The Benefits of the Anti-Dalai Lama protests by the Shugden group (NKT/ICS)



I think it is important to reflect from different angles about the NKT/ICS protests. On a mundane and spiritual level you can establish many good reasons why the protests bring more harm than benefit. Such a situation might lead easily to a rejection or to ignoring the protests and the protesters. Especially this blog focuses strongly on the negative sides of the NKT/ICS and the protests – an approach that can easily lead to aversion, anger or hate. However, this is not the aim of the blog. The aim of this blog is to correct the misinformation being spread by the Western Shugden group (NKT) since 1996.

When I was just in Hamburg attending the teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama – which were very inspiring and moving – I realized that my strategy just to ignore the protesters might be good for my own mind only from a short term perspective. This strategy helps me to prevent to think negatively about the protesters / NKT (or the few Tibetans who joined the protests) and to get upset or disturbed. Though this is a functioning strategy (like Shantideva suggests in his Patience Chapter of the Bodhisattvacharyavatara: “be like a piece of wood”), in the long run ignoring others is not a very powerful training for the mind.

Many reported that they feel that the protesters are very aggressive and that this in turn disturbs their own mind. I made a test in Hamburg by walking through the protesters without ignoring them and I have to agree, not ignoring them but opening up for the noise and what they shout disturbed also my mind.

However, these protests are a very rare and useful opportunity to practice patience and different Dharma methods to increase the positive mental energy by being mindful of the content of the mind (aversion, anger) and just observing it or by actively cultivating an antidote of non-hatred or an understanding of dependent arising etc.

If the protesters were just Christian fundamentalists, I would generously accept them, so why do I take them so seriously? From a dharmic perspective they are my best friends. They offer the rare chance to practice patience, they help me to learn to be at peace and calm, not getting disturbed. The protesters are my sponsors, donors and friends; no!, they are better than my sponsors, donors and friends because they serve as a basis to cultivate the quality of patience and love, precious gems not even my sponsors, donors and friends can offer me. So they are the best thing I can meet or encounter in order to train my mind! Instead of ignoring them I should appreciate their presence and make the best use out of this opportunity which soon may cease.

The protests remind me also of the Four Trainings of a Trainee in Virtue (of a Buddhist monk) that are included in the Bodhisattva vows*:

  1. not to respond to being chided by chiding
  2. not to respond to anger by expressing anger**
  3. not to respond to being struck by striking back
  4. not to respond to insult by insulting

So, I would like to commit myself to use the protests in a more powerful way for training my mind and I would like to encourage others to do so too. Actual it is a very precious opportunity which should not be left unused. Thank you, dear protesters!

Geshe Langri Tangpa

Geshe Langri Tangpa

When I see ill-natured people,
Overwhelmed by wrongdoing and pain,
May I cherish them as something rare,
As though I had found a treasure-trove.

Geshe Langri Tangpa


* “Buddhist Ethics” by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, Snow Lion, 1998, p. 189. The training is not only meant with respect to the own person but also to those close and dear to yourself.

** I understand this also as an advice not to allow even the slightest anger in my mind if someone is attacking me or someone dear to me angrily.

Some Media and the Shugden Controversy – How TV Channels and YouTube Can Deceive You

Going back to my time in NKT from 1995–2000, I remember the point in 1996 when the Dalai Lama was introduced to me as being a bad person who “oppresses religious freedom”, as a politician who “mixes Dharma with politics“, who had no spiritual qualities whatsoever and who had “broken with his root guru”. At that time I still admired the Dalai Lama as a Bodhisattva, as Chenrezig in person. Although I had thrown my Dalai Lama book and a Dzochen book into the garbage, having learned by the manipulative skills of my NKT teacher that these are not “pure Dharma” books, whereas “Geshe-la’s” (Kelsang Gyatso’s) books are “pure Dharma”, my veneration for the Dalai Lama was still there.

Such veneration wasn’t good for the protests. So my NKT teacher tried her best to convince me that the Dalai Lama was a very ordinary person. It was hard for her, but finally she succeeded. Along with the NKT information I was fed, she was so successful that I really hated the Dalai Lama. I couldn’t bear even to see a picture of him. I immediately felt repulsion and hostility, thinking “this man fools the whole world”. Not only this, I also was thinking that it would be better for the Dalai Lama to be killed because he harms so many sentient beings. I wondered: “Is it my task to kill him out of compassion?” After I left the NKT, it took me years to clear up my mind from these wrong views and projections against His Holiness.

During this process of indoctrination by the NKT, two German speaking TV broadcasts played a major role. They were shown to us to “give evidence” that the Dalai Lama was a “ruthless dictator” who “oppresses his own people”. These were the TV broadcast by DRS (SF 1) “10 vor 10″ of Switzerland TV “Bruderzwist zwischen Tibetern” (‪05. January 1998) and the TV broadcast by a major TV station in Germany PANORAMA of ARD “Verklärt, verkitscht – Hollywood feiert den Dalai Lama” (20. November 1997). You can find both of them on YouTube uploaded by the NKT or other Shugden groups. The former is being translated into English and both were used for the new NKT video Mr. McBretney (NKT/ICS) showed at SOAS. These broadcasts approved the claims of NKT and tried to convince the audience that indeed the Dalai Lama has a dark shadow that the world ignores.

I remember that while watching “Bruderzwist” from ‪05. January 98

when I saw and heard the old Tibetan monk who cried and said: “I would prefer to have died than to experience this” my mind was thinking ‘but why doesn’t he consider Karma, cause and effect? And why does he cling so much, that he feels pain?’

However, after we watched the documentary, there wasn’t space for an open discussion in the NKT centre, just instructions of why and how we must continue to organize the protests and attend them at different places.

What most English-speaking people don’t know about that documentary is that it was only part one of a five part TV series on Swiss TV SF1. This part one was considered – and is, in fact – a heavily biased part, which had led to a serious controversy in Switzerland. The TV Chief, Christoph Müller, had to excuse himself, saying in defense that they are only an “Infotainment-Magazine”, “we don’t make academic research.” The protests by Tibetans, the media and scientists forced the TV channel to re-investigate their claims, to consult academic experts and to send another broadcast that corrected most of the former claims. You won’t find this self-correction on YouTube with English subtitles, because it doesn’t support the aims of the proselytizing Shugden group that is very active on YouTube. (The full German version of this “self correction” by the TV channel can be found here.)

The self-correction by Swiss TV corrected and balanced all of their former TV contributions about this issue. It provided explanations from the Indian police – see the English transcript here – and it corrected some of the many misleading claims SF1 made in the first parts of their series which the NKT/WSS/Shugden groups have now spread all over the internet and YouTube. For instance, ex-Minister Mr. Kundeling says in this documentary

I don’t practice Shugden, hence I can’t be stabbed for practicing it, they claimed I would be stabbed by the Tibetan Government because I worship Shugden, this is not true, this is a lie.

The self-correction by SF1 also made it clear that the document about ten Shugden practitioners (hysterically announced by the organized Shugden groups as “The ten most hated enemies of the Dalai Lama” etc) was made on behalf of the Tibetan Parliament and was stamped as being “internal”. The reason for making this document was in response to the brutal killing of the Dalai Lama’s confident and Shugden critic Gen Lobsang Gyatso and two of his students (allegedly by  Shugden practitioners). The Parliament made the document to investigate security risks for the Dalai Lama and who might be behind those brutal murders. The announcements of the Shugden practitioners’ names and faces in the public on posters was not spread by the government but leaked by a parliament member.

The moderator acknowledges that, according to the Indian police, there are “fanaticalizations” and “fundamental tendencies” among Shugden practitioners. The SF1 documentation makes clear that every society has a right to decide what is authentic and what violates their rights and that of course, if Shugden practitioners are elected into the government, this will be accepted. […]

However, the constant misinformation by NKT, together with these two one-sided documentaries (which are just propaganda, as a Tibetologist once said to me) were a key factor in convincing me that the NKT was right and the Dalai Lama and the world were wrong.

It was a hard process of more than 4 years after I left NKT to reconsider the validity and claims of all the information and broadcasts. For instance, I didn’t know that some leftist journalists (who often have a problem with religion and authority in general) were in favor of the distorted Shugden claims. They were obviously happy to write something bad about the Dalai Lama, misunderstanding propaganda with enlightenment (“Aufklärung”). This is also true for the well spread PANORAMA broadcast, which was also shown to myself and other NKT followers.

Some of the reporters and journalists who reported about the Shugden controversy in a one-sided way might have been driven by sensationalist greed or by underestimating the complexity of the issue, simply taking the claims of Shugden informants at face value.

However, PANORAMA topped the misinformation, because they incorporated the interviews with two academic experts, Prof Donald Lopez (USA) and Prof Jens-Uwe Hartmann (Germany), into their misrepresentation of the situation which lent their report more creditability. It was only around 2008 (11 years later) that I learned that both academic experts had distanced themselves from this documentary and what distortions and errors it contained. Prof. Hartmann wrote (note: unauthorized English translation of his German article)

In a report on Tibet on November 20, 1997 in the Panorama program [of German National TV Channel 1], the Dalai Lama was criticized for his stance in the conflict over the protective deity Dorje Shugden (rDo-rje shugs-ldan). The occasion for the broadcast was the latest Hollywood film on Heinrich Harrer’s stay in Tibet and the Tibet image conveyed in that film; and the presentation was characterized by a desire to scrutinize the “Tibet Myth” and especially the “Dalai Lama Myth” in relation to the reality and to reveal the discrepancies. To illuminate the contradictory nature of the person of the Dalai Lama, he was first introduced as the world’s most highly respected Nobel Peace Laureate, and then shown, in light of the Shugden conflict, as being an entirely different person behind this façade, namely that, together with the Tibetan government-in-exile, he uncompromisingly suppresses the religious freedom of his countrymen.

The show drew its effect from the skillfully constructed contrast. That this approach was mainly aimed to rouse emotion in the viewers, and less on informing critically and emotion-free is a common feature nowadays for all such television magazines and tells something about the general information culture even within the Public Broadcasting Services. However, another thing was the tendentious handling of facts, which was aimed at creating as sensational an impact as possible. Although the editors of the program knew the facts and had the background information, the inclusion of these would have necessitated a much more positive view of the Dalai Lama and, as such, they were left aside in order not to jeopardize the “emotion targeting” effect. This is unfair sensationalist journalism.

As I now know from numerous conversations with viewers, there were misunderstandings not only because of the one-sidedness of the report, but also because of the blurred depiction of individual facts. As such, the viewers got the impression that the murder of Geshe Losang Gyatsho and his two students in Dharamsala earlier that year had been perpetrated by the pro-Dalai Lama faction, as they did not clearly express in the report that the Geshe was a close confidant of the Dalai Lama supporting his position in the Shugden conflict.

In July Prof. Jens-Uwe Hartmann wrote an updated version of his 1997 article and this is now online and has been translated into English (note his clear statement at the end about this broadcast):

It was information and academic papers such as these that helped me to make up my own mind about Shugden. And I am very happy that I found them and that I could re-investigate all of the information I received – not only from the NKT, but also from Shugden lamas such as the self-proclaimed (or fake) Kundeling Lama (Lobsang Yeshi) [note there is an officially recognized, genuine, Kundeling Rinpoche], Lama Gangchen Rinpoche, Gonsar Rinpoche and some of their students.

In 2008, there were two similar documentaries by Al Jazeera, The Dalai Lama: The devil within and France 24 TV, The Dalai Lama’s demon which repeated similar to the Swiss SF1 TV documentary and the German Panorama documentary distorted claims of proselytizing Shugden groups (e.g. 4 million practitioners).

I would like to encourage any open minded person and those in NKT, those who have left the NKT or who are wondering about all of this, to take time to thoroughly investigate the claims being made by using reasons based on facts. It’s worth doing it. Your mind will come to peace and you will enjoy certainty and confidence about these matters.

Last edited by tenpel August 28, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Kelsang Rabten Calls for Dialogue at the SOAS Conference: Is Dialogue Possible?

