Khyenrab is the deputy of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and his appointed successor.
The second wave of international protests of the New Kadampa Tradition against the Dalai Lama, 2008-2010, under the guise of a front group called "Western Shugden Society" (WSS).
- The Creditability of The Protesters
The first wave of international protests of the New Kadampa Tradition against the Dalai Lama, 1996-1998, under the guise of a front group called "Shugden Supporters Community" (SSC).
The person in the center of the imgage is Gen-la Kelsang Kunsang.
»I also made it clear that the Western Shugden group's allegations are problematic: they are akin to attacking the Pope because some lay Catholics somewhere abuse non-believers or heretics. The Western Shugden Group is severely lacking in credibility, since its form of spirit-worship is heterodox, provocative and highly sectarian in Buddhist terms and so more than likely to be banned from mainstream monasteries – while its claimed concerns about cases of discrimination in India should be addressed by working within the Tibetan community instead of opportunistically attacking the Dalai Lama in order to provoke misinformed publicity for their sect.« (July 23, 2008)
Freelance Journalist Andrew Brown in The Independent, »Battle of the Buddhists«, about the Shugden Supporters Community/New Kadampa Tradition:
»It was a powerful indictment, flawed only by the fact that almost everything I was told in the Lister's house was untrue. The figure of four million worshippers for Dorje Shugden is preposterous. There are only about six million Tibetans in the world at most, of whom less than half are members of the Gelugpa order (Steven Lane estimated 30 per cent), where the veneration of Shugden is concentrated. Even among the Gelugpa, only monks can be initiated into the cult of Shugden, and only a minority of those actually are. Most of the experts I talked to thought that about 100,000 people at most could be affected by the Dalai Lama's ban.« (July 15, 1996)
»Loud is the noise that ordinary men make. Nobody thinks himself a fool, when divisions arise in the Sangha, nor do they ever value another person higher than themselves.« – The Buddha, Mahavagga
A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing
+++ NEWS February – May 2014 +++
The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) / Western Shugden Society (WSS), (formerly the Shugden Supporters Community or SSC) are now organizing “impassioned protests against the Dalai Lama” under yet another new name, the International Shugden Community (ISC).
The International Shugden Community is registered as a company in Norway. The two directors of this company are New Kadampa Tradition teachers at the Nordic Kadampa Meditation Centre in Oslo, Gen Kelsang Tubchen (Board Member) and Kelsang Jangdom (Chairman). (PDF)
The international spokesperson for the International Shugden Community was initially Rebecca Foley / Rebecca Gauthier, an NKT Resident Teacher at the Tushita Kadampa Buddhist Centre near Los Angeles and co-author of “The Celibate – Sex. Lies. Salvation.” For a while now, Len Foley has been mentioned in different press articles as another spokesperson of the protesters. Len Foley is a disciple of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, the founder of the NKT, and formerly a resident teacher for the NKT’s Tushita Kadampa Buddhist Center in Thousand Oaks, California, USA. He was listed as a teacher on their website in 2010 (see PDF). The current website for the Tushita Kadampa Buddhist Centre only lists Rebecca Gauthier as a teacher. The anti-NKT website, NKT World, gives some background about Len Foley’s publications with Rebecca Gauthier, the continuing teacher at the Tushita Centre.
The latest Anti-Dalai Lama campaign by the NKT via the International Shugden Community was launched to highlight the US visit of the Dalai Lama and, in particular, his meeting with President Barack Obama, a meeting which outraged the Chinese government and provoked a multi-faceted response. Protests were organized to take place on Feb 22 in San Francisco, Feb 23 in Berkeley, Feb 24 in Santa Clara, and Feb 25 in Los Angeles.
The International Shugden Community will follow the Dalai Lama in 2014 all over the world to highlight what they claim is his “hidden intensive persecution campaign of thousands of Tibetan citizens in exile who practice a 400 year old tradition where one prays to the Buddhist deity Dorje Shugden.” and what Len Foley claims to be “religious discrimination, ruthlessly suppressing what he regards as religious dissent among Tibetan Buddhists and by extension thousands of Buddhists around the world for the past 20 years.”
For details of the mutually inclusive relationship of the NKT/WSS/ISC/SSC, together with a response to their allegations by Robert Thurman, see here.
On May 1st, 2014, the German Buddhist Monastic Association (DBO) issued a statement about the protests in which the DBO formally dissociated itself from the protests against the Dalai Lama, and corrected some of the many wrong assertions propagated by the campaigning group.
The accusations made by the Shugden group that the Dalai Lama is suppressing freedom of religion have been pointed out as illogical by Dr Nathan W. Hill, Lecturer in Tibetan and Linguistics at London University SOAS’ (School of Oriental and African Studies), in an article by The Foreigner (May 8, 2014):
“This accusation makes no sense,” states Dr Hill. “The Dalai Lama is not head of any state; he has no military or police at his command; he has no political jurisdiction over which he can exercise suppression.”
“Some members of the Gelug sect left the authority of the Dalai Lama in order to follow what they see as a purer form of religion. These people may not be very popular in other parts of the Gelug sect, but their human rights have not been violated nor their freedoms suppressed; even if some people did want to suppress or silence the pro-Shugen side, they simply have no means of doing so,” Dr Hill concludes.
