Earlier this year in the UK, Buddhists traveled from far and wide to see the Dalai Lama speak at the Aldershot Football Stadium. There was but one problem: whenever the Dalai Lama opened his mouth, his words were drowned out by a crowd of protesters that follow a rival Buddhist sect.
According to a new report by David Lague, Paul Mooney and Benjamin Kang Lim of Reuters, this sect who worships the deity Dorje Shugden has been co-opted by Beijing as a tool to discredit the Dalai Lama.
On the surface, it seems that this is just the same old quarrel that has been going on for some time between the Dorje Shugden and the Dalai Lama. The Dorje Shugden’s followers day he is their protector, while the Dalai Lama says he is a malevolent spirit.
Previously this disagreement was confined within temple walls but recently has been made much more public as the pro-Shugden groups follow the Dalai Lama wherever he goes.
A spokesman for the Hong Kong-based International Shugden Community said, “There is no connection at all between Dorje Shugden and the Communist Party.” Despite their claims, Reuters says that a leaked state document proves that China is involved some way.
The document called for strict punishment for anyone who supports the Dalai Lama’s views against Dorje Shugden, and encourages the organization of state-sponsored visits by his supporters.
Nicholas Pitts, the Hong Kong Shugden Community spokesperson said “I do not feel you could fairly use this document to say, look, this is evidence that the Chinese government is supporting the Shugden issue.”
Two authorities on Tibetan Buddhism who reviewed the document, Robert Barnett of Columbia University and Elliot Sperling of Indiana University, said they believe it is genuine.
Lama Tseta, a monk and former leader of the Shugden movement, claims that the Communist party paid him for his efforts. He told Reuters that he and other senior monks were on China’s payroll to lead the protests, claiming the United Front Work Department, charged with enlisting support for the party from influential non-Communists abroad, controlled the effort and allocated funding.
Tseta, who was granted asylum in the US back in 2007, says he is only speaking out now because the Shugden movement is dividing Tibetans. “The Chinese are using them as a tool to make the Dalai Lama look fake, to achieve their own ends, to undermine Tibetan Buddhism and to fragment Tibetan society,” he said.
Evidence on state-controlled media and postings on Dorje Shugden websites suggests that senior Shugden monks have always been honored guests at official functions in China and publicly embraced as patriotic allies in Beijing’s campaign to crush support for the Dalai Lama.
Lama Tseta also claims that Chinese officials instruct Shugden monks to recruit foreigners to aid in the protest. Reuters had no evidence of this, but a senior Indian Interior Ministry official said Indian authorities are aware that the Shugden sect receives funding from China. “We also keep a close watch on them because they get funding from China via Nepal,” said the official who wished to remain anonymous.
Sonam Rinchen, who attended the protests in Britain, said that demonstrators paid their own airfares and hotel bills, while the International Shugden Community paid for local transport and meals.
“There’s a lot of passion around this from Shugden practitioners, and the Chinese have fostered this Shugden worship as a way to split Tibetans,” said Kelley Currie, a senior U.S. State Department adviser on Asia and Tibet from 2007 to 2009.
It is unclear how much of the movement’s campaign will actually tarnish the Dalai Lama, but his televised appearances in the U.S., Australia, and Europe now regularly include a Shugden follower calling the Dalai Lama a religious bigot.
Security at the Dalai Lama’s events has been tightened in the U.S. due to these protests. In September, he was tailed leaving his London hotel by individuals that police confirmed were members of the Shugden movement.
Watch a video report by Reuters here:
[Images via Reuters]