Tibetan MP Tenpa Yarphel asks if the Dorje Shugden ban has harmed or benefited the Tibetan community

Member of Tibetan Parliament, Tenpa Yarphel (right).

The opinion piece below was sent to dorjeshugden.com for publication. We accept submissions from the public, please send in your articles to [email protected].



By: Shashi Kei

The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), previously known as the Tibetan government-in-exile, held its 7th session from 19 to 29 March 2019. A statement made there by Tenpa Yarphel, one of the more progressive and outspoken Members of the Tibetan Parliament (MP) was particularly noteworthy.

This brave MP, who is the Parliamentary representative for the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, used the few minutes allocated to him in Parliament to voice his opinion that the CTA’s ongoing campaign to demean a specific Tibetan Buddhist practice and alienate its practitioners has damaged Tibetan unity. He was, of course, referring to the Dalai Lama’s ban on the practice of the Dharma Protector, Dorje Shugden.

Tenpa Yarphel also pointed out that the Tibetan leadership’s persecution of Shugden Buddhists has not escaped world attention. Today, the CTA’s every move is scrutinized because the world has become aware of their suppression of human rights. The credibility of the Dalai Lama and that of the Tibetan leadership have suffered.

This does not only impact negatively on the Tibetan struggle but also endangers the survival of the Tibetan identity, which is already at a perilous juncture today.


Tenpa Yarphel’s statement

Two parts of Tenpa Yarphel’s parliamentary statement are especially significant. They reveal incontrovertible facts about the Tibetan leadership and the circumstances surrounding the Dorje Shugden conflict:

“It’s my feeling that in our society, we should not discriminate, especially against those practicing our religion. Discrimination harms us more than it benefits us. “

- Tenpa Yarphel

While the MP was careful to not spell it out, the insinuation was clear from his use of the word “we”. He regards the source of hostilities against Dorje Shugden believers which have damaged Tibetan communities worldwide to be none other than the CTA.

“It is better not to talk about this issue [Dorje Shugden] anymore.”

- Tenpa Yarphel

Here, Tenpa Yarphel was alluding to numerous directives by the Dalai Lama and the CTA over the years that suggested that oppressing Dorje Shugden Buddhists was the key to Tibetans regaining their country.

That a government would attribute its failures to mythos is telling of its character but, being a superstitious people, many Tibetans were misled into enforcing the CTA’s persecution.

The Dorje Shugden ban is today in its 23rd year. Enough time has passed for Tibetans to see for themselves that far from bestowing any benefits, this unfortunate decision has caused tremendous damage.

By addressing the Tibetan parliament this way, Tenpa Yarphel was appealing to the CTA to stop inciting malice towards Shugden Buddhists and to start taking responsibility for its own actions.


Why now?

That it took 23 years for an honest politician to speak out against this religious persecution speaks volumes about the culture fostered by the Tibetan leadership.

In a true democracy, the mere suggestion of segregating anyone based on their beliefs, skin color or gender would be vehemently and soundly opposed. In the CTA, it has thrived for over two decades and continues in earnest.

How could this have happened if the Dalai Lama’s government was a genuine democracy?

It is also useful to understand why this Tibetan MP decided to make a stand. Tenpa Yarphel’s courage may have been roused by a collective sense of despair in the Tibetan people that seems to have finally overcome their fear of the Tibetan government.


The slave mentality

The CTA has never practiced democratic principles. Before 1959, over 80% of the Tibetan population were serfs or slaves and had no human rights to speak of. This convention of absolute servitude continued in exile because those who make up the Tibetan government-in-exile are members of the old Tibetan ruling class.

It would be foolish to think that a self-designation as the “democratic CTA” would suddenly change their attitudes towards the Tibetan populace. The declaration of a democratic government was simply a ploy to win the hearts of Western liberals and enroll them in the fight against China.

The Dalai Lama and the CTA benefited tremendously from geopolitical tensions between China and the United States and its allies. Over the decades, Washington has painted China as an aggressive power with expansionist ambitions that threaten the safety of its neighbours. They portray Tibetans as innocent victims of an oppressive communist China.

