Shugden Buddhists protest during Dalai Lama’s visit to Berkeley

More than 100 Shugden Buddhists protested Sunday against the Dalai Lama during his talk at the Berkeley Community Theatre.
Carlos Caceres/Staff
More than 100 Shugden Buddhists protested Sunday against the Dalai Lama during his talk at the Berkeley Community Theatre.

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More than 100 Shugden Buddhists gathered to protest the Dalai Lama during his visit to Berkeley on Sunday morning, demanding religious freedom for Shugden practitioners in the second of four planned demonstrations during the spiritual leader’s visit to the West Coast.

Chanting, “Stop lying, Dalai Lama” and “Religious freedom Dalai Lama give” outside the Berkeley Community Theatre, where the Dalai Lama was giving a speech about happiness, the protesters urged him to renounce his 1996 condemnation of Dorje Shugden, an ancient Tibetan deity. The protesters allege this condemnation has led to the “persecution” of many Shugden Buddhists around the world.

The Dalai Lama has stated that Dorje Shugden is a spirit who is in conflict with the Dalai Lamas and the Tibetan government and is a threat to the interests of all Tibetan people.

“All he has to do is lift the ban. He had the power to enforce the ban in 1996. He has the power to lift it,” said Len Foley, spokesperson for the protesters. “He appears to be a man of peace, but his decision has caused a lot of pain and suffering.”

According to Foley, members of exiled Tibetan communities in India have been forced to sign oaths and carry cards stating they are not Shugden practitioners. Those who refuse face religious and social persecution and are being denied access to schools, hospitals and employment, Foley said.

Jigdol Ngawang, a Tibetan Buddhist who volunteered at the event, says Shugden practitioners are not being persecuted, as the protesters say.

“The Dalai Lama has no way to persecute people,” Ngawang said. “Why would a Tibetan (hurt) another Tibetan?”

The protesters refute the Dalai Lama’s claim that Dorje Shugden is a threat to the well-being of Tibetan Buddhists, arguing that people have been worshiping Dorje Shugden for 400 years. They add that the Dalai Lama himself worshiped the deity for more than half of his life without any negative consequences and that he might have ulterior motives for imposing the ban.

“He’s using his religious authority to accomplish political goals,” said Thekchen Kelsang, a Shugden Buddhist monk.

Some followers of the Dalai Lama, however, say the protesters are the ones with the ulterior motives, accusing them of colluding with the Chinese government in order to attack the Dalai Lama’s authority and in turn weaken the movement for Tibetan independence from China.

But the protesters deny any association with the Chinese government, saying that they feel socially ostracized in many Buddhist communities and that they are standing up for Shugden Buddhists in Tibet and India who do not have the freedom to protest themselves.

The Shugden Buddhist protesters intend to demonstrate at the Dalai Lama’s two other events this week in Santa Clara and Los Angeles.

Contact Kathleen Tierney at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @kathleentierney.

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  • Gab Winter

    Dali Lama has the right to, in his own opinion, condemn Shugden .. while the shugden has the right to disagree.
    It has nothing to do with religious freedom.

  • Mick

    The protesters are stem from a Western Buddhist cult-like organisation, the New Kadampa Tradition, in which the founder is the sole authority – a real autocrat – and choose the Dalai Lama as his main target/enemy. Nobody would take public protests by Scientology much serious, with respect to Buddhism there seems to be a tremendous amount of a lack of knowledge – which is understandable considering the complexity of Buddhism and especially Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. For those interested as well as for the press, the German Buddhist Monastic Association, DBO, has issued a press release and a supplement to the press release addressing the assertions of the protesters and correcting them: http://buddhistische-ordensgemeinschaft.de/dbo_statement-shugden-protests-Dalai-Lama.htm

  • mark mcgoveran

    That is why we have abstractions. Nappy headed folks can be doctors blonde haired folks can be shugen buddhist. The Americans don’t have families in china, so they can protest with impunity. In the civil rights era here lots of white blonde haired people marched. do you doubt their credibility? You of course aren’t racist are you? It is obvious that you never mentioned skin color, after all would you believe a blonde person if he said a nappy headed man stole a watermelon?

