Arjia Rinpoche asked to not discriminate against Shugden people

Venerable Arjia Rinpoche and His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2010 when His Holiness visited Bloomington, Indiana. In a recent speech, Arjia Rinpoche said that Tibetans should not discriminate against Dorje Shugden practitioners.

The letter below was sent to for publication. We accept submissions from the public, please send in your articles to [email protected].



The Managing Editor

Dear Sir/Madam,

Firstly, thank you very much for all the good work you have been doing all these years. I am a former student of Arjia Rinpoche and have supported him for many years. In private, I’ve always known him to be quite outspoken but in public, he has always had to be supportive of the Tibetan leadership in-exile. So I just wanted to comment on Arjia Rinpoche’s recent speech from the perspective of someone who knows what’s going on behind the scenes. I was so happy when I saw the video and I am writing to draw your attention to it because I think it’s important for all Dorje Shugden worshippers to know.

Rinpoche is close with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and in his inner circle, as well as in the community, Arjia Rinpoche is well known for a few things. Before Rinpoche escaped from Tibet in 1998, he held many important positions in Tibet. To give you a little background about Rinpoche, Arjia Rinpoche comes from a holy lineage and was recognized as the 20th Arjia Danpei Gyaltsen, the reincarnation of Je Tsongkhapa’s father. This recognition came from His Holiness the irreplaceable 10th Panchen Lama Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen, who also became his teacher. When Rinpoche was older, he had the merits and great honor to assist the 10th Panchen Lama in many important works to preserve the Tibetan culture and spiritual tradition.

Arjia Rinpoche, who can be seen here on the right, was a student of His Holiness the Panchen Lama, and spent many years serving the Panchen Lama closely as a trusted assistant

In his life, Rinpoche has suffered a lot of hardships and humiliation. He was forced to disrobe, to undergo the Chinese “re-education” process, to work in Chinese labor camps and then to serve in various Chinese-controlled agencies and departments. In spite of many personal physical and mental sufferings, including having to denounce his beloved teacher the 10th Panchen Lama and also the Dalai Lama, Arjia Rinpoche still managed to do many things for the Tibetans. The Chinese also saw his importance so they appointed him as Vice President of the Chinese Buddhist Association. They selected Rinpoche to be in the committee established to recognize the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama. After the 11th Panchen Lama Gyaincain Norbu was recognized by China, Arjia Rinpoche was also appointed to be his tutor but before he assumed this role, he went into exile in India.

It was not an easy life, safe to say because later on, Rinpoche was also affected by one of the most painful incidences in Tibetan Buddhist history. At that time, Rinpoche was the abbot of Kumbum Monastery, one of the most important monasteries in Tibetan Buddhism which was established at the spot where Lama Tsongkhapa’s birth placenta was buried by his father. At the time, the Dalai Lama had suddenly declared a ban on Dorje Shugden worship and shockingly, Arjia Rinpoche made the decision to apply the ban in his monastery and gave the order for all Dorje Shugden statues and images to be removed from Kumbum. I’m sorry to say this but Rinpoche should not have done that because if he had trusted his teacher the 10th Panchen Lama, Rinpoche would have known that the ban on Dorje Shugden was wrong. The 10th Panchen Lama was one of the most prominent Dorje Shugden lamas and there is a long and deep connection between Dorje Shugden practice and the Panchen Lama lineage.

Arjia Rinpoche with His Holiness

What is more, because of the ban, Dorje Shugden worshippers were told to denounce their own Dharma Protector which is basically denouncing the spiritual teachers who gave them the practice. In Tibetan Buddhism we cannot do that because it breaks a very sacred bond between the Lama and the student. And Rinpoche, being educated in Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, should have known how wrong and painful it must have been for Dorje Shugden people because he himself was forced by the Chinese to disown his gurus, the Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama. Therefore by enforcing Dharamsala’s wrongful religious ban based on false charges, Arjia Rinpoche did to Dorje Shugden people what the Chinese did to many Tibetan lamas and monks, including Rinpoche himself. The worst part is that because of Rinpoche’s status, the ban in the area was effective and a lot of harm was done to Dorje Shugden people and to the integrity of the practice.

Anyway, earlier this year (2019), on the 30th death anniversary of the 10th Panchen Lama, Rinpoche made a sudden reversal on his stance on Dorje Shugden. This was in January and Rinpoche was giving a speech at the commemoration event when he said that all Tibetans must be united. Rinpoche reminded them that this should not even have to be told to the Tibetan people and he said,

“When we come across a monastic these days, we immediately think if it is acceptable if we can greet him or not and that is very saddening. We think if he practices Dorje Shugden or does not and that creates doubt. And if we see a normal lay person we also have doubt if we should greet him as we do not know what region from Tibet that he comes from.

