Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Shugden trail in Tibet

Renovated Chamdo Jampaling monastery
You may have seen pictures of vociferous and exited groups of Westerners, dressed in Tibetan monks, shouting slogan against the Dalai Lama, wherever he goes in Europe or America (and more recently in Australia).
Who are they?
They are the followers of an old Tibetan spirit called Dorje Shugden.
A good scholarly analysis is available on the Dalai Lama's website. It gives the background of this sectarian cult.
A question remains: who is behind these well-organized groups who 'receive' the Dalai Lama when he goes abroad?
It is perhaps necessary to go to Tibet to have an idea.

China renovates Tibetan monasteries
The new route to the Kailash pilgrimage via Sikkim and Chumbi Valley has lately been the news.
The first town, after crossing the Nathu-la pass between Sikkim and Tibet, is Yatung, where an Indian Trade Agency was located before the 1962 conflict with China.
Today Beijing would like to promote Yatung (Yadong for the Chinese) into a touristic place and eventually in a few years time, bring a branch of the train from Shigatse.
It is certainly a lovely place, but does India crave to see hordes of Chinese tourists so close to the ‘Siliguri corridor'? The issue will have to be debated in India. In the meantime, Xinhua thus promotes the place: “Located at the southern foot of the middle part of the Himalayas, Yadong County features a very agreeable climate and abundant water resources. The northern and southern Yadong, with the boundary marked by Phari Town, have formed a completely different landscape and climate because the average altitude of the northern part is above 4,300 meters while that of the southern part is only about 2,800 meters. Driving from Shigatse south towards Yadong in July, yellow fields of blossoming rape crops greet you along roads peppered with red-walled and golden-roofed temples.”
Then, follows a description of the idyllic surroundings.

The Dungkar Monastery
What is more interesting is the mention of the Dungkar Monastery, located some 13 kilometers north of Yatung.
The Chinese website explains that it was:
built in the early 16th century. It is the largest and the most influential Gelukpa monastery in Yadong County. From 1950 to 1951 the Dalai Lama stayed here, and this spot is where General Zhang Jingwu, a delegate of the central government, presented him with a personal letter from Chairman Mao Zedong and a duplicate of the agreement for the peaceful liberation of Tibet. A stele that marked the meeting was established in front of the monastery and stands there today.
The Dungkar Monastery has recently been rebuilt by the Chinese government. Xinhua says:
In September 2011, was badly affected by an earthquake that caused the monks’ dormitories and some other buildings to collapse; the main shrine of the temple was severely damaged. In June 2014, with the support of the local government, 7.9 million yuan was allocated to repairing the monastery, adding, now, the maintenance work has almost been completed.
The monastery is not only famous because the Dalai Lama stayed in Dungkar for a few months in 1951. The Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer had written:
After a few weeks the Dalai Lama moved to the Dungkar Monastery where he currently lives in sun-warmed peace. There last month he received the holiest Buddhist relics in all Asia, bodily remains of the original Gautama Buddha (circa 500 BCE), brought from India for his veneration by a military guard. How long the Dalai Lama will stay in Yatung in uncertain.
Dungkar monastery has also been the center of Dorje Shugden cult, the object of the above mentioned controversy.
Renovated Dungkar monastery
Dromo Geshe Rinpoche (1866—1936), the abbot of Dungkar was one of the well-known practitioners of the Dorje Shugden cult at the beginning of the 20th century. The monastery and particularly his oracle have always been linked with the sectarian cult.
Why is Beijing putting so much money to ‘restore’ the Dungkar monastery?
Read on, you will understand.

The Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery
Last month, I mentioned on this blog, that the Chinese Panchen Lama (Gyalsten Norbu) spent time at the Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery in Gyalthang (Zhongdian/Shangrila), the largest Tibetan-Buddhist temple in Yunnan.
The monastery, which was also restored by the Chinese government, is also closely linked to the Shugden practice denounced by the Dalai Lama.
In May 2014, Yu Zhengsheng, the CPPCC Chairman (and No 4 in the Party) also paid a surprise visit to the monastery.
Renovated Ganden Sumtsenling monastery
Is the visit of Gyaltsen Norbu to Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery just a coincidence at a time when Shugden followers are more and more vociferous wherever the Dalai Lama goes?
Xinhua had reported that Gyaltsen Norbu “worshiped a Buddha statute, chanted sutras and prayed for all living beings. …At a local Buddhist college, he sat in on classes where teachers and students debated Buddhist doctrine and called on the students to study hard.”
Gyaltsen Norbu also “pledged to uphold patriotism and make contributions to national unity, ethnic solidarity, religious harmony and social stability.”
That is not all.

The Chamdo Jampaling Monastery
Last year, according to Cultural Relics Bureau of Chamdo Prefecture in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), the ‘maintenance’ project of Chamdo Champa Ling (Jampaling) Monastery received some 90 million yuan (14 million U.S. dollars) for the completion of the renovations which was scheduled for June 2014.
Xinhua then said: “It is one of the key projects in Tibet during the 12th Five-Year Plan and is also the first large-scale relic conservation project in Chamdo Prefecture.”
According to the Chinese news agency, “The Champa Ling Monastery was established in 1473 and is the largest Gelug [Gelukpa] monastery of Tibetan Buddhism in Kham Area.”
And guess what? It has been one of the main centers for the Shudgen cult in the TAR.
A Tibetan official then explained: “During the first period started on March 8, 2013, the project focused on ancient architecture maintenance with a total investment of 31.78 million yuan (5 million U.S. dollars), mainly strengthening and retrofitting the Du Kang [Dukhang] Hall (the assembly hall), the Holy Shrine and the Scripture Printing Lamasery. By far the first period has been basically completed. Now the second period of the project with pre-investment of 62 million yuan (10 million U.S. dollars) has been started its four sections one by one, including gate of bounding wall, fire pile, censer, square, inside and outside circumambulation, water supply and drainage.”
Renovated Chamdo Jampaling monastery
The official also asserted that “the construction won't change the architecture's original state and its primary design will be kept by traditional handicrafts and materials.”
The news agency added: “The Chamdo Prefecture has started the special investigations since 2008 to record the important historical relics, ancient buildings, ancient sites, ancient books and movable cultural relics.”
Obviously, Shugden centers have some sort of priority for funds allocations under the Five-Year Plan.

The Chamdo clique
Regarding the renovation of the Chamdo Jampaling monastery, there is some ‘political’ logic too. Today, the 'Chamdo clique' plays an important role in Communist Tibet.
On March 14, 2013, Jampa Phuntsok was appointed as Vice Chairman of the National People’s Congress. As Bhuchung Tsering of International Campaign for Tibet noted: “it completes an interesting development in the regional representation in the top Tibetan leadership in Lhasa.”
Pema Thinley (alias Padma Choling) became Chairman of the TAR People’s Congress; further, he is the only ethnic Tibetan, seating as a full member in the CCP’s Central Committee.
The clique also comprises Phakpalha Gelek Namgyal, vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and head of the TAR PPCC, who is the reincarnation of the head lama of the Jampaling Monastery - he is also known as Chamdo Phakpalha.
Lobsang Gyaltsen, the head of the TAR Government and an alternate member of the Central Committee, is also from Chamdo.
Pema Thinley, Phakpalha and Lobsang Gyatsen are the highest ethnic Tibetan cadres in the Communist hierarchy in Tibet today. They are all from Chamdo Prefecture.
If you add Jampa Phuntsok, posted in Beijing, you will understand how much the 'Chamdo clique' is powerful.
Bhuchung Tsering writes: “The fact that they are all from Chamdo region could be coincidental, but if we look at popular perception of Tibetan history in modern times we see that there have been periods when elites from a particular area dominated the leadership positions in Lhasa.”
Would they be supporting the Shugden cult by chance?
Le Dake, the recently fallen Tiger, and head of the external intelligence in Tibet, has certainly an answer to this question.

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