To Sum It Up
In 1996, His Holiness the Dalai Lama banned the practice of Dorje Shugden. His Holiness himself had practised Dorje Shugden for 30 over years, after it was given to him by his teachers, many of whom also practiced Dorje Shugden and in fact propagated it all over pre-1959* Tibet (the year His Holiness the Dalai Lama left Tibet to seek refuge in India).
We understand that for those new to the issue, it can be a confusing subject. The strength of feeling from both sides of the problem has resulted in a lot of misinformation and rumors. For those who are not Buddhist or who are unfamiliar with Tibetan Buddhism, hearing about the ban will give rise to many questions – why did the Dalai Lama ban this deity? Isn’t the Dalai Lama a paragon of human rights? Why do people send vulgar messages to one another in trying to protect or defend His Holiness?
Trying to read up and research about the ban can also result in confusion, since oftentimes secular issues are combined with the spiritual. It can be hard for those who are not familiar with Tibetan Buddhism to discern between the two, and to appreciate the spiritual background behind the ban.
So here we answer for you some simple questions about the ban on Dorje Shugden, using logic and evidence. We offer this information to you with the hope that it brings clarity to your understanding about the ban. Our intention is not to convert you to the practice of Dorje Shugden, but simply for you to understand the reasons behind the ban, why it is so illogical and therefore why it must be lifted.
There is no need for you to be a practitioner of Dorje Shugden in order to understand that the ban causes great suffering to everyone involved, and that it has driven a deep wedge in the Tibetan community. We are not asking for everyone to agree with our beliefs but for your help to remove the ban and the discrimination that arises as a result of this ban, so that everyone can believe whatever they want without repercussion or fear of repercussion.
For 18 years, countless Tibetan Buddhists around the world have suffered because of the ban, and countless others remain confused about how this conflict can be considered Buddhist. Many hurtful words have been exchanged by both sides, and this needs to stop. For these reasons, we humbly request His Holiness the Dalai Lama to lift the ban on Dorje Shugden.
- Key Questions: Is there a ban? What is this conflict about? How did the ban come about? How is the ban enforced? Why can His Holiness the Dalai Lama not do this? What is with all this name-calling?
- Why did the Dalai Lama ban Dorje Shugden? His Holiness gives his reasons and a Dorje Shugden practitioner responds
- Why has the ban been enforced with so much enthusiasm?
- Why will Dorje Shugden practitioners not give up their practice?
- Evidence of the ban
First of all, is there a ban?
Yes, there is a ban. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been filmed many times instructing Tibetans (both lay and ordained) that those who do not give up the practice of Dorje Shugden should be kicked out of the monasteries.
Or view the video on the server at:
Since 1996, four resolutions have been passed by the Tibetan Parliament urging Tibetans to uphold His Holiness’ instructions through whatever means possible. Memos and notices have been circulated throughout Tibetan government departments instructing that employees should give up the practice of Dorje Shugden or face dismissal; signs have been erected throughout the Tibetan settlements (and indeed, around the world) denying Dorje Shugden practitioners entry into shops, restaurants, clinics, schools, temples, etc. People who protest against the ban have been identified as traitors to Tibetan society, and have had their faces, names, personal details and addresses published in lists on the Tibetan leadership’s websites.
The prevailing atmosphere of fear in the Tibetan communities, the separation of the monasteries, and the constant online and physical attacks against Dorje Shugden practitioners are all evidence of the ban against Dorje Shugden.
For more evidence of the ban, click HERE.
What is this conflict about?
The Dalai Lama banned an ancient practice, and the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) have taken it upon themselves to enforce this ban through whatever means possible. The CTA refers to the Tibetan leadership which is based in Dharamsala, North India.
How did the ban come about?
Since 1996, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has spoken on countless occasions against Dorje Shugden. In July 1996, the Central Tibetan Administration’s constitution was changed, without a referendum, to include the ban on Dorje Shugden. There was no vote, no Dorje Shugden practitioners and leaders were consulted, and there was no dialogue, debate or discussion held with the people. Thus, the people who would be most affected by this decision were not informed at all, and the policies were implemented without their consent, by a government that claims to be a democratic one.
Since then, in a move reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution in China, monks have been forced to swear out of the practice in front of thousands of their compatriots and threatened with expulsion should they refuse to do so. The Tibetan leadership have also organised riots against Dorje Shugden practitioners, to intimidate them into giving up the practice. Those who refuse to participate in these riots are threatened with fines and expulsions, or are accused of being sympathetic towards Shugden practitioners (and therefore may face discrimination and accusations of being a traitor themselves).