In the future, this should not happen again. We should not have this dilemma in the future. We will fulfil Panchen Lama’s advice if we do this. To everyone, this is my request. We will not need anything else if we make Panchen Lama’s advice manifest.”

In other words, Arjia Rinpoche was saying that we should NOT discriminate against Dorje Shugden people. I just thought that was very amazing because it is the total opposite of what the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in-exile have been instructing Tibetans to do all along. Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, who was Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister) for many years and also a close friend and emissary of the Dalai Lama, even specifically said that Tibetans must separate from Dorje Shugden people like the mustache separates from the mouth. Though this may not seem like a strong statement, within Tibetan society this is a clear statement that Dorje Shugden practitioners should be segregated against. Both Samdhong Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama were very clear of what they demanded of all Tibetans. As you know, there’s also ample proof on the Tibetan government’s website even today, and the site directly instructs Tibetans to marginalize friends, neighbors, family members, teachers and anyone who worships Dorje Shugden. It is even a crime to be seen with someone who practices Shugden so most Tibetans, when they see someone who practices Dorje Shugden, will ignore them and act like they don’t exist.

What Arjia Rinpoche said on unity and not isolating Dorje Shugden people contradicts his own actions of banning the practice in Kumbum Monastery and removing all statues and images of the deity. It also contradicts the Dalai Lama and Tibetan leaders’ ideas on how Dorje Shugden practitioners should be treated. So initially, I was puzzled about Rinpoche’s sudden reversal but after some thought, I see the reason for Rinpoche’s turnaround on the issue:

  1. It has been 20 years since Arjia Rinpoche implemented the Dalai Lama’s ban in Kumbum. His actions against Dorje Shugden could be because he was not given a choice by the Tibetan government and had to follow instructions, or it could be because he also believed the Dalai Lama that Dorje Shugden was the cause of the Tibetan people’s misfortune. Whatever the case may be, enough time has passed and Rinpoche can now see for himself that whatever Dharamsala said about what the ban would achieve has not happened. In fact it is the opposite and the Tibetan community is more divided than ever, and the Tibetan struggle seems to be on the fast track to nowhere.
  2. Living in America, the land of the free, made an impression on Arjia Rinpoche’s mind about how real democracies function. Rinpoche saw how Dharamsala’s policy of forcing all Tibetans to follow a single thought and belief, with no room for differing opinions, has weakened the community whereas diversity leads to growth. So perhaps his speech was motivated by the thought that it’s high time for the Tibetan leadership to evolve out of its archaic thinking that draws from antiquated dogmas and superstitions. Instead, they need to operate based on logic, reason and empathy, with the aim to sustain equality and humanitarian values.

Arjia Rinpoche in his younger days, with the then-President of China Jiang Zemin

  1. Rinpoche can see that the Tibetans are at the brink of extinction because of divisive issues such as the Dorje Shugden conflict, and he wants to stop this. In the last 20 to 30 years, the world has changed dramatically. Global priorities and the balance of power have shifted, and people’s values have also changed as social transformations continue to sweep the world. Regimes have been toppled. The USSR dissolved, America voted in a Black President, London welcomed its first Muslim Mayor. Even China has had to change and is now embracing capitalistic ideals. Education and how we communicate have evolved. Yet, in spite of all of these changes, the Tibetan leadership is deeply trapped in its primitive and obsolete thinking. The Tibetan leadership blamed Dorje Shugden for their failure to accomplish their political goals but blaming a deity for a government’s failure is a good example of this unevolved thinking that has ruined the Tibetan nation. Until today, even in exile, Tibetans continue to fight amongst themselves over regional and religious issues, instead of standing together to address real threats to Tibetan culture. This reflects how tribalistic and shallow the prevailing policies of the Tibetan leaders are, because the people will only follow the examples their leaders set, and whatever their leaders instruct.
  2. From my experience, I know Rinpoche can tolerate quite a lot. After all, everyone knows how he endured Chinese treatment for decades. But if the situation gets too far out of hand, Rinpoche is not afraid to take steps to change the situation, just like how he decided to escape Tibet although he was just about to be promoted by the Chinese to become the President of the Chinese Buddhist Association. He was also going to become the 11th Panchen Lama’s tutor which would have been very prestigious for him. So now, in the same way, after 20 years of Dorje Shugden persecution, Arjia Rinpoche is saying enough is enough. He can see that too much damage has been done and it is time to be pragmatic. Hence his speech at the commemoration is a subtle way of telling Tibetan leaders that they are wrong to continue fostering this kind of division. Invariably, this also includes the Dalai Lama who has always insisted that he is just following in the footsteps of his past incarnations. According to the Dalai Lama, his 5th and 13th incarnations both opposed the worship of Dorje Shugden and that is why he must follow suit. Tibetan Buddhist historians have debunked that statement but there is another easier way to look at it. If the Dalai Lama is firm on following his past incarnations’ policies, why not also follow the 6th Dalai Lama who had many girlfriends and who wrote love poems? Or why not follow the 11th Dalai Lama who enthroned Dorje Shugden as the Dharma Protector of the Yellow Hat (the Gelug sect) teachings? Aren’t they also the same mindstream that he should follow?

