Aside from the unique power, credibility and scope of the Dalai Lama's words, in the absence of open discussions, public debate and a free press, the complexities of linguistic conventions easily collapse into ever repeated simplistic slogans. I would like to focus on several terms frequently used in the peculiar religio-political discourse unique to Tibetans that focuses on the Dorje Shugden issue as a symptom of the larger Tibetan identity crisis. The equivocations built into notions like "the cause of Tibet," "freedom," "sectarianism," "authority," "modernization," "accountability," etc., emerge from the unusual mix of religion and politics. A clear example of how this functions is Samdong Rinpoche's use of "democracy" as interchangeable with "equality" such that equality is understood as a function of the religious mind. Considering that the Tibetan people have never exercised democratic choices concerning the major political decisions affecting their lives, the substitution of the equality cultivated by a religious mind for "democracy" is very serious, indeed. Thus, an attempt to clarify how religion and politics interact in modern Tibetan discourse becomes all the more important. Since English is the language through which Tibetan political issues are internationalized, I will examine the multiple meanings of the relevant terms in that language.
Cause of Tibet
Ask any Tibetan what "the cause of Tibet" means and they will say, freedom or independence. As reported in the Indian press, for example, Prakash Nanda: "Dalai Lama is Oppressing Buddhist Sect," The Times of India, June 27, 1996, "...a spokesman of the Kashag told our Simla correspondent about the controversy. He said, "worshiping of Dorjee Shugden deity has for long had an adverse effect on the overall interest of the Tibetan cause for independence and seen to be harmful to the personal safety of the Dalai Lama by reducing his life-span." In general, Tibetans understand it this way. They had come into exile to escape the lack of freedom and oppression in Tibet. Even though they might not have had the same modern sense of nation and state as had evolved in Europe in the last three centuries, Tibetans had a sense of nation, country, and cultural identity tested through repeated experience with Chinese, Manchu, and Mongol aggression and as far back as the empire King Songtsen Ganpo united in the seventh century. See for example, Hugh Richardson: High Peaks, Pure Earth, Part One Even though most Western Tibet scholars do not seem to make this distinction and apply exclusively modern political concepts in their Tibet analyses, it nevertheless existed. In exile, freedom was the cause, with the Dalai Lama as its symbol, for which so many Tibetans in Tibet had been imprisoned, tortured, starved and 1.2 million said to have died as a result of Communist policies since the uprising in 1959. Although the sibling rivalry in the Dalai Lama's family, the most important prevailing force in the exile government, reflects the current Tibetan political dilemma with Gyalo Thondup committed to autonomy within China from the beginning and Professor Thubten Norbu to independence, Tibetans did not have any reason to believe that the Dalai Lama was working towards anything less than freedom while promoting a gradual approach of autonomy first with independence to follow. He continued to say in 1996 in answer to the question, "Shouldn't you demand complete independence for Tibet now?" that "...I think it is not the right time," For example, "We Want Genuine Autonomy or Self-rule," The Times of India, August 17, 1996. implying that when the time was right, independence would move into the foreground again, while saying elsewhere that "in the long run, I feel Tibet, which is a small, [greater Tibet was as big as Europe!] landlocked country, might get some benefits by merging with a big nation." From an interview, "When We Return to Tibet I will not Head the State," The Asian Age, New Delhi, September 8, 1996 Few Tibetans, however, doubted their leader's commitment to complete independence as long term goal and those with the political acuity to anticipate the problem of independence vs. autonomy were sidelined.
In 1994, after the Dalai Lama's brother and Chief Minister, Gyalo Thondup, had made statements in Canada to the effect that Kham would be excluded from an autonomous Tibetan region within China, the Chushi Gangdug leadership The following information is a result of many interviews over a period of time with Lithang Athar and Chushi Gangdug leadership, their documentation, etc. tried to find some political leverage to make sure their birth place was included in the future negotiations about Tibet. Lithang Athar, one of the leaders in the Chushi Gangdug guerilla movement that safeguarded the Dalai Lama's escape from Tibet in 1959, For more background on this movement, see Roger E. McCarthy: Tears of the Lotus, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, Jefferson, 1997; Tsering Shakya, Pimlico, 1999, pp. 165-211; Melinda Liu: "When Heaven Shed Blood," Newsweek, April 19, 1999; John Kenneth Knaus: Orphans of the Cold War, BBS Public Affairs, New York, 1999. had taken the initiative as the representative of the now regional Chushi Gangdug organization to test the political waters. He talked to a representative of the Taiwanese government -- three years before the Dalai Lama went to Taiwan -- and signed a joint proposal that in the future, when the People's Republic of China and Taiwan were united democratically, Tibet would comprise the three provinces (Ü/Tsang, Kham, and Amdo) under the political and religious leadership of the Dalai Lama. He did so not on behalf of the exile government but as leader of the regional Chushi Gangdug group. This so angered the exile government and the Dalai Lama, who internationally preaches forgiveness for even the most radical criminals and mass murderers, that he did not even accept an apology from Athar for having overstepped the boundaries of his authority in his attempt to create political leverage. Athar went to see the Dalai Lama the day after the affair had become known to the exile government to apologize for his mistake, which to an outsider seems to have been more a case of having seriously misjudged the purported democratic nature of the exile government. Although Dharamsala often invokes democratic terms, in practice, an apology in this case, or dialogue, or a discussion was not even under consideration. In a showdown of power, a group of people from the Chushi Gangdug region, some of whom worked in the Tibetan exile government's security office, were now put on a ballot by Dharamsala in a move to force a new election of a "non-governmental" regional group. The ballot was announced -- only verbally to be sure: "Choose between the Dalai Lama and Lithang Athar," even though this clearly was not the issue at all. Clearly, the exile government appointed Chushi Gangdug leaders won by 99% of the vote and Lithang Athar's house in Delhi was vandalized. The Buddha statues and holy items from his altar taken after the glass windows of the altar had been smashed. Chushi Gangdug split into two, some call it a split between old and new Chushi Gangdug, others a split between elected and appointed Chushi Gangdug because a majority of the region still favors Athar and the leadership of the old Chushi Gangdug. To these people, the cause of Tibet unequivocally means complete freedom from Chinese rule.
It is easy to verify that the cause of Tibet means freedom to most exile Tibetans. The Tibetan Youth Congress, for example, is one organization that has never retracted its commitment to Tibetan independence. It is the fastest growing social group among Tibetans claiming at least sixty-one branches worldwide. It is estimated that more than half the exile Tibetans belong to the Tibetan Youth Congress (which includes old and young people) and they are becoming more active in expressing a commitment to independence through hunger strikes, demonstrations and other visible activities. If you ask the old monks and other people who escaped from Tibet to follow His Holiness for the sake of religious freedom, they too say the cause of Tibet means freedom which to them means independence. It has been a rallying point for Tibetans, even if many know that its reality might be far off and that forcing it would be impractical at the moment. Nevertheless, they believe, "that Tibetans must have independence if only for survival as a people." Jamyang Norbu: "The Heart of the Matter," Tibetan Review, March 1994, for example. "Even the hope of independence is vital," says Jamyang Norbu, "It must be remembered that it was the hope of independence that kept our exile society strong and united in the difficult early years. Many of the problems our society now faces with religious and political quarrels, decline in school educational standards, the lamentably disgraceful commercialization of our religion, cynicism in the administration, and loss of self respect and integrity among the ordinary people have definite roots in the gradual relinquishing of the freedom struggle by the Tibetan establishment during the last two decades." Jamyang Norbu: "Rangzen Charter: Appeal to My Fellow Tibetans and Freedom-loving People Everywhere," World Tibet Network News, April 27, 1999, p. 14. Even for the diverse crowd of Western Dalai Lama admirers, the cause of Tibet means Tibetan freedom.