So much attention has been focused on China that the world is blind to the Tibetan government’s abuses of power, gross breaches of human rights and general ineptitude.

In exile, just like it was in feudal Tibet, it is deemed sacrilegious – and, therefore, dangerous – for anyone to consider a political, social or spiritual stance that is not completely complementary of the Dalai Lama’s.

Behind closed doors, the Dalai Lama and members of his inner circle decide what the Tibetan people can and cannot do and how they should think. The job of the CTA is to rubber-stamp the decisions of this unelected elite. Very rarely does anyone dare to publically and officially voice a dissenting opinion; for Tenpa Yarphel himself, this is only the second time he has questioned the Tibetan leadership’s decisions.

In a previous Parliamentary session, Tenpa Yarphel questioned the Tibetan leadership’s reliance on the Nechung Oracle for matters of the state. He was not questioning the spiritual validity of Nechung as a deity or practice. On the contrary, Tenpa Yarphel was questioning the validity of relying on oracular pronouncements for political decision-making, especially when those pronouncements have a proven track record of being outrageously inaccurate.

How would Americans, who come from all backgrounds, religions and cultures, feel if their democratically-elected President began making state decisions based on his own personal faith, without any regard for the diverse communities in the nation? The fact is, truly democratic states rely on logic, information and analysis – not faith and superstition – to decide on state matters.

As logical as his speech about Nechung may have been, Tenpa Yarphel’s comments earned him calls for his impeachment. His remarks were taken as indirect criticism of the Dalai Lama because in reality, it is the Dalai Lama who determines whether the CTA continues relying on Nechung. Never mind that in the contemporary political arena, it would be ludicrous for the CTA to continue governing their people through oracles if they ever realized any of their political goals on any level. If the CTA transcended their fear of being labelled ‘anti-Dalai Lama’, they would realize that if they ever gained some kind of political autonomy in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), it would be wholly incongruous with Beijing’s political approach for them to continue using a deity to decide upon matters of the state.

And so like his previous statement indirectly criticized the Dalai Lama, Tenpa Yarphel’s latest statement against the segregation of Dorje Shugden Buddhists indirectly states that it was wrong for the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan leaders such as the previous Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister, Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche) and present Sikyong (President of the CTA, Lobsang Sangay) to have actively encouraged the persecution and criminalization of Dorje Shugden worship. Their actions and those of their acolytes have splintered the world Tibetan community and brought the Tibetan struggle to its knees.

Against this backdrop and the prevailing culture of fear, Tenpa Yarphel’s statement is nothing short of an act of heroism borne out of sheer necessity.


Above the rules

Today, despite 60 years of global support and untold millions in annual aid by generous state and private donors, the Tibetan exile population languishes in hopelessness. While a rising China gains world standing and acceptance, support for the Tibetan struggle is being pushed to the wayside.

Travel papers issued by the CTA are no longer deemed valid. Exiled Tibetans are trapped within Indian settlements, living life in limbo from one generation to the next. The only people who have gained from the decades of foreign aid are the Tibetan leaders whose lives and standards of living bear little resemblance to that of ordinary Tibetan refugees.

Some time ago, the CTA asserted that it was anti-Tibetan and unpatriotic for exiles to obtain Indian citizenship (to which they are legally entitled). However, most CTA leaders hold foreign passports. Sikyong (President) Lobsang Sangay himself has an American passport and maintains a house in leafy Massachusetts.

Sangay’s ex-protégé, Dhardon Sharling, the former head of the CTA’s Department of Information and International Relations, applied for and received her Indian passport. She has since abandoned the Tibetan struggle and moved to the United States, citing a need to further her education to “help the Tibetan people”.


A fractured community

Tenpa Yarphel’s address was a cry for the Tibetan parliament to take stock of the tragedy of Tibetans in exile. Tibetan leaders from the Dalai Lama to Lobsang Sangay to aspiring politicians have called for Tibetan unity as a necessary condition for freedom from China. However, no campaign against an external oppressor can succeed if the people are concurrently fighting internal oppression that sets Tibetans upon Tibetans.