Everyone knows that the Dalai Lama’s reason for banning Dorje Shugden was hollow. It’s just so obvious that there was no basis for the ban and everyone must have seen through his justifications for it. But because they had no choice, they gave the impression that they were following his instructions to denounce Dorje Shugden although secretly, most continued to venerate the deity. Come to think of it, it’s just like Arjia Rinpoche and many others who did whatever was required to give the Chinese the impression that they had disowned the 10th Panchen Lama. Clearly Arjia Rinpoche did not really disown the 10th Panchen Lama because if he had, he would’ve remained in Tibet and would not have found much reason to leave. So I seriously doubt if he denounced Dorje Shugden as well.

I have to say that I like Arjia Rinpoche’s new stance. As a peaceful lama, Rinpoche’s focus seems to be on what needs to be done for the Tibetan nation to survive, instead of reopening old wounds and creating reasons for conflict. In making this statement to be united and not continue marginalizing Dorje Shugden people, Arjia Rinpoche is appealing to all Tibetans to do what is right and urgently necessary now. I find it brave of him to make such a statement so openly and at such a widely-publicized event like the 30th death anniversary of the 10th Panchen Lama.

The Dorje Shugden ban really has served no purpose whatsoever and it has only badly damaged the Tibetan communities around the world. Even inside the Tibet Autonomous Region, Tibetans continue to clash violently because of the Dalai Lama’s Dorje Shugden ban. Actually, many of the Tibetan leaders’ policies have had that result. The Karma Kagyu lineage is divided, the Gelug lineage is divided and within the Sakyas, they are also divided. Even non-religious Tibetan groups are divided because of the Tibetan leaders’ bad policies. What was the result? The Tibetan cause suffered, Buddhism’s reputation was damaged and the Tibetan leaders’ efforts to hold reconciliation talks with the Chinese will continue to be affected as long as the Tibetans use religion as a weapon.

So yes, I am glad to read Arjia Rinpoche’s statement. For someone like Arjia Rinpoche who values religious integrity, Rinpoche would not compromise if Dorje Shugden really was an anti-Dharma practice. Therefore if there is no real spiritual basis for the ban, then whatever reasons the Dalai Lama and his government gave to impose the ban are obsolete and it should be discontinued. Reading Rinpoche’s honest and sincere appeal is refreshing and has given me hope and I wanted to share this with you, with a request for you to kindly publish this letter so that it gives all Tibetans hope and a new direction as well. May Venerable Arjia Rinpoche live long and may more Tibetan Buddhist lamas come forward to guide the Tibetan people into a new and peaceful united future.

Thank you,
An Indiana supporter



Extract of Venerable Arjia Rinpoche’s speech

This video is extracted from the longer one filmed at the event commemorating the 30th anniversary of His Holiness the 10th Panchen Lama’s passing.

Or watch on server | download video (right click & save file)


English Translation:

I am going to speak about His Holiness the Panchen Lama’s advice. The Panchen Lama has given a lot of advice, and I want to talk about his advice that I have heard personally and have not forgotten as it is important.

First of all, all Tibetans should be harmonious and united. If Tibetans are not united then we will eventually end up on the losing side. And second of all, Tibetans should be well educated. If not, then we will always fall behind everyone else in the world. Tibetans lacking education will not create a good impression. The world is watching, so it will put people off. In Tibetan society today, if a situation arises, there is a lot of disunity because there are many disagreements.

Education can be viewed from different angles. One example is that physical workers (blue collar) do not have enough knowledge. Those who work in offices (white collar) do not have the necessary skill sets to perform their duties. Monastics do not understand the Buddhist teachings well enough to practice properly. Tibetans cannot progress if this continues. This is the advice given by the Panchen Lama and I will never forget it.

That is why today I am stressing, to everyone gathered, that unity is extremely important. We must be united. His Holiness the Dalai Lama also says this all the time, as do other lamas, geshes and scholars. You will agree if you think about this. There are many songs about unity in Tibet. They sing about this. Therefore, everyone wants to be united.

