Exiled from Exile
© by Ursula Bernis, 1996 - 1999
While gathering material for a book on seminal Buddhist masters of this century I became aware in 1996 that because most belonged to the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and relied on the religious protector Dorje Shugden, they were suddenly at the center of a raging controversy. Told by the Dalai Lama to renounce ties with that venerable tradition they were put into a position of either breaking their vows or facing ostracism from the community. These greatest of masters who included one of the two tutors of the Dalai Lama had been central to the transmission of Buddhism as it traveled from Tibet to India and the rest of the world after 1959. They ensured the integrity of a living wisdom tradition that had been passed on from one adept to another for millennia. I was shocked to hear the ugly allegations against such venerated and highly respected Lamas. I personally knew many of them, had studied with them, and had had a chance to observe them in close proximity over many years. Like most everyone else, I found their gentle kindness, open-mindedness, and inclusive teachings exemplary.
Since every accusation against them contradicted facts, reason, and my own experience, I felt compelled to get to the bottom of the controversy that had generated such extreme views. It was impossible to continue my project without finding an explanation of how such a dramatic shift from the most revered masters to "devil worshipers" could have occurred and, moreover, how it could so completely possess the Tibetan cultural psyche in such a short time.
In the process of my work on this book I found that open debate about the subject was impossible in the exile community and that the conflict was driven by an emotional zeal for the Dalai Lama beyond all rational considerations, suggesting an identity crisis of unexpected proportions. The conditions of exile, the loss of country, home, family and the threat to the established religious world view certainly contributed to the Tibetans' exaggerated hold onto the one institution left to them, that of Dalai Lamas. However, there seemed something else at work that extended far beyond the Tibetan community to affect Western Tibet supporters as well. They exhibited similarly irrational responses to the conflict. No matter what approach one brought to the subject, all attempts at rational debate became immediately polarized and turned into a series of outlandish accusations none of which held up under scrutiny.
At the heart of the difficulties complicating this investigation were the unique problems deriving from the fact that Tibetan society remains largely an oral culture. I traveled throughout India and Nepal, the longest visit lasting four months, and talked to hundreds of Tibetans and affected Buddhists, gathering their stories and oral testimony. At the same time I collected relevant documentation of government records, published papers, wall posters -- a common form of communication about controversial subjects -- and circulars of the various social organizations that make up the Tibetan administration. This material forms the background for the book.
Since the Tibetan exile government denies the reality of the conflict it has been instrumental in creating, the issue is presented here from three different perspectives: Part I, from the point of view of Tibetans living in India and Nepal most affected by the conflict; Part II, a historical background and chronological ordering of events surrounding the conflict followed by biographical sketches of the most influential masters of a tradition now being suppressed as a "cult"; and Part III, which examines the issue from an outsider's point of view. My analysis traces some of the standard accusations to a basic confusion of religious and political issues. It brings to bear the historical and cultural background to show the dynamics of power relations in the exile community and how they get played out in the international arena through the media. Crucial to understanding the emotional involvement in this issue of Western Tibet supporters is their need to uphold at all cost today's icon of universal goodness, made accessible by the media to a world bereft of deep spiritual meaning. Even though the Dalai Lama's politics come into critical focus, the book is not intended as an attack on him.
Although I am indebted to many scholars and experts on the subject, it would be a disservice at the time of this writing to acknowledge their individual help publicly. The nature of the issue is so sensitive that they must remain unnamed. Even so, I would like to express here my gratitude for their contribution.
"By defending those people who are persecuted for their race, religion, ethnicity or ideology, you are actually contributing to guiding our human family to peace, justice and dignity." Tibetan Bulletin, The Official Journal of the Tibetan Administration: "I Believe...", January-February 1999, p. 29.
His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama
Dharamsala, Dec. 7, 1998
Never before in its history has Tibet been lost so thoroughly and seemingly irreversibly to invaders. Even during historical periods of strong outside influence such as the Mongolian and Manchu forces in the 17th and 18th centuries, For historical background, see chapters 5 and 6 of Tibetan Nation, by Warren W. Smith, Jr., Westview Press, Boulder, 1996; Tibet Survival in Question, by Pierre-Antoine Donnet, transl. by Tica Broch, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1994, chapter two. Tibet was not as totally occupied as it is now. Until Communist China subjugated Tibet in the middle of this century, it was never under complete control of another nation. This came at a time when the age of colonization had ended for the rest of the world, which makes this immense loss even more tragic. It would be difficult for any people to accept the sad reality of so much destruction and to deal with it rationally. Tibetans who grew up in a country as large as Europe, populated by not more than six million people, found the loss of their country and way of life especially hard to accept. Moving from the Himalayan snow mountain ranges -- and beyond them, the open spaces of the high plateau, which gave an intense sense of personal freedom -- to the stifling heat and congested spaces of overpopulated India with its religious, cultural, and linguistic diversity meant changing to a world as foreign as one can possibly imagine. Today, when the loss of Tibet is becoming ever more apparent to the rest of the world, the hope for Tibetan self-determination is quickly dwindling. Nevertheless, much of the generation growing up in exile courageously holds on to the idea of freedom, even if they see it as deferred to an indefinite future. To think through the many intrinsic contradictions that make up their political and social fabric in exile would only cause deeper suffering and more intense emotional turmoil. By their own accounts, most Tibetans simply rely on the Dalai Lama and go on with their everyday business of life. This attitude is not religious -- as is claimed in the West -- but a desperate solution to an identity crisis of a people in denial. It also explains their often unrealistic political views which are propagated in a larger international context.
