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Dorje Shugden controversy

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Title: Dorje Shugden controversy  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Ghosts in Tibetan culture, Dorje Shugden, New Kadampa Tradition, Politics of Tibet, Western Shugden Society
Collection: Dorje Shugden Controversy, New Kadampa Tradition, Politics of Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Dorje Shugden controversy

The Dorje Shugden controversy is a controversy over Dorje Shugden, also known as Dolgyal, who 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 centre-point[1][web 1] of a conflict over the "purity"[2] of the Gelugpa school and the inclusion of non-Gelugpa teachings, especially Nyingma teachings.

In the 1930s Pabongkha, 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 Gelugpa practitioner who blends his practice with non-Gelugpa practices.[4][3][web 2] The conflict reappeared with the publication of the Yellow Book in 1976, containing stories about wrathful acts of Dorje Shugden against Gelugpas who also practiced Nyingma teachings. In response, the 14th Dalai Lama, a Gelugpa himself and advocate of an "inclusive" approach to the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism,[5][2] started to speak out against the practice of Dorje Shugden in 1978.[6]

The controversy has attracted attention in the west following demonstrations by Dorje Shugden practitioners, especially Kelsang Gyatso's British based New Kadampa Tradition which broke away from the Gelugpa school in 1991. Other factions supporting Dorje Shugden are Serpom Monastic University and Shar Ganden monastery, which both separated from the Gelugpa mainstream in 2008.


  • History 1
    • Pre-1930s 1.1
    • 1930s-1940s Pabongkha 1.2
      • Promotion of Dorje Shugden 1.2.1
      • Persecution of the Rimé movement 1.2.2
      • Response by the 13th Dalai Lama 1.2.3
    • 1970s 1.3
      • Publication of the Yellow Book 1.3.1
      • Response by the 14th Dalai Lama 1.3.2
    • 1980s 1.4
    • 1990s 1.5
      • Initiations by the 14th Dalai Lama 1.5.1
      • New Kadampa Tradition 1.5.2
      • DSRCS and SSC/WSS 1.5.3
      • Murder of Lobsang Gyatso and two students 1.5.4
    • 2000s-present 1.6
      • Attempted murder 1.6.1
      • Schism within the Gelug school 1.6.2
      • Ongoing protests 1.6.3
  • Views 2
    • Views of opponents of Dorje Shugden practice 2.1
      • Ling Rinpoche 2.1.1
      • Views of the 14th Dalai Lama 2.1.2
    • Views of Shugden practitioners 2.2
      • Kelsang Gyatso 2.2.1
    • Third-party views 2.3
      • Dorje Shugden Practitioners 2.3.1
      • New Kadampa Tradition / Western Shugden Society claims 2.3.2
      • Rejection of New Kadampa Tradition / Western Shugden Society claims 2.3.3
      • New Kadampa Tradition demonstrations 2.3.4
  • Chinese government involvement 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • Sources 7
    • Printed sources 7.1
    • Web sources 7.2
  • External links 8



Dorje Shugden, also known as Dolgyal, originated as a "gyalpo" "angry and vengeful spirit" of South Tibet. Shugden was subsequently adopted as a "minor protector" of the Gelug school, 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

Promotion of Dorje Shugden

In the 1930s, Pa-bong-ka 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 1][web 2][note 2] 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 Pehar, Nechung, Palden Lhamo, Mahakala, Vaisravana and Kalarupa, who was appointed by Tsongkhapa.[note 3][note 4]

According to 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

Dorje Shugden was a key tool in Phabongkha's persecution of the flourishing Rimé movement,[note 5] an ecumenical movement which compiled together the teachings of the Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma,[10] in response to the dominance of the Gelugpa school. Non-Gelug, and especially Nyingma, monasteries were forced to convert to the Gelug position.[3]

Phabongkha feared a decline of Gelugpa monasteries, and induced a revival movement, which promoted the Gelugpa as the only pure tradition. He regarded the practice of non-Gelugpa teachings by Gelugpa monks as a threat to the Gepugpa-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

The abbot of Drepung monastery and the 13th Dalai Lama were opposed to Phabongka's propititation of Shugden.[web 2][web 3][note 6] Restrictions on the practice of Shugden were implemented by the 13th Dalai Lama.[web 3] Pabongka apologized and promised not to practice Shuk-den any more.[web 2][note 7]