Tibetologist Thierry Dodin stated in an interview about the Shugden conflict (May 8, 2014):
It is true that the cult is shunned by the community. But the claim that its remaining followers are systematically discriminated on the basis of an official directive cannot go unchallenged, if for no other reason than the fact that they themselves choose to live in groups largely cut off from the rest of the community.
As always in socio-political conflicts, unfortunate incidents did in fact occur here and there. Still, it would be unfair to make the Dalai Lama responsible for the actions of a few overly-zealous individuals. He neither called upon anyone to carry out such actions nor approved of these actions in retrospect. Moreover, such incidents have been wildly exaggerated by Shugden propagandists in terms of their frequency and gravity. Yes, there have certainly been social tensions, but violence has been the exception. The tensions have instead been released in heated debates, demonstrations and boycotts. And if one takes into account that the problem has been in existence since the 17th century and already led to severe tensions in old Tibet, even local wars, one must say that overall this conflict has been quite peacefully managed in the last 30 years.
Western Shugden Society
A New Religious Movement (NRM) called the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) is mainly behind the world wide media campaign against the Dalai Lama and is orchestrated under the label Western Shugden Society (WSS) although some Tibetans also support the Western Shugden Society. The founder, leader and sole authority of the New Kadampa Tradition is Geshe Kelsang Gyatso who was expelled in 1996 by 15 Abbots and Geshes from his monastic community at Sera Je in India, because the monastic community felt his conduct was not in accordance with that of a Buddhist monk.
That the Western Shugden Society was probably funded by the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), an UK charity trust, is indicated by these signs:
Press speaker: Kelsang Pema (Helen Gradwell) – personal assistant to Geshe Kelsang Gyatso for more than 8 years
Front man and leader in the USA: Gen-la Kelsang Khyenrab – Deputy Spiritual Director of the NKT
Front woman and leader in USA: Gen Kelsang Dekyong – National Spiritual Director of NKT USA
Front man and leader in Germany: Gen Kelsang Ananda – National Spiritual Director of NKT Germany
- Leader in Australia: Gen Kelsang Rabten – National Spiritual Director of NKT Australia and New Zealand
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has asked all his students by email to participate the protests. Among other things he wrote in one of his emails: “[…] To stop this evil action, as the representative of the Western Shugden Society, I personally will organise demonstrations against the Dalai Lama directly. I requested Kelsang Pema and Kelsang Thubchen to do this job for me and they have accepted. Please help Pema and Thubchen with whatever they need. With much love and prayers, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso”. (see Buddhism under assault)
Lucy James (USA), official editor of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s books and Resident Teacher for several NKT centers, who did not encourage her students thoroughly enough, was immediately removed by Geshe Kelsang from her position as a NKT resident teacher. So there seems to be pressure to local NKT resident teachers to convince their members to go to the protests.
The identity of the website of the Western Shugden Society is made hidden via proxy server (Domains by Proxy), however some media data in the files refer to “Tharpa”, a NKT enterprise, which publishes only Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s books, and to a translator of Kelsang Gyatso’s books in Spain.
A public letter of the NKT Bodhisattva Centre indicates the WSS website as being a NKT website stating “You may be interested to visit the following websites for further information about our Centre, our tradition – the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) the WSS: Bodhisattva Buddhist Centre [..] Western Shugden Society website: www.westernshugdensociety.org [..] for information about the NKT and our side of the story!!”
The past media campaign of the New Kadampa Tradition (1996-1998) against the Dalai Lama was performed under the label Shugden Supporters Community (SSC) and NKT tried likewise to hide their identity.
Although the Western Shugden Society spokesperson Kelsang Pema (Helen Gradwell) claims publicly that the WSS “has no leader nor registered office”, in reality, Kelsang Gyatso, by his own admission is the leader of the group (see email), and, when the Society was set up on 26 June 2008 as a ‘Private Limited’ by guarantee with assets, it was registered to a specific address (Studio 177 56 Tavistock Place, London, WC1H 9RG, United Kingdom – see Company entry). On 08.02.13 the Duedil entry of the Western Shugden Society listed a cash amount of 17,705 GBP and a Book Value of 25,372 GBP (see PDF).
Publicly available information lists two NKT centres as “Related Companies” to the Western Shugden Society: The New Kadampa Tradition’s Manjushri Mahayana Buddhist Centre (MMBC) and Tharpaland Kadampa Meditation Centre (TKMC). The same information makes it clear that Susan Mary Jenkins, who is currently a director of the Western Shugden Society, has also been a director of TKMC, while Helen Gradwell has been an officer and director of both ‘companies’, the WSS and MMBC (see PDF). A number of other WSS directors are also listed, all of whom coincidentally, are relatively senior NKT personnel.
Helen Gradwell also petitioned the UK Parliament. In 2011 the Western Shugden Society wrote “Open Letters to British Political Leaders“, among them British Prime Minister David Cameron MP, Foreign Secretary William Hague MP, and to Home Secretary Theresa May MP. The letters are signed by “John McBretney, PhD, BSc (Hons), Retired Civil Servant Representative, Western Shugden Society”, John McBretney is the Resident Teacher of the NKT’s Heruka Centre in London.
In the image above one can see Gen-la Kelsang Khyenrab (the man in red who shows the WSS broshure “The Tibetan Situation Today”), a NKT-monk and present successor of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, and the future spiritual leader of the NKT.
