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NKT's Schism Over Shugden

The following Commentary appeared on an independent Buddhist blog called Dharmadhatu September 5, 2006 before NKT's all-out campaign against the Dalai Lama and various other Lamas and Buddhists was unleashed April-July 2008 (NKT's campaign began in 1996; Gyatso promised it would end in 1998).

The Commentary below almost matches versions found on Wikipedia before NKT took over the web page to promulgate its exclusionist views that are causing so much anguish.

The Commentary below is lengthy, but most instructive and helpful. It lacks those snappy condescending punch lines of NKT against The Dalai Lama, e.g., 21st Century dictator, evil, liar, cruel, pretender, cheater, hypocrite, safron-robed Muslim, hitler, etc.

(other essays on this web site review NKT's schism; to access them, click here)



Buddhas do not manifest through Oracles. Gyatso's uncle, Kuten Lama, was the primary Shugden Oracle. As noted by Rene de Nebesky-Wojkowitz in the book entitled Oracles and Demons of Tibet, there are 2 classes of dharmapolas (Dharma protectors): high ranking deities who have passed beyond the 6 spheres of existence and those who reside within the spheres inhabited by living beings (known as dregspa, or the 'haughty ones', because of their fierce demeanor). Shugden resides in the latter category to protect certain Gelug exclusionist doctrines from detrimental inflences from the Nyingma school. This latter category speaks to living beings through Oracles who act as their mouthpieces. Accordingly, Shugden cannot be considered a Buddha.

It has been reported that Kuten Lama ultimately denounced Gyatso, returned to India from Gyatso's Manjushri Institute in England in 1996 to wholeheartedly support The Dalai Lama, and refused to again act as an Oracle for Shugden. Apparently, Gyatso considered his uncle, Kuten Lama, a fake, because if Shugden was indeed a Buddha as professed by Gyatso, Shugden would not manifest through an Oracle.

Besides NKT's Gyatso, the largest proponent of Shugden in the world today is the Chinese Government, which is using forced Shugden worship in China and Tibet in its attempt to topple The Dalai Lama. Accordingly, at venues where The Dalai Lama speaks, NKT and Chinese Government stand ins protest against The Dalai Lama side by side. It has been reported that some in the ranks of NKT/WSS protestors are paid stand ins having nothing but wages and provided snacks supporting their 'protests'.

Gyatso's Shugden militancy is causing an egregious schism in Buddhism serving only to repel innocent people from The Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism AND to intensify hatred from egocentric competitors with the profoundly meaningful and holy legacies of Tsongkhapa and Tibetan Buddhism.

Gyatso asserts that the only pure faith protecting Tsongkhapa's tradition is NKT. However, Tsongkhapa neither discussed nor relied upon Shugden. Tsongkhapa's Dharma protector was Kalupa.

While NKT's Gyatso attended Sera Jey Monastery, Gyatso did not complete the Geshe degree requirements, and was later expelled for his use of Shugden against The Dalai Lama, stating:

"Possessed by a terrible demon, without shame, embarrassment, or modesty, he doesn't have even the slightest care or concern for any of the commitments of the three vows [pratimoksha, bodhicitta, and tantric] which he undertook.

He continuously broadcasts blatantly shameless mad pronouncements, attacking with baseless slander His Holiness the Dalai Lama, whose kindness for us, the people of Tibet, has been greater that the Buddhas of the three times. These unimaginable statements which defame the name of His Holiness have created an urgent adverse situation which no Tibetan can tolerate.

Therefore, all those connected with Sera Je College, lamas and tulkus, abbots, former executives, senior and junior geshes, together with the leaders of the individual khangtsen [regional houses], all together, in agreement, with one voice, hereby proclaim that on this day, August 22, 1996, Kelsang Gyatso, the one with broken commitments and wrong view, is cast out with the "ritual nine expulsions," and is thereby banished from this place, and the being a part of the rule of our College."





Commentary on Shugden

Dorje Shugden is a deity of Tibetan Buddhism whose precise nature - angelic or demonic - is disputed among adherents of Tibetan Buddhism, especially its Gelugpa sect. Overview: Dorje Shugden (Tibetan: rdo-rje shugs-ldan), "Powerful thunderbolt"; also known as Dhol-rgyal) is a relatively recent, but highly controversial deity within the complex pantheons of Himalayan Buddhism. Widely (but not universally) regarded as the wrathful spirit of a deceased lama, he is primarily associated with two influential Lamas (Pabongkha Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche) of Gelugpa school of Tibet.

However, Shugden was never an official practice of Gelug school or any other school of Tibetan Buddhism. The modern controversy surrounding the deity refer to a particular brand of Gelukpa exclusionism that emerged in Central and Eastern Tibet during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where the deity was seen as demarcating the boundaries of Gelukpa religious practice, especially in opposition to growing influence of Nyingmapa and Ri-mé thinkers. Many Gelugs started to follow the ideas of the Ri-mé movement, but conservative Gelugs, especially Pabongkha Rinpoche got concerned about the "Purity" of the Gelug school and opposed the ideas of Ri-mé. In many sources it is quoted that disciples of him destroyed Nyingma monasteries and their statues of Padmasambhava. This on-going tension has reached new heights in the Tibetan exile context, where the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (Trijang Rinpoche was one of his teachers) started first to distance himself from Shugden and later he used his position as the political and religious head of Tibet to stop the ever growing influence of the worship of Shugden. Many of the opponents of Shugden stress out the sectarian and demonical character of that practice whereas the followers are convinced Shugden is a Buddha and can not be harmful in any way. Because the Shugden worship caused many disharmony among the different traditions (especially Nyingma and Gelug school) Shugden is seen by the present Dalai Lama and other high Buddhist authorities, like Namkai Norbu Rinpoche, as opposing to the interests of the Tibetan cause and Buddhist religious practice in general.

