Refutation of Stephen Schettini

Refutation of Stephen Schettini by Beggar, the parts in black was written by Stephen Schettini, and refuted by Beggar in RED.

Stephen Schettini

What saddens me is that so many strong minds are preoccupied with defending or attacking an invisible spirit rather than honing the skeptical empiricism to which the Buddha dedicated his life.

The Dorje Shugden affair that emerged in the 1970s has brought division and strife to the Tibetan Buddhist community; sadly, murder too. This dispute over an invisible god illustrates the archaic nature of Tibetan Buddhism and is reminiscent of medieval Christianity, when religion, myth, politics, superstition and ethics were entwined under the banner of ‘faith.’

There is much more than only faith in the practices of Tibetan Buddhism. There is an entire lineage and tradition of logic and debate that come with these practices, validated by the highest scholars of the religion. It is incorrect to make sweeping statements like these, and using vague terms like “invisible gods” – what does he even mean by this? Really, to someone who knows the subject, Schettini only shows himself up to be lacking greatly in the real traditions and beliefs within Tibetan Buddhism. He shows himself only to be a vague outsider looking in through a very dusty window and making conclusions about the happenings inside based only on shadows.

Some people have suggested that I’ve taken sides on this issue; I haven’t. I long ago admitted that my belief in invisible gods was insincere and, though I remain infinitely grateful to my old Tibetan teachers, I no longer identify with Tibetan Buddhism. I’m now just a student of the historical Buddha.

Again, he shows just how little he knows of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It is an absurd idea that someone can be “a student of the historical Buddha” while forsaking the very teachers who conveying him the teachings from this Buddha! You cannot be grateful but then also leave it and turn against it by speaking about it in such a trite and dismissive way.

The Dorje Shugden practices are tantric rituals typical of Tibetan Buddhism and cannot be entered into without rites of initiation. Those so inducted are obliged thereafter to consider the initiating lama equivalent to the god itself. Having been asked by the Dalai Lama to cease this practice, Dorje Shugden initiates who remained loyal to their commitments were subsequently ostracized. This caused untold confusion and stress.

Add to conflicting loyalties the fear of tantric hell (exponentially worse than conventional hell), and one begins to understand how unbearable this situation has been for many Tibetans and some Westerners. Today, the Tibetan community is split. The founding monastery of the Gelugpa sect in which this schism was hatched, Ganden Namgyal Ling, is today divided internally by a gateless wall.

Taking sides bears social as well as religious consequences. Lifelong teachers and students are estranged. Access to such powerful institutions as the Dalai Lama’s office is barred to Shugden followers. The great monasteries of Sera, and Drepung in South India – centres of the Gelugpa sect at the centre of the division – are split. Explicit signs forbid Shugden followers entry into a variety of monastic and lay institutions, even shops and restaurants.

The bigger tragedy, of course, is that so many strong minds are preoccupied with defending or attacking an invisible spirit rather than honing the skeptical empiricism to which the Buddha dedicated his life.

Did he even bother to explore the “skeptical empiricism”, the questions, debate and logical arguments within this issue of the Dorje Shugden ban and his practice? Because within every practice and teaching of Buddhism, there is this element. The very point he has missed is that there has not been any debate allowed on this subject and to trivialize it as just some squabble over an “invisible god” makes light of something that is in fact very complex.

The following is from an early draft of The Novice.

Dorje Shugden (also known as Gyalchen Shugden or Dolgyal) is one of many dharma protectors – worldly gods supposedly tamed and converted to the cause of Tibetan Buddhism by tantric yogis. (well, no, not all Dharma protectors are worldly gods. Many of them are enlightened beings that emanate in in the form of Protectors).

It’s said that some protectors subsequently become practitioners themselves and advance on the path to Buddhahood. While some Tibetans believe Shugden to be an enlightened being, others consider him a danger to their tradition. (See Controversy, below.) Dharma protectors are a characteristic feature of Tibetan Buddhism and are an inheritance from the pre-Buddhist Bön, an animistic religion that presumably grew out of the shamanistic practices of an even earlier society.
Editor’s Note – The dharma protector tradition has its roots in India, and various Mahayana (Chinese,Vietnamese) sects do have dharma protector practises though much of it is lost. Dharma Protector practise is not exclusively pre-Buddhist Bön. The Dharma Protector Setrab was known to have been brought to Tibet through the great translator Loden Sherab.

(oh dear – so which is it, Schettini? It is an “inheritance from the pre-Buddhist Bon” or is it a tradition that has its roots in India”? Even in this, he is vague and undecided.)

Tantric yoga, an esoteric practice in which one visualizes oneself as fully enlightened, is described as the practice of ‘taking the goal as the path.’ Shakyamuni Buddha is said to have revealed these extremely secret teachings to a select group of highly realized disciples, deeming them too dangerous in the hands of the unqualified. Every tantric text is prefaced with a warning describing the prerequisite qualifications and demanding nothing but the most remarkably advanced practitioners. In the hands of such yogis, Tantra is believed to lead either to rapid enlightenment or to inconceivably miserable vajra hells – hence its danger and the need for secrecy.

Did you learn nothing in the time you WERE a Buddhist? Tantra is so much more and so much more profound than just talking about the hells. How does this even add to the argument? Are we talking about Tantric yidam practices? Dorje Shugden? (and you can do prayers to Dorje Shugden, as many monks do, without taking any initiations (or sogtae). He presents tantra in such simplistics terms – stripped down to the extremes of either enlightenment, or hell. What of all the practices, attainments, qualities in between that we develop to get to enlightenment?

The power of tantra lies in transforming anger into insight, desire into compassion and ignorance into wisdom, by strategically engaging in what’s normally considered negative behaviour. In the highest class of Tantra one manifests with great wrath and lust. (great, so now you’ve just encouraged a bunch of readers to go around thinking they’re great tantric practitioners by “manifesting great wrath and lust.” Oversimplying something as profound in tantra, without proper understanding of it can be very dangerous for the wrong way it can potentially lead others.) In sharp contrast to the conventional path, women are said to have certain advantages. Dorje Shugden is a dharma protector with both peaceful and wrathful forms, and some of the highest practices of Tantra are performed in his image.

Most Southern Buddhists of Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka might consider tantra an abomination — quite unrelated to the teachings of Siddhartha Gotama, the man who became Buddha some twenty-six centuries ago.

(actually, why is this section on Tantra even here? How and why does it add to what he’s trying to say. Hang on… what IS he trying to say?)


Dorje Shugden came to unusual prominence in the last two decades of the twentieth century following the fourteenth Dalai Lama’s pronouncement that he is a “spirit of the dark forces.” The Tibetan community in exile is profoundly split on this issue, and some monks and teachers have severed all links to their spiritual bases in Tibet and India. In particular, one Geshé Kelsang Gyatso, formerly from Sera Monastic University, now expelled, has masterminded a widely successful Tibetan Buddhist cult, centred in Britain but now extending throughout the world, that grows year by year in force and resources. A war of words and hearts has been unleashed.

What defines this group as a cult? What it is that they have done? And does the immediately proceeding statement about “foul murder” suggest that perhaps this “cult” is linked with murder? Schettini seems to make a big deal out of this controversy but even the most gullible of readers will have to pause and wonder: what is this really all about? What controversy? Why? What do the both sides say? What has the Dalai Lama actually said? Where does this practice actually originate from and what is it, if anything, that would be bad? What is he talking about in this “war of words and hearts”? What words? What has been said? What “war of hearts”?

Foul murder has been committed and even Westerners are taking sides. (quite some baseless sensationalist writing, if ever I saw some). The Dorje Shugden controversy has all the makings of an internecine war, and the office of the Dalai Lama has already been weakened, though only within the confines of Tibetan Buddhism. Although this story created a minor stir in the Western press in the 1990s, it is in no way eclipsing the rapidly rising star of the Dalai Lama as the world’s most famous Buddhist monk, an international superstar and a Nobel laureate.

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2 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. The idea is not to refute someone else’s view the way in which you are doing. This just makes it look like you are angry and closed-minded.
    You yourself actually perpetuate the cycle by coming across in this way. It’s arrogant.
    I am skilled in logical debate but find lateral thinking far more effective in helping situations. Big deal. I love the NKT but articles like this just makes things worse. Honestly, look at your approach and see how you can instead of ‘defending the position’ actually make it open-minded.

  2. @realkadampa “I am skilled in logical debate” is that not an arrogant statement? No offence, I am glad that you are but perhaps you should turn the debate inwards. Personally since I am not as skilled in logical debate as you are, articles like this help me because they highlight perspectives I might not have necessarily considered.

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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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