The standard letter Inform – an information network on religious movements founded by Professor Eileen Barker based at the London School of Economics – issue when contacted about the NKT states that “the NKT-IKBU stresses that it is an independent organisation with no official political position or formal association with the Western Shugden Society.” The file Inform hold on the New Kadampa Tradition lists the Western Shugden Society as an ‘associated organization’ because of the “substantial demonstrable connections between the two,” and what an Inform spokesperson described as “the visible overlap of the membership base and spokespersons of both groups.”
What has the Western Shugden Society to say about the Dalai Lama and is this based on Buddhist principles?
»According to some sources, you were born in a Muslim family. When you were a child who did not know anything, some ignorant Tibetans acting as representatives of the Tibetan Government chose that boy as the reincarnation of the Tibetan Dalai Lama. Since that time, that boy wore saffron robes, and the local people jokingly nicknamed you as ‘The Saffron Robed Muslim’. In this way, you received the position of the Tibetan Dalai Lama. Because of this, many people now keep your photograph on their shrines and worship you.«
»You have received a higher education in Buddhism from your kind teacher Trijang Rinpoche. However, the sad situation is that after you arrived to India your behaviour changed. You were continually against the intention of your Root Guru, Trijang Rinpoche, who is the lineage holder of Je Tsonghapa’s doctrine. You strived strongly to destroy Trijang Rinpoche’s spiritual tradition, which is the pure tradition of Je Tsongkhapa’s doctrine. Since 1996, you have regarded Trijang Rinpoche’s followers as your enemies and you are now giving orders to the ordinary people and monasteries to expel them from their society. Following your views and your orders, many people believe that Trijang Rinpoche’s followers who practise Dorje Shugden are their enemies.«
»… All these horrible situations have developed through the power of your evil actions. This is our valid evidence to prove that you are not Buddhist. Because of this, we also believe that you are the saffron robed Muslim. Throughout your life you have pretended to be a Buddhist holy being giving Buddhist teachings that you have stolen from Trijang Rinpoche. By doing this, you have cheated people throughout the world. In summary, it is clear that your real nature is cruel and very evil.«
»Copyright © 2008 WesternShugdenSociety.org. All Rights Reserved. The Western Shugden Society is only the community or confederation of Wisdom Buddha Dorje Shugden practitioners it has no leader nor registered office.«
The Western Shugden Society softened these statements a little bit after receiving complaints by some Shugden-Lamas who feared their reputation would be destroyed irretrievably. The complete text was probably written by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. His successor, Gen-la Kelsang Khyenrab, read it aloud during the USA protests at Colgate University. Anti-CNN published the manifest, called “21st Century Buddhist Dictator - The Dalai Lama” (see pp. 11-14), immediately. A new version of it can be read at the WSS-Website. In general the website of the WSS gives the impression of a hate-filled denigration campaign against the Dalai Lama.
The WSS website clearly breaks the Buddhist guidelines of Right Speech. The website and the protesters are using deliberately abusive language and they misuse the word ‘liar’. When H.H. the Dalai Lama publishes his opinion about Shugden and advises against this practice and monasteries agree with him and put restrictions on that practice, then this can be considered wrong by others but it cannot be portrayed as lying. Pointing out the dangers of the Shugden ‘cult’ (a view which is held by the majority of Tibetan Buddhists, especially among Kagyu and Nyingma practitioners) and discouraging its practice can also be considered as wrong but it cannot be portrayed as ‘hypocrisy’. The WSS approach of putting the blame onto a single person, H.H. the Dalai Lama, is violating Buddhist principles and reality. All phenomena are interconnected and arise due to many different causes and conditions, they are dependent arising. The WSS hold at least two of “The 16 Wrong Conceptions” which contradict The 16 Aspects of the Four Noble Truths. These two wrong conceptions on which the WSS base their accusations and actions are the “apprehension of sufferings as being produced by a single cause” & “apprehension of sufferings as being produced by others (such as a creator god)”. The strategy of WSS/NKT: Blame the Dalai Lama! cannnot create a constructive result nor can it be seen as being realistic or based on common sense. As a result WSS/NKT will be faced with more problems in the future and the loss of trust and credibility.
Ten years ago The Independent wrote about the first media campaign of the New Kadampa Tradition (Shugden Supporters Community):
»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.«
»But the dispute over Dorje Shugden makes no sense in terms of practical politics in the West. It has already directed a great deal of media attention on the NKT and its elastic ways with truth. Some of the mud being flung at the Dalai Lama will probably stick. The reputation of Tibetan Buddhism as a uniquely clean and rational religion will certainly be damaged. The only lasting winners from the row will be the Chinese, who have mounted a fresh campaign of repression inside Tibet this spring.«
To understand the setting of the present protests it may be helpful to read the press articles about the NKT’s first media campaign (1996-1998) against the Dalai Lama in The Independent and The Guardian:
- Battle of the Buddhists by Andrew Brown (PDF) in The Independent, London, 15 July 1996
- Shadow boxing on the path to Nirvana by Madeleine Bunting in The Guardian, London, 6 July 1996 (PDF).
Also this article (Sept. 1996) by Deepak Thapa seems to be a good mirror of the actual situation:
- It’s Dalai Lama vs Shugden (PDF) by Deepak Thapa.
