Dorje Shugden controversy

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Further information: Dorje Shugden

The Dorje Shugden controversy arose in 1978 when the Dalai Lama started to speak out against the practice of Dorje Shugden. "In a series of talks, he sought to undermine the status of Dorje Shugden by reaffirming the centrality of the traditional supramundane protectors of the Gelug tradition and by maintaining that ‘there is no need of a protector other than these for the Gelugpas'".[1] Then in March 1996 the Dalai Lama 'strongly advised his followers not to rely on Dorje Shugden because, according to the prophecies of his oracles, Dorje Shugden harms the institution of Dalai Lama, his life, his government, and the cause of Tibet'.[2] The Dalai Lama's opposition to this practice has been considered by some to constitute a prohibition.

Dorje Shugden practitioners, particularly those living in Tibetan communities, claim that they have been ostracized as a result of the prohibition [3] and as a result, hundreds of Western and Tibetan Shugden practitioners have staged numerous demonstrations against the Dalai Lama, most recently in 2014 in San Francisco, Berkeley, Washington DC, Oslo, Rotterdam and Frankfurt.[4][5][6][7][8][9] As a result of these demonstrations the Central Tibetan Administration published a list of thirty four of the Tibetans who took part in these demonstrations on their website in May 2014.[10][11] According to Tibetologist Thierry Dodin, "The demonstrators are almost exclusively western monks and nuns, ordained in the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) according to the group’s own ritual."[12] Thurman and Bultrini note that Shugden practitioners are an offshoot of the Gelug school, and not Tibetan Buddhism as a whole.[13][14][15]

According to Kay "There are two dominant views: One view holds that Dorje Shugden is a 'jig rten las 'das pa'i srung ma (an enlightened being) and that, whilst not being bound by history, he assumed a series of human incarnations before manifesting himself as a Dharma-protector during the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama."[16] Kay continues "Proponents of this view maintain that the deity has been worshipped as a Buddha ever since, and that he is now the chief guardian deity of the Gelug Tradition. Opposing this position is a view which holds that Dorje Shugden is actually a 'jig nen pa'i srung ma (a worldly protector)."[16] Dorje Shugden, also known as Dolgyal, has been described as a "gyalpo" "angry and vengeful spirit" of South Tibet, who was subsequently adopted as a "minor protector" of the Gelug school, the newest of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism,[17] headed by the Dalai Lamas (although nominally the Ganden Tripas).[18][19]

Overview of the controversy[edit]

"In 1976, the Dalai Lama publicly denounced the Tibetan Buddhist deity, Dorjé Shukden, urging his followers to discontinue their worship of him." reports McCune.[20] Ardley says "Worship of this figure is especially popular in eastern Tibet, and the present Dalai Lama prayed to Dorje Shugden for many years. However in 1976 the Dalai Lama announced he was advising against the practice because it was promoting sectarianism, which could potentially damage the Tibetan independence movement."[21] Opponents to his advice to discontinue their worship of Dorje Shugden arose following his public statement. Initially "Kelsang Gyatso sent a public letter to the Dalai Lama, to which he did not receive any response, and subsequently created the Shugden Supporter Community (SSC), which organised protests and a huge media campaign during the Dalai Lama’s teaching tour of Europe and America, accusing him of religious persecution and opposing the human rights to freedom of religious practice and of spreading untruths."[22]

Dreyfus says "Shuk-den was nothing but a minor Ge-luk protector before the 1930s when Pa-bong-ka started to promote him aggressively as the main Ge-luk protector."[19] Dreyfus states "the propitiation of Shukden as a Geluk protector is not an ancestral tradition, but a relatively recent invention of tradition associated with the revival movement within the Geluk spearheaded by Pabongkha."[23] Pabongka transformed Dorje Shugden's "marginal practice into a central element of the Ge-luk tradition," thus "replacing the protectors appointed by Dzong-ka-ba himself" and "replacing the traditional supra-mundane protectors of the Ge-luk tradition."[18] This change is reflected in artwork, since there is "lack of Dorje Shugden art in the Gelug school prior to the end of the 19th century."[24]

Pabongka fashioned Shugden as a violent protector of the Gelug school, who is employed against other traditions.[25][26] Shugden was a key element in Phabongkha's persecution of the Rimé movement.[27] Within the Gelug school itself, Pabongka constructed Shugden as replacing the traditional Gelug protectors Pehar, Nechung, Palden Lhamo, Mahakala, Vaisravana and Kalarupa, who was appointed by Tsongkhapa.[28][29][30]

Restrictions on the practice of Shugden were implemented by the 13th Dalai Lama.[19] Pabongka apologized and promised not to practice Shuk-den any more.[18][31]

In 1975, The Yellow Book of Zemey Rinpoche was published, containing cautionary tales of numerous Gelugpa lamas (including the Fifth Dalai Lama) who had been killed by Dorje Shugden in punishment for adopting practices from Nyingma and other sects rather than adhering exclusively to Gelugpa lineage. This prompted the 14th Dalai Lama to more carefully research the nature of Dorje Shugden, and conclude that this was not an enlightened deity, but a dangerous mundane spirit. In response, he dramatically refused to accept long life offerings from the Tibetan government in exile following the 1976 Tibetan New Year, and hinted at his possible departure from earthly existence and the cycle of reincarnation. Later that year he finally accepted the offerings, indicating his willingness to continue as Dalai Lama, but in 1977 he began speaking out against the use of the deity as an institutional protector and laying restrictions on public performances of the practice.[32][33] He stated that the Shugden practice is in conflict with the state protector Pehar and with the main protective goddess of the Gelug tradition and the Tibetan people, Palden Lhamo.[34] He also stated that the practice encourages sectarian rivalry between Tibetan Buddhist schools.[35] According to Georges Dreyfus, the Dalai Lama felt that his own accommodations towards non-Gelugpa sects would make him a target of Shugden's hostility.[32] The Dalai Lama states that he has not forbidden the Shugden practice but only advised against it, and that individuals should decide for themselves if they want to practice it privately; however, he does not wish practitioners to attend his formal religious teachings.[35]

