Point 11: The Shugden Affair: Origins of a Controversy (Part II)

Point 11: The Shugden Affair: Origins of a Controversy (Part II)

(Written by Georges Dreyfus)

http://www.dalailama.com/messages/dolgyal-shugden/ganden-tripa/the-shugden-affair-ii

Keeping the Ge-luk Tradition Pure

We now begin to understand the main message of the founding myth of the Shuk-den practice. We are also in a position to grasp some of the reasons for the troublesome nature of this deity and we understand the history of this myth, which is a classical case of invention, or, perhaps re-invention, of tradition in which past events are re-interpreted in the light of a contemporary situation. Still, a few questions remain. For example, why was Pa-bong-ka so emphatic in his opposition to Ge-luk eclecticism? Why did he worry so much about this limited phenomenon which was no threat to the overwhelming domination of the Ge-luk tradition in Central Tibet? It is true that several important Ge-luk lamas such as the Fifth Pen-chen Lama Lob-zang Pal-den (blo bzang dpal ldan chos kyi grags pa,) 1853-1882) and La-tsun Rin-bo-che (lha btsun rin po che) were attracted by Nying-ma practices of the Dzok-chen tradition. But this phenomenon remained limited in Central Tibet. Why did Pa-bong-ka feel the integrity of the Ge-luk tradition threatened?

(Ed: where did this notion that Pabongka felt the Geluk tradition was threatened? This is not commonly discussed or mentioned and there are no sources that directly indicate this. Again, it seems to be merely an assumption that Pabongka had this concern, but it is not substantiated nor proven that he really had these thoughts.)

To answer, we must place Pa-bong-ka in context. The idea of keeping the Ge-luk tradition pure (dge lugs tshang ma) was hardly new. It may even date to Kay-drub’s tenure as the second Holder of the Throne of Ga-den during the first half of the fifteenth century. It appears that Kay-drub urged his followers to stick to Dzong-ka-ba’s views and scolded those who did not. This approach became stronger during the seventeenth century, probably as a result of the civil war that led to the emergence of the Dalai Lama institution. But even then, not all Ge-luk-bas agreed with this approach. For example, the Fifth Dalai Lama advocated a more eclectic and inclusive approach.

As we have seen, his approach did not meet the approval of several Ge-luk hierarchs. After their victory at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the more restrictive view became dominant. It is only much later, around the turn of the twentieth century that this issue resurfaced in connection with the success of the Non-sectarian (ris med) movement in Eastern Tibet, which developed as a reaction against sectarian abuses among Non-Ge-luk schools. It was intended to promote a more ecumenical atmosphere among these schools, but it was also a way for the weaker traditions to oppose the dominant Ge-luk tradition by presenting a united front. Their strategy was remarkably successful, and in short order the movement revived Non-Ge-luk institutions and greatly strengthened their position, particularly in Kham.  It also influenced several important Ge-luk lamas, as we will see shortly.

This success could not but worry the more conservative elements of the Ge-luk establishment. Pa-bong-ka was particularly worried about the situation in Khams, which influenced his view of other traditions. In an earlier period of his life, Pa-bong-ka was rather open-minded. He had received several Dzok-chen teachings and was eclectic himself, despite his close personal connection with Shuk-den, his personal deity. After receiving these teachings, however, he became sick and attributed this interference to Shuk-den’s displeasure.

(Ed: Really? Where and when does he say this?) He thus refrained from taking any more Dzok-chen teaching and became more committed to a purely Ge-luk line of practice.Where does all this information come from? Is this mere guesswork, drawing conclusions from certain turn of events? Or does he actually document these feelings down? If so, where?)

Nevertheless, Pa-bong-ka did not immediately promote Shuk-den as the main protector of the Ge-luk tradition against other schools, perhaps because of the restrictions that the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and his government placed on his practice of Shuk-den. The situation changed after the death of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama in 1933. Shortly after, Pa-bong-ka left Lhasa and visited several important Ge-luk monasteries in Khams, the area where the Non-sectarian movement was the strongest. There he could not but notice the strength of this movement as well as the poor shape of the Ge-luk institutions. Whereas in Amdo and Central Tibet, the Ge-luk school’s hegemony was overwhelming and the challenge of other schools had little credibility, the situation in Khams was quite different.  Ge-luk monasteries were large but had little to show for themselves. There were very few scholars and most monks were almost completely illiterate. Moreover, the level of discipline was poor. Given that situation, the success of the Non-sectarian movement was hardly surprising.

Pa-bong-ka perceived this situation as a serious threat to the overall Ge-luk supremacy, and this led him to a more sectarian and militant stance. He saw the inclusion by Ge-luk-bas of the teachings of other schools as a threat to the integrity of the Ge-luk tradition. The task of protecting the tradition from such encroachments was assigned to Shuk-den, the protector with whom he had a strong personal tie. This renewed emphasis on Shuk-den was also made possible by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s death which removed the restrictions imposed on Pa-bong-ka’s practice and diffusion of Shuk-den.

(Ed: We should always remember that Dorje Shugden arose as a Dharma protector not to safeguard the Gelugpa lineage against “encroachments” from other schools, but to protect and preserve Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings, particularly his teachings on Nagarjuna’s Middle Way – this is documented in the scriptures and texts on Dorje Shugden’s practice. Protecting teachings is very different from protecting a school against other sects – this is a totally different interpretation and needs to be more firmly clarified.

Again, as mentioned before, we need to be clear about this meaning of sectarianism, which necessarily implies that one sect is favoured at the expense and detriment of another sect. This is not the case in the Gelugpa school. As explained before, just because a practitioner is advised to study and focus only on the teachings of his school, it does not make him sectarian. This could be a necessary and important advice for him to follow, to gain focus and a strong foundational understanding of the teachings, before taking teachings of other sects.

It is not uncommon for more advanced and learned practitioners of the Gelugpa school to be advised by their Lamas to take teachings from Lamas of other schools – but this is advised only when they are ready and stable in their basic understanding of the Dharma. This is also what is practiced in other sects and across all schools of Buddhism. It does not imply that a school if sectarian just because they do not openly take in other teachings from other schools. In this case, by this same logic, all the zen schools, Hinayana traditions (such as in Thailand and Sri Lanka etc), Mahayana schools of China would also be sectarian!)

The sectarian implications of Pa-bong-ka’s revival movement and the role of Shuk-den therein became clear during the 1940s, when the cult of Shuk-den spread in Khams and the Ge-luk tradition became much more aggressive in its opposition to the other schools. Under one of Pa-bong-ka’s disciples, Tob-den Rin-bo-che, several Nying-ma monasteries were forcefully transformed into Ge-luk establishments and statues of Guru Rin-bo-che are said to have been destroyed.

(Ed: “said to have been”??? Were they or weren’t they? Shouldn’t we get our facts straight in an allegation as strong as this?!)

In certain parts of Khams, particularly in Ge-luk strongholds such as Dra-gyab and Cham-do, some Ge-luk fanatics tried to stamp out the other traditions in the name of Shuk-den. It is hard to know, however, what Pa-bong-ka thought about these events, which may have been the work of a few extremists. It is clear, however, that since this time Shuk-den played a central role for Pa-bong-ka, who continued to promote his practice to support Ge-luk exclusivism after his return to Central Tibet.

(Ed: Pabongka Rinpoche did not promote the practice of Dorje Shugden as an act of opposition towards other schools of Buddhism. He promoted the practice because his teacher Tagphu Pemavajra had passed it to him and because it was rising as a most relevant practice for practitioners of this time. Dorje Shugden would be the most effective Protector practice for practitioners now, with the distractions and problems that are faced today.

Secondly, in many Gelugpa Lamas’ biographies, they share very openly that teachings were freely shared between schools. Nyingma and Sakya practitioners would often attend these Gelug Lamas’ teachings and there was a lot of harmony between the schools. There is no mention of them wanting to carve out their own Gelug hegemony!

If there were power struggles, it is clear that there are power struggles in every religion, every sect, even within every temple. This is to be expected when we are still in samsara and dealing with humans! Political moves like this is not indicative of the larger practices, authencity or goodness of the school as a whole and certainly a reflection of one particular Lama like Pabongka Rinpoche or a practice like Dorje Shugden’s. We have to be careful not to fall into the trap of confusing the two and making them one and the same.)

We now start to understand Shuk-den’s particularities and the reason he is controversial. First is his origin as Dol-gyel, an angry and vengeful spirit. This makes him particularly effective and powerful but also dangerous according to standard Tibetan cultural assumptions. Second is his novelty as the protector of the tradition of the victorious lord Manjushri, the protector of a Ge-luk revival movement who is said to replace the main supra-mundane protector of the tradition.

This promotion is all the more controversial that it is recent, for Shuk-den was nothing but a minor Ge-luk protector before the 1930s when Pa-bong-ka started to promote him aggressively as the main Ge-luk protector. Third is his sectarian role as Do-je Shuk-den, that is, holder of the adamantine violence now understood to be aimed at keeping the Ge-luk tradition separate from and above other schools.

(Ed: Again, this is wrong. Dorje Shugden did not arise to separate the Gelugpa school from others in any way. He arose specifically to protect Tsongkhapa’s teachings on the Middle View, as taught by Nagarjuna.)

Shuk-den is now depicted by his followers not just as the main Ge-luk protector, but as the one in charge of visiting retribution on those Ge-luk-bas tempted by the religious eclecticism of the Non-sectarian movement.

(Ed: ask any Gelugpa practitioner and you’ll probably find it hard to find anyone who agrees with this view)

Still, for many years nothing happened. Some Ge-luk teachers may have been uncomfortable at the promotion of Shuk-den but there was no reason to engage in a controversy with Pa-bong-ka, who was popular but just one among many important Ge-luk lamas. Despite some tension between him and the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, no major differences surfaced and the Ge-luk tradition seemed strong and united. After the death of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, there was very little discussion concerning Shuk-den. Pa-bong-ka’s promotion of Shuk-den’s cult and its founding myth were not considered threatening to the Tibetan government or the young new Dalai Lama, for the cult was not opposed to the Dalai Lama institution but affirmed the primacy of the Ge-luk tradition, a goal shared by many in the Tibetan government. In later years, the importance of Pa-bong-ka’s lineage was further reinforced by the nomination of Tri-jang as the Junior Tutor of the Dalai Lama.

The exile both confirmed this situation and changed it. Pa-bong-ka’s disciple Tri-jang became in exile the main source of teaching and inspiration for the Ge-luk tradition. The Dalai Lama was still young; his other tutor, Ling Rin-bo-che, had a modest personality that took him out of contention and most of the other great Ge-luk lamas remained in Tibet. The preeminence of Tri-jang further strengthened the position of Pa-bong-ka’s lineage as embodying the central orthodoxy of the tradition. Moreover, Tri-jang seems to have been personally extremely devoted to Shuk-den. In his commentary on Pa-bong-ka’s praise of Shuk-den, [44] Tri-jang devotes several pages to explaining the many dreams of Shuk-den that he had from the age of seventies. Trijang stressed this practice among his disciples and pushed the glorification of Shuk-den even further than Pa-bong-ka, insisting on the fact that this deity is ultimately a fully enlightened Buddha who merely appears as a mundane deity.

(Ed: Yes, there is nothing wrong in saying that “this deity is ultimately a fully enlightened Buddha”. It is correct. Dorje Shugden is indeed a fully enlightened Buddha, Manjushri, who manifests in the form of a Dharma Protector that his karmically “closer” to us to be able to help us more directly. This is not unusual in the tradition of Dharma Protectors. His status as an enlightened being is further acknowledged and accepted by many high Lamas over history, who are also widely regarded as enlightened Beings themselves – could they all be wrong?)

Ge-luk teachers who were uncomfortable with this situation could say little against Tri-jang, the Dalai Lama’s own teacher. Moreover, everyone (myself included) was won over by Tri-jang’s astonishing qualities, his command of the Tibetan tradition, his personal grace, his refined manners, his diplomatic skills, and commanding presence. Finally, there was no reason for open controversy, for there was enough room in the tradition to accommodate several views. Ling Rin-bo-che offered an alternative to those who did not completely share Tri-jang’s orientation. Thus, at the beginning of the 70s, the tradition seemed to be strong and united in its admiration of its great teachers, the Dalai Lama and his two tutors, a trinity that almost providentially seemed to be the mirror image of the original relation between Dzong-ka-ba and his two disciples. Nobody would have dreamed of the crisis that was about to come.