BBC documentary (1998)
- »An Unholy Row« — British-Asian current affairs series. An interview with the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, about his decision to stop the worship of a spirit known as Dorje Shugden.
Amnesty International’s position:
- Document - China: AI’s position on alleged abuses against worshippers of Tibetan deity Dorje Shugden; AI Index: ASA 17/14/98; June 1998 (PDF)
For a detailed discussion about the Western Shugden Society see:
- Resource Blog ‘Western Shugden Society - unlocked’ by Tenzin Peljor
New Kadampa Tradition vs. Dalai Lama
NKT insiders the allegations against the Dalai Lama as being a
“dictator”, “hypocrite”, “liar”
etc. are seen as the reflections of the actual situation in the NKT
itself. The protests came up after a number of internal scandals,
regarding the former NKT successor, Gen-la Samden (Steve W.), and the
resident teacher Gen Kelsang Lodro (Brighton, UK). Ordained NKT monks
and nuns did have active sexual relationships with each other as well
as lay members and these relationships were not disciplined within the
organisation. Members report that they complained to the NKT leadership
and addressed requests for help to Geshe Kelsang himself. But instead
of doing something he threw the blame back and said those people
reporting the events to him would destroy the pure tradition, and “harm
the Buddhadharma and all sentient beings”. In this way the scandals
could be covered up for a very long time. When the scandals became
finally public via Internet (E-Sangha)
the involved persons were immediately removed from their positions and
the NKT websites. The leadership tried to hide the facts by giving
different misleading information, such as Gen Samden wishes to go into
retreat etc. (see Dharma Sights)
Open discussions were suppressed and finally Geshe Kelsang forbade his
followers to engage in online forums (“meaningless activities”),
ordering all NKT internet chats to close. The internal scandals were
not cleared or counselled, victims received little support or help.
(see New Kadampa Survivors)
Some former members of the NKT see the present campaign as a means to bring the confused members together again by the NKT leadership. They argue the protests against the Dalai Lama distract the NKT members from their internal struggles and scandals. They refer to the fact that a similar situation, regarding sexual abuse, of another successor of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Gen-la Thubten (Neil E.), preceded the protests 1996-1998. The NKT leadership similarly covered up these abuses for a long time and when they became finally public they gave misleading information and claimed that the successor was tired and would go into retreat (see Sect disrobes British monk). From that perspective it seems that the unresolved emotions within the NKT are now projected against an outer enemy.
Although the above is a theory of some former members it is difficult to find reasons why the NKT is now engaging in these protests again. In 2002 Geshe Kelsang 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.” Similar Open Letters he wrote to The Sydney Morning Herald and the Ming Pao Daily News, stating: “everyone knows the NKT and myself completely stopped being involved in this Shugden issue at all levels. I guarantee you that the NKT and myself have never performed inappropriate actions and will never do so in the future, this is our determination. We simply concentrate on the flourishing of holy Buddhadharma throughout the world - we have no other aim. I hope people gradually understand our true nature and function.” The NKT internal rules do not allow political actions. Also the NKT was never interested or engaged to improve the situation of the Tibetan exile community or of the Tibetans in Tibet; they do not accept the Dalai Lama or the Ganden Tripa (head of the Gelugpas) or other Buddhist teachers as spiritual authorities; and nobody in NKT is in any way ‘oppressed’ by the Dalai Lama. From an outer perspective a possible altruistic motivation is contradicted by the fact that the NKT is since its inception a very self-centred organisation more focused on its expansion, described by Geshe Kelsang as “We simply concentrate on the flourishing of holy Buddhadharma throughout the world”, than anything else. What NKT portrays as a “ban” does not effect the NKT, and according to Geshe Kelsang’s statements in these Open Letters the NKT “is completely independent from Shugden groups in India, Nepal and other countries; we have absolutely no political affiliations.”
The Media specifies the protesters as ‘Buddhist monks and nuns’. This is not correct. NKT monks and nuns, who were ordained by Kelsang Gyatso and bear his name Kelsang, are not ‘real’ Buddhist monks and nuns. They are neither novice Buddhist monks or nuns (Tib. Getsul / Getsulma) nor fully ordained Buddhist monks or nuns (Tib. Gelong / Gelongma). Due to this fact they are not members of the Buddhist order of monks and nuns according to the Vinaya. The Vinaya (code of conduct for Buddhist monks and nuns) with its democratic basis and rules, established by the Buddha, is not active in the NKT. The ordination of the NKT can be seen as a kind of the so-called “Rabjung-ordination”. This kind of ordination makes the person who receives it to an “intermediate ordained one”, a phrase which “refers to someone who is preparing to become a Getsul” (novice). Such a person is neither a lay person nor an ordained person. Rabjungs can wear the monastic robes but not the yellow upper robe. Because they do not belong to the Buddhist monastic order they are not allowed to attend the fortnightly Purification Ritual (Tib. Sojong) or to act as members of, or in the name of the Buddhist monastic order. In the Indian-Tibetan ordination tradition (Mulasarvastavada lineage) the Rabjung ordination is given as an intermediate ordination to someone who aspires to become a monk or nun. The purpose of this intermediate ordination is to allow the trainee to approach the lifestyle of a monk or nun before the trainee eventually becomes a novice or a fully ordained one. Usually this kind of Rabjung ordination is given to Tibetans from an early age until they reach adulthood when they are free to decide whether to follow the life of a monk. Geshe Kelsang actively discourages his followers to take the actual ordination claiming the NKT ordination is sufficient and can be understood as being in line with explanations of Geshe Potowa. The opinion of the Australian Sangha Association is “that for NKT members to represent themselves to the public as authentic Buddhist monks and nuns is wrong and misleading.”
