Dorje Shugden / Dolgyal

Dorje Shugden / Dolgyal is a “Dharma protector” whose precise nature — worldly Dharma protector, emanation from a Buddha in the form of a worldly spirit protector, worldly spirit, or fully enlightened being — is disputed among adherents of Tibetan Buddhism, especially among its Gelug school.

Table of Contents


Traditional statue of Dorje Shugden

Statue of Dorje Shugden / Dolgyal. Shugden is traditionally depicted as a fearsome deity, holding in his right hand a sword dripping with blood and in his left hand the heart torn out from the chest of its enemies.

Dorje Shugden (Wylie: rdo-rje shugs-ldan), “Powerful thunderbolt”[1] or Dolgyal (Dhol-rgyal) is a relatively recent, but very controversial, entity within the complex pantheon of Himalayan Buddhism. There exist different accounts and claims on Dorje Shugden’s origin, nature and function.

The alternative name, Dolgyal (Dhol-rgyal), is a combination of the Tibetan words ‘Dol’, a place in South Tibet, and an abbreviation of the word ‘Gyalpo’, ‘king spirit’. The meaning of Dolgyal is then, ‘the king spirit who resides in the region of Dol.’ The name Dolgyal for Shugden is used by the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Trijang Rinpoche, Pabongkha Rinpoche, among others, and in Sakya texts.[1a]

Origin, nature and functions

According to researcher Kay: “Whilst there is a consensus that this protector practice originated in the seventeenth century, there is much disagreement about the nature and status of Dorje Shugden, the events that led to his appearance, onto the religious landscape of Tibet, and the subsequent development of his cult.”[2]

According to Kay, there are two dominant views:[3]

  • One view holds that Dorje Shugden is a 'jig rten las 'das pa'i srung ma (an enlightened being)
  • Opposing this position is a view which holds that Dorje Shugden is actually a 'jig nen pa'i srung ma (a worldly protector).

Kay examines:[3]

One view holds that Dorje Shugden is a 'jig rten las 'das pa'i srung ma (an enlightened being) and that, whilst not being bound by history, he assumed a series of human incarnations before manifesting himself as a Dharma-protector during the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama. According to this view, the Fifth Dalai Lama initially mistook Dorje Shugden for a harmful and vengeful spirit of a tulku of Drepung monastery called Dragpa Gyaltsen, who had been murdered by the Tibetan government because of the threat posed by his widespread popularity and influence. After a number of failed attempts to subdue this worldly spirit by enlisting the help of a high-ranking Nyingma lama, the Great Fifth realised that Dorje Shugden was in reality an enlightened being and began henceforth to praise him as a Buddha. Proponents of this view maintain that the deity has been worshipped as a Buddha ever since, and that he is now the chief guardian deity of the Gelug Tradition. These proponents claim, furthermore, that the Sakya tradition also recognises and worships Dorje Shugden as an enlightened being. The main representative of this view in recent years has been Geshe Kelsang Gyatso who, like many other popular Gelug lamas stands firmly within the lineage-tradition of the highly influential Phabongkha Rinpoche and his disciple Trijang Rinpoche.[4]


Opposing this position is a view which holds that Dorje Shugden is actually a 'jig nen pa'i srung ma (a worldly protector) whose relatively short lifespan of only a few centuries and inauspicious circumstances of origin make him a highly inappropriate object of such exalted veneration and refuge. This view agrees with the former that Dorje Shugden entered the Tibetan religious landscape following the death of tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen, a rival to the Great Fifth and his government. According to this view, however, the deity initially came into existence as a demonic and vengeance-seeking spirit, causing many calamities and disasters for his former enemies before being pacified and reconciled to the Gelug school as a protector of its teachings and interests. Supporters of this view reject the pretensions made by devotees of Dorje Shugden, with respect to his Status and importance, as recent innovations probably originating during the time of Phabongkha Rinpoche and reflecting his particularly exclusive and sectarian agenda. The present Dalai Lama is the main proponent of this position and he is widely supported in it by representatives of the Gelug and non-Gelug traditions.[5]

Regarding English scholarly discussions Kay observes: “Scholarly discussions of the various legends behind the emergence of the Dorje Shugden cult can be found in Nebesky-Wojkowitz (1956), Chime Radha Rinpoche (1981), and Mumford (1989). All of these accounts narrate the latter of the two positions, in which the deity is defined as a worldly protector. The fact that these scholars reveal no awareness of an alternative view suggests that the position which defines Dorje Shugden as an enlightened being is both a marginal viewpoint and one of recent provenance.”[6]

Mills states that “most Gelugpa commentators place him [Shugden] as a worldly deity”.[6a]

Although some proponents of the view that Dorje Shugden is an enlightened being claim that the Sakya tradition recognises and worships Dorje Shugden as an enlightened being[7], Sakya Trizin, the present head of the Sakya tradition, states that some Sakyas worshipped Shugden as a lower deity, but Shugden was never part of the Sakya institutions.[8] In a letter written by him in 1998, Sakya Trizin states:

Dorjee Shugden is not practised by Sakyapas as a group or community. But there are a few Sakyapas who practice it individually. In my opinion, it is much better for Western Buddhists to practice Dharma Protecting deities which are transmitted from the Tantra treatises.

Lama Jampa Thaye, an English teacher within both the Sakya and the Kagyu traditions and founder of the Dechen Community, maintains that “The Sakyas generally have been ambivalent about Shugden [] The usual Sakya view about Shugden is that he is controlled by a particular Mahakala, the Mahakala known as Four-Faced Mahakala. So he is a 'jig rten pai srung ma, a worldly deity, or demon, who is no harm to the Sakya tradition because he is under the influence of this particular Mahakala.”[9]

Then there are Tibetan Buddhist masters who regard Dorje Shugden as a destructive and malevolent (or demonic) force, like the 5th and 14th Dalai Lama[9a], Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche[10], Mindrolling Trichen Rinpoche[11], former head of the Nyingma school, and Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche. The latter one is head of 25 monasteries in Bhutan and holds the view: People who practice Shugden “will get a lot of money, a lot of disciples, and a lot of problems.”[12]

According to Nebesky-Wojkowitz lower class deities, known as the 'jig rten las 'das pa'i srung ma, are mundane or worldly deities who are still residing within the spheres inhabited by animated beings and taking an active part in the religious life of Tibet, most of them by assuming from time to time possession of mediums who act then as their mouthpieces.[13]

The view that Dorje Shugden is a worldly protector can be supported by the fact, that Shugden is invoked by oracles. In Tibetan Buddhism “enlightened protectors are generally understood not to take possession of mediums, an activity reserved for worldly spirits and protectors.”[13a] One of these Shugden oracles is Kuten Lama, an uncle of Kelsang Gyatso, who has served as an oracle of Dorje Shugden for more than 20 years, for both monastic and lay Buddhists who sought divine assistance.[14]

According to Dreyfus, the very name of Shugden, “Gyelchen Dorje Shugden [(rgyal chen rdo rje shugs Idan)], ‘Great Magical King Spirit Endowed with the Adamantine Force,’ shows quite clearly its relation to evil forces, in this case the king-spirits, one of the most dangerous among the various types of malicious spirits …, as illustrated by the founding myth of the Shukden cult as understood by its followers.”[14a] King-spirits (rgyal po), are “spirits of evil kings or important religious teachers who have died after breaking their pledges. They are considered extremely dangerous because they are the spirits of powerful people whose death has disrupted the normal course of events.”[14b]

Most of Shugden’s followers and Trijang Rinpoche, the junior tutor of the 14th Dalai Lama, “speak of the deity as being enlightened in nature but worldly in appearance.”[14c] Kay states,

Phabongkha and Trijang Rinpoche both promoted Dorje Shugden as a fully enlightened being who assumes the appearance of a worldly and boastful deity … [but] Geshe Kelsang takes the elevation of Dorje Shugden’s ontological status another step further, emphasising that the deity is enlightened in both essence and appearance.[14d]

With respect to Phabongkha’s view on Shugden, Repo states:

Phabongkha’s writings on Shugden which are based on Tagphu Pemavajra’s pure visions, prescribe a life entrustment initiation, usually reserved for more lowly worldly protectors (‘jig rten pa’i srung ma), instead of a permission initiation, such as those bestowed for the different manifestations of Mahākāla and other deities categorized as enlightened. Clearly Phabongkha did not take that one step further and promote Shugden directly to the level of an enlightened protector, which may well have been too obtrusive a move, but instead kept him ranked at the level of a worldly protector, who nevertheless, in reality, is an emanation of Manjuśrī simply appearing as a gyalpo, or “king”-spirit (rgyal po), as a manifestation of his enlightened activities. Shugden, as numerous textual sources attest, certainly existed within the Gelug and other lineages, specifically those of the Sakya sect, before Phabongkha and his teachers, and appears to have been consistently classed as a gyalpo. … Shugden’s actual nature as a manifestation of Manjuśrī is likewise highly contested by most Tibetan Buddhists, however a number of other protectors, including Pehar, are also the subject of disagreements (as to whether or not they are truly enlightened), although certainly not as heated.[14e]

Dreyfus describes the view that Shugden is enlightened as the view of “most extreme followers of Shukden”[14f] and adds:

Kelsang Gyatso’s Western New Kadampa Tradition seems to be unique among Shukden followers in going as far as to claim that this deity is fully enlightened and hence must be considered a proper object of refuge and worshiped as such.[14g]

Origins & key figures of the modern popularization

The Great Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso

The Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso (1617-1682). “Popularly referred to as ‘The Great Fifth,’ was the most dynamic and influential of the early Dalai Lamas. He was a great teacher, an accomplished tantric yogin, and a prodigious writer. His literary output surpasses the combined total of all the other Dalai Lamas. In addition to his scholastic achievements, he proved to be an able statesman, and he united the three provinces of Tibet (the Central, South, and West) for the first time since the assassination of king Lang Darma in the mid-ninth century.” (John Powers 1995: 145,146-47)

The historical origin of Dorje Shugden is unclear. Most scriptural documents on him appeared at the 19th century. There exist different orally transmitted versions of his origins, but in the key points they contradict one another. Some references to Shugden are found in the biography of the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617–1682), which is why there is consensus that the origins of Shugden stem from the 17th century.

However, the often repeated claim of Shugden followers that the Fifth Dalai Lama wrote a praise to Dorje Shugden lacks historical evidence. According to researcher von Brück: there is no historical record of such a praise, neither in the biography of the Fifth Dalai Lama nor elsewhere.[102]

Mills states about Shugden’s origin that Shugden is “supposedly the spirit of a murdered Gelugpa lama who had opposed the Fifth Dalai Lama both in debate and in politics, Shugden is said to have laid waste to Central Tibet until, according to one account, his power forced the Tibetan Government of the Fifth Dalai Lama to seek reconciliation, and accept him as one of the protector deities (Tib. choskyong) of the Gelugpa order.”[17]

Dreyfus, “When asked to explain the origin of the practice of Dorje Shugden, his followers point to a rather obscure and bloody episode of Tibetan history, the premature death of Truku Drakba Gyeltsen (sprul sku grags pa rgyal mtshan, 1618–1655). Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was an important Gelug lama who was a rival of the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngak-wang Lo-sang Gya-tso (ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, 1617–1682).”[16] Dreyfus contextualizes, “that the events surrounding Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s death must be understood in relation to its historical context, the political events surrounding the emergence of the Dalai Lama institution as a centralizing power during the second half of the seventeenth century. The rule of this monarch seems to have been particularly resented by some elements in the Gelug tradition. It is quite probable that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was seen after his death as a victim of the Dalai Lama’s power and hence became a symbol of opposition.”[16]

In the 18th and 19th centuries, rituals related to Dorje Shugden began to be written by some prominent Gelug masters. The Fifth On-rGyal-Sras Rinpoche (1743–1811, skal bzang thub bstan 'jigs med rgya mtsho), an important Lama and a tutor (yongs 'dzin) to the Ninth Dalai Lama wrote a torma offering ritual[18]. Also, the Fourth Jetsun Dampa (1775–1813, blo bzang thub bstan dbang phyug 'jigs med rgya mtsho), the head of Gelug sect in Mongolia wrote a torma offering to Shugden in the context of Shambhala and Kalachakra.[19]

13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso (1876–1933)

The 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso (1876–1933). He was “a strong ruler [who] tried, generally unsuccessfully, to modernize Tibet. The ‘Great Thirteenth’ also took advantage of weakening Chinese influence in the wake of the 1911 imperial collapse to reassert de facto what Tibetans have always considered to be truly the case, the complete independence of Tibet as a nation from China.” (Paul Williams, “Dalai Lama”, in Clarke, 2006, p. 137)

Key figures in the modern popularization of worshipping Dorje Shugden are Pabongkha Rinpoche (1878–1941) – a charismatic Khampa lama of the Gelug school who promoted Shugden worship “during the 1930s and 1940s … [making] a formerly marginal practice … a central element of the Gelug tradition.”[15] – and Trijang Rinpoche (1901–1981), a Gelug lama from Ganden monastery who was the younger tutor of the present Fourteenth Dalai Lama and a disciple of Pabongkha Rinpoche. The Fifth and the Thirteenth Dalai Lama were opponents of Shugden worship. The Life-Entrusting (Sogde, srog gtad) practice was seen by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama as going against the Buddhist principles of refuge (Triratna); therefore he scolded Pabongkha Rinpoche for it. In a letter to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Pabongkha Rinpoche replied that he had made a fault. He excused himself for having acted against the triratna-pledges and for having provoked the wrath of Nechung. He explained that the deity (lha) Shugden played a special role at the time of his birth, and he promised to stop worshipping Shugden and to avoid performing the rituals regarding that deity.[101] However after the death of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Pabongkha began to spread the practice even more than previously.

Pabongkha’s influence grew after his own death to further heights. Samuel, “In fact, Pabongkha’s influence was strongest after his death and that of the 13th Dalai Lama, and particularly after the forced resignation of the regent Reting (Ratreng) Rinpoche in 1941 and his replacement by Tagtrag Rinpoche, who had been a close associate of Pabongkha and shared his conservative orientation. It was at that time that Pabongkha’s students gradually moved into the dominant position that they have held within the Gelugpa order into the 1970s and 1980s.”[65]

Pabongkha Rinpoche (1878–1941)

Pabongkha Rinpoche (1878–1941)

According to Pabongkha’s view Drakpa Gyeltsen was a former incarnation of Dorje Shugden, but his death is not the cause of Dorje Shugden. He established a line of arguments arguing that Shugden has a very close connection to practitioners of Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition and is now their powerful protector, able to bestow blessings and create appropriate conditions for Dharma realisations to flourish. To do this, he established the idea that the original three protectors of Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition (Kalarupa, who was bound by Tsongkhapa himself, Vaisravana and Mahakala) have gone to their pure lands and have no power anymore because the Karma of the Gelug adepts has changed and they should now follow Shugden.

Dreyfus writes in his paper about the origin and history of Shugden, The Shuk-Den Affair: Origins of a Controversy:[20]

Pabongkha suggests that [Shugden] is the protector of the Gelug tradition, replacing the protectors appointed by Tsongkhapa himself. This impression is confirmed by one of the stories that Shugden’s partisans use to justify their claim. According to this story, the Dharma-king has left this world to retire in the pure land of Tusita having entrusted the protection of the Gelug tradition to Shugden. Thus, Shugden has become the main Gelug protector replacing the traditional supra-mundane protectors of the Gelug tradition, indeed a spectacular promotion in the pantheon of the tradition.

Though Pabongkha was not particularly important by rank, he exercised a considerable influence through his very popular public teachings and his charismatic personality. Elder monks often mention the enchanting quality of his voice and the transformative power of his teachings. Pabongkha was also well served by his disciples, particularly the very gifted and versatile Trijang Rinpoche (khri byang rin po che, 1901-1983), a charismatic figure in his own right who became the present Dalai Lama’s tutor and exercised considerable influence over the Lhasa higher classes and the monastic elites of the three main Gelug monasteries around Lhasa. Another influential disciple was Tob-den La-ma (rtogs ldan bla ma), a stridently Gelug lama very active in disseminating Pabongkha’s teachings in Khams. Because of his own charisma and the qualities and influence of his disciples, Pabongkha had an enormous influence on the Gelug tradition that cannot be ignored in explaining the present conflict. He created a new understanding of the Gelug tradition focused on three elements: Vajrayogini as the main meditational deity (yi dam), Shugden as the protector, and Pabongkha as the guru.

