Will the Karmapa save Dorje Shugden?

When the ban on Dorje Shugden was implemented and steadily maintained by the Dalai Lama, practitioners of the Gelugpa sect were most affected amongst Tibetan Buddhists. Being one of the most influential sects in Tibetan Buddhism, they came to lose their power due to internal separation within their core monastic institution and ostracism by the rest of their community. Instability and the dilution of power within the Gelug school of Buddhism has thus allowed other Buddhists schools to grow in prominence over the last few decades.

For a religious leader to lead all Tibetans spiritually, a form of unity must be achieved within Tibetan Buddhism itself. In order to build a great pillar, the old has to be leveled and with time, a new one can be built. This is what is now happening within the Tibetan Buddhist community. Banning Dorje Shugden has split the Gelugpas, and diminished their stature among Tibetan Buddhists. However, this also means that there is no longer an extremity of influence from any side and even the Dalai Lama’s previous hold on his people has lessened, especially with his stepping down from secular power.

Increasingly, we are now starting to see a new change in the dynamics within Tibetan Buddhism. There have been several hints in recent years that point towards the Karmapa (head of the Kagyu lineages) succeeding the Dalai Lama as spiritual head of the Tibetan Buddhists. More and more is he seen photographed with the Dalai Lama, or accompanying him in prominent events, meetings and talks. It may seem unusual perhaps that the Dalai Lama has deliberately chosen the leader of a school different from his own Gelugpa lineage to shadow him in these many important activities. Or is this deliberate?


Going Beyond Sectarian Borders

We live in a different time now. We are not in Tibet anymore and since Tibetan Buddhism left Tibet to the outside world, the dynamics changed completely to suit the various cultures, demographics and needs of non-Tibetans around the rest of the world.

Every practitioner may be thinking only of preserving and protecting the purity of their individual lineages. As Gelugpa and Dorje Shugden practitioners, we may be thinking of preserving our specific Gelug lineage and teachings. However, the Dalai Lama may well have a much bigger objective for he needs to preserve Tibetan Buddhism as a whole, something much larger than the preservation of individual sects.

The Dalai Lama is now often publicly seen at gatherings and events with prominent leaders of other Tibetan Buddhist sects.

The Dalai Lama has spoken frequently over the years about the importance of developing a Rime (non-sectarian) lineage. Accomplishing this however, would have been an altogether different story since he would have been up against individual sects all fighting to preserve their individuals rights, teachings and practices.

So perhaps Dorje Shugden became a convenient pawn for achieving this larger picture of a more united Tibetan Buddhist community. For over 600 years, the Gelugpa school has held an extremely prominent and very strong position within the Tibetan Buddhist world. Even the Dalai Lama himself is Gelugpa, with very strong and influential Gelugpa teachers such as Trijang Rinpoche. The prominence of this school became so strong that the other sects naturally opposed the concept of uniting all sects for they feared the further suppression and dilution of their own sects and the continually growing influence of the strong Gelugpas.

Therefore, in order to water down the strength of the Gelugpa, the Dalai Lama made the most politically astute move to suppress his own sect. The most effective way would have been to target the worship of Dorje Shugden, a practice most closely and exclusively associated with the Gelugpas. Simultaneously, while he ‘put down’ the practice of Shugden, he also worked to groom the Karmapa, of a different sect (the Kagyus), as the next spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. With this, Tibetan Buddhists would perhaps be more agreeable to the idea of uniting the four schools, thereby achieving the goal of preserving Tibetan Buddhism on a long-term basis. With unity comes preservation.

By this then, we might consider that the Dalai Lama’s ban of Shugden has nothing to do with Shugden being good or bad. The Dalai Lama may well have just used Shugden to achieve the larger objective of uniting all Tibetan Buddhist sects and practitioners. This achieves precisely what the Dalai Lama has often spoken about in uniting all four sects of Tibetan Buddhism and creating the Rime Movement.