According to David Barett NKT is “one of the newest and most controversial Buddhist movements”. INFORM, Rick Ross Institute and the Cult Information Centre London are faced with complaints about the New Kadampa Tradition. The Yahoo! Groups-Forum, The New Kadampa Survivors, had in October 2008 more than 750 members. Due to the many complaints INFORM started independent research on NKT. Whoever wishes to receive independent research information about NKT can contact INFORM, which was founded in 1988 by Professor Eileen Barker with the help of British Home Office funding and the support of the mainstream Churches. It is based at the London School of Economics.
The Western Shugden Society portrays their unilateral attacks and their “war of words-campaign” against the Dalai Lama as “Dalai Lama Controversy”. The accusations of the Western Shugden Society against the Dalai Lama are based on some events which occurred in India. WSS exaggerates them, puts a spin on the facts, takes them out of context and interprets certain events as systematic “religious persecution”. After checking the details with information offered by witnesses and different sources the conclusion is that the information the Western Shugden Society offers is a mix of semi-truths, untruths and some truths.
For a background on the events in India one can read this well-informed article:
»I resided at Sera for a total of about 20 months from 2003-2006. From 2004 onwards I had a basic enough understanding of Tibetan to know what was going on. My teacher was selected by HHDL to serve as Abbot and held that position for 10 years, partly because of his ability to handle the Shugden issue.
At first, the Sera administration tried a “live and let live approach”, where the Shugden monks could do prayers in Pomra khangtsen but those of us who didn’t want to participate didn’t have to. And during the kangso pujas very few monks attended unless they were financially destitute and needed the money. I would say there were only about 90-120 monks who sincerely believed in the practice, out of a khangtsen of at least 400.
Things came to a head because the Shugden supporters pushed the issue, handing out copies of the prayer to all monks during pujas and pressuring them to recite. Hanging large Shugden thangkhas in the khangtsen, and fining those Pomra monks who did not attend puja.
Because of this situation, my teacher and the administration at Sera Mey felt they had no choice but to draft the oath for monks to sign. But this was after extensive discussion with HHDL and patiently waiting to see if the Shugden people would lighten up. After they tied up a visiting Dharamsala politician to a chair, the situation was sealed. Khen Rinpochey felt Shugden had to be controlled into the monastery, for the future of the lineage.
I doubt any of the protestors have visited the monasteries of South India in the past ten years so really the information they are receiving is not first hand, but rather hearsay. It is simply an opportunity, I feel, for those who have grudges against His Holiness the Dalai Lama to try to damage his image.
Leading up the oath circulated against Shugden at Sera Mey there were also several other important developments. One was that my teacher, then abbot of Sera Mey, received threats to his personal safety when he tried to bring the situation under control by having the monks at least not try to promote Shugden openly. This is well documented and HH Dalai Lama mentioned it himself at the Kalachakra I attended in 2004 in Toronto.
The khangtsen was also being torn apart by the dispute because a new shrine hall was being built and the Shugden elements wanted a protector chapel in the back, and planned on ordering large statues. This further aggravated the situation. Once again, not from the side of the abbot and HHDL’s supporters, but from the Shugden side who kept trying to push the issue.
The harmony of such a large monastery (Jey and Mey combined form Sera, which has about 5,000 monks) is essential and the Shugden situation was becoming out of control. Not only were threats being made but there were arguments between monks and a deep feeling of disharmony.
In addition, some of those practising Shugden were even attending high tantra initiations with HHDL despite the fact that HH stated that to do so would harm the lineage, his life etc. … In short, they were taking HHDL as vajra master but deciding not to follow his direction in practice.
When I asked one monk whom I knew supported Shugden why he was attending an initiation HH was granting in India, he told me to shut up and mind my own business. I was later warned by friends to be less open about my disapproval for such matters because people had been previously physically harmed.
