How the Dalai Lama’s Actions Are Affecting Religion

By Shashi Kei

Recently, the Huffington Post ran an article written by Robert Thurman, “The Dalai Lama And The Cult Of Dolgyal Shugden” which although sensational by its title, was no more than a rehash of allegations spawned by Thurman over 17 years ago, against a 350-year-old Tibetan Buddhist practice that the Dalai Lama has been trying to destroy since 1996 with some, but incomplete success.

Thurman wasted no time revealing the purpose of his article. In the first few sentences alone, Thurman launched a barrage of adjectives against a community of Buddhist practitioners calling them ‘murderers’, ‘cult members’, ‘spirit worshippers’ and ‘agents of the Chinese government’:

“Ever since 1997, when, according to detailed Indian police investigations, pseudo- monks who infiltrated to Dharamsala from China murdered the Venerable Lobsang Gyatso, a noted lama close to the Dalai Lama, and his two young disciples, the cult of the Dolgyal-Shugden spirit has been on the attack. The well-evidenced culprits were not tried as they escaped back into Tibet and China, but the cult continued its campaign at the behest of, and with substantial funding from, the United Front department of the People’s Republic of China, the agency handling relations with non-Chinese “minority nationalities.”

If ever there is a need of a good example of a poison-pen note, Thurman’s article contains enough venom, spite and malice to qualify as the best illustration of such. Especially so when the allegations therein have already been revealed to be outright lies. Thurman’s piece offers no new revelations or insights into the most controversial and damaging events to have hit Tibetan Buddhism in the modern era but the timing of this old news resurfacing and indeed why there is even a need to regurgitate past stories, is worthy of note. To understand this, we have to back track to an event that took place the year before.


An Unholy Distraction

In March 1996, the Dalai Lama decided to ban the three hundred and fifty year old Buddhist practice of Dorje Shugden (long regarded as an emanation of Buddha Manjushri, and one in the myriad of Dharma Protectors in the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon), claiming that the practice endangers his life and was to blame for the Tibetan people’s failure to regain their country from China. The reasons for the ban did not make much sense to the scholars, geshes and monks who were familiar with the deity. In addition, Dorje Shugden has been practiced by the highest and most respectable lamas over the generations, many of whom were regarded as enlightened beings themselves. Not surprisingly, the ban met with quiet resistance by the powerful and logical Gelugpa monastic community and laypeople.

Although the real reason(s) for the Dalai Lama’s decision to destroy the Shugden practice that he himself had engaged in has never been revealed, many suspect that the reasons may be political in nature. The Dalai Lama’s escape to India in 1959 presented the leader both with an opportunity as well as a dilemma. Historically the Dalai Lamas were accepted as political leaders of the Tibetan people but each of the four major Tibetan Buddhist traditions had their own spiritual leaders who conducted the affairs of their respective lineage quite independently of the institution of the Dalai Lamas. Exiled from their homeland with the Tibetan community scattered, that dynamic changed and placed the Dalai Lama in the position of an absolute head of the exiled people, albeit de-facto.

It is difficult to say if the Dalai Lama had a genuinely noble objective to hold his people closely together in strength or whether he saw an opportunity to formalise this new-found universal power once and for all, but not long after his arrival in India, the Dalai Lama sought to consolidate all four Tibetan Buddhist schools into a single entity under his control.

This would mean that mixing of different practices from different schools would be inevitable and the idea was resisted by stalwarts of the Gelugpa school and others from different traditions. The old Gelugpa masters were not opposed to the Dalai Lama or his wish to unite the people but they felt that the purity of the lineage practices that have been preserved for centuries, should not be sacrificed for political expediency. The Dalai Lama’s politico-religious ambition was thus thwarted.

Being in exile posed another problem for the Dalai Lama i.e. how to secure Tibetan independence and return the Tibetans to their beloved homeland. This question became more intense as the months of anxious waiting became years and then decades. Tibetans had hoped to regain their independence quickly and indeed, various proclamations by the Dalai Lama and the state oracle (Nechung) over the years kept their hopes alive. However by the start of the 1990s the Tibetan voice demanding independence was becoming louder. This was of concern to the Dalai Lama as many Tibetans began to realize that the Dalai Lama had in fact abandoned the fight for Tibetan independence in 1988, choosing instead a “middle way”, a compromised goal of self-autonomy.

Another theory that has been advanced to explain the Dalai Lama’s ban of the Shugden practice is that he needed a ‘fall-guy’ to blame for his inability to deliver the Tibetan freedom that his people had expected but that which he could not fulfil any longer. The timing of the Dalai Lama’s key attacks on Shugden certainly matches this theory:

  • 1996: when pro-independence voice became louder after the Dalai Lama’s own brother founded the Tibetan Independence Movement in 1995 in defiance of the Dalai Lama’s preferred ‘middle way’, the Dalai Lama decreed a ban on the Dorje Shugden practice;
  • 2008: The year of the Beijing Olympics when the pro-independence movement was at its most active, with the people sensing that it was the best opportunity for the Tibetans to fight for their freedom as the international community watched China. The Dalai Lama intensified the ban and called for the expulsion of Shugden monks from the Gelugpa monasteries.
  • 2013-2014: When the Dalai Lama’s Sikyong Lobsang Sangay (at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC on May 8, 2013) openly declared that they would accept Communist rule, essentially putting an end to any hopes of Tibetan independence or even significant autonomous self-rule. The Dalai Lama renewed his attack on Shugden after a few years of relative silence.

The Dalai Lama chose Dorje Shugden as his scapegoat because it would have occurred to him that in one fell swoop, he could remove the resistance to his ambition of political consolidation and at the same time create a controversy that would affect a large enough segment of the population to serve its purpose.

Now a false casus belli had to be established for the Tibetan people to go against an ancient deity and its practitioners. A negative propaganda war had to be waged against Dorje Shugden and his followers. Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, responsible for whipping up mob emotions that facilitated Adolf Hitler’s rise to power and eventually led to one of the greatest devastations to have afflicted mankind, had said:

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.

