Tuesday, September 27, 2022

It Slowly Dawned On Me That I Had Actually Been Sucked Into A Cult A New Kadampa Survivor Testimony By Linda Ciardiello


New Kadampa Tradition Survivors

Dec 4, 2017

14 min read

It Slowly Dawned On Me That I Had Actually Been Sucked Into A Cult

By Linda Ciardiello

My name is Linda Ciardiello and I am an ex-New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) member. I have decided to write my story for the record, in the hope that it will help others who have fallen or may fall into the NKT trap. It’s quite a long account, but hopefully “worth reading”.

As my time in the NKT came to an end, I reflected on the experience and it slowly dawned on me that I had actually been sucked into a cult. At first it doesn’t appear like that but gradually it becomes obvious — due to the total isolation of the group from all other forms of Tibetan Buddhism, or any Buddhism for that matter. The biggest obvious clue that it’s a cult is that they only read and study books by Kelsang Gyatso — you won’t find any other Buddhist books in an NKT centre. I won’t refer to him as Geshe Kelsang, because he never actually completed his Geshe training and has been expelled from his original monastery, for actions not becoming a Buddhist monk. The studying is not real studying either, because it’s just memorising his texts, so that you can become an NKT clone, parroting the same sentences in the same NKT style. People often comment how they all sound the same — it’s no wonder: NKT is like a sausage machine that takes ordinary people with spiritual aspirations and turns them into a type of robot: the KelsangBot. “Beware of the KelsangBots!”: Coming soon to a town near you!

I had been interested in the spiritual path for a long time, having found the ordinary pursuits of worldly life rather unsatisfying and meaningless. However, having been raised as a Catholic and then a Jehovah’s Witness, I was suspicious about organized religion generally, but thought naively that somehow Buddhism was different from Christianity because it did not require blind faith in the existence of God — they say it’s more like a psychology of thought than a religion.

The first talk I attended was a free Public Talk in the spring on 1992 — it sounded like an innocuous and useful subject : The Art of Positive Thinking. During the persuasive and amusing talk given by Thubten Gyatso (Neil Elliott)I felt a sense of “coming home”, that at last someone was talking sense to me: that happiness could not be found in external conditions, but rather in discovering it within my own mind, rather like the sunshine that’s always there but sometimes gets obscured by clouds. I liked that analogy a lot.
So I wanted more, I wanted to find that sunshine hidden within my own mind, behind the dark miserable clouds that had plagued my mind throughout my life. I attended the General Programme classes every week and soon began to get involved in organising them and doing publicity work. I naively believed that if only people got to hear Thubten Gyatso speak, or even my own Resident Teacher, that they would see the Buddha dharma as the key to ending their suffering, as I did.

It wasn’t long before I was enrolled on the start-up Foundation Programme and busily working towards setting up a residential centre. After FP I often used to go for a walk with the Resident Teacher, whom I greatly admired and naively considered to be a friend. One day we were staring over the fence at the beautiful mansion headquarters of Sokkai Gakkai Buddhism and, with a wistful look in his eyes, he said that they must have very powerful protectors to own such a fabulous building. So much for the purpose of Protectors being to protect realizations — by my teacher’s own admission, the purpose of Protectors is for the acquisition of worldly wealth and power ie Nothing to do with dharma practice or realisations, nothing to do with actual Buddha dharma.

I felt like a complete fraud as I sat there holding forth about “happiness from a different source” to a bunch of earnest seekers, when I still didn’t really have a clue about that type of happiness at all. I was faking it. We were indeed encouraged to fake it, until you make it.

Soon we got a rented premises and I moved in. Luckily for me we could not afford to buy a centre, otherwise I would have sunk my savings into it and lost them, as has unfortunately happened to many others. However, I did give up my career path to work full-time for the growth of the centre, and with my teacher’s blessing began to sign on the dole instead. I was given the job of Education Programme Co-ordinator and with so much work being asked of me, I found little time to actually meditate. Despite that, it wasn’t long before I was asked to set up and teach a Branch class. My ego liked the idea of me being a teacher, but the reality soon hit me that far from feeling like an authentic teacher, I felt like a complete fraud as I sat there holding forth about “happiness from a different source” to a bunch of earnest seekers, when I still didn’t really have a clue about that type of happiness at all. I was faking it. We were indeed encouraged to fake it, until you make it.

Gen Thubten came and gave empowerments twice in my time there. I heard him refer to Geshe-la (sic) many times as the “Third Buddha”. Once we all went to a restaurant in Reading afterwards where the owner was very friendly and had a picture of the Dalai Lama on his wall. “Gen-la” was polite but did not reciprocate the warmth, I nudged the admin director and pointed to the picture, thinking that seeing this picture would please her and Gen-la. Far from it. She scolded me sternly, saying that she would not dream of offending her guru by pointing him to the picture. Judging by the black look on his face most of the time, he’d probably seen it already. I was flabbergasted and mystified — I tried to find out why exactly, but received only vague explanations. I chose to ignore the matter and carried on as usual.

With so much work constantly needing doing to run and expand the centre, and so many pujas to recite, especially with my new Highest Yoga Tantra commitment and all its complicated practices, I had little time for the actual meditation I’d imagined I would be doing. Thus it wasn’t long before I started to get ill with burn-out symptoms. I remember waking up one morning in the centre and my body felt almost paralysed. It took a huge effort of will just to lift my arms or open my mouth to speak. Another resident who had become my friend called the doctor who came straight away — seemed she was concerned that I had had a stroke.

Another ambitious woman at the centre had a chat with me and offered to take over my job and I was delighted to hand over the reins to her, as I was worn out. This woman then went about making herself very unpopular by behaving like a bad-tempered tyrant, with the excuse that she was now the “lineage-holder” for Geshe-la’s will towards the centre, and thus if we questioned her authority and decisions it was because we had a “negative mind” and lacked “faith”. One of her decisions was to evict my friend from the centre because she was not pure NKT and therefore seen as “negative”. My friend was devastated and I tried to protect her from the eviction, which ultimately resulted in me being evicted as well. I was actually happy to leave as I had long wanted to go and live at Madhyamaka Centre — it seemed like such an idyllic life there.

Once I arrived at Madhyamaka Centre I tried to make a formal complaint about the woman in charge at my old centre, but no senior people were interested. Samden just laughed at me. What I did not realise then was the sort of antics that went on at my old centre were commonplace in NKT centres. Since then I have heard time and again of instances of the authoritarian management style and bullying that seems to go on as a matter of course in many, if not most, NKT centres.

The fixed false smiles and the glassy-eyed expressions began to make me feel like I was in a kind of psychiatric hospital with nice grounds.