The one Tibetan institution believed to be still intact is that of the Dalai Lama. In him religious and political power are fused in a uniquely Tibetan way. For an account of the uniqueness of the institution of the Dalai Lama and rule by incarnation, see for example, Rule by Incarnation, Tibetan Buddhism and its Role in Society and State, by Franz Michael, Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1982; Tibetan Nation, p. 107. Continuing the heritage through incarnation, the institution of Dalai Lama, first established in Tibet in 1642, For easily readable Tibetan historical background, see chapter 39, High Peaks, Pure Earth, Collected Writings on Tibetan History and Culture, by Hugh Richardson, Seriandia Publications, London, 1998; also Tibetan Nation, chapter 5; the Introduction in Secret Visions of the Fifth Dalai Lama, The Gold Manuscript in the Fournier Collection, Samten Gyaltsen Karmay, Serindia Publications, London, 1988; also "The Sovereign Power of the Fifth Dalai Lama: sPrul sku gZims-khang-gong-ma and the Removal of Governor Nor-bu" in Memoirs of the Research Department of The Toyo Bunko (The Oriental Library) No. 53, Tokyo, 1995; also a brief discussion about the institution of reincarnate Lamas that became prominent in the political turmoil of the 17th century by E. Gene Smith in the introduction to The Autobiography of the First Panchen Lama blo-bzang-chos-kyi-rgyal-mtshan, edited and reproduced by Ngawang Gelek Demo, Gedan Sungrab Minyam Gyunphel Series, Volume 12, Jayyed Press, Delhi, 1969. has become larger than life today in exile For a discussion of the view of the Dalai Lamas as absolute, which seems to be a modern phenomenon, see also A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951, The Demise of the Lamaist State, by Melvyn C. Goldstein, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1989. For example, "The current view of the Dalai Lamas is that each was "the absolute ruler of unchallenged authority" whom all Tibetans devoutly obeyed [as quoted from Michael 1982:51, derived from interviews in exile where Tibetans believe it applies to the Dalai Lama]. While this approaches accuracy for the last two decades of the 13th Dalai Lama's life (1913-1933), it is not generally true." p. 41. with the overwhelming responsibility of bringing an ancient culture into the twenty-first century. The institution of the Dalai Lama in exile has become the very soul of Tibet, the nation, the culture, and the religion. In the face of the severe disruption in Tibetan life not only by political forces but also global cultural change, it has become the source of Tibetan identity per se. No other Dalai Lama ever had to carry as heavy a burden of his institution as the current, the Fourteenth. In Tibet, the Dalai Lama was formally the "The Great Owner" Portrait of a Dalai Lama, The Life and Times of the Great Thirteenth, Sir Charles Bell, Wisdom Publications, London, 1987, p. 432. of the country, still one of his names today. In religious and political ways he was the head of the government and leader of his people. In exile, without a country and only a handful of people, without a legal mandate or a power base other than a globalized version of Buddhism, his tasks as head of state and government have become almost impossible. Yet he is everything to his people, the one true vestige of a cherished way of life that amounts to what is Tibetan for Tibetans.