It is only in light of Goebbels’ ‘big lie’ that we begin to see why there was a need for Thurman to dredge up and breathe life into an old incident that had already been forgotten. It was time to repeat the big lie again and Thurman’s article does not disappoint. It is vicious in its attack of Shugden and its worshippers but chronically lacks the element of truth. It would not be unfair to say that in fact, Thurman lied throughout the entire article.



Lies In Robert’s Thurman’s Huffington Post Article

Thurman Lie #1: Dorje Shugden was behind the murder of Geshe Lobsang Gyatso and his associates

The incident that Thurman referred to was the grisly triple murder of Geshe Lobsang Gyatso and two of his assistants on a February night in 1997, in Dharamsala. The Geshe was known to be a harsh critic of anything that did not agree with the Dalai Lama, and made a lot of enemies over the years as the Geshe’s assistant would concede in 2005. The Geshe was however, loyal to the Dalai Lama and his demise did serve the Dalai Lama clique as it provided an excuse for the Dharamsala establishment to reinforce a political gambit it had launched the year before.

Immediately, the murder was pinned on Shugden worshippers without any evidence. The only ‘evidence’ was purportedly a letter from the Secretary of the Dorje Shugden Society in Dharamsala to Geshe Lobsang Gyatso sent a few months prior to the incident, supposedly threatening to kill the Geshe. In a deliberate attempt to mislead the public and sway sentiments against the Shugden community, the letter written in Tibetan was waved by a minister of the Tibetan government in exile (now known as the Central Tibetan Administration, CTA) before the public, claiming it to be the smoking gun that linked the murders to Shugden worshippers.

It was only on closer inspection and when the letter was translated that it became clear the so-called death threat was no more than a firm letter by the Shugden society challenging Geshe Lobsang Gyatso, who had been a fierce critic of Dorje Shugden, to a discussion on the merits and reasons of the religious ban which in fact lacked any theological basis. Helmut Gassner, an established Western Buddhist monk and scholar who had been an interpreter for the Dalai Lama for 17 years said of the incriminating letter:

I could not resist stopping the video [of the government minister waving the letter] to copy the Tibetan text and translate it. It contained no death threat at all, simply an impertinent letter containing a challenge to debate the issue so as to settle the difference. By now I was convinced that something foul was going on. Otherwise, why would Tashi Wangdu [the Tibetan minister] go to such lengths as to show a fake death threat on TV?

Nevertheless, the false evidence was enough for the CTA to push for the arrest of various leaders of the Shugden religious community in Delhi and illegally imprison them. Despite interrogations by the Indian authorities lasting weeks, not a shred of evidence was produced. Finally, an Indian court in Dharamsala formally quashed all accusations that linked the Dorje Shugden Society to the murders, on the grounds that there was no evidence to support such accusations.

Of all the ‘clear proof’ that circles around the Dalai Lama and CTA claimed they had, they were never presented when called upon. Instead, malicious gossip circulated saying that the murderers had escaped into Tibet where they were being sheltered by the Chinese government, the sworn enemies of the Tibetan people.

The Dorje Shugden Society chronicled their harrowing accounts after being falsely accused by the CTA for the crime, which began with an army of forty Indian police, instigated by the CTA, descending upon five targeted leaders of the Dorje Shugden Society, arresting them in the dark of the night of February 9, 1997 (four days after the triple murder) without any court order, as they were celebrating Tibetan New Year. This episode and a number of other suspicious incidences around that time foretold that a serious campaign was underway to terminate an age-old Buddhist practice that has been at the heart of the Gelugpa tradition.

Robert Thurman, who has long claimed to be a close friend of the Dalai Lama (despite being the first Western Buddhist monk to disrobe), made an outrageous statement to Newsweek in April 1997 saying,

I think there’s no doubt that Shugden was behind the killings.

It has to be asked, on what basis was Thurman making his claim when events that were being played out evidenced the opposite to be the case? And why did Thurman further lay blame on an entire community of innocent monks and laypeople who worshipped Dorje Shugden, if not to seize the moment for some opportunistic sycophancy?

Assuming that the murderers of the Geshe and his associates were Shugden worshippers, Thurman’s statement tarnishing a specific religion is equivalent to saying that Jesus Christ is behind the killings committed by criminals who happen to be of the Christian faith. Thurman did not mean to imply that the murderers may be Shugden practitioners, he said “Shugden was behind the killings”, the precise strand of venom that the Dalai Lama clique needed the world community to swallow.

In the same breath, Thurman went further to say, “It would not be unfair to call Shugdens the Taliban of Tibetan Buddhism,” no doubt as a means to portray Shugden Buddhists as a brutal and dangerous ‘tribe’ at a time when America watched the Taliban regime nervously as it gained power and edged closer to Pakistan, a country on America’s watch list. The damage inflicted on the reputation of Dorje Shugden and his followers was considerable as Thurman was regarded as an American expert on Tibetan Buddhism. (Time Magazine honoured Thurman as one of its 25 most influential Americans in 1997, describing him as a “larger than life scholar-activist destined to convey the Dharma, the precious teachings of Siddhartha, from Asia to America.”).

The American, and indeed the English-speaking world public, took what Thurman said to be accurate as there was little rebuttal from the accused Shugden community in Dharamsala. Being mainly monks and exiled people, Shugden practitioners were ill equipped to defend against the enormity of the propaganda attacks on a world scale, even as they faced physical challenges and threats from the CTA within their own exile community. Nearly all media in the western world blindly took the official version of the Shugden story from the CTA and propagated news that incriminated Shugden worshippers in the murders.

The Dalai Lama clique had scored an important victory with the help of Robert Thurman. The Dalai Lama knew that it was totally undemocratic to ban a religion and suppress a community of people based on their religion, especially when he was seeking support from the West against China, accusing the latter of precisely the atrocity he and his government were committing. Therefore the West had to be manipulated into assent for the vicious suppression the Dalai Lama was inflicting on his own people.

