A TIBETAN IDENTITY CRISIS (1996-1999)
© by Ursula Bernis
In this section, I will present the documentation for the interviews of Part I. It is not a history, since that would require a different kind of research possible here, which would have to include Tibetan texts, both published and unpublished. The material presented here is meant to contribute to the discussion with information not available now or not taken into consideration.
The Dorje Shugden conflict is so emotional because it directly involves the Dalai Lama myth. For that reason, it is extremely difficult to get reliable, objective information. It is also the reason why I have resorted to this very tedious method of presenting basic information. I hope this will provide a body of facts with the least interpretive overlay. Since the Tibetan exile government denies there is a ban or that anything discriminatory occurred against Buddhists who rely on Dorje Shugden, there is nothing much to present from their side in terms of facts. Unproven allegations and defamations against Dorje Shugden practitioners’ spread on behalf of the exile government will be discussed in Part III, particularly in the section “War of Words.” In what follows, I am listing only the events for which there is documentation or reliable eyewitnesses.
Thus, it is by no means a complete or exhaustive chronicle. In order to better understand the unprecedented eruption of the Dorje Shugden conflict in 1996, I will first provide some historical background going back to the time when a highly realized master, Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen, first arose as a Dharmapala in the seventeenth century.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND TO THE EVENTS OF 1996
His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama has said on many occasions that he considers himself particularly close to the Fifth Dalai Lama and to the Thirteenth and that he will complete what his predecessors started. Specifically, he has referred to a ban (bkag.sdom) he claims the Fifth and Thirteenth Dalai Lamas have imposed on Dorje Shugden as justification for asking Buddhists to stop this practice now and for proclaiming so widely his oracles’ “prophesies” concerning the danger to his life and the cause of Tibet allegedly coming from Dorje Shugden. Since the Fourteenth Dalai Lama identifies himself so closely specifically with these two of his predecessors, I will start out with some relevant points concerning this historical identity.
In explanation of their anti-Dorje Shugden activities, Tibetans like to give as a reason that Dorje Shugden was surrounded by conflict from the very beginning. The beginning was in 1654 or 1656. Scholars disagree about the historical origin of Dorje Shugden as a protector largely because religious accounts in Tibetan Buddhism often do not follow historical time. As already mentioned, it is beyond the scope of this book to give a detailed historical analysis of this period.
Since the Tibetan belief system is unique and historical knowledge mixed with religious presuppositions difficult for us to unravel, some points about religion need to be mentioned here. As is widely known, Buddhists believe in reincarnation. Tibetans claim to be able to trace incarnation lines across life times. They instituted this belief in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on a large scale, first as a system to extend social influence, then to absorb older religious lineages and their supporting families, and then for political legitimation starting in 1642 when the Fifth Dalai Lama established the Ganden Potang government. It was a turbulent time culturally and politically and it was full of conflict.
The Fifth Dalai Lama actively participated in helping the Mongolian armies defeat the forces of the King of Tsang who had openly discriminated against and persecuted Gelugpas. There was violent conflict at the inception of the Dalai Lama’s political institution and the Ganden Potang government. Yet Tibetans do not, on those grounds, deny its legitimacy today, even after the loss of their country. The doctrine of non-violence currently associated with Tibet was championed first in exile in India, although “violent rites” continue to be performed.
It is believed that Dorje Shugden arose in the form of a Dharma protector after his immediate predecessor, believed to have been the most renowned, learned Gelugpa master of his time, Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen (1619-1654), had been assassinated. Buddhist ontology distinguishes between different levels of existence, between gross and subtle material bodies. While human beings and most animals have gross material form, the majority of beings have subtle energy bodies invisible to common perception of the material senses.
All Buddhist protectors and most other helpful beings in the Buddhist pantheon are believed to have such subtle mental energy bodies invisible to the physical eye. Dorje Shugden is one of those materially invisible forces believed by those who rely on him to be in the same continuity as Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen, the accomplished master whose actions were considered beyond evil intent.
Buddhists also believe that everything is caused. Thus, for an individual to be reborn as a wrathful being, like a protector, he must meet a violent death. This is considered one of the conditions. However, the main cause is a promise Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen had made in a previous existence when he was one of Je Tsong Khapa’s principal disciples. This was a pledge to take care of his master’s illustrious doctrine when the need arose. An exclusively religious explanation of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen turning into a Dharma protector seems to see the violent death merely as a condition of a larger viewpoint where revenge has no place.
Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen’s religious successor lineage is impressive. It includes one of the most famous Indian secret mantra adepts (mahasiddha) of the 10th century, Virupa, and the great Tibetan masters Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen (1182-1251), Buton Rinchen Drup (1290-1364), and Panchen Sonam Dragpa (1478-1554).
Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen was strictly a religious personage and not involved in politics. Until 1641, the Fifth Dalai Lama considered Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen next to him in rank. They were both from Drepung monastery and both were disciples of the First Panchen Lama Losang Chökyi Gyaltsen, who had given both their vows.
Their personal histories had been intertwined in previous lives as well. One problem seems to have been that Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen was very popular also with Mongolians who played a large role in Tibetan political affairs at the time. Thus, he could easily have been perceived as a threat to those who had established political power with Mongolian backing.