The dispute developed international dimensions in the 1990s, when the Dalai Lama's statements against the practice of Shugden challenged the British-based New Kadampa Tradition to oppose him. They publicly accused the Dalai Lama of religious persecution and going against human rights. A huge media campaign was started by the so called Shugden Supporter Community (SSC) behind which NKT was the main force. These organizations tried to get the intervention of Amnesty International (AI). But however Amnesty International (AI) denied a need for it. In February of 1997, three anti-Shugden Tibetan Buddhist monks, including the Dalai Lama's close friend and confidant, seventy-year-old Lobsang Gyatso (the principal of the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics), were brutally murdered in Dharamsala, India, the Tibetan capital in exile. The three murdered monks were repeatedly stabbed and then cut up in a manner resembling a ritual exorcism. The Indian police believe that the murders were carried out by monks loyal to Shugden, and that the perpetrators are now under the protection of the Chinese government.[1]

On the other hand the Shugden Society in New Delhi denies any involvement in the murders or threats.[2] The dispute itself The historical origin of Dhogyal (Shugden) is not really clear. Most scriptural documents on him appeared at the 19th century. There exist different oral transmitted versions about his origin but in the key points they contradict each other. Some references on Shugden are found in the biography of the 5th Dalai Lama. That's why most agree that the origin of Shugden started at the time of the 5th Dalai Lama. According to a letter[3] of the present head of the Sakya Tradition, H.H. Sakya Trizin, some Sakyas worshipped Shugden as a lower deity but Shugden was never a part of the Sakya Institutions. Pabongkha Rinpoche, a Gelug Lama of the 20th century, who received this practice from his root guru, is attributed with spreading reliance on Dorje Shugden widely within the Gelug tradition "during the 1930s and 1940s, and in this way a formerly marginal practice became a central element of the Gelug tradition."[4] Since its inception the practice has been disputed within all four Tibetan Buddhist Schools. There has been a dispute in the Gelug tradition as to whether he is a Buddha or a Demon also most masters from the other Tibetan Buddhist schools (Kagyu, Nyingma and Sakya) see Shugden (Dhogyal) as a Demon. Pabongkha Rinpoche was himself contradictory on Shugden. In his first commentaries on the practice he dealt with him like with worldly (unenlightened) Dharmapalas are dealt with: the disciple has to control him by his Tantric Power and give him orders. Later Shugden was established as being the enlightened being Buddha Manjushri.

The dispute can be summarized as follows:

* Today his adherents say Shugden is an enlightened being similar to many others of the Mahayana tradition--a Dharmapala, an emanation of the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri.

* His Detractors say Shugden is not an enlightened being. Some say he is a "worldly" protector spirit, but many others see him as a demon and thus as an inappropriate object of Buddhist worship. Driving this dispute is the inherent nature of Dorje Shugden, which is to "protect" the Gelugpa lineage from adulteration by the traditions of other lineages, especially the Nyingmapa. His practice includes a promise not even to touch a Nyingma scripture, and several pro-Shugden lamas have said Shugden will kill those who violate this vow.

"Conservative" Gelugpas may find such language congenial to their views, while "liberals" are more likely to stress the arbitrary nature of such sectarian divisions. The dispute appears mainly theological; however the extent to which theology dovetails with more secular interests of particular monasteries, families, and other power-holders should not be overlooked.

Though the roots of the Dorje Shugden controversy are more than 360 years old, the issue surfaced within the Tibetan exile community during the 1970's. After Zemey Rinpoche published the Yellow Book which included stories passed by Pabongkha Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche of members of the Gelugpa sect who also practiced Gelug and Nyingma teachings and were killed by Shugden. After publication of the Yellow Book the current (fourteenth) Dalai Lama expressed his opinion that the practice should be stopped in several closed teachings, although he made no general public statement. Finally, in 1995, he felt the necessity to make his opinion of the practice public, and did so during open teachings during which he made it clear that to practice Dorje Shugden was to oppose the Tibetan cause and harm his life, effectively obliging institutions including monasteries to abandon the practice or make the practice secret and personal. He further requested that anyone pursuing this practice should not attend his Teachings anymore, stressing that it would go against the close bond between student and teacher if the student were to do practices being harmful for their own teacher. Some Lamas such as Gonsar Rinpoche and Geshe Kelsang Gyatso protested against this, because they felt an implied loss of freedom, caused by His Holiness's public statements. Mainly the NKT organized demonstrations and a press campaign which attracted international media attention to the issue during the 1990's. NKT founder Geshe Kelsang Gyatso was expelled from Sera Jey Monastery because of his behavior against the Dalai Lama.

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama advised this although he has in the past received Shugden empowerments from one of his teachers, Trijang Rinpoche. That's why he has been criticized by NKT members and some Shugden adherents who say that he has failed to observe the vows given by one of his teachers. On the other hand his decision is in accordance with the advice of the Buddha (Kalama Sutra), the commentaries on Guru devotion by Tsongkhapa and the Vinaya, only to accept what is reasonable, well checked and in according to the Dharma and not just because tradition or teachers taught it.