Publication of the Yellow Book

In 1975 The Yellow Book, also known as The Oral Transmission of the Intelligent Father,[12] was published, 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 its purity.[12] This publication provoked angry reactions from members of nonGelug traditions, setting in motion a bitter literary exchange that drew on ‘all aspects of sectarian rivalry’.[14]

Response by the 14th Dalai Lama

The 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 the 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 Second, Third and Fifth Dalai Lamas.[15]

Scholar Donald Lopez explains that “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 that

[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

With the urging of the other schools who have long been opposed to Shugden,[note 8] and his senior Gelug tutor who always doubted the practice,[note 9] [note 10] 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 11]

George Chryssides also explains what happened as a result of the denouncement:

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. 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[22]

New Kadampa Tradition

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.[2][web 5] Thurman notes that members of the New Kadampa Tradition, responded by trying 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 disputes over Shugden are focused on the claims of the British-based New Kadampa Tradition, which broke away from the Gelug school.

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 worldy deity)[23]


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 6] now called Western Shugden Society.[web 7]

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.[24] Two years later, the AI stated in an official press release that complaints by Shugden practitioners fell outside its purview of "grave violations of fundamental human rights" (such as torture, the death penalty, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detention or imprisonment, or unfair trials), adding that "while recognizing that a spiritual debate can be contentious, [we] cannot become involved in debate on spiritual issues."[web 8] 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.[25][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

On February 4, 1997, the principal of the Buddhist School of Dialectics, Geshe Lobsang Gyatso was murdered in Dharmasala, along with two of his students.[26] Kay notes "The subsequent investigation by the Indian police linked the murders to the Dorje Shugden faction of the exiled Tibetan community."[27]

In a small 1978 pamphlet Lobsang Gyatso alluded to a "knotless heretic teacher," which people took as referring to Trijang Rinpoche and his advocacy of Shugden.[28] According to Lobsang Gyatso's biographer, Gareth Sparham, many Geshes and Lamas were outraged about his criticism:

How could a nobody like Lobsang Gyatso, who was neither from an aristocratic family nor the head of a Tibetan region, indeed not even a full graduate of a religious university, dare to criticize in print an important establishment figure? Georges Dreyfus at the time remarked that in pre-1959 Gen-la would have been killed outright for his temerity. Many in the Tibetan community ostracized Gen-la, even though the Dalai Lama had already by that time begun speaking publicly against the Shugden cult. Even the Dalai Lama appeared to distance himself from Gen-la. "He is headstrong and his lack of sensitivity is making trouble," seemed to be his attitude towards Gen-la at the time.[29]

Georges Dreyfus added that

Despite being hurt by the polemical attack, Tri-jang Rin-po-che made it clear that violence was out of the question. Gradually, tempers cooled down and the incident was forgotten—or so it seemed.[30]

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 that:

The two men suspected of stabbing their victims are believed to have fled India. Five others, all linked to the Dorje Shugden Society in New Delhi, were questioned for months about a possible conspiracy. No one has been charged.[web 12]

Geshe 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" [31]


Attempted murder

Trijang Chogtrul Rinpoche revealed an attempt to Frameup 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.[32]

Trijang Chogtrul Rinpoche declaration disturbed the image of a peaceful community, and the polemics against the Dalai Lama diminished for a long while.[32]

Schism within the Gelug school

The Gelugpa school has three great monasteries, namely Sera Monastery, Ganden Monastery and Drepung Monastery. In 2008 the Dorje Shugden controversy lead to a formal break within the Gelug school. Pomra Khangtsen, one of the sixteen sections of Sera monastery, legally separated itself in India in 2008 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 monastery, and is now known as Shar Ganden monastery.

In these institutions the monks continue to worship Dorje Shugden as well as follow the traditional curriculum[web 14] and other religious practices of the former institutions. A few smaller Gelug monasteries have affiliated themselves with these two monasteries rather than with the mainstream Gelug school. The present abbot of Serpom is Yongyal Rinpoche and acting abbot Geshe Jampa Khetsun.[web 15] The present abbot of is Shar Ganden is Geshe Lobsang Jinpa.[web 16]

Ongoing protests

Hundreds of western Shugden practitioners have staged numerous demonstrations against the Dalai Lama, most recently in 2015 in Cambridge, and 2014 in San Francisco, Berkeley, Washington DC, Oslo, Rotterdam, and Frankfurt. [web 17] [web 18] [web 19] [web 20] [web 21]