Communist China took over Tibet beginning in 1949 with a so-called "peaceful liberation" culminating in complete control in 1959, when the Dalai Lama escaped to India See My Land and my People, Memoirs of the Dalai Lama of Tibet, Potala Corporation, New York, Reprint 1977; see also the documentation of the CIA officer who trained the Tibetan Resistance (Chushi Gangdug) who ensured the Dalai Lama' safe escape, Tears of the Lotus, Accounts of Tibetan Resistance to the Chinese Invasion, 1950-1962, Roger E. McCarthy, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1997. followed by approximately eighty thousand of his people, a number that subsequently increased to an estimated one hundred twenty thousand dispersed around the world. Then only in his early twenties, the Dalai Lama established an administration in exile with the help of his tutors, religious dignitaries, loyal old regime aristocrats, and family. Among the many books with details about the early exile days, see for example, Kundun, A Biography of the Family of the Dalai Lama, by Mary Craig, HarperCollins Publishers, London 1997; The Making of Modern Tibet, by A. Tom Grunfeld, M.E. Sharpe, Inc.,New York, London, 1996, chapter ten. They established an infrastructure in Dharamsala, a small hill station in the foot hills of the Himalayas located in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, assigned to them by the Indian government, to deal with the influx of refugees and to save the largely religious culture of Tibet. Tibetans were granted refugee status in India at the time under an executive order, since India has not ratified the International Convention of Refugees. An instrument developed under the auspices of the United Nations to give legal status to refugees and guarantee their protection and rights. In spite of the political and legal reality that the Dalai Lama and his people are not permitted any political activities in India, their administration in Dharamsala is called a government. For more detail on the perception of the precarious legal position of Tibetans in India, see my interview with Samdhong Rinpoche, head of the assembly. It was formally established during the first few days of the Dalai Lama's escape in March 1959 in Tibet en route to India. Exile Tibetans consider it the Tibetan government per se even though neither India nor any other country recognizes it as such.
In the 1960's most of the older loyalists were pushed out of the Tibetan exile government in Dharamsala while the most important political functions were assumed by the Dalai Lama's family, According to Professor Dawa Norbu, Delhi, interview Oct. 24, 1997. particularly his older brother Gyalo Thondup. Chinese educated, he seemed to be the only diplomatically trained person then who could present the Tibet problem internationally. Gyalo Thondup had dealt with the Indian government already in 1948 when, unfortunate for its immediate political future, Tibet had failed to recognize Indian independence (1947). He also helped the Tibetan resistance with aid from the CIA. During the cold war, the CIA supported what they believed to be anti-Communist activities among Tibetan exiles. See, for example, John Kenneth Knaus: Orphans of the Cold War, BBS Public Affairs, New York, 1999. In Tibet, a family member of a Dalai Lama was legally barred from holding office, something that changed in exile, where Gyalo Thondup and others later became ministers. This occurred only in the 1990's, when ministers were elected rather than appointed. Much controversy surrounds Gyalo Thondup whom Tibetans believe to be the main architect of the Dalai Lama's plan to integrate Tibet into China under increased cultural autonomy. For some of the many, even violent confrontations surrounding him over the years, see for example, Jamyang Norbu: "The Heart of the Matter," Tibetan Review, March 1994. Recently, another brother of the Dalai Lama has claimed that today only three families, including his, run the exile government. "...the Tibetan exile government is run by three families, one of which is mine [i.e. the Dalai Lama's or the Yabshi family]..." in an unpublished letter of resignation by Professor Thubten Jigme Norbu, the Dalai Lama's brother, from post as Representative of the Tibetan exile government to Asia (Tokyo) to the Cabinet (Kashag), dated Feb. 6, 1992, with copy to Private Office, the Assembly, the foreign minister and the Tibetan Youth Congress, p. 9-10.
Early on in exile, in 1961, the Dalai Lama began to draft a constitution for a future free Tibet which was adopted in 1963. However, a charter to administer the very different situation in exile was not implemented until 1991. For an outline of the structure see, for example, Tibetan Parliament in Exile, published by Tibetan Parliamentary and Policy Research Centre (TPPRC) in co-operation with Friedrich-Naumann-Foundation, New Delhi, 1996; The Making of Modern Tibet, chapter 12; also see the interview with Samdhong Rinpoche, head of the Assembly and co-drafter of the charter, below, in "Exiled from Exile." It is a simpler document than the draft constitution and it passed the Assembly of People's Deputies by a simple majority. Hailed as a "leap forward" in democratizing Tibetan politics, Tibetan Parliament in Exile, p. 16. it instituted several novel practices for the exile government such as election of ministers (Tib.: kalon) by the people's deputies in their Assembly or parliament. Nevertheless, the preamble states the nature of the government to be the union of religious and political affairs in continuity with the Ganden Potang government of Tibet established by the Fifth Dalai Lama in 1642. The Dalai Lama continues to be its unelected head and the political system remains without institutionalized opposition.