The Political Dimension

The Dorje Shugden controversy has both religious and political dimensions and both are close related. The religious dimension concerns the Gelug debate between inclusive and exclusive interpretations of the Gelug tradition. There are prominent adepts of Tsongkhapa's teachings like the Great 5th, the Great 13th and the present Dalai Lama with an open, eclectic approach to spiritual practice and prominent adepts like Pabongkha Rinpoche with an exclusive approach connecting Dorje Shugden with the idea of supremacy, purity and exclusionism According to Kay “whilst the conservative elements of the Gelug monastic establishment have often resented the inclusive and impartial policies of the Dalai Lamas towards revival Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the Dalai Lama has in turn rejected exclusionism on the grounds of that encourages sectarian disunity and thereby harms the interests of the Tibetan state.”[5] Thus the Dalai Lamas have spoken out against what they saw as spiritual harmful as well as nationally damaging, especially during Tibet’s present political circumstance the present Dalai Lama felt the urge to speak against Dorje Shugden practice. In sum the Dalai Lama’s main criticism’s of Shugden practice is that the "practice fosters religious intolerance and harms the Tibetan cause and unity". There are different political interpretations of that conflict. On one hand “it has been suggested that the Dalai Lama, in rejecting Dorje Shugden, is speaking out against a particular quasi-political factions within the Gelug tradition-in-exile who are opposed to his modern, ecumenical and democratic political vision, and who believe that the Tibetan government”[5] “should champion a fundamentalist version of Tibetan Buddhism as a state religion in which the dogmas of the Nyingmapa, Kagyuepa and Sakyapa schools are heterodox and discredited.”[6] According to this interpretation Dorje Shugden has become a political symbol for this “religious fundamentalist party”.[5] From this point of view the rejection of Dorje Shugden should be interpreted "not as an attempt to stamp out a religious practice he disagrees with, but as a political statement". According to Sparham: "He has to say he opposes a religious practice in order to say clearly that he wants to guarantee to all Tibetans an equal right to religious freedom and political equality in a future Tibet."[7] Dreyfus argues that although the political dimension forms an important part of that dispute it does not provide an adequate explanation for it.[5] He traces back the conflict more on the exclusive/inclusive approach and maintains that to understand the Dalai Lamas point of view one has to consider the complex ritual basis for the institution of the Dalai Lamas, which was developed by the Great Fith and rests upon "an eclectic religious basis in which elements associated with the Nyingma tradition combine with an overall Gelug orientation"[8] This involves the promotion and practices of the Nyingma school. The 5th Dalai Lama was criticized and has been hostile to conservative elements of the Gelug monastic establishment for doing this and for supporting Nyingma practitioners. The same happened when the 14th Dalai Lama started to encourage the devotion to Padmasambhava, central to the Nyingmas and when he introduced Nyingma rituals at his personal Namgyal monastery (India, Dharmasala). Whilst the 14th Dalai Lama started to encourage the devotion to Padmasambhava for the purpose to unify the Tibetans and "to protect Tibetans from danger"[9] the "more exclusively orientated segments of the Gelug boycotted the ceremonies"[5] and in that context the sectarian Yellow Book was published. On the other hand practitioners of Shugden argue that the actions of the Dalai Lama are not religious at all but are sole politically motivated.

The exclusive/inclusive dispute and some points of the political dimension has been discussed in detail, this part of the article attempts to summarize and illustrate other scholarly essays[10][11] concerning the political dimension of the Shugden controversy and include the view of Shugden followers too.

Wilson argues that "the Dalai Lama’s request that Shugden worshippers not receive the tantric initiations – the foundation of the ‘root-guru’ relationship – from him, effectively placed them outside the fold of the exiled Tibetan polity."[10] He establishes this view by arguing that the Tibetan Government in Exile (TGIE) is a Theocracy, and that the Dalai Lama's statements in Spring 1996 "during a Buddhist tantric initiation that Shugden was an “evil spirit” whose actions were detrimental to the “cause of Tibet”" Reflect the Dalai Lama's decision to "move more forcefully" in response "to growing pressure – particularly from the Nyingmapa, who threatened withdrawal of their support in the Exiled Government project".[12] Particular features of a Theocratic institution that Wilson identifies are that, "religious freedom is restricted because state power is marshaled in favor of a particular set of religious beliefs (and, by extension, against others), the intention being to eradicate alternative beliefs and pursue national homogeneity of belief."[10] According to Wilson this pursuit of religious homogeneity have been illustrated during "The last thirty years" which have "witnessed the growing ascendancy, both in exile and within Tibet, of the Dalai Lama as either the direct root–guru of all those firmly interested in Tibetan independence (often through the numerous mass Kalachakra empowerments he has given since 1959) or, more commonly, the indirect apex of an increasingly unified pyramid of lamaic (guru-disciple) relationships, many of which transcend the sectarian divides which became entrenched within Tibetan Buddhism during the centuries following the 5th Dalai Lama’s establishment of centralized Gelugkpa rule in Central Tibet." In this context, by criticizing the practice of Shugden, the TGIE is asserting "the functional role of religion within the constitution for a sacral political life centered on the Dalai Lama and held together primarily by acts of ritualized loyalty."[10] or as Helmut Gassner (Swiss), a former interpreter of the Dalai Lama and a Shugden follower, argues "...for most Tibetans nothing is more important than the Dalai Lama's life; so if one is labeled an enemy of the Dalai Lama, one is branded as a traitor and therewith 'free-for-all' or an outlaw."[13]

