Beliefnet News

By Tony Nauroth
Religion News Service

BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Those looking for enlightenment on Saturday (July 12) from the Dalai Lama at Lehigh University first had to maneuver past 400 monks and nuns protesting a 40-year-old arcane decree by the Tibetan-leader-in-exile that they said violates their religious freedom.

The monks and nuns of the Western Shugden Society weren’t hard to miss. Dressed in gold and maroon robes and most of them with shaved heads, the protesters held up signs and chanted–in Tibetan–“Dalai Lama! Give religious freedom.” And “Dalai Lama! Stop lying.”

The beef between the society and the Buddhist leader centers on the worship of the deity Dorje Shugden, and specifically a prayer of peace and love Buddhists have used for 400 years.

Kelsang Pema, a society spokeswoman whose given name in her native England is Helen Gladwell, said the Dalai Lama “outlawed the prayer back in the 1970s because he claimed the thousands of Shugden followers saying the prayer did physical and spiritual harm to him.”

Pema suggested that non-Shugden devotees persecute those who practice Shugden to the point of throwing all Shugden monks and nuns out of their monasteries and nunneries, denying Shugden followers jobs, getting their children expelled from schools–even burning their homes and denying them medical care.

“The Dalai Lama does not speak out against such actions,” she said.

No one in the Dalai Lama’s entourage could be reached for comment.

Many people leaving the Dalai Lama’s talk said they actually thought the protest was to get the Chinese out of Tibet and reinstate the Dalai Lama as the true leader of that Himalayan country.

The Western Shugden Society delivered a letter to the Dalai Lama asking him to give them freedom to practice Dorje Shugden; to stop discrimination against Shugden people and to allow the Shugden monks and nuns to return to their monasteries and nunneries.

“We haven’t heard from him,” Pema said. “Honestly, we don’t understand why he’s doing this. It’s so bamboozling.”


Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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