From March 1996 onwards, the Dalai Lama decided to move more forcefully on this issue,[33] which "is to be seen in connection with his interest in finding common ground in the main schools of Tibetan Buddhism so as to overcome precisely those exclusivist tendencies that Shugden is said to protect."[36] Martin Mills believes this was a response "to growing pressure - particularly from other schools of Tibetan Buddhism such as the Nyingmapa, who threatened withdrawal of their support in the Exiled Government project."[33] The Dalai Lama stated during a Buddhist Tantric initiation that Shugden was 'an evil spirit' whose actions were detrimental to the 'cause of Tibet'.[33] The Dalai Lama concluded that henceforth he would not give Tantric initiations to worshippers of Shugden,[33] since "the unbridgeable divergence of their respective positions would inevitably undermine the sacred guru-student relationship, and thus compromise his role as a teacher (and by extension his health)."[33]

According to von Brück, after examining Dorje Shugden based on three methodological devices—historical evidence, political reason, and spiritual insight—the Dalai Lama changed his view about Dorje Shugden. Von Brück also remarks: "However, in spite of these arguments, opposition against this interpretation of the Dalai Lama and the exile government is still strong on two grounds: the truthfulness and commitments to one's root teacher, and religious freedom."[36] The Dalai Lama, on the other hand, claims that he has not broken his commitment to Trijang Rinpoche, having renounced the practice "with the full knowledge and support" of that tutor.[35]

Robert Thurman insists that there is no "ban" of Shugden worship, stating:

The worship of their chosen deity was not "banned" by the Dalai Lama, since he has no authority to "ban" what Tibetan Buddhists practice. "Banning" and "excommunicating" are not Tibetan Buddhist procedures.[37]

The 14th Dalai Lama himself said in 2008, that he never used the word "ban", and "restricting a form of practice that restricts others’ religious freedom is actually a protection of religious freedom. So in other words, negation of a negation is an affirmation."[38]

The CTA explained in 2007 that Shugden worshipers that come from Tibet who wish to continue to practice Shugden cannot enroll into Gelug monasteries due to "the Charter of the Monastic Discipline of the Gelugpa Sect which categorically forfeit the enrollment of the monks who continue to propitiate Shugden in all Gelupga monasteries and Kashag’s directive in support of the Charter. However, Kashag’s directive does not involve those who wish to join schools in exile community."[39]

Arguments for and against the practice[edit]

McCune comments, "The Shukden issue is far more complex than it appears at its surface. Both sides offer seemingly convincing arguments in favor of their respective points of view."[40]

Favorable views of Dorje Shugden[edit]

Kelsang Gyatso explains his view of Dorje Shugden: "Dorje Shugden always helps, guides, and protects pure and faithful practitioners by granting blessings, increasing their wisdom, fulfilling their wishes, and bestowing success on all their virtuous activities. Dorje Shugden does not help only Gelugpas; because he is a Buddha he helps all living beings, including non-Buddhists."[41]

Kay quotes Kelsang Gyatso's interpretation of Shugden's appearance:

"Some people believe that Dorje Shugdan is an emanation of Manjushri who shows the aspect of a worldly being, but this is incorrect. Even Dorje Shugdan’s form reveals the complete stages of the path of Sutra and Tantra, and such qualities are not possessed by the forms of worldly beings."[42]

Support of Dorje Shugden was felt by other Gelug Lamas past and present who are or were considered great masters, including: Pabongka Rinpoche (a root Guru of many highly regarded Gelug Lamas of the early 20th century), Trijang Rinpoche (junior tutor of the 14th Dalai Lama). Among those who practised Shugden in the Gelug school were not only the Dalai Lama but also Geshe Rabten, Zong Rinpoche, Lama Yeshe (founder of the FPMT), Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (founder of the NKT) and Tomo Geshe Rinpoche.[43]

Dorje Shugden has traditionally been regarded as a protector especially of the Gelugpa tradition. The other schools of Tibetan Buddhism have therefore usually not worshipped him or even, in the historical context of (political) rivalry, have seen him as a potential threat.[citation needed]

While traditionally, the relationship between Shugden and the Nyingma is one of enmity, there is some evidence of latter day Nyingma[44] practitioners in Nepal having received and propitiated Dorje Shugden via a patriarchal rather than politico-institutional lineage. Mumford writes based on his anthropological studies in Nepal in the late 1970s:

Tibetans in Kathmandu regard Shugs-ldan as a guardian honored by those who adhere to the Gelug sect, while members of the Nyingma sect think of Shug-ldan as an enemy, sent against them by the rival sect. But in the villages these sectarian differences are not well understood. In Gyasumdo the lamas are Nyingmapa, yet most of them honor Shugs-ldan as a lineage guardian picked up in Tibet in the past by their patriline.[45]

David Kay notes that Kelsang Gyatso departs from Phabongkha and Trijang Rinpoche by stating that Dorje Shugden's appearance is enlightened, rather than worldly.[42] Kay states "Geshe Kelsang takes the elevation of Dorje Shugden’s ontological status another step further, emphasising that the deity is enlightened in both essence and appearance."[42]

Kay states Kelsang Gyatso downplays the oracle of Shugden, since it conflicts with his notion of Shugden being a Buddha:

the oracle may have been marginalised by Geshe Kelsang because his presence raised a doctrinal ambiguity for the NKT. According to traditional Tibetan teachings, none of the high-ranking supramundane protective deities ‘would condescend to interfere with more or less mundane affairs by speaking through the mouth of a medium’ (NebeskyWojkowitz 1956: 409). The notion of oracular divination may thus have been problematised for Geshe Kelsang in light of his portrayal of Dorje Shugden as a fully enlightened being.[46]

Je Phabongkhapa, one of the foremost Gelugpa teachers, states Shugden is to be controlled by Vajrabhairava. As von Brück explains:

The yidam and Shugden are kept apart, and the dharmapāla is to be controlled. The master transfers the power to control Shugden to the disciple, and this is common practice.[47]

von Brück provides a translation of Phabongkhapa's text which states:

....the disciples visualize themselves as the yidam Vajrabhairava and as such invoke and control Shugden. The dharmapāla Shugden is presented to the disciples as the one who abides by their commands.[47]