GUEST POST by Joanne Clark

At the SOAS conference, Rabten began his talk by stating:

Gen Kelsang Rabten at SOAS.

Gen Kelsang Rabten at SOAS.


“I’d like to make quite clear that we’re not here to argue. We very much want to move towards a resolution to this issue.

“We have tried to have dialogue on this with the Dalai Lama and his representatives for nearly twenty years … So even though they’re not here, maybe this is a step in that direction, who knows?”

Indeed, his stance was calm and reasonable. However, beside him on the table was a book entitled The False Dalai Lama: The Worst Dictator in the Modern World. How could the Dalai Lama ever have dialogue with people who write such things? In my mind, much of this dispute rests on the fact that many within the organized (rather fanatic) Shugden community have now demoted His Holiness from any position of religious or spiritual authority at all.

Given that the Dalai Lama’s stance regarding Shugden worship is based on him fulfilling his responsibility and duty as a religious leader, dialogue seems pointless. He made his points about Shugden, but insists that people should not follow him without investigating this issue and its 400 years of history thoroughly. He also states that its up to the individual to accept or to reject his advice. Shugden people can practice Shugden, Rabten can practice it. They have their own monasteries, their own places, but there are restrictions on the institutional level. So their rights to practice are met. However they cannot practice at places where the majority of the community decided against it– by a procedure laid down in the Vinaya (monastic code of discipline) by the  Buddha. This is comparable to prohibiting smoking in public places because it harms the non smoker. So, the real point of difference is not about the rights of Shugden worshippers, but about the Dalai Lama’s right advice and the right of people to follow his advice and to decide against smoking (Shugden worship) at public places —and that’s a different topic entirely!

Further, if Shugden worshippers see hidden agendas behind everything the Dalai Lama’s says and won’t take his words on face value, what is the point of speaking with him? They will come to their own conclusions regardless of what he says! Further, to call the person whom you claim to seek dialogue with a liar, evil and cruel, ruthless dictator, worst dictator of the modern world—is this a basis for a dialogue? Are Kelsang Rabten and NKT, or the organised Shugden fanatics, really willing to listen to anyone’s point of view but their own in dialogue?

In addition, how can there be dialogue while there is still so much deceit? I have found evidence of fifteen incidents of deception just in a few videos on the International Shugden Community (ISC) website—fifteen and I’m still counting. (see here) Some of these are unsubstantiated claims and some can only be called outright lies. This was the problem Tibetans encountered with the Chinese, where finally dialogue was proven to be fruitless.

In my view, the only dialogue that would be worth having in this situation would be regarding living conditions of Shugden worshippers in India. These would include the claims that Shugden worshippers aren’t given basic services, community membership or proper housing and are subjected to violence. The Indian legal system and the Tibetan Government in Exile could be part of these dialogues—and the Dalai Lama’s presence wouldn’t be needed at all. However, in view of the impossible demands Rabten makes at the end of his SOAS talk, such a constructive approach is clearly not what he is advocating.

Sometimes it even seems as if the ISC is more interested in harming the Dalai Lama than in helping Shugden worshippers in India.

Kelsang Rabten at Anti Dalai Lama protests

Kelsang Rabten at Anti Dalai Lama protests

As to Rabten’s claim that concerned Shugden worshippers have been trying to have this dialogue for nearly twenty years, it is clear that the slanderous ideas in the past and in the book beside him on the table are not new. Claims that the Dalai Lama is a horrible “dictator” and a conniving conspirator have been slung at him for nearly twenty years now from Shugden worshippers. The following quote from Rabten’s own teacher, Kelsang Gyatso, was written in 1997:

In reality [the Dalai Lama] is misleading people in order to
 fulfill his wishes. His main wish is to destroy the practice of Dorje Shugden 
and then to change the entire Gelug tradition. He wants to integrate all the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism into one so that the leaders of the other 
traditions will no longer have a role and he will become the only leader of
 Tibetan Buddhism. In this way he can easily control the spiritual life of 
all practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism. I know this is his wish; he has been 
working towards this for many years.

Once again, how can there be dialogue if this is Kelsang Gyatso’s impression of who the Dalai Lama is? And how can there be dialogue if protesters are willing to go so far in their smear campaign as to hold insulting placards, depicting a revered teacher of Dharma, a fully ordained monk in robes in mocking caricature?

How can there be dialogue until the weapons are withdrawn?

Rabten then closes his talk at the SOAS conference by listing Shugden worshippers’ “requests” (which sound very much like demands). He states,

So to resolve this issue, we would request that everyone, especially those of you who care about the Dalai Lama’s image and reputation, to ask the Dalai Lama to accept the following four points:

  1. To allow anyone who wishes to practice Dorje Shugden the freedom to do so.
  2. To stop completely the discrimination against Shugden practitioners.
  3. To allow all Shugden monks and nuns who have been expelled to return to their monasteries and nunneries. And to receive the same spiritual and material rights as non-shugden practitioners.
  4. To write to Tibetan communities throughout the world telling them that they should apply practically the above three points.

The moment this happens, all our demonstrations will finish. I don’t think any of those requests are unreasonable. We simply want these people to have genuine and complete religious freedom. If that happens, all of our protesting will finish.

This is not a statement for dialogue; it is an ultimatum. Rabten repeats several times that if the demands are met, “protests will finish.” Rabten needs to understand first that the Dalai Lama cannot over rule the majority vote of the monks in the monasteries, who decided democratically, and based on the Buddha’s Vinaya, to separate from Shugden monks. If the Dalai Lama were to force the monasteries to go against their majority vote this would be an act of a dictator. On the other hand, His Holiness was clear: whatever the outcome of the vote is, also if it is pro Shudgen, he would definitely accept it. Now the NKT/ICS/Shugdenists should accept the rights of the majority and practice at their own places—which they can do freely.

Rabten also demonstrates his complete lack of understanding as to what followers of the Dalai Lama “care about.” This is not about “the Dalai Lama’s image and reputation.” Rabten’s is a jaded viewpoint regarding sincere students and followers of the Dalai Lama—who see his message as a world treasure.

Let me say to Rabten clearly: The Dalai Lama can take care of himself. His image and reputation are only important as tools towards fulfilling his life’s work. Beyond that, they have no role or importance.

And I would also remind Rabten that everywhere the Dalai Lama goes, people gather in the thousands and continue to be inspired to become more caring, decent human beings. Many people are so deeply moved by his words and presence that they start to weep – no matter what background, be they criminal, atheist, Christian or Muslim, scientist or old lady.  A few small bands of protesters have barely scratched the surface of his popularity or his work to make the world a better place. Recently, when he was in Ladakh, 140,00- 200,000 attendees came to hear him teach and give an empowerment. The countryside was a sea of attendees.

Rabten’s last words sounded to me like a threat from a man who imagines he has more power than he possesses. He imagines that the protests and the smears will force the Dalai Lama to change his mind. At the same time, he calls for dialogue! I fear he has little understanding of the situation. He fails to understand that the Dalai Lama spent years of investigation, reflection and contemplation regarding the issue of Shugden worship before he came to the difficult decision to restrict this practice. He is not going to change that because of a few people shouting themselves hoarse outside his events! He has said on different occasions that he has done his research expressed the results and now it is up to others to do their own unbiased, open research into the 400 years of Shugden worship.

From my own point of view, watching the aggressive faces or the dancing, hypnotic hilarity, or the robotic repetitions of protesters—or listening to accounts from X-NKT students—I have only gained a greater conviction that the Dalai Lama’s decision was the right and wise one. By its results, particularly within the NKT, Shugden worship appears like a dangerous, cult practice to me. The Dalai Lama is clearly protecting the Buddha Dharma by restricting it. How can there be dialogue while Shugden worshippers behave in these ways?


This morning, (August 25), during the question-and-answer at HH Dalai Lama’s teaching on the Bodhicharyavatara in Hamburg, a questioner asked something to this effect:

“If Trijang Rinpoche saw Dorje Shugden as an enlightened being, then why have you gone against your guru’s advice and banned the practice?”

His Holiness replied, “Good question.” and proceeded to answer.

However, the questioner immediately interrupted him and shouted loudly, “Stop lying!”

His Holiness then attempted to explain that as a Buddhist monk, he was committed to telling the truth.

Whereupon the questioner continued to shout loudly, “Stop lying, stop lying, stop lying.” He had a microphone, so it was quite loud!

This man was ultimately asked to leave by security and we could hear him shouting his slogan off in the distance as he was escorted out of the venue.

Is this what Rabten and the ISC/NKT mean by dialogue?

See also by Joanne Clark

Six monks came to Ferguson accompanied by two unidentified Tibetans to support justice for Michael Brown

The fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown on August 9 has sent shockwaves not just through the nation, but throughout the globe. Photos of the clashes between protestors and police in Ferguson, Missouri, could be easily mistaken for a war zone, as tear gas, molotov cocktails, and tanks fill the town’s streets.

The situation is so dire that a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks have reportedly traveled to Ferguson all the way from India, where they live in exile, in order to advocate for justice for Michael Brown, according to Alderman Antonio French. – Huffington Post

Tibetan Buddhist monks in Ferguson

Tibetan Buddhist monks in Ferguson

 @AntonioFrench This photo makes me weep. May we all be at peace with each other. May there be justice for all. – Tracy Seeley

UPDATE The six Tibetan Buddhist monks are from the Drepung Monastery and in the U.S. as part of the Drepung Gomang Sacred Arts Tour 2014. They traveled from one of their first stops on the tour, St. Louis, to nearby Ferguson, to stand in solidarity with the townspeople there in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer.


Declaration by New Kadampa Survivors concerning the Demonstrations against His Holiness

We, the undersigned, as former members of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), and ex-practitioners of Dorje Shugden, are appalled and saddened that those who were once our NKT sangha demonstrate against and defame His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Inaccuracies and distortions of what we know to be the truth have been published as fact. The New Kadampa Tradition currently operates as the ‘International Shugden Community’ (ISC). Many allegations and insults are made against His Holiness which are completely unwarranted.

At demonstrations and on numerous web sites and Facebook pages, the NKT/ISC viciously attacks the reputation of His Holiness. We have tried to address inaccuracies with the group, but without success. We believe it is time to speak out with one voice. Here we highlight a few of the issues created by the New Kadampa Tradition, their leader Kelsang Gyatso, and his followers:

1) The NKT/WSS/ISC say that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a ‘liar’. A difference of opinion does not equate to lying. His Holiness holds a different opinion from Kelsang Gyatso and the NKT about the nature and history of Dolgyal Shugden and the effects of this practice upon the well-being of His Holiness, the Tibetan people and their cause. To call His Holiness a ‘liar’ because of this difference of opinion makes no sense.

2) The NKT/WSS/ISC claim that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has gone against all his teachers, broken his samaya and destroyed the lineage of Je Tsongkhapa by rejecting the practice of Dolgyal Shugden. His Holiness states that after conducting extensive research into the history and problems of Shugden practice, he consulted with his Junior Tutor Trijang Rinpoche and explained the reasons why it was his duty to reject this practice. The historical record shows that Shugden practice is often contentiously associated with sectarian views and ‘distorted aspiration’ and was viewed as problematic by His Holiness’ Senior Tutor, Ling Rinpoche. In fact, in this action His Holiness was actually following a course which, according to Buddhist scriptures and past masters, as Kelsang Gyatso himself states, is absolutely correct and appropriate.

In his book Clear Light of Bliss Kelsang Gyatso states: “When deciding which doctrine to rely upon, we should not be satisfied with the fame or reputation of a particular teacher, but instead should examine what he or she teaches. If, upon investigation, we find the teachings reasonable and faultless, we should accept them, but if they lack these qualities we should reject them, no matter how famous or charismatic their expounder might be.”

Kelsang Gyatso therefore contradicts his own advice when he asserts that His Holiness has broken his samaya with Trijang Rinpoche.