  • Tenpel

    They are mostly Westerners because it is a Western group that is behind it. The media have failed so far to provide information about their background. Those who are interested can find here background information and a response by Prof Robert Thurman: http://buddhism-controversy-blog.com/2014/02/27/kelsangs-monks-and-nuns-protest-accusing-the-dalai-lama-of-religious-persecution-and-human-rights-abuses/

    • Bill Hunter

      professor thurman hes a donkey hes paid by the dalai lama

  • Red_Geologist

    Well, the Chinese Communists do have a lot of money!

  • Lucien Gauthier

    Yes, Americans are going to leave their jobs and families to shout for hours and days non stop while eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches until they lose their voice for ….A. money given by a communist government who also suppressing religious freedom or B. giving a voice for millions of Dorje Shugden practitioners who have been abused, beaten, criticized, kicked out of monasteries, humiliated. If you chose B you are right. By the way, I rented the walkie takies myself from a local company for 486 bucks for the entire demonstrations. We used volunteer security because the last time we demonstrated in NY across from radio city music hall the police shut down 6th ave to evacuate us on buses because the Tibetans were so violent. They threw coins, bottles, anything they could while we peacefully protested an illegal ban. The facts, in the end, are going to shine through the facade of a politician in monks clothing.

    • Angelina

      I wonder why the Shugden started making a ruckus lately. Your so called “ban” by the Dalai Lama was in 1986 and what you waited 16-17 years to protest? Does it almost 20 years to react? Or does the Chinese government and money minded lamas like Kelsangla Gyatso try to woe in spiritually lost westerners with no sense of belongings into cults like dolgyal Shugden? I feel sorry. Sincerely

  • Janna

    This is a disgrace to our country. The equivalent would be allowing any extremist hate group to demonstrate – KKK in front of Mandela or neo-Nazis in front of any visiting Israeli prime minister – simply not done in civilized countries; ‘civilized,’ i.e., non-violent, considerate, respecful, kind, compassionate, is something we should aspire to.
    After a detailed and thorough exposé, in the epilogue to “The Dalai Lama and the King Demon”(Tibet House US, New York, 2013; with Hay House), investigative journalist Raimondo Bultrini wrote: 
”The appeal to “freedom of worship,” launched during the Western Shugden Society’s demonstrations, is part of a precise [Chinese] strategy aimed at capturing the imagination of Western readers who know next to nothing regarding the historical and religious implications surrounding the cult. Signs with messages such as, “Dalai Lama, give us religious freedom!” would have little impact in Tibet, where most Buddhists, by tradition, trust in the guidance of their spiritual leader.” Moreover, Bultrini writes that, after examining the facts, one could only concludethat “any alliance in [Shugden’s] name” is dangerous. (p. 365)

    Bultrini interviewed HH the Dalai Lama, who, after citing a triple murder that has been clearly linked to the group, cases of beatings and an assassination attempt against one of the Dalai Lama’s representatives currently pending in the Indian courts, stated, “..thus we consider this group as a kind of criminal organization.” (p. 329) 

For more information on the issue that is considered solely responsible for ending negotiations between the Tibetans and the Chinese: 

    http://www.dalailama.com/messages/dolgyal-shugden
    http://tibet.net/2013/12/29/his-holiness-presides-over-geshe-lharampa-degree-award-ceremony-launches-book-on-dholgyal/
    http://www.hayhouse.co.uk/books/0967011523/the-dalai-lama-and-the-king-demon

    • Jeff Ryan

      I am American and a proud member of the Western Shugden Society. Fortunately, facts are facts! The demonstrations taking place are more similar to parishioners demonstrating to the Catholic hierarchy about sexual abuse. The Dalai Lama only need say ” stop shunning your countrymen that choose to not give up the practice followed by my teachers. They deserve to be treated as any other Tibetan in our communities. ” if he just said that or something similar this problem would disappear.