Dreyfus states that Pabongka refers to Shugden as Dol-gyel and provides a translation:

"The wooden implements (i.e., crate) having been thrown in the water, the pond of Dol became whitish. After abiding there, he became known for a while as (Dol-gyel)."[18]

Views of Opponents of Dorje Shugden Practice[edit]

Different, respected Tibetan lamas have either said they do not practice Dorje Shugden or expressed concern regarding the ritual prayers, including Dilgo Khyentse, [48] Minling Trichen Rinpoche, late head of the Nyingma tradition,[49] [50] Sakya Trizin, head of the Sakya lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, [51] Palpung Tai Situ Rinpoche,[52] and others. [53] [54] The abbot of Drepung monastery and the 13th Dalai Lama were opposed to Phabongka's propititation of Shugden, resulting in an apology from Phabongka.[18][19][55] Ling Rinpoche, who was the Ganden Tripa and senior Gelug tutor to the 14th Dalai Lama, was opposed to Shugden as he hailed from Drepung monastery.[56][57]

John Makransky writing about the cross-cultural confusion in the Dorje Shugden issue:

A stunning recent example of this: some Tibetan monks who now introduce Westerners to practices centred on a native Tibetan deity, without informing them that one of its primary functions has been to assert hegemony over rival sects! The current Dalai Lama, seeking to combat the ancient, virulent sectarianisms operative in such quarters, has strongly discouraged the worship of the “protector” deity known as Dorje Shugden, because one of its functions has been to force conformity to the dGe lugs pa sect (with which the Dalai Lama himself is most closely associated) and to assert power over competing sects. Western followers of a few dGe lugs pa monks who worship that deity, lacking any critical awareness of its sectarian functions in Tibet, have recently followed the Dalai Lama to his speaking engagements to protest his strong stance (for non-sectarianism) in the name of their “religious freedom” to promulgate, now in the West, an embodiment of Tibetan sectarianism. If it were not so harmful to persons and traditions, this would surely be one of the funniest examples of the cross-cultural confusion that lack of critical reflection continues to create.[58]

The 14th Dalai Lama is asking people who want to take Tantric initiation from him to let go of the practice of Dorje Shugden,[59] giving three main reasons:[60][61]

  1. The Dalai Lama identifies Dorje Shugden as a "spirit", and claims that the tradition of propitiation associated with Shugden elevates this spirit to being equal or superior to the Buddha.[60] He states that encouraging the worship of Dorje Shugden could contribute to reducing Tibetan Buddhism to a form of superstitious spirit worship.[60]
  2. The Dalai Lama states that there is an "acknowledged link" between worship of Dorje Shugden and sectarianism between the various Tibetan Buddhist schools.[60] The Dalai Lama believes non-sectarianism is "his most important commitment", and that the worship of Dorje Shugden may be a barrier to this commitment to non-sectarianism.[60]
  3. The Dalai Lama says that Dorje Shugden has a long history of antagonistic attitude to the Dalai Lamas and the Tibetan Government they have headed since the time of the 5th Dalai Lama.[60] He identifies the 5th and 13th Dalai Lamas as having specifically spoken out against Dorje Shugden as a threat "to the welfare of beings in general and the Tibetan government headed by the Dalai Lamas in particular".[60] He states that in light of the current difficult situation endured by the Tibetan people, it is particularly important to resist the worship of Dorje Shugden as a potentially divisive practice.[60]

The Dalai Lama stated conclusively, "I have explained the reasons why I am against the veneration of Shugden and given my sources in a very detailed manner."[59] The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) explains the official advice of the Dalai Lama based on the three points above:

The Dalai Lama has strongly urged his followers to consider carefully the problems of Dolgyal practice on the basis of these three reasons and to act accordingly. He has stated that, as a Buddhist leader with a special concern for the Tibetan people, it is his responsibility to speak out against the damaging consequences of this kind of spirit worship. Whether or not his advice is heeded, the Dalai Lama has made clear, is a matter for the individual. However, since he personally feels strongly about how negative this practice is, he has requested those who continue to propitiate Dolgyal not to attend his formal religious teachings, which traditionally require the establishment of a teacher-disciple relationship.[62]

Georges Dreyfus writes "The irony is that Shuk-den is presented by his followers as the protector of the Ge-luk (dge lugs) school, of which the Dalai Lama is the (de facto) leader."[18]

Matthew Kapstein notes the 14th Dalai Lama is "focused upon the role of Shugden as a militantly sectarian protector of the Gelukpa order, and the harm that has been done to Tibetan sectarian relations by the cult's more vociferous proponents."[63]

History[edit]

1930s-1940s Pabongkha[edit]

Gardner wrote "Pabongkha was one of the most influential Geluk lamas of the 20th century. He was a teacher to many, including the 13th Dalai Lama. He is remembered by some as a fierce sectarian, but those who knew him described a gentle and open man, and one finds in his writings expressions of respect for all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism".[64] Dreyfus says "Shuk-den was nothing but a minor Ge-luk protector before the 1930s when Pa-bong-ka started to promote him aggressively as the main Ge-luk protector."[19] Dreyfus states "the propitiation of Shukden as a Geluk protector is not an ancestral tradition, but a relatively recent invention of tradition associated with the revival movement within the Geluk spearheaded by Pabongkha."[23] Pabongka transformed Dorje Shugden's "marginal practice into a central element of the Ge-luk tradition," thus "replacing the protectors appointed by Dzong-ka-ba himself" and "replacing the traditional supra-mundane protectors of the Ge-luk tradition."[18] This change is reflected in artwork, since there is "lack of Dorje Shugden art in the Gelug school prior to the end of the 19th century."[24]

Pabongka fashioned Shugden as a violent protector of the Gelug school, who is employed against other traditions.[25][26] Within the Gelug school itself, Pabongka constructed Shugden as replacing the traditional Gelug protectors Pehar, Nechung, Palden Lhamo, Mahakala, Vaisravana and Kalarupa, who was appointed by Tsongkhapa.[28][29][30]

David Kay notes that Shugden was a key element in Phabongkha's persecution of the Rimé movement:

"As the Gelug agent of the Tibetan government in Kham (Khams) (Eastern Tibet), and in response to the Rimed movement that had originated and was flowering in that region, Phabongkha Rinpoche and his disciples employed repressive measures against non-Gelug sects. Religious artefacts associated with Padmasambhava – who is revered as a ‘second Buddha’ by Nyingma practitioners – were destroyed, and non-Gelug, and particularly Nyingma, monasteries were forcibly converted to the Gelug position. A key element of Phabongkha Rinpoche’s outlook was the cult of the protective deity Dorje Shugden, which he married to the idea of Gelug exclusivism and employed against other traditions as well as against those within the Gelug who had eclectic tendencies."[65]

"His teaching tour of Kham in 1938 was a seminal phase, leading to a hardening of his exclusivism and the adoption of a militantly sectarian stance. In reaction to the flourishing Rimed movement and the perceived decline of Gelug monasteries in that region, Phabongkha and his disciples spearheaded a revival movement, promoting the supremacy of the Gelug as the only pure tradition. He now regarded the inclusivism of Gelug monks who practised according to the teachings of other schools as a threat to the integrity of the Gelug tradition, and he aggressively opposed the influence of other traditions, particularly the Nyingma, whose teachings were deemed mistaken and deceptive. A key element of Phabongkha’s revival movement was the practice of relying upon Dorje Shugden, the main function of the deity now being presented as ‘the protection of the Ge-luk tradition through violent means, even including the killing of its enemies’."[66]

Ironically the Rimé movement, composed of the Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma schoools, arose in the first place as a result of Gelug persecution.[67]

Restrictions on the practice of Shugden were implemented by the 13th Dalai Lama.[19] Pabongka apologized and promised not to practice Shuk-den any more.[18][31]

1970s The Yellow Book[edit]

Retrospectively, we can say that the whole affair started from this book and the Dalai Lama's reaction to it. Prior to its publication, there was no controversy concerning Shuk-den.[68]

The controversy surfaced within the Tibetan exile community during the 1970s.[34][69][70] In 1973, Zemey Rinpoche published the Yellow Book, which included cautionary tales passed down by Pabongkha Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche of 23 members of the Gelugpa sect who also practiced Nyingma teachings and were supposedly "killed" by Shugden.[70]

The Yellow Book (so called because of the color of its cover) was actually entitled Thunder of the Stirring Black Cloud: The Oral Transmission of the Intelligent Father. It was written by Dzeme Tulku Lobsang Palden (1927–1996) of Ganden Shartse College and published in 1974 by Chophel Legden in Delhi. This book claims to be a record of stories told to the Dzeme Rinpoche by his guru, Trijang Rinpoche, about how Dorje Shugden punished various Geluk and Nyingma lamas and others who "corrupted the pure Geluk teachings," mainly by studying Nyingma teachings. According to Mumford, Dorje Shugden is "extremely popular, but held in awe and feared among Tibetans because he is highly punitive."[71]

Georges Dreyfus said that the sectarian elements of the Yellow Book were not unusual and do not "justify or explain the Dalai Lama's strong reaction."[18] Instead, he traces back the conflict more on the exclusive/inclusive approach and maintain that to understand the Dalai Lama's point of view one has to consider the complex ritual basis for the institution of the Dalai Lamas, which was developed by the Great Fifth and rests upon "an eclectic religious basis in which elements associated with the Nyingma tradition combine with an overall Gelug orientation."[72] This involves the promotion and practices of the Nyingma school. Kay reminds us that "when traditions come into conflict, religious and philosophical differences are often markers of disputes that are primarily economic, material and political in nature.[73]

The 14th Dalai Lama started to encourage the devotion to Padmasambhava "to protect Tibetans from danger".[74]

Paul Williams states that "The Dalai Lama is trying to modernize the Tibetans' political vision and trying to undermine the factionalism. He has the dilemma of the liberal: do you tolerate the intolerant?"[75] Georges Dreyfus disagreed with that interpretation:[76]

[I]n this dispute the Dalai Lama's position does not stem from his Buddhist modernism and from a desire to develop a modern nationalism, but from his commitment to another protector, Nechung, who is said to resent Shukden. Thus, this dispute is not between followers of a traditional popular cult and a modernist reformer who tries to discredit this cult by appealing to modern criteria of rationality. Rather, it is between two traditional or clan-based interpretations of the Geluk tradition, that of Shukden's followers who want to set the Geluk tradition apart from others, and the Dalai Lama's more eclectic vision. The fact that the former may be more exclusivistic and that the latter may be more open does not entail that they can be interpreted adequately through the traditional/modern opposition.[77]

Various Shugden supporters assert that there was no factionalism before the ban, and that it is the Dalai Lama who is being intolerant and adhering to a theocratic model of government[78][unreliable source?]

1990s-Present: Demonstrations and Reactions[edit]

In March 1996, responding to increasing political pressure (especially from the Nyingma school, who threatened to withdraw from the TGIE), the Dalai Lama announced that Dorje Shugden was "an evil spirit" detrimental to the cause of a free Tibet,[79] and so he began to request that those who worshiped Shugden no longer attend tantric initiations from him,[80] which "effectively placed them outside the fold of the exiled Tibetan polity."[81] At one Tantric initiation, the Dalai Lama said:

If any among you here are determined to continue propitiating Dolgyal, it would be better for you to stay away from this empowerment, get up and leave this place. It is improper for you to continue to sit here. It will not benefit you. On the contrary it will have the effect of reducing the life span of Gyalwa Rinpoche [the Dalai Lama], which is not good. However, if there are any among you who hope that Gyalwa Rinpoche will soon die, then you can stay.[82]

In remarks to members of the Cholsum Congress on March 4, 1996, the Dalai Lama expressed satisfaction that the Congress had passed a resolution addressing the worship of Dorje Shugden, implying that Tibetan Buddhists ignoring his restrictions might hasten his own death, since "then there would not be any point in my continuing to live silently as a disappointed man."[80] The Dalai Lama's official position is that:

Propitiating Dolgyal does great harm to the cause of Tibet. It also imperils the life of the Dalai Lama. Therefore, it is totally inappropriate for the great monasteries of the Gelug tradition, the Upper and Lower Tantric Monasteries and all other affiliated monasteries which are national institutions ever to propitiate Dolgyal. The public should be thoroughly informed so that they can gain a clear appreciation of the situation themselves. However, everyone is completely free to say: 'If the cause of Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s life are undermined so be it. We have religious freedom. We are a democracy. We are free to do as we please. We will not change our tradition of propitiating Dolgyal.'[83]

Although the TGIE said that individuals must be free "to decide as they like," it asked that monks in the refugee community sign an agreement in support of the ban, in particular requesting the names of any monks at Sera monastery who continued to worship Dorje Shugden.[80] According to Chandler, "Individual monks are required to render fingerprints and signatures that demonstrate their pledge to uphold the Dalai Lama's position."[84] House to house searches were conducted by the TGIE, "demanding that people sign a declaration" that they had abandoned the practice.[85] The TGIE passed a resolution forbidding governmental and monastic institutions from propitiating Dorje Shugden:[80]

In sum, the departments, their branches and subsidiaries, monasteries and their branches that are functioning under the administrative control of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile should be strictly instructed, in accordance with the rules and regulations, not to indulge in the propitiation of Shugden. We would like to clarify that if individual citizens propitiate Shugden, it will harm the common interest of Tibet, the life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and strengthen the spirits that are against the religion.[86]

Previously confined primarily to the Tibetan exile community, the dispute over Dorje Shugden developed international dimensions that same year, when the British-based New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) began to publicly oppose the Dalai Lama's position.[87] Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, founder of the New Kadampa Tradition, was a devotee of Shugden, and the nephew of a man who had previously served as a medium for Shugden in Tibetan refugee communities.[87] Unlike other Gelug teachers, some of whom privately worshiped Shugden but did not teach the practice to their Western students, Gyatso made Shugden practices central to the teachings he imparted to non-Tibetan students in England and abroad.[87]

When the Dalai Lama visited England later in the summer of 1996, members of the New Kadampa tradition staged pickets outside venues where the Dalai Lama was speaking, holding placards accusing the Dalai Lama of repressing religious freedom.[87] At the time, the NKT was the largest Buddhist organization in the United Kingdom.[88] Gyatso also founded the Shugden Supporters Community (SSC), which distributed press releases to news outlets covering the Dalai Lama's trip to England.[89] The SSC also initiated a letter-writing campaign to petition the British Home Secretary to revoke the Dalai Lama's visa.[90] In August 1996, Sera Je monastery in India formally expelled Kelsang Gyatso, citing his opposition to the Dalai Lama.[90]

The NKT claimed that the Dalai Lama's remarks had inspired the harassment of Dorje Shugden worshippers among the Tibetan exile community in India.[91] Martin Mills, a lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Aberdeen, observed while in India that those who did not worship Dorje Shugden seemed to feel that they should "endeavor to eradicate its practice amongst their peers, neighbors and co-workers as an act of loyalty to the Dalai Lama."[92] According to Newsweek "The Dalai Lama issued a call to all Tibetan Buddhists to avoid the Shugdens. He warned against the cult's extremism and against public worship of their idol. Soon after, the NKT in London claimed that the Dalai Lama's remarks had inspired Tibetans to harass Shugden followers in Dharmsala. It claimed that mainstream Tibetan groups were searching homes and temples for Shugden devotees and burning images of the Dorje Shugden. The NKT began protesting on the streets of London last May, accusing the Dalai Lama of suppressing their religion."[91] David Kay describes that "This conflict of authority, which had been simmering beneath the surface of the exiled Tibetan community since the late 1970s, erupted publicly in the spring of 1996 when the Dalai Lama began to voice his opposition to Dorje Shugden reliance with a greater sense of urgency. He began to state in more explicit terms that continued reliance on this protector not only harms the individual propitiator but also endangers the person of the Dalai Lama and undermines the political cause of Tibet. His government-in-exile thus initiated a programme to subdue Dorje Shugden propitiation amongst government employees and Gelug monasteries."[93] Speaking to the press in England, the SSC therefore stated that Shugden worshippers had been dismissed from their jobs and expelled from monasteries.[88] Mills explains that "it was not until Spring 1996 that the Dalai Lama decided to move more forcefully on the issue. Responding to growing pressure - particularly from other schools of Tibetan Buddhism such as the Nyingmapa, who threatened withdrawal of their support in the Exiled Government project …"[94]

The numerous denials on the part of TGIE officials between 1996 and 1998 of any kind of "ban" on Dorje Shugden practice were "clearly" and "in all probability simply disingenuous," according to Martin Mills.[95] Chandler adds that "despite the government's insistence that the Dalai Lama's decree does not constitute a "ban," it is important to note that those who choose to worship Shugden against the wishes of the Dalai Lama and mainstream Tibetan society become virtual outcasts."[84]

In India, some protests and opposition were organised by the Dorje Shugden Religious and Charitable Society with the support of the SSC.[96][better source needed] In, 1996 the SSC attempted to obtain a statement from Amnesty International (AI) that the TGIE (specifically the 14th Dalai Lama) had violated human rights. However, the AI replied that the SSC's allegations were as yet unsubstantiated.[88] Two years later, the AI stated in an official press release that complaints by Shugden practitioners fell outside its purview of "grave violations of fundamental human rights" (such as torture, the death penalty, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detention or imprisonment, or unfair trials), adding that "while recognizing that a spiritual debate can be contentious, [we] cannot become involved in debate on spiritual issues."[97] In itself, the nuanced statement neither asserted nor denied the validity of the claims made against the TGIE, just that they were not actionable according to AI's mandate.[98][99] While the AI report effectively exonerated the TGIE of human rights abuses, Jane Ardley comments that the Dalai Lama was at fault for using his political authority to infringe upon others' religious freedom,[100] saying that "While the Dalai Lama's stated concern,[101] that worship of the deity threatened the Tibetan struggle, is entirely valid from a political perspective, this was not cause enough to ban it as a religious practice... The Dalai Lama used his political authority to deal with what was and should have remained a purely religious issue."[102] The view by Chandler that the Shugden issue would be a "purely religious issue" is not shared by Tibetologist Thierry Dodin, who denies that it were a pure religious issue and states that it "can readily be assigned to the category of politics, if only because power issues are bound up with it. At stake here is for instance ownership of monasteries, and/or, in old Tibet, their estates, etc. The greed for power, status and wealth …”. He also states that "a source of problems are what we call the 'lineages': within the individual schools, teachings and instructions are passed down from teacher to student and from one generation to the next in uninterrupted succession. Sometimes very crass rivalries exist between these different lines of transmission, which often function as some kind of ‘old-boy’s network’. Overwhelmingly central here is ‘group identity’, the feeling of belonging and togetherness."[12]

