The Wisdom Buddha Protector of Je Tsongkhapa's Tradition
Are the Dalai Lama's reasons valid?
1. Brief answer
In this radio interview in Nottingham May 2008, the Dalai Lama helpfully mentions most of his reasons for banning the practice of Dorje Shugden. Being a celebrity and political leader, he gets most of the airtime, but we have provided below some refutations of each of these reasons and hope you have the time and interest to read them. We would love to debate the subject with the Dalai Lama himself in true Buddhist fashion, but he has refused all attempts at dialog on the subject for the past 30 years. Please read on to decide for yourself whether the reasons are valid or not.
BBC Nottingham May 2008
Interview with Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama with Sumeer Kalyani
Sumeer Kalyani: Of course, with secularism comes a whole different viewpoint of people from different walks of life, for example in Nottingham we've seen protests from people who may not agree with your policies, for example Tibetans who say that His Holiness hasn't done something right. What is your reaction to those people who criticize you? How do you cope with that criticism?
Dalai Lama: ah, that is something different... the Shugden group?
Sumeer Kalyani: Yes.
Dalai Lama: That is actually, strictly speaking, not religion. This spirit worship. So actually I myself since early 50 until 70, I myself also worship that (giggles) out of ignorance. Then eventually I notice... this spirit happen during 5th Dalai Lama. The 5th Dalai Lama, I think this happened during his lifetime, so he knows, I think, much better the reality. So he consider this spirit is evil spirit. So therefore after I realized that though his own autobiography and also some of his sort of, writings, and also many important lamas also consider that this is evil spirit, so therefore it remain or lasted more than 370 years, it remain very controversial worship. So then it is my duty or moral responsibility to make clear, but whether listen or not, up to them. So some people criticize me, I banned that sort of spirit worship, that is not true. I just simply make clear what is the reality, whether as we are follower of Nalanda tradition, we are not spirit worshipper. So there is a sort of danger, I feel in my eye, the degenerating, the pure Nalanda tradition eventually become like spirit worship. That is not good.
And then another point is sectarian. Follower of this spirit, for example, among the yellow hat sect who worship this, there are stories, anyone who keep even text from other tradition in his or her room, this spirit will harm you, that kind of thing. So sectarian sort of practice very strong. Therefore my approach is promotion of non-sectarian. I myself receive teaching from all different Tibetan Buddhist sect, like that. Some of them very, very critical. Some even describe me as the destroyer of the Buddhadharma (giggles) okay....so anyway that expression they are using, freedom of expression, so welcome, very good.
Sumeer Kalyani: Obviously, despite the protest, despite the criticism, you have such a mass following, people would throng to see you at venues like here in Nottingham. What's the secret of your success? How do you attract so many people to you?
Dalai Lama: I don't know, I don't know. One thing I feel, I always talk frankly, straightforward and honestly, so perhaps I think people eventually realize this person talking sincerely (giggles) that might be one factor.
Arguments against these reasons
- Dorje Shugden practice is not "religion", it is "spirit worship"
- Dorje Shugden practice causes the degeneration of the pure Nalanda tradition
- The Fifth Dalai Lama considered Dorje Shugden to be an "evil spirit" (and the Thirteenth Dalai Lama banned the practice)
- Many past Lamas have considered Dorje Shugden to be an evil spirit
- This has remained "very controversial worship" for more than 370 years
- It "is not true" that the Dalai Lama banned Dorje Shugden practice
- Dorje Shugden practice is sectarian
- Dorje Shugden is hostile to the Dalai Lama's government
To say that Dorje Shugden practice is "not religion" but "spirit worship" is plainly insulting to many peoples' beliefs on different levels - not only to Buddhist practitioners of Dorje Shugden (who are not spirit worshippers) but also to other practitioners of other religions worldwide that may include spirit worship, including the ancient Bon tradition of Tibet.