The only different explanation I heard was from the Office of Tibet in London. In answer to the a question concerning the meaning of "the cause of Tibet," Tseten Samdup in official capacity of the Tibetan exile government wrote, "I think this cannot be explained in simple terms. It is more religious and spiritual debate. I suppose it is the influence of Dorje Shugden and the action that lead to it. From childhood I never heard anything good about Dorje Shugden other than [he is] worshiped for material rewards. It is also to do with trust between the teacher and student or leader and his followers. Dorje Shugden apparently came back to challenge the works of the Dalai Lama, so goes the story. I am sorry for not [being] able to shed more light onto this. Tseten." In an e-mail message to Lory Revere, April, 9, 1997 from Tseten Samdup at firstname.lastname@example.org, marked The Office of Tibet, The Office of Tibet is the official agency of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, address, tel., etc. Tibetans I asked had never heard this explanation of the cause of Tibet.
The Tibetan freedom movement focuses on a country colonized by an invading power against the will of its people, not the liberation from samsaric suffering. The internationalization of the Tibet issue in the mid-eighties was political and politically motivated, even though Western experts in 1998 still insist that the Dalai Lama engaged in political activities merely as an appendix to his Buddhist teachings during his visits to the U.S. Lopez.... It is interesting to compare the very different perspectives on the same historical events from the political (Grunfeld) and the de-mythologizing approach to Tibetan issues, for lack of a better word for what Lopez is doing. Every time he came to Washington (1987), or Brussels (1988), to make statements aimed at the Chinese concerning the future of Tibet, they retaliated with harsh repression and violence towards Tibetans demonstrating in support of the Dalai Lama, their symbol of freedom. Many died and were imprisoned and tortured as a result. For this very complex political dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese with the help of a Tibet Lobby spanning London, Brussels, New York, see, for example, Tsering Shakya, The Dragon in the Land of Snows, Pimlico, London, 1999, chapter 14; Grunfeld, "The Last Decade: 1985-1995," The Making of Modern Tibet, especially pp. 232-236 It was the first time pictures and video clips of monks brutally beaten by Chinese police were seen in the Western media and galvanized international support. Although Western support often rallied around human rights in Tibet, the right to self-determination is understood to be an important fundamental right. This applied to Tibetans as well since by many accounts they had been independent when invaded. Freedom still means independence to Tibetans as well as many of their Western supporters. Even as the Dalai Lama started in 1996 to explain in more detail to Tibetans his ambiguous meaning of a "middle way" From a religious point of view, in this term, which literally translates the Sanskrit madhyamaka, resonates what most Tibetans consider the most profound philosophy of Buddhism while it could also mean a way to the "middle kingdom," an ancient name for China. navigating between Chinese control and independence in the concept of "greater autonomy," freedom continues to be the central issue for Tibetans. The Tibetan freedom movement gained worldwide support of unprecedented proportions in the nineties and it is highly unlikely that for those people freedom means a Kosovo style autonomy for Tibet within China.
More than a million people have given their lives for Tibet's freedom, untold have been tortured, displaced, suffered from near starvation, degraded, discriminated against, humiliated, traumatized. When the Dalai Lama says in 1996, "our definition of freedom is not independence," "We want genuine autonomy or self-rule," The Times of India, August 17, 1996; also Samdong Rinpoche: "Freedom in Tibetan language is called 'rangwang.' It is something more than mere translation of the English word 'freedom' or 'independence.' It is an ancient classical word which meant precisely sovereignty, self-control or self-rule. It refers more to self-discipline rather than uncontrolled anarchy." Tibet: A Future Vision, March 18, 1996, p. 8. This is another example of how religious terms have been used in a political context to conflate and confuse the two. it is difficult to imagine what Tibetans feel. Even though the Dalai Lama had spoken of autonomy already since 1988, to most Tibetans it meant independence, although deferred. From 1995 onward, however, the Dalai Lama and his spokes people began to say in English language publications that he had decided to work within a Chinese framework -- i.e. freedom means autonomy, not independence -- already in 1973! "I sincerely believe that my Middle Way approach will contribute to stability and unity of the PRC. This basic approach was conceived in the early seventies even when there was no immediate possibility of a dialogue with the Chinese leadership as China was then in the midst of the Cultural Revolution. I adopted this approach because I believed that this was to our long-term mutual interest." Statement by the Dalai Lama after meeting with President Clinton in Washington, November 10, 1998. This piece of information started to be circulated seriously among the Tibetan people only as recently as 1997, when it was brought up in the Assembly prior to the Dalai Lama's visit to Taiwan. It seems not yet to have completely penetrated the collective Tibetan psyche, but where it has, it was felt to complete the betrayal of the Tibetan dream.
Religious commitment or political allegiance?
The oracles' "prophesies" mentioned "cause of Tibet" in tandem with the "health and life of the Dalai Lama," or his well-being. To most Tibetans they are so closely related to mean almost the same thing. "We will be independent one day," a woman tells the Associated Press March 10th 1999, on the fortieth anniversary of the Tibetan national uprising, "as long as the Dalai Lama is alive, we have hope." Melissa Davis reporting from Dharamsala: "Tibetans Revere Dalai Lama," The Associated Press, NY, March 7, 1999 This statement sums up the sentiments of most Tibetans, especially among the still very high percentage of illiterate ones. In that fundamentalist fusion of the cause of Tibet and life of Dalai Lama resonates at the same time what has been lost and the desperate need to preserve whatever is left: the institution of Dalai Lama. Thus, especially on an emotional level, the cause of Tibet has come to mean the preservation of the institution of Dalai Lama. This might be one reason why the government demands of Tibetans to strengthen their relationship with him. As already mentioned, from a religious point of view, a master's health will suffer as a result of a broken or defiled spiritual relationship. The Dalai Lama himself gave as a reason for prohibiting the practice of Dorje Shugden in his March 22, 1996 teaching the danger to his health. He had threatened then that if they wanted him dead, Tibetans had only to rely on Dorje Shugden. Yet, he also tells people, "My horoscope says I will live until I am more than one hundred twenty, my dreams suggest more than one hundred. I myself believe that I will live into my nineties. As I get older I find my physical health getting better, I think, because of Tibetan medicine, holistic medicine." Ed Douglas: "The Dalai Lama: The Lost Horizons," The Guardian, Saturday May 8, 1999. The Dalai Lama continues to bar those who rely on the protector, for allegedly harming his health and life, from his teachings and initiations worldwide.