It is commonly known that the Dalai Lama is still the religious and political head of Tibetans, at least in exile, since in the Western press he is usually referred to as "God-King." The effort to democratize has not extended to separate the domains of religion and politics. Since the Tibetan exile government in Dharamsala is not legitimately a government by legal and international standards, it is difficult to analyze this problematic in an easy or straightforward way. Democratic it is not. The Tibetan people have never been asked to vote on any of the major political decisions concerning the future of their country either inside or outside Tibet. The confusing and much discussed referendum of 1995-7 was never put to a vote. People realized they had no real choice and decided to follow the Dalai Lama's choice, which had already been confirmed by the State Oracle. More detail, see Part II. Often not even the Assembly and Cabinet (Kashag) are asked. Even more basic, freedom of speech, the very foundation of democratic striving, is woefully absent among exile Tibetans. Criticism of official exile government business is usually dismissed as being of Chinese origin. This practice has a long history. It was even said of Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama's brother, when in 1948 he tried to make clear to the Tibetan government in Lhasa what was in store for them after having escaped to India from the Communist onslaught in Shanghai where he was studying. At the time, India offered help to Tibet but the government in Lhasa did not answer Gyalo Thondup's pleas because they believed he was working for the Chinese. See Kundun, page 250 China is doing whatever it can to destabilize the exile community, discredit the Dalai Lama worldwide, and silence any criticism of its policies in Tibet. See for example, The Anguish of Tibet, edited by Petra K. Kelly, Gert Bastian, and Pat Aiello, Parallax Press, Berkeley, 1991; Cutting off the Serpent's Head, Tightening Control in Tibet, 1994-1995, Tibet Information Network and Human Rights Watch, New York, 1996; Tsering Shakya: The Dragon in the Land of Snows, Pimlico, London, 1999. It moves to fan the flames of any internal Tibetan conflict. But Tibetan society today seems to be just as intolerant of internal opposition as the Chinese. Allegations of Chinese interference are widely used by Tibetans as an excuse to silence any opposition. Jamyang Norbu: "Opening of the Political Eye, Tibet's long search for democracy," Tibetan Review, November 1990
In an atmosphere where nationalistic and religious fervor for the Dalai Lama are all too often substituted for reasoned debate and political analysis, the dynamics of social groups plays an important role in enforcing policies of the exile government, which itself is denied this role by its host country. The unusual circumstances of exile require atypical solutions to social and political problems. The exile government works through a social organizations which were also common in old Tibet where they did not have the same political functions they acquired in exile. In 1991, the base of representation in the Assembly was divided into regional groups (based on the traditional division of Tibetan geography into three main provinces, Tib.: chol.ka gsum,or Cholsum) and religious sects functioning like interest groups. A network of NGO's, Many of them were started by someone prominent in the exile government, as the Women's Association was started in the 1980 by request of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and the Tibetan Youth Congress originally upon request of Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama's brother, with founding members listed in the TYC brochure as Tenzin Geyche Tethong, Lodi Gyari, Sonam Topgyal and Tenzin N. Tethong, almost all of whom are still powerful players in the Tibetan exile government. made up of different regional sub-groups, social welfare groups, religious organizations, and local chapters of women's and youth groups effectively carry out the exile government's wishes usually in the name of the Dalai Lama. For some of the underlying political dynamics in exile, see, for example, Illusion and Reality, Jamyang Norbu, TYC Books, Dharamsala, 1989. "Thomas Merton, the Catholic divine, once observed that nowhere in the world was a leader so loved by his people as the Dalai Lama. It should be the task of government officials to strengthen this bond of affection and loyalty and direct it towards the achievement of our common goal; not pervert it to blackmailing the people into silence. The Chinese are doing their best to turn us into a nation of sheep; it is heartbreaking that the Tibetan government should be attempting to hasten the process." p. 37 Social pressure to conform to anything interpreted as the wish of the Dalai Lama has become intense, especially in the last decade. This type of social control was not exercised in Tibet before 1959 but developed out of the very difficult conditions in exile, where the large number of social groups originated first to help destitute refugees and later to raise funds from international sponsors and donor organizations. Another reason is that the legal status of Tibetans in India is precarious. They are prohibited from engaging in overt "political" activity. Since Tibetans are refugees in India, they do not have their own police or legal system. The Indian police and legal systems have often proven to be corrupt and Tibetans do not trust them. Thus, social pressure is an effective method of control and enforcing directives of the Tibetan exile government. Tibetans are clannish in ways difficult for us to grasp which makes social pressure an effective device. They are primarily still an oral culture and get their information from radio, tapes, and an amazingly accurate grapevine. This makes them extremely vulnerable to rumor mongering. Publications in Tibetan or English are to varying degrees controlled by the exile government which exercises censorship. Jamyang Norbu: "Opening of the Political Eye, Tibet's long search for democracy," Tibetan Review, November 1990 A free press does not exist among Tibetans themselves, although they have access to the international press. The fear and mistrust that naturally develop among exiles are ever on the rise. This is especially true since more and more Tibetans escaped to India from their Chinese controlled homeland in the 1990's, For example, the monk population in the big Gelugpa monastic universities, Ganden, Drepung, and Sera doubled in the 90's with an influx of people coming out of Tibet, where religious freedom had increased but the opportunity for thorough Buddhist studies was not available. Tibetan Buddhism has many different sub-sects, but generally four major ones are given: Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelugpa, in order of historical emergence. The Gelugpa order has been the largest group since the 16th- 17th centuries. They focus more on monastic institutions than the other groups and on philosophical studies that culminate in the Geshe degree. bringing with them their different use of language and unfamiliar views. The upbringing of Tibetans in Tibet and those in India differs radically, causing even deeper factionalism and paranoia already rampant in the exile community. These factors explain in part why the Dalai Lama's words carry the weight of law and why an indirect remark from him can destroy someone or actually become incendiary.
