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.

Tenzin Peljor - Disgruntled Monk or CTA Puppet?

Updated, & there is now a further article connected to this subject here.

In researching the issues around the Dalai Lama controversy I was surprised to see the same group of names kept cropping up. There appeared to be a small Dalai Lama fan club that was aggressively promoting its "anti-protest" stance and within that group there was one name that seemed to dominate all their activities - Tenzin Peljor.

I stumbled across Mr Peljor early in my research, or to be more precise I had been directed to several of his websites for "authoritative and independent information" on the subject. It would appear that he has become an "unbiased expert" according to his friends in the group, but what they don't mention are his close ties to the Dalai Lama and the exile leadership.

They also fail to mention that he has been aggressively campaigning against the protests for over 8 years and that he runs numerous websites registered under different aliases and tries to influence online discussions using several false identities. On further inspection Mr Peljor's activities are anything but "unbiased and independent", and more closely resemble those of an activist promoting a specific and clearly defined agenda.

His "independent websites" are listed as resources for journalists by the Tibetan exile leadership, he is promoted to journalists by Tibetan NGOs, he is the media spokesperson for the German Buddhist organisation DBO, and he targets any journalist and publication that portrays the protests in a positive light. For a monk whose main activities are teaching at a Buddhist centre in Berlin he is remarkably active and engaged in this controversy, almost as if it was his full-time job.

As with all the sources I come across in my research I did some background checks to see if he was as independent as he claims and to what degree his presentation of information could be influenced by those it benefits. Scratching the surface of his 'independent monk' facade revealed quite a bit more than I had initially suspected.

 

An ex-NKT Member

Tenzin Peljor is often very up front about his prior involvement with the NKT, after all he uses this as a basis for his credibility when it comes to the protests. He joined the NKT in 1995/96 according to his biography, becoming ordained in 1998 and later disrobing and leaving the group in 2000.

Both Tenzin and the teacher he had in the NKT decided to leave at the same time, after which he continued to be her student. He took ordination again in 2002 in Nepal, but disrobed after only 2 months and began studying with a new teacher from the Rime tradition.

In March 2006 after 4 years in Rime he then took ordination from the Dalai Lama in India, who gave him the name Tenzin Peljor.

It was soon after his ordination, that Mr Peljor began to take an interest in countering the protests. His approach followed much the same modus operandi as the Tibetan government, namely to try and undermine the credibility of the protests by attacking the NKT.

It's worth noting at this point that prior to the protests the Dalai Lama had no problem with Geshe Kelsang Gyatso or the NKT. He had written the foreword to Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's book, "Buddhism in the Tibetan Tradition", and a note of praise in another of his books, "Meaningful to Behold". It was only after the protests began that the Tibetan exile leadership started to attack Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and smear the NKT, attempting to label it as a cult.

Following his ordination by the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Peljor remained in India and began to assist the Tibetan government (CTA) with their disinformation campaign. He began by editing pages on Wikipedia, rapidly becoming the main editor for the page about the NKT.

His attempts to redefine the NKT on Wikipedia however seem to have been so clumsy that it aroused the suspicion of other editors. In describing Tenzin's approach one of the Wikipedia editors stated:

"I'm very concerned that the opinions and viewpoints of a relatively small number of individuals is drawn upon as the source material for a large portion of the article, which is representative of the point of view of a single editor who, in his determination to ensure that the article fully describes his own perspective, has dominated the editing process." (ClockworkSoul, 23rd October 2006)

 

The Birth of the Survivors

As Tenzin's campaign to discredit the NKT on Wikipedia was starting to lose ground he then switched tack and focussed his attention towards online Buddhist chat groups, in particular he became very active on a group called e-Sangha. It was on this group that he struck up a friendship with David Cutshaw, a disillusioned ex-NKT member and encouraged him to start a new discussion group.

The group that Tenzin wanted Mr Cutshaw to set up was to be focussed only on the negative aspects of the NKT, it was to be named the "NKT Survivors" group and any pro-NKT messages were to be strictly forbidden. The idea was that the group would encourage people to leave the NKT and only post their negative experiences and opinions of them. Their rules state:

"No NKT members/followers/students are allowed.
If you are happy with the NKT, and have no desire to leave, this group is not for you. If you join anyway trying to post and try to get Yahoo to delete this group, we can only assume you are a troll trying to cause disharmony. Such people will be banned and removed at once from the group."