I settled in to life at Madhyamaka and soon got laden down with loads of work again ie I was put in charge of the kitchen and the food shop. However, the idyllic life I had imagined there did not materialise (obviously) and it began to feel like a pretty lonely, miserable life there. The sense of community was almost non-existent and the atmosphere was cold and indifferent. Worse still, there were many instances I observed of careless, ego-driven behaviour that got me wondering whether any of this so-called spiritual practice was actually authentic at all. Instead, I began to feel that the place was teeming with psychologically damaged, lonely people unable to cope with the “real world” on one side, and on the other, a closed, smug clique of the “in crowd”. The so-called practices appeared inauthentic to me — most of these people seemed to be just trying to escape from the real world into some blissed out notion of a Pure Land, just papering over the cracks in their damaged psyches with their so-called meditation. Here was “Spiritual Bypassing” in action. The fixed false smiles and the glassy-eyed expressions began to make me feel like I was in a kind of psychiatric hospital with nice grounds. Any mention of the role of psychotherapy in helping people was always met with scorn — “just abandon self-cherishing and cherish others instead and all will be well — Geshe-la’s Dharma is all you need”. But it isn’t.

I was finding the Highest Yoga Tantra practices very difficult and not in the least helpful in the cultivation of a peaceful mind. I found the endless hours of puja practice tedious and very reminiscent of my previous life as a Catholic: being bored to death at Mass and doing Penance. I also read in one of Geshe-la’s books that if you abandoned your commitment to HYT practice the bad karma accrued would result in countless aeons in hell. Catholicism again. I went to my teacher for reassurance that if I gave up HYT and went back to basics that I wasn’t going to hell. He could not give me such an assurance — perhaps thinking that the threat of hellish rebirth would keep me in line. Very Catholic. In desperation I sought, and was granted, an audience with “Geshe-la” himself. I tried to explain to him the difficulties I was having, hoping for some personal guidance. I may as well have said nothing, because he took no personal interest in me whatsoever and just doled out the same old trite, potted advice: do Heart Jewel everyday and if I had time to do Wishfulfilling Jewel and Dakini Yoga as well (or something equally useless). Meeting him didn’t help me whatsoever.

She gave me a big smile but her eyes were not smiling — they had that hard steely look of warning to me: that I should know better than to ask such a thing.

After several months I went home for Christmas and applied for a job in Social Services. I’d had enough of hiding out in NKT Centres and getting nowhere slowly with the “meditation” practices. After several years reciting pujas, practising sadhanas and studying, my mind appeared just as unruly and unsettled as it ever was before, when it was under pressure. Trying to avoid pressure by hiding out in an Ivory Tower was not the answer: this just wasn’t working for me. I left Madhyamaka Centre and started a paid job in Social Services. At first I went back to some GP classes at my old centre, but by then the teachings had become trite, repetitive and vapid. In one class about anger, I held up my hand to ask about the view of some Buddhist teachers that all emotions can have a positive side, including anger: “In what way could anger ever have a positive side?” I asked. The teacher said she knew nothing about that, as I “should know” in the NKT they study only Geshe-la’s books. She gave me a big smile but her eyes were not smiling — they had that hard steely look of warning to me: that I should know better than to ask such a thing. Annoyed and embarrassed by her put down, and dissatisfied with what I was hearing, I never went back. Some years later I heard that same nun eloped with her junior sidekick teacher, a young monk — apparently because she was “lonely”. Obviously, she and many like her, are just play-acting at being wise and virtuous ordained teachers, and after a while they just can’t keep up the pretence of being something that they clearly are not.

sexually abusive men masquerading as spiritual teachers, turning sexual exploitation into “spiritual practice”

The last time I visited Madhyamaka centre the news had just broken that Gen Thubten (Gen-la) had been forced to disrobe, under threat from one of the “in-crowd” elite group, that if he did not, she would go to the press and reveal that he had been breaking his vows of chastity with impunity, having “tantric” sex with basically anyone he fancied. Seems he had tried it on with her, despite the fact that she was actually married too. Worse still, it was said that Geshe-la even knew about it, but because Thubten Gyatso was considered “special”, his actions would not accrue bad karma. Indeed, the women involved should count themselves lucky that having received his blessed “white drops”, they would get enlightened quicker!! What a pile of absolutely repellent hogwash: sexually abusive men masquerading as spiritual teachers, turning sexual exploitation into “spiritual practice”.

On that day in 1996 there was also a coach in the car park. My friend, who was relaying to me the news about Gen-la, was getting ready to go off on it. She told me that they were going to protest against the Dalai Lama because, according to her teacher, due to his “ban” on Shugden, the Shugdenpas in India were experiencing “persecution”. I asked her if she had seen any proof of persecution, to which she sheepishly replied “No — but if my teacher says it’s true, then I have to believe her. I have to keep my faith in my teacher”. I commented that she was out of her mind and asked her to remember Buddha’s advice: just because somebody says it’s true, doesn’t necessarily mean it is true, no matter who said it, even the Buddha himself. But she wasn’t listening. I never saw her or spoke to her again. Nor did I want to.

I was pretty enraged by what I’d heard about “Gen-la” too. How could he be such a hypocrite I thought, as my mind went back to one of his Teacher Training Weekends that I had attended: he had told us in no uncertain terms that sexual relationships between students and teachers were a complete no-no — totally out of bounds. So it was one rule for us, and another for him then — presumably because he thinks he’s “special”.

I barely gave the NKT any more thought at all after1996/7, apart from an incident in 1999 when I bumped into an ex-NKT monk at an NLP seminar. He had once been a rabid media spokesman for Kelsang Gyatso in the 1996 round of protests, but I did not know that at this time. He told me that he had left the NKT, disillusioned and disgruntled: he had been sent to Spain as a monk/teacher where he had fallen in love and gotten a girl pregnant. When he asked him for help, Geshe-la reacted with a lot of anger at what had happened, but told him in the end not to worry about it, that he forgave him and to come back to England, forget the girl and baby, and that they would basically do one of their cover-up jobs. This ex-monk was pretty disgusted by Geshe-la’s response, and despite his previous fanaticism, he finally saw the light. So there’s hope for Rabten et al yet. His story was shocking but it also confirmed to me that I had made the right choice: Kelsang Gyatso is not a genuine spiritual master and the NKT does not practice authentic Buddhist teachings.

NKT members are fooled into thinking if they dedicate their hearts and minds, and all their energy, time and money to the NKT and Kelsang Gyatso, they are getting merit tokens in return, to buy their entry into the “Pure Land”.

Fast forward to late 2012 when I caught sight of an erstwhile NKT monk singing in the choir of Handel’s Messiah at the Albert Hall. I went home and googled New Kadampa Tradition and was met with an avalanche of personal accounts and information that affirmed, in no uncertain terms, my suspicions about the NKT all those years ago. No trace of that monk anywhere either — he had obviously left. I was also horrified to see and read what they were saying about the Dalai Lama: it seemed to me this was a clear case of transferred subconscious hostility, because everything they were saying about the Dalai Lama was actually true of Kelsang Gyatso and the NKT — the allegations of hypocrisy, denial of religious freedom, ostracisation, bullying, abuse, all the lies — sounded like a day in the life of an average NKT Centre to me.

Having a rest and a coffee after attending protests to inform the public at the NKT’s Bodhisattva Kadampa Meditation Centre, Brighton as senior teachers of the NKT are defaming and harassing His Holiness the Dalai Lama (Facebook)

It also horrified me that they would put their own self-serving attachment to the worship of some obscure deity above humanity, above the cause of a peaceful and united Tibet, above the cause of the freedom of Tibet. They are prepared to put all that aside and parrot the same anti-Tibetan propaganda that Beijing spouts, as well as putting aside everything they are taught about Right Speech, about how the source of our problems is in our attitude, just to defend their attachment to the worship of an obscure, sectarian and deeply divisive deity, whom they are demanding and insisting that the Dalai Lama recognises as a “Wisdom Buddha”. What has worshiping anybody got to do with real Buddha dharma anyway? While demonstrating for their supposed right to “religious freedom”, they are impinging on everyone else’s right of religious freedom not to agree with them. This is an irony completely lost on them.

Soon after I made these discoveries I went on a 10 day silent Vipassana meditation retreat. There, really for the first time, I learnt how to actually meditate in a simple and systematic fashion that didn’t involve loads of head-work — (contemplate this, imagine that…) I began to feel quite cheated then by what I had been doing all those years in the NKT, where they had been trying to teach me to fly to the moon, without first teaching me how to walk, as if they knew anything about either anyway. At one of the festivals I helped to organise, a committee member suggested as a joke that we organisers should all be given symbolic white sticks: because we were the blind leading the blind. He didn’t know how right he was.

Yet learning to fly to the moon seems a lot more exciting than learning to walk. Trouble is that their course in “how to fly to the moon” (aka Highest Yoga Tantra) turns out to be nothing more than a deluded fantasy of ego-driven spiritual materialism, where the need for authentic self-knowledge is passed over, in the constant striving to gain the merit and blessings required to taste the “bliss” of the “Pure Land” of enlightenment. Self-defeating Disney Dharma. Missing the point entirely.

Nor is it so different from Catholicism either: Catholics were once fooled into thinking they could buy Indulgences to guarantee a place in heaven; NKT members are fooled into thinking if they dedicate their hearts and minds, and all their energy, time and money to the NKT and Kelsang Gyatso, they are getting merit tokens in return, to buy their entry into the “Pure Land”. It’s basically the same idea just dressed up in a different way for a different brand of organised religion, both of which seem to regard the accumulation of gold and temporal wealth as somehow being the work of the Lord. But at least the Catholics do carry out secular charitable work, which is more than the NKT do — the only recipient of their charity is NKT Property Incorporated (Special Gold Palaces Project) and its subsidiary company, the ISBC.

This testimony was originally posted on the New Kadampa Survivor Testimony Facebook page on January 26, 2015. All testimonies are protected by Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND. The author gives permission for this article to be posted elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

infighting in Tibetan Buddhism, Eastern Tibet vs Central Tibet and the Shugden conflict



Tibet's Mystic Politics: Review of The Dalai Lama and the King Demon by Raimondo Bultrini

In February and March we witnessed groups of Western Buddhists in San Francisco and D.C. accusing the Dalai Lama of "religious persecution" and "abuse of basic human rights." What, one may ask, is going on? Italian journalist Raimondo Bultrini attempts to unravel this mystery in his new book.

"If there is dispute, there is contention; if there is contention, there is trouble; if there is trouble, there is vexation."
--The Buddha 

In February and March this year we witnessed the bizarre spectacle of groups of Western Buddhists in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., screaming at the Dalai Lama, accusing him of "religious persecution" and "abuse of basic human rights." The Dalai Lama, one of the most respected and trusted global figures and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize who has made interfaith dialogue and understanding a fundamental aspect of his life's mission! What on Earth, one may ask, is going on?

Italian journalist Raimondo Bultrini attempts to unravel this mystery in his new book, The Dalai Lama and the King Demon: Tracking a Triple Murder Mystery Through the Mists of Time (Hay House, 2013). Bultrini chronicles a controversy that has carved a jagged and painful path through Tibetan Buddhist society. In its passage, a serious threat to the Dalai Lama's authority, an unforgiving and occasionally violent divide between his people, a smear on the reputation of Buddhism itself, and a heaven-sent scenario for China's state actors to sow discord and distrust and win allies among the Tibetan people.

The extreme edge of this damage was the savage murder in 1997 of a senior monk, Geshe Lobsang Gyatso, and two junior monks. The attack, which sent shockwaves through the Tibetan exile community, took place in a monastery adjacent to the Dalai Lama's compound in Dharamsala, India. Gyatso, who had been an outspoken critic of the practice of a particular entity in the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon called Dorje Shugden, was stabbed 17 times and his throat slit. The subsequent police investigation implicated two Shugden followers. Arrest warrants were issued by Interpol, but the suspects were believed to have fled to Nepal and then to China. Although their guilt was never determined in a court of law, the majority of the Tibetan diaspora remain convinced that Shugdenites were to blame. An ancient spiritual feud had entered contemporary lethality.

As early as the mid-'70s, the Dalai Lama began advising against the practice of Dorje Shugden, whom he calls Dogyal, or "demon king," explaining that it encourages discord and division between the different Tibetan Buddhist schools. Indeed, Shugden devotees represent an ultraconservative (some would say fundamentalist) branch of Tibetan Buddhism that seeks to maintain what they regard as a more authentic lineage. The Dalai Lama's later comments describing Shugden as "a spirit of the dark forces" and prohibiting followers from attending his teachings had a ripple effect within the diaspora. Though he never directly forbade the practice, the Dalai Lama's statements resulted in a de facto ban that was self-enforced by the majority of Tibetan exiles.

Shugden practitioners gradually became social pariahs. Shopkeepers refused to sell to them, and landlords refused to rent to them. In 2008 the Tibetan leadership ordered the monasteries in South India to purge their populations of Shugden devotees. Monks who had formerly lived like brothers were now forbidden to talk to one another. The more zealous engaged in violent scuffles and beatings. Hundreds of monks were expelled, and those who remained were required to publicly denounce the practice under the eyes of the abbots, eager to prove their loyalties. For their part, Shugden representatives began comparing the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government's handling of the issue to the Nazis and cosying up to China.

The Dalai Lama and the King Demon veers from a semi-fictionalized account of the investigation of the murders by Indian police ("[W]hat kind of religion is this that unleashes a massacre of monks, butchered because of some invisible spirit?") into a first-person narrative of Bultrini's forays into Tibetan Buddhism and meanders into a chronicle of the controversy's obscure religious history. These different approaches to the story have their own merit, but the result makes for rather unwieldy and choppy reading. 

There are a number of interesting dialogues with leading Shugden personalities such as Ganchen Tulku and Kundeling Rinpoche. Significantly absent, however, is the highly influential Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who heads the New Kadampa Tradition that runs over 500 centers around the world. We never get to hear the personal perspective of ordinary Tibetan Shugden practitioners, either lay or monastic, whom Bultrini characterizes as "pawns" in the dispute. 

Another omission is any substantial analysis of the Western Shugden Buddhists, who curiously have emerged as a well-funded and vocal lobby in what previously was a purely Tibetan domain. The Shugden Supporters Community, the Freedom Foundation, and, more recently, the International Shugden Community (ISC) are all fronts for the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), who make the highly implausible claim of 4 million Shugden followers worldwide. Bultrini's inquiry would have benefited from an interview with American ISC spokesperson Rebecca Gauthier, for example, who, in between posts about "stress-busting" salad dressings, tweets things like "10 SIMPLE reasons why Dorje Shugden is a Buddha and NOT a spirit" and "The Dalai Lama is NOT REAL: find out why here."

This arcane religious dispute revolves largely around two of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism: Nyingma and Gelug (the latter being the most dominant school, to which the Dalai Lama belongs). The historical origins reach back to the 17th century, when a rival of the fifth Dalai Lama, Drakpa Gyaltsen, died under mysterious circumstances and was later reincarnated as a fierce guardian of Gelugpa orthadoxy. In fact, as Bultrini points out, the Shugden issue has always involved tensions between staunch traditionalists and more liberal elements of Tibetan society and seems to raise its head whenever a Dalai Lama pursues a policy of modernization and religious inclusiveness. The present 14th Dalai Lama, as well as the 13th and fifth before him, all eschewed sectarianism and chose to receive some of their instruction from Nyingma masters. The Shugden ghost has haunted them all. 

The agonizing choice that ordinary Shugden followers feel forced to make between loyalty to their beloved leader and their sacred vows to the teachers from whom they received the practice is difficult to fathom by those unfamiliar with the enormously important role that the guru plays in Tibetan Buddhism. These days, even among the educated, Shugden has taken on a Voldermort-like persona, and many Tibetans are scared to even utter the word "Shugden" out loud. Rumors abound about Gelug followers who practice Nyingma teachings having their lives cut short or meeting with sudden misfortune.

The attacks on the Dalai Lama by the Shugdenites, particularly by Westerners, are cultish, paranoid and extreme. While accusing him of religious discrimination, they themselves maintain a far less ecumenical approach by pressuring their own followers to not engage in Nyingma practices. But the Tibetan government's response has been less than skillful, with incendiary speeches that have been easily interpreted as encouraging violence. Most recently, the Central Tibetan Administration has made public a "blacklist" of Tibetan Shugdenites. Dorje Shugden is either a malevolent spirit or an enlightened being, depending upon whom you ask (and the book title is revealing of the author's own bias), but the "Shugden effect" in terms of both Tibetan society and the Tibetan cause appears to consist solely of damage. None of it seems particularly Buddhist. 

Chinese authorities in Tibet have been quick to take advantage of the situation, knocking down statues sacred to followers of the Nyingma and erecting statues of Dorje Shugden. The Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama (as opposed to the one acknowledged by the Dalai Lama and the majority of Tibetans) finds support among key Shugden leaders, and Bultrini asserts that a number of Shugden projects are funded directly from Beijing. 

It may all sound deeply superstitious and chimeric to outsiders, but the implications of the Shugden affair are eminently tangible in a society where light struggles to shine between politics and religion. The very language required to discuss it sounds more or less preposterous to those who are unfamiliar with the psycho-symbology of Tibetan Buddhism, and this is exactly why it is so difficult for the Dalai Lama to respond to his detractors in a way that is coherent to Western ears.

Although many in the Tibetan establishment express their preference to "let sleeping dogs lie," it is clear that this particular dog is not only awake but becoming increasingly active. Bultrini's book is a timely and well-researched contribution to the debate. His obvious devotion to the Dalai Lama and his immersion in Tibetan Buddhism could be viewed as a hindrance to his objectivity, although it is hard to imagine anyone not personally invested in the Tibetan Buddhist world having the patience or persistence to produce an entire book on such an abstruse topic. The audience will, necessarily, be small but attentive.

Perhaps Bultrini's greatest accomplishment is in paving the way for more candid and less polarized discussion on an issue that is slowly but consistently gnawing at the very heart of the Tibetan Buddhist world. For those who may choose to engage, it is worth recalling the Dalai Lama's advice to Bultrini: "Don't be frightened of spirits, but be wary of men with knives."





… the Buddhist movement never tries to destroy evil absolutely, as it would be evil to do so. Instead, it seeks to transform evil into good, turning even demonic entities into ‘protectors of freedom’ (dharmapala) or ‘world protectors’ (lokapala). To think that evil can be eradicated by destroying an external demon is to miss the ‘dark side’ within oneself, to destroy one’s own demonic unconscious potential, and hence actually to be taken over by the demon of one’s own egotism. – Robert A.F. Thurman

Those who are interested to get a broader and more detailed background knowledge about the Dorje Shugden controversy and their global players might find the book The Dalai Lama and the King Demon – Tracking a Triple Murder Mystery Through the Mists of Time by Raimondo Bultrini, an investigative journalist from Italy, very useful. (You can only pre-order it, the publication date is 1st Jul ’13.)

Bultrini is a senior journalist who worked for different Newspapers, including La Republica, and who wrote investigative and featured articles on Mafia, Red Brigates and on the new fascist bloodbath killings which occurred in Italy during those years. Bultrini is a member of Choegyal Namkhai Norbu’s Dzogchen Community in Italy.

The upcoming book by Bultrini about the Dorje Shugden Controversy is a translation of ‘IL DEMONE E IL DALAI LAMA’ (2008, 406 p.) from Italian into English.

In this book Bultrini shows the different players and their different involvements, including that of the Chinese authorities and the Dharamsala’s counter-espionage, the New Kadampa Tradition’s/Kelsang Gyatso’s involvements as well as that of Lama Gangchen Rinpoche, Kundeling Lama, the 14th Dalai Lama, his sister, the Delhi ‘Shugden Society’, the assassination of Gen Lobsang Gyatso … and vicious plans from here and there. To give you an idea about some of the dynamics most Westerners just don’t know, here an excerpt:

In a talk broadcast in 2002 by a Tibetan radio station, the young Trijang offered a number of disturbing revelations. He recounted how, while still in Dharamsala, he was told of a plan by the Tibetan Youth Congress and the Tibetan Women’s Association to attack his Labrang [the residence of the lamas.]. “Consequently,” he said, “the Chatreng community appealed to me to immediately come to Delhi and thereafter to leave for Densa [Ganden monastery in south India]. I did so, leaving my attendant, Tharcin, in Dharamsala to request an interview with His Holiness. Anonymous letters and telephone calls were received at the Labrang, where masked men were seen trying to enter my residence at night. As a result, the Chatreng community deputed around twenty guards for my security. In 1996, Gonsar Rinpoche and others decided to move me to Switzerland. The situation in India deteriorated and grew tense between the followers and non-followers of the Protector, consequently delaying my return. Later that year with my aide Tharcin I had an audience with His Holiness during his visit to Switzerland. Tharcin apprised him of the threats to my life and we agreed I should continue my studies abroad. Six years have passed since then.”

Trijang recounted how he had subsequently had other audiences with the Dalai Lama in Europe, during which the Tibetan leader had asked him to choose between his spiritual guide and the protector. “I could decide against him”, he said, but nor could I stop propitiating Shugden with whom my relationship dates back to previous incarnations. I find myself in an immensely difficult situation. The followers of the Protector would not have listened to me”, he added, “and no one seems to care about the difficulties I am facing (…) I also don’t want the people of Chatreng, who have great expectations of me, to be disheartened. But if I continue to propitiate the Protector publicly, I would be compelled to become a sort of head of his worshippers, and this would be an offence to the Dalai Lama from whom I received my Bhikshu ordination, and has always treated me with extraordinary benevolence. I cannot even hope to keep a low profile as they [the Shugden devotees] would not let me.”

The broadcast contained another series of remarkable revelations. “I have reason to believe”, he said, “that my return to India may possibly result in internal chaos, attempts on lives and other immoral activities bringing disgrace to His Holiness (…) I cannot sleep and I have had health problems. I am worried about thinking what will happen next. It is quite terrifying to think that I might be a cause of disgrace instead of serving the Tibetan people and His Holiness (…) Some have told me, “If you abandon the Protector [Shugden], there is no knowing what will happen. We will not consider you a lama [as guru]. The people of Chatreng are strange, very wild and unruly. We do not know what they may do.”

It is very clear my life might be in danger. So I have decided to leave my Labrang and disrobe, so that none of the Shugden worshippers can ask me to be their leader. I hope that this way I can respect the wishes of the Dalai Lama and still revere the protector, practicing in private and far from everyone. I intend to follow a middle way, neither for nor against Shugden. I appeal to both parties not to contact me.”

His account ended with another dramatic twist. “In my own Labrang,” he said, “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 chakzoe [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 succeeds in his plan, it would be 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 I want everyone to know. That is why I made this statement.”

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

The young Trijang Rinpoche’s radio message created no little embarrassment among the Gyalpo’s practitioners. The image of a community, ‘living peacefully and devoted to the Buddhadharma’ promoted in their propaganda material was seriously damaged, and, for a long time, the polemics against the Dalai Lama seemed to be diminishing. But hopes that they would fade away completely have not been fulfilled – far from it.

I have still to check if the book includes also something about the New Kadampa Traditions’s ‘Western Shugden Society’ campaign, which started in April 2008, and the lawsuit against the Dalai Lama and the TGIE by Kundeling Lama which was finally not even accepted by the Delhi High Court (see PDF: Delhi High Court Dismisses Dorjee Shugden Devotees’ Charges by TibetNet/CTA).

For the publisher’s announcement see:

More by Raimondo Bultrini:

Dorje Shugden – Academic Research:

Update July 7th, 2014

  Last edited by tenpel on July 7, 2014 at 1:25 am

Dorje Shugden controversy


Dorje Shugden controversy

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The Dorje Shugden controversy is a controversy over Dorje Shugden, also known as Dolgyal, whom some consider to be one of several protectors of the Gelug school, the school of Tibetan Buddhism to which the Dalai Lamas belong. Dorje Shugden has become the symbolic focal point[1][web 1] of a conflict over the "purity"[2] of the Gelug school and the inclusion of non-Gelug teachings, especially Nyingma ones.

In the 1930s, Pabongkhapa Déchen Nyingpo, who favoured an "exclusive" stance, started to promote Shugden as a major protector of the Gelug school,[3][note 1][web 2][note 2]who harms any Gelug practitioner who blends his practice with non-Gelug practices.[4][3][web 2] The conflict resurfaced with the publication of TheYellow Book in 1976, containing stories about Shugden’s wrathful acts against Gelugpas who also practiced Nyingma teachings. In response, the 14th Dalai Lama, a Gelugpa himself and advocate of an "inclusive" approach to Tibetan Buddhism,[5][2] began speaking out against the practice of Dorje Shugden in 1978.[6]

The controversy attracted attention in the West following demonstrations by Dorje Shugden practitioners, especially Kelsang Gyatso's Britain-based New Kadampa Tradition, which broke away from the Gelug school in 1991. Other factions supporting Dorje Shugden are Serpom Monastic University and Shar Ganden Monastery, both of which separated from mainstream Gelug in 2008.

In April 2019, Tsem Tulku Rinpoche published an article summarizing statements made in 2016 by the Dalai Lama, which Rinpoche said equate to overt permission to practice Dorje Shugden, representing a complete reversal of the Dalai Lama's former position.



Dorje Shugden, also known as Dolgyal, originated as a gyalpo "angry and vengeful spirit" of South Tibet. Originally from the Sakya school as a minor protector that was part of the Three Gyalpo Kings (Shugden, Setrap, and Tsiu Marpo), Shugden was subsequently adopted as a "minor protector" of the Gelug, the newest of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism,[7] headed by the Dalai Lamas (although nominally the Ganden Tripas).[web 2][web 3]

1930s-1940s Pabongkha[edit]

Promotion of Dorje Shugden[edit]

In the 1930s, Pabongkhapa Déchen Nyingpo started to promote Dorje Shugden. According to Kay, Pabongka fashioned Shugden as a violent protector of the Gelug school, who is employed against other traditions,[3][note 3][web 2][note 4] transforming Dorje Shugden's "marginal practice into a central element of the Ge-luk tradition", thus "replacing the traditional supra-mundane protectors of the Ge-luk tradition",[web 2] namely MahākālaKalarupaVaiśravaṇa,  Palden LhamoPehar and Nechung who were appointed by Je Tsongkhapa.[note 5][note 6]

According to Georges Dreyfus, "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."[web 3] Dreyfus also notes, 

[T]he 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.[web 4]

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."[9]

Persecution of the Rimé movement[edit]

Dorje Shugden was a key tool in Pabongkhapa's persecution of the flourishing Rimé movement, an ecumenical movement which fused the teachings of the SakyaKagyu and Nyingma,[10] in response to the dominance of the Gelug school. Non-Gelug, especially Nyingma, monasteries were forced to convert to the Gelug position.

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.[3]

Pabongkhapa feared a decline of Gelug monasteries, and induced a revival movement, which promoted the Gelug as the only pure tradition. He regarded the practice of non-Gelug teachings by Gelug monks as a threat to the Gelug tradition, and opposed the influence of the other schools, especially the Nyingma.[6] He coupled Dorje Shugden to Gelug exclusivism, using it against other traditions, and against Gelugpa's with eclectic tendencies.[3] The main function of the deity was presented as "the protection of the Ge-luk tradition through violent means, even including the killing of its enemies."[6]

Response by the 13th Dalai Lama[edit]

The abbot of Drepung Monastery and the 13th Dalai Lama were opposed to Pabongkapa's propitiation of Shugden.[web 2][web 3][note 7] Restrictions on the practice of Shugden were implemented by the 13th Dalai Lama.[web 3]Pabongkhapa apologized and promised not to engage in Shugden practices any more.[web 2][note 8]


Publication of The Yellow Book[edit]

In 1975, The Yellow Book, also known as The Oral Transmission of the Intelligent Father,[12] was published. It enumerates a series of stories that Zimey Rinpoche had heard informally from Trijang Rinpoche about ‘the many Ge-luk lamas whose lives are supposed to have been shortened by Shuk-den’s displeasure at their practicing Nying-ma teachings’.[13] The text asserts the pre-eminence of the Gelug school which is symbolised and safeguarded by Dorje Shugden, and presents a stern warning to those within the Gelug whose eclectic tendencies would compromise the school's purity.[12] The book provoked angry reactions from non-Gelug traditions, triggering a bitter literary exchange that drew on ‘all aspects of sectarian rivalry’.[14]

Response by the 14th Dalai Lama[edit]

1998 Berlin New Kadampa Tradition demonstration protest against the 14th Dalai Lama. Some German slogans translated are "You know that Dorje Shugden harms no being, please Dalai Lama stop spreading lies!" and "Dorje Shugden loves all Buddhist traditions, please don't lie!"

The 14th Dalai Lama publicly rejected The Yellow Book, which could only damage the common cause of the Tibetan people because of its sectarian divisiveness.[12] In a series of talks, he sought to undermine the status elevation of Dorje Shugden by reaffirming the centrality of traditional supramundane protectors of the Gelug tradition.[12] He also vehemently rejected Dorje Shugden's associated sectarianism, emphasising that all the Tibetan traditions are ‘equally profound dharmas’ and defending the ‘unbiased and eclectic’ approach to Buddhist practice as exemplified by the SecondThird and Fifth Dalai Lamas.[15]

Scholar Donald S. Lopez Jr. explains, "The Dalai Lama’s renunciation of Shugden in 1976 caused great discord within the Geluk community, where devotion to the deity remained strong among the Geluk hierarchy and among large factions of the refugee lay community; spirited defenses of his worship were written and published. Some went so far as to claim that the Dalai Lama was not the true Dalai Lama, that the search party had selected the wrong child forty years before."[16]

According to Georges Dreyfus, the sectarian elements of The Yellow Book were not unusual and do not "justify or explain the Dalai Lama's strong reaction."[web 2]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."[17] This involves the promotion and practices of the Nyingma school. Kay reminds us, "[W]hen traditions come into conflict, religious and philosophical differences are often markers of disputes that are primarily economic, material and political in nature."[18]


Bluck notes the activity regarding Dorje Shugden practice in the 80s: "In the early 1980s the Dalai Lama restricted reliance on Dorje Shugden to private rather than public practice. The tension this caused within the Gelug and wider Tibetan community may reflect some opposition to his ecumenical approach."[19]


Initiations by the 14th Dalai Lama[edit]

With the urging of the other schools who have long been opposed to Shugden,[note 9] and his senior Gelug tutor who always doubted the practice,[note 10][note 11] the 14th Dalai Lama asked the increasing number of western Shugden practitioners who were newly being proselytized primarily in Britain to refrain from attending his teachings.[note 12] George Chryssides, quoting Steven Batchelor, states:

Affairs came to a head in March 1996, when the Dalai Lama formally pronounced his opposition to Dorje Shugden, saying "It has become fairly clear that Dolgyal (i.e. Shugden) is a spirit of the dark forces." (Batchelor, 1998, p. 64) The Tibetan government in exile is said to have conducted house searches, demanding that people sign a declaration stating that they have abandoned Dorje Shugden practice (Batchelor, 1998, p. 64).[22]

New Kadampa Tradition[edit]

The New Kadampa Tradition, founded by Kelsang Gyatso in 1991, has continued the worship of Dorje Shugden.[2] Kelsang Gyatso regards his school to be the true continuation of the "pure" teachings of Je Tsongkhapa, rejecting the "inclusivism" of the Dalai Lama.[23] Thurman notes that members of the New Kadampa Tradition, responded by trying 

...to force their supposed mentor to adopt their perspective that the demonic spirit is an enlightened being, almost more important than the Buddha himself, and perhaps also rejoin their worship of it, or at least give them all his initiatory teachings in spite of their defiance of his best advice.[21]

Martin Mills states that:

recent dispute within the Gelukpa Order over the status of the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden have focused on claims by a breakaway order of the Gelukpa, the British-based New Kadampa Tradition, that Shugden is of Buddha status (most Gelukpa commentators place him as a worldly deity)[24]

DSRCS and SSC/WSS[edit]

In India, some protests and opposition were organised by the Dorje Shugden Religious and Charitable Society (DSRCS) with the support of the Shugden Supporters Community (SSC),[web 5][better source needed] now called Western Shugden Society.[web 6]

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.[25] 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 penaltyextrajudicial 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."[web 7] 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. [web 8] [26][web 9]

The DSRCS and Kundeling Lama filed a petition against the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and the Dalai Lama, accusing them of harassment and maltreatment. On 5 April 2010, Justice S. Muralidhar dismissed the petition, stating that allegations of violence and harassment were "vague averments" and that there as an "absence of any specific instances of any such attacks."[web 10]

Murder of Lobsang Gyatso and two students[edit]

On February 4, 1997, the principal of the Buddhist School of Dialectics, Lobsang Gyatso, was murdered along with two of his students in Dharmasala .[27] Kay notes "The subsequent investigation by the Indian police linked the murders to the Dorje Shugden faction of the exiled Tibetan community."[28]

In a small 1978 pamphlet, Lobsang Gyatso alluded to a "knotless heretic teacher", which some people took as referring to Trijang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso and his advocacy of Shugden.[29] According to Lobsang Gyatso's biographer, Gareth Sparham, many geshes and lamas were outraged over 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.[30]

Georges Dreyfus added, "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."[31]

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.[web 11] Robert Thurman adds that the alleged killers had their origin within China as well.[21] The Seattle Times reported, "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."[web 12]

Kelsang Gyatso denied the involvement of any of his followers in the murder, and condemned the killings.[web 13] Matthews notes that "In spite of speculation, no connection has been found between New Kadampa Tradition and the murders in Dharamsala" [32]


Attempted murder[edit]

Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche revealed an attempt to frame the Central Tibetan Administration 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 [...] 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.[33]

Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche's declaration disturbed the image of a peaceful community, and the polemics against the Dalai Lama diminished for a long while.[33]

Schism within the Gelug school[edit]

The Gelugpa school has three great monasteries, namely SeraGanden, and Drepung. In 2008, the Dorje Shugden controversy led to formal schism within the Gelug school. Pomra Khangtsen, one of the sixteen sections of Sera monastery, legally separated itself in India from the rest of Sera, continuing as "Serpom Monastic University" at Bylakuppe. Also in 2008, a section of Ganden Shartse at Mundgod similarly separated itself from Ganden and is now known as "Shar Ganden Monastery".[web 14] In these institutions, the monks continue to worship Dorje Shugden as well as follow traditional curricula[web 15] and other religious practices of their parent institutions. A few smaller Gelug monasteries have affiliated themselves with these two monasteries rather than with mainstream Gelug.

The present abbot of Serpom is Kyabje Yongyal and its acting abbot is Jampa Khetsun.[web 16] The present abbot of Shar Ganden is Lobsang Jinpa.[web 17]


Hundreds of western Shugden practitioners have staged numerous demonstrations against the Dalai Lama, most recently in 2015 when he opened the Aldershot Buddhist Centre[web 18][34] and in Cambridge, and 2014 in San FranciscoBerkeleyWashington, D.C.OsloRotterdam, and Frankfurt.[web 19] [web 20] [web 21] [web 22] [web 23]

In response, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) published different statements and corrections to the protesters' claims.[web 24][web 25] They also posted two lists of Tibetan participants of the protests[web 26][web 27] and a declaration by former NKT members and ex-practitioners of Dorje Shugden.[web 28] International Campaign for Tibet also condemned the protests, stating in February 2015, "The way group has been denigrating the Dalai Lama is an affront to the Tibetan people and is causing great damage to the broader Tibetan issue."[35]


Views of opponents of Dorje Shugden practice[edit]

Ling Rinpoche[edit]

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.[note 10][note 11]

Views of the 14th Dalai Lama[edit]

The 14th Dalai Lama himself said in 2008, that he never used the word "ban", but "he strongly discourages Tibetan Buddhists"[web 29] in practicing Shugden 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".[web 30] The advice of the 14th Dalai Lama was approved by the Central Tibetan Administration[web 31] and the Parliament in exile[web 32] in 1996. It was then gradually implemented into a ban starting from 1997 by the Tibetan Youth Congress including enforcement measures like imposing all spiritual masters to stop worshipping Shugden "in the interest of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Independence" or urging all other Tibetan organizations and communities to expel anyone who venerates Shugden.[web 33]

Several reasons for the 14th Dalai Lama's stance have been given. According to John Makransky

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.[36]

According to Kapstein, 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."[37]

According to Dreyfus, the 14th Dalai Lama stance stems from his favoring the traditional Gelug traditions and protectors rather than Shugden:

[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 [...] his opposition to Shukden is motivated by his return to a more traditional stance in which this deity is seen as incompatible with the vision of the tradition (the "clan") represented by the Fifth Dalai Lama.[web 34]

Views of Shugden practitioners[edit]

Kelsang Gyatso[edit]

In an interview with scholar Donald Lopez on the controversy, Kelsang Gyatso explains: 

We believe that Dorje Shugden is a buddha who is also a dharmapala. Problems have arisen because of someone’s view. So although we say the "Dorje Shugden problem" in reality this is a human problem, not a Dorje Shugden problem. This is not a fault of Buddha-dharma, not a fault of Tibetan Buddhism, or even a fault of Tibetan people in general. This is a particular person’s wrong view. He can keep this view, of course, but forcing other people to follow this is not right. For this reason, nowadays we [Tibetan Buddhists] are showing many problems to the world. We are ashamed and sorry that this causes the reputation of Buddhists in general to be damaged. It is not a general Buddhist problem, but a specific problem within Tibetan Buddhism.[38]

In the interview, Kelsang Gyatso states:

Of course we believe that every Nyingmapa and Kagyupa have their complete path. Not only Gelugpa. I believe that Nyingmapas have a complete path. Of course, Kagyupas are very special. We very much appreciate the example of Marpa and Milarepa [in the Kagyu lineage]. Milarepa showed the best example of guru devotion. Of course the Kagyupas as well as the Nyingmapas and the Sakyapas, have a complete path to enlightenment.[38]

According to Kelsang Gyatso, 

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.[39]

According to David Kay, Kelsang Gyatso departs from Pabongkhapa and Trijang Rinpoche by stating that Dorje Shugden's appearance is enlightened, rather than worldly.[40] According to Kay, "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."[40] He quotes Kelsang Gyatso on Dorje 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."[40] According to Kay, Kelsang Gyatso downplays the oracle of Shugden, since it conflicts with his notion of Shugden being a Buddha:

[T]he 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’.[41] 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.[42]

Third-party views[edit]

Dorje Shugden Practitioners[edit]

According to Dreyfus, "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."[web 2]

According to Buddhist professor and Nyingma teacher John Markansky:

[S]ome 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! [...] 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.[36]

New Kadampa Tradition / Western Shugden Society claims[edit]

Scholar Jane Ardley explains the development of the claims of the WSS:

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. Twenty years later, in 1996, the Dalai Lama went further and announced that members of both government departments and monasteries under the control of the Tibetan exile administration were forbidden from worshipping the spirit because the ‘practice fosters religious intolerance and leads to the degeneration of Buddhism into a cult of spirit worship’. This led to a massive outcry from Shugden supporters, particularly in Britain. The Dalai Lama was accused of religious intolerance and provided an opportunity that was not missed by Beijing, who used the dispute as a further reason to denounce the Dalai Lama.[43]

Chryssides goes on to explain the claims specifically:

The dispute between Kelsang Gyatso and the Dalai Lama admits of no obvious resolution. The Dalai Lama stands accused of restricting the religious freedom of followers of Tibetan Buddhism, and of causing widespread suffering to Shugden supporters, who are not denied access to their protector deity, but who are the victims of persecution, unable to get jobs that relate to the Tibetan government-in-exile (for example, in schools), and are denied humanitarian assistance.[44]

Ardley explains the political nature of the controversy:

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.Ardley, Jane (2002), The Tibetan Independence Movement: Political, Religious and Gandhian Perspectives, London: RoutledgeCurzon, p. 172

Rejection of New Kadampa Tradition / Western Shugden Society claims[edit]

Some scholars reject the claims of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) and the Western Shugden Society (WSS). Robert Thurman, for example, states, "The cult and agency attack campaign is futile since its main claims are so easy to refute."[21] Some scholars reject NKT/WSS claims that the 14th Dalai Lama has suppressed religious freedom, indicating that the situation is actually the opposite. Thurman says, "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!"[21]

Thurman explains:

However, the members of the cult are not content with this situation of having to choose between adopting His Holiness the Dalai Lama as their spiritual mentor or ignoring his judgment and persisting in the Gyalpo Shugden worship. They want to force their supposed mentor to adopt their perspective that the demonic spirit is an enlightened being, almost more important than the Buddha himself, and perhaps also rejoin their worship of it, or at least give them all his initiatory teachings in spite of their defiance of his best advice. So, they feel compelled to attack His Holiness, in order to force him to join their fundamentalist version of a Gelukpa outlook.[45]

Regarding NKT/WSS claims that there is prohibition of Shugden, and therefore a repression of religious freedom, Thierry Dodin states, "No, such a prohibition does not exist. Religious freedom is not at issue here. No one, and most definitely not the Dalai Lama, is repressing religious freedom."[web 1]

Nathan W. Hill, Lecturer in Tibetan and Linguistics at SOAS, University of London, states that the Dalai Lama does not control the Indian government or any other government:

This accusation makes no sense … the Dalai Lama is not head of any state; he has no military or police at his command; he has no political jurisdiction over which he can exercise suppression. Some members of the Gelug sect left the authority of the Dalai Lama in order to follow what they see as a purer form of religion. These people may not be very popular in other parts of the Gelug sect, but their human rights have not been violated nor their freedoms suppressed; even if some people did want to suppress or silence the pro-Shugen side, they simply have no means of doing so."[web 35]

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".[web 36]

Barnett comments:

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.[web 36]

Barnett noted that after the Dalai Lama prohibited his followers from engaging in Shugden rituals, Shugden practitioners in the Tibetan exile community faced persecution that the Dalai Lama's administration did not deal with particularly well, and he expressed concern that the controversy could hurt Tibetan causes. But Barnett said that claiming the difficulties faced by the Shugden practitioners are not a major human rights concern: "We see this being done under the name of human rights, which is not really quite what is at issue here."[46]

New Kadampa Tradition demonstrations[edit]

Tibetologist Thierry Dodin states that it is the New Kadampa Tradition "that since the 1990s has held spectacular demonstrations whenever the Dalai Lama went to the West."[web 1] According to Dodin, "The demonstrators are almost exclusively western monks and nuns, ordained in the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) according to the group’s own ritual."[web 1] Dodin also states, "The NKT can be described typologically as a cult on the basis of its organisational form, its excessive group pressure and blind obedience to its founder. The organisation’s extreme fanaticism and aggressive missionary drive are typical cult features too."[web 1]

According to Robert Thurman, the International Shugden Community is a front group of the New Kadampa Tradition.[47]

There is a group of former members who speak out against the New Kadampa Tradition and their demonstrations.[47][48]

Chinese government involvement[edit]

A 2015 Reuters article alleged "that the religious sect behind the protests has the backing of the Communist Party" and that the "group has emerged as an instrument in Beijing’s long campaign to undermine support for the Dalai Lama".[web 37] The allegations have been challenged as they were not substantiated by concrete evidence.[web 38][better source needed]

According to Robert Thurman, Shugden activities are financed by the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as part of its strategy against the Dalai Lama,[21][45] but there is "no documentary proof of a direct link between the NKT front groups ISC or WSS and the Communist United Front".[47]

Raimondo Bultrini documents the Chinese government coordination of Shugden activity in the book The Dalai Lama and the King Demon.[11][note 13]

Warren Smith asserts that within Chinese-controlled territory, the Chinese government demanded that monks worship Shugden, in conjunction with forcing them to denounce the Dalai Lama and fly the flag of China.[49]

According to Ben Hillman,

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.[50]

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.[web 18]

He also provides a couple of examples of the Chinese government'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.[web 1]

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."[web 39] 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."[web 40]

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."[web 41]

According to propaganda observers, “the de-facto ban issued by the 14th Dalai Lama has generated considerable social tension and division in the diaspora, as well as in Tibetan society within China, leading the Chinese government to consider the Dorje Shugden controversy an important front for undermining what it says are efforts promoted by the 14th Dalai Lama aimed at destabilizing China. The religious hostility has been fed by considerable propaganda and counterpropaganda efforts during the last two decades … Significantly sensitive are the methodical efforts of the exiled government and its supporting NGOs to silence opposing voices in the controversy, using systematic defamation and coercive methods, including the use of modern disinformation means like coordinated troll campaigns on social media.”[web 42]

Dissolution of International Shugden Community[edit]

In 2015, Reuters printed allegations that the anti-Dalai Lama Shugden protest campaigns were funded and manipulated by the Chinese Communist Party in order to discredit the Dalai Lama and the so-called "Dalai clique".[51]

On March 10, 2016, the International Shugden Community suddenly suspended all operations. Its website was closed down leaving only the following message: "A Special Announcement: The Directors of the International Shugden Community previously announced that from 1 Dec 2015 they had decided to completely stop organising demonstrations against the Dalai Lama. Now, from the 10th March 2016 the International Shugden Community itself will dissolve, including its websites. May everybody be happy. Len Foley, Representative of the International Shugden Community." They added, "We are campaigning for an end to the discrimination against the people of our faith that the Dalai Lama has created"[52]

Tsem Tulku Rinpoche on ending the ban[edit]

Tsem Tulku Rinpoche, ordained at 22 by the 14th Dalai Lama, stood against the position of the Central Tibetan Administration in the Dorje Shugden controversy,[53] and built the world's largest Dorje Shugden statue.[54]

In February 2018, Tsem Rinpoche wrote:[55]

[The Dorje Shugden] ban was formalised and made official with the passing of three resolutions in the Tibetan Parliament which stated clearly the Tibetan leadership’s reasons for discouraging and banning the practice...Dorje Shugden practitioners continue to be abused, belittled, ostracised and violently discriminated against. They are denied the treatment at clinics and hospitals in the Tibetan settlements, barred from shops and restaurants, and forbidden from holding any position in the Tibetan civil service. Their children are blacklisted and bullied at school. Shugden practitioners are shunned by their family and relatives; in the community, they are treated as pariahs.

In April 2019, he penned an article titled Dalai Lama Says We Can Practise Dorje Shugden Finally![56] In it, he writes, "His Holiness the Dalai Lama has compassionately shown a change in approach to the Dorje Shugden situation, and we are grateful for this...The gravity and levity of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s announcements is very, very deep and also transcends everything." Rinpoche points to a 2016 video showing comments made by the Dalai Lama, as well as an article in Phayul.com from the same year,[57] and an article on the Dalai Lama's website,[58] all of which he summarized thusly:

These are the things His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said recently:

  • His Holiness has said that Dorje Shugden does not harm him
  • Since it does not harm him, it does not harm the Tibetan cause because the Dalai Lama is the upholder of the Tibetan cause
  • His Holiness the Dalai Lama said we can practise Dorje Shugden
  • His Holiness the Dalai Lama even said where we can go if we want to rely on Dorje Shugden, when he tells the audience that there are monasteries adjacent to Gaden and Sera that practise Dorje Shugden (Shar Gaden Monastery and Serpom Monastery)[56]