Why does the Dalai Lama Persecute Shugdens but not the Bon Religion

The Dalai Lama has declared the practice of Dorje Shugden as ‘non-Buddhist’ and took great pains to ostracise Dorje Shugden practitioners from the Tibetan community. This has included denying them of their basic human rights of medical treatment, access to shops that sell daily provisions, and denial of travel paperwork. He was responsible for expelling 900 Shugden-worshipping monks from Gelug monasteries in South India. No-one who worships Dorje Shugden can study there now.

The Central Tibetan Admininstration (CTA) at his behest, has changed the law so that no Shugden practitioner can hold public office and Shugden families have also been discriminated against, their children denied education, and other extreme forms of human rights abuse.

The question is – “why?” Why take such a drastic action?

Okay, so in the Dalai Lama’s (wrong) view, Shugden worship is not Buddhist but then again neither is Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and every other religion. Why doesn’t the Dalai Lama react strongly against the other religions? On the contrary, the Dalai Lama has actually good things to say about the other religions. On a visit to Harvard in May 2009, the Dalai Lama made positive comments about Islam.

In his opening remarks, the Dalai Lama not only paid tribute to the importance of educating students about religions other than their own, but he also made a more specific point, that Islam, like Buddhism and other religions, emphasizes compassion. The Dalai Lama made his point visually, as well as verbally, pulling off his wrist his Buddhist prayer beads – called a “mala” – while referring to Muslim rosaries and talking about how Islam fits into the family of faiths.

Dorje Shugden practitioners too, have compassion because they are Buddhists, and pray for the happiness of all living beings but the Dalai Lama persecutes them. Why? He praises Muslims for their compassion but he does not have a single good word to say about Dorje Shugden practitioners:

Shugden followers have resorted to killing and beating people. They start fires and tell endless lies. This is how Dorje Shugden believe. It is not good.

These are lies! There is no evidence for the Dalai Lama’s words.

The Dalai Lama is also tolerant towards another religion which is closer to home – the Bon religion that also existed in Tibet alongside Buddhism. If the Dalai Lama hates Shugden practitioners for being ‘non-religious’ and ‘non-Buddhist’, why does he also not hate the Bonpos? (Practitioners of Bon). His attitudes are most odd and inconsistent. Before the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Bon was discriminated against and marginalized. As it says in the Wikipedia article on the subject:

Lobsang Gyatso, the fifth Dalai Lama was the first to declare Bön to be a fifth school of spirituality in Tibet. However, the Bönpo remained stigmatized and marginalized until 1977, when they sent representatives to Dharamsala and Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, who advised the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies, to accept Bön members.

Since then, Bön has had official recognition of its status as a religious group, with the same rights as the Buddhist schools. This was re-stated in 1987 by the Dalai Lama, who also forbade discrimination against the Bönpo, stating that it was both undemocratic and self-defeating. He even donned Bön ritual paraphernalia, emphasizing “the religious equality of the Bön faith.”

However, Tibetans still differentiate between Bön and Buddhism, referring to members of the Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug schools as “nangpa,” meaning “insiders,” but to practitioners of Bön as “Bönpo,” or even “chipa” (“outsiders”).

So, rather than rejecting Bon, which is viewed as an ‘outsider’ faith whereas the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism are viewed as ‘inner faith’, he actively promotes it! As you can see from the picture, the Dalai Lama is not adverse to donning Bon regalia and taking part in their rituals. This is most strange in itself. Why is the Dalai Lama playing the part of a Bonpo practitioner? It’s like the Pope deciding, on a whim, to don the robes of a Muslim Imam or even the robes of a Buddhist monk!

The Dalai Lama dons these robes to emphasize ‘the religious equality of Bon’, yet it is not Buddhist. He fights for equal rights for Bon but he harms Shugden practitioners who are Buddhists and students of his own root Spiritual Guide! Doesn’t this seem strange?

Why doesn’t the Dalai Lama act consistently and abolish discrimination against Shugden practitioners instead of declaring it undemocratic and self-defeating as he did with the Bonpos? Rather, he promotes discrimination and ostracism with hate speech, enforced signature campaigns and government legislation. Why?  