Tenzin offered to support David in the creation of the group, but wanted to avoid being directly linked to it as its creator. In this way Tenzin had found the perfect surrogate to continue his online activities against the NKT.

The group was created on May 22nd 2007 and Tenzin was the first person other than David to post on it. He assisted with moderating the group, approving new members, editing its settings, and profile.

At the time of the groups creation Tenzin was still residing within the Tibetan exile community in India, however a few weeks later he was promoted to the position of Resident Monk at Bodhicharya Centre in Berlin. From his new base in Berlin he continued to be central to its development, shaping the "survivors" group and focussing its narrative portraying the NKT as a cult.

After a few months the group appeared to be achieving the goal Tenzin had failed to accomplish the previous year with Wikipedia.

On 31st Dec 2007 he posted to the group stating, "At the New Years Day I will move to Italy, Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa, and pick up a qualified study there for the next 6 years.", adding, "I will leave the forum at the New Years Day...If there is anybody who feel he can support David's moderator activities, please let him know privately."

Instituto Lama Tzong Khapa is a centre of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) a Tibetan group that follows the Dalai Lama. Clearly the FPMT centre approved of Tenzin's activities because within 2 months of his arrival there he resumed his activities on the "survivors" group.

 

Weaving Websites and Alliances

In April 2008 another series of protests began as the Dalai Lama visited the US. In response to these Tenzin created two websites registered under an alias which according to him offered, "fair, neutral, and balanced information regarding NKT and Buddhist cults in general."

The websites were registered under the false name of Losang Tashi, to an address in Gotha, the town in East Germany where Tenzin was born. In a post on May 21st 2008 to the "survivors" group he said, "maybe we use the power of the many people here and the motivation to protect others (giving fearlesness) by setting up 1-2 websites."

Rather than offering fair or neutral information both websites were a continuation of his online campaign to undermine the protests by attempting to discredit the NKT. Had his intention been wholesome you would need to ask why a Buddhist monk with vows against lying was using a false name when registering websites?

Then in July 2008 Jamyang Khedrup posted a comment promoting one of Tenzin's websites under a New York Times article about the protests. What I found interesting was that as I dug deeper into Tenzin's background I found the same people who have been involved with his campaigning for a long time.

By this point in my research I had already encountered Jamyang Khedrup whilst investigating his involvement with the LamaGate hacking scandal, but I had no idea his involvement with Tenzin stretched as far back as 2008.

The reason I didn't know Khedrup's involvement went so far back is because he was posting to the 'survivors' group using a false identity. For 6 months in 2008 Khedrup used the name Lobsang Jangchub in numerous posts to the group. Many people responded to his comments addressing him by the name Lobsang. At no time did he ever try to correct them or explain that wasn't his name.

The fact that both Tenzin and Khedrup were using false identities whilst posting comments to the 'survivors' group raises significant questions about the accuracy of other users identities and claims.

Significant discrepancies have already been uncovered with Khedrup's accounts of his involvement with LamaGate, and here is yet another occasion where his credibility is called into question.

 

The Hidden Hand

Seeking to expand his sphere of influence beyond his own websites and the "survivors" group Tenzin began to strike up a relationship with Dialogue Ireland, a website which focuses on religious movements. Prior to Tenzin’s involvement his friend, Joanne Clark had also been in touch with them to offer her services as a self-proclaimed"expert" on Tibetan Buddhism.

Tenzin and Joanne’s approach in the Dialogue Ireland forums seemed to follow a pattern of promoting both Tenzin’s websites and the "survivors" group. In his attempt to form a stronger bond with Dialogue Ireland, Tenzin wrote to them explaining his position:

"I am much interested into the dynamics of Nazi, Stasi, dictatorship, totalitarian systems, and I am an admirer of Jay Lifton and Margaret Thaler Singer. I run also a website about the dynamics of Buddhist cults in German language. So we share quite a lot."