Where Pabongkha was innovative was in making formerly secondary teachings widespread and central to the Gelug tradition and claiming that they represented the essence of Tsongkhapa’s teaching. This pattern, which is typical of a revival movement, also holds true for Pabongkha’s wide diffusion, particularly at the end of his life, of the practice of Dorje Shugden as the central protector of the Gelug tradition. Whereas previously Shugden seems to have been a relatively minor protector in the Gelug tradition, Pabongkha made him into one of the main protectors of the tradition. In this way, he founded a new and distinct way of conceiving the teachings of the Gelug tradition that is central to the Shugden Affair.

Trijang Rinpoche</a> (1901–1981)

Trijang Rinpoche (1901–1981)

In the beginning Dorje Shugden was seen by Pabongkha Rinpoche (1878–1941) as a worldly deity that has to be controlled by tantric power[100]. For Trijang Rinpoche (1901–81) – who strongly promoted Shugden worship among Tibetans in exile – Shugden is on the one hand a mundane (ie. worldly) protector, a damsi (vow) breaking spirit and a gyalpo spirit called Dolgyal that harms and kills sentient beings.[20a] On the other hand, Trijang Rinpoche claims that this harmful violent spirit is an emanation of Manjushri (i.e. either a Buddha or a tenth ground Bodhisattva [a holy, reliable being]) who emanated for the special purpose of protecting the purity of Tsongkhapa’s tradition and stopping Gelugpa’s taking teachings from other traditions.[20a] In case someone dares to do this, Shugden will serverely punish and harm such a person:

… whether lay or ordained, regardless of status, there have been many who have met with unpleasant wrathful punishments, such as being punished by authorities, litigation and legal disputes, untimely death, and so forth.[20a]

The role of the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lamas

“The Dalai Lamas are held by their followers to be advanced Mahayana bodhisattvas that is compassionate beings who so to speak have postponed their own entry into nirvana to help suffering humanity. Thus they are thought to be well on the way to Buddhahood, developing perfection in wisdom and compassion for the benefit of all sentient beings. It is this that justifies doctrinally the socio-political involvement of the Dalai Lamas, as an expression of a bodhisattva’s compassionate wish to help others.”

“We should note here two things a Dalai Lama is not. First, he is not in any simple sense a ‘god-king’. He may be a sort of king, but he is not for Buddhism a god. Second, the Dalai Lama is not the ‘head of Tibetan Buddhism’, let alone of Buddhism as a whole. There are many traditions of Buddhism. Some have nominated ‘Heads’; some do not. Within Tibet too there are a number of traditions. The Head of the Geluk tradtion is whoever is abbot of Ganden monastery, in succession to Tsong kha pa, the fourteenth/fifteenth century Geluk founder.”

Paul Williams, “Dalai Lama”, in Clarke, P. B., Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements, (New York: Routledge, 2006), p. 136.

The Dalai Lama in Global Perspective

“Westerners who study the system of reincarnating lamas are often understandably skeptical about it, but it seems clear that somehow the Tibetans who choose the Dalai Lamas have managed to find a remarkable succession of unusually gifted people. Even given the profound devotion that Tibetans feel for their Dalai Lamas, it would be difficult to disguise an incarnation who was stupid, arrogant, greedy, or belligerent. Those Dalai Lamas who attained maturity, however, have consistently distinguished themselves in their teaching, writing, and their personal examples. The present Dalai Lama is a testament to the success of the system through which Dalai Lamas are found, and it is improbable that his remarkable Accomplishments are merely due to good training. Many monks follow the same basic training as the Dalai Lamas, but somehow the Dalai Lamas tend to rise above others of their generation in terms of scholarship, personal meditative attainments, and teaching abilities. It is true that they receive the best training, and they also have the finest teachers, but these facts alone fail to account for their accomplishments. In Western countries, many students enroll in the finest colleges, study with the best teachers, and still fail to rise above mediocrity because they are lacking in intellectual gifts.”

“There are obviously problems with the system, particularly the problem of lapses of leadership while newly recognized Dalai Lamas reach maturity. The system worked well enough in the past when Tibet was not beset by hostile neighbors, but it is difficult to imagine any country in the present age being able to endure periods of eighteen years or more without a true leader. It is not surprising, therefore, that the present Dalai Lama has expressed doubts about the continuing viability of the institution of the Dalai Lamas and has indicated that he may not choose to reincarnate. He has also proposed that the office of Dalai Lama become an elected position, with the Tibetan people voting for their spiritual leader. The Dalai Lama appears to recognize the flaws in the present system and apparently hopes that the institution will be adapted to changing times.”

John Powers, “Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism”, Snow Lion Publications, 1995, pp. 186–87.

The Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso

The Great Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso

“The 5th Dalai Lama, known to Tibetan history simply as the ‘Great Fifth,’ is renowned as the leader under whom Tibet was unified in 1642 in the wake of bitter civil war. The era of the 5th Dalai Lama—roughly the period from his enthronement as leader of Tibet in 1642 to the dawn of the 18th century, when his government began to lose control—was the formative moment in the creation of a Tibetan national identity, an identity centered in large part upon the Dalai Lama, the Potala Palace of the Dalai Lamas, and the holy temples of Lhasa. During this era the Dalai Lama was transformed from an ordinary incarnation among the many associated with particular Buddhist schools into the protector of the country. In 1646 one writer could say that, due to the good works of the 5th Dalai Lama, the whole of Tibet was now centered under a white parasol of benevolent protection. And in 1698 another writer could say that the Dalai Lama’s government serves Tibet just as a bodhisattva—that saintly hero of Mahayana Buddhism—serves all of humanity.”

Kurtis R. Schaeffer, “The Fifth Dalai Lama Ngawang Lopsang Gyatso”, in The Dalai Lamas: A Visual History, Serinda Publications, Edited by Martin Brauen, 2005, p. 65.

The Fifth Dalai Lama: Opinion on His Rule

“By most accounts the [5th] Dalai Lama was by the standards of his age a reasonably tolerant and benevolent ruler.”

Paul Williams, “Dalai Lama”, in (Clarke, 2006, p. 136).

“The fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Losang Gyatso (1617–1682), popularly referred to as ‘The Great Fifth,’ was the most dynamic and influential of the early Dalai Lamas. He was a great teacher, an accomplished tantric yogin, and a prodigious writer. His literary output surpasses the combined total of all the other Dalai Lamas. In addition to his scholastic achievements, he proved to be an able statesman, and he united the three provinces of Tibet (the Central, South, and West) for the first time since the assassination of king Lang Darma in the mid-ninth century.”

“Although he was rather heavy-handed with the Jonangpas and the Karmapas, his treatment of other orders was often generous. He was particularly supportive of Nyingma, and he himself was an ardent practitioner of several Nyingma tantric lineages. Snellgrove and Richardson contend that on the whole his actions proved to be beneficial and stabilizing, despite the obvious hard feelings they engendered among his opponents:

‘The older orders may preserve some bitter memories of the fifth Dalai Lama, for no one likes a diminution of wealth and power, but there is no doubt that without his moderating and controlling hand, their lot might have been very much worse. It must also be said that at that time, despite their new political interests and responsibilities, the dGe-lugs-pas remained the freshest and most zealous of the Tibetan religious orders.’” (Snellgrove & Richardson, A Cultural History of Tibet, p. 197)

(Powers 1995: 145,146–47)

More about the Fifth Dalai Lama

The Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso

The Great Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso

“The other Dalai Lama who was particularly important was the Thirteenth (1876-1933). A strong ruler he tried, generally unsuccessfully, to modernize Tibet. The ‘Great Thirteenth’ also took advantage of weakening Chinese influence in the wake of the 1911 imperial collapse to reassert de facto what Tibetans have always considered to be truly the case, the complete independence of Tibet as a nation from China.”

Paul Williams, “Dalai Lama” in (Clarke, 2006, p. 137).

“Some may ask how the Dalai Lama’s rule compared with that of rulers in European or American countries. But such a comparison would not be fair, unless applied to the Europe of several hundred years ago, when it was still in the same stage of feudal development that Tibet is in at the present day. Certain it is that Tibetans would not be happy if they were governed as people are in England; and it is probable that they are on the whole happier than are people in Europe or America under their own governments. Great changes will come in time; but unless they come slowly, when the people are ready to assimilate them, they will cause great unhappiness. Meanwhile, the general administration in Tibet is more orderly than the administration in China; the Tibetan standard of living is higher than the standard in China or India; and the status of women in Tibet is higher than their status in either of those two large countries.”

Sir Charles Bell, “Portrait of a Dalai Lama: The Life and Times of the Great Thirteenth”, Wisdom Publications, 1987, pp. 443–444.

The Thirteenth Dalai Lama: Opinion on His Rule

“Was the Dalai Lama on the whole a good ruler? We may safely say that he was, on the spiritual as well as the secular side. As for the former, he had studied the complicated structure of Tibetan Buddhism with exceptional energy when a boy, and had become exceptionally learned in it. He improved the standard of the monks, made them keep up their studies, checked greed, laziness and bribery among them, and diminished their interference in politics. He took care of the innumerable religious buildings as far as possible. On the whole it must certainly be said that he increased the spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism.

“On the secular side he improved law and order, increased his own contact with his people, introduced more merciful standards into the administration of justice and, as stated above, lessened monastic domination in secular affairs. In the hope of preventing Chinese invasions he built up an army in the face of opposition from the monasteries; prior to his rule there was practically no army at all. In view of the extreme stringency of Tibetan finance, the intense monastic opposition and other difficulties, he could have gone no farther than he did.

“During his reign the Dalai Lama abolished Chinese domination entirely throughout the large part of Tibet governed by him, excluding Chinese officials and soldiers. That portion of Tibet became a completely independent kingdom, and remained independent during the last twenty years of his life.”

Sir Charles Bell in (Bell 1987: 444).

More about the Thirteenth Dalai Lama

The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso

His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso

“The current Fourteenth Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) was born in 1935. The Chinese invaded Tibet in the early 1950s and the Dalai Lama left Tibet in 1959. He now lives as a refugee in Dharamsala, North India, where he presides over the Tibetan Government in Exile. A learned and charismatic figure, he has been active in promoting the cause of his country’s independence from China. He also promulgates Buddhism, world peace, and research into Buddhism and science, through his frequent travels, teaching, and books. Advocating ‘universal responsibility and a good heart’, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.”

Paul Williams, “Dalai Lama”, in (Clarke, 2006, p. 137).


The Fourteenth Dalai Lama: His Accomplishments

“When one considers the origins of the present Dalai Lama, his successes are remarkable. Born in a remote village in eastern Tibet, driven from his country by an invading army and forced to start over in exile, he is today a Nobel Prize laureate and one of the world’s most revered religious leaders. When one considers the odds against randomly choosing a young child from a remote Tibetan village, educating him in a traditional Tibetan monastic curriculum, and his later winning the Nobel Peace Prize, his successes might give skeptics pause. As Glenn Mullin remarks of the fourteenth Dalai Lama,

‘the depth of his learning, wisdom and profound insight into the nature of human existence has won him hundreds of thousands of friends around the world. His humor, warmth and compassionate energy stand as living evidence of the strength and efficacy of Tibetan Buddhism, and of its value to human society.’” (Mullin, Glenn, Selected Works of the Dalai Lama II, 1982, p. 220)

(Powers 1995: 187)

Some of the misunderstandings in the Shugden dispute result from downplaying the role of the Dalai Lama and from attempts to place Pabongkha and especially Trijang Rinpoche higher in rank than the Dalai Lama. But though “Kyabje Phabongkha Rinpoche [and] Trijang Rinpoche … were inestimably great masters”[31a] the Dalai Lamas are considered to be of higher spiritual rank.

To understand the role of the Dalai Lama, it is important to distinguish his role before and after 1950. This section clarifies the role of the Dalai Lama after 1950.

Dodin states about the Dalai Lama’s role in general:

The Dalai Lama is considered an emanation of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezi) and the highest spiritual protector of Tibet. The same Bodhisattva is regarded as having manifested in the past in crucial moments of Tibetan history, for instance as Songtsen Gampo, the first king of Tibet, to guide the people of Tibet and ensure the development of Buddhist religion there. As such, although belonging to the Gelugpa school, the lineage of the Dalai Lamas stands above the hierarchies of the diverse schools of Tibetan Buddhism.[28b]

However, the Dalai Lama is not the head of Tibetan Buddhism. Barnett:

The current Dalai Lama is often portrayed incorrectly by the western media as the head of Tibetan Buddhism. This is partly a confusion about his role as the political or symbolic leader of the Tibetan people, and partly because of his status as the most famous and prestigious lama among Tibetans, as a result of which he is termed “the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people”. These roles and titles do not mean that he is the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, and he does not have authority over any other tradition or school of Tibetan Buddhism apart from his own.

The situation is somewhat complicated by the fact that in 1962 the leaders of the different Tibetan Buddhist schools in exile met and in effect agreed to let the Dalai Lama act as their representative on the international stage. This was part of a larger exile effort at the time to set aside the history of intense sectarianism, given the difficult circumstances that they then found themselves in. Not all lamas agreed with this approach and this effort was only partially successful at that time. But by the late 1980s a broad consensus had been reached among exiles on this issue.

The Dalai Lama is also not the head of the Gelug school. The head of the Gelug school is the Ganden Tripa. However, based on a list made by the monasteries, the Dalai Lama appoints the Ganden Tripa.[28c] The three main Gelug monasteries – Ganden, Sera and Drepung – regard the Dalai Lama as their highest master and seek spiritual advice from him in important matters.[28d]

It is the Dalai Lamas – and not their teachers – who are considered to be of the highest spiritual rank within the Gelug school. The latter point is similar to the fact that the Karmapa is the highest spiritual authority in the Karma Kagyu school; his teachers are not seen higher than him. The Dalai Lama’s senior tutor was Ling Rinpoche, his junior tutor was Trijang Rinpoche. (“Junior” and “senior” is a matter of rank, not age.) Although they served as his teachers (among many other teachers or gurus the Dalai Lama has had) and the Dalai Lama regards them as higher than himself or as his “root gurus”, formally, the Dalai Lama is still seen as a higher spiritual authority.

Dalai Lama + Ling Rinpoche + Trijang_Rinpoche

According to Tibetan protocol for three persons, the highest ranking person sits in the middle (Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama), the second ranking person sits right to him (the Dalai Lama’s senior tutor Ling Rinpoche) and the third ranking person sits left to him (the Dalai Lama’s junior tutor Trijang Rinpoche).

Ling Rinpoche (1903–1983), who was tutor to H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama, was the 97th Ganden Tripa (Wylie: dga' ldan khri pa, “Holder of the Ganden Throne”) in that life as well as two or three times in previous lives. Trijang Rinpoche (1901–1981), as his name implies, was the reincarnation of someone who had been Ganden Tripa in previous lives. However, he was not a Ganden Tripa in the life when he was H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama’s junior tutor. When the Dalai Lama began his religious studies in 1941 he had three tutors: “his regent, Reting Rinpoche; Taktra Rinpoche; and Ling Rinpoche. After Reting Rinpoche’s resignation, Taktra Rinpoche succeeded him as regent and Ling Rinpoche, a brilliant scholar, became the Dalai Lama’s primary teacher. … When he was nineteen, [the] Dalai Lama received ordination as a gelong (full monk) from Ling Rinpoche.”[28e]

Lineage holders of Tibetan Buddhism

The Dalai Lama is placed in the middle of the front row because he is of the highest spiritual and political rank in the Tibetan hierarchy – though he is not the head of Tibetan Buddhism. Left to him is Sakya Trizin, head of the Sakya school, who is seen as the second highest in rank after the Dalai Lama. Right of the Dalai Lama is his senior tutor, Ling Rinpoche, and right of him is the Dalai Lama’s junior tutor Trijang Rinpoche.

