s wisdom, deep, vast and exquisite for his carry one Shakyamuni’s scientific teaching of the ultimate freedom of voidness, his religious teaching of the vast art of compassionate action, and his psychological teaching of the power of beauty to liberate. The Dalai Lama calls himself a simple Shakya monk but he is also Shakyamuni’s devoted heir. He reaches out to all humans, nonreligious as well as followers of every kind of religion, as upholder of the common human religion of kindness, embracing all, regardless of belief system, in the church of life in the rite of human kindness… (pages xiii-xiv)

And so it goes for several more paragraphs. If such statements were made about other Teachers, they would cause raised eyebrows. If the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) students ever said anything remotely like this about Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, they would be accused of being brainwashed and cultish – they already have been accused of this by the Dalai Lama’s followers for far, far less. It is clear that Thurman is going completely over the top in his rose-tinted view of the Dalai Lama’s qualities.

What Thurman writes is not only the worse kind of purple prose, like a bad English school essay, but it is not true. Let’s examine some of these extravagant claims and provide evidence to the contrary:

He is a Prince of Peace…

The Dalai Lama’s divisive ban of Dorje Shugden has not brought peace to the Buddhist community but fractured it beyond repair. Look at the segregation wall at Ganden monastery as an example.

Quote from a transcript of a news report by Al Jeezera on the Dorje Shugden issue:

On the streets of the Tibetan refugee camp of Bylakuppe in southern India, Delek
Tong, a Shugden worshipping Buddhist monk, is no longer welcome.

(Delek Tong) “Look at this, it says: ‘No Shugden worshippers allowed.’”

(Delek Tong) “Hi, I worship Shugden, can I come in?”

(Shopkeeper) “No, I am sorry, I don’t want you or any Shugdens in my shop.”

Another point: Why was the ‘Prince of Peace’ on the CIA’s payroll in the 1960s, receiving $180,000 per year?

Philosopher King of Tibet…He is the champion of the Buddha’s wisdom

If the Dalai Lama is such a great philosopher, why can he not use logic and reasoning to justify and debate the ban of Dorje Shugden? Rather, he claims irrationally that Dorje Shugden harms his health and the cause of Tibetan independence, based on no logic whatsoever.

he walks successfully in the path of loving meekness so powerfully pointed out and exemplified by Jesus…

Hmmm. ‘Meekness’ is a curiously Biblical word – will Thurman be claiming that the Dalai Lama is the Son of God next? Perhaps Thurman is another John the Baptist, proclaiming the arrival of the saviour of the world? Meekness is defined as ‘the feeling of patient, submissive humbleness’. Is the Dalai Lama humble? Is the Dalai Lama patient? Read some of his spiritual demands and decide for yourself:

‘You might feel that by publishing letters, pamphlets, etc. against this ban, the Dalai Lama will revoke the ban. This will never be the case. If you take a hard stand, I will tighten this ban still further.’ – on the Dorje Shugden ban, 1996

‘There will be no change in my stand. I will never revoke the ban. You are right. It will be like the Cultural Revolution. If they (those who do not accept the ban) do not listen to my words, the situation will grow worse for them. You sit and watch. It will grow only worse for them.’ – on the Dorje Shugden ban, 1999

From Time magazine’s article this year, ‘The Dalai Lama’s Buddhist Foes’:

In transcripts that Shugdenpas allege record the Dalai Lama’s comments, he sounds atypically (to the Western ear) authoritarian. “Shugden devotees are growing in your monastery,” he is quoted as snapping at one abbot. “If you are this inept, you had better resign.”

He reaches out to all humans, nonreligious as well as followers of every kind of religion, as upholder of the common human religion of kindness, embracing all, regardless of belief system, in the church of life in the rite of human kindness…..

The Dalai Lama does not reach out to everyone. Why has he banned Dorje Shugden practitioners from attending his teachings? Non-Buddhists are welcome but Buddhists are not! If the Dalai Lama is kind, why has his government, under his control, legislated against Dorje Shugden practitioners so that they cannot enter shops, go to hospitals, receive travel visas or live safely in their communities? The Dalai Lama has made Tibetans promise not to have anything to do with Shugden practitioners. They are cast out and ostracized by their own communities. From the news report by Al Jeezera:

(Shopkeeper) “I have taken an oath and I won’t have anything to do with the Shugden people who are doing bad things for the Tibetan cause. I won’t do anything he says. But he is telling the truth. I’m not a person who just blindly believes someone. I believe someone who is telling the truth. Here Dalai Lama always tells the truth.”

Shugden practitioners are not doing anything bad for the Tibetan cause, it’s just that the Dalai Lama has told his people that they have. He has lied and destroyed their reputation, whipping up resentment for his political purposes. Is this the ‘common religion of human kindness’ that Thurman thinks the Dalai Lama exemplifies?

As for (Buddha’s) psychological teaching of the power of beauty to liberate – what does this mean? Wisdom liberates, not beauty. Does Thurman even understand basic Buddhist teachings? He’s not making any sense!

These few examples serve to show the discrepancy between who the Dalai Lama is, what he is doing in terms of causing suffering and problems to Buddhists worldwide, and Thurman’s view of him.

Thurman’s blindness to the Dalai Lama’s faults and his exaggeration of the imagined good qualities he does not possess makes this present book a work of fiction and thus irrelevant. When the purple prose is analysed for facts, there are not many of them, and Thurman appears naïve and gullible.


Part 2

Chapter 1: Who is the Dalai Lama?

Here Thurman continues the work of expounding on the Dalai Lama’s good qualities. As this chapter proceeds, superlative is piled upon superlative. It is like being at a banquet where one rich course after another is served, but each new course is received with less and less enthusiasm until it’s not possible to eat another morsel.

At a certain point, you become aware that you’re had your fill and are feeling a little nauseous. Is any living being on the planet truly worthy of such transcendent praise? Especially a politician?!