The model of a religious relationship is used here in the political context, another source of confusion. While the religious relationship must be voluntary, one of free choice, the political one in the case of Tibetans is not, since the Dalai Lama is the non-elected head of state. Unlike in Tibet and in the early exile days, if a Tibetan today (since the mid-90s) does not attend the Dalai Lama's teachings or a monk is ordained by abbots or other high monastic dignitaries, as was common in the more than two thousand year old Buddhist tradition, rather than the Dalai Lama, it is assumed there is something wrong with that person. The loyalty to the Dalai Lama demanded for social and political reasons is not exactly the traditional religious relationship between Buddhist master and disciple. It is a mixture in which today the allegiance to an absolute ruler prevails. As one Buddhist master expressed it, "It is strange, this devotion to His Holiness. It has nothing to do with the Guru devotion of the Dharma. It is something else, something totally different. It is more like a political feeling. Because of His Holiness receiving international recognition -- the Nobel Peace Prize and so on -- we see him as a great Tibetan hero, a great leader. Religious devotion is now all mixed up with this nationalistic and political feeling for someone like our king. This mixture finally produces something very strange in the mind: a dedication to someone for whom one is ready to criticize and give up everything else, including the Buddha." Interview with Gonsar Rinpoche, Bloomington, July 7, 1998
As His Holiness stated on many occasions, he plans to live a hundred years -- at least into his eighties. If his health and life were so fragile that "a few people," as the exile government describes the numbers of those who rely on Dorje Shugden, breaking religious commitments with the Dalai Lama could endanger his life, how could it be strong enough at the same time to absorb all the many tens and even hundreds of thousand commitments he asked others to break? He stated early on, in his March 1996 teachings, that people should not worry about breaking their commitments to Dorje Shugden, which is first and foremost a commitment to their Guru and Tsong Khapa's lam.rim teachings, that he, the Dalai Lama, would take care of it. The Buddhist explanation of cause and effect would preclude such individual powers. Each person ultimately has to face the consequences of one's own actions and broken commitments without fail. This the Buddha taught. It is highly unlikely that the Dalai Lama would demonstrate so unequivocally that he does not believe in karma.
Perhaps, it is a question of spiritual authority: who has more power, the Dalai Lama or the other masters to whom he and Tibetans are bound Dharma, in the general sense of religion, means a binding action away from suffering and to virtue and its resultant joys. Bound by vows is to be understood in this sense. Buddhists believe that vows do not only close off the suffering results maturing in the present from past actions, but they also help shape the future. Vows can only be taken in freedom based on a vision of a better or safer future. Hence for a Buddhist to take vows is understood as a way of taking charge of one's future, not a mindless submission to a system or a despot. by vows? Whoever is spiritually more powerful can absorb the negativities of the others breaking their vows. Or the good karma of abiding by the vows of the more powerful Guru will override the negative karma of breaking vows with the less powerful. This strange un-Buddhist sounding equation is one possible explanation people are left with in contemplating the existential dilemma the Dalai Lama's "advice" has presented for them. He has not given any other "advice" besides to stop, because allegedly Dorje Shugden harms. No dialogue, no discussion, no reasonable explanation. If on the other hand he were to mean that those who rely on Dorje Shugden do not have virtue, because a commitment to evil cannot make virtue and, as he said in Germany, they are evil like the Nazis, then he would also have to admit that his own heritage is contaminated with this evil. He, too, at one time worshiped this evil spirit as did both his main mentors, Kyabje Ling and Trijang Rinpoches, and almost all of his other Gelugpa mentors from whom he received extensive teachings and vows up till the late 1970's. It would mean that because they were all listening to this evil spirit, the whole Gelugpa transmission lineages that came out of Tibet are contaminated with evil and hence null and void which could be seen as a reason for founding a new Buddhist tradition.
However, those who rely on Dorje Shugden as a valid protector see their commitment first and foremost to the Buddha as embodied by their spiritual master and the Buddha's teachings as preserved in Tsong Khapa's tradition. This is simply the way relying on protectors works for any of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions. The protector is part of a tradition he or she protects, a tradition embodied by a master believed to be the door to all Buddhist understanding and accomplishments. There is no way a Buddhist can rely on an evil spirit through a legitimate master and the authentic teachings of the Buddha. Tsong Khapa's way of having ordered the stages of the path to enlightenment were, at least in Tibet, considered by all of the major Buddhist traditions to embody authentic teachings of the Buddha. Each tradition necessarily has its own perspective of the Buddha's teachings.
Ironically, it is the Tibetan exile government that sees the cause of Tibet "to rely on pure protectors," as they taught the children in schools in 1996 and demanding political allegiance replace a spiritual bond. The spiritual relationship between master and disciple is necessarily based on choice and freedom. It is used here as a front for the relationship between an unelected political leader and his followers. If the Dalai Lam ran for office today, he would win. Everyone assumes this and it is, no doubt, true. But this is not the point here. The Charter contains a clause that it cannot be changed. As I understand it, although the charter can be amended, it cannot be abandoned or the fundamental structure changed. Thus the Dalai Lama is non-elected head of the government for the duration of life in exile. After Tibetans go back to Tibet, he has said he will give up political power. Given the political realities, one could say that this is not a big sacrifice now.
The cause of Tibet and the institution of Dalai Lama seem to have become so identified in the minds of Tibetans as to become their sole national identity in diaspora. The Indian press often portrays the Dalai Lama this way, for example, "The widely-respected spiritual leader, the symbol of Tibetan identity over the last four decades..." Vishal Thapar: "Dalai Lashes out at Religious Hypocrisy," The Hindustan Times, New Delhi, November 17, 1997 The Tibetan people believe that the Tibetan cause is independence for Tibet. Thus it is difficult to perceive the Dalai Lama as anything else but a symbol of Tibetan freedom, and, no matter what the linguistic acrobatics attempting to prove the contrary, the Dalai Lama is still a symbol of Tibetan freedom for the rest of the world as well. To the Dalai Lama, on the other hand, the "cause of Tibet" seems to mean something else. For a reference to the use "cause of Tibet" in the proximity of "sectarian," see the Dalai Lama's address to a group of abbots in 1978, already quoted, giving the reason why he is distancing himself from Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche in anticipation of his critics as saying "It doesn't matter if the Dalai Lama says that there is no discrimination in his policy towards the cause of Tibet, when, in fact, this is the actual policy or thought at the core of his heart." p. 8 It means Tibetan "unity." See, for example, the Dalai Lama's Private Secretary, Kelsang Gyaltsen, "For the Tibetan people's fight for survival closed ranks (Geschlossenheit) and unity are very important." "Anti-Dalai Lama Campaign of Western Shugden Followers," Tibet Aktuell, No. 55, March 1998. As pointed out earlier, to Western people the Dalai Lama gives as one of the main reasons for his prohibition of the protector that he is sectarian and that he endangers Tibetan unity. To the Dalai Lama, Tibetan unity seems to mean non-sectarianism understood as a positive entity, a world view, rather than the absence of conflict. This, as everything else, is complicated by the mixture of religion and politics. The non-sectarian unity the Dalai Lama is promoting, understood as a modern synthesis between religion and politics, would necessarily secularize and hence destroy religion on the one hand and result in abolishing political opposition on the other. Separating them, would diminish the Ganden Potang government's political authority and transform it into a power that would require at least a formal endorsement of force, even if limited by circumstances to use it. For a lucid discussion of the historical relationships between the Roman empire and the Catholic church, religious authority and political power, see Hannah Arendt: Between Past and Future, Penguin Books USA Inc., New York, 1993, pp. 120-8 This however would be difficult to reconcile with the Dalai Lama's uncompromising commitment to non-violence. Hence, the basis has to be found in religion. I would like to trace the components of this new "non-sectarian religion" that is turning almost unopposed into a kind of Mahayana fundamentalism.