Robert Thurman is critical of the demonstrations. Thurman asserts of Dorje Shugden practitioners, after the Dalai Lama's denouncement of Dorje Shugden, that "They then went on the attack, claiming they had been "banned" and "excommunicated," etc., when in fact the Dalai Lama was exercising his religious freedom by not accepting students who reject his advice, and actually go so far as to condemn him!" [37]

Nathan W. Hill, Lecturer in Tibetan and Linguistics at London University SOAS’ (School of Oriental and African Studies), states that the Dalai Lama does not control the Indian government, or any other government, so cannot actually ban the practice.[103] Similarly, Tibet scholar Robert Barnett of Columbia University states that "ID cards are not given out by the Tibetan government in exile, but by the Indian authorities".[104]

Barnett observes "I also made it clear that the Western Shugden group's allegations are problematic: they are akin to attacking the Pope because some lay Catholics somewhere abuse non-believers or heretics. The Western Shugden Group is severely lacking in credibility, since its form of spirit-worship is heterodox, provocative and highly sectarian in Buddhist terms and so more than likely to be banned from mainstream monasteries – while its claimed concerns about cases of discrimination in India should be addressed by working within the Tibetan community instead of opportunistically attacking the Dalai Lama in order to provoke misinformed publicity for their sect.”[104]

Chinese government involvement[edit]

Robert Thurman notes that Shugden activity is financed by the Chinese government as part of its strategy against the Dalai Lama.[13][14]

Raimondo Bultrini documents the Chinese coordination of Shugden activity in the book The Dalai Lama and the King Demon.[15]

Within Chinese controlled territory, the Chinese government demands monks to worship Shugden, in conjunction with forcing them to denounce the Dalai Lama and fly the Chinese national flag.[105]

Ben Hillman states:

According to one senior lama from Sichuan, the Chinese government naturally allies itself with the Shugden supporters, not just to undermine the Dalai Lama, but because most Shugden worshippers come from Eastern Tibet, from areas that were only ever loosely under Lhasa’s jurisdiction and are today integrated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan. Monks who had traveled across these areas note that the central government has allocated a disproportionate amount of funds since 1996 to pro-Shugden monasteries to assist them with construction and renovations. Evidence of local government favoritism toward the pro-Shugden faction began to emerge at S Monastery in 2003 when monks applied for permission to undertake studies in India. Despite equal numbers of applications from all khangtsens, of the 12 monks who were issued travel documents, only one was from an anti-Shugden khangtsen. Similarly, in 2004, one of the monastery’s smallest and (previously) poorest khangtsens began to build an elaborate new prayer room and residence for its handful of members. Financial support had been obtained from Beijing through a network of pro-Shugden lamas with access to officials at the highest level.[106]

According to the Tibetologist Thierry Dodin, "China had encouraged division among the Tibetans by promoting followers of the Dorje Shugden sect to key positions of authority.[107]

He also provides a couple of examples of China's role in Shugden activity:

For instance, the construction of Shugden temples and monasteries is being subsidised by the State. We also know that most of the teachers surrounding the young man who in 1995 was designated as the Panchen Lama by the Chinese leadership, against the will of the Dalai Lama, belong to the Shugden group. I think these examples clearly demonstrate the role China is playing in this conflict.[12]

Also the Central Tibetan Administration in India has stated that "In order to undermine the peace and harmony within the Tibetan people, China provides political and financial support to Shugden worshippers in Tibet, India and Nepal in particular, and in general, across the globe." [108] And, in an on-line article published by the Times of India, a source in the Religion and Culture Department of the Tibetan Government in exile is quoted as saying that Dorje Shugden followers "have their people in all Tibetan settlements. We are worried about their sources of funding. It might be China or some other anti-Tibetan elements." [109]

In December 2012, Lama Jampa Ngodrup, a promoter of the practice of Dorje Shugden, apparently became "the first Tibetan lama to be appointed by the Chinese Government to travel on an official trip abroad to give Dharma teachings." [110]

Claims of violence committed by Shugden practitioners[edit]

On February 4, 1997, the principal of the Buddhist School of Dialectics, Geshe Lobsang Gyatso was murdered in Dharmasala, along with two of his students.[111] The murders were linked to the Dorje Shugden faction. Kay notes "The subsequent investigation by the Indian police linked the murders to the Dorje Shugden faction of the exiled Tibetan community."[112]

In June 2007, the Times stated that Interpol had issued a Red notice to China for extraditing two of the alleged killers, Lobsang Chodak and Tenzin Chozin.[113]

Robert Thurman adds that the alleged killers had their origin within China as well.[13]

In a small 1978 pamphlet Lobsang Gyatso alluded to a "knotless heretic teacher," which people took as referring to Trijang Rinpoche and his advocacy of Shugden.[114] According to Lobsang Gyatso's biographer, Gareth Sparham, many Geshes and Lamas were outraged about his criticism:

How could a nobody like Lobsang Gyatso, who was neither from an aristocratic family nor the head of a Tibetan region, indeed not even a full graduate of a religious university, dare to criticize in print an important establishment figure? Georges Dreyfus at the time remarked that in pre-1959 Gen-la would have been killed outright for his temerity. Many in the Tibetan community ostracized Gen-la, even though the Dalai Lama had already by that time begun speaking publicly against the Shugden cult. Even the Dalai Lama appeared to distance himself from Gen-la. "He is headstrong and his lack of sensitivity is making trouble," seemed to be his attitude towards Gen-la at the time.[115]

Georges Dreyfus added that "Despite being hurt by the polemical attack, Tri-jang Rin-po-che made it clear that violence was out of the question. Gradually, tempers cooled down and the incident was forgotten—or so it seemed."[116]