3) Kelsang Gyatso also claims that by rejecting one particular protector practice, this means that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is rejecting all Gelug teachings, the lineage of Je Tsongkhapa. His Holiness has not rejected all Gelug teachings and still holds his lineage gurus in the highest esteem. Kelsang Gyatso, however, is never seen in public with any teachers connected to the lineage he claims to represent. He is alone, without the influence of either peers or superiors. He created the NKT in 1992 after a schism with another Tibetan Buddhist group which invited him to the UK to teach in 1977 and whose property he then kept as the ‘mother centre’ of the NKT. In 1996 he was unanimously expelled from Sera Je Tibetan Buddhist monastery, where he trained, for being a ‘holder of broken commitments and wrong view’. As he is the only Tibetan teacher in his own tradition of ‘Modern Buddhism’, with his own ‘new’ ordination and no study of the traditional Vinaya teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni, he also effectively isolates his own students from the wider Buddhist world.

4) In 1998 Kelsang Gyatso stated that the NKT would no longer be involved in any further demonstrations against His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He admitted that the Shugden issue was, in reality, an issue of Tibetan politics and promised that the NKT would not take part in any further inappropriate actions. Since then Kelsang Gyatso and the NKT have organised two further rounds of protests, one beginning in 2008, and the latest round currently being staged.

5) In 2008 Kelsang Gyatso wrote to all his dharma centres stating that he was personally organising the NKT’s participation in the protests. He also said the protests were being organised by a group called the Western Shugden Society (WSS). A simple check reveals that all the Directors of WSS were and are members of the New Kadampa Tradition. Yet the NKT often denies that they have any connection to the WSS. Kelsang Pema, Gyatso’s former assistant, informed journalists that the WSS had no leader.

6) Even if the NKT say that it is only an ‘individual decision’ for a student to support the protests, we know that at present the ISC directly and actively recruits protestors and fundraises for demonstrations against His Holiness the Dalai Lama inside NKT centres.

7) The 2014 NKT campaign is delivered by its latest front group, the International Shugden Community. Currently, the ISC has two registered groups. In Norway ISC records show the Executive Director and Chairman to be NKT teachers. The ISC US based non-profit company in California shares an address with a large health food company of which Len Foley, an ex NKT teacher, is CEO. His wife, Rebecca Gauthier, an NKT Resident Teacher, is also spokesperson for the ISC in the US.

The ISC front-man is a senior NKT monk named Kelsang Rabten. In his YouTube “News Broadcasts” Kelsang Rabten does not wear his monk’s robes and appears to be a professional journalist. He hides his status and biased position. One ISC video uses footage of young Burmese monks conducting traditional alms-rounds to fraudulently misrepresent the situation in India regarding the supposed ‘ostracism’ of Shugden followers. Techniques such as these are deceitful, designed only to exaggerate their claims against His Holiness.

8) The allegation that the Dalai Lama is engaging in repression of Freedom of Religion is, in fact, more relevant to the way the NKT itself operates. NKT Centres are dedicated to the exclusive devotion of Kelsang Gyatso. NKT centres and teachers are only permitted to teach from books written by Kelsang Gyatso. Teachers other than those trained by the NKT and appointed by Kelsang Gyatso are not allowed. Ordained NKT people and others are told they will be reborn in the hell realms and may not get enlightened if they leave the NKT.

9) With the backdrop of continued Human Rights abuses against the Tibetan people, who number little more than 6 million in total, and the mass slaughter of an unknown number of Tibetans due to the Chinese occupation and colonisation often quoted as being more than one million, claims made by the ISC such as that ‘4 million Dorje Shugden practitioners are suffering’ are obviously lies.

We acknowledge there may be some problems within the Tibetan community that need to be addressed but no established Human Rights group or court has ever confirmed any of the NKT/WSS or ISC’s claims of intentional Human Rights abuses by His Holiness the Dalai Lama or the Central Tibetan Administration. In 2010 the Indian High Court rejected a law suit by Shugden followers because of ‘vague averments’ and ‘absence of any specific instances of any such attacks’. We offer our support to the Tibetan people in their struggle to preserve their lives and their culture and question the intentions of those who use this culture but appear not to support this struggle.

Both in 1996-7 and in 2008 the demonstrations against His Holiness the Dalai Lama coincided with the public exposure on the internet of the alleged sexual misconduct of the Deputy Spiritual Directors of the NKT.

10) There are many documented cases where the NKT threatened to sue using libel law and thus silenced other Buddhist organisations, umbrella groups, internet discussion forums and academics, authors and publishers. People inside the group can realistically fear social exclusion, illegal eviction or police arrest if they criticise policies. In our experience, the NKT generally prioritises the expansion of the group over the welfare of individuals. The NKT Survivors internet group numbers over 1,200 subscribers. There is no Dalai Lama Survivor’s group.

In view of the consistently unkind behaviour of his own organisation, we feel that Kelsang Gyatso and his students can have no moral right for making such attempts to discredit and defame His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Those of us who once belonged to the New Kadampa Tradition are resolved to bring these inaccuracies, disinformation, and outright lies to light. Who better to reveal the truth than we who were once inside the organisation?

19th August 2014

Carol McQuire
Jamie Kostek
Lynne Cracknell
Ani Tsultrim
Graham Smetham
Linda Ciardiello
Ian Thomas
David Cutshaw
Robert Helms
Steve Maxwell
Michael Brown
Charles Wesley
Andrew Durling
Andrew Cheadle
Kevan Webb
Tenzin Peljor
James Tregaskis
Tim Ford
Karma Yonten
Amanda Zinski
Stuart Everard
Andrea Ballance
Carol Dawson (Yeshe Tsomo)
Richard Litchfield


Lyn G Farrell
Charlie Worthington
Tony Allen
Cynthia von Hendricks
Ashoka von Hendricks
Dan Ballance
Joanne Clark


Full video: Panel Discussion at SOAS: “The Shugden Controversy & the 14th Dalai Lama”

Description by London Ney (Tibetans in London):

Panel Discussion: “The Shugden Controversy & the 14th Dalai Lama”

Organised by Dr Nathan W. Hill of the School of Oriental and African Studies with LondonNey

Friday, 15th Aug 2014, from 6pm to 8pm at SOAS, University of LONDON, UK

This panel discussion will address the on-going ‘Shugden controversy’ in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, which is surrounded by confusion, misinformation, and disagreement. While the Dalai Lama and many Tibetans have ceased to honour ‘Shugden’ and regard the propitiation of Shugden as problematic, a vocal minority, especially the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) established in the West, believe the Shugden deity to be an essential component or Dharma protector of the Gelug School, and claim to be a minority discriminated against on religious grounds.

The community of Tibetan Buddhists has been agitated and are puzzled by the intensity of this dispute concerning the practice of the controversial deity – Shugden. Tibetans are generally bewildered by the actions of Western Buddhist organisations such as the NKT and their protests wherever the Dalai Lama travels, leading many Tibetans to become suspicious of Western Buddhist practitioners in general.

Then, many Tibetans accuse the Shugden protesters as “devil worshippers”, “Chinese agents” and “Taliban Buddhists” while the pro-Shugden protestors question the very authenticity of the 14th Dalai Lama, using slogans such as “fake Dalai Lama”, “Muslin Dalai Lama”, “lying Dalai Lama”, and so on.

The purpose of this unprecedented, moderated discussion among experts and representatives from different sides of the dispute is to openly address this issue. The event is open to the general public with the aim of providing a better understanding of this issue.

The event will be live-streamed in order to provide the opportunity for far greater audiences. Here is the link

This discussion will be moderated by Dr Nathan W. Hill, Lecturer in Tibetan and Linguistics at SOAS and the speakers include:

Dr Martin A. Mills (University of Aberdeen), ‘Human rights and the Shugden ban amongst Himalayan communities’

Thierry Dodin (Tibetologist) ‘From Lhasa to Shigatse: History and function of Shugden worship”

Kelsang Rabten (Shugden Community), ‘Refuting the claim of Tenzin Gyatso as an authentic Dalai Lama’

Geshe Tashi Tsering (Jamyang Buddhist Centre), ‘Refuting the claim of Dolgyal (Shugden) as a protector in the Tsongkhapa tradition’

Carol McQuire (former member of New Kadampa Tradition) ‘Shugden practitioners or Shugden followers’

John McBretney (Shugden Community), ‘The suffering of Shugden Buddhists within the Tibetan exile community, and the Dalai Lama’s role in this’

Venue: Vernon Square Room V211
The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
University of London, WC1X 9EW


More Academic Material

See also

Statements by Western Buddhists

‘Shugden practitioners or Shugden followers’? Thoughts about my Shugden practice in the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT).

by Carol McQuire

Thank you for asking me to talk.*

I will speak about what I think Shugden practice is in the New Kadampa Tradition or NKT.

I believe that the NKT is a ‘closed system’ that needs to silence those who could interfere with its claimed ‘authority’. I will argue that the NKT uses ‘Shugden’ to do this. Shugden practice in the NKT does not look like, and is not used in the same way as the Shugden protector practice in traditional Tibetan Buddhism.

Shugden is used by the NKT as a psychological technique to silence and control the most committed ‘insiders’ using ‘meditation’, and secondly, to silence critical ‘outsiders’, for example, using ‘Shugden’ to demonstrate against the so-called ‘Human Rights abuses’ of the Dalai Lama. These demonstrations also, importantly, have kept ‘insiders’ from asking awkward questions about issues ‘back home’ in the UK, such as the sexual misconduct of senior teachers in the past.

The NKT fiercely protects its own ‘renown’ or ‘reputation’ in the west. NKT students have reluctance and even fear of speaking out about possible ‘abuses’ within the NKT for fear of the consequences, such as criminal arrest, being sued for libel, or social exclusion. There are enough documented cases of the NKT making legal threats against ‘speaking’ to understand this is valid fear. But ‘Shugden’ isn’t often mentioned in these complaints by NKT survivors. They usually complain about issues of control leading to a lack of kindness.

But Shugden practice is the ‘essential practice’ of the NKT – praises, offerings and requests to Shugden are made every day in every NKT centre all over the world. To ‘be’ an NKT centre, you have to do these prayers. And every ‘qualified, pure NKT Dharma’ teacher is supposed to practice the NKT Shugden meditations before giving any teachings.

As ‘Shugden practice is the essence of the NKT’ and ‘critics of the NKT need to be silenced’, then if the Dalai Lama criticises Shugden, we have to conclude that the Dalai Lama must be silenced too.

But the Dalai Lama isn’t criticising the NKT, he’s only criticising Shugden practice. The murmur of the bad reputation of the NKT is not coming from the Dalai Lama. That’s mostly coming from ex NKT members like myself, who believe what we practiced in the NKT caused us harm and once we’ve seen how Dharma is taught elsewhere.

And there are no restrictions on Shugden practice in the UK, so, to justify silencing the Dalai Lama you have to believe he must be harming Tibetans, and you need to find evidence. And try and create a campaign where most people say there is no reason for a campaign as there is very little evidence of Human Rights abuses. And any campaign will always pale in comparison to the problem of the Chinese invasion.

So, why this seemingly irrational loyalty to ‘Shugden’?

I will discuss how I feel that ‘Shugden’ uses our own hope, attachment and fear to keep us tied and tongue tied in the NKT.

For the beginner, the NKT offers meditation with ‘gardens and tea’! Nothing to interfere with your normal life! The NKT also ‘brands’ a fast path to enlightenment – a ‘Modern Buddhism’ that is nothing like ‘that boring Tibetan stuff’! To have the ‘confidence’ to get enlightened you need ‘merit’. So, you live in and pay rent at a centre and help to run it and you ‘work for the Guru’ by promoting this ‘pure Dharma of Je Tsongkhapa’. ‘Teaching’ gives you vast merit for a ‘faster path’; if you have enough merit to be ‘authorised’ to teach. That’s when you get hooked, as I did, by my new hope for quick results into the trio of NKT study, being a teacher and Shugden meditations. You ‘accumulate merit’ even faster if you ordain. But, you are told, if you disrobe you won’t get enlightened!

