An Abbot Betrays His Own

By Saavie Acker

Phelgyeling Monastery was originally located in Nyanang, Tibet. After the series of events that eventually led to the Dalai Lama fleeing Tibet, Phelgyeling Monastery has since taken root in Kathmandu, Nepal. It is common knowledge to many that Phelgyeling Monastery is a stronghold for the practice of Dorje Shugden.

Since the 1600’s, Phelgyeling Monastery has housed a revered holy treasure – a 16-inch Dorje Shugden statue that was personally made by the 5th Dalai Lama. This statue is extremely significant to all Dorje Shugden practitioners as it is proof of the 5th Dalai Lama’s acceptance of and faith in this practice. To the residents of Phelgyeling Monastery however, this statue holds even more significance – it was THE turning point in the monastery’s history when they made the switch from the Kagyu to the Gelug lineage. Today, the monks of Phegyeling Monastery continue to uphold and transmit Dorje Shugden’s lineage just as how their predecessors received it from the 5th Dalai Lama.

Dorje Shugden statue made by the 5th Dalai Lama in Phelgyeling Monastery

In good times, Phelgyeling Monastery was one of the most frequently visited monasteries, a place where pilgrims came from far and wide to pay homage to the 5th Dalai Lama’s Dorje Shugden statue. However, since the 1990’s when the ban was put in place, many pilgrims have stopped visiting the monastery. Worse, many have stopped supporting and sponsoring the monastery. Since then, the Phelgyeling monks had to survive with very little funds while putting up with constant harassment from the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) as well as from their fellow Tibetans to stop their four-century-old practice.

The CTA often sent representatives to pressure the monastery into giving up their practice of Dorje Shugden. Furthermore, 13 different Tibetan organizations met the Abbot of Phelgyeling Monastery to demand the cessation of Dorje Shugden’s practice at Phelgyeling, and that the Abbot personally denounce Dorje Shugden by writing a letter to the government in support of their stance. This statement was confirmed in by the Abbot of Phelgyeling Monastery in an interview by Ursula in 1997.

Yet, Phelgyeling Monastery never succumbed to the external pressure and their own difficult situation. The monks persevered through the difficult times and have continued the practice of Dorje Shugden since the ban started in 1996. That is, until one Geshe Thardö was appointed as the Abbot of Phelgyeling. To the disappointment of many, Geshe Thardö caved into the pressure and recently travelled to Dharamsala to swear against the practice of Dorje Shugden.

One need not strain to imagine the distress of Phelgyeling Monastery when they learned that their Abbot had turned against the very practice that defined the monastery for centuries, almost as though their 17 years of hardship was for nothing. With the CTA breathing down their necks and enforcing their baseless anti-Shugden policies, the monks of Phelgyeling now discovered a more pressing issue within their own circle that would ultimately affect the preservation of their monastery and lineage.

The treacherous actions of the Phelgyeling Abbot did not stop with his betrayal of Dorje Shugden’s practice, a lineage entrusted to him by his predecessor. Breaking his vows and samayas (spiritual commitments) with his teachers and with his fellow Sangha was not enough to deter Geshe Thardö from doing further harm. Not long after he had sworn his allegiance to Dharamsala, it was discovered that several treasured holy items that belonged to the monastery – which had been passed down for generations – had been sold for his personal gain.

Some of the precious items that were sold include:

  1. Lama Tsongkhapa’s korpen (The Lama’s yellow coat originally worn by Lama Tsongkhapa himself)
  2. Dzi bead from Phelgyeling Monastery’s famous speaking Tara statue
  3. A very precious Lhari (The parasol placed above the Lama’s throne)
  4. Cham dance costumes (Costumes used in a vajra dance that dispel obstacles)
  5. Antique Buk cymbals

Geshe Thardö even had the audacity to sell 50% of Phelgyeling monastery’s land in exchange for money – land that was sorely needed by the monastery especially after the Nepalese government had reclaimed part of the monastery’s land.

The famous Speaking Tara of Phelgyeling Monastery

Having abused his position, misappropriated monastic property and betrayed what his monastery stood for, Geshe Thardö fell terribly ill and suffered a massive stroke which left half of his body paralyzed. Upon closer analysis and logical examination, Geshe Thardö’s actions are the consequences of degeneration caused by broken promises/samaya from giving up the practice of Dorje Shugden bestowed on him by his teacher. Laity and sangha alike are subject to the laws of karma and Geshe Thardö’s sowed actions had reaped results that affected his body in this very lifetime.

Broken samaya is not something that any Dharma student should take lightly. While Geshe Thardö’s degenerated acts are the current talk of the town, in the past, many other lamas who had denounced Dorje Shugden as their protector had suffered tremendous repercussions from their broken promises. Take for example, the great teacher Lama Zopa Rinpoche of FPMT, whose students have not only given up the practice of Dorje Shugden but are campaigning against the practice despite their having relied on this great protector prior to the ban. Due to the broken commitments and negative karmas of his students, Lama Zopa too suffered heavy physical illness and became paralyzed for a period of time.

We urge our readers to think about the ban on Dorje Shugden at a spiritual level. While Buddhism teaches us compassion, tolerance and integrity, the CTA’s insistence on enforcing the ban on Dorje Shugden despite H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama’s recent comment that “it is up to the individual to decide if they wish to practice Shugden” is destroying the only thing that Tibetans are renowned for – their spirituality.

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2 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. I heard of this some time back when I was in Nepal. I wanted to visit the monastery but was advised against doing so and that’s when the locals told me of this incident. I find this post informative, it’s related to Dorje Shugden and how the CTA pressured the monks to give up their Dorje Shugden practice.

  2. We must take heed here. Guru devotion brings merits and progress on one’s path. Guru devotion is the heart of Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, Tibetan Buddhism is oft times refereed to as Lamaism. Thus we see the heart of the practice.

    Here, in this article, we can also see that broken samaya not only stop all merit accumulation but also brings with it all its attendant negative results.

    But, unfortunately for Geshe Thardö, he stole what belonged to Phelgyeling monastery, effectively stealing from the sangha for personal gains. This stroke of his is karma returning in his very lifetime.

    So, we have to keep our promises, our samaya clean and motivation pure.

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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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