Despite the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration’s (CTA) eagerness to engage in talks with China for greater autonomy of the Tibetan region, the CTA’s ridiculous policies and enforcement of the Dorje Shugden ban has once again caused a stir and generated unrest in their homeland.
On 18 September 2016, Tashi Dargyeling Monastery in the Nyentog region of Tibet released an official letter warning of the monastery’s boycott of all Shugden practitioners and those who have connections with these practitioners. A rough translation of the letter issued by the sangha of the monastery is as follows:
Letter from Nyentog Tashi Dargyeling Monastery
Generally, the Buddha’s Dharma and especially H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama’s life is harmed by Dorje Shugden. Recently, some people within our community have been making thangkas of this deity and supporting this practice. We would like to inform that the monks of Nyentog Monastery firmly protest against these works and urge them to stop. If these individuals do not conform to the monastery’s requests and continue to worship Dorje Shugden or remain connected to the deity’s practitioners, we will cut connections with these said individuals completely. For those who refuse to distance themselves from the practice, the monks of the monastery will not go to the homes of these individuals to perform pujas (prayers). If there is anyone who passes away in these households, the monastery will not be open to them [i.e. no funeral rites will be performed for the deceased]. These are the three conditions that our monastery is firm with, and this promise is witnessed by our Protectors Kalarupa and Chechog Sheltred.
Signed by all Sangha members of Nyentog Monastery
Looking at this letter, let us first examine the spiritual implications it has on the community.
1. Setting A Bad Example
As human beings, there are three crucial moments that are most important in our lives, which are birth, illness and death. These are three occasions when many seek comfort and blessings from their religious order.
However, with the recent letter from Nyentog Monastery, it will no longer be possible for Shugden practitioners in that area to receive these basic religious rites in times of need. Even though the families of these practitioners have supported the monastery for many generations, they will now be deprived of even funeral services, which are much needed during one of life’s most trying times.
This letter is nothing more than blackmail to force Shugden practitioners in Nyentog into abandoning their religious beliefs, and is particularly unacceptable because it comes from an institution that people have put their faith and trust in.
2. The Real Harm to Buddha’s Dharma is Segregation
The Buddha himself predicted that the Dharma would not be destroyed by external sources but by Buddhists themselves. By subscribing to the ostracism and segregation of Shugden practitioners, the sangha of this monastic community have successfully broken one of their root vows, the Bodhisattva Vows.
Even when faced with an individual who has committed heinous crimes, as a religious order the monastery should provide solace, blessings and ensure that the person goes to the afterlife peacefully. Instead, the sangha of Nyentog Monastery are doing the exact opposite.
The question everyone should ask here is, how can following the Dalai Lama’s advice cause the monks of Nyentog Monastery to become less compassionate, more discriminatory and even break their Bodhisattva Vows? If proving one’s loyalty and absolute obedience to the Dalai Lama comes at the price of harming others in the process, then clearly something is very wrong.
3. What is the True Purpose of the Monastery?
Monasteries are formed to help relieve the sufferings of sentient beings, whether on a basic level or to the ultimate level of Enlightenment. However, with the recent actions by Nyentog Monastery, the results are the exact opposite. The effect of their letter on the small community of Nyentog will, without a doubt, be discrimination against Shugden practitioners. The ‘condemned’ community will soon be treated as social pariahs by their own people.
The experiences of the exiled Tibetan community in India when the ban on Dorje Shugden was enforced some 20 years ago will be replicated in Nyentog. Families will get into arguments over the issue and break apart; people such as the thangka painter in the news will shortly find themselves unemployed; innocent people who have done no wrong except practice Dorje Shugden will soon find themselves ostracized by their own neighbors.
All these unfortunate events will take place just because the monks of Nyentog Monastery want to ‘prove’ their loyalty to the Dalai Lama. Great Buddhist masters of the past have been known to take on the sufferings of others quietly, and the sangha have historically been placed on a pedestal by the lay community for their selfless acts. However, the monks of Nyentog Monastery have displayed nothing but their concerns of self preservation, succumbing to the pressure created by the CTA’s cronies and throwing Shugden practitioners to the wolves. They have absolutely no regard for the chaos and harm resulting from their actions as long as they themselves are safe.
4. The Claim that Dorje Shugden Harms the Dalai Lama’s Life is a Lie
Apart from the government, religious institutions such as monasteries or temples have great influence over the community in most small villages. In some cases, they have even greater influence than the government officials. As such, the monasteries have a great responsibility and it would behoove them to uphold and educate the public of the truth. To most Tibetan Buddhists, the 14th Dalai Lama is considered to be the emanation of the Buddha of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara. Thus, claiming that the Buddha can be harmed by any worldly being is contradictory to Buddhist principals, beliefs and philosophy. On top of that, in recent times, the Dalai Lama himself has declared that Dorje Shugden does no harm to his life. Thus, the monks’ actions to spread this lie by capitalizing on the lay community’s lack of knowledge is unbecoming.
These spiritual implications may not be of significance to everyone. However, we should also examine the situation from a more practical point of view on how the actions of this monastery (and all communities who shun Dorje Shugden practitioners) have deprived innocent people of their basic human rights.
With 5000 years of history and a melting pot of 1.3 billion citizens, China has seen its fair share of civil wars and the effects of disunity within its borders. If China is ever to fall, the fault would most certainly lie in the destabilization of its internal security. It is a known fact that the authorities in China have clamped down on individuals who have caused unrest in Tibet in relations to the Shugden issue, and have also released statements indicating they are aware that the Dorje Shugden issue is being used as a tool by the CTA to create disunity within China.
As such, monasteries such as Nyentog Monastery do not help the Dalai Lama’s vision of Umaylam. With each incident such as this one, China’s distrust of the Dalai Lama grows and the Dalai Lama’s wish for a peaceful return to Tibet becomes more unlikely. If the Dalai Lama being in exile can create such disharmony within Tibet leaving the Chinese authorities to clear up the mess, what would be the effect of the Dalai Lama and the CTA once they return to Tibet? Thus, if Tibetans really want the Dalai Lama to have an opportunity to return to Tibet, they should avoid creating further unrest through the Dorje Shugden issue lest China clamps down even harder on the Tibetan leader in exile. After all, any country/government can implement new laws as and when necessary especially when internal security is at stake; we can see this most recently in the news about France’s unpopular ban on the burkini.
While some people claim that China lacks religious freedom, we should also question why a supposedly “suppressed” Tibetan religious group would further suppress the religious rights of their fellow Tibetans? Why cherry pick on China but allow people like the monks of Nyentog Monastery to get away scot-free with their religious suppression of Shugden practitioners? When a religious group encourages discrimination and causes disharmony and riots, it is no longer a religious issue but a matter of security and social harmony.
Radio Free Asia Article
Recently, a big Shugden thangka appeared at Nianduhu Village in Tongren County, Qinghai. The local sangha community protested against the thangka and a statement has been released to urge the people to boycott this deity.
The spreading of a photo of the large Shugden thangka appearing in Nianduhu Village at Tongren County of Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture led to strong criticism amongst netizens, denouncing the local people for practicing Shugden and going against His Holiness’ instructions as well as destroying the uncontaminated relationship of lineage Gurus and students.
On Friday, a source informed RFA that it is true that the Shugden thangka appeared in Nianduhu Village of Tongren County. However, that thangka had nothing to do with Nianduhu Monastery and in contrast, the sangha community of Nianduhu Monastery released a joint statement protesting against the thangka. They hope to make their stance clear in the media.
The source told RFA: “Since the photo of the Shugden thangka was widely spread, Nianduhu Village and its monastery are under constant criticism, thus some of the elderly people in Nianduhu Village and the administration of Nianduhu Monastery gathered for a meeting and concluded the following: In the future regardless of which village they are from, those who have Shugden’s picture, statue or thangka found in their houses should be totally cut off from us. If their family members are sick or pass away, Nianduhu Monastery’s sangha will no longer perform rituals for them.”
The source also said: “Nianduhu Monastery’s sangha community also released a joint statement on 18th September 2016 urging the villagers to boycott Shugden.”
“None of the monks in Nianduhu Monastery practice Shugden. In the joint statement released by the sangha community of Nianduhu Monastery, it says clearly that practicing Shugden not only brings harm to Buddhism, it also is harming the Dalai Lama’s long life. That statement is protesting against the actions of some villagers who are producing Shugden thangkas, and stressed that if the people producing these Shugden thangkas insist on continuing their works, Nianduhu Monastery will cut them off from the monastery, no puja will be performed for them and they will be banned from entering Nianduhu Monastery.”
Another source also told RFA about the origin of the “Shugden thangka” incident.
The source said, “This is the whole story: There is an ex-monk in Nianduhu Village. Even though he is not a practitioner of Shugden, one time after he returned to Nianduhu Village, he received an order to produce a Shugden thangka. He then assigned some of his acquaintances to paint the thangka and he paid them upon completion of the work. After Nianduhu Monastery found out what was happening, some of the monks and the elderly people in the village not only had a meeting to address this issue, they also went to each family in the village to explain the harm of practicing Shugden and requested the villagers to distinguish between what is wrong and what is right. After releasing the joint statement, the sangha community also distributed their statement to the villagers, stressing that they would implement the contents of their statement and advising the people to conduct themselves well.”
The Shugden issue has lasted for almost 400 years since the 5th Dalai Lama’s time. The origin of Shugden is in fact a local deity, but to its practitioners, Shugden is within the fundamentalism of the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. However, after the investigation conducted by the 5th and 13th Dalai Lama, they explained in detail that Shugden is a demon and it is harming Buddhism, and Shugden is the cause of the disharmony between the different sects. Gelug lineage lamas from the past to this day also oppose the practice of Shugden. After closely observing the issue, in the mid-seventies, the 14th Dalai Lama officially gave advice to all Tibetan Buddhists to stop the practice of Shugden and claimed that he has responsible for educating people about Shugden’s background, characteristics and the negative impact of this practice. However, it is up to the people’s personal choice to practice Shugden or not.