This is the hit-list which the Tibetan leadership published on their official website to include the names, faces and personal details of Tibetan Dorje Shugden practitioners who protested in Europe for their religious freedoms. To read more about the hit-list, click here.

The Dorje Shugden ban and other similar destructive campaigns by the CTA resemble Mao Zedong’s campaign to destroy the ‘Four Olds’ and cultivate the ‘Four News’, a movement that destroyed the Chinese social structure.

60 years of exile and false promises have not brought the Tibetan people any closer to their homeland. On the contrary, China recently signalled that it has closed the door to further dialogue with the Tibetan leadership.

The future for Tibetans in exile looks bleak. Tibetans lack a secure environment conducive to viable livelihoods. They do not even have the means to preserve their culture and traditions.

To even bring up unity and its importance at this late stage is ridiculous. For a supposed refugee community, unity should be a foregone conclusion, not something that urgently needs to be introduced into their exiled community. Why should unity be discussed 60 years into exile unless they, as irresponsible leaders, are the cause of disunity and are having to quickly remedy the situation?

Did the Tibetan leadership fail to recognise the seriousness of their people’s predicament? Did they willfully prolong it to play to the sympathies of Western democracies? It is of little value to speculate.

What is clear is the CTA’s policy of divide and rule. By creating internal divisions with policies such as the Dorje Shugden ban, they distract the people from the CTA’s own failures.

In the final analysis, what does it matter what religion a person practices? To ban someone, solely on the basis of their religion, from events and discussions that concern their country is brutally segregational and a violation of their rights to be engaged in processes that affect their future and personal wellbeing. Why does the CTA allow a cross-section of Tibetans to be banned from interacting with the Dalai Lama on a secular basis, simply on the basis of their religion? To be truly democratic, what a Tibetan believes, or indeed does not believe, should be irrelevant.

As long as they are Tibetan, it is their right to interact with their leaders and to participate in the formation, preservation and promotion of their people, race, culture and country. This should hold true regardless of their religion, socio-economic background, political ideology and education. Thus Tenpa Yarphel is a hero because he has the courage to question the continued segregation of Tibetans on the basis of their religion, in this case specifically referring to 23-year-old Dorje Shugden ban.


Standing up to the CTA

While Tenpa Yarphel’s courage is praiseworthy, it is unlikely to yield any positive results. He has run afoul of the Tibetan establishment in the past and been accused of being “anti-Dalai Lama”. His crime was, as previously outlined, questioning the Tibetan government’s dependency on Nechung, the Dalai Lama’s oracle. Unlike other democratic governments, the CTA frequently turns to Nechung to determine important official policy, bypassing the process of law.

In Tibetan culture, to be labelled ‘anti-Dalai Lama’ is equivalent to being regarded as a traitor. Those who stood in the way of the Tibetan leadership have suffered serious consequences. There are a number of examples:


The murder of Gungtang Tsultrim

Gungtang Tsultrim was the leader of The Thirteen Settlements, an organization that opposed the Dalai Lama’s ambition to usurp leadership of all Tibetan Buddhist schools. His assailant confessed that he had been hired by the Tibetan government.


Attacks on Lukar Jam Atsok

Lukar Jam Atsok was a popular candidate for the 2016 Sikyong (President of the CTA) but opposed the CTA leadership’s views. The CTA leadership under Lobsang Sangay then conspired to change the electoral rules to disqualify Lukar Jam’s campaign for Sikyong. After the election, he was subjected to threats of violence and as a warning, his property was vandalized. He has since moved to Australia. This is the ‘democratic’ CTA that well-meaning people have supported for six decades.


Attacks on Tibetan government ministers

Various Tibetan government ministers who have disagreed with the Tibetan leadership have consequently found themselves in harm’s way. One had his house padlocked from the outside and firebombed. Another, Mr Kundeling, was stabbed for voicing concerns about the Dorje Shugden ban.

In this toxic culture, unabashed oppression is not the exception but the rule. Presumably, the powers that be will look upon Tenpa Yarphel’s words as treachery and dissidence. They should instead see it as an urgent wake-up call for the Tibetan leadership to correct its course so Tibetan culture, language and religion have a chance to survive.

If indeed the Tibetan people are true seekers of freedom and liberty, they must quickly realize that power rests with the people and not an oppressive elite. They must collectively determine a path for the future by electing an accountable government.

But, as the brave Tenpa Yarphel has said, Tibetans need to be united first… and that is precisely what the Tibetan leadership does not wish.

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Summarized translation:

Dear Speaker (of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile),

I would like to share my personal opinions on the Dorje Shugden issue which has been raised.

Wherever His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave teachings, for four years, Dolgyalpa1 protestors would always appear and protest against His Holiness. They protested even if His Holiness didn’t talk about Dolgyal in the teachings.

It’s my feeling that in our society, we should not discriminate, especially against those practicing our religion. Discrimination harms us more than it benefits us. When we talked about the Dolgyal issue, it caused so much harm in our society. When we talked about the Dolgyal issue, the Dolgyalpas protested against His Holiness wherever he went2. So it is really better not to talk about these issues anymore.

Actually, I have no connection with the Dolgyalpas, whether it is on a personal or public level. When I talk about Dolgyal, I have no connection with them [the Dolgyalpas].3

Instead of pushing each other away, we should become united. Have we experienced harm or benefit in relations to the Dolgyal issue?4 It is better not to talk about this issue anymore.


1The CTA uses the derogatory term ‘Dolgyal’ to refer to Dorje Shugden. It means ‘King of Dol’ because the CTA falsely accuses Dorje Shugden of being a spirit, and not an enlightened protector. Hence, someone who relies on Dorje Shugden is called a ‘Dolgyalpa’ by the CTA.

2Tenpa Yarphel implies that the protests damaged His Holiness’ reputation. Therefore stopping the protests, by not talking about Dorje Shugden anymore, would stop further damage to His Holiness’ reputation and this would be beneficial to the Tibetan leadership.

3Tenpa Yarphel has to emphasize he has no connection with Dorje Shugden practitioners lest criticism of him spirals out of control, and he is further accused of being anti-Dalai Lama or branded as pro-Chinese.

4Tenpa Yarphel is asking the MPs to consider whether there has been a net benefit or loss in talking about Dorje Shugden. He implies that it is a loss and therefore they would be better off not talking about Dorje Shugden any more. Tibetans should have unity just because they are Tibetans. Segregation of Tibetans based on their religion, weakens unity. So Dorje Shugden people should not be segregated anymore but join the Tibetan mainstream. 

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13 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Tenpa Yarphel is a great Tibetan. He always talks the truth. We Tibetan in India really proud on him. We support him.


  2. Dear Tibetans, people who practice Shugden are Tibetans too. They deserve respect, equal treatment and the same rights as any other Tibetans. It is time all Tibetans stand up to fight against segregation and prejudice now. 👍


  3. Tibetans now must become real democracy in Dharamsala. With the Dalai Lama in power for the last 60 years, it is a regime. Whatever he says, all Tibetans must do or be ostracized or segregated. What government has a ruler in power for 60 years with full political power in this world that is democratic? Only Tibetans has a ruler who stay in power his whole life for over 60 years.


  4. This writing is EXCELLENT and tells the truth! We Tibetans support this information. 👍💔👍💔

  5. Too bad! No leader of any powerful country will meet Dalai Lama anymore! Tibetan leaders’ corruption lost their country in 1959 and since then they couldn’t secure their country back!

    Majority of global political leaders will not meet the Dalai Lama anymore. They finally realize it is a waste of time to meet him and it does not help their national economies. Too bad for Tibetan movement. It’s going down because Tibetan leaders are not good at strategy/corrupt/narrow-minded/greedy and therefore did not negotiate with China and now it’s too late. China is a global super power now! Tibet is a part of China. Too bad. The karma of the Tibetan leaders return to them now for their segregating Dorje Shugden people illegally for 20 years. Now everyone in the world who has power is separating from Tibetan leaders. How does it feel now? It’s time to apologize to Dorje Shugden and make peace before it’s too late. Repair your karma now!