So, that is pretty much all the information I have to share. Of course it is my experience and the experience of my teacher. But, because I stayed at Sera for a reasonable period and speak decent colloquial Tibetan, I feel I am better qualified to inform people about what is going on rather than NKT cadres who have never set foot in India. I doubt even GKG has been there in the past decade.«
Whilst the Western Shugden Society, and some Tibetan Shugden followers accuse the Dalai Lama of oppressing Shugden worshippers, putting a “ban” on the Shugden worship, making them “untouchable”, having “stolen the teachings from Trijang Rinpoche” and so forth (see www.westernshugdensociety.org), according to Kasur Tashi Wangdi, the Dalai Lama’s representative in America:
“There’s no suppression! His Holiness made it very clear that according to his own observations over many years—in fact, he himself used to worship Shugden—and over many years of his own experience and observation and investigation, he found that this practice is not according to Buddhist practice. That practice is also bringing in divisions within the Buddhist traditions. The practitioners are attaching more importance than the basic Buddhist practice, and therefore he felt that it’s a practice that he would not approve of and therefore he advised people to not engage in it. But he made it very clear right from the beginning it was up to the individuals. He has a responsibility to explain the negative aspects of it and then it’s up to the individuals to decide on their own. Officially there has never been any repression or denial of rights to practitioners. But after His Holiness’ advice many monastic orders adopted rules and regulations that would not accept practitioners of Shugden worship in their monastic order. The followers have set up their own groups and they are free to function. But it’s in the right of institutions to make their own decisions.” and “There’s some misunderstanding that groups taking their own actions is the policy of the Tibetan government, but it’s not. Institutions take advice and it is within their right to say they do not want Shugden worship. But now if a group of people say they want to set up their own institution because they are different practitioners, which is within their right.” (see Interview with Tashi Wangdi)
What the expelled monks can do is to stop to violate their monk’s ethic by refraining from:
- Causing a Division within the Sangha (monastic order)
- Siding with a schismatic (Geshe Kelsang Gyatso)
- Causing lay people to lose faith in the Sangha
- Not Heeding advice about one’s offences
monk these are grave faults. The Buddha set up those and other rules
for the sake of harmony and peace in the order, and to protect lay
people from losing faith in the members of the order. To ignore these
rules will not bring peace and happiness.
The monks and everybody else can practice Shugden at their own place, privately or they can set up an independent monastery. The NKT can help them to do that. What the Western Shugden Society did however was to try and blackmail the Dalai Lama saying he should reverse the decision of the monastic communities in India. The WSS stated “If you do not accept the first point, we will immediately organise worldwide public demonstrations directly against the Dalai Lama whenever he visits any country. If you have some wisdom you should understand how important the Dalai Lama’s reputation is—this is now in your hands.” reveals their deep rooted ignorance regarding Buddhism, democracy, and the Vinaya of the Buddha.
Moreover, no NKT member is in any way oppressed by the Dalai Lama or any outer Buddhist authority, because NKT members accept nobody as a spiritual authority, besides their own leader Geshe Kelsang and his 22 books. There is no outer “persecution” or “subtle fear and repression”, as they claim.
John Makransky about the cross-cultural confusion in the Dorje Shugden issue:
»A stunning recent example of this: some Tibetan monks who now introduce Westerners to practices centred on a native Tibetan deity, without informing them that one of its primary functions has been to assert hegemony over rival sects! The current Dalai Lama, seeking to combat the ancient, virulent sectarianisms operative in such quarters, has strongly discouraged the worship of the “protector” deity known as Dorje Shugden, because one of its functions has been to force conformity to the dGe lugs pa sect (with which the Dalai Lama himself is most closely associated) and to assert power over competing sects. Western followers of a few dGe lugs pa monks who worship that deity, lacking any critical awareness of its sectarian functions in Tibet, have recently followed the Dalai Lama to his speaking engagements to protest his strong stance (for non-sectarianism) in the name of their “religious freedom” to promulgate, now in the West, an embodiment of Tibetan sectarianism. If it were not so harmful to persons and traditions, this would surely be one of the funniest examples of the cross-cultural confusion that lack of critical reflection continues to create.«
(Makransky, John (2000). Buddhist Theology: Critical Reflections by Contemporary Buddhist Scholars, John J. Makransky, Roger Reid Jackson, p. 20, in Introduction to Contemporary Academic Buddhist Theology; Its emergence and rationale)
Tibet scholar Robert Barnett of Columbia University about the Western Shugden Society:
»I also made it clear that the Western Shugden group’s allegations are problematic: they are akin to attacking the Pope because some lay Catholics somewhere abuse non-believers or heretics. The Western Shugden Group is severely lacking in credibility, since its form of spirit-worship is heterodox, provocative and highly sectarian in Buddhist terms and so more than likely to be banned from mainstream monasteries – while its claimed concerns about cases of discrimination in India should be addressed by working within the Tibetan community instead of opportunistically attacking the Dalai Lama in order to provoke misinformed publicity for their sect.«
- Tibet scholar denies making Time magazine Shugden comment by TibetanReview.net (July 23, 2008)
- Australian Sangha Association Statement by ASA (22 July 2008)
- Provocations of the Gyalpo by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche (2005)
- A Spirit of the XVII Century by Raimondo Bultrini (2006)
- BBC (Nottingham), BBC Video (Nottingham) (27 May 2008)
- Spirit Worship is not Buddhist by TripleGem (12 June 08) (PDF-Copy)
- Interview with Kelsang Pema “Dalai Lama protests”, at ABC National Radio, Australia (11 June 2008)
- Dalai Lama Fans Clash With Protesters by The New York Times (17 July 2008)
- The Dalai Lama’s Buddhist Foes by The Time Magazine (18 July 2008)
- The Dalai Lama responds to Shugden Practitioners protest - Video Part I, Part II (14 July 2008)
- The Dalai Lama’s demon by France 24 (Aug 2008)
- New Kadampa Truths run by “an independent, non-sectarian group whose members have at one time or another been involved in the NKT” (2008)
- The Western Shugden Society by Jigme Duntak (2008)
- Dorjee Shugden, The Spirit and the Controversy by TGIE
As in any other religion Buddhism and Buddhists are also faced with religious extremists.
