In November 2014, well known Tibet commentator and academic Robbie Barnett wrote, in a personal communication not intended for publication, that while no official Shugden ban has been decreed by the Dalai Lama or the Central Tibetan Administration, it is clear that some among the Tibetan exile community are behaving as if one exists. Indeed, both the Dalai Lama himself and the CTA have acknowledged this and advised against it.
Despite the private context in which his opinion was expressed, NKT/ISC members posted the content as part of the Shugden devotees’ propaganda campaign
Barnett immediately responded by pointing out the private nature of the original communication and that his comments had been quoted completely out of context. He asked that the communication be removed from an ISC website, where it remains to date.
The full text of Dr Barnett’s rebuttal can be seen below. However, beforehand, it might be useful to consider some other statements Barnett has made with regard to Shugden.
In 2008, in a piece for the Tibetan Review, Barnett stated:
“The Western Shugden Group is severely lacking in credibility, since its form of spirit-worship is heterodox, provocative and highly sectarian in Buddhist terms and so more than likely to be banned from mainstream monasteries – while its claimed concerns about cases of discrimination in India should be addressed by working within the Tibetan community instead of opportunistically attacking the Dalai Lama in order to provoke misinformed publicity for their sect.”
So, while the ISC portray themselves as vanguards of Geluk orthodoxy and bastions of ecumenicism and human rights, Barnett considers them to be “provocative, publicity-seeking opportunists”, and “heterodox, spirit worshiping sectarians.”
In October 2014, in a piece concerning ISC demonstrations against the Dalai Lama for US channel, Public Radio International, Barnett stated:
“What we’re really seeing is the streets of America being used by a new form of Buddhism to try to promote itself and to consolidate its own followers by asking them to do these rather unusual, unorthodox [and] social difficult practices of attacking [the Dalai Lama],” Barnett says. “We see this being done under the name of human rights, which is not really quite what is at issue here.”
Dr Barnett’s own response to the ISCs latest misrepresentation of his words is as follows:
Certain members of the pro-Shugden campaign against the Dalai Lama, in particular an anonymous site named “arebuddhistsracist.com”, have circulated a comment attributed to me. It was taken from a private letter, without permission, and expressly against my wishes. It was deliberately presented out of context and gave a highly misleading impression of the situation. Those involved have so far refused to issue a retraction or a clarification and do not allow comments on the relevant website. I am therefore providing that context here.
The current Shugden campaign in the West has three main demands. One concerns their claim that the Dalai Lama’s rulings about certain religious practices within Tibetan Buddhism are an abuse of religious freedom. While the Dalai Lama’s rulings are certainly open to theological debate and disagreement, it is normal and useful for religious leaders to issue rulings to their immediate followers about what they consider safe or appropriate practices. As such, issuing a religious ruling is not a question of human rights or an abuse.
The second allegation claims that the ruling or its effects have been imposed on those who are not immediate followers of the Dalai Lama. This is a human rights issue and relates to some reports of discrimination within the exile community. This question merits further assessment by the community, as well as appropriate efforts within the community to stem any discriminatory practices.
The third allegation, which is the most prominent one in the literature distributed by the campaign, asserts that the Dalai Lama is “false”, is “the worst dictator in the world”, and is in fact a Muslim. The Shugden campaigners’ explanation for this claim can be found at http://www.westernshugdensociety.org/…/the-false-dalai-lama/. This allegation has little or no historical or factual foundation, has no connection whatsoever to human rights issues, and is morally repugnant and offensive. In addition, it is of absolutely no relevance to western Shugden practitioners or to practitioners of their religion, since they do not follow the Dalai Lama. Instead, it represents a decision by them and their leaders to revive an earlier legacy of extreme and aggressive sectarianism within Tibetan history, which is associated with the promotion of acute division, bitterness, and violence. This aspect of the Shugden campaign is certain to provoke conflict and enmity within the Tibetan community, and most observers will understandably conclude that it was and is designed to do so.
Taken together, the Shugden campaign therefore appears to be deeply involved with aggressive sectarian politics. Its methods and literature in large part reflect that involvement, despite its other stated concerns. In my view, its claims concerning human rights issues and other matters should be understood within this context.
Nov 6 2014