Jane Ardley writes,"…the Dalai Lama, as a political leader of the Tibetans, was at fault in forbidding his officials from partaking in a particular religious practice, however undesirable. However given the two concepts (religious and political) remain interwoven in the present Tibetan perception, an issue of religious controversy was seen as threat to political unity. The Dalai Lama used his political authority to deal with what was and should have remained a purely religious issue. A secular Tibetan state would have guarded against this."[11] Ardley references the following directive published by the Tibetan Government in Exile to illustrate the "interwoven" nature of the politics and religion: "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."'[14] In his concluding remarks, Wilson observes that "…the debate surrounding Shugden was primarily one of differing understandings of the constitution of religious rights as an element of state life, particularly in the context of theocratic rule. As an international dispute, moreover, it crossed the increasingly debated line between theocratic Tibetan and liberal Western interpretations of the political reality of religion as category." In particular he sees the main failing of the Shugden Supporters Campaign as arising from their erroneous assertion of "the separation of religion and state as the basis for the understanding of religious freedom and denied any legitimate functioning role to Buddhism within the constitution of that sate."[10] Whereas Kay states "The Dalai Lama opposes the Yellow Book and Dorje Shugden propitiation because they defy his attempts to restore the ritual foundations of the Tibetan state and because they disrupt the basis of his leadership, designating him as an “enemy of Buddhism” and potential target of the deities retribution."[5] Another point of the political dimension is the involvement of the Chinese, interested to use this conflict to undermine the unity of the Tibetans and their faith towards the Dalai Lama: "Tibet analyst Theirry Dodin said China had encouraged division among the Tibetans by promoting followers of the Dorje Shugden sect to key positions of authority."[15] Origins This issue has a long history and involves not only the Fourteenth Dalai Lama but also the Thirteenth, and the Fifth Dalai Lama as well. This history is discussed extensively in an article by Geshe George Dreyfuss.

Within Tibetan Buddhism there are several main schools (Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug) and each of these have many sub-schools. The practices and Deities emphasized vary somewhat from school to school. In the Tibetan tradition there are hundreds of Dharma Protectors, with each monastery having its own Dharmapala. Some of them are considered to be enlightened beings, some not. However Dharmapalas are not the main teaching of any Buddhist school. The "founding myth" behind Shugden worship involves a lama named Drakpa Gyaltsen (1618-1655) who was a rival of the Fifth Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso (1617-1682). In fact the former seems to have been a candidate to become the Fifth Dalai Lama himself (i.e., while a child some lamas proposed him as the reincarnation of the Fourth), but was passed over. Their rivalry continued, however, and according to legend resulted in the early death (perhaps the murder) of Drakpa Gyaltsen. Later Trijang Rinpoche said, in reality there was no rivalry and pointed to that event as a "skilful means" (to tame the mind of disciples). There is the saying in Tibetan tradition, murder victims often become transformed into vengeful spirits. And so Shugden adherents believe the Lama Drakpa Gyeltsen was able to transform his wrath to religious ends, namely the protection of the Gelugpa tradition against "political pressures toward greater ecumenicalism" among Tibetan Buddhist sects. Hence his transformation into the "protector deity" Shugden. Geshe George Dreyfuss doubts the historicity of this legend, because there are no reliable scriptural sources of the historical background for this, and this legend was written about later by apologists of Shugden. What can be stated as a fact is that the beginning of worship of Dorje Shugden was the death of the Lama Drakpa Gyaltsen at the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama. However it is not clear if he was "reborn" out of grudge, out of compassion or even if he was enlightened. Key figures in the modern popularization of worshipping Dorje Shugden are Pabongkha (1878-1944), a charismatic Khampa lama who seems to have been the first historical Gelugpa figure to promote Shugden worship as a major element of Gelugpa practice; and Trijang Rinpoche (1901-1981), a Ganden lama who was one of the tutors of the present Dalai Lama. The Lama Pabongkha put great emphasis on spreading this practice and was scolded by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama for doing so. Pabongkha Rinpoche promised to stop. After the death of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama Pabongkha began to spread the practice even more than before. Out of his influence and charisma the practice became quite popular in the Gelug tradition. But there were also high Gelug Lamas like the senior tutor of H.H. the Dalai Lama, Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen and others who not only didn’t practice Shugden but also advised against the practice. The prominent Dzogchen master Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche "has been insisting on the importance of failing to appreciate the danger inherent in such cults"[16] and started to warn his followers relating that cult and people who follow it. The conflict and refutations can not be understood fully without seeing the complex historical, religious, social, scientific and cultural background and the struggle of the reformers, conservatives and traditionalists in Tibet. The practice of Shugden is related to family relations too. So for instance one Shugden oracle (Kuten lama) is the uncle of Kelsang Gyatso the founder of New Kadampa Tradition. On the other hand Tibet was quite isolated and there were not much scientific background. Even at the time when the Chinese over took Tibet, in Tibet Buddhist Teachers taught (and this was also taught HH the Dalai Lama) that the earth was flat, the moon shone from itself and was only as far away from earth as the sun is, and the texts on the "history" of Tibet told about building thousand stupas at one day and the like.