Most of the hundreds of thousands of people who rely upon Dorje Shugden are pure Buddhists in the tradition of Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Others are pure Buddhists in the Sakya and Nyingma traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.
Dorje Shugden is considered by them to be a Dharma Protector, an emanation of the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri, whose specific function is to protect the Buddhist or "Dharma" realizations or experiences in practitioners' minds.
The Dalai Lama travels the world expounding religious tolerance but doesn't recognize the contradiction in his words and intolerant actions against fellow Tibetans in banning an ancient religious practice dear to their hearts.
Many great Buddhist Teachers or Lamas, including the Dalai Lama's own principal teacher Trijang Rinpoche, wrote long proofs showing how this Buddhist Deity was special and has a long history of protecting the Dharma, Buddha's teachings. The fact that numerous past and current Lamas (including even the Fifth Dalai Lama!) have recognized Dorje Shugden as a Deity worthy of "worship" is enough recognition for their followers.
Indeed, determining whether Dorje Shugden is a Buddha or not is beyond the scope of public policy. Nevertheless, many have chosen to follow the beliefs expounded by many high Lamas pre-dating and contemporary with the Dalai Lama who claimed and continue to claim that he is a Buddha. To insult these beliefs and these great Masters is not religious tolerance.
[Also, on another level of irony, this accusation indeed appears a bit bizarre when one remembers that the only monastery/temple dedicated entirely to a spirit is Namgyal monastery. This is the Dalai Lama's personal monastery, where Nechung abides, who has been declared a worldly spirit by the Dalai Lama himself, the Dalai Lama having also clearly stated that Nechung's oracular advice is not always reliable. Nevertheless, Nechung is propitiated with big offerings and rituals daily at Namgyal monastery, and is invoked through various oracle mediums very often - some say more than ever. If we look at the completely and utterly contradictory statements Nechung has made about Dorje Shugden when advising the Dalai Lama to give up the practice, or the disastrously wrong prediction that Tibet would be free by the year 2000, one might indeed worry about spirit worship in seemingly unexpected places!]
The Dalai Lama claims that he follows the "Nalanda Tradition", and this Deity somehow causes the degeneration of that, yet gives absolutely no reason or proof to back up this claim.
Ironically, does the Dalai Lama happen to know who was the last Abbot of Nalanda? It was Shakya Shri Bhadra, who was the previous incarnation of Buton, who was the previous incarnation of Dulzin Dragpa Gyaltsen, who later appeared as Dorje Shugden. There is no way around this.
The Dalai Lama is the one who is degenerating Buddhism by taking the view of the state oracles that Dorje Shugden is an evil spirit (see below) over the view of his own principal teacher or root Guru, Trijang Rinpoche. (In Buddhism, relying upon the spiritual guide is said to be "the root" of the Buddhist path to enlightenment.) Trijang Rinpoche always maintained that Dorje Shugden is an enlightened being and, according to close disciples, was "disappointed" when the Dalai Lama gave up the practice (the Dalai Lama waited for Trijang Rinpoche to die before he instigated the ban).
The major degeneration that is happening is the unprecedented conflict, which can easily be verified with accounts of the discrimination and disharmony in the Tibetan settlements and monasteries. The communists destroyed many monasteries, yet the tradition on the inside flourished quite well under the leadership of Trijang Rinpoche and Ling Rinpoche (the Dalai Lama's teachers, both Dorje Shugden practitioners) and other great Lamas (many of them Dorje Shugden practitioners) in exile.
What is happening now, through the will to mislead and incite disharmony with heavy-handed political actions, discrimination, and wrong information, is ruining many thousands of people's lives. It has caused unprecedented problems in the monasteries in South India and continues to torment practitioners in Tibet, India and all over the world.
3. The Fifth Dalai Lama considered Dorje Shugden to be an "evil spirit" (and the Thirteenth Dalai Lama banned the practice)
It actually does not matter what view people hold of Dorje Shugden. It is still against the Indian Constitution, the Tibetan Constitution and the UN Declaration of Human Rights to prevent freedom of worship of any Deity. Belief is personal and an unassailable human right. People are free to worship a tree, if they so choose.
