The Western Shugden Society (or WSS) is a campaigning group established in 2008 to campaign through media events and public protests against what they portray as "the ban by Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama on the worship of the Dharmapala, or 'Dharma Protector', Dorje Shugden, which is being enforced by the Tibetan Government in Exile.
Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama, when talking to the Western media, said: "he had not advocated a ban, but he had stopped the worship of the spirit because it was not Buddhist in nature. When talking to Tibetans, he said: "These monks must be expelled from all monasteries. If they are not happy, you can tell them that the Dalai Lama himself asked that this be done, and it is very urgent.”
Dorje Shugden is historically associated with the Gelug and Sakya schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The WSS state that they are an organized community of Dorje Shugden practitioners from around the world, with no leader and no registered office. These activities have stirred controversy within the Buddhist community.
“I have meditated and considered (my decision to put aside the Shugden) at length in my soul and spirit before coming to the right decision”, he said. People have killed, lied, fought each other and set things alight in the name of this deity. These monks must be expelled from all monasteries. If they are not happy, you can tell them that the Dalai Lama himself asked that this be done, and it is very urgent.”
The Tibetan Government in Exile is enforcing this ban:
“In sum, the departments, their branches and subsidiaries, monasteries and their branches that are functioning under the administrative control of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile should be strictly instructed, in accordance with the rules and regulations, not to indulge in the propitiation of Shugden.”
However, in May 2008, the Office of Tibet in London claimed that the Dalai Lama has not banned the prayer, that he is advising against it – but saying that those who choose to ignore his advice cannot expect to attend his teachings. They also state that he considers Dorje Shugden a fierce spirit which can be used to curse others. Devotion to this spirit is seen by the Dalai Lama as encouraging sectarianism, harming the prospects for Tibetan autonomy and, indeed, the Dalai Lama’s own longevity.
The WSS say that the Dalai Lama and the TGIE have not responded to any of their attempts to dialogue on the subject and supporters say that the TGIE have simply discredited the opposition. In recent news coverage on the TV station Al Jazeera, Tsultrim Tenzin, MP in the Tibetan Government in Exile, is asked 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”.
The WSS also disagree with the Dalai Lama's reasons for banning the practice, saying, "If the Dalai Lama is so concerned by the possibility of Buddhadharma degenerating into a form of spirit worship why does he and his government in exile rely upon the State oracle Nechung?" With regard to being sectarian they say, "It is a common assumption that mixing the various spiritual traditions will create something greater than the sum of its parts. In fact, such mixing weakens and dilutes the spiritual power of each.... In reality the Dalai Lama is a cunning and clever politician. When he felt his authority and power was in jeopardy he created a diversion that would embroil the whole Buddhist community in controversy" and "Dorje Shugden practitioners, with valid reasons, believe that Dorje Shugden is an enlightened being and that he performs the function of a Dharma Protector." A guest blog on the WSS website also states the belief that the Dalai Lama is not a Buddhist by giving six principal reasons, and the conclusion that "his collective actions have the function of destroying Buddhism in this world. Therefore the Dalai Lama is not a Buddhist."
The WSS also claims that about one third of the Tibetan population including hundreds of previous Tibetan Buddhist teachers, used to rely on Dorje Shugden. They state that the Dalai Lama abandoned the practice of Dorje Shugden in the 1970s and that in 1996 he and the Tibetan Government in Exile imposed social obstacles to those not willing to follow his lead resulting in access to various jobs, positions, schools, and monasteries in the Tibetan community in exile becoming impossible without publicly renouncing Dorje Shugden while those who showed support for him were rewarded with key positions and visits by the Dalai Lama. The WSS further states that on 9 January, 2008 the Dalai Lama instigated public swearings in monastic universities in South India, and now throughout the world. They claim that this is aimed at making social life impossible for anyone not renouncing Dorje Shugden and that it has created social segregation with those who refuse to renounce Shugden being publicly denounced as "unclean", "traitors to the Tibetan cause" and enemies of the Dalai Lama. They state that without the new yellow identity card which has been introduced, it is not possible "to attend common Prayer Halls, to buy goods in shops, to obtain visa’s for travelling and families are being torn apart." The WSS maintain that this is ostracising Shugden practitioners and religious apartheid, while the Dalai Lama teaches in the West about religious freedom and tolerance.