As already mentioned, chos.lugs ri.med is translated not only with non-sectarianism or ecumenism but also with secular ethics, The Dalai Lama himself calls it this and, for example, his representative, Mrs. Kalsang Takla, Office of Tibet, London, in response to the a demonstration by the Shugden Supporters Community in London, protesting the ban, denies all allegations and explains, "His Holiness is trying to promote secular beliefs in our communities so that all live in harmony. At this point when there are certain sections which advocate sectarian attitudes, it does not help the common cause of Tibet." Mike Woolridge in a BBC News Bulletin, June 7, 1996. which is clearly misleading in the Tibetan context, since the administrative structure established in 1991 expressly states the government to be both religious and political as exemplified by the Dalai Lama. It precludes secularism altogether. Had the Dalai Lama been really committed to a secular government, he had his chance to use his overwhelming influence in 1991 to establish one and separate religion from politics. He chose not to. Clearly, it would have diminished his influence the majority of Tibetans feel is so important at this difficult historical juncture. Perhaps Samdong Rinpoche expresses the religious basis of the exile government's charter most clearly, "Our [government's] policies are based on religious mind or on the basic principle of religion and that does not mean it is Buddhism or Hinduism or any -ism. We say the eternal Dharma. The eternal Dharma subscribes to truth, non-violence and equality. And this has been the essence of eternal Dharma; Dharma and polity become one and the religious mind is governing the provisions of our polity." Interview Jan. 12, 1998 This is clearly not a government by the people for the people, since most of them could not discern properly when politics uses religion and vice versa. Leadership for that type of system would have to be left up to the vision and insights of the enlightened masters as practiced in Tibet for the last four hundred years. The equivocation built into "cause of Tibet" that confuses so many people means to the Tibetan people the political cause of independence and to the Dalai Lama a new ground of non-sectarian pseudo-religious unity -- perhaps a global Buddhism. The equivocation mirrors the inevitable split between religion and politics in the modern world that the Dalai Lama and his circle desperately try to keep together for the sake of the Tibetan people. It is thus not "unity" understood as secularism but a "non-sectarianism" with its historical precedent in Tibet that seems to be the heart of the meaning of "Tibetan cause" for the Dalai Lama, especially in the context of the Dorje Shugden conflict. Unity here is first religious non-sectarianism and, according to the Dalai Lama, "non-sectarian [among the Tibetan Buddhist traditions Sakya, Nyingma, Kagyu, Gelug] means not only to respect but to practice [them] simultaneously." Interview, December 8, 1997
As I understand non-sectarianism, it is the absence of conflict and respect for each other's right to differ. The freedom to do so can best be guaranteed by a secular state whose legal authority is committed to enforce the law guaranteeing basic rights. It cannot be guaranteed by another religion synthesizing all existing traditions, because that would preclude the freedom of each to choose whether or not it wanted to be synthesized. In a secular state that guarantees religious freedom there would be room for all, the different traditions as well as a fusion, just as today we can still enjoy Mozart or Dufay played on traditional instruments as well as fusion, jazz, pop, whatever. There is room enough for all. It is not necessary to destroy the past to forge a new synthesis. It evolves naturally. This is one important lesson freedom understood as liberty has taught. In the Tibetan context, unless religion and politics can be separated, that freedom will not become a genuine experience.
When I asked the Dalai Lama in December 1997 with which of his many accomplishments he is most pleased, he mentioned the contribution he made to "the unity among the four Tibetan traditions, you know Nyingma, Kagyu, Gelug, Sakya," Interview December 8, 1997. I went to interview the Dalai Lama for a project of famous Buddhist masters I have been working on for several years. I was given an audience and the time for one question that had to be approved in advance by the Private Office. My one question was "Which of your many accomplishments are you most proud or most pleased with?" In the course of answering, the Dalai Lama himself brought up the subject of Dorje Shugden. which clearly he sees this to be his life's work. From the point of view of eternal Dharma, all religions and Buddhist traditions are equal. His Holiness is truly committed to making equal all religious traditions especially in his Tibetan sphere of influence where now Bön, a non-Buddhist set of beliefs, is seen to be equal to the various Tibetan Buddhist traditions such that it has served as preliminary instruction to the Kalachakra initiation (New York 1991). Surely, in this context, today, Shakyamuni Buddha would be branded sectarian as well as the many highly revered scholar sages of India, like Aryadeva, etc., all of whom defeated non-Buddhists in debate under the provision that whoever lost had to take on the religious persuasion of the victor. Milarepa in eleventh century Tibet became famous for his fight with the non-Buddhists for dominance of the Mount Kailash area with lake Manasarovar -- a millennia old holy place for Hindus, Bonpos, and Buddhists alike. See for example, C.M. Bandhari: A Journey to Heaven, Kailash - Mansarovar, Devamber Prakashan, Delhi 1998, pp. 57-59 and p. 79. In addition, the most widely accepted Buddhist practices, like taking refuge in the three jewels, for example, could be interpreted as sectarian under the generalized "new age" form of Buddhism now taught since traditionally it involves a commitment not to take refuge in anyone but the Three Jewels, the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha. I am not criticizing non-sectarianism most people understand to mean a mutual respect of each other's difference and non-interference. I believe that such a non-sectarian approach to religion -- and not the mix of religion, politics, and business common with Tibetans in exile today -- builds important bridges among people as well as mutual understanding, increasing insight into one's own tradition. However, I think it is not necessary to destroy individual transmission lineages to accomplish this and no new synthesis based purely on Buddhist principles, rather than social-political ones, should find it necessary to do so. Buddhists traditionally believe that discriminatory views of all sorts, including religious sectarianism, prevent higher realizations. Non-sectarianism is already part of traditional Buddhism. While it must be encouraged and protected, it does not have to be newly invented and imposed through political means. There are irreconcilable contradictions built into non-sectarianism understood as a positive entity -- as the Dalai Lama does with his emphasis on practicing all simultaneously -- since anyone who does not agree with its doctrine as the dominant view even for even good reasons would be considered sectarian. The extremist idea that all those who are forced into a group by virtue of arbitrarily declaring a deity in its pantheon evil are therefore evil and do not have any rights, as the Dalai Lama suggested in Germany, sets a dangerous precedent, something not lost on Nyingma and Kagyu practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism.