Some people believe that the Dalai Lama fears Shugden practitioners because they are perceived to be an obstacle to his plan to merge all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism together so that he can be the head of his own ‘Buddhist’ tradition. This is his best chance of maintaining his power and prestige as a leader if the Tibetans should return to Chinese ruled Tibet at any point in the future. The Bonpos are no threat to his plan so he ingratiates himself with them and promotes their equal rights because he knows he can control them without difficulty. Being kind to them is good for business.

It’s clear that the Dalai Lama doesn’t have equanimity towards groups that he views as non-Buddhist. The only explanation of his un-Buddhist actions towards Shugden practitioners is that he fears those that prevent him from achieving his worldly goals.

The Dalai Lama is deliberately trying to destroy the power and reputation of Shugden practitioners so that he can control the Gelugpa tradition for his own political purposes. If he really felt the same towards all traditions that he views as non-Buddhist, he’d be donning a round yellow hat to show the equality of Shugden practice instead of trying to destroy those practitioners as if they were his enemies.

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7 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. What on earth are you going on about…. the Dalai Lama does not ‘persecute’ Shugden followers…. He is within his rights to adapt/change his mind on teachings as has been done in the past? Why do you think he is not permitted to do this? As he has said a thousand times, anyone is free to follow the Shugden spirit, but those who do should not take tantric vows from him. He has given his sound reasons many times, and you – as Buddhists – should either accept those or chose not to follow His Holiness.You talk about behaving in a ‘more Buddhist’ way – but while (as a Buddhist), I can completely accept your belief in Shugden… it is also as a Buddhist that I (along with many) cannot accept your criticism of Buddhist masters.

    AS A BUDDHIST, ONE SHOULD NEVER CRITICISE A DHARMA TEACHER…. .IF YOU DON’T AGREE, THEN YOU WALK AWAY…but you do not criticize. That is an important Buddhist teaching that you cannot deny. So, as ‘Buddhists’ how can YOU reconcile your attacks on the Dalai Lama and other Lama’s who have every right to choose to no longer follow Shugden if they see fit? THE BUDDHA HIMSELF TAUGHT THIS! Yet, Shugden followers (and New Kadampa leader and Shugden supporter Kelsang Gyatso) verbally attacks His Holiness? So…How can you go against the teachings of The Buddha on one of his main tenets?

    Perhaps what I should do is post camera recordings of the aggressive behaviour of some of your colleagues shouting at me and others for attending HHDL’s teachings…. Perhaps what I should do is post footage of followers of Kelsang Gyatso telling students they should only read His Dharma books (In Buddhism students are taught to study widely before making a choice – so again…. this action is COMPLETELY AGAINST BUDDHA’S TEACHINGS).
    Perhaps those are the things I should do. But that wouldn’t be Buddhist would it? As it is, I will strive to hold onto my Buddhist teachings and let go. I will strive towards compassion – even to your colleagues who shout insults at me and my Buddhist teachers… and I will strive to gain more wisdom – without being told by anyone what I can and cannot read. I will strive towards realising emptiness – and all the important things that help towards this end. So I hope Shugden and New Kadampa students are striving for the same, because that’s all that really matters.

  2. Yes the Dalai Lama is within his rights to change his mind as he has done in the past, but whatever he changes his mind to shouldnt be in contradiction to the practices taught by his teachers. Ultimately although the Dalai Lama is enlightened, Vajrayana teachings on guru devotion state that one should follow ones teachers practices, lineage and instructions and hold these vows and commitments dearer than your own life.

    You said that as a Buddhist, you should never criticse a Dharma teacher. Okay so let me throw it back to you – why is the Dalai Lama criticising HIS teachers practices, calling them spirit practices? Is he criticising them by saying they are so incapable of distinguishing spirit from Buddha?

    Trijang Rinpoche and Ling Rinpoche both practised Dorje Shugden …and in fact, the Dalai Lama has allowed Trijang Rinpoche to continue this practice. If Dorje Shugden were actually a spirit, why is the Dalai Lama allowing his own teacher to continue with spirit practice?

