Dalai Lama’s key contact person in US reportedly suspended, pending investigation for alleged misconduct

Lama Tenzin Dhonden, Personal Emissary for Peace to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. (Photo courtesy: friendsofdalailama.org)
Lama Tenzin Dhonden, Personal Emissary for Peace to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. (Photo courtesy: friendsofdalailama.org)

(TibetanReview.net, Oct28, 2017) – A trusted aide of the Dalai Lama, a 53-year-old monk named Venerable Tenzin Dhonden, who is his key contact person in the United States, has been suspended pending investigation into allegations by a prominent Seattle-based technology entrepreneur that between 2005 and 2008 the monk had abused his role to extract unjustified payments from him, according to theguardian.com Oct 27. The report said the monk has now been suspended as secretary and trustee of the Dalai Lama Trust, a charitable organization chaired by the Dalai Lama, although the Trust’s website still has him occupying the key post.

The allegations include suggestion that he demanded payments in return for ensuring the spiritual leader appeared at a major event in Washington state. However, Dhonden, 53, has strongly disputed the allegations. The report cited a source close to him as saying any payments he received were for legitimate work done and business expenses.

Attorneys for the law firm hired by Dhonden have been cited as saying the allegations against their client related to events that “occurred nearly a decade ago, are largely inaccurate and otherwise relate to conduct that is not unlawful, unethical, or even inappropriate”. They have added that the allegations have been “designed to falsely and unfairly tarnish” Dhonden’s reputation.

Kranzler was reported to have first relayed his concerns to the Dalai Lama during a face-to-face meeting over the summer, and laid out his accusations to the Tibetan leader in two letters.

The report said that after more than two weeks of refusal to respond to multiple requests for comment, the Dalai Lama’s personal secretary confirmed in an email Oct 24 that Dhonden had been suspended since Oct 5 and asked to respond to the allegations “in order to reach a conclusion” over the accusations.

The report said Dhonden had arrived in the US in 1991 and taught meditation and counseled terminally ill patients. In 2000, he founded a non-profit organisation called Friends of the Dalai Lama, based in La Jolla, California, near San Diego, which he still controls. Over time, Dhonden became the Dalai Lama’s de facto “personal emissary for peace”.

Over the years, Dhonden was said to have established connections with some of the Dalai Lama’s most high-profile US admirers while also possibly earning the enmity of some in the US over his ability to control access to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

Richard Grace, a former marine officer and a Napa vineyard owner who has been friends with the Dalai Lama for more than 20 years, was reported to have resolved to alert the Dalai Lama upon hearing friends and acquaintances also criticizing the monk’s performance as emissary. He contacted Marty Krasney, the director of Dalai Lama Fellows in San Francisco, who shared similar concerns, the report said.

They in turn were said to have enlisted Kranzler to join them at a meeting they arranged to convey their concerns to the Dalai Lama while he was speaking at the University of California in San Diego. The meeting scheduled for 10 minutes was said to have ran more than an hour.

The most serious of those allegations was said to relate to a large public event featuring the Dalai Lama that Kranzler’s charitable nonprofit, the Kirlin Foundation, organised in 2008, called Seeds of Compassion. Dhonden was allegedly to have threatened to cancel the Dalai Lama’s trip unless he received additional payments, although Kranzler’s planners had already reserved seats for 150,000 attendees and committed several million dollars in expenses.

Kanzler has alleged that Dhonden had demanded “very substantial payment in various forms” for the event to go ahead, adding: “We had no choice not to give in to what we clearly saw as blackmail.” While some of the payments were documented in checks and bank deposits, others, Kranzler has alleged, could not be traced because the monk “asked to be paid in cash to avoid records”.

It was when, after the event ended, Dhonden asked him to buy him a $850,000 house to continue to arrange events with the Dalai Lama that Kanzler reportedly decided not to take it anymore.

Kranzler has said he “held his silence” for almost a decade “because in my own simple inept Dharma, I felt that it was inappropriate to speak ill of someone”. He changed his mind, Kanzler has said in his second letter to the Dalai Lama, after he was “asked by a number of people in the community that support your wisdom and message of compassion, as well as several individuals in the Private Office of Your Holiness, to ‘tell the truth’.”

However, Ron Rabin, the executive director of the Kirlin Foundation at the time the alleged payments were made, has said he had no knowledge of any under-the-table cash payments and had no direct conversations with Dhonden about cancellation of the event. But he has recalled Kranzler telling him at the time that Dhonden, who was not involved in the day-to-day organization of Seeds of Compassion, was threatening to cancel the event unless he received payments. And he has spoken of the foundation having concluded that the monk was “the direct line to His Holiness” and “in that sense we had to keep Tenzin happy”.

The report has cited a representative for the monk as saying in a statement to the Guardian that “any concerns” have “already been refuted by documentation” provided to the Dalai Lama Trust, adding: “We are confident that the truth will reveal itself and there will be a positive outcome.”


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