But there are layers of irony in using the Fifth Dalai Lama as a reason for holding Dorje Shugden to be an evil spirit. In the interview, the Dalai Lama doesn't even provide half of the story - namely that the Fifth Dalai Lama wrote in his own autobiography that the so called "evil spirit" arose from a highly respected Lama, Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen, who was murdered by the Fifth Dalai Lama's administration; and that later in the Fifth Dalai Lama's life he changed his mind about the nature of Dorje Shugden and wrote a prayer to him as an enlightened Protector. He also offered a temple in Lhasa to him called Trode Khangsar that is still there today, and created a statue with his own hands and placed it at a monastery called Phelgyeling (in Nepal, which is now in the process of being destroyed by the Dalai Lama's followers).
Elsewhere, the Dalai Lama claims that he is also following the tradition of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama in banning the practice. However, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama never banned the practice. After condemning Dorje Shugden, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama is said to have changed his mind on the issue and taken up the practice himself (Exploring New Religions, page 239).
The biography of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama does not mention any ban of Dorje Shugden or his oracle. On the contrary, it mentions advice given by Dorje Shugden through the oracle at Tromo Dungkar Gonpa, which the Thirteenth Dalai Lama appreciated and followed ('phags.pa 'jig.rten dbang.phyug gi rnam.sprul rim.byon gyi 'khrungs.rabs deb.ther nor.bu'i 'phreng.ba.bzhugs.so, compiled by Phurchog Yongzin Thubten Jampa Tsultim Tenzin, Dharamsala, 1984, pp. 621, 630 and 648). Moreover, at no time did the Thirteenth Dalai Lama close Trode Khangsar in Lhasa, a residence of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen that the 5th Dalai Lama had authorized to be turned into a special Protector temple for Dorje Shugden.
The Thirteenth Dalai Lama had great faith in Tomo Geshe Rinpoche, a well-known Dorje Shugden practitioner, whom he called "a manifestation of Je Tsongkhapa." According to page 620 and 649 of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama's autobiography, Dorje Shugden came spontaneously through the Tromo Dungkar Gonpa Oracle in trance in front of Tomo Geshe Rinpoche and informed him that there was danger from foreign aggression toward Tibet. Dorje Shugden advised renovating two stupas, "the eastern and western one". Upon receiving the message, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama immediately renovated the great golden stupa at Ganden and the Potala in Lhasa. The Potala is huge, so this was no small feat! In his autobiography, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama praised Tomo Geshe Rinpoche for having helped to avert a possible national crisis.
In any event, even if the Dalai Lama were right on this (which he is not), the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Dalai Lamas did not ban the practice, so the preponderance of precedent is towards allowing the practice.
4. Many past Lamas have considered Dorje Shugden to be an evil spirit
The Dalai Lama makes a brief mention in this interview that reflects a number of claims suggesting that important Lamas over the last 370 years have warned against Dorje Shugden. These claims are all unsubstantiated and the evidence he has provided does not even circumstantially make this case against Dorje Shugden. The Fifth Dalai Lama's example is given above. Phurchok Ngawang Jampa doesn't say anything about Shugden or "Dholgyal" in his history of the four great monasteries. Trichen Ngawang Chokden never mentions Dholgyal specifically. All Yongzin Yeshi Gyaltsen mentions is a "new protector"; there is nothing about Shugden or "Dholgyal" in his work. Far from saying harm comes from Dorje Shugden, in his collected works Ngulchu Dharmabhadra answers a question about Dholgyal and Ganden Lha Gyema in which he confirms that Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen is Dorje Shugden, appearing as a wrathful Manjushri (a Wisdom Buddha). And so on.