    -Utsang Nyima 💔

    too bad

  6. It is never too later after 28 yrs of social medieval like segregation of Shugdenpas or any other undesirable tibetan groups,to wake up fresh in 21.century true democratic world society.We have been going too far in the wrong direction and still we have few effective extreme anti-socialfanatics

  7. It is never too late after 28 yrs of social medieval like segregation of Shugdenpas or any other undesirable tibetan groups,to wake up fresh in 21.century true democratic world society.We have been going too far in the wrong direction and still we have few effective extreme anti-social fanatics among Tibetans new and old generations. The time has long come to change for better

  8. Wow! Wonderful that MP Tenpa Yarphel dares speak up for the unity of his people against the ban and discrimination of Dorje Shugden practitioners and segregation by ethnic locality. It is about time that the Tibetans stand up for their happiness instead of obeying blindly to pain and sufferings. The Tibetan Leaders have broken their promises time and again so why not look for new beginnings by changing the greedy Leaders like Lobsang Sangay? Get rid of Lobsang Sangay!!! Lets vote Tenpa Yarphel!

  9. Is this the new era of Tibetan leadership, where they finally accept the democratic practice of religious freedom. It is 50 years late, but it is still better than not doing it.

    But, is Tenpa the only one who is willing embrace the more liberated way of democratic, so that all Tibetans can unite and fight for a common cause? Or will he be shot down by the many parliamentarians who opt to continue to divide the people so that Tibetans continue to be divided and conquered?

    I do wish Tenpa all the best, and hope he can stay strong with his commitment to Tibetan unity, despite all the nay sayers.

  10. Tenpa Yarphel is the hero of Tibetans now. To Tibetans, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the god-king of Tibet. The CTA tells everyone that they are a democratic government while in reality, it is not. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has the absolute power over secular and spiritual matters in the Tibetan community, and no one can disagree or oppose what he says. The consequence of that is discrimination and segregation by the community who supports His Holiness.

    His Holiness the Dalai Lama is definitely above the law, and even those who are near to him will automatically enjoy the same privilege as well. Look at Sogyal who sexually abused his students. He is a free man until now, and there is nothing they can do to him. His nasty activities are rumoured to be over a few decades and authorities ignored the rumours because he is close to His Holiness at that time.

    Hence, we can see from this example that there is no real freedom of speech in the Tibetan community. That is why Tenpa Yarphel is considered a courageous man who dares to speak against the Dorje Shugden ban.

  11. Tenpa Yarphel is our Tibetan hero monk.


  12. Dorje Shugden practice claimed by Dalai Lama and CTA that it will affect the Tibetan cause. After 23 years of the Shugden ban that prosecuted by Dalai Lama and CTA, what is the good news for the Tibetans? Why the Tibetan leadership still unable to negotiate with China for their return? Obviously, the Tibetan leadership just take Shugden practice as a scapegoat to cover their failure of broken promises to bring back the Tibetans back to China.

  13. Thanks a lot to the brave MP Tenpa Yarphel from Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism that pointed out one of the most important points in the Parliament which is how Shugden ban has benefitted the Tibetan leadership after 23 years? Such a long 23 years has the ban give a positive route for China to allow Tibetans in Exile in India and Tibetans all around the world and particularly His Holiness the Dalai Lama back to their homeland Tibet?

    In these 23 years of Shugden ban major suffering to many lays and ordained people. Tibetan leadership is only interested in covering their failure by sacrificing their people with such a big lie. What actually Tibetan leadership achieve in this? People are not blind and how far can they cover their failures?

    How can a protector practice affect the cause of Tibet? Aren’t the Tibetan leadership should be more proactive and be more mature and logical to handle the situation? What is the hope for the Tibetan in Exile in India under such childish and layback leaders?

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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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