By Jigme Duntak
After reading Samten G. Karmay’s article “Tibetan Religion and Politics” his statement about a secular state being “neutral when it deals with religion by not supporting or opposing any particular sect [and also not giving] any preferential treatment for a citizen who belongs to a particular religion”, I thought about how this would relate to the Shugden issue, which I just previously wrote a post on (see here).
In June of 1996 the Tibetan Parliament in Exile passed a resolution concerning the Shugden issue that was passed unanimously (see here). The resolution’s first clause had the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies and the Parliament of the Tibetans in Exile pledge to abide by his His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s every advice against the propitiation of Shugden. In addition, the other seven clauses within the resolution encouraged all Tibetans to follow suite with this announcement.
The question that came to my mind after reading this was why was this resolution passed by a supposed secular government?
I recall watching a video where Tashi Wangdi (the representative to the Americas for the Dalai Lama and ex-cabinet minister) told the media at a Shugden protest in the US that the Tibetan Government in Exile had not banned the practice of Shugden, like the protesters had been suggesting, but rather the TGIE had only made a resolution to encourage Tibetans to give up their Shugden practices. While this statement by Tashi Wangdi is appropriate when looking at the clauses of the resolution, it still does not explain what the TGIE was doing passing a resolution to advise Tibetans on a religious issue.
The Dalai Lama, who is a spiritual and religious leader of the Tibetan people, had already voiced his stance on the Shugden issue to all Tibetans so why did the secular government follow suite and pass a resolution dealing with this religious issue?
A secular government is to remain “neutral when it deals with religion by not supporting or opposing any particular sect”, as mentioned in Samten G. Karmay’s article, the TGIE has not done so by taking a specific stance against this particular religious group.
The resolution has not only merely “encouraged” Tibetans to stop practicing Shugden but it has gone into the religious sphere of argument by siding with the notion that the propitiation of Shugden goes against the practice of the guru lineage as something that is “totally prejudicial, self-motivated and has no substance whatsoever.” This is not something for the TGIE to judge, argue, or engage in, this is a religious matter and should be dealt with by religious authorities. Clause five of the resolution perhaps shows that the TGIE does in fact view it within there mandate to advise on religious issues:
It must be stated emphatically that giving advice within the context of a particular religious practice on the merit and demerit of propitiating spirits does not by any means constitute the infringement of religious freedom.
Yes, giving “advice within the context of a religious practice” does not constitute infringement of religious freedom, but it does constitute infringement of a secular government’s mandate in governance.