Correcting misinformation spread by the anti-Dalai Lama Protesters

Is There a Ban on the Practice of Shugden?

See also this important academic appraisal of this issue here.

New Kadampa Tradition founder, Kelsang Gyatso’s Shugden devotee followers protests across Europe, the US and Australia are aimed at forcing the Dalai Lama to lift the ‘ban’ he has supposedly imposed on worshiping the deity, thereby denying devotees their basic human right to religious freedom.  And yet in response, the Dalai Lama claims that no such ban exists:”They use the word ‘ban’,” he has said, “I never use this.”

The Dalai Lama’s response, according to the Shugden devotees, is a lie. Hence nowadays, as one approaches his teachings in any of the major cities of the world, one is confronted by angry protesters with shaven heads and loudhailers, disingenuously dressed in the robes of Buddhist monks and nuns, vociferously chanting their 21st century ‘Buddhist’ mantra: “Dalai Lama-Stop Lying.”

As evidence that the Dalai Lama really is lying, protesters point, for example to YouTube videos they have produced, documenting the controversy. For instance, take a look at their piece entitled “Dalai Lama Ban on Dorje Shugden-Part One”.

At around 2 minutes and fifty seconds in, the Dalai Lama very clearly states, according to the translation, “I began this ban to continue the Fifth Dalai Lama’s legacy, I started this by myself and I have to continue, and carry it to the end.” Here then is clear evidence that such a ban DOES exist; the Dalai Lama IS lying therefore, and the portrayal of him as a ruthless dictator who really is depriving Shugden devotees of their religious freedom is entirely valid.

But wait a moment. Go back to the video and listen carefully, in particular  for the term “ten pey nang” at 2 mins 53. This is the phrase the Shugden followers translate as ‘ban’. Ask any  native Tibetan speaker the meaning of the term, or consult any reliable Tibetan dictionary however, and you will learn that its actual meaning is ‘to determine’. In other words, what the Dalai Lama actually says is “I determined to continue the Fifth Dalai Lama’s legacy”, and not “I began this ban to continue the Fifth Dalai Lama’s legacy…”

This obviously begs the question, “Is this a ‘one-off’?” Is this mistranslation merely an  forgivable instance of human error, a simple oversight based on a subtle nuance of Tibetan language imperceptible to all but the most erudite of scholars and linguists? Or is it a deliberate misrepresentation of the truth, a conscious and premeditated decision to demonize the Dalai Lama, to twist his words and dupe the credulous into becoming foot-soldiers in a sinister campaign to blacken his name?

Sadly, the former is demonstrably not the case. Invariably, whenever the Dalai Lama speaks on the Shugden issue and uses a term which can be construed in a manner advantageous to their cause, Shugden  ‘translators’ seize the opportunity to distort the truth. Thus, whenever the Dalai Lama employs the term ‘dam bskrags byed pa’ meaning ‘restriction’ or ‘restraint’ for instance, Shugden  ‘translators’ interpret the term as ‘ban’ [Tib. bkag sdom byed pa] Whenever the term is used in the sense of simply urging others not to do something, it is  cynically re-interpreted as deliberately instructing them not to do so.

This is not to say that the term ‘ban’ has never been used in the context of the Shugden issue, nor to suggest that zealous devotees of the Dalai Lama have not chosen to portray it as such. However, while it may well be that groups and individuals, pro and anti, have interpreted the restrictions as a fully fledged ban, the Dalai Lama himself has issued no such decree. Indeed, when NKT seniors were repeatedly pressed to provide citations of him using the term,  to point to specific points in specific videos where he could be seen and heard to do so, they remained uncharacteristically silent.

In this case however, it is a silence that screams a thousand words, first among them being if there is no ban, how can the Dalai Lama possibly lift it? Again, if NKT seniors running this campaign  know there is actually no ban [which they clearly must], what is their real  motive in continuing this hate crusade?