In response, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) published different statements and corrections to the protesters' claims.[web 22][web 23] They also posted two lists of Tibetan participants of the protests[web 24][web 25] and a declaration by former NKT members and ex-practitioners of Dorje Shugden.[web 26] 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.”[33]


Views of opponents of Dorje Shugden practice

Ling Rinpoche

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 9][note 10]

Views of the 14th Dalai Lama

The 14th Dalai Lama himself said in 2008, that he never used the word "ban", and

...restricting a form of practice that restricts others’ religious freedom is actually a protection of religious freedom. So in other words, negation of a negation is an affirmation."[web 27]

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.[34]

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.[35]

According to Dreyfus, the 14th Dalai Lama stance stems from his favoring the traditional Gelugpa 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 28]

Views of Shugden practitioners

Kelsang Gyatso

In an interview with scholar Donald Lopez, in regards to the controversy, Geshe Kelsang 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.[web 5]

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.[web 5]

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.[36]

According to David Kay Kelsang Gyatso departs from Phabongkha and Trijang Rinpoche by stating that Dorje Shugden's appearance is enlightened, rather than worldly.[37] 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.[37]

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.[37]

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

the oracle may have been marginalised by Geshe Kelsang because his presence raised a doctrinal ambiguity for the NKT. According to traditional Tibetan teachings, none of the high-ranking supramundane protective deities ‘would condescend to interfere with more or less mundane affairs by speaking through the mouth of a medium’.[38] 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.[39]

Third-party views

Dorje Shugden Practitioners

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.[34]

New Kadampa Tradition / Western Shugden Society claims

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 Bejing, who used the dispute as a further reason to denounce the Dalai Lama.[40]

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.[41]

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

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 that members 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.[note 12]

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 London University SOAS’ (School of Oriental and African Studies), 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 29]

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 30]

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 30]

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.”[43]

New Kadampa Tradition demonstrations

Tibetologist Thierry Dodin states that it is the New Kadampa Tradition

...that since the 1990’s 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 that

The NKT can be described typologically as a [web 1]

According to Robert Thurman, the International Shugden Community is a front group of the New Kadampa Tradition.[44]

There is a group of former members who speak out against the New Kadampa Tradition and their demonstrations.[45][46]

Thurman states there is "no documentary proof of a direct link between the NKT front groups ISC or WSS and the Communist United Front".[47]

Chinese government involvement

According to Robert Thurman, Shugden activities are financed by the United Front Work Department of the government of China as part of its strategy against the Dalai Lama.[21][42]

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

Within Chinese controlled territory, the Chinese government demands monks to worship Shugden, in conjunction with forcing them to denounce the Dalai Lama and fly the Chinese national flag.[48]

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.[49]

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 31]

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

For instance, the construction of Shugden temples and monasteries is being subsidised by the State. We also know that most of the teachers surrounding the young man who in 1995 was designated as the Panchen Lama by the Chinese leadership, against the will of the Dalai Lama, belong to the Shugden group. I think these examples clearly demonstrate the role China is playing in this conflict.[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 32] 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 33]

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 34]