Background of the conflict in the Gelug tradition

Historically the Gelug tradition, founded by Je Tsongkhapa, has never been a completely unified order. Internal conflicts and divisions are a part of it and are based on philosophical, political, regional, economic and institutional interests. In the 17th century the Gelug order became politically dominant in central Tibet. This was through the institutions of the Dalai Lamas. Although he is not the head of the Gelug school - the head is the Ganden Tripa, the abbot of Ganden Monastery - the Dalai Lama is the highest incarnate Lama of the Gelug school - comparable with the position of the Karmapa in the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. Because of his responsibility as the political and religious leader of the Tibetans the Dalai Lamas' duty is to balance the different interests and being sensitive towards the different traditions and relationships. "It is necessary also to reflect on what the development of such a sectarian cult has meant and continues to mean for the Dalai Lama and for all the Tibetans in exile (and also for the Tibetans in occupied Tibet, for whom the repercussions of this matter are many and of more than secondary import)."[16] There were power struggles from the 14th century onwards "competing for political influence and economical support"[17] and a tendency of a strong sectarian interpretation of Buddha's doctrine. This sectarian attitude was encountered by the open approach of the Dalai Lamas, especially the 5th and 13th and 14th, and through the development of the Rime movement at the end of the 19th century, which also Gelug lamas followed. The founder of the Gelug school, Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), had an open, ecumenical and eclectic approach. He used to go to all the great lamas of his time from all the different Buddhist schools and received Buddhist teachings from them. But his first successor, Khedrubje (mKhas grub rje) (1385-1483) became "quite active in enforcing a stricter orthodoxy, chastizing...disciples for not upholding Tsongkhapa's pure tradition".[17] According to David N. Kay "from this time, as is the case with most religious traditions, there have been those within the Gelug who have interpreted their tradition 'inclusively', believing that their Gelug affiliation should in no way exclude the influence of other schools which constitute additional resources along the path of enlightenment. Others have adopted a more 'exclusive' approach, considering that their Gelug identity should preclude the pursuit of other paths and that the 'purity' of the Gelug tradition must be defended and preserved.[18] In the past the different approaches of Pabongka Rinpoche (1878-1943) ('exclusive' religious and political approach) and the 13th Dalai Lama (1876-1933) ('inclusive' religious and political approach) were quite contrary. Especially at that time the conservative Gelugpas feared the modernization and the reforms of the 13th Dalai Lama and tried to undermine them. As a sign of that modernization from within the Tibetan society the Rime movement won strong influence, especially in Kham (Khams, Eastern Tibet) "...and in response to the Rime movement (ris med) that had originated and was flowering in that region, Pabogonkha Rinpoche (a Gelug agent of the Tibetan government) and his disciples employed repressive measures against non-Gelug sects. Religious artifacts associated with Padmasambhava - who is revered as a 'second Buddha' by Nyingma practitioners - were destroyed, and non-Gelug, and particulary Nyingma, monasteries were forcibly converted to the Gelug position. A key element of Pabongkha Rinpoche's outlook was the cult of the protective deity Dorje Shugden, which he married to the idea of Gelug exclusionism and employed against other traditions as well as against those within the Gelug who had eclectic tendencies."[19] According to Samuel Pabongka Rinpoche, who was a "strict purist and conservative" "adopted an attitude of sectarian intolerance" and "instituted a campaign to convert non-Gelug gompa (monasteries) in Kham to the Gelug-pa school, by force where necessary."[20] Pabongkha Rinpoche and his disciples prompted the growing influence of the Rime movement by propagating the supremacy of of the Gelug school as the only pure tradition.[21] He based his approach on a 'unique understanding' of the Shunyata view in the Gelug tradition. Although Trijang Rinpoche (1900-1981), one of Pabongkha Rinpoche's famous disciples, had a more moderate view on other traditions than Pabongkha, nevertheless "he continued to regard the deity (Dorje Shugden) as a severe and violent punisher of inclusively orientated Gelug practitioners."[22] Trijang Rinpoche, as the Junior Tutor of HH the Dalai Lama introduced the Dorje Shugden practice to His Holiness in 1959. Some years later the 14th Dalai Lama recognized that this 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 (dPal ldan lha mo), and that this practice is also in conflict with his own open and ecumenical (Rime) approach and religious and political responsibilities. After the publication of Zemey Rinpoche's sectarian text The Yellow Book on Shugden he spoke in public against Dorje Shugden practice and distanced himself from it.

The conflict in the west : Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and New Kadampa Tradition

These ideological, political and religious views on an exlcusive/inclusive approach or belief were brought to the west and were at large expressed in the west by the conflicts (1979-1984)[23] between Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who developed at Manjushri Institute an ever increasing 'exclusive' approach[24], and Lama Yeshe, who had an open 'inclusive' approach[25] and invited Geshe Kelsang in 1976 to England at his FPMT-centre and later lost this centre, Manjushri Institute, to Geshe Kelsang and his followers. The conflicts deriving from these different ideological views became visible to the broader public by the NKT media-campaign (1996-1998) on Shugden against the 14th Dalai Lama. Whereas the 'inclusive' approach of Lama Yeshe was expressed by the Manjushri Institute Library with over 3000 books[26], the 'exclusive' approach of Geshe Keslang Gyatso and his New Kadampa Tradition became visible by the elimination of the 3000 books after the take over of the Manjushri Institute in 1991. This 'exclusive' approach of Geshe Kelsang became also visible by the removal of pictures of the Dalai Lama at Manjushri Institute, by the placing of statues and large paintings of Dorje Shugden at the NKT main shrines and NKT temples and the exclusive reliance on Geshe Kelsang Gyatso as the guru and his books and teachings as the 'pure tradition of Tsongkhapa'. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and his followers are convinced that the actions of the Dalai Lama in that dispute are sole politically motivated. Geshe Kelsang stated that the Dalai Lama "wants to integrate all the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism into one so that the leaders of the other traditions will no longer have a role and he will become the only leader of´Tibetan Buddhism. In this way he can easily control the spiritual life of all practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism."[27]

In particular Geshe Kelsang argued "According to my understanding the Dalai Lama’s main wish is to integrate the four Tibetan traditions into one. The leaders of the other traditions will gradually disappear, leaving him alone as head of Tibetan Buddhism. In the beginning this plan was rejected by the leaders of the Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma traditions, while the Gelugpa remained neutral. Later, the Dalai Lama changed his approach. He is now trying to destroy the practice of Dorje Shugden and change the Gelug tradition, while at the same time developing a close relationship with the other traditions, especially the Nyingmapa. Gradually he hopes to fulfil his wishes in this way."[28] In November 2002 he wrote in an open letter to The Washington Times: "in October 1998 we decided to completely stop being involved in this Shugden issue because we realized that in reality this is a Tibetan political problem and not the problem of Buddhism in general or the NKT."[29] A main feature of the exclusive approach among Shugden devotees is a total reliance on once Guru and his tradition which was fortified by Panbogkha Rinpoche by the Life Entrusting (srog gtad) practice on Shugden. Although "Pa-bong-ka had an enormous influence on the Ge-luk tradition that cannot be ignored in explaining the present conflict. He created a new understanding of the Ge-luk tradition focused on three elements: Vajrayogini as the main meditational deity (yi dam), Shuk-den as the protector, and Pa-bong-ka as the guru."[30] The imperative of total reliance to once Guru was enhanced once more by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in the west - although the Life Entrusting (srog gtad) ceremony is not given by him. According to Geshe Kelsang, the student must "be like a wise blind person who relies totally upon one trusted guide instead of attempting to follow a number of people at once"[31] and "Experience shows that realizations come from deep, unchanging faith, and that this faith comes as a result of following one tradition purely - relying upon one Teacher, practicing only his teachings, and following his Dharma Protector."[32] According to Kay: "Even the most exclusively orientated Gelug lamas, such as Phabongkha Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche, do not seem to have encouraged such complete and exclusive reliance in their students as this."[33]

