The Dalai Lama on Secular Ethics and the Toppling of “Rotten” Buddhist Institutions

The Dalai Lama on Secular Ethics and the Toppling of “Rotten” Buddhist Institutions September 6, 2017

The Dalai Lama gave a talk today in India with students from the University of California on a number of topics including the relationship between secular and religious powers. He began by clarifying that “secular” denotes not antagonism toward religion but toward certain religious institutions. In some cases, he says, institutions become rotten, as in the French Revolution.

“Real religion means love,” he said, and nobody is against love.

But, when elites begin to benefit from institutions, and “when people really suffer due to exploitation, then people should develop courage in order to topple that institution. They also need courage against religious institution.”

“What do you think?” He asks the students; then referring to Haryana, where riots recently broke out after a spiritual guru was sentenced to 10 years in jail for rape. They “use the name Dharma [for] exploitation. They themselves do not properly practice this dharma. Including some Tibetan Lama.” Here he is referring to Sogyal Lakhar (a.k.a. Sogyal Rinpoche) and Rigpa.

Rigpa. The leader. I know him, there was an open letter full of criticism about that person. So therefore, quite often the religious institution is quite often, you see, spoiled, not caring [about] the real message of religion, but rather use the name of religion. Religion is used [as an] instrument for exploitation. So the French Revolution and Russian Bolshevik Revolution, some tendency against religion because of that.

So when I say “secular” some of my friends have some little reservation. But in this country [India], “secular” means respect all religion. Also one unique thing is according [to the] Indian concept of secularism: secular respects non-believer.

It seems that he is explicitly connecting Sogyal to the jailed Indian guru rapist, and also clearly suggesting the use of secular power to literally topple the rotten religious institution (Rigpa).

The Central Tibetan Administration wrote of the discussion with the students as follows:

The interaction follows suit after His Holiness’, not so long ago, visit to San Diego. During his visit, His Holiness addressed a gathering of about 25,000 people at the RIMAC field of UC San Diego on 16 June, 2017.

In his public address, he spoke about diverse topics particularly dwelling on the importance of peace and compassion. He noted that modern education is falling short on its responsibility to teach compassion and urged educational institutions like UC San Diego to teach emotional intelligence as they would science or literature.

His Holiness also delivered the key-note address at the commencement ceremony of UC San Diego. The address was entitled, “The Value of Education, Ethics and Compassion for the Well-Being of Self and Others.”

While some have downplayed the moral authority of the Dalai Lama in Tibetan Buddhism – saying he is not like the Pope of Catholicism – the fact is that while he doesn’t have de juris power over non-Geluks (or even over Geluks, the Ganden Tripa is the nominal head of that school of Buddhism), he does have de facto moral authority around the world for Tibetan Buddhists and those interested in Buddhism.

In any case, a continued strong condemnation by the Dalai Lama signals a move away from what Mary Finnigan wrote about years ago as the taboo against criticising lamas. This shift began in August when the Dalai Lama called Sogyal “disgraced” and urged students to publicize any and all ethical misconduct by teachers. Similar advice has since come from Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Dr. Miles Neale, Ven. Thubten Chodron, and others (see posts here and here at the Buddhism controversy blog).

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