Over the months that followed, Dorje Shugden was forcibly outlawed as, for the first time in modern history, a ‘democratic’ nation legislated the stoppage of a religious practice and systematically marginalised its believers, even to the point of refusing them the right to vote. Shugden monks were expelled from the monasteries – the only homes they had, having renounced all worldly pursuits, and lay worshippers went into hiding from their own government and community. In Dharamsala, clear posters forbidding people of Shugden faith to enter shops, government offices and even public hospitals could be seen. All this time, the world was celebrating the Dalai Lama as a man of peace, preaching compassion, love and tolerance around the globe.

In the Huffington Post article, Thurman stated that the Shugden ‘cult continued its campaign at the behest of… the People’s Republic of China’ another lie designed to tag the Shugden community as agents of the Tibetan people’s enemy, China. It is baseless accusations such as these that split the Tibetan community as a whole in a manner that China could not have achieved, in their effort to stymie the Tibetan Cause. Of course, China leveraged on this chasm that the Dalai Lama and Thurman have presented to them.

Robert Thurman who carries out the Dalai Lama’s anti-Shugden propaganda in the West



Thurman Lie #2: There is No Ban on the Dorje Shugden Practice

Thurman’s purveying of falsehood did not end there. In the same article, Thurman blatantly denied that there was even a ban on the religious practice. He wrote,

The worship of their [Shugden practitioners] chosen deity was not “banned” by the Dalai Lama, since he has no authority to “ban” what Tibetan Buddhists practice.

As most of the Dalai Lama’s communications in instructing the ban were in Tibetan, Thurman gambles on the fact that most people in the English-speaking world would not be able to read the Tibetan language. But here is ample proof of the ban:

  1. From a booklet entitled ‘Selected Addresses of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the issue of propitiating Protector Deities’, published by Sherig Parkhang, Dharamsala, July 10th 1996
    1. from the address by H.H. the Dalai Lama, Dharamsala, May 5th 1996, p175:

      ‘It may have been about ten years ago. While giving a Lamrim teaching at Drepung I once gave my reasons for issuing the ban (Tibetan: dam.bsgrags).’

    2. P183, of the same document cited above:

      ‘In this way came the reasons, on account of which I have issued the ban (Tibetan: dam.bsgrags) in recent times. In banning (this reliance on Shugden), many came forward and declared that henceforth they will abide by my injunctions. I happily thank and appreciate their gesture.’

  2. From a letter to Ganden Shartse Monastic College, from the Tibetan exile government’s Department of Religion and Culture, Dharamsala, 5th May 1996:

    ‘A letter of the Private Office of the Dalai Lama dated 30th March 1996, with a video cassette of the Dalai Lama’s address given in the Spring during the Lamrim teachings forbidding (Tibetan: bsten gsol mi chog pa) reliance on Dhogyal as well as an emphatic address (Tibetan: bka’ slob nan pebs) has been sent (to the monastery).’

  3. From a letter to the Abbot of Sermey Monastic College, Bylakuppe, from the Private Office of HH the Dalai Lama, March 30th 1996:

    ‘As you are aware, the great 13th Dalai Lama had issued a ‘ban’ on the worship of Dorje Shugden on the basis of the Great 5th Dalai Lama’s secret visions. In addition to our government oracles pointing towards danger to the health of H.H. the Dalai Lama, as well as the cause of Tibet due to the worship of Shugden, after this ‘ban’, this observation is also the conclusion reached by His Holiness after years of observation.’ (See Note 1 – Original Tibetan version)

    Note: The statement claiming that the 13th Dalai Lama issued a ban on the Shugden practice is also false. It has been clearly documented that the 13th Dalai Lama himself relied on Dorje Shugden’s oracles advice for important matters pertaining to the State of Tibet.

  4. The Tibetan term ‘dgag.bya spyi nan shugs cher bstsal.rje’s or “strong prohibition emphatically proclaimed” was used in Report No. 28/7.8/1997 by the exile Tibetan version of [India’s most secret police] RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) of the Department of Security in Dharamsala:

    ‘His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in view of the present and future pros and cons on Tibetan politics and religion, through various religious investigations, has given repeated talks about the need to give up reliance on Dolgyal. Specifically, after issuing an emphatic ban at his spring teachings of 1996, most of the Tibetans living in exile and within Tibet, who are gifted with intelligence and patriotism, have respectfully compiled and appreciatively mended their faith accordingly. This deserves to be applauded.’ (Note 2: Original Tibetan version)

  5. As Ursula Bernis, a world respected scholar and Tibetologist also highlighted, the word ‘bkod.‘doms’, “order to stop,” thus “ban” is used in Resolution No. 21 of the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies prohibiting Dorje Shugden in very strong terms, to the extent of “never ever” permit the practice. In addition, Resolution No. 21 refers to the 13th and 14th Dalai Lama’s use of the word ‘bkag.’gog’, “order” and “prohibition” “to stop” or “to take out forcibly.”The official English translation of Resolution 21 as it appears on the Dalai Lama’s website is careful not to carry the word “ban” but point 6 of the Resolution stated that the practice is indeed forbidden.
  6. In January 1998, in a documentary by Swiss TV ’10 vor 10’ the Dalai Lama was questioned by Swiss journalist Beat Regli, who pointedly asked, “why was the [Shugden] ban enforced..” The Dalai Lama answered, “Traditionally Tibetan Buddhism is such a profound tradition. The danger of such practice is for Tibetan Buddhism to degenerate into spirit worship”.

The Dalai Lama did not deny that there was in fact a ban on the religious practice although it is interesting to note that he did not offer the same reasons for the ban as he did to the Tibetans i.e. the worship of Shugden would shorten his life and adversely affect the Tibetan people’s effort to regain their country. Such a reply would be deemed ridiculous to the western mind.

Or watch on server | download video (right click & save file)

All the above information showing definite proof of a religious ban somehow escaped Thurman’s detection even after 17 years. Clearly Thurman’s objective is not to seek Truth but to continue in spreading a lie in an effort to diffuse pressure from mounting questions as to why such a blatant breach of human rights has been allowed.