Even in the West, the Dalai Lama's ban is being enforced through organizations such as the FPMT. As one senior monk in the FPMT says:
Shugden practitioners have also been subjected to violence. Most recently, Radio Free Asia reported on October 2 2008 that Tibetan monks been "handed jail terms ranging from four to nine years in connection with several explosions in Markham county, Chamdo, during Tibetan protests earlier this year", including "one at the residence of a Tibetan who worships Shugden, a controversial deity espoused by Beijing but regarded with suspicion by those loyal to the Dalai Lama.
As a result of this situation, some Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, such as Dagom Tensung Ling and Gaden Samdrupling, Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries in the United States set up by Kyabje Dagom Rinpoche, have separated from the Dalai Lama. According to Geshe Kuten Lama, a teacher at Gaden Samdrupling,
"There was one primary reason why we established our monastery: to preserve our lineage. The hardship is because the Dalai Lama took our religious freedom, our human rights. But it is very hard for us ordinary persons to explain to the world because he is so powerful and famous and our words are not too important."
The first protests by Dorje Shugden practitioners in the West were organised by the Dorje Shugden Coalition (DSC). For instance, in May 1998, 130 DSC protestors demonstrated as the Dalai Lama visited Manhattan in the United States. The DSC said they would continue to follow the Dalai Lama on his tour of the United States until he gave them the religious freedom they said they were being denied. The DSC campaign lasted for two years from 1996 until October 1998. At that time, the main sponsoring organization, the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) and its leader Geshe Kelsang Gyatso confirmed that they had stopped all involvement in the campaigning. In 1996 there had been other groups/names associated with the NKT such as the Shugden Supporters Community and the Freedom Foundation.
The WSS state that they have four reasons for protesting under four slogans:
The WSS website offers little information about the structure or size of the group. All group membership entails is to be sympathetic to the aims of the WSS.
The WSS states that it is independent of any other groups. Protesters representing the WSS at demonstrations in 2008 were principally Western Buddhists and Tibetans living in the West, affiliated with various groups who practice Dorje Shugden including the NKT and others such as students from Dagom Tensung Ling and Gaden Samdrupling, Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries in the United States. Some of the people who took part in these demonstrations were ordained monks and nuns, both Western and Tibetan.
Following the expulsion of the first six monks, all Dorje Shugden practitioners, from Sera monastery in Bylakuppe, Mysore, South India, the WSS wrote to the monastery on 9 April, 2008 stating that the expulsion was based on wrong and false reasons. They said that unless the monastery reversed the expulsions by 22 April they would "immediately organise worldwide public demonstrations directly against the Dalai Lama whenever he visits any country." Although the letter came from the WSS, they requested the monastery reply to the Dorje Shugden Devotees Society in Majnu Ka Tila, Delhi. On 12 April they wrote to the Dalai Lama with their fourfold aims, also giving him until 22 April to respond, and again care of the Dorje Shugden Devotees Society.
Between 22 April and 17 August, 2008 the WSS has protested outside twelve locations where the Dalai Lama was giving talks in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, and France. The BBC reported that there were 500 protesters at the demonstration on 28 May, 2008 outside the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, England, where the Dalai Lama had been invited to speak to the Dominican monks of Blackfriars.
At the start of the Dalai Lama's visit to Australia, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that there were a total of 50 demonstrators on 11 June at the Sydney Olympic Park in Sydney as he held a meditation course for about 5,000 followers at the Acer Arena. As the Dalai Lama spoke to a crowd of about 5,000 at the Stabler Arena, Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in the United States on 13 July, about 300 protestors stood outside chanting slogans.
