The Implementation, Effects and Alleged Reasons for the Ban on the Practice of Dorje Shugden
In March 1996, in an aggressive and threatening manner, the Dalai Lama stated that there would be a forceful implementation of the ban against those who persisted in the practice of Dorje Shugden. In the following months, and over the years since then, at empowerments, in speeches, in interviews and through government decrees, the Dalai Lama has made clear his views and intentions in imposing the ban. A number of these statements against Dorje Shugden practice and practitioners, as well as evidence of the persecution of Dorje Shugden practitioners, can be seen in Appendix 8.
The Dalai Lama’s words shocked and wounded millions of Dorje Shugden practitioners around the world, and sent waves of confusion, resentment and fear sweeping through the Tibetan communities. In the months following the Dalai Lama’s ban, a transformation took place within the Tibetan community. Threats and acts of terrorism against Dorje Shugden practitioners, who have been steadily marginalised and isolated, have destroyed the relative peace, joy and internal harmony normally enjoyed within the Tibetan settlements.
Vigilante mobs of fanatical followers of the Dalai Lama, acting in the spirit of his public pronouncements, stormed into temples and private homes, seizing and destroying pictures and statues of Dorje Shugden – even taking them from shrines. Mobs attacked Dorje Shugden practitioners and their homes with stones and petrol bombs, destroying their possessions and threatening their lives. There were beatings, stabbings and even killings.
People lost their jobs, children were expelled from schools, and monks were expelled from monasteries; foreign travel permits and visas were denied; refugee aid, monastic stipends and allowances were cut off; and forced signature campaigns were undertaken. In these and many other ways that made Tibetans outcasts from their own already exiled community, the Dalai Lama, in the guise of his government, ministers and associated organisations, introduced a reign of terror against tens of thousands of his own people, making restrictions similar to those imposed on the Jewish people in Germany in the early years of Hitler’s rule.248
This persecution has been enforced since 1996 and still continues. The international news and current affairs television channel France 24 reported:
‘Photos of Shugden leaders are posted on city walls, branding them as traitors. Signs at the entrance of stores and hospitals forbid Shugden followers from entry …
‘Our reporters followed an ostracised Buddhist monk as he tried to confront the fellow villagers who have banned him. “We’re not violating Buddha’s teachings, and we’re excluded from everywhere just because of our religion” he complains … “It’s apartheid, in a Buddhist land.” ’249
The television channel France 24 visited the south of India and followed Delek Tong, a monk who practises Dorje Shugden, through the streets of his Tibetan refugee settlement:
‘[Delek Tong] Pointing at a poster on the wall, “Look at this, it says: ‘No Shugden worshippers allowed.’ ”
‘ “Hi, I worship Shugden, can I come in?”
‘[Shopkeeper] “No, I am sorry, I don’t want you or any Shugdens in my shop.”
‘[Reporter] The Dalai Lama has asked the Tibetan community to stop the worship of the 400 year old Deity Shugden.
‘[Delek Tong] “When you followed the Dalai Lama’s advice, did you not forget that us Shugdens are also Tibetans like you?”
‘[Reporter] What this means in practice is that Delek Tong cannot walk into this shop because of his religious beliefs.
‘[Shopkeeper] “I have taken an oath and I won’t have anything to do with the Shugden people.” ’
This footage also appeared on the international channel Al Jazeera. 250 To maintain the pretence of a democratic referendum on the issue of Dorje Shugden, the Dalai Lama has carried out forced signature campaigns within the lay and monastic Tibetan communities worldwide. The first were introduced in 1996, but these did not bring about the Dalai Lama’s desired goal of completely marginalising Shugden practitioners. Frustrated by this failure, he initiated another such forced signature campaign in January 2008.
As a direct result of the Dalai Lama’s second campaign, 900 monks were driven out of their monasteries on 8 February 2008. On 15 February 2008 in Bangalore, Samdhong Rinpoche (Prime Minister of the Tibetan exile government) made a statement reminiscent of words used by Hitler:
‘If the monasteries are completely cleansed, the campaign of taking the oath not to practise Shugden and not to share material and religious resources with Shugden devotees will be initiated throughout India, Nepal and Bhutan, then abroad and gradually in Tibet.’251
Becoming aware of the international public horror at these violations, the Tibetan Prime Minister and other officials of the Tibetan exile government attempted to distance the Dalai Lama from responsibility for this referendum.