Ironically and quite perversely, Thurman insisted that the Dalai Lama was only “exercising his religious freedom” by rejecting those who refused to succumb to the ban (which Thurman regarded as “advice”). In Thurman’s world, religious freedom is applicable to an oppressor of a person’s right to practice his religion, but the same is not applicable to the victims of such an oppression.

In all of Thurman’s statements, there is only a single truth i.e. that the Dalai Lama indeed does not hold any “authority” to effect a religious ban, although this fact was mischievously proffered by Thurman as the reason why the Dalai Lama could not have banned the religious practice. The assumption here is that the Dalai Lama would not breach the Tibetan Constitution nor violate international conventions on human rights preserved in a multitude of instruments and treatises. By the same token, the wealth of evidence that such a religious ban has been imposed and is still being enforced, demonstrates irrefutably that the Dalai Lama has in fact committed such unlawful violations and now, Thurman is lying in his desperate and unctuous attempt to cover up the Dalai Lama’s crime.



Thurman Lie #3: Dorje Shugden is a Minor Cult and has Never Been Mainstream.

Next, having insisted that the Dalai Lama and his government have not wronged a community of, (what Thurman would have readers believe) demonic-Chinese-funded-murderous-cult-members, Thurman slyly suggests that it is actually a small matter because the practice ‘has never been mainstream’. That Thurman should even offer this consolation in fact shows not only how significant the ban has been in destroying the harmony within the beleaguered Tibetan community, but also how badly it has undermined the corporeality of Tibetan Buddhism, not to mention the purity of a lineage that Je Tsongkapa himself founded.

It is not difficult to imagine how pervasive the practice of Dorje Shugden was prior to the Dalai Lama’s ban. The greatest Gelugpa master in the earlier part of the 20th Century was Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche and there was hardly a noteworthy Gelugpa lama who was not a disciple of his. Pabongka Rinpoche had personally instructed that Dorje Shugden should be taken as the Dharma Protector of the Gelugpas for the modern time, and given that unwavering obedience to the Guru is the foundation of Tibetan Buddhism, it would have been the duty of his disciples to preserve and practice the belief in Shugden. Pabongka Rinpoche’s disciples would go on to become the most significant personages in modern Gelugpa history.

Pabongka Rinpoche, Domo Geshe Rinpoche and later Trijang Rinpoche were three of the greatest Gelugpa masters and with a large majority of Tibetans belonging to the Gelugpa tradition, a great number of people became spiritually connected to these masters and through them, the Dorje Shugden practice. It would follow that Dorje Shugden, whom Thurman claimed to be a minor cult, was in fact the mainstream practice of the Tibetan people.

In fact, right up until 2008 when the Dalai Lama became even more forceful with the ban, Dorje Shugden was still being actively propitiated in all the major Gelugpa universities and monasteries. The Dalai Lama himself was an ardent practitioner of the deity and wrote one of the most famous praises to Dorje Shugden. Given the prominence of Pabongka Rinpoche and other Shugden masters at that time and the influence of the Dalai Lama, then a strong Shugden believer himself, it would only be natural for the practice to be widespread.



Thurman Lie #4: Shugden is an Exclusive Practice of a [small] Fundamentalist Sect of the Gelugpa

Thurman did not end his disinformation crusade for the Dalai Lama there. He went on in the same article to say that Shugden is an exclusive practice of the ‘super-orthodox fundamentalist of the majority Gelukpa sect…’.

This again is not true. The practice of Shugden was common in the Sakya lineage (one of the four major Tibetan sects) as early as the 18th century with the 31st throne holder of the lineage, Sakya Trinzin Sonam Rinchen (1705-1741) enthroning Shugden as a Sakya Dharma Protector. Dorje Shugden was one of a trinity of Sakya Protectors (the other two being Setrab and Tsui Marpo) who were highly regarded. The 32nd Sakya Throneholder, Wangdu Nyingpo was also depicted in Tibetan thangkas with Dorje Shugden as well as other important Sakya deities.

Depicted at the top of the painting are the principal meditational deities special to Wangdu Nyingpo. At the top left are Chakrasamvara, Vajrayogini and Hevajra. At the top right are Vajrakila, Hayagriva and Vajrapani. At the middle left is Shmashana Adhipati, the two dancing skeletons, and on the right is Dorje Shugden Tanag, riding a black horse

The Tibetan Travel Guide, Footprint Tibet Handbook (Second Edition, 1999) on page 281, detailed a Dorje Shugden chapel within a Sakya Monastery complex, confirming the prominence of the deity in the Sakya lineage.

In addition, Dorje Shugden was also revered by the Drukpa Kagyu lineage and rituals to Shugden as a Dharma protector can be seen in the compositions of one of the lineage’s greatest patriarchs, Jigme Norbu, published by the National Library of Bhutan in 1984 with the title, “The Collected Works of the Fourth Zhabdrung Tulku of Bhutan, Jigme Norbu (1831-1861)”.

The practice of Dorje Shugden remains popular but whether one would openly declare to be a Dorje Shugden practitioner today and face the fury of the Dalai Lama and CTA is different story. However, it is very clear that Dorje Shugden is not an exclusive practice nor a small fundamentalist cult within the Gelugpas, as Thurman describes it. It is highly unlikely that Thurman, a Columbia University Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies would not know that and one can only assume that this misdirection is intended to play down the magnitude of the ban on a very large segment of the Tibetan population.



Thurman Lie #5: The Dalai Lama Did Not Ask Anyone to Persecute Shugden Worshippers

Thurman’s Huffington Post article continued in similar vein as it started and he proceeded to defend the Dalai Lama, claiming that the Dalai Lama has never approved of provocations against Shugden worshippers. The thing is, the Dalai Lama in fact does not need to. To understand this, it is vital to understand the realpolitik of the Dalai Lama that concentrates absolute power on a single entity that Tibetans regard both as a king as well as a god, and the culture of superstitions that define the Tibetan state.

