Basis for the Dorje Shugden ban proven false

Dr Lobsang Sangay addressing the crowd during the 52nd Tibetan Democracy Day Celebrations, September 2, 2012

By: Shashi Kei

In 1996, the Tibetan government in exile, now known as the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), issued an astonishing statement. In that statement the government claimed that the propitiation of an ancient Buddhist deity known as Dorje Shugden, was the primary reason behind the Tibetan people’s decades of failure to regain their country and freedom. This is probably the first time in modern history that the failure of a government is blamed on a religious deity.

The Cabinet had this to say:

[Excerpt from the Kashag's statement concerning Dorje Shugden in May 31, 1996]:

“After nearly forty years in exile under the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the chances of achieving our goal of freedom for Tibet continues to improve. Tibetans stand out among all the refugees in the world for their unique achievements…However, we are yet to achieve the ultimate triumph. Obstructive factors of various kinds, emanating from beings of both the form and formless realms, continue to hinder our efforts.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has investigated these obstructions and their causes for many years. One of the findings of his investigations is that depending on the spirit, Dolgyal, otherwise known as Dorje Shugden or Gyalchen Shugden, conflicts with Tibet’s two protector-deities (Nechung and Palden Lhamo) as well as the protector-deity of the Gelugpa tradition, Pledge-holding Dharmaraja (Damchen Choegyal). The inclination of this spirit is to harm, rather than benefit, the cause of Tibet.

And this:

“It is the duty of the Tibetan Government-in-exile to encourage compliance with any advice given out of concern for the cause of Tibet, the security of its head of state and the honor of all Tibetan Buddhist traditions including the Geluk tradition. Consequently, it has initiated a programme to be prevailing upon those still following Dolgyal to make a break with it. We are doing so out of concern for the greater welfare of Tibet and so that the Gelugpa teachings of Je Tsongkhapa remain pure… Most people with connections to Dolgyal have come to understand that propitiating him undermines the cause of Tibet, compromises the personal security of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and brings harm to the individual propitiator himself or herself.

And finally, in the same statement, they warned that not following the advice of the Dalai Lama (or breaking samaya with the spiritual leader) would have dire consequences on the Dalai Lama’s life:

“In one of his recent statements His Holiness said: “You should not think that dangers to my life come only from someone armed with a knife, a gun, or a bomb. Such an event is extremely unlikely. But dangers to my life may arise if my advice is constantly spurned, causing me to feel discouraged and to see no further purpose in living.


Notwithstanding that a democratic government, as the CTA has declared itself to be, is constitutionally barred from being involved in religious affairs let alone ban a Buddhist practice that affects a large percentage of its population, it has boldly proclaimed in no uncertain terms that Dorje Shugden was the reason the Tibetan cause had thus far, been a failure.

And although the CTA has never clarified even with its own people what exactly the “Tibetan Cause” entails, (with some confusion between those calling for Tibetan independence versus those advocating a ‘Middle Way’) there is no doubt that the essence of the CTA’s promise was to return the Tibetan people back to their homeland where they will live to enjoy all the freedom that a democracy bestows, under a liberal government consisting of Tibetan leaders, who will govern independently of oppressive interference from their Chinese enemy. And if the Tibetan people had any hesitation about the CTA’s undertaking, then their doubts were allayed over the years with promises of democracy and freedom being reinforced at every opportunity by the CTA and its officials:


“The democracy bestowed upon Tibetan people by His Holiness the Dalai Lama is very precious… so, the various sections of Tibetan press must promote it. The CTA always respect the principle of freedom of speech and democracy as enshrined in the exile Tibetan Charter.”



“The Kashag stated: Today marks the forty-ninth anniversary of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s outstanding efforts to transform the nature of Tibetan polity into a genuine democracy.”



A statement from the Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay himself:

“Today is a proud day for all Tibetans. It is the day when Tibetan exiles have fully realized His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s cherished wish to transform the Tibetan polity into a vibrant democracy. Since the age of 16, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has taken steps to introduce and consolidate Tibetan democracy. This precious gift of democracy will be treasured by all Tibetans in the same way we have treasured and embraced Buddhism for over 1300 years. As Buddhism offers liberation from suffering, democracy will provide the Tibetan people the means to attain freedom from injustice.


And again, by Lobsang Sangay:

Only democracy can resolve the issue of Tibet“, said Kalon Tripa Dr Lobsang Sangay at ‘Democracy in Exile: The case of Tibet’, a public lecture organized by the Jindal School of International Affairs on Thursday in Sonepat.


And so it was made abundantly clear to the Tibetan people that the CTA’s fight, as enshrined in the Middle Way, is synonymous with its promise to provide the people with a life of freedom under a democracy, which is the Dalai Lama’s lifelong wish. And allegedly, standing in the way of the realization of this great Tibetan dream was Dorje Shugden, and should the people disregard the CTA’s decree to outlaw the Shugden practice and continue to propitiate this deity, then not only will the Tibetan people fail in this dream but also place the Dalai Lama’s life at risk due to their samaya with the spiritual leader being broken.