Thurman begins:

In the forty-three years that I have known the Great Fourteenth Dalai Lama, he has never failed to impress me with his sincerity, his compassion, and his commitment to purpose…

…The Dalai Lama is a giant of spiritual development – a living exemplar of the best qualities of a Buddhist monk, an inspired practitioner and teacher of the ethical, religious and philosophical paths of the bodhisattva, a Sanskrit term suggesting a cross between a wise saint and a compassionate messiah. He is believed to be a conscious reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of universal compassion. (page 3)

Let’s critically examine Thurman’s claims. We can all agree that the Dalai Lama has commitment to purpose. For example, he is very committed to destroying the spiritual tradition of his root Guru, Trijang Rinpoche. From the Dalai Lama’s speech on the Al Jeezera News Report:

“Recently monasteries have fearlessly expelled Shugden monks where needed. I fully support their actions. I praise them. If monasteries find taking action hard, tell them Dalai Lama is responsible for this.”

From a talk in Caux, Switzerland in July 1996:

“Until now you have a very good job on this issue. Hereafter also, continue this policy in a clever way. We should do it in such a way to ensure that in future generations not even the name of Dhogyal (Dorje Shugden) is remembered”

The Dalai Lama has single pointedly pursued the persecution of Dorje Shugden practitioners, banning the practice at home while lying to the Western media abroad:

“So then it is my duty or moral responsibility to make clear, but whether listen or not, up to them. So some people criticise me, I banned that sort of spirit worship, that is not true…” (From an interview in Nottingham, UK, May 2008)

More calumnies from the Dalai Lama: (Al Jazeera news report)

“Shugden followers have resorted to killing and beating people. They start fires. And tell endless lies. This is how the Shugden believe. It is not good.”

Where is the evidence of the violence and arson? The only violence for which monks have been sent to jail is the bombing a Shugden practitioner’s residence by Dalai Lama followers. Who is telling endless lies? The Dalai Lama has told hundreds of lies over the years to justify his persecution and ostracism of Shugden practitioners. Can a liar exemplify the best quality of a Buddhist monk? Do the Dalai Lama’s lies qualify him as a Teacher of Buddhist ethics? Do they make him worthy of Thurman’s extravagant praise?

Strangely for a Buddhist scholar, Thurman reverts to biblical language to express his emotions, and in doing so sounds like he is gearing people up to believe in the Second Coming! He really does seem to see the Dalai Lama as a messiah or saviour of the world, even though this is not a Buddhist understanding of what a Bodhisattva is (that is, a person striving for enlightenment motivated by compassion for all living beings.)

As to the claim of being the bodhisattva or Buddha of universal compassion, let’s hear from some of the victims of the Dalai Lama:

“If he is really Buddha, if he’s really God, he would not create so much problem. He won’t give us so much trouble. If he is the Buddha, he would not give any problem to any human being.”

“Dalai Lama is being unfair and selfish. He is doing his own wish.”
(Al Jazeera report)

From the same report:

(Reporter:) No Shugden worshipper has ever been charged or investigated for terrorism and yet the monks that continue to worship Shugden remain victims of name and shame.

(Shugden monk:) “What the posters say is that we are related to the Chinese government. We don’t have anything to do with China. There is no proof, yet many people are harassing us and threatening us.”

(Reporter:) Fearing for their lives, these Shugden monks are now living in hiding in a monastery in southern India where they sought refuge after being told they must leave their monastery.

And from a recent report by popular French documentary channel, France 2, quoting one of the Dalai Lama’s faithful, old bodyguards:

(Lobsang Yeshe:) The Dalai Lama, I don’t want to hear about him any more. He is no longer the Buddha of Compassion. He is a traitor. The Dalai Lama has commited the gravest crime. He has divided all the Tibetans. He is against our deity, Dorje Shugden. He has forbidden us from venerating him. Because of him, I had a heart attack. Today, I am a broken man.

The Dalai Lama’s persecution of Shugden practitioners is the source of these sufferings. For all the sweet words plucked from his Guru’s teachings, he displays no compassion whatsoever for his enemies, who were his erstwhile closest friends and supporters — the practitioners of Dorje Shugden. In this respect at least, he is acting like an ordinary, deluded person, not an exemplar of the holy qualities of a Buddha or a bodhisattva.

Wake up, Robert Thurman. You look complicit or at least foolish writing a book of such high praise to someone who is now being publicly revealed as persecuting others like this. It is only a matter of time before everyone knows what the Dalai Lama has been up to in his own backyard, and then how will you defend your words?

The next section is ‘Personal Encounters’ — a misty-eyed trip down Memory Lane in which Thurman recounts his meetings with the Dalai Lama. What he seems to be describing is how he gradually came under the Dalai Lama’s power. He recounts firstly how he ordained and then abandoned his ordination for a worldly life:

“…I had firmly expressed my lifetime determination only later to change my mind” (page 7)

and later:

“I spent the next eight years in the sword dance of overachievement required to get tenure as a college professor” (page 8 )

Thurman abandoned his meaningful spiritual life as a monk within just a couple of years to seek the position of a college professor. Yet his ordination as the first Western monk ordained by the Dalai Lama is still heralded as a credential in all his biographies and profiles, despite it being totally undermined by the fact that he was also one of the first Western monks to disrobe!

Thurman openly admits that he felt the Dalai Lama was strongly disappointed with him for disrobing. However, in some ways it is not Thurman’s fault because the Dalai Lama does not seem anyway to have much respect for Westerners who practice Dharma. Certainly, the liberal and seemingly open-minded speeches to Westerners abroad are at stark variance in tone and content to the authoritarian speeches to his Tibetan faithful at home. From a talk in Caux, Switzerland in 1996 by the Dalai Lama:

…As for foreigners, it makes no difference to us if they walk with their feet up and their head down. We have taught Dharma to them, not they to us…

Moreover, the Dalai Lama has said that it is only in getting Tibet back that Dharma can really flourish again – in other words, Westerners are not capable of carrying on Buddhist traditions without Tibetans. This belief is also plain to see from the hierarchy of Western Buddhist Centers under the Dalai Lama’s patronage, where Tibetan teachers always come first.

