The Dalai Lama’s Controversial Stand

The following account is extracted from preliminary drafts of Schettini’s memoir, The Novice.

The Dalai Lama remains the temporal leader of Tibetans in exile, but is no longer their undisputed spiritual guide. The exile community is split over his decree regarding the propitiation of the powerful god Dorje Shugden, commonly known as Dolgyal. Practices invoking this deity were widespread among previous generations ‘especially by the Dalai Lama’s own teacher Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche’ but following the demise of the old generation, he questioned Dolgyal’s loyalty to the Tibetan cause and led a concerted effort to discredit him. On 21 March, 1996, he stated publicly, ‘It has become fairly clear that Dolgyal is a spirit of the dark forces.’

The most visible outcome of his proclamation has been to divide the formerly united Tibetan cause, and his actions have baffled many of his followers and admirers.


Shortly before the Tibetan new year in the spring of 1997, the director of the Dialectics School in Dharamsala was found stabbed to death along with his two young translators. Without delay the local Tibetan newspaper pointed the accusing finger at the Dorje Shugden Society in Delhi, characterizing it as a sect of bloodthirsty terrorists. Some Tibetans sprang to the Dalai Lama’s defense while others dashed to the opposing camp. Over time, few have managed to remain neutral. Monks have been expelled from their monasteries and riots have broken out in the streets of the Tibetan refugee communities in south India. Some of the opposing monks are influential, and are consolidating their power by setting up large organizations, some of them international, some with considerable resources.

The dismay among the western followers of Tibetan buddhism can’t be understated. Many stand aghast, unable to fit the Dalai Lama’s plainly uncompromising stand into their image of the peace-loving Nobel laureate. Increasingly, and presumably out of loyalty to their teachers, many now see fit to take sides. The schism has become a fait accompli of historical proportions.

The scandals of Britain’s Royal family go back for centuries, but each new one is reported as if it were an indelible blot on an unsullied, centuries-old reputation. So too have intrigue, murder and schism recurred in the Tibetan landscape. Lungshar, who tried to establish a constitutional monarchy in Tibet after the death of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama was charged as a Bolshevist conspirator and his eyes were gouged out. Decades earlier, the regent Demo Rinpoche and his friend Nyagtul were accused of invoking black magic against the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. The first died in a prison cell while Nyagtul’s chest was torn open and he was tied to a post to die in public. To this day, it’s thought that his spirit sometimes hijacks the body of Tibet’s state oracle in order to undermine the Dalai Lama’s office.

Perhaps the most surprising thing of all is that people are surprised. As threatening as it might seem to their faith, this is an opportunity for western Buddhists to understand the distinction between the inner experience of Buddhist practice and the worldly concerns of monastic religion and statehood. Some have suggested, not unreasonably, that this is a Chinese attempt to destabilize Tibetan efforts to return to Tibet. What is extraordinary is the almost complete absence of objective commentary or evidence, save the bodies of the three unfortunate monks and the physical and emotional scars of hundreds of others. The only thing that’s clear is that everything is particularly, suspiciously and almost systematically unclear. Based on little more than personal loyalties, pronouncements fly like red-hot shrapnel. The Buddhist cornerstone of open-minded enquiry is lost in the rubble. Perhaps it’s time for the sometimes esoteric but more often superstitious practices of tantra to become truly secret once again and for the general Buddhist public to concentrate on the core practices of mindfulness, insight and kindness.

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4 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Succinct and Yes! Let the Secrets recedc and simply Practice The Basic Precepts will calm the minds of all concerned and perhaps the scabs of old scars ands wounds will eventually heal.Especially,once we all emabrk down the path with Lord Shugden and all is forgotten and forgiven and only the actual dharna is all there is. How else will Billions of People Survive together, if they have No Code of how to live, without the Faith. All becomes a nightmare.
    Calmer words by skillful people will complete meaningful things for all of us.
    This person seeems familiar to me.

  2. In retrospect, HHDL’s brother, Thubten Norbu hiked and hiked for a Free Tibet,make a fuss, had a stroke and that was that!
    HHDL apparently is doing the same thing. Going down like a Trooper!

  3. When Milarepa was presented with the plee of his sister, for him to be like Lama Bari Lotsawa, he told her “Those who knowingly, and without restraint, commit sins break their parents’ hearts. Those who live off the lama’s wealth and temple offerings, and those who injure beings by crafty means to achieve their own aims – all these only injure themselves and others and displease the gods and holy men.” My hope is that we all (intuitively) understand why Milarepa consided religion to be something else than practice mixed with worldly concerns.
    I think that it is not necessary to make the tantra practices truly secret once again, but they should never be separated from common sense and the basics of buddhism. The four noble truths with the eightfold path are reason enough not to resort to riots, scolding the Dalai Lama: disgracing H.H.: a fellow human being (Buddha), damaging the aggregates of emotion, form and mind of humans and animals because somebody has told you their incence burning is in front of the wrong picture.
    Even if some of our fellow human beings are making groce mistakes: it is non of your bussiness! Going to your brother and saying: you have a splinter in your eye, while you cannot see because of the beam in your own eye, that is just unwise. Compassion should really be the core of good practice, tantra, yantra, mantra, Mahayana, sutrayana or whatever your yana or yantra is. Compassion is the union of love with wisdom. If either of them is lacking, it is not compassion!
    Anyway: the Buddha himself told us not to take his words for granted just because HE said them. He instructed us to hold his words in the fire of truth of our own mind, like a goldsmit uses fire to test the purity of gold.
    This implies logically, that to say that teachings are true because a Lama has taught them, is directly against the Buddhas teachings (unless you believe a Lama is a higher autority than Buddha Shakyamuni himself). And to blindly follow a Lama because he is your root guru: that also isn’t in accord with the Buddhas teachings. If Tibetan buddhism says you cannot doubt the words of your Lama, Tibetan buddhism is opposing the Buddhas teachings, and therefore, if that were true, Tibetan buddhism would be by definition falible. If it is falible, no Lama should be judging the practice of other practitioners without leaving room for his own error. Every human being is precious, every human being has the Buddha mind. To speak with Shantideva:
    …whatever I do now should accord with the Bodhisattvas’ family, and it should not be a stain on this pure family.

  4. Like what the memoirs of Schettini say Dalai Lama is no more a Spiritual guide but a leader to follow the Tradition of a country having a King or Leader and thus form a Government. I don’t understand why the Dalai Lama should cause such disharmony to the people by putting a Ban on the Spiritual practice of the people. And now this is the cause for the unrest of the Tibetan people causing disharmony and even war which has led to killing and sectarism amongst people who had previously had the freedom to practice Dorje Shugden. Even the Dalai Lama has been practicing Dorje Shugden before the Ban. With this new type of controversy sectarism and disharmony will definitely be created.

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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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