If one looks at possible motives for the Dalai Lama to have develop this unusual doctrine and what are his aims in promoting it so strongly, the first thing that comes to mind is historical sectarianism. In Tibet it was kept mostly under control in recent history and in exile during the early days when the exile government did not yet exert the tight control it does now, the old wounds broke out into the open. Perhaps the noise was just the clamor of freedom and nothing that could not have been fixed with open debates, teaching and learning the tolerance the Dalai Lama proclaims worldwide to be the prerogative of Tibetan Buddhism. But free speech was not encouraged. The wounds festered. Surely, some of this must have motivated His Holiness to develop his non-sectarian approach which seems more like an ethical humanism he says he considers almost like a religion with great spiritual resources. He has said this on many occasions, for example, in an interview with Professor Robert Thurman, "The Dalai Lama on China, Hatred, and Optimism, Mother Jones, November December, 1997 Instead of developing fora for discussion, control over thought and speech Censorship began to be enforced in the early 1980's. See, for example, Jamyang Norbu: "Opening the Political Eye," Tibetan Review, November 1990 increased in exile using the ubiquitous threat from the Chinese as an instrument to curtail any creative solutions to the many complex problems. The Dalai Lama's attempts of secularizing Tibetan Buddhism displaced the religiosity into the political domain where the conservative element is getting ever stronger in its control over correct religious views including protectors. "People and deities are exactly the same. There are official deities and unofficial ones. Only the deities recognized by the government are allowed to be revered. To revere unofficial deities is against the law." Tashi Angdu, General Secretary of Cholsum. Beat Regli: "10 vor 10," DRS Swiss TV, January 7, 1998
A step back into history might be required here to find out more about why the Dalai Lama is trying to fix something that many people believe is not broken or not the most urgent problem in need of attention. Many Tibetans do not think of themselves as sectarian, be that Gelug, Sakya, Kagyu, Nyingma. There has been a lot of productive interaction between them, both in Tibet and in exile, and even though the potential of sectarian conflicts is there, they have not been the dominant problem in the exile community. The dominant one is the political status of Tibet, as it would be for any group in exile, and in this proximity of Tibetan independence and sectarianism lies the origin of the Dorje Shugden conflict. The Dalai Lama, immediately after telling me that he is most pleased with his contribution to Tibetan "unity," goes on to say, "To some people, this is a lot of noise (laughs), especially like Shugden..." And again, after he explains that non-sectarian means to practice the different traditions simultaneously, he tells me that Dorje Shugden, "...this spirit is an obstacle to this promotion [of non-sectarianism]." The reason, this protector is mostly practiced by Gelugpas and, he explains, "the worship of this spirit means you should not touch Nyingma tradition." I remembered how deeply disturbed I was when reading in the sensationalist Newsweek article that first publicized the Dorje Shugden conflict worldwide, "Above all, the Shugdens are angry that the Dalai Lama is promoting dialogue between the Yellow Hats and another major branch of Tibetan Buddhism, Nyingma, or the Red Hats. The Shugdens consider it a sin even to talk to Red Hats, or to touch Nyingma religious works." Tony Clifton, "Cult Mystery," Newsweek, April 28, 1997 Of all the lies that were spread through the media, this was most troubling to me because I knew it first hand to be a lie. I had been to Gelugpa monasteries in India that rely on Dorje Shugden with a long tradition of yearly rituals for Padmasambhava performed with Nyingma texts. In fact, many Gelugpa monasteries or temples I have seen, where Dorje Shugden is one of the protective deities, prominently display Padmasambhava statues, something denied by those driving the war of words. These statues have been there for a long time and were never removed. They are still there. I have seen the Nyingma collected works in the residences of Gelugpa Lamas who were known to rely on Dorje Shugden, and I photocopied Nyingma texts for the use of one of them. Here it was again, this time the Dalai Lama himself telling me that "once you touch Nyingma tradition, even one text of Nyingma, in your house, your room, this spirit will destroy you." I know this to be untrue.
The Nyingma-Gelug differences are doctrinal just like the difference between Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism. This does not mean they have to fight each other or denounce one another as sectarian. To exploit doctrinal differences for sectarian ends is unskillful and unacceptable and to impute sectarianism onto doctrinal differences is looking at the problem only from one side. Moreover, charges of sectarianism close off any kind of rational debate and stir up religious sentiments better left alone. The differences between Nyingma and Gelug are fundamental and have a long history For a concise overview of original Gelugpa philosophical positions that address, long before Dorje Shugden, what they perceived to be misinterpretations of Buddhist traditions in Tibet at the time, see José Ignacio Cabezón: Buddhism and Language, SUNY Press, New York, 1994, p. 7-10 that goes back at least to the inception of the Gelug tradition (15th century), not only since the arrival of Dorje Shugden (17th century). Many people of either tradition can accept the genuine differences and respect each other. I cannot go into the history of their differences here, I only want to make one point that might give it added perspective. Some Gelugpas make a distinction between "pure" Nyingmas practicing Buddhism exclusively and those who mix it with non-Buddhist practices. See explanations of Bön and Nyingma and their relationship by Namkha'i Norbu or Samten Karmay, for example; Philippe Cornu: Tibetan Astrology, trsl. From French by Hamish Gregor, Shambala, Boston, 1997, p. 19-20. Also, specifically for this difference and the revival of pre-Gelugpa religious traditions in Tibet from a Nyingma point of view, where the historical difference between Nyingma and Gelug comes into focus and with good references to the Nyingma perspective of Tibetan mythical history, see David Germano: "Re-membering the Dismembered Body of Tibet," Buddhism in Contemporary Tibet, Religious Revival and Cultural Identity, Melvyn C. Goldstein and Metthew T. Kapstein, Editors, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1998 Much of the debates converge on this issue which also has a history going back to the famous Samye debates (8th century) and earlier. The most intense discussions have always danced around Dzogchen, which is also considered a pre-Buddhist practice. The main point here is that there is ample precedent to debating doctrinal issues between traditions in order to establish the intellectual limits of Buddhism, whose followers are called "insiders" (nang.pa) in Tibetan. This was an accepted tradition -- starting with the Buddha himself, it is told -- provided participants followed rules for debate accepted by all involved. Since Gelugpas emphasized philosophical argumentation in the form of public debate more than other traditions in Tibet, it is not surprising that they would continue to challenge others' views in accordance with the mainstream Indian Buddhist tradition of more than a millennium. In other words, it was not solely on the grounds of political and sectarian domination that Gelugpas debated doctrinal positions. Buddhists believe that not only actions, but also knowledge has consequences. Perhaps the belief, inherited from ancient times, that demonstrating truth is itself sufficient to change a person's mind without recourse to external methods of domination is surprising today. This belief is untenable in the post-modern world where knowledge is believed to be relative in an absolute way. Thus, it is no longer appropriate to challenge non-Buddhists or Buddhists from other traditions to an intellectual debate in the traditional way.
