Book by Staunton author to be burned in India protest

A book on a power struggle among competing Buddhist factions in Tibet by a Staunton author will be the subject of a symbolic burning on Saturday in India.

The book, Buddha’s Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart of Tibetan Buddhism Today, by author Erik Curren, tells the story of Ogyen Trinley, the second most famous exiled Tibetan lama after the Dalai Lama. The book burning is being organized by followers of Trinley, who is under investigation in India and has long been rumored to be a spy for the Chinese government.

“As a Tibetan Buddhist myself, I am disappointed by such discord among leaders who have vowed to spread compassion and relieve the suffering of all living beings. But this is a stark reminder that no religion has 100 percent perfect followers, even Buddhism,” Curren said.

A spokesman for the group organizing the protest in Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim state in India’s northeastern Himalayan area, said the content of Curren’s book “is all cooked up, and facts have been twisted.”

“Joint Action Committee was never contacted for their comments, and everything mentioned in that book is all one-sided,” spokesman K. Sherab said.

Curren disputes that assertion. “I did contact the Tibetan lama who provides their funding, Tai Situ Rinpoche, but he never responded to me. If he’d wanted me to talk to them, he would have arranged it,” Curren said.

Trinley, the focus of Buddha’s Not Smiling, has since the early 1990s been vying with another young lama for the title of Karmapa Lama, one of the top leaders in Tibetan Buddhism. Since fleeing China in 2000, Trinley has lived in northern India, where controversy around shady financial dealings and the young lama’s own secret relationship with the Chinese government has dogged him. Many in the Indian security services think he’s a spy for Beijing, Curren said.

Last week, the Indian government opened an investigation of Trinley, and in the course of their work, investigators found more than $1 million in cash stashed in the lama’s monastery. His officials have claimed that the money is small donations from devotees. But the cash is bricks of crisp bills in sequential order wrapped in plastic – clearly, according to Curren, a big payout from a wealthy source. And since many of the bills were Chinese currency, the Indians are worried that this lama may be a spy, paid off by China to foment unrest in border areas that are disputed between the two countries and in the past, caused two border wars.

Tomorrow’s protest will include denunciations of the Indian government and a burning of the Curren book, according to published reports.

“When we find corruption among religious leaders, we shouldn’t sweep it under the rug. We should root it out,” Curren said. “But we also shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. The world’s great faiths, including Buddhism, are a precious inheritance from previous generations and enlightened teachers and we should continue to treasure them.

Story by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at

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