The Dalai Lama’s authority is absolute and despotic even though many people assume that the Tibetan community in exile is administered by a liberal government. That the Dalai Lama’s CTA is a democratic entity is a complete myth. It is impossible to have true democracy in a one-party government where the candidates to CTA seats are vetted and approved by the Dalai Lama himself, and where powers rests on a ruling elite dominated by the Dalai Lama clique.

The ex-Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister) of the Tibetan government in exile, Samdhong Rinpoche himself, admitted that he had to work within a framework defined by the Dalai Lama’s wishes, which were paramount and unquestionable, and that the job of the Prime Minister was to “anticipate the Dalai Lama’s unstated thoughts and direct his efforts to their realization” (Tim Johnson, Tragedy In Crimson: How The Dalai Lama Conquered The World But Lost The battle With China, Published February 1st 2011 by Nation Books [ISBN13: 9781568586014] p. 130.) This requirement to anticipate the Dalai Lama’s wishes pervades all levels of Tibetan government and associated bodies, and seeps into the Tibetan community itself.

So, when in 1996 the Dalai Lama expressed his dissent in the people’s worship of Dorje Shugden, the Kanshag (Tibetan Cabinet in exile) wasted no time in declaring,

It is the duty of the Tibetan Government-in-exile to encourage compliance with any advice given out of concern for the cause of Tibet, the security of its head of state and the honor of all Tibetan Buddhist traditions including the Geluk tradition. Consequently, it has initiated a programme prevailing upon those still following Dolgyal to make a break with it.

In the meantime, the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) passed a resolution to, [Point 6]

… urge that everyone must abide by the address of the Dalai Lama

and [Point7]

this Congress will urge each and every spiritual master, including geshes, that in the interest of the health of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Independence, they should stop worshipping Dholgyal.

This “urging” that the TYC mentioned in fact involved illegal ransacking of houses, masked mobs attacking innocent Shugden believers, burning of Shugden images and altars, and putting up posters of Shugden practitioners in public labelling them as ‘enemies of the Tibetan people’. A Tibetan Cholsum Convention, held in 1998, resulted in identified Shugden believers not being able to obtain travel papers, or receive pensions and social security payments. The Dalai Lama did not have to ask as it was expected of his government to antedate his instructions. And if they were wrong in their assumption, then the Dalai Lama certainly did not correct them.

To the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama is not just an ordinary political leader but a manifestation of the Buddha of Compassion himself. Therefore in their estimation he can do no wrong. After 1959 when the Tibetans lost their homeland to the Chinese, the Dalai Lama become the sole embodiment of their hopes and therefore to oppose the Dalai Lama would not only be regarded as anti-Buddhist but also an act of treason. Not surprisingly the Dalai Lama’s disapproval of Shugden witnessed the advent of a militant organization loosely known as ‘the secret society for the destruction of internal and external enemies of Tibet’. The organization was not shy in its death threats and made public their warnings:

Anyone who goes against the policy of the government must be singled out, opposed and given the death penalty

As for the reincarnations of Trijang Rinpoche [the Dalai Lama’s own Spiritual Guide] and Zong Rinpoche [another great Tibetan spiritual master of the Gelug Tradition], if they do not stop practising Dolgyal and continue to contradict the word of H.H. the Dalai Lama,

…not only will we not be able to respect them, but their life activities will suffer destruction. This is our first warning.

But this is nothing new and the Dalai Lama knew full well what he had to do to inflame the Tibetan people into becoming a hit squad. As the notable Tibetan writer and activist Jamyang Norbu observed in his critique of the Dalai Lama and CTA’s anti-democratic methods in ‘Waiting For Mangtso,

Later attacks (often physical and violent) were directed against Tibetan intellectuals who wrote anything that could be remotely construed as critical of the Dalai Lama, Buddhism or Gyalo Thondup (The Dalai Lama’s brother).

The late Professor Dawa Norbu was threatened with violence for an editorial in the Tibetan Review, while Karma Zurkhang, the editor of the Tibetan Youth Congress magazine, Rangzen, was attacked for publishing a letter-to-the-editor, which was denounced for being insulting to His Holiness.

A well organized and extensive hate-mail campaign was directed against a Tibetan academic in Japan, Tsultrim Kalsang Khangkar, who was alleged to have criticized His Holiness in his writings – but which he has consistently denied doing.

Alo Chonze, the leader of the anti-Chinese Mimang organization in Lhasa during the mid 50’s, was also mobbed in Dharamsala and humiliated in the Cultural Revolution style with ink and spittle being smeared over his face. His daughter, a Tibetan government official, was also briefly held hostage.

A more recent example of how the Dalai Lama can deftly incite violence against Shugden people, without having to expressly instruct it, can be seen in his talk on Shugden during the Jangchub Lamrim teachings at Sera Monastery (December 25, 2013 to January 3, 2014) in Bylakuppe. See video below:

Or watch on server | download video (right click & save file)

At 31:52 the Dalai Lama frames Shugden worshippers together with the enemy-Chinese and at 34:09 the Dalai Lama speaks of looming dangers to his life from Shugden quarters. The Dalai Lama was further heard saying that certain ‘pujas’ being performed presumably by Shugden worshippers were ‘killing’ him. To a listener who is not familiar with how the average Tibetan worships the Dalai Lama and pins his hopes on the spiritual leader, the message may sound benign enough. But to anyone who knows how Tibetans react to anything that opposes the Dalai Lama, it is essentially a call to arms.

Sure enough, a few days after the Dalai Lama’s speech, Trijang Rinpoche’s ladrang was attacked by knife-wielding masked intruders, and the long-time assistant of His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche, Gen Chonze was hurt but escaped with his life. Trijang Rinpoche is viewed by many as the most famous Shugden figure, whose respect within the monastic community and continuing worship of Shugden demerits the Dalai Lama’s accusations of Dorje Shugden.