In 2011 the Dalai Lama resigned from formal political authority. “The understanding is that he will cede his role as the community’s political leader while retaining his place at the apogee of Tibetan Buddhism.”[28f] The Dalai Lama comments, “I didn’t do it reluctantly, but gladly and deliberately … I’m content that the Ganden Phodrang Government set up by the 5th Dalai Lama nearly 400 years ago, came to an end under the 14th Dalai Lama, while the people still had confidence in it.”

  For more about the role of the Dalai Lama see: The Recognition of Incarnate Lamas in Tibetan Buddhism and the Role of the Dalai Lama by Geoffrey Samuel.
  For more about the Dalai Lamas start slide show.

The Shugden dispute itself

The Shugden dispute represents a battleground of views on what is meant by religious and cultural freedom.Martin Mills [21]

The conflict and refutations surrounding the Shugden cult cannot be understood fully without understanding the complex historical, religious, social, scientific, and cultural background of Tibet, e.g. the different political power struggles – especially the Gelug school’s political domination – group allegiances, commitments on the levels of friendship, loyalty, and bonding, tensions between reformers, conservatives, and traditionalists etc. Also the lingering sectarianism within Tibetan Buddhism plays an important role in this dispute. The practice of Shugden involves family relations too.

Mills states that Shugden “had been a point of controversy between the various orders of Tibetan Buddhism since its emergence onto the Tibetan scene in the late seventeenth century, and was strongly associated with the interests of the ruling Gelugpa order.”[22]

In the same vein, Dodin says in an interview:

In essence, the question is whether the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism, – Nyingmapa, Sakyapa, Kagyupa and Gelugpa – are equal or whether one of them, the Gelugpa school, is more “pure” and therefore outranks the others.

Again Mills, “[..] the deity retained a controversial quality, being seen as strongly sectarian in character, especially against the ancient Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism: the deity was seen as wreaking supernatural vengeance upon any Gelugpa monk or nun who ‘polluted’ his or her religious practice with that of other schools. Most particularly those of the Nyingmapa. This placed the deity’s worship at odds with the role of the Dalai Lama, who not only headed the Gelugpa order but, as head of state, maintained strong ritual relationships with the other schools of Buddhism in Tibet, particularly the Nyingmapa. The deity thus became the symbolic focus of power struggles, both within the Gelugpa order and between it and other Buddhist schools.”[23]

Though the roots of the Dorje Shugden controversy are more than 360 years old, the issue surfaced within the Tibetan exile community during the 1970s[24] after Zemey Rinpoche published the Yellow Book, which included stories – passed by Pabongkha Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche – about members of the Gelugpa sect who practiced Gelug and Nyingma teachings together and were killed by Shugden. According to Mills: “in defence of the deity’s efficacy as a protector, [this book] named 23 government officials and high lamas that had been assassinated using the deity’s powers.”[25]

Dreyfus explains, “The author of the Yellow Book was repeating the views already expressed by the two most important figures in the tradition of Shugden followers, Pabongkha and Trijang … The Yellow Book provided a number of cases that illustrate this point, emphasizing that the dire warnings were not empty threats but based on ‘facts.’”[25a]

The punative character of Shugden stressed by Pabongkha and Trijang Rinpoche is also mentioned by Mumford, according to whom Shugden is “extremely popular, but held in awe and feared among Tibetans because he is highly punitive.”[26] To give an example, Mumford quotes the merchant Dawa Tshering. Tshering makes offerings to Shugden once a month but,

If I forget, then he’ll make me sick. But if I do not neglect him he will aid me wherever I go. When I travel I pray to him, “May sickness not come.” When I cross a bridge I ask, “May the bridge not fall.” If I do not serve Shugden he will get angry. He will kill my animals and I will lose my wealth and the members of my household will fight.[26]

The the current (fourteenth) Dalai Lama described his change of view regarding Shugden as a gradual process:

My Senior Tutor, Ling Rinpoche, who gave me ordination, had nothing to do with it, but my Junior Tutor, Trijang Rinpoche did practise it. Having some doubt about it, in the early 70s I asked some scholars to research the matter. … I discovered that no Dalai Lama had any involvement with this spirit until I did. …

Once I made a decision to stop the practice, I kept it to myself. Then Ganden Jangtse Monastery got in touch with me to say that they had been experiencing misfortunes and they had asked Trijang Rinpoche about it. He told them it was a result of displeasure on the part of their traditional protector Palden Lhamo. They asked me what to do about it. I conducted a ‘dough-ball divination’ asking first whether their problems were to do with Palden Lhamo’s displeasure. The answer was, “Yes”. Then I asked whether the displeasure was a result of their adopting a new protector and again the answer was “Yes”. I informed some senior Lamas from Ganden Monastery and asked them to decide what action to take.

Gradually this advice became known. Inside Tibet some worshippers of Dolgyal said that the Dalai Lama was taking these steps because he was trying to favour the Nyingmas, so I had to explain things more publicly. Previously, even my Senior Tutor, Ling Rinpoche, who had nothing at all to do with this practice had been wary of my receiving Nyingma teachings because of Dolgyal’s reputation. Once I stopped propitiating it I gained personal religious freedom and was able to follow an ecumenical, non-sectarian approach to Buddhism like previous Dalai Lamas. I had confirmed this course of action through another divination before a renowned statue of Avalokiteshvara.[9a]

After the publication of the Yellow Book, the Dalai Lama expressed his opinion in several closed teachings that the practice should be stopped, although he made no general public statement. According to Dreyfus, “The Dalai Lama reacted strongly to this book. He felt personally betrayed by Dze‐may, a lama for whom he had great hopes and to whom he had shown particular solicitude. More importantly, he felt that the Yellow Book was an attack on his role as Dalai Lama, a rejection of his religious leadership by the Gelug establishment, and a betrayal of his efforts in the struggle for Tibetan freedom.”[25a]

The first signs of an impending crisis appeared in 1976. Dreyfus, “One of the first public manifestations of the Dalai Lama’s state of mind was his refusal, after the Tibetan New Year of 1976, of the long life offerings made by the Tibetan government.”[25a] This refusal stirred up the Tibetan community but left some “distinctly cool”.[25a] These monks “agreed with the views expressed by the Yellow Book. Hence, they were less then moved by the Dalai Lama’s negative reaction. They understood that it manifested a profound division within the Gelug tradition, a division about which they could not but worry. Primarily, however, they saw his reaction as a rejection and a betrayal of the teachings of his tutor, Trijang, whom they considered to be the main teacher of the Gelug tradition and the guardian of its orthodoxy. They also may have foreseen that the Dalai Lama would counterattack. The crisis that has agitated the Gelug school since then had begun.”[25a]

Some of the effects the the Yellow Book had on the exile community are described by Kilty:

The book was available in Dharamshala in the early 70s, and was read by many in the community. … Sometime later in 1975 the Dalai Lama organized a Great Offering (bümtsok) to Guru Rinpoche, Padmasambhava, in the main Thekchen Chöling temple in Dharamshala. The reason for such an offering was because Padmasambhava has a special bond with all Tibetan people regardless of sect or tradition, and in these times of exile unity among the Tibetan people is so essential. To his surprise very few people, especially the nuns, turned up. Questioning his officials as to why, he was told of the existence of the Yellow Book, and that it had scared people away, in fear that they too would be punished for attending a ceremony dedicated to the founder of the Nyingma tradition.

The Dalai Lama describes how devastated he was on hearing this. This book struck at the very heart of his lifelong mission to keep Tibet and Tibetans free from the plague of sectarianism. The accounts of punishments meted out to those Gelugpas who branched out to adopt certain Nyingma practices plunged a dagger into the spirit of unity that existed among the religious traditions of Tibet, when their land was being occupied by hostile Chinese forces.

In 1978, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama spoke out publicly against Shugden. Mills,

In 1978, His Holiness spoke out publicly against the use of the deity as an institutional protector, although maintaining that individuals should decide for themselves in terms of private practice. It was not until Spring 1996 that the Dalai Lama decided to move more forcefully on the issue. Responding to growing pressure – particularly from other schools of Tibetan Buddhism such as the Nyingmapa, who threatened withdrawal of their support in the Exiled Government project – he announced during a Buddhist tantric initiation that Shugden was ‘an evil spirit’ whose actions were detrimental to the ‘cause of Tibet’, and that henceforth he would not be giving tantric initiation to worshippers of the deity (who should therefore stay away), since the unbridgeable divergence of their respective positions would inevitably undermine the sacred guru-Student relationship, and thus compromise his role as a teacher (and by extension his health).[27]

The current Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, born in 1935

The current Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, born in 1935. “The Chinese invaded Tibet in the early 1950s and the Dalai Lama left Tibet in 1959. He now lives as a refugee in Dharamsala, North India, where he presides* over the Tibetan Government in Exile. A learned and charismatic figure, he has been active in promoting the cause of his country's independence from China. He also promulgates Buddhism, world peace, and research into Buddhism and science, through his frequent travels, teaching, and books. Advocating ‘universal responsibility and a good heart’, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.” (Paul Williams, “Dalai Lama”, in Clarke, 2006, p. 137)
* He presided over the TGIE/CTA until 2011.[28f]

There is some disagreement about how widespread the practice of Shugden was before Pabhongkha and Trijang Rinpoche’s promotion of it. For instance, Dreyfus claims that it was once a marginal practice[28] while Dodin claims, “Following the death of the Fifth Dalai Lama in 1682, the cult spread rapidly and broadly within the Gelugpa School, particularly among those in political positions.”[28a]. According to Lopez “the worship of Shugden underwent a revival in the first decades of this century, led by the famous Gelugpa monk Pabongkha, (1878-1943).”[28b] Before the Dalai Lama started to speak against Shugden many Gelug lamas practised it and spread the worship of Dorje Shugden. According to the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, the practice became so widespread that only very few, like Gen Pema Gyaltsen (the ex-abbot of Drepung Loseling monastery) opposed it: “For some time he was the only one – a lone voice against the worship. Even I was involved in the propitiation at the time. Ling Rinpoche did go through the motions, but in reality, his involvement was reluctant. As far as Trijang Rinpoche was concerned, it was a special, personal practice and Zong Rinpoche was similarly involved.”[29]

The Fourteenth Dalai Lama holds the view “This is not an authentic tradition, but a mistaken one. It is leading people astray. As Buddhists, who take ultimate refuge in the three jewels, we are not permitted to take refuge in worldly deities.”[30]

Based on a long process of careful and thorough investigation, applying different methodological devices, he advised against the practice although he has in the past received Shugden empowerments from one of his root teachers, Trijang Rinpoche, and practised it. That he gave up one of the practices he received from his younger tutor has provoked the criticism of NKT members and Shugden adherents. They argued, that he has failed to observe the vows given by one of his teachers and has “broken with his Guru” and that he has forced others to do likewise.[99]

The Dalai Lama rejects that view and cites some examples of Buddhist history which show that there are lineage masters who disagreed with or corrected their own teacher’s false assertions or views. After giving evidences he concludes “Even if something is or was performed by great spiritual teachers of the past, if it goes against the general spirit of the teachings, it should be discarded.”[31] The Dalai Lama also says that he informed his two tutors, Ling Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche, about his findings and decision.[31a] [31b]

That was done on the tenth of the first month and I think it was on the twelfth that Yongzin Ling Rinpoche returned from Bodhgaya. I went to meet him and explained to him everything that had happened. On the thirteenth I met Trijang Rinpoche on his return from Mysore and I told him in detail all that had occurred.

In reply Trijang Rinpoche said, “If this is what was indicated by Nechung and the dough-ball divination then it must be true. There is no room for deception. As far as Nechung is concerned, I know full well that he gives first class predictions without any error on important issues, and likewise as regards the dough-ball divination, for it was conducted before the ‘thanka of the speaking Palden Lhamo’. After the Great Fifth Dalai Lama had died he revived, while the Desi (Regent) was crying in despair and begging to know how many years he should keep (his death) secret and so forth, and said, “You can decide the less important issues yourself, but more important matters should be decided through dough-ball divination conducted before the ‘thanka of the speaking Palden Lhamo’ , which was the meditational object of His Holiness Gedun Gyatso, for that will be infallible”. This is the very thanka he spoke of. There have never been any mistakes in the dough-ball divination conducted before it, there is absolutely no deception in it. There must certainly be a reason and purpose for that. In general, conflict between Palden Lhamo and Shugden is impossible, but the present discord between them is probably connected with Tibet’s spiritual and political affairs”.[31b]

There are accusations – mainly by followers of the New Kadampa Tradition – that the Dalai Lama has slandered and spoken badly of “his root guru”, that he has no respect for Trijang Rinpoche etc.[31c] The Dalai Lama says, “with regard to Trijang Rinpoche, I don't believe his behaviour in relation to Gyalchen was correct. I don't visualise it as divine activity. However, I don't use it as ground for losing faith in him either. He was really such an important Lama to me. I received immeasurable kindness from him even when I was very small … So, I do have single pointed faith in him. But the fact that I have faith in him doesn't mean that I should have faith in everything that he did … Now, I belong to the line coming from Kyabje Phabongkha, and I hold the lineage of my two tutors. At the same time, since I sit on the throne of the Dalai Lama, I have to carry the responsibility of this institution on my shoulders.”[31a]

Further, the Dalai Lama stresses the importance that people should not follow his advice blindly but instead they should thoroughly investigate; “Others of you may be thinking, ‘well I am not sure of the reasons, but as it is something that the Dalai Lama has instructed, I must abide by it’. I want to stress again that I do not support this attitude at all. This is a ridiculous approach. This is a position that one should come to by weighing the evidence and then using one’s discernment about what it would be best to adopt and what best to avoid.”[32]

Different times the Dalai Lama made clear, that individuals are free to ignore his advice and that they can practice Shugden. At an Avalokiteshvara empowerment in Strasbourg, France, September 2016, he repeated his stance:

I hear that some people report that I have said no one should do the practice of Dolgyal. That is not what I say. There are problems with the practice, which I know from my own experience, and that’s why I recommend people not to do it. But if someone wants to do it, they can. There are monks today in monasteries adjacent to Ganden and Sera who specifically follow the practice. What I do say is that Dolgyal broke his bond with the 5th Dalai Lama and has been controversial ever since. I’ve encouraged people not to do the practice, but I haven’t said that no one can do it.[32a]

Today’s Controversy

Today’s controversy surrounding the deity refers to a particular brand of Gelugpa exclusivism that emerged in Central and Eastern Tibet during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where the deity was considered to demarcate the boundaries of Gelugpa religious practice, especially in opposition to the growing of Rimé, literally “non-sectarian”. Many Gelugpas, as well as many Kagyupas, Sakyapas and Nyingmapas, began to follow the ideas of the Rimé movement, but conservative Gelugpas, especially Pabongkha Rinpoche, became concerned over the “purity” of the Gelug school and opposed the ideas of Rimé. Pabongkha Rinpoche established instead a special Gelug exclusivism.[34] Different sources state that disciples of Pabongkha Rinpoche destroyed Nyingma monasteries or converted them to Gelug monasteries and destroyed statues of Padmasambhava.[35]

This on-going tension has reached new heights in the Tibetan exile context, where the Fourteenth Dalai Lama started first to distance himself from Shugden and later used his position as the political and religious head of Tibet to stop the growing influence of the worship of Shugden by advising against it.[36]

Logo Kadampa Buddhism Modern Buddhism

New Kadampa Tradition / Kadampa Buddhism logotype. (The first NKT logo had ‘New Kadampa Tradition’ between the lines where now is ‘Kadampa Buddhism’.)

The dispute developed international dimensions in the 1990s, when the Dalai Lama’s statements against the practice of Shugden challenged the British-based New Kadampa Tradition to oppose him. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso claimed that Tibetan practitioners of Dorje Shugden asked him to help them. Based on this, Kelsang Gyatso sent a public letter[37] to the Dalai Lama, to which he did not receive any response, and subsequently created the Shugden Supporter Community (SSC), which organised protests and a huge media campaign during the Dalai Lama’s teaching tour of Europe and America,accusing him of religious persecution and opposing their human right to freedom of religious practice and of spreading untruths. According to Tashi Wangdi, Representative to the Americas of the Dalai Lama, there was no suppression of Shugden worship. “Officially there has never been any repression or denial of rights to practitioners,” said Wangdi. “But after His Holiness’ advice [against worship] many monastic orders adopted rules and regulations that would not accept practitioners of Shugden worship in their monastic order.”[38]

(see The Conflict in the West)

In India, some protests and opposition were organised by the Dorje Shugden Religious and Charitable Society with the support of SSC.[39]

The SSC tried to obtain a statement from Amnesty International (AI) that the Tibetan Government in Exile (specifically the Fourteenth Dalai Lama) had violated human rights. However, AI replied in an official press release:

None of the material AI has received contains evidence of abuses which fall within AI’s mandate for action – such as grave violations of fundamental human rights including torture, the death penalty, extra-judicial executions, arbitrary detention or imprisonment, or unfair trials.[40]

This neither asserts nor denies the validity of the allegations against the CTA (Central Tibetan Administration), nor finds either side culpable. Amnesty International regards “spiritual issues” and state affairs as separate, whilst seeing the command-based nation-state as the fundamental framework for understanding the category of “actionable human rights abuses”. Fundamental to this were linked criteria of state accountability and the exercise of state force, neither of which could clearly be identified within the CTA context.[41]

At the peak of the conflict, in February 1997, three Tibetan Buddhist monks, opponents of the Shugden practice, including the Dalai Lama’s close friend and confidant, seventy-year-old Lobsang Gyatso (the principal of the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics), were brutally murdered in Dharamasala, India, the Tibetan capital in exile. The murdered monks were repeatedly stabbed and cut up in a manner resembling a ritual exorcism. The assassination took place “in a small flat a stone’s throw from His Holiness’ residence in exile at Dharamsala”[41a]. Tibetans and the CTA understood this also as a warning that the next victim could be the Dalai Lama. Subsequently, in order to better understand the security risks, the Kashag (Tibetan Parliament) investigated who were the most prominent Shugden supporters.[41b] The Shugden groups (including the Delhi based Shugden Society) claimed that the CTA spread posters in 1998 of the ‘Ten Most Hated Enemies of the Dalai Lama and Tibet’, claiming that this amounted to a wiping out campaign and even a call to murdering the persons on the list. Some TV stations repeated these claims.[41c]

However, the Home Minister of the TGIE, Tashi Wangdi, claims that this list of ten people was a “research report”, classified as an “internal document” with the remark “at the top: Only for internal use!”. According to Wangdi, the parliament had asked the government to do this research in order to know “who these people are.” Wangdi says that a member of parliament from Bylakuppe passed on this information, “and maybe in that way they became public …”.[41b]

The Indian police is convinced that the murders were carried out by monks loyal to Shugden, and that the perpetrators are now under the protection of the Chinese government.[42] The Indian police have accused Lobsang Chodak, 36, and Tenzin Chozin, 40, of stabbing Gen Lobsang Gyatso and two of his students, Lobsang Ngawang and Ngawang Latto, 15 to 20 times each.[104] In 2007 Interpol has issued wanted notices for Lobsang Chodak and Tenzin Chozin.[104] According to a disciple of Geshe Lobsang Gyatso, before he was killed, Lobsang Gyatso faced many death threats, but refused any personal security.[43] The Shugden Society in New Delhi denies any involvement in the murders or threats.[44] However, investigative journalist Bultrini writes:

The investigations of Kangra District Superintendent Rajiv Singh concluded that a few days before the murder, the killers of Geshe Lobsang and of the two monks had attempted to follow his car on his return from Hong Kong as he journeyed to Dharamsala. During the pursuit their taxi broke down and from an STD phone booth (where every call is recorded) in Ambala city, the assassins telephoned the personal number of the geshe who at the time was General Secretary of the pro-Shugden Association in Delhi. However, even though witnesses and a great amount of documented evidence were presented (the taxi driver, a hotelier who recognised photos of the accused and the rucksack pulled by the lama from the hands of his murderers who had to leave it behind at the scene of the crime) the Indian judiciary caved in before a plethora of Delhi lawyers hired with fees that were certainly far in excess of the apparent means of Buddhist monks in exile in the poor Majnu-Ka-Tilla quarter of Delhi.[41a]

Kelsang Gyatso distanced himself: “Killing such a geshe and monks is very bad, it is horrible. How can Mahayana Buddhists who are always talking about compassion kill people? Impossible. There are many different possible explanations [for the murders]. There are many Shugden practitioners throughout the world, and each of them is responsible for his own actions. But definitely, we can say that these murders are very bad.”[45]

Another remarkable episode concerns the decision by the young reincarnation of Trijang Rinpoche to leave the Centre Rabten Choeling in Switzerland where he had remained for years under the guidance of his lama-tutor, Gonsar Tulku Rinpoche. In a dramatic letter and in an interview on the Tibetan radio station in Dharamsala in 2002, Trijang Chogtrul Rinpoche announced his abandonment of his monastic robes in order to become ‘an ordinary person’. “Shocked by a series of still murky events, the gravest of which was the attempted murder of his former personal assistant by members of the cult, the young Trijang explained he had no intention of becoming a banner or symbol of the pro-Shugden movement.”[10]

Recent Developments

Neil Elliott standing beside NKT / WSS demonstrators outside the Royal Albert Hall, London, 2008

Neil Elliott standing beside NKT / WSS demonstrators outside the Royal Albert Hall, London, 2008

On 22 April 2008 the newly-founded Western Shugden Society (WSS) – behind which is the New Kadampa Tradition – began campaigns against the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, claiming he is “banning them from practicing their own version of Buddhism”. The campaigns accused him of being “a hypocrite”, who is “persecuting his own people”.[ The campaigns accuse him of being “a hypocrite”, who is “persecuting his own people”.[46] Since that, the protesters followed the Dalai Lama to every city to express their point of view by means of demonstrations. The protesters in Nottingham said the ban on the prayer worshipping the spirit of Dorje Shugden was “unjust”, and pictured the worship of Dorje Shugden as “a simple prayer that encourages people to develop pure minds of love, peace and compassion”. However His Holiness the Dalai Lama replied in a BBC interview that he had not advocated a ban, but had stopped worship of the spirit because it was not Buddhist in nature. He added that people were free to protest and it was up to individuals to decide.[103]

In 2008 Lobsang Yeshe (the self-proclaimed Kundeling Rinpoche), Mysore, India and the Dorjee Shugden Devotees Charitable and Religious Society, New Delhi, India filed a lawsuit at the Delhi High Court against the Dalai Lama and Samdong Rinpoche as the elected prime minister of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile, Dharamsala, India in 2008.[103a] They accused the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of harassment and violence. In response to it the Delhi High Court dismissed the writ petition in April 5, 2010. Justice S. Muralidhar dismissed it on the grounds that the allegations of violence and harassment were ‘vague averments’ and that the raised issues ‘do not partake of any public law character and therefore are not justiciable in proceedings under Article 226 of the Constitution.’ Based on the ‘absence of any specific instances of any such attacks’ on Dorjee Shugden practitioners, the Court noted the counter affidavit submitted by the respondents, referring to ‘an understanding reached whereby it was left to the monks to decide whether they would want to be associated with the practices of Dorjee Shugden.’ Justice Muralidhar concluded that the ‘matters of religion and the differences among groups concerning propitiation of religion, cannot be adjudicated upon by a High Court in exercise of its writ jurisdiction.’[103b]

In 2014 another campaigning group, the International Shugden Community (ISC) – behind which is again the New Kadampa Tradition – continues the world wide protests, accompanied by a media savvy campaign.

See also: Inform’s independent academic opinion on the relationship between WSS, ISC and NKT.

The religious/political dimension

There are different political/religious interpretations of that conflict.

In general, most see the Shugden conflict rather as a political than a religious conflict. This view was also expressed by one of Shugden’s strongest proponent in the West, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who said that the “Shugden issue … in reality … is a Tibetan political problem …”[33]

Kay, who examines in his PhD thesis the “classical inclusive/exclusive division” in Tibetan Buddhism, sees it as a conflict between followers of an exclusive or inclusive approach and the sectarianism that accompanies it: “whilst the conservative elements of the Gelug monastic establishment have often resented the inclusive and impartial policies of the Dalai Lamas towards revival Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the Dalai Lama has in turn rejected exclusivism on the grounds that it encourages sectarian disunity and thereby harms the interests of the Tibetan state. In rejecting Dorje Shugden, the present Dalai Lama is thus speaking out against an orientation towards Gelug practice and identity that he considers spiritually harmful and, especially during Tibet’s present political circumstances, nationally damaging.”[47]

In the context of the Tibetan history, Kay examines:

The political policies of the Dalai Lamas have also been informed by this inclusive orientation. It can be discerned, for example, in the Great Fifth’s (1617–82) leniency and tolerance towards opposing factions and traditions following the establishment of Gelug hegemony over Tibet in 1642; in the Great Thirteenth’s (1876–1933) modernist-leaning reforms, which attempted to turn Tibet into a modern state through the assimilation of foreign ideas and institutions (such as an efficient standing army and Western-style education); and in the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s promotion of egalitarian principles and attempts to ‘Maintain good relations among the various traditions of Tibetan religion in exile’ (Samuel 1993: 550). This inclusive approach has, however, repeatedly met opposition from others within the Gelug tradition whose orientation has been more exclusive. The tolerant and eclectic bent of the Fifth Dalai Lama, for example, was strongly opposed by the more conservative segment of the Gelug tradition. These ‘fanatic and vociferous Gelug churchmen’ (Smith 1970: 16) were outraged by the support he gave to Nyingma monasteries, and their ‘bigoted conviction of the truth of their own faith’ (Smith 1970: 21) led them to suppress the treatises composed by more inclusively orientated Gelug lamas who betrayed Nyingma, or other non-Gelug, influences. Similarly, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s political reforms were thwarted by the conservative element of the monastic segment which feared that modernisation and change would erode its economic base and the religious basis of the state. His spiritually inclusive approach was also rejected by contemporaries such as Pabongkha Rinpoche (1878–1943) As with his predecessors, the current Dalai Lama’s open and ecumenical approach to religious practice and his policy of representing the interests of all Tibetans equally, irrespective of their particular traditional affiliation, has been opposed by disgruntled Gelug adherents of a more exclusive orientation. This classical inclusive/exclusive division has largely been articulated within the exiled Tibetan Buddhist community through a dispute concerning the status and nature of the protective deity Dorje Shugden.”[48]

Another view more specific to the present political situation is: “it has been suggested that the Dalai Lama, in rejecting Dorje Shugden, is speaking out against a particular quasi-political faction within the Gelug tradition-in-exile who are opposed to his modern, ecumenical and democratic political vision, and who believe that the Tibetan government”[47] “should champion a fundamentalist version of Tibetan Buddhism as a state religion in which the dogmas of the Nyingmapa, Kagyupa, and Sakyapa schools are heterodox and discredited.”[49] According to this interpretation, Dorje Shugden has become a political symbol for this “religious fundamentalist party”.[47] From this point of view, the rejection of Dorje Shugden should be interpreted “not as an attempt to stamp out a religious practice he disagrees with, but as a political statement”. According to Sparham: “He has to say he opposes a religious practice in order to say clearly that he wants to guarantee to all Tibetans an equal right to religious freedom and political equality in a future Tibet.”[50]

Barnett says, “the basic dispute is not over whether this spirit is ferocious, powerful or effective for its own propitiators – it’s over whether it is safe or moral to invoke it.” But,

Behind this is a larger dispute over sectarianism. In the past Shugden promoters were associated with Gelugpa supremacists, and some of their texts explicitly called on their protector to denounce and destroy the other Buddhist schools, as well as any members of the Gelugpa school with views diverging from theirs. The modern followers of Shugden in the West say that the protection offered by their spirit refers to defending the “purity” of their version of Gelugpa teachings. They say that this means only that their followers do not take teachings from a lama belonging to any other sect. However, there are many people who fear that the aggressive aspect of the Shugden practice has not changed. The Dalai Lama, although he is a member of the Gelugpa school, takes teachings from the lamas of other schools, works closely with them, and has encouraged respect for all forms of Tibetan Buddhism. So he and his followers have said that they reject the Shugden practice in part because of its link to sectarianism.

This tension over sectarianism reflects a deeper division over the future direction of Tibetans in general. The non-sectarians are committed to a vision of Tibetans as a unified community or nation, with the Dalai Lama as its symbolic centre. The more active Shugden lamas, on the other hand, emphasize the creation of autonomous, lama-run centres or organizations around the world, which will support their followers and promote their version of Tibetan religious teachings. These two views of how Tibetans can best survive in the modern world – the rebuilding of a single nation in exile or the construction of separate institutions around individual lamas – have erupted into open conflict, perhaps because, 55 years after coming into exile and with the Dalai Lama ageing, the stakes for the Tibetan community are now so high.

Dreyfus argues that although the political dimension forms an important part of that dispute it does not provide an adequate explanation for it.[47] He traces the conflict back based more on the exclusive/inclusive division and maintains that to understand the Dalai Lama’s point of view one has to consider the complex ritual basis for the institution of the Dalai Lamas, which was developed by the Great Fifth and rests upon “an eclectic religious basis in which elements associated with the Nyingma tradition combine with an overall Gelug orientation”.[51] This involves the promotion and practices of the Nyingma school. The Fifth Dalai Lama was criticized by and has been treated in a hostile manner by conservative elements of the Gelug monastic establishment for doing this and for supporting Nyingma practitioners. The same happened when the Fourteenth Dalai Lama started to encourage devotion to Padmasambhava, central to the Nyingmas, and when he introduced Nyingma rituals at his personal Namgyal Monastery (Dharmasala, India). Whilst the Fourteenth Dalai Lama started to encourage devotion to Padmasambhava for the purpose of unifying Tibetans and “to protect Tibetans from danger”,[52] the “more exclusively orientated segments of the Gelug boycotted the ceremonies”,[47] and in that context the sectarian Yellow Book was published.

