Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Not getting angry at those who attack our tradition and Dorje Shugden practice

(6.62) “At least you should retaliate when people speak ill of you
And cause others to lose their faith in you.”
In that case, why do I not get angry
When people speak ill of others?

(6.63) If, mind, you can forbear such loss of faith
When it is related to others,
Why are you not patient when others speak ill of you,
For that is related to the arising of delusions?

(6.64) Even if someone were to insult or destroy the Dharma,
The holy images, or the stupas,
It would still not be appropriate to get angry with them,
For how could the Three Jewels ever be harmed?

(6.65) We should also prevent anger arising towards anyone
Who might harm our Spiritual Guide, our friends, or our relatives
By seeing that such harm also occurs in dependence upon conditions
In the way that was just explained.

It is very easy to think it is justifiable to get angry against people who seek to harm the three jewels.  Even if we don’t think it is justifiable to get angry, it is easy to actually get angry when we feel others are attacking us, our tradition, Geshe-la, or our faith.  We receive a lot of criticism from a lot of different directions, and even the most secure in their faith can easily become discouraged or angry at those who keep falsely accusing us or unfairly criticizing us.  This is part of our karma, no doubt because we did this to others in the past.

I have actually spent a good amount of time “defending the tradition” against those who would attack it.  This started for me way back in the mid-1990s when the Dalai Lama started to aggressively attack Dorje Shugden practice and practitioners.  What was being said didn’t jive at all with my experience of Dorje Shugden practice, teachings, or our tradition, but I was still relatively new.  I wrote Geshe-la about what I had read/heard expressing concern, and he wrote back saying, “Dorje Shugden could never have anybody.  Investigate for yourself.”  So that’s what I did.  I read through everything that was written on the web at the time, including all of the speeches by the Dalai Lama, statements made by the Tibetan parliament, and others.  The more I looked, the more it made no sense.  Each of the arguments lodged fell apart upon investigation.  By investigating myself and comparing it with what I had learned, it became very clear to me that the Dalai Lama’s position was full of contradictions.  I helped Venerable Tharchin prepare a book to try answer some of the arguments lodged against us.  It never got published, but it did clarify my own thinking. 

It was very easy for me to get angry about all of the criticism against Dorje Shugden and the NKT because my in-laws, who were already skeptical about my involvement with Buddhism thinking I had joined some cult, found all of this stuff and it created all sorts of obstacles.  I had had obstacles with them before and also had written Geshe-la about how to deal with this.  He replied that “they might have a problem with external manifestations of Dharma practice, but everyone appreciates a good heart and a good example.  You will need to be skillful.” 

A second wave of this happened about 10 years later when the criticisms started up again, and so did our protests in response.  I spent the entire summer at TTP writing a website that answered every single argument made against us.  My goal was to enter into a debate against all those who opposed us.  I invited all of our main critics to engage in the debate, line by line, with the agreement of whoever loses the debate has the intellectual integrity to at least admit it.  Unfortunately, nobody took me up on my offer.  But the website still exists, and I believe it can be a useful resource for somebody new encountering these questions to help them work through the arguments made on both sides.  You can visit this site at:  https://dorjeshugdendebate.wordpress.com/  But I also remember discussing with these people on a variety of different on-line forums, and while I was strong in my faith, it really wore on me (and others), and I eventually had to step away because it was just so negative.

A third wave happened about 5 years ago.  The criticisms started up again, and so did our protests.  I was in China at the time, and found it so absurd how those accusing us used my presence in China as proof that we were working for the Chinese.  No, actually, I was working in the American embassy, but facts didn’t matter.  One of our chief critics then published a manifesto of why we are so bad and why Dorje Shugden is so bad, so I decided to try once again and debate with them – this time on their medium.  It turned into this absolutely massive discussion.  I tried to be fair and objective in my arguments, admitting it when we were wrong.  My hope was by being reasonable I could at least soften things up a bit.  I tried to move people – on both sides – towards agreeing the resolution to the conflict was for everybody to practice their bodhisattva vows.  In the end, my efforts failed.  But I can say that I tried.

These same folks, 20 years later after their original dispute with the NKT, are still at it.  My theory is they are unable to let go and get on with their lives because somewhere inside of them, they know they are wrong.  So they are battling within themselves and keep coming back.  Of course they would howl in protest at such a characterization, but the core question remains – why haven’t you moved on with your life yet?  If the NKT isn’t for you, fine, it doesn’t need to be.  You have your bread, we have ours.  Why decades of relentless attack?  Why are they so threatened by us thinking what we do?  I’m fine with them thinking whatever they want.  But it still functions to activate anger and defensiveness in me when I see their attacks.  I try accept this as purification.

Many people have their own story with all of this.  It’s not easy for people to work through.  But working through it is a fantastic way to become solid in our own Dharma understandings and confidence in our path. 