5. This has remained "very controversial worship" for more than 370 years
The Dalai Lama has failed to provide anything to substantiate this claim. The controversy has only unfolded in the past 30 years after the Dalai Lama spoke out publicly against the practice of Dorje Shugden, even though it is a private practice. Instead of trying to resolve any dispute about this privately in any discussion with any person, including his own teachers, he took it into the public sector as a divisive issue.
Dorje Shugden was even practiced by Nyingma adherents (who he supposedly attacks) for many generations in Gyasumdo, Nepal with no conflict of sects. This was described in anthropologist Stanley Mumford's work "Himalayan Dialogue" in which he also observed the controversy unfolding in the late 1970's: "Recently the Dalai Lama, as leader of the Tibetan people, has made a historic judgment. He has determined that the guardian deity called Shugs-ldan is not only too dangerous, but he also has promoted a vicious factional rivalry between the Gelugpa and Nyingmapa religious orders." (pages 134-135. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989).
6. It "is not true" that the Dalai Lama banned Dorje Shugden practice
These words in the Interview can only be described as lies: "So then it is my duty or moral responsibility to make clear, but whether listen or not, up to them. So some people criticize me, I banned that sort of spirit worship, that is not true."
It has not been "up to" anyone to listen or not - everyone has been forced to listen and to act, thousands and thousands of them against their wishes. And the Dalai Lama has very clearly banned the practice. See his own words on the subject over the past 30 years.
March 10th, 1996, during annual teachings at the Thekchen Choeling Temple in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama imposes a ban on worshipping Dorje Shugden: "Whether outside of Tibet or within Tibet, this deity is discordant with our government and all our deities; this is serious in the context of the common cause of Tibet. It will be good if you comply (with what we are saying) without our having to resort to this last step. It will be the last resort if we have to knock on your doors if you do not follow this advice."
November 19th-21st, 1996, the Dalai Lama travels to South India to visit Tibetan monasteries at Mundgod, without the traditional request, which is unprecedented for a Dalai Lama. The Dorje Shugden Society holds off a peaceful demonstration in the hope of reconciliation with the Dalai Lama. They petition the Dalai Lama, but they are denied an audience. The Dalai Lama speaks in even harsher terms about the ban, and threatens, "You might feel that by publishing letters, pamphlets, etc. against this ban, the Dalai Lama will revoke the ban. This will never be the case. If you take a hard stand, I will tighten this ban still further."
The Tibetan Government in Exile and all exiled groups made policies to enforce his wishes. Petitions were sent to all Tibetan settlements requiring them to renounce Dorje Shugden in 1996.
January 13th, 1999, to monks at Trijang Labrang (the home of his teacher, now deceased) in India who questioned the ban: "There will be no change in my stand. I will never revoke the ban. You are right. It will be like the Cultural Revolution. If those who do not accept the ban do not listen to my words, the situation will grow worse for them. You sit and watch. It will grow only worse for them."
In January 2008 he precipitated a vote through demagoguery to castigate anyone who did not sign a petition renouncing any loyalty to Dorje Shugden. As a result, many monks have been removed from the monasteries. Also a major hostel, Do Khangtsen, belonging to the monastic college of Ganden Shartse, has completely removed itself from the monastic establishment. This is unprecedented in the history of the Gelug tradition.
There has been a great deal of segregation and persecution as a result of this ban and it will continue every day until the Dalai Lama stops his hypocrisy and practices what he preaches, namely freedom of worship.
7. Dorje Shugden practice is sectarian
Since the purpose of praying to Dorje Shugden is to increase love, compassion, and wisdom and to overcome our negative minds including hatred, attachment and ignorance, there can be no link with Dorje Shugden and religious discrimination. Tolerance and respect for all other traditions is highly promoted by Je Tsongkhapa and his emanation Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden.
Sectarianism arises when one tradition imposes its views on other traditions. Shugden practitioners respect the freedom of others to practice according to their wishes. It is the Dalai Lama who is acting in a sectarian way by using the instruments of state power to enforce others to practice according to his view.