Dorje Shugden practitioners, both lay and ordained, who refuse to give up their practice are harassed and a great stigma befalls their families. They carry this stigma with them wherever in the world they are; stories abound of Dorje Shugden practitioners living in Australia, Taiwan, Switzerland and the United States who are harassed by the local Tibetan communities and pressured into leaving the area.
How is the ban enforced?
In general, a combination of fear, intimidation, peer and community pressure, and violence are used to enforce the ban. More specific examples of enforcement include:
- Signs are put up in the Tibetan settlements saying non-Shugden people should not associate with Shugden people. This trend has spilled over to Tibetan Buddhist centres around the world – most recently, some Dharma centres in Singapore with these signs at their entrances
- Dorje Shugden practitioners are not allowed to hold positions in the civil service or any kind of roles in the Tibetan leadership
- As recently as 2014, the Central Tibetan Administration published lists of Dorje Shugden practitioners on their official website. These lists included their photos, names and addresses so Tibetans can identify them easily. What reason would you need such detailed information about Shugden worshippers, if not to direct some harm or violence against them?
- Dorje Shugden practitioners have been violently attacked regardless of their age. As recently as 2013, an 84-year old monk was attacked and stabbed by five masked men bearing knives. During the attack, they said nothing so as not to reveal their true intentions. After the attack, they ran away without taking any valuables, therefore dispelling the idea the attack was part of a botched robbery.
- As recently as 2014, those in support of the ban have violently taken over Dorje Shugden monasteries upon the death of their caretakers
- Medical treatment is denied to Dorje Shugden practitioners and signs are erected outside clinics clearly stating this
- Dorje Shugden practitioners are told they will not be served in restaurants and shops
- Dorje Shugden practitioners are banned from certain temples and from attending His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings
- Dorje Shugden practitioners have been denied refugee status at the Tibetan reception centre in Nepal
- Dorje Shugden monks have their homes pelted with rocks
- Dorje Shugden monks are denied monastic identity cards showing that they belong to a particular monastery
- Dorje Shugden practitioners, on a daily basis, face online threats, attacks and vulgar verbal abuse directed at them
- Privately, many Dorje Shugden practitioners receive nasty messages and publicly, anti-Shugden people tell everyone that they should boycott those who rely on Dorje Shugden
- The Tibetan leadership has organised riots of 3000-4000 people against Dorje Shugden practitioners who were peacefully conducting their pujas in their prayer hall
- Dorje Shugden practitioners are forced to swear out of the practice in front of thousands of people
- Wherever they emigrate, the local Tibetan population creates visa problems for Dorje Shugden practitioners, harasses them at their homes and dharma centres, and ostracises their children in school
- Those who are not Dorje Shugden practitioners but show sympathy, support or even some kind of understanding of what Dorje Shugden practitioners go through, are themselves subjected to pressure until they agree that no one should be allowed to practice Dorje Shugden
- Relatives of Dorje Shugden practitioners are pressured for their relatives’ practice. Sometimes, the pressure is so great that either Dorje Shugden practitioners are forced to leave their homes in order to protect their family, or their families kick them out altogether for refusing to give up the practice
- Dorje Shugden practitioners are told they will go to hell for their practice
- Dorje Shugden practitioners are told that they are unlearned in Buddhism because they are Western/not Tibetan and have no right to comment
- Dorje Shugden practitioners are accused of working for the Chinese government or being Communist agents. Within Tibetan society, this accusation is tantamount to being labelled a traitor and the stigma of this accusation is so great that anyone labelled as such is immediately assumed to be against His Holiness the Dalai Lama and working for the ‘enemy’
Why can His Holiness the Dalai Lama not do this?
Because the reasons for the ban are not logical and because the ban is a breach of human rights, both on a national and universal level. The Tibetan leadership operates out of India and because they are not an officially-recognised government by any nation in the world, they have to abide by the Indian constitution. The Indian constitution guarantees freedom of worship; the ban therefore goes against the Indian constitution.
India is also a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which also states that everyone should have equal opportunity to practice their faith without suffering fear of discrimination.
From a spiritual perspective, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is technically not the spiritual leader of all Tibetans and therefore does not have the authority to decide on spiritual matters for all Tibetans. Within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, there are four schools or traditions – Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug – which each have their own spiritual leaders. It is these leaders who provide guidance to those practicing under their various traditions.