Yet when they tried to ask him questions about his background he became very defensive, refusing to answer them. Tenzin said, "I don’t see any use to answer. My experience recently at DI [Dialogue Ireland] was that whatever I say will be misunderstood or misinterpreted and finally twisted." adding, "Also I am not interested in any online discussion about me. East German biographies can be complex."

A common theme in Tenzin's response to critics is that they are "twisting" the facts, especially when someone is trying to pin him down on a specific point. It's interesting that Tenzin used to be in the National People's Army (NPA) in East Germany, which was strongly influenced by the Soviet Armed Forces, working as a radio operator.

His comments about the protests often accuse them of using 'agitprop', which is a Soviet style of propaganda, a methodology he would have been all too familiar with from his previous training. Unfortunately he didn't expand on his "complex" biography, so we don't know what type of activities he was employed to perform by the NPA, or what areas his training encompassed.

In 2013 Dialogue Ireland started to use Chris Chandler as their expert on Tibetan Buddhism and approached the issue as a problem with Lamaism, rather than just one or two specific traditions. Chris, who had been involved with Tibetan Buddhism for 30 years, raised the issue that Lamaism is a form of Tantric Hinduism. So it was not a question of focussing on the NKT as a cultish form of Buddhism, but was a case of finding the exact same tendencies and attitudes in all forms of Tibetan Buddhism, including those following the Dalai Lama.

Their new outlook limited the degree to which Tenzin could manipulate their website to promote his own agenda and when they began to look into Ringu Tulku Rinpoche, one of Tenzin's teachers, he disengaged from them completely. (You can read Dialogue Ireland's article about Tenzin Peljor in full here)

By this point Joanne had already left the Dialogue Ireland site, but when she heard that Chris was their new expert she returned with a vengence. As one person said, "She was like someone high on drink, totally under the influence."

Dialogue Ireland stated:

"However since Chris has been the catalyst for our understanding of Lamaism as the cultist form of Buddhism Joanne has been like a Banshee on our site morning, noon and night. She disagrees with Chris’s analysis but can’t just get up and go. She is now camping on the site."

 

A Sudden Increase

Following his failed attempt at using Dialogue Ireland to undermine the NKT, Tenzin Peljor spent the following years expanding the number of his own websites that he could control and direct, rather than having to rely upon others. During this period his group of websites grew from two to eight, and everything was proceeding as normal for him until 2014.

Prior to 2014 the protests generally garnered a relatively small degree of media coverage. Whilst they were mentioned on several newscasts in the mainstream media it was often along the lines of the Tibetan government's media briefing notes, so the issues behind the protests were rarely covered.

That all changed in Oslo when the Dalai Lama returned to celebrate his Nobel Peace Prize and the media took a greater interest in the protests. This attention seemed to gradually build from one protest to another which prompted a corresponding increase in activity from Tenzin Peljor and his compatriots.

In the 8 months prior to May 2014 there were on average 16 messages a month posted on the "survivors" discussion board, however in May this figure jumped up to 144 messages. The vast majority of them were posted over the days when the protests were taking place in Oslo.

At the same time the "survivors" were asking what they could do to counter the protests the exile leadership were asking the exact same question, and before long the two groups were working hand in hand. The "NKT Survivors" became the "NKT Survivor Activists", and at the request of people associated with the exile leadership they began a new phase in their campaign to try and discredit the protesters.

One of their first actions involved the creation of a declaration against the protests by ex-members of the NKT. Originally this was presented as coming from Carol McQuire and Tenzin as a spontaneous idea of their own.

On 5th November however Carol admitted that it wasn't their idea saying, "we were asked to do the declaration, it didn't come from us, but we thought it was a great idea and agreed to do this as it would help the situation.", adding, "Once we were asked to join in, we haven't looked back - it's been so inspiring working with a load of amazing people"

There was a slight problem with the first version of the declaration though, it included the following text, "We acknowledge there may be some problems within the Tibetan community that need to be addressed". This had to be removed from subsequent versions of the declaration before the exile leadership would allow it to be put on the CTA's official website.

