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.

Seven Common Myths

Journalists are often swayed by the media packs given out by the Tibetan government and the Dalai Lama's representatives due to a combination of misplaced trust and a lack of time to properly fact check them. So to aid future reporting here are seven common myths that often get falsely reported in the media - please don't perpetuate them.


Myth #1 - The Dalai Lama is the head of Tibetan Buddhism

The first ever Dalai Lama was Gendun Drup, who lived from 1391 to 1474. It is believed that Buddhism spread to Tibet around 760AD under the rule of King Trison Detsen. Tibetan Buddhism pre-dates the Dalai Lama by over 600 years, so the notion that the Dalai Lama is the creator/curator/head of Tibetan Buddhism is simply wrong.

Myth #2 - The Dalai Lama can ban whatever he likes because he is the head of his tradition of Buddhism

Based on a similar logic to the first myth people often conclude that the Dalai Lama has the right to ban whatever aspect of his tradition/school of Buddhism that he sees fit.

However the Dalai Lama is traditionally considered to be reborn as a high lama in the Gelug school and he has no official authority over the doctrine practised within it. The spiritual head of the Gelug school is the Ganden Tripa, not the Dalai Lama.

One of the most recent Ganden Tripas was Khensur Lungri Namgyal, who served in the position from 2003-2009. Although it was known that he practised Dorje Shugden he had to keep his practice secret at that time to prevent a political conflict with the Dalai Lama. After he had retired from his position as Ganden Tripa he then joined a monastery renowned for its practice of Dorje Shugden.


Myth #3 - Dalai Lama opponents are funded by the Chinese government

This cold war style cliche appears again and again in Tibetan government resolutions and comments and is analogous to the McCarthy era of politics in the US. McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. It is especially used to restrict dissent or political criticism.

To date we have seen no credible evidence or documents that support this allegation of Chinese funding. Also it is illogical to think that the Chinese would waste their time, money and risk international outrage by orchestrating or funding public protests against the Dalai Lama. Especially when you consider that their main method of ignoring him and imposing trade sanctions on any governments that meet with him seems to be working for them.

The protests are also criticised for involving large numbers of western Buddhists, so it seems contradictory that on the one hand they are claimed to be funded by the Chinese yet on the other hand they are mostly made up of western Buddhists from Europe and the US.

Ironically the Tibetan government itself funds Chinese political activists through their secretive "Chinese Outreach Program". Maybe because of this they falsely believe China funds the Dorje Shugden protests, but evidence of one's own misdeeds is not proof of another's. Read more...

Myth #4 - There is no ban

Incredibly some people still claim that there is no ban on the practice of Dorje Shugden amongst the Tibetan exile community. Various reasons are given for this view, namely that the Tibetan government isn’t able to pass a law banning anything, there is no method to ban anything within Buddhism, there is no evidence of a ban and so forth.

A ban is an official or legal prohibition of something. When you are prohibited from working for an organisation you are banned from it. Following its resolutions in 1996 & 1997 the Tibetan Parliament in Exile officially prohibited Dorje Shugden practitioners from working for the government and any of its branches or departments.

Even Tenzin Peljor, a staunch supporter of the Dalai Lama admitted, "To enable a fair and democratic government in exile government members had to stop Shugden practice or to leave."

The mass expulsion of Dorje Shugden practitioners from all monasteries in south India in 2008 is yet more clear evidence of the enforcement of a ban, whether you refer to it as a prohibition or a restriction the effect is still the same. Read more...


Myth #5 - There are no human rights abuses

In a recent article for The Foreigner Dr Nathan Hill of the SOAS University in London was quoted as saying about Dorje Shugden practitioners, "their human rights have not been violated nor their freedoms suppressed”.

Dr Hill works in the linguistics department of the SOAS University, so we contacted him to clarify this quote as it seemed a little odd for a professor of linguistics to be commenting on the validity of human rights issues.

Dr Hill said that he didn’t think the Tibetan government was violating Dorje Shugden practitioners human rights because they aren’t a sovereign state. When we pointed out that you don’t have to be a sovereign state to commit human rights violations he replied, "I don't agree. But to be totally honest, I don't believe in human rights either."

When quoting someone about the validity of human rights claims it's considered to be a good practice to make sure that they have the necessary credentials to comment on them. A linguistics professor is not the same as a human rights professor and to quote them on questions of human rights creates false balance - an issue most credible journalists are aware of and take great effort to avoid.

It's also not a good idea to quote someone's view on the validity of human rights claims if they don't actually believe in the existence of human rights.

To clarify this issue of human rights violations we contacted an independent legal expert on human rights who denounced Dr Hill's simplistic view of the situation. Read more...


Myth #6 - There is no discrimination because the Tibetan government cannot pass or enforce laws

Discrimination is the unjust and prejudicial treatment of people on the basis of their religious views, age, sex, nationality and so forth. It doesn’t depend on whether a government or state has the power to pass or enforce laws.

For instance in a recent statement about discrimination by the American Humanist Association they point out that 7 states in the US have laws prohibiting atheists from holding public office. They cite this fact as an example of discrimination, irrespective of whether those laws are enforceable or not.

The Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE) has been passing laws since 1991, 5 years before it’s first official prohibition of Dorje Shugden practice, according to its own website:

"From 1991 onwards TPiE became the Legislative Organ of CTA, while Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission is the Judiciary Organ and the Kashag, Executive Organ said to be Three Pillars of Democracy. TPiE began to pass laws for the Tibetans in exile and the Charter for Tibetans in Exile is one of the first important legal document passed by the Parliament and approved by His Holiness on May 16th 1991" (Central Tibetan Authority website, current)

The Tibetan Prime Minister in 2003 also gave a revealing interview about how the Tibetan exile community is governed and how its laws are enforced by punishing and hurting people. Read more...


Myth #7 - The Dalai Lama cannot ban anything

Sometimes people justify the Dalai Lama’s ban on Dorje Shugden practice by saying that he has the authority to ban whatever part of Tibetan Buddhism he likes and sometimes, like professor Robert Thurman, they go to the other extreme of claiming that he cannot ban anything because he has "no authority to ban what Tibetan Buddhists practice”.

In 1996 the Dalai Lama’s instruction to Tibetans not to practice Dorje Shugden was formalised in a resolution passed unanimously by the Tibetan Parliament in Exile. From that time on people were told that they had to give up their practice or leave their jobs.

In 2008 the Tibetan government instructed all the monasteries in south India to expel anyone who continued to practice Dorje Shugden. You were only allowed to remain in the monastery if you swore an oath before the head of the monastery that you were no longer practising Dorje Shugden.

Throughout all of this time the Dalai Lama was the head of state of the Tibetan government. He had political jurisdiction over the Tibetan exile community, and the Tibetan parliament had the ability to pass and enforce laws at this time according to its own constitution.

As Rebecca Novick, who has authored and edited 6 books on Tibetan culture and Buddhism, stated in a recent article in the Huffington Post:

"In 2008 the Tibetan leadership ordered the monasteries in South India to purge their populations of Shugden devotees. Monks who had formerly lived like brothers were now forbidden to talk to one another. The more zealous engaged in violent scuffles and beatings. Hundreds of monks were expelled, and those who remained were required to publicly denounce the practice under the eyes of the abbots, eager to prove their loyalties."

If this doesn't sound like the enforcement of a ban coming directly from the Tibetan leadership (aka the Dalai Lama) then I don't know what does.

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