The NKT needs teachers. It has to produce them very quickly as teachers leave and new centres are opening. Kelsang Gyatso is the reclusive Tibetan monk who created the NKT ‘system’. As a teacher you may only teach using Kelsang Gyatso’s books. You study so that you can memorise Kelsang Gyatso’s books. ‘Heart Jewel’ is the NKT’s basic Shugden meditation practice that Kelsang Gyatso created. That’s where you are told to ‘talk to the Guru’ if you have any questions your NKT teachers can’t answer. You can’t ask Kelsang Gyatso in person! And if you have any other problems you are told to do more ‘Heart Jewel’; Shugden will help you with it all.

It is the most confusing ‘meditation practice’ I have ever done.

What is it?

Looking at the basic sadhana of ‘Heart Jewel’, the first half is the traditional Gelug Ganden Lhygma – Je Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga.

The second part of Heart Jewel is offerings and requests made to Shugden; an ‘outer’ practice of Shugden that is very similar to the Gelug Palden Lhamo protector tea offering.

In this second part of ‘Heart Jewel’ you request knowledge, protection, compassion and power from the ‘Guru as Shugden’ and meditate on ‘downloading’ the confidence and ‘power’ to teach or for success in your activities. ‘Shugden’ is almost everything; he shows ‘all the paths of Sutra and Tantra’. Vajradhara, as well as Buddha Shakyamuni, Manjushri, Je Tsongkhapa and above all, Kelsang Gyatso appear ‘as’ Shugden. You take this ‘Shugden’ with you when you come out of meditation.

I quote three ‘benefits’ of doing this meditation from Kelsang Gyatso’s commentary to Heart Jewel.

By putting your trust in Shugden your practice will

  1. ‘naturally become pure’,
  2. you will have a ‘powerful ally’ and
  3. you will ‘always make the right decisions’.

Naturally become pure’ is what I felt ‘holding’ the Guru in my heart.

‘Having a powerful ally’ is what I felt when I taught – I could teach the perfect Dharma!

You ‘always make the right decisions’ – after teaching I often felt as if I was protected from making any ‘mistakes’ but only if I stayed on this NKT ‘path’.

Purity, power and infallibility!

In time, this practice led me to feel – and other teachers around me – that not only was ‘the Guru’ infallible and could make no mistakes but that I myself was also ‘without fault in any decision’ I made, ‘completely pure’ and ‘powerful’ too! And not only during teaching…every day with everything I did!

‘With my Guru’s blessings I can accomplish anything!’

This feeling is blissful to gorge yourself with and addictive. You aren’t ‘ordinary’ any more; you are ‘extraordinary’ and ‘special’ on this ‘unmistaken’ path. So you ‘have to’ protect’ the absent Guru, which is this power you now possess; you have to protect his ‘good renown’ and ‘his pure lineage’.

So you go to the demos and join in the defamation campaign – as I did from a distance – because without Shugden you think there will be no lineage in the teachings. I started to act as if I would do almost anything to protect my access to that feeling of power and control…what else could it be but the power of the lineage?

But, isn’t this twisting of the concept of the purity of the Dharma into ‘our own’ purity, power and ‘unmistaken’ actions as NKT teachers, exactly the ‘Shugden’ of ‘distorted aspiration’ that causes His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s concern? And the real ‘unvoiced harm’ the NKT system creates? As a ‘perfect’ NKT teacher, you feel no sense of personal responsibility for the harm your actions could create.

While in the NKT I increasingly saw this system as a hoax I was holding up. And feeling that doctrine of purity, infallibility and power in my teachers led to my conflicts with them…Good teachers I have met since ‘show’ you what to look for in your own mind, as they know it in their own minds already. It’s not about control.

Is the NKT trying to blame His Holiness the Dalai Lama for its own problems in maintaining authority? Surely by trying to silence His Holiness, NKT students are also silencing their own ‘inner critics’ or ‘intuition’; their own capacity to see what might have gone wrong.

As long as ‘Shugden practice’ feels so good, and Kelsang Gyatso is conceptually confused with Shugden, then NKT followers will remain deeply attached to the ‘Shugden Guru’, fearful of stopping the practice without ‘breaking samaya’ and going to hell, and fiercely protective of what appears to them to be perfect as it makes them feel perfect. You can’t see this while you are in it, but I see the ‘Shugden, NKT and Kelsang Gyatso ‘system as only seeking to maintain itself. Not a lineage.

I think that I can seriously state that in the NKT you become, not a ‘practitioner’, but a ‘Shugden follower’. You have very little idea of what you are missing out on and the price you will pay for your loyalty if you walk in that door wanting to be a better person and make the world a better place, ‘wanting Dharma’. That is the sadness.

Thank you!

* Talk given on 15th August 2014 at the SOAS panel discussion “The Shugden Controversy and the 14th Dalai Lama

Thoughts & Observations: The SOAS Panel Discussion “The Shugden Controversy and the 14th Dalai Lama” – Part 1

Yesterday there was the SOAS Panel Discussion about “The Shugden Controversy and the 14th Dalai Lama”. This blog discussed it a bit here (see comment section). I would like to write a review and add some thoughts, comments and observations highlighting some points that seem to be important to me. I will do this in two parts. This part will contain mainly some basic observations about the set up and changes made from the initial announced topics and how this influenced the conference and its results.

First of all it worked and it was not as bad as I feared when it became clear that there are two International Shugden Community people speaking at the panel and that the audience might be filled mainly with New Kadampa Tradition devotees who tend to disguise themselves as “concerned Buddhist”, “impartial observer”, “not from NKT” etc in order to manipulate the discussions and to deceive others. The reason why it worked was because Prof. Dr Nathan Hill changed the format of the panel discussion in a way that gave space for a rather constructive atmosphere and prevented that too many distortions of the facts can circle around this panel discussion. My gratitude and thanks go to him and his team for this. (For how the format finally was set up and what has been said see please the upcoming video at the London Ney YouTube Channel. The London Ney sponsored this event and they are a group of Tibetans in London.)

How the ICS/NKT won the Human Rights & Religious Discrimination topic for their propaganda

The scientists were not really prepared or fit for the points being addressed by the International Shugden Community (ICS) / New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) representatives, Gen Kelsang Rabten and Kadam John McBretney. The scientists (Prof Dr Nathan Hill, Prof Dr Martin Mills, Thierry Dodin) were not really well prepared to address the claims the ICS/NKT men made with respect to human rights violations, religious persecution or even the claims that Shugden people would have been “tortured” and “killed” (McBretney). The scientists were rarely to the point. In that sense, my hope that the ridiculous fringe theories of the ICS – that lack academic or juridical support and are rather a type of conspiracy theory or propaganda – would collapse in front of knowledgeable scientists or are revealed as what they are, nonsense or propaganda (that is a mixture of untruths, semi-truths and some truths), was not fulfilled.

This lack of clarity in that respect (human rights violation claims, religious persecution claims) might be also owed to the fact that there was obviously not a well thought out concept what this panel discussion aims to achieve. Was it just meant that everybody can talk as he pleases?*

There were two other contributing factors for the lack of clarity with respect to addressing the ICS/NKT human rights violation & religious persecution claims I wished for as a service for neutral observers of the discussion and people who want to get a better insight into this controversy as it is presented in the West. Gen Kelsang Rabten was supposed to speak about ‘Refuting the claim of Tenzin Gyatso as an authentic Dalai Lama’ but he didn’t; instead he chose as his new topic Human Rights Violations and Religious Persecution and why the Dalai Lama would lie. This was a clever move. Additionally, in the internet either he himself (IndyHack?) or the ICS team (where he seems to be the front man) attacked all three scientists (Nathan Hill, Martin Mills, Thierry Dodin) that they wouldn’t have the authority to state any thing about Human Rights (see Are Buddhists Racist – Human Rights):

So far we have been advised to consult Dr Hill, Mr Dodin, and Dr Martin Mills, all of whom we have been assured are qualified to address the issue of human rights, yet on closer inspection none of them have any formal qualifications in human rights or international law.

Based on the remarks by Dr Nathan Hill & Dr Martin Mills during the discussion at SOAS it became clear that Dr. Hill and Dr. Mills got aware of the attacks against their academic authority by the ICS (see Are Buddhists Racist – The SOAS University).

As a background: It is a common tactic of the New Kadampa Tradition to discredit or better to bully any perceived opponent and to denounce them in the internet. The Dalai Lama is the main target of the NKT/ICS/SSC/WSS (slander) campaign but on the way almost everybody who is a threat to the NKT Agit Prop will be denounced or bullied online, in that case even prior to an event. Also the work of researcher David N. Kay (PDF of his 2004 research published by Routledge Curzon) was denounced by the NKT as a “heavily biased ‘academic’ book by David Kay (who had his own disgruntled history with the NKT when he briefly attended meditation classes in Lancaster)”.

Dr. Mills didn’t give the planned talk he wanted to give and which was announced by SOAS ‘Human rights and the Shugden ban amongst Himalayan communities’. As a result of this Rabten and McBretney dominated that topic totally one-sided – the latter even with a propaganda film …)

In that way, Kelsang Rabten and his ICS team – who do not have any academic credits or even an academic approach – won the topic about claimed Human Rights Violations and claimed Religious Discrimination as if THEY were THE EXPERTS and not someone like Martin Mills.

To show you the discrepancy have a look at both of their publications and credits:

ICS’ main book “False Dalai Lama”

FalseDalaiLama-coverEditors: Anonymous

Author: Anonymous

Publisher: Self published

Title: The False Dalai Lama – The Worst Dictator in the Modern World

Description: Exposing the dark side of the Dalai Lama
The False Dalai Lama – a new book exploring the hidden, dark side of everyone’s favourite “celebrity monk”. This explosive book overturns the myth of the Dalai Lama, revealing the scheming political mind behind the media-friendly smiles and soundbites. Admired by many as one of the world’s leading advocates of peace and harmony, this thorough investigation exposes how the Dalai Lama is, in fact, lying. Prepare to meet the worst dictator in the modern world.

Dr Martin Mills’ 2003 Shugden paper about Shugden and Religious Rights

41CYH755GYLEditors: Richard A. Wilson is Reader in Social Anthropology at the University of Sussex. He has written and edited numerous works on political violence and human rights, including Human Rights, Culture and Context (1997), Culture and Rights (2001) and The Politics of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa (2001). Jon P. Mitchell is Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Sussex. His books include Ambivalent Europeans (Routledge, 2001).

Author: Dr. Martin Mills

Publisher: Routlede Curzon

Title: This Turbulent Priest: Contesting Religious Rights and the State in the Tibetan Shugden Controversy, in Richard Wilson, Jon P. Mitchell (eds. 2003) Human Rights in Global Perspective: Anthropological Studies of Rights, Claims and Entitlements, Routledge, pp. 54-70:

Description: In the West we frequently pay lip service to universal notions of human rights. But do we ever consider how these work in local contexts and across diverse cultural and ethical structures? Do human rights agendas address the problems many people face, or are they more often the imposition of Western values onto largely non-Western communities?

Human Rights in a Global Perspective develops a social critique of rights agendas. It provides an understanding of how rights discussions and institutions can construct certain types of subjects such as victims and perpetrators, and certain types of act, such as common crimes and crimes against humanity. Using examples from the United States, Europe, India and South Africa, the authors restore the social dimension to rights processes and suggest some ethical alternatives to current practice.


