Tibetan monk who is gatekeeper to the Dalai Lama in the US strongly denies allegations he demanded improper payments
For more than 15 years, Tenzin Dhonden has stood between the Dalai Lama and multitudes of US philanthropists, celebrities, scholars and officials eager for even an instant in the revered Buddhist leaders presence. In his red and saffron robes and gleaming bald pate, the smiling Tibetan monk, widely known as Lama Tenzin, has introduced himself as the Dalai Lamas personal emissary for peace.
Yet the monk has now been suspended as secretary and trustee of the Dalai Lama Trust, a charitable organization chaired by the Dalai Lama, pending an investigation into allegations from a prominent Seattle-based technology entrepreneur who claims that, between 2005 and 2008, the monk abused his role to extract unjustified payments from him.
The Dalai Lama is said to have expressed deep disappointment and concern over complaints about his gatekeeper, which include the allegation he demanded payments in return for ensuring the spiritual leader appear at a major event in Washington state.
Dhonden, 53, strongly disputes the allegations. In a move that shows how seriously he regards the potential impact of the claims against him, the quiet monk, who is respected in Dharamsala, the hill town in India which hosts the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, has contracted Patterson Belknap, a major New York City law firm to defend him.
Attorneys for the law firm said in an email that the allegations against their client relate 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 added in the email the allegations have been designed to falsely and unfairly tarnish Dhondens reputation. A source close to the monk said any payments he received were for legitimate work done and business expenses.
Those lawyers are now locked in a behind-the-scenes battle with Daniel Kranzler, the Seattle businessman and philanthropist who claims that for several years he felt pressured into making payments to the monk, including some he alleges were made in cash to avoid leaving a trace.
Kranzler first relayed his concerns to the Dalai Lama during a face-to-face meeting over the summer, according to two other people present at the meeting. He has also laid out his accusations to the Dalai Lama in two letters, both of which have been seen by the Guardian.