The Dalai Lama’s picture at Shar Ganden

By: Stevie Lee

On the altar of Gen Tenzin (not his real name) sits beautiful statues of the Buddha and also traditional offerings, such as bowls of water to represent the Three Jewels, which are very much in accordance with Tibetan Buddhist culture. Prominently placed at the front-center of the altar, which is a position of supreme veneration, sits a picture of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, long regarded as the Divine Head of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as, the nation of Tibetan people. More than that, the Dalai Lama is literally regarded as Avalokiteshvara incarnate, the Buddha Of Compassion himself.

This altar scene itself is not uncommon but what makes this case noteworthy is that Tenzin is a Shar Ganden monk. Shar Ganden is the very monastery that was formed after 600 monks were unceremoniously expelled from Ganden for refusing to abandon or swear against a Dharma Protector named Dorje Shugden, whom the Gelugpa monks have worshiped for years.

Shar Ganden Monastery

At the order of the Dalai Lama, and without just cause or sound reasoning, Dorje Shugden, who is none other than the emanation of Manjushri recognized by the great Fifth Dalai Lama and many high lamas and erudite Dharma scholars since, was suddenly deemed to be an evil spirit. The propitiation of Dorje Shugden was immediately rendered illegal by the office of the Dalai Lama, and rambling not far behind, the Central Tibetan Administration. The de facto Tibetan government-in -exile supposedly with a democratic constitution, lent their support as enforcers.

Tenzin is one of the small community of monks and lay practitioners who were forced into isolation and segregation from the rest of the monastery, and the Tibetan community at large, simply because they would not comply with the Dalai Lama’s instructions to break their oath made to their root Gurus to continue the practice of Dorje Shugden. Those who remained loyal to their gurus and practice were regarded as demon worshippers wishing harm upon the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan fight for freedom. They were labeled as traitors of not only the Tibetan people but also the precious Dharma. The propaganda was that the practice of this Protector is tantamount to anti-Dharma. Dorje Shugden monks, nuns and practitioners had to give up their practice or hide for fear of their lives. The Dalai Lama whom they have regarded as a God-King had condemned them to be enemies, and excommunicated. Thus, for Tenzin to place the picture of the Dalai Lama on his altar is to venerate the very same person who has judged Tenzin to be an enemy.

So maligned were the likes of Tenzin by the establishment that many of these monks lost Dharma brothers, close friends, and even family members. Some of the highest lamas like the present incarnation of the Guru of virtually all Gelugpa gurus, Kyabje Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche, had even received death threats and live in grave concern of their lives to this day. Trijang Rinpoche was forced to choose between his loyalty to his practice, or his devotion to the Dalai Lama – a choice his wisdom and strong sense of ethics have not allowed him to make. Instead, Trijang Rinpoche chose to disrobe and went into self-exile to the United States.

H.H. Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche

Labeled by the Dalai Lama as traitors and Chinese spies, no Tibetan shopkeepers would supply Shar Ganden with their daily necessities, and often the monks had to travel as far as 54 kilometers to the nearest Indian town of Hubli to get even the most basic of provisions. For all intent and purposes, the Dalai Lama ought to have been the spiritual nemesis for monks like Tenzin. Yet in spite of all these, many monks of Shar Ganden continue to hold the Dalai Lama in the highest regard, and continue to show their devotion to His Holiness by placing his photograph on their personal altars.

Like all Vajrayana monks, they still begin their prayers with “Namo Guru-beh,” which is the taking refuge with all lineage lamas including His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Although they may not agree with his actions and probably do not even understand his reasons for the ban, as nobody has yet been able to arrive at any sound and logical conclusion, they continue placing the Dalai Lama’s image on their personal altars. This is indisputable proof that their veneration of the Dalai Lama has not diminished. In this respect, Tenzin, like many Shugden monks and practitioners, truly uphold the Buddha’s teachings, one of which is Lojong or mind training. This is the practice of not allowing negative afflictive thoughts such as fear, hatred and anger to override the calm abiding mind that sees all phenomena in their true nature. One of the key teachings of Dharma is to recognize afflictive emotions as not having any inherent and sound basis. Therefore, they are merely reflections of our own angry and ignorant mind. The training leads to the development of Compassion, one of the attainments without which we cannot reach enlightenment. This is the Dharma that Tenzin and Shugdenpas practice. To them, there is no enemy, just as the Buddha himself did not recognize any enemy other than our own mind.