Where is the extremism in the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), the Western Shugden Society (WSS), and among many Shugden followers coming from?
A short analysis
The main force for extremism from a Buddhist point of view is grasping to an idea and holding on it as an independent “truth”. In NKT the main idea is the conception of “purity”. Robert Jay Lifton recognized in his researches that fundamentalist groups share as a common sign a conception of “purity”. Once the conception of purity is established, based on the mind’s dualistic thinking, it follows there must also be impurity.
As Chan master Huihai put it, true purity is a state beyond purity and impurity. By getting caught up in such dualisms, we “bind ourselves without a rope.” (Loy : 2008)
If a Buddhist teacher establishes a conception of purity and grasps to it as truly existent or “a truth”, the concept of impurity is also established without any need to mention it.
If this teacher strongly emphasizes purity then fear against what may be possiblly impure is induced indirectly. If such a teacher establishes further the need of “not mixing” the “pure tradition”, because it will bring forth that the “pure tradition” loses its “essential purity”, then beings are bound by fear (of mixing) and the clinging on the concept of “purity” increases. This clinging to purity is a consequence of attachment towards ideological ideas / concepts, and produces an aversion or a subtle hostility against everything which may be possibly “impure”.
In the NKT there is a strong emphasize on “purity” and “not mixing”. Researcher Kay observed: “in order to obtain spiritual realisations and to ensure that the pure tradition of Tsongkhapa remains in the world, NKT students are encouraged to ‘practise purely’. This means that they must not mix their spiritual practice — their study, meditation, or sadhana recitation and visualisation exercises — with worldly or political activities or with other, non-NKT spiritual teachings. The books and sadhanas prepared by Geshe Kelsang upon which all NKT practice is based, and the infrastructure of the NKT organisation itself, are considered to have placed a boundary around Tsongkhapas’s pure tradition, the survival of which depends entirely upon a widespread diligence in boundary maintenance. As part of the emphasis on pure practice, students within the NKT are discouraged from attending teachings or reading books by other Buddhist teachers and authors”.
From the clinging to the purity of the New Kadampa Tradition and the teachings of Geshe Kelsang, a strong attachment to the presentation of NKT, its leader and his books arises and also a hostility and fear against anything which corrupts this established “purity”. The resultant afflictions and superimpositions are then projected onto those persons who are deemed to be “mixing” (like His Holiness the Dalai Lama) or are “keeping purity” (like Geshe Kelsang Gyatso). Through the power of these afflictions of attachment and aversion the mind loses its clarity and ability to discriminate correctly and this gives rise to the manifold projections NKT members direct now openly in public towards the Dalai Lama.
Among many Shugden followers there is not only a strong conception of purity/not mixing, but also a very literally taken emphasis on the Guru. What the Guru says, one has to do (Guru obedience). Although genuine and experienced Buddhist teachers are seen in general as authorities, they are not unfailing, that’s why the student must be aware and avoid to follow the faults the Guru may have or to accept faulty teachings he may have taught. The requirement for such a critical attitude is established in the Buddhist teachings by the Buddha himself and in Tsongkhapa’s teachings, and it is expected for a Buddhist to be able to discriminate between wrong and correct teachings of the Dharma. However the majority of Shugden followers seem to grasp on a more literal approach: ‘You have to do what the Guru said’.
Because the Dalai Lama rejected a teaching of one of his teachers, the Dorje Shugden practice, which was taught to him by Trijang Rinpoche, he has done the most evil sin according to Shugden followers. They say the Dalai Lama has “broken with his root-Guru”, therefore he is completely wrong, he is someone who from their point of view is misleading people and once such a view is established it works like sunglasses, one will see any action of the Dalai Lama in the mode of the colour of the glasses. So he can only be wrong, his actions can only be wrong in their view. Such sunglasses are also the basis for the accusations against the Dalai Lama by the Chinese Communist Party, Trimondis or Goldner. Hopefully in the future there is more research about these topics.
The following articles & book may be useful:
- The Shuk-Den Affair: Origins of a Controversy by Prof. Dr. Georges Dreyfus
- Canonicity and Divine Interference: The Tulkus and the Shugden Controversy by Prof. Dr. Michael von Brück
- Schisms, Murder, and Hungry Ghosts in Shangra-La: Internal Conflicts in Tibetan Buddhist sect by Mike Wilson
- Interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama by Raimondo Bultrini
- Why the Dalai Lama rejects Shugden by Gareth Sparham
- The Battle of Sixth Avenue by Barbara O’Brien
- The Dorje Shugden Controversy: Destroying Tibetan Buddhism in Order to Save It? by Barbara O’Brien
- Money, Sex, War, Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution by Prof. Dr. David R. Loy
- The Dorje Shugden Controversy and Fundamentalism by Tenzin Peljor
Who is the dictator? Where are the ‘hypocrites’?
In the New Kadampa Tradition everything is based on Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s sole authority: only his books are studied; only his followers are allowed to teach; and only his teachings, his centres and what he says matter. He installed a system where nobody is equal or higher than him and everything is dependent on him. Bunting: “The NKT is an entirely self-referential system. The total dependence on a single charismatic figure is unorthodox in Tibetan Buddhism.” The phrase “Geshe-la said” is the mantra of the NKT. Teachers from their own school, the Gelug school, Geshes, Tulkus, Rinpoches, monastics are banned from his centres. He installs & removes the NKT resident teachers as he likes to do, without relying on any democratic process or sensibility towards those followers who have built up a close connection to those NKT teachers. Former members refer to NKT mostly as a cult, and INFORM has received many complaints about the NKT.