Actually, we should not be talking about having unity or not having united as we are not children. There should be no need for anyone to inform us of the importance of unity. If no one tells us about unity, we cannot say that we are not aware about its importance because we all know about it and that is the truth. Everyone here should know that unity is important. We should take charge for Tibet’s unity and contemplate on it. This is my thinking.

When we come across a monastic these days, we immediately think if it is acceptable if we can greet him or not and that is very saddening. We think if he practices Dorje Shugden or does not and that creates doubt. And if we see a normal lay person we also have doubt if we should greet him as we do not know what region from Tibet that he comes from.

In the future, this should not happen again. We should not have this dilemma in the future. We will fulfil Panchen Lama’s advice if we do this. To everyone, this is my request. We will not need anything else if we make Panchen Lama’s advice manifest. This advice is also given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama again and again. To make sure that the Dalai Lama will live for a long time and his activities are made bigger, this unity needs to come about. His Holiness is alive now and we need to listen to his advice and make this happen.

The Tibetan New Year is fast approaching, so I wish those gathered here success. A lot of Trashi Delegs to you all. Thank you.

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12 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. I am glad to know that Ven. Arjia Rinpoche has openly voiced out about not to discriminate against Shugden people. Ven. Arjia Rinpoche has shown the world a good example of what a true buddhist practitioner should be that is someone to promote harmony, love all sentient beings and no discrimination whatsoever. This is important for more lamas at his caliber and status to say the same thing. This not only will make others respect buddhism more but will definitely make the world a better place to live.

  2. Hopefully this is true, i live in bloomington and i think its funny one time i delivered pizza to arjia rinpoche and was thinking i wonder if he knows i practice?

  3. Venerable Arjia Rinpoche was a student of His Holiness the Panchen Lama that had carried out the instruction from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to imposed Shugden ban.

    Earlier this year (2019), on the 30th death anniversary of the 10th Panchen Lama, Rinpoche made a sudden reversal on his stance on Dorje Shugden. This was in January and Rinpoche was giving a speech at the commemoration event when he said that all Tibetans must be united. What Arjia Rinpoche emphasizing here is that we should NOT discriminate against Dorje Shugden people. I believe that after Arjia Rinpoche had imposed the ban, it doesn’t bring any benefit to anyone but only suffering. There is no concrete reason for the ban but just a cover-up from the Tibetan leadership on their failure to fulfill their promises to bring the Tibetan back to their homeland. This could be one of the important reasons for Arjia Rinpoche changes his mind.

    In the beginning, Arjia Rinpoche may just act as following instruction to imposed the ban but at the end, he realizes that the ban doesn’t bring any benefit not only to DS practitioner but as a whole for Tibetan unity.

  4. 1st Time Dalai Lama Finally Admits His Illness Was Serious

    In the past it is customary to cover up the Dalai Lama’s illnesses. It could be to not worry his flock. It could also be to not show the world he is just another vulnerable human being. Or it could be he does not want to disappoint people to show he is not a god? Whatever the reasons, the Dalai Lama and regime are well known for covering up his serious illnesses. In the past few years he had cancer of the prostate and that was covered up till the press dug it up. Now with this new video just out April 2019, Dalai Lama admits he was recently very ill. It was serious.

    Unfortunately the Tibetan cause will die with the Dalai Lama when he passes. He did nothing to groom up a new leader as he is a dictator. A ruler for life. He has been in power for over 60 years. He will never groom up another person to replace him because he is touted as a god.

  5. Unlike 5 years ago, Tibetan leader Lobsang Sangay is not invited to Prime Minister Modi’s swearing-in ceremony this time. It is clear that PM Modi of India snubs the Tibetan leadership once again in favour of deeper ties with China. The Tibetan leadership finds itself increasingly isolated as nobody wants to offend China by lending any support to the ungrateful Tibetans.

