Dear Archbishop Desmond Tutu, July 13, 2014
I am writing you this evening to ask your help, as an advocate for human rights, equality, and peace, with a matter that involves an unfortunate move toward segregation and apartheid in Tibetan Buddhist Exile Communities. I became Buddhist 14 years ago, and had the immense good fortune to first meet Buddhism with Karmapa Thaye Dorje, and Shamar Rinpoche, the latter of whom sadly passed away in late June. I have read Rinpoche’s book on democracy, for which you were kind enough to provide the forward, and it is in the interest of democracy and human rights that I am requesting your help.
Though the Buddha taught peace, and definitely taught Buddhists not to harm others, of course the Buddha was teaching ordinary human beings, who sometimes become confused. I converted from Christianity, back in 2000 to Buddhism; to me, Buddha and Christ are the same being, it is just that some people do better understanding how to become peaceful on the paths of various religions. We have some issues in Buddhism, though we are definitely supposed to remember, as a basic tenant of Buddhism, not to engage in violence or dogma, with a set of Buddhists being discriminated against; the discrimination began in 1976, but did not become a problem leading to severe segregation and apartheid until 2008. It has also escalated to violence in some instances, with both sides accusing the other.
The issue is a Buddhist practice (which involves prayers and meditation) toward what was practiced by many before the ban, approximately 30 percent of Tibetans according to the Dalai Lama’s European representative, Dorje Shugden, an aspect of the Buddha of Wisdom, Buddha Manjushri. As is normal in Vajrayana Buddhism (of which Tibetan Buddhism is a part), the Buddhas sometimes take wrathful (sort of scary faced forms) to protect our practice and to keep us mindful of how to deal with emotions such as anger; in other words, the wrathful Buddhas remind us not to put up with our own anger, but to conquer it as though it were an enemy, realizing that outside sources such as people are not the cause of our anger; it is in our control to conquer anger; anger is the enemy not other beings. My first school, which was the Karma Kagyu, for instance, relies on a wrathful emanation of Buddha called Mahakala; this is the practice that Shamar Rinpoche used to do daily; I used to sit in on these practices with him in the United States and Nepal, as is normal for his students; eventually, due to having moved physically far away from Rinpoche’s Centers, I prayed to the Buddhas to find me a place to take my daughter for blessings; I was lead to a Kadampa Buddhist Center, which happens to do the practice which was banned in 1976 in India. Please understand, Shamar Rinpoche, was one of my first two teachers, the other being H.H. Karmapa Thaye Dorje; the the Dalai Lama, who is not historically in charge of choosing reincarnations in schools other than his (Shamar Rinpoche is a different school, Kagyu, than the Gelugpa Dalai Lama); the Dalai Lama, who picked China’s candidate and over-rode Shamar Rinpoche’s authority in doing so, is also the one who banned this Protector practice, instigating severe segregation toward practitioners of this aspect of Buddha.
Please understand, the Dalai Lama has never been my teacher, and I was completely unconcerned with his opinion, much like if the Methodists would try to pick the Pope for the Catholics or tell the Catholics what prayers to say , I don’t suppose the Catholics would really listen to the Methodists, as that is not their church. (I used to be Methodist! That is why I picked them for the example, because I don’t imagine they would do such a thing). When I got to this school, I knew that the Protector Practice (Buddha Dorje Shugden) was banned by the Dalai Lama for Tibetans; I am however, unconcerned with his opinion regarding spiritual matters, and this school, the New Kadampa Tradition, had formed its own western-oriented school back in the 1970s or 1980s. (They do not recognize Tibetan lamas, and do things in a democratic fashion.) Having been to India and Nepal back in 2001, I was aware there was a ban on this practice; back then Tibetans in exile were afraid to associate with Shugden practitioners because they were afraid of violence from the Dalai Lama’s more fanatical followers. As western Kagyu practitioners (who didn’t do the Shugden practice), some of my friends and I would do business with the Shugden practitioners; when I went to Kalimpong to visit Shamar Rinpoche and Karmapa, a group of us stayed in a hostel run by Shugden people, and then would go to Buddhist practices and empowerments at Karmapa’s house. I don’t think that Karmapa or Shamar Rinpoche had a problem with this, or they would have said so.