The Seattle Times reported that: "The two men suspected of stabbing their victims are believed to have fled India. Five others, all linked to the Dorje Shugden Society in New Delhi, were questioned for months about a possible conspiracy. No one has been charged."[117]

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso denied the involvement of any of his followers in the murder, and condemned the killings.[91]

Attempt to frame Tibetan government in exile with murder[edit]

Trijang Chogtrul Rinpoche revealed an attempt to frame the Tibetan government in exile with murder:

In my own labrang, I have recently witnessed a kind of factionalism, and I have discovered that one person in particular was planning an evil conspiracy. This plan was to murder my assistant, Tharchin, and to implicate His Holiness’s government-in-exile with this odious crime. The conspirator aimed to become changzoe [manager] of my estate. Tharchin has been very kind to me, more so than my own parents, and has taken care of me since I was three years old, as well as managing the affairs of my labrang. With my own ears I heard this person discussing on the telephone a plan to assassinate Tharchin. It is really a matter of great sadness and surprise, especially since the person involved in this ploy has been very close to me as well. If he had succeeded in his plan, it would have been a cause of great trouble for the labrang, as well as a cause of disgrace to the Tibetan government and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. These are not lies, but true facts which that I want everyone to know. That is why I made this statement.[118]

Trijang Chogtrul Rinpoche concluded his message urging the followers of Shugden to stop seeking him. “I do not wish to be in touch with you,” he said. After this declaration, Trijang Chogtrul Rinpoche moved to the United States with a small number of his most faithful followers.[118]

Court case concludes[edit]

On 5 April 2010, Justice S. Muralidhar dismissed the writ petition filed by the Dorje Shugden Devotees’ Charitable and Religious Society and Kundeling Lama against the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and the Dalai Lama. According to the Central Tibetan Administration

In response to the allegations of harassment and maltreatment filed by the Dorjee Shugden Devotees’ Charitable and Religious Society against the Central Tibetan Administration and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the High Court of Delhi dismissed their writ petition and application.

In an order dated April 5, 2010, Justice S. Muralidhar dismissed the writ petition and application on the grounds that the allegations of violence and harassment were ‘vague averments’ and that the raised issues ‘do not partake of any public law character and therefore are not justiciable in proceedings under Article 226 of the Constitution.’

Citing the ‘absence of any specific instances of any such attacks’ on Dorjee Shugden practitioners, the Court noted the counter affidavit submitted by the respondents, referring to ‘an understanding reached whereby it was left to the monks to decide whether they would want to be associated with the practices of Dorjee Shugden.’

Closing the doors on the possibility of similar complaints in the future, Justice Muralidhar concluded that the ‘matters of religion and the differences among groups concerning propitiation of religion, cannot be adjudicated upon by a High Court in exercise of its writ jurisdiction.’[119]

Further reading[edit]

Secondary Sources[edit]

  • Bell, Christopher Paul (2009). "Dorjé Shukden: The Conflicting Narratives and Constructed Histories of a Tibetan Protector Deity". American Academy of Religion. 
  • Gardner, Alexander (October 2010). "Drakpa Gyeltsen". The Treasury of Lives:A Biographical Encyclopedia of Tibetan Religion. Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation. Retrieved November 22, 2013. 
  • Kay, David N. (2004). Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, development and adaptation. London: Routledge Curzon. pp. 44–52. ISBN 0-415-29765-6. 
  • Lopez, Donald (1998). Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press. pp. 188–196. ISBN 978-0-226-49310-7. 
  • Mills, Martin A. (2009). "Charting the Shugden Interdiction in the Western Himalaya". In Bray, John; Elena, de Rossi Filibeck. Mountains, Monasteries and Mosques: Recent Research on Ladakh and the Western Himalaya: Proceedings of the 13th Colloquium of the International Association for Ladakh Studies. Alla Rivista Degli Studi Orientali, Supplementa No. 2, (n.s.) Vol LXXX: pp. 251-270. 
  • René de Nebesky-Wojkowitz (1956). Oracles and demons of Tibet: the cult and iconography of the Tibetan protective deities. The Hauge: Mouton. 