Therefore, His Holiness the Dalai Lama who is a Gelug practitioner does not have the spiritual authority to say “Ban Dorje Shugden” for a Sakya practitioner who should take guidance from His Holiness the Sakya Trizin. In the case of the Gelugs, their spiritual leader is the Gaden Tripa who has not banned the Dorje Shugden practice. In fact, the 101st Gaden Trisur (the Gaden Tripa Emeritus) is a Dorje Shugden practitioner himself.
What is with all this name-calling?
As there is no legitimate nor scriptural basis to ban the practice, Tibetans are told that Dorje Shugden is anti-Dalai Lama and against the Tibetan cause.
The reasons that the CTA use to enforce the ban on Dorje Shugden touches on a very emotional topic for Tibetans. For the majority of Tibetans, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan cause is their raison d’être – the very reason for their existence. Thus when they are told that something threatens this reason, it is easy to see why they would be very enthusiastic about enforcing the ban. As a result of the CTA’s misinformation, Dorje Shugden has been made to look like a threat to their very existence. Therefore enforcing the Shugden ban is not just about Dorje Shugden himself, but about defending the reason for their existence.
Since the CTA has not presented a balanced view of the issue, people have not been allowed to make their own decisions regarding Dorje Shugden. As a result, many non-Shugden practising Tibetans who are not highly educated and otherwise unable to express their feelings about the ban, have taken to name-calling and directing vulgarities and violence against Shugden practitioners. Their anger has also been encouraged by the Tibetan leadership who have taken every opportunity in the last 18 years to speak about Dorje Shugden in a derogatory manner and remind their people of the reasons for the ban.
This name-calling and violence has spread from Tibetan society into the West, where His Holiness the Dalai Lama has worked tirelessly for the last 60 years to raise awareness about the Tibetan situation. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people have come to strongly identify with the Tibetan cause, or with His Holiness the Dalai Lama as their teacher. Because of this, you will find that there are Western Buddhist practitioners who are very enthusiastic about enforcing the ban.
Why did the Dalai Lama ban Dorje Shugden?
According to His Holiness, Dorje Shugden is banned because he is a spirit and relying on him shortens His Holiness’ life and harms the Tibetan cause; and those who continue to rely on Dorje Shugden should be expelled from the monasteries. As a result, those who did not have the resources nor ability to examine further took the ban on face value. But with all due respect, His Holiness’ reasons do not make sense if we examine them more closely.
REASON #1: Dorje Shugden is a spirit
This reason can be countered in many ways.
Tibetans believe His Holiness the Dalai Lama is Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion. If Dorje Shugden is a spirit as it is claimed, why hasn’t His Holiness simply bound and destroyed him, and sent his consciousness to a pure land?
Many rituals exist within the Buddhist faith to allow for this and there are many examples of spirits being subdued in this way. For example, Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) is famous for his subjugation of spirits. When he first arrived in Tibet, the land was very wild with many spirits roaming and creating obstacles for the spread of the Dharma. One such spirit was Nechung whom Guru Rinpoche subdued and bound to serve the Dharma.
So why hasn’t His Holiness destroyed Dorje Shugden if the practice is as harmful as he makes it out to be? If Dorje Shugden is a harmful spirit as it is claimed, then destroying him would stop Tibetans from being harmed by Dorje Shugden. It would also stop Dorje Shugden from creating negative karma by harming others. That would be the compassionate thing to do for both Tibetans and Dorje Shugden.
Is it that His Holiness, a ritual master, is unskilled in doing this? It does not make sense that someone who is viewed as a Buddha cannot overcome a spirit; someone who is viewed as a Buddha should be MORE powerful than a spirit. So going back to the original premise – if His Holiness is a Buddha, and Dorje Shugden is a spirit as claimed, His Holiness should be able to bind Dorje Shugden. Since His Holiness the Dalai Lama has not done so, it can only mean that Dorje Shugden is as powerful as His Holiness i.e. he is also a Buddha himself.
From a more scriptural point-of-view, according to the Buddhist belief system, a Buddha is a being who is free from karma. If you can be harmed, you have the karma to receive the harm. Since His Holiness the Dalai Lama has not yet bound or destroyed Dorje Shugden, it can only mean that Dorje Shugden does not have the karma to be harmed or destroyed i.e. he is a Buddha.