10 thoughts on “Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Not getting angry at those who attack our tradition and Dorje Shugden practice

  1. I believe none of this matters. As a very wise man said ” You have made much ado about NOTHING!” Stay HAPPY dear Sangha!!💞💓

  2. Hi Ryan my dear long not seen friend, I simply take refuge in what Geshela points out. If what someone says about me, my practices, whatever, is true I would be correct in taking measures to better my actions. If it is not true My best action is to develop compassion for them as their minds are deceiving them; painful, unhappy minds which will ultimately cause them very much suffering. Then pray and dedicate for them. Pacifying for me and beneficial for them.

  3. From my ignorance, I would like to ask, how helpful is to make the same mistake over and over again? Similar situations started a different conflicts and wars in the world and maybe we do not understand even why o what we are defending for. One of my Dharma teachers said to me once..Buddhas don’t need you to defend them. It was very helpful for me. I hope it will be helpful for you in some way. Any kind of conflict never ends well in my opinion and into the Budhadharma, sounds contradictory to Buda’s teachings being year after year remembering that someone is critizising or attacking a tradition or believe, and worse, feeding this feeling over and over again. Example is one of the best way to show others way… the others will always do whatever they want to do. Meanwhile, what is all the Budas trying to teach us? Which path they are showing us? Where we have to look at?

  4. Sorry Ryan, but I would just like to clarify things a bit, your memories get weaker with time passing perhaps.

    There have been two groups of people that I see who are/have been critical of NKT practices. One is the large group of people who have had experiences within the NKT (some in relation to Kelsang Gyatso, some in relation to Shugden practice and most in relation to the organizational structure of the NKT, which many found cultic and traumatizing) There is also a smaller group, in which I include myself, who have objected to the vicious and deceitful attacks against the Dalai Lama made by leaders within the NKT.

    In regard to the first group, many of these people are still reckoning with the destructive aftermath of their time within the NKT. You say you are surprised they won’t let it go, but anyone who is familiar with this type of trauma will tell you that it takes many years sometimes to be free of mental distress. These people also do not want others to experience what they have experienced and so they have formed support groups to help each other and those newly out of NKT. And sometimes they warn people. Be assured, there are still people leaving NKT centres feeling that they have been harmed. This is fact and you can practice some compassionate understanding perhaps for that group?

    And regarding the second group, I became most actively involved upon publication of the ISC publication entitled: “False Dalai Lama; Worst Dictator in Modern History.” This foul and deceitful diatribe against my own teacher and inspiration shocked me to the core. Believe me, there is nothing of this type of trash coming from those who are critical of the NKT. And this diatribe was supported by ISC “news” updates, filled with false claims against the Dalai Lama. I also had the great privilege of attending Dalai Lama teachings to the sound of chanting “False Dalai Lama, stop lying.” over and over and over by red-faced nuns and monks, holding doctored photos of my teacher, meant to ridicule him.

    Yes, I also read and revere Shantideva and I was not angry. But those red-faced monastics sure looked angry. I was shocked and felt it necessary to attempt to set the record straight. I started a blog with the main issue being to expose the amount of lies being perpetrated by the Shugden community in their attempts to malign the Dalai Lama. I counted almost thirty big lies, clear lies– lies that were motivating monastics and other Buddhist practitioners to behave unethically.

    So I think you need to let this one go and let those who have experienced harm within your religious tradition do the work of healing and advocacy. I have let it go, thankful that monks and nuns no longer feel it part of their practice to chant insults at a Buddhist teacher and thankful that the ISC is quieter or maybe no more.

    • Hi Joanne, so nice to hear from you. I thank you for your very clear post, most of which I don’t disagree with. You are entirely correct that there are some people who were traumatized and I would say spiritually abused in their experience with the NKT. I know and indeed have worked with some of these people personally, so I know their good heart. Their experiences were indeed inexcusable. I also believe there has been a long, unfortunate history of cult-like and controlling behavior on the part of both some teachers and how some students followed (mistakes on both ends of this story). It is a form of gaslighting to say it is all the student’s fault, but it is also an extreme to say students do not also have a responsibility to learn how to rely correctly. Both are necessary. In any case, you are entirely correct that we need to have compassion for these people – both the perpetrators and the victims of such behavior. If your activities are helping people let go of past traumas, then I can only both apologize that they were experienced and thank you for such compassionate efforts.