See also


  1. ^ a b David Kay: "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]
  2. ^ a b Georges Dreyfus: "For Pa-bong-ka, particularly at the end of his life, one of the main functions of Gyel-chen Dor-je Shuk-den as Ge-luk protector is the use of violent means (the adamantine force) to protect the Ge-luk tradition [...] This passage clearly presents the goal of the propitiation of Shuk-den as the protection of the Ge-luk tradition through violent means, even including the killing of its enemies [...] Pa-bong-ka takes the references to eliminating the enemies of the Ge-luk tradition as more than stylistic conventions or usual ritual incantations. It may concern the elimination of actual people by the protector."[web 2]
  3. ^ David Kay: "It seems that during the 1940s, supporters of Phabongkha began to proclaim the fulfilment of this tradition and to maintain that the Tibetan government should turn its allegiance away from Pehar, the state protector, to Dorje Shugden. The next stage in the status elevation process was Phabongkha’s claim that Dorje Shugden had now replaced the traditional supramundane protectors of the Gelug tradition such as Mahakala, Vaisravana and, most specifically, Kalarupa (‘the Dharma-King’), the main protector of the Gelug who, it is believed, was bound to an oath by Tsong Khapa himself.""[8]
  4. ^ George Dreyfus: "These descriptions have been controversial. Traditionally, the Ge-luk tradition has been protected by the Dharma-king (dam can chos rgyal), the supra-mundane deity bound to an oath given to Dzong-ka-ba, the founder of the tradition. The tradition also speaks of three main protectors adapted to the three scopes of practice described in the Stages of the Path (skyes bu gsum gyi srung ma): Mahakala for the person of great scope, Vaibravala for the person of middling scope, and the Dharma-king for the person of small scope. By describing Shuk-den as "the protector of the tradition of the victorious lord Manjushri," Pa-bong-ka suggests that he is the protector of the Ge-luk tradition, replacing the protectors appointed by Dzong-ka-ba himself. This impression is confirmed by one of the stories that Shuk-den's partisans use to justify their claim. According to this story, the Dharma-king has left this world to retire in the pure land of Tushita having entrusted the protection of the Ge-luk tradition to Shuk-den. Thus, Shuk-den has become the main Ge-luk protector replacing the traditional supra-mundane protectors of the Ge-luk tradition, indeed a spectacular promotion in the pantheon of the tradition[web 2]
  5. ^ David Kay: "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]
    David Kay: "His teaching tour of Kham in 1938 was a seminal phase, leading to a hardening of his exclusivism and the adoption of a militantly sectarian stance. In reaction to the flourishing Rimed movement and the perceived decline of Gelug monasteries in that region, Phabongkha and his disciples spearheaded a revival movement, promoting the supremacy of the Gelug as the only pure tradition. He now regarded the inclusivism of Gelug monks who practised according to the teachings of other schools as a threat to the integrity of the Gelug tradition, and he aggressively opposed the influence of other traditions, particularly the Nyingma, whose teachings were deemed mistaken and deceptive. A key element of Phabongkha’s revival movement was the practice of relying upon Dorje Shugden, the main function of the deity now being presented as ‘the protection of the Ge-luk tradition through violent means, even including the killing of its enemies’."[6]
  6. ^ Raimondo Bultrini: "But not everyone agreed with the decision to hold that ritual in the monastery dedicated to the guardian deity of the Dalai Lamas and the Tibetan government. Among these was the Abbot of Drepung Monastery, who immediately consulted Nechung, the State Oracle. The Oracle’s silence was more explicit than a thousand words. There could not be two protectors under the same roof, wrote the abbot to His Holiness, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. A month had gone by since Phabongka Rinpoche had conferred the initiation at Drepung. From that day the practice of the gyalpo spread like oil on water among the young students in the colleges. The Dalai Lama, aware of the risk of open conflict, decided to have Phabongka formally rebuked by a government functionary. Then he wrote to him personally, revealing how disconcerted he was by his behavior. A few days went by, and a messenger brought Phabongka’s response to the Potala, with a gold coin and a white kata. Phabongka apologized, saying it was his fault alone and that he had nothing to add in his defense: “What I have done is unjustifiable and in the future, as you have asked of me, I shall take your instructions to heart. I ask your forgiveness for what I have done and written.” The Dalai Lama responded to Phabongka’s apology with a second letter, which did not entirely mask his displeasure: "There is much to be said about your words and deeds, in both in logistical and doctrinal terms, but I do not want to continue on this subject. Concerning your references to the practice of the refuge, first of all you are propitiating Shugden as a protector. And since these students now have a connection with you, the practice has notably spread at Drepung. Since the monastery was first founded by Jamyang Choejey, Nechung has been designated as guardian and protector of Drepung, and his oracle has expressed his great dissatisfaction to the abbot on several occasions, saying that appeasing Shugden has accelerated the degeneration of the Buddha’s teaching. This is the root of the problem. In particular, your search for the support of a worldly guardian to ensure benefits in this life is contrary to the principle of the taking of refuge. Therefore, it is contradictory to affirm, as you do “from the bottom of your heart,” that what happened is only the fruit of your “confusion and ignorance,” and that you were not aware of having “followed a wrongful path and led others onto it." Phabongka replied with apparent humility: "You have asked me why I am interested in this protector. I must explain that, according to my old mother, Shugden was a guardian for my family from the start, and that is why I have honored him. But now I want to say that I have repented and I have understood my mistake. I shall perform purification and promise with all my heart that in the future I will avoid propitiating, praying to, and making daily offerings [to Shugden]. I admit to all the errors I have made, disturbing Nechung and contradicting the principle of the refuge, and I beg you, in your great heartfelt compassion, to forgive me and purify my actions."[11]
  7. ^ Raimondo Bultrini: Phabongka said "I shall perform purification and promise with all my heart that in the future I will avoid propitiating, praying to, and making daily offerings to Shugden. I admit to all the errors I have made, disturbing Nechung and contradicting the principle of the refuge, and I beg you, in your great heartfelt compassion, to forgive me and purify my actions."[11]
  8. ^ Raimondo bultrini: HHDL states "The previous Dudjom Rinpoche, one of the great Nyingmapa masters, once told me that Shugden was negative for the Tibetan government."[11]
  9. ^ a b David Kay: "Ling Rinpoche, who was from Drepung monastery, was not a devotee of Dorje Shugden, and at the time of the dispute he naturally sided with the Dalai Lama."[20]
  10. ^ a b Raimondo Bultrini: HHDL states "That same day, when I told my senior tutor Ling Rinpoche, he confessed he was very happy, since he always had harbored doubts regarding the practice. He told me it certainly was the right decision...Ling Rinpoche raised a doubt with Phabongka that was shared by many others. “If we at Drepung start to worship Shugden, isn’t there a risk of a conflict between the two that could bring us harm? Nechung will not be happy,” he said."[20]
  11. ^ Robert Thurman: "In the late 80s', when certain individual lamas began to proselytize its cult, inducting even Western practitioners new to Buddhism, especially in England, he took the step of asking such persons to refrain from attending his initiations and associated advanced teachings, on the grounds that they were not following his advice and so should not take him as their teacher."[21]
  12. ^ Robert Thurman: "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."[42]
  13. ^ Raimondo Bultrini: "He wrote back a few days later, attaching some confidential information on Ganchen Tulku and “Nga lama” Kundeling. In March 1998, shortly after we met, these two men were in Kathmandu, Nepal, with other Shugden followers and a member of the Communist Party of the Autonomous Region of Tibet, Gungthang Ngodup, who had come especially from Lhasa. A few days afterwards, wrote Director Ngodup, an adviser from the Chinese embassy in Nepal, one “Mr. Wang,” visited Ganchen’s house. As far as he could determine, the discussion revolved around the type of collaboration to be established between the Shugden followers and the Chinese authorities, including possible financial support. In December of the same year, as reported by the Indian Express and the Tribune, the under-secretary of the Chinese embassy in Delhi, Zhao Hongang, went to the Ganden Monastery in India, accompanied by a devotee from Bylakuppe, Thupten Kunsang, and a monk who had arrived from Sera Mey. In July 1999, also in Kathmandu, other meetings were held between pro-Shugden activists and Chinese representatives. This time, “Mr. Wang” met with Chimi Tsering and other directors of the Delhi “Shugden Society,” Lobsang Gyaltsen, Konchok Gyaltsen, Gelek Gyatso, and Soepa Tokhmey, the society’s treasurer. After the final meeting, a letter was drafted to be presented to the United Front Department of the Communist Party to ask for help in countering those discriminating against Shugden practitioners in India…. In January 2000, after the meeting in Kathmandu between representatives of the cult and the Chinese emissaries, the Nepal National Dorje Shugden Society was born, with an office and a full-time staff of three, paid—according to the Dharamsala Security Services—with Communist Party funds funneled through the Chinese embassy. Ganchen Tulku was on the Committee of Consultants. ….Despite the formal denials of the cult’s practitioners, the common strategy of the Chinese authorities by now was obvious. In 2001 the Chinese ambassador was guest of honor at “The Millennium Conference on Human Rights” organized by the Shugden Devotees Religious and Charitable Society of Delhi and held March 20–22 at the most prestigious venue in the Indian capital, the India International Centre. If the reports of the pro-Shugden convention financed by the embassy were only “rumor” spread by World Tibetan News, the ambassador’s presence at the Millennium Conference was hard to reconcile with his routine duties as a diplomat."[11]


