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Dalai Lama faced with death threats
Question of the Day
Editor's note: When published Nov. 23, 2002, this article incorrectly reported the relationship between a Tibetan sect in northern India and Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, head of the London-based New Kadampa Tradition. Mr. Kelsang and his group announced in 1998 that they have abandoned their dispute with the Dalai Lama and they say their Western Buddhist community is completely independent from those groups in India and Nepal which are suspected of issuing the threats.
NEW DELHI Followers of the Dalai Lama fear that worshippers of a wrathful Tibetan deity, which often is depicted as a three-eyed warrior riding a snow lion through a sea of boiling blood, are determined to kill their spiritual leader.
Posters threatening the life of the Dalai Lama have appeared in recent weeks in Dharamsala, the northern Indian city where the Tibetan leader set up a government in exile. The posters typically warn that the Dalai Lama and his followers will be killed if they do not leave India.
Police, who have tightened security around the 67-year-old exile, believe that the Tibetan Shugden sect is behind the threats.
Officials of the Tibetan government in exile refuse to publicly blame the Shugden sect. Nevertheless, they are growing increasingly concerned over what they consider an organized attempt by the rival group to sow discord and distrust.
"It's a deliberate attempt to create differences, not just between Indians and Tibetans, but amongst Tibetans, too," said the chairman of the Tibetan parliament, Toma Jugney.
The Shugden sect and mainstream followers of the Dalai Lama have been at odds for years, but this is the first time death threats have become public.
The Dalai Lama made Dharamsala his home after fleeing Tibet in 1959. The Shugden order, headquartered in Britain and known as New Kadampa Tradition, was established in 1991 by another exiled Tibetan monk, Kelsang Gyatso.
The Shugdens worship the 350-year-old deity Dorje Shugden, who typically is depicted wielding a sword, wearing a necklace of 50 severed human heads and baring four fangs as sharp as the ice of a glacier.
The Shugdens consider themselves the guardians of Tibetan Buddhism. Opponents label them "the Talibans of Tibetan Buddhism," likening them to the fanatical Muslim sect that until last year ruled Afghanistan.
The differences between the Dalai Lama and Shugden leader Kelsang Gyatso over the worship of Dorje Shugden lie at the heart of the current split in the exiled Buddhist community.
For years, the Shugdens have branded the Dalai Lama a traitor for befriending other branches of Tibetan Buddhism. They also accuse the Dalai Lama of "selling out" Tibet by promoting its autonomy within China rather than outright independence.
The Dalai Lama for the past few years has said that Shugdens pose a serious threat to Tibetan unity in exile. He advised the Tibetan people against worshipping the Shugden deity, saying that the practice fosters religious intolerance and leads to the degeneration of Buddhism.
In September, Shugden followers held a news conference in the Nepalese capital of Katmandu at which they proclaimed: "The Dalai Lama and his soldiers in Dharamsala are creating terror in Tibetan society by harassing and persecuting people like us. We cannot take it lying down for long."
Lobsang Gyatso, a 70-year-old Tibetan dialectics professor and confidant of the Dalai Lama who publicly opposed Dorje Shugden worship, was slain in 1997 in Dharamsala.
Two younger monks one of whom was the Dalai Lama's Chinese-language interpreter were killed in the same attack. Indian police said that activists from the Shugden sect were behind the killings.
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