Are Buddhsist Racist

Read my one & only interview in the New Statesman

What is Racism?


Race can be defined as:

"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.

The German Buddhist Monastic Association (Deutschen Buddhistischen Ordensgemeinschaft)

Prior to the Dalai Lama's visit to Frankfurt in May 2014 the Deutschen Buddhistischen Ordensgemeinschaft (DBO) issued a press release 'warning' the media about the forthcoming demonstrations.

The DBO have only ever issued 2 press releases – both of which relate to the Dalai Lama protests. Both were issued on May 1st 2014, one is in English and the other is in German and can be found in the Press Release section of their website by clicking here.

In the supplemental notes to the press release the DBO state, “In any society it is necessary for the protection of freedom of the majority to restrict religious extremism and to exclude their advocates from public institutions.”

Let's take a closer look at that statement because it helps us to understand how religious discrimination is being promoted as normal and acceptable by the Tibetan government.


An Extreme Statement

“In any society it is necessary for the protection of freedom of the majority to restrict religious extremism” The problem with this part of the statement is that defining extremism is very difficult and prone to abuse.

A recent article in the Huffington Post addressed the difficulties of using this term stating:

“Extremism has become a sensationalised catchall phrase, often used by politicians and mass media to polarise and to label groups of people as "the bad guys."”

The Oxford English dictionary defines extremism as, "The holding of extreme political or religious views".

Thupten Wangchen of the Tibetan government recently estimated that 30% of Tibetans used to practice this prayer. He also said it was regularly practiced in the largest school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Gelug school, before the ban. That would seem to indicate that it is mainstream rather than extreme according to definitions of both terms.


The other part of the statement, and to exclude their advocates from public institutions”, firstly admits that the CTA are excluding people from public institutions on the basis of their religious beliefs and secondly condones this discrimination and exclusion.

It is illegal throughout member states of the European Union to exclude anyone from public institutions on the basis of their religious or philosophical beliefs. This is a fundamental aspect of human rights that has been enshrined in EU legislation, but the DBO seem unaware of this.

Seeking more clarification about the DBO I started to look into their Media Representative, Michael Jäckel.


Behind the mask of the DBO

Michael Jäckel is a Buddhist monk called Tenzin Peljor who was ordained by the Dalai Lama in March 2006. Prior to that he had been ordained in the New Kadampa Tradition by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in 1998. He had a very acrimonious split with the New Kadampa Tradition in 2000 and has since become a highly vocal and bitter critic of both Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and the New Kadampa Tradition.

He currently runs several websites claiming to offer "independent, factual and analytical information" on Tibetan Buddhism and its controversies. However on closer inspection these websites seem to follow his own agenda of attacking the New Kadampa Tradition wherever possible using the same arguments over and again in different presentations.

Michael is currently a teacher and resident monk at Bodhicharya Centre, a Buddhist Centre in Berlin that follows the Rime Movement, a type of Tibetan Buddhism favoured by the Dalai Lama.

In response to a question about Dorje Shugden practitioners being banned from working for the Tibetan government Michael said:

“To enable a fair and democratic government in exile government members had to stop Shugden practice or to leave. I assume you would find it also strange if Scientology practitioners were employed by the British government for instance in the health or educational department.

These are sensitive power positions where ethical and certain standards must be maintained. So if you adhere to Scientology and you see it as more important than to work impartial for the welfare of the people and to let go this relation to Scientology you cannot work on sensitive points of the UK government. Its just that.”

This view seems to misunderstand the principles of democracy, namely that all citizens have a right to equal participation and representation within a democratic government.

When it was explained that religious discrimination is actually illegal in the UK and EU Michael changed tack, “Would you say it is ok to have radical islamists in the educational department”

When it was pointed out to him that the term 'radical islamists' is both practically impossible to define and usually used in a pejorative sense he replied:

“To discriminate ‘radical Islamists’ and ‘Islamist extremists’ from the majority of Muslims one does IMO [In My Opinion] not denigrate most Muslims and enhance a social stereotype but one separates radical, fanatical groups from the mainstream believers; and this does not denigrate most Muslims nor enhance social stereotypes but does justice to non-fanatical mainstream believers.”

Given that he is the Media Representative of the DBO and that he would have sought approval from other members to issue the press release it seems a logical conclusion that the other members of the DBO likewise view religious discrimination and racial stereotyping as normal and acceptable in society.

It is also worth remembering here that Michael (aka Tenzin Peljor) was photographing Tibetans taking part in the protests outside the Dalai Lama's teaching in Frankfurt. A week later photographs of Tibetan protesters appeared on the Tibetan government's (CTA) official website as part of their 'name and shame' campaign.

Taking into account his background, views and strong ties to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government I wouldn't feel comfortable taking Michael's statements as "independent, factual and analytical information" on Tibetan Buddhism. Rather I would have to view him as being another proponent of the Tibetan government's own views of the situation.


Tenzin Peljor

Image Courtesy of Followers of Dorje Shugden (Facebook group)

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