By: Kay Beswick
Dorje Shugden practitioners have been standing up for their religious freedom for the last 20 years, with no end to the ban in sight. When things seem bleak, it is common for disappointment and despair to set in. In such times, it is helpful to remind ourselves why we are fighting for the religious freedom of four million Dorje Shugden practitioners by meditating on the importance of clearing Dorje Shugden and the Shugden lamas’ reputation.
FOR THOSE WHO NEED ASSISTANCE
You might ask, he’s an enlightened being so why do we need to stand up for him and the practice? While Dorje Shugden may be an enlightened being, the people who need him the most are not. They have their karma to deal with, and this karma manifests as obstacles which prevents them from connecting with and easily accessing Dorje Shugden’s help.
One of the biggest obstacles – in fact, the biggest obstacle – is the ban against Dorje Shugden. The ban and the resulting negative propaganda from the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) have led many people to develop wrong view about Dorje Shugden’s nature. As a result, although they would benefit from a connection with Dorje Shugden, they are unable to connect with him because the CTA has poisoned their view of him.
When they hold this wrong view of him, they actively avoid a deity who has been promised to be the Dharma Protector of our times, with the closest karmic connection to beings of this time period. This promise was made by Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche, who made a similar promise regarding the efficacy of Vajrayogini’s practice, one which is believed by Gelugs all over the world. If the promise regarding Vajrayogini is commonly believed, why not this promise regarding Dorje Shugden? It is a sad affair indeed that practitioners may miss the opportunity to connect with Dorje Shugden as a result of the ban.
The importance of clearing the Dorje Shugden lamas’ names is also significant in the question of gaining attainments in tantric practice. In tantric practices, the prayers start with the dissolution of the lineage lamas and their blessings, beginning with the originating lama into the next lineage holder and so on, down to our guru from whom we received the practice. At this point, when the blessings are the most potent, our guru who embodies all of the attainments of the lineage lamas before him dissolves into us.
or watch on our server:
Penpa Tsering, Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile and former Sikyong candidate, defames Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche
Many of the lineage holders of the tantric practices today just so happen to have relied upon Dorje Shugden as well, for example His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche or His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche. Thanks to the encouragement of the Tibetan leadership, many of these lineage holders have been belittled and wrong view has been developed about them. When we develop wrong view of any of the lineage lamas, that pathway of one lama dissolving into another is interrupted. It is therefore even more disturbing that as a result of this wrong view of Dorje Shugden and the lineage lamas, practitioners cut off the blessings and attainments they receive from their practices when they belittle the very vessel of attainments – the lineage lamas themselves. Thus it is important to clear the names of the lineage lamas, for the sake of gaining attainments from one’s tantric practice.
However, the lamas who would be able to clear this wrong view are not given the opportunity to do so. They are labelled as anti-Tibetan and, more dangerously, anti-Dalai Lama and people are encouraged to direct violence and vulgarities at them.
Therefore not only have the CTA poisoned people’s view of Dorje Shugden, but they have also poisoned the public’s view of lamas who rely on Dorje Shugden. Karmically and spiritually, this wrong view is dangerous because the lamas that the CTA targets are attained and have become one with their yidams (meditational deities). This is evidenced by the scope and scale of their works. Some lamas, for example Guru Deva Rinpoche, were instrumental in the reestablishment of the Tibetan Buddhist faith in exile where their monumental financial contributions allowed for monasteries to be built to house the monks and develop a new home for the Dharma. Similarly, the teachings would not have flourished in exile without the erudite scholarship of lamas like His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, His Eminence Dagom Rinpoche, His Eminence Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche, Geshe Rabten, Geshe Thubten Trinley, Geshe Tsultrim Tenzin, and the thousands of monks who subsequently became geshes and Dharma teachers thanks to their extensive teachings.
Therefore if developing wrong view of enlightened beings results in heavy negative karma, what more is there to say about directing violence, vulgarities and curses towards beings like these who have massively benefited sentient beings as a result of their works?
Working to clean the name of our lamas is not only a practice of compassion to connect people with Manjushri, but also a practice of compassion for anti-Shugden people to stop them from accumulating heavy negative karma when they denigrate and degrade qualified teachers and enlightened beings. Working to clear the name of lamas who rely on Dorje Shugden is also a practice of compassion to end the pain of families torn apart by this needless controversy, as well as teachers and students who are forced to separate, remain distant and break their samaya due to their differing approaches to Dorje Shugden practice.