The Dalai Lama claims that the prayers I am doing, and that 30 percent of Tibetans (including the Dalai Lama himself) did before he banned them, are to a spirit, rather than a Buddha. Forgive me, but the Dalai Lama is not in charge of Tibetan or other Buddhism, or even of his own school, Gelugpa (the Ganden Tripa is in charge of the Gelugpa school, the Karmapa in charge of the Kagyu, and so on). Furthermore, I am sure that we can rememberEurope at the time of kings, and think back to when the ruler would decide that everyone had to be Catholic or a certain type of Protestant; everyone else was evil, according to the monarch, and often had to be killed. At any rate, the Dalai Lama is certainly entitled to his own opinion, and is welcome to say what prayers he likes. However, neither he nor the CTA has any right to exclude people from shops, medical care, primary schools, etc. if they happen to say these prayers.
As a Shugden practitioner, the difficulty with working for peace and ending what has started to become segregation leading toward a type of apartheid, is that the Dalai Lama is a powerful international figure, who often says the right words about peace. However, his follow through on actions that uphold his words would be very helpful. You see, the Dalai Lama and some very prominent figures in Tibetan Buddhism, such as Columbia University’s Robert Thurman and the Dalai Lama’s CTA, claim that there is no ban, there never was a ban, and the only thing that the Dalai Lama did was ask people who do my daily prayers not to come to his teachings and empowerments. While of course he can decide who he wants at teaching and empowerments, and honestly, since I have not the slightest interest in going to his teachings etc., that certainly doesn’t bother me. The issue though, is that in Tibetan Buddhism, that when the Dalai Lama takes disciples, which he does in vast numbers, he asks them, apparently, not to associate spiritually or materially with anyone who does my daily prayer, that of Dorje Shugden. This becomes a big problem in exile, not only is it unkind to ostracize people, but actually it is very difficult, for Tibetans in exile to be excluded from shops and medical care in their own communities. Often, these exiled people, who are not wealthy, of course do not own cars; when the shopkeepers from their own Tibetan settlements will not sell to them, then sometimes they have to walk upwards of 15 miles each way to Indian shops that will sell to them. Furthermore, the CTA funds clinics, which are sometimes in monasteries, which are supposed to be open to all Tibetans in exile; however, there are signs posted, sometimes in English and often in Tibetan, that ask Shugden followers not to enter the monastery, even the clinic, as they don’t support our practice.
Robert Thurman recently wrote an article in the Huffington Posts where he suggests that this segregation toward Shugden people is all made up, that anyone who does these prayers to Dorje Shugden is following China, etc.. However, it is not made up, as I can assure you, as I visited India and Nepal back in 2001 when some of the ostracism had begun. Furthermore, in 2008, the Dalai Lama’s and his government in exile made Tibetans sign yellow cards, which swore an oath not to practice the Shugden practice or associate with any Shugden followers. People would ask each other to present these yellow cards to get access to Tibetan shops, health care etc. The Tibetan government in exile also asked any medical personnel to give up this practice in order to remain working in medicine.
It is difficult, as I am sure given your history and understanding of extreme apartheid in South Africa, you would understand, to have our voices heard against such a powerful political figure. Furthermore, it is difficult because the Dalai Lama to many represents the struggle for freedom and democracy from communism; while I am completely for democratic governments, and while I have never liked communism, I feel that in modern society, we need to respect the rights of various groups, rather than staying with what a dictator, or former dictator would like.
Concerning whether the practice is bad, I have to tell you that I wrote the Karmapa that Shamar Rinpoche picked and asked him if it would be okay if I could sometimes come to his Centers for teachings and blessings, even though I do this Shugden practice. The Karmapa (Thaye Dorje, Shamar Rinpoche’s recognition— there are two recognitions) said that it was no problem from the Kagyu side, in an email he sent via his personal secretary. I have attended a few Kagyu teachings, with a lama named Ole, and I keep mostly to my main prayers and meditations, as well as teachings from the Kadampa (Shugden) school.
The Dalai Lama’s CTA tries to claim that we are sectarian, that we cause division, because we won’t give up prayers if the Dalai Lama tells us to. They also accuse us of being with China, which I assure you I am not, nor do I know anyone who is. The reincarnation that the Dalai Lama recognized of his own former teacher Trijang Rinpoche (who lives in Vermont, U.S.A. due to death threats from Tibetans in India), asked permission from the Dalai Lama to do these prayers; the Dalai Lama gave grudging permission, but some of the Dalai Lama’s more fanatical followers still think anyone who teaches these prayers to others is evil. This is simply that people are not well educated and do not understand that in the west we already determined that people had to be allowed basic human rights like allowing people to live, do commerce, receive medical attention, etc., regardless of what prayers they may say.