      There are two areas, however, where I disagree with what you wrote. First, you say you assure that nothing so vicious as what the ISC said against the Dalai Lama was ever said towards us. This is factually incorrect. We have been called devil worshippers, a fake tradition, heretics, spirit worshippers, worldly practitioners, that our Spiritual Guide is not qualified, that he is going to hell and so are we for following him, that the Dharma we learn is superficial at best, that our ordination is fake, the list goes on and on. These false accusations ALSO do real psychological trauma to people who are sincere NKT practitioners. They also create real obstacles to our ability to happily practice Dharma. For myself personally, my in-laws long ago stumbled upon all of this and told my girlfriend (now wife) that I had joined a cult and she had to choose between being with me or remaining part of their family. They too thought they were protecting her. There are many, many examples of where the actions of those who have so aggressively, falsely attacked and criticized us have caused real emotional pain and interfered with or even destroyed their spiritual lives. We should have compassion for those who were traumatized by the NKT, but we should also have compassion for those traumatized by those who attack it. Or do you disagree?

      Second, while I do not deny many serious mistakes have been made in the past – all that you correctly point out – it seems those who attack the NKT deny any good coming from it. The teachings of Geshe-la have changed my life for the better – unbelievably so. There are thousands and thousands of others like me. While the institution of the NKT is not perfect, the practitioners and teachers are not perfect, the teachings themselves and our sincere desire to become better people are not bad. You may have different spiritual food, and I rejoice in that, but we too have our own spiritual food which is helping us. Why can you not equally rejoice in that? Why throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater? I personally think the criticisms of the NKT do us a great service because putting them squarely on the table forces us to acknowledge our mistakes, learn from them, and try do better in the future. The NKT that many of you know from the past has changed considerably. We are learning, slowly but surely, to do a little bit better every year. This does not mean there are not still people who are having bad experiences or that mistakes are not being made, but it does mean we are getting better. If others are to criticize us, I encourage them to try do so with a compassionate motivation of trying to help us do better, not destroy us. I believe if such an approach was used – compassion in all directions – then it would bring out the better in us instead of the worst.

      The fundamental logic which gave rise to the protests and the “stop lying” chants, etc., was simple: people believed what the Dalai Lama was saying. From our direct experience, they were false accusations. If we say nothing, we assent to the mischaracterizations. Just as Trump’s lies need to be exposed as false, so too do the Dalai Lama’s lies about us. Many efforts were made to try get him to stop before the protests started, but such accusations continued. So we took to the streets. The Civil Rights Movement and Black Lives Matters protests all clearly show that no form of protest is ever seen as legitimate in the eyes of the one being protested against. Criticizing the form of protest is a way of deflecting blame away from the VALID REASONS for the protests in the first place.

      I have always respected you and have found you to be the most reasonable of the bunch. Now, so many years later after our first exchanges, I’m wondering what you may have learned or whether you can acknowledge any mistakes of either yourself or those who have attacked us?

      • Hi Ryan, thank you for your measured and considered response, much of which I agree with. I appreciate your sincerity and devotion to the Buddha’s teachings– and your willingness to acknowledge serious problems within NKT centres.

        Frankly, many of the problems within NKT centres are similar to problems we are seeing in some other Tibetan Buddhist centres in the West, such as Rigpa, Diamond Way, Triatna and Shambhala. Without sufficient safe-guards, cultic practices can easily creep into any top-heavy religious organization. Sadly, my experiences working with these problems has led me to question if any of these cultic institutions can be reformed without measures so drastic that membership and the bottom line would be crushed. I include NKT within this doubt. I don’t see chance for reform and less desire for reform. So far, any measures taken in all of these centres are meaningless platitudes that don’t approach the root of the trouble.

        NKT and all of these centres share three features– 1. they both have large communities of ex-members who claim harm resulting from their time within the centres; 2. the education within the centre is very restricted and limited, limiting students’ ability to think critically; and 3. they do not answer to any higher authority or accountability. The teachers leading these institutions are all powerful– even Sogyal Lakhar failed to consult his “main teacher” the Dalai Lama when he encountered troubles of abuse allegations.

        Not only is Geshe-la (whom the public has not seen now for seven years) the sole teacher accountable for “Kadampa Buddhism”, but the teachings provided within the NKT, the books and lectures, are almost all limited to those perspectives on Dharma of Geshe-la. It is called Kadampa Buddhism, but how many NKT have read Thubten Jingpa’s recent publication of “The Book of Kadam”? It is called the pure tradition of Je Tsongkhapa, but how many in NKT have read the three volume translation of Lamrim Chenmo? And all the many many other texts on which the “Kadampa Buddhist” tradition is founded?

        I am happy that you believe that the NKT can and will reform. However, without a more open and educated student body, without robust critical reflection, my experience is that no Buddhist tradition can survive in the West without becoming a cult.

        And to conclude, I do object to the demonstrations against the Dalai Lama being compared to black lives matter protests. Black people have hundreds of years of atrocities to protest about, they had centuries of black men being shot– NKT simply had a religious leader criticizing one of their religious practices. He never criticized GEshe-la, never said a word about what could and couldn’t be practiced within an NKT centre. False equivalence is an under-statement.