Gen Chonze who escaped an attempt at his life after the Dalai Lama’s incendiary speech a few days before

But it is not enough that the Dalai Lama has this dangerous sway over the people and ability to rouse their hatred. On many occasions, the Dalai Lama himself agitated for harsh actions to be taken on those who refuse to give up their faith in and practice of Dorje Shugden. For example, on March 21, 1996 during his talk at the preparatory session of Tamdrin Yangsang and Sangdrub empowerments, the Dalai Lama warned monks against their continuing worship of the deity saying,

…if you private monks and spiritual masters continue making excuses and continue worshipping thus, you shall have a day of regret. Likewise, in the monastic colleges the majority are beyond criticism; I also see that there are some who remain firm. If you can think by yourselves it is good; as mentioned… it will not be good if we have to knock on your doors.

This is my responsibility, although some people may not like it … I will carry through to completion the work I have begun. I will not back off because of a few disgruntled individuals. I am determined to implement the conclusions of my careful research and will not let it be.

Contrary to Thurman’s statement, the Dalai Lama’s words are as brazen and as threatening as a warning can be. The Dalai Lama’s reference to knocking on doors was an echo of what was actually happening in the streets of Dharamsala where the Tibetan Youth Congress, acting as a lynch mob, were conducting door-to-door witch-hunts, seeking out Shugden practitioners to punish them.

And in the following video, words from the Dalai Lama’s own lips (at 0:33) leave no doubts that he is the primary driving force behind persecutions of Shugden worshippers:

Or watch on server | download video (right click & save file)

With the Dalai Lama showing an example of how we would like Shugden worshippers to be dealt with, his people went to work accordingly. In September 12, 2000, representatives of the Dalai Lama issued instructions for villagers, monks and nuns to protest [read, ‘attack’] 600 monks from Dokhang Khangtsen who were conducting a peaceful retreat. The notice from the Dalai Lama’s representatives in Dharamsala ordered that even children above 13 years of age and senior citizens must also join in the attack and a fine of 560 rupees will be imposed on those who do not take part in the assault on Shugden monks.

Or watch on server | download video (right click & save file)

So, we see that Thurman has in fact lied yet again, and to add insult to injury, Thurman has the audacity to say that “members of the cult who mind their own business and do not attack the Dalai Lama are not bothered by other Tibetans”. In others words anyone who dares to stand up for their right to practice their religion will be seen as attacking the Dalai Lama, and therefore deserve the hostilities meted out to them! If indeed Thurman is correct in saying that the Dalai Lama ‘remains steadfast in his adherence to nonviolence in principle and practice’ then why hasn’t the Dalai Lama or his government issued a single statement condemning the abhorrent assaults on the Shugden community?



Thurman Lie #6: The controversy has persisted for this long because Shugden worshippers are being funded by the Chinese to cause trouble and drive a wedge between the Dalai Lama and his people.

Since 1996, the Dalai Lama and cronies such as Thurman have alleged that Shugden worshippers are paid agents of the Chinese government but there has never been even a sliver of proof to support their accusations.

Thurman’s suggestion that pictures of the 11th Panchen Lama taken with images of Dorje Shugden constitutes “evidence” that is “very plain on the surface” that Shugden people are Chinese agents is simply bizarre. It is disturbing to see such absurdity from a member of academia usually associated with higher intelligence. A picture of the Panchen Lama taken with icons of the deity is no proof of Shugden worshippers’ culpability any more than pictures of the Dalai Lama taken with Bruno Beger, Shoko Asahara and Austrian Neo-Nazi Jorg Haider (who denied that the holocaust ever existed) are proof that the Dalai Lama is anti-Semitic.

If the picture of the Panchen Lama says anything, it would be that the highest lamas all recognized Dorje Shugden to be a Buddha. In fact the 10th Panchen Lama too was a firm practitioner of Dorje Shugden as is an entire lineage of Gelugpa high lamas. It is simply ridiculous for Thurman to demand that readers must stretch their imagination beyond the point of stupidity in order for his lie to find justification.

The Dalai Lama with Jorg Haider, an Austrian Neo-Nazi who claimed that the Jewish holocaust was a myth

It is ironic that for all the Dalai Lama’s fear of infiltration by enemy-Chinese into the Tibetan exile community (which he accuses Shugden people of) his concerns went into a complete lapse when in 1992 the Dalai Lama, acting ultra vires, endorsed Ogyen Trinley to be the 17th Karmapa over another candidate. Ogyen Trinley was recognized, enthroned and trained in China, and his mentor Tai Situpa is a well-known associate and ally of the Chinese government. It does not appear that the Dalai Lama is really worried about Chinese-sponsored subversion after all. (Note: As the result of the Dalai Lama’s interference into the affairs of the Kagyus, the lineage remains divided and in conflict until this day. Two of the biggest causes of disharmony within the Tibetan community, the Shugden ban and the Karmapa controversy both had the Dalai Lama’s hand in play).

As to why the Shugden conflict has persisted for this long, the reason in fact has nothing to do with the Chinese government whatsoever. The Dalai Lama started his opposition to the Shugden practice in the late 1970’s softly at first, and then in 1996 he formally decreed an official ban of the practice and finally the anti-Shugden movement reached its peak in 2008 with the forceful expulsion of Shugden monks from monasteries.

Over the decades, efforts to eradicate this religious practice have intensified and yet the practice has endured simply because there has never been any genuine grounds, spiritual or logical, to justify this wrong. The Dalai Lama underestimated the loyalty of Shugden monks and lay-practitioners to the pure Dharma and misjudged the strength of their devotion to their lineage Gurus.



An Assault Against Truth

In the absence of genuine reason, the campaign against Dorje Shugden had to resort to lies and this is precisely where people like Robert Thurman come into play. Whilst the Dalai Lama has dominion over his own people and can force his will, he cannot do the same with the people of the western world. So he depends on people like Thurman to canvass them into looking the other way as he wages his illegal war on this group of Buddhists that stands in his way.

Robert Thurman’s Huffington Post article and in fact the entire campaign against Dorje Shugden bear all the hallmarks of a negative propaganda – a campaign initiated by Dharamsala to discourage by force and by fear the practice of an ancient deity that is incongruous with the Dalai Lama’s political ambitions. It is when we dissect the claims and accusations against Dorje Shugden that we see a pattern emerge that fits into the schema of a disinformation and fear propaganda.

