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Members of a Buddhist sect known as Shugden Buddhism are accusing the Dalai Lama of religious persecution and have announced plans to stage protest rallies when the Buddhist religious leader visits several U.S. cities soon.

International Shugden Community volunteer spokesman William Fettig told WND in an interview that there should be several hundred protesters at each of the Dalai Lama’s appearances on his three-city U.S. visit, which is scheduled to include stops later this month and in November in Birmingham, Alabama; Boston; and New York.

Fettig said the Dalai Lama has banned prayer to the Buddhist deity Dorje Shugden.

“And he’s enforcing this ban through the Tibetan government in exile. People had to sign an oath that they wouldn’t pray to the Shugden or they wouldn’t get issued a government ID card,” Fettig said.

“The Dalai Lama talks about freedom and democracy, but he’s really pulled the wool over many people’s eyes. He is the one who instigated the ban and forced the Tibetan government in exile to criminalize Shugden in the constitution,” Fettig told WND.

He said the attack on the Shugden sect by outlawing their prayers to the Shugden deity is ironic because of the Dalai Lama’s earlier religious practices.

“He practiced Shugden Buddhism for the first 40 years of his life. So, he is the one who changed. He claims that now prayers to the Shugden deity, the Dorje Shugden, harm him physically,” Fettig said. “He also claims that the Shugden Buddhists are harming the cause of Tibetan nationalism around the world. This 400-year-old practice, he says, is dangerous to Tibetans and the Tibetan cause.”

One consequence is that Shugden Buddhists are isolated from their Tibetan communities, whether they are in the U.S., India or elsewhere, Fettig said.

“It’s felt in the Tibetan exile community in the United States. Shugden practicing Tibetans are even banned from restaurants and other Tibetan businesses in the exile community in the U.S. There are ‘No Shugden’ signs in the windows of Tibetan-owned businesses,” he continued.

“He instigated the opposition to the sect and that opposition to Shugden is especially felt in the Tibetan exile community in India. Shugdens are treated as pariahs among their own people,” Fettig said.

However, Tsultrim Dorjee, an assistant to the Dalai Lama, disagrees with the charges.

He insisted to WND in a written statement there is no ban on the Shugden sect.

“Even while His Holiness has advised against it, there are individuals or monastic bodies that choose to continue the practice and there is no constraint on their doing so. If the demonstrators are honest, they will attest to this truth,” he said. “His Holiness has only requested those who continue to worship Dolgyal (Shugden) not to attend his religious teachings. This is because such teachings involve a bond of mutual trust between teacher and taught, which would evidently be absent in such circumstances.”

Dorjee confirmed the Dalai Lama did follow the sect’s beliefs but now believes it is a harmful practice.

“In his youth, as he openly admits, His Holiness also participated in the propitiation of Shugden in the past, largely due to ignorance, and so he speaks from experience,” he said. “His Holiness reached his decision on the worship of Dolgyal (Shugden) after thorough examination over several years. He concluded that the worship of this spirit was leading to a degeneration of the Buddha’s teachings, disharmony among Tibetan Buddhist traditions and giving rise to disunity within Tibetan society.”

Dorjee explained, “Followers of Dolgyal tend to pay more attention to it than to the Buddha, and secondly, sectarian and intimidating attitudes associated with this practice have been socially divisive.”

He said he was puzzled by the demonstrators actions.

“There are, however, credible reports that Shugden followers are provided financial and other incentives by outside forces. Their real intent is to destabilize the Tibetan community and undermine His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s efforts to promote human values and inter-religious understanding within the Tibetan community as well in the larger world,” Dorjee said.

Fettig says the Shugden community isn’t attempting to destabilize Buddhism. Members only want to be free to practice their religion, he said, adding that he believes the Dalai Lama is the one attempting to divide Buddhists.

“What the Dalai Lama really wants is to bring all forms of Buddhism together into one and to set up himself as the leader of them all. So he works to divide and conquer by finding ways to divide the various Buddhist sects,” Fettig said.

Officials with Amnesty International and Amnesty International USA would neither independently confirm nor deny the claims and counterclaims of the Shugden and the Dalai Lama.

However, Amnesty International issued a statement in June 1998 saying the organization would not get involved in what they said was a “religious dispute.”

“Amnesty International (AI) has received and studied a large amount of material alleging human rights abuses against worshipers of the Tibetan Buddhist deity Dorje Shugden. These alleged abuses are reported to have happened largely in Tibetan settlements in India,” the statement said.

“None of the material AI has received contains evidence of abuses which fall within AI’s mandate for action – such as grave violations of fundamental human rights including torture, the death penalty, extra-judicial executions, arbitrary detention or imprisonment, or unfair trials.”

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