It was an important time for building the Tibetan national identity under the idea of a strong, unified central government “at Lhasa, which was enhanced by measures to demonstrate the continuity of the new regime with the religious rule of the great kings of the seventh to ninth centuries. Court ceremonial and pageantry, the building of the magnificent palace on the Potala hill underlined that theme; and the cult of the Dalai Lama as the embodiment of ‘Phagpa Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara) was, perhaps, developed at this time.”
Political power was being compressed into an institution of a single authority that could not tolerate competition in any domain. “For the Dalai Lama to become the supreme religious authority in all Tibet, it wasimperative that only a single incarnate lama in the person of the Dalai Lama preside over Drepung monastery from his headquarters at the Gaden Palace.” 28 Ganden Potang (Palace), the name of the Fifth Dalai Lama’s residence at Drepung monastery, was later given to the Tibetan government, i.e. the Ganden Potang government. He did not take up residence in the newly enlarged Potala Palace still towering over Lhasa today until 1659.
From oral accounts it is known that the steady stream of Mongolians passing the “Lower Residence” (i.e. that of the Dalai Lama) at Drepung monastery to make offerings to Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen at the “Upper Residence” was a constant annoyance to politically ambitious officials. At the same time the Fifth Dalai Lama stabilized and increased his power, especially during the years between 1642 and 165330, when he popularized his identification with Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion special to Tibet, and the seminal king Songtsen Gampo credited with bringing Buddhism to Tibet.
It was not until the eleventh century that the earlier Buddhist kings were identified with bodhisattvas. Although in Tibetan religious history many Buddhist masters were celebrated as incarnations of Avalokiteshvara, this deity was now cultivated to legitimate the Tibetan national identity and attached as such to the lineage of the Dalai Lamas.
To mark his accession as sovereign, the Fifth Dalai Lama also wrote a history of Tibet in 1643, a text he supposedly plagiarized from Panchen Sonam Dragpa, a predecessor of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen. It stands to reason that the perceived rivalry between the two incarnate Lamas at Drepung did not originate with Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen, although, according to some sources, he had been a candidate for the Fifth Dalai Lama while others say the candidate had been a member of a Dragpa Gyaltsen’s family.
If Yamaguchi is correct in his analysis of the texts that the Fifth Dalai Lama later rewrote his autobiography to reflect history in a more favorable light, and if it is true that Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen was assassinated, it is not hard to imagine that official references to his popularity and deeds would be erased, minimal or negative. It is historical fact that no official search for an incarnation was undertaken. The main source of information for this time was the biography of the Fifth Dalai Lama. We know that texts were removed from libraries because of the Fifth Dalai Lama’s disapproval.
Such attention to “official” versions of the historical events of the time could explain why Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen’s incarnation would immediately be called into question and continued to be so by the Ganden Potang government, although it is hard for Western people to understand why this old feud would be revived some three hundred fifty years later by the exile version of the Ganden Potang government and with similar intensity and vigor, especially when the Buddhist world view that government claims to preserve stresses the illusory nature of phenomenal reality. It would also be plausible that accounts of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen’s lineage, legacy, and religious accomplishments would be subject to distortions, different interpretations, some of which were adopted as “official” while others circulated more secretly, orally, and through less widely published sources kept carefully in the form of prayers and sacred texts.
After Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen’s passing away, the Fifth Dalai Lama and some of his officials a were convinced that he had come back as a harmful spirit. Why would they, if Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen had not died a violent death? Many inauspicious signs and events occurred and one would expect Buddhists, who believe in cause and effect and that results are particularly swift if actions involve a realized being, to conclude that these ill omens had to do with killing a holy being. But the government believed them to be caused by an evil spirit instead and employed the highest vajrayana practitioners of the time to perform exorcism rituals to destroy that spirit. They could not, it is told, and the Sakya Lamas involved in the exorcism rituals told the Fifth Dalai Lama that they were not dealing with an ordinary spirit.
The Fifth Dalai Lama, according to oral history, accepted this and composed several verses in praise to Dorje Shugden in which he acknowledged his mistake of having misjudged Dorje Shugden’s appearance and the disturbances stopped.
PROPITIATION OF SHUGDEN BY THE GREAT FIFTH DALAI LAMA
Though unmoving from the spontaneous, primordial sphere,
Your ferocious power is swifter than lightning,
You’re fully endowed with confidence to judge right and wrong
Invited with faith, may you please come to this place!
Wearing monk’s robes, adorned with a golden domed hat,
Right hand holding a club and left, a human heart,
riding various mounts of dragon, Garuda and so forth
You, who subdue the various demonesses of the charnel grounds, I praise!
I arrange favorite animals and various offering substances.
I reveal and confess not reversing my image of you
As a mundane spirit
Because of being somewhat clouded by my own interest.
Now, as I respectfully praise you with body, speech, and mind,
Bring about the good and avert the faulty
For us, the masters, disciples, patrons and entourage,
And cause the spiritual and temporal to flourish like the waxing moon.
Furthermore, in accordance with our prayers to swiftly achieve
All our wishes, bestow effortlessly supreme accomplishments!
And, as all needs and wishes arise from the wish-fulfilling jewel,
May we always be nurtured by the Three Supreme Jewels!
