Monday, June 9, 2008

What about the WSS demonstrations?

An account of the first Western Shugden Society demonstration in May from someone in attendance:

Yesterday the Western Shugden Society held a demonstration at Colgate University in Hamilton, protesting the Dalai Lama's ban of Dorje Shugden and the persecution of followers of this Buddhist lineage of Je Tsongkhapa in the Tibetan exile community in India.There were over 200 Dorje Shugden practitioners from the West (from 10 countries altogether, but mainly the USA and Canada), and nearly 100 Tibetan monks, nuns, and lay people, including Geshes (doctors of divinity) and Rinpoches (reincarnate Lamas).

When Western Shugden practitioners demonstrated over a decade ago on behalf of Tibetan Shugden practitioners in India, the Tibetan Shugden practitioners in the West were too afraid to stand with us. Having the Tibetans with us this time greatly increased the impact of the demonstration.

Many of them decided to come along even though they are frightened of what might happen to them or to their families back in India; but I found them to be peaceful, composed and courageous. We risk only having bad words spoken against us from people who don’t understand the situation. For them, they risk a good deal more than that. [ed: Since that time, a call has gone out from the Tibetan office criticizing the demonstration and urging: “look at the video (of these Chinese spies) and find the names and addresses of Tibetans”, several of them have received threats of violence, and the restaurant of one of their relatives in New York was blacklisted such that they face severe financial difficulties.]

The demonstration started at around 11am and finished after the Dalai Lama had finished his address at around 5:30pm. It was peaceful but powerful. We all chanted the words: "Dalai Lama, stop lying" and "Dalai Lama, give religious freedom". One elderly Tibetan lady held a Tibetan flag and others held placards. Booklets called The Tibetan Situation ~ Surprising Hidden News were distributed in the street to whoever wished to receive them.

The police attending said they had never met such helpful, peaceful, and non-angry demonstrators. [ed: this is a comment that has been echoed by police in all subsequent demonstrations.]

During a break I sat with Geshe Sopa and other Tibetans and found out some more sad stories. For example, Geshe Sopa is a disciple of Trijang Rinpoche, the root Guru of many of the greatest Gelug Lamas including the Dalai Lama; and he received teachings from him directly. He has 4 brothers and 5 sisters in India, and any number of nieces and nephews, but they have not been permitted to communicate with him for years because he refused to give up his practice of Dorje Shugden. He told me: "The connection I have with my Spiritual Guide will last for lifetimes, until I attain enlightenment. The relationship I have with my family, even though I love them, is just one life relationship. I had to choose, so I chose my Spiritual Guide."

Geshe Sopa said to me: "How can I deny the evidence of my own eyes? I know that Trijang Rinpoche practiced Dorje Shugden his whole life. How can I agree with the Dalai Lama and stop this practice, breaking my commitment to my own Spiritual Guide?"

Geshe Sopa now lives in Vermont with Trijang Choktrul (the reincarnation of Trijang Rinpoche) and recently received his American citizenship. He said: "Now I am free to practice openly." He also explained how Trijang Choktrul had chosen to remain as a private citizen so as not to come under the control of the Dalai Lama. He is, naturally, a Dorje Shugden practitioner.

When I thanked Geshe Sopa for coming along and inspiring others to do so he told me that he and all the other Tibetan practitioners were deeply regretful that they had not joined Western Shugden practitioners (principally represented at that time by the New Kadampa Tradition) to protest in 1996. Back then, they had hoped that if they kept their heads down, the problem would go away. However twelve years later the problem has only worsened, especially since January of this year. He said there would have been more Tibetans at this demonstration if there had been more time. It was only three days ago that they had a large meeting in Queens to discuss whether or not to join us. They made their momentous decision at 3am.

The Tibetans at the demonstration had come from all over the US and Canada. When I asked if there were many more Tibetan Dorje Shugden practitioners in the US or Canada other than the ones here today, he replied in surprise: "Of course. This practice is very widespread".