The Dispute Begins

The situation began to deteriorate in 1975, a year which can be described as the Ge-luk (annus terribilis.) In this year a book (henceforth the “Yellow Book”) written in Tibetan about Shuk-den by Dze-may Rin-bo-che (dze smad rin po che,) 1927-1996 was published. [45] Retrospectively, we can say that the whole affair started from this book and the Dalai Lama’s reaction to it. Prior to its publication, there was no controversy concerning Shuk-den. There may have been some tension between the Dalai Lama and some Ge-luk-bas. Some of the more conservative elements may have believed that the three monasteries should rule the Tibetan state and hence have resented the power and orientation of the last two Dalai Lamas. These elements may have also tended toward the Shuk-den practice. Thus, elements of resentment, suspicion and discontent provided the background for the present crisis, but they did not create it. The present crisis is a new phenomenon, largely a product of contingent circumstances and even coincidence.

The Yellow Book was intended to complement Tri-jang’s commentary on Pa-bong-ka’s praise of Shuk-den.[46] It consists of a series of stories which the author had heard informally from his teacher Tri-jang during the many years of their relationship which he wanted to record for posterity before the death of his teacher. The book enumerates the many Ge-luk lamas whose lives are supposed to have been shortened by Shuk-den’s displeasure at their practicing Nying-ma teachings. First, the Fifth Pen-chen Lama, Lob-zang Pal-den, is described as the object of Shuk-den’s anger because he adopted Nying-ma practices. Despite the repeated warnings of the protector, Lob-zang Pal-den refused to mend his ways. After an unsuccessful ritual self-defense, which backfired, Lob-zang Pal-den died at the age of twenty-nine. [47] The book cites several other Ge-luk lamas who had similar fates. Most noticeable is the long description of the Re-treng (rwa streng) affair. According to this account, Re-treng’s tragic fate is not due to his real or alleged misdeeds, [48] but because he incurred the wrath of Shuk-den by practicing Nying-ma teachings.

Another particularly revealing story is that of the preceding reincarnation of Zi-gyab Rin-bo-che (gzigs rgyab rin po che), a lama from Tre-hor, who first studied at Tra-shi Lhung-po where he became learned and then developed a link with the Sixth Pen-chen Lama Tub-ten Choe-gi-nyi-ma (thub stan chos kyi nyi ma,) 1883-1937), who asked him to stay with him. Because of the past Pen-chen lama’s eclectic ritual practice, Zi-gyab studied and practiced Nying-ma teachings. Later he decided to receive one of its central teachings, Jam-gon Kong-trul’s (‘jam mgon kong sprul,) 1813-1899) (Rin chen gter mdzod) from Kyung Rin-bo-che (khyung rin po che). According to the story, Shuk-den warned Zi-gyab against this course of action. When the lama refused to heed the protector’s advice, he fell sick and died suddenly without having been able to listen to the (Rin chen gTer Mdzod). In short order Kyung also died suddenly after several ominous signs of Shuk-den’s anger. Shuk-den’s anger at Zi-gyab’s attempt to receive the (Rin chen gter mdzod) is particularly revealing in view of the central place held by this collection of teachings in the Non-sectarian movement.

Whatever the intentions of its author, the main message of the Yellow Book is hard to miss. Ge-luk lamas should absolutely not practice the teachings from other schools, otherwise they will incur Shuk-den’s wrath and die prematurely. The author of the Yellow Book was repeating the views already expressed by the two most important figures in the tradition of Shuk-den followers, Pa-bong-ka and Tri-jang, as illustrated by the above quote (for the former) and claimed by the book itself (for the latter). [49] The Yellow Book provided a number of cases that illustrate this point, emphasizing that the dire warnings were not empty threats but based on “facts.”

(Ed: One question which has never been answered is what the context was that Trijang Rinpoche spoke these words. Who did he address them to specifically and what prompted him to speak of these stories? While there has been a lot of attention paid to this book, there are also many, many practitioners who do not agree with the book and pay little attention to it for they also say that it is not correct nor accurate of the enlightened nature of Dorje Shugden and his practice.

It is important to first set what the context was that these stories were told. Teachers will often adjust their tone and examples according to what is needed at the time and for the people there are the time. Trijang Rinpoche could have been addressing particularly different students for example, who refused to focus on the studies and practices which had already been given to them. These could have been extreme illustrations given to frighten them into “behaving” and following their prescribed practices at that time. There are many other possibilities and scenarios in which a Lama may resort to what seem like shocking and extreme teachings.

At the same time, we must be aware that Trijang Rinpoche had also written very, very extensively and given countless teachings throughout his lifetime about the compassionate and enlightened nature of Dorje Shugden – this would directly contradict with saying that he would extract revenge on his followers. So which teachings do we choose to believe in and give importance to?? This shows clearly therefore that we cannot make conclusive judgments based upon just one teaching.)

The Dalai Lama reacted strongly to this book. He felt personally betrayed by Dze-may, a lama for whom he had great hopes and to whom he had shown particular solicitude. More importantly, he felt that the Yellow Book was an attack on his role as Dalai Lama, a rejection of his religious leadership by the Ge-luk establishment, and a betrayal of his efforts in the struggle for Tibetan freedom. In 1976 the first signs of the impending crisis appeared which I will explore in some detail, since I do not believe that these events have been well documented even by Tibetans. I will use my own memories to supplement the sketchy public records.

(Ed: oh dear, this whole account and study are based upon one man’s “own memories” and “sketchy public records”? Should we really be placing that much emphasis on something as vague and “sketchy” as this?)

One of the first public manifestations of the Dalai Lama’s state of mind was his refusal, after the Tibetan New Year of 1976, of the long life offerings made by the Tibetan government. Traditionally, the Dalai Lama accepts such an offering after the New Year as a sign of the pure bond (dam tshig tshang ma) that exists between him and Tibetans: this bond is based on his commitment to continue his work as Dalai Lama and the Tibetans’ allegiance. His refusal signaled in effect that he thought that the bond had been undermined and that the behavior of Tibetans was incompatible with his remaining as Dalai Lama.

When pressed by the National Assembly to accept the offerings, the Dalai Lama sent back even stronger signals, mentioning dreams in which dakinis had entreated him to return to the pure realms. The refusal of the offerings of long life was already bad enough. The mention of these dreams was akin to a declaration of intention to abandon this world and his role therein. This sent the Tibetan community into a veritable ritual frenzy. The state oracle of Ne-chung ordered Tibetans to recite an enormous number of Mani, the mantra of the bodhisattva Avalokeshtevara of whom the Dalai Lama is said to be a manifestation.

(Ed: There can be many reasons a Lama will manifest signs of wishing to leave. This is widely accepted and understood in Dharma. It cannot be pinpointed to just one particularly reason as is suggested here. It could be that there were specific breaks in samaya in the Tibetan government or individual students of the Dalai Lama, which was creating obstacles to him remaining as their teacher. It could be that the political actions of the government were not in accordance with the Dalai Lama’s wishes as their spiritual leader and maybe even as their Guru. There are many, many multiple and complex levels in a relationship between Guru and disciple which can affect whether a teacher stays or leaves. We cannot conjecture at this point that it was because of any one thing and it would be too hasty to assume it was because of the politics surrounding the Gelugpa school or any particular practices.)

At that time I was living at the Rikon monastery in Switzerland. I did not witness the scenes I am describing but heard about them from Tibetan friends and read reports in the (Shes Bya) review in Tibetan. I remember very clearly, however, the emotion that the news created among the monks living in Switzerland. Some were devastated, crying openly. I also remember the many hours that the Tibetan community in Switzerland spent reciting the number of required mantras. I was puzzled by the fact that not all Ge-luk monks seemed equally affected. Some seemed to be distinctly cool, despite their participation in the public rituals intended to protect the life of the Dalai Lama. Why were they so unmoved by the news of the Dalai Lama’s reaction?

(Ed: we are basing an entire thesis on the reactions of some monks? Is there no better, more objective way of conducting a study as serious as this?)

The answer, about which I had no idea at the time, was that they agreed with the views expressed by the Yellow Book. Hence, they were less then moved by the Dalai Lama’s negative reaction. They understood that it manifested a profound division within the Ge-luk tradition, a division about which they could not but worry. Primarily, however, they saw his reaction as a rejection and a betrayal of the teachings of his tutor, Tri-jang, whom they considered to be the main teacher of the Ge-luk tradition and the guardian of its orthodoxy. They also may have foreseen that the Dalai Lama would counterattack. The crisis that has agitated the Ge-luk school since then had begun.

(Ed: There has been no written evidence nor clear declarations that the Gelugpas as a whole school agree with the Yellow Book. There may be individuals who lean towards it but this does not reflect upon the school as a whole, nor does it confirm or endorse what is written in the Yellow Book. Again, we cannot draw conclusions based on very vague observations and wooly experiences of just a few monks.)

In the mid 1976, the Dalai Lama finally accepted the long life offerings of the Tibetan government and the Tibetan people. He would lead them after all, but this was not the end of the story, for he would also take strong actions to strengthen the loyalty of the Ge-luk establishment. His offensive started at the beginning of 1977 when Dze-may was publicly berated for his book. He was expelled from one of the public teachings that the Dalai Lama gave that year.

(Ed: why was he expelled from one of the public teachings and was it a direct result or directly related to this book? This seems to imply that it is – but from the way this thesis is going, it seems that everything has been built on assumptions. Why should we trust any of these vague insinuations anymore?)

The Dalai Lama also began to apply pressure against the practice of Shuk-den, laying several restrictions on the practice. The three great monasteries of Dre-bung, Ga-den and Se-ra, which traditionally, though not unambiguously, have supported the Tibetan government and the two tantric colleges were ordered not to propitiate Shuk-den in public ceremonies. Moreover, several statues of Shuk-den were removed from the chapels of the three monasteries. Finally, the Dalai Lama ordered the monks of Se-ra in Bylakuppe not to use a building originally intended for the monthly ritual of Shuk-den. Individuals could continue their practice privately if they so chose, as long as they remained discreet about it.

The Ritual Basis of the Dalai Lama Institution

Many found the Dalai Lama’s reaction excessive. After all, the views expressed by the book were rather unexceptional. The book was undeniably sectarian, but this is not rare in any of the four (or more) Tibetan schools. Similar sectarian views were held by Pa-bong-ka. [50] Even the Non-sectarian movement had at times used its inclusive strategy against the dominance of the Ge-luk school. Thus, the mere presence of a sectarian element in the Yellow Book could not justify or explain the Dalai Lama’s strong reaction. We need to find another explanation.

Throughout the crisis, the Dalai Lama has gone to great lengths to explain his position. At first reserved to a limited audience, these explanations, some of which are of great scholarly quality, are now available in Tibetan and are invaluable to understand the present crisis.[51] The Dalai Lama repeatedly points to the relation between Shuk-den and the ritual system underlying the institution of the Dalai Lama as the source of the problem.

The institution of the Dalai Lama is not just political, but also rests on an elaborate ritual system, which has undergone several transformations. When the Fifth Dalai Lama assumed power after 1642, he attempted to build a broad- based rule legitimized by a claim to reestablish the early Tibetan empire. This claim was supported by an elaborate ritual system, which sought to reenact the perceived religious basis of the Tibetan empire. This ritual system was not limited to the practices of the Ge-luk tradition but included teachings and figures closely associated with the Nying-ma tradition, the Buddhist school that for Tibetans has a close association with the early empire. The ritual system involves an extremely complex network of practices which cannot be examined here. Two elements require mention, however.

The first element is devotion to Padmasambhava, the semi-mythical founder of the Nying-ma tradition. His role is central to the ritual system as conceived by the present Dalai Lama, for Guru Rin-bo-che is responsible for taming the negative forces in Tibet. According to legend, he started the practice of transforming pre-Buddhist deities into worldly protectors by binding them through oaths. He is in charge of making sure that these gods keep their word, and he is the guarantor of all the worldly protectors of the Tibetan world. [52]

The second element of this ritual system is the primacy of the protector Ne-chung. Like most other collective entities in the Tibetan cultural landscape, the Dalai Lama and his government have mundane protectors, who are often described as the “Two Red and Black Protectors” (srung ma dmar nag gnyis). The black protector is identified as the Great Goddess (dpal-ldan lha mo), the Tibetan equivalent of (MahÂ-dev^). The identification of the red protector has varied over time, but since the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ne-chung has been recognized as the red warrior deity protecting the Dalai Lama institution.[53] Together, they are taken to protect the Dalai Lama and his institution, including the Tibetan government.