The conflict in the west: Other Tibetan Lamas

There are other Tibetan Gelug-Lamas in the west who follow the Dorje Shugden practice like Gonsar Rinpoche (Swiss), Dagom Rinpoche (Nepal/USA), Panglung Rinpoche (Germany), Gyalzar Rinpoche (Swiss), Kundeling Rinpoche (India/Netherlands) and Lama Gangchen Rinpoche (Italy). All of them with an own approach and attitude but more moderate than Geshe Kelsang and NKT and besides Kundeling Rinpoche, they do respect the 14th Dalai Lama but can not accept his reasoning. A main argument of Dagom Rinpoche and Gonsar Rinpoche is, they do not really understand the Dalai Lama for advising against the practice. Gonsar Rinpoche said: "I have spent many years in exile and have a great reverence for His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, but now he is abusing our freedom by banning Shugden. It makes me very sad...We are not doing anything wrong, we are just keeping on with this practice which we have received through great masters. I respect His Holiness very much, hoping he may change his opinion...I cannot accept this ban on Shugden. If I accept this, then I accept that all of my masters, wise great masters, are wrong. If I accept that they are demon worshippers, then the teachings are wrong, everything we believe in is wrong. That is not possible."[34]

In the same way also Geshe Kelsang argued when he said: "If the practice of Dorje Shugden is bad, then definitely we have to say that Trijang Rinpoche is bad, and that all Gelugpa lamas in the Dalai Lama’s own lineage would be bad."[35] From their point of view and many of the Shugden followers it is a painful dilemma. But it has to been stated that although Pabongkha Rinpoche "married the cult of the protective deity Dorje Shugden to the idea of Gelug exclusionism and employed against other traditions as well as against those within the Gelug who had eclectic tendencies"[36] lamas like Lama Gangchen Rinpoche and Lama Yeshe (who practiced in the past Dorje Shugden too) nevertheless follow an inclusive approach. And it has to been stated further that an exclusive approach does not necessarily include the idea of having a sectarian view.[37]

Obedience towards the Guru

Because a main argument in the conflict at the site of the Shugden followers is that their Gurus (Lamas) (e.g. Pabongkha Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche) revealed the Shugden practice and gave obligations on it one have to follow it whereas the Shugden opponents in Gelug school cite Buddha in the Kalama Sutra and Je Tsongkhapa, the Gelug founder, who said one should not follow "if it is an improper and irreligious command", which is based on the Vinaya Sutra: "If someone suggest something which is not consistent with the Dharma, avoid it."[38] and refer on the sectarian nature of the Shugden practice which is seen by them as a contradiction to Buddhist ethics, one can also sum the conflict as the religious scientist Michael von Brück (University of Munic) has done it: "We can conclude that the present controversy reveals the contradiction between the imperative of critically establishing the validity of (own) opinions and the obedience towards the Lama (Guru)"[40]


By these examinations it becomes clear that the religious and political conflict on Dorje Shugden is mainly based on a polarization of an exclusive/inclusive approach. According to Kay: "This classical inclusive/exclusive division has largely been articulated within the exiled Tibetan Buddhist community through the dispute concerning the status and nature of the protective deity Dorje Shugden."[24] The exclusive/inclusive approach can be traced back to Tsongkhapa's and Khedrubje's different approaches and the frictions deriving from these two different approaches are a part of the Gelug history, transferred to the west and are related strongly to personal, philosophical, political, regional and institutional views, interests and struggles. Arguments, Pro and Con Arguments of the opponents of Shugden The Dalai Lama has asserted that:

(1) Shugden is a worldly spirit

(2) Shugden practice has the potential to promote sectarianism

(3) Shugden practice harms the health of the Dalai Lama and is contrary to the interests of Tibet and the Tibetan people

(4) The Nechung State Oracle (bounded by Padmasambhava) stated that it is harmful

(5) Tibetan people using divination have received bad omens to the effect that Shugden is harming them.

(6) The Fifth Dalai Lama said: He will talk over and over again and not stop to say: Shugden is a negative force.

