How Tibetan leadership treats a sponsor (jindak)
There’s a topic most people find a little awkward to talk about, and that’s sponsorship in the Dharma. People find it awkward because they think money is not a very spiritual thing to discuss. Yet it is an unavoidable subject because it’s a simple fact of life in samsara – monasteries and Dharma institutions would never be able to survive without the kindness of sponsors, and if they did not have the funds. In fact, the topic of sponsorship was even addressed during the time of the Buddha himself. Through the example of his disciples like Magadha Sangmo and her father Suddatta, we have lessons on the correct attitude of a sponsor and we learn how sponsorship can become a spiritual practice. There is also sponsorship from the perspective of the recipient, which is what I am addressing here in the context of how Dharamsala and the Tibetan leadership treats their sponsors so poorly.
So for those who are studying Buddhism, at one point or another, they will have to deal with the topic of sponsorship. Hence sponsorship is something that I have been acutely aware of since the age of 11, when my connection with Dharma started through my family. Since that time, for the last 19 years, we have been sponsors for both Kechara and the monasteries in India.
I remember that throughout my childhood and teenage years, countless dinners and events were held to raise funds for the monasteries in India. Even at a time when all of us had very little due to the financial crash of 1997, we never stopped sponsoring the monasteries. I remember SMS blasts being sent out, with requests for us to help this or that monk with his medication, or to sponsor books or robes. I remember requests for sponsorship for buffaloes and cows, or building materials, and drives held to raise funds for medical equipment. I remember many, many opportunities to make offerings of statues as well as offering painting and jewellery for statues in the monastery.
Most of all, I remember frequent updates from Rinpoche and the monastery, telling us just how our sponsorship was being used. This is the cow your funds sponsored, this is the room that has been repainted thanks to money you donated, these are the robes being offered to the monks, these are the statues being made and these are the statues now being painted. This is the old flooring of Gaden lachi (the main prayer hall) being dug up, this is the new flooring being selected and these are contractors appointed to do the work. And here is the new flooring being delivered…so on and so forth.
Over the years, I can safely say that together with Rinpoche, we have sponsored millions in rupees to the Tibetan Buddhist monasteries of India. So you must be thinking, why am I writing about this now after so many years? Because as a jindak, I wanted to express just how my lama, family and I have been treated by the anti-Shugden faction, led by Dharamsala, during this whole Dorje Shugden controversy.
You see, in the last 19 years, my family and I have been a jindak for the Tibetan monasteries. We did this both individually and through Rinpoche, supporting whatever fundraising efforts were initiated through the Kechara organisation. We did it because we believed that the monasteries really needed it, and because we had been taught that making offerings to any one of the Three Jewels is an incredibly meritorious act (and we still believe in this).
On a personal capacity, I have been a jindak not only with funds but with time and effort too. It would actually be inaccurate to say that I am unfamiliar with the Tibetan community. Honestly speaking, India was never a place I had any desire to travel to. Having attended a private British international school, I grew up with a pretty Eurocentric outlook. But in 2004, Rinpoche asked me to travel to India for the first time and that trip, along with subsequent ones, changed my entire world.
The last time I was in India was in early 2005, three years before the ban really picked up steam. During this time, Gaden Shartse Monastery was still whole and had not yet split in half. Because there was still relative calm, I was able to visit Sera Mey Monastery, Zongkar Choede Monastery and Gyumed Tantric College. All of these places are now out of bounds to me because I practise Dorje Shugden.
But this 2005 pilgrimage, among the many others I was able to take, really deepened my personal connection with the Buddhist faith. Visiting monastery after monastery on pilgrimage, something in my mind shifted and I realised it was among this sea of maroon that I felt most familiar and comfortable. Thus it was on this trip that I requested to become a nun.
And though I may lack an understanding of many nuances of Tibetan culture, I have always been passionate about Tibet as a whole. So although I don’t talk about it much these days, people who are close to me will be aware that for many years, while I lived in England, I campaigned for the Tibetan cause. Even after I was counselled against going, I would still sneak off to join protests because I felt that as a Tibetan Buddhist, it was my duty to speak up for the Tibetan people.
Nowadays, one of the reasons why I don’t talk about my time as a campaigner is because it’s painful. On the one hand, I feel strongly about injustices that I perceive have been committed against the Tibetan people. On the other hand, as a Dorje Shugden practitioner, I’m treated like trash by the anti-Shugden Tibetan community, to put it very bluntly.