Ne-chung is one in an important group of deities named “the five kings” (rgyal po sku lnga,) lit., five king-bodies) who are considered to be the manifestations of Pe-har, the deity appointed by Padmasambhava as the main guardian of Buddhism in Tibet. Among the five deities, Ne-chung is usually identified with Dor-je Drak-den (rdo rje grags ldan), the speech deity of the five kings. [54] Because of his connection with Pe-har, the guardian deity of Buddhism during the early Tibetan empire, the Fifth Dalai Lama and his government have chosen Ne-chung as the “Red Protector” thus emphasizing their connection with the early empire and strengthening their legitimacy. This choice further reinforced the centrality of Guru Rin-bo-che, and reflected the Fifth Dalai Lama’s personal association with the Nying-ma tradition.

The Yellow Book and the propitiation of Shuk-den threaten this eclectic system centered on the worship of Guru Rin-bo-che and the propitiation of Ne-chung. By presenting Shuk-den as a deity in charge of visiting retribution upon those Ge-luk who have adopted practices from the Nying-ma tradition, which is based on and closely associated with the devotion to Guru Rin-bo-che, the Yellow Book undermines the ritual system underlying the Dalai Lama institution, and the present Dalai Lama’s efforts to implement this system more fully. I also believe that the timing of the Yellow Book was particularly disastrous.

In his early years, the present Dalai Lama followed the advice of his teachers and practiced an almost purely Ge-luk ritual system. In doing so, he was continuing the tradition of the last seven Dalai Lamas, who had adopted a strictly Ge-luk ritual system as the religious basis of their power. Important changes were introduced after the death of the Fifth and the defeat of his party, when the role of the Dalai Lama and the ritual system supporting the institution were changed. Instead of an eclectic system emulating the religious basis of the early empire, a more purely Ge-luk ritual system was installed under the auspices of the Seventh Dalai Lama Kel-zang Gya-so so the monks of Nam-gyel, the personal monastery of the Dalai Lama, were replaced by monks from the Ge-luk Tantric Colleges and the Nying-ma rituals that they had performed were discontinued. [55] This situation continued into this century, forming the religious practice of the young Fourteenth.

As the Fourteenth became more mature, however, he started to question this orientation. He felt a strong appreciation for the Fifth’s political project, which he has described as a master plan for building Tibet into a nation able to take part in the history of the region rather than a marginal state governed by religious hierarchs mostly preoccupied with the power of their monasteries and estates. [56] He also felt a strong religious bond with the Fifth and gradually came to the realization that he needed to implement the latter’s ritual system. Consequently, he abandoned his Shuk-den practice in the mid-seventies, for he could not keep propitiating this deity while using Ne-chung, the protector associated with Guru Rin-bo-che and with whom he had had a special relation for many years.[57] He also attempted to promote the role of Guru Rin-bo-che in the ritual system of the Tibetan state. Only by strengthening this role, which he saw as vital to the integrity of the ritual basis of the Tibetan state, could the cause of Tibet be successful. Were not the political difficulties experienced by Tibetans signs that this ritual support had been undermined?

(Ed: it is not correct to confuse the two. It is entirely possible for the Dalai Lama to have two or more Protectors – Nechung is the protector of the state; Dorje Shugden is a protector of the Gelugpa school that the Dalai Lama was schooled in; Palden Lhamo was the Dalai Lama’s own personal protector. The Dalai Lama would have received the practice of Dorje Shugden from his two tutors who were known to be strong Dorje Shugden practitioners. The Dalai Lama himself acknowledged that Dorje Shugden was an enlightened being in his earlier years. If he believed that Dorje Shugden was a fully enlightened Buddha, how could this pose any threat or problem if he had another protector practice? Surely he would have understood that as a Buddha, Dorje Shugden would not extract any kind of revenge or enact harm on him? How could one book destroy all his belief in Dorje Shugden as an enlightened Being? Is the Dalai Lama this fickle and this easily swayed? I don’t think so.

The people supporting the Dalai Lama’s ban more often than not regard him as an emanation of Chenrezig, Buddha of Compassion. How can it be that a Buddha would be so fickle and unconstant? How can it be that a fully enlightened mind like Chenrezig or the Dalai Lama would not be able to tell the difference between an enlightened being or not? How could he “make a mistake” to first declare Dorje Shugden as an enlightened being and then turn around to say that he is a spirit? It is illogical.)

As an expression of his resolve to return to the ritual system developed by the Fifth Dalai Lama, the present Dalai Lama developed the role of Nying-ma rituals in the practice of his own personal Nam-gyel monastery. The monastery’s repertoire was expanded from the usual Ge-luk tantric rituals to include typical Nying-ma practices such as Vajra k^laya and others. He invited several Nying-ma lamas to give teachings and empowerments to his monks. He also ordered them to do appropriate retreats. I remember the tongue in cheek comments of some of my friends of the Nam-gyel monastery about their “becoming Nying-ma-bas.” They were surprised, taken aback and uncomfortable, for the rituals of the Nam-gyel monastery had been for many years Ge-luk, not very different from that of the two tantric colleges. They were ready to follow the Dalai Lama, however, despite their obvious misgivings.

Another key element in the Dalai Lama’s strategy of returning to the Fifth’s ritual system was the institution in October 1975 of a yearly ceremony of making a hundred thousands offerings to Guru Rin-bo-che. The collective worship of Guru Rin-bo-che would restore the synergy that existed between this figure and the Tibetan people, thus strengthening the power of the gods appointed by Guru Rin-bo-che to protect Tibetans from danger. But this event was not very successful. Many Ge-luk monks and nuns felt rather lukewarm, if not downright hostile, toward Guru Rin-bo-che, and abstained from attending the event. They profoundly resented the adoption of rituals they saw as coming from an alien tradition.

This was precisely the time that the famous Yellow Book first circulated, a coincidence I consider particularly unfortunate. [58] Although the connection between the low attendance at this new ceremony and the book is hard to establish, the Dalai Lama felt that the Yellow Book had contributed to the lack of support among Ge-luk monks and nuns. More importantly, he felt that the appearance of such a book precisely when he was trying to restore the ritual basis of the Tibetan state represented an act of open defiance by the very people, the high Ge-luk lamas, who were supposed to support him. These were the same people who had thwarted the attempts of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama toward reform with tragic consequences for Tibet. These were also particularly difficult times for Tibet politically. The repression in Tibet had gone on practically uninterrupted since 1959 and there seemed no end in sight. The sadness and even desperation thereby induced in the exile community and the Dalai Lama must have contributed to the crisis. [59]

(Ed: here we go making speculations again)

Finally, the Dalai Lama felt directly attacked by the Yellow Book. For, after all, who was the person who was designated as a potential target of Shuk-den, the person who was undermining the purity of the Ge-luk tradition by adopting practices from the Nying-ma tradition, if not he?

(Ed: more guesswork again…)

Also, the Dalai Lama felt that this book was working against his efforts to promote harmony among the Tibetan schools. The matter was made much worse by the attribution of the opinions expressed by the Yellow Book to Tri-jang, who, to my knowledge, has never rejected this attribution. In fact, everybody assumed that Dze-may had indeed reported the words of his teacher and this is why the book was thought to be particularly damaging. What could the Dalai Lama say against his own teacher?

The Role of Shuk-den

If we can recognize the Dalai Lama’s reasons for reacting to the diffusion of the Yellow Book, we have yet to understand the place of the practice of Shuk-den in this affair. Why focus so exclusively on the propitiation of Shuk-den? We need to consider briefly the role of mundane protectors in Tibetan culture. Mundane protectors (‘jig rtenpa’i lha) are guardians in a universe alive with forces which can quickly become threatening, and are considered by Tibetans to be particularly effective because they are mundane, i.e., unenlightened. [60] They share human emotions such as anger or jealousy, which makes them more effective than the more remote supra-mundane deities (‘jig rten las ‘das pa’i lha), but also more prone to take offense at the actions of humans or other protectors.  Shuk-den, for example, is presented as being hostile to those Ge-luk-bas who do not stick to the pure tradition of Dzong-ka-ba and seek the teachings of other traditions.

(Ed: Apart from the Yellow book (of which we are still uncertain as to the context and authenticity, I’d like to know where else it is stated that Shugden is “hostile to the Gelugpas who do not stick to the pure tradition of Tsongkhapa”. It is not in texts about his practice nor in his kangsol. The kangsol warns practitioners not to engage in practices or teachings that are contrary to Dharma in general or which teach a wrong view. This is general and common in many other protectors’ prayers. It is a very different thing to turn it around to say that Dorje Shugden is “hostile” to teachings of other Buddhist schools.)

Shuk-den is also said to undermine Ne-chung, who is said to resent Shuk-den’s role and actions. Ne-chung is often depicted as acting out of resentment against and jealousy toward Shuk-den, prodding the Dalai Lama to act against Shuk-den, to abandon the propitiation of this deity, to ban his practice, etc. The Dalai Lama himself has described on numerous occasions the strength of his relation to Ne-chung and the role of this deity in his decisions concerning Shuk-den. [61] Although the decision to limit the role of Shuk-den in 1970s cannot be solely attributed to Ne-chung, this deity has played an important role in the Dalai Lama’s decisions.

(Ed: It is clearly acknowledged that Nechung is definitely an unenlightened protector. In the earlier part of his life, Dalai Lama clearly acknowledged that Dorje Shugden was an emanation of a Buddha. So why would he choose to listen to the advice of an unenlightened protector over an enlightened one?)

We may wonder about the meaning of these conflicts between deities, their resentment against each other. What does it mean to say that Ne-chung resents Shuk-den, that he asked the Dalai Lama to ban him? For traditional Tibetans, such a statement is perfectly clear and does not require any further explanation, since it refers to entities whose reality is as certain as that of the solar system is for scientifically educated people. The propitiation of these entities is an integral part of their culture, and the conflict between worldly protectors or gods is a normal occurrence in a universe which is filled by entities who can harm humans. I remember at one point becoming quite close to a young lama and his servant. I used to eat with them, until one day I was told that my visits were not welcome any more. They had had bad dreams, one of the privileged channels through which protectors communicate with humans. [62] According to these dreams, their protector was unhappy at my visits. My god apparently did not agree with theirs!

For modern educated people such an explanation is hardly satisfying. In the case of personal relations, incompatibilities can be easily explained as temperamental. But what does it mean for Shuk-den and Ne-chung not to get along? To understand this aspect of Tibetan culture, we need to realize that protectors are not just individual guardians but also protect collective entities. Monasteries, households of lamas, regional houses in large monasteries, and clans or families have their own protectors. This collective dimension of protectors is most relevant to the present conflict between Shuk-den and Ne-chung, which is quite obviously a reflection of the conflict between two groups, the conservative Ge-luk-bas, who resent the Dalai Lama’s reliance on the Nying-ma tradition, and the groups who accept or support the Dalai Lama’s eclectic approach. The relation between groups and worldly protectors becomes clear if one remembers that the deities who are protectors are defined as such because they protect the person or the group, often by violent means, from enemies. These enemies are described as the “enemies of Buddhism” (bstan dgra); they are the “other” in opposition to which the person and the group define their identity. The connection between group and protector is very close.

There is, however, an important distinction to be made here. In the case of supra-mundane protectors, enemies of Buddhism threaten Buddhism as well as their own spiritual welfare. [63] The violence that protectors unleash against them is said to be strictly motivated by compassion and aims at benefiting the beings who are its target, much like the actions of bodhisattvas described in the Mahayana literature. [64] This violence is impartial and cannot be used for one’s personal advantage. However, the violence of mundane deities is quite different, for it involves quasi human emotions. Since these deities experience these emotions, they are thought to be partial and can be enrolled in actions performed on behalf of the person or the group who propitiates them. The term “enemies of Buddhism” is used and the practitioner or the group will ask the protector to get rid of these beings. But in this case the term “enemies of Buddhism” refers less to the objects of compassionate and impartial violence than to the being perceived by the person or the group as threatening. An “enemy of Buddhism” may belong to a rival Buddhist group, or may be a member of one’s own tradition, such as Ge-luk practitioners who are interested in other schools such as the Nying-ma. [65] We now begin to understand the close connection between group identity and mundane protectors, and the reason why the propitiation of some protectors can be quite troubling.