  1. ^ Mills 2003, p. 55.
  2. ^ a b c d Kay 2004.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Kay 2004, p. 43.
  4. ^ Mills 2003, p. 55-56.
  5. ^ Mills 2003.
  6. ^ a b c d Kay 2004, p. 47.
  7. ^ Schaik 2011, p. 129.
  8. ^ Kay 2004, p. 48.
  9. ^ Watt 2013.
  10. ^ Schaik 2011, p. 165-169.
  11. ^ a b c d e Bultrini 2013.
  12. ^ a b c d Kay 2004, p. 49.
  13. ^ Dreyfus 1998.
  14. ^ Kapstein 1989.
  15. ^ Kay 2004, p. 50.
  16. ^ Prisoners of Shangri-La. Lopez, Donald. Page 191
  17. ^ Dreyfus 1998: 269
  18. ^ Kay 2004, p. 41.
  19. ^ Bluck, Robert (2006). British Buddhism: Teachings, Practice and Development. Routledge. p. 131. 
  20. ^ a b Kay 2004, p. 90.
  21. ^ a b c d e f Thurman 2013a.
  22. ^ Chryssides, George. New Religious Movements. Page 239
  23. ^ Mills 2003b, p. 366.
  24. ^ Lopez 1998, p. 194.
  25. ^ Wilson 2003, p. 57.
  26. ^ Lopez 1998, p. 195-196.
  27. ^ Kay 2004, p. 212.
  28. ^ Dreyfus 2003, p. 301.
  29. ^ Sparham 1998, p. 321.
  30. ^ Dreyfus 2003, p. 303.
  31. ^ Matthews, Carol. New Religions. Infobase Publishing. 2009. Page 142
  32. ^ a b Bultrini 2013, p. 311–312.
  33. ^
  34. ^ a b Makransky 2000, p. 20.
  35. ^ Kapstein 2000, p. 143.
  36. ^ Gyatso 2002.
  37. ^ a b c Kay 2004, p. 101-102.
  38. ^ Nebesky-Wojkowitz 1956, p. 409.
  39. ^ Kay 2004, p. 102.
  40. ^ Ardley, Jane (2002), The Tibetan Independence Movement: Political, Religious and Gandhian Perspectives, London: RoutledgeCurzon, p. 175 
  41. ^ Chrysiddes, George (2001). Exploring New Religions. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 241. 
  42. ^ a b Thurman 2013b.
  43. ^
  44. ^ Thurman, Robert. Concerning The Current Wave of "Protest Demonstrations" Against His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Nov 3, 2014, retrieved Nov 4, 2014.
  45. ^ Thurman, Robert. Concerning The Current Wave of "Protest Demonstrations" Against His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Nov 3, 2014, retrieved Nov 4, 2014.
  46. ^ Dorjee, Tenzin. 6 Things You Should Know About the Anti-Dalai Lama Protesters, Nov 5, 2014, retrieved Nov 7, 2014.
  47. ^ Thurman, Robert. Concerning The Current Wave of "Protest Demonstrations" Against His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Nov 3, 2014, retrieved Nov 4, 2014.
  48. ^ Smith 2010, p. 34.
  49. ^ Hillman 2005.