I am insulted and harassed online for my faith, to the extent ‘friends’ from within the Tibetan community have told me that they are going to dissociate from me because of my faith. I have been told my lama is cheating me, that he’s a conman out to fool me. Images of me have been Photoshopped to imply there is some kind of impropriety between me and my teacher. There have been attempts to humiliate me, call me names and insult my opinions as b*****t. On WeChat, when I post things, I’m met with images of faeces, copulation, guns, daggers and such to imply that my lama and what I believe in belong at that level.
It disturbs me to think that this may actually be the true nature of the Tibetan community I spoke up for. Did I spend years fighting for the rights of a community that’s capable of backstabbing their own supporters? But then again, why should I be surprised that as a foreigner, this could happen to me when anti-Shugden Tibetans are capable of attacking their own people on the basis of their faith?
And do my years speaking up for them now mean nothing? Do the millions of rupees that I helped to raise for the Tibetan monasteries now mean nothing to them? Is this how the Tibetan leadership encourages their people to treat a jindak? And since I am a dirty Dorje Shugden practitioner who would not be welcomed in the monastery I helped to raise funds for, will the funds be reverted to me and my loved ones? Surely if I am ‘evil’, my money is ‘evil’ too. After all, why would the money be clean when the donor is not? My experience is not just limited to me by the way. Movingly, Geshe Sopa-la told me once that because of his faith, he’s not even allowed to step into the monastery that he helped to build and his words have never left me.
In fact, Geshe Sopa is not the only one treated badly although he has given his life to the monasteries. Countless other lamas and Shugden practitioners have donated hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of rupees to the monasteries they are not allowed to connect with. Gangchen Rinpoche, for example, was one of Sera Mey Monastery’s biggest benefactors until the Dorje Shugden ban came along. Tsangpa Khangtsen’s buildings, prayer hall and monk rooms were built through funds he raised. After the ban, Gangchen Rinpoche was systematically humiliated by the Tibetan leadership who used to have a page devoted to denouncing him.
Another Shugden lama, Kensur Lobsang Tharchin, established a massively successful food fund for the monks of Sera Mey. This fund provided a permanent solution to the challenge of providing food for their monks, and continues to benefit the monastery until today. Were Kensur Rinpoche alive today, one can’t help but wonder if the Tibetan leadership would treat him in the same humiliating, discriminatory way since he never gave his Dorje Shugden practice before he entered clear light.
I see now that my decision to give up supporting the Tibetan leadership was perhaps a justified one, because of the way my family and I have been treated despite our nearly two decades of support for the Tibetan community. It doesn’t matter how much or how often you have given; the second you have outlived your financial usefulness for the Tibetan leadership, you are no longer relevant to the powers that be in Dharamsala. At least, that’s what we have been led to think because of the treatment we as jindaks have received whereby we are rejected but our sponsorship is welcomed.
Thankfully however, this saga has also given me and other practitioners like me something else to channel our passion and funds towards, and that is the lineage, growth and spread of the Dorje Shugden practice. That is not to say we would be adverse to sponsoring the non-Shugden monasteries; in fact, we would be happy to do so, if only the leadership stopped encouraging their people to treat their jindaks so poorly. Why would I support, raise money for and speak up on behalf of a community that does its utmost best to reject me, harass me and put me down? Why support a community that rejects my friends from hotels, and refuses to sell pearls to them even though they have raised millions for the monasteries too? Why support a community where the leadership condones the branding of non-Shugden practitioners, to identify them as separate from ‘dirty’ Shugden practitioners?
The irony is that I am only practising the faith that has been taught to me by masters of the Tibetan community. It is a practice that has been handed down from generation to generation over the last 400 years. But the fact is I am not Tibetan and I don’t need to put up with this type of treatment and as far as I am concerned, I will keep my faith and take my money and efforts elsewhere since the Tibetan leadership, the same one I used to protest for, continues to treat me in this way.
At the end of the day, thanks to my lama, I am not disillusioned enough to ignore the fact there are still some incredibly holy places and practitioners in the monasteries in India and luckily, I have not lost faith in them. But while there may be holy people and places there, it cannot be denied that the leadership they are beholden to has been encouraging some very unholy activities over the last 20 years and this really, REALLY needs to stop.
For more interesting information:
- Magadha Sangmo (须摩提女)
- Attitude When Receiving Offerings
- Growing Up With Rinpoche
- 52 Years of Generosity
- Will the Dalai Lama agree with this?
- My First Guru in New Jersey
- They said NO!
- Badge of Shame
- Advice at a Funeral
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