Angry Spirit

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TIM McGIRKOnce a month, a joyful procession of Tibetan refugees--many of them disfigured by frostbite suffered escaping their homeland over the Himalayas--files into the Dalai Lama's exile palace at the Indian hill station of Dharamsala. For these visitors, His Holiness is an emanation of the Compassionate Buddha, and his blessing is their reward for having survived the icy Himalayan crossing. During one audience this summer, a brawny young Tibetan showed a curious lack of enthusiasm about meeting the Dalai Lama. The youth's attention was focused instead on security in the palace and the layout of the buildings inside. This Tibetan, named Chomphel, was a Chinese spy, Indian police say. His mission may have been to scope out security flaws for a possible attack on the Tibetan religious leader.As the faithful were busily spinning prayer wheels, Chomphel was seen mapping out the open temple courtyard where the Dalai Lama often conducts ceremonies. The visitor timed the routine of monks who fill the altar butter lamps and sweep the temple, and he watched the movements of Indian police and soldiers around the town. Eventually, Indian undercover agents spotted him sketching details of the army garrison. He was trailed and then last week arrested. Inside a false bottom of his suitcase were maps and other documents relating to the Dalai Lama's security.Under questioning, Chomphel allegedly confessed that he was a member of a Chinese army intelligence unit. He's no ordinary refugee, says police superintendent Kashmir Chand Sadyal. He's very knowledgeable and quite an expert in several things, including cartography. Tibetan security officials disclosed that during interrogation, Chomphel said that his superiors had sent him to India to gather intelligence for a further action against the Dalai Lama involving 10 to 15 Chinese agents later this year. Many of his drawings centered on the temple outside the Dalai Lama's residence, leading some Tibetan security officials in Dharamsala to believe that the Chinese might have intended to blow up the house during one of the spiritual leader's gatherings. Next month, film star Richard Gere and other Tibetan Buddhism devotees are expected to attend a Dalai Lama teaching session at this same temple.Following the arrest of Chomphel and a suspected Tibetan accomplice, the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied any involvement in a plot to kill the Tibetan leader. Spokesman Zhu Bangzao added that Beijing was willing to negotiate with the Dalai Lama once he stopped activities aimed at splitting the motherland. Nevertheless, Indian officials believe China closely monitors the exiled Tibetans and frequently tries to stir up trouble between Dharamsala's Indians and Tibetan refugees. Says a senior police officer: The Chinese are sending many spies across to Dharamsala.Some exiles also maintain that China, in its battle against the Tibetans' god-king, sometimes mixes Marxism with a touch of black magic. They accuse Beijing of recruiting the followers of a wrathful Tibetan spirit known as Dorje Shugden. This deity has tens of thousands of Tibetan worshippers--plus a contingent of Western Buddhist fans. Described as having four fangs sharp like the ice of a glacier, three blood-red eyes and hair like flaming serpents, Dorje Shugden has become a supernatural enemy of the Dalai Lama. His fashion sense attests to his ugly mood: Dorje Shugden sports a necklace of 50 severed heads. Repeatedly over the past decade, the Dalai Lama has warned that Dorje Shugden poses a threat to both Tibet's struggle to regain independence from China and his own personal safety. What more could the Chinese want in a new, otherworldly friend? PAGE 1  |  
This combat between the Dalai Lama and the snarling deity has already crossed out of the realm of sorcery and into reality--with gruesome consequences. A respected Tibetan dialectics professor who publicly opposed Dorje Shugden worship was ritually slaughtered in February of last year along with two students. The academic, Lobsang Gyatso, 70, had been one of the Dalai Lama's closest allies in the struggle with the deity. Indian detectives discovered that the six suspected Tibetan assassins made several telephone calls to the Dorje Shugden Society headquarters in New Delhi en route to the slayings. Says former police superintendent Rajeev Kumar, who investigated the case: The link is clearly established between the murderers and the Dorje Shugden cult. The killings were religiously motivated. The assassins fled through Nepal back to Tibet and have since vanished. Their border crossing was allegedly unhampered by Chinese authorities, even though returning Tibetans are often subjected to arrest and interrogation.Tibetan exiles and Indian investigators suspect Beijing is manipulating the feud between Shugden supporters and the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile. Across Tibet, the Chinese are giving funds to rebuild Shugden shrines and temples destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Sonam Topgyal, a Dalai Lama cabinet minister, claims that government workers who professed to be devotees of the wrathful god were given special cash bonuses for the Tibetan New Year. The Chinese press gleefully prints accusations by Shugden supporters that the Dalai Lama is imposing religious dictatorship on his people.Indian authorities are investigating the possibility of a link between the two alleged Chinese spies and Shugden devotees. But according to Geshe Cheme Tsering, general secretary of the Dorje Shugden Society in New Delhi, This is just police speculation. We don't come into the picture at all. Still, those in charge of the Tibetan spiritual leader's security are taking threats against his life seriously. Last January, police began receiving reports that the Dalai Lama might be in danger from disgruntled Shugden-ites. They urged him to cancel a trip to Tibetan refugee communities in southern India--a center of Shugden support--but he refused. For us, the threat perception is very serious, and we've got to maintain round-the-clock surveillance, says an official. Besides the Dalai Lama's personal security force of Tibetans, a contingent of 100 policemen now guards the Tibetan leader's residence at Dharamsala. Some Indian officials doubt that the Chinese would want to kill off the Dalai Lama, especially so soon after U.S. President Bill Clinton, on his recent trip to Beijing, championed the exile leader. A better strategy, say Indian experts on China, would be to wait for the Dalai Lama, who is now 63, simply to die. Then there would be nobody to defy Beijing's rule in Tibet. But the Chinese may not have the patience to wait for him to pass away naturally. A secret 1994 Chinese government report, leaked to human rights groups, admonished that to kill a snake you must crush his head.  |  PAGE 2