Until the 1990's the one issue uniting the exile community had been Tibetan independence. The State Oracle advising the Dalai Lama and his government had repeatedly predicted in the 80's early 90's that freedom was waiting just around the corner. For example, at the Kalachakra initiation His Holiness gave at Varanasi in 1983, he mentioned that Tibetans would regain freedom soon, as soon as five and no longer than ten years. This clearly did not materialize. With the official political strategy having changed from independence to returning to Tibet under Chinese control, The Dalai Lama has repeated this in the world press especially since the fall of 1997. Most recently several high ranking members of his exile government confirmed to the international press that the Dalai Lama was even willing to make a public statement in Washington (Nov. 7-10, 1998) admitting Tibet and Taiwan are part of China because the Chinese stated this as a condition for his visit to China. See, for example, the German newspaper "Die Woche," November 6, 1998. the institution of Dalai Lama has emerged today as the only unifying factor. Where in the 1980's the Dalai Lama still laughingly responded in the affirmative to the inevitable journalistic question whether he was the last Dalai Lama, in the 90's he answered the same question by emphasizing different type of continuity for the institution. Among the possibilities he mentioned were a Dalai Lama elected like the Pope or incarnated as a woman. The return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet became the most important issue for exile Tibetans in the late 1990's. According to the head of the Tibetan assembly, Samdhong Rinpoche, in an interview January 12, 1998 in Sarnath. The reason: the Chinese would never accept a Dalai Lama born outside Tibet. However, there are contradictory statements on the issue of the Dalai Lama's rebirth. "The Dalai Lama used the occasion of his 64th birthday on Tuesday to announce he will not be reincarnated in Tibet, but in a free country outside Chinese control..." "Dalai Lama Discusses His Rebirth," Associated Press, New Delhi, AOL July 6, 1999. See also, Dexter Filkins, "Tibetans Tire of Peaceful 'Middle Way," Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1999, "If I die, and the Tibetan people want another Dalai Lama, that person will appear in the refugee community, outside of Tibet." The same article also quotes the Dalai Lama as saying, "After I die this is not my responsibility, ... let someone else worry about it." While the Chinese view is, "When the Dalai Lama dies, he dies," said Mr. Ma Chongying, the deputy director of the Minority and Religious Affairs Bureau in Tibet. "There will be no replacement." Reporting from Lhasa, Seth Faison: "As Dalai Lama Woos Beijing, Tibetans Pray for His Return," The New York Times, November 9, 1998; Seth Faison: "Beyond the Dalai Lama, His Successor Could Be the Solution," The New York Times, November 15, 1998. The explanation floated, also in the Western press, was that unless he died and was reborn in Tibet, the Chinese would not accept a future Dalai Lama. Although full of contradictions that leave everyone guessing, this explanation nevertheless points to the need of ensuring the continuity of the institution of Dalai Lama, He said recently, too, "I also believe that the Tibetan people should be able to decide their future, their form of government and their social system,' he wrote, adding that no Tibetan is interested in restoring outdated political and social
institutions. The Asian Wall Street Journal, Hongkong, December 9, 1998, from Dow Jones, a newswire service (+) something that has come to represent the nation in lieu of a country. The clearer it becomes that Tibet is lost, the stronger is the clinging to the institution of Dalai Lama. Hence, Tibetans resist vehemently anything that can be construed as a criticism of his person or administration and react with irrational fury to anything that can be seen as a threat even to his reputation or legacy, let alone his life. For example, the Tibetan Youth Congress, although patriotic in defending the reputation of the Dalai Lama, also advocates political violence and "to struggle for the total independence of Tibet even at the cost of one's life," as stated in TYC's aims and objectives. It is thus in opposition to the Dalai Lama on independence versus autonomy under Chinese rule. Even many monks do not listen to the Dalai Lama's positive advice. In the last two years, the Tibetan population in New York more than quadrupled. Many of them are monks who have left their monasteries without permission from their abbots and religious community to seek material fortune in the West ostensibly for virtuous reasons. The Dalai Lama, in addressing a group of Tibetans in Washington D.C. in November 1998, told them that they should return to their monasteries and that they were merely riding on his robes. Yet, they keep coming.
