Interview with Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

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Nov 24, 1996, 3:00:00 AM11/24/96
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INTERVIEW WITH GESHE KELSANG GYATSO

Dear Everybody,

Maybe you have already received or have heard of a letter written by the
people of Sera-Je monastery in India about Geshe Kelsang Gyatso through
The
Tibetan Review and Snow Lion magazine. Some people have told me that
many
practitioners throughout the world who use and read Geshe Kelsang’s
books
for their study and practice may be experiencing doubt and confusion
through
this unpleasant letter.

Recently I met Geshe Kelsang’s assistant. She told me that I would find
an
accurate explanation of the real nature of Geshe Kelsang’s qualities in
the
prefaces of some of his books, as written by the precious high Lamas,
Venerable Yongdzin Ling Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche, who are the
lineage
holders of the Gelugpa tradition.

In the foreword to Geshe Kelsang’s book, Clear Light of Bliss, Yongdzin
Ling
Rinpoche says:

This excellent commentary on the joyous Mahamudra
Derived from churning the essence of the ocean of Tantric scriptures
That arose from the heart of this most precious Spiritual Guide
Is published with a pure wish to benefit migrators.

In the foreword to Geshe Kelsang’s book Meaningful to Behold, Venerable
Trijang Rinpoche says:

The excellent expounder, the great Spiritual Master Kelsang Gyatso, who
studied myriad Buddhist scriptures at the famous Je College of the great
monastic university of Sera, Tegchen Ling, practised the meaning of the
teachings he received, and became a wise, serious and realized Teacher.
From
the rain of profound and extensive Dharma that he has bestowed upon his
fortunate disciples, he has recently given comprehensive instructions on
the
great Bodhisattvacharyavatara (Guide to The Bodhisattva’s Way of Life).

In the prayer for the long life of the Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso,
Trijang Rinpoche says:

You who are skilled in the wisdom that unties the sealed knots
Of the profound meaning of the Sutras and Tantras of the Fourth
Deliverer of this fortunate aeon,
Who possess an abundance of good qualities like a thousand-petalled
lotus,
O peerless, great Spiritual Guide, may you live for a very long time.

The holy Dharma, a treasury of jewels that is difficult to find for many
aeons,
Is borne forth on the chariot of your excellent, superior intention;
O Protector who destroy the samsaric miseries of vast numbers of
disciples,
Great Knowledge Hero arisen from an ocean (of wisdom), may you live for
a
very long
time.


In the light of this, I requested Geshe Kelsang for an interview and my
first question was:

Q: Geshe-la, in the letter from the people of Sera-Je, it says that you
were
expelled from the monastery. Are you upset about this?

GESHE KELSANG GYATSO: No, I am not upset. I had already stopped my
affiliation with Sera-Je twenty years ago and have no intention of
renewing
it. So, I feel this doesn’t make any sense.

Q: In this letter it says that you received the Lamrim Jampel Shal-lung
at
the Norbu Linka summer palace in Tibet and the Kalachakra Initiation in
1956
from HH the Dalai Lama. Did you receive these?

GKG: I never received the Lamrim Jampel Shal-lung from HH. I don’t know
where they got their information from. I don’t know why the people of
Sera-Je Tsangpa Khangtsen are saying this. I believe they think they are
telling the truth, because they are Buddhist monks. Of course it is true
that HH gave these Lamrim teachings at the Norbu Linka summer palace,
but at
that time I was unaware of this.

When HH was about to give the Kalachakra Initiation in Lhasa, I tried to
join this teaching but unfortunately there were no places left, it was
full.
For a short while I waited with some lay people, and then I returned
home.
My uncle Kuten Lama knows this is true, because he was with me. So I
never
received the Kalachakra Initiation from HH.

Later, in India I was in Dalhousie, near Dharamsala, in the mountains
doing
long retreat. One day, I heard the news from my assistant that HH was
giving
a teaching on the Great Exposition of the Stages of Tantra by Je
Tsongkhapa.
I decided to attend these teachings and left for Dharamsala. Again, I
became
very sick and was unable to attend. Later, when I was in Manjushri
Buddhist
Centre, England, we requested HH to visit, but he could not come. It
seems
that I have no karma to listen to HH’s Dharma teachings. Of course, in
the
past I have attended some of his general public talks, but that is
different. Just because I attended these talks we cannot say that he is
my
root Guru.

Q: Geshe-la, in their letter it says that you suffered from chronic TB
while
living in Mussourie, India, and you did not do long retreat. Can you
clarify
this, please?

GKG: I did a long retreat for many years in Nepal near the border of
Tibet
in the Himalayan region. The place is called Bangthog Damthang, and I
was
sponsored by my sister Dekyi who is now living in Switzerland. Later, I
did
many long retreats in the Dalhousie mountains near Dharamsala.

In Mussourie, every winter for several months I did retreat. When I was
not
in retreat I was trying to help families by performing healing rituals
and
special pujas. Before I went to Mussourie I lived in Buxa and fell sick
there with recurrent chest infections, but it was not serious. Later, in
Mussourie the chest infections continued to recur, but I was never
admitted
to hospital. In this life, I have never spent even one night in
hospital! My
relatives in Mussourie were urging me to have a thorough check up so I
was
examined by three different doctors. Two of them said that I had no
disease,
but that I needed to build up my bodily strength, and one doctor said
that
maybe I had TB. In reality it was difficult to understand the real
problem.

Later, when I was living in England, I experienced continual physical
weakness until finally I went with two Western assistants to London for
three weeks and was examined by two specialists. They took many X-rays
and
did many other tests. The final result was that both doctors said there
was
no disease, just lung weakness. They said I needed fresh air, sunshine,
exercise and rest to build up my strength.

Q: Geshe-la, the letter said that you had millions of pounds which have
come
from your disciples. Could you comment on this allegation?

GKG: (He laughed) and then replied ‘Tharpa Publications publishes my
books.
They are financially independent from me and from all my Dharma Centers
around the world. From the very beginning I have given Manjushri
Buddhist
Centre the royalties to which I am entitled as author. I have never used
even one penny from this money.

Manjushri Buddhist Centre sponsors me. I receive free accommodation and
food, and a small allowance. In the beginning it was £50 a month, but
gradually it increased and now it is £250. The Directors and managers of
Manjushri Buddhist Centre have these records.

I have never collected money for myself. Everyone knows this, but of
course
some students give me presents, such as statues, money and many other
things, but I always dedicate this for the development of Dharma
Centers.
Donations for Dharma Centers are received directly by the Dharma Centers
themselves and do not come through me. NKT Dharma Centers have very
clear
financial organization, each Center is financially independent and most
of
them are already registered charities, or non-profit organizations, in
their
own right. I have no authority to use any of the Centers’ monies, not
even
one penny! Maybe they are dreaming if they say I have received millions
of
pounds!

Q: Geshe-la, the letter criticizes you because you seem to be against HH
the
Dalai Lama. Why are you doing this?

GKG: In April of this year (1996) I received many strong requests from
Tibetans living in India, and some requests from Western people who have
connections with Tibetans, to help them achieve freedom of worship for
the
Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden. I received many letters and much
information
about the ban on this practice.

At the beginning I completely ignored this and I thought I would never
involve myself in this Tibetan political problem. Later, I received some
urgent faxes from an American lady called Tina, a friend of one Tibetan
called Losang Chogyal in India. My assistant contacted Tina through
e-mail
to confirm that the faxes were authentic. We realized that this
information
came from India.

Through these letters I understood that HH had publicly stated that
Dorje
Shugden is an evil spirit, and that he had the intention to impose a
complete ban on this practice. In order to fulfill his wishes many
Tibetans
in different areas of India were removing statues and pictures of Dorje
Shugden from temples and private houses, destroying them, throwing them
in
the garbage, burning them etc., and forcibly preventing people from
worshipping. Because of this, so many people in many areas were afraid
and
experiencing much suffering and disharmony, especially in some of the
monasteries. The tension was such that people were beginning to fight
with
each other, Tibetan against Tibetan.

