This article was written in reference to a policy published by FPMT regarding their organization’s stance on the Dorje Shugden issue. We at DorjeShugden.com felt it necessary to comment on the misinformation and inaccuracies contained within FPMT’s document which is available here on their website (in PDF format) or here on our server (in Word format).
Dear friends of FPMT,
We hope you are well and that your Dharma activities flourish greatly everywhere.
We write with much distress since we came across this recent document regarding a public policy that has been issued by the Foundation of the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) organization. As one of the largest leading Buddhist organizations in the world, it is surprising and disappointing to see that you would make such statements, which we feel are not at all in the spirit of Buddhist teachings. Your stance and policy vis-à-vis “The Shugden Issue” is attached here for your convenience, which we will refer to within this letter.
Of course, it is the prerogative of every organization and institution to establish policies for their members. It is necessary, in fact. There is however, a fine line between simply stating a policy regarding certain issues and practices, and passing judgment on another’s practice or on other practitioners. This policy, we feel, crosses this fine line in several places, which we will address:
1. We find it interesting that the statements against the practice of Shugden are necessarily and intricately tied in to “support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.” You state, for example,
FPMT has made a commitment to support His Holiness, because of understanding the reasons why His Holiness has advised against this practice. Due to our commitment, we do not share our materials and facilities with those who knowingly continue to practice Shugden against this advice.
This strongly implies that Shugden practitioners are deliberately not heeding the Dalai Lama’s advice. This is not a correct assumption to make nor to suggest because: - Shugden practitioners may not necessarily be students of the Dalai Lama and therefore are not obliged in any way to follow his instructions. They are not contravening any “advice” by continuing their practice; nor does it mean that they are not supporting His Holiness. - Further, although Shugden practitioners are not following the same advice and practices as you, as a Dharma practitioner, shouldn’t you still extend your help and aid to them? It seems very strange that we would offer aid and blessings to animals and spirits, but not wish to share materials and facilities with someone just because they make a different religious choice.
2. A part of your document about the Shugden issue includes extensive guidelines on how centers must state “[clearly] that the center supports His Holiness” in all your printed and online materials. Why is this directive being stated in the context of the Shugden issue? This necessarily and automatically implies that Shugden practitioners are against the Dalai Lama and do not support him. As has already been pointed out above, this is NOT the case and a person’s choice to practice Shugden is not an act of defiance or disloyalty.
Of course, we rejoice to hear of how much you support His Holiness. However, surely the support of a spiritual leader should be inherent within a center’s practices, out of a sincere respect and devotion to him; it should not reiterated in the context of not doing a particular practice. It appears very political in this way.
3. In “supporting” the Dalai Lama’s ban against Dorje Shugden, you thus also support the very reasons for denouncing Shugden’s practice. If anyone is well versed in the most basic tenets of Buddhism, they would realise that these reasons are illogical and against the practice and most fundamental Dharma teachings. How can FPMT purport to give authentic Dharma teachings and practices to their members and students, when they are promoting policies like this that completely contravene the teachings of Buddha? These points can be very easily disputed, as follows:
i. The danger of Tibetan Buddhism degenerating into a form of spirit worship. Thousands of highly attained masters – including the Dalai Lama in his earlier years, Lama Yeshe (the founder of FPMT) and even Lama Zopa have recognized Dorje Shugden as an emanation of the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri. How can all these masters make such a huge error to confuse a Buddha with a spirit? Can they all have been wrong? We don’t think so. Engaging in Dorje Shugden’s practice is NOT one of spirit worship, but one that we can take full refuge in and gain attainments by.
ii. Obstacles to the emergence of genuine non-sectarianism. In stating this, you seem to support the claim that Shugden practitioners are sectarian. How is this the case? How is it that Shugden practitioners are sectarian? They simply follow the instructions, teachings and practices given to them by their teachers, within their monasteries and lineage. Just because they do not take teachings from other teachers or sects does not mean they are sectarian! This is the same practice across all lineages. Further, if you were to study the propitiation and prayer texts of Dorje Shugden, nowhere will you find any encouragement towards acting in sectarian ways. This claim is irrational and untrue.
iii. The practice is especially inappropriate in relation to the well-being of Tibetan society. – Firstly, how can a religious practice affect the secular running and well-being of Tibetan society (or any society)? Isn’t the well-being of the people the responsibility of the government and secular authorities? It does not make sense to say that a single practice or a so-called “spirit” can impact the well-being of an entire society.