In reading this section, it becomes clear that Thurman became more and more enamored with the Dalai Lama, falling under his charismatic power. First he had a dream of the Dalai Lama as a giant Kalachakra Buddha towering over the Waldorf Astoria where he was staying during a visit to New York (the Dalai Lama doesn’t stay in modest accommodation) and then he says:

During that trip and the following year, I couldn’t get over the rich power of his charismatic energy. He had always had charisma of office; now he had ten times more charisma of person. (page 9)

In a Newsweek article in 1998, Thurman vilified Dorje Shugden practitioners as a cult:

“Shugden appeals to crazies by offering instant gratification,” says Thurman. “Once you get involved, 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.

He did not back these wild statements up with any evidence or examples. No one who practices Dorje Shugden recognizes what he is talking about.

Here, by leaving reason and truth outside the door in a desperate attempt to defend the Dalai Lama in the national press, Thurman appears to be the one who has been brainwashed. He has fallen under a spell that makes him feel he can describe holy beings and sincere Buddhist practitioners of the past 400 years, including the Dalai Lama’s own teachers, as “crazies” – with no seeming fear of censure. He has devoted his life to the Dalai Lama, to fulfilling his wish to exert power and control over Tibet once again; and his entire career is bound up with the Dalai Lama. Therefore, he must defend him at all costs, even if it means telling lies to the public. The whole purpose for writing this book is to serve the Dalai Lama and to accomplish his goals. Who has been swept up by the charisma, who is behaving like someone in a cult?

Thurman praises the Dalai Lama’s talks on various topics:

Especially since around the time he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, his general talks – on kindness, the common human religion; on non-violence, even disarmament; on science, focusing on the ecology of the environment; and on comparative religion, focusing on Buddhist-Christian dialogue in particular – have gotten better and better, more moving, lucid and powerful in understanding and passion (page 10)

Actions speak louder than words. The Dalai Lama is full of words, but his actions speak differently. Talk of kindness is cheap – one has to act kindly to make a difference.

The great Indian Buddhist teacher Nagarjuna says that spiritual practitioners are like mangoes – some are ripe on the outside but unripe on the inside, some are unripe on the outside and ripe on the inside, some are both ripe on the outside and ripe on the inside, and others are unripe on the outside and unripe on the inside. Based on his divisive and harmful actions, the Dalai Lama is clearly very ripe on the outside but unripe on the inside. Like many politicians, he’s good at saying one thing and doing the opposite. He knows the effect he is looking for and how to achieve it with his speech.

The next section is entitled ‘The living embodiment of the Buddha’ in which, amazingly, Thurman argues that the Dalai Lama has grown so close to Shakyamuni Buddha that they are indistinguishable.

This is a clear case of double standards. Bob Thurman and other Dalai Lama devotees think nothing of praising him to the high heavens because they know that no one will lift an eyebrow, yet the phrase “third Buddha”, used precisely once about Geshe Kelsang 15 years ago, is quoted again and again by the Dalai Lama’s supporters to prove that Geshe Kelsang’s disciples are cultishly enslaved by him.

Later on in the book is a picture by the artist Alex Grey, depicting the Dalai Lama as Avalokiteshvara. What if someone painted a similar picture of Geshe Kelsang as Buddha? NKT would never hear the end of the accusations of being a cult, brainwashed by a charismatic leader. What hypocrisy!

In the next section, ‘What the Dalai Lama Represents Today’, Thurman begins:

It is not merely that the Dalai Lama represents Buddhism. He is much more than a nominal leader of an organization. (page 11)

The Dalai Lama does not represent Buddhism for everybody. He is a political leader who has received a religious education and who happens to be a monk. He may be regarded as the leader of Tibetan Buddhism but in reality he cannot speak for any of the individual schools of Tibetan Buddhism because he is not the head of any school of Tibetan Buddhism, let alone any other Buddhist tradition in the world. The Dalai Lama is, in fact, the nominal leader of the Tibetan Government in Exile, nothing more. That is really as far as his authority goes; his spiritual authority is self-assumed.

Usually Dharma Teachers are appointed by senior Teachers in their tradition. Who appointed the Dalai Lama and gave him spiritual authority? Who gave him permission to give Buddha’s teachings throughout the world?

It is precisely the use of the Dalai Lama’s self-assumed spiritual authority to interfere with the individual schools of Tibetan Buddhism that is the root of both the Karmapa and Dorje Shugden controversies. In 2001, the International Karma Kagyu Organization wrote an open letter to the Dalai Lama completely rejecting his interference in the matters of the Kagyu tradition:

Up until Your Holiness’ interference in 1992, no other Dalai Lama has ever played a role in the recognition of a genuine Karmapa. As Your Holiness well knows, the Karmapa incarnations precede the Dalai Lama line by over three hundred years. There is no historical precedent for Your Holiness’ current involvement.

It doesn’t matter that Thurman views the Dalai Lama as being Buddha Shakyamuni — the Dalai Lama has no authority to interfere in the spiritual matters of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama has similarly interfered with the Gelugpa school, but he has no authority to brand Dorje Shugden practice as ‘a cult’ and ‘spirit worship’, and he certainly has no authority to pass a law to ban the practice. The Dalai Lama’s ban is unlawful and immoral. There is currently a case against the Dalai Lama in the High Court in Delhi for his breach of the Indian law of Deity discrimination, which will be heard in November 2008.

Thurman concludes:

What is the Dalai Lama? I have come to see him as a living Prince of Peace, a teacher of intelligence, an inspirer of goodness of heart, a reincarnation of the Buddha of universal compassion. He comes to join us in our world today, offering us hope in our stressed-out lives and calling upon us to take up our own wild joy of universal responsibility.

The Dalai Lama does not offer hope to Dorje Shugden practitioners, he just makes them more stressed-out:

‘There will be no change in my stand. I will never revoke the ban. You are right. It will be like the Cultural Revolution. If they (those who do not accept the ban) do not listen to my words, the situation will grow worse for them. You sit and watch. It will grow only worse for them.’ (January 1999)

If the Dalai Lama really was as pure as Thurman has portrayed him, by practising the love, compassion, tolerance and religious freedom that he espouses, there would be no problems: no Karmapa controversy, no Dorje Shugden issue, no Western Shugden Society and no demonstrations. Buddhists of all traditions could continue their practice in peace and harmony with all other Buddhists.