It is not difficult to see that Tibetans are going through the most severe identity crisis in their history. Those living in exile have been displaced from their homeland and those left in Tibet from their culture. The complex set of problems created by all these forced changes in an already complicated society with arcane social practices remain largely inaccessible to the Western mind. Most do not affect us. Yet Tibetans have been a genuine source for spiritual discovery in the last decades for many people around the world, and the Dalai Lama a powerful source of inspiration. There are a number of religious issues embedded in Tibetan political and social problems that take some effort to extricate. The one I found especially striking in its impenetrable abstruseness is the Dorje Shugden Rdo.rje is Tibetan for the Sanskrit word vajra. Anything so designated refers to the state of complete enlightenment, used in the vajrayana vehicle of Buddhism as symbol of the indivisibility of [illusory] body and mind [of clear light] and their ultimate union. Shugden means being endowed with power, force, strength. The name thus means "the one with vajra force," or the force of the Buddha's enlightenment in specific actions. For different historical interpretations of Dorje Shugden at the intersection of Tibetan mix of religion and politics, see Part II, 17th Century. protector conflict rooted in the Dalai Lama's restrictions of his practice, which surfaced in 1996 to receive international attention. It exposes the fault lines and depth of the Tibetan identity crisis like few others. To measure how deep the crisis goes, consider the following statement by Ngawang Tenpa, Officer of the Cholsum organization, the largest regional group in Tibetan politics, "It is possible to think of a time when we will make friends with the Chinese, but with these (Dorje Shugden) people -- never," During a conference in Dharamsala, at T.I.P.A., called by United Cholsum Organization, August 27-31. On video (in Tibetan) of that conference produced by "Sargyur," a private Tibetan company in India. Inquiring into the circumstances for its eruption, I found out more about Tibetans than I had in many years of participating in human rights work and following the teachings of their masters. The Dorje Shugden conflict serves as an example of the ever widening gap between appearance and reality in the increasingly fractious refugee community.
In March 1996, See detailed documentation of these events in Part II below. His Holiness strongly advised his followers not to rely on the Dharmapala Dorje Shugden because, according to the prophecies of his oracles, Dorje Shugden harms the institution of Dalai Lama, his life, his government, and the cause of Tibet. See, for example, the prophecies (kha.lung) of the State Oracle Nechung, the Tsangba Oracle, and Tenma, or Tsering Chenga oracles given in 1995 in Infallible Prophecies of the Tibetan Government Oracles, published by the Department of Religion and Culture of the exile government, Dharamsala, 1996, in Tibetan; translated excerpts given below, Part II. Immediately government offices promulgated this advice, stated in no uncertain terms by the Dalai Lama, and turned it into a full-fledged ban. The words mostly used are bkag.sdom.byed.pa and its synonym dam.bskrags.byed.pa meaning "ban," "prohibition," "restriction," "restraint;" New Light English-Tibetan Dictionary compiled by T.G. Dongthog, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA), Dharamsala, 1985, Second Edition, p. 31, p. 352, p. 383, p. 382; also, in Tibetan, one term is used to define the other: bkag.sdom byed.pa: gang jung byed michog pa'i dam.bsrags byed.pa, Bod Gya Tsig Zoed Chenmo (The Chinese - Tibetan Dictionary), People's Publishing House, Beijing, Second Edition, 1996. The word bkod.'doms, "order to stop," thus "ban" is used in Resolution No. 21 of the Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies prohibiting Dorje Shugden in very strong terms as to "never ever" permit the practice, that is, from now until forever. In addition, Resolution No. 21 refers to the 13th and 14th Dalai Lama's use of the word bkag.'gog, "order" and "prohibition" "to stop" or "to take out forcibly." The Private Office of the Dalai Lama in a letter to the abbot of Sermay Monastery in Bylakuppe, March 30th, 1996 mentions a ban (bkag.sdom and dam.bsgrags bkag.sdom) by the 13th Dalai Lama to justify the prohibition of Dorje Shugden on the basis of the so-called "prophecies" by government oracles pointing towards danger to the health of the Dalai Lama and the cause of Tibet. On May 8th, 1996 in a public address in Dharamsala (on video tape), for example, the Dalai Lama says, "It has been twenty years since I first mentioned the Dorje Shugden public restriction (ngas dam.bsdrags byed..pa.yin). Also, in an address on May 5, 1996, the Dalai Lama say, "It may have been about ten years ago. While giving a lam.rim teaching at Drepung, I once gave my reasons for issuing the ban." (Tibetan: dam.bskrags); Select Addresses