    Our colleagues might shout insults at you, but your colleagues throw rocks at us, throw riots, beat up our monks, expelled our monks out of the monasteries, and forced them to set up their own. You talk about video footage…what about video footage of the Dalai Lama saying its okay to expel monks who dont want to give up this practice? First, the Dalai Lama allowed his own teacher to continue the practice…then made comments allowing for the expulsion of his own teacher from the monastery. If you want to talk about criticising lamas, what is worse than creating conditions for ones own lama to be expelled from the monastery?

    I am not criticising the Dalai Lama by the way, merely pointing out how contradictory his actions are (which I believe are manifesting that way for a bigger purpose).

    So what point are you trying to make, because your comments are full of contradictions :S

  3. Gaz, regarding your reply to my comment – you are confused. The Dalai Lama, although choosing to leave behind practices of some of his teachers, has not criticised them. No where are Mahayana Buddhists told they have to carry out everything their teachers do or tell them to do…. we are taught to discriminate and not to accept anything unless anyone simply tells us – even our teachers.
    Our teachers also have the power to cut that tie with their students – hence there is nothing wrong with His Holiness saying he does not wish students who follow Shugden to take tantric vows with him.
    Regarding what you say about stone throwing, etc…. I have seen nor otherwise heard evidence of this…. only of attacks – physical and verbal – from Shugden followers on followers of His Holiness.
    His Holijness’s actions are therefore not in the least contradictory. He leaves Shugden followers to practice how they wish, but requests that His students do not bring this into his teachings. Perfectly within his rights to follow his own judgementk, use his discrimination on what he teaches and to whom… just as it is within any Buddhist students’ rights to choose their path.
    At the core of Tibetan Buddhist teachings is the freedom of personal choice – for some reason many Shugden followers do not wish to accept that (particularly those such as Kelsang Gyatso who tells his students what they can and cannot read!). His Holiness does not attach Shugden followers or tell them what to do…. he simply stands by his right to determine what he sees as the best method of teaching and protecting the students who follow him. After all, he is not the first Dalai Lama to reject Shugden is he?

  4. Isnt giving up a practice your lama gives you a criticism? Isnt the point of Dharma practice, especially if your practising tantra, to practise Guru Devotion? So when your lama gives you something from his heart and you give it up, thats akin to saying you know better than your lama. Christ, you might as well slap your lama in the face. And my dear, I think your confused…the Dalai Lama might practise Mahayana, but he is also a Vajrayana practitioner given he holds bodhisattva vows and initiations, and practises tantra (e.g. Kalachakra).

    Your right, nowhere does it say that students have to follow everything their teachers tell them… so why have a teacher at all if your going to pick and choose what to follow and what to discard, based on your deluded view? The Dalai Lama himself has said before that after 12 years of examining your teacher, one should stop (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2012/oct/08/tibetan-lamas-buddhism). I think the Dalai Lama has been Trijang Rinpoches student for more than 12 years… so why does he still question the practices that Trijang Rinpoche gave to him?

    As for attacks, here you go:

    (1) http://www.dorjeshugden.com/all-articles/the-controversy/clashes-and-curfews/

    (2) http://www.dorjeshugden.com/all-articles/the-controversy/what-is-wrong-with-tibetan-society/

    (3) http://www.dorjeshugden.com/all-articles/the-controversy/dalai-lama-supporters-violently-oppress-buddhist-monks-in-mundgod-india/

    Please take note of the sources. They are from newspapers that arent known to be supportive of Dorje Shugden, so theres no reason for bias. If there was no threat of violence against Shugden worshippers, why did the Indian police feel the need to protect the conference against Tibetan protestors and throw up a curfew? So you might want to rethink what you said when you have no evidence of Shugden worshippers being attacked, but them actually doing the attacking.

    And your right, at the core of Tibetan Buddhist teachings IS personal choice, but it STOPS being personal choice when your face is put up all over the Tibetan settlements and violence is invited against you, simply because of what you believe in. Want to tell me that violence does not happen in the Tibetan settlements amongst the monks, because of what they believe in? Well, Rumtek Monastery was attacked by monks because of the Karmapa issue (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFxphAVnRFo) so the threat of violence is very credible.