I am not entirely sure what the Dalai Lama’s real reasons may be for the ban, though I suspect they are political; the Dalai Lama did propose to unite all of Tibetan Buddhism under his command several years back; this was met with opposition by the other schools, including the 16th Karmapa and Gelugpa lamas in his own school, some of whom did the Shugden practice. The Gelugpa school has had a long-standing issue with the Kagyus; just for the record, back in the time of the 5th Dalai Lama, the 5th Dalai Lama invited Mongol invaders to Tibet; the Mongol- Gelugpa alliance killed by decapitation virtually all the abbots of 1000 Kagyu monestaries, the Kagyu monestaries were forcibly converted to Gelugpa, and Kagyu monks were slaughtered (about 7000) and the 10th Karmapa went into exile in order not to be killed. I mention this so you can understand, the history of Tibet is not an always peaceful happy one; even though they were Buddhists, like I said, people can get confused. Furthermore, just so you understand, the Dalai Lamas were never in charge of all of Tibetan Buddhism (according to Shamar Rinpoche). Actually this is quite obvious if we look at the history of Tibet; the Karmapa was the first recognized line of lamas and never relied on the Dalai Lamas for recognition, especially since the first 300 years of the Karmapa’s line, there were no Dalai Lamas yet. (Shamar Rinpoche’s line happens to be the 2nd line of reincarnate lamas recognized in Tibet).
Please ArchBishop Tutu, I am asking you, as an ordinary non-sectarian Buddhist who happens to do prayers to this banned Buddha, would you please, in the interest of world peace and harmony, as a Nobel laureate yourself, please help us end the segregation of Shugden people in exile? Since the Dalai Lama says there is no segregation, but that it is up to individual people whether to discriminate against us, I am requesting if there is some diplomatic way, perhaps you could try to request of His Holiness Dalai Lama, that he make a public statement, to please treat Shugden Buddhists as equals; to please encourage his followers that associating materially with us is good, and harmonious. I think the Dalai Lama recently spoke against the caste system in India, which is in line with both Buddha and Gandhi. However, because he believes people who do my prayers to be doing something evil, he has not asked his followers to please let us in their shops, to please try to be friendly and harmonious with us. Right now the discrimination is so bad, that families have been cut off from contact with each other, because the mother does Shugden and the children married into families that didn’t etc.. Always it is the Shugden people who are cut off from friends and families. Please understand, I wish only the best for the Dalai Lama, and pray for the long lives of all Buddhist teachers, including the Dalai Lama. If the Dalai Lama would make a public statement for people to embrace their family and relatives who do this practice, to do commerce with us, etc., then this would clear up any misunderstandings that people may have concerning whether the Dalai Lama wants them to treat us badly. They seem to be treating us badly, based on what they believe he wants.
In closing, there has been violence; a triple murder in the 1990s, that was blamed on Shugden followers, but never proven. The CTA currently blames my current school among others for having a hand in this violence; I know that the founder of my current school, Geshe Kelsang Gyastso, would never order a death. Interestingly, Robert Thurman, who claims we are lying about the ban and tries to imply that we are the ones that wanted three monks to die in the 1990s, also claimed that an account in a book against Shamar Rinpoche, in which a woman named Lea Therune accused Shamar Rinpoche of murder, was “valid and reasonable.” I knew Shamar Rinpoche years ago, and I can assure you, there is no way he would order a death. Also, there have been people harmed and killed who did Shugden, burned in their own houses, recently there has been a beating of a very elderly Shugden monk, and a lot of important Shugden teachers have had to go into hiding in fear for their lives. Please understand, it is a difficult political situation, in which some people are very devoted to a teacher (the Dalai Lama) and never want him to be wrong.
I am asking, if perhaps, you could encourage peace among everybody, regardless of what practice (prayers/meditation combination) that they do, and ask the Dalai Lama to explicitly say we want to be peaceful and respectful with the Dorje Shugden practitioners, we would like peace on both sides, and that commerce and normal relationships should be okay between them. Please understand, I only want peace for everyone, every being, throughout space and time. The Buddha never condoned violence.
Thank you for your valuable time and consideration. I will ask that you join me in praying for our world and whatever prayers you normally say for the deceased for Shamar Rinpoche. (I am praying for his swift rebirth).
Yours in harmony,
P.S. The main teacher (founder of my school) is more or less in hiding for his life, thus I do not have his email address. I am going to cc to the Eastern National Spiritual Director of the U.S., who happens to be a devoted Shugden practitioner (that varies right now in my school) so that you may contact him, would you like to attempt communication with Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Thank you.