And the Fourteenth Dalai Lama said that he sees himself in the footsteps of the Thirteenth and Fifth Dalai Lamas. Today none of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism accept Shugden as a Dharmapala, citing his origin and activities against other schools. Many high masters from the other Tibetan Buddhist schools (Kagyu, Nyingma and Sakya) agreed with the view of the 14th Dalai Lama that Shugden (Dhogyal) is a worldly spirit with demonic power. Shugden was not taught by Buddha, Atisha or Tsongkhapa or any Indian Tantric yogi or Indian Pandit who form the basis of Tibetan Buddhism. So Shugden was not accepted as an official part of the Gelug school by the Ganden Tripa, the Head of the Gelugpas. Because the worship of Shugden has created many conflicts within the Tibetan Buddhist community (for instance it is said that disciples of Lama Pabongkha destroyed Nyingma monasteries and statues of Padmasambhava and converted these monasteries into Gelug monasteries - and not only Nyingmapas had many difficulties with that spirit, also Kagyu practitioners made cleaning rituals after they visited Gelug monasteries), the 14th Dalai Lama used his status as the spiritual and political head of all the Tibetans to speak out about the sectarian harm of that practice. Then he asked Shugden followers not to come to his teachings, because there is no basis for a faithful teacher-disciple-relationship if they don't believe his proofs. He also gave advice to all Gelug monasteries to stop the practice and to support harmony within the whole Tibetan Buddhist community. But of course in Tibetan Buddhism every one has the personal freedom not to follow his advice and the Dalai Lama asked the Tibetan Buddhists to do the practice in private if they can not give it up. Nowadays there are members of the Gelug school (for instance in Sera Monastery, India) who follow his advice and there are some members who do not. One member of the Tibetan Government in Exile (Kashag) made the suggestion that practitioners of Dolgyal should not be allowed to hold public office within the Tibetan Government in Exile - but this personal suggestion was not accepted by the Tibetan Government in Exile. The 14th Dalai Lama was given that practice by one of his teachers without respecting what the 13th Dalai Lama and 5th Dalai Lama said about that topic and that the 5th Dalai Lama had many visions of Padmasambhava and wrote 25 volumes about Nyingma practices. Because the practice of Dolgyal is sectarian and propagates a special Gelugpa exclusiveness which does not fit to the views, behavior and tasks of a Dalai Lama and his function as the spiritual and political leader of all Tibetans he told his teachers about his conflict and they agreed that he stop the practice. The Dalai Lama doesn't deny anyone's freedom to practice Shugden worship but he insists on his right to ask those accepting Vajrayana teachings and empowerments from him to abstain from such practices. In addition, he sees discussion of the problem of "sectarianism" within the Tibetan community as his responsibility, in his capacity as the spiritual and political leader of Tibet.

Arguments of the followers of Shugden Shugden supporters respond point-by-point as follows:

(1) The statement that Dorje Shugden is a worldly spirit is unsubstantiated and contradicts the view of many spiritual masters of the Gelugpa tradition who hold him to be a manifestation of the Wisdom Buddha.

(2) Furthermore, the essential Mahayana Buddhist doctrine of the emptiness of persons requires that one should not attribute inherently existent qualities to any being. Thus, Shugden like any other being has the qualities that one's own mind sees in him.

(3) Prior to instigating this ban, there was no history of disharmony between practitioners of Dorje Shugden and other traditions - it is the ban itself that is a manifestation of sectarianism.

(4) There is no evidence to support the claims that the Dalai Lama's health and the interests of the Tibetan people have been affected

(5) Divination is not a reliable means of deciding such issues. Furthermore, evidence from Oracles is not admissible either.

(6) The Dalai Lama might claim that his Teachers agreed to him stopping the practice, but in reality, they had no choice but to accept as to go against the Dalai Lama results in grave consequences.

It is said that Trijang Rinpoche in particular was 'very disappointed' that the Dalai Lama abandoned his practice of Dorje Shugden. Pro-Dorje Shugden Gelugpa teachers have requested the Dalai Lama to present valid reasons supporting these claims and, in the absence of any response, have continued to engage in the practice. Shugden supporters accuse the Dalai Lama of "banning" them, with the following specifics:

(1) Practitioners of Dorje Shugden are not allowed to hold public office within the Tibetan Government in Exile

(2) Such practitioners are disallowed or discouraged from attending teachings by the Dalai Lama

(3) Many monasteries and individuals publicly engaging in the practice have been pressed to stop.

(4) The official ban on this practice has sparked debate within the Tibetan community and widespread public pressure upon those maintaining the practice.

There is actual documentary evidence to support of all this. Statement of His Eminence the Ganden Tri Rinpoche (Head of the Gelugpa) "If it (shugden) were a real protector, it should protect the people. There may not be any protector such as this, which needs to be protected by the people. Is it proper to disturb the peace and harmony by causing conflicts, unleashing terror and shooting demeaning words in order to please the Dharmapala? Does this fulfill the wishes of our great masters? Try to analyze and contemplate on the teachings that had been taught in the Lamrim (stages of path), Lojong (training of mind) and other scriptural texts. Does devoting time in framing detrimental plots and committing degrading act, which seems no different from the act of attacking monasteries wielding swords and spears and draining the holy robes of the Buddha with blood, fulfill the wishes of our great masters? The Mahayana teachings advocate an altruistic attitude of sacrificing few for the sake of many. Thus why is it not possible for one, who acclaims oneself to be a Mahayana, to stop worshipping these dubious gods and deities for the sake and benefit of the Tibetans in whole and for the well-being of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In the Vinaya (Buddhist code of discipline), it is held that since a controversial issue is settled by picking the mandatory twig by "accepting the voice of many by the few" the resolution should be accepted by all. As it has been supported by ninety five percent it would be wise and advisable for the rest five percent to stop worshipping the deity keeping in mind that there exists provisions such as the four Severe Punishments (Nan tur bzhi), the seven Expulsions (Gnas dbyung bdun) and the four Convictions (Grangs gzhug bzhi) in the Vinaya (Code of Discipline)." Amnesty International's statement