On 22 April 2008 at Colgate University (New York State, USA) a public demonstration was held outside a public talk given by the Dalai Lama, protesting against his religious persecution. Tashi Wangdu, the Dalai Lama’s Representative and former Cabinet Minister, after being asked repeatedly for a public statement, was obliged to respond and said to gathered reporters:
‘I think there is a lot of misunderstanding. I was trying to explain that there is no ban.’252
And, as thousands of members of the Western Shugden Society engaged in a series of demonstrations around the world to expose the shameful facts of the Dalai Lama’s ban and his dictatorial behaviour, in an interview with BBC News on 27 May 2008 the Dalai Lama himself could only resort to a direct lie to his audience, saying that ‘… he had not advocated a ban …’.253
In the West the Dalai Lama’s representatives try to maintain the fiction that there is not a ban and that the Dalai Lama has only ‘advised’ people not to practise Dorje Shugden. However, it is clear from the statements made by the Dalai Lama himself and by his Private Office as shown in Appendix 8 that there is a very real ban and it is vigorously applied. The Tibetan words ‘kagdom’ (bkag.sdom), ‘damdrag’ (dam.bsgrag) and other expressions that are frequently used clearly indicate this.
Through the Tibetan Kashag (Cabinet), the Dalai Lama originally gave two reasons for imposing the ban. They claimed that the practice of Dorje Shugden: (1) ‘… does great harm to the cause of Tibet’ (that is, Tibetan independence); and (2) ‘It also imperils the life of the Dalai Lama.’254 The Dalai Lama has been asked repeatedly to give valid reasons to prove these assertions, but none have been forthcoming. However, saying that Shugden practice harms the Dalai Lama is as senseless as saying that one person taking medicine causes another person to get sick. How can others’ practice of Dorje Shugden harm the Dalai Lama? It is a ridiculous assertion.
Subsequently, the Dalai Lama and his government fabricated a third reason for the ban: the bogey of sectarianism. This third reason has been variously expressed in public statements made by the Dalai Lama, and in documents issued by the exile government. For example, on 16 July 1996 on The World Tonight, BBC Radio 4, the Dalai Lama said:
‘It is well known that the worshipper of that spirit, usual approach a little bit sectarian. So that does not go well with my approach.’
And in 1998 on the Tibetan exile government website, ‘Shugden Versus Pluralism and National Unity’ said:
‘Propitiation of Shugden has taken on the characteristics of a fanatical cult, in which there is no place for the views or practices of other schools of Tibetan Buddhism, particularly those of the ancient Nyingma tradition founded by Padmasambhava. Naturally, such divisiveness does not sit well with Tibetans’ need to unite and withstand external threats to their very identity.’255
On 27 August 1998 at the annual convention of the Tibetan Youth Congress in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama said in his opening address:
‘I have imposed this ban for three reasons: (1) Throughout history this worship has been at odds with the Ganden Phodrang ruling government of Tibet, (2) Buddhism, which is very profound, is in danger of degenerating into spirit worship, and (3) worship of Dholgyal (Shugden) creates sectarianism. For these three reasons I have imposed the ban.’256
More recently in 2009, as mentioned above, the Tibetan exile government has said that the issue is entirely political and not religious,257 thus undermining the Dalai Lama’s original ‘religious’ reasons for the ban. But if we look at these ‘reasons’ in turn, it is, as we have seen, the Ganden Phodrang system of government of mixing religion and politics that is the source of the many problems that have afflicted the Tibetan people for generations. And it is the Dalai Lama through his reliance on spirit-oracles who is degenerating Buddhism. In saying that Dorje Shugden practitioners are worshippers of an evil spirit he is deliberately manipulating the superstitious fears of many ordinary Tibetans. Instead of promoting Buddhism as a religion chiefly concerned with developing inner qualities such as love and compassion, it is the Dalai Lama who is causing it to degenerate through his portrayal of Buddhists seemingly in a state of constant warfare against invisible spirits. In this he is going against even his own teachings:
‘If … one … always puts the blame on external harmful spirits and thinks of them as one’s own enemies, this is actually quite contradictory to the practice of bodhichitta [the compassionate wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of others]. If I were a harmful spirit and someone pointed his finger at me and said, “You are a harmful spirit,” I would be happy because that shows that my accuser has not been able to identify his own enemy, and hence is vulnerable to my harms. If one actually practices bodhichitta properly and views all beings as friends, then harmful spirits will not harm one, for one will be invulnerable.’258
As for the charge that Shugden practice causes sectarianism, in reality every Tibetan knows there were no problems of disharmony between Nyingmapas and Gelugpas before the ban was imposed. There is not a single instance of disagreement between Nyingmapas and Gelugpas; although there have been disagreements historically between Gelugpas and Kagyupas, such as those at the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama coming to power. Nyingmapas practised Nyingma teachings purely and Gelugpas practised Gelug teachings purely without any problem. The problem was created only by the Dalai Lama himself in saying such things as: ‘Say I want to practise Nyingma. They say this Protector will harm me. Now, that’s an obstacle to religious freedom.’ Within the Tibetan community no one has the opportunity, power or confidence to say such a thing to the Dalai Lama; and even if someone had said something like this to him it doesn’t prove that ‘Shugden people’ say this. There is no reason for him to be angry with innocent Shugden people in general just because of one person’s view; any individual can say anything, this is their personal choice.
Division and sectarianism within Tibetan society has been caused only by the ban imposed by the Dalai Lama himself. Of course, the Dalai Lama has freedom to choose his own practice. If he wants to stop practising Dorje Shugden and choose another practice, follow- ing indications in his personal dreams and so forth, then he is free to do so, but he should not interfere with the freedom of others who wish to worship as they choose in accordance with their individual human right of religious freedom.
In reality, Dorje Shugden practitioners are seeking religious freedom from the Dalai Lama’s dictatorial behaviour, and it is the Dalai Lama who is maintaining a sectarian attitude of religious intolerance, destroying people’s happiness and resulting in other serious consequences. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso explains:
‘For instance, although Sera, Ganden and Drepung (in Tibet) were Gelug monasteries, many Nyingmapa and Bön practitioners joined to study the philosophical teachings. In my class in Sera-Jey [Monastery] I had some friends from a Nyingma monastery in eastern Tibet. Their daily practice was Nyingma, and no one was unhappy about this. They had complete freedom. We never had any problems because the Abbot gave complete freedom for individual practice.
‘Although most of my family are Gelugpas who rely on Dorje Shugden, some of them are Nyingmapas. My younger sister married a Nyingmapa Lama from western Tibet from a renowned lineage; he was called Ngora Lama. They had many children and I visited them frequently, sometimes he and I would do puja together. I would do Dorje Shugden puja and he would do his own practice. We had a very good relationship until his death in Mussourie, India.
‘When I lived in Mussourie I had many good friends from the Nyingma tradition, one of whom in particular was called Ngachang Lama. He was an old man, a lay practitioner; one winter he and I did retreat in the same house. In between sessions we talked Dharma, each talking about our experiences. His oldest son would often invite me to his house to do puja. Also, I was often invited to do puja at houses of other Nyingma families. I was so surprised to hear the Dalai Lama and others saying that Dorje Shugden practitioners and Nyingmapa practitioners are like fire and water!’259
This attitude of following one tradition but being open to and accepting of other traditions was widely prevalent in Tibet and is confirmed by many other contemporary accounts. For example Khyongla Rato writes:
‘… although my grandparents and parents had quite different attitudes towards religion, there was never any discord between them or disagreement in the matter of belief. My grandparents had been initiated, at one time or another, into all four of the main Buddhist sects of Tibet … and had found in them no real conflict.
‘My mother and father, on the other hand, unlike my father’s parents, belonged only to the orthodox Gelugpa “Yellow Hat” sect, and it would never have occurred to them to accept initiation from any other. Yet they respected all, and had friends from all.’260
Because of the present Dalai Lama’s view, this attitude of following one tradition but respecting others is now regarded as a sectarian crime. However, many respected masters from all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism have spoken of the importance of maintaining each tradition. For example, the late highly respected Kagyu teacher Kalu Rinpoche was quoted as saying:
‘In general, to have faith in all the traditions is a sign of a profound understanding of the teachings. However, it is absolutely necessary to engage in one given tradition, to receive detailed instructions in it, and to be introduced to its essential practices; and then, it is proper to practice mainly those teachings.’261
In an interview with Professor Donald Lopez in Tricycle Magazine, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso stated very clearly his own completely non- sectarian attitude toward other traditions:
‘Of course! 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. Many Nyingmapas and Kagyupas practice very sincerely and are not just studying intellectually. I think that some Gelugpa practitioners need to follow their practical example. But we don’t need to mix our traditions. Each tradition has its own uncommon good qualities, and it is important not to lose these. We should concentrate on our own tradition and maintain the good qualities of our tradition, but we should always keep good relations with each other and never argue or criticise each other. What I would like to request is that we should improve our own traditions while maintaining good relations with each other.’262
The Dalai Lama has made public statements about why he has imposed this ban but as we have seen they are completely flawed and have no valid basis. So what are the real reasons? One is the influence of the spirit Nechung, the protector of the Dalai Lama. The spirit- medium of Nechung has wanted predominant power to advise the Dalai Lama for many years, and has consequently developed jealousy towards the practice of Dorje Shugden, which was and still is very popular among many lamas, including the tutors and root Gurus of the Dalai Lama, many scholars and millions of other practitioners. There are also the factors of ignorance and superstition, because as the Dalai Lama publicly admits, he has based all of his decisions for the implementation of this ban on divinations, oracles and dreams. He has affirmed this in many discourses, including the one in July 1978 when he first spoke out in public against the practice of Dorje Shugden.