In explaining this on his own website Tenzin let slip, "One of the initiators of the declaration wished for a change", then he presented both the old version and the changed version.

The declaration was then added to the Tibetan government's official website (Tibet.net) at the very top of the page dedicated to the Dorje Shugden controversy. The significance of its placement should not be underestimated. It appears before any statements from the CTA and the Dalai Lama, which is somewhat unusual for a declaration signed by only 24 ex-NKT members who are supposedly unconnected to the exile leadership.

 

A New Website

Despite all the best efforts of Tenzin and the CTA the media was undeterred. They continued to take an interest in the protests and the Dalai Lama found himself facing questions about them during every press conference. The coverage in Hamburg seemed pivotal in that it was both widespread and also became the top news story on Google about the Dalai Lama.

Following Hamburg a new website was created specifically for the media to counteract the protests. It was a website that was designed to be both anonymous, yet have the support of Tibet House in the US. No name was associated with it, no contact details, and it was registered through a domain proxy service, designed to keep the registrant's details hidden.

At the bottom of the website the disclaimer stated:

"Official Tibet Houses are cultural centers of HH the Dalai Lama, non-profit organizations devoted to the preservation of Tibetan culture. This site appears with their approval since, while not responsible for producing the site or its content, the misrepresentations of Tibetan culture generated by this controversy distort and negatively affect the public perception of Tibetan culture."

It was all very mysterious and Tenzin Peljor made no mention of the website until someone posted a comment on his website drawing his attention to it. He pretended to know nothing about the website until this comment on October 19th, however he had set one of his own websites to redirect to this new website two days previously, on October 17th.

The mystery deepened when I was discussing some of the controversy with Professor Robert Thurman on the fateful night of the LamaGate incident. It seemed that Professor Thurman was confused about who I am and was convinced that I had suggested to him that he should create the website.

On 30th October Prof. Thurman stated to me that, "we prepared shugdeninfo.com for you @IndyHack", adding, "We produced this site on your suggestion @IndyHack"

I was a little baffled to say the least. Prof. Thurman was saying quite clearly that he was involved with the creation of the new website (shugdeninfo.com) and yet Tenzin Peljor had redirected his own domain name (shugden.info) to Thurman's new site. It was too much of a coincidence for me to drop and I was encouraged that there was now a direct link between Thurman and Peljor, albeit a slightly difficult one to prove categorically.

Fortunately Tenzin helped out with that a few weeks later.

 

When is a Coincidence not a Coincidence?

When you're dealing with investigations it's tricky to pin down exact evidence to prove your case - people sometimes lie and when you catch them out they usually refuse to admit it. Often times you also have to deal with associations of probabilities, you look for groupings of supposedly unconnected events that push the boundaries of coincidence.

The fact Prof. Thurman had admitted direct involvement with the shugdeninfo.com website was a welcome and unexpected gift. It went beyond the mere approval of the site by Tibet House US and indicated that he had been directly involved in its creation with one or more other people. The fact that Tenzin was redirecting his domain to the site before anyone had told him about it on his blog was also helpful, as was his pretense not to know about it until that point, but it still wasn't enough.

Then there was another unexpected gift, Tenzin updated the registration of his domain (shugden.info) through the same anonymous service as shugdeninfo.com and hosted it on the same servers as shugdeninfo.com. Now both domain names had exactly the same settings.

In the screenshots below you can see that Tenzin originally registered shugden.info using his legal name, Michael Jaeckel and used the address of Bodhicharya Centre in Berlin.

Shugden.info (before)

Shugden.info (after)

Shugdeninfo.com

 

Out of all of Tenzin's various websites and domain names this is the only one that is registered through the anonymous proxy service WhoisGuard Inc, it is also the only one that is hosted through Cloudflare.

 

Conclusions

When delving beyond the facade of a 'simple monk' or 'independent expert' we find that Tenzin Peljor's background is far from simple or independent.

Here we have someone who in their youth was a Radio Operator in the National People's Army, and who is familiar with the Soviet style of government propaganda. By his own admission he is, "interested into the dynamics of Nazi, Stasi, dictatorship, totalitarian systems" and has a complex East German biography (including his own Stasi file).