Sectarianism can also be seen in the exclusive attitude of the Dalai Lama who allows anyone in the world, Buddhist or non-Buddhist, to attend his teachings except those who pray to Dorje Shugden.
Gelugpa followers rely upon Dorje Shugden as a Dharma Protector of the Gelug sect or tradition of Je Tsongkhapa, but that doesn't mean it is a sectarian practice. Dorje Shugden practitioners only wish for the freedom to follow their tradition in peace and there is no evidence that they have been intolerant to any other tradition. To say the practice is sectarian is again to slander many of the greatest upholders of the Buddhist teachings in the past three centuries, including the Dalai Lama's own teacher Trijang Rinpoche.
Numerous statements have been made by current Dorje Shugden practitioners to say that they welcome and respect all traditions and the Dalai Lama has not provided any evidence to indicate that this is not the case. According to the Dalai Lama's translator in the 1990s, Helmut Gassner: "When during an Anti-Dorje Shugden information meeting in Switzerland the Dalai Lama's Private Secretary sketched the picture of three hundred years of trouble with these Dorje Shugden people, someone asked him to mention some of the incidents that had occurred during that time. He was unable to come up with even one."
Also, the ritual aspects of Dorje Shugden practice are even taken from the Sakya tradition, where it was practiced widely until the 20th century. The Dalai Lama says that Dorje Shugden is against the Nyingma tradition, yet as mentioned above Dorje Shugden practice was also practiced by some Nyingma followers, who were also put under the pressure of the ban to give up the practice, as mentioned in Mumford's book.
The accusation that this practice is sectarian is certainly now inciting vastly more sectarian division and disharmony than any privately recited requests to Dorje Shugden to simply protect the tradition of Je Tsonghapa. The Dalai Lama's ban and subsequent persecution have brought about the greatest schism within Tibetan Buddhist history - monasteries, communities and families are divided in a way that Mao's Red Guards from the outside could never achieve.
Being non-sectarian does not mean that you have to receive teachings from all other lineages - it means respecting all other lineages (without the sectarian actions of criticizing or discriminating against them) whilst being content with one's own. In this respect, it is the Dalai Lama who is being sectarian and Dorje Shugden practitioners who are being non-sectarian.
Another common reason not given in the Nottingham interview appears on a "Brief abstract concerning His Holiness's the Dalai Lama's advice regarding the practice of Dolgyal (Shugden)", issued by the Office of Tibet, Tibet House, 1 Culworth Street, London NW8 7AF, May 2008
"History shows, and His Holiness's investigations have confirmed, that this spirit is hostile to the Dalai Lama's government and has been since it was founded by the 5th Dalai Lama. Especially now that Tibetans are facing a struggle for survival, it is a mistake to worship something that is hostile to the Dalai Lama's government. Therefore, it is in the interest of Tibetans as a whole to refrain from propitiating this hostile spirit."
That institution, i.e. the Ganden Podrang government, is defunct. It lacks any legal basis or official recognition at this point. It exists today only in the person of the Dalai Lama (and arguably his government in exile, which includes a large number of his own relatives). How can Dorje Shugden then harm that institution? The future of the Dalai Lama's personal religious lineage is put in question only by the Dalai Lama himself, not Dorje Shugden.
No explanation is given as to how Dorje Shugden harms the institution of the Dalai Lama, there is just the claim.
If the Dalai Lama is supposed to be the political leader of all Tibetans, then his persecution of many thousands of his own people surely harms the institution more than the private prayers of individuals.
Also, for the Dalai Lama's demand for religious freedom to have greater credibility in the eyes of the Chinese, the Dalai Lama should himself protect religious freedom, not undermine it.