As a summery: The conference was well intended and well set up. The SOAS team seems to have worked hard and made the SOAS conference possible besides all attacks and criticism prior to the conference. However, it would have been better if the panelists (Rabten, Dr. Mills) hadn’t been allowed to change their topic from what has been announced because this led to a situation where the ICS/NKT representatives were able to dominate the topic of human rights and religious persecution and to misinform in a one-sided manner the audience. There was not too much of a relation between what the ICS/NKT representatives said and what the scientists said in their talks. As a result the scientist weren’t really able to balance and to correct the human rights and religious persecution claims of the ICS/NKT. Rather they gave a forum to propound such claims. This doesn’t mean that the scientists didn’t say any thing to these claims. There were some corrections. e.g. from Thierry Dodin who addressed briefly the “torture” and “Shugden people have been killed” claims as “I have not seen much evidence for this.” But in the light of the self-assertive and massive claims by Rabten and McBretney, I found the corrections rather very weak. That’s why the use of the SOAS conference for a less informed general public has been undermined to a certain extent. That the corrections by the scientists were rather weak is also due to the fact that claims are easily set into public domain but their correction and refutation needs a lot of expertise and study, like in the case of the so-called “Nazi-Tibet-Connection”.

My understanding is, that the claims and assertions of the ICS/NKT have to be investigated and corrected with respect to their lack of substance before such a conference or separately. If a scientist or any knowledgeable, diligent person had put together neatly the crude accusations and allegations of the ISC/NKT and had made them known together with a factual correct analysis, then some scientists would certainly think twice before they run blindly into such a panel discussion rather unprepared and with ill educated people / propagandists.

In an upcoming second part, I will review, comment and add thoughts and some judgments about the speakers and what they said at the SOAS panel conference.

See also

* The description of the conference said:

This event will address the controversy surrounding the propitiation of Dorje Shugden in the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism. Although many members of the school have ceased to honor Shugden and regard his propitiation as problematic, a vocal minority sees him as an essential component of Geluk orthodoxy. The latter now understand themselves as minority discriminated against on religious grounds. This workshop will include presentations by traditional exponents of both sides of the controversy and by academic authorities. The discussion is moderated by Dr Nathan W. Hill, Lecturer in Tibetan and Linguistics at SOAS.

Last edited by tenpel on August 18, 2014, 4:07 pm

CTA List of Shugden protestors & Dalai Lama protests in Hamburg

Many Westerners have criticized the “List of Dolgyal protestors”. Now the CTA issued a statement with respect to this “List of Dolgyal protestors”. There the CTA states:

Statement on the Dolgyal Protestors List

August 14, 2014

The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) recently released a list containing the names with other personal information of Tibetans, who demonstrated during H.H. the Dalai Lama’s last visit to Europe and the USA. The following seeks to address questions as to what led to this action. Essentially, the posting of this information stems from security concerns and to raise awareness within the Tibetan community about members of a group with a history of violence e.g. murder, physical assault and arson. Both Indian and US authorities have recognized that Dolgyal-related groups are a security threat to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

For several years now, Dolgyal followers have persistently made baseless allegations against H.H. the Dalai Lama and the CTA. This campaign reached a new level with demonstrations specifically targeting His Holiness during his last visits abroad. The physical proximity of the demonstrators to His Holiness has alarmed the Tibetan community as have slogans such as “False Dalai Lama” and “Dictator”. Hence, the CTA has felt a responsibility to disclose and raise awareness about the demonstrators’ identity. As the official governing institution of the Tibetan people, the Central Tibetan Administration is accountable to the people and must address such concerns.  Matters pertaining to His Holiness the Dalai Lama are treated with utmost seriousness.

The identity of the Tibetan protestors posted on the CTA web site is for the most part already in the public domain. People familiar with publicity materials released by the Dolgyal groups will know this, as several of the Tibetans whose name and photo were posted, have appeared on their own You Tube videos, printed materials, social media Facebook page, and photographs with Chinese officials. For Tibetans who do not have access to Dolgyal-related websites, CTA deems it their right to know and thus reproduced their materials.

The Central Tibetan Administration stands firm by its belief that freedom of speech is to be exercised responsibly and truthfully. The Tibetan struggle is based on non-violence, a fundamental principle which also applies to how we address internal matters such as the subject of Dolgyal. This sentiment is shared by the Tibetan people as demonstrated by the fact that none of the Dolgyal protesters whose names were posted have been subjected to any attacks within the Tibetan community since the public posting of their names. In fact, not a single Dolgyal propitiator has been harmed by the Tibetan community. Dolgyal propitiating monasteries freely exist in the Tibetan settlements and Dolgyal propitiators are issued Indian Registration Certificates (RC) which, without discrimination, allows residency in settlements, access to school, health services, scholarships, old age stipend and any other benefits.

The children of Dolgyal propitiators study in the Tibetan school system without a single case of expulsion. Moreover, far from denying them their religious freedom, Tibetan Dolgyal propitiators continue to travel within India and abroad on documents issued by the Indian government with the endorsement of the Central Tibetan Administration. In seeking legal status or political asylum in North America and Europe, Dolgyal followers could be using “denial of religious freedom” as an excuse, but the very documents on which they stay in India and travel abroad, are issued by the government of India with the endorsement of the Central Tibetan Administration. Therefore, they have neither been denied their religious freedom nor their rights to live in India and travel abroad.

It is clear that Dolgyal activities have become a tool for the Chinese government to slander His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s name.

The Kashag

My counter argument to this self-defense is: in Western democracy (except the US) such lists are treated internally by the security departments etc. because there is a respect for the private sphere of people; such a list wouldn’t be put in the public domain. In the heat of that controversy such a list might stimulate aggression against these individuals. However, I understand that the Tibetans in exile do not have a police nor an own legal force etc. while there is indeed a security risk for the life of the Dalai Lama and that the CTA / Kashag might feel compelled to find other ways to deal with these security threats & this Shugden topic, still, it’s not a wise treatment of it in my eyes. The list should be removed.

line-gothicJoanne Clark has written a new post with respect to the International Shugden Community (ICS) / New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) campaign against the Dalai Lama who are now preparing their protests against the Dalai Lama in Hamburg, Germany from the 23rd to the 26th of August. The ICS sent quite stupid, anonymous and strange documents to German journalists and media, signed by “Indy” with the title “State Surveillance and Public Shaming of Tibetan Protester“. You can find her analysis here:

However, the ICS’s/NKT’s German press release includes a skilfully made video. (Details in German see here. For a background of the video in English see here.)

At 6pm German time there will be a new article online about the Shugden controversy and the ICS/NKT protests by Prof. Jens Uwe Hartmann who explores the background of the Shugden controversy and the protests. Prof. Hartmann became known in that context because he was quoted as an Tibet expert by a well known but highly manipulative TV broadcast about the DaLai Lama & Shugden by PANORAMA, ARD (a German main TV station). He makes clear that he totally distanced himself from that broadcast:

Up to the present, I am still today being mentioned time and again in connection with the show, and frequently most viewers remember not my words, but my association with that show in which the Dalai Lama was attacked in a perfidious way. Therefore, I would like to put on record once again that I strongly and emphatically reject this attack as a person and as an academic.

Also Prof. Donald Lopez who contributed to that broadcast distanced himself from it when he heard how manipulative it had been made.

line-gothic¹ for more about this Panorama documentary see:

Last edited by tenpel on August 28, 2014 at 11:44 pm

The Dorje Shugden Ban

There is no ban.
There should be.

There is no ban. There should be.

originally posted by Kelsangs Worldwide

Part 2 of Correcting Deliberate Misrepresentations on about the Situation at Sera Mey Monastery


Here some new, more specific information has become available to clarify the lies on regarding Sera Mey monastery.
This information was posted by two people living in monastery on the Talk About Shugden facebook group. misrepresentation: The Serpom Shugden group had to rebuild from near zero after the referendum and separation at Sera Mey regarding the Shugden issue.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Eyewitness clarification from facebook: To say they had to build from near-zero is scandalous. Here is a picture took in October 2008, 6 months after the split (figure 1), showing the fields around the monastery during harvest. Notice the huge building on the right on the picture I posted here? It’s the same building as the one on the top center of the photo of the first post of this article (the red roof hardly visible towering above the older houses. To the top left is the prayers hall of Sera Mey). That building is much longer than shown here. See the building in construction in the middle of the fields? That was part of Serpom accommodations at the time of the split and now is personal household of their Abbot. Knowing indian construction standards, it is impossible for such a building to spring out in 6-7 months. So, Serpom housing was not built from near-zero … They also kept many of the old houses built in the 70’s, in the older section of Sera. They were thus able to kept on with their activities rather well off. misrepresentation: Sera Mey refused to share their water with Shugden followers.

Eyewitness Clarification from facebook:  Saying they had no proper source water is false as, up until last year, many of their water pipes where still connected to the main feeding source of Sera Mey. Those who were in residence in 2013 will remember well the drought that affected us leaving the Sera Mey kitchen, main building complex and various housing group with NO water. Hence, Sera Mey requested Serpom to find an alternative source for their water for which they complied and the matter was settled peacefully and without a hint of conflict. From 2008 to 2013 give us a gap of 5 years for which they were provide with water misrepresentation: After the separation the Shugden faction of Pomra Khangtsen, renamed Serpom monastery, was left with little land, no temple and next to nothing.

Eyewitness Clarification from facebook: The land where Pobhor Khamtsen of Sera Mey Monastery has built their living quarters and now the monastic building, was given by CTA not the Government of India. Of course every inch of Tibetan refugee land belong to the government of India and not an iota of Indian land belong to Tibetans. The land was under CTA’s undertaking and after the split, was allotted to the remaining monks of Sermey Pomra Khamtsen, which has earlier, housed the largest number of Shugden worshippers prior to the separation in 2008.
Since the original Pomra Khamtsen monks had lost everything because at the time of separation the Shugden followers of the Pomra Khamtsen asked for all the property: monastic temple, monetary funds, living quarters et al, CTA gave the above mentioned land to the original Sermey Pomra Khamtsen monks where they have already built living quarters now and is halfway through building the monastic temple. The Shugden followers of Sermey Pomra Khamtsen went on to found a new monastery named Serpom – a derivative of Sera Mey and Pomra, and got all the lands, money and living quarters, monetary funds and as well as a newly built temple ready-made!(all belonging to the erstwhile Pomra Khamtsen of Sera Mey monastery)

See also


Religious Persecution?


* The person is known to the blog owner.

Human Rights and the Dorje Shugden Controversy

In summary, the Shugden dispute represents a battleground of views on what is meant by religious and cultural freedom. – Martin A. Mills

The Western Shugden groups brought into the discussion the issue of Human Rights and alleged the Dalai Lama of human rights violations and that he had infringed the right to religious freedom amongst Tibetans by restricting the worship of the controversial protector-deity Dorje Shugden. These allegations became widespread on the international level via the aggressive campaigning of the Western Shugden Groups and were repeatedly reported in the news worldwide (rather often without any deeper investigation about their truthfulness and validity – especially from 2008 onwards.)

The following paper by Martin A. Mills, a Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen (United Kingdom), and co-Director of the Scottish Centre for Himalayan Research, examines “some of the causes for the signal failure of those claims, despite relatively strong evidence for the widespread persecution of Shugden worshippers within the Tibetan diaspora context. More broadly, it will examine the degree to which the notion of human rights assumes the context of a particular kind of state ideology – centered around the modern nation-state – and the difficulties that attend articulating the notion of human rights (and their abuse) in the context of transnational theocratic rule.”

Getty Image Capture: “The Dalai Lama, Amidst Protests, Visits Frankfurt” – FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY – MAY 14: Supporters of the International Shugden Community (ISC) protest outside a press conference during the current visit of the Dalai Lama on May 14, 2014 in Frankfurt, Germany. The ISC claims the Dalai Lama discriminates against them and denies them religious freedom, while critics charge the ISC is actually a front for the New Kadampa Tradition and brand it as a rigid cult run by fanatics who demand blind obedience from its followers. The Dalai Lama is visiting Frankfurt from May 13-16. (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

More academic papers about the Dorje Shugden Controversy and the
New Kadampa Tradition (the organizers of the Anti Dalai Lama protests in the West)

Ordained Too Early: An NKT Survivor Tale (Another New Kadampa Tradition Monk’s Story)


In the NKT doubts about the NKT leadership are explained to be very dangerous and negative, they are said to be "doubts going into the wrong direction", deriving from an "impure mind", a "pure mind" NKT teachers explain doesn’t see faults. And faith Geshe Kelsang Gyatso – commonly called "Geshe-la" in NKT – is explained by Geshe-la "that functions mainly to oppose the perception of faults in its observed object." Of course such a context helps the NKT student to be "be like a wise blind person who relies totally upon one trusted guide instead of attempting to follow a number of people at once." (all quotes from the books of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.)

In the NKT doubts about the NKT leadership are explained to be very dangerous and negative. Doubts about the NKT and its leadership are said to be “doubts going into the wrong direction”, deriving from an “impure mind”. A “pure mind”, NKT teachers explain, doesn’t perceive faults. And faith is explained by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso – commonly called “Geshe-la” in NKT – to have the “function mainly to oppose the perception of faults in its observed object.” Such views encourage an NKT follower to “be like a wise blind person who relies totally upon one trusted guide instead of attempting to follow a number of people at once.” (All quotes from the books of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Image & capture added by Tenpel.)


Someone suggested I tell my story, so thought I’d write a bit here about my time in the NKT, in case it’s interesting or helpful to anyone. There’s nothing incredibly scandalous or juicy, but why not.

I got involved in the NKT at a young age: 19. I first discovered Manjushri Centre at a low-point in my life when I really needed an escape. The atmosphere of kindness was very new to me, and I was hooked in almost immediately because of that. I didn’t know a whole lot about the different traditions of Buddhism at the time, so this was also the time I fell in love with Buddhism, without realizing what I had found intertwined with the good stuff.

After I returned home from a working visit, I meditated on my own and felt my heart chakra lit up for the first time in a special way, which I felt was the presence of Buddha at the time. This experience confirmed to me that everything was true and good. (I think this is one of the main ways we get hooked into traditions. We have spiritual experiences, and this leads us to adopt the associated beliefs with less questioning. At least this is my experience. Like a Christian who feels the “holy spirit”, then adopts the bible because of it.)

I then got involved with my local centre in Preston. I starting attending the pujas and GP classes, not really knowing what was going on at the time. A couple months later I was encouraged to move into a centre, and so I moved into the centre in Lancaster. Due to the meditation experiences I was having at the time, I never really questioned anything for a long time. Meditation in general and chanting can have a big effect on the mind, no matter what tradition or religion you’re in. In my mind, everything I was being told was true, because the practice felt really good.

I soon became the resident teacher’s lap-dog, and she joked with another nun that I was like Milarepa, and I felt like him (thankfully without the back-blisters!) Though I had been a lazy person in general, so I was thankful for the kick up the backside. I was scared of spiders, so I had to clean all the spiderwebs from the gompa, and capture the spiders and release them in the basement. The agony! I designed the centre publicity, with her over my shoulder, having me scrap one version after another and redo, over and over again (like Milarepa! but admittedly, a bit easier, heh.)

I was always taught to keep a pure view, so I had become to believe she was a Buddha and I ignored any mistakes or strange behaviour I saw. Looking back I know she was very young herself and inexperienced. Running a dharma centre after 6 years experience. But she was a good woman and person, but very indoctrinated.

I ordained at the age of 21, having only lived in the dharma centre for 1 year. I was entranced with the robes. I guess inside I wanted to be “special” like that, like I was getting into some kind of secret society. I really don’t feel I was mature enough at the time to make that decision.

As a monk, I never really felt 100 percent a monk. The lifestyle didn’t feel “monk-like” enough. I felt in-genuine. If I saw monks from the original Tibetan traditions, I would feel like they were proper monks, and I was a pretender. I shouldn’t have been so hard on myself, and yet, in a way I was right. It was all too easy to get robed up, without having the real motivations behind it.

Over time, due to working closely one-on-one with my RT, I began to develop attraction and feelings for her. So I decided to move to the centre in Preston. Where it was not long before I was enrolled on TTP and teaching a branch GP class.

I always felt a lot of guilt in my practice, that I was never doing enough. Every time I saw Geshe-la speak, he would give us a new practice and tell us to do it every day. And I really tried. I had all the hours of the day mapped out, and my daily practice became intense. Combined with the stress of TTP and teaching my GP class, I became like a time-bomb. I was doing too much and pushing myself too much. But I didn’t feel like there was any other way. I was frightened of entering the lower realms, dieing before my time. And I’d made all sorts of commitments to different practices, and I didn’t want to break them. I felt trapped.

I began to see my practice as this big, complex struggle, that I had to go through every day. It all seems so complicated, when the whole point was supposed to be inner peace. It just didn’t seem right. I began to sit out in the garden at night, and just sit and do nothing at all, and my mind would go quiet and I’d feel at ease.

I discovered a Theravada teacher online, called Ajahn Brahm, and I watched his videos, and his teachings made a whole lot of sense, showing a maturity that I didn’t see in the teachers of the NKT. “Pure view” had stopped my from seeing that. There was always a voice in the back of my mind, when Geshe-la was teaching, that told me he was basically reading from a book. Geshe-la teachings were never that inspiring to me, now that I think back. He sounded like he was just parroting his teacher, just like all the NKT teachers parroted him. Ajahn Brahm, on the other hand, was not a parrot. He spoke from his own experience, person to person. He knew the essence of the teaching, so he didn’t need to recite his own teacher’s words, word for word.

I attended the protests against the Dalai Lama in London, which I sincerely regret now. I don’t feel guilty, as I had no malice at all, but I regret it. I remember at the time, shouting the words with the others. I don’t even remember what the words were now. When I saw the supporters and students of his holiness walking by, after his teachings, I felt a lot of peace and love emanating from them, and I knew there was nothing wrong about them. I even saw the Dalai Lama in his car, and he waved to us all, as if we were dear friends. Some of the monks protesting with me seems pretty angry and aggressive. Some made a point of being peaceful, but there were a lot with aggression. One in particular was my own RT at the time, who is a well-respected monk. I suppose he thought he was being “wrathful”?

The leaflets we were given during the time of the protests were quite shocking, and caused many doubts among practitioners. The issue was that our propaganda brochures appeared to be written by an angry baby. The wording was very immature. We wondered, “had Geshe-la written this himself? And if not, surely he has at least approved the brochure?”

Going back to my life in the centre, my practice began to crumble, and I dropped out of TTP and stopped teaching GP. I began watching DVDs in my room instead, of Dirty Harry and the like, heheh. Luckily, I had a friend in the centre. A “non-Buddhist resident”. He’d spent some time with Theravada monks years ago, and had a “distaste” for the NKT. I’m wondering if the whole reason he moved into the centre was to rescue people from the NKT. He acted like a father figure for me, and was there for me, and backed me up when I was developing my doubts and considering disrobing and leaving the NKT.

I wanted a simpler path. And I began to question all the things I’d been believing blindly. Then there came a time when I decided in my mind that I had disrobed. As soon as my RT found out, he wanted me to leave the centre the very next day, without giving me chance to sort somewhere else out to live. Luckily my friend had some knowledge of the law, and told me they couldn’t do that. So I refused to leave, and carried out another month, mostly staying away from everyone except “the non-buddhists”.

When I finally left, I fell into a bad depression. All my beliefs were stripped away through what seemed like an unstoppable process, and I was left knowing completely nothing, and I was scared. I didn’t know where to turn, what tradition or religion, or what. I didn’t know what to believe anymore, but all the NKT stuff was still ingrained, and for the next year or so, and even now I suppose, I feel like there’s something I should be doing to avoid the hell realms, or something like that. And Sometimes I randomly worry that I’ve made the wrong decision, and I don’t want to accept it if I have, as I “abandoned me spiritual guide”, which equates to a billion aeons in hell or something. It sounds ridiculous, but the beliefs really get ingrained. The mind gets familiar, as the NKT would say.

I really feel lately, as I really feel like a child. I don’t know anything at all. Everything has gotten so complicated, and life seems really challenging. I don’t know who is right or wrong, how I should live my life or what.

I also seem to have developed some level of realization of death. It was one of my main practices as a monk, I did it every day, but never had a feeling for it. But now I think about death every day, in a spontaneous and frightening way. Like the raw, reality of it hits me in the face, like a very sober awakening, but I don’t know what to do with it. With no faith in anything, there’s nowhere to turn with that fear. I feel paralysed in my life, and I’m slowly wrecking everything. I don’t have a job, and I’ve been getting sanctions on my benefits. I’ve even been smoking weed. I just don’t have any ambition any more, or any clue as to what to do with my life, and I just can’t find an answer.

To wrap it up, some positive things I got from my time in the NKT:

I learned a lot about acceptance, and it’s a skill I can still use to deal with any situation, even pain. Though this was due to my own constant practising and contemplation, learning to notice the way the mind resists, and releasing it. I wouldn’t say it was down to anything written in the NKT texts, aside from the initial few sentences that got me thinking about it.

I learned to still my mind with concentration, and my ability to do this in meditation is still in-tact, post-nkt. Though again, I kindof feel like I learned this in-spite of the NKT. The whole practice never seemed that conducive to concentration to me, as there were just too many different objects to concentrate on, that it seemed ridiculous in the end.

Though now that I think about it, I think I had to basically re-learn meditation after the NKT, as for a long time I just couldn’t do it. Later I came to realize that meditation wasn’t taught that well at all in the NKT, after I listened to other meditation teachers, who clearly had a lot more genuine experience, which they spoke from, rather than para-phrasing books. Now I’ve learned to be at ease with myself, and it is a big difference to the constant struggling I experience in the NKT.

Ajahn Brahm had explained about Goal-Orientated paths and Source-Orientated path, and the NKT is a goal-orientated path. There is a lot of striving, at least that is my experience. Which is not very conducive to peace in my opinion.

It is nice to have let go of all that.

Anyway, hope this wasn’t too long and boring. Forgive me if the writing is a bit scattered.
(Oct. 4th, 2012)

See also

Kalon Trisur Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche – Talk on the clarification of the current issue of Dolgyal at TCV Suja on 26th July, 2014

Here a summery of the video in English: The reason for the discussion is related to the questions that were put to the officials during the last discussion on Shugden in the Dharamsala TCV school. He mentioned that there were seeds of doubt regarding this issue that he wished to clarify the issues to clarify these doubts.