    • Lucien Gauthier

      The disgrace is the Dalai Lama’s ban on his own root Guru’s Dharma Protector and his imposing this on other people who practice faithful reliance on the Wisdom Buddha Dorje Shugden. There is nothing pending in any criminal court nor is there any connection to China, that is the same old pathetic rhetoric that contains not one shred of fact behind it. The facts on the ban however are clear and the Dalai Lama has admitted to the ban. He should give his Nobel Peace Prize back.

    • Janna

      Sincere practitioners can get benefit from reading Je Tsongkhapa, practicing ethics and meditation.
      A very sad and unfortunate aspect of this sort of deception and corruption generally, and in so-called religion specifically, is that it is invisible, imperceptible to the sincere, naive, undiscerning and unsuspecting. Here is the link to USC Business, Ethics and Compassion

      It would be wise to listen to His Holiness’ words regarding discernment. It’s important to discern honesty and integrity in leaders and authority figures, and to cultivate discernment, honesty and integrity ourselves. One wonders why Dolgyal practitioners are not sitting on their cushions instead of taking to the streets. Buddhism is about healing one’s own strong aversion (hatred, anger, disgust) and attachment (craving, greed) by cultivating ethics, concentration, wisdom and compassion.
      His Holiness wrote a very good book: Healing Anger http://www.amazon.com/Healing-Anger-Patience-Buddhist-Perspective/dp/1559390735
      Another good book is The Psychology of Demonization: Promoting Acceptance and Reducing Conflict http://www.amazon.com/The-Psychology-Demonization-Promoting-Acceptance/dp/0805856668
      My warm advice is to leave His Holiness alone and to pay close attention to how the anger and strong aversion arise in one’s own mind.

      • Kelsang Zamling

        Janna: as a Shugden Buddhist, I’d like to respond & clarify:
        1. I’m not sure what sort of “deception and corruption” you are referring to, if it is toward Shugden Buddhist, but there is nothing deceitful or corrupt about our actions or intentions–we simply want everyone to be able to practice freely and without harm whatever spiritual practice one wishes. Since 1996 the Dalai Lama has instituted a ban on the practice of Dorje Shugden which has caused untold suffering, mainly to his own Tibetan people. The Vimeo link you included in your comment is about the Dalai Lama promoting the idea of dialogue, but despite numerous public requests and direct appeals to the Dalai Lama and his exile government, he has never agreed to have an open dialogue with Shugden Buddhists about this issue. This is both very sad and incredibly ironic. For me, this seems quite deceptive to publicly espouse the ideas of harmony and dialogue but not to follow through with them himself. Why doesn’t he practice what he preaches?

        2. Engaged Buddhists including Thich Nhat Hanh and Aung San Su Kyi have publicly spoken out against human rights injustices since the 1960s, so public demonstrations by Buddhists is not unheard of. However, Shugden Buddhists have only demonstrated during 3 of the 18+ years of the ban on Dorje Shugden practice (1998, 2008, 2014). Most of our efforts have been through our own meditation and prayer, as we know the main cause of this problem is collective negative karma from previous lives, so at the end of group meditations we dedicate for our own enlightenment and world peace. I would say that the vast majority of our practice is “on the cushion”, not off it. It has only been the exception that we have raised our compassionate voices to the public and media to create awareness and to urge the Dalai Lama to end the ban he himself instituted.

        3. I agree with your and the Dalai Lama’s plea to check carefully the integrity of public leaders, especially spiritual ones. I’m afraid there’s ample evidence to show that the Dalai Lama’s public face in the West is much different from his behavior within the Tibetan exile community. There is a long history of deception, persecution, and self-serving behavior which shows that he is more of a political leader than a spiritual one, unfortunately. Please consider watching these for more information:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBCjXHDWzlc

        I pray that all this negative karma will quickly be purified so that authentic world peace may be fulfilled.

    • Red_Geologist

      “Jeff Ryan” is a disguised troll for the Chinese Communist propaganda machine….Disgusting!