Many of the Tibetans said, when asked by various Western practitioners why they were here: "We need to protect Je Tsongkhapa's tradition."

One of the highlights of the day happened late in the afternoon. The personal representative of the Dalai Lama came out to speak with us, carrying our booklet in his hand. (ed: His name was Tashi Wangdi and he can be seen in various publications over the years as defending the Dalai Lama on this ban.)

In all our previous demonstrations more than a decade ago we had never received such official acknowledgement. This was a clear sign that the combination of Western and Tibetan Shugden practitioners, as well as the powerful rhetoric in our booklet, was having an effect. Our voices were being heard!

The Tibetans crowded around him, along with Kelsang Pema, the Western spokesperson.He started off by smoothly stating practiced words to this effect [ed: this interview now appears here]: "This use of the word "ban" is not correct. Of course the Dalai Lama has spoken up against this practice but it is just his encouragement. I spent much time in India. I can tell you there is no discrimination, you just can't go to any of his teachings. Also you cannot live together, but you can live separately."

Kelsang Pema replied that she had just returned from a two-week visit to India where she observed many things. If people did not sign to say they'd given up their practice, they were not issued ID cards. If you have no ID card you are not a recognized citizen of any state, and you cannot shop at any stores. Others had to promise that they would not "materially or spiritually support" any Dorje Shugden practitioners. She pointed out that people were being expelled from monasteries and children were removed from schools if their parents were Dorje Shugden practitioners. Statues were being smashed. People were not allowed to see their relatives. For example, one mother was visited by four Dalai Lama representatives and told to make her son, a monk, give up the practice of Dorje Shugden or never see him again. All this and more she observed in India a few weeks ago.

The representative replied: "Of course, if this is really happening, it is wrong. I will investigate. Put it in writing. Tell me who is saying these things." Then a Tibetan woman called Heidi gave him a piece of paper that listed grievances. And many of the Tibetans animatedly started telling him one instance after another of abuse – all in Tibetan so I could not understand details [ed: it transpired later that the words they used were very respectful].

The representative was visibly taken aback. He tried to repeat: "There is no ban". He said he wanted the names of people who had experienced these grievances. Pema then asked him to explain why, if there was no ban, the day after she had spoken with the six monks in the monastery about the situation, they had each received death threats. The spokesperson said again: "If this happened, of course it is wrong. I will investigate." All this is on camera. He has promised to investigate all these instances of discrimination and abuse. Let's see if he does. [ed: no sign of him doing so yet].

By the end of the demonstration, everyone was very moved. Geshe Sopa and Atta (the Tibetan spokesperson) and a reincarnate Lama (whose name I cannot recall) all said that they were very grateful to the organizers and Western practitioners who attended these demonstrations. They said: "In the future, you and us will be like milk and water. We will always join you now wherever you need us to do demonstrations. We are members of the Western Shugden Society. We thank you so much for helping us."They asked if we could finish with prayers to Dorje Shugden and then recited some of the prayers from Heart Jewel in Tibetan.

Future demonstrations are planned in the Germany, the UK, Australian, New York and elsewhere, until the need for them goes away. It looks like we may be turning the corner. The press indicate that they are beginning to get a handle on this complicated situation and understand that it is Tibetans who are driving these protests as they are the ones who are being victimized and ostracized. It is gradually becoming clearer that what we have been saying all along is true and not just the ravings of a Western Chinese-sponsored cult. We hope an independent-minded journalist will be curious enough to investigate this for herself/himself.

Earlier in the day, I went with others to the Tibet Office to hand the booklet to three representatives of the Dalai Lama. I spoke with two of them and explained who the booklet was from and asked them to get it to the Dalai Lama before the next day. They said they would but I don't know if they did. Others also tried several different methods to get the booklet into his hands before we protested against him.

The Dalai Lama never replied to any earlier letters sent to him giving him a deadline to stop expelling the monks from Sera Je Monastery (removing all their spiritual and material support, effectively outcasting them in their own exile community) or we would protest publicly, which is why the demonstrations are going ahead.

No comments: