EXTENDED ARTICLE: Germany’s Deutsche Buddhistische Ordensgemeinschaft regret Buddhist group the New Kadampa Tradition’s (NKT) attempts to cause further damage in the West to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism, they say. There are at least three sides to the argument.
International Shugden Community (ISC) representatives have planned three days of demonstrations under the Dalai Lama’s Oslo visit. ISC international spokesperson Len Foley has claimed that the Dalai Lama has engaged in religious discrimination and supressing what he sees as religious dissent among Tibetan and other Buddhists around the world for the past 20 years.
Organisation the DBO say in their statement referring to the current worldwide protests that they formally dissociate themselves from these. They argue that they come “at a time when the Tibetan Buddhist teachings are under great pressure in their country of origin”.
“The DBO remains of the conviction that opinions among Buddhists should be expressed in a peaceful, respectful, truthful and reasonable manner,” the statement also reads.
Mr Foley is also a former resident teacher for the Tushita Kadampa Buddhist Center (in the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT)) in the US’ Thousand Oaks, California. The Deutsche Buddhistische Ordensgemeinschaft alleges the NKT’s front organisation is the International Shugden Community.
LSE main entrance (Illustration photo)
Umezo Kamata/Wikimedia CommonsMoreover, the ISC has a company registered in eastern Norway’s Nesodden municipality, Akershus County. The London School of Economics’ (LSE) INFORM (Information Network Focus on Religious Movements) tell The Foreigner that meditation centres associated with the NKT usually have ‘Kadampa’ in their names.
Two of the company’s directors, Gen Kelsang Tubchen and Kelsang Jangdom, are teachers at the Nordic Kadampa Meditation Centre in Oslo. Those ordained by NKT founder Geshe Kelsang Gyatso have ordination names beginning with ‘Kelsang’.
INFORM also remarks that a significant number of former NKT members report having been encouraged to join in protests against the Dalai Lama. These individuals have noted that any positive mention of the Dalai Lama at NKT meditation centres was (usually quietly) discouraged by the NKT teachers.
Moreover, INFORM state they received an enquiry from someone attending an NKT centre based in Sweden in connection with the current anti-Dalai Lama protests in Oslo. The person reported that Kelsang Tubchen was travelling to Sweden to encourage students and teachers in Sweden to attend these.
ISC press spokesperson Rachael Jeffrey tells The Foreigner there are no formal links between the ISC and NKT.
It is not clear whether the NKT contributes money to ISC activities.
“We receive no funding. All those who are here in Oslo today are using their own time and money,” explains Ms Jeffrey.
INFORMAt the same time, the Information Network Focus on Religious Movements’ research reports that the NKT charges fees for drop-in classes, courses, retreats, empowerments and in residential centres rent is charged for accommodation.
2013-13 accounts for the UK-based arm of the Western Shugden Society (WSS), an alleged PR front for the NKT incorporated in London in 2008, show they had cash assets of 9,335 pounds sterling. Net assets were listed as being 14,228 pounds sterling.
“If the directors of the International Shugden Community are full-time monks and nuns, who are supported by their positions in the New Kadampa Tradition as ‘Resident Teachers’ and other roles (holding no outside source of income or resident address) – in fact the voluntary work is a kind of ‘donation in kind’ from the NKT and certainly could not happen without the agreement of the New Kadampa Tradition,” research officer Suzanne Newcombe PhD said.
“It is interesting that the Western Shugden Society (WSS) is registered with Companies House but not the Charity Commission in England and Wales,” Dr Newcombe added.
There also appears to be inter-organisation disagreement. In their statement, the Deutsche Buddhistische Ordensgemeinschaft call New Kadampa Tradition protestors “aggressive,” and “misleading”, with their behaviour being “unethical”.
Medicine Buddha statues, Kadampa Meditation Centre, NY, US
sneakerdog/FlickrDBO spokesperson Tenzin Peljor explains to The Foreigner by phone from Germany his opinion is that “the NKT is a fully-fledged cult".
