A Tibetan tempest over deity

H.H.Dalai Lama

by John Zurbrzycki,
Christian Science Monitor Vol. 90 No. 120 1998.05.18
Dateline: NEW DELHI

In a makeshift monastery on the outskirts of the Indian capital, a brass gong summons a group of maroon-robed monks for midday prayers.

The scene could be from any of the hundreds of Buddhist monasteries in India, except that this gathering has been declared illegal by Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

The monks in this converted hostel are worshiping Dorje Shugden, a ferocious-looking, three-eyed “protector” deity who rides a lion wreathed in flames.

Dorje Shugden followers claim that by banning their deity’s worship, the Dalai Lama is persecuting them and denying them freedom of religion – a charge that the Tibetan leader denies.

The controversy has spread beyond the borders of Tibet and the 100,000-strong exile community in India. It also threatens to undermine the Dalai Lama’s authority as he presses demands that China end its 58-year occupation of Tibet.

Gleefully exploiting the schism for its own political ends is the Chinese government. China is rebuilding Shugden monasteries in Tibet and giving priority to sect members applying for exit permits.

Some of the Dalai Lama’s supporters hint that Beijing is secretly funding Dorje Shugden centers in India and abroad.

Today, the fearsome deity is worshipped by the fastest-growing Buddhist sect in the West, the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT). Its founder, Kelsang Gyatso, known as the “Third Buddha” to his followers, is a sworn enemy of the Dalai Lama. When the Dalai Lama arrived in New York for a two-week lecture tour earlier this month, more than 100 Shugden supporters demonstrated against his visit.

“This ban is forcing every Tibetan to choose between their conscience and political expediency,” says Chime Tsering, secretary of the Dorje Shugden Society in New Delhi. “It has created conflict at every level of Tibetan society.”

Unraveling the Shugden controversy involves delving into the intricate palace intrigues of 17th-century feudal Tibet and the complexities of medieval Tibetan Buddhism teeming with deities and demons. According to myth, Dorje Shugden is the spirit of a powerful abbot who was found dead in his palace in Tibet in 1655. Shugden worship was first banned some 350 years ago by the Fifth Dalai Lama, who declared him an evil spirit.

In 1978, the current Dalai Lama warned his followers not to worship Shugden because it was detrimental to his spiritual health and to the cause of the Tibetan people. Eight years later, when he instructed his government-in-exile to ban the deity’s worship in state-run monasteries and offices, Shugden followers began complaining of harassment, intimidation and discrimination.

The Dalai Lama denies allegations of a witch-hunt and says his move was driven by the greater good of Tibet. “I took this decision as a matter of principle in the larger interest. There is a danger that the great Tibetan tradition will degenerate into spirit worship,” he told the Monitor at his headquarters in Dharamsala before his US tour. “It is my responsibility to make people aware of the consequences of worshiping Dorje Shugden. But whether they listen or not is up to the individual. Right from the beginning that’s my position.”

For Shugden monk Tsering, however, the Dalai Lama’s injunction goes to the core of his faith. “When somebody attacks your faith as demonic, that really hurts,” he says. Tensions in the Tibetan community came to a head early last year when three monks, including one of the Dalai Lama’s advisers, were murdered in Dharamsala.

Indian police suspect the Shugden sect was behind the killings and several members were briefly detained for questioning. But the perpetrators are believed to have fled to Tibet. Tsering was one of those questioned by police and says he now has to be accompanied by six bodyguards when he ventures outside.

“There is extreme social pressure. Here in this house we are relaxed but when we go outside Tibetans don’t talk to us. We are completely segregated and excommunicated.”

Although Tsering denies China is supporting his group, he admits that his society has links with the NKT, which has been carrying out a smear campaign against the Tibetan leader. For its part, the Tibetan government-in-exile believes the Shugden controversy will lead to more violence as Beijing tries to exploit its potential for damaging the Dalai Lama’s image.

Source : http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-ADM/john.htm

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4 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. In all the Monasteries in India monks carry on their activities like any other normal Monasteries would do. But in this particular Monastery which is makeshift lives monks who pray to Dorje Shugden. The monks from this Monastery are shunned by Dalal Lama and the Tibetan Government and some people who do not practice Dorje Shugden. The reason is these monks are shunned is because they pray to Dorje Shugden that is being banned by the Dalam Lama. It seems China is rebuilding Dorje Shugden Monasteries again in Tibet and India. And they are also indirectly funding Dorje Shugden centres in India and centres around the world. China is very smart they have created disharmony among the Tibetan people. At the same time trying to buy over the people so that they can take over the country without using violence or war.

  2. Shugdenpas would be very well off if China actually provided funding. Furthermore, is there such a need for China to do this in order to create disharmony among the Tibetan people? I don’t think so! TGIE is already doing a good job without anyone’s help.

  3. Politics need to stay away from Religion. Religion can be very dangerous when mixed with Politics because its followers are blind and will not use their reasoning. Simple as that! What a distraction from our bigger goal and why such distraction is needed? Maybe we are not getting anywhere toward attaining our big goal – Freeing Tibet!

  4. I agree that once Politics and Religion mix it is a guaranteed concoction for national disaster. However, as the world is full of evils and selfish intentions, I am not at all surprised if the Chinese government does support Shugden monasteries in Tibet and India. Why not? Dalai Lama’s foe is China’s friend. And politics is all about headcount and votes – whatever it takes to win the people. Ironical and so impure. There is more to read on this subject matter:

    China’s Involvement in the Dorje Shugden Controversy

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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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