The Dalai Lama Trust has replaced Tenzin Dhonden, 53, as executive secretary of the nonprofit organization, for apparently abusing his position and promoting a culture of bullying. In his role, the monk was responsible for organizing the Dalai Lama’s schedule and granting access to the Tibetan Buddhist leader. The news was first reported by The Guardian.

Dalai Lama Trust offices in the United States and India have not responded to requests for comment. While they have not officially announced Dhonden’s departure, the website now lists Tashi Namgyal Khamshitsang as acting secretary.  

Dhonden often introduced himself as a “personal emissary for peace.” His departure was welcomed by Thupten Jinpa, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s longtime translator, in a letter sent to Dalai Lama Trust members and obtained by Tricycle.

For someone who have [sic] had the honor and good fortune to serve His Holiness for over three decades, it had been painful to see how His Holiness’ name and legacy was slowly getting caught in unnecessary distractions (Albany-based NXIVM) and discordant messages (of rich and celebrity orientation). Especially, for the Trust, which is effectively His Holiness’ principal charitable foundation for the outside world, the last two years’ record has been, to put it mildly, quite embarrassing. The Trust has alienated most of its inter-organizational relationships, almost destroyed its infrastructure of the Tibetan graduate scholarship program with a majority of the independent reviewers resigning, and failed to support those international organizations that were actively inspired by His Holiness’ vision for the world and were undertaking high profile initiatives furthering His Holiness’ vision. Most sadly, the Trust has unfortunately acquired a reputation of being authoritarian, confrontational, petty, and uncaring, characteristics so far removed from His Holiness’ personal ethics. In particular, for those organizations and individuals who had been the recipients of grants from the Trust, frankly, the behavior of the Trust can be best characterized as that of bullying. If ever, some of the email communications from the Trust during this period were to come to light within the public domain, it would be a source of embarrassment for everyone connected with the Trust.

“If there isn’t a 15th Dalai Lama, I think Tenzin Dhonden’s motivation was to become the most powerful person in Tibetan Buddhism,” said Dick Grace, a longtime friend of the Dalai Lama, winemaker, and philanthropist, in an interview with Tricycle.

Grace said he started to notice a change in access to His Holiness about six years ago, and that the Dalai Lama was seen more and more with the “ultrawealthy, politicians, and celebrities at the expense of the Tibetan people and his authentic followers.”

Grace said he started looking into Dhonden more thoroughly following an 80th birthday celebration for the Dalai Lama in Los Angeles that culminated in a “special surprise” for His Holiness, with four performers in bodysuits that “left nothing to the imagination” dancing around the Buddhist leader to futuristic music. A lotus flower descended from the ceiling, opening up to reveal two more dancers, Grace said.

Grace, along with Marty Krasney, who serves as director of the Dalai Lama Fellows, and Daniel Kranzler, a Seattle-based businessman, took their concerns about Dhonden directly to the Dalai Lama this past June.

“He was slack-jawed at some of the things that were going on with Dhonden as the gatekeeper,” Grace recalled.

“My only intent is to protect his life work and to never have his legacy tarnished,” Grace said, adding that Dhonden, who has retained two high-profile New York attorneys, hasn’t been seen since the news broke. “My take is that Dhonden should be defrocked, sent to a monastery in the Gobi Desert and put on laundry service.”

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