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Robert Thurman Also Interferes with Other Traditions

September 20, 2008

Robert Thurman has also interfered with the Kagyu tradition. He has tried to use his power in the past to have the current Karmapa who was chosen according to the traditions of the Kagyu lineage replaced by the Karmapa recognized by the Dalai Lama.

Shamarpa Rinpoche wrote him a response which I think relates to Robert Thurman’s attacks on Shugden practitioners. Below are a couple quotes from Shamarpa Rinpoches letter to Robert Thurman:

You are a professor of Buddhism, a political activist, and a Buddhist, so I encourage you to not mix up these many facets of your life. For example, your political campaign for Tibet should not be mixed with your job as a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism. My personal request to you is to not to be sectarian in your profession, and to please be an honest scholar.

I am concerned that you may one day go so far as to discourage students and speakers who have ever critiqued H.H. Dalai Lama or the Tibetan Government in Exile, and further, even discourage or block the careers of anyone who is friends with any such people. Buddhists should not violate the freedom of religion and discriminate against others. In a country like the United States, which prides itself on democracy and freedom, it is a shame that a tradition like Buddhism can be used to suppress and limit people.


From → robert thurman

  1. Khedrup permalink


    This is patently incorrect. HHDL and Robert Thurman in fact support the Karmapa who was chosen according to the majority of the Kagyu lineage. Are you saying Tai Situpa Rinpoche, Gyatsab Rinpochey, Mingyur Rinpoche, Ponlop Rinpoche, Thrangu Rinpoche – these highest masters of the Kagyu tradition, are wrong, just because of one master, Shamar Rinpochey? His opinion is outweighed about 20 to 1.

    HHDL only stepped in as a last resort after many years of fighting between Shamar Rinpoche and the rest of the Kagyu hierarchy to help ease the dispute. Sharmar’s Karmapa travels freely and teaches in many places.

    By involving this dispute in your blog you alienate the 80-90% of kagyupas who support Tai Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpochey’s Karmapa. i don’ think this does any good for your cause. Please do more research:
    The Dance of 17 Lives By Mick Brown

    Also, a good solution is near as the Karmapa and Shamarpa met recently.

    Please don’t drag Kagyus into this Gelugpa fued. Have you met the Sharmapa? Have you met either Karmapa candidate??

    goldenmala’s reply to Khedrup

    Dear Khedrup,

    I’m not claiming to be an expert on the karmapa controversy. It is very complicated. I believe it is Robert Thurman and the Dalai Lama who have further complicated the controversy. According to the lineage of the Kagyu lineage it is up to the Shamarpa to recognize the Karmapa. So if there are disagreements within the Kagyu lineage about who is the Karmapa, it isn’t the business of Dalai Lama or Robert Thurman.

    The Dalai Lama is the head of the Tibetan Government, not the Kagyu lineage. Robert Thurman is a college professor. What business do either of them have getting involved in deciding who should be the head of the Kagyu lineage?

    You are also wrong about the 80-90%. Thaye Trinley Dorje has thousands of Kagyu followers who regard him as the Karmapa. I’d say it’s more like 50% that support the Dalai Lama recognized Karmapa. Even Orgyen Trinley has recently said that he recognizes Thaye Trinley Dorje as the Traditional Karmapa.

    This is the agreement that they recently came to:
    “While this may be confusing to outsiders, it could be considered this way: Ugyen Trinlay Dorje is the new official Karmapa of the Chinese and Tibetan Governments, and Trinlay Thaye Dorje is the official Karmapa according to the rightful spiritual leader Shamarpa, 16th’s Karmapa’s administration, and the 900 years old Karma Kagyu tradition. The truth is there has been a Karmapa controversy for the last fifteen years, and it would be a bold misinterpretation to say otherwise.” – K. Wangchuck


    The main point I’m making is that it isn’t just the Gelugpa tradition that the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman interfere with for political reasons.

  2. Unfortunately, Thurman has become nothing more than an academic hack, as well as a mouth piece for the Dalai Lama. In academia one must separate education excellence from indoctrination, a fact which seems lost to him and quite a few others.

    Not too long ago he gave an interview where he made no distinction between Inner and Outer Mongolia, but made the following statement:

    “…since the Soviet Union deconstructed, the Chinese have become more frightened, more determined to hold on to real estate that is not theirs. Not just Tibet, but also Mongolia, Xinjiang, even Manchuria.”

    The last time I checked, Mongolia had a peaceful Democratic revolution and was still a parliamentary republic with free elections held every four years, but Thurman’s statement was probably well received by those who now wish to make Buddhism the state religion of Mongolia, the Tibetan variety.

    Then we also have the Dalai Lama himself and his recognition of a supposed incarnation of Bogdo Khan, even though the eighth and last Bogdo Khan died in 1924, but not before making it clear that he would be the last of his incarnation line and intended to pass the leadership of Mongolia to his son.

    Apparently Thurman sees no problem with this either, but on the other hand he doesn’t believe that historical fact takes precedence over the revision of sectarian tradition, even if it destroys the Buddhist heritage of another country.