FROM THE SIDE OF THE LAMAS
The ban, being illegal and undemocratic, creates unnecessary obstacles and difficulties for these lamas and their reincarnations to continue their work.
The unassuming public may wonder why so much focus is placed on Dorje Shugden. It is important to remember that this focus on Dorje Shugden is actually a very recent development. Until the ban was enforced twenty years ago, these lamas were teaching and promoting Lama Tsongkhapa’s pure lineage, without any particular focus on Dorje Shugden.
The focus these days is on Dorje Shugden because of the ban by the Tibetan leadership; under any other circumstances, the same energy and resources would have been used to promote other deities in the Buddhist pantheon. As a direct result of the ban however, Dorje Shugden lamas are unable to do this freely due to the stigma that hangs over their centers and monasteries. Potential students and sponsors avoid Shugden-reliant monasteries and Dharma centers, erroneously believing them to be places of demon worship. In the best case scenario, they may go to another center to receive teachings from another lama or lineage; in the worst case scenario, with no other centers nearby, they may not seek out another Dharma center and in fact, not become Buddhist at all and benefit from Shakyamuni’s teachings.
What is more, Dorje Shugden lamas are shunned and their educations are interrupted because of their refusal to give up the practice; to this day, geshes who rely on Dorje Shugden do not have a tantric college to attend because their refusal to give up Dorje Shugden practice bars them from entering Gyuto and Gyume Tantric Colleges (as is tradition after their geshe conferment ceremonies in Gaden, Sera and Drepung).
This situation has compelled Gelug practitioners to focus on Dorje Shugden and focus on clearing his name and that of the lamas who rely on him, because the ban stains their reputations which in turn hinders the growth of the entirety of Tsongkhapa’s tradition. The ban ostracizes, marginalizes and disregards an entire group of teachers who would otherwise be able to teach freely. As a direct result of the ban therefore, more resources are put into fighting to clear the lamas’ names, which could otherwise be redirected towards promoting the entirety of Tsongkhapa’s lineage itself. This points itself to the ultimate importance of clearing the reputations of the Shugden lamas – no matter how hard we work at our monasteries and Dharma centers, our lamas’ activities will never reach fruition and its full potential so as long as the stigma of being Shugden practitioners hangs over their heads.
Using His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Dorjechang as an example, the Dorje Shugden ban has tarnished his name in the eyes of many practitioners despite the vast contributions he has made to Tibetan society. Anti-Shugden Tibetans have forgotten that he composed their national anthem, or that he was one of the first principals of the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) School and was therefore responsible for their secular education. Many have also forgotten his innumerable works to reestablish the medical system in exile, rediscovering doctors of Tibetan medicine like the famed Dr Dolma who might have otherwise continued to languish in building roads instead of utilizing her invaluable medical skills.
Anti-Shugden Tibetans have forgotten that Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, the teacher of teacher, educated thousands of monks who later became the geshes that we receive teachings from up to this day. It would not be untrue to say that virtually every great Gelug master and teacher in the world today has received teachings and initiations from Trijang Rinpoche. After going into exile, Trijang Rinpoche taught tirelessly, giving numerous teachings, empowerments and transmissions. Tibetan Buddhism in general, and the Gelug lineage specifically, owes a huge debt of gratitude towards this accomplished master and lineage holder for preserving the the teachings in this manner.
Most of all, the anti-Shugden group have forgotten that Kyabje Trijang Dorjechang was one of the tutors of their leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama learned half of everything he knows and teaches today from this great master. As a secular leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has become the statesman that he is thanks to Trijang Rinpoche who was known for being extremely politically astute. Anti-Shugden Tibetans forget that after 1959, Trijang Rinpoche played a vital role in outlining the basic structure of the Tibetan Government in Exile (TGIE).
As a spiritual leader, half of the Dalai Lama’s knowledge, learning and empowerments which he now passes on to others came from Trijang Rinpoche. Anti-Shugden people forget this when they receive teachings from the Dalai Lama, while disparaging Trijang Rinpoche’s name on the same breath.