At the demonstration outside Radio City Hall in New York City on 17 July, chaotic scenes surrounded the protest as police, including mounted police, had to separate the WSS protestors, said to number about 200-300 and the Dalai Lama supporters who numbered several thousand to avoid a possible clash, with some of the Dalai Lama supporters approaching the WSS protestors, as they left a lecture by the Dalai Lama. Hundreds of the Dalai Lama supporters shouted "Long live the Dalai Lama" toward the protestors and waved currency notes to make the point that they believed demonstrators were paid Chinese agents. The WSS deny this and request proof. Some of the Dalai Lama supporters also spat at the demonstrators and threw things. Eventually the police had to close down The Avenue of the Americas for about twenty minutes to escort the protestors away from the scene. On protestor claimed that the 50 police officers who were there urged the protesters to leave the scene for their own safety, as they could not protect them.
WSS press speaker, Kelsang Pema, who had flown from England for the demonstration, referred to the Dalai Lama as the "Hollywood Monk" and claimed that he "pretends he doesn't speak English to avoid getting into any discussion of serious issues." She also denied that the group had been paid by the Chinese government. "We get no money from the Chinese. They can check our organization. We’re clean." She also called him a hypocrite and compared the treatment of Dorje Shugden practitioners to the treatment of the Jews in Nazi Germany, saying it is
reminiscent of 1930s Germany where the Jews received a star as the victim. Here if you follow the Dalai Lama's views you get an identification card. If you don't follow his view, you have no identification card. Without it you can’t buy food in shops, you can’t get visas for travelling, you can’t get medicines in hospitals, people are having their homes burned, thousands upon thousands of monks are homeless.
The Dalai Lama had been asked about the protest during his talk. He said that he used to follow the same practice, but that he had given it up because it was intolerant of other Buddhist teachings, adding, "This is just spirit worship. After I read more about it, I realized my mistake and dropped my practice. I think 99% of Tibetans follow my practice. Some small portion worship this spirit. I am committed to freedom of speech, freedom of talk. So I say to them, enjoy freedom of talk." He also argued that two past Dalai Lamas had restricted the practice, and that he was following tradition. The WSS asserts that he has for more than a decade "been fostering a campaign of intimidation, humiliation, and ostracism" against practitioners of Dorje Shugden.. They also argue that even if the worship of Dorje Shugden has now become a minority religion, it is still correct to protect the religious freedom of minorities.
The group have also set up an account on the video sharing website YouTube to promote the activities of the WSS including WSS-made video coverage. The WSS are also using political means to further their campaign. A House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Human Rights report in July 2008 contained a letter from Kelsang Pema under her lay name, calling for help to gain freedom from religious discrimination and which confirmed that the WSS would be seeking help from each member of the United Nations Council, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the President of the United States, the President of France, the President of Russia and the President of the People's Republic of China. The WSS have also set up a petition to the Dalai Lama on their website, asking him to give religious freedom. On 10 September, 2008 they challenged the American Buddhist writer Robert Thurman to show evidence that Dorje Shugden pratitioners are Buddhist Taliban which he has previously claimed and his public statement that the WSS protestors are "working for the Chinese", stating that unless he does so then they would conclude that he was lying and misleading the public.
There have been claims that the WSS is organised and run by the NKT. However, during the 2008 International Spring Festival the Spiritual Director of the NKT, Kelsang Gyatso, explained that in order for the NKT itself to be a part of the WSS, the board of Directors would have had to vote on it. A vote, though, never took place as the NKT itself states that it is not directly participating in the activities of the WSS. Individual Dorje Shugden practitioners from the NKT have joined the WSS in their capacity as Dorje Shugden practitioners. Any involvement by the NKT directly in the politics of Dorje Shugden would represent a u-turn, after Geshe Kelsang Gyatso said in an open letter in 2002:
However in October 1998 we decided to completely stop being involved in this Shugden issue because we realized that in reality this is a Tibetan political problem and not the problem of Buddhism in general or the NKT. We made our decision public at this time -- everyone knows the NKT and myself completely stopped being involved in this Shugden issue at all levels.