  3. dorjeshugdentruth permalink

    I think we can see from this quote from the Sharmapa that Thurman’s agenda is just the same as the Dalai Lama’s and just like the Dalai Lama, he’s unable to distinguish between Dharma and politics.

    What a great shame that someone who is called the Je Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies should be a destroying the pure Dharma of Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition by mixing with politics. I pray that people see that this is completely wrong.

    I love this quote by the Sharmapa:

    Buddhists should not violate the freedom of religion and discriminate against others. In a country like the United States, which prides itself on democracy and freedom, it is a shame that a tradition like Buddhism can be used to suppress and limit people.

    This shows that the Western Shugden Society and the Sharmapa share the same value of cherishing religious freedom. Because both the Dalai Lama and Thurman have discriminated against Dorje Shugden practitioners, it shows how much they have abused Buddha’s teachings for political ends. How shameful!

  4. Lotus permalink

    Shamarpa Rinpoche comments in his letter, “Buddhists should not violate the freedom of religion and discriminate against others.”

    I would like to add that university professors in the same way, should not violate the freedom of religion and discriminate against others. This is unethical; and, as a professor, he is accountable to: his peers; his students; his university; and the Association of American professors.

    It seems to me that Professor Thurman’s karma is beginning to change and he is now left to face the effects of his unskilful speech and his abuse of others’ trust. He resides at the top of the tree where the branches are the most delicate. Now that the winds of karma are starting to blow, his downfall will not take long.

    As a Buddhist “expert”, you would think he would have had the good sense to practice moral discipline and to prepare for his future lives, rather than backing a powerful political pony and wasting years of this life working for fame and fortune and other worldly gains.

    What a foolish man.

  5. goldenmala permalink

    Thanks for all of your comments. I have something else that I would like to add from the Karmapa Controversy website that also relates:

    “Professor Robert Thurman of Columbia University has, in various articles, claimed that majority of the Tibetans accepted Ugyen Trinley as the Karmapa because His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, has recognized him. This claim is true because the majority of the Tibetan youths and refugees, eager to regain the Tibetan state, follow any policy Dalai Lama out of a sense of solidarity with the head of the Tibetan government in exile, placing their faith and religious tradition as observed by the Karma Kagyu lineage, as secondary. But historically the recognition of Karmapa has never been based on majority votes, and which is why at the same time these Tibetans also believe Trinley Thaye Dorje to be Karmapa. The 16th Karmapa’s legal administrators and monks whole-heartedly accepted the recognition of Trinley Thaye Dorje as the traditional Karmapa. Ugyen Trinlay Dorje himself has recently adopted this view as well. Although he previously proclaimed himself the only Karmapa, possible misinterpretation could have existed in translation, for he has stated in recent meetings with Tibetan spiritual leaders and monks that he regards Trinley Thaye Dorje as Karmapa as well, because he was recognised by the Gyalwa Shamarpa. Being under the direct training of H.H. the Dalai Lama, Ugyen Trinlay Dorje Karmapa has always maintained a high level of dignity. When asked about what he thinks of the handful of people who has misused his name in the past to achieve their own purposes, such as collecting donations from foreign devotees to bribe politicians and police; taking over the Rumtek monastery by force from the administrators and monks of the 16th Karmapa; stealing the jewels of religious objects of the Rumtek monastery; and rewriting facts pertaining to lineage history etc., he responded that should the allegations be true, he would strongly condemn such people and such acts. For this the legal administration of the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa told Ugen Trinlay Dorje that they were ready to present evidence of the crimes to him should he be willing to form a special committee for the matter in 2006. Unfortunately, upon receiving the news, Situ Rinpoche has forcefully sabotaged the plan with the help of Druppon tulku, the general secretary of Ugyen Trinley Dorje.”

  6. Khedrup permalink

    It is not correct that according to the Kagyu lineage it is only the Sharmapa who chooses the Karmapa. In fact, the responsibility is divided between the “4 Sons”: Tai Situpa Rinpoche, Gyaltsab Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Shamar Rinpoche. Most of Thaye Rinpoche’s followers are Western students of Ole Nydahl, there aren’t that many Tibetans. If you go to India or Nepal and speak with actual Tibetan people, I think my figure of 80% would stand.
    Most of your information is from Shamar Rinpochey’s website. Have you allowed yourself to examine the other side of the issue?
    Shamar Rinpoche’s statements about the goings on at Rumtek are also one-sided. Both parties in the dispute engaged in the behaviours he mentioned.
    It seems to me, in your eagerness to bait Robert Thurman and discredit the Dalai Lama, you will drag in any party who is dissatisfied with the Dalai lama or TGIE. people whose claims, like Thomas Canada’s or Shamar Rinpochey, can’t be proven but are only opinions.
    If you want to research this issue thorougly, the only way to do so is to read the books available from both sides of the controversy, rather than cutting and pasting from Shamar Rinpoche’s website. Also, you should ask Shamar Rinpoche if he is a supporter of the Shugden practice.

