Mixing Religion and Politics: The Dalai Lama’s ban on Dorje Shugden Prayer

 The fact that the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile have been able to subject the Tibetan populace to an oath swearing campaign, whereby they promise not to engage in prayer to Dorje Shugden or have dealings with anyone who does, harkens back to the religious persecution in England during the 17th century whereby religious uniformity was mandated by the state.

That this oath swearing campaign initiated by the Dalai Lama has bypassed our conscience and our concept of religious freedom as an unalienable human right is a sign of a deeper crisis that has emerged in the Tibetan and Buddhist Community.

It is a crisis that has arisen in part because the Dalai Lama is appealing to something quite unrelated to reason.

In video footage aired by Al Jazeera on Sept 30th the Dalai Lama says:

“I used to worship Shugden. The spirit was very fond of me. However, I realised it was a mistake. So I stopped. 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. Shugden followers have resorted to killing and beating people. They start fires. And tell endless lies. This is how the Shugden behave. It is no good.” (Click here to view source footage)

In the same video Samdong Rinpoche the Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government in Exile says:

A lot of Shugden perpetrators are becoming terrorists and that they are willing to kill anybody. They are willing to beat up anybody. It is very clear that now people who are propitiating Shugden are very close to the PRC (People’s Republic of China) leadership. That is clear.

So by characterizing Dorje Shugden practitioners as killers and thugs with links to the People’s Republic of China, the Dalai Lama and Samdong Rinpoche are appealing to some of the deepest fears that Tibetan people have. This is quite dangerous because by appealing to these fears allows the Dalai Lama to dismiss any evidence of wrongdoing in the name of protecting the Tibetan people. This is very similar to what is happening in American society. In the wake of September 11th, the Bush Administration has used the politics of fear to wage war on an enemy that didn’t pose any threat to us (as we now know Iraq had no connection to Al Qaeda and no WMD). By subscribing to fear based politics we are eliminating the role of fact-based reasoning in the proceedings.

This phenomena is described so eloquently by Thomas Jefferson:

“Throughout history, our innate fear of others-who-are-different-from-us has combined all too frequently with some malignant dogma, masquerading as a message from God, to unleash the most horrific violence and oppression in the repertoire of hell. Moreover this deadly form of exclusivist group passion can be virtually invulnerable to reason. So it is especially useful to demagogues who learn how to fan it and exploit it to gain and consolidate power…

…Having replaced the divine right of kings with the divine rights of individuals, our Founders overthrew the monarchy and designed a self-government according to the structures of reason. And they took special care to insulate the ongoing deliberations of democracy against the recombination of fear and dogma, by guarding against any effort by government to establish in law any trace of divine justification for the exercise of power.” (The Assault on Reason, p48)

So what we have here is the divine right of the Dalai Lama versus the rights of individuals to practice the prayer of their choosing.

In the Al Jazeera segment the interviewer asks Tsultrim Tenzin, MP in the Tibetan Government in Exile, if the Tibetan Parliament debated the Dorje Shugden issue

He replies:

“There was no argument. If there was some opposition, then there will be some argument, but there is no opposition. We do not have any doubt about the Dalai Lama’s decisions. We do not think he is a human being. He is a supreme human being, and he is god, he is Avalokiteshvara, he has no interest [in] himself, he always thinks of others. Everybody is happy. Our system is everybody is happy. There is democracy, full democracy. Everyone can experience whatever he likes”

Thomas Jefferson could not have scripted a better example as to why the divine right of kings and the divine right of individuals are incompatible governing principles. Surely Tsultrim’s nonsensical assessment that everyone is happy is callous and insensitive to those monks who are being expelled from their monasteries because of their practice of the Dorje Shugden prayer.

Surely it is lunatic reasoning for those people who have been forced to flee from their homes under threat of violence because of their practice of this prayer. But the lack of interest in these crimes by the TGIE is indicative of the Tibetan thought process. The Dalai Lama is god therefore his decisions must be correct. Unfortunately this holds even if in reality they are harming others.

This divine right of the Dalai Lama in the eyes of the TGIE is allowing a bending of the law that makes a mockery of any sense of truth and justice.

How can Tsultrim Tenzin say there is no opposition when on their own website, www.tibet.com it says:

“An organization, called Dorje Shugden Devotees Charitable and Religious Society, has been spreading a great deal of misinformation, alleging that the Tibetan Administration in exile is persecuting the devotees of a certain spirit, known as Dholgyal, otherwise known as Shugden.”