Zemey Rinpoche, a renowned Gelug scholar, found this out the hard way. Unfortunately, he published a book that would have better been left unpublished, especially since the names of other Lamas, like Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, became connected with its devastating political results, even though reportedly he did not have anything to do with its publication. From reliable oral sources of people close to Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, he did not approve or give permission to publish the "Yellow Book." The book purported to show certain consequences of breaking commitments that are believed to have a bearing only on the most advanced practitioners who have recourse to many different types of spiritual remedies. Understood here is that every Buddhist's realizations depend on how he or she keeps vows and commitments to the Three Jewels made concretely to one's master and those of the lineage, who are believed to embody the Buddha and his continuity to reach the disciple in the present. A good characterization of the important concept of lineage in Tibetan Buddhism is as follows, "A lineage is an unbroken transmission of living wisdom. It is living because mastery of the lineage's practices and techniques, which give rise to that wisdom, is perfectly maintained generation after generation. This mastery is handed down through the ages via a succession of highly-accomplished persons, each able to ensure that the integrity of what he or she has received will be carefully passed on to the most gifted disciples, who in turn will do the same." Ken Holmes: His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa KARMAPA Urgyen Trinley Dorje, Altea Publishing, Forres, 1995, p. 35. If he or she has made a commitment to a specific path to enlightenment that promises to accelerate one's progress, then, from a Buddhist point of view, breaking that commitment has consequences -- but only for the practitioner not, as was absurdly claimed, for other sects. The way this book was presented to the public frightened many people for different reasons. It should not have been published or presented to the public, just like the Secret Visions of the fifth Dalai Lama should not have been published, as they are now misused by people unable to distinguish between literal and interpretive knowledge in the Buddhist context. See, for example, Der Schatten des Dalai Lama, where the authors attribute qualities to the Dalai Lama based on literalizing such texts of tantra and the actions described there. Similarly, when the Secret Visions of the fifth Dalai Lama include as ritual objects the corpse of a baby, human skin, brains and other innerts, with the Dalai Lama's chief protectress riding across a sea of blood, these fierce activities are hardly to be taken literally. Taken completely out of context, the main aim of Zemey Rinpoche's book was seen as exclusively sectarian and it was banned. This single book and the badly handled controversy it generated in 1976 was the reason for the Dalai Lama's first, less enforced, ban of Dorje Shugden in 1978. The Dalai Lama said at the time that it would not be good for his reputation, if he his name continued to be associated with Gelugpa Lamas alleged to be sectarian. One of them was his own master from whom he felt he had to distance himself in order to save the name of Dalai Lama and his reputation. His Holiness: "How would the situation seem to others, when a person whom the Dalai Lama had singled-out from among equals and to whom he had given responsibility, write such a book. He is a direct disciple of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche is my Guru, therefore, a thinking person might say, "Ah.....they belong to the same faction, but they vary only in their degree of frankness. The Dalai Lama's Guru speaks like this and a man to whom the Dalai Lama has given special attention speaks in the same way. It doesn't matter if the Dalai Lama says that there is no discrimination in his policy towards the cause of Tibet, when, in fact, this is the actual policy or thought at the core of his heart" Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche as well as Zemey Rinpoche should have given thought to this, but unfortunately they didn't." Address 1978, p. 8 A whole lineage and a large group of people, i.e. those who rely on Dorje Shugden -- none of whom had a choice in distancing him or herself from the book -- are still blamed for the misunderstandings and emotional reactions this book elicited that were blown way out of proportion for political and historical reasons. A strange contradiction occurs when looking at the Dalai Lama's unforgiving stand, even more than twenty years later, at what I would call a mistake of having published such a book that threatened to harm his reputation while calling on the West to forgive Milosevic for his ethnic cleansing and massacres in Kosovo at a time when they had not yet ceased. "Milosevic, like former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet who is languishing under house arrest in Britain while he fights extradition to Spain on torture charges, should be forgiven for alleged crimes against humanity in Kosovo, he [the Dalai Lama] said." Simon Gardner: "Interview Too late for Kosovo Diplomacy Dalai Lama," Reuters, London, AOL, May 9, 1999.
Why stoke the fire charging a sectarian conflict in 1996 when it had long died down and the ambers were under control? Why add fuel to it rather than calm people's fears with a rational, coherent explanation? Why target only one group when by the new homogenized view of Buddhism every Tibetan tradition is sectarian? Why make sectarianism a bigger issue than it is at a time when Buddhism is quickly disappearing in its authentic forms? Many Tibetans who are neutral about the protector have said that this conflict was truly unnecessary. That is not to deny that there was sectarian strife on all sides. The point is, such conflicts do not get resolved with emotional blackmail, appeal to the survival instinct of a people already pushed against the wall, that is, solely through irrational means.
It is clear that for the Dalai Lama, non-sectarianism is built into the "cause of Tibet." In its name, religion is in the process of being secularized under the banner of "modernization." Assumed is that modernizing religion modernizes at the same time politics and the social process. This is the blind spot for a government that mixes both. Instead of creating at least the verbal basis for a secular state that would guarantee the freedom of all religious traditions and give people the confidence to follow their own heart and choices, the new religion based non-sectarianism is to serve that role. In the confusion of concepts and equivocation of terms, Gelugpa, the religious and social elite from Tibet is in the way of the new identity. It has to be leveled. In Tibet Gelugpa was landed and many of the landed aristocracy were Gelugpa. Although Gelugpa is still blamed for the loss of Tibet, because allegedly the religious institutions were politically too conservative, It is not true that only the monastic institutions were "conservative" and prevented Tibet from modernizing causing the loss of the country, as most Western scholars and following them Tibetans now too claim. The landed aristocracy, the system, as well as the political maneuver of playing outside forces off against each other to maintain the status quo, are just as much to blame. Tibet was not lost because religious institutions insisted on keeping religious structures but because of Lhasa's uncommitted foreign policy. The Ganden Potang government played the British off against the Chinese and the Russians while appealing to each for help in times of need. In 1947 the Lhasa government even refused to recognize Indian independence because it preferred the British to present its own interests. This self-centered strategy of playing off both sides against the middle continues even today appealing to the United States and Europe to bring pressure on the Chinese while working through them at the same time and continuing to make contradictory statements about independence to please both. It is the total absence of a rationally implemented (foreign) policy which absolves those in power from accountability I see to be responsible for the loss of Tibet and the failure to find a more conducive solution to the human rights problems there today. today in exile, Gelugpa can no longer be attacked on the basis of wealth and land holdings. The shift from social and political elitism of historical Tibet's Gelugpa establishment to sectarianism is a natural one, given that the power base has shifted to religion again in recent years. Sectarianism stands in for elitism now. The fight against sectarianism a relatively minor problem when compared to other parts of the world is really anti-elite where the most educated Tibetans, both lay and monastic, were indiscriminately labeled "elitist." Never mind if some of them were the most knowledgeable people, the reservoir of Buddhist culture supposed to be preserved in exile. Never mind that exercising power does not always mean misuse and that not all powerful Gelugpas misused their power. The elitist charge was politically motivated and well suited to placate Chinese criticism of historical Tibetan excesses as well as the non-Gelugpa Tibetan religious traditions who had been in the minority for so long. What has the Dalai Lama done to merge Kagyu, Nyingma and Sakya? Only Gelugpa was targeted in the process of merging lineages. Rather than lose all of Gelugpa, the Dalai Lama's main religious power base, those who rely on Dorje Shugden were singled out as they constituted Gelugpa's elite. See for example, the Dalai Lama, "The fifth Dalai Lama wrote in his biography that he destroyed [Dorje Shugden]. In spite of this, the worship of Dorje Shugden became very popular especially among the Gelugpa aristocracy." Interview with well-known, long term Tibet observer, Klemens Ludwig: "Auch im Buddhismus gibt es gute und böse Kräfte," Esotera, May 1998