By this strange proposition, a Buddha was outlawed with the ban on its practice being enforced as much via the CTA’s official apparatus as it was by the community. To protect the promise of freedom they had been assured of and the life of their beloved Dalai Lama, an unsuspecting Tibetan community, both lay and monastic, persecuted its own who were worshippers of Dorje Shugden and set them into hiding for fear of their lives.

The “Shugden Card” that all monks had to carry to indicate that they adhere to the ban, without which they face expulsion

With the dirty deed done, the Tibetans waited for news of the promise being fulfilled and yet none came. If anything, time bore news of the aging Tibetan Cause losing its stride and becoming lame and lost inside the quagmire of internal politics. Each day in exile that passed since the Shugden ban was enforced became a testimony that Dorje Shugden had been made a scapegoat and yet this fact was lost to a nation of people numbed by generations of servitude to a ruling elite. This apathy would soon be proven to be a contributory factor for how the Tibetans forfeited their own quest for freedom.

If time proved that Dorje Shugden was not the real cause for the failure of the Tibetan Cause, time also uncovered the real culprit. During his speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington DC on May 8, 2013 the Sikyong Lobsang Sangay finally revealed the true hand of the CTA. Perhaps the Sikyong slipped, or perhaps the CTA felt that the years and swarm of divide-and-rule strategies that it had forced upon its own people has adequately cowed its people into unquestioning submission, but in any case the Sikyong finally demonstrated unabashedly that Tibetan democracy was a pipe dream the government had sold to its own people.

The Editorial of the Tibetan Review journal summed up the CTA’s position vide Lobsang Sangay’s statements as such:

“Sikyong Lobsang Sangay made three startling statements: a) democracy for Tibet was out and Communist Party rule was okay, b) genuine autonomy for Tibet could be for a limited duration, and c) China would have discretion over military deployment in Tibet.”

Those who may have been watching their Harvard-trained humanitarian expert and democracy champion would have listened with incredulity as the Sikyong stated:

“If the Chinese government implements their own laws, we could take that as genuine autonomy, and we don’t challenge or ask for an overthrow of the Communist Party. So we don’t question or challenge the present structure of the ruling party.”


“We are not asking that democracy be implemented or be allowed inside Tibet.”

And when questioned further by Professor Cohen about how the CTA hopes to achieve autonomous self-rule (as the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Approach calls for) within a communist regime, Lobsang Sangay reiterated his, and by extension the CTA’s position:

“We are asking for rights under the Chinese Constitution but NOT democracy in Tibet.”


This is a most startling revelation and to begin with, it shows that the CTA is prepared to trade away its own Tibetan Constitution bestowed upon the Tibetan people by the Dalai Lama himself, in exchange for a position of government under a communist manifesto. In saying that the CTA will not “challenge the present structure of the ruling party” what Lobsang Sangay meant was that the CTA agrees to communist rule in Tibet, which ironically is precisely what exists in the Tibetan Autonomous Region today. And it also means that the CTA will agree to subject Tibetans to the same system of government as that which CTA accuses to be foul and oppressive, and the Tibetans will have no chance to object seeing that the deployment of military forces remains the right of the Chinese. So what happened to the rhetoric of freedom, democracy and self-rule?

Dorje Shugden, an emanation of the Buddha of Wisdom wrongly made a scapegoat for the CTA’s failures

Where is the Lobsang Sangay who in 2010 wrote patriotically, “the day will come, when Tibetans inside and outside Tibet, will witness the unfurling of our national flag, not just at Harvard Square with Vigil Pala, but on the rooftop of the Potala Palace”. For certain, there will be no possibility of possessing even a small token of Tibetan nationalism under Communist China, let alone unfurl a large Tibetan flag. However, this is a matter for another investigation, and not the objective of this examination.

The crucial point to note is that Lobsang Sangay’s statement which we can safely presume was made with CTA consensus (seeing that the Kashag has not issued any official statements to the contrary), puts an end to the Tibetan independence dream, to true autonomy that the Dalai Lama has been fighting for, and for certain, signals the obituary of the Tibetan Cause and by definition the death of the CTA’s promise to the people. It is the death knell of the very cause that the CTA had alleged would come about at the hands of Dorje Shugden. But as is clear now, the Tibetan Cause died at the sacrificial altar of the CTA’s political self-interest and not at the altar of an enlightened deity sworn to protect the Buddha’s Dharma.

This development alone demonstrates that the Shugden ban never did have any real basis other than to satisfy the CTA’s need for a stooge to explain away their failures to deliver their promises. In addition, a scapegoat that can double as a wedge to divide the Tibetan community so that the CTA’s political maneuvering and preparations would be unchallenged. Was not abeyance to the Shugden ban presented to the Tibetan people as a means to preserve the Dalai Lama’s life? If the Dalai Lama’s life can indeed be harmed by his people breaking their samaya with him, as the Kashag claimed refusing to obey the Shugden ban would do, doesn’t this sell out of the Dalai Lama’s lifelong dream and the purpose for which he has worked all his life constitute the greatest breaking of samaya with His Holiness? How is it that refusing to obey the ban is harmful to the Dalai Lama but totally destroying his life’s work to give the Tibetan people democratic freedom, not?