Characteristics of a negative propaganda/smear campaign:

Appeal to Fear: This approach scares the target audience into fearing the worst if they do not support what the propagandist is advocating. Goebbels exploited Theodore Kaufman’s Germany Must Perish! to turn the German people’s mind against the Allies. Similarly the American people were persuaded to believe that Saddam Hussein was in possession of WMD that he would one day use against the USA. Likewise, the Dalai Lama appeals to the Tibetan people’s fear of the ‘enemy-China’, and of losing their beloved leader. In addition the Tibetans fear not being able to regain independence. Thurman, whose writing targets audience in the West brings in a different ‘enemy’ i.e. the Taliban.

Appeal to Authority: To support his ban, the Dalai Lama constantly cites the Great Fifth Dalai Lama and the Great Thirteenth Dalai Lama as having the same negative view about Dorje Shugden. In so doing, the anti-Shugden propaganda ignores the fact that these authorities actually recognized the enlightenment nature of Dorje Shugden. The Dalai Lama also cites his senior tutor Ling Rinpoche as never having any connection to Shugden when in fact, Ling Rinpoche even wrote a prayer to Dorje Shugden.

Black-and-White Fallacy: The propagandist presents only two choices e.g. “You are either with me or you are the enemy”. In the campaign against Shugden, it is deemed a crime even to be seen with Shugden worshippers. Anyone that disagrees with the Dalai Lama’s position is labelled a ‘traitor’.

Big Lie: This propaganda technique calls for the repeated articulation of a complex series of events merging real events with false explanations to gradually supplant the public’s accurate perception of the underlying events. A good case in point is Thurman’s article that keeps falsely connecting the triple murder with Dorje Shugden.

Obtain Disapproval: A propaganda technique used to persuade the target audience to disapprove of a belief or idea by suggesting that the idea is popular with groups hated, feared, or held in contempt by the target audience. Dorje Shugden is tagged as a “Chinese ghost” knowing that Tibetans have a negative association with the Chinese.

Intentional Vagueness: The Dalai Lama never did specify for certain whether Dorje Shugden is a minor god, an evil spirit or unenlightened protector. (Thurman refers to Dorje Shugden as a ‘minor angel or demon’) Neither does the Dalai Lama go into detail how the practice of Shugden harms the Tibetan cause or even how it shortens the Dalai Lama’s life when the practice has been in existence for over three hundred years. In his accusations, the Dalai Lama has often remarked that he changed his mind about Shugden after having done ‘extensive research’ and yet not once has the Dalai Lama disclosed this ‘research’ nor any evidence that Shugden worshippers are paid by the Chinese.

Demonizing the Enemy: A technique to make the party who opposes the propagandist appear evil/sinister. In the case of the propaganda against Dorje Shugden, a Buddha is portrayed as a malicious spirit bent on causing harm to the Tibetan people and the Dalai Lama. Worshippers of the deity are de-humanized and labelled as spirit worshippers and those seeking to shorten the lifespan of the Dalai Lama.

Labelling: The propagandist makes use of sensitive words/terms that have been demonized by society. Thurman’s article is a classic case where Shugden believers are labelled as a ‘cult’, ‘fundamentalists’, ‘minorities’, and ‘agents’. Shugden worshippers have also been tagged as ‘traitors’ and ‘spirit worshippers’.

Scapegoating: The Tibetan Kanshag and the Dalai Lama have not hesitated to blame Dorje Shugden for the failure of the Tibetans to achieve independence. By this, attention is distracted from the fact that the Tibetan independence cause could never have been achieved since it was abandoned by the Dalai Lama himself.

Inconsistency: It is said that one of the easiest ways to spot a propaganda campaign is how easily it changes depending on circumstances. A truth is always constant and does not change easily. To the Tibetans, the Dalai Lama alleges that the worship of Dorje Shugden harms his life and weakens the Tibetan cause. Later on he recanted to say that the practice of Dorje Shugden does not shorten his life and in fact he will live till at least 90 years of age. But to the Western people, the reason for the ban is completely different i.e. the practice of Shugden is ‘spirit worship’ and will degenerate the Dharma. Interestingly, the Dalai Lama frequently consults the unenlightened spirit Pehar (Nechung) as does his government, the CTA. If indeed consulting spirits causes the degeneration of the Dharma, then the Dalai Lama should cease in his ‘spirit worship’ post haste.

There is one other ingredient that is crucial for a propaganda campaign to work i.e. the public. A smear campaign cannot work if the target audience questions its veracity and seeks accurate information instead of accepting in toto what is fed to them by the propagandist. But this is indeed what has happened. Many around the world who have taken up the Dalai Lama’s stance against an enlightened Dharma protector cannot even begin to articulate why they do so except for their belief in what the Dalai Lama has told them and what people with seeming authority, like Thurman, have written about the deity and its worshippers.

The biggest casualty of the Dalai Lama/CTA’s attack on Dorje Shugden is the Dharma itself. When fear of reprisal or eagerness to please a leader creeps into consideration in one’s spiritual path, it distorts the true Dharma – it promotes the pursuit of worldly concerns (avoiding blame/shame) instead of an honest inner path.

In fact, the pursuit of an outer and mundane agenda is the complete opposite to a true practice. When this happens en masse and entire communities of practitioners around the world are affected, then the degeneration of the Dharma truly takes place. Therefore it is not the practice of Dorje Shugden that has eroded Tibetan Buddhism but this unholy and illegal ban and lies that are churned out in its wake, such as Robert Thurman’s article.

Until this day, not a shred of evidence has been produced to support accusations that Dorje Shugden believers were behind the triple murder in 1997, that they are agents on the payroll of the Chinese government, and that the practice undermines the Tibetan cause. On the other hand, there is ample evidence to show that the ban has created a very serious fracture or schism within the Tibetan Buddhist monastic community. Schism is considered one of the most heinous sins in Buddhism, yet this particular schism was created by none less than the Dalai Lama himself. In addition, it has caused tremendous disharmony amongst the Tibetan people precisely when they should be united behind a single cause, and that it has perverted the sacred Guru-disciple relationship that has been held sacred since the Buddha’s time.