The Karmapa and Dorje Shugden: a historical moment

Following the leads and hints which the Dalai Lama has been dropping we might well assume that the Karmapa takes over as the next spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhist world. How then might we expect him to react to the ban on Dorje Shugden? First, a little history -

A correct image of Dorje Drolo

Once, the previous incarnation of the Karmapa (the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje) was on pilgrimage in Nepal, where he went to the opening of Urgyen Rinpoche’s new Nyingma monastery. After being greeted by the Nepalese King and Queen, the 16th Karmapa entered the monastery and saw a statue of the Nyingma Protector Dorje Drolo stepping on Dorje Shugden. The statue had been modified to depict Dorje Shugden being pressed down under the statue’s feet.

After looking at the statue for a while, the 16th Karmapa then pointed his finger towards the statue and asked, “Who made this? Where did this lineage come from? Who is the person who built this statue?” In a room full of abbots and monks, no one stepped forward.

The image of Dorje Drolo which displeased the 16th Karmapa

The 16th Karmapa became visibly angry and demanded that the statue be removed. He then gave the following prediction to the Nyingmas at the monastery: “You will have no choice in the future but to practice this protector; there will come a time when you need him”. There were many lamas present at that time who witnessed this event and this incident has also been recorded down in Kyabje Dagom Rinpoche’s sungbum.

So far, in this incarnation, the three separately recognised incarnations of the Karmapa have not been widely known to comment negatively on the practice Dorje Shugden nor to disparage any practitioners of the Shugden. Might he be keeping a deliberately low profile for a time when he does assume power and can do something about the situation?


Karmapa: The Leader to Lift the Ban?

As a political leader, the Dalai Lama is expected to be a confident leader who implements policies in a steadfast, unwavering manner. How will it then look for the Dalai Lama, as both a political and spiritual leader, to change his mind about the ban, something which he has upheld so strongly and vocally up until this point? As the leader of what is already a very uncertain, exiled Tibetan community, it would not do well for the Dalai Lama to appear flippant.

It is therefore entirely possible that as a political leader, the Dalai Lama will continue to uphold the ban until his passing. At this point, if the Karmapa does assume the role as the next spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhist world, he may well begin to promote Dorje Shugden’s practice again. Even if he does not promote Dorje Shugden, at the very least, the Karmapa may approach the ban from a human rights perspective, and dissolve it simply by declaring the ban to be an unjust policy for his people. Such a ruling from the Karmapa would not be seen as flippant or inconsistent because he has no previous history of being against Dorje Shugden’s practice nor even commenting on it.

Further, should the Karmapa come into power as the spiritual leader, much attention would shift away from the Gelugpas, taking away with it the unpleasant internal politics and disagreements within the schools. While much of the Tibetan Buddhist scene today may be colored more by Gelugpa practices and internal politics, this can be expected to change if the next spiritual leader is of another sect.

The Dalai Lama was previously “allowed” to make certain criticisms and issue edicts to do with Gelugpa practices because he had hailed from within that school. However, should the Karmapa take over, he would not be able to do comment or criticise in the same way, for that would be regarded as sectarianism. In this way, he would not be able to maintain the ban on Dorje Shugden for he has no basis for doing so; to continue enforcing the ban against a practice of another sect would most certainly appear to be sectarian and thus politically incorrect at many levels. For example, it would be unheard of for a Gaden Tripa (the supreme head of the Gelugpa school) to implement a ban against the Nyingma practice of Dzogchen; or for the Karmapa to say that the Sakya worship of Mahakala Panjaranatha is incorrect. So the Karmapa may lift the ban against Dorje Shugden simply because it would be and politically incorrect to maintain it.

For all that the Dalai Lama has done to suppress the practice of Shugden, the Karmapa can thus reverse it in a quick instant without causing undue confusion or stirring any further political animosity. In fact, to maintain the ban would cause more political trouble for him.

With the tide well on its way to turning, we should, as devoted Shugden practitioners, be patient, understanding that the Dalai Lama has a bigger purpose. With the view of preserving Tibetan Buddhism as a whole, everything with that is also encompassed within this protection and growth – every individual sect, lineage, practice and of course, even Dorje Shugden. When the objective set out by the Dalai Lama is achieved, all bans against Shugden will be lifted, because it is not about Him in the first place anyway!