But this is politics Tibetan style. So instead of granting the opposition a voice in the government what it does is re-categorize the opposition as a fringe and fanatical element of society and then turn around and say that there is no political opposition. Guess again. In fact the Dorje Shugden Devotees Charitable and Religious Society have filed a lawsuit against the Dalai Lama and the TGIE for violations of basic human rights in the Delhi High Court of India having no other political recourse with their own government.

As their lawyer Shree Sanjay Jain says:

It is certainly a case of religious discrimination in the sense that if within your sect of religion you say that this particular deity ought not to be worshipped, and those persons who are willing to worship him you are trying to excommunicate them from the main stream of Buddhism, then it is discrimination of the worst kind.

In analyzing the recent catastrophic failures in the American political system Al Gore analyzes the importance of separation of church and state in warding off abuses of power. I find some of his analysis is particularly relevant to the Dalai Lama’s recent actions in banning the prayer to DorjeShugden and the abuses of power that have accompanied that ban.

“[Our Founders] were also keenly aware of the thin and permeable boundary between religious fervor and power-seeking political agendas. “A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction,” wrote James Madison, but the new American nation would nevertheless be protected against the ungovernable combination of religious fervor and political power as long as the Constitution prohibited the federal government from establishing any particular creed as preeminent.

The separation of church and state was thus based not only on the Founders’ insights into fear, faith, and reason, but also on their new awareness of the nature of power. They understood that the love of power can become so intoxicating that it overwhelms reason. It was actually this distrust of concentrated power that led them not only to separate organized religion from the exercise of governmental authority, but also to separate the powers of the national government into three coequal branches and embed each in a complex web of checks and balances designed to further prevent the aggregation of too much power in any one branch. (The Assault on Reason, p49-50)”

Now those in the west who have fallen in love with the Dalai Lama’s ecumenical philosophy have been lulled into thinking that it is okay to impose this ecumenical philosophy on others; and have become incompetent to discern what might motivate someone to force a religious view on others. Now if you haven’t been following this blog you might counter that the Dalai Lama isn’t forcing his view on anyone. Please read the first few installments of this blog for hard evidence in video format of the Dalai Lama praising the ban on Dorje Shugden prayer and promoting it as his own.

In this article I will be looking at how the Dalai Lama’s actions (as well as those of the Tibetan Government in Exile) in banning Dorje Shugden are political in nature and are functioning to degenerate Tibetan Buddhism into a pro-Tibet political faction.

We can observe this phenomenon in the language used by the Tibetan Government in Exile in promoting the ban on Dorje Shugden prayer:

“After 20 years of painstaking research and investigation, His Holiness the Dalai Lama found that the propitiation of this spirit by the Tibetan people harms the Tibetan national cause and endangers his own personal security. Therefore, he has urged the Tibetan people to stop propitiating this spirit.” (http://www.tibet.com/dholgyal/dholgyal5.html)

(Editor’s Note: This link appears to have been removed from the mentioned website)

“However, some people have continued to propitiate Dolgyal, either because they failed to appreciate the threat it poses to the Tibetan cause or because they have decided to disregard it. There are yet others who not only propitiate Dolgyal themselves, but also actively encouraged others to follow suit. This has impaired the sacred relationship between the people of Tibet and their protector-deities. Today, this is one of the greatest dangers to the cause of Tibet and the life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”

There is something deeply problematic about this simplistic reduction of a profoundly religious subject into terms of “harming the national cause of Tibet” because it is a politically loaded statement given all the pro-Tibet and anti-China rhetoric pervading the Tibetan community and Western media.

It is saying quite explicitly that the prayer to Dorje Shugden harms the Tibetan nation which pits the pro-Tibet political movement against the people who pray to Dorje Shugden. The implication here is that the people who pray to Dorje Shugden are a member of a political faction — the anti-Tibet faction. Evidence that this is the message being taken to heart is clearly demonstrated by what happened after the Dalai Lama’s talk at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on July 17th

The New York Times reported:

“About 200 members of a Buddhist sect, the Western Shugden Society, were outside the hall protesting the Dalai Lama, who they said had persecuted monks who supported the sect. Some among the thousands coming out of the lecture began shouting at the protesters. The crowd began to swell, and eventually thousands were shouting “Long Live Dalai Lama” and waving dollar bills at the protesters, asserting that they had been paid by the Chinese government.” ( Read source article )

So if you disagree with the Dalai Lama’s views on the Dorje Shugden practice, which I should highlight is a prayer — the implication being drawn here is that you are against the Tibetan national cause and must be on the Chinese Government payroll. Why should one’s religious beliefs necessarily determine one’s political allegiances? If you disagree with the Dalai Lama on the subject of a prayer why does that make you against the Tibetan cause?