- Secondly, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people is His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is broadly recognized as the emanation of Chenrezig and therefore, fully enlightened. To say that a certain practice would affect Tibetan society is to say that this one being of Shugden (who you claim to be a spirit) has more influence and power than the Dalai Lama himself. How is this possible? Again, it is illogical.
- Lastly, there are many, many FPMT centers around the world that are NOT situated within Tibetan societies of communities. They operate within completely different countries and governing laws, and the centers are run by people who are not of Tibetan origin at all. How would their Dharma practice have any bearing on the Tibetans? It is like saying that if a Christian prayed to a certain saint, it would badly affect the Italians. It is illogical!
Center libraries should not contain books by known Shugden practitioners Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (New Kadampa Tradition) and Gangchen Rinpoche. The purpose of this exclusion is to avoid generating confusion among students about who is a reliable Tibetan Buddhist teacher.
It is surprising and saddening that your policy also includes judgments of other Buddhist teachers. We respect every center’s right to choose any books they wish as study material or for their libraries. However, this should not allow you to pass judgment on the reliability or caliber of any Lama. To say this, you are directly inferring that teachers like Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and his entire organisation of the New Kadampa Tradition and Gangchen Rinpoche are not “reliable Tibetan Buddhist teachers”. Please remember that both these teachers studied under the same Guru, Trijang Rinpoche, as FPMT’s own spiritual guide and founder, Lama Zopa and Lama Yeshe. The teachings they give around the world follow exactly these teachings from the holy lineage of Trijang Rinpoche and Pabongka Rinpoche, including the Lamrim, which we are sure is also practiced within FPMT.
5. It is most shocking that you would try to discourage Shugden practitioners from joining other Buddhist unions and organizations. First and foremost, Buddhism is not dictated solely by the Dalai Lama; nor does it “belong to” and is ruled by the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans. There are many, many Buddhists in the world who have not even heard of his name. Buddhist unions and organizations do not only comprise groups that are under the direction or lineage of the Dalai Lama; they include groups from all sects and traditions, so whether or not someone practices Shugden should not even be an issue.
Supporting the Dalai Lama is always a good thing for he is a great teacher and has done so much for the Dharma. But he does not have any right to determine any individual’s practice and freedom of religion, especially if they are not his students. By discouraging anyone from joining a Buddhist union or group is very disharmonious and serves only to create greater conflict within the Buddhist community. You show the world that this is how you treat fellow Buddhists.
Actually, if you really believed that this practice of Shugden was “harmful” and “bad”, wouldn’t you want, all the more, to help these people to understand things better instead of just simply excluding and disassociating from them? In the Buddhist teachings, we are encouraged to help the most difficult beings, to extend help and blessings even to spirits! But we would turn away Shugden practitioners who are, essentially, also fellow Buddhists? Shouldn’t we be even kinder and more patient with them, to help them understand a “correct” way? We are writing out of sincere and genuine concern; not out of any wish to antagonize or offend. If our words have sounded harsh, we apologise. It is not our intention to disrespect or hurt, for we greatly admire the many decades of work and dedicate of FPMT to bring Dharma everywhere. However, we are most disturbed seeing this policy that you have issued and wish only to draw your attention to these matters.
We hope you will take the time to consider what we have written. Whether you choose to practice Dorje Shugden or not is not for us to judge, but we sincerely request you, at the very least, not to disparage, belittle, push away or put down Shugden practitioners in this way. They are Buddhists too, they are people too, many of them are very sincere practitioners with great devotion to their teachers and the Three Jewels, and carry the very same spiritual aspirations as your good selves.
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