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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Tibetan group disbands over deity dispute

November 30, 2008

By Richie Davis, Bulletin Contributing Writer
Amherst Bulletin (MA)
November 28, 2008

The 16-year-old Tibetan Association of Western Massachusetts, with
about 130 members, has voted to disband following a split vote,
according to one of its founding members.

The 51-to-15 vote, with five abstentions, came Oct. 18 following a
protest involving some of its members last spring against the Dalai
Lama. That protest, at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., was on
his stance against worship of Dorje Shugden, a protective deity in
the Tibetan Buddhist faith.

"It's really heartbreaking," said Sonam Lama, a Deerfield stonemason
and founding association board member who said he voted against the
disassociation. Lama is not a believer in Shugden but sees the issue
as one of freedom of religion and expression by Tibetans in this country.

Lama, who immigrated to this country in 2000, said, "I don't
understand the Dalai Lama's thinking.

He said the "segregation" of followers of the 400-year-old deity is
especially pronounced in India, with some retailers even refusing to
allow believers in their shops.

The Western Massachusetts organization, founded in 1992, was one of
33 Tibetan associations recognized by the exiled government and is
the only one that has disbanded, said Sonam Lama.

He said the Oct. 18 vote followed a letter from the government's New
York office which he said argued that Tibetans "must be united
against China, not against each other."

Pasang Norbu of Amherst, listed by the exiled government's Web site
as president of the Western Massachusetts association, said the
Chinese government which forced Tibetan Buddhists into exile in 1959
is trying to politicize the differences the Dalai Lama has with
Tibetans who believe in Shugden.

"He lets them do what they want regarding faith," he said. "Buddhists
do not believe just on faith. It's not like a religion; it's more
like a philosophy," he said.

In his own message to exiled Tibetans, the Dalai Lama - both a
Buddhist leader and the head of state - "strongly discourages" them
from following Shugden because of concerns it will lead to
sectarianism and "the danger of Tibetan Buddhism degenerating into a
form of spirit worship."

He leaves the decision up to the individual, but the Dalai Lama asks
followers of Shugden to not attend his formal religious teachings.

Williams College religion professor Georges Dreyfus called the
conflict "a difficult issue that is being manipulated by outside
forces who are only too happy to use this issue" and said he believes
that charges of religious persecution "are greatly exaggerated."
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