"A classification system used to categorise humans into distinct populations or groups by anatomical, cultural, ethnic, genetic, geographical, historical, linguistic, religious, and/or social affiliation.”
Racism can be defined as:
“The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”
When a group of people are labeled according to a certain religious belief or affiliation and their access to public services, jobs, livelihoods and social freedoms are denied or restricted on the basis of this belief or affiliation this is racism.
Are Buddhists Racist?
It seems like a strange question initially, after all Buddhism is renowned throughout the world for its principles of equality, peace, love and understanding.
In fact in a 1958 UNESCO study entitled, “Buddhism and the Race Question”, the authors stated:
"If we contemplate the vastness of cosmic space and the seemingly endless number of worlds of which the human worlds form a very small part, the problems of race would appear in a different light and seem very trifling indeed."
So is this still the case? It would appear not in certain schools of Buddhism.
In particular within Tibetan Buddhism there is a breeding ground for racism and the persecution that often walks hand in hand with it.
For over 20 years now a serious doctrinal schism has been taking place in the largest school of Tibetan Buddhism, namely the Gelug school, and the person behind the schism is none other than His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.
This all seems very unlikely to the casual observer because the attitudes we have learnt to develop throughout our lives have been that Tibet is a sacred place and the Dalai Lama is the human embodiment of love and tolerance.
Often the Dalai Lama is equated with other spiritual leaders such as Gandhi, Desmond Tutu, and Mother Theresa. So it seems highly unlikely that he would be associated with persecution and racism, let alone be responsible for it.
Yet what I discovered through research into this topic is far from the usual preconceptions we have about Tibet and His Holiness.
The disagreement centres around a protector Deity called Dorje Shugden (referred to sometimes as Dolgyal or Shugden) which until recently formed an integral part of the Gelug tradition, that was until the Dalai Lama decided to tell his followers to stop practising it.