Being a Buddha, His Holiness definitely possesses clairvoyance. So how is it that for the 30 years that he practiced Dorje Shugden, His Holiness did not see Dorje Shugden’s nature as a spirit, and overnight, suddenly realised that he is? It cannot be that His Holiness suddenly developed clairvoyance; he was born a Buddha and possessed this ability since birth. So to say that it took him 30 years to see that Dorje Shugden is a spirit is illogical.
Countless Buddhist masters from all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism (Gelug, Sakya, Nyingma, Kagyu) have relied on Dorje Shugden over the last 400 years. It is impossible that NONE of those masters were attained, NONE of them could see that Dorje Shugden is a spirit, and ALL of them were fooled by Dorje Shugden. It cannot be possible that only His Holiness has the clairvoyance, knowledge and wisdom to check and see that Dorje Shugden is a spirit, and that no one else in Tibet possesses these qualities or abilities.
Similarly, it cannot be that no one within the Tibetan Buddhist system possesses the power, ability and ritual knowledge to destroy a being that is supposedly just a spirit. If the fear of Dorje Shugden is so great, then Buddhist masters from all traditions should gather to subjugate Dorje Shugden and end the fear once and for all. Why have they not gathered and if they have, why have they not been successful if Dorje Shugden is only a spirit?
His Holiness is a pure monk. According to the Buddha himself, those who hold even their refuge vows very well (let alone their monk vows) are protected from all forms of harm, including spirit harm. Therefore, if the claim that Dorje Shugden is a spirit is true (which it is not), then His Holiness who is a pure monk has nothing to be afraid of because his vows protect him. And those who are not monks but hold their refuge vows well also have nothing to be afraid of.
According to the teachings of His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche (the tutor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama), Dorje Shugden comes from a great incarnation line of lamas. These lamas were famed for their attainments and scholarship, and had thousands of students who relied upon them for teachings. Up until today, monks from Drepung Loseling and Gaden Shartse monasteries continue to study texts authored by one of Dorje Shugden’s previous incarnations, Panchen Sonam Drakpa.
It is one thing to teach from texts how we can achieve enlightenment; it is an entirely different level to author and compose texts describing the path to achieving enlightenment, AND have the entire monastic community accept these texts as being genuine and authentic. Therefore it is not possible that someone of this caliber (who composed texts that lead us to enlightenment) can reincarnate as a spirit and it is not possible that the monastic community would study texts authored by a spirit as part of their core syllabus.
REASON #2: The practice of Dorje Shugden shortens the Dalai Lama’s life
Tibetans believe His Holiness is Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion. According to the Buddhist belief system, a Buddha is a being who is free from karma. To be harmed, you must have the karma to receive harm.
Therefore since His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a Buddha and free from karma, he cannot be harmed. Thus his life cannot be shortened by anyone, let alone a spirit (which is what anti-Shugden people claim Dorje Shugden to be).
Prior to the ban, millions of people practiced Dorje Shugden including the sangha of the three great Gelug monasteries of Gaden, Sera and Drepung. None of them ever prayed for His Holiness the Dalai Lama to be harmed, and since the time of the 5th Dalai Lama, when Dorje Shugden was first relied upon, none of the Dalai Lamas have ever come to any harm because of Dorje Shugden or his practice.
Likewise, according to eyewitness accounts from those who were directly involved with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s escape into India, it was Dorje Shugden who saved the Dalai Lama’s life. It was Dorje Shugden who, through an oracle medium, advised His Holiness to leave Tibet and even specified which route to take. It was also a thangka of Dorje Shugden that His Holiness carried on his back as he made his way out of Tibet and into India.
REASON #3: The practice of Dorje Shugden harms the Tibetan cause
Dorje Shugden was practised by the majority of Gelug lamas for 400 years with no adverse geopolitical effects. So how is it that suddenly the practice harms the Tibetan cause, when it did not for four centuries prior?
It is ridiculous to say that one deity can cause the loss of an entire country. Those who claim that Tibet was lost because of Dorje Shugden are also saying that all the Buddhas (Shakyamuni, Guru Rinpoche, Lama Tsongkhapa, etc.) and attained lamas in Tibet were not powerful enough to stop him.
It would also be saying that a deity that they call a spirit is more powerful than all the Buddhas and that even today, these Buddhas are still not powerful enough to help resolve the Tibetan situation.
