Why is the Dalai Lama Persecuting Shugden Practitioners?

 Louis the 14th

By Martin Albeck

Louis the 14th, the Sun King, and absolute ruler of France, famously said, “L’Etat, c’est moi.” (The state, that’s me.)

I was reminded of this while reading the three reasons that the Dalai Lama, the so-called God King and absolute ruler of Tibet (and now the Tibetans in exile), has given for banning the practice of Dorje Shugden:

  1. It harms his life
  2. Harms Tibetan people
  3. Harms Tibetan independence.

How this is the case is never made adequately clear. And among his people he doesn’t need to make it clear. After all, he’s the highest spiritual authority right? He should know. And just in case you don’t agree with him, well then you end up rejected from Tibetan society.

If we pause to investigate a little more thoroughly it’s clear that there are two principal reasons behind the ban, both of them highly political and both extremely self-serving.

  1. Strengthening his own power
  2. Creating a scapegoat to explain away the failings of his Government in Exile.
  1. In the wake of the Chinese takeover of Tibet and the establishing of the huge community in exile it’s clear that the Dalai Lama felt that unity among the Tibetans was essential and that he was the man for the job. He already had absolute political power, but spiritually, and consequently socially, there were four distinct schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama, normally regarded as a member of the Gelugpa lineage, by far the largest, began teaching based on all four lineages. This can easily be seen as a wonderfully non-sectarian approach, except gradually it became clear that the Dalai Lama was creating a new lineage from this blend of the four schools, and that he was in fact attempting to unify all these schools under himself.

One big problem for him was that there was a large contingent among the Gelugpas who had no interest in following his lead in giving up their own lineage to join his. These Gelugpas, the Dorje Shugden practitioners, wish only to practice their own lineage purely and not mix it with the other schools.

It was relatively easy for the Dalai Lama to paint the Shugden practitioners as sectarian but nothing can be further from the truth. Shugden practitioners believe all four schools teach complete paths to enlightenment and should have the freedom to practice the lineage of their choice without having to mix. Of course if people wish to mix lineages they should have the freedom to do that as well. In enforcing his view on others it’s actually the Dalai Lama who is being sectarian.

The Dalai Lama, having conflated himself with both the Tibetan people and the Tibetan cause, felt that the resistance of Shugden practitioners was detrimental to his unification plan. By banning the practice, the Dalai Lama threw the entire Gelugpa lineage into disarray. Through the ban being enforced with expulsions, social rejection, even violence, the Shugden practitioners lost their standing in Tibetan society and the Dalai Lama could continue with his plans unopposed. The ban also increased his standing with many among the other traditions who were happy to see the Gelugpas weakened.

Whereas the Dalai Lama is happy to promote ‘unity through diversity’ on his speaking engagements around the world – a concept with which Shugden practitioners will heartily agree – at home it’s a different matter. There it’s ‘unity through conformity’. So basically the ban has strengthened the Dalai Lama’s position as the sole spiritual head of the Tibetan community, to an extant never had before!

  1. The second clearly self-serving reason behind the ban is that the Dalai Lama needed a scapegoat to explain away the many failures of his government in exile. Why have the Tibetans not been able to win back their independence? According to the Dalai Lama it is because of the Dorje Shugden practitioners. Apparently this so-called ‘evil spirit’ has the power to undermine the Tibetan cause as well as harm the Dalai Lama’s life. Which means that to practice Dorje Shugden is tantamount to treason! Scapegoating is of course a time-honored tool of dictators. This particular scapegoating is clearly transparent and perfectly medieval. Blaming an evil spirit for your national problems and then making Shugden practitioners into state enemies … it’s amazing that this presumed man of reason gets away with it.

To summarize … banning Dorje Shugden has increased his own power within the Tibetan community to an unprecedented level, and has enabled him to escape criticism for his government’s failings. Who has benefitted from this? The Tibetan people. No. The Tibetan cause. Clearly not. Only one person. The Dalai Lama himself.