    PM Modi snubs Tibetan leadership for swearing-in ceremony
    By Tenzin Dharpo
    May. 30, 2019
    DHARAMSHALA, May 30: The Indian Prime Minister who is fresh off of a massive win in the Indian Lok Sabha elections has done a U-turn by not inviting exile Tibetan government’s President to the swearing in ceremony due to be held later today, in a bid to not anger Beijing.
    The President of the exile Tibetan government, known officially as the Central Tibetan Administration, Dr. Lobsang Sangay’s absence today at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi marks a stark contrast to 2014 when the elected Tibetan leader was seated in the former rows at the ceremony when PM Modi was sworn into office the first time around.
    The invitation to Dr. Sangay in May 2014 drew strong objection from the Chinese government who lodged an official protest censuring New Delhi’s disregard for the so-called ‘One-China policy’. Many said at the time that the invite was posturing at most, of Modi’s intent to India’s neighbor and biggest rivals both in Asia and global arenas.
    The New Delhi-Beijing relations post the Doklam stand off and Wuhan summit has meant that India has given a cold shoulder to the exile Tibetan set up, thereby taking a step back in using the much-touted ‘Tibet card’. The shift in policy has markedly been seen on the ground with New Delhi issuing an advisory to senior leaders to avoid His Holiness the Dalai Lama or pushing the CTA to shift the “thank you India” ceremony from New Delhi to Dharamshala last year.
    The head of the Tibetan polity who extended pleasantries to PM Modi on his win, however may have anticipated the snub. Days after Modi’s historic election win, Sangay flew to the United States and is scheduled to return on June 5 to India next week.

  6. In his recent teaching, the Dalai Lama said we should observe and investigate our teacher but he never tells us how. According to the 50 Stanzas of Guru Devotion, we should observe a teacher before we decide to take refuge in him. Once he becomes our teacher, we should view him one as the Buddha.

    I don’t really like the statement the Dalai Lama has made. It sounds schismatic, it creates doubt and confuses the student’s mind. Instead of encouraging the student to be loyal to the teacher, the Dalai Lama implies that a student can always doubt a teacher.

    However, it also means that we can doubt what the Dalai Lama has said. If any teacher can make a mistake, he as a teacher can also make a mistake. There are many evidences showing that Dorje Shugden is not an evil spirit. He is an emanation of Buddha Manjushri.

  7. Arjia Rinpoche is one of many Rinpoche that looking at the result of Shugden ban now which realized that it doesn’t bring any benefit to anyone at all. He may just follow what Dalai Lama said for the ban but now he can see that the ban brings no positive but only negative impact. Unity was highlighted by Arjia Rinpoche which is very true. Why create a ban that split the Tibetan which already a refugee in a foreign country. Why added salt to the wound and most ridiculous is that the suffering was imposed by their on Tibetan leadership. It’s really hard to understand the Tibetan leadership which only looking for personal interest instead of taking care of the Tibetan as a priority.

  8. Dorje Shugden ban only brings destruction to society and no one benefits from the ban except the Tibetan government who conveniently blames the deity for their failure in bringing the Tibetan back to Tibet.

    The Tibetans had been in exiled for 60 years and there is no effort at all from the CTA to get back Tibet from China. They had been busy fighting among themselves on petty things and lost the chance to get Tibet back.

  9. Most people believe His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the emanation of Chenrezig. He represents compassion. However, what he has done to Dorje Shugden and Dorje Shugden followers is not compassionate, many people suffer because of the ban.

    But on the other hand, since he is a Buddha, he has the clairvoyance to know the karma of all sentient beings and what needs to be done to help all sentient beings. Sometimes, the action of a higher beings seems to be unreasonable but it is to benefit us in long run and we don’t have the karma to see it.

    On that basis, we have to still respect the Dalai Lama if we believe he is and Buddha is one. Like what Trijang Rinpoche had said, we have to have faith in both the Dalai Lama and Dorje Shugden. They may appear to have a conflict but they are not. One day, the truth will reveal.

  10. Many Rinpoches have been raising awareness on the Dorje Shugden ban. They appeal to the public so that everyone will stop the hating and discrimination of Dorje Shugden followers. The ban is not benefitting anyone at all except the CTA.

    The Buddhist community is in chaos and there are so many sufferings because of that ban.

  11. Many Tibetans have given up on the CTA. Some of them have moved to Europe or America, some of them have taken up Indian citizenship and some of them have chosen to go back to Tibet. People are not as gullible or ignorant as before, they are more exposed and they cannot be fooled easily. Many problems within the Tibetan community is created by the CTA themselves, they have not shown any intention to resolve these problems. The CTA create more problems to distract people. Even though they claim they are a democratic government, they have not really practise democracy. Just look at how they treat Dorje Shugden followers, pure discrimination. No one will stick with a government like the CTA.

  12. Did the Dalai Lama lie about Dorje Shugden? He said if people continue to practise Dorje Shugden, his life will be shortened but now he said he will live more than a hundred years old. There are still many people who practise Dorje Shugden but the Dalai Lama’s life span apparently is not affected at all. In a way, the Dalai Lama lied about Dorje Shugden. If that is the case, what the Dalai Lama and the CTA have said about Dorje Shugden are likely to be lies too.

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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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