To say that one deity can cause the loss of a whole country is to deny that karma exists, and that one spirit (as he is claimed to be) can override the karma of six million Tibetans. If a Buddha cannot override the karma of six million Tibetans to resolve the Tibetan situation, how is it logical to claim that a spirit can do so?
The official Protectoress of Tibet is actually Palden Lhamo and not Dorje Shugden. Therefore should the Tibetan community wish to hold any deity responsible for their political failures and for failing to protect Tibet, logically it would be Palden Lhamo. This is NOT to say that Palden Lhamo or any of the hundreds of protector deities should be blamed; it is to say that there is no logical reason why it is Dorje Shugden’s responsibility, and not Palden Lhamo’s, for the resolution of the Tibetan situation. In fact, the responsibility for the current state of the Tibetan situation should lie squarely on the shoulders of the Tibetan leadership.
REASON #4: Relying on Dorje Shugden is harmful to Buddhist practice
The Tibetan leadership claim that Dorje Shugden is a jealous spirit who harms practitioners who do not keep their commitments. They say that Dorje Shugden takes revenge on people who stop engaging in his practice.
Logically, this does not make sense because His Holiness the Dalai Lama stopped relying on Dorje Shugden in 1996. Yet for the last 18 years, not a single ounce of harm has come to him and His Holiness continues to be very strong, healthy and still travels the world tirelessly to teach Buddhism.
Similarly, thousands of other Buddhist practitioners have given up the practice of Dorje Shugden as a direct result of the ban. If Dorje Shugden were just a jealous spirit who seeks revenge, then surely harm would have fallen on these ex-practitioners who do so much to disparage and destroy Dorje Shugden’s name. Yet no harm has come to them and in fact, they continue to be very vocal offline and online about their hatred and dislike for Dorje Shugden.
It is claimed that when we rely on Dorje Shugden, we break our refuge vows and we are no longer Buddhists. Now, His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself practiced Dorje Shugden for over 30 years. If his reliance on Dorje Shugden meant that he was not a Buddhist during this time, then all the teachings he gave to millions of people were not valid.
Similarly, His Holiness’ own teachers relied on Dorje Shugden for their entire lives (60-80 years). If relying on Dorje Shugden means all of them were not Buddhists, then all the teachings they gave throughout their entire lives (including those they gave to His Holiness the Dalai Lama) are no longer valid. This would mean His Holiness received teachings from unqualified teachers and is therefore not qualified himself to teach.
Thus, if people wish to receive teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama and believe his teachings to be authentic, it is not logical for them to simultaneously believe that Dorje Shugden’s practice is harmful to our Buddhist practice.
According to the Tibetan leadership, relying on Dorje Shugden results in us going to the Three Lower Realms (i.e. being reborn as an animal, hungry ghost or in one of the hells). However, contrary to these claims, many Dorje Shugden lamas have been reborn in a perfect human body and their incarnations were recognised by His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself.
For example, His Holiness the Dalai Lama recognised the reincarnation of his own guru, His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. This incarnation, known as His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche, now resides in Vermont, USA as the spiritual guide of Trijang Buddhist Institute. Likewise, His Holiness the Dalai Lama also recognised the reincarnation of Lama Yeshe, known as Lama Osel, who relied on Dorje Shugden until the day he passed away.
If these Dorje Shugden-practicing lamas went to the Three Lower Realms (as the Tibetan leadership claims), then it should not have been possible for His Holiness the Dalai Lama to recognise their reincarnations.
REASON #5: Dorje Shugden’s practice promotes sectarianism and division
Many of the Gelug liturgies propitiating Dorje Shugden’s assistance contain prayers composed by great Sakya and Kagyu masters. It is not logical for a practice which incorporates prayers from other lineages and traditions to be considered sectarian.
Furthermore, the claim that Dorje Shugden takes revenge on Gelug practitioners who rely on practices from other lineages also does not make sense.
Dorje Shugden originally began as a Sakya practice. From the 18th Century onwards, the Sakyas starting with Morchen Kunga Lhundrub regarded Dorje Shugden as an enlightened being. Some quick facts about the Sakya tradition of Dorje Shugden practice:
- Morchen Kunga Lhundrub composed a Sakya prayer (kangsol) to invoke upon Dorje Shugden.
- The 30th Sakya Trizin Sonam Rinchen included Dorje Shugden in the pantheon of Sakya protectors. He placed Dorje Shugden together with Setrap and Tsiu Marpo, collectively calling them Gyalpo Sum (Three Kings).