  • He also mentioned that he was happy that the students of the TCV school raised those doubts rather than hiding them, as this allows for an open discussion and gives people like himself to clarify the situation and provide further information. It is important to have questions in the context of a proper discussion, and without that the opportunity to explain and clarify is not available.
  • Therefore it is excellent that the students asked questions. He liked that the students asked questions and asked them to take advantage in the future of opportunities to ask them rather than remaining silent about doubts. He realized that only 6 students asked the questions in Dharamsala, but understands other students may share their questions and not be so confident to stand up in a crowd and share them. So some of what he shares in the talk will be based on these questions.
  • The allegations from the Shugden side that HH Dalai Lama is harming their religious freedom and their human rights are incorrect. An example of the incorrect allegations is the explanation of HHDL’s advice regarding this matter as a “ban”, this English word “ban” features in their materials. If we were to render this English word into Tibetan it would mean something like “not allowed, not permitted”. The Dalai Lama gave advice regarding this issue, critiqued it , but never said that Shugden practice was “not allowed”. (Tibetan for not allowed: mi chog). Therefore we can clearly state there is not a “ban”.
  • It is on this incorrect basis of HHDL issuing a “ban”, that the Shugden groups are loudly protesting, organizing against HHDL whenever they have the opportunity.
  • But we can clearly state that HHDL has never said Shugden practice is “not allowed”. He has said that it is good if one does not rely (on Shugden). It is clear, if one continues to rely (on Shugden), this becomes a case of disharmony with the advice of the Lama, and for this reason the Dalai Lama asked these people not to attend his religious discourses. It is stated clearly though that whether people listen to the advice or not, is their choice. Since there is extensive written evidence of this, there is no need for further clarification.
  • The policy of HHDL remains the same, for example during the Kalachakra initiation he requested those who rely (upon Shugden) to not come to the initiation, but whether one relies on Shugden or not is in one’s own hands (one’s own choice).
  • Therefore we see HHDL did not say “you are absolutely not allowed to rely on Shugden”. He said that it is “good if you do not rely on it, but whether you listen to this advice or not is up to you.” Therefore we understand that within the Tibetan community HHDL has not and cannot issue a “ban”, this is clear.
  • So we can see this is not an issue of freedom as people were clearly told it was up to them whether they acted according to the Dalai Lama’s advice or not. However, the Shugden side is explaining that due to the advice of the Dalai Lama, the result has been that this harms their religious freedom or their human rights. So some people may have a doubt that even to advise against the practice may have a result of harming the (Shugden side’s) religious freedom. To really understand this situation properly, one needs to do one’s own research.
  • If we examine the way of working of these (Shugden) organizations in the West, we can see that they fit in with the word “cult”. It would be difficult to come up with reasons to refute that they are a cult. For example, in the dharma centres of Geshe Kelsang, there were questions brought forth in the British government about their cult-like aspects. They managed somehow to prevent those questions from ripening into bigger problems. Bob Thurman has said that if the New Kadampa organization is not a cult, it is very clearly going in the direction of a cult.
  • In terms of the Refugee Welcome Centres and Schools, every Tibetan has been provided with the same facilities and conditions, including those who have said they rely on Dolgyal-the administration has not discriminated in this regard. They have been given the same access to health facilities and schools.
  • The previous Ganden Throneholder, Lungrik Namgyal Rinpoche (now resident in France) deceived HH Dalai Lama and promised to avoid Shugden in order to secure enough supporters to take the Ganden throneholder position. There should be a something in writing to this effect. As soon as this ended his tenure as Ganden Throneholder, he revealed he was still practicing Shugden.
    The CTA has requested documentation of specific incidents, individuals and evidence of Shugden believers being turned away from essential services such as medical help and education, and has received none.
  • Samdhong Rinpoche urged the students not to believe what he said because of which “side” he was on. He also urged them not to believe Shugden claims simply because they identified with that “side”, but to do the reading and checking necessary to form their own opinions.
    He mentioned that prominent Shugden people, of whom the CTA is well aware, were recently issued travel documents through the assistance of the CTA and the Indian government just like any other Tibetan. He noted the significant number of known Shugden people travelling on these documents. Therefore there are no human rights violation on freedom to movement, Shugden people are regularly leaving for foreign countries and returning to  India.
  • Mentioned that Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and Gangchen Rinpoche have an incorrect understanding (extreme?) with regards to the teachings on “How to Rely on the Virtuous Friend (Teacher)”.
  • Even though the above people have caused problems, still according to Buddhism actually we should have compassion for them. Especially compassion considering the future karmic consequences of their actions.
  • Has reiterated that in the case of Kelsang Gyatso and Gangchen, they have been safe for many years. That the CTA NEVER issued orders to kill or harm these people. At the same time, compassion does not mean that their incorrect views, and mistakes, should not be pointed out and corrected.
  • He mentioned that Shugden people being refused from certain shops was not a campaign of the government.  This was a decision of the individual shopholders-that they had a right to privacy. This is a boycott, rather than human rights abuse, that began due to negative actions of Shugden party. That this is a personal decision. Explained it as an individual grassroots political action, like boycotting Chinese products as a way of effecting change in policy. It could be looked at as the shop or restaurant owners following a policy of what Gandhiji calls “non co-operation” with the Shugden side as a way of boycotting to affect change. So it is not social discrimination, but a social boycott. This manifests as a choice not to engage in material exchanges with the Shugden side.
  • Such a boycott is not necessarily negative. If the students harm others, this is negative. We can understand the current boycott as being a temporary and direct response to the lies and protest actions currently being done against His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We understand that whether one relies on Dolgyal or not is a decision within one’s mind. The current boycott that we see in some cases is a response to the misleading protests of the Shugden group, as this harms Tibetan society. Therefore we cannot say the decision to remain at a distance from  those participating in such Dolgyal organizations is a bad thing.
  • At the school for example, if the students are criticizing or harming them, this is not proper. But it should not be required to maintain close relationships with those of Dolgyal organizations. Choosing not to do so is not necessarily harmful for either party, from the point of view  of damtsik (samaya) it could be beneficial, in my personal opinion.
  • Mentioned that Shugdens took their case to both Amnesty International and the National Human Rights Campaign, and neither organization felt what was presented to them required a mandate to action.
  • Sees this issue through the lens of democracy like this: Democracy is open society that takes decisions for the well being of the people. Hence, considering harm of Shugden practice, for the well being of the people it should be spoken out against.

Panel Discussion at SOAS: The Shugden Controversy and the 14th Dalai Lama

Here is a copy of an announcement of a conference at SOAS at the 15th August 2014 in London.

The Shugden Controversy and the 14th Dalai Lama

Date: 15 August 2014Time: 6:00 PM
Finishes: 15 August 2014 Time: 8:00 PM
Venue: Vernon SquareRoom: V211
Type of Event: Panel Discussion
Series: Tibetan Studies Outreach Lecture Series

This event will address the controversy surrounding the propitiation of Dorje Shugden in the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism. Although many members of the school have ceased to honor Shugden and regard his propitiation as problematic, a vocal minority sees him as an essential component of Geluk orthodoxy. The latter now understand themselves as minority discriminated against on religious grounds. This workshop will include presentations by traditional exponents of both sides of the controversy and by academic authorities. The discussion is moderated by Dr Nathan W. Hill, Lecturer in Tibetan and Linguistics at SOAS. Speakers include:

  • Kelsang Rabten (International Shugden Community): ‘Refuting the claim of Tenzin Gyatso as an authentic Dalai Lama’
  • Geshe Tashi Tsering (Jamyang Buddhist Centre): ‘Refuting the claim of Dugyal (Shugden) as a protector in the Tsongkhapa tradition’
  • Carol McQuire (former member of New Kadampa Tradition): ‘Shugden ‘practitioners’ or Shugden ‘followers’?
  • Dr Martin A. Mills (University of Aberdeen): ‘Human rights and the Shugden ban amongst Himalayan communities’
  • Thierry Dodin: ‘From Lhasa to Singapore: History and function of Shugden worship’
  • John McBretney (International Shugden Community): ‘The suffering of Shugden Buddhists within the Tibetan Exile Community, and the Dalai Lama’s role in this’

Organiser: Dr Nathan W. Hill
Sponsor: London Ney

Live stream:

Free tickets:


To Protest or Not to Protest: What is an NKT Student to Think?

GUEST POST by Joanne Clark

Dear NKT students, fellow brothers and sisters in the Dharma. It is my belief that most of you are sincere, goodhearted, well meaning practitioners of the Buddha’s Dharma. None of you would intentionally harm his teachings or other sentient beings. I suspect that at this time there are calls being made to many of you to come out and protest against HH Dalai Lama when he teaches in the West. I am writing this in order to help you decide whether to accept or reject this call.

Standing outside a precious Dharma event and shouting insults at the teacher is a serious action. I personally cannot think of anything that would make this ok. I personally wonder about the negative karma from such an action. In that light, I want to ask:

Why do the protestors dance, play drums, sing and laugh while they chant, “Dalai Lama liar?” Is this a funny affair? Is it a joyful affair?

I will also tell you that in the monastic tradition created by Buddha, the tradition that Tsongkhapa revered and upheld, monks and nuns are forbidden from singing and dancing. Why do NKT monks and nuns dance and play drums, while they call a Buddhist teacher a liar?

I heard that during a protest years ago, fliers were handed out that called the Dalai Lama a “Saffron Robed Muslim.” Is that true? Is that the type of action you would support?

Recently the Central Tibetan Authority (CTA) made the (somewhat unwise) move of publishing pictures and names of some Tibetans who had been involved in recent protests in Europe. While most of us in the West were opposed to the CTA’s move, the International Shugden Community (ISC) took their reaction to new heights by calling it an “intifada.” Perhaps they think that inciting Islamaphobic emotions is useful for inspiring Westerners to action. Do you want to support this?

I want to point readers to the twelfth Jataka tale, entitled “The Story of the Brahman.” For those not familiar with the Jataka tales, these are stories of some of Buddha’s previous lives. They are stories of courage and altruism that demonstrate what is needed to successfully traverse the Buddhist path from lifetime to lifetime. In this particular story, Buddha is reborn as a Brahman. As a young student, he and his fellow Brahman students are asked by their teacher to steal in order to alleviate the teacher’s poverty and misery. All the students but Buddha readily agree to this because their devotion to their teacher is very strong and they are willing to do anything that he asks. However, Buddha goes very quiet and stubbornly—but respectfully—he refuses to do what his teacher asks.

In fact, it turns out that this particular teacher was testing his students, testing their moral mettle. And Buddha was the only one who could not be swayed from his moral code, despite the fact that his devotion and respect for his teacher were strong.

Along the same lines, Tsongkhapa quotes from the Cloud of Jewels Sutra with the following: “’With respect to virtue, act in accord with the guru’s words, but do not act in accord with the gurus’ words with respect to nonvirtue.’” And Tsongkhapa then concludes, “Therefore, you must not listen to nonvirtuous instructions. The twelfth birth story clearly gives the meaning of not engaging in what is improper.” (Lamrim Chenmo, Vol. 1; p.86)

So I am saying to you that we have it from Buddha—and Tsongkhapa—and many other great teachers—that it is not only ok to seek approval from your own moral code before following an instruction from a teacher, it is mandatory. This is true, even if you revere that teacher, even if you think he/she is Buddha himself. It is ok to look closer at what you are being asked to do and even to refuse if that is necessary.

Towards that end, I wish to pick some key points from the pages and pages of information provided on this website and others that will help you better decide if protesting is an action that fits well with your own moral code. Ultimately, before you decide to protest, you should—and must—do extensive research and investigate the reasons for protesting to test if those reasons are moral and valid. However, it might be that only a few key points are necessary in order to decide NOT to protest—and then you could save yourself some work! So here are some few key points:

1. Is HH Dalai Lama threatening the Kadampa tradition of Buddhism?

This seems to be a central reason for protesting provided to NKT students, so it seems a good place to start.

As a student of HH Dalai Lama, I find this claim to be quite extraordinary. I have listened to hundreds of hours of his teachings on texts from Buddha, Nagarjuna, Atisha, Tsongkhapa and many other masters who form the pillars of the Kadampa tradition. In fact, it is under his guidance that many Kadampa texts are being translated into different languages, so that practitioners around the world can benefit from them. How could he be threatening this tradition that he reveres?

There seems to be some implication that Shugden worship is essential to furthering the Kadampa tradition. Given that none of the great Kadam trailblazers, such as Atisha, Dromtonpa and Tsongkhapa, worshipped Shugden themselves, then this doesn’t make any sense at all. These great masters practiced the great Kadampa tradition perfectly well without worshipping Shugden. So what is this claim all about? I have read nothing that makes any sense at all.

2. Is HH Dalai Lama restricting religious freedom?

Is he restricting yours? He’s not restricting mine.

For those who care about his opinion and guidance, HH Dalai Lama is restricting them from worshiping Shugden. For those who don’t, they are free to do as they please. Is that restricting religious freedom? If you believe that Shugden is a spirit capable of harm, the Dalai Lama is protecting your religious freedom. If you believe that Shugden is a Buddha and he is essential to Buddhist practice, then you might object to the Dalai Lama’s warnings. You might want to prove that his advice is wrong. Or you might simply want to go your own way and practice as you please.

One point is clear. As spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama’s job is to warn practitioners of dangerous practices. That is his responsibility and sacred duty. From one perspective, that is all this is about. The Dalai Lama has warned against propitiating a spirit. Those who are particularly fond of this spirit have protested. That’s one, very simple way of looking at all this trouble.

However, you should know a few undisputable facts. First, as I mentioned above, Shugden was not worshipped by Buddha, Nagarjuna, Atisha, Tsongkhapa or any other trailblazer of the Kadampa tradition. He wasn’t even around in their times. Shugden played no part in establishing the Gelug or Kadampa tradition whatsoever. This is fact.

