Friday, February 28, 2014

Tibetan Buddhists Protest Dalai Lama

There's a headline you don't see every day. The Dalai Lama is one of the most respected Buddhist teachers in the world, and while members of other religions don't necessarily see eye-to-eye with him, Tibetan Buddhists generally rally behind him. However, his reign has not been without controversy, one of which is his ban on Buddhists worshipping a deity known as Dorje Shugden. Shugden practitioners see the ban as an attack on their tradition, and have been protesting the Dalai Lama's recent tour through southern California.

Among those protesters was Len Foley, a Buddhist who is also a Shugden practitioner. He was in Santa Clara on Monday morning along with others protesting the Dalai Lama for "abusing basic human rights." "The Dalai Lama is posing as a man of peace and a man of wanting to unify different cultures, but in reality he's creating vast divisions throughout the Tibetan community," Foley said.

The Dalai Lama spoke this morning about compassion and business at the Leavey Event Center Santa Clara University. He himself was a Shugden practicer, but has since banned the practice from his formal religious teachings. The Dalai Lama has stated the Shugden spirit "arose out of hostility to the great Fifth Dalai Lama and his government," according to advice posted on his website. The post also outlines the Dalai Lama's concerns that worship of the deity could create sectarianism among Tibetan Buddhists and devolve the practice into a kind of "spirit worship."

"It is not at all on the basis of a change of mind arising from a new thought that I have restricted the practice of Dolgyal Shugden," the Dalai Lama stated in a March 2006 speech to a Tibetan-dominated audience. "... Gradually I came to have many major doubts about the external, internal and secret aspects of it and about developments concerning it. Finally I looked up the works of the previous Dalai Lamas and for the first time came to realize the error in practicing Dolgyal; as a result I stopped it."

The problem is this - Dorje Shugen is seen as a "dharma protector" specific to the Dalai Lama's Gelugpa lineage, which is only one of four Tibetan Vajrayana traditions. Part of Shugden's function is to protect the Gelugpa school from "corruption" by ideas said to emerge from the Nyingma school, the oldest tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

One of the Dalai Lama's longtime goals has been to bring the four traditions into harmony with one another, which he eventually decided doesn't sit well with a practice aimed at protecting one school from the "evil teachings" of another. Shugden practitioners, on the other hand, see it differently, and claim that they have been ostracized by some members of the Tibetan community in response to the Dalai Lama's decree.

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Al said...

It is interesting to note not a single Tibetan was amongst those protesters. They're all white converts and "New" Kadampa Buddhists.

Scott Stenwick said...

Yeah, it would probably have been a lot more informative for the article to have included some Tibetan perspectives. I have heard from some other sources that banning the Shugden practice was controversial over there as well, but it would be good to hear actual Tibetans explain why rather than Western converts.

Jason Miller, said...

To be fair there are PLENTY of disgruntled Tibetan Shugden practitioners. In Boudha there were several Lamas that practiced it and were not part of the New Kadampa sect. Of course the Dalai Lama does not have as much influence in Nepal as he does in India.

The issue is far more complex than westerners on either side can really even delve into and people have been harrassed, threatened, and even killed over it on both sides.

There are many, many, people who come from fanmilies and gompas that have relied upon Shugden as a major protector specifically because he works fast on material things. When the Dalai Lama suddenly says that it is not OK, a lot of people react the way that Catholics reacted when their beloved St Christopher was declaired to be no longer a saint - they practiced it anyway because they loved the spirit and the tradition. These folks have been harassed and harmed by monks loyal to the Dalai Lama.

As a Nyingma myself, I wouldnt touch the issue with a 10 foot pole and am in full support of HH the DL asking people not to do the practice. BUT, I also do stand for religious freedom and I have spoken with Tibetans who practoce him.

Lama Gangchen for instance is not in the New Kadampas but was a lama specifically recommended to me as someone who could teach Buddhist Magic. The recommendation came from someone that is close to HH the DL, yet despite Shugden connection he recommended him.

Anyway, its a deeper issue than just westerners protesting and idiotic songs of OM MANI PADME HUM to the tune of We shall overcome.

Nerd said...

Dalai Lama has the best public relations on the planet.

Never was a religious monarch with nazi connections so widely loved and admired.

Scott Stenwick said...

The Dalai Lama does have a good public relations team, but I'm not really sure what you're talking about there as far as "Nazi connections" go. He was born in 1935, so he was 10 years old at the end of WWII.