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.

Dorje Shugden

The disagreement centres around a protector Deity called Dorje Shugden (referred to sometimes as Dolgyal or Shugden) which until recently formed an integral part of the Gelug tradition, that was until the Dalai Lama decided to tell his followers to stop practising it.

According to Thupten Wangchen of the CTA approximately 30% of all Tibetans used to practice this protector Deity. They made prayers and requests to Dorje Shugden as part of their normal daily Buddhist rituals.

(Thupten Wangchen is one of the members of the 15th Tibetan Parliament in Exile 2011-2016)

On May 31st 1996 the Tibetan Government in Exile (now called the CTA) issued a statement within which they attributed the following quote to the Dalai Lama stating it to be the essence of his advice:

“Propitiating Dolgyal does great harm to the cause of Tibet. It also imperils the life of the Dalai Lama. Therefore, it is totally inappropriate for the great monasteries of the Gelug tradition, the Upper and Lower Tantric Monasteries and all other affiliated monasteries which are national institutions ever to propitiate Dolgyal.

The public should be thoroughly informed so that they can gain a clear appreciation of the situation themselves. However, everyone is completely free to say: “If the cause of Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s life are undermined so be it. We have religious freedom. We are a democracy. We are free to do as we please. We will not change our tradition of propitiating Dolgyal.”

From that time onwards for almost a third of the whole Tibetan community the choice was to either abandon their daily practice of Dorje Shugden or to continue it with the accusation of harming both the Dalai Lama's life and the cause of Tibet.

Then in June 1996 the Tibetan Parliament passed a resolution containing the following point:

“In sum, the departments, their branches and subsidiaries, monasteries and their branches that are functioning under the administrative control of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile should be strictly instructed, in accordance with the rules and regulations, not to indulge in the propitiation of Shugden.

We would like to clarify that if individual citizens propitiate Shugden, it will harm the common interest of Tibet, the life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and strengthen the spirits that are against the religion.”

So from 1996 the Tibetan Government in Exile enforced a ban on the practice of Dorje Shugden throughout it's departments and monasteries. Amongst individual Tibetan's who were not in monasteries or employed by the government they again re-emphasised their view that by practising Dorje Shugden people were harming Tibet and the life of the Dalai Lama.

At the same time the Tibetan Government in Exile were at pains to point out that this wasn't a case of religious discrimination or persecution and that people had freedom to choose what they practised.

Yet if you wanted to continue your practice of Dorje Shugden it was claimed that you were therefore acting against the government's wishes and you were harming Tibet and the Dalai Lama's life.

All of which are highly emotive and powerful statements to a community of displaced people struggling to maintain a national identity and regain their homeland.

Read about the confilct and the protests

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