The equivocation between elitism and sectarianism becomes even more visible when put into the larger context of the Dalai Lama's rapprochement with the Chinese, stated more publically to his own people only in 1996-7. Although references to the Dalai Lama's interest in working with the Chinese to the exclusion of independence appeared earlier in English language publications like the Tibetan Review, few Tibetans can or actually do read them. Already early on in his exile years, the Dalai Lama often shocked Western audiences by insisting that there were many similarities between Marxism and Buddhism. See, for example, the Dalai Lama's autobiography, where he admits he was fascinated by Chinese Communism, and "I admit that at the time Marxism and the idea of socialism were fascinating. I also confess that I continue to share many of Marx's ideas on the economy. I believe that the Marxist economic theory has a very important moral content. The only thing that matters in capitalism is to make money. There is no concern whatsoever as to how it should be spent." The Dalai Lama in an interview with Adam Michnik: "Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, Mao, Communists and Buddhists," Claves de Razón Práctica, No. 90, March 1999. These views, however, do not prevent the Dalai Lama and his government from raising funds in the capitalist environment, i.e. Apple Computers -- for whom the Dalai Lama served as willing subject for a large scale advertising campaign -- Europe, USA, and, since the Dalai Lama's visit in 1997, also Taiwan. Neither is that money distributed evenly in the exile community with, on the one hand, those who accompany the Dalai Lama around the world inflating five star hotel bills with expenses for sometimes extravagant personal services, while Tibetans in the settlements and camps, their movement controlled by the exile government and without any farming experience, try to eke out a very difficult existence from the land. For a discussion of Communist views and social practices in the exile community, see also Jamyang Norbu: "Opening of the Political Eye, Tibet's Long Search for Democracy," Tibetan Review, November 1990. Although the Dalai Lama rarely gave details, it was the concern for all living beings and their equality that sound so appealing in Mahayana Buddhism and Marxist doctrine alike. It is easy to see that mixing the two would result in a type of Mahayana fundamentalism that takes literally the equality of all sentient beings without respecting their differences -- just as Communism has shown the world while creating its own type of elitism by a process of exclusion of those who do not adhere to the new dogma. The difference between the Mahayana equality and the Marxist is that the former is an attitude that necessarily has to be developed in the mind of each practitioner, for the most part an excruciatingly slow process, and cannot be pasted on from the outside although Buddhists wished this were possible and pray for everyone actually to participate equally in all good things while Marxist equality is a political/economic doctrine that forces equality on people while prohibiting the practice of developing these inner spiritual qualities according to individual disposition. Marxist equality in theory is a result of constant revolution that diminishes the elite in favor of the oppressed. How the Dalai Lama reconciles the necessary violence this practice entails with his non-violent ideology is not clear.
Clear is, that he still maintains his attraction to Marxist views today, even if, as some interpret it, "the Dalai Lama's statement on the compatibility between Buddhism and Marxism is ... meant for the consumption of a wider Chinese audience." P. Stobdan: "Shugden Dispute Baffles Tibetans," The Hindustan Times, August 23, 1996. In answer to the question whether or not he thought that one day the Communist reforms in Tibet would become reversible, the Dalai Lama answered, "Tibet needed reforms. Without Communism several reforms could not have been implemented. The bad thing was only that the Communists exaggerated. As a result, so much unnecessary damage occurred. But, in principle, I support Marxist economic theory. It is wonderful to limit the ruling class, to fight exploitation provided it does not turn into exploitation by the state. When I was in China in 1954, I expressed the wish to join the Communist Party." The journalists: "And?" The Dalai Lama, "At that time, the Chinese leaders told me, it was not the right time to join the Communist Party. But they offered to let me participate in party conventions." Interview in one of the biggest German daily newspapers, Torsten Engelhardt, Nina Freydag: "Tibet ein Teil Chinas?" Die Woche, November 6, 1998
In a more general sense, when the Dalai Lama says in his March 10, 1999 address, "The root cause of the Tibetan problem is not the difference in ideology, social system or issues resulting from clashes between tradition and modernity. ... [It] lies in Tibet's long, separate history, its distinct and ancient culture, and its unique identity," he also downplays the enormous difference of political systems between traditional Tibet, the aspirations of exiled Tibetans, and Communist China. At stake, he says, is the Tibetan cultural identity he wants to preserve. This difference between Tibet and China, he says even the Chinese see as source of all trouble (March 10, 1999 address), is not political but cultural. The word "nation" the Dalai Lama uses in "national identity" amounts to nothing more than an ethnic identity within a large modern state pragmatically indifferent to the political system that governs it. "I do not seek independence for Tibet," he reiterates. "A just and fair solution to the issue of Tibet will enable me to give full assurance that I will use my moral authority to persuade the Tibetans not to seek separation." This is a very strong statement promising ultimately to go against the wishes of his own people if they continue to seek freedom for Tibet. Still they have not heard or, perhaps, comprehended this. They continue right after deliverance of the speech, in New York, for example, to march towards the Chinese Mission to the United Nations shouting, "China out of Tibet!" "Tibet for Tibetans!" "Free Tibet now!"
Who is in the way of this much willingness to cooperate with the Communist government in the People's Republic of China? The old elite, of course. Clearly, Gelugpa is perceived to be representative of the old elite on all fronts, politics as well as religion. It was the Gelugpa elite which established the infra structure to the Tibetan exile government when it was in its modernizing phase in the early 60s and 70's. It is still the Gelugpa model that attracts Buddhist attention worldwide and is imitated now by the other Tibetan Buddhist traditions as well. The Gelugpa model is a strong monastic presence with expertise in philosophical debate, extensive knowledge, detailed textual analysis of the Buddhist canon, and disciplined, understated behavior while helping practitioners with highly individualized practices and effectively guiding them in the more esoteric meditational exercises. It was successful in helping to establish a version of Tibetan Buddhism credible in the west. When one looks at the strongest criticism leveled against Tibetan Buddhism today, it occurs more in the context of misunderstanding and misuse of the esoteric practices of tantric origin outside the traditional basic Buddhist context on which Gelugpas, for example, insist. See for example June Campbell's critique., Traveller in Space and Trimondis, Im Schatten des Dalai Lama Since it is difficult to judge someone's expertise from a foreign culture across the linguistic gap, monks, as members of an institution that crossed many cultural borders and seemingly living according to vows, have a higher degree of instant credibility, Even Professor Robert Thurman reflects this trend, perhaps for different reasons, when he tells of his own experience, "I was a monk for about four years and then I quit. Then for about ten years I had this theory that monasticism was OK in the old days. I considered that being a monk was old-fashioned and that in the new age we have universities and schools...[this] was my theory until the mid-70s. I suddenly collided in the late 70s with monasticism as an essentially important institution ... that has great power and I came to respect it." Tina Pang's interview with Robert Thurman: "In Conversation," Oriental Art, Vol. XKIV, No. 4 (1998/9), p. 105 even if some of them turn out to be corrupt, unworthy, unreliable. While in Tibet and earlier in exile the older Tibetan Buddhist traditions favored lay Lamas and practitioners, they now often send monks to teach in the West. The different great Kagyu masters have built large study facilities in exile where a system of studying the Indian root texts with Tibetan commentaries from various traditions has become more popular and widespread than it was in Tibet.
