Are Buddhsist Racist

Read my one & only interview in the New Statesman

What is Racism?


Race can be defined as:

"A classification system used to categorise humans into distinct populations or groups by anatomical, cultural, ethnic, genetic, geographical, historical, linguistic, religious, and/or social affiliation.”


Racism can be defined as:

“The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”


When a group of people are labeled according to a certain religious belief or affiliation and their access to public services, jobs, livelihoods and social freedoms are denied or restricted on the basis of this belief or affiliation this is racism.

A Ban in Certain Quarters?

For some considerable time now the Dalai Lama and his government have been resolutely responding to every media enquiry about the ban by saying that there is no ban. "The Dalai Lama never banned Dorje Shugden practice", "he can't ban the practice", "it was just advice", "everyone has freedom", ad infinitum.

The sheer variety of different reasons and explanations given for why the Tibetan government (CTA) cannot enforce a ban has been mind blowing - everything from the CTA "has no postal service" to the "Dalai Lama has no political jurisdiction". Some have been ridiculous, whereas others have just been factually incorrect.

This type of situation has arisen frequently during the research into this matter - any aspect or area that you try to clarify immediately becomes bogged down in a myriad of reasons and refutations. As soon as you have resolved one it's supplanted with three more.

The reason for this is simple - there is a concerted effort behind the scenes to prevent any rational, independent examination of the situation. It's a strategy that has been devised and implemented by the leadership of the exile Tibetans behind various NGO's and interested parties.

For example during the Dalai Lama's fall tour of the US the issue was attracting a large amount of interest from mainstream media organisations. The story was gaining far more traction than it had previously, and as a result one of the Tibetan leaderships NGO's, the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) released a statement to the press encouraging them not to cover the demonstrations. Their reason for this request was because in their view, "these Shugden demonstrators are causing great damage to the broader Tibetan issue."

The attitude seemed to be to blame the protesters rather than the exile leadership for damaging the image of Tibet. In a classic case of victim blaming the ICT said the protesters were trying to, "create seeds of discord and confusion among the public by using terms like religious freedom, human rights, etc. to define their issue."

Whilst the ICT's mission is a noble one in raising issues of human rights violations in Tibet itself, it is wholly inappropriate for it to issue a release asking the US media not to pay any attention to claims of human rights violations within the Tibetan exile community.

You can read more about the human rights issue here.

Another unusual occurrence during the last day of the Dalai Lama's tour of the US was that an academic researcher at Columbia University admitted that in his view there is a ban on Dorje Shugden practice within certain quarters. Whilst you can read more about that statement here, it is useful to look at what a ban in certain quarters means.


The Meaning of the Phrase

Now Dr. Barnett has stated that the ban exists it is impossible for the Dalai Lama and his government to maintain their stance that there is no ban. Instead what we are now seeing is the definition of the ban is becoming the battleground.

Supporters of the Dalai Lama's ban are now claiming that Dr. Barnett's comments refer to the ban on Dorje Shugden practice within certain monasteries and liken this to banning smoking in certain areas. This is not the ban that Dr. Barnett was referring to.

His statement about this aspect was:

"As you know, the exile authorities do not accept that there is a ban on Dorje Shugden practice in certain quarters, and does not accept that there is discrimination towards Dorje Shugden practitioners within the exile community.  If you had read the PRI article, you will have noticed that my view is the opposite on both these questions."

The exile authorities have always accepted that certain monasteries banned the practice, they have never not accepted this. In 2008 it was the exile authorities who instructed the monasteries to more strenuously enforce the ban and purge themselves of Dorje Shugden Buddhists - they have never denied this.

The aspect of the ban which the exile authorities do not accept is that they have banned Dorje Shugden practice amongst anyone employed by them. These are the "certain quarters" to which Dr. Barnett was referring.

For instance in order to work as a school teacher in a Tibetan exile school under the control of the CTA you must first apply for a license from them. The jobs are advertised by the CTA, the interviews are conducted by the CTA, and the appointments are made by the CTA. Not one single Dorje Shugden Buddhist is employed as a school teacher by the CTA.

The same procedure applies for jobs in the health department, the finance department and so on. The ban on Dorje Shugden Buddhists has been so effective within the CTA that a statement from their Department of Security on March 17th 2014 confirmed that out of over 600 CTA employees not a single one was a Dorje Shugden Buddhist.