However, all the problems that the Dalai Lama blames on Dorje Shugden are of his own making, principally because he’s acting as a politican and not practicing what he preaches. It’s about time he started to act responsibly and put Buddha’s teachings into practice if he really wants to solve everyone’s problems.

Later on, more hyperbole:

The Dalai Lama has been called a “Buddhist Pope”, a “bodhisattva” a “head of state” in exile, and so on. Each of these is incomplete but has a grain of truth. He describes himself as a “simple Buddhist monk”, though he is not aware of the other dimensions of his being. (page 13)

Maybe the Dalai Lama has been called a “Buddhist Pope”, but only by those who do not understand Buddhism. There is no supreme head of Buddhism like there is a supreme head of the Catholic Church. There are some who believe that the Dalai Lama does have ambitions in this direction. We can certainly say that the Dalai Lama is the most well-known Buddhist in the world, but that’s due to his tireless self-promotion, aided and abetted by Bob Thurman, more than anything else.

How do “simple Buddhist monk” and “head of state” go together? Does Thurman not see some contradiction in some of these roles? Later on he says that the Dalai Lama is “a statesman, a politician, a diplomat, a personal manager, and a chief executive officer”. Again, more contradiction with being a “simple monk” who traditionally practises renunciation and has no interest in power, politics, diplomacy or being a statesman because he understands that they are the nooses of samsara. Nagarjuna, for, example, used to pray never to be reborn as a politican because it is an obstacle to pure spiritual practice.

Furthermore, the Dalai Lama’s more ‘commercial’ interests do not sit well with being ‘a simple Buddhist monk’. In the article om “money” padme hum? on the Dalai Lama’s book on leadership “The Leader’s Way” he is quoted as saying some very strange things:

Buddhism also values free enterprise. “Buddha recognized entrepreneurship as a valuable activity,” the Dalai Lama writes. “He encouraged entrepreneurs to be successful by being reliable and having an eye for what should sell.”

The article concludes:

Free marketers will be happy that the Dalai Lama – with his moral stature – has unequivocally backed capitalism and globalization, with the usual riders about mitigating its excesses.

Is it really right for a ‘simple Buddhist monk’ — who has taken vows to not even handle money or obtain profit through business, and who regards wealth and worldly attainments as deceptive — to advise big business on how to make more?

Clearly the Dalai Lama can’t be all things to everyone, despite what Thurman says.

It is a concern that when Thurman attempts to explain various aspects of Buddha’s teaching, his casual use of language can actually lead to misconceptions. I understand that he is trying to be ‘populist’ and is appealing to an audience that is not necessarily Buddhist but he does take considerable liberties. For example, using the word ‘soul’ for the root mind that transmigrates from life to life will quite possibly evoke an understanding in the minds of Christian readers that is not what Buddha intended.

There are other examples too. When describing karma, Thurman says:

According to this Buddhist view, the effects of these actions become encoded at a super-subtle energy level in a “mental gene” or “soul gene” which then shapes the experience and quality of the individual’s gross mind and body as it evolves through many lifetimes.

Huh? This raises more questions than it answers. Where is the ‘super-subtle energy level’ – is it the ether?, what encodes the action? What does the encoding look like? Actually, all these questions are spurious because Thurman’s initial explanation is inaccurate and, as we know, there’s no meaning in trying to refine your understanding of something that’s wrong in the first place. Karmic actions leave an imprint on the mind – no encoding! This imprint is not a gene in the sense the most people understand genes because it’s non-physical; it’s not made of DNA. There’s no ‘super-subtle energy level’, just the very subtle mind, and so on.

I think that Thurman has gone too far in trying to adopt scientific language and concepts in his attempt to make Buddhism acceptable to people who view science as a religion in itself. Perhaps the lack of clarity will pique their curiosity and they will start reading about Buddhism, who knows? I’m used to Geshe Kelsang’s explanations where he gives clear definitions for all his terms and never uses pseudo-scientific language to explain Buddha’s teachings. The muddiness of Thurman’s explanations suffer in comparison.

I’m disappointed with Thurman: I would have expected a more accurate and careful explanation from a Buddhist scholar. It would have been better not to include this material at all rather than to present it badly with the possibility of causing serious misunderstandings in his readership. There are enough problems in this world without people misunderstanding the path that leads away from problems!

The rest of the chapter continues in this vein, highlighting the good qualities and achievements of the Dalai Lama in the same sycophantic manner as before. There’s nothing new to say. The material is too much and too monotonous to warrant further examination. One thing that Thurman says is:

“The present Fourteenth Dalai Lama has already earned the title “Great Fourteenth”, due to his profound inner development and his magnificent works of teaching, writing, political leadership, and prophetic engagement with global society.” (p 32)

Who confered this title on him? There’s no committee like the Nobel committee in Buddhism to bestow such honours. This smells of something introduced either by Thurman or the Dalai Lama. Perhaps they hope that such an honorific will become common currency, like “the Pope of Buddhism” and that it will be widely accepted and held to be true. Here Thurman seems to be disingenuously attempting to write history. He has an eye to the Dalai Lama’s ‘legacy’, just as many politicians are concerned with how they are seen by history. He’s a good servant!

And Thurman’s final, convoluted description of who the Dalai Lama is:

The Dalai Lama is something more and something less than a pope of Tibetan Buddhism. He is more than a pope because he is not merely a vicar of the Buddha; in messianic form as the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, he is actually seen as the returning presence of the Buddha himself. He is like Jesus returned, not just for the second time but always returning. (p 34)

(Hmmm, Sarah Palin anyone?) What a stew of mixed religious terms! It’s difficult not to poke fun at this final over-the-top comparison. He’s a Catholic, Church of England, bodhisattva messiah Buddha, multiple Jesus kind of guy! Just remember that the next time someone asks you who the Dalai Lama is!

He’s not just a politician with delusions of grandeur then?