In stark contrast, after the institution of the Dorje Shugden ban, zealous anti-Shugden monks and people went on a rampage tearing down Dorje Shugden statues and images everywhere. Some, like members of the Tibetan Youth Congress, even went on a door-to-door search, reminiscent of the Salem witch-hunts. No Dorje Shugden image is allowed in Ganden Shartse or any monastery under the Dalai Lama’s watch, nor are the names of Shugden lamas allowed to be uttered in their daily prayers. In light of this disparity, one would have to be forgiven for asking if these monks, who are filled with hatred and devoid of tolerance or compassion, are practicing the same Dharma as Tenzin and the Shugdenpas. Ironically, it is the Dorje Shugden practitioners who are accused of being anti-Dharma. However, the reality speaks a very different language.

Tenzin and all Dorje Shugden practitioners practice true Dharma and at the core of the practice is the recognition that the Gurus are the source of all good qualities. Hence, under no circumstances will a true Shugden monk disparage any Guru or lama. The supreme example of this is in the very difficult and yet supremely kind instruction given by H.H. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche in Music Delighting An Ocean of Protectors which states on page 125:

But some who are narrow minded, not understanding this point, consider this Dharmapala[referring to Dorje Shugden] to be like an ordinary worldly being and, with supposed faith in the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, disparage him; or else they indeed admire this great Dharmapala but criticize the Dalai Lama or Panchen Lama. Using either one as a reason not to admire the other and speaking badly about either in any way is the conduct of an ordinary being who, under the influence of attachment and hatred, just tries to help friends and hurt enemies.

Music Delighting An Ocean of Protectors was written in 1967, decades before there was an inkling of the tragedy of the ban that was to come. This shows the clairvoyance of H.H. Trijang Rinpoche in anticipating the heart wrenching consequences and challenges which would be faced by all – Shugden and non-Shugden monk alike – in the future

This premonition has now become our present reality. Seeing H.H. the Dalai Lama’s picture on Tenzin’s altar is a reason to rejoice for it unconditionally affirms that in spite of the waves of malevolent persecutions against them, those who practice Dorje Shugden remain true to the teachings of the Buddha in the Vajrayana tradition. And that is, to regard the lineage Gurus as more precious than their own lives. How could such nobility have risen out of the worship of an evil spirit?

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9 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. I rejoice very much in the monk’s devotion to his Dharma Protector and also to his teachers, including the Dalai Lama. I do want to point out though, that the statement that ‘under no circumstances will a true Shugden monk disparage any Guru or lama’ could be a little bit difficult to interpret. While true disparaging of others arises from a negative mind, helping all living beings by asking a political figure to ‘stop lying’ isn’t a disparagement; also did it occur to you that Trijang Rinpoche, in 1967 might have been referring to whomever the actual Dalai Lama is, rather than the one that got recognized?
    Furthermore, the Dalai Lama hasn’t been considered the spiritual head of all of Tibetan Buddhism until he announced himself as its leader while still in charge of the government. According to Shamar Rinpoche, it was never like that in the past, but he (the Dalai Lama) said it this life.
    Concerning the monk you speak of, if he venerates the Dalai Lama and Dorje Shugden, then I rejoice that he is in a monestary in which he can have both on his shrine.

  2. @BlueUpali did it not also occur to you that Trjang Rinpoche had been the Dalai Lama’s junior tutor much before 1967, and would have therefore recognized Tenzin Gyatso, as the Dalai Lama he is speak about? Why would Trijang Rinpoche refer to some other Dalai Lama in that instance, knowing full well everybody would think of Tenzin Gyatso as the Dalai Lama?

  3. Those who question the validity of Tenzin Gyatso as the real Dalai Lama, after so many high lamas say he is the Dalai Lama, reminds me of those who claim Barack Obama isn’t a American citizen, just coming up with anything to help their agenda.