At that time, I remembered what happened in Tibet under Mao’s regime,
with
people destroying precious statues, Dharma scriptures and experiencing
so
many different types of suffering. I thought this present situation in
India
is very similar to that in Tibet. I was so disappointed and found it
difficult to bear the bad news. Then, my mind changed and I developed a
strong wish to help these Tibetan people.

On the other hand, I thought that if I became involved in these politics
I
would be criticized by many people and that even my life may be at risk,
but
finally I said to myself that I must stop self-cherishing and work for
the
welfare of these people. First, we organized to publish all the
information
we had received from India through many different newspapers in the
United
Kingdom, but no-one would print it. Because it was a story about
Tibetans,
the newspapers contacted the Tibetan Office to check its authenticity,
and
of course they denied it! So, because of these problems the members of
‘The
Shugden Supporters Community’ held a meeting and decided to hold
demonstrations in the hope that HH would change his mind and withdraw
the
ban on the worship of Dorje Shugden. I accepted their decision.

After two demonstrations had been held, a delegation from the Shugden
Supporters Community formally requested HH to sign an agreement to stop
the
ban on the practice of Dorje Shugden and to restore freedom of worship
to
his people who wished to worship Dorje Shugden. He did not sign the
agreement.

After the third demonstration, I strongly requested the members of the
Shugden Supporters Community to stop all political activity immediately.
Because I understood that HH would not accept, there was no meaning in
continuing. I requested the people in Dharma Centers to forget all these
politics and concentrate solely on their Dharma practice. In this way
our
activity lasted from May until July, only three months. This was my
first
experience of politics in this life. I pray that this will never happen
again in the future.

During the second demonstration in Switzerland, in support of the
Shugden
Supporters Community, I also wrote a letter commenting on the activities
of
HH. My motivation was solely to help Tibetan people and to protect Je
Tsongkhapa’s doctrine from degenerating. However, my letter upset many
Tibetan people and many Western practitioners who regard HH as their
root
Guru. I would like to apologize sincerely to all of them.

Q: Geshe-la, in Zemey Tulku’s The Yellow Book, it says that Dorje
Shugden
killed many Gelugpa Lamas who engaged in practices of the Nyingma
tradition.
Do you believe this?

GKG: No, I never believed this. I knew Zemey Tulku. However, I do not
believe the information contained in The Yellow Book.

Q: Why did Zemey Rinpoche write such things?

GKG: I don’t know the real reason for his writing this book. Maybe this
was
his view and he was trying to prevent Gelugpa Lamas from engaging in
Nyingma
practices. There are two reasons why I don’t believe this. One is that
Dorje
Shugden never harms any sentient being because he is a Buddha, an
enlightened being. He has compassion for all living beings without
exception, even those who try to harm him. The second reason is that the
list of Lamas in The Yellow Book supposed to have killed by Dorje
Shugden
never received any harm from any spirit because they were sincerely
practicing refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

In many holy scriptures of Sutra and Tantra it says that those who are
sincerely taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, will never receive
harm from spirits. We have this guarantee from Buddha if we sincerely
practice refuge. I understand that The Yellow Book causes many Nyingmapa
practitioners to become unhappy with Dorje Shugden, and because of this
they
do not appreciate Dorje Shugden practitioners and sometimes even
criticize
them. This causes the development of disharmony within the Mahayana
Buddhist
community. As we know, our harmony is important. We Buddhists need to
show a
good example, we should not argue with each other or criticize each
other.
We should practice our own tradition purely but respect other
traditions. We
should never try to destroy the spiritual life of others. Although some
people say ‘I am Nyingmapa’, ‘I am Gelugpa’, this is just a different
way of
presenting and practicing Dharma. The real essence is the same. So I
would
like to suggest to everybody to forget The Yellow Book. The Yellow Book
was
not written by Buddha, so why should we believe this?

Thank you Geshe-la.


Yvonne Nilles


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