The New York Times’ City Room blog reports a strange spectacle from 6th Ave. July 17:
As thousands of people, mostly of Tibetan and Nepalese ancestry, streamed out of Radio City Music Hall on Thursday afternoon, where they had gone to hear the Dalai Lama give a lecture on the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, they found themselves in a chaotic scene on the Avenue of the Americas.
About 200 members of a Buddhist sect, the Western Shugden Society, were outside the hall protesting the Dalai Lama, who they said had persecuted monks who supported the sect. Some among the thousands coming out of the lecture began shouting at the protesters. The crowd began to swell, and eventually thousands were shouting “Long Live Dalai Lama” and waving dollar bills at the protesters, asserting that they had been paid by the Chinese government.
Police officers on horseback, and dozens on the ground, began scrambling to set up barriers and push the crowds off of the streets, but the avenue was closed for about 20 minutes around 5 p.m. Office workers stood at windows along Rockefeller Center’s office buildings, gazing down at the crowds, which grew louder and larger.
Some of the Dalai Lama supporters began approaching the protesters and were shoved away by police.
After his lecture to a sold-out house at Radio City, where some supporters paid as much as $1,000 a ticket, the Dalai Lama took questions that audience members had submitted in advance. The second question was whether he had anything to say about the protesters outside, who had begun setting up long before the Dalai Lama’s lecture began at 2 p.m.
The Dalai Lama said he used to follow their practice, known as Dorje Shugden, from about 1951 until the early 1970s, but that he had given it up because it was intolerant of other Buddhist teachings.
“This is just spirit worship,” he said. “After I read more about it, I realized my mistake and dropped my practice.”
He added: “I think 99 percent of Tibetans follow my practice. Some small portion worship this spirit. I am committed to freedom of speech, freedom of talk. So I say to them, enjoy freedom of talk.”
He also argued that two past Dalai Lamas had restricted the practice, and that he was following tradition.
The Western Shudgen Society asserts that the Dalai Lama has more than a decade “been fostering a campaign of intimidation, humiliation, and ostracism” against practitioners of Dorje Shugden.
Kelsang Pema, a spokeswoman for the Western Shugden Society, said she had flown from England to engage in the protest. More than half of the protesters appeared to be Westerners, although Ms. Pema said 100 Tibetan monks also took part in the protest.
Although the crowd who attended the lecture at Radio City contained a sprinkling of Westerners, most were of Himalayan ancestry and they were the ones shouting at the protesters from across the Avenue of the Americas and from the north side of 50th Street.
The protesters were on the southwest corner of 50th and Sixth, behind police barricades. There did not appear to be any arrests. Ms. Pema said of the Dalai Lama, “He’s a Hollywood monk. If you ask him something serious, he smiles and laughs and pretends he doesn’t know English.” (The Dalai Lama answered the question in English, with some help with words and phrases from a translator seated near him on the stage.)
Ms. Pema said people had come from 18 countries to participate in the protest. She denied that her group had been paid by the Chinese government. “We get no money from the Chinese. They can check our organization. We’re clean.” The protesters handed out literature explaining their position.
A protest of Washington’s anti-China policies is planned for July 17 when the Dalai Lama will be speaking at Radio City Music Hall here. The U.S. government has been involved in the “Free Tibet” campaign from the beginning, while the media facilitates its execution.
The latest efforts began in mid-March, when the Dalai Lama covertly encouraged Tibetans to riot. The rioters looted, burned and attacked non-Tibetan ethnic groups, killing and wounding scores. Then in April, protesters attacked Olympic torch runners in several countries in a clear campaign against this year’s Beijing Olympics. These attacks and accompanying protests were glorified by a media that has failed to exhibit similar enthusiasm for covering anti-war protests.
The Dalai Lama and the U.S. imperialists have worked hard to erase the Dalai Lama’s past as a feudal leader, and these days hardly anyone in the Western media questions the fact that he is supposed to be a living deity. “Spiritual” leaders, it seems, are condemned or elevated according to their strategic utility to the ruling class. In the U.S., the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, for example, was raked over the coals by the media for his preaching against racism. But Washington, which was comfortable with Tibet’s status as a part of China before the Chinese Revolution, now considers the Dalai Lama to be of great importance and therefore greatly “spiritual.”
The Dalai Lama also supports past and present U.S. military operations in south Korea, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Iraq. He is hardly a representative of peace.
Not everyone has such short memories, however. The twelfth Samding Dorje Phagmo, Tibet’s only living female Buddha, a critic of the Dalai Lama and vice-chairwoman of Tibet’s regional government, says that “Old Tibet was dark and cruel, the serfs lived worse than horses and cattle.” (Reuters)
We won’t ask how FIST professes to know that the Dalai Lama “covertly” encouraged Tibetans to riot. More interesting is the reference to the twelfth Samding Dorje Phagmo. If you look up the April 30 Reuters story (which FIST fails to either date or link to), you will find that it cites China’s official Xinhua agency—and that the twelfth Samding Dorje Phagmo is a vice-chair of the Beijing-compliant Tibetan Autonomous Regional People’s Congress!
Tibet’s only female living Buddha, Samding Dorje Phagmo, who is also a top regional official, accused the Dalai Lama of violating Buddhist teachings, referring to the riots in Lhasa last month.
The twelfth Samding Dorje Phagmo said Tibet’s incorporation into Communist China has transformed it from the backwards feudal society of largely illiterate serfs with little medical care.
“Old Tibet was dark and cruel, the serfs lived worse than horses and cattle,” she told the official Xinhua agency.
The 66-year old woman was chosen as the incarnation of the deity Vajravarahi. Head of the Samding monastery, she is also a vice-chairwoman of the standing committee of the Tibetan Autonomous Regional People’s Congress, or regional parliament.
“Watching on television a tiny number of unscrupulous people burning and smashing shops, schools and public property, brandishing knives and sticks to attack unfortunate passers-by I felt boundless surprise, deep heartache and indignant resentment,” she said.
China has accused the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, of plotting the riots and unrest that spread across many ethnic Tibetan parts of the country, in a bid to overshadow the Olympic Games and push for independence.
“The sins of the Dalai Lama and his followers seriously violate the basic teachings and precepts of Buddhism and seriously damage traditional Tibetan Buddhism’s normal order and good reputation,” the Samding Dorje Phagmo was quoted as saying.
The Dalai Lama rejects China’s claims, saying he supports the Olympic Games and seeks only greater autonomy for Tibet.
We’ve already noted some of the surreal politics of the officially atheist Chinese state’s game of divide-and-rule with Tibet’s Buddhists. It is perversely amusing to see FIST (the latest front group for the retro-Stalinist Workers World Party) drawn into the game…