Postcript: I am not pointing out Bob Thurman’s and the Dalai Lama’s flaws just for their own sake and especially not for political reasons, but because they are having an adverse effect on Buddhism and Buddhists. If people believe all the hype about the Dalai Lama perpetrated by Thurman, the Dalai Lama will be able to continue to persecute Dorje Shugden practitioners with impunity, and succeed in destroying a priceless spiritual tradition.

All I am aiming for is to allow people to see Thurman’s and the Dalai Lama’s actions more clearly. Then they may question them about the Dalai Lama’s ban of Dorje Shugden, and maybe even urge the Dalai Lama to lift that ban. Once he has lifted the ban and met the aims of the Western Shugden Society, there will be no further need for book reviews.


Part 3

In this article we continue to examine Thurman’s book and point out the inconsistencies in what he writes about the Dalai Lama and the Dalai Lama’s actions over the years. Through the Dalai Lama’s actions, we can glimpse his real qualities and beliefs; and we can see a big difference between Thurman’s lavish hype and the truth.

To quote his own expression, the Dalai Lama’s “Three Main Commitments in Life” are:

  1. As a human being, to promote common human values, tolerance, compassion, and so on
  2. As a religious practitioner, to promote world religious harmony, Buddhist self-discipline, and so on
  3. As a Tibetan, to represent his people until oppression by China is solved, then retire to being a spiritual teacher in Drepung, his traditional monastic university. (p 35)

If the Dalai Lama claims that this is what he is trying to do with his life, let’s examine these claims to see how much he is acting in accordance with his commitments. Thurman uses the world ‘promote’ rather than ‘practice’. Does the Dalai Lama see himself as a promoter of these values, or as someone who encourages people to adopt these values through his own practice and example? Given the frequent discrepancy between his example and his rhetoric, it might fairly be said that he is acting like a salesman for something he hasn’t bought himself.

For example, do these speeches by the Dalai Lama sound like tolerance, compassion and promoting world religious harmony to you?:

“Recently monasteries have fearlessly expelled Shugden monks where needed. I fully support their actions. I praise them. If monasteries find taking action hard, tell them the Dalai Lama is responsible for this.” (Al Jazeera news report, October 2008)

“Until now you have done a very good job on this issue. Hereafter also, continue this policy in a clever way. We should do it in such a way to ensure that in future generations not even the name of Dholgyal (Dorje Shugden) is remembered.” (At a meeting of Tibetans in Caux, Switzerland in 1999)

For more examples of the Dalai Lama’s harsh and intolerant attitude toward fellow Buddhist practitioners, see In the Dalai Lama’s words.

Thurman now talks about the third commitment of the Dalai Lama:

In terms of the third commitment, the Dalai Lama is Tibetan and Tibetans place their trust in him (p 37)

Although the Dalai Lama is loved by many Tibetans, not all Tibetans trust him, and with good reasons. Here are some examples of Tibetans who do not trust him or accept the function of the Dalai Lama as it stands presently:

From the pro-Tibetan “Phayul” website:

The institution of the Dalai Lama has served its purpose and is now obsolete. It has to end for the sake of Tibet. Religion, like a lot of other things, is personal. It must never meddle in the politics of Tibet. We have the past blunders to prove it. There must never be another regent. There must never be another religious king. There must never be another monk or nun Prime Minister. There must never be another Dalai Lama, at least with political powers. There must never be another Lama with political powers no matter who, whether it is a Bonpo, Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, Gelug et al. It all now depends on the current Dalai Lama, the type of legacy that he wants to leave for Tibet…The Dalai Lama has to resign in this incarnation as it will be almost impossible to do so if a 15th Dalai Lama is enthroned.

(From the recent France 2 Documentary Report, translated from French)

Reporter: Lobsang Yeshe and Namgyal were previously the Dalai Lama’s bodyguards. 50 years ago, they saved the life of the head of Tibet, running away from the Chinese. But today, they feel betrayed.

Lobsang Yeshe: The Dalai Lama, I don’t want to hear about him any more. He is no longer the Buddha of Compassion. He is a traitor. The Dalai Lama has committed the gravest crime. He has divided all the Tibetans. He is against our deity, Dorje Shugden. He has forbidden us from venerating him. Because of him, I had a heart attack

And, of course, the Mongoose-Canine Letter, written in the 1990s by a group of Tibetans:

…you always give priority to your own well-being and power, even at the cost of Tibet’s future. I am not trying to tell you that you should be concerned with the future Dalai Lamas regarding them being leaders of Tibet. I am telling you that you are not working for the future progress and democracy of the Tibetan people in Tibet. Also, I am telling you that you are extremely dishonest and hypocritical.

Thurman continues:

His sense of himself as a Tibetan comes, in this incarnation, from an extraordinary life, detailed in two autobiographies so far, and many works by others. Born in a well-off peasant farmer-trader family, he was recognized as the Dalai Lama very young, was brought up as a monk with a special education, was trained to be a head of state, and was entrusted with the political leadership of his people. (p38)

No mention is made that he was born into a Muslim family. Many people misunderstood why the Western Shugden Society made known in the West what is already public knowledge to many Tibetans. There was no insult to Muslims; it is just curious why, if the Dalai Lama was genuine, he would choose to be born into a family of a completely different religion. Given that the genuine Dalai Lama is supposed to have control over his rebirth, is it not a curious choice? The implication is that the Dalai Lama may not be genuine and that his non-Buddhist actions in discriminating against the practitioners of his Spiritual Guide’s tradition seem to corroborate this. This is further supported by the article on the Western Shugden Society website explaining how the Reting Rinpoche, the regent of Tibet, caused the wrong boy to be chosen as the Dalai Lama. The deception by Reting Regent was suspected in Tibet at the time, but naturally covered up for political reasons. (Later, the deception was compounded by recognizing the Dalai Lama’s siblings also as reincarnate Lamas).

That, of course, was no fault of the boy who became the Dalai Lama. One cannot help but feel compassion for the Dalai Lama if he is not a realized being. His upbringing must have been curious and lonely. Indeed, Thurman makes the observation earlier in the book that the Dalai Lama seemed to him to be “slightly stressed, lonely and a little sad” (p 6). No wonder the eleven-year-old boy greeted the arrival of Heinrich Harrer in Lhasa in 1946 with such excitement, receiving from him much tutoring about the outside world, despite Harrer having been a Nazi sergeant in the Waffen-SS from 1938.