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17 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Without the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama
    The office can be replaced
    Kundun CAN NOT

  2. good theory.
    I think it will be hard for anyone to have the same influence as the Dalai Lama. maybe that is a good thing though. There needs to be a drastic shift in power. the tibetans are probably too dependent on the Dalai Lama which becomes very difficult in a religious situation. It’s quite contradictory to the Dharma, which teaches us to be independent and not to rely on worldly powers and people. So maybe replacing the dalai lama is what is needed at this time for the tibetans to progress.

  3. Good job on these articles, these new perspectives are very much needed. It would certainly be interesting to see what happens when the Dalai Lama passes. The whole backbone of the Tibetan diaspora will collapse I think. They haven’t been able to function for centuries without him.

    I agree that perhaps the only next most suitable candidate would be the karmapa, having so much exposure to the secular world (and its controversies). The other Lamas are equally powerful of course, but perhaps better suited to more spiritual environments.

    I am most interested to see how the next leader will balance the spiritual and secular aspects of leading the Tibetans. This is where they all seem to have the most “trouble”

  4. I hope this theory comes true! As the current Karmapa has the potential of being as influential as His Holiness Dalai Lama, nd HHDL is definitely patching the way for the 17th Karmapa to take over arr his passing.

    Whatever it is and whoever takes over the lead ship role, I am very confident the ban shall be lifted soon..

  5. When I first read about the ban the Dalai Lama imposed on Dorje Shugden, I immediately felt neither party was wrong but there is a greater purpose behind the act. The views provided by this article is definitely plausible and very well analyzed. I love controversies and specially find it interesting to read arguments and reasonings from various perspectives. Please keep up the good work and looking forward to reading more on this website.

  6. I am most interested to see

  7. yes

  8. Por favor traduscan esta pagina en español, ya que quiero estar
    enterada de todo


  9. Dear all:

    Will the Karmapa save Dorje Shugden? is the title of the article.

    In my opinion Dorje Shugden is a metaphor, is our daily practice. Do we want to save a statue, a name or a Buddha? Can a Buddha be really saved when he is beyond good or evil? Does he need to be saved? From whom or what?

    A Buddha is a state of mind, not an object to be saved from an enemy, Dorje Shugden is our daily practice, to be a good person, humble, compassionate, loving, to cherish all sentient beings along with the hand of the emptiness of all phenomena.

    What we westerns are really defending? Just our own ego, our self grasped mind attached to a external object and we are not really getting rid of delutions this way.

    Do you imagine a Catholic person defending Virgin Mary against protestants? Its the same thing in my opinion.

  10. Very good news to Dorje Shugden practitioners. Eventually the ban will be lifted.

    I believe very strongly that the Dalai Lama has reason behind it to ban Dorje Shugden at this moment, the bigger picture behind it is to promote DS better and He time is coming!

  11. Karmapa has nothing to do with saving dorje shugden… he is not even geluk.. Also, dala lama dont like him as much as before.. Time will tell who will really spread dorje shugden i guess..

  12. i like my dharma

  13. The main problem with this article is that you are backing the Dali Lama’s choice for Karmapa, rather than Thaye Dorje, who was recognized by Shamar Rinpoche, who held the Karma Kaygu lineage at the time. I could care less what the Dali Lama or his pretend Karmapa say.

  14. I dont get it. Hows that a problem? How do you know the Dalai Lamas choice isnt the real Karmapa? Got clairvoyance that we dont know about? And why do you limit the Karmapa to only one emanation?

  15. Hmm @not important think you need to read the article again…the point is yes, he is not even Gelug. Thats a GOOD thing

  16. This post is a very naive view, a theory trying to save the face of the Dalai lama. Makes absolutely no sense in my opinion, you could as well praise Stalin and Hitler and Mao for their acts: as these dictators probably want to bring mankind to the insight that following one leader is the most stupid thing to do! Praise and Hallelujah for that!

  17. The Karmapa’s probably have more pressing concerns? Two Karma Kagyu traditions now exist thanks to the DL’s interference.
    Although the DL sees Urgyen Trinley as his successor, he does not represent the Gelug tradition and therefore his views on the Dorje Shugden ban are worthless.

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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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