This brief praise, propitiation and dispatching activity is a praise of the manner in which you revealed very strong miraculous signs of invulnerability to the power of indisputably great tantrikas who tried to subdue you by burning you in the fire of a tantric ritual.
At Sakya, to the south of Lhasa, the great master Dagchen Sonam Rinchen is said to have given Dorje Shugden his name, which means “vajra force,” referring to an unadulterated, pristine spiritual force, and officially recognized him as a powerful religious protector. Those who believe Dorje Shugden to be a worldly spirit say that he was put under oath (under covenant) by this great master, an act believed to turn a spirit into a servant of the Buddhadharma.
However, those who rely on Dorje Shugden as a Dharmapala take the promise Duldzin Dragpa Gyaltsen had made to Pehar (to act as special guardian of Je Tsong Khapa’s doctrine in the future when the need arose) as the main component initiating the series of events that caused him to arise eventually, more than two hundred years later, in the form of Dorje Shugden. In other words, he was not subdued like a worldly spirit would need to be but manifested the different Buddha activities (‘phrin.las), which include wrathful acts, out of his own determination and high spiritual accomplishments.
Properly naming this force and marking that event with a ceremony called enthronement is giving it its proper recognition. This has been confused with the act of subduing a worldly spirit. The different beliefs about Dorje Shugden depend not so much on historical records but on the differing interpretations of the relationship between reality and appearance.
It is perhaps more fruitful to ask the question why it was at this particular time that Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen is believed to have fulfilled the promise he had made long ago in a previous life. Why was the Gelugpa tradition at that moment perceived by some Tibetans to be in danger as to require another guardian exclusive to its tradition? Why did the historical circumstances come together for this to occur when the Gelugpas supposedly celebrated their greatest victory? What was the tension between the Fifth Dalai Lama and the Gelugpa tradition that he felt such animosity towards its monks of whom he was one?
One possible interpretation is that the Fifth Dalai Lama represented less the purely religious Gelugpas, since he seems to have largely preferred to practice according to his own visions based on a Nyingma version of Tibetan Buddhism, and represented more the Gelug tradition as a political-administrative power base. This is not the example Je Tsongkhapa had shown his followers. He had resisted political involvement and rejected direct association with the Chinese emperor. But a fair ruler of a country has to represent all religious traditions which reduced the Gelugpas to the role a majority political party plays in support of its leader.
Dorje Shugden does not need to be looked at as a political rival to the institution of Dalai Lama, as he oddly was again recently, but simply as a guardian of one particular religious tradition whose concern is purely religious in the sense of protecting the Dharma from declining into mere political or worldly involvement. According to this interpretation, Dorje Shugden had to arise at the time when the Ganden Potang government was established since with it arose the greatest danger for Gelugpas: to lose their religious tradition to mere political and social involvement. Today, that danger is even greater because since the advent of modernity, religion is defined almost exclusively in sociological terms and whatever religious knowledge does not fit the social parameters of the moment becomes eclipsed. The loss of the inner core of meaning is what a Buddhist protector is believed to guard against since he or she is entrusted with the continuity of a wisdom tradition.
Two hundred years later
During this time there seems to have been no record of much conflict surrounding Dorje Shugden. Its practice was not very public. Until Pabongka Rinpoche (1878-1941) taught widely, no Gelugpa who relied on Dorje Shugden had become as famous.
Turn of the Century
The Thirteenth Dalai Lama (1876-1933) attempted to reform his country in many different respects, from the military to political and social practices. He strengthened the institution of Dalai Lama to an unprecedented extent. Even the Fifth Dalai Lama had his regent deal with affairs of state for long periods of time, while the Thirteenth took complete control of the political side of the Ganden Potang government. As one of the reform measures, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama had all the oracles tested and dismissed the frauds.
According to oral sources, he is said to have banned all oracles for a certain period of time. Tibet had a complicated system of protective deities and local spirits that came through oracles in trance. Their power and ability to assist was believed to range widely with some being Buddhist protectors and forces under their control as well as other worldly spirits from ancient and pre-historic times. During the Thirteenth’ moratorium, even the State Oracle was silenced because Nechung, a protector subdued by Padmasambhava and established as a Tibetan national protector by the Fifth Dalai Lama, had given false prophesies through the oracle in trance.
At no time did the Thirteenth Dalai Lama close Trode Khangsar in Lhasa, a residence of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen the Fifth Dalai Lama had authorized to be turned into a special protector temple for Dorje Shugden. The biography of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama does not mention any ban of Dorje Shugden or his oracle. On the contrary, it mentions advice given by Dorje Shugden through the oracle at Tromo Dungkar Gonpa which the Thirteenth Dalai Lama appreciated and followed.
The Thirteenth Dalai Lama was ultimately unsuccessful in banning oracles.
By this time, Pabongka Dechen Nyingbo had become extremely famous as the greatest lamrim teacher of his times with tens of thousands of disciples at all the great Gelugpa monasteries throughout Tibet. “Pabongka was famous for his view that lamas should not become involved in politics, …” demonstrated by the fact that he reportedly declined to take over as Regent of Tibet when asked by Radeng Rinpoche before Taktra Rinpoche accepted the regency. Pabongka Rinpoche was known to rely on Dorje Shugden.