- The 31st Sakya Trizin Kunga Lodro composed prayers to Dorje Shugden including a wrathful torma offering called “Swirl of Perfect Sense Offerings”. He also first coined the term ‘Shugden Rig Nga’ to refer to Dorje Shugden and his four cardinal emanations.
- The 37th Sakya Trizin Kunga Nyingpo was considered to be an incarnation of Dorje Shugden.
- The 39th Sakya Trizin Dragshul Trinley Rinchen recognised Dorje Shugden as being of the same nature as Chenrezig / Avalokiteshvara in his writings.
Although the Sakyas today no longer rely as heavily on Dorje Shugden as they used to, this historical information clearly shows that Dorje Shugden’s practice will benefit anyone and everyone regardless of faith, tradition and self-created divisions.
In Geshe Lhundrub Sopa’s biography, which includes a foreword from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he states clearly that thousands of students received teachings from His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche. Amongst this corpus of teachings and practices was Dorje Shugden, which Pabongka Rinpoche’s students in turn taught to their own students.
Therefore it would not be untrue to say that Dorje Shugden was historically relied upon by the vast majority of Gelugpa practitioners, and was an accepted part of the Gelug monasteries. Those who did not feel an affinity with Dorje Shugden were not forced to engage in his practice, and those who relied on him chose to do so willingly. There was no need for separate monasteries to be identified as Shugden-practicing and non-Shugden practicing monasteries.
Considering that there were no divisions in Tibetan Buddhism until the ban came about in 1996, therefore it was the ban that created division in the Tibetan and Tibetan Buddhist community, and not Dorje Shugden himself.
Why has the ban been enforced with so much enthusiasm?
We recognise that those who enforce the ban come from all walks of life and will therefore have all kinds of reasons for enforcing the ban. These are some of the more common reasons as to why the Tibetan leadership and their supporters have been so enthusiastic about enforcing the ban on Dorje Shugden.
REASON #1: They need a scapegoat
In the 60 years since Tibetans first fled into exile, the Tibetan leadership has not been able to arrange for meaningful dialogue with the Chinese leadership. While the Tibetan leadership continues to rely on the kindness and generosity of sponsors, the Chinese leadership have transformed their nation into a global economic powerhouse.
As we move further away from the events of 1959, it becomes increasingly clear that goodwill towards the Tibetan leadership is waning, and they are losing their influence to pressure other nations into intervening in the Tibetan situation. To distract from their lack of accomplishments over the last 60 years, a reason for their failures had to be found and Dorje Shugden became an easy target.
Thus, to distract the Tibetan people from real and immediate issues (for example, the persisting low literacy rates amongst Tibetan adults) they intentionally linked Dorje Shugden practitioners to China without any proof. Doing so achieves a number of objectives.
First, it is an easy way to make Dorje Shugden people the enemy, by associating them with an even greater ‘enemy’ which is China. It gives the Tibetan community an outlet for their frustrations. Instead of directing their anger at their leadership for failing to resolve the Tibetan situation, the anger and emotion is directed towards a tangible enemy – Dorje Shugden practitioners.
Second, it distracts people from learning about Dorje Shugden. When they are blinded by this association with China, they will be distracted from looking beyond the accusations to examine if the ban has any scriptural basis.
Finally, creating a false association with China is a convenient explanation for the leadership’s failure to effectively provide for their community on a day-to-day basis. Saying that Dorje Shugden lamas and practitioners are paid by China is a convenient method of explaining why Dorje Shugden monasteries and their lamas’ works continue to grow, whilst the remainder of the Tibetan community continues in much the same way it has for the last 60 years, with minimal improvements to their lot.
However, it is ridiculous to say that Dorje Shugden people are paid by China when there are practitioners from all across the globe with no relations to China whatsoever. Is it logical that the Chinese leadership would feel so strongly about the Dorje Shugden issue that they are paying millions of Dorje Shugden practitioners to keep up the practice? Even logistically speaking, this accusation does not make sense. How would the Chinese leadership even get in touch with millions of Dorje Shugden practitioners to disburse the funds? Not a single pay slip providing proof of payment has ever been produced although this accusation has been in existence for the last 18 years.
