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This is a work in progress. Most Tibetans I know have been repeating, through the years, "this is not religion, this is politics". This work consists merely in organizing with words what's always been there for all to see.



   In this year 2008, the Dalai Lama forced Buddhist monasteries and Tibetan communities in India to "vote" to eradicate a three centuries old religious practice –the veneration of the Buddha Protector Dorje Shugden. Those brave enough to refuse to participate in this "referendum" against their religious faith are today being segregated as unclean, denied all religious and human contact.

   The voting was followed by an oath, swearing that one is not doing this religious practice and that one is not having contact of any sort, either religious or social, not even  for the simplest matters of life like talking, walking close to or eating together with any individual that follows that religious belief.

   Started in the monasteries, this oath is being demanded also from every person in Tibetan society. It is being brought now even to Western countries.

   This policy of the Dalai Lama is producing a kind of civil death for the Tibetans that defend their religious faith. Children are being expelled from schools, monks are denied access to monasteries' kitchens, nuns and monks are being expelled from their nunneries and monasteries, people are being denied to buy food in their villages, businesses belonging to the faithful are being ruined and threats appear against them overnight, in posts glued in the streets declaring them criminals deserving persecution.

   The Dalai Lama’s intention, announced by him through the years and repeated during 2007, is to entirely “clean” all Buddhist communities from individuals practicing this unique religious belief, in monasteries, in the lay communities of India, Nepal and other Himalayan areas, in Tibet itself and then in Europe, the United States and the rest of the world. He declared that he wants to wipe out this religious practice from the world before the end of his own life.

   Behind these news there is a history of religious discrimination organized by a political leader that promotes himself also as a religious world leader. If ever the dangers of the mixing of Church and State have become actual it's now, in the person of the Tibetan Dalai Lama. And because of the nature of the leader –a mixture of King and Priest in exile– his repressive political actions have become invisible to public scrutiny. Because he was an exile he has been perceived as victim for many years. Now nobody wants to believe that the victim is victimizing others.


    Mahayana Buddhism considers that the Buddha nature manifests in multiple ways: as the historical Buddha born 2500 years ago, as emanations that come to our world as Lamas who teach us the Dharma and also as Protectors of the Dharma. These Buddha-Protectors are surrounded by hosts of mundane ones belonging to non-human realms of existence. They are very numerous. Every sect or school of Mahayana Buddhism, every monastery big or small, has not one but several protectors. Some are general protectors, some are particularly devoted to a monastery, a lineage, or a special religious practice. 

   Dorje Shugden is one among hundreds of protectors. For more than three centuries he has been venerated in the Tibetan Pantheon. Most of the great Lamas of the lineage of Je Tsongkapa (to which the Dalai Lama originally belonged), including his own tutor and root Guru Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, worshipped Dorje Shugden as the emanation of the Buddha of Wisdom Mañjushri and considered him the special Protector of the teachings of their religious lineage, the Ganden or Gelugpa lineage. One characteristic of Dorje Shugden is that he never belonged to the host of protectors of the Dalai Lama’s government.