Mills states, “The object of the controversy … had been a point of controversy between the various orders of Tibetan Buddhism since its emergence onto the Tibetan scene in the late seventeenth century, and was strongly associated with the interests of the ruling Gelukpa order. … … the deity retained a controversial quality, being seen as strongly sectarian in character, especially against the ancient Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism: the deity was seen as wreaking supernatural vengeance upon any Gelukpa monk or nun who ‘polluted’ his or her religious practice with that of other schools, most particularly those of the Nyingmapa. This placed the deity’s worship at odds with the role of the Dalai Lama, who not only headed the Gelukpa order but, as head of state, maintained strong ritual relationships with the other schools of Buddhism in Tibet, particularly the Nyingmapa … The deity thus became the symbolic focus of power struggles, both within the Gelukpa order and between it and other Buddhist schools.”[53]

For Mills, the Tibetan political system “with its notions of authority and ritualized loyalty, has extended into the modern exiled period.”[53] But he notes an important development with respect to how central the Dalai Lama became among exiled Tibetans after their exodus from Tibet:

In other respects, this ‘pre-modern’ mode of Tibetan state authority has actually developed within the modern exile context. Within pre-1950 Tibet, for example, whilst most Tibetans regarded Lhasa and the Dalai Lama as representing a superordinate authority, that ascendancy was usually vague and — for those who pledged primary religious allegiance to local non-Gelukpa schools, monasteries and teachers, held in slight tension. Direct religious relationships with the Dalai Lama - particularly of the importance that all adult Tibetan Buddhists ascribed to their tantric ‘root-guru’ - were by no means even common. The last thirty years, however - during which the Dalai Lama has sought to build links with the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism existing in exile - has witnessed the growing ascendancy, both in exile and within Tibet, of the Dalai Lama as either the direct root-guru of all those firmly interested in Tibetan independence (often through the numerous mass Kalacakra empowerments he has given since 1959) or, more commonly, the indirect apex of an increasingly unified pyramid of lamaic (guru-disciple) relationships, many of which transcend the sectarian divides which became entrenched within Tibetan Buddhism during the centuries following the Fifth Dalai Lama’s establishment of centralized Gelukpa rule in Central Tibet.[54]

Not only did the Dalai Lama become more central to exiled Tibetans, as Mills observes, “the Dalai Lama’s request that Shugden worshippers not receive tantric initiations - the foundation of the ‘root-guru’ relationship - from him, effectively placed them outside the fold of the exiled Tibetan polity”.[55]

Noting that the question of loyality forms the basis of Tibetan systems of state actions, he questions the attempts of the CTA to deny “any kind of ban on Shugden worship” because he witnessed two types of “moves to eradicate Shugden worship within Tibetan Buddhist regions” … “firstly, a sense amongst those that did not worship Shugden that they should endeavour to eradicate its practice amongst their peers, neighbours and co-workers as an act of loyalty to the Dalai Lama; and, amongst those that had a history of worshipping the deity, a complex and ambivalent combination of acknowledging that getting rid of the deity may be the ‘best thing’ to do (because his Holiness had said it was) and wishing that the ban did not have to apply to them (something which led to a considerable quantity of invisibility and reluctant foot-dragging. (Scott’s famed ‘weapons of the weak’). This was not, therefore, a hierarchical command process, but rather the constant reiteration of acts of loyalty all the way down a lengthy and disarticulated ladder of authority, a system of orthopraxy consistent with passive modes of governance.”[55]

Jane Ardley writes,[56] concerning the political dimension of the Shugden controversy. “… the Dalai Lama, as a political leader of the Tibetans, was at fault in forbidding his officials from partaking in a particular religious practice, however undesirable. However, given the two concepts (religious and political) remain interwoven in the present Tibetan perception, an issue of religious controversy was seen as threat to political unity. The Dalai Lama used his political authority to deal with what was and should have remained a purely religious issue. A secular Tibetan state would have guarded against this.”[56]

Ardley references the following directive published by the Tibetan Government in Exile to illustrate the “interwoven” nature of the politics and religion:

In sum, the departments, their branches and subsidiaries, monasteries and their branches that are functioning under the administrative control of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile should be strictly instructed, in accordance with the rules and regulations, not to indulge in the propitiation of Shugden. We would like to clarify that if individual citizens propitiate Shugden, it will harm the common interest of Tibet, the life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and strengthen the spirits that are against the religion.[56]

For Kay, “The Dalai Lama opposes the Yellow Book and Dorje Shugden propitiation because they defy his attempts to restore the ritual foundations of the Tibetan state and because they disrupt the basis of his leadership, designating him as an ‘enemy of Buddhism’ and potential target of the deities retribution.”[47]

According to Mills,

Tibetan Buddhist political and institutional life centres round the activities of its four principal schools – the Nyingmapa, the Kagyud, the Sakya and the Gelugpa – the last of which was politically dominant in Tibet from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries; the four schools had the Dalai Lamas as their political figure-heads.[58]

Mills puts the struggle of the Dalai Lama, as well as those involved, into perspective, e.g. describing “Shugden [as] a protector deity – a choskyong – whose historical role served to bolster the symbolic distinction between the ruling Gelugpa order and the influence of other schools of Buddhist institutional thought in Tibet. As a choskyong, however, the deity’s role was more than a question of personal belief: it existed as an element within the functioning structure of state law and practice. As such, the continuity of the deity’s institutional worship within the diaspora supported a State that was institutionally sectarian at a symbolic level. This consequence of continued Shugden practice was so strongly felt, for example, that during the early 1990s the Nyingmapa school threatened to remove their presence from the Tibetan Assembly of People’s Deputies – they sought to secede from a State structure whose very form and functioning was antagonistic to their presence.”[59] As a part of his conclusion from investigating the issue of human rights in that dispute Mills states, “Whilst there was clearly also a strong issue of the actual ‘facts of the case’, the debate surrounding Shugden was therefore primarily one of differing understandings of the constitution of religious rights as an element of state life, particularly in the context of theocratic rule. As an international dispute, moreover, it crossed the increasingly debated line between theocratic Tibetan and liberal Western interpretations of the political reality of religion as a category. By this, I do not mean to imply that the CTA slipped through a loophole in human rights law. Rather that, by denaturing relationships of religious faith to the extent to which they are merely ‘individually-held beliefs’ and ‘private practices’, western social and legal discourse may have blinded itself to the role that such relationships play in the constitution of states as communal legal entities.”[60]

The Bristol-based Buddhist specialist Paul Williams remarked in a Guardian interview on the Shugden controversy in 1996:

The Dalai Lama is trying to modernize the Tibetans’ political vision and trying to undermine the factionalism. He has the dilemma of the liberal: do you tolerate the intolerant?[61]

Another point of the political dimension is the involvement of China, interested in using this conflict to undermine the unity of the Tibetans and their faith towards the Dalai Lama.

For example, when the official Xinhua news agency said that 17 Tibetans destroyed a pair of statues at Lhasa’s Ganden Monastery on 14 March 2006 depicting the deity Dorje Shugden, the mayor of Lhasa blamed the destruction on followers of the Dalai Lama. According to BBC, analysts accused China of exploiting any dispute for political ends: “ some analysts have accused China of exploiting the apparent unrest for political gain in an effort to discredit the Dalai Lama. Tibet analyst Theirry Dodin said China had encouraged division among the Tibetans by promoting followers of the Dorje Shugden sect to key positions of authority. ‘There is a fault line in Tibetan Buddhism and its traditions itself, but it is also exploited for political purposes’ [62]

According to Barnett, Chinese propaganda officials have used the allegations by the Western Shugden protesters “as a new way to attack the Dalai Lama,” and it seems, China has continued to make frequent use of the Shugden conflict by encouraging the worship of Dorje Shugden inside Tibet. In 2014 at least two Tibetans have been jailed in China for discouraging Shugden worship.[62]

A political layer in the Shugden conflict that is less stressed is ‘group identity’, feelings of belonging to a group and the unity of a group. Peter argued that Tibetan clan membership based on allegiance to a guardian deity may represent a shift from a former unity based on blood ties to the imaginary unity of a cult.[26] Brauen stated that the “male god” (pho lha) often turns out to be “a mythical figure who demonstrates the unity of the lineage or clan group”.[26] Based on this understanding it follows that the increased or decreased importance of a given Tibetan protector deity can determine also the increased or decreased importance of the group associated with that protector. Therefore, claims about the power or importance of a protector deity can reflect also political ambition. The rise and fall of Shugden’s status may well change the prestige of the group or those associated with it. The same is true for any other deity, like Pehar. 

Shugden was felt by some to be of increasing importance. This belief of an increase of Shugden’s importance is mentioned by Nebesky-Wojkowitz: “A Tibetan tradition claims that the guardian-deity Dorje Shugden, ‘Powerful Thunderbolt’, will succeed Pehar as the head of all ’jig rten pa’i srung ma [worldly protector] once the latter god advances into the rank of those guardian-deities who stand already outside the worldly spheres.”[1a]

Pehar was bound by Padmasambhava and is a protector deity associated with the Nyingma school. Had Shugden replaced Pehar, this would have further marginalised the Nyingma school in favour of the Gelugpas.

The importance of Shugden had been further raised by Trijang Rinpoche who used Shugden practice to gather and unite the Gelug refugee Tibetans in exile under a powerful protector. In light of Shugden’s antipathy to Nyingmapas, this might not have been a very skillful act for an exile situation including all Tibetans. Nebesky-Wojkowitz – whose book from 1956 predates the current conflict – describes how Shugden was seen as a worldly protector who acts against Nyingma influence on Gelugpas:

Thus Pehar, a well known ancient god of the branch styled 'jig rten pa'i srung ma [worldly protector], occupies a prominent position in the religious systems of all Buddhist schools of Tibet, while on the other hand Dorje Shugden another important god of the same branch, is apparently recognized only by the Gelugpa and Sakyapa sects, especially the former claiming that he is a powerful guardian and protector of their doctrine against any detrimental influence coming from the side of the old Nyingmapa school.[1a]

Based on Shugden’s antipathy toward Nyingmapas, Shugden’s increase and decrease in importance has therefore important political consequences with respect to who is dominating Tibetan politics.

Dodin relates also to these political aspects when he states:

Overwhelmingly central here is ‘group identity’, the feeling of belonging and togetherness. This can readily be assigned to the category of politics, if only because power issues are bound up with it. At stake here is for instance ownership of monasteries, and/or, in old Tibet, their estates, etc. The greed for power, status and wealth, the “unholy trinity,” does not spare even Buddhist monastic orders – human beings are and always will be human beings.[28a]


… in the course of time, followers of the Shugden cult came to almost completely dominate the state institutions of old Tibet. They also set the tone in exile institutions during the initial years of exile in India and Nepal until well into the 1970’s. Essentially, the Shugden cult ascribed a religious dimension to a clear separation between the Gelugpa and non-Gelugpa schools. But the central endeavour was the monopolisation of power and resources in the hands of a tightly-knit group; in other words, it was very definitely a political matter.[28a]

The democratization of the Tibetan society and the influence of the Dalai Lama have weakened the Shugden group who, according to Dodin, “once dominated both Tibetan politics and the Gelugpa School in a very sectarian fashion”[28a], hence, Dodin concludes, “one can then understand why some influential Shugden followers hate the Dalai Lama and would like to cause him as much harm as possible.”[28a]

Barnett about a new component that aims to raise Shugden’s importance to further heights:

In recent years this dispute has become even more complex, with some pro-Shugden lamas now saying that Shugden is not only a protector deity, but is also a fully-enlightened Buddha. So, in Christian terms, they’ve raised it from being a local spirit to the level of the Godhead itself, which necessarily means it can’t do any harm. I am not sure how widespread this belief is among Tibetan followers of Shugden, but you now find it propagated everywhere among western followers. So they may not even be aware that this entity has long been understood by others as a kind of contentious local spirit, and they’ll be likely to see any criticism of it as an attack on Buddhist belief itself. This is just one example of how the nature of the dispute is changing over time as new strategies and arguments are bought into play, each time raising the stakes and making resolution more difficult.

However, besides the political dimension Dodin identifies also a religious dimension in the current conflict:

… beyond this essentially political and very human trait, there is also a religious dimension to consider. This is related to the primordial role that the teacher-student relationship plays in Tibetan Buddhism. Loyalty to one’s teacher is felt very deeply. This in turn makes it very difficult for students to critically question traditions they have received from their teachers – such as the Dorje Shugden cult – let alone distance themselves from it.[28a]

Alexander Berzin pointed out another religious element central in the present conflict: There are commitments on the levels of friendship, allegiance, loyalty, and bonding, both from student to teacher as well as from the student to their group. These life-long commitments are established through tantric empowerments. With respect to this, there is a significant difference between Shugden followers and (almost) all other Tibetan Buddhists: followers of the Shugden cult, who receive the initiation, are told that this protector or this practice may never be given up again. However, according to an old instruction of the master Ashvaghosha, it’s the case that one may end the teacher-student-relationship even when having received an empowerment. There can be different reasons for ending such a relationship: if one has failed to sufficiently investigate one’s teacher beforehand or if one has critically distanced oneself to him and his methods. It’s said that one may then respectfully distance oneself from such a teacher but that one should avoid speaking harsh words about him and his practice.[33]

Background of the conflict in the Gelug tradition

Historically the Gelug tradition, founded by Je Tsongkhapa[62a], has never been a completely unified order. Internal conflicts and divisions are a part of it and are based on philosophical, political, regional, economic, and institutional interests. In the 17th century the Gelug order became politically dominant in central Tibet. This was through the institutions of the Dalai Lamas. Although he is not the head of the Gelug school – the head is the Ganden Tripa – the Dalai Lama is the highest incarnate lama (teacher) of the Gelug school, comparable to the position of the Karmapa in the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. (see The role of the Dalai Lama)

Because of his responsibility as the political and religious leader of the Tibetans, the Dalai Lama’s duty is to balance the different interests and to be sensitive towards the different traditions and relationships. “It is necessary also to reflect on what the development of such a sectarian cult has meant and continues to mean for the Dalai Lama and for all the Tibetans in exile (and also for the Tibetans in occupied Tibet, for whom the repercussions of this matter are many and of more than secondary import).”[10] There were power struggles from the 14th century onwards “competing for political influence and economical support”[63] and a tendency of a strong sectarian interpretation of the Buddha’s doctrine. This sectarian attitude was encountered in the open approach of the Dalai Lamas, especially the Fifth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth, and through the development of the Rimé movement at the end of the 19th century, which Gelug lamas also followed.

The founder of the Gelug school, Je Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), had an open, ecumenical and eclectic approach. He used to go to all the great lamas of his time from all the different Buddhist schools and received Buddhist teachings from them. But his first successor, Khedrubje (mKhas grub rje) (1385–1483) became “quite active in enforcing a stricter orthodoxy, chastising … disciples for not upholding Tsongkhapa’s pure tradition”.[63]

According to David N. Kay

from this time, as is the case with most religious traditions, there have been those within the Gelug who have interpreted their tradition ‘inclusively’, believing that their Gelug affiliation should in no way exclude the influence of other schools which constitute additional resources along the path of enlightenment. Others have adopted a more ‘exclusive’ approach, considering that their Gelug identity should preclude the pursuit of other paths and that the ‘purity’ of the Gelug tradition must be defended and preserved.[64]

In the past the different approaches of Pabongkha Rinpoche (1878–1941) (maintaining an ‘exclusive’ religious and political approach) and the Thirteenth Dalai Lama (1876–1933) (maintaining an ‘inclusive’ religious and political approach) were quite contrary. Especially at that time, the conservative Gelugpas feared the modernisation and the reforms of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and tried to undermine them. As a sign of that modernisation from within the Tibetan society, the Rimé movement won strong influence, especially in Kham (Khams, Eastern Tibet),

… and in response to the Rimé movement (ris med) that had originated and was flowering in that region, Pabongkha Rinpoche (a Gelug agent of the Tibetan government) and his disciples employed repressive measures against non-Gelug sects. Religious artifacts associated with Padmasambhava – who is revered as a 'second Buddha' by Nyingma practitioners – were destroyed, and non-Gelug, and particularly Nyingma, monasteries were forcibly converted to the Gelug position. A key element of Pabongkha Rinpoche’s outlook was the cult of the protective deity Dorje Shugden, which he married to the idea of Gelug exclusivism and employed against other traditions as well as against those within the Gelug who had eclectic tendencies.[48]

According to Samuel, Pabongkha Rinpoche, “was by all accounts a brilliant scholar and accomplished Tantric meditator, who is remembered with devotion by his disciples.”[65] But, “he is remembered with less favor by the Nyingmapa order in Kham where, as the Dalai Lama’s representative, his attitude was one of sectarian intolerance towards non-Gelugpa orders and the Nyingmapa in particular.”[65] Samuel relates Pabongkha’s “sectarian forced conversion of Nyingma gompas in Kham” to the 13th Dalai Lama’s modernising programme. According to Samuel, “In extending the Gelug political power he was aiding the task of creating a Gelug ‘established church’ for the nascent centralised Tibetan state.”[65]

Pabongkha Rinpoche and his disciples prompted the growing influence of the Rimé movement by propagating the supremacy of the Gelug school as the only pure tradition.[66] He based his approach on a ‘unique understanding’ of the Shunyata view (i.e. ultimate reality or emptiness) in the Gelug tradition.