Up until this time, the practice existed quietly and was not as widely known as it is today. With Pabongka Rinpoche (1878- 1941), Tomo Geshe Rinpoche (1866-1936), and later Trijang Rinpoche (1901-1981), the three greatest Gelugpa masters of our times, and with an estimated eighty percent of Tibet belonging to the Gelugpa tradition, a great number of people became spiritually connected (through dam.tshig) with these masters and through them with Dorje Shugden.
According to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s autobiography, Dorje Shugden came spontaneously through the Tromo Dungkar Gonpa Oracle in trance in front of Tomo Geshe Rinpoche, whom the Thirteenth Dalai Lama is said to have called a manifestation of Je Tsongkhapa. The protector informed Tomo Geshe Rinpoche that there was danger from foreign aggression toward Tibet. Dorje Shugden advised renovating two stupas, the eastern and western one. Upon receiving the message, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama immediately renovated the great golden stupa at Ganden and the Potala in Lhasa. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama praised Tomo Geshe Rinpoche for having helped to avert a possible national crisis.
1951 – 1975
The Dalai Lama was introduced to the practice of Dorje Shugden and continued to make offerings and perform rituals. “When I went to Tomo, I had to stay at Domo Dungkar Monastery, where there was a tradition of summoning the wrathful and peaceful aspects of Gyalchen through the medium of a monk. The medium himself wasn’t a particularly good scholar, but when the deity was summoned he seems to have given clear prophesies, which was much appreciated. It had so happened that I had left Lhasa for Tomo rather hurriedly and the mediums of Nechung and Gadong were not among the entourage.
In those days, I did not have a close connection with either Nechung or Gadong, such that I would summon them in my private apartment, except that they were invoked during the summer, winter and annual ceremonies. In any case, until then I had been a growing child and it goes without saying that I could not think independently about deity devotion; in fact I could not even think about things in general that much. However, it was on that occasion that neither Nechung nor Gadong were with me, although it was a crucial juncture in negotiations between Tibet and China. Among the officials there were those who wanted me to return to Lhasa and those who wanted me to go to India and so it became very difficult for me to decide.
At this crucial point there was, for one thing, a good monk medium nearby and for another, my strong faith in Je Pabongkapa because of which I felt a close bond with him. Also, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche had a strong affection for me and this was a further cause. Anyway, with the coincidence of many causes I finally had to summon Gyalchen in my apartment at Tomo. While summoning him, monks chanted the Hundred of Deities of the Joyous Land (dga’a-ldan lha-gya-ma) to the tune of the Sangphu Monastery. In the course of the actual [trance] performance the medium wore yellow robes, chögö and namjar, and a pandit’s hat in which he looked quite eminent. Facing toward me, he prostrated like a felled tree. When asked for predictions and advice, he answered fairly clearly. Once he said, “I have just come from Tushita after enquiring of suffer as a result of the loss of his country and his inability to bring a happy conclusion to the “cause of Tibet” in spite of his super human efforts.
This despair is obvious when the Dalai Lama says, in the same talk, “I am insisting on this labor [of working for the cause of Tibet] in the hope that at this bleakest point in the history of Tibetans I can share the suffering of my people and provide them some hope. Do you understand?”
In the same address, the Dalai Lama also exhorts Tibetans inside Tibet to give up Dorje Shugden. But to them he offers a chance for explanation, something denied those in exile, “Whether in Central Tibet, or Dotoed (Kham) or Domed (Amdo), if there is unreasonableness in what I have said repeatedly, you can give reasons and we can discuss it. In the absence of such reasons, indifference to this talk will affect the cause of Tibet in general; I as a private individual have nothing to lose.”
At no time was the Dalai Lama or his government open to discussing the issue. None of the reasons put forth have been accepted or even considered. “It is certainly possible that some of you senior (spiritual masters, practitioners, monks and lay people) have become unchangeable, like twisted tree trunks. It makes no difference to me. Those of you who are studying in the monastic colleges/universities, or wherever you live, think carefully. It is better not to be mistaken from the beginning. There are many young incarnate Lamas [at this teaching today]. You too should think very carefully from the beginning. To rectify [a mistake] once it has been made is difficult. It is not good. The same goes for those in Tibet.”
March 21, 1996
From a translated transcript: At a religious gathering, in the main temple in Dharamsala, in preparation for an empowerment of the meditational deity (yid.dam) Tamdin (Hayagriwa),95 the Dalai Lama states publically that Buddhists who rely on Dorje Shugden are not permitted to attend. It is the first time that the Dalai Lama publicly bars people from attending empowerments. The reasons he gives are two-pronged. According to government oracles, Dorje Shugden is connected with Chinese deities or spirits. This endangers the cause of Tibet he says. He tells that they had done many prayers for the cause of Tibet the previous year and also mentioned Dorje Shugden by name in their exorcism.
Since the deity of empowerment that day was the same as had been used for the exorcism against Dorje Shugden, the Dalai Lama clarified this conflict of interest which points far beyond this particular situation to an irreconcilable conflict within the conception of the “cause of Tibet” itself.