of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the Issue of Propitiating Protector Deities, Sherig Parkhang, Dharamsala, July 10, 1996, p. 175; and "In this way came the reasons, on account of which I have issued the ban (Tibetan: dam.bsgrags) in recent times. In banning [this reliance on Shugden], many came forward and declared that henceforth they will abide by my injunctions...." p. 183. Also, the term dgag.bya spyi nan shugs cher bstsal.rjes or "strong prohibition emphatically proclaimed" is used in Report No. 28/7.8/1997 by the exile Tibetan version of [India's most secret police] RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) of the Department of Security in Dharamsala, "Specifically, after issuing an emphatic ban at his [the Dalai Lama] spring teachings of 1996, most of the Tibetans living in exile and within Tibet, who are gifted with intelligence and patriotism, have respectfully complied and appreciatively mended their faith accordingly." When a Swiss journalist asks the Dalai Lama on camera, "Why this ban?" he answers, "Tibetan Buddhism is such a profound tradition. ...etc." The Dalai Lama does not deny a ban when asked "Why the ban?" Swiss TV DRS Series "10 vor 10," "Bruderzwist," broadcast Jan. 5-9, 1998. Also, the Dalai himself refers to his "restriction" of Dorje Shugden as a "harsh step," quoted in an Announcement by Kashag (Cabinet), May 22, 1996. Everyone then, including the Dalai Lama, referred to the conflict as "a ban." Later, after questions from the international press, the exile government denied that there was a ban and continues to hold this position. June issue of the Tibetan language magazine Boed-Mi-Tsa-Dhoen, for example, on p. 2, the Dalai Lama is quoted as saying in America on May 5th, "I did not encourage anyone to practice Dorje Shugden nor did I ban its worship." At the time, the strong reaction by the exile government For example, with statements like, "If Tibetans in general and worshipers of Dholgyal [Dorje Shugden] in particular do not immediately stop worshiping [him], an intolerable time will be upon us. For this reason, we cannot take refuge in the concept of freedom of religion." Announcement by the Kashag (Cabinet of the Tibetan exile government), May 22, 1996. to the oracles' As an example of just how important the State Oracle is to the Tibetan exile government, see their website and the detailed account of Nechung, its history, monastery, and even all the successive mediums that served as Nechung's oracle since 1544, during the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama's reign, when he first came through a human being in trance, according to the government. prophecies and the Dalai Lama's statements For example, "It will be the last resort if [we] have to knock on [their/your] doors. It would be good if [they/you] can heed this without [us] having to resort to this last step." The Dalai Lama in a public address March 10, 1996, and on March 21, 1996, "If you wish the speedy death of the Dalai Lama, then I have no objection [to your continuing to rely on Dholgyal (Dorje Shugden)]. resulted in forced signature campaigns, where Tibetans were pressured under threat of force or expulsion to sign a document forswearing Dorje Shugden, desecration and destruction of holy images, death threats and threats of violence. Although few violent incidents actually occurred, the campaign of fear and intimidation pressuring Tibetans to give up their age old religious practice to "save" the Dalai Lama and the "cause of Tibet" resulted in dividing the community, ostracism, loss of revenues for monasteries and businesses, loss of opportunities for education, travel, economic advancement, social welfare, and threatens the survival of a religious tradition. Chinese authorities, ever on the lookout to embarrass the Dalai Lama and to disparage his followers, did not waste time in 1996 to seize the issue to serve their divisive ends. They criticized the Dalai Lama for betraying his bodhisattva aims, meant to benefit others without concern for one's own health and well-being as is befitting a religious person. Wei Se: "Dalai Disavows Guardian of Buddhist Doctrine," China's Tibet, No. 6, 1996 This was an especially embarrassing charge for someone so widely believed to be a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, Buddha of compassion. The government in exile used the Chinese interference effectively to silence most critics of the ban, In the early days of the conflict, many, especially educated, Tibetans who were neutral concerning this particular protector were vocal in private circles criticizing the exile government's excesses on political grounds, recognizing that the ban was undemocratic and threatened the future political development of Tibetans and their chance to form democratic habits and institutions. conveniently reversing cause and effect by claiming that Buddhists who rely on Dorje Shugden had caused the conflict and that they were working for the Chinese. This is considered the ultimate betrayal in the Tibetan exile community, the equivalent to high treason.