“Their founder [Kelsang Gyatso] seems to me to have a vendetta against the Dalai Lama and chooses his followers to denounce him, shouting with megaphones,” says Mr Peljor, himself a former member of and teacher in the NKT for four years
“We’re vocal but peaceful because we have something to say,” explains the International Shugden Community’s Rachael Jeffrey.
Kelsang Gyatso, now in his eighties, is a Tibetan Buddhist monk, Gelug teacher (scholar), and author of Buddhist books, according to this website (external link). He founded the NKT in the UK in 1992.
Long campaign history
This week’s Norway protests against the Dalai Lama by Dorje Shugden followers are just the latest in a series.
In 2008, another organisation the Western Shugden Society (WSS) protested against the Dalai Lama in the UK. At the time, Helen Gradwell – believed to be personal assistant to Gyatso for more than eight years and former director of both the WWS and theKadampa Meditation Centre in Glasgow – petitioned the UK Parliament.
Buddhist nun Ms Gradwell (spiritual name Kelsang Pema) described herself as a “practitioner of the Buddhist Wisdom Deity called
The British Houses of Parliament
Maurice/Wikimedia CommonsDorje Shugden.” She requested help to what she said was “to gain religious freedom from religious persecution.”
The Independent also published an article about the links between the NKT and a Yorkshire-based sect known as The Shugden Supporters Community in reference to the 1996 protests against the Dalai Lama involving North London’s Alexandra Palace.
According to the report, the Northern England-based group was “bombarding the English media and the worldwide Internet with accusations that the Dalai Lama is "persecuting his own people" by discouraging or even forbidding the worship of a deity named Dorje Shugden.”
“The Dalai Lama has three distinct roles he plays: one is hierarch of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism (the Gelugs are just one of four major and numerous minor Tibetan schools), the second, symbol of Tibetan political aspirations both inside China and in exile and thirdly, pop-culture celebrity and author of new age books in the West,” explains Dr Nathan W. Hill, Lecturer in Tibetan and Linguistics at London University SOAS’ (School of Oriental and African Studies).
“These three roles often pull in different directions. The Dorje Shugden affair is an example of tension between the first and second role,” the Department of China and Inner Asia and Linguistics Department academic adds.
Dr Hill also says that the Gelug School has a tutelary deity in its pantheon, the Dorje Shugden. This is particularly associated with
Interior of the SOAS library
Alexander Marks/Wikimedia Commonspreserving the orthodox doctrines of their school from other schools – in particular, the Nyingma school.
“The Dalai Lama, in a spirit of ecumenism, sought to downplay this deity. Others in his school see this as a slip away from orthodoxy and are very offended. The controversy has led to a schism in the Gelug sect, with the New Kadampa led by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso emerging as the pro-Shugden camp,” remarks Dr Hill, who sees this as comparable to the Society of Pius X splitting from the Catholic Church over the Vatican II reforms.
“On the one hand, the desire of the Dalai Lama to downplay a divisive sectarian figure is entirely laudable, on the other hand, the desire of some Gelugs to follow the traditional religious practices they see as orthodox is quite understandable.”
“From an outside perspective both sides are legitimate and traditional exponents of the Tibetan Buddhism of the Gelug school--the whole affair can seem like a rather arcane religious disagreement that has been allowed to get politically out of hand. We know of many such cases in the Christian tradition, like the filioque controversy,” Dr Hill comments.
The final point he makes is that the Dalai Lama is often accused by the pro-Shugden side as suppressing freedom of religion.
“This accusation makes no sense,” states Dr Hill. “The Dalai Lama is not head of any state; he has no military or police at his
H.H. The Dalai Lama, 2014 Oslo visit
Norwegian Centre Party/Flickrcommand; he has no political jurisdiction over which he can exercise suppression.”
“Some members of the Gelug sect left the authority of the Dalai Lama in order to follow what they see as a purer form of religion. These people may not be very popular in other parts of the Gelug sect, but their human rights have not been violated nor their freedoms suppressed; even if some people did want to suppress or silence the pro-Shugen side, they simply have no means of doing so,” Dr Hill concludes.
Meanwhile, the Norwegian government declared they would not be meeting with the Dalai Lama against a backdrop of Chinese pressure. This has received national and international criticism.
Norway is celebrating the bicentennial of the Constitution this year.