The NKT leadership works with double truths (e.g. in the public Kelsang Gyatso states one can attend teachings of other Buddhist teachers, but when close devoted followers actually do it, he threatens them, if they do, he is no longer their teacher; or if they are resident members, they are asked to quickly leave their centre) and ethical double standards (e.g. “we are pure Kadampas” but violations of the vow of celibacy is tolerated as long as the person is beneficial for the organisation, and it can be kept secretly). New recruits’ opinions are affirmed in the beginning and later they are turned into the NKT point of view (e.g. the Dalai Lama is a destroyer of the Buddhadharma, the world outside NKT is very degenerated, NKT is very pure). A former NKT manual described this process: “Be very careful not to give the impression it is a recruitment drive … to start with we need to agree with people, to show that we understand where they are at, not to resist them or argue with them. If we have a wild horse the best way to tame it is to mount it, to go with it.”
The suppression and manipulation regarding unwelcomed events and NKT’s history and identity is striking. Researcher Kay:
»Most often, what is forgotten is forgotten because it no longer fits in with the current version of events, especially one constructed by an elite group. Sometimes, indeed, unwelcome memories are systematically destroyed by leaderships. (Coney 1997)
Leaderships exclude memories by expelling individual malcontents or by simply not referring to unwelcome historical facts until they ‘cease to be part of the group repertoire of memories’. Changing the name of the leader or group also allows memories associated with previous designations to fade whilst promoting the creation of new memories. The project of deliberately excluding histories, however, is not always completely successful because repressed memories ‘can return to haunt the margins of a discourse and continue, despite their apparent absence, to influence its structure’. Alternatively, competing versions of events may only become temporarily submerged within the dominant account and may later ‘rise again to the surface of the collective memory’.
The NKT is a religious movement in which the dynamics of history construction, as outlined by Coney, are well exemplified. Multiple ‘histories’ exist on an individual and public group level both inside and outside the movement. As the pre-history of the group is rooted in conflict and schism the social organisation of memory and forgetfulness especially the group’s leadership is particularly striking. Accounts of current and former members either reinforce or contradict and compete with each other. They diverge widely over points of historical detail and often interpret the same events and processes in very different ways, reflecting a wide range of personal experience, depth of involvement, bias, opinion and loyalty. At the level of public discourse, the history and identity of the NKT has also, during the course of its development, undergone considerable realignment. Of course, such revision and reconfiguration of the past is commonplace within religious movements that are more concerned with issues of identity and ideology than with notions of historical veracity.« (Kay 2004 : 82)
- The search for religious Truth by ABC National Radio, Australia
- Information about the New Kadampa Tradition by EKC - member of the New Kadampa Survivors
- Dangers in Devotion: Buddhist Cults and the Tasks of a Guru by John Crook
- Warning signs of destructive cults based on M. T. Singer’s research on cults
13 June 2008
last update: 17 July 2013
Phurbu Thinley, Phayul, May 10, 2008: Organisations accuse Dhoegyal Society of undermining Tibetan Freedom struggle
Clarke, Peter Bernard. New Religions in Global Perspective, S. 92, 2006
Barett, David. The New Believers: A Survey of Sects, Cults and Alternative Religions, S. 310
von Brück. M. (1999). Religion und Politik im Tibetischen Buddhismus, Kösel Verlag, Seite 159
Riedl, Peter (2006). Magazin “Ursache und Wirkung“, Ein Geist geht um …, No. 56, Seite 73
Western Shugden Society: http://www.westernshugdensociety.org/
Bunting, Madeleine (1996). “Special Report: Shadow Boxing on the Path to Nirvana”. The Guardian, London, 6 July 1996. (PDF)
Kay, David N. (2004). Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation. London and New York: Curzon Press. (PDF)
Bluck Robert, British Buddhism - Teachings, Practice and Development, S. 144, RoutledgeCurzon Press (PDF)
Makransky, John J. (2000). Buddhist Theology: Critical Reflections by Contemporary Buddhist Scholars, John J. Makransky, Roger Reid Jackson, p. 20, in Introduction to Contemporary Academic Buddhist Theology; Its emergence and rationale
Tibet scholar denies making Time magazine Shugden comment by TibetanReview.net, July 23, 2008
Press Release by Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies, 8 August, 2002 Lies, Rumour-mongering and Intimidation, http://www.tibet.net/en/prelease/2002/190702.html
Movements In British Buddhism by Ken Jones - a founder and the present secretary of the UK Network of Engaged Buddhists
Geshe Jampa Thekchok, “Monastic Rites”, Wisdom Publication, 1995 : 8
A Talk at the Ordination Ceremony by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Kadampa Buddhist Temple, Manjushri Mahayana Buddhist Centre, July 1999
Declaration of Expulsion of Kelsang Gyatso from Sera Je Monastery by the General Assembly of Sera Je Monastery, August 22, 1996
To the Tibetan Buddhists around the World … by Sera Je Dratsang