Also from the Gelugpa background the more artistic and spectacular side of Tibetan Buddhism was introduced to the world, with permission from the Dalai Lama: first the Gelug Tantric Colleges traveled to perform their unique sacred chants of intoning several octaves simultaneously, then came sacred dance, constructing elaborate colored powder mandalas, and other rituals. Their popularized versions by now have become a new form of entertainment drawing ever wider circles of Tibet supporters. Images of yellow hatted monks have even sold Apple computers, followed in 1997 with their advertisements on giant billboards featuring the Dalai Lama of the "think different" campaign, as well as other advertisers' appropriation of their popular image. Much of the art which made large exhibitions, like the one called "Wisdom and Compassion, so successful came from what is now called the Ganden Renaissance. Rhie and Thurman: Wolds of Transformation, Thurman describes Ganden Renaissance art as, "The main characteristic is the full maturity of distinctively Tibetan style of painting and sculpture...(15th century) All the many important influences received from the artistic traditions of Bengal, Bihar, Nepal, Kashmir, Khotan, and China became well integrated within the repertoire of the great Tibetan painting schools of the early 15th Century." p. 32 "It is best not to call [it] the "Gelugpa" Renaissance, since the powerful spiritual movement of the New Kadampa or Gelugpa order stimulated and sometimes even directly sponsored tremendous creativity in the Sakyapa, Kagyupa, and Nyingmapa orders as well; so it would be misleading to give such broad mass movement the name of one of the orders in particular." Rhie and Thurman: Worlds of Transformation, p. 31 Based on the Gelugpa model, too, Tibetans have done much of their local fund raising, since the monasteries also serve as educational facilities. The previously elite institutions were used in exile to get attention and help from the west, For a discussion of the curious economically driven revival of religion in the exile community, see also Jamyang Norbu: "Opening the Political Eye," Tibetan Review, November 1990 and Tibetans believe they have been "democratized" in the process.
It is perhaps difficult for an outsider to see how systematic has been the effort to level any elite and silence criticism in the process. The Dorje Shugden conflict is just one, even if the most extreme, example of this. Jamyang Norbu points out some of the practices commonly used to this end in the exile community as follows,
[in the 1980's] "Intellectuals were the prime target. A well-organized and extensive official hate-mail campaign was launched against a Tibetan academic in Japan, who was alleged to have criticized the Dalai Lama in one of his books. Hundreds of death-threats were sent to him and letters to the Japanese government and to his university to expel him. For a couple of my plays I was also assaulted by a large Dharamsala mob (with the inevitable contingent from the Women's Association) and subjected to a "struggle" complete with experienced denunciators and the rhetoric of the Cultural Revolution. All these displays of embarrassingly excessive devotion to the Dalai lama, of hysterical patriotism, and of religious fanaticism was actively promoted by the Tibetan government and eagerly taken up by the lumpen element of the society, as a convenient means of gaining political prominence, and removing people more educated or more qualified who stood in their way. ... The cabinet took to censoring books, banning a number of important academic works on Tibetan history. Magazines like Sheja began to print nothing but hagiography, propaganda and endless official speeches. Even within government circles criticism was not tolerated, and fault-finding officials were dealt with in a number of ways, one of the more lenient being a transfer to a remote and undesirable posting." Ibid. , p. 16
As already mentioned, the old Gelugpa elite in the exile government had largely been replaced in the 1960s. The family of the Dalai Lama, admitting to running the government from behind the scenes for decades, was not aristocratic in origin. They came from a farming and herding background. Yet, whenever something goes wrong in Dharamsala, the old elite from Tibet, which was mostly Gelugpa, after all, is still blamed. "Not the Dalai Lama is responsible for the lack of reform of his religion, according to David Jackson, who holds a chair of Tibetan Studies at the University of Hamburg. 'It is the people surrounding him, Tibetan families of the old aristocracy or perhaps members of his own family'." Sporrle and Engelhardt, "Angriff auf eine Legende, Die Woche, March 19, 1999 To see the anti-elitist trend, one has only to look at the extent to which the Dalai Lama goes in presenting himself as an ordinary person the Dalai Lama prostrating in his underwear on CNN and the camera following him into the bathroom, the Dalai Lama meditating, eating breakfast, repairing watches, watering flowers, working out on a stationary bike, seeing poor refugees from Tibet, laughing, always laughing to put people at ease who want to approach the Dalai Lama with the serious dignity they think is appropriate for someone of his stature. No longer remote or locked up in his palace, the Dalai Lama often calls himself "a simple monk." A new, modernized image has been created and attached to the famous name "Dalai Lama" man for all people. Identified with compassion and kindness, the Dalai Lama must demonstrate this Mahayana ideal extending to everyone, if he wants to maintain his credibility. Thus, the image of Dalai Lama as "simple monk," man for all people, embraces all -- not just the rich, not just the powerful as in old Tibet, not just Buddhists, not just Gelugpas, not just politicians, not just Tibetans, not just the socially acceptable. This image is coherent and powerful, inspiring equally across all divisions. It is an image that seamlessly merged with the demands of the global celebrity culture. "The meaning of fame has shifted, with celebrities pretending to be just like you and me. Yes, it's an illusion, but it's a powerful one." Caryn James: "The Humbling of the Megastars," The New York Times, June 27, 1999.
In the face of Buddhism's global image, a Gelugpa trying to uphold the religious tradition transmitted through an authentic lineage would be seen as elitist because of Gelugpas' former identification with political power in Tibet -- or as sectarian -- because of a commitment of choice or conscience to a traditional religious way. It is this type of commitment that the Dalai Lama is asking followers of Dorje Shugden to break. In the modernized version, developed since the late eighties, of the religious and political mix, "elitism" and "sectarianism" have become interchangeable. Gelugpas who rely on Dorje Shugden, originally the elite of the elite, turned out to be the most obvious target from the vantage point of the above type of "modernization." In 1978, the Dalai Lama still said that "Dorje Shugden should only be practiced by highly realized yogis and in secret, otherwise, if they do it like today, then there is more harm than benefit and the result will be more faults than virtue." From the Dalai Lama's talk about Dorje Shugden, June 13 1978: A Complete Collection of His Holiness' Speeches on the Worship of Dorje Shugden in the Past and Future, Tibetan Cultural Printing Press, Dharamsala, 1996, p. 30 It is true that the most highly realized Gelugpa masters, lineage holders, and yogis relied on Dorje Shugden. The Dalai Lama's statement acknowledges the exclusive aspect of this practice. However, ordinary, uneducated, non-realized people relied on Dorje Shugden by virtue of their spiritual commitment to one of these highly realized yogis. This is the way to rely on any protector. People not yet spiritually accomplished did not rely directly on a Dharmapala but indirectly through the kind of relationship they cultivated with a master who had the qualifications to do so directly. It is this relationship to individual masters that has been sacrificed in the religious "democratization" process where only an absolute commitment to the Dalai Lama largely for political reasons counts anymore. By destroying the relationship with the spiritual master of one's personal choice, a protector practice also takes on very different meaning; its power diminishes. The strategy to separate one's enemies from their protectors in order to overpower them is a well known practice and explained in the secret visions of the fifth Dalai Lama.