The International Shugden Community (ISC) claims that their cause is garnering increasing widespread public support, an increase evident from the growing number of demonstrations that take place across the world whenever the Dalai Lama teaches. In reality however, these demonstrations are clear manifestations of the morally questionable PR practice (illegal in some countries and US states) known in the trade as “astroturfing.”
Astroturfing is the practice of hiding the sponsors of a cause, a message or organization to make it appear as though that cause originates from and is supported by grassroots participants. The practice is intended to give the causes, statements or organizations more credibility by withholding information about the source’s connections; in this context those connections would be those that exist between the ISC and the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT).
While almost without fail, depending on which country the demonstration takes place, that demonstration is led by that country’s NKT spiritual director, senior figures from the NKT fly all over the world to help lead and direct demonstrations wherever the Dalai Lama teaches.
While both European NKT seniors pictured here leading US demonstrations are UK-based, it is not clear who funded the international flights of these seeming monastics as such details are not made public, despite both being charity ’employees’.
Former members certainly confirm that in the past some NKT seniors have traveled overseas, “for voluntary purposes” while simultaneously being in receipt of UK State benefits, benefits which hardly cover daily living costs, and which are certainly not so adequate as to cover the costs of frequent, international flying. Indeed, it is unknown who covers the travel costs of attendees for Shugden demonstrations internationally, though certainly it is the case that travel arrangements are as a norm made by NKT followers from NKT centers, employing NKT logistical hardware. Moreover, accommodation and food for participants in ISC demonstrations are known to have been provided, free of charge, by local NKT centers.
Not all NKT members leading anti Dalai Lama demonstrations across the world are impoverished monastics however. Millionaire businessman Mr Foley acted as the International Shugden Community’s spokesperson during their protests at the events of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Europe in 2014. He was interviewed in Norway by an NKT “monk”, Mr Rabten. Rabten is also NKT-IKBU National Spiritual Director for New Zealand and Australia. At this time however, he coordinates his numerous activities from his current home in Hong Kong.
Foley and Rabten, pictured here on left and right, respectively, are members of a small, elite inner circle whose role seems to be to recruit new NKT students for the ISC demonstrations.[Rabten’s wearing of lay clothes is an increasingly common practice among senior NKT ‘monastics’ when coordinating ISC demonstrations or being interviewed by the press.]
It is not just the front-men of this inner circle who are flown all over the world in order to create the illusion of widespread support; a significant proportion of the demonstrators is made up of a ‘crowd-on-demand’ who are similarly shipped from country to country for the same purpose. In 2008, several demonstrators from the protests in London, England also appeared in Sydney, Australia! In 2014, an enthusiastic protester proudly revealed that supporters were flying from all over the world to join the European demonstrations. Again, in 2014, the Norwegian English language publication ‘The Foreigner’ reported that NKT ‘nun’ Kelsang Tubchen was travelling to Sweden to ‘encourage’ students and teachers in Sweden to attend the demonstrations in Norway.
Another interesting feature of the 2014 demonstrations across Europe was the presence of a highly mobile Tibetan contingent standing alongside NKT members. These Tibetans, who attended the demonstrations in Norway, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and even the US, appear to be overwhelmingly the same people. Moreover, the vast majority of these Tibetans appearing at the European demonstrations were not even based in the countries in which they demonstrated but rather had flown specially from France, Switzerland and the US, again, to bolster the image of widespread support.