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External links

  • Academic Research regarding Shugden Controversy & New Kadampa Tradition
  • Williams, Paul (1996). "A quick note on Dorje Shugden (rDo rje shugs ldan)". The Middle Way, Vol. 71, no.2. Retrieved 2013-12-20. 
  • Dodin, Thierry (8 May 2014). "The Dorje Shugden Conflict". Michael Jaeckel. Retrieved 12 May 2014. 
  • Gardner, Alexander (4 June 2013). "Treasury of Lives: Dorje Shugden". The Tricycle Foundation. Retrieved 27 April 2014. 
  • The Shugden Affair: Origins of a Controversy (Part I)Georges Dreyfus,
  • The Shugden Affair: Origins of a Controversy (Part II)Georges Dreyfus,
  • Barnett, Robert (12 December 2014). "Protests against the Dalai Lama over Dorje Shugden". Michael Jaeckel. Retrieved 12 December 2014. 
Pro Dalai Lama
  • Official Web TV Station of the Central Tibetan Administration - includes BBC documentary "An Unholy Row" and Second Shugden Documentary filmed by Swiss TV in 1998
  • Collection of Advice Regarding Shugden by the FPMT
  • The Central Tibetan Administration on "Dolgyal (Shugden)"
  • Tibetan Buddhism in the West - Dorje Shugden
  • Website of the New Kadampa Tradition
  • , Tricycle magazineAn Interview With Geshe Kelsang GyatsoDonald Lopez,
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