I have just recently stumbled about the issue with The 14th Dalai Lama and find it a bit disturbing. To be frank I don’t know much about Tibet or Tibetan Buddhism at all.
The issue basically about a clash between two tradition within Tibetan Buddhism. One is the tradition governed by the Dalai Lama himself in Dharamsala, India known as the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT). The other one is the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) which was headed by Kelsang Gyatso. Now, a clash within a tradition is of course nothing new and quite alright. But upon investigating the narrative being used by the Dalai Lama’s group was rather patchy and extreme.
The Dalai Lama himself since 1996 denounced NKT as a cult, because they worship Dorje Shugden. He thought that it is a fierce spirit and can bring many harm to the society, so should be abandoned. But not just a simple denouncement, he went too far by banning anyone who practice NKT out of the exiled Tibetan area in India, perhaps using violence in the process, and marginalized anyone worshiping Shugden ever since. Up to now this ban is still there in their official sites.
Apparently there were demonstration by the western NKT during Dalai Lama’s visit to the west (not sure on the correct date, it seems there were many demonstrations throughout U.S. and U.K.). The main objective of the demonstration is only to make Dalai Lama retract the ban because it is harmful to their society, but it has been totally ignored despite the Dalai Lama’s teaching on religious freedom. That’s why the main theme of the demonstration was about hypocrisy.
In one article it is said that after the banning, it appeared to be some sort of brutal exorcism murder towards several people under Dalai Lama. This of course made Dalai Lama to accuse NKT as the instigator. Thus validated his gruesome worry over the worship of Dorje Shugden.
Now the credibility of this article itself is very questionable!!! First, it was made in Feb 2020 and included the murder issue, while an article published by Tricycle in 2018 (which tried so hard smearing NKT) never mentioned the murder once. Second, the justification of the murder case is based on another article in Newsweek, guess what the article was made in 1997, was there internet back then? Third, the link of wanted notices by Interpol in 2007 just point to another website again, no real report. Fourth, the 2015 Reuters article try to blame China for the demonstrations that were happening without any real report too. Some passage from the article:
But a leaked internal Communist Party document shows that China is intervening in the dispute. The party document, issued to officials last year, said the Shugden issue is “an important front in our struggle with the Dalai clique”. …
“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,” Tseta said in an interview.
Where is the leaked document then?
To depict the demonstration even worse, there is an article in Tricycle that racist-ly depicted the demonstration as “Angry White Buddhist”. So Tricycle is this kind of buddhist magazine? Wow! Also I noticed that every questionable articles in Tricycle are behind a paywall.
There is one prominent ex-NKT member that is being cited in various articles as the go to source about the condition inside NKT, which is Tenzin Peljor. He has a website dedicated to talk about NKT. Upon searching, there are already a major debunking about him. Certainly anyone should always be skeptical about a distorted view from ex-es.
I think all of these are deliberate attempts to discredit NKT throughout the western media to further marginalized them. Not to forget some of them are big mainstream media. A small tradition fighthing the mainstream media? That’s cruel. During my research, I was jumping here and there seeing no real concrete evidence. At best the claims were solely based on testimonies of people.
How about the story from NKT themselves then? There are two websites that try to present the truth from within NKT. One is perhaps an official sites (not sure) for combating the smear on them New Kadampa Truth, the other unofficial one contains a more political view towards the matter. One thing you directly notice is that the tone in the official one is totally different than the articles from the opposition. They simply try to clarify things. An interesting statement that I saw there about verification:
Here’s an interesting exercise for you. Go to an FPMT Center or another Tibetan Buddhist group that is loyal to the Dalai Lama. Even just run into them at a social gathering. Mention that you have been to an NKT Center or that your teacher is Geshe Kelsang. If the evidence of hundreds of testimonials is to be believed, you will be given horrified looks and either the people will step away from you hurriedly or they will give you extensive disinformation about the NKT, tell you that you are a spirit worshipper who harms others’ lives (even if you have never worshipped a spirit in your life and have dedicated your life to helping others), and strongly advise you never to return to the NKT Center. Now do the opposite – go to an NKT Center and say you have been to an FPMT Center. You will hear no criticism of FPMT or any other Buddhist tradition at the NKT Center.
Is NKT a cult? Looking at their main websites, I found the usual teaching about buddhism. Wisdom, good heart, and peace, nothing else.
On the contrary, back then I saw a video about The Yogis of Tibet with the Dalai Lama in it and wondered is this what they are practicing?