Second, Shugden was considered a spirit, not a Buddha, for hundreds of years. It is only recently that the idea of him being a Buddha has emerged—and there are only a few teachers making such a claim. In fact, there was an Oracle of Shugden. Buddhas do not have Oracles!

So when you hear the claim that Shugden worship is an ancient religious tradition, what are they saying? Did he give teachings? What is this tradition exactly? Is it different or the same as the Kadampa tradition I practice without worshipping Shugden?

This is why His Holiness spoke forcefully to an NKT nun who was calling him a liar who restricted religious freedom. He told her that this is not about religious freedom; this is about spirit worship. Without Shugden, there would still be the complete Kadampa tradition of the great Gelug masters. That is certain.

3. Are Shugden worshippers being persecuted?

If there were widespread persecution of Shugden worshippers, then:

  1. Why have neither Amnesty International nor the Indian Courts found evidence of this?
  2. Why are there no media or police reports of cases that the ISC and Western Shugden Society claim have occurred?
  3. Why does the ISC need to resort to deceit in order to substantiate the claims of persecution?
  4. Why are there no full transcripts of research results or the Dalai Lama’s words provided on the ISC website?

NKT students need to know that Amnesty International and the Indian Courts both investigated claims of religious persecution of Shugden worshippers and found insufficient evidence for the claims. The fact that Western protestors are being asked to protest about persecution allegedly occurring in India—despite the conclusions reached by the Indian courts recently—is disturbing.

On Shugden websites, there are obscure pictures of wounds on the heads, hands and backs of monks, along with implications that these were inflicted by anti-Shugden persecutors . There are also obscure video clips, claiming to be “evidence” of violent protests against Shugden worshippers instigated by the Dalai Lama. However, I have yet to see any press coverage—or any other substantiated evidence—of any of these claims. I have even checked police reports and found no evidence. Have I missed something? Have the Indian courts missed something? Has Amnesty International missed something?

On the home page of the ISC website, there are numerous video clips attempting to expose the alleged deceitfulness of the Dalai Lama. Unfortunately, all of them are deceitful themselves! For example, one is entitled “Surprising Revelations From Dalai Lama’s Official for Europe.” However, the man they are referring to, Mr. Wangchen, is a member of the Tibetan Parliament. He’s neither connected to Europe nor the Dalai Lama (who is no longer in political office)!

Another Video is entitled: “Dalai Lama Loses Cool With Peaceful Nun.” By peaceful, they are referring to a nun who says to the Dalai Lama, “Dalai Lama stop lying, Dalai Lama stop lying, Dalai Lama stop lying.” The idea seems to be that because her voice is quiet, she is peaceful—however, her words are not peaceful! And because the Dalai Lama speaks with feeling, he “loses his cool.” One way to look at that video is that the nun sounds robotic and the Dalai Lama sounds human!

And yet another video is entitled “Exiles in Exile: Tibetan Monks Outcast by the Dalai Lama.” There is a short clip in this video of young monks begging for food. The implication seems to be that the Dalai Lama’s restrictions on Shugden practice have made these monks homeless and they now have to beg for food. However, these monks appear from their robes to be Theravada monks, making their traditional begging rounds and they are not Tibetan monks at all! Why was there the need to deceive?

Later in this same video, a monk spoke of the CTA’s recent publication of that list of Tibetan Shugden protestors—and he then claimed that such a list had been made in the past and people had been hurt because of it and someone had even been murdered. As far as anyone knows, this is simply not true—and there is no evidence of such an event provided anywhere on this website or anywhere else. It appears to be an outright lie.

There are also two videos on the ISC home page about “why the Dalai Lama is lying.” On one of these, claims are made about how there are large numbers (probably millions) of Shugden worshippers in the Himalayan regions and elsewhere who are being harmed by the Dalai Lama’s restrictions. There is talk about research done by Mills in the Himalayas that demonstrates this. According to this “news” clip, Mills found solid evidence that the Dalai Lama sent his brother into Sikkim to destroy Shugden images and coerce the people to stop worshipping Shugden.

When I investigated this, I could find no research from Mills on Sikkim, (which is not to say that no research exists). However, I did find research by Mills on Ladakh. In this research, Mills came to very different conclusions than those suggested in the video clip. He concluded that Ladakhis worshipped Shugden as a mundane spirit and lamas were considered higher than mundane spirits. So it was a clear choice for Ladakhis to follow the advice of the Dalai Lama, whom they revered as their lama, and stop worshipping Shugden. And yes, it appears that the Dalai Lama’s brother might have been involved in destroying images of Shugden—but this was under the compliance of the Ladakhi people! They were not coerced!

What is most glaring about all the ISC spin is the fact that if you click on the link “Articles and Resources” on their website, you will not find articles and resources. You will not find the research by Mills that is referenced in the video. You will not find substantiated media reports of persecution of monks as claimed in another video. You will not find police reports. You will not find any solid evidence to back the claims whatsoever.

What you will find is an obscure copy of a “letter” that was allegedly sent to an NKT nun. In this letter, which rambles on and on, “physical action” against those who were listed by the CTA is encouraged. The Dalai Lama is called a “god”, over and over. Over and over, the author says that Tibetans must do what the Dalai Lama says, without question. Tibetans must take action against those who are listed by the CTA. The CTA does whatever the Dalai Lama asks etc. etc. etc.

This letter is a clear fabrication. Clear, because it presents every crazy spin of the ISC—and those of us who have spent time within Tibetan communities know that it does not ring true in terms of Tibetans attitudes, language or approaches (e.g. I have never heard a Tibetan calling the Dalai Lama a “god”— a Buddha, yes, but not a “god”). Also, I would simply ask: why on earth would such a letter be sent to an NKT nun? It doesn’t threaten her or even speak to her directly.

And so it goes, on and on. Tenzin, the owner of this website, has been chasing this type of deceit for many years. It seems one could spend a lifetime chasing after the deceit of these people. My experience is that, like a fire, it only takes seconds to start a lie—while it takes hours, days, weeks and months sometimes to expose the truth and put the fire out. This is sad. Doesn’t everyone have better things to do?

So with all those little distortions of fact, all adding up to a very distorted attitude, when you are asked to protest against the alleged persecution of Shugden worshippers in India, can you believe that it’s necessary? Can you believe the claims? If the Indian Courts and Amnesty International found no evidence—if the ISC website has to be deceitful in order to provide “evidence” of persecution—if their website can’t provide media or police reports of injuries or other sufferings inflicted on Shugden worshippers—can you believe that there is due cause to protest? Can you trust your sources? Surely, if there had been criminal destruction of Shugden shrines in Sikkim, for example, this would have been a reportable event. Police would have been called in. Media would have arrived. Where is that evidence?

On the other hand, I imagine there probably are Tibetans who are giving Shugden worshippers a hard time. I would imagine there might be—people don’t always get along. Emotions run high around this issue and there are bound to be incidences here and there of misbehavior. This is true around disputes in every community on earth.

Along these lines, NKT students need to know that there was a vicious, gruesome, bloody murder of a monk and his two attendants in 1997 not far from the Dalai Lama’s residence in MacLeod Ganj, India. This murder still has not been solved, but the two key suspects are members of a Delhi Shugden society (who escaped into China). There is clear, media reported evidence of this. Ever since that event, some Tibetans became more fearful of Shugden worshippers, ostracizing them from shops and restaurants in MacLeod Ganj and Dharamsala. Within the context of a culture that believes in dangerous spirits, one might ask: is this persecution or just simple human fear?

Surely it is best to leave these questions to the courts and Amnesty International. It seems to me that whether there are or aren’t instances of persecution in India is a Tibetan problem, with cultural and historical ramifications that lay Westerners, such as ourselves, cannot possibly hope to understand fully or easily. Let’s not fool ourselves. To understand this problem properly entails study and investigation.

For these reasons, I suggest it is enough for us to understand and explore our own place in all of this. We need to understand what is important to our own practice and what isn’t. In this context, why have you, as a lay Westerner, been asked to protest and become involved in these issues that are not directly relevant to you? Why are the protests being held mainly in the West and not in India?

I ask you, dear NKT practitioner, are you being persecuted? Are your religious rights at risk in any way? If not, then why would you protest? I suggest that before you agree to protest, you make an effort to understand the situation fully, with all its cultural and historical contexts. I suggest that you listen to teachings and talks by HH Dalai Lama and investigate how he spends his time. Most of all, read his long and considered reasons for restricting Shugden practice. Find out for yourself if he is in the wrong. If you are not willing to do that bare minimum, how can you justify disturbing his teachings and calling him a liar?

4. Is the Dalai Lama Lying?

There’s a difference between lying and disagreeing. There’s a lot of talk about that word “ban” and whether or not His Holiness has “banned” Shugden practice. His Holiness says he hasn’t “banned” anything. Shugden worshippers say that it is a ban and he’s lying. Is that a lie or simply a difference of opinion?

There is no Tibetan word, “ban.” In that context, His Holiness has not said he “bans” worship of Shugden. Full stop. When His Holiness spoke to the monasteries all those years ago, advising them not to worship Shugden, he spoke in Tibetan. There is no exact translation from English—“ban”—to any equivalent Tibetan word, so how can His Holiness be lying? The discussion is semantic and is a disagreement about the extent of the restrictions he imposed or didn’t impose. Whether you agree or disagree with His Holiness, you can’t say he’s lying. That’s an emotive term that simply fires up protestors, looks impressive on placards, but does little to advance understanding.

As for other claims that he is lying, I have addressed most of those already, as most of those have to do with claims of religious persecution. Many of them are based on the assumption that every action done by any Tibetan is done under the complete knowledge and direction of HH Dalai Lama, and that is simply untrue and silly.

So please, dear fellow Dharma student, consider the facts and look within your heart before you decide to protest or not. It is ok that you and I have some robust disagreements between us. However, I believe that it is not ok to give ourselves permission to transgress on each other’s sacred space. I hope that I would never do that to you—and I ask that you think twice before doing that yourself.

You need to know that when I attend a Dalai Lama teaching, this is a very precious occasion for me. It is a time of deep spiritual meaning and reflection. He is my teacher. I believe you might understand what this means. So then you would also understand how I might feel to hear the shouting and the drums and the joyful dancing as others insult him loudly. I believe that most of the people who attend these events with me feel the same. It is disturbing and disruptive. So please, think deeply before you respond to the next call for protests. Look into your heart, consult your moral compass.

See also

The last Upholder of the Gelug Mahamudra Tradition: Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

In the past it was the designated successor of Kelsang Gyatso, Kadam Neil Elliot, who claimed that the (whole) Vajrayana Mahamudra tradition is only existent in the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) and not outside of NKT. (There is still the recording of his voice).

Elliot claimed:

From 1991 to 1995 Gelong Thubten Gyatso (a.k.a. Neil Elliot) was 'the chosen one' to succeed former Geshe Kelsang. He was known as the 'heart-disciple' of GKG, who wrote a long life prayer for him recited regularly at NKT centres. Thubten was later disrobed because of a 'breach of his monastic vows', a polite way of saying sexual abuse. Neil Elliot (Thubten) organized and attended the WSS demonstrations–the old man himself reassigned Elliot to 'special ops'.

From 1991 to 1995 Gelong Thubten Gyatso (a.k.a. Neil Elliot) was the officially appointed successor and the ‘heart-disciple’ of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Kelsang Gyatso wrote a long life prayer for him recited regularly at NKT centres. Neil Elliot, who is very charismatic, played a key role in attracting Westerners to the NKT and he was the driving force that removed eclectic practitioners, who were not keen to exclusively rely on NKT/Kelsang Gyatso, from NKT. Such practitioners were seen as a threat for the “purity” of NKT. Later, Kelsang Gyatso had to strip Elliot officially from power after it became public via internet that Elliot was involved in sexual misconduct. (The NKT tried by all means to hide the reasons for this power change and the same story – even worse – repeated itself with