Thanks to the ban, Kyabje Trijang Dorjechang’s name continues to be stained as a devil worshipper and his current incarnation, Kyabje Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche carries and is a target of this ‘stigma’. When Kyabje Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche taught in Mongolia in 2014, his visit there was swiftly followed by a speech from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to 600 Mongolians in Dharamsala. The Dalai Lama spoke about the failure of his own teacher, the previous Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche in giving up Dorje Shugden practice. It was clearly an attempt by Dharamsala to stop Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche’s rise in influence among the Mongolians, and create opposition for any planned future visits to Mongolia.
We do not even have to mention the thousands of other lamas who cannot travel and teach freely, for example His Holiness Kyabje Yongyal Rinpoche who was prevented from entering India. At Bangalore Airport, and despite having all of the necessary paperwork, Yongyal Rinpoche was detained and prevented from traveling onwards to Serpom Monastery where he was due to give teachings and initiations. Need we mention Kyabje Zemey Rinpoche, who manifested a stroke after the publication of the Yellow Book and did not speak for the rest of his life? The publication of the Yellow Book, and the subsequently severe ostracization for being supposedly anti-Dalai Lama, resulted in the ‘loss’ of a lama of such high caliber that he educated and created translators such as Thupten Jinpa, who now translates for the Dalai Lama.
To this day, Gangchen Rinpoche continues to face challenges and opposition from other Tibetan Buddhist organisations throughout Italy who report him to the Italian Buddhist Association for being supposedly anti-Dalai Lama and pro-China. His student, Claudio Cipullo who helped to start Kopan Monastery in Nepal and Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa in Italy, is no longer welcomed at the very places he helped to established because he refused to give up Dorje Shugden practice. In Singapore and Malaysia, lamas like Tsem Rinpoche are targeted by local organizations who have self-appointed themselves as the police of Buddhist practitioners in their respective countries.
The worldwide implications of the ban on Dorje Shugden therefore compels us to consider that clearing the name of Dorje Shugden lamas is a matter of ethics. The inability of these lamas to teach and travel freely is an imposition and restriction on their religious freedom, and the ban contradicts every principle of democracy in the countries where Tibetans in exile have been given refuge – India, the United States, Canada, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Germany, just to name a few. In these modern democratic nations, it is illegal, unfair and unethical to marginalize people based on their religious faith and beliefs.
It is also an imposition and restriction on Buddhist practitioners who wish to receive teachings from particular lamas, but are unable to do so because they carry the ‘stigma’ of being Dorje Shugden practitioners. Clearing the name of the Dorje Shugden lamas will lift the cloud of suspicion that has hung over all teacher-student interactions in the Tibetan Buddhist world since the ban was enforced in 1996. This culture of fear, which harkens back to a kind of Cold War-era style of spying where people are afraid to be associated with Dorje Shugden practitioners, is not a healthy manner of existence. The restrictions and subsequent stigmatization of Shugden lamas are a complete antithesis to the aim of Buddhism which is ultimate liberation and freedom.
As a matter of spiritual ethics, practitioners who have sogtae (life entrustment of Dorje Shugden) made a commitment to hold Dorje Shugden as their Protector until they achieve Bodhicitta. More importantly, they made a commitment to their lama to maintain the practice. If the practice is being stamped out in the form of the illegal ban on Dorje Shugden, some practitioners may feel that it is their responsibility to keep it alive by clearing their Protector’s names, and to stop the ongoing belittlement of their tantric masters.
All of the difficulties that Dorje Shugden lamas face are a direct result of the ban, and nothing else. The ban stains their reputations which in turn hinders the growth of the entirety of Tsongkhapa’s tradition, because they are unable to teach and travel freely. Hence lifting the ban on Dorje Shugden and clearing the name of the Shugden lamas is not just a matter of secular importance but of religious importance too. If Tibetan Buddhists are serious about keeping the Gelug lineage alive, it is their spiritual imperative to work towards the lifting of the ban so that a sector of Gelug lamas can join all of the other non-Shugden lamas in freely preserving the lineage.
Because the ban is so intrinsically linked with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s image, one day in the far future when His Holiness is no longer with us, the ban will become less relevant and over time, the strength of feeling over the ban will fade. This is something anti-Shugden supporters of the Tibetan leadership must seriously consider if their real motivation is to preserve Tibetan Buddhist teachings. Ultimately, Dorje Shugden as an enlightened being will outlast any man-made ban against him, making it futile to suppress his name, his practice and his proponents when it appears that the only result of doing so is the slow destruction of Lama Tsongkhapa’s tradition.