The Dalai Lama's "investigations" involve invoking Nechung through the human State Oracle, who has had the following things to say (perhaps some of these were given in a false trance? It is difficult to know.):
1st answer of the State Oracle: "Dorje Shugden a powerful deity, only to be worshipped by beings with high realizations. However worshipping this deity would upset Goddess Palden Lhamo (a superior protecting deity, who does not have an oracle)"
2nd answer of the State Oracle: "the deity is appropriate to be worshipped by an individual, but not by a group"
3rd answer of the State Oracle: "Dorje Shugden is a deity, suitable to the others, but not to the successor of the 5th Dalai Lama and those working for the Gaden Phodrang Government established by the 5th Dalai Lama."
4th answer of the State Oracle: "Dorje Shugden is a spirit born out of a Kagyupa-monk who hated the Tibetan government, and not the incarnation of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen"
5th answer of the State Oracle: "Dorje Shugden is the spirit of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen, whose Samaya bond to the 5th Dalai Lama was not good, thus it is harmful for this government."
6th answer of the State Oracle: "Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen was a good lama, whose works of composition are praiseworthy, therefore Dorje Shugden cannot be the spirit of such a master."
7th answer of the State Oracle: "Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen himself was a false Tulku, who came to be among the candidates for the 5th Dalai Lama and failed to be chosen, but through clever tactics of his mother on the first Panchen Lama Chokyi Gyaltsen, he was recognized as the fourth reincarnation of Panchen Sonam Dragpa (the teacher of 3rd Dalai Lama), but was then born as an evil, trouble-making spirit to harm the Tibetan government."
All in all, it is hard to see how the Dalai Lama is talking "frankly, straightforwardly and honestly", let alone how he is being "sincere". Once again we request him to lift the ban on this Buddhist tradition and allow everyone freedom of worship.
Moreover, even if the Dalai Lama had said "they are free to choose" (which he has not, except to Western journalists), human rights legal scholars have said when assessing religious freedom that it is not enough for somebody to be 'free to choose' if they cannot exercise that choice freely without fear of political, social or economic penalities. Dorje Shugden practitioners face serious penalties for their choice, thus they cannot choose freely.
Follow the story of the Dalai Lama's 30-year political campaign to destroy a centuries-old spiritual tradition taught to him by his own Spiritual Guide, and the efforts of those he's hurting to stop him:
- What is happening
- What is the Western Shugden Society (WSS)?
- Detailed reports of discrimination from inside India and elsewhere
The Dalai Lama's position
- A Great Deception
- Praise to Wisdom Buddha Dorje Shugden by the Dalai Lama
- In the Dalai Lama's words
Why is this happening?
- Why is this religious suppression taking place?
- Are the Dalai Lama's reasons valid?
Efforts to restore religious freedom
- Geshe Kelsang's open letter
- The ban is illegal and unconstitutional
- Press reports and videos
- Dorje Shugden Devotee's Charitable and Religious Society
- Dalai Lama sued for repressing religious freedom
- A conflict with a solution
- Announcement from Serpom Norling Monastery
Analysis of situation
- Can the Dalai Lama ever make a mistake?
- Is the Dalai Lama the only spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism?
- Theocracy or democracy?
- Spirit worship or authentic Buddhist practice?
- Freedom of worship
- The Dalai Lama's justifications
- Analysis by Dalai Lama's translator (PDF)
- What would Thomas Jefferson think of the 14th Dalai Lama?
- Book Reviews
Evidence and first-hand accounts
- Chronological background
- Discord in exile documentary
- Political motivations for the ban
- Summary to date from Tibetan exiles
Ongoing persecution 2008-2010
- Recent vote sticks and call for help
- Forced signature and ID card campaign
- Persecution of monks at Sera Monasteries
- Public humiliation and explusion of monks
- Letter to Indian Prime Minister regarding abuses
- Letters from Dorje Shugden Devotees
- Urgent appeal from Sera Monasteries
- Support from Indian police
- Western Shugden Society letter to Sera monasteries
- Western Shugden Society letter to TGIE
- Heartfelt request from monks in Mundgod
- More discrimination planned around the world
- Letter from an FPMT monk
- What you can do