REASON #2: To diminish the influence of Dorje Shugden lamas
In pre-1959 Tibet, Dorje Shugden lamas commanded the respect, power and held authority over millions of Tibetans. For example, His Holiness the Panchen Lama (second only to the Dalai Lama) relied on Dorje Shugden, as did His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, who commanded the respect and loyalty of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans in the Chatreng region.
In a post-1959 world, the Tibetan leadership would have needed to consolidate power into one individual and their biggest obstacle to achieving this would have been the influence of Dorje Shugden lamas. Thus they chose to destroy the reputation of Dorje Shugden lamas by labelling their faith as demon-worship, anti-Dalai Lama and anti-Tibet.
REASON #3: To break people’s hero worship of His Holiness
His Holiness recognises that the success of the Tibetan movement (for better or for worse) relies largely on his global reputation as a paragon of human rights, universal compassion and virtue. After his passing however, with no succession plan in place, it may never be possible for exiled Tibetans to return to their homeland. There is no other Tibetan leader as charismatic as His Holiness who can influence the opinion of world leaders.
By implementing this ban and publicising it, His Holiness makes it very difficult for many people to continue their blind hero worship of him. It forces many to break their reliance on him as the sole hope for the success of the Tibetan cause. That is, the ban forces most thinking people to wonder why His Holiness the Dalai Lama who teaches compassion and tolerance, would be so intolerant of a particular faith or practice.
REASON #4: To test real practitioners
Dorje Shugden practitioners have suffered constantly for the last 18 years solely because they rely on a deity that was arbitrarily deemed traitorous to the Tibetan situation and people. The ban has made it clear who will give up something for personal gain, and who are loyal, trustworthy and reliable.
REASON #5: For personal vendettas and self-interest
Some may use the ban as an excuse to act out personal vendettas and to further their own political and financial self-interests. Support for the ban is necessary to rise in the ranks of the Tibetan leadership, and to gain personal favours from those in power. It is easy to imagine how a person may be accused of being a Dorje Shugden practitioner if they are viewed as an obstacle to someone else’s rise to power and money.
On a more mundane level, within Tibetan communities, individuals may use the ban to act out their personal vendettas against one another by being unnecessarily forceful in implementing the ban, just to ‘get back’ at someone they do not like.
REASON #6: Lack of knowledge
Many lay Tibetans are unlearned and untrained in Buddhist philosophy. Although they may speak and read Tibetan in a lay context, it is very different to read, contemplate and understand Tibetan in a philosophical or monastic context. Thus most lay Tibetans – young and old – lack the ability to research and check for themselves if the statements and accusations being made against Dorje Shugden are true or false according to the scriptures. Instead, they rely on what they hear or what they have been told.
It is also important to acknowledge that most Tibetans have been raised in an environment where they are taught that any and all statements coming from a ‘trusted’ source (like their leadership) can be taken as unquestionable fact. This gives rise to the particularly virulent enforcement of the ban.
REASON #7: Silence equals consent
Lack of knowledge has resulted in the virulent enforcement of the ban. It has also resulted in another more passive form of enforcement – silence. For those who do not know why the ban is wrong, they may feel they have no choice but to go along with it. As more and more choose not to speak up because they are unequipped to debate against the ban, it encourages others to remain silent.
When everyone remains silent and there is little overt opposition to the ban, it encourages the more vocal supporters to continue with what they are doing since no one is standing up to them.
REASON #8: Genuine, sincere devotion to the Dalai Lama
We should also recognise that there are those who are genuinely sincere in their belief in His Holiness’ reasons, and feverishly enforce the ban as a demonstration of their devotion to the His Holiness the Dalai Lama. What they do not realise is their manner of expressing their devotion is a sad reflection of the qualities of their teacher.
They think that worshipping Dorje Shugden is at odds with and against His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Unfortunately, they do not see that it is completely contradictory to threaten someone for their faith in order to uphold the instructions of someone who teaches compassion.
In fact, they should understand that reliance on Dorje Shugden and respect for His Holiness the Dalai Lama are not mutually exclusive; just because we do not agree with something or someone does not mean we are against them. Disagreements on certain aspects of our beliefs and faiths should not colour our entire relationship with people; there is no relationship in the world that is not TOTALLY free from disagreements.
Why will Dorje Shugden practitioners not give up their practice?
Just as how supporters of the Tibetan leadership are very enthusiastic about enforcing the ban, Dorje Shugden practitioners have been equally enthusiastic about maintaining their practice and campaigning for the ban to be released. In this section, we address some of the reasons why this is the case.