To show the sectarian nature of the Shugden practice Dreyfus quotes Pabongkha Rinpoche from an introduction to the text of the empowerment required to propitiate Shugden:

[This protector of the doctrine] is extremely important for holding Dzong-ka-ba’s tradition without mixing and corrupting [it] with confusions due to the great violence and the speed of the force of his actions, which fall like lightning to punish violently all those beings who have wronged the Yellow Hat Tradition, whether they are high or low. [This protector is also particularly significant with respect to the fact that] many from our own side, monks or lay people, high or low, are not content with Dzong-ka-ba’s tradition, which is like pure gold, [and] have mixed and corrupted [this tradition with] the mistaken views and practices from other schools, which are tenet systems that are reputed to be incredibly profound and amazingly fast but are [in reality] mistakes among mistakes, faulty, dangerous and misleading paths. In regard to this situation, this protector of the doctrine, this witness, manifests his own form or a variety of unbearable manifestations of terrifying and frightening wrathful and fierce appearances. Due to that, a variety of events, some of them having happened or happening, some of which have been heard or seen, seem to have taken place: some people become unhinged and mad, some have a heart attack and suddenly die, some [see] through a variety of inauspicious signs [their] wealth, accumulated possessions and descendants disappear without leaving any trace, like a pond whose feeding river has ceased, whereas some [find it] difficult to achieve anything in successive lifetimes.[16]

Although Trijang Rinpoche (1900–1981), one of Pabongkha Rinpoche’s famous disciples, had a more moderate view on other traditions than Pabongkha, nevertheless “he continued to regard the deity (Dorje Shugden) as a severe and violent punisher of inclusively orientated Gelug practitioners.”[67] Trijang Rinpoche, as the junior tutor of HH the 14th Dalai Lama, introduced the Dorje Shugden practice to the Dalai Lama in 1959. Some years later the Fourteenth Dalai Lama recognized that this practice is in conflict with the state protector Pehar and with the main protective goddess of the Gelug tradition and the Tibetan people, Palden Lhamo (dPal ldan lha mo), and that this practice is also in conflict with his own open and ecumenical (Rimé) approach and religious and political responsibilities. A while after the publication of Zemey Rinpoche’s sectarian text on Shugden The Yellow Book, on Shugden, he spoke publicly against Dorje Shugden practice and distanced himself from it.

The Conflict in the West

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and New Kadampa Tradition

New Kadampa Tradition statue of Dorje Shugden

Statue of Dorje Shugden of the NKT, deprived of its wrath and depicted as a peaceful “Wisdom Buddha”. NKT followers are unaware of how Shugden is understood in Tibetan Buddhism and believe in the whitewashed and simplified version that Kelsang Gyatso presents to them. The free e-book Modern Buddhism totally avoids even mentioning Dorje Shugden by name and speaks instead of “Wisdom Dharma Protector” (p. 148) or “Wisdom Buddha Je Tsongkhapa Losang Dragpa”. (p.181)

These ideological, political and religious views on an exclusive/inclusive approach or belief were brought to the west and expressed there the conflicts (1979-1984)[68] between Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who developed at Manjushri Institute an ever increasing ‘exclusive’ approach,[69] and Lama Yeshe, who had a more ‘inclusive’ approach[70]. Lama Yeshe invited Geshe Kelsang in 1976 to England to his FPMT (Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition) centre and later lost this centre, Manjushri Institute, to Geshe Kelsang and his followers.[71]

However, these conflicts didn’t appear to the public.

The issue about the nature of Dorje Shugden became visible to the broader public by the New Kadampa Tradition’s (NKT) media-campaign (1996-1998) against the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, following the Dalai Lama’s rejection of and advice against this practice.[72] He has described Shugden as an evil and malevolent force, and argued that other lamas before him had also placed restrictions on worship of this spirit.[72] Geshe Kelsang teaches that the deity Dorje Shugden is the Dharma protector for the New Kadampa Tradition and is a manifestation of the Buddha.[72] He has further commented that this practice was taught him and His Holiness the Dalai Lama by Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, which is why he concludes that they can not give it up without breaking their Guru’s pledges.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, born on June 4th 1931 in Yangcho Tang

In 1996 Geshe Kelsang and his disciples started to denounce the Dalai Lama in public of being a “ruthless dictator” and “oppressor of religious freedom”,[73] they organized demonstrations against the Dalai Lama in the UK (later also in the USA, Switzerland and Germany) with slogans like “Your smiles charm Your actions harm”.[74] Geshe Kelsang and the NKT accused the Dalai Lama of impinging on their religious freedom and of intolerance.[75] Further, they accused the Dalai Lama “of selling out Tibet by promoting its autonomy within China rather than outright independence, of expelling their followers from jobs in Tibetan establishments in India, and of denying them humanitarian aid pouring in from Western countries.”[76]

Newspapers like The Guardian (Britain), The Independent (Britain), The Washington Post (USA), The New York Times (USA), Die TAZ (Germany) as well as other newspapers in different countries picked up the hot topic and published articles, reported about the conflict and particularly the Shugden Supporters Community (SSC) and NKT. Besides these, CNN, the BBC and Swiss TV reported in detail about these conflicts.

The Guardian: “A group calling itself the Shugden Supporters Community – the majority of whose members are also NKT – has mounted a high-profile international campaign, claiming the Dalai Lama’s warnings against Dorje Shugden amount to a ban which denies religious freedom to the Tibetan refugee settlements of India. And NKT members have been handed draft letters to send to the Home Secretary asking for the Dalai Lama’s visa for the UK to be cancelled, arguing that he violates the very human rights – of religious tolerance and non-violence – which he has spent his life promoting.”[77]

The Daily Telegraph interviewed Kelsang Gyatso,“who has masterminded the protests”[77a] and reported that Kelsang Gyatso “attributes the Tibetan leader’s fears over the deity to hallucinations”. Kelsang Gyatso claimed that Shugden is as crucial to Buddhism as Virgin Mary is to Roman Catholicism, describing Shugden as “a wise Buddha who helps to develop love and compassion.”[77a] Further, The Daily Telegraph reported, “many Buddhists argue that Dorje Shugden is an earthly protector – not a Buddha – who brings short-term success and long-term harm”, and that other traditions claim that Shugden’s power is used by its worshippers to suppress other schools of Buddhism.[77a] While the Dalai Lama initially recommended that practitioners do the practice only privately, The Daily Telegraph ended the article by stating, “during his spring teachings in India, in March, he took a harder line, telling all who work for the Tibetan Government in Exile and those who regard him as their spiritual guide to stop the practice”.[77a]

According to the Independent: “The view from inside the Shugden Supporters Community was almost a photographic negative of everything the outside world believes about Tibet and the Dalai Lama.”[78] Regarding the facts SSC (NKT) spread, the Independent said: “It was a powerful indictment, flawed only by the fact that almost everything I was told in the Lister house was untrue.”[78]

In support of the NKT, the SSC published a directory of supporters (“Dorje Shugden Supporter List”), which included monasteries in India and other non-NKT Western-based centers, associated with known Tibetan Buddhist teachers. This list was part of the second press pack, released on 10 July 1996.[79] This listing of western-based groups and their Buddhist teachers may have been misleading as well.[79] Lama Gangchen Rinpoche for instance did not express his support for the campaign and was shocked to hear that he had been listed as a supporter.[79] Also Dagyab Kyabgön Rinpoche was put on the list without being asked and even after he had complained to Geshe Kelsang Gyatso individually, his name and his organisation’s name weren’t remove from the list.[80] According to a German Buddhist Magazine there were a number of names of Tibetan teachers and their organisation on the list who never gave their support or even were asked for it.[80]

Dalai Lama protesters Berlin, 1998

Berlin, Tempodrom, 8th June 1998. From 1996–1998 the New Kadampa Tradition organised world wide protests via Shugden Supporters Community (SSC). The big yellow banner reads: ‘Dalai Lama, please grant us religious freedom.’   Continue reading …

From left to right the signs read (signs with the same slogan are listed only once): ‘Please stop ignoring human and religious freedom’, ‘Dorje Shugden is a Buddha of compassion, please don’t lie’, ‘Dorje Shugden is no wicked Chinese spirit, please don’t lie’, ‘You know that Dorje Shugden doesn’t harm anybody, Dalai Lama please stop to spreading lies’, ‘Dorje Shugden worship is no cult, please don’t lie’, ‘Dorje Shugden is not sectarian, please don’t lie’, ‘Dorje Shugden loves Nyingmapas, please don’t lie’, ‘Dorje Shugden loves all Buddhist traditions, stop spreading lies’, ‘You know that Dorje Shugden doesn’t harm anybody, Dalai Lama please stop spreading lies’, ‘These bodyguards helped the Dalai Lama on his escape from Chinese troops based on the Dalai Lama’s illegally ban they are now persecuted’.

Unlike later protests neither megaphones, nor drums were used. However, similar to later protests a slogan was repeated in a rhythmic manner and in an endless loop. During those protests mainly the Four Immeasurables were sang in a soft and calm manner: “May everyone be happy, May everyone be free from misery, May no one be separated from happiness, May all abide in equiminity free from hate and attachment.”

According to the NKT representative of Germany at that time, Gen Kelsang Dechen, the slogans were created by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso himself.

  Close text

As a result of the aggressive campaign the NKT was faced with hostile press articles. Donald S. Lopez, Jr. commented: “The demonstrations made front-page news in the British press, which collectively rose to the Dalai Lama’s defense and in various reports depicted the New Kadampa Tradition as a fanatic, empire-building, demon-worshipping cult. The demonstrations were a public relations disaster for the NKT, not only because of its treatment by the press, but also because the media provided no historical context for the controversy and portrayed Shugden as a remnant of Tibet’s primitive pre-Buddhist past.”[81]

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and his followers are convinced that the actions of the Dalai Lama in that dispute are solely politically motivated. In November 2002 he wrote in an open letter to The Washington Times: “in October 1998 we decided to completely stop being involved in this Shugden issue because we realized that in reality this is a Tibetan political problem and not the problem of Buddhism in general or the NKT.”[82] However, according to the The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia, in September 2002 NKT members held a news conference at which they said: “The Dalai Lama and his soldiers in Dharamsala are creating terror in Tibetan society by harassing and persecuting people like us. We cannot take it lying down for long.”[76]

A main feature of the exclusive approach among many Shugden devotees is a total reliance on one’s “Root Guru” and his tradition, which was fortified by Pabogkha Rinpoche through the Life Entrusting (srog gtad) practice on Shugden. Although “Pabongkha had an enormous influence on the Gelug tradition that cannot be ignored in explaining the present conflict. He created a new understanding of the Gelug tradition focused on three elements: Vajrayogini as the main meditational deity (yi dam), Shugden as the protector, and Pabongkha as the guru.”[83] The imperative of total reliance on one’s “Root Guru” was enhanced once more by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in the west – although the Life Entrusting (srog gtad) ceremony has not been given by him. According to Geshe Kelsang, the student must “be like a wise blind person who relies totally upon one trusted guide instead of attempting to follow a number of people at once”[84] and “Experience shows that realizations come from deep, unchanging faith, and that this faith comes as a result of following one tradition purely relying upon one Teacher, practicing only his teachings, and following his Dharma Protector.”[85] According to Kay: “Even the most exclusively orientated Gelug lamas, such as Phabongkha Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche, do not seem to have encouraged such complete and exclusive reliance in their students as this.”[86]

In 2006 Geshe Kelsang claimed in public, during the annuall NKT summer festival, that:

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso & Dorje Shugden – Art Work by a NKT Survivor

Dorje Shugdän is a Dharma Protector who is a manifestation of Je Tsongkhapa. Je Tsongkhapa appears as the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugdän to prevent his doctrine from degenerating.

Je Tsongkhapa himself takes responsibility for preventing his doctrine from degenerating or from disappearing To do this, since he passed away he continually appears in many different aspects, such as in the aspect of a Spiritual Teacher who teaches the instructions of the Ganden Oral Lineage. Previously, for example, he appeared as the Mahasiddha Dharmavajra and Gyälwa Ensapa; and more recently as Je Phabongkhapa and Kyabje Trijang Dorjechang. He appeared in the aspect of these Teachers.[87]

For an overview about the campaigning groups in the West since 2008 see these articles:

Other Tibetan lamas

There are other Tibetan Gelug-lamas in the west who follow the Dorje Shugden practice such as Gonsar Rinpoche (Switzerland), Dagom Rinpoche (Nepal/USA), Panglung Rinpoche (Germany), Gyalzar Rinpoche (Switzerland), Lobsang Yeshe (Nga-lama, the self-proclaimed Kundeling Rinpoche, India/Netherlands), and Lama Gangchen Rinpoche (Italy), all of them with their own approach and attitude but more moderate than Geshe Kelsang and NKT. Except Lobsang Yeshe (Kundeling Rinpoche) who is not official recognized by the Dalai Lama as a tulku, the other lamas do still respect the Fourteenth Dalai Lama but cannot accept his reasoning. A main argument of Dagom Rinpoche and Gonsar Rinpoche is they do not really understand the Dalai Lama advising against the practice. Gonsar Rinpoche said, “I have spent many years in exile and have a great reverence for His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, but now he is abusing our freedom by banning Shugden. It makes me very sad We are not doing anything wrong; we are just keeping on with this practice, which we have received through great masters. I respect His Holiness very much, hoping he may change his opinion I cannot accept this ban on Shugden. If I accept this, then I accept that all of my masters, wise great masters, are wrong. If I accept that they are demon worshippers, then the teachings are wrong, everything we believe in is wrong. That is not possible.”[88] Geshe Kelsang also argued in the same way when he said: “If the practice of Dorje Shugden is bad, then definitely we have to say that Trijang Rinpoche is bad, and that all Gelugpa lamas in the Dalai Lama’s own lineage would be bad.”[89]

Contrary to this point of view the Dalai Lama stated: “I am of the opinion that Phabongkha and Trijang Rinpoche’s promotion of the worship of Dholgyal was a mistake. But their worship represents merely a fraction of what they did in their lives. Their contributions in the areas of Stages of the Path, Mind Training and Tantra teachings were considerable. Their contribution in these areas was unquestionable and in no way invalidated by involvement with Dholgyal My approach to this issue (i.e. differing on one point, whilst retaining respect for the person in question) is completely in line with how such great beings from the past have acted.”[90]

However, from the point of view of many of the Shugden followers it is a painful dilemma. But it has to be stated that although Pabongkha Rinpoche “married the cult of the protective deity Dorje Shugden to the idea of Gelug exclusivism and employed against other traditions as well as against those within the Gelug who had eclectic tendencies”,[91] lamas like Lama Gangchen Rinpoche and Lama Yeshe (who in the past also practiced Dorje Shugden) nevertheless follow an inclusive approach. It has to be further stated that an exclusive approach does not necessarily include the idea of having a sectarian view.[92]

Kay states: “Examples of such lamas, who have taught in the West, include Geshe Rabten, Gonsar Rinpoche, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, Lama Thubten Yeshe, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Geshe Thubten Loden, Geshe Lobsang Tharchin, Lama Gangchen and Geshe Lhundup Sopa. It should be remembered that their association with this particular lineage-tradition does not necessarily mean that they are exclusive in orientation or devotees of Dorje Shugden. Some lamas, like Geshe Kelsang and the late Geshe Rabten, have combined these elements, whereas others, like lamas Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Gangchen, came into exile with a commitment to the protector practice but not to its associated exclusivism.”[93] Lama Gangchen Rinpoche for instance, a Gelug tulku and close disciple of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, had been called even, metaphorically, the “motherland of syncretism”.[94]

The Fourteenth Dalai Lama is not the only high rank Buddhist master who advised against or restricted Shugden practice. There are other high rank Buddhist masters within and outside the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism who spoke, wrote or advised against Shugden worship.

Proponents and opponents of Shugden worship

As it was said above, Shugden practice became very widespread in the Gelug school. Those who practiced Shugden in the 20th century include the Gelug school’s highest masters such as the 14th Dalai Lama, Trijang Rinpoche – the Dalai Lama’s junior tutor— Zong Rinpoche and many others. Voices against Shugden worship within the Gelug school became extremely rare in the 20th century. Therefore, a list of Shugden proponents within the Gelug school would be quite long. Many of those who were or still are proponents of Shugden worship were already mentioned in this article. Rarely mentioned are those who opposed Shugden worship. That’s why the last section focuses mainly, but not exclusively, on them.