    Please note Michelle that although I believe the Dalai Lama is manifesting contradiction, I do not think that it is without a good motivation and a reason that we cannot perceive yet.

    But as for my confusion, try again Michelle because I am very clear on what I believe in.

  5. Dear Gaz,
    We could both go on for ever – clearly we are both very clear in what we believe are neither are about to change our mind. But I notice you have not mentioned that if you search the web you will also see that violence against monks has also been recorded as originating from the Shugden-followers’ side…. murder even. Whether we agree with what’s written or not, it’s there for us both to read. Whatever you and I think, these early events have caused bad feeling/violence from both sides where monks are concerned. But this does not effect the Dalai Lama’s right to make the changes he thinks are best for his students.

    At least, unlike ex-Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, the Dalai Lama does not forbid his students from reading certain books, forbid them from making their own choices. He only says they must not propitiate Shugden and take part in INITIATIONS from him. But you didn’t mention Shugden follower, ex-Geshe Gyatso’s behaviour in going against many of his teachers… or how his institution canvases the streets for ‘buddhists’, then criticises the Dalai Lama and many other teachers? (Just as you also didn’t mention reports of the murder of monks by Shugden followers that are responsible for much of the the aggression and violence between monks today?). You don’t need me to give you links…. you can find this info yourself.

    Of course, what we chose to decide is up to us. I’m sure there are flaws on both sides.

    Your statement that ‘your personal choice stops being personal when your face is put up all over the Tibetan settlements’…. well I can truly sympathise with any monks that have endured violence because of their beliefs. As I am sure you will be aware, the Dalai Lama would strongly oppose violence on either side. But it still does not mean HHDL did not have the right to make changes that, as you say, in all good motivation, he believes are for the best for his followers. Free thought and right to choose are central to the teachings, and cannot exclude the Dalai Lama himself.

    Personally I would not want to follow him if he had to remain fixed to old traditions and values whether he felt them valid or relevant. In Shugden’s case, whether we agree or not, he believes the spirit to be potentially dangerous. I, for one, want to follow a free-thinking teacher that will make changes he deems necessary, even if this causes difficulties for himself – as this has done.

    I am sorry we have this divide, I am particularly sorry for suffering and violence that arise because of it on both sides. But that people like you and me waste our time opposing each other’s beliefs is what’s most against the Buddhist tradition isn’t it? It’s time we just agreed to respect each others beliefs – both, no doubt, based upon conditioning. That’s the real enemy here.

    At the end of the day, people can choose whether to attend teachings and initiations by the Dalai Lama or not. Choose whether to read his books or not.
    As you say, his choices, whether we agree or not, are not ‘without good motivation’. So let’s find peace over it.

  6. The Dalai Lama approves of everything Tibetan except Tibetan individuals and organisations who don’t accept his authority. That’s his boundary.

  7. Hi, I’m neutral to whatever you believe. I just don’t understand why we always have this kind of problems throughout our history. I spent a whole morning on this. Could you please justify “to destroy the power and reputation of Shugden practitioners so that he can control the Gelugpa tradition”
    How does the worship of Shugden form a threat to Dalai Lama? Can you give me an example of it’s being a threat to Dalai Lama’s power? All his predecessors practiced Shugden and including himself I guess. If Shugden is potential, he could have been the leading practitioner of Shugden as he was and make others to follow him. Don’t you think so?
    I also have yet to learn how and why “Shugden followers restore killing and beating… “ as the quote you got from the Dalai Lama.
    I personally do think Bon as a big sect of Tibetan religion. By the way, I’m not a Bon follower, the place where I grew up practices Sakya Pa. The reason is regardless of sects, the tibetan Buddhism is majorly different the part Bon characteristics from the main stream of Buddhism in the world, like in India, Thailand, Japan…. I see the evidence that Bon or aboriginal religion of Tibet has been mixed with Buddhism when it was introduced to Tibet. Specifically, the prayer flags, prayer wheels, mountain deities, protectors that I don’t see in Buddhism in the aforementioned countries. Regardless what our altitudes towards Bon, we inherited many aspects of Bon in any Tibetan sect. No? I say this because in the article above sounded little like Bon is not a part of Tibetan Buddhism.

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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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