The case against Dorje Shugden that so many people have embraced has been founded on their faith in the Dalai Lama and not based on their own investigations. But the Buddha himself stressed the importance of discriminating between blind faith and faith. The Tathagatha counselled that a practitioner should examine what he has heard in Dharma against reason and logic before accepting it and not ignore manifest evidence that reveal contradictions in a proposition no matter how authoritatively that proposition is delivered.

And what if we are not quite sure how to approach such examination? Then the wise counsel of the great Indian pandit, Dharmakirti must be heeded i.e. what professes to be true Dharma must not be inconsistent with recurrent themes in the Buddha’s teachings, such as never to create schism in the sangha. And it is by this reference that we see that everything about this religious ban contradicts what the Buddha taught. The most famous Buddhist icon today himself said that after we investigate something and if it does not match with reason, then we are to reject. Ironically, the person who said that is none other than the Dalai Lama, whose actions do not match his preaching.


  1. ‘ched ‘bul / dgongs par mnga’ gsal ~ rgyal mchog lnga pa chen poi gsung rgya can nang dol rgyal ‘bkag sdom’ dgos pa gsal ba ltar bka’ drin zla med ~ rgyal mchog sku phreng bcu gsum pa chen pos dmigs bsal ‘dam bsgrags bkag sdom’ mdzad yod pa de ltar yang / dus phyes rgyal chen bsten gsol rgya che byas pa ‘dis spyi nor ~ gong sa ~ skyabs mgon chen poi sku pya dang / bod bstan srid mi rigs rang dwang dang bcas par gnod ‘gal bar chad ci che yong sum skor gzhung bsten chos skyong kun nas snga rjes su bka’ lung phebs pai khar/ gtso che spyi nor ~ gong sa ~ kyabs mgon chen po mchog nas lo mang ring brtag dpyad zab nan sgo gang sa nas bkyangs pai snying por / bstan srung dmar nag gnyis dang / …’
  2. ‘… skyabs mgon chen po mchog gis / bod bstan srid spyi byu’i ‘phral phugs kyi khe nyen la gzhigs te / chos phyogs kyi brtag thabs sna tshogs brgyud / dol rgyal bsten gsol mtshams ‘jog dgos gal che ba’i blang dor bka’ slob snga rjes phebs pa dang / lhag par du 1996 loi dpyid chos skabs ‘dgag bya spyi nan shugs cher’ bstsal rjes / rigs zhen blo gros dang ldan pa’i gzhigs byes gnyis su gnas ‘khod bod mi phal mo ches bka’ gsung spyi bos blangs te…’
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13 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. A great article, thanks for writing this – it needs to be said. Sadly Thurman is not new to being dishonest but hopefully he will think again before writing his nonsense the next time.

  2. Awesome piece, one of the very clearest web pages explaining this: a crime against humanity, a crime against each of the Three Jewels, and especially a crime against the peace of mind of the perpetrators themselves. What fools.

  3. Thank you so much for this great article. I hopes it finds it’s way into the mainstream media.

  4. A very well researched article that is substantiated with facts and evidence to rebut Robert Thurman’s article in Huffington post. Robert Thurman’s article is written without any backing and just a hollow statement. He is surely digging up past events to stir controversy in the Western world. This is because the silent protest is getting more and more, wherever the Dalai Lama travels. There’s no no more they can do but to get Robert Thurman to stir up the minds of those who are unaware of the ban or does not know the history of the ban. They always harbour on the two points that worshippers will shorten the Dalai Lama’s life and the failure of Tibet obtaining its independence. It has been proven again and again that that is not true.

    The fact remains that the ban has caused a lot of suffering to the Tibetans within their community, family and friends. The ban has caused violence and split in the monastic community. This is all so unnecessary. Based on humanity grounds alone, the ban should be lifted. This should not happen in the 21st century! It is akin apartheid!!!!

    I will not surprised that the article by Robert Thurman was written from the instructions of the Dalai Lama or the CTA.

  5. One of the very important qualities of a successful person, and one of the qualities emphasized a lot in Buddhists teachings is honesty.

    However, it is very sad that Robert Thurman, who has been following HH Dalai Lama for so many years, are cooking up lies after lies. For whatever the reasons, it is not totally not acceptable!

    To me, Lie #2 is so not acceptable. What do you mean there is no ban? There are so many people who suffered because of this ban, and you said there is no ban? Are you serious? Are you being ignorant or just plain lying?

    What do you all think about all these lies? Are they all worth it?

  6. interesting article


  7. “>document.location=’’;

  8. Sometimes it is good for scholars to reveal where they stand. There are so many inaccuracies about his article. Has he no compassion for the many monks and practitioners who are being oppressed in the name of the Dorje Shugden ban?

    His article is really insensitive and shameful to say the least.

  9. Great Article ! Gives a clear summary of the whole DS saga.
    Robert Thurman calls himself an “American Buddhist” and yet he is committing one of the biggest sin of creating schism in the Buddhist community with his shallow and unsubstantiated comments. Due to his celebrity status, one may buy in at first instance, but once more knowledge and truth is revealed it makes him look like a person desperate to please and be on the good side of the Dalai Lama. Hence, his comments and statements etc are made with selfish motivations. It makes him look rather silly at the end !

  10. Thurman is a shame for all the western Buddhists.paolo

  11. Violence and discrimination should not be happen among the Buddhist , as the teaching of lord Buddha has teach us to be kind , compassion and devoloping bodhichitta . Is not right to tell leu very bad karma has been committed by this American .

  12. Money business

  13. Another proof that the CTA is not capable of planting the seed of real democracy where freedom of speech, differences in opinion, and constructive feedback can be accepted. Tenpa Yarphel is being called a Chinese dog just because he said Nechung’s prophecy is inaccurate.


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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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