  4. Hello there, twostepsdown,
    Yes, I see what you mean about Barack Obama, but he was born in Hawaii, which is easily verified, and makes him an American citizen. The recognition of a reincarnate person on the other hand, is really a lot more difficult to ascertain. Shamar Rinpoche once told me that not all recognitions of the Dalai Lamas have been enlightened. For evidence, he gave accounts of the 5th Dalai Lama’s treatment of Kagyu khenpos, thousands of which were beheaded during his reign. (Rinpoche did not comment on the 14th one). Friend, I really do not know whether the 14th Dalai Lama is really awake and teaching by manifesting obstacles or whether we should do lots of Vajrasattva for him. To be safe, I include him in my Vajrasattva practice. If he’s a Buddha, he can use it in some way to help living beings. If not, it helps him, so it’s win-win. All I will tell you is that if he is a Buddha, he manifests a lot of failure to recognize other Buddhas; he prefers the Chinese candidate for Karmapa, and had absolutely no historical jurisdiction to intervene in any recognition in the Kagyu lineage. He also manifests difficulties in noticing that Dorje Shugden is an emanation of wisdom Buddha Manjushri. I am not saying that it conclusively proves that Tenzin Gyatso is not awake, as the Buddha taught that Buddhas can emanate in any form, even as insane beings. So I take it as a teaching to find things out for ourselves, because people can point at things and say they are Buddhas or not, but first of all they may or may not be right, and secondly, we should try to realize the nature of Buddha in our own mind.

  5. Dear BlueUpali,

    I am happy to hear of your Vajrasattva practice, as it should be a win-win as you said. The way I see it is that Trijang Rinpoche has recognized Tenzin Gyatso as the valid Dalai Lama by the very fact that he was his tutor and that he has always referred to Tenzin Gyatso as the Dalai Lama. Why would Trijang Rinpoche and other high lamas all go along with a fake Dalai Lama? That just doesn’t make sense to me.

    Second, tulkus don’t always have to manifest as enlightened beings who are faultless. If we take the Dalai Lama to be a Buddha, then any fault lies with our impure karma to perceive such faults. If we take him to be an unenlightened being, then I suggest the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation where it states:

    Whenever I meet a person of bad nature
    Who is overwhelmed by negative energy and intense suffering,
    I will hold such a rare one dear,
    As if I had found a precious treasure.

    When others, out of jealousy,
    Mistreat me with abuse, slander and so on,
    I will practice accepting defeat
    And offering the victory to them.

    When someone I have benefited
    And in whom I have placed great trust
    Hurts me very badly,
    I will practice seeing that person as my supreme teacher.

    And in this case of seeing Tenzin Gyatso as an unenlightened being who is harming Shugden practitioners, Tenzin Gyatso should be seen giving the best opportunity for Shugden practitioners to practice and to show the world how Dorje Shugden has made them successful in their Dharma practice in the face of many obstacles. Tenzin Gyatso then is a precious jewel who is a supreme teacher… who the Dalai Lama is supposed to be anyways.

  6. Hi there Two Steps,
    I rejoice in your practice of Lojong. I understand what you are saying about if we take the Dalai Lama as an enlightened being; I think what is important to understand here is that my jury on that has always been out; it is my pure view of other teachers that allows me to think he could be one at all. Please understand, I am really happy if other people may see him as a Buddha or not, depending on their particular karmic link; having studied previously with the Kagyus, I kept meeting people who took lamas from different sides of the split as Buddhas. To me, though we might have a different lama, they might both be Buddhas; what really is important is to examine Buddhist teachings like we are looking for gold in the market; they may find gold with theirs; I with mine. As far as I see it, that is really quite okay, in any lineage. So if the Dalai Lama is someone you take as a perfect teacher, then I rejoice for you; I have known other lamas, from all four lineages, that I take as perfect teachers. I really don’t think it is a problem, since it would be hard for the lamas to have time to guide all of us individually if all of us had the same one. At any rate, I really do rejoice in your practice.

  7. I like it , Thanks.

  8. Interesting thread of comments here. I would like to give my two cents on this issue. Indeed HHDL has posed a ban on Dorje Shugden and all his followers but that does not diminish HHDL’s hardwork over the years to ensure Tibet and Tibetans are well taken cared of in difficult times.

    Hence, HHDL’s pictures are everywhere in Dorje Shugden monasteries’ altars because we do recognize kindness and appreciate what HHDL has done. I salute and also respect HHDL even though I am a Shugdenpa. That’s how Buddhism should be.

  9. Despite the hardship and sorrow, Tenzin has shown his tremendous and exceptional faith to the Buddha Dharma, and especially to all the lineage Gurus.

    Dorje Shugden is an enlighten Buddha, DS practitoners must show good examples by not slandering and hurting anyone. Those who always criticize, creating separation, hurt and even kills the DS practitioners. perhaps they are the one who is practicing the wrong teachings ?

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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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