REASON #1: Guru devotion to their Dorje Shugden lamas
In the Buddhist belief system, guru devotion is the foundation of all attainments. A practitioner should hold the advice, practices and instructions received from their teacher as the most precious and important. Therefore Dorje Shugden practitioners maintain their commitments to their teachers because it is guru devotion and it is the correct thing to do according to the Buddhist scriptures. These commitments include Dorje Shugden’s practice.
Thus, simply because another monk, teacher or lama says Dorje Shugden is bad does not mean a Dorje Shugden practitioner will give up the practice. This applies no matter how famous, wealthy or high-ranking the other person or lama making the anti-Shugden statement may be.
REASON #2: No obligation to follow the Dalai Lama
Not everyone in Tibet has His Holiness the Dalai Lama as their spiritual guide. Therefore not everyone has a teacher-disciple relationship (samaya) with His Holiness nor are they obligated to follow his instructions.
Since His Holiness the Dalai Lama is not their teacher, there are no adverse karmic consequences when they do not follow his instructions. This is not said with disrespect towards His Holiness, but recounted merely as fact.
Similarly, not all Buddhists around the world have His Holiness as their spiritual guide and not all Buddhists are from Tibet. Therefore they are not obliged to be guided by Tibetan politics and politicians, and have no obligation to follow the edicts and directives of the Tibetan leadership.
REASON #3: Gratitude and personal experience
As an enlightened Dharma Protector, Dorje Shugden’s practice has benefited countless sentient beings. He has saved lives, brought resources to the destitute, helped practitioners to develop wisdom and clarity of mind to discern the teachings, blessed and protected people from accidents… the list goes on and on and on. Dorje Shugden even saved His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s life when he advised His Holiness to leave Tibet in 1959. Those directly involved in the escape have often spoken of their gratitude to Dorje Shugden for his divine assistance.
REASON #4: The ban is illogical
As it has been debunked here, the ban is not logical and the reasons given for the ban do not make any sense. Those with the ability and resources to gather all the facts then consider the ban for themselves have refused to give up the practice of Dorje Shugden because there is no logical reason for them to do so. Similarly, the continuing vulgar treatment of Dorje Shugden practitioners by supporters of the ban give them very little incentive to drop the practice.
REASON #5: Human rights
Considering that the reasons for the ban are illogical, many Dorje Shugden practitioners continue to speak up against the ban because the manner of its enforcement has been a clear violation of human rights.
REASON #6: Religious freedom
The ban itself violates the freedom of worship guaranteed by the Indian constitution, and it violates the freedom of worship guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which India is a signatory to. All Dorje Shugden practitioners want is to be able to do their practices in peace, free from fear of persecution and marginalisation, whether verbal or physical.
REASON #7: No proof, no dialogue
Ultimately, no proof has ever been shown by the Tibetan leadership that Dorje Shugden is a spirit, that his practice has harmed His Holiness the Dalai Lama or harmed the Tibetan situation. The Tibetan leadership has also never shown any proof of the more ludicrous claims directed at Dorje Shugden practitioners, for example the accusations that Shugden practitioners receive money from the Chinese leadership, that Dorje Shugden practitioners are violent, or that Shugden practitioners pray for harm to befall His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
On the contrary, Dorje Shugden practitioners have, at every juncture, been able to show clearly the discrimination they face, and the violent and vulgar threats they suffer. They are able to provide evidence of the ongoing ostracisation and marginalisation of Dorje Shugden practitioners taking place all over the world.
When comparing the reasons given for the ban against Buddhist knowledge that is universally accepted by all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, none of the reasons for the ban are logical. Thus Dorje Shugden practitioners and those who recognise the unfair nature of the ban will continue to speak up against it until a solution is arrived at. For the last 18 years, no offers of meaningful dialogue have ever been extended by the Tibetan leadership towards Dorje Shugden practitioners, although multiple requests have been made.
Evidence of the ban
It has been claimed by the Tibetan leadership that there is no such thing as a ban on Dorje Shugden. Here is compiled evidence of what Dorje Shugden practitioners have faced for decades. Please read the materials below and decide for yourself whether there is a ban or not.
- Will the Dalai Lama agree with this?
- They want to kill me
- Why Hide and Attack A Monk?
- Can Tibetan Lamas Make Mistakes?
- I can speak up now about Shugden
- Dorje Shugden people
- I pray to what I want to
- I will not be pulled into conflict
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