The young Tenzin Gyatso was certainly invested with a lot of responsibility and the heavy weight of everyone’s expectations from an early age. However, no matter how abnormal the Dalai Lama’s childhood may have been, it cannot be used as an excuse for his present sectarian actions in persecuting Shugden practitioners, for which he should be made to answer internationally. If the Dalai Lama’s actions of working for a peaceful solution to the Tibetan problem was recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize, his actions of persecution, curtailing religious freedom and causing disharmony in the Tibetan community should also fairly be recognized.


Part 4

Continued from Chapter 2: What has the Dalai Lama Accomplished?

The next section is ‘accomplishments and impacts’. Here, Thurman waxes lyrical on the Dalai Lama’s achievements in various spheres but, as before, is somewhat prone to exaggeration. For example:

If you understand Buddhism not merely as a world religion, religion as primarily a system of belief and the Dalai Lama as being a great philosopher in the tradition he claims as his own, that of the Seventeen Great Professors (Pandits) of Nalanda University (the great Monastic University of classical India), then he emerges not as a religious preacher but as a world teacher. The Dalai Lama can be classified as someone like Albert Einstein, Arnold Toynbee, Bertrand Russell or Stephen Hawking who advances human knowledge from a philosophical and scientific point of view. If Buddhism is one third ethics, one third psychology and religion as therapy, and one third scientific wisdom, then the Dalai Lama brings new aspects of those three values to the world. (page 39)

These days the Dalai Lama talks about ‘the Nalanda Tradition’. He mentioned it again in an interview in Nottingham in May 2008:

So some people criticize me, I banned that sort of spirit worship; that is not true. I just simply make clear what is the reality, whether as we are follower of Nalanda tradition, we are not spirit worshipper. So there is a sort of danger, I feel in my eye, the degenerating, the pure Nalanda tradition eventually become like spirit worship. That is not good.

Thurman says that the Dalai Lama claims this tradition as his own. These days, the Dalai Lama does not talk about the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism so much as the Nalanda tradition. This term is his own invention. The Dalai Lama was not educated in the ‘Nalanda tradition’ but in the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, a tradition he seems to have disowned and for which he shows increasing disrespect.

The Dalai Lama’s Junior Tutor and Guru is Trijang Rinpoche, the Spiritual Guide of a whole generation of Gelugpa teachers from the highest Lamas to the most humble novices. The Dalai Lama has ordered Trijang Rinpoche’s thrones to be removed from Ganden Lachi and Shartse monasteries. The thrones represent the continuing presence of this great Master, so what is the Dalai Lama saying by ordering their removal? Even though Trijang Rinpoche treated the Dalai Lama as his own son and cared for him in every way, how does the Dalai Lama repay that kindness? By branding him as a ‘spirit worshipper’, telling everyone he was ‘wrong, yes wrong’ and having his thrones removed from two monasteries where he was revered.

The Dalai Lama is clearly trying to destroy Trijang Rinpoche’s reputation. In Buddhism, respect for one’s own Teacher is vital. It is said to be the root of the path. The Dalai Lama has cut his root. Even so, he continues to travel around the world, giving the teachings from the very lineage he has turned his back on.

Where does the Dalai Lama’s knowledge come from? It comes only from Buddha through the Dalai Lama’s teachers, whom he has thoroughly disrespected by calling them ‘spirit worshippers’ and enabling the persecution of their followers. The Dalai Lama is not the source of these teachings. Whereas the theory of relativity as formulated by Einstein was a unique achievement that came from his own thought experiments, if the Dalai Lama is teaching Buddhism correctly, he has nothing doctrinally “new” to offer. Buddha’s insights were uniquely established two and a half thousand years ago and the content is non-negotiable. Buddha is the true genius and advancer of human knowledge, but he’s not given the credit – the Dalai Lama takes the credit in Thurman’s mind.

Recently, at an FPMT Center in Deerfield Beach, Florida, they proudly advertized that the teachings they gave were in the “lineage of the Dalai Lama”. But what is this lineage exactly? Does it begin and end with the Dalai Lama?

Buddhism is so much more than philosophy, science or ‘religion as therapy’ (a curious choice of words!). Boiling it down to mundane subjects of study seems to do Buddhism a grave disservice. Maybe it is the academic in him, but Thurman here misses the magic of Buddhism. No amount of philosophy, science or therapy can lead to permanent liberation from suffering and the full enlightenment of Buddhahood.

Later, Thurman gives us some insight as to why he wrote his book:

The main accusation against the Dalai Lama that surfaces from time to time around the world is that of being ineffective. People have said, “What has the Dalai Lama ever accomplished, for all his running around the world meeting celebrities?” In fact, answering that question is one of the main drives of this book. (page 45)

It is clear what the Dalai Lama has accomplished by doing this – celebrity and power. And Thurman seems to be justifying this lifestyle (or defending it, not sure which). While it is true that the Dalai Lama has been so far ineffective in his political work for Tibet, no doubt he will also receive more accusations against him in the future as a result of his illegal and unconstitutional actions. It could be argued that the main accusation against the Dalai Lama already is, ‘Why is he lying?’ or ‘Why is he using Buddhism to maintain his own power and position at the cost of harmony in the Buddhist community?’ Not surprisingly, Thurman does not address these questions.

He has been working on and gradually introducing a democratic constitution in the exile community as a way to live in exile and a model of self-rule whenever it is recovered in Tibet. It is a secularist constitution based on the separation of church and state, in which all religions are equal under the law (p 51)

Since 1959 the Dalai Lama has had ample opportunity to introduce a democratic system of government into the Tibetan community in exile. Why hasn’t it happened? Could it be because he wants to continue the union of politics and religion for his own ends?