If you ask the Tibetan exile leadership if Dorje Shugden Buddhists are banned from working for them they say no. They say there is no ban. They say the Dalai Lama only gave advice and that everyone has freedom. They do not say that Dorje Shugden Buddhists are banned from working for them.

Anyone who considers the statements from Dr. Barnett and compares them to the fact that not one single Dorje Shugden Buddhist is employed by the CTA can easily conclude where the ban exists.

A comparable situation occurred in the UK in the 1960's where ethnic minorities were banned from working for the Bristol bus service. In a strikingly similar fashion the BBC reported:

"At first no-one admitted that black people were banned from working on Bristol's bus crews. Anyone who was even vaguely acquainted with the service, however, was aware that no non-white person would ever be seen behind the wheels of its fleet."
(Read the BBC article here)


The Discrimination

Now that the ban has been independently verified we can turn our attention to the discrimination that has arisen out of this ban.

Presently the Tibetan exile community is one that is divided along the lines of religious belief. Those who follow the Dalai Lama's advice not to practice Dorje Shugden are members of normal Tibetan exile society. Those who remain practitioners of Dorje Shugden have become an underclass, subject to discrimination and cast out from normal society.

The ex-Prime Minister of the CTA, Samdhong Rinpoche, spoke to schoolchildren at Suja TCV School and explained, "At this present time, they are the biggest cause for public and administrative unease. In terms of contravening morality, the Dholgyal [Dorje Shugden] followers have terrorized, murdered, beaten, and tortured people and continue to do so. If one looks at these acts, they have contravened morality."

Imagine for a moment if you were to replace "Dholgyal follower" with "Christian", "Jew", or "Muslim", because in every society you can find Christians, Jews, and Muslims who have terrorised, murdered and tortured people.

Crime is unfortunately a human trait, it is not specific to an individual's religious beliefs. To categorise an entire section of society on the basis of the criminal acts of a few of its members is unjustifiable. When it is an ex-Prime Minister talking to school children it is abhorrent.

Samdhong then answered a question about the feasibility of allowing Dorje Shugden Buddhists to continue their practice and live together in harmony:

"If they insist on continuing with the worship, then it is not a feasibility at all for those who have discontinued the worship and those who continue the worship to live in one community through a fellowship of engaging in spiritual and social activities together; they cannot continue to live together like water mixed with milk.

"Therefore, unity and Dholgyal worship are two options to choose from, not something that could go together hand-in-hand. This should become clear in our minds without any lingering concerns and doubts."

Compare that statement with the Dalai Lama's public teachings in Birmingham, Alabama, where he said, "As a Buddhist, I'm fully committed to promote more religious harmony."

There is a dramatic difference between what the Dalai Lama tells people in public and what his representatives do in the Tibetan exile society - that has to stop.

Segregation within the Tibetan exile community is spreading beyond India and is now a problem worldwide. A recent PRI/BBC World Service article stated:

"Dawa Tsering, a Dalai Lama supporter from Amherst, Massachusetts, says he tells his daughter not to associate with another Tibetan child at school whose family follows Shugden. “If you have a tooth problem, you’re not going to keep that tooth. You’re going to extract it, because otherwise it’s going to harm the whole body,” Tsering says. “That’s my philosophy.”"

The discrimination that has arisen from this ban affects not just Dorje Shugden Buddhists, but anyone associated with them. People have been asked to take oaths to avoid any material or spiritual contact with them. Signs are displayed in shops in Tibetan exile settlements refusing service not only to Dorje Shugden Buddhists, but also to anyone associated with them.

The function of such discrimination is not to amicably separate the society, it is to forcefully penalise anyone who refuses to follow the Dalai Lama's "advice". By applying social and material penalties not just to Dorje Shugden Buddhists, but also to their associates the intention is clear - to create a deeply segregated two-tier society.

This is the discrimination that the International Campaign for Tibet don't want the media or the public to see.

They are completely correct in their view that it will damage the cause of Tibet, because exposing the Tibetan leadership's own hypocrisy, discrimination and oppression is never going to make the Dalai Lama look good.

Is that ever a good reason to ignore the suffering of others though?

You can read Samdhong's talk to children at Suja school here.

©2014-17 Are Buddhists Racist - The author asserts copyright over all content of this publication unless otherwise stated.

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