Setting the record straight on Pico Iyer’s book, Open Road, The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.
In a few postings on this blog, we shall examine some of the statements about the Dorje Shugden and the Dalai Lama included in Pico Iyer’s book, which are at best incorrect hearsay and at worst irresponsible lies.
First the same old calumny about the murders:
The Murder of Lobsang Gyatso, the Director of the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics
From p 60:
He stands, for every Tibetan and Tibetan Buddhist (those in Mongolia, say, and now Korea and Taiwan and elsewhere, too), as a visible embodiment of their faith and, quite literally, a god – an incarnation of Chenrezig, deity of compassion- so beyond the common realm that Tibetans are too awestruck even to address him directly; and yet in recent years, those who propitiate a Tibetan deity called Dorje Shugden, sometimes known as Dolgyal have taken to picketing his public events because they felt he was discriminating against their particular corner of Tibetan Buddhism. Like many of the debates within the Tibetan world, this one goes back centuries, and yet, like many of them too, it is hardly and abstract or remote affair: seven years before, three members of the Dalai Lama’s private monastery, including the head of his Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, were found murdered in their beds only a couple of hundred yards away from the Dalai Lama’s home, and it was generally assumed that the killings were connected in some way with a string of bloody threats from the followers of Shugden.
“A string of bloody threats” sounds dramatic but has no basis in reality and thus is a shamefully irresponsible piece of writing. The one piece of evidence the Indian Police originally linked to the Dorje Shugden devotees, a letter in the room of the victim, was found upon translation to contain no threat whatsoever and was immediately dropped. And there were no other threats, let alone bloody ones. “Generally assuming” that someone is responsible for murder is quite an assumption! Aren’t people innocent until proven guilty by dint of evidence? There simply is no evidence, which is why the Indian police dropped the case years ago. See the posting on this subject on this blog for details.
If the Dalai Lama were the deity of compassion, why would he be causing suffering to so many Dorje Shugden practitioners and eviscerating the tradition of his own teachers? One thing is certain, due to people’s blind faith in the Dalai Lama, when he insinuates that there is a connection between the murders and Dorje Shugden practitioners — despite a complete lack of proof and the fact that the victim had many fierce enemies in Tibetan society — people jump to believe it and this terrible allegation has been repeated ad infinitum.
Since the Dorje Shugden devotees have not engaged in any violent activity despite being persecuted and ostracized, and since they are committed to trying to change the Dalai Lama’s mind through peaceful non-violent methods, it is particularly cynical to keep repeating that they are actual murderers just in order to discredit them.
From a talk by Helmut Gassner, a Buddhist monk and the translator for the Dalai Lama for seventeen years:
The Director of the Dialectics School was well known for his slanderous writings in which he would drag through the mud anything that veered even slightly from the course established by the government-in-exile: famous masters, the big monastic universities and even the Tibetan guerillas were his targets. In one of his last articles he wrote, “…these people will not cease to criticize the Dalai Lama until blood flows from their bodies….”
Given the character of the assassination and the humiliations the Tibetan guerilla movement had been subjected to in earlier years, one could have assumed that the search for the murderer would eventually also lead to them. But that obviously did not occur; already the next day, Dharamsala’s local newspaper claimed that the murderer would certainly be found among the Dorje Shugden Society in Delhi. Aside from who committed the murders, this gruesome act was exploited to the hilt by the government-in-exile with only one aim in mind: Resorting to all possible means they tried to incriminate the Dorje Shugden Society in Delhi in order to put its leading monks behind Indian bars.
Meanwhile the world of protective deities and spirits, of rival groups within Tibetan Buddhism and ancient enmities that had always cast shadows over Tibet now came out into the global order. In 1996, the Dalai Lama began, as I’d seen in Vancouver, to tell audiences not to propitiate a particular deity called Shugden, because he felt that it was proving harmful, and that certain tenets involved in its propitiation went against the principles of Buddhism and the very tolerance and reason he was trying so hard to promote. In response, the followers of the spirit, gathered in the West around a rinpoche in England who ran an organization he called the New Kadampa Tradition, started protesting the Dalai Lama’s talks (hence the warning that had greeted me in British Colombia), claiming that he was violating the principle of freedom of religion; they even allowed themselves to be co-opted to some degree by the Chinese.
Again, one only had to tiptoe across the threshold of the dispute to find oneself in a furious, febrile world of curses and threats and almost medieval intrigue. In the letters certain Shugden supporters sent the Dalai Lama’s government in exile (released in a brochure put out by that government) the sentences polluted with references to “donkey officials and poisonous and shameless” rivals. At one point, a package had been sent to a monastery in India containing a knife and the message “We were unable to meet you this time but we hope to get you next time.” A senior monk was beaten up and a barn and granary went up in flames. Then the head of the Dalai Lama’s own Institute of Buddhist Dialectics was found stabbed in his bed, along with two younger monks, apparently cut up as if for exorcism.
This is embarrassingly bad journalism on many levels. The implication of these paragraphs is that the New Kadampa Tradition is a rallying point for all Shugden practitioners, that the NKT is responsible for threats sent to the Tibetan Government in Exile and that the NKT has been co-opted by the Chinese. All of this is nonsense. When the Shugden Supporters Society (not the NKT) demonstrated against the Dalai Lama’s ban in 1996/97 there were no Tibetans among them. Although at that time Geshe Kelsang was a figurehead for the opposition to the Shugden ban (no one else was brave enough to speak out against the Dalai Lama), he was hardly a rallying point for all Shugden practitioners’ unrest.
Whatever individual Shugden practitioners do, such as sending death threats, is up to them – but in truth there is no evidence nor research behind any of Pico Iyer’s implications that Dorje Shugden practitioners were responsible for the knife or the barn or the beating. This is just hearsay, very likely from the Dalai Lama who was consulted on this book (certainly no Dorje Shugden practitioner was consulted!) Of course, the Dalai Lama has shown many times that he is capable of slandering Dorje Shugden practitioners. Repeating the unproven murder story again just for dramatic effect is unconscionable in someone who is supposed to be a respected journalist.
The NKT is a Western Buddhist tradition that completely eschews politics – NKT is not sympathetic to the Chinese Government or any other political body. It is a tired accusation that is always fired at anyone who disagrees with the Dalai Lama. It is a lazy accusation because if you label someone ‘a Chinese sympathizer’ you can just dismiss them as extreme; you don’t have to think about what they are saying and whether there is a grain of truth in it.