More and more Tibetans see the faults with this system. For example, in an article called “He Has Got It Wrong” (on pro-Tibetan Phayul, taken from the Times of India), Eliot Sperling says of the recent meeting (November 2008) about Tibet’s future in Dharamsala:

And while the Dalai Lama has repeatedly stated that the Tibet issue is not about him but about all Tibetans, the end result of the special meeting bears out China’s stance: in spite of his democratic rhetoric, the Dalai Lama has never empowered Tibetans to feel comfortable taking stands at variance with him. Accusations of disloyalty to the Dalai Lama remain a weapon in political and personal feuds in Dharamsala.

In her article commenting on this newspaper opinion piece, a Tibetan woman calling herself Mountain Phoenix says:

So when we look at the outcome of this “special meeting”, there was nothing special about it, let alone “historic”. The ultimate decision was again not to decide but to leave the decision to the Dalai Lama.

In the article ‘Tibetan Religion and Politics’, posted on Phayul, Samten G Karmay makes a powerful case for separation of church and state based upon the incompatibility of the role of head of democratic government with being a spiritual master:

In this theocratic system the head of the state was not only the political leader of the people, but also their spiritual master. In other words, the whole population was subjected and put in the position of spiritual disciple to the master. Within the context of this essentially religious bond no devotee would ever dream of opposing the view of the master, because that would be tantamount to breaking the sacred relationship between the master and the disciple. How does this fit with the discussion of democracy among the Tibetans in exile for whom HH the Dalai Lama is the political leader, but who nonetheless bestows on them the Kalachakra initiation?

This ties in with the Mongoose-Canine letter, in which the writer says:

Moreover, to challenge Lamas you have used religion for your aim. To that purpose you had to develop the Tibetan people’s blind faith. In the end you adopted the same activity that you yourself had pointed out was mistaken in other Lamas. For instance, you started the politics of public Kalachakra initiations. Normally the Kalachakra initiation is not given in public. Then you started to use it continuously in a big way for your politics. The result is that now the Tibetan people have returned to exactly the same muddy and dirty mixing of politics and religion of Lamas which you yourself had so precisely criticised in earlier times.

The implication is that the Dalai Lama has used his position as a Spiritual Leader through Kalachakra initiations to keep the Tibetan people docile because they would never challenge their Teacher with whom they have ‘samaya’ (sacred bond) through initiation. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso of the New Kadampa Tradition has been branded ‘a samaya breaker’ for the very reason that it is claimed that he received this initiation from the Dalai Lama in 1954 and has subsequently spoken out against him (N.B. he never received this initiation).

The point of the Dalai Lama using Kalachakra for political purposes is mentioned again later in the Mongoose-Canine letter:

Nowadays you have given the Kalachakra initiation so many times you have made the Tibetan people into donkeys. You can force them to go here and there as you like. In your words you always say that you want to be Gandhi but in your action you are like a religious fundamentalist who uses religious faith for political purposes.

Samten G Karmay’s article was well read and received many supporting comments from Tibetans. Some examples:

religion and politics should be separated in order to have a true democratic system.people will more freely speak out when its a religious person most people don’t want to speak freely.the present tibetan govt needs to listen to people and stop calling people who give their opinion as chinese spy etc.this is not democracy

As you know, Tibetan government in exile, in realty there is no democracy. It’s like still old Tibet style empire rules, Lama Rules or one of the linage rule. One man leader for ever and at the same time they call it real democracy. In fact no Democracy and it’s like banana democracy. Young educated Tibetans have no chances to become a Top leader of Tibet as a ‘President”.

You are right — majority Tibetans has no power to tell or comment to the head of the exile. Because our head leader is Religious one. One of the four linage of mahayana Tibetan Buddhism. If you do so there is Dhamtsik Samaya breaking between a guru and the deciple.

Since the Dalai Lama alone has the power to determine whether democracy is introduced or not, and there is no democracy, the facts speak for themselves. Thurman should not whitewash this situation by pretending that the Dalai Lama is pro-democracy when his clear lack of action in this area shows that he is not. Either the Dalai Lama is fooling Thurman, or Thurman is fooling us.

Thurman talks about the Dalai Lama’s enthusiasm for inter-religious dialogue. Why then doesn’t the Dalai Lama want to talk to Dorje Shugden practitioners to resolve the big schism in his own community? Their pleas for understanding are ignored. The Religion section in the recent Memorandum has fine words for the Chinese, but surely the Dalai Lama and his government should get their own house in order first?

Thurman also mentions that the Dalai Lama defends the Muslim religion. In these times, when Muslims tend to be demonized as terrorists due to the actions of a relative minority of fanatics, this is a laudable thing to do. But surely it would have been worth mentioning here that the Dalai Lama has a natural sympathy with Muslims because he is from a Muslim family and was born in a Muslim village? It is a curious omission.

Thurman talks about ‘what we might call the magic of the Dalai Lama’s special presence’ (page 62). He reports that ‘the effect of his presence is galvanizing; people often burst into tears, forget what they were planning to say, commonly change their preconceived ideas completely’. Is it a good idea to mention this? Thurman’s intention is probably good, and what he wants to show is how his Guru’s presence has a powerful effect on others’ minds. However, there have been many charismatic leaders throughout history who have had powerful speech and been able to get people to do what they want, and this has not always worked out to their advantage. Does Thurman really want us to think that the Dalai Lama has some power to influence others, and maybe even to be able to control their minds?

It’s a curious thing to talk about and, more than anything else, it indicates a somewhat unexamined faith. Thurman doesn’t see how it could be misunderstood, which is a little naïve of him. If people said such fanatical things about Geshe Kelsang, no doubt his critics would jump on the bandwagon with their accusations of ‘mind control cult’; so why do no alarm bells sound when people talk so glowingly of the control the Dalai Lama exerts over others?

Thurman talks extensively about Tibetan, Tibetans and the Tibetan cause, which is also the other main motivation for his writing this book. He’s obviously trying to coax Chinese sympathizers to see a different view of the Dalai Lama with one aim in mind – the fulfilment of the Dalai Lama’s wishes for autonomy for Tibet within China. This is where the book is quite political and a little obvious in its intentions. Thurman is saying “look, the Dalai Lama is really a very special guy and you can trust him, so give us back Tibet!”