Editor’s Note- The author cleverly points out that if Tibet’s cause which is undoubtedly political, how can a prayer and deity harms Tibet’s cause. Most of the teaching lamas are all over the world, I mean if one is an all powerful negative deity and wants to corrupt Buddhism why focus on Tibet anymore?

We can see from this example why the Tibetan Government is characterizing the Dalai Lama’s religious views as a political ideology — because it incites a nationalistic response in the masses which is functioning to exclude all those who do not share the Dalai Lama’s religious views.

Editor’s Note- Another good point from the author, that Dalai Lama’s spiritual views are political ideology as the response to his views are nationalistic in nature.

The marriage of political and spiritual agendas is something that the Dalai Lama is invested in and is central to his political ideology. He is invested in it of course because it is the very basis for his qualification as leader of the Tibetan people.

thubten jigme norbu

Quoting the Dalai Lama’s older brother Thubten Jigme Norbu (Tibet, p323):

“I also believe that our system’s greatest strength comes from the undisputed leadership of the Gyalwa Rinpoche (the Dalai Lama); but this is an act of faith that must be difficult to understand. Others in our government can be weak, but never our highest authority, for he is the reincarnation of Chenresig, the embodiment of perfection and enlightenment. It is pointless to criticize the Tibetan system without considering and allowing this faith, for without it the whole system becomes a mockery.”

Now I am a Buddhist and so I am a student of faith, but I disagree with Norbu’s usage of the word faith. Buddha discriminated between blind faith and faith that is based on reason; the difference being that the latter would not ignore contradictions with observable facts and manifest evidence. So in my understanding a Buddhist interpretation of faith does not try to hide contradictions with the truth, in fact due to actually having some degree of faith one would be courageous enough to challenge the assumptions upon which that faith is founded knowing that if the faith was well placed it would hold water.

So for me I do not believe that having faith in the Dalai Lama means never questioning his actions, quite the opposite. If the Dalai Lama is the embodiment of Chenresig then surely we should be able to discuss his actions using the rule of reason to scrutinize his actions and his good qualities would shine through. If we start calling everyone who disagrees with the Dalai Lama a fundamentalist or a Chinese agent, we are doing the Dalai Lama and in truth all of Tibetan society a disservice. And of course in this instance because people are being denied access to monasteries, hospitals, and food there is good reason to bring the Dalai Lama’s ban on Dorje Shugden prayer into question.

As Michael Backman noted in the Age on June 5th:

“Why is the Dalai Lama so hell-bent on moving against Shugden supporters? A reason might be that he genuinely believes Shugden worship is wrong. Another seems to derive from his desire to unite the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism – the Nyngma, Sakya,Kagyu and Gelugpa. This has always been one of the Dalai Lama’s problems. He is not the head of Buddhism; he is not even the head of Tibetan Buddhism. Traditionally, the DalaiLamas are from the Gelugpa sect. But since leaving Tibet, the current Dalai Lama has sought to speak for all Tibetans”

Because the Dalai Lama’s influence is based on his spiritual authority he is at a loss with respect to the Kagyus, Nyingmas, and Sakyas because he himself is a Gelugpa. As Norbu notes: “While not denying the validity of the other school, each believes that its own emphasis is the most important” (Tibet, p233). To forge new spiritual relationships with the other traditions, particularly certain Nyingma lamas, the Dalai Lama has had to denounce the practice of Dorje Shugden which is the Dharma protector practice meant to protect Je Tsongkhapa’s Oral Lineage from being mixed with other traditions. So what we have here is the Dalai Lama making religious policy for political purposes.

What is this political purpose?

It is the protection of an extremist ideology that views the Dalai Lama as the sole hope for Tibet’s future. It is the view that the Dalai Lama and the future of the Tibetan people are inextricably intertwined. Referring to Norbu’s quote from above, it can even mean that the Dalai Lama is the saving grace of the Tibetan people. I have observed this view in many of the people casting negative aspersions towards Dorje Shugden practitioners. It is a phenomenon also revealed in Robert Thurman’s latest book “Why the Dalai Lama Matters.” For this ideology to achieve dominance the Dalai Lama needs a coalition of support from all four Tibetan Buddhist traditions. To remove any barriers to this coalition the Dalai Lama banned the prayer of Dorje Shugden and is engaging in a systematic campaign to destroy it. This highlights the dangers of a unified church and state.

Thomas Jefferson had great insight into this as Al Gore notes:

“Jefferson wrote that throughout history, the state-sanctioned religious authority ‘has been hostile to liberty.’ He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection of his own.” (The Assault on Reason, p46)

(Source : Part 1 and Part 2)

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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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