Primary (Religious) Sources[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kay, David N. (2004) "Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain" Routledge Curzon. p. 47
  2. ^ Bernis, Ursula (1999) "Condemned to Silence: A Tibetan Identity Crisis 1996-1999" p. 11, http://www.shugdensociety.info/pdfs/BernisResearch.pdf
  3. ^ Dalai Lama & Dorje Shugden Controversy - France 24 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eTFXgVKQi4
  4. ^ Demonstrations against the Dalai Lama in San Francisco http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/22/us-usa-dalailama-protests-idUSBREA1L17O20140222
  5. ^ Demonstrations against the Dalai Lama in Berkeley http://www.dailycal.org/2014/02/23/shugden-buddhists-protest-dalai-lamas-visit-berkeley/
  6. ^ Demonstrations against the Dalai Lama in Washington DC http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/protesters-denounce-the-dalai-lama-as-a-dictator/2014/03/06/5f758972-a57c-11e3-b865-38b254d92063_story.html
  7. ^ Demonstrations against the Dalai Lama in Oslo http://theforeigner.no/pages/news/buddhists-protest-dalai-lama-norway-visit-in-their-hundreds/
  8. ^ Demonstrations against the Dalai Lama in Rotterdam http://boeddhistischdagblad.nl/29770-demonstratie-tegen-dalai-lama-rotterdam/
  9. ^ Demonstrations against the Dalai Lama in Frankfurt, https://de.nachrichten.yahoo.com/hunderte-buddhisten-demonstrieren-gegen-dalai-lama-bei-deutschlandbesuch-000000799.html
  10. ^ List of 20 Tibetans who took part in the demonstrations against the Dalai Lama, https://web.archive.org/web/20140521090245/http://tibet.net/dolgyal-shugden/list-of-dolgyal-protestors/
  11. ^ Updated list with another 14 Tibetans who protested against the Dalai Lama http://tibet.net/2014/05/30/list-of-dolgyal-followers-who-protested-against-his-holiness-the-dalai-lama-in-us-and-europe-updated/
  12. ^ a b c The Dorje Shugden Conflict: An Interview with Tibetologist Thierry Dodin, May 8, 2014, retrieved May 12, 2014
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  15. ^ a b Bultrini, Raimondo. The Dalai Lama and the King Demon. Tibet House 2013. "He wrote back a few days later, attaching some confidential information on Ganchen Tulku and “Nga lama” Kundeling. In March 1998, shortly after we met, these two men were in Kathmandu, Nepal, with other Shugden followers and a member of the Communist Party of the Autonomous Region of Tibet, Gungthang Ngodup, who had come especially from Lhasa. A few days afterwards, wrote Director Ngodup, an adviser from the Chinese embassy in Nepal, one “Mr. Wang,” visited Ganchen’s house. As far as he could determine, the discussion revolved around the type of collaboration to be established between the Shugden followers and the Chinese authorities, including possible financial support. In December of the same year, as reported by the Indian Express and the Tribune, the under-secretary of the Chinese embassy in Delhi, Zhao Hongang, went to the Ganden Monastery in India, accompanied by a devotee from Bylakuppe, Thupten Kunsang, and a monk who had arrived from Sera Mey. In July 1999, also in Kathmandu, other meetings were held between pro-Shugden activists and Chinese representatives. This time, “Mr. Wang” met with Chimi Tsering and other directors of the Delhi “Shugden Society,” Lobsang Gyaltsen, Konchok Gyaltsen, Gelek Gyatso, and Soepa Tokhmey, the society’s treasurer. After the final meeting, a letter was drafted to be presented to the United Front Department of the Communist Party to ask for help in countering those discriminating against Shugden practitioners in India…. In January 2000, after the meeting in Kathmandu between representatives of the cult and the Chinese emissaries, the Nepal National Dorje Shugden Society was born, with an office and a full-time staff of three, paid—according to the Dharamsala Security Services—with Communist Party funds funneled through the Chinese embassy. Ganchen Tulku was on the Committee of Consultants. ….Despite the formal denials of the cult’s practitioners, the common strategy of the Chinese authorities by now was obvious. In 2001 the Chinese ambassador was guest of honor at “The Millennium Conference on Human Rights” organized by the Shugden Devotees Religious and Charitable Society of Delhi and held March 20–22 at the most prestigious venue in the Indian capital, the India International Centre. If the reports of the pro-Shugden convention financed by the embassy were only “rumor” spread by World Tibetan News, the ambassador’s presence at the Millennium Conference was hard to reconcile with his routine duties as a diplomat."
  16. ^ a b Kay, David N. (2004). Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation - The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), and the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives (OBC), London and New York, ISBN 0-415-29765-6, page 47
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  27. ^ Kay, D. N. (2004). Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, development and adaptation. RoutledgeCurzon critical studies in Buddhism. London: RoutledgeCurzon. p.43."As the Gelug agent of the Tibetan government in Kham (Khams) (Eastern Tibet), and in response to the Rimed movement that had originated and was flowering in that region, Phabongkha Rinpoche and his disciples employed repressive measures against non-Gelug sects. Religious artefacts associated with Padmasambhava – who is revered as a ‘second Buddha’ by Nyingma practitioners – were destroyed, and non-Gelug, and particularly Nyingma, monasteries were forcibly converted to the Gelug position. A key element of Phabongkha Rinpoche’s outlook was the cult of the protective deity Dorje Shugden, which he married to the idea of Gelug exclusivism and employed against other traditions as well as against those within the Gelug who had eclectic tendencies." p.47. "His teaching tour of Kham in 1938 was a seminal phase, leading to a hardening of his exclusivism and the adoption of a militantly sectarian stance. In reaction to the flourishing Rimed movement and the perceived decline of Gelug monasteries in that region, Phabongkha and his disciples spearheaded a revival movement, promoting the supremacy of the Gelug as the only pure tradition. He now regarded the inclusivism of Gelug monks who practised according to the teachings of other schools as a threat to the integrity of the Gelug tradition, and he aggressively opposed the influence of other traditions, particularly the Nyingma, whose teachings were deemed mistaken and deceptive. A key element of Phabongkha’s revival movement was the practice of relying upon Dorje Shugden, the main function of the deity now being presented as ‘the protection of the Ge-luk tradition through violent means, even including the killing of its enemies’."
  28. ^ a b Kay, David (2004). Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation. London: RoutledgeCurzon. p. 48. "It seems that during the 1940s, supporters of Phabongkha began to proclaim the fulfilment of this tradition and to maintain that the Tibetan government should turn its allegiance away from Pehar, the state protector, to Dorje Shugden."
  29. ^ a b Kay, David (2004). Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation. London: RoutledgeCurzon. p. 48. "Phabongkha’s claim that Dorje Shugden had now replaced the traditional supramundane protectors of the Gelug tradition such as Mahakala, Vaisravana and, most specifically, Kalarupa (‘the Dharma-King’), the main protector of the Gelug who, it is believed, was bound to an oath by Tsong Khapa himself."
  30. ^ a b The Shugden affair: Origins of a Controversy (Part I) by Geshe Georges Dreyfus, retrieved Feb. 16, 2014. "These descriptions have been controversial. Traditionally, the Ge-luk tradition has been protected by the Dharma-king (dam can chos rgyal), the supra-mundane deity bound to an oath given to Dzong-ka-ba, the founder of the tradition. The tradition also speaks of three main protectors adapted to the three scopes of practice described in the Stages of the Path (skyes bu gsum gyi srung ma): Mahakala for the person of great scope, Vaibravala for the person of middling scope, and the Dharma-king for the person of small scope. By describing Shuk-den as "the protector of the tradition of the victorious lord Manjushri," Pa-bong-ka suggests that he is the protector of the Ge-luk tradition, replacing the protectors appointed by Dzong-ka-ba himself. This impression is confirmed by one of the stories that Shuk-den's partisans use to justify their claim. According to this story, the Dharma-king has left this world to retire in the pure land of Tushita having entrusted the protection of the Ge-luk tradition to Shuk-den. Thus, Shuk-den has become the main Ge-luk protector replacing the traditional supra-mundane protectors of the Ge-luk tradition, indeed a spectacular promotion in the pantheon of the tradition."
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