The website info-buddhismus.de, which takes a strong stance against the WSS and which was set up by a former NKT and current Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) monk, points out the participation of many NKT members in these demonstrations, such as the WSS Press Speaker, the front man and leader in the United States, the front woman and leader in United States and the front man and leader in Germany all of whom are who are NKT members, and Kelsang Khyenrab, the present successor to Geshe Kelsang. The website also asserts that the WSS is probably funded by the NKT. The WSS does not deny that prominent NKT students have taken part in the demonstrations in their capacity as concerned Dorje Shugden practitioners. Both the NKT and the WSS state that no NKT funds have been used to fund the activities of the WSS, but that WSS activities have been funded by donations from both Westerners and Tibetans, with some, they claim but by no means all, from individual NKT practitioners acting in their private capacity. Also, whilst many of the demonstrators are NKT members, some have come from other Tibetan Buddhist groups in the West such as Dagom Tensung Ling and Gaden Samdrupling in the United States.
The ASA also claimed that the robed members (who they claim appear to be a large number at each demonstration) of the group "have not taken monastic vows as defined by the Vinaya" and that, in their opinion, "it is wrong and misleading for NKT members to represent themselves to the public as authentic Buddhist monks and nuns." The NKT responded to the ASA statement through the newkadampatruth.org website claiming that the ASA's judgement of the NKT ordination was politically motivated and that the NKT monks and nuns had taken monastic vows, stating:
Because the system of ordination in the NKT follows Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings on ordination interpreted by Geshe Potowa (1031-1106), and this contains the essential meaning of all ordination, it is entirely valid.... The essence of the ten ordination vows of a Kadampa monk or nun is the condensation of all the vows of a fully ordained monk or nun contained in the Vinaya Sutra. The ten ordination vows are derived from a different teaching of Buddha, a Mahayana Sutra called The Perfection of Wisdom Sutra.
Vajramala, the Head Chairwoman of the German Buddhist Union said of the protests "such battles are not what the Buddha taught." Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Thien Son, the founder and abbot of Pagoda Phat Hue in Frankfurt, Germany said in a video interview filmed during a WSS protest in Nuremberg, Germany
It is very questionable what this is supposed to accomplish. Here we see two sides, on one side is this demonstration and on the other side are the Chinese who are shouting the same slogans. Therefore, one has to really ask what connection they have. And, since we also come from Asia and have lived under communist rule, we know how propaganda and brain-washing happens. Actually it is a real pity to see that for creating peace we have to work together and instead demonstrations and provocations are being staged here. Nevertheless, we hope that eventually these people will absord Buddha's guidance and Buddha's loving-kindness. Instead of shouting they should turn inside for meditation.... And peace is not made of demonstrations.
Time Magazine reported on July 19th 2008:
Experts seem to think that there is something to the Shugden allegations. "There is considerable anecdotal evidence to support what they say," Stephen Batchelor, co-founder of the Sharpham College for Buddhist Studies and Contemporary Enquiry, wrote in an email to TIME, although, he adds, "I have yet to see any hard evidence." Wrote Donald Lopez of the University of Michigan, "Buddhist monks who apply for an Identity Certificates must also submit a letter form their abbot. I was told that there may have been cases in which, contrary to the policy of the Government-in-Exile, monks who worship Shugden have not been provided with such a letter."
“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.”
The Tibetan Government in Exile accuse Lobsang Yeshe of being paid by the Chinese and state that he has visited China at least twice. He however denies working for the Chinese, but does confirm that he has Chinese friends and he praises the Chinese "for what they are doing in Tibet", claiming that if Tibetans who followed Dorje Shugden had to live under the Dalai Lama in Tibet, they "would have possibly been crucified". He has also made similar comparisons to that of the WSS about the treatment of Dorje Shugden practitioners and the treatment of Jews in 1930s Germany as well as religious apartheid. The Dorje Shugden Devotee's Charitable & Religious Society (DSDCRS) based in the Tibetan settlement of Majnu Ka Tila, Delhi, India have presented appeals to the Dalai Lama, The DSDCRS also held a Press Conference on 29 April, 2008 in New Delhi to publicly express their concerns about perceived persecution by the Tibetan exile community.
WHAT IS THE GOAL OF LIFE? IT IS, FOR ALL PEOPLE, SAYS THE DALAI LAMA WITH HIS PATENTED SIMPLICITY, TO BE HAPPY.(LOCAL)
Jul 20, 2008; Byline: DEBORAH ZIFF email@example.com 608-252-6234 Alone but for an interpreter on the huge stage at the Dane County Coliseum,...