        But thanks for the debate— ! Stay well 🙂

  5. Hey Ryan la, look, when you write “ These same folks, 20 years later after their original dispute with the NKT, are still at it. My theory is they are unable to let go and get on with their lives because somewhere inside of them, they know they are wrong.” this is also not correct. Did you miss the nasty attacks against former NKT follower Dr Haslam – were NKT even stalked her at her work? What happened to her is not 20 years ago but demonstrates how NKT people attack and deal with critical ex-members. The same is true with other people who left the NKT – including ordained. You ignore the presence.

    Maybe your whole post expresses a bit the sentiment that your work and efforts are not really seen and acknowledged by the NKT leadership. I remember you as a diligent poster on the long ago NKT discussion forum. I think the reason is that the NKT does not really appreciate strong thinkers or type of “intellectuals”. Rather what is appreciated are people who toss the party line and grasp megaphones to spread the NKT view like Kelsang Pagpa or Kelsang Rabten. Any type of individual thinking is not really appreciated.
    However, again. All the best, Tenzin

    • Hi Tenzin, as I mentioned in my response to Joanne, it is also very nice to hear from you. I hope you are well and enjoying your practices.

      I was probably too ambiguous in the line you mention, so let me try clarify my meaning. I don’t think the NKT survivors are wrong to put squarely – and even publicly – on the table the mistakes that we have made. Wrong is wrong, bad is bad, abusive is abusive, cultish is cultish, etc. Spades must be called spades. Being held accountable for wrong behavior forces us to do better because none of us wants to be wrong. In that sense, I welcome the criticism. I might encourage it to be delivered in a more skillful way, but I can’t fault those who have been harmed by wrong behavior to hold us accountable for it.

      By those criticizing us being wrong, I mean in two specific senses. First, in outright false accusations (devil worshippers, fake ordination, false spiritual guide, working for China, etc., that I outlined in my response to Joanne); and second, in terms of over-generalization that just because some mistakes have been made, everything about the NKT is all bad. The Dharma that is taught in NKT centers might not be good enough for you, but it is still good and having a positive difference in the lives of thousands. It is helping many become better, more faithful people. There are many people who have made mistakes, but they not evil toadies. Wrong is wrong, but not being perfect is not being bad. There is a lot of good which is not acknowledged. Point out the bad, but also acknowledge the good.

      I write all of this because personally I do believe you and the others who criticize us have a very important role to play in helping us do better. And we are learning and getting better, though it may be hard for you to perceive because you are looking at us based on your past experience, from the outside, and then with a sample bias of present examples. Do we still have more to learn? Of course! We have a long ways to go until we reach “no more learning.” But we are trying. Progress is being made. I believe if you approached your criticism of the NKT with love and compassion, seeing the good but trying to encourage us to live up to our ideals and do better (instead of try tear us down and scare others away from having anything to do with us), your efforts would be more effective and better received. Then we are all better off. This can be your compassionate gift to the NKT despite all of the harm you have received from your engagement with it.

      In terms of you pointing out that I was hurt that my efforts to make peace were not well received or acknowledged by “my side,” you are in part right about that. I believed both sides shared the same vows and so many common Dharma understandings that surely we should be able to find peace if all sides reaffirmed and reminded themselves to put into practice what we have been taught. I felt like you and I made some real progress in our discussions (not enough, but some). When I was then also rebuffed in my efforts from “my side,” it really hurt.

      How has my thinking changed/evolved since then?

      I still believe that the fundamental answer to all of this drama is “you have your bread, we have ours, let’s rejoice for each other to have found a path that works for us, even if those paths are different.” I think you – and Joanne and others – also agree with that. Frankly, I think most people on the NKT side also agree with that. It is also quite consistent with everything the Dalai Lama has taught about celebrating religious diversity.

      But what is different is I am less attached to “making peace” now. It disturbed my mind that there was conflict. Now, I’m more OK with us disagreeing or seeing things differently. I think the reason why there was no appetite on my side for “making peace” was part emotions were too raw back then and inner wounds too fresh, and part a realization that decoupling the NKT entirely from Tibetan traditions is probably the best long-term path to peace. Time’s passage enables wounds to heal and calm to return to our minds. By completely decoupling and getting some distance perhaps we might be able to respect one another more easily as being “different, but still good.” I still want peace and think peace can be established on the same grounds, but I am less impatient or attached to realizing it and the path to it might be through distance instead of closeness.

      At the same time, I still believe that if you and I can come to some sort of arrangement and understanding that will then form a basis for others to eventually come around – on both sides. Mutual respect needs to start somewhere, why not with us? 🙂

      I would be curious to hear your thoughts on the above and what you may have learned from the past and how your thinking may have evolved? I don’t need us to agree nor am I judging/attacking, I’m just curious.

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