   Dorje Shugden, alone among hundreds of Deities, was singled out by the Dalai Lama to be forbidden to Tibetans. Why? Several researchers have focused on esoteric events that took place centuries ago. Tibetans themselves focus their attention on the dealings of oracles surrounding the present Dalai Lama. Here we will present the political background of a religious persecution set up by a political leader. The truth of the matter might be better understood in the context of the political history of the Tibetans.
   In the years following his escape to India, the Dalai Lama decided to unify Tibetans under both his religious and political leadership. This statement might seem tautologic because today the world perceives the Dalai Lama precisely as the supreme religious and political leader of the Tibetans. But this is a recent projected mediatic image, not the historical truth.
   The power of the Dalai Lamas in old Tibet was mostly political and as such, changed with the fortune of times. Mainly its full strength was apparent in Lhasa and its surrounding area, becoming increasingly theoretical according to distance. The supreme religious authority was the Panchen Lama, not the Dalai Lama –see the accounts of the British political officer Sir Charles Bell and famous travelers like Sven Anders Hedin or the painter philantropist Nikolas Roerich. But even the religious authority of the Panchen Lamas was far from absolute authority similar to the Pope's.
   Monasteries and estates belonging to higher Lamas enjoyed an almost complete autonomy and the three other schools of Tibetan Buddhism that were not Gelugpas were independent from the Dalai Lamas –although, it has to be said, they suffered abuse from the Dalai Lama’s governments through the centuries.
   The exile from the Land of Snows made the Tibetans regroup in a way they had never known before. This natural reaction and many other circumstances of exile gave the XIV Dalai Lama an opportunity that none of this predecessors ever had: an almost universal power over the entire Tibetan community that went into exile with him. For instance, most of the relief help was funneled to the Dalai Lama and his government in exile, who subsequently distributed it to the Tibetan people. Even today, practically everything in the lives of the Tibetans goes de facto through their hands. The Dalai Lama and his government, directly and through social organizations, decide if a person is to be accepted in a monastery or not, if an individual can hold a bureaucratic job or not, if the Tibetans arriving in India are going to be issued documents or not, if Tibetans residing in India are going to be issued documents to travel abroad or not –all according to the Dalai Lama’s criteria.
   This new all-encompassing power was given to the Dalai Lama by the early difficulties of exile and by the fact that the main benefactor of the Tibetans, the Indian government, had naturally to deal only with one leader. In the same way, the idea of having all Tibetan religious groups united under some type of administrative and even diplomatic rule of the Dalai Lama, in order to appear strong and united to the external world, was something that seemed natural at some point but soon was tempered by the resurgence of old issues among themselves. 
   After an early, collective frustrated attempt at unifying all sects under the Gelugpas, the Dalai Lama conceived the idea that all four Tibetan religious sects had to disappear and give birth to one single school of Tibetan Buddhism under his command. This idea he tried to implement in a practical way by first prompting and then pushing the practitioners of the four different schools to mix and share their beliefs and rituals, in order to create, de facto, one single brand of Tibetan Buddhism with a single Hierarch. He actively pursued this scenario, concentrating in himself the transmissions from different schools and imparting them to practitioners of any school, criscrossing sect boundaries, trying thus to become the spiritual Master of all Tibetans.
   The mixing of all lineages of teachings into one might sound ecumenically grand to some Western ears, but not so to the great sages of the Gelugpas. They have always had great respect for all schools of Buddhism, they have been personal friends with their practitioners and shared with them even family ties, but they do not mix the teachings and ritual practices of their own lineage with those of other lineages. They have powerful religious, philosophical reasons for this, too long and involved to explain here. But there is no need to understand their reasons, what is important is to know that due to their religious belief they do not mix their own practice with the practice of others.
   The desire of the Gelugpa Masters to maintain their teachings intact did not match the politico-religious plan of the Dalai Lama. Because these Gelugpa Lamas were so important in Tibetan society –as the most learned scholars, the most influencial religious teachers– he had to find a way to end their opposition. What he chose was to exterminate the practice of the special Protector of the Gelugpa lineage, the Deity Dorje Shugden.

   This is the crux of the famous Shugden controversy, a case of persecution of a religious group for political reasons.