(Ed: Here, it is important again to understand clearly the symbolism and language presented in Buddhist prayers and texts. When we speak of “enemies of Buddhism” it is not always to be taken literally. In the most literal sense, it can mean people who directly oppose the Buddhist teachings, try to create obstacles to its growth, put a stop to it or try to take us away from the teachings. On a more subtle level, it refers to all obstacles, seen or unseen, animate or inanimate which take us away from practice, distract our minds and foster wrong, negative views in our minds, thus creating more negative karma and problems for ourselves. In the visualizations and prayers, we are advised to think of these “enemies” as beings / things / situations stopping us from doing our practices or even the “enemies” within ourselves – delusions, attachments, hatred, pride, ignorance etc. I have never heard of an instance where it is taught that these “enemies” are of another sect of Buddhism, or used as a political game! No real practice, Lama or Dharma protector would encourage this.

It seems like Dreyfus here is hinting that Dorje Shugden is not an enlightened Being and is therefore launching attacks against non-Gelugpa schools of Buddhism. But I post that in this case, it seems pointless to even be having this discussion, as it has been proven many times over by many highly attained Lamas – some of whose incarnations are even recognized by the Dalai Lama himself! – that Dorje Shugden is a fully enlightened Buddha.)

Moreover, the close connection between group and protector is not just symbolic, it is also inscribed in the nature of the practices relating to protectors which is based on the notion of loyalty. The relation between a person or group and the protector is described as being based on the maintenance of “pure bond” or “pure commitment” (dam tshig tshang ma). This notion of pure bond is particularly important in Tibetan Buddhism, where there is a strong emphasis on preserving the commitment between students and their teachers, especially in the context of tantric practice. But this sense of loyalty goes well beyond the domain of tantric practice. It plays a vital role in the social life of Tibetans, who put a great emphasis on personal friendship and group loyalty. It also informs a part of Tibetan political life, as we noticed earlier.

It is this same sense of loyalty that lies at the basis of the relations between protectors and their followers. This is particularly true regarding the practice of Dor-je Shuk-den, a practice based on the taking of a solemn oath similar to that of friends swearing life-long loyalty to each other. The propitiation of Shuk-den requires a ceremony called “life entrusting” (srog gtad), during which the followers and the deity are introduced to each other by the guru who confers the empowerment.[66] The follower swears his or her fidelity to Dor-je Shuk-den who in exchange promises to serve him or her. It is clear that this practice fosters a very strong loyalty to the deity and by extension to the group that the deity represents.

In Shuk-den’s case, devotion has been strengthened further by the central role of the charismatic teachers Pa-bong-ka and Tri-jang, who have transformed this formerly minor practice into one of the main elements of the Ge-luk tradition. Because of the central place of keeping commitments to one’s guru among Tibetans, and because of the considerable personal qualities of these teachers, they have succeeded in inspiring an extreme devotion in their followers, who seem to value their commitment to these figures more than anything else. In fact, from the point of view of many of Shuk-den’s followers, the devotion to teachers such as Pa-bong-ka or Tri-jang is the basis for the practice of Shuk-den. They propitiate this deity first and foremost because it is the protector recommended by their guru. This situation has contributed significantly to the polarization that surrounds the issue and has further enhanced the troubling potential of the Shuk-den practice. For when the Dalai Lama opposes Shuk-den, the followers of this deity feel his opposition is directed against the founding fathers of their own tradition, and hence an attack against their own group. They also feel misrepresented when they are accused of being sectarian, for in their perspective the sectarian element pales in significance when compared to their commitment to their guru and his tradition.

(Ed: Indeed, this relationship with the Guru is not one to be undermined. The Guru-disciple relationship and practice of Guru Yoga and Guru devotion is as strong in the Gelugpa school of Buddhism as it is in any other sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The practices and teachings that are given by a Guru are highly respected and treasured and not one to be taken lightly. This is the basis of Guru devotion, which actually stems not from Tibet but from the original Indian Buddhist pandits. Of course practitioners would propitiate this Guru because it has been passed down by their Gurus. This is the same for any other practice or teaching that has been passed to them. This is also the same across all traditions in Buddhism. Other practitioners in the Sakya, Nyingma and Kagyu schools would surely also practice first and foremost whatever their teachers have advised and given them – this is so normal!

The Shugden practitioners do have a right to feel like their entire lineage is being “attacked”. Guru devotion is important not for the fact that we are just following this one Guru, but for the entire lineage of teachings that he represents, all the way back to Shakyamuni himself. So to say that one’s teacher is wrong, is also to say that his teachers were wrong, and their teachings were wrong… It also opens up a very serious question of what remains sacred. If a practitioner opposes his Guru on one account and says he is wrong with regards to one particular advice, what is there to say that the Guru is also not wrong on other teachings and advise he has given? We open the doors to many doubts in our practices.

In the practice of Guru devotion, we are advised and taught to regard our Lamas as emanations Vajradhara and as enlightened beings in themselves. This is after a long and detailed process of “checking” the Guru to ensure that he is authentic and compassionate and can teach us all the way to enlightenment. So to suddenly turn around and say he is wrong on a very major practice within the lineage, is to turn a lot of things upside down and leaves a lot of things open to uncertainty and doubt.)

Nevertheless, groups may feel that they fit the description “enemies of Buddhism” as defined by the Shuk-den rituals, even if the threat they imply is not implemented or is considered secondary by their practitioners. Thus the claim that the practice of Shuk-den disrupts the functioning of the Dalai Lama institution becomes-special-character: [67] But, as we saw earlier, a number of Nying-ma rituals are precisely the basis of the Dalai Lama institution as understood by the Fifth and the Fourteenth Dalai Lamas. Does it not follow that the present Dalai Lama is the “enemy of Buddhism” as implied by the practice of Shuk-den?

(Ed: Don’t be ridiculous, of course it doesn’t. As already explained, none of Shugden prayers or texts indicate that this “enemy of Buddhism” is in any way political or has anything to do with sectarian issues. It is really jumping the gun to say this and make this assumption.)

Most of Pa-bong-ka’s followers would answer this question in the negative. They would argue that their practice is primarily not directed at anybody but stems from their religious commitments. Nevertheless, the fact that this shocking statement seems to follow logically from the way the practice of Shuk-den has been defined by its main proponents explains the challenge that such a practice raises for the leadership of the Dalai Lama. It also throws some light on the claim that Ne-chung resents Shuk-den’s success. Since Ne-chung is taken as the preeminent protector of the Dalai Lama, he must indeed be disturbed by a cult that takes the very people he is meant to protect as its target.

(Ed: It really is pointless to have this debate because Dorje Shugden is not a worldly protector. As a fully enlightened Being, he is far above these petty squabbles over who does what practice. His enlightened mind – as acknowledgement by many highly attained or enlightened Lamas – has already been mentioned and explained above.

Furthermore, it is believed that Dalai Lama is Chenrezig and fully enlightened, such that he can continue to emanate back on this earth for 14 consecutive lifetimes with control. If we believe this, then it is completely contradictory to be having this discussion? Why would a fully enlightened being who is so attained and with full control over his own existence be threatened in any way by a so-called “mundane protector” (as they are calling Dorje Shugden). Also, surely a being as attained as the Dalai Lama would have control over an unenlightened being like Nechung? Surely he has wisdom and omniscience in his decision? Why would he allow the whims of a worldly protector to affect his decisions – political or otherwise? Doesn’t this argument just backfire upon itself? Surely, the Dalai Lama would have more control than we are giving him credit for!)

Finally, we understand the divisiveness of the practice of mundane protectors such as Shuk-den and the danger of violence that it contains. For, after all, what can one do with the enemies of Buddhism but fight them? We are also able to answer one of the questions raised at the beginning of this essay: is the practice of Shuk-den different from the practices associated with other protectors? It is clear that there are other worldly protectors within the world of Tibetan Buddhism. It also clear that Shuk-den as a deity does not appear to be very different from other worldly protectors who are all perceived to inspire awe and fear and hence have the potential for being put to troubling uses, though the particular cultural scenario associated with Shuk-den, i.e., being a spirit of a dead religious person (rgyal po), may mark him as a particularly fierce deity. A similar cultural scenario, however, is alleged in the case of Ne-chung, a deity sometimes presented as the spirit of a monk who broke his vows.[68] Thus, the root of the problem raised by the Shuk-den affair is not the particular nature of the deity. So why is the practice of Shuk-den so problematic?

(Ed: It is interesting that Dreyfus quietly, suddenly and automatically regards Dorje Shugden as a “mundane protector”, having not explored at all any of the information, teachings or resources which describe him clearly as an enlightened Being. It is a paltry and very weak conclusion – he explored only a few myths, stories and hearsay in history, without taking into account any of what other high Lamas (including the Dalai Lama himself!) have said about his enlightened nature, and is now readily referring to him as a worldly protector. It makes his entire essay weaker, more biased and less credible than it already is.)

The answer is to be found in the sectarian ways in which this practice has been defined by its founders. Shuk-den was re-invented during this century not just to satisfy the worldly purposes of individuals or particular institutions, but also and mostly to affirm and defend the identity of a revival movement opposed to other religious groups, particularly within the Ge-luk tradition. Shuk-den is the protector in charge not just of protecting individual practitioners but the integrity of the Ge-luk tradition as conceived by its most conservative elements. It is this aggressively sectarian use of this deity that has been particularly problematic. The practices associated with the other protectors are different in that they are used by monasteries, lama’s estates, families, or individuals for this-worldly purposes as piecemeal elements of a traditional network of religious practices, not to affirm a systematically sectarian outlook. As such they do not map into any large-scale socio-political distinction and their potential for abuse remains limited.

(Ed: Oh, he does it again! Jumping to the definitive conclusion that Dorje Shugden’s practice is necessarily and primarily a sectarian one, not having considered any other view nor any teachings which indicate the other purposes of his practice. Someone must inform Dreyfus that merely repeating the same points over and over does not some how make it more true. You need facts and substantiated evidence to back up your claims! I will not argue against this claim any further as I have already explained the opposite view extensively above.)

This sectarian stance is the central message of the founding myth of the Shuk-den tradition, the wrathful transformation of Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen into Shuk-den and his hostility to the Fifth Dalai Lama.

(Ed: We are repeating ourselves again. Repeating something DOES NOT make it more true.)

This hostility reflects the attitude of a part of the Ge-luk tradition which advocates a strictly Ge-luk practice and opposes the importation of Nying-ma teachings into their tradition.

(Ed: Yes, you said that before too, a few times.)

This opposition between two visions of the Ge-luk tradition focuses on the figure of the Dalai Lama because of the way in which the Fifth and the Fourteenth Dalai Lamas have considered the institution they represent, i.e., as resting on an eclectic religious basis in which elements associated with the Nying-ma tradition combine with an overall Ge-luk orientation. Shuk-den, then, is less the spirit of the Ge-luk political resentment against a strong Dalai Lama, than it is the spirit of a religious resentment against a perceived threat to the integrity of the Ge-luk tradition.

(Ed: Oh, you also said this several times already. We get it. Can you give us something new to think about?)

The target of Shuk-den is not the Dalai Lama (per se) but the accommodation toward other schools, particularly the Nying-ma, shown by the Fifth and the Fourteenth Dalai Lamas, an attitude perceived by Shuk-den’s followers as a defilement of Dzong-ka’ba’s tradition.

(Ed: If this really was the case, then why didn’t the Dalai Lama himself just state that this was the reason that Shugden was banned? The reasons cited by the Dalai Lama – and upheld by his government – have been:

  1. Shugden is a direct threat on the Dalai Lama’s life.
  2. Shugden practitioners will cause the Dalai Lama’s life to shorten.
  3. Shugden is a spirit which goes against the Buddhist practice of taking refuge in the Three Jewels.
  4. Shugden will destroy the cause for a free Tibet.

Then, from there, other secondary claims of sectarianism have also arisen, but the primary reasons for stating that this spirit is bad is as above. This muddle with Gelugpas studying Nyingma teachings has never been posited as the main and central reason for the ban.)

When this sectarian orientation is combined with some of the particularities of the Shuk-den tradition such as the central role of charismatic figures such as Pa-bong-ka and Tri-jang, the extreme devotion they have inspired in their followers, as well as the intensity of the loyalty developed by the Shuk-den cult based on the life entrusting ceremony mentioned above, the troubling events that have revolved around the practice of Dor-je Shuk-den become less surprising. The strong opposition of the present Dalai Lama also becomes more understandable. For a sectarian opposition to the Dalai Lama institution cannot help but have strong political implications in contemporary Tibetan society where this institution plays such a large role. The practice of propitiating Shuk-den threatens this institution and undermines its ability to function as a rallying point for Tibetans. Is it then surprising if he opposes it so vigorously?

(Ed: that’s it? This is the conclusion? A woolly, inconclusive, loose conclusion which still has no basis in any substantiated evidence. He attributes “troubling events” to the influence of “charismatic figures” – this is vague and ridiculous. They are not just charismatic but highly respected for their Dharma knowledge – why else was Trijang Rinpoche selected as one of the Dalai Lama’s own tutors? Isn’t it contradictory to say that his popularity was only merely because he was “charismatic” but then also acknowledge that he was the Dalai Lama’s tutor? Is that to say that the Dalai Lama – and all other enlightened beings – would not have known if Trijang Rinpoche was not actually that great a Lama and was just “charismatic?” Why is it that so many enlightened teachers who have studied under Trijang Rinpoche not only became great and influential teachers in themselves (now known throughout the world) but have taken rebirth again and had their unmistaken incarnations recognized by Dalai Lama himself? Surely if these two Lamas won people’s hearts and had an influence only by their “charismatic” personalities, this influence would have long died off after they passed away. The fact that their teachings have continued and have produced many elite teachings in their own right proves that they were much, much more than just “charisma” and were in fact, highly knowledgeable and attained.

This article is very inconclusive and unconvincing for the many assumptions that it makes. The claims are not properly backed up with solid evidence and much of it comes from the author’s own personal guesswork or assumptions. He deliberately chooses to explore only one side of the argument and not the other; he jumps readily into a conclusion that it is “this way” without having explored resources or views from any other way.

The essay also fails in its attempt to explain something that is very spiritual within a political and history context, which of course cannot be done. In a discussion like this, you have to decide: Is this argument a spiritual or a political one? If it’s spiritual, then you have to use Dharma logic to debate. It would clearly show that the perceived squabbles and politicking are not just what we see on a worldly level but includes many complex spiritual elements. If it is a political discussion…Well, it actually cannot be a purely political discussion, as we necessarily need to discuss the spiritual nature of this deity and practice, and our spiritual relationship to this deity. So you choose – either you completely discuss it within a spiritual framework or you don’t discuss it. Bringing the politics and worldly aspects into this discussion will inevitably confuse issues and become contradictory and inconclusive.)

Appendix (Part II)

[44] Tri-jang, (Music.)

[45] See above for the bibliographical reference.

[46] Tri-jang, (Music.)

[47] Or thirty according to the Tibetan way of counting years. Dze-may, (The Yellow Book,) 4.

[48] M. Goldstein, (A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951 )(Berkeley: University of California, 1989), 310-363.

[49] When compared to Pa-bong-ka’s explicit stance, Tri-jang’s stance toward other schools seems more moderate. In fact, it is clear that for him the devotional element is much more important than the sectarian element in the practice of Shuk-den. This is why some of his disciples seem to be genuinely surprised when they are accused of being sectarian. Nevertheless, Tri-jang does point to the connection between the Fifth Pen-chen Lama’s tragic fate, his Non-sectarian (ris su ma chad pa) orientation, and Shuk-den’s action.(Music,) 134.

[50] The best example of Ge-luk sectarianism is perhaps Sum-pa ken-po ye-shay-bel-jor’s attack on the Nying-ma tradition. There has been, however, another tradition of Ge-luk thinkers who have defended and exemplified a more enlightened and tolerant view. Tu-gen rejected the conclusions of his teacher Sum-pa Ken-po and defended the authenticity of the Nying-ma tradition. See M. Kapstein, “The Purificatory Gem and its Cleansing”, (History of Religions )28 (1989) 3, 217-244. Another example is Jang-gya. More enlightened Ge-luk thinkers such as Tu-gen or Jang-gya should not be thought of as eclectic.They were not arguing for a more inclusive religious practice, as did the Fifth Dalai Lama, but for a more tolerant outlook within a purely Ge-luk practice.

[51] His collected speeches from 1978 to 1996 on the subject have been published in (Gong sa skyabs mgon chen po mchog nas chos skyong bsten phyogs skor btsal ba’i bka’ slob) (Dharamsala: Religious Affairs, 1996).(henceforth DL)

[52] DL, 24.This fact is recognized even by Shuk-den’s followers. Pa-bong-ka describes how Pe-har, the main protector appointed by Padmasambhava, is supposed to have incited Shuk-den into protecting the Ge-luk tradition.Pehar is depicted as saying: I have been assigned by Guru Rin-bo-che to protect the Nying-ma tradition and hence cannot protect Dzong-ka-ba’s tradition, the only truly faultless tradition. You should do it. (Supplement,) 519.

[53] Heller, “Historic and Iconographic Aspects of the Protective Deities,” 483.

[54] Nebesky-Wojkowitz, (Oracles ,) 107.The five king-bodies represent the five aspects of the group of deity: body, speech, mind, quality and action. Ne-chung is identified with Dor-je Drak-den, who represents the speech aspect, whereas Pe-har represents the action aspect.

[55] gDong-thog mentions the discontinuation of the practice of ‘Jam dpal gshin rje tshe bdag.(Gong sa skyabs mgon rgyal ba’i dbang po mchog gi lha srung bsten phyogs bka’ slob la rgol ba’i rtsod zlog bden gtam sa gzhi ‘dar ba’i ‘brug sgra) (Seattle: SaPen Institute, 1996), 23.

[56] Oral interview given during the second visit of the Dalai Lama in France (1987).

[57] DL., 17-20. In his account of the genesis of the Shuk-den affair, the Dalai Lama described his complex relation with Ne-chung concerning Shuk-den. He first tried to prevent Ne-chung from expressing through his oracle resentment against the success of Shuk-den, labeling this protector “the teacher of novelty seekers” (a sras mkhan po), and complaining that the practice of Shuk-den weakens him (DL, 20).The Dalai Lama ordered Ne-chung to keep silent on this topic, realizing the conflict that would be unleashed if he gave in to Ne-chung’s requests.

[58] This was also the time when the Dalai Lama was trying to prevent Ne-chung from expressing his resentment against Shuk-den. The Dalai Lama felt that the publication of the Yellow Book made this self-imposed restraint impossible. His efforts at moderation were not recognized and imitated.Henceforth, he felt that he could not stop Ne-chung from complaining and demanding that Shuk-den stop his activities.See DL, 20.

[59] A factor in the developments analyzed here has been the political situation in Tibet.The Dalai Lama and the exile community have felt a strong urgency to do something about the situation in Tibet and that has probably exacerbated the “affair.” It is not without reason that the most acute crises in the “Shuk-den Affair” have occurred in moments (1975, 1996) where, for different reasons, the situation of Tibet seemed most difficult R. Schwartz mentions the role that millenarian elements such as oracles and protectors have played in contemporary Tibetan political actions during the most difficult times when rational modes of action seem impossible and hopeless. See (Circle of Protest)(New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 226-231.

[60] Technically, mundane protectors are defined as deities who have not attained the noble path (‘phags lam, aryamarga) in their spiritual development.

[61] DL., 17-9.

[62] The other channel is the possession of a person, who is often appointed to this office. Such a person functions as the basis (sku rten) for the deity, who speaks oracularly through his or her mouth.

[63] I am explaining the Tibetan understanding of supra-mundane deities, who are mostly Indian in their origin. Whether these gods were understood in India in the same way is a different question.

[64] The classical example in the Mahayana sutras is found in the story of the bodhisattva killing the person who was about to murder five hundred people on his ship. See G. Chang, (A Treasury of Mahayana Sutras) (Delhi: Motilal, 1991), 452-465.

[65] Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement ,) 526.

[66] This ceremony, which does not seem to have any source in the Indian tradition, is not unique to Dor-je Shuk-den. It seems to exist for some other wordly gods as well where it is called “life empowerment” (srog dbang). It does not appear that these ceremonies are practiced in the case of protectors such as Ne-chung, but I have not been able to obtain clear information on this point.

[67] Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement ,) 526-527.See above.

[68] Lob-zang Cho-phel, (gzhung lan drang srong rgan po’i ‘bel gtam) (Delhi: Dorje Shugden Sciety, 1997), 120.

 


 

The original article at dalailama.com in full:

The Shugden Affair: Origins of a Controversy (Part II)

(Written by Georges Dreyfus)

Keeping the Ge-luk Tradition Pure

We now begin to understand the main message of the founding myth of the Shuk-den practice. We are also in a position to grasp some of the reasons for the troublesome nature of this deity and we understand the history of this myth, which is a classical case of invention, or, perhaps re-invention, of tradition in which past events are re-interpreted in the light of a contemporary situation. Still, a few questions remain. For example, why was Pa-bong-ka so emphatic in his opposition to Ge-luk eclecticism? Why did he worry so much about this limited phenomenon which was no threat to the overwhelming domination of the Ge-luk tradition in Central Tibet? It is true that several important Ge-luk lamas such as the Fifth Pen-chen Lama Lob-zang Pal-den (blo bzang dpal ldan chos kyi grags pa,) 1853-1882) and La-tsun Rin-bo-che (lha btsun rin po che) were attracted by Nying-ma practices of the Dzok-chen tradition. But this phenomenon remained limited in Central Tibet. Why did Pa-bong-ka feel the integrity of the Ge-luk tradition threatened?

To answer, we must place Pa-bong-ka in context. The idea of keeping the Ge-luk tradition pure (dge lugs tshang ma) was hardly new. It may even date to Kay-drub’s tenure as the second Holder of the Throne of Ga-den during the first half of the fifteenth century. It appears that Kay-drub urged his followers to stick to Dzong-ka-ba’s views and scolded those who did not. This approach became stronger during the seventeenth century, probably as a result of the civil war that led to the emergence of the Dalai Lama institution. But even then, not all Ge-luk-bas agreed with this approach. For example, the Fifth Dalai Lama advocated a more eclectic and inclusive approach.

As we have seen, his approach did not meet the approval of several Ge-luk hierarchs. After their victory at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the more restrictive view became dominant. It is only much later, around the turn of the twentieth century that this issue resurfaced in connection with the success of the Non-sectarian (ris med) movement in Eastern Tibet, which developed as a reaction against sectarian abuses among Non-Ge-luk schools. It was intended to promote a more ecumenical atmosphere among these schools, but it was also a way for the weaker traditions to oppose the dominant Ge-luk tradition by presenting a united front. Their strategy was remarkably successful, and in short order the movement revived Non-Ge-luk institutions and greatly strengthened their position, particularly in Kham.  It also influenced several important Ge-luk lamas, as we will see shortly.

This success could not but worry the more conservative elements of the Ge-luk establishment. Pa-bong-ka was particularly worried about the situation in Khams, which influenced his view of other traditions. In an earlier period of his life, Pa-bong-ka was rather open-minded. He had received several Dzok-chen teachings and was eclectic himself, despite his close personal connection with Shuk-den, his personal deity. After receiving these teachings, however, he became sick and attributed this interference to Shuk-den’s displeasure. He thus refrained from taking any more Dzok-chen teaching and became more committed to a purely Ge-luk line of practice. Nevertheless, Pa-bong-ka did not immediately promote Shuk-den as the main protector of the Ge-luk tradition against other schools, perhaps because of the restrictions that the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and his government placed on his practice of Shuk-den. The situation changed after the death of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama in 1933. Shortly after, Pa-bong-ka left Lhasa and visited several important Ge-luk monasteries in Khams, the area where the Non-sectarian movement was the strongest. There he could not but notice the strength of this movement as well as the poor shape of the Ge-luk institutions. Whereas in Amdo and Central Tibet, the Ge-luk school’s hegemony was overwhelming and the challenge of other schools had little credibility, the situation in Khams was quite different.  Ge-luk monasteries were large but had little to show for themselves. There were very few scholars and most monks were almost completely illiterate. Moreover, the level of discipline was poor. Given that situation, the success of the Non-sectarian movement was hardly surprising.

Pa-bong-ka perceived this situation as a serious threat to the overall Ge-luk supremacy, and this led him to a more sectarian and militant stance. He saw the inclusion by Ge-luk-bas of the teachings of other schools as a threat to the integrity of the Ge-luk tradition. The task of protecting the tradition from such encroachments was assigned to Shuk-den, the protector with whom he had a strong personal tie. This renewed emphasis on Shuk-den was also made possible by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s death which removed the restrictions imposed on Pa-bong-ka’s practice and diffusion of Shuk-den.

The sectarian implications of Pa-bong-ka’s revival movement and the role of Shuk-den therein became clear during the 1940s, when the cult of Shuk-den spread in Khams and the Ge-luk tradition became much more aggressive in its opposition to the other schools. Under one of Pa-bong-ka’s disciples, Tob-den Rin-bo-che, several Nying-ma monasteries were forcefully transformed into Ge-luk establishments and statues of Guru Rin-bo-che are said to have been destroyed. In certain parts of Khams, particularly in Ge-luk strongholds such as Dra-gyab and Cham-do, some Ge-luk fanatics tried to stamp out the other traditions in the name of Shuk-den. It is hard to know, however, what Pa-bong-ka thought about these events, which may have been the work of a few extremists. It is clear, however, that since this time Shuk-den played a central role for Pa-bong-ka, who continued to promote his practice to support Ge-luk exclusivism after his return to Central Tibet.

We now start to understand Shuk-den’s particularities and the reason he is controversial. First is his origin as Dol-gyel, an angry and vengeful spirit. This makes him particularly effective and powerful but also dangerous according to standard Tibetan cultural assumptions. Second is his novelty as the protector of the tradition of the victorious lord Manjushri, the protector of a Ge-luk revival movement who is said to replace the main supra-mundane protector of the tradition. This promotion is all the more controversial that it is recent, for Shuk-den was nothing but a minor Ge-luk protector before the 1930s when Pa-bong-ka started to promote him aggressively as the main Ge-luk protector. Third is his sectarian role as Do-je Shuk-den, that is, holder of the adamantine violence now understood to be aimed at keeping the Ge-luk tradition separate from and above other schools. Shuk-den is now depicted by his followers not just as the main Ge-luk protector, but as the one in charge of visiting retribution on those Ge-luk-bas tempted by the religious eclecticism of the Non-sectarian movement.

Still, for many years nothing happened. Some Ge-luk teachers may have been uncomfortable at the promotion of Shuk-den but there was no reason to engage in a controversy with Pa-bong-ka, who was popular but just one among many important Ge-luk lamas. Despite some tension between him and the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, no major differences surfaced and the Ge-luk tradition seemed strong and united. After the death of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, there was very little discussion concerning Shuk-den. Pa-bong-ka’s promotion of Shuk-den’s cult and its founding myth were not considered threatening to the Tibetan government or the young new Dalai Lama, for the cult was not opposed to the Dalai Lama institution but affirmed the primacy of the Ge-luk tradition, a goal shared by many in the Tibetan government. In later years, the importance of Pa-bong-ka’s lineage was further reinforced by the nomination of Tri-jang as the Junior Tutor of the Dalai Lama.

The exile both confirmed this situation and changed it. Pa-bong-ka’s disciple Tri-jang became in exile the main source of teaching and inspiration for the Ge-luk tradition. The Dalai Lama was still young; his other tutor, Ling Rin-bo-che, had a modest personality that took him out of contention and most of the other great Ge-luk lamas remained in Tibet. The preeminence of Tri-jang further strengthened the position of Pa-bong-ka’s lineage as embodying the central orthodoxy of the tradition. Moreover, Tri-jang seems to have been personally extremely devoted to Shuk-den. In his commentary on Pa-bong-ka’s praise of Shuk-den, [44] Tri-jang devotes several pages to explaining the many dreams of Shuk-den that he had from the age of seventies-jang stressed this practice among his disciples and pushed the glorification of Shuk-den even further than Pa-bong-ka, insisting on the fact that this deity is ultimately a fully enlightened Buddha who merely appears as a mundane deity.

Ge-luk teachers who were uncomfortable with this situation could say little against Tri-jang, the Dalai Lama’s own teacher. Moreover, everyone (myself included) was won over by Tri-jang’s astonishing qualities, his command of the Tibetan tradition, his personal grace, his refined manners, his diplomatic skills, and commanding presence. Finally, there was no reason for open controversy, for there was enough room in the tradition to accommodate several views. Ling Rin-bo-che offered an alternative to those who did not completely share Tri-jang’s orientation. Thus, at the beginning of the 70s, the tradition seemed to be strong and united in its admiration of its great teachers, the Dalai Lama and his two tutors, a trinity that almost providentially seemed to be the mirror image of the original relation between Dzong-ka-ba and his two disciples. Nobody would have dreamed of the crisis that was about to come.

The Dispute Begins

The situation began to deteriorate in 1975, a year which can be described as the Ge-luk (annus terribilis.) In this year a book (henceforth the “Yellow Book”) written in Tibetan about Shuk-den by Dze-may Rin-bo-che (dze smad rin po che,) 1927-1996) was published. [45] Retrospectively, we can say that the whole affair started from this book and the Dalai Lama’s reaction to it. Prior to its publication, there was no controversy concerning Shuk-den. There may have been some tension between the Dalai Lama and some Ge-luk-bas. Some of the more conservative elements may have believed that the three monasteries should rule the Tibetan state and hence have resented the power and orientation of the last two Dalai Lamas. These elements may have also tended toward the Shuk-den practice. Thus, elements of resentment, suspicion and discontent provided the background for the present crisis, but they did not create it. The present crisis is a new phenomenon, largely a product of contingent circumstances and even coincidence.

The Yellow Book was intended to complement Tri-jang’s commentary on Pa-bong-ka’s praise of Shuk-den.[46] It consists of a series of stories which the author had heard informally from his teacher Tri-jang during the many years of their relationship which he wanted to record for posterity before the death of his teacher. The book enumerates the many Ge-luk lamas whose lives are supposed to have been shortened by Shuk-den’s displeasure at their practicing Nying-ma teachings. First, the Fifth Pen-chen Lama, Lob-zang Pal-den, is described as the object of Shuk-den’s anger because he adopted Nying-ma practices. Despite the repeated warnings of the protector, Lob-zang Pal-den refused to mend his ways. After an unsuccessful ritual self-defense, which backfired, Lob-zang Pal-den died at the age of twenty nine. [47] The book cites several other Ge-luk lamas who had similar fates. Most noticeable is the long description of the Re-treng (rwa streng) affair. According to this account, Re-treng’s tragic fate is not due to his real or alleged misdeeds, [48] but because he incurred the wrath of Shuk-den by practicing Nying-ma teachings.

Another particularly revealing story is that of the preceding reincarnation of Zi-gyab Rin-bo-che (gzigs rgyab rin po che), a lama from Tre-hor, who first studied at Tra-shi Lhung-po where he became learned and then developed a link with the Sixth Pen-chen Lama Tub-ten Choe-gi-nyi-ma (thub stan chos kyi nyi ma,) 1883-1937), who asked him to stay with him. Because of the past Pen-chen lama’s eclectic ritual practice, Zi-gyab studied and practiced Nying-ma teachings. Later he decided to receive one of its central teachings, Jam-gon Kong-trul’s (‘jam mgon kong sprul,) 1813-1899) (Rin chen gter mdzod) from Kyung Rin-bo-che (khyung rin po che). According to the story, Shuk-den warned Zi-gyab against this course of action. When the lama refused to heed the protector’s advice, he fell sick and died suddenly without having been able to listen to the (Rin chen gTer Mdzod).In short order Kyung also died suddenly after several ominous signs of Shuk-den’s anger. Shuk-den’s anger at Zi-gyab’s attempt to receive the (Rin chen gter mdzod) is particularly revealing in view of the central place held by this collection of teachings in the Non-sectarian movement.

Whatever the intentions of its author, the main message of the Yellow Book is hard to miss. Ge-luk lamas should absolutely not practice the teachings from other schools, otherwise they will incur Shuk-den’s wrath and die prematurely. The author of the Yellow Book was repeating the views already expressed by the two most important figures in the tradition of Shuk-den followers, Pa-bong-ka and Tri-jang, as illustrated by the above quote (for the former) and claimed by the book itself (for the latter). [49] The Yellow Book provided a number of cases that illustrate this point, emphasizing that the dire warnings were not empty threats but based on “facts.”

The Dalai Lama reacted strongly to this book. He felt personally betrayed by Dze-may, a lama for whom he had great hopes and to whom he had shown particular solicitude. More importantly, he felt that the Yellow Book was an attack on his role as Dalai Lama, a rejection of his religious leadership by the Ge-luk establishment, and a betrayal of his efforts in the struggle for Tibetan freedom. In 1976 the first signs of the impending crisis appeared which I will explore in some detail, since I do not believe that these events have been well documented even by Tibetans. I will use my own memories to supplement the sketchy public records.

One of the first public manifestations of the Dalai Lama’s state of mind was his refusal, after the Tibetan New Year of 1976, of the long life offerings made by the Tibetan government. Traditionally, the Dalai Lama accepts such an offering after the New Year as a sign of the pure bond (dam tshig tshang ma) that exists between him and Tibetans: this bond is based on his commitment to continue his work as Dalai Lama and the Tibetans’ allegiance. His refusal signaled in effect that he thought that the bond had been undermined and that the behavior of Tibetans was incompatible with his remaining as Dalai Lama. When pressed by the National Assembly to accept the offerings, the Dalai Lama sent back even stronger signals, mentioning dreams in which dakinis had entreated him to return to the pure realms. The refusal of the offerings of long life was already bad enough. The mention of these dreams was akin to a declaration of intention to abandon this world and his role therein. This sent the Tibetan community into a veritable ritual frenzy. The state oracle of Ne-chung ordered Tibetans to recite an enormous number of Mani, the mantra of the bodhisattva Avalokeshtevara of whom the Dalai Lama is said to be a manifestation.

At that time I was living at the Rikon monastery in Switzerland. I did not witness the scenes I am describing but heard about them from Tibetan friends and read reports in the (Shes Bya) review in Tibetan. I remember very clearly, however, the emotion that the news created among the monks living in Switzerland. Some were devastated, crying openly. I also remember the many hours that the Tibetan community in Switzerland spent reciting the number of required mantras. I was puzzled by the fact that not all Ge-luk monks seemed equally affected. Some seemed to be distinctly cool, despite their participation in the public rituals intended to protect the life of the Dalai Lama. Why were they so unmoved by the news of the Dalai Lama’s reaction?

The answer, about which I had no idea at the time, was that they agreed with the views expressed by the Yellow Book. Hence, they were less then moved by the Dalai Lama’s negative reaction. They understood that it manifested a profound division within the Ge-luk tradition, a division about which they could not but worry. Primarily, however, they saw his reaction as a rejection and a betrayal of the teachings of his tutor, Tri-jang, whom they considered to be the main teacher of the Ge-luk tradition and the guardian of its orthodoxy. They also may have foreseen that the Dalai Lama would counterattack. The crisis that has agitated the Ge-luk school since then had begun.

In the mid 1976, the Dalai Lama finally accepted the long life offerings of the Tibetan government and the Tibetan people. He would lead them after all, but this was not the end of the story, for he would also take strong actions to strengthen the loyalty of the Ge-luk establishment. His offensive started at the beginning of 1977 when Dze-may was publicly berated for his book. He was expelled from one of the public teachings that the Dalai Lama gave that year. The Dalai Lama also began to apply pressure against the practice of Shuk-den, laying several restrictions on the practice. The three great monasteries of Dre-bung, Ga-den and Se-ra, which traditionally, though not unambiguously, have supported the Tibetan government and the two tantric colleges were ordered not to propitiate Shuk-den in public ceremonies. Moreover, several statues of Shuk-den were removed from the chapels of the three monasteries. Finally, the Dalai Lama ordered the monks of Se-ra in Bylakuppe not to use a building originally intended for the monthly ritual of Shuk-den. Individuals could continue their practice privately if they so chose, as long as they remained discreet about it.

The Ritual Basis of the Dalai Lama Institution

Many found the Dalai Lama’s reaction excessive. After all, the views expressed by the book were rather unexceptional. The book was undeniably sectarian, but this is not rare in any of the four (or more) Tibetan schools. Similar sectarian views were held by Pa-bong-ka. [50] Even the Non-sectarian movement had at times used its inclusive strategy against the dominance of the Ge-luk school. Thus, the mere presence of a sectarian element in the Yellow Book could not justify or explain the Dalai Lama’s strong reaction. We need to find another explanation.

Throughout the crisis, the Dalai Lama has gone to great lengths to explain his position. At first reserved to a limited audience, these explanations, some of which are of great scholarly quality, are now available in Tibetan and are invaluable to understand the present crisis.[51] The Dalai Lama repeatedly points to the relation between Shuk-den and the ritual system underlying the institution of the Dalai Lama as the source of the problem.

The institution of the Dalai Lama is not just political, but also rests on an elaborate ritual system, which has undergone several transformations. When the Fifth Dalai Lama assumed power after 1642, he attempted to build a broad- based rule legitimized by a claim to reestablish the early Tibetan empire. This claim was supported by an elaborate ritual system, which sought to reenact the perceived religious basis of the Tibetan empire. This ritual system was not limited to the practices of the Ge-luk tradition but included teachings and figures closely associated with the Nying-ma tradition, the Buddhist school that for Tibetans has a close association with the early empire. The ritual system involves an extremely complex network of practices which cannot be examined here. Two elements require mention, however.

The first element is devotion to Padmasambhava, the semi-mythical founder of the Nying-ma tradition. His role is central to the ritual system as conceived by the present Dalai Lama, for Guru Rin-bo-che is responsible for taming the negative forces in Tibet. According to legend, he started the practice of transforming pre-Buddhist deities into worldly protectors by binding them through oaths. He is in charge of making sure that these gods keep their word, and he is the guarantor of all the worldly protectors of the Tibetan world. [52]

The second element of this ritual system is the primacy of the protector Ne-chung. Like most other collective entities in the Tibetan cultural landscape, the Dalai Lama and his government have mundane protectors, who are often described as the “Two Red and Black Protectors” (srung ma dmar nag gnyis). The black protector is identified as the Great Goddess (dpal-ldan lha mo), the Tibetan equivalent of (MahÂ-dev^). The identification of the red protector has varied over time, but since the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ne-chung has been recognized as the red warrior deity protecting the Dalai Lama institution.[53] Together, they are taken to protect the Dalai Lama and his institution, including the Tibetan government.

Ne-chung is one in an important group of deities named “the five kings” (rgyal po sku lnga,) lit., five king-bodies) who are considered to be the manifestations of Pe-har, the deity appointed by Padmasambhava as the main guardian of Buddhism in Tibet. Among the five deities, Ne-chung is usually identified with Dor-je Drak-den (rdo rje grags ldan), the speech deity of the five kings. [54] Because of his connection with Pe-har, the guardian deity of Buddhism during the early Tibetan empire, the Fifth Dalai Lama and his government have chosen Ne-chung as the “Red Protector” thus emphasizing their connection with the early empire and strengthening their legitimacy. This choice further reinforced the centrality of Guru Rin-bo-che, and reflected the Fifth Dalai Lama’s personal association with the Nying-ma tradition.

The Yellow Book and the propitiation of Shuk-den threaten this eclectic system centered on the worship of Guru Rin-bo-che and the propitiation of Ne-chung. By presenting Shuk-den as a deity in charge of visiting retribution upon those Ge-luk who have adopted practices from the Nying-ma tradition, which is based on and closely associated with the devotion to Guru Rin-bo-che, the Yellow Book undermines the ritual system underlying the Dalai Lama institution, and the present Dalai Lama’s efforts to implement this system more fully. I also believe that the timing of the Yellow Book was particularly disastrous.

In his early years, the present Dalai Lama followed the advice of his teachers and practiced an almost purely Ge-luk ritual system. In doing so, he was continuing the tradition of the last seven Dalai Lamas, who had adopted a strictly Ge-luk ritual system as the religious basis of their power. Important changes were introduced after the death of the Fifth and the defeat of his party, when the role of the Dalai Lama and the ritual system supporting the institution were changed. Instead of an eclectic system emulating the religious basis of the early empire, a more purely Ge-luk ritual system was installed under the auspices of the Seventh Dalai Lama Kel-zang Gya-soothe monks of Nam-gyel, the personal monastery of the Dalai Lama, were replaced by monks from the Ge-luk Tantric Colleges and the Nying-ma rituals that they had performed were discontinued. [55] This situation continued into this century, forming the religious practice of the young Fourteenth.

As the Fourteenth became more mature, however, he started to question this orientation. He felt a strong appreciation for the Fifth’s political project, which he has described as a master plan for building Tibet into a nation able to take part in the history of the region rather than a marginal state governed by religious hierarchs mostly preoccupied with the power of their monasteries and estates. [56] He also felt a strong religious bond with the Fifth and gradually came to the realization that he needed to implement the latter’s ritual system. Consequently, he abandoned his Shuk-den practice in the mid-seventies, for he could not keep propitiating this deity while using Ne-chung, the protector associated with Guru Rin-bo-che and with whom he had had a special relation for many years.[57] He also attempted to promote the role of Guru Rin-bo-che in the ritual system of the Tibetan state. Only by strengthening this role, which he saw as vital to the integrity of the ritual basis of the Tibetan state, could the cause of Tibet be successful. Were not the political difficulties experienced by Tibetans signs that this ritual support had been undermined?

As an expression of his resolve to return to the ritual system developed by the Fifth Dalai Lama, the present Dalai Lama developed the role of Nying-ma rituals in the practice of his own personal Nam-gyel monastery. The monastery’s repertoire was expanded from the usual Ge-luk tantric rituals to include typical Nying-ma practices such as Vajra k^laya and others. He invited several Nying-ma lamas to give teachings and empowerments to his monks. He also ordered them to do appropriate retreats. I remember the tongue in cheek comments of some of my friends of the Nam-gyel monastery about their “becoming Nying-ma-bas.”They were surprised, taken aback and uncomfortable, for the rituals of the Nam-gyel monastery had been for many years Ge-luk, not very different from that of the two tantric colleges. They were ready to follow the Dalai Lama, however, despite their obvious misgivings.

Another key element in the Dalai Lama’s strategy of returning to the Fifth’s ritual system was the institution in October 1975 of a yearly ceremony of making a hundred thousands offerings to Guru Rin-bo-che. The collective worship of Guru Rin-bo-che would restore the synergy that existed between this figure and the Tibetan people, thus strengthening the power of the gods appointed by Guru Rin-bo-che to protect Tibetans from danger. But this event was not very successful. Many Ge-luk monks and nuns felt rather lukewarm, if not downright hostile, toward Guru Rin-bo-che, and abstained from attending the event. They profoundly resented the adoption of rituals they saw as coming from an alien tradition.

This was precisely the time that the famous Yellow Book first circulated, a coincidence I consider particularly unfortunate. [58] Although the connection between the low attendance at this new ceremony and the book is hard to establish, the Dalai Lama felt that the Yellow Book had contributed to the lack of support among Ge-luk monks and nuns. More importantly, he felt that the appearance of such a book precisely when he was trying to restore the ritual basis of the Tibetan state represented an act of open defiance by the very people, the high Ge-luk lamas, who were supposed to support him. These were the same people who had thwarted the attempts of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama toward reform with tragic consequences for Tibet. These were also particularly difficult times for Tibet politically. The repression in Tibet had gone on practically uninterrupted since 1959 and there seemed no end in sight. The sadness and even desperation thereby induced in the exile community and the Dalai Lama must have contributed to the crisis. [59]

Finally, the Dalai Lama felt directly attacked by the Yellow Book. For, after all, who was the person who was designated as a potential target of Shuk-den, the person who was undermining the purity of the Ge-luk tradition by adopting practices from the Nying-ma tradition, if not he? Also, the Dalai Lama felt that this book was working against his efforts to promote harmony among the Tibetan schools. The matter was made much worse by the attribution of the opinions expressed by the Yellow Book to Tri-jang, who, to my knowledge, has never rejected this attribution. In fact, everybody assumed that Dze-may had indeed reported the words of his teacher and this is why the book was thought to be particularly damaging. What could the Dalai Lama say against his own teacher?

The Role of Shuk-den

If we can recognize the Dalai Lama’s reasons for reacting to the diffusion of the Yellow Book, we have yet to understand the place of the practice of Shuk-den in this affair. Why focus so exclusively on the propitiation of Shuk-den? We need to consider briefly the role of mundane protectors in Tibetan culture. Mundane protectors (‘jig rtenpa’i lha) are guardians in a universe alive with forces which can quickly become threatening, and are considered by Tibetans to be particularly effective because they are mundane, i.e., unenlightened. [60] They share human emotions such as anger or jealousy, which makes them more effective than the more remote supra-mundane deities (‘jig rten las ‘das pa’i lha), but also more prone to take offense at the actions of humans or other protectors.  Shuk-den, for example, is presented as being hostile to those Ge-luk-bas who do not stick to the pure tradition of Dzong-ka-ba and seek the teachings of other traditions. Shuk-den is also said to undermine Ne-chung, who is said to resent Shuk-den’s role and actions. Ne-chung is often depicted as acting out of resentment against and jealousy toward Shuk-den, prodding the Dalai Lama to act against Shuk-den, to abandon the propitiation of this deity, to ban his practice, etc. The Dalai Lama himself has described on numerous occasions the strength of his relation to Ne-chung and the role of this deity in his decisions concerning Shuk-den. [61] Although the decision to limit the role of Shuk-den in 1970s cannot be solely attributed to Ne-chung, this deity has played an important role in the Dalai Lama’s decisions.

We may wonder about the meaning of these conflicts between deities, their resentment against each other. What does it mean to say that Ne-chung resents Shuk-den, that he asked the Dalai Lama to ban him? For traditional Tibetans, such a statement is perfectly clear and does not require any further explanation, since it refers to entities whose reality is as certain as that of the solar system is for scientifically educated people. The propitiation of these entities is an integral part of their culture, and the conflict between worldly protectors or gods is a normal occurrence in a universe which is filled by entities who can harm humans. I remember at one point becoming quite close to a young lama and his servant. I used to eat with them, until one day I was told that my visits were not welcome any more. They had had bad dreams, one of the privileged channels through which protectors communicate with humans. [62] According to these dreams, their protector was unhappy at my visits. My god apparently did not agree with theirs!

For modern educated people such an explanation is hardly satisfying. In the case of personal relations, incompatibilities can be easily explained as temperamental. But what does it mean for Shuk-den and Ne-chung not to get along? To understand this aspect of Tibetan culture, we need to realize that protectors are not just individual guardians but also protect collective entities. Monasteries, households of lamas, regional houses in large monasteries, and clans or families have their own protectors. This collective dimension of protectors is most relevant to the present conflict between Shuk-den and Ne-chung, which is quite obviously a reflection of the conflict between two groups, the conservative Ge-luk-bas, who resent the Dalai Lama’s reliance on the Nying-ma tradition, and the g‚groups who accept or support the Dalai Lama’s eclectic approach. The relation between groups and worldly protectors becomes clear if one remembers that the deities who are protectors are defined as such because they protect the person or the group, often by violent means, from enemies. These enemies are described as the “enemies of Buddhism” (bstan dgra); they are the “other” in opposition to which the person and the group define their identity. The connection between group and protector is very close.

There is, however, an important distinction to be made here. In the case of supra-mundane protectors, enemies of Buddhism threaten Buddhism as well as their own spiritual welfare. [63] The violence that protectors unleash against them is said to be strictly motivated by compassion and aims at benefiting the beings who are its target, much like the actions of bodhisattvas described in the Mahayana literature. [64] This violence is impartial and cannot be used for one’s personal advantage. However, the violence of mundane deities is quite different, for it involves quasi human emotions. Since these deities experience these emotions, they are thought to be partial and can be enrolled in actions performed on behalf of the person or the group who propitiates them. The term “enemies of Buddhism” is used and the practitioner or the group will ask the protector to get rid of these beings. But in this case the term “enemies of Buddhism” refers less to the objects of compassionate and impartial violence than to the being perceived by the person or the group as threatening. An “enemy of Buddhism” may belong to a rival Buddhist group, or may be a member of one’s own tradition, such as Ge-luk practitioners who are interested in other schools such as the Nying-ma. [65] We now begin to understand the close connection between group identity and mundane protectors, and the reason why the propitiation of some protectors can be quite troubling.

Moreover, the close connection between group and protector is not just symbolic, it is also inscribed in the nature of the practices relating to protectors which is based on the notion of loyalty. The relation between a person or group and the protector is described as being based on the maintenance of “pure bond” or “pure commitment” (dam tshig tshang ma). This notion of pure bond is particularly important in Tibetan Buddhism, where there is a strong emphasis on preserving the commitment between students and their teachers, especially in the context of tantric practice. But this sense of loyalty goes well beyond the domain of tantric practice. It plays a vital role in the social life of Tibetans, who put a great emphasis on personal friendship and group loyalty. It also informs a part of Tibetan political life, as we noticed earlier.

It is this same sense of loyalty that lies at the basis of the relations between protectors and their followers. This is particularly true regarding the practice of Dor-je Shuk-den, a practice based on the taking of a solemn oath similar to that of friends swearing life-long loyalty to each other. The propitiation of Shuk-den requires a ceremony called “life entrusting” (srog gtad), during which the followers and the deity are introduced to each other by the guru who confers the empowerment.[66] The follower swears his or her fidelity to Dor-je Shuk-den who in exchange promises to serve him or her. It is clear that this practice fosters a very strong loyalty to the deity and by extension to the group that the deity represents.

In Shuk-den’s case, devotion has been strengthened further by the central role of the charismatic teachers Pa-bong-ka and Tri-jang, who have transformed this formerly minor practice into one of the main elements of the Ge-luk tradition. Because of the central place of keeping commitments to one’s guru among Tibetans, and because of the considerable personal qualities of these teachers, they have succeeded in inspiring an extreme devotion in their followers, who seem to value their commitment to these figures more than anything else. In fact, from the point of view of many of Shuk-den’s followers, the devotion to teachers such as Pa-bong-ka or Tri-jang is the basis for the practice of Shuk-den. They propitiate this deity first and foremost because it is the protector recommended by their guru. This situation has contributed significantly to the polarization that surrounds the issue and has further enhanced the troubling potential of the Shuk-den practice. For when the Dalai Lama opposes Shuk-den, the followers of this deity feel his opposition is directed against the founding fathers of their own tradition, and hence an attack against their own group. They also feel misrepresented when they are accused of being sectarian, for in their perspective the sectarian element pales in significance when compared to their commitment to their guru and his tradition.

Nevertheless, groups may feel that they fit the description “enemies of Buddhism” as defined by the Shuk-den rituals, even if the threat they imply is not implemented or is considered secondary by their practitioners. Thus the claim that the practice of Shuk-den disrupts the functioning of the Dalai Lama institution becomes-special-character: footnote [67] But, as we saw earlier, a number of Nying-ma rituals are precisely the basis of the Dalai Lama institution as understood by the Fifth and the Fourteenth Dalai Lamas. Does it not follow that the present Dalai Lama is the “enemy of Buddhism” as implied by the practice of Shuk-den?

Most of Pa-bong-ka’s followers would answer this question in the negative. They would argue that their practice is primarily not directed at anybody but stems from their religious commitments. Nevertheless, the fact that this shocking statement seems to follow logically from the way the practice of Shuk-den has been defined by its main proponents explains the challenge that such a practice raises for the leadership of the Dalai Lama. It also throws some light on the claim that Ne-chung resents Shuk-den’s success. Since Ne-chung is taken as the preeminent protector of the Dalai Lama, he must indeed be disturbed by a cult that takes the very people he is meant to protect as its target. Finally, we understand the divisiveness of the practice of mundane protectors such as Shuk-den and the danger of violence that it contains. For, after all, what can one do with the enemies of Buddhism but fight them? We are also able to answer one of the questions raised at the beginning of this essay: is the practice of Shuk-den different from the practices associated with other protectors? It is clear that there are other worldly protectors within the world of Tibetan Buddhism. It also clear that Shuk-den as a deity does not appear to be very different from other worldly protectors who are all perceived to inspire awe and fear and hence have the potential for being put to troubling uses, though the particular cultural scenario associated with Shuk-den, i.e., being a spirit of a dead religious person (rgyal po), may mark him as a particularly fierce deity. A similar cultural scenario, however, is alleged in the case of Ne-chung, a deity sometimes presented as the spirit of a monk who broke his vows.[68] Thus, the root of the problem raised by the Shuk-den affair is not the particular nature of the deity. So why is the practice of Shuk-den so problematic?

The answer is to be found in the sectarian ways in which this practice has been defined by its founders. Shuk-den was re-invented during this century not just to satisfy the worldly purposes of individuals or particular institutions, but also and mostly to affirm and defend the identity of a revival movement opposed to other religious groups, particularly within the Ge-luk tradition. Shuk-den is the protector in charge not just of protecting individual practitioners but the integrity of the Ge-luk tradition as conceived by its most conservative elements. It is this aggressively sectarian use of this deity that has been particularly problematic. The practices associated with the other protectors are different in that they are used by monasteries, lama’s estates, families, or individuals for this-worldly purposes as piecemeal elements of a traditional network of religious practices, not to affirm a systematically sectarian outlook. As such they do not map into any large-scale socio-political distinction and their potential for abuse remains limited.

This sectarian stance is the central message of the founding myth of the Shuk-den tradition, the wrathful transformation of Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen into Shuk-den and his hostility to the Fifth Dalai Lama. This hostility reflects the attitude of a part of the Ge-luk tradition which advocates a strictly Ge-luk practice and opposes the importation of Nying-ma teachings into their tradition. This opposition between two visions of the Ge-luk tradition focuses on the figure of the Dalai Lama because of the way in which the Fifth and the Fourteenth Dalai Lamas have considered the institution they represent, i.e., as resting on an eclectic religious basis in which elements associated with the Nying-ma tradition combine with an overall Ge-luk orientation. Shuk-den, then, is less the spirit of the Ge-luk political resentment against a strong Dalai Lama, than it is the spirit of a religious resentment against a perceived threat to the integrity of the Ge-luk tradition. The target of Shuk-den is not the Dalai Lama (per se) but the accommodation toward other schools, particularly the Nying-ma, shown by the Fifth and the Fourteenth Dalai Lamas, an attitude perceived by Shuk-den’s followers as a defilement of Dzong-ka’ba’s tradition.

When this sectarian orientation is combined with some of the particularities of the Shuk-den tradition such as the central role of charismatic figures such as Pa-bong-ka and Tri-jang, the extreme devotion they have inspired in their followers, as well as the intensity of the loyalty developed by the Shuk-den cult based on the life entrusting ceremony mentioned above, the troubling events that have revolved around the practice of Dor-je Shuk-den become less surprising. The strong opposition of the present Dalai Lama also becomes more understandable. For a sectarian opposition to the Dalai Lama institution cannot help but have strong political implications in contemporary Tibetan society where this institution plays such a large role. The practice of propitiating Shuk-den threatens this institution and undermines its ability to function as a rallying point for Tibetans. Is it then surprising if he opposes it so vigorously?

Appendix (Part II)

[44] Tri-jang, (Music. )

[45] See above for the bibliographical reference.

[46] Tri-jang, (Music. )

[47] Or thirty according to the Tibetan way of counting years. Dze-may, (The Yellow Book,) 4.

[48] M. Goldstein, (A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951 )(Berkeley: University of California, 1989), 310-363.

[49] When compared to Pa-bong-ka’s explicit stance, Tri-jang’s stance toward other schools seems more moderate. In fact, it is clear that for him the devotional element is much more important than the sectarian element in the practice of Shuk-den. This is why some of his disciples seem to be genuinely surprised when they are accused of being sectarian. Nevertheless, Tri-jang does point to the connection between the Fifth Pen-chen Lama’s tragic fate, his Non-sectarian (ris su ma chad pa) orientation, and Shuk-den’s action.(Music,) 134.

[50] The best example of Ge-luk sectarianism is perhaps Sum-pa ken-po ye-shay-bel-jor’s attack on the Nying-ma tradition. There has been, however, another tradition of Ge-luk thinkers who have defended and exemplified a more enlightened and tolerant view. Tu-gen rejected the conclusions of his teacher Sum-pa Ken-po and defended the authenticity of the Nying-ma tradition. See M. Kapstein, “The Purificatory Gem and its Cleansing”, (History of Religions )28 (1989) 3, 217-244. Another example is Jang-gya. More enlightened Ge-luk thinkers such as Tu-gen or Jang-gya should not be thought of as eclectic.They were not arguing for a more inclusive religious practice, as did the Fifth Dalai Lama, but for a more tolerant outlook within a purely Ge-luk practice.

[51] His collected speeches from 1978 to 1996 on the subject have been published in (Gong sa skyabs mgon chen po mchog nas chos skyong bsten phyogs skor btsal ba’i bka’ slob) (Dharamsala: Religious Affairs, 1996).(henceforth DL)

[52] DL, 24.This fact is recognized even by Shuk-den’s followers. Pa-bong-ka describes how Pe-har, the main protector appointed by Padmasambhava, is supposed to have incited Shuk-den into protecting the Ge-luk tradition.Pehar is depicted as saying: I have been assigned by Guru Rin-bo-che to protect the Nying-ma tradition and hence cannot protect Dzong-ka-ba’s tradition, the only truly faultless tradition. You should do it. (Supplement,) 519.

[53] Heller, “Historic and Iconographic Aspects of the Protective Deities,” 483.

[54] Nebesky-Wojkowitz, (Oracles ,) 107.The five king-bodies represent the five aspects of the group of deity: body, speech, mind, quality and action.Ne-chung is identified with Dor-je Drak-den, who represents the speech aspect, whereas Pe-har represents the action aspect.

[55] gDong-thog mentions the discontinuation of the practice of ‘Jam dpal gshin rje tshe bdag.(Gong sa skyabs mgon rgyal ba’i dbang po mchog gi lha srung bsten phyogs bka’ slob la rgol ba’i rtsod zlog bden gtam sa gzhi ‘dar ba’i ‘brug sgra) (Seattle: SaPen Institute, 1996), 23.

[56] Oral interview given during the second visit of the Dalai Lama in France (1987).

[57] DL., 17-20. In his account of the genesis of the Shuk-den affair, the Dalai Lama described his complex relation with Ne-chung concerning Shuk-den. He first tried to prevent Ne-chung from expressing through his oracle resentment against the success of Shuk-den, labeling this protector “the teacher of novelty seekers” (a sras mkhan po), and complaining that the practice of Shuk-den weakens him (DL, 20).The Dalai Lama ordered Ne-chung to keep silent on this topic, realizing the conflict that would be unleashed if he gave in to Ne-chung’s requests.

[58] This was also the time when the Dalai Lama was trying to prevent Ne-chung from expressing his resentment against Shuk-den. The Dalai Lama felt that the publication of the Yellow Book made this self-imposed restraint impossible. His efforts at moderation were not recognized and imitated.Henceforth, he felt that he could not stop Ne-chung from complaining and demanding that Shuk-den stop his activities.See DL, 20.

[59] A factor in the developments analyzed here has been the political situation in Tibet.The Dalai Lama and the exile community have felt a strong urgency to do something about the situation in Tibet and that has probably exacerbated the “affair.” It is not without reason that the most acute crises in the “Shuk-den Affair” have occurred in moments (1975, 1996) where, for different reasons, the situation of Tibet seemed most difficult R. Schwartz mentions the role that millenarian elements such as oracles and protectors have played in contemporary Tibetan political actions during the most difficult times when rational modes of action seem impossible and hopeless. See (Circle of Protest)(New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 226-231.

[60] Technically, mundane protectors are defined as deities who have not attained the noble path (‘phags lam, aryamarga) in their spiritual development.

[61] DL., 17-9.

[62] The other channel is the possession of a person, who is often appointed to this office. Such a person functions as the basis (sku rten) for the deity, who speaks oracularly through his or her mouth.

[63] I am explaining the Tibetan understanding of supra-mundane deities, who are mostly Indian in their origin. Whether these gods were understood in India in the same way is a different question.

[64] The classical example in the Mahayana sutras is found in the story of the bodhisattva killing the person who was about to murder five hundred people on his ship. See G. Chang, (A Treasury of Mahayana Sutras) (Delhi: Motilal, 1991), 452-465.

[65] Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement ,) 526.

[66] This ceremony, which does not seem to have any source in the Indian tradition, is not unique to Dor-je Shuk-den. It seems to exist for some other wordly gods as well where it is called “life empowerment” (srog dbang). It does not appear that these ceremonies are practiced in the case of protectors such as Ne-chung, but I have not been able to obtain clear information on this point.

[67] Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement ,) 526-527.See above.

[68] Lob-zang Cho-phel, (gzhung lan drang srong rgan po’i ‘bel gtam) (Delhi: Dorje Shugden Sciety, 1997), 120.

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  1. Dear author,

    Thank you for this post. I would advise that your comments, true though many of them are, are written with less “??!!!??” and less derogatory language; your answers to Dreyfuss are valid, so there is no need to try to put him down in your answers; such a reactionary style of writing in fact devalues your own discussion points.
    Peace.

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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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