Desecration of Shrines and Holy Images

“Calls upon all States in accordance with their national legislation to exert utmost efforts to ensure that religious places and shrines are fully respected and protected”

Article 7, Elimination Of All Forms Of Religious Intolerance, United Nations Resolution 48/128 (1993)

Immediately following the Dalai Lama’s 1996 decree, his supporters including government officials and associated NGO Officers began destroying statues of Dorje Shugden and shrines dedicated to his worship.

The accompanying videos give evidence, including testimony from the culprits, of some of these acts of desecration. What is clear from this testimony is that these acts were carried out on the direct orders of the Dalai Lama.


Monks are sent from Dharamsala to enforce the destruction of images and shrines throughout the Tibetan Settlements and even as far afield as Ladakh. As Dr Martin Mills notes:

‘The primary focus of reform in the region was the destruction of shrines, statues and images of Dorje Shugden. In the case of statues, this involved grinding them down in the nearest available river.[…] In Spituk near Leh, monks recounted how the deity’s presence had been systematically removed from the monastery by visiting monks from Dharamsala under the auspices of Bakula Rinpoche: the consecrated paintings of the deity in the main prayer hall were physically dug out with pickaxes and spades.’

It should be noted that, as in many areas inside and outside Tibet, in Ladakh, ‘ceremonial dependence on the deity as a key monastic protector deity was almost universal within the dominant Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism until 1996’. Dr Mills notes that ‘particularly in the period between 1996-7, there was a strong hope by many that “the ban would not come here”’.


The Dalai Lama sent representatives into Tibet to encourage the ban of Shugden worship and the destruction of holy images there. Radio Free Asia reports:

‘Khenpaluk monastery was the first religious establishment in the area to ban the practice. Tsering, a layman, had joined together with at least eight monks of Chamdo’s Khenpaluk monastery in 2008 to destroy the deity Shugden’s statue after the Dalai Lama urged Tibetans to abandon its worship.’8

Religious Freedom?

Commenting on the lack of religious freedom in China, Human Rights Watch says:

‘A key problem is the Chinese government’s definition of freedom of religion as the right to private belief, rather than accepting freedom of religion in the broader context set forth in a key U.N. resolution called the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.’9

In the Tibetan Exile Community Shugden Buddhists have to hide their devotion and their statues from others or risk ostracism, public humiliation and even violent attacks.

“Many of the covert practices now pertaining to images of Shugden amongst Tibetan Buddhist communities outside Chinese-occupied Tibet mirror uncannily those used by many Tibetans to hide images of the Dalai Lama within it.”

- Dr Martin Mills, University of Aberdeen

Video interviews with Tibetans who broke into temples and destroyed Shugden statues on the Dalai Lama’s orders.

An angry mob of Tibetans attack a Shugden shrine and the monks tending to it. They are only stopped by the Indian police using tear gas and firing warning shots.