The Dalai Lama gives as religious reasons for barring Buddhists who rely on Dorje Shugden that their participation would harm his life and health. He quotes a common Tibetan saying, “Giving innumerable empowerments, [did you] fill the world with ruinous practitioners?” This refers to practitioners not able to keep properly the bond (dam.tsig) between spiritual master and disciple and why, therefore, the master must test the disciple before bestowing an empowerment. “
This will affect the life span of the spiritual master as well,” the Dalai Lama points out and praises those former practitioners of Dorje Shugden who have given up and “become pure.” To those who might not have given up but refuse to leave he says, “…not only will it not benefit yourself but in the worst case may even become the cause of shortening the life of the Dalai Lama. If you wish the speedy death of the Dalai Lama, then I have no objection.”
Perhaps it needs pointing out here that Buddhist masters can and should exclude those unprepared for a specific empowerment. On these grounds, the exile government and most supporters of the ban claim that the Dalai Lama is perfectly justified in barring disciples from initiations. Although this is true, other Tibetans attending public teachings and empowerments by the Dalai Lama are usually not examined for their religious qualifications as a precondition to attend.
Considering that the Dalai Lama is also the head of government, which gives him a unique status among Tibetan Lamas, the unprecedented exclusion of a segment of the Tibetan population from attending even his general discourses when declared non-Buddhists are — permitted to attend even his most esoteric Buddhist rituals — also means that they are excluded from being Tibetan.
The Dalai Lama’s teachings are also mass social events that galvanize Tibetans in part designed to strengthen their sense of nationhood in exile. The Dalai Lama’s public exclusion set an example for his followers. How widespread the need to exclude Dorje Shugden followers from Tibetan society became can be seen from the subsequent reactions by all Tibetan governmental and social groups.
Almost every Tibetan has taken an empowerment from the Dalai Lama. Thus the channels for the emotional appeal were well established. The perception of Tibetans was that if they did not give up Dorje Shugden, they would cause the death of the Dalai Lama. The emotional appeal was direct. It was unmistakably clear to them. If religious concerns was the source, the following problem should have been addressed. A large number of Tibetans had made similar commitments (dam.tsig) to other realized spiritual masters. Buddhism teaches to see them as equal regardless of their social or political standing. Violating the vowed relationship with those masters would also shorten their lives or cause their death. This is the fundamental moral dilemma.
The Dalai Lama also appealed to the pre-Buddhist belief system still alive among Tibetans. “During my visit to Hunsur [settlement in South India] the previous year, poor and helpless people have been told [through divination] that their illnesses have been brought about by Gyalchen [Dorje Shugden]. I felt this was repugnant. Others have reported dreaming of a bearded monk strangling them. This is a very clear indication that [Dorje Shugden] is a spirit, far from being a deity.” Dorje Shugden is here declared a harmful, evil spirit on the basis of uneducated people’s dreams and local divinations while hundreds of highly educated and realized masters saw him as a powerful protector of religious actions and vows.
March 30, 1996
The Private Office of the Dalai Lama sends a letter to the abbot of Sera Mey Monastic College where at least two thirds of the monks rely on Dorje Shugden. It quotes the relevant passages of the Dalai Lama’s speeches about the ban of Dorje Shugden, adding that “this [reliance] becomes cause for instability within the Gelugpa order [of Tibetan Buddhism].” After pointing out that some “individuals have actually urged His Holiness to desist from raising this issue since, according to them, this is causing more harm than good in Tibetan communities,” the letter quotes widely from the Dalai Lama’s speeches in political and social for a, such as the Chamber of the Tibetan People’s Deputies and the Congress of the Cholsum Organization, where she spoke against the protector. Referring to the Dalai Lama’s urgent statements from March 21st it says, “Please consider this as important and make each member understand it. Make them aware that in this extremely sad situation of Tibetans, at this point in our history, no one should stubbornly hold onto their individual convictions at the cost of our cause and people.”
“As to the essence of this decree, we urge you to wholeheartedly set this matter straight, in contrast to mouthing deference as in the past. Unable to bear the urgency of this situation, we at the Private Office have no choice but to send this circular.”….
“Therefore, under the auspices of all former abbots, disciplinarians, incarnate Lamas and Geshes, an announcement should be made of these talks by His Holiness regarding the worship of deities in such a way that no one can have the excuse of not having heard it. In addition, ensure total implementation of this decree by each and everyone. With the additional assistance by the house masters, also ensure the explicit announcement of this decree to all ordinary monks [in the monastery].
In implementing this policy, if there is anyone who continues to worship Dholgyal [Dorje Shugden], make a list of their names, house name, birth place, class in the case of students, and the date of arrival in case of new arrivals from Tibet. Keep the original and send us a copy of the list. Please share this responsibility and submit a clear report on the implementation of this circular.”
In response to such instructions from the Private Office and other government departments, signatures of monks were collected swearing to give up their protector practice now for all times. The petitions asked for names, birth place, father’s name and other personal detail. Video tapes,audio cassettes, written material with His Holiness’ emotional appeals from March 10 and 21 were distributed throughout all settlements around India and Nepal to persuade everyone to give up Dorje Shugden. It was a systematic effort more thorough than any other ever made by Tibetans in exile.
April 5th, 1996
Around eight in the morning, the first statue of Dorje Shugden was desecrated, broken, and thrown down the side of the mountain into a garbage heap. Some accounts say it was later dumped into a river. This statue was consecrated by Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, Tutor of the Dalai Lama, and presented to the nunnery in Dharamsala which he helped start. A nun in fervent compliance with the Dalai Lama’s wish had “volunteered.” The desecration set off shock waves of different kinds in the Tibetan exile community. Others followed the example reminiscent of actions many believed only the Chinese had done in their homeland.
April 6, 1996
A circular by the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies specifies”the need to announce that people should stop the tradition of worshiping Gyalchen Shugden…”
April 9, 1996
The Tibetan Freedom Movement is one of the “non”-governmental organizations. It is the duty of this organization to collect taxes for the government. Every Tibetan is obliged to pay one rupee per month recorded in the “green book” (rang.dzen lag.deb). The Tibetan Freedom Movement responds to a government circular (April 6, 1996), “Since it is important to purge worshipers of Shugden within our own membership…we found no one [who relies on Dorje Shugden] and we solemnly declare the henceforth in the future also there will be no one in our membership who will worship [this deity]. (5 signatures and seal of the organization)
April 14, 1996
The Guchusum Movement of Tibet in a letter to the Assembly of the Tibetan Peoples’ Deputies, “As per your decree of April 6, 1996, banning the worship of Dholgyal Shugden among the public, we have convened a special meeting…to purge any member who worships Shugden in this Association. We solemnly declare that through this purge among our standing committee members there is not one who is or will worship Shugden. Moreover, in the future also we will abide by this decree.” (11 signatures and seal of the organization)
The cover letter to the announcement is addressed “to all patriotic members of this Association.” It states that the organization resolves to purge all members in compliance with the addresses of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the decree of the Chamber of the Tibetan People’s Deputies banning the worship of Gyalchen Shugden. The Association further states that “…far more significant [than achieving our common interests of "obtaining freedom for Tibet which is the duty ordained by history,"] are the decrees of the Dalai Lama and the exile government. These two are indispensable for obtaining our aims.” The announcement ends with an exhortation, “Even if it were a member who does not worship Shugden, in view of the welfare of the six million Tibetans, they should still declare that they will abide by this resolution in the future. [Signed] declarations to this effect should be received at this office before the 15th day of the 4th Tibetan month (May 31, 1996).
April 18, 1996
From a “Special Notice to Doctors and Staff Members” issued by the Department of Health of the Central Tibetan Administration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dharamsala, (signed by Assistant General Secretary and seal of the Department of Health)
“As we all know, our exile government oracles pointed out repeatedly and in naked words that the worship of Dorje Shugden poses danger to the well being of the Dalai Lama, besides posing danger to the cause of Tibet…. Regarding this, all government employees in Dharamsala have already passed resolutions in favor or it. Since it concerns the cause of the Tibetan people and above all His Holiness well being, we cannot leave it as it is. Therefore, if we do not have among us anyone who worships Dorje Shugden, we should resolve not to worship Shugden in the future.
Whereas if there is anyone who worships Dorje Shugden, they should repent the past and stop worshiping. They must submit a declaration that they will not worship in the future. In case there is anyone who does not abide by the addresses of His Holiness to give up Shugden worship, then, since there is nothing more important than the well being of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan cause, such person should submit their resignation. There is no other alternative for such a person. We should also take stringent responsibility to urge relatives who worship Shugden to abandon this worship. At the gathering of the relevant staff members, make this announcement and make sure that no one comes up with excuses of not having heard it. We also request you to send us the signed resolution at once from each and everyone.”
April 23, 1996
From a declaration of the Toepa Welfare Association of the Tibetan government-in-exile, Office of the Executive Committee, Dharamsala, “In compliance with this address [March 21, 1996] by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and in compliance with the oracles of our government,…in compliance with the decree of the Chamber of Tibetan Peoples’ Deputies of April 6, 1996 banning the worship of Shugden, and mindful of this decree of our government, we hold this special convention….. Most of our members have not worshiped Shugden in the past and… we, the subjects of His Holiness belonging to this Association solemnly declare that we shall have nothing to do with this deity. We hereby also resolve to expel anyone [from our membership] who worships Dholgyal [Dorje Shugden]. To this resolution we put our signatures…”
May 1, 1996
In preparation for the proclamation of the ban by officials from the exile government at Ganden Monastery in the south of India the following warning preceded the announcement. The government officials in a dramatic show of force came to the monastery with a large Indian state police escort. Thus flanked, the monastic administration under instructions from Dharamsala through a former highly respected abbot read the following resolution in order to silence any questions during the government’s announcement on the issue:
“Whereas an announcement is going to be made at the behest of the Tibetan exile government, and whereas we want this announcement to be accomplished with satisfaction, we have called an extended meeting of the two abbots, former abbot Lati Rinpoche, the administrators of the great assembly (lachi) of Ganden monastery, the chanting master of the joint assembly (lachi), the administrators of the two colleges [Jangtse and Shartse] of Ganden, the chanting masters of these two colleges, and the masters of the twenty three houses of Ganden, this day of May 1, 1996 unanimously resolve that If during the announcement there is any action on the part of anyone that will smear the reputation of Ganden Lachi that person will be expelled from the monastery. Likewise, anyone who supports him, voices opinions or asks questions will be expelled from this establishment.
“Moreover, the mentor of the said offender shall make a very elaborate gift of tea and
bread to the entire monastic establishment.”
The announcement shows that the government had anticipated widespread disagreement with the ban and that monks might publically disagree. The show of force was not only to silence the monks but also a statement of determination. But to other Tibetans it carried the humiliating message that Buddhists who rely on Dorje Shugden are violent. It confirmed to them something they believed the oracles had meant with the projected threat to the Dalai Lama’s life.
May 5, 1996
Wall posters went up attacking the young incarnations of two of the most acclaimed and famous Buddhist masters, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche the Tutor of the Dalai Lama and Kyabje Zong Rinpoche. They were from Ganden monastery and known to have relied on Dorje Shugden. They had made his practice known to large numbers of people.
A highlighted area on top of the poster reads, “Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Religious and Political Leader of Tibet.” The notice from two hundred fifty-five members of the “Secret Society of External and Internal Enemy Eliminators reads:” “Anyone who goes against the policy of the government must be singled out one-pointedly, opposed and given the death penalty. … The previous incarnations of Trijang Rinpoche and Zong Rinpoche have gone against the repeated advice of the Dalai Lam to leave the practice of Dorje Shugden.101 If the current incarnations do not stop practicing and continue to contradict the words of the Dalai Lama, not only will we not be able to respect them and oppose them single pointedly, but their lives and activities will definitely be destroyed. This is our first warning.”
The two Rinpoches mentioned are age thirteen and eleven respectively. The threats to their lives deeply shocked many people around the world. The two young Lamas had to leave the country for safety reasons. With it they also left behind their traditional studies not available as completely anywhere else in the world as currently in the exile communities in India. Thus, the threats to the lives of the young Lamas immediately confirmed the second threat to their lives’ work.
May 10-11, 1996
The resolution of the special session of the Tibetan Youth Congressh, Dharamsala, claims “…negligence on the part of the public toward these addresses [March 10t and 21st] with active propagation of this worship on the part of some [spiritual masters], and whereas this negligence is beyond tolerance anymore…” The Tibetan Youth Congress is a nationalistic organization that has not ruled out force in its pro-independence stand. In this it has clashed with official policy of the exile government and His Holiness’ stand on non-violence. Focusing more on the political side of issues and down playing religion, their patriotism is of a different, more aggressive kind.
A statement like the above from the TYC carries more weight than from other organizations in its implicit call to fight because of the TYC’s long term activism in Tibetan society and use of violence. It is currently the largest “non-governmental” organization with over sixty chapters around the world. Although claiming to be funded by membership fees and other fund raisers, members nevertheless get funds from the exile government for taking care of elderly or other types of social work.
According to the brochure of the Youth Congress, it was founded in 1970 by Tenzin Gyeche, still Private Secretary of the Dalai Lama, and other prominent figures in the exile government was and inaugurated by the Dalai Lama. Aside from the struggle for total independence even at the cost of one’s life mentioned in the aims and objectives of the TYC, it calls on members to “dedicate oneself to the task of serving one’s country and people under the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Spiritual and Temporal Ruler of Tibet and to promote and protect national unity and integrity by giving up all distinctions based on religion, regionalism and status.”
Further, “Being a national movement, activities of TYC are not restricted just to its members, but, also receive the active support of all Tibetans – young and old, men and women, monks and lay. Furthermore, TYC commands a large following inside Tibet. … From its very inception TYC emerged as an active force with clear aims and objectives. It also served as a catalyst to bring about certain reforms and changes within the Tibetan community so as to enhance the development of a truly democratic society. TYC, therefore, sees itself as an instrument to fulfill the wishes of the Tibetan people.”
Political activities to keep alive the question of Tibetan independence in the international arena include, “making direct and indirect representations at various international forums regarding China’s invasion and continued occupation of Tibet and initiating and organizing different activities such as peace marches, public demonstrations, picketing & fasting to internationalize the issues related to China’s occupation of Tibet.” Clearly, Tibetans seen to interfere or harm this cause, i.e. Tibetan independence, would be perceived as betraying the very basis for the existence of such an organization and thus as serious adversaries.
From the resolution:
1. Since there is nothing more important [for Tibetans] than the cause of Tibet and the health of the Dalai Lama, the participants solemnly agree to abide by these addresses of His Holiness the Dalai Lama;
2. Upon arriving back at our respective areas, after showing the video clip of this talk to local Youth Congress members and announcing the resolution of this Congress, the local representatives will solemnly declare that they will abide by these addresses of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and will report back within two weeks from this date on the progress made in this direction;
3. When it is confirmed there is no one in the Tibetan Youth Congress membership worshiping Dholgyal, we will gradually present the [said] video clip to the public, announce our policy on this issue and especially urge the Tibetan youth to evaluate their decisions in this regard;
4. Even in places without Youth Congress branches, the nearest Youth Congress affiliate will try to urgently promote this message by presenting the [said] video clip, etc.;
5. This Congress urges the Cabinet, the Chamber of Tibetan People’s Deputies, the Religious and Educational Council, and the Ministry of Home Affairs [of the Tibetan
exile government] to implement this policy in their respective areas of responsibility;
6. This executive committee will likewise announce its policy to all Tibetan monasteries and urge that everyone must abide by the address of the Dalai Lama;
7. Together with documents pertaining to this ban on the worship of Dholgyal, this Congress will urge each and every spiritual master, including Geshes, that in the interest of the health of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence they should stop worshiping Dholgyal;
8. If anyone in the Youth Congress membership is found to still worship Dholgyal, that member will be immediately expelled from Tibetan Youth Congress membership;
9. This Congress will also urge all other Tibetan organizations not to enroll anyone into their membership who venerates and worships Dholgyal.