According to Lama Zopa Rinpoche, among the Gelug masters who opposed Shugden worship there are the 5th and 13th Dalai Lamas, Ling Rinpoche – the Dalai Lama’s senior tutor, Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen, Purchog Jampa Rinpoche – who wrote against the practice of Shugden in the Monastery’s constitution— Jangkya Rölpa’i Dorje, Jangkyang Ngawang Chödrön, Tenpa’i Wangchuk, the 4th and 8th Panchen Lama, and Ngulchu Dharmabhadra.[94a] While the late 100th Ganden Tripa (head of the Gelug school), Lobsang Nyingma Rinpoche, was an opponent of Shugden practice, the 101st Ganden Tripa, Lungrik Namgyal Rinpoche, after his retirement, became a proponent of Shugden practice. He lives in South India, Mundgod Shar Gaden, Tri Pa Labrang.

According to The Dolgyal Research Committee (Tibetan Government in Exile), prominent opponents include also the 5th Panchen Lama, Dzongsar Khyentse Chokyi Lodro, the 14th and 16th Karmapas, among others.[95]

Though there was practice of Shugden in the Sakya Tradition, Sakya Trizin Rinpoche (head of the Sakya school) clarifying its background states,

In the beginning the Sakya throne holder Sakya Sönam Rinchen bound Shugden to protect Dharma. However, neither Shudgen nor other worldly spirits were depended upon during prayer meetings at Sakya. The statue of Shugden was in some shrine rooms but in the lowest category in the pantheon. No Sakya follower has ever taken life pledging empowerment through the medium of Shugden … Later Shugden worship decreased strongly among Sakyas due to the efforts of three leading Sakya lineage lamas … [including the root Guru of Sakya Trizin who was] … extremely unhappy with Shugden practice and advised on the demerits of Shugden practice. One of his disciples, Ngawang Yönten Gyatso, took strong actions to remove Shugden statues from the Sakya monasteries and to destroy them. Khyentse Dorje Chang Chökyi Lodrö was also very unhappy with Shugden practice, although he didn’t destroy statues, he performed rituals to banish Shugden. Since these three leading Sakya Lamas were against Shugden, this practice declined greatly among Sakya followers.[96]

Mindrolling Trichen Rinpoche, late head of the Nyingma school, spoke explicitly against the practice of Shugden and described him as “a hungry ghost in the human realm.”[96] Tai Situ Rinpoche, an eminent Kagyu master, stated: “We Kagyu followers normally do not mention this name without fear. There is no Shugden practitioner among Kagyu followers. The reason why we fear the one I name just now, is because we believe that he causes obstacles to spiritual practice and brings discord in families and among the community of monks.”[96]

For an overview about the Shugden controversy in Tibet and India see these articles by TibetInfoNet:

Obedience towards the Guru

A problem for many faced with giving up Shugden practice is that during a Tantric Shugden empowerment, students give a commitment to never give up Shugden. Religious scientist Michael Von Brück (LM University, Munich) comments,

The Tantric vow binds teacher and disciple together in an exclusive connection of total obedience on the side of the disciple. This is even more so in the relation to one’s ‘root Lama’ (rtsa ba’i bla ma), who is the teacher who transmits all the three aspects of the tradition as a single person: (a) the oral transmission of the texts; (b) commentaries on the texts; (c) empowerment into the practice of a specific deity. Such a relationship to the root Lama creates a special karmic situation and is absolutely binding. To change or correct the transmission handed down by a root teacher is not possible unless the relationship has been dissolved and the vow has been returned formally. The one who breaks the vow (dam nyams) commits such a serious ‘negative deed’ that he/she will definitely be reborn many times in hell.

Two further problems related to the Shugden controversy and the Tantric guru-disciple-relationship are: 1) Fear of “A Breach of Guru-Devotion”; and 2) the understanding that “guru devotion” includes accepting all views and actions of the guru as enlightened and never questioning these. Though scriptural support exists for the latter Tantric view, there is also scriptural support for a view which gives space and freedom to the student to reject advice or commands the guru has given if: a) One is not able to obey (in that case one excuses oneself politely to the guru and explains the reasons why)[97]; or b) If the advice or command is not concordant with Buddha’s teachings (in that case one has to reject it without losing faith in the guru).[97a]

Shugden opponents might refer to a perceived sectarian nature bound with Shugden practice, which they see as a contradiction to the Dharma and Buddhism or they might argue that Shugden is a local mundane spirit in whom it is inappropriate to take refuge as a Buddhist. Shugden proponents might refer to their tantric commitment and the Tantric view that “the guru is a Buddha” who cannot be questioned in any way or couldn’t have erred in misperceiving the nature of Shugden. For those who see Shugden as a Buddha, they cannot see a problem in taking refuge in him.

Besides the probable impossibility of determining Shugden’s nature, behind these arguments there are two fundamentally different approaches to “guru devotion” that can be recognised: a) A very strict interpretation in the sense of ‘total obedience’ whereby actions of the guru can in no way be questioned; and b) A less strict approach that gives space and freedom to question and to reject actions or views of one’s own guru(s) – either without loosing faith or by taking a neutral distance to the guru and his methods.

In the same vein, Michael von Brück concluded his paper about the Shugden conflict:

We can conclude that the present controversy reveals the contradiction between the imperative of critically establishing the validity of (one’s own) opinions and the obedience towards the Lama (Guru).[98]  ■


  • Brown, Andrew (1996). Battle of the Buddhists, The Independent – London
  • Bunting, Madeleine (1996). Shadow boxing on the path to Nirvana, The Guardian – London, (PDF)
  • Chime Radha Rinpoche (1981). ‘Tibet’, in M. Loewe and C. Blacker (eds) Divination and Oracles, London: George Allen & Unwin, pp. 3–37.
  • Dreyfus, George (1998). The Shuk-Den Affair: Origins of a Controversy, published in Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies (Vol., 21, no. 2 [Fall 1998]:227-270)
  • Dreyfus, Georges (2011). The Predicament of Evil: The Case of Dorje Shukden, in Deliver Us From Evil, Editor(s): M. David Eckel, Bradley L. Herling, Boston University Studies in Philosophy and Religion, pp. 57-74
  • Kay, David N. (2004). Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation - The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), and the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives (OBC), London and New York, ISBN 0-415-29765-6, Routledge (PDF)
  • Mills, Martin A. (2003). This Turbulent Priest: Contesting Religious Rights and the State in the Tibetan Shugden Controversy in Human Rights in Global Perspective: Anthropological Studies of Rights, Claims and Entitlements edited by Richard A. Wilson Jon P. Mitchell, ISBN: 0203506278, Routledge
  • Mumford, Stan Royal (1989). Himalayan Dialogue: Tibetan Lamas and Gurung Shamans in Nepal, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Rene de (1956). Oracles and Demons of Tibet: The Cult and Iconography of the Tibetan Protective Deities, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Repo, Joona (2015). Phabongkha Dechen Nyingpo: His Collected Works and the Guru-Deity-Protector Triad Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines 33, pp. 5–72.
  • Samuel, Geoffrey (1993). Civilized Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Sparham, Gareth (1996). Why the Dalai Lama rejects Shugden, Tibetan Review 31(6): 11–13.