The Shugden followers tried to receive a statement from Amnesty International (AI) that the Tibetan Government in Exile (specifically the 14th Dalai Lama) has violated the human rights. However, AI replied in an official press release: None of the material Al has received contains evidence of abuses which fall within Al's mandate for action -- such as grave violations of fundamental human rights including torture, the death penalty, extra-judicial executions, arbitrary detention or imprisonment, or unfair trials. Worded as it is, Amnesty’s statement clearly treads a fine line, neither asserting or denying the validity of the allegations against the CTA (Central Tibetan Administration), nor finding either side culpable in the dispute. .... Amnesty International: Regarded “spiritual issues” and sate affairs as separate, whilst seeing the command-based nation-state as the fundamental framework for understanding the category of ‘actionable human rights abuses’. Fundamental to this were linked criteria of state accountability and the exercise of state force, neither of which could clearly be identified within the CTA context. Whilst a prima fascia case of infringement of religious freedoms within Tibetan refugee communities certainly existed, the absence of definable nation-state command structures precluded the formulation either of accountability or unavoidable jurisdiction essential to the formulation of a ‘human rights violation’.[41]

Notes 1. ^ Newsweek April 28 1997, [1] 2. ^ Mike Wilson, 1999, Schisms, murder, and hungry ghosts in Shangra-La - internal conflicts in Tibetan Buddhist sect, [2] 3. ^ Letter to the Assembly of Tibetan Peoples Deputies, Sakya Trizin, June 15 1996, Archives of ATPD 4. ^ David N. Kay: Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation, London and New York, published by RoutledgeCurzon, ISBN 0-415-29765-6, page 48 5. ^ a b c d e f Kay page 50,51,52 6. ^ Sparham 1996: 12 7. ^ Sparham 1996: 13 8. ^ Dreyfus 1998: 269 9. ^ Dreyfus 1998: 262 10. ^ a b c d e Human Rights in Global Perspective; ed Richard Wilson, published by Routelidge Curzon, ISBN 0415304105 11. ^ a b Tibetan Independence Movement: Political, Religious and Gandhian Perspectives, Jane Ardley, published by RoutledgeCurzon ISBN 070071572X 12. ^ Wilson, p56 13. ^ Dalai Lama Dorje Shugden, Helmut Gassner, Friedrich-Naumann-Foundation Hamburg, March 26th 1999, [3] 14. ^ Tibetan Parliament in Exile's Resolution of June 1996, [4] 15. ^ BBC NEWS, Dalai Lama 'behind Lhasa unrest', 10 May 2006, [5] 16. ^ a b "A Spirit of the XVII Secolo", Raimondo Bultrini, Dzogchen Community published in Mirror, January 2006 17. ^ a b David N. Kay: Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation, London and New York, ISBN 0-415-29765-6, pages 39,40 citing G. Dreyfus 18. ^ Kay pages 41,42 19. ^ Kay page 43 20. ^ Samuel at Kay page 230 21. ^ Kay page 47 22. ^ Kay page 49 23. ^ Kay pages 61-69 24. ^ Kay page 57ff 25. ^ Kay page 65 26. ^ Kay page 67 27. ^ Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, public post at Google Groups, Dec 1 1997, [6] 28. ^ Letter From Geshe Kelsang Gyatso to Chris Fynn, 19 December 1997 29. ^ OPEN LETTER FROM GESHE KELSANG GYATSO TO WESLEY PRUDEN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON TIMES, PRESS STATEMENT -- Nov. 25, 2002, [7] 30. ^ George Dreyfus, The Shuk-Den Affair: Origins of a Controversy, [8] 31. ^ Kelsang Gyatso, 1991, Kay page 92 32. ^ Kelsang Gyatso, 1992, Key page 92 33. ^ Kay page 92 34. ^ ON THE OUTS By JOHN GOETZ, [9] 35. ^ Geshe Kelsang Gyatso spoke with Donald S. Lopez, Jr, Tricycle Magazine, Spring 1998 36. ^ Kay page 43 37. ^ Kay page 41 38. ^ The Fulfillment of All Hopes: Guru Devotion in Tibetan Buddhism, Wisdom Publications, ISBN 086171153X, page 64 39. ^ Michael von Brück: Religion und Politik im Tibetischen Buddhismus. Kösel Verlag, München 1999, ISBN 3466204453, page 209,210 40. ^ Kay page 43 41. ^ Human Rights in Global Perspective, Routelidge ISBN 0415304105




Interestingly, this Commentary was initially found at an "independent Buddhist blog" called Dharmadhatu, which had a page entitled Dorje Shugden Dispute in Tibetan Buddhism posted September 5, 2006 using the name Jampa Gyatso.

Geshe Jampa Gyatso did not write this Commentary. Nevertheless, further research revealed interesting biographical details of Geshe Jampa Gyatso at the web site for the Tsongkhapa Institute in Italy, which is a member of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, one of NKT's targets of castigation for its support of The Dalai Lama and lack of support for NKT's Shugden views.

Geshe Jampa Gyatso has been resident teacher at Lama Tzong Khapa Institute since 1980. He is holder of the Lharam Geshe degree from Sera Je Monastery, the Ngagram Geshe degree from Gyu Me Tantric College, and the Acharya degree from the Sanskrit University of Varanasi. He was a classmate and close friend of Lama Thubten Yeshe, who founded the FPMT. Geshe-la has taught numerous short and long courses, both at the Institute and in other Dharma centers in Italy, Spain, and England, and acts as abbot of Nalanda Monastery in France, Takden Shedrup Targye Ling Monastery, and Shenphen Samten Ling Nunnery at Lama Tzong Khapa Institute. In addition, he has been the principal tutor of the forerunner of the Masters Program, held at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa from 1983 to 1997, and the seven-year Masters Program, held from January 1998 to December 2004. As well as being a formidable scholar, Geshe Jampa Gyatso is highly regarded by his students for his practical advice, warm humor, and boundless concern for their well-being. Geshe-la will teach the lam-rim and lo-jong texts that form the “heart” of the Institute’s Basic Program, as well as the text on tantra.

Geshe Jampa Gyatso died November 27, 2007. According to a December 7, 2007 news report, "Geshe Jampa Gyatso is still meditating on Clear light almost a week after he stopped breathing."