  7. Khedrup permalink

    I think it would be best for your agenda if you stuck to one issue. If you haven’t met Situ Rinpoche or Shamar Rinpoche, how can you really decide who is correct? In effect, you are posting what is potentially untrue about Situ Rinpoche only because he has the support of HH Dalai Lama, and believing what Shamar Rinpochey says only because he has voiced his dislike for HH Dalai Lama.

    Why not just deal with the Shugden issue? Isn’t this involvement in the affairs of the Kagyu against “practicing purely in one lineage”?

  8. dorjeshugdentruth permalink

    “Ugyen Trinlay Dorje is the new official Karmapa of the Chinese and Tibetan Governments”

    This is an extraordinary statement and it proves how much Tibetan Buddhism has been hijacked by politics. How can you have a Karmapa that’s recognized and accepted by a Government? It’s nothing to do with a government (Tibetan or Chinese) who the Karmapa is – except, of course, the Karmarpa is a hot favorite to succeed the 14th Dalai Lama and so he would have to be ‘singing from the same politicial hymnsheet’. Basically, it’s an impure mess of Tibetan politics, just as the Dorje Shugden issue is.

    To answer Khedrup’s point, the main point here is that, according to Sharmar Rinpoche the Dalai Lama has interfered with the religious freedom of the Kagyu Lineage by endorsing Ugyen Trinley as the Karmapa when he has no authority to do so. The Dalai Lama has also interfered with the religious freedom of the Gelugpa tradition by banning and demonizing the practice of Dorje Shugden when he has no right to do so.

    When Sharmar Rinpoche says Buddhists should not violate the freedom of religion and discriminate against others. this goes straight to the heart of the Dorje Shugden controversy as well. Since the main issue, interference with the religious matters of a particular tradition of Tibetan Buddhism by the political leader of Tibet is the same in both the Karmarpa and Dorje Shugden issues, the Karmapa controversy is a very relevant subject for discussion – especially as in both matters, Robert Thurman has strongly supported the Dalai Lama, getting involved in something that does not concern him either.

  9. goldenmala permalink

    Thanks for the clarification DST,

    I have to say that admiration arises in my heart just reading Sharmapa Rinpoche’s writings to the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman.

    We all know how powerful that duo can be at destroying reputations. It seems to me like the Kagyupas associated with Trinley Thaye Dorje wish to keep their tradition free from politics and they have been fighting the battle.

    Standing up to the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman takes a lot of courage. I rejoice in their virtuous endeavor.

  10. Thomas Canada/Cedar City,Utah permalink

    Taliaban Bob & Tenzin Gyatso play everyone on one simple point and that is the short attention span of their audience.
    Most people are baffled whenever the subject deals with more than a couple of issue.
    Let alone the doctrinal thesis that are portrayed within the schism.
    This unprecendented schism is solely the fault of the Dalia and Taliban Bob.
    Hence, the reason Taliaban Bob has left town for an undisclosed amount of time. He is scared out of his pants to be in the USA.
    He is the Benedict Arnold of this revolution and will suffer the consequences for his betrayl of the dharma and the degradtion of the Democratic Principles of America’s Bill Of Rights.

    Bob and Tenzin follow in the footsteps of their idols, himmler, hitler and the Nazi regimen of self glorification through the humiliation and destruction of sentient beings inner peace and threaten their lives with death threats and humiliation,
    Their self serving activities disrupt the pure and free flow of the dharma by subjugating the freedoms of the individual.
    Talaiban Bob interferes by breaking all the precepts of Lord Buddha and betrays all the people with his and Tenzin lying.

    Enough is enough!
    Give it up Bob and Tenzin Gyatso Norbu.
    Your days are definitely numbered.
    How long can you go on at your age?
    Not long, Not long! That’s how long
    As with the greed of the bankers and gamblers on Wall Street , who now face the consequences of their actions, as they peer over the precipe into the void of nihilism. So will the results of their grasping and taking refuge in the Three Poisons,is forcing Bob and Tenzin to their knees to taste the putrid pool created by perverted and sick dreams of superiority over others.
    Forget your super duper alter ego replacement, Tenzin.
    Once you hit the road, it’s all gone.
    No more Dalia Lama War Lords!
    No “Ocean Wisdom Lama War Lords!”
    Your very presence, is an abomination to this World.
    You interfere with this world and all of it’s inhabitant.
    Be gone spectre! Go back to whence you came.

  11. tom moylan permalink

    Wow. The issue is great and exposes to me my own tendencies. I was introduced to The Kagyu lineage via Lama Ole Nydahl. Nevertheless I belive I can still think and reason. If your blood pressure goes up when you read statements by either Robert Thurman or Sharma Rinpoche then you are emotionally involved and likely to be expressing a canned / doctrinal view. I have one but it doesn’t matter. That the Dalai Lama’s preferred candidate recognizes the Sharmapa’s candidate is very important. In the end they will be both supporters of the Dharma to differing degrees. I have heard teachings by both. Anyone interested in this issue for reasons other than politics should do the same. The 16th Karmapa has left some very big shoes to fill and I wait with interest for the development of the very special being which will be able to do that.

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