When asked what he thought was the main reason for the Dalai Lama’s ban, Kundeling Rinpoche explained:
‘All of the different traditions of Tibet have their own unique protectors. So why is Dorje Shugden being singled out as the big enemy of unity and being singled out as the main object of sectarianism? That is absolutely not true that Dorje Shugden is an enemy of unity and a cause of sectarianism. It’s a big lie.
‘Actually, the main reason behind the ban on Dorje Shugden is because Dorje Shugden has been very, very popular. You see, Gelugpas have been a majority in Tibet. They happen to be a majority also in exile. Dorje Shugden worship is very, very popular amongst the Gelugpas. It’s also very popular amongst the Sakyapas. So I think this popularity may have caused some constraint and jealousy with Nechung oracle. Now jealousy and competition, in connection to growing popularity, is a common occurrence in Tibetan history. There have always been some minor quarrels and disagreements and arguments over fame, popularity, patrons, property, disciples. These are typical human feelings, human problems. They have nothing to do with the protectors of Gelugpas such as Dorje Shugden.’263
In The Dalai Lama: A Report on the Dalai Lama’s Abuses of Human Rights and Religious Freedom James Belither notes:
‘Many people believe the real reason why the Dalai Lama has banned the worship of Dorje Shugden is because he wants to integrate all the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism into one. The leaders of the other traditions will gradually disappear leaving him as the sole head of Tibetan Buddhism. In this way he will be able to control all aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, thereby consolidating his own power. By destroying the practice of Dorje Shugden, a popular practice within the Gelug tradition, he is trying to change, and thereby weaken, the Gelug tradition itself. By weakening the Gelugpas, relatively the most powerful of the four schools, the Dalai Lama has cleverly gained the support of the other schools. His next step will be to integrate them all into one.’264
And this is exactly what the Dalai Lama is doing as confirmed in his own words:
‘… what I say [is] – “We should try to practice all the four traditions in a complete form within one single physical basis.” ’265
As Kundeling Rinpoche points out, the ban and the wish to integrate the four traditions relates to the Dalai Lama’s hidden political agenda (see Appendix 2):
‘The Dalai Lama’s other reason for the ban, that Dorje Shugden is an obstacle to the unity of all the Tibetan traditions, is definitely not true. You see, there was no such problem before this ban. When the Dalai Lama talks about bringing unity, he means making one tradition out of all the existing traditions of Tibet … What the Dalai Lama is talking about is unifying all of the different practices to make one tradition.
‘Now if you ask, who’s going to be the head of this new, one tradition, of course it’s the Dalai Lama himself who is going to be the head. It is very clear in the Dalai Lama’s mind that when he goes back to Tibet, he’s never going to be the temporal leader. That’s very clear. Since he’s opted for autonomy, he’s not going to be a temporal leader anymore. So the only option left for him is to be a spiritual leader. To be spiritual leader of the Gelugpas alone means his power is marginalised, is reduced. Therefore, in order to be the common spiritual leader of all Tibetans, he is trying to create one tradition here in exile. He believes that when he goes back to Tibet he will be able to exercise power over all the traditions by having created this one tradition in which he is the supreme leader. So this is also a power struggle. This is also a power game. So this is the Dalai Lama’s hidden political agenda.’266
Although the Dalai Lama clearly has a political motive in imposing the ban on Dorje Shugden practice, he is acting against the basic principles of Mahayana Buddhism. With this ban he has totally rejected the view of his Spiritual Guide, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, his ‘root guru’267, thus breaking the commitment to rely upon the Spiritual Guide, the cornerstone of Mahayana Buddhist practice.