 The Dalai Lama started preaching against the Protector Dorje Shugden among the Gelugpas in the mid-seventies. For years he tried to force them to abandon the Protector's practice and to receive the transmissions of other lineages, but since his injonctions contradicted their most precious beliefs, he was unable to convince neither his own Guru, the revered highest Lama of that time, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, nor most of the Rinpoches, Geshes and monks of the Ganden tradition. Those were very difficult years for the Gelugpas, but they went on silently bearing the Dalai Lama's scoldings, while faithfully helping him with hard work to establish and sustain the Tibetan community in exile.
   Nevertheless, a number of monks from the various Tibetan schools either approved of his idea or saw some political advantage to applaud it. Some of his Western followers publicized the Dalai Lama's mixing of lineages as a Buddhist "ecumenism". He became increasingly popular in Western countries. His teachings about Compassion and non-violence, his charming manners, his aura of exiled from the mythical Shangrila phantasized by Westerners, the hard work of the Lamas that had prepared his way, many factors contributed to the arising of his extraordinary reputation. He acquired millions of admirers that weren't necessarily Buddhists among people well established in high places: politicians, scientists, academics, rock and Hollywood stars. In the end he became himself an international celebrity, and the magnitude of his fame induced the idea that he was the religious leader of all Buddhists and, of course, of all Tibetan Buddhists. Like an Oriental Pope.
   He had in a way attained his goal, at least in the eyes of the world.


So the Dalai Lama had not convinced the Gelugpa's great Masters to adopt his politico-religious idea but in the minds of peoples from all countries he had become the undisputed leader of all Tibetans both religiously and politically.
Because of this, although he never abandoned his dislike for the Protector Dorje Shugden, he didn't have an urgency to impose his prohibition.
The idea of forbidding his practice might’ve been forgotten altogether, but some political events helped precipitate his decision to take this domestic problem of the Gelugpas to the general Tibetan public instead, creating, thus, the most serious fracture ever seen in the Tibetan community.   
   The Dalai Lama had convinced his fellow Tibetans that he would recover for them the independence of their country, and had lead the famous “Free Tibet” campaign during the eighties, earning for that the Nobel Peace Price in 1989.
   Overlapping these events, in the context of his contacts with China, for reasons of his own he abandoned the idea of independence for Tibet, and on his own accord, without the slightest level of democratic consultation with his fellow Tibetans, in 1988 he decided to give up Tibet's independence and satisfy himself with autonomy alone.
   This was dealt with if not in secrecy, at least without any public campaign. Until today many Tibetans still don’t have it clear that the Dalai Lama himself accepted the Chinese rule over Tibet years ago.
   Following the enthousiastic hopes prompted by the Nobel award in 1989 came years of frustration where the Tibetan cause didn't progress in any way, and at that moment, those who understood that independence had been abandoned started to stir public opposition to the leader’s decision. Pro-independence voices started to be heard clearly in 1995.(1)
   It seems that it's then and there that it became clear to the Dalai Lama that he could with one stroke end both the opposition to his original politico-religious plan and the opposition to his handing of Tibet to China. What was needed was to distract the attention of his people from the lost independence of Tibet and steer it to another matter. A scapegoat was then publicly created: the Deity Dorje Shugden. In March 1996 a ban was decreed against the Protector. A new mission was handed to Tibetans: to erradicate the religious practice of Dorje Shugden from Tibetan communities.
    In fact most of the giant scholar-saints of Tibet that had helped the Dalai Lama and the exiled community in every manner during the terribly difficult first years of exile –those Lamas and monks that held in utmost reverence the Protector Dorje Shugden had died. Their sacred authority figures were not there any more to contain the Dalai Lama in his actions. He was thus free to use his government in exile and the Tibetan community to perpetrate his unprecedent actions.
   The Deity, an emanated Buddha, was declared to be a lower spirit, a type of demon.
   According to accounts by members of the Dalai Lama's entourage(2) and the Kampa guerrillas that were his shield during his perilous journey in 1959, Dorje Shugden had been the Protector who helped the Tibetan leader escape his country and successfully establish his people in India.
   And all of a sudden, in 1996, this beneficial helper, Dorje Shugden, was declared by the Dalai Lama guilty of two things: 1-harming the cause of Tibet and 2-endangering the health and life of the Dalai Lama. Tibetans were struck with disbelief, disorientation, fear.
   The ban resulted in a resounding political victory for the Dalai Lama. Terribly distressed by the perspective of loosing their leader, most Tibetans ended up not grasping that the Dalai Lama had accepted China’s rule over their homeland without their consent.
   The loss of Tibet and whatever perceived failures and faults of the Dalai Lama were forgotten. Another culprit was discovered and served to them: Dorje Shugden, a divine being declared to be a demon guilty of all Tibetan problems. No valid reason was advanced, but the minds of many Tibetans found it easier to accept this scapegoat rather than having to blame the loss of their country’s independence on their beloved Dalai Lama.


