I came across this YouTube video yesterday morning that left me depressed and angry for the rest of the day. An inji nun, a Shugden follower, confronts His Holiness in a hotel lobby in San Francisco and keeps up a litany of insulting comments: “Stop lying Dalai Lama”, “Religious freedom for everyone”, “Stop lying”, “Dalai Lama you must stop lying.” and so on. His Holiness attempts to argue with her but she keeps up her slogans till His Holiness finally leaves. The video is just 38 seconds but it feels much longer, painfully longer.
Of course, people must be allowed their beliefs no matter how ridiculous or wrong we may perceive them. I believe people have the right to worship Shugden or any other deity they want, while the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader certainly has the right to object to this on theological grounds and ask people to refrain from such practices. But that is not the problem. The trouble is that the Tibetan government has been inducted to implement the Dalai Lama’s proscription of Shugden worship. The Tibetan government claims it has not issued any orders or appeals to people to harass or ﬁght Shugden worshippers. Yet it has produced and distributed literature and videos demonizing Shugden worshippers.
But this latest confrontation with His Holiness by Shugden followers is completely unacceptable. The whole thing (camera and all) appears to have been a deliberate set-up to embarrass His Holiness. The nun didn’t even try to have a discussion with His Holiness. She just repeated slogans. The same slogans that other Western Shugden followers outside the hotel were chanting and which they had printed on their placards and banners.
Far be it for me to say that you can’t disagree with His Holiness. I have been an open and vociferous critic of the Dalai Lama on the issue of Tibetan independence for a few decades now, but I have always made sure that nothing I wrote could be used as ammunition against him or the cause. I have also consistently drawn the line at being deliberately disrespectful, and attempting to humiliate His Holiness publicly as happened at San Francisco goes way beyond that line. The behavior of the Western Shugden followers, at the very least, reveals an insensitivity to the hopes and dreams of those Tibetans suffering under Chinese rule who yearn for the day when the Dalai Lama will return to an independent homeland.
But on reflection I could not sustain my anger at the Western Shugden followers, who are, after all, not Tibetans and don’t share our values, and who at least came out openly (and peacefully) to express their grievances. But where on earth were our very own ministers and officials who always somehow manage to be alongside his Holiness in all his travels (and in every accompanying photograph and video). Where were they? Why didn’t one or two of them at least stand before the nun and tell her to leave, or better yet hustle her out gently. I remember seeing a video of a previous such incident where a Tibetan official, Kalon Tashi Wangdi, came out before a large crowd of Shugden protesters and talked calmly to them providing a kind of barrier between them and His Holiness. Why didn’t at least one official come between His Holiness and this small nun who seemed rather nervous and scared herself.
Or more to the point, what security arrangements were there in place to ensure His Holiness’s safety? We all know that over the last decade Western Shugden supporters have picketed his Holiness’s talks and appearances in the West. It was no secret that this time around they would do the same on his California visit. So why weren’t adequate precautions taken. I have written on a number of occasions that Dharamshala should be extremely careful in vetting visitors to the Dalai Lama, not only to ensure His Holiness’s physical safety but also to ensure that nothing untoward, unseemly or embarrassing could happen. One speculation I picked up over the exile grapevine was that the nun managed to get access to His Holiness because she was an inji, a Westerner, it being a given that Tibetans have a harder time getting access His Holiness than a Westerner does.
These day Chinese visitors from the PRC are reportedly coming in droves to Dharamshala and seem to have absolutely no difficulty in gaining admittance to His Holiness. Knowing how the system operates in China, I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that a considerable percentage of these visitors will have some connection to Chinese intelligence and security agencies.
So in the specific instance of San Francisco, why the oversight, the negligence? I have been given to understand there has been a major power struggle in the Tibetan political world over control and management of the Dalai Lama’s visits abroad, especially those to the United States. Hence it appears that the energy and acumen of our concerned officials were focused more on this turf battle and less on security preparations for His Holiness’s trip.
As annoyed as most Tibetan have been with the slogan-chanting nun and the other Western Shugden followers, it would be for the best if we forget all about them. In fact I think it might be advisable for Dharamshala to reach some kind of minimal understanding with Shugden followers regarding their behavior during His Holiness’s visits to the West, even if for the moment we are unable to resolve the fundamental aspects of the schism. Otherwise I can quite easily see things getting out of hand, and angry exile-Tibetans battling it out with Shugden followers on the streets of New York or London, doing irreparable damage to our cause and to His Holiness’s international reputation.
And we should never forget that we have a far more frightening and sinister enemy poised to do ultimate harm to His Holiness’s life and legacy. This enemy has murdered hundreds of lamas, slaughtered many thousands of Buddhist monks, and “disappeared” the child Panchen Lama; and as I mentioned earlier, it has been sending a stream of its agents to our exile-capital for purposes that are at the very least, disquieting. How seriously prepared are we to deal with that?
It doesn’t bear thinking.