Dharmapala Dorje Shugden is held in high esteem by many Tibetans as a powerful guardian of religious vows and law. A Dharmapala plays the role of a caretaker or guardian of Buddhist practice. Like parents, he or she is believed to help with establishing conditions conducive for spiritual practice and to avert harm and interferences. The Buddha is the ultimate authority but, just like a president, he or she has aides who work out and enforce the details on the day to day level spanning many degrees in rank. Dharmapalas are also beings on the path to enlightenment. Some of them go back to the time of the Buddha, others evolved in Tibet. Some of the most widely revered Buddhist masters in the last three hundred fifty years of Tibetan history relied on Dorje Shugden as their guardian, including the Dalai Lama until the mid-1970's. They considered him an emanation whose nature is the wisdom of the Buddha Manjushri but appearing mostly in a worldly, fierce way. This century, Kyabje Tib.: skyabs.rje,meaning saving grace or protective lord, an epithet traditionally attributed only to the few Lamas with comprehensive knowledge of different Buddhist traditions, or lineage holders. Trijang Rinpoche, one of the two mentors of the Dalai Lama, Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche and Tomo Geshe Rinpoche were the most renowned and influential masters of the Gelug tradition, the largest order of Tibetan Buddhism. With their fame also spread that of their guardian, Dorje Shugden. He is believed to be extremely powerful, swift, and precise. Although different views about him were known in Tibet, in exile, this Dharmapala became demonized in unprecedented ways even for Tibetans. The aim was to destroy the practice of Dorje Shugden -- not its possible misuse -- since at no time was any distinction made between relying responsibly on this guardian deity and misuse to which all religious practices are subject.
The source of the demonization was oracles (mediums in trance) of the Tibetan exile government many Tibetans believe to be unreliable. Their prophecies declared Dorje Shugden to be an evil spirit intent on harming the Dalai Lama and the cause of Tibet Infallible Prophecies of the Tibetan Government Oracles, published by the Department of Religion and Culture of the exile government, Dharamsala, 1996. seen by many as synonymous. The exile government's continuing uncompromising stand on this point polarized the issue and turned any attempt to present a different interpretation, even those made in good faith, into an attack on the Dalai Lama and, hence, a confirmation of the "prophecies." Thus, the Dorje Shugden believed to be evil and the one religious people rely on seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. They are two different beings with each side believing that the other invented its own story of Dorje Shugden. They could not be further apart, one a demon, carrier of seemingly absolute evil, the other believed by most of Tibet's greatest Buddhist masters to be an emanation of the Buddha's wisdom within worldly action. In part, these different views are the result of dragging into the political arena an esoteric religious practice that is easily misunderstood, especially when made public in this way. The difference between the two radically different conceptions of Dorje Shugden also pits two kinds of authority against each other, one religious the other political. Proclaiming Dorje Shugden an evil spirit denies more than two hundred acclaimed Tibetan Buddhist masters -- not counting their tens of thousands of disciples -- their religious qualifications. These are based on the ability to distinguish between good and evil, the very essence of wisdom. From a Buddhist point of view this is clearly absurd. It makes sense only from a non-religious context. Hence, the differences concerning Dorje Shugden have to be considered from a political point of view.
In the summer of 1996, the Tibetan government in exile was accused of human rights violations by many Tibetans and some of their Western supporters. Since then most critics have been pressured into silence. Although two prominent human rights organizations expressed their concerns privately to the exile government, they refused to do so publicly for several reasons including that it could be seen as undermining the efforts of the Dalai Lama and the much larger and more serious issue of improving human rights in Tibet under Chinese control. I have seen one of the letters shown to me on condition I not disclose it and its source. Amnesty International specified recently that there had been no human rights violations -- torture, death penalty, extra-judicial executions, arbitrary detention and unfair trials -- in the Tibetan exile community as a result of the Dorje Shugden conflict. "None of the material Amnesty International has received contain evidence of abuses which fall within the violations of fundamental human rights including torture, the death penalty, extra-judicial execution, arbitrary detention or imprisonment or unfair trials." Ngawang Rabgyal, Office of Tibet [New York], in a letter to the editor of The Nation, Oct. 5, 1998 (Volume 267, Number 10), p. 2; Tribune News Service, India, July 25, 1998. Perhaps there is a conflict of interest for Amnesty International to investigate human rights cases in the Tibetan exile community. AI, after many years of silence now represent the Dalai Lama's extremely important human rights campaign in Tibet where abuses are rampant. AI also uses the fame of the Dalai Lama for fund raising purposes. For example, an appeal from October 1998 that includes a letter by the Dalai Lama. Since the Tibetan exile government has to function under Indian law, it is clear that it could not use such methods to begin with. The methods Dharamsala has used to pressure Tibetans into giving up one of their cherished religious practices and the tradition it is meant to protect are based on silencing any genuine disagreement with its policies through a kind of psychological warfare that uses threats against those perceived to disagree with the Dalai Lama, intimidation, and social pressure. How this gets played out in a uniquely Tibetan way in their unusual exile circumstances will, I hope, become clearer in the course of the book.