   A wave of persecution started then, flaring in events that fleetingly reached public knowledge. Since then, the Dalai Lama has been using his political and religious power, his mediatic image, his influence as world leader, the renown of his Nobel Peace Prize to make the worshipping of the Protector Dorje Shugden disappear. Nowadays, beyond his ever present political motivations, this rejection seems to have become a personal obsession.
   He was rather successful in this endeavor among most of the lay Tibetans and among his adoring Western followers.
   It's true that Tibetans in exile perceive the Dalai Lama as a living symbol of their land, so they love him and mainly follow blindly whatever he says. But this doesn’t explain everything. Another element –fear– had entered their lives: several violent events against Dorje Shugden followers, the social segregation imposed to them by the Tibetan Associations, the ferocious slandering of the practitioners –falsely accused to the Indian authorities of the most heinous crimes– convinced many of them to either abandon the practice of Dorje Shugden or to go into a second exile in Western countries or to just revert to silence about their religious practice.
   Practitioners that held public functions were fired from their jobs. Some saw their houses stoned and even arsoned. The friendship with practitioners of the Protector became a dangerous thing. To be a relative of a practitioner became a dangerous thing…  All of this happened in the first wave of the persecution. With very few exceptions (see the videos produced by Swiss television in 1998, in the first page of the victims have been ignored by the Press and seem now forgotten by the few who knew about them.
   The Dalai Lama was not entirely successful, though, in ending the practice of Dorje Shugden among the learned scholars and monks of the great universities located in Southern India, the monasteries of Sera, Drepung and Ganden, repositories of the Gelugpa wisdom. True, the authorities of these big institutions payed lip service to the Dalai Lama in the course of the years through signatures, declarations and decrees against the Deity. But they didn't implement them.
   Every year the Dalai Lama would go visit the Southern India monasteries and every year he would speak against the Protector Dorje Shugden, trying to divide the religious community. Despite some serious incidents here and there, life in the monasteries mostly went on as usual, with Dorje Shugden practitioners living together with non practitioners, as it had been for centuries, with their daily gatherings for common prayers, rituals and main of all, the cherished practice of Logic Debate.
   So for 12 years since the ban, the Dalai Lama had not been able to eradicate the practice in the monasteries. This alone should be proof enough that most of the Geshes, monks and sages of the Gelugpas never truly accepted his initiative, proof enough that the "cleansing" of the monasteries from Dorje Shugden practitioners only was going to be possible through the use of still more dictatorial means.
   2008 is the year when the Dalai Lama decided that enough was enough. During 2007 he had announced everywhere –including Spain, Germany and other Western countries– that now he wanted to complete his work, he wanted to exterminate the worshipping of Dorje Shugden once and for all everywhere.
   Now, for this to happen the practitioners had to be –like the Jews and so many other scapegoats in history– declared enemies of the Nation.
  The calomnies had been piling up through the years, but now, not only the Dorje Shugden practitioners were accused of endangering the life of the Dalai Lama and harming the cause of Tibet, not only were they described as members of an obscure, homicidal, fundamentalist, demonic cult opposed to all other schools; they were also accused to be a tool of the Chinese government against the Tibetan cause, and thus they were declared unclean, in order that nobody in the future could have any relationship of any kind with them. 
2 -See account by Helmut Gassner.
« Last Edit: May 19, 2008, 12:02:29 AM by a friend »