A Critique of ‘Why the Dalai Lama Matters’ by Robert Thurman, Part Three

In this article we continue to examine Thurman’s book and point out the inconsistencies in what he writes about the Dalai Lama and the Dalai Lama’s actions over the years. Through the Dalai Lama’s actions, we can glimpse his real qualities and beliefs; and we can see a big difference between Thurman’s lavish hype and the truth.

To quote his own expression, the Dalai Lama’s “Three Main Commitments in Life” are:

1. As a human being, to promote common human values, tolerance, compassion, and so on
2. As a religious practitioner, to promote world religious harmony, Buddhist self-discipline, and so on
3. As a Tibetan, to represent his people until oppression by China is solved, then retire to being a spiritual teacher in Drepung, his traditional monastic university. (p 35)

If the Dalai Lama claims that this is what he is trying to do with his life, let’s examine these claims to see how much he is acting in accordance with his commitments. Thurman uses the world ‘promote’ rather than ‘practice’. Does the Dalai Lama see himself as a promoter of these values, or as someone who encourages people to adopt these values through his own practice and example? Given the frequent discrepancy between his example and his rhetoric, it might fairly be said that he is acting like a salesman for something he hasn’t bought himself.

For example, do these speeches by the Dalai Lama sound like tolerance, compassion and promoting world religious harmony to you? :

“Recently monasteries have fearlessly expelled Shugden monks where needed. I fully support their actions. I praise them. If monasteries find taking action hard, tell them the Dalai Lama is responsible for this.” (Al Jazeera news report, October 2008)

“Until now you have done a very good job on this issue. Hereafter also, continue this policy in a clever way. We should do it in such a way to ensure that in future generations not even the name of Dholgyal (Dorje Shugden) is remembered.” (At a meeting of Tibetans in Caux, Switzerland in 1999)

For more examples of the Dalai Lama’s harsh and intolerant attitude toward fellow Buddhist practitioners, see In the Dalai Lama’s words.

Thurman now talks about the third commitment of the Dalai Lama:

In terms of the third commitment, the Dalai Lama is Tibetan and Tibetans place their trust in him (p 37)

Although the Dalai Lama is loved by many Tibetans, not all Tibetans trust him, and with good reasons. Here are some examples of Tibetans who do not trust him or accept the function of the Dalai Lama as it stands presently:

From the pro-Tibetan “Phayul” website:

“The institution of the Dalai Lama has served its purpose and is now obsolete. It has to end for the sake of Tibet. Religion, like a lot of other things, is personal. It must never meddle in the politics of Tibet. We have the past blunders to prove it. There must never be another regent. There must never be another religious king. There must never be another monk or nun Prime Minister. There must never be another Dalai Lama, at least with political powers. There must never be another Lama with political powers no matter who, whether it is a Bonpo, Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, Gelug et al. It all now depends on the current Dalai Lama, the type of legacy that he wants to leave for Tibet…… The Dalai Lama has to resign in this incarnation as it will be almost impossible to do so if a 15th Dalai Lama/s is/are enthroned.”

From the recent France 2 Documentary Report, translated from French) (source)

Reporter: Lobsang Yeshe and Namgyal were previously the Dalai Lama’s bodyguards. 50 years ago, they saved the life of the head of Tibet, running away from the Chinese. But today, they feel betrayed.

Lobsang Yeshe: The Dalai Lama, I don’t want to hear about him any more. He is no longer the Buddha of Compassion. He is a traitor. The Dalai Lama has committed the gravest crime. He has divided all the Tibetans. He is against our deity, Dorje Shugden. He has forbidden us from venerating him. Because of him, I had a heart attack

And, of course, the Mongoose-Canine Letter, written in the 1990s by a group of Tibetans:

…..you always give priority to your own well-being and power, even at the cost of Tibet’s future. I am not trying to tell you that you should be concerned with the future Dalai Lamas regarding them being leaders of Tibet. I am telling you that you are not working for the future progress and democracy of the Tibetan people in Tibet. Also, I am telling you that you are extremely dishonest and hypocritical.

Thurman continues:

His sense of himself as a Tibetan comes, in this incarnation, from an extraordinary life, detailed in two autobiographies so far, and many works by others. Born in a well-off peasant farmer-trader family, he was recognized as the Dalai Lama very young, was brought up as a monk with a special education, was trained to be a head of state, and was entrusted with the political leadership of his people. (p38)

No mention is made that he was born into a Muslim family. Many people misunderstood why the Western Shugden Society made known in the West what is already public knowledge to many Tibetans. There was no insult to Muslims; it is just curious why, if the Dalai Lama was genuine, he would choose to be born into a family of a completely different religion. Given that the genuine Dalai Lama is supposed to have control over his rebirth, is it not a curious choice? The implication is that the Dalai Lama may not be genuine and that his non-Buddhist actions in discriminating against the practitioners of his Spiritual Guide’s tradition seem to corroborate this. This is further supported by the article on the Western Shugden Society website explaining how the Reting Rinpoche, the regent of Tibet, caused the wrong boy to be chosen as the Dalai Lama. The deception by Reting Regent was suspected in Tibet at the time, but naturally covered up for political reasons. (Later, the deception was compounded by recognizing the Dalai Lama’s siblings also as reincarnate Lamas).

That, of course, was no fault of the boy who became the Dalai Lama. One cannot help but feel compassion for the Dalai Lama if he is not a realized being. His upbringing must have been curious and lonely. Indeed, Thurman makes the observation earlier in the book that the Dalai Lama seemed to him to be “slightly stressed, lonely and a little sad” (p 6). No wonder the eleven-year-old boy greeted the arrival of Heinrich Harrer in Lhasa in 1946 with such excitement, receiving from him much tutoring about the outside world, despite Harrer having been a Nazi sergeant in the Waffen-SS from 1938.

The young Tenzin Gyatso was certainly invested with a lot of responsibility and the heavy weight of everyone’s expectations from an early age. However, no matter how abnormal the Dalai Lama’s childhood may have been, it cannot be used as an excuse for his present sectarian actions in persecuting Shugden practitioners, for which he should be made to answer internationally. If the Dalai Lama’s actions of working for a peaceful solution to the Tibetan problem was recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize, his actions of persecution, curtailing religious freedom and causing disharmony in the Tibetan community should also fairly be recognized.

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