It would appear that the Tibetan Cause is at an end clearly not because of Dorje Shugden. The reasons and basis for an unholy and illegal religious ban has been proven to be lies. The Tibetan people were duped by their own government and fell prey to a sinister plot to divide the community and at the same time estranged the people from the very Protector whom they needed. Dorje Shugden is after all the deity that the greatest of Gelugpa Masters advised the Tibetans and indeed the world, would need to rely on in the face of spiritual and moral decay as acts of the CTA have shown up to be.

Regardless of how he views Dorje Shugden, every Tibetan owes it to himself and the spirit of democracy to correct a grievous error now that it has been proven that the deity and its practitioners have been maligned. In responding to the calls by the Tibetan government over the years for all Tibetan people to “prevail upon” Shugden practitioners, the community attacked Shugden practitioners by denying them their freedom to practice their religion and their freedom to live peacefully within the community. Till this day, innocent Shugden monks and lay practitioners suffer the effects of a grave injustice wrought upon them by a wicked plot fashioned by a deceitful government. The ban would not have been effective without the co-operation of the Tibetan society who unsuspectingly served this wrong by becoming the ban’s community enforcers.

The same Tibetan society must now undo this mistake and restore justice to their fellow countrymen and demonstrate to the world that indeed they are deserving of continuing support from the people of the free and democratic world. The only way forward is for Tibetans, and all those who believe in integrity and democracy, to call for the CTA to lift the ban on Dorje Shugden practitioners simply because the very basis for the ban was false. It is only logical that those who desire freedom from tyranny must show that they will not stand for tyranny, now that it has been uncovered.

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4 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. The spread of Dharma is to break the negativity that sets us in samsara. Nevertheless, the dissemination of something wholesome such as the Dharma is often blocked by complacency, laziness, ignorance and the need to be in control. This is clearly seen in something simple such as the promotion of healthy food, which is often rejected in comparison to fast food. We know very well that McDonald’s french fries are bad for us in the long run. Fruits, salad and steamed potatoes are the way forward. But how do we influence and change our diet? How would an enlightened mind makes this change for all sentient beings?

    The ban for Dorje Shugden is very much baseless because the cause of Tibet has recently been debunked by the Sikyong. Freedom and democracy has been replaced by cowering to autonomy and communism. Then why put the blame on Shugden in the first place, suggesting that such practice and the deity itself has caused Tibet to suffer the claws of China? The question now remains, who is the real enemy of Tibet? Who is the real culprit that made use of the innocence of the Tibetans and now create a mockery internationally? One cannot be screaming for democracy and then ban the practice of religion in the same breath. This is called hypocrisy.

    It is as silly as saying that we can’t promote healthy diets and meals because it will destroy the growth of the food industry and influence the farmers and fast-food chain workers to attack organic shops and farms. It doesn’t take a genius to guess that those who spread such claims are those who want to be in control and wish to hold the world in samsara.

  2. Thanks for sharing this interesting article.
    The latest CTA’s Lobsang Sangay’s statements is clearly showing the statement write at 1996 for blaming DS is a mistake and is look like just a politic trick.CTA make the free Tibetan fighting activities become a fight for no reason.
    if DS is not the harm for the cause then they should come out a statement to declare it.

  3. “We are not asking that democracy be implemented or be allowed inside Tibet.” why ?why? is it they give up ? why every time they point to dorje shugden ? why you not suport democracy ?

  4. The CTA has been misleading Tibetans all these years. Why is the sudden change in their tune of seeking Tibetan independence to self-autonomy for a limited period? All self-immolators had died a painful death in vain. All the protests and fightings of Tibetans are for show only? Surely CTA had created a huge lie and deception to their own people. They had undermined the intelligence of their people and had made Dorje Shugden a scrapegoat to their Tibetan cause – democracy in deception!

    I hope Tibetans will wake up now. If self-autonomy is what they are seeking for, Tibetans can now immediately cross the Himalayan Alps the way they had fled from Tibet into self-autonomous rule. There is no need to protest or flee into exile. This demonstrate CTA have no integrity.

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.…Instead of turning away people who practise Dorje Shugden, we should be kind to them. Give them logic and wisdom without fear, then in time they give up the ‘wrong’ practice. Actually Shugden practitioners are not doing anything wrong. But hypothetically, if they are, wouldn’t it be more Buddhistic to be accepting? So those who have views against Dorje Shugden should contemplate this. Those practicing Dorje Shugden should forbear with extreme patience, fortitude and keep your commitments. The time will come as predicted that Dorje Shugden’s practice and it’s terrific quick benefits will be embraced by the world and it will be a practice of many beings.

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