By Steve Lee
The Dalai Lama visited San Francisco, California recently (22 February 2014) to speak at the American Himalayan Foundation. During his speech, the Dalai Lama made a few statements regarding Dorje Shugden, referring to a picketing crowd of Dorje Shugden practitioners just outside the hall. The Dalai Lama’s statements were documented in an article published on EIN News desk. Here are some excerpts from the article, along with a rebuttal to each statement.
#1: Get the facts right
At this point His Holiness digressed to speak about the worshippers of the perfidious spirit Dolgyal or Shugden who had been demonstrating in the street outside the hall as he arrived. They were shouting and waving banners, their faces contorted in aggressive expressions. It was people like these who murdered a good monk and his students as they worked to translate a scripture into Chinese one night in 1997 near His Holiness’s residence in Dharamsala, he said. Today, their slogan was ‘Stop lying’, but the question is who really is lying.
The Dalai Lama is referring to an unresolved murder of a monk by the name of Lobsang Gyatso, who founded the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in Dharamsala. The case is considered unresolved by the Indian police because the two suspects responsible for the murder (allegedly Dorje Shugden practitioners) had escaped and have been untraceable since.
The connection with Dorje Shugden, if indeed there is one at all, is circumstantial and has no bearing on the crime committed. To illustrate this point, there are many wayward followers of the Dalai Lama who have committed theft and murder, but does the fault lay at the Dalai Lama’s feet? It is a certainty that no one would even attempt to blame the Dalai Lama for such crimes. Similarly, for the Dalai Lama to insinuate that the peaceful demonstrators are as good as murderers is unwarranted, nor do the murders provide adequate justification for an all-out ban on Dorje Shugden.
#2: Same mindstream, similar errors?
Turning back once more to the topic of Shugden he declared that he had once worshipped the spirit himself. Gradually, however, he came to realise that there was something wrong with it, particularly in the context of the Buddhist tradition. He looked into its history and discovered that it had come about during the time of the 5th Dalai Lama, who had referred to it as a malevolent spirit arisen from distorted prayers that harms the Dharma and sentient beings. He suggested the protestors complain to the 5th Dalai Lama.
Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama’s own tutor, along with the Panchen Lama and other High Lamas advocated the worship of Dorje Shugden as an emanation of Manjushri. According to Trijang Rinpoche, the Fifth Dalai Lama statement naming Dorje Shugden as a malevolent spirit was just his initial view and shortly thereafter, the Fifth Dalai Lama was well known to have acknowledged his error and recognized Dorje Shugden as an enlightened Dharma Protector.
The Fifth Dalai Lama also composed a Praise to Dorje Shugden, built Trode Khangsar in Lhasa as a temple of Dorje Shugden, installed Dorje Shugden as the Dharma Protector of Phelgyeling monastery and made several statues of Dorje Shugden. These cannot be the actions of a Dalai Lama who thinks Dorje Shugden is a malevolent spirit.
#3: Is this religious freedom?
As His Holiness left his hotel, some nuns told him that it was a matter of religious freedom, but he sees it the other way. Worship of this spirit goes hand in hand with sectarianism and restrictions on religious freedom. He recalled wanting to receive transmission of a Nyingma teaching from Khunu Lama Rinpoche, and consulting his main tutor Ling Rinpoche. Despite having no connection at all with the worship of this spirit, Ling Rinpoche cautioned him against receiving the transmission for fear of the harm the spirit might do. He cited this as an example of his own religious freedom being constrained. He declared that it was only when he stopped worshipping Dolgyal that he was really able to enjoy religious freedom. The audience broke into applause.
Many great masters have advised that receiving and practicing teachings from different traditions and lineages will lead to confusion. This arises because although all traditions and lineages have the same ultimate goal – Enlightenment, each lineage has different teachings and methods to achieve this, which may take lifetimes to master. Hence, the necessity of not mixing teachings from different lineages is not a sectarian one nor a restriction on religious freedom, but one of great wisdom to keep the lineage and its blessings pure. This advice is particularly relevant for those who have received Dorje Shugden’s sogtae (life-entrustment).
In some of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche’s writings, there are stories of Dorje Shugden’s retribution on those who transgressed their vows and mixed/corrupted their teachings. However, they are to be regarded as no more than cautionary tales outlying the pitfalls of mixing and confusing the teachings of different lineages.
#4: Political or spiritual?
Due to ignorance and distorted information, the followers of this practice are completely confused. In India, they have their own monasteries where they can do what they want. Kelsang Gyatso, one of their teachers once told a reporter in England that the 14th Dalai Lama had done nothing beneficial for the cause of Tibet. Isn’t this something of a lie?”
The Dalai Lama is of course referring to Serpom and Shar Ganden monasteries, whose monks suffer from discrimination and are ostracized within their own Tibetan community. These two monasteries arose because Dorje Shugden practitioners were forced out of their monasteries by the very same ban that the Dalai Lama imposed. To this day, the CTA (Central Tibetan Administration) continues to enforce the ban, denying Shugden practitioners access to public healthcare, basic supplies, teachings, even stores and households within the Tibetan community, regardless of human rights and religious freedom considerations.
Even worse, Dorje Shugden practitioners are not even allowed to associate with others in the Tibetan community, further breaking apart families and friendships as a result. In the case of Shar Ganden, a great wall was built to separate both monasteries in the name of upholding this ban. Clearly, there is no real freedom for these monks in the manner the Dalai Lama would have you believe.
Kelsang Gyatso’s statement was also taken out of context; his point was originally directed to the Dalai Lama’s ban on Dorje Shugden and the damage it wrought to the unity of the Tibetan community and the Tibetan cause. It is evident that the Dalai Lama’s ban is self-defeating because it creates huge chasms within the Tibetan community and within practitioners of the same tradition. Conventional theorists summarize the Dorje Shugden ban as a political strategy to gain the upper hand but clearly, the ban does nothing beneficial except create negative press for the Dalai Lama and CTA and much suffering for the affected populace. Therefore, wouldn’t it be beneficial for everyone if the ban on Dorje Shugden was abolished?