He's an ex-NKT member, so that would account for his interest in speaking out against them, but there's a huge gap of 6 years between him leaving the NKT and beginning his online campaign against them, which doesn't tally. The timing of his campaign seems more closely related to his ordination by the Dalai Lama than his experiences within the NKT.

Moreover his approach to attacking the NKT seems to be in response to their involvement with the protests, rather than being a "survivor". He began to develop his own websites only in response to the protests in 2008.

Tenzin claims the purpose of his websites are, "to counter the misinformation campaign of the NKT", yet his own approach appears to be promoting the disinformation campaign of the Tibetan exile leadership. He also created a declaration and canvassed for signatures on it because he was instructed to by people who objected to even the slightest criticism of the Tibetan community.

His new website in response to the media coverage of the protests in 2014 appears to have been created in collaboration with Professor Thurman, who is alleged to have tried to solicit anonymous to hack protesters Twitter accounts (more here). His domain which redirects to the new website is also now hidden behind the same anonymous registration service that Thurman used.

Overall Tenzin Peljor's campaign against the NKT seems more related to the protests than any negative experiences he had whilst being a member of the group. The level and depth of his involvement over such an extensive time period goes beyond the expected response of a disgruntled "survivor".

Mr Peljor appears to be an activist who is promoting a clearly defined and well structured campaign. The fact that his campaign started whilst he was living within the Tibetan exile community in India seems to indicate the main influencing factor behind it.

He is well funded and has significant resources and time to invest in this issue that don't fit with his role as a resident monk at Bodhicharya Centre. For instance at one point he offered to fly to Ireland to discuss his Stasi background when issues about it arose.

The logical conclusion is that Tenzin Peljor is acting in accordance with the wishes of the CTA as one of their de facto agents. The persona he projects as being an ex-NKT "survivor" simply trying to right the wrongs he experienced is nothing other than a smokescreen.

The problem he has with this facade is that it is poorly crafted and badly executed. When exposed to a sustained investigation it crumbles to reveal his close involvement with, and oversight from, the Tibetan exile leadership.

 

Update - 30th Dec 2014

Today Carol McQuire has publicly accused me of lying and taking advantage of Tenzin's current 'absent' status. In a recent post on social media she said that Tenzin is currently on retreat at Drepung Monastery until April, so she has sprung valiantly to his defense.

Amongst the various inaccuracies in Carol's post she has likened the timing of this article to, "someone in a boxing ring deliberately hitting a last strike after the whistle has been blown", claiming it is published at a time when Tenzin is unable to respond to it. This is untrue.

Carol posted her comments a few hours after Tenzin had posted a new article on his blog. Tenzin had also posted a comment on social media about his new article 2 hours prior to Carol's post. So her claim that Tenzin is somehow absent from this situation is incorrect.

If he is on retreat at Drepung Monastery as claimed then it is a retreat which allows him to continue to work on his blog and social media. As usual with Tenzin and his friends their accounts often crumble when a small degree of scrutiny is applied to them.

She is also incorrect in stating that the initial version of the ex-NKT declaration was posted on the CTA website - Tibet.net. It is only the version which contains no reference to any criticism of the Tibetan community that was ever posted on Tibet.net.

Carol said, "the first version of the declaration was already published on the CTA’s website before the second had even been thought of. How sad that such an enormous theory of political intrigue that IndyHack has developed has quite differing origins."

As you can see from Carol's own posts she requested that people approve the change on August 26th:

It was only after the declaration had been changed that it was allowed to go on the CTA's official website, Tibet.net. As you can see from Carol's own post it was not on their website prior to September:

So Carol's claim that, "the first version of the declaration was already published on the CTA’s website before the second had even been thought of", is a lie.

It's another example of Tenzin and his friends playing fast and loose with the truth.

She did at least admit that Tenzin Peljor primarily attacks the NKT because he is, "involved in looking after the Dalai Lama’s interests in the most profound way".

Unfortunately for Carol her desperate attempt to try and refute the claims made in my article only destroys her own credibility.

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