The Youth Congress rose to the challenge and took up the issue and even officials of the Tibetan exile government privately admitted two years later that excesses had occurred, especially from groups like the Tibetan Youth Congress and the Tibetan Women’s Association. The type of social pressure exercised by these was reminiscent of methods used in Tibet most groups Tibetans thought they had escaped.
By the end of May, the family of the president of the newly formed Dorje Shugden Devotees Charitable and Religious Society had received death threats by phone and threatening letters written by D.P. Gyatso, President, Secret Youth Group, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and a Volunteer Youth Group. Whether or not these were actual organizations or in any way related to the Tibetan Youth Congress could not be established.
May 22, 1996
The response to the Dalai Lama’s addresses of March 10th and 21st by the Kashag (Cabinet), “In consideration for the well being of the Dalai Lama, the common cause of Tibet and the edification of the Gelugpa tradition, since it is the responsibility of the government to see to it that these addresses of His Holiness are followed to the letter, we have taken these steps: to be clean followers of Lama Tsongkhapa and to facilitate clear understanding of right and wrong as well as proper appreciation of present and long term benefit, the standing committee of the Peoples’ Deputies, the Private Office [of the Dalai Lama], the Information and International Relations Department have distributed tapes and transcriptions of His Holiness’ speeches in successive support….
The Cabinet received signed declarations from monasteries, organizations and private individuals, convinced of the detrimental effects both for the public and private individuals through these persuasions, stating their decision to stop worshiping Dholgyal [Dorje Shugden] henceforth. We recognize this gesture of self-responsibility toward our common cause.” “Self-responsibility” here is to be understood in the same way as self-censorship under pressure. Many people gave up the practice and signed the petitions simply because they believed the reasons given: harm to the Dalai Lama and to their common cause. Others signed by force of social pressure and out of a sense for self preservation. Sign or face possible expulsion from the monastery, job, welfare organization, or school.
“If worshiping Dholgyal poses a threat to our cause and the well being of His Holiness, there is no benefit in talking about democracy or freedom of religion.” This statement was seen by many Tibetans as the equivalent to an “emergency” where the protection of civil liberties is suspended. Since the exile government is not a legitimate government with its own police force, and Tibetans generally do not trust the Indian police, they often take matters into their own hands.
The government also makes clear that it acts on the perception of Dorje Shugden as an evil spirit without any regard for large numbers of people who have a very different view of this protector and acted responsibly both in the religious and secular spheres. “His Holiness is the incomparable secular and religious head of this government. In virtue of his religious and political office it is his responsibility and right to guide [us] and restrain harmful factors toward Tibetan governance. How is this against democracy? To make such a complaint is similar to leveling charges of denial of religious freedom by a black magician who is restrained from practicing his art on a subject. Whether this restraint constitutes infringement of (religious) freedom is self-evident to any nation or person.”
“In summary, no Tibetan monastic establishment under this exile government is permitted to worship Dholgyal. Given this condition, anyone who continues to worship Dholgyal, indifferent to our cause and threatening the well-being of His Holiness, fervent about freedom of religion [saying] ‘we will never change our faith in Dholgyal’ – is free, of course, to howl this way. This freedom is also given by His Holiness. However, the perception toward such a person/ organization will be decided by the majority of the Tibetan populace. Therefore, at this juncture, irrespective of time or place [including Tibetans abroad], everyone should make common cause of this issue.”
“Heads of our religious traditions, abbots and reincarnate Lamas, Geshes, representative officers [of the government] and people in areas of responsibility – you are requested to bear the recent addresses of His Holiness about Dholgyal in mind and, just as the body is under the head, bring into the fold everyone under your jurisdiction. Furthermore, since this is liable to be exploited by others, give clear explanations to the public. On the part of the general Tibetan populace, without changing sides and with patriotism in your heart you are urged to come out and express your convictions and use your talent, abilities, and strength as contribution to your exile government.”
May 22, 1996
The same day, the Department of Religion and Culture sent out materials explaining the ban and how it should be enforced through published material, the addresses by the Dalai Lama concerning this subject on audio cassette and video, and a booklet of the oracular pronouncements. The cover letter to Sera Mey Pomra Khangtsen opens as follows:
“As you know, the book titled “Secret Visions of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama stipulates ‘Dholgyal should be banned’.” In conjunction with this, the Great Thirteenth Dalai Lama specifically issued a ban. The government oracles have continually pronounced that the subsequent worship and propitiation of Gyalchen [Dorje Shugden] continues to affect the well being and effort of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, religion and politics of Tibet, freedom and the people of Tibet.”