  1. ^ Nebesky-Wojkowitz 1956: Oracles and Demons of Tibet: The Cult and Iconography of the Tibetan Protective Deities, Chapter VIII: “rDo rje shugs ldan”, 134–144, published by Paljor Publications
    [1a] Trijang Rinpoche describes Shugden as a ‘gyalpo spirit’ called Dolgyal see: Music Delightning an Ocean of Protectors, p. 109; for Pabongkha Rinpoche and other Buddhist teachers see Dreyfus (1998) The Shuk-Den Affair: Origins of a Controversy; for Sakya, see McCune’s thesis
  2. ^ Kay, David N. (2004). Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation - The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), and the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives (OBC), London and New York, ISBN 0-415-29765-6, page 46 (PDF)
  3. ^ Kay : 2004, 47
  4. ^ Kay : 2004, 47
  5. ^ Kay : 2004, 47
  6. ^ Kay page 230
    [6a] Mills, Martin (2003) Identity, Ritual and State in Tibetan Buddhism – The Foundations of Authority in Gelugpa Monasticism, p. 366, Routledge
  7. ^ Kay : 2004, 47
  8. ^ Letter to the Assembly of Tibetan Peoples Deputies, Sakya Trizin, June 15 1996, Archives of ATPD in von Brück; Michael: Religion und Politik im Tibetischen Buddhismus. Kösel Verlag, München 1999, ISBN 3-466-20445-3, page 184
  9. ^ interview, July 1996, Kay page 230
    [9a] Interviews in Cambridge, Meeting Children in London September 19th 2015. Offical Website His Holiness the Dalai Lama,, accessed: 2015/09/19
  10. ^ a b c A Spirit of the XVII Secolo, Raimondo Bultrini, Dzogchen Community 2005, published in Mirror, January 2006; For an detailled account see Bultrini’s: The Dalai Lama and the King Demon – Tracking a Triple Murder Mystery Through the Mists of Time; For a book review see: Tibet’s Mystic Politics: Review of The Dalai Lama and the King Demon by Raimondo Bultrini by Rebecca Novic/Huffington Post
  11. ^ See Interview in the Documentary Film at: Official Web Page of the Dalai Lama,
  12. ^ Austrian Buddhist magazine Ursache und Wirkung, July 2006, page 73
  13. ^ Nebesky-Wojkowitz 1956: 3
    13a ^ “Dorje Drakden (rdo rje grags ldan), makes himself manifest through the Nechung Oracle (gnas chung sku rtan), a human medium who in turn functions as the primary state oracle. Shugden likewise manifests through human mediums, relegating his outward ranking to that of a worldly deity in the eyes of most Tibetan Buddhists, as enlightened protectors are generally understood not to take possession of mediums, an activity reserved for worldly spirits and protectors.” Phabongkha Dechen Nyingpo: His Collected Works and the Guru-Deity-Protector Triad (2015) by Joona Repo, Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines 33, p.27.
  14. ^ Kay 2004: 73
    [14a] Dreyfus, Georges (2011). “The Predicament of Evil: The Case of Dorje Shukden”, in Deliver Us From Evil, p. 64, Editor(s): M. David Eckel, Bradley L. Herling, Boston University Studies in Philosophy and Religion.
    [14b] Dreyfus, Georges (2011). “The Predicament of Evil: The Case of Dorje Shukden”, in Deliver Us From Evil, p. 62, Editor(s): M. David Eckel, Bradley L. Herling, Boston University Studies in Philosophy and Religion.
    [14c] Dreyfus, Georges (2011). “The Predicament of Evil: The Case of Dorje Shukden”, in Deliver Us From Evil, p. 70, Editor(s): M. David Eckel, Bradley L. Herling, Boston University Studies in Philosophy and Religion.
    [14d] Kay, David (2004). Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation. London: RoutledgeCurzon. p. 101-2.
    [14e] Repo, Joona (2015). “Phabongkha Dechen Nyingpo: His Collected Works and the Guru-Deity-Protector Triad” Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines 33, pp. 26–27.
    [14f] Dreyfus, Georges (2011). “The Predicament of Evil: The Case of Dorje Shukden”, in Deliver Us From Evil, p. 70, Editor(s): M. David Eckel, Bradley L. Herling, Boston University Studies in Philosophy and Religion.
    [14g] Dreyfus, Georges (2011). “The Predicament of Evil: The Case of Dorje Shukden”, in Deliver Us From Evil, p. 74, Editor(s): M. David Eckel, Bradley L. Herling, Boston University Studies in Philosophy and Religion.
  15. ^ David N. Kay: Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation, London and New York, published by RoutledgeCurzon, ISBN 0-415-29765-6, page 48
  16. ^ Dreyfus : 1999 - this is taken from a revised version of a paper published earlier in the Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies (Vol., 21, no. 2 [1998]:227-270), see: The Shuk-Den Affair: Origins of a Controversy
  17. ^ Mills, Martin A, This Turbulent Priest: Contesting Religious Rights and the State in the Tibetan Shugden Controversy in Human Rights in Global Perspective, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-30410-5, page 55
  18. ^ Jam mgon rgyal ba'i bstan srung rdo rje shugs ldan gyi 'phrin bcol phyogs bsdus bzhugs so, pages 33-37. Sera Me Press (ser smad 'phrul spar khang), 1991.
  19. ^ Jam mgon rgyal ba'i bstan srung rdo rje shugs ldan gyi 'phrin bcol phyogs bsdus bzhugs so, pages 31-33. Sera Me Press (ser smad 'phrul spar khang), 1991.
  20. ^ Georges Dreyfus, Williams College, The Shuk-Den Affair: Origins of a Controversy, 1999
    [20a] see translation of Music Delightning an Ocean of Protectors, p. 11, 107, 109, 111–122. The translation is made by Shugden followers. The usage of English terms which should represent the meaning of the Tibetan is often not very precise and suggestes an ideological bias.
  21. ^ Mills, Martin A, This Turbulent Priest: Contesting Religious Rights and the State in the Tibetan Shugden Controversy in Human Rights in Global Perspective, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-30410-5, page 65
  22. ^ Mills, Martin A, This Turbulent Priest: Contesting Religious Rights and the State in the Tibetan Shugden Controversy in Human Rights in Global Perspective, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-30410-5, page 55
  23. ^ Mills, Martin A, This Turbulent Priest: Contesting Religious Rights and the State in the Tibetan Shugden Controversy in Human Rights in Global Perspective, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-30410-5, page 56
  24. ^ Mills, Martin A, This Turbulent Priest: Contesting Religious Rights and the State in the Tibetan Shugden Controversy in Human Rights in Global Perspective, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-30410-5, page 56
  25. ^ Mills, Martin A, This Turbulent Priest: Contesting Religious Rights and the State in the Tibetan Shugden Controversy in Human Rights in Global Perspective, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-30410-5, page 56
    [25a] George Dreyfus, The Shuk-Den Affair: Origins of a Controversy, 1999
  26. ^ Mumford 1989:125-126
  27. ^ Mills, Martin A, This Turbulent Priest: Contesting Religious Rights and the State in the Tibetan Shugden Controversy in Human Rights in Global Perspective, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-30410-5, page 56
  28. ^ Dreyfus : 1999
    [28a] Dodin, Thierry (2014), The Dorje Shugden conflict
    [28b] Thierry Dodin, personal communication by email. March 7, 2015
    [28c] Two Sides of the Same God, by Donald S. Lopez, Jr., Tricycle Magazine, Spring 1998; However, in this specific article Lopez doesn’t mention the list. The qualifications for the Ganden Tripa are rather strict (they are outlined in the entry on Dga’ ldan khri pa in the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism). The Ganden Tripa position rotates among the three major monasteries, Drepung, Sera and Ganden. However, that was not the case in Tibet. (see the entry on Dga’ ldan khri pa in the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism)
    [28d] This was certainly not the case in Tibet, because during the 19th century the Dalai Lamas died young.
    [28e] “The Extraordinary Life of a Simple Buddhist Monk – From Village Child to Nobel Laureate: The Journey of the 14th Dalai Lama” by Vivien Shotwell in The Dalai Lama, Shambala Sun 2015, p. 37
    [28f] The Economist, March 14th 2011, The Dalai Lama resigns. So long, farewell.
  29. ^ Official Homepage of the Dalai Lama,
  30. ^ Official Dalai Lama Homepage, [2]
  31. ^ Official Dalai Lama Homepage, [3]
    [31a] Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Concerning Dolgyal or Shugden With Reference to the Views of Past Masters and Other Related Matters, Official Dalai Lama Homepage,
    [31b] Talk given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama concerning Shugden Practice on 13th July 1978 (at his residence ) to a group of people comprising the Ven. Lobsang Nyima, the Abbot of Namgyal Monastery, Geshe Loten, monk officials and twenty two senior monks of Namgyal Monastery, five senior monks of Nechung Monastery, two teachers of the Dialectic School, two monk-representatives each from the branches of the Upper and Lower Tantric Colleges at Dharamsala, and Rato Kyongla Tulku and Nyagre Kelsang Yeshi, both resident in America, who were admitted by special permission: Why did the 14th Dalai Lama change his stance on Dorje Shugden / Dholgyal?
    [31c] for instance Kelsang Pagpa, former director of Conishead Priory, “Every true Gelugpa knows the kindness of these Lamas – if they don’t, their minds have been poisoned by the false Dalai Lama’s lies. The Dalai Lamas have never been lineage holders of Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition.” quoted by Joanne Clark in What About The Dalai Lama And The Lineage Of Phabongka Rinpoche, Sept. 14, 2014
  32. ^ Official Dalai Lama Homepage, [4]
    [32a] Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Avalokiteshvara Empowerment and Public Talk, September 19th 2016
  33. ^ Austrian Buddhist magazine Ursache und Wirkung, July 2006, page 73
    [33a] Open letter from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso to Wesley Pruden, editor in chief, The Washington Times, Press Statement – November 25, 2002, [11]
  34. ^ Kay: 2004, Dreyfus : 1999
  35. ^ Kay: 2004, page 43; Dreyfus : 1999; Chagdug Tulku Der Herr des Tanzes (Lord of the Dance: Autobiography of a Tibetan Lama), ISBN 3896201204 : page 133
  36. ^ Interview with Tashi Wangdi, David Shankbone, Wikinews, November 14, 2007.
  37. ^ CESNUR, [5]
  38. ^ Interview with Tashi Wangdi, David Shankbone, Wikinews, November 14, 2007.
  39. ^ Letter to the Indian Prime Minister by Dorje Shugden Devotees Charitable and Religious Society and Shugden Supporters Community (SSC), [6]
  40. ^ Amnesty International’s position on alleged abuses against worshippers of Tibetan deity Dorje Shugden, AI Index: ASA 17/14/98 June 199, (PDF)
  41. ^ Mills, Martin A, This Turbulent Priest: Contesting Religious Rights and the State in the Tibetan Shugden Controversy in Human Rights in Global Perspective, Routledge ISBN 0-415-30410-5
    [41a] A Spirit of the XVII Century by Raimondo Bultrini – 2005
    [41b] Self-correction of Swiss TV,
    [41c] Swiss TV DRS Series “10 vor 10”, “Bruderzwist,” broadcast Jan. 5–9, 1998. Swiss TV produced a series about the Shugden controversy, and was faced with protests by journalists, Tibetans and scientists because of its distorted, partisan and also factually incorrect claims. Finally, Swiss TV had to produce a self-correction (see footnote [41c]) in which they corrected many of the incorrect claims and misrepresentations they made (e.g. Swiss TV minutes 0:30: Shugden activists claimed among others that the former minister Kundeling was a Shugden supporter and was therefore stabbed and almost killed but former minister Kundeling says in the self-correction by Swiss TV, that although unknown people did try to kill him, he had never practiced Shugden and therefore, there is no need to claim that the assassination attempts were because he practiced Shugden …), Swiss TV interviewed for the first time the Indian police, and they invited an academic expert to untangle the issue. See also: Some Media and the Shugden Controversy – How TV Channels and YouTube Can Deceive You – Tenzin Peljor (2014)
  42. ^ Newsweek April 28 1997, [7] & Official Homepage of the Dalai Lama,
  43. ^ Austrian Buddhist magazine Ursache und Wirkung, July 2006, page 73
  44. ^ Mike Wilson, 1999, Schisms, murder, and hungry ghosts in Shangra-La - internal conflicts in Tibetan Buddhist sect, [8]
  45. ^ Kelsang Gyatso spoke with Donald S. Lopez, Jr, Tricycle Magazine, Spring 1998
  46. ^ Newsday, Dalai Lama repeats call for Tibet autonomy, not independence,,0,1571830.story
  47. ^ a b c d e f Kay pages 50, 51, 52
  48. ^ a b Kay page 43
  49. ^ Sparham 1996: 12
  50. ^ Sparham 1996: 13
  51. ^ Dreyfus 1998: 269
  52. ^ Dreyfus 1998: 262
  53. ^ Mills, Martin A, This Turbulent Priest: Contesting Religious Rights and the State in the Tibetan Shugden Controversy in Human Rights in Global Perspective; ed Richard Wilson, published by Routledge Curzon, ISBN 0-415-30410-5, p. 55-56
  54. ^ Mills, p. 60–61
  55. ^ Mills, p. 60-61
  56. ^ a b Tibetan Independence Movement: Political, Religious and Gandhian Perspectives, Jane Ardley, published by RoutledgeCurzon, ISBN 0-7007-1572-X
  57. ^ Tibetan Parliament in Exile’s Resolution of June 1996, [10]
  58. ^ Mills, Martin A, This Turbulent Priest: Contesting Religious Rights and the State in the Tibetan Shugden Controversy in Human Rights in Global Perspectivee, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-30410-5, page 6
  59. ^ Mills, Martin A, This Turbulent Priest: Contesting Religious Rights and the State in the Tibetan Shugden Controversy in Human Rights in Global Perspective, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-30410-5, page 63
  60. ^ Mills, Martin A, This Turbulent Priest: Contesting Religious Rights and the State in the Tibetan Shugden Controversy in Human Rights in Global Perspective, Routelidge ISBN 0-415-30410-5, page 66
  61. ^ Bunting 1996, see also Mills : 2000, page 68
  62. ^ BBC NEWS, Dalai Lama ‘behind Lhasa unrest’, May 10, 2006 [11]; Foreign Policy, Meet the Buddhists Who Hate the Dalai Lama More Than the Chinese Do, Isaac Stone Fish, March 13, 2015; Elderly Tibetan is Jailed For Discouraging Worship of Controversial Deity – RfA, Another Tibetan is Jailed For Discouraging Worship of a Controversial Deity – RfA; for more see: China’s Involvement in the Dorje Shugden Controversy by T. Peljor
    [62a] This is not literally correct. Though Tsongkhapa is generally considered to be the founder of the Gelug school, Daniel Cozort and Craig Preston comment with respect to this: “Tsongkhapa never announced the establishment of a new monastic order, but it began to form following on his founding of Ganden Monastery near Lhasa in 1410. Others started to call his followers ‘Gandenpas.’ It was not until later, when Tsongkhapa’s writings were criticized by writers of the Sakya order, that the Gandenpas distinguished themselves from Sakya by calling themselves, somewhat immodestly, Gelugpas (‘virtuous ones’). They were also called the ‘New Kadampa,’ harking back to the Kadampa order established by Atisha’s disciple Dromtönpa (1005–1064). Like Atisha, Dromtönpa, and especially the great scholar and translator Ngok Loden Sherab (1059–1109), Tsongkhapa emphasized that monasticism should not be only about ritual but should involve the rigorous study of Buddhist Philosophy.”, Buddhist Philosophy – Losang Gönchok’s Short Commentary to Jamyang Shayba’s Root Text on Tenets, Daniel Cozort and Craig Preston, 2003, Preface IX.
  63. ^ a b Kay pages 39, 40 citing G. Dreyfus
  64. ^ Kay pages 41,42
  65. ^ Samuel 1993: pp. 545–546; Kay 2004: 230; see also Pabongkha’s two letters to Chinese General, Lu Chu Tang, where Pabongkha describes other faiths like Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Kongtse (Confucianism), Bon (ancient native Tibetan religion) as “only a deceptive word”, that “will simply open the gate of the lower realm and no positive result will be achieved at all from them.” and “Although in the land of Tibet there are many different tenets like that of Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, Gelugpa and so forth it is only the Gelug School which establishes the unmistaken view of emptiness and the Prasangika Madhyamika system which is the philosophy of Nagarjuna.” or “… if we honestly examine, Christianity and Islam are barbarism and therefore are the worst and there is no other religion worse than these.”; “… in Tibet, except Tsongkhapa’s philosophy, all others are mistaken.”
  66. ^ Kay page 47
  67. ^ Kay page 49
  68. ^ Kay pages 61-69
  69. ^ Kay page 57ff
  70. ^ Kay page 65
  71. ^ Kay pages 61-66
  72. ^ a b c BBC at
  73. ^ Bunting, The Guardian, 1996, on July 6
  74. ^ Bunting, The Guardian, 1996, on July 6; Lopez 1998:193
  75. ^ Lopez 1998:193
  76. ^ a b The Sydney Morning Herald, 2002, by Umarah Jamali in New Delhi November 16 2002, see: [12]
  77. ^ Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian, July 6, 1996, [13], PDF
    [77a] Dalai Lama Faces Revolt For Barring ‘Death Threat’ Deity, The Daily Telegraph, July 15,1996.
  78. ^ a b Andrew Brown in The Independent, London, 15 July 1996, Battle of the Buddhists, [14]
  79. ^ a b c Kay 2004 : 235
  80. ^ a b German Buddhist Magazine Chökor, No. 25, 1998, page 50
  81. ^ Two Sides of the Same God, by Donald S. Lopez, Jr., Tricycle Magazine, Spring 1998
  82. ^ Open letter from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso to Wesley Pruden, editor in chief, The Washington Times, Press Statement — November 25, 2002, [15]
  83. ^ George Dreyfus, The Shuk-Den Affair: Origins of a Controversy, [16]
  84. ^ Kelsang Gyatso, 1991, Kay page 92
  85. ^ Kelsang Gyatso, Great Treasury of Merit: How to Rely Upon A Spiritual Guide first published 1992, page 31, ISBN 0-948006-22-6, see also Kay page 92
  86. ^ Kay page 92
  87. ^ Kelsang Gyatso, Who is Dorje Shugden?, [17]
  88. ^ “On The Outs” By John Goetz, [18]
  89. ^ Geshe Kelsang Gyatso spoke with Donald S. Lopez, Jr, Tricycle Magazine, Spring 1998
  90. ^ Official Homepage of the Dalai Lama, [19]
  91. ^ Kay page 43
  92. ^ Kay page 41
  93. ^ Kay page 230
  94. ^ Introduction to the Internet-conference “Hightech and Macumba”, Goethe-Institute of São Paulo; Goethe-Institute of São Paulo
    [94a] Lama Zopa Rinpoche, [21]
  95. ^ A Brief History Of Opposition To Shugden by The Dolgyal Research Committee, TGIE, [22]
  96. ^ Interview in the documentary film at the official website of H.H. the Dalai Lama,; the documentary film includes statements by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama (Gelug), H.H. the 100th Ganden Tripa, Lobsang Nyingma Rinpoche (late Head of the Gelugpa Tradition), Kyabje Lati Rinpoche (Gelug), H.H. Mindrolling Trichen Rinpoche (late Head of the Nyingma Tradition), Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche (Nyingma), H.H. Sakya Trizin (Head of the Sakya Tradition), H.E. Tai Situ Rinpoche (Kagyu Tradition)
  97. ^ Asvaghosa’s Fifty Stanzas on Guru Devotion: “(A disciple) having great sense should obey the words of his Guru joyfully and with enthusiasm. If you lack the knowledge or ability (to do what he says), explain in (polite) words why you cannot (comply).”; see: 50 Stanzas on Guru Devotion by Aryasura (Asvaghosa) with commentary given orally by Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey,
    [97a] Je Tsongkhapa says one should not follow “if it is an improper and irreligious command”, which is based on the Vinaya Sutra: “If someone suggests something which is not consistent with the Dharma, avoid it.”; see: The Fulfillment of All Hopes: Guru Devotion in Tibetan Buddhism, Wisdom Publications, ISBN 0-86171-153-X, p. 64
  98. ^ Michael von Brück: Religion und Politik im Tibetischen Buddhismus. Kösel Verlag, München 1999, ISBN 3-466-20445-3, page 209, 210 (see also abbreviated version of this paper in English: Canonicity and Divine Interference: The Tulkus and the Shugden-Controversy.)
  99. ^ Michael von Brück: Religion und Politik im Tibetischen Buddhismus. Kösel Verlag, München 1999, ISBN 3-466-20445-3, page 209, the Dorje Shugden Devotees Religious and Charitable Society, New Delhi, Nov 1996 wrote in a letter to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, that he has created "a great deal of anguish among a large number of Tibetans and the followers of several prominent Lamas who spread the Dharma to thousands of non-Tibetans around the world", because his ban of the Shugden practice "is forcing almost all of the Gelugpa Lamas who have spread the Dharma to the West to break their vow and commitments either to His Holiness or to their root Guru, who is also the root Guru of His Holiness, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche." (see also abbreviated version of this paper in English: Canonicity and Divine Interference: The Tulkus and the Shugden-Controversy.)
  100. ^ Michael von Brück: Religion und Politik im Tibetischen Buddhismus. Kösel Verlag, München 1999, ISBN 3-466-20445-3, page 193 (see also abbreviated version of this paper in English: Canonicity and Divine Interference: The Tulkus and the Shugden-Controversy.)
  101. ^ Michael von Brück: Religion und Politik im Tibetischen Buddhismus. Kösel Verlag, München 1999, ISBN 3-466-20445-3, page 194-196, Letter to the 13th Dalai Lama by Pabongkha Rinpoche, Biography of Pabongkha Rinpoche by Dharma Losang Dorje, Vol XIV, Lhasa Edition, pages 471ff (see also abbreviated version of this paper in English: Canonicity and Divine Interference: The Tulkus and the Shugden-Controversy.)
  102. ^ Michael von Brück: Religion und Politik im Tibetischen Buddhismus. Kösel Verlag, München 1999, ISBN 3-466-20445-3, page 199 (see also abbreviated version of this paper in English: Canonicity and Divine Interference: The Tulkus and the Shugden-Controversy.)
  103. ^ BBC, Protest at Dalai Lama prayer ban, 27 May 2008
    [103a] Writ document,, Sowing dissent and undermining the Dalai Lama by TibetInfoNet
    [103b] Delhi High Court Dismisses Dorjee Shugden Devotees’ Charges (2010) by TibetNet/CTA (PDF), Original statement by the Delhi High Court (2010) (PDF)
  104. ^ The Times - June 22, 2007; Interpol on trail of Buddhist killers, PDF
    See also: The Followers of a Wrathful Buddhist Spirit Take on the Dalai Lama by Mark Hay, February 25, 2015

External links

Academic articles about Dorje Shugden / the Shugden Controversy

Supporters of Dorje Shugden

Dorje Shugden critics


¹ According to some NKT followers, the site is run by Tsem Tulku and his Kechara group.


© Tenzin Peljor & Wikipedia

This article was taken from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia (April-May 2008). Large parts of it were edited by T. Peljor.

Header image: © Michael A. Statue of Padmasabhva in Tso Pema.

About this article

The article relies mainly but not exclusively on academic sources and is not exhaustive but rather incomplete, e.g. Trijang Rinpoche’s view is less stressed. For his view you can download his text: Music Delighting ….* However, as researcher von Brück remarked: “We could go on quoting several oral traditions which are related by Trijang Rinpoche to establish and defend the Shugden tradition. Trijang wants to show that Nechung and Shugden do not clash or, in other terms, that there is no contradiction between the general protection of the whole of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and the specific protection of the Gelugpa school only. Looking into the history of the struggle between different schools in Tibet and judging from the heat of the present controversy there is more to say. It is clear that by historical evidence the authenticity of that tradition on Shugden cannot be decided.”

* The translation is made by Shugden followers. The usage of English terms which should represent the meaning of the Tibetan is often not very precise and suggestes an ideological bias. In case the link doesn’t function anymore you can download it here.

Wikipedia and Tibet-related Issues

Some Tibetologists started to warn against using Wikipedia as a reliable source with respect to articles related to Tibet!¹

Though some Wikipedia articles are excellent, usually a lay person won’t be able to discriminate between the excellent and the incorrect articles. However, the articles by Wikipedia used for this website were edited, verified and chosen very carefully.

Nowadays NKT has its own Wikipedia editor team that changes the articles according to NKT leadership’s point of view.²

¹ e.g. Prof. Dr. Dieter Schuh, Tibetinstitut, Wikipedia und Tibet

² for details see Wikipedia: Dorje Shugden’s Enlightened Lineage or How to Make ‘History’

Academic Research

For a frequently updated list of research papers see: