The polemic of the NKT and WSS has, in recent weeks, become more aggressive and unkind. In attempting to use shock journalism in order to dictate the spiritual policies of the monasteries in exile, the WSS is undermining the Tibetan community in the only country where they can dictate the policies of their own monasteries - India.
The presentation of the “facts” given by the WSS is aimed at creating negative publicity at any cost using the techniques of shock journalism. Inaccurate parallels are drawn between the conflict in India and the holocaust and segregation. While the situations are completely different from both an anthropological and historical perspective, the techniques are as effective with the uninformed public as they are dishonest.
In addition, skewed and self-serving “eyewitness accounts” from South India are being published on their websites, which often distort realities in such a marked way the events they describe are unrecognizable to the communities they are writing about. While it is not appropriate for laypeople to be turned away from shops and this should be addressed, monasteries must protect the rule of law and community decisions in their compounds. When one ordains as a monk, one agrees to rule of the majority according to monastic principles.
By trying to contravene a rule decided upon by voting according to Vinaya principles, the Shugden devotees went against monastic law. To allow such people to continue as part of the assembly would have been detrimental to the unity of the monastery. But far from kicking them out, both Sera and Ganden monasteries allowed the houses concerned to keep all of their khangtsen buildings, kitchens and dormitories. From reading WSS accounts, however, one would be inclined to believe that these Shugden devotees are homeless - which is clearly not the case. Merely, the two communities are functioning separately in order to protect communal harmony and avoid the disputes. By all accounts things are now more peaceful.
A deep contradiction is evident here to those familiar with the history of the NKT, which, unfortunately the public is not. In 2002 there were two high-profile teaching visits by FPMT lamas, Zopa Rinpoche and Geshe Tegchok. Kelsang Gyatso sent letters to Manjushri and Madhyamaka Centres, stating that people were free to go if they chose, however they would no longer be his students. From all accounts, no longer being a student of Geshe Kelsang would make living in an NKT centre uncomfortable and nearly impossible. So, in effect, the NKT itself also limits the practices of its members. Except in this case, no referendum was held, it was simply an autocratic decision by the NKT leadership.
Another startling aspect of this campaign is the fits of exaggeration in the literature of the Western Shugden Society. If one watches their website the reports change from day-to-day on the number of protestors for example. In France the number was at first “nearly 500", then “over 500" finally, “700". The photos of the protests show no noticeable change in the numbers in the crowd.
Kelsang Pema, spokesperson for the WSS, also made patent exaggerations in her case to reporters which would be immediately obvious to anyone following Gelugpa scriptures. During the protests in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, she told reporters that the Dalai Lama was teaching “Texts are commentaries to this (the Shugden) prayer. So he is making money from teaching the commentaries to the practice, but denying the prayer.” This interview is proudly posted on the WSS website, seemingly because they believe the uneducated public will not be able to point out such contradictions. The Lam Rim Chenmo, on which the Dalai Lama was teaching, was coined hundreds of years before the practice of Shugden. There is no mention at all of Shugden in the text, so to claim it was a commentary to the practice is an outright fabrication.
Photographs of walls at the monasteries become proof of “holocaust” tactics to ghettoize minority communities. But the fact is that many walls of similar height have existed in these monasteries to keep out livestock, noise and thieves - serving purposes no different than the walls around the houses of Indian farmers in the same area.. Photographs of monks using a hose to bring water to their room through a window becomes proof that Dalai Lama supporters are denying these monks water. In actual fact, many of the houses don’t have separate taps and the reality of life in India is that most people have to take water into their rooms through a hose shared with the rest of the compound.
In closing, while monasteries must have the right to set religious policies for their members, it is unfortunate that some Tibetans in the lay community have become overzealous and turned Shugden supporters away from shops. With negotiation, this problem could likely easily be solved. However, through its widespread distortion and exaggeration of the facts, the WSS only serves to further the reputation of the Shugden monks as being untrustworthy agitators.
One really wonders who benefits the most from this campaign in the end. The Shugden devotees in India, or the NKT who seek to discredit the other Buddhists who critique their spiritual practices?