Whilst not wanting to get too political, I have to mention an obvious lie about the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan resistance, and the CIA because it has implications for Thurman’s trustworthiness and honesty. Thurman says:

Tibetan warriors did fight for over a decade as guerrillas (with a low level of support from CIA until betrayed by Henry Kissinger and President Richard Nixon), against the Dalai Lama’s instructions, but admittedly with his admiration for their bravery.

Does Thurman really believe this version of events? There is evidence that the Dalai Lama himself was on the CIA payroll in the 1960′s, to a tune of $186,000 per annum. From the Wikipedia article on the 14th Dalai Lama:

In October 1998, The Dalai Lama’s administration acknowledged that it received $1.7 million a year in the 1960s from the U.S. Government through the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and also trained a resistance movement in Colorado (USA).

According to a report in a Vancouver newspaper:

Funds to pay this army were funnelled through the Dalai Lama and his organization, which received US$1.7 million a year, later reduced to $1.2 million. (Of this, the Dalai Lama himself was paid $186,000 a year. But no one has ever suggested that he pocketed it. The money was used to operate his exiled government’s offices in Geneva and New York.) The last year in which the stipend was paid out was 1974. By then, of course, U.S. policy had changed to one of embracing China, not antagonizing it.

According to Thurman, the guerrillas fought ‘against the Dalai Lama’s instructions’; yet the Dalai Lama’s administration received the funds to pay for the army from the CIA, with the Dalai Lama himself being paid. No one can claim that the Dalai Lama didn’t know what was going on, or that it was against his instructions.

From an interview with the Dalai Lama with the New York Times in 1993:

Q: In Tibet, from the late 1950′s until the early 1970′s, one of your brothers was involved in leading a guerrilla movement against the Chinese. In fact, the guerrillas were supported by the C.I.A. How did you feel about that?

A: I’m always against violence. But the Tibetan guerrillas were very dedicated people. They were willing to sacrifice their own lives for the Tibetan nation. And they found a way to receive help from the C.I.A. Now, the C.I.A.’s motivation for helping was entirely political. They did not help out of genuine sympathy, not out of support for a just cause. That was not very healthy.

The Dalai Lama says “they found a way to receive help from the CIA” as if the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Administration knew nothing about it; but they were on the payroll! The Dalai Lama is being disingenuous, as is Thurman in misrepresenting events. The aim is to maintain the Dalai Lama’s public image as someone who does not agree with armed struggle, which is obviously wrong.

Things become even more nefarious when the Mongoose Canine letter states:

The problem of your government splitting the Tibetan guerilla fighters in Mustang. In fact, they were originally organised by your government with the help of the CIA. In 1969, as a consequence of Nixon’s policy with China, you provoked a fight among the Tibetan guerillas over their weapons. This fight finally destroyed them.

What then are we to make of Thurman’s statement:

But overall, in spite of massive oppression, Tibetans have maintained the non-violence the Dalai Lama has asked of them. The greatness of this achievement cannot be overstated (page 74)

Thurman seems attached to Tibet and what it represents in his mind, as he is attached to the Dalai Lama and what he represents. Such attachment is obviously going to influence his views. Either Thurman is deliberately misrepresenting events, or he is genuinely in the thrall of the Dalai Lama and Tibet and ignoring obvious truths. This is also evident when he says:

Nowadays the world is spinning out of control in a “war on terror” which is endless in principle because violence simply breeds more counter-violence. Then, to our amazement, we encounter a people who eschew terrorism and violence from the beginning. (page 74)

Michael Parenti is an American political scientist, historian and media critic whose article Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth explains the excesses of Tibet as a feudal society. The view that Tibet was some kind of Shangri-la filled with happy, non-violent practising Buddhists is a complete myth.

As for ‘eschewing violence from the beginning’, there was almost a riot in New York in July 2008 when a large group of Tibetans who had just been to a teaching by the Dalai Lama surrounded a much smaller group of Western Shugden Society protestors to spit, jeer and throw things. The protestors had to be evacuated by New York Police for their own safety. There have also been many other instances of violence against Dorje Shugden practitioners, some of which are itemized on the Dorje Shugden Controversy article in Wikipedia.

Again, there are many more points in this chapter that merit comment, but we will finish on something positive — the Dalai Lama’s concluding statement from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:

I pray for all of us, oppressor and friend, that together we succeed in building a better world through human understanding and love, and that in doing so we may reduce the pain and suffering of all sentient beings. Thank you. (page 95)

We pray that the Dalai Lama will live by these words and stop all the problems he has created in the Buddhist community through his divisive actions. Dalai Lama, please give religious freedom to Dorje Shugden practitioners.

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2 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. “Its purpose seems to be to praise the Dalai Lama and to propose how the People’s Republic of China could benefit by making friends with the Dalai Lama and establishing an autonomous Tibet to which the Dalai Lama could return. Thurman suggests that the Tibetan plateau could be designated as a ‘Zone of Peace’, a giant environmental preserve.”
    The above is good for both China and Tibet for a plot of environmentally preserve giant that requires very minimum reliant over Chinese government. It also signals to the world community that Chinese government is rationale, considerate, caring and intellectually wisdom. The DL should apologize for the ban of Dorje Shugden sect for a probable autonomous Tibet to realize the dream on peace of Tibet, China and the world. Unless all followers of DL attained Buddhahood, there should be no rational basis to prevent Dorje Shugden sect from pursuing the same goal of Buddhahood as that of DL and its followers. DL might have some good compassionate intent for doing so, but the long term impact is quite unfavourable. Bless wishes for an optimal peaceful, love and happiness for all walks of life.

  2. 孙中山先生说:「佛教乃救世之仁,佛学是哲学之母,研究佛学可补科学之偏。」



    佛教早在二五○○多年前,已相信有三千大千世界。以现在的术语解释,一个太阳系为一小世界,一千个小世界为一小千世界,一千个小千世界为一中千世界,一千个中千世界,为一大千世界,一大千世界是相等于一千的三次方(10003, 相等於十亿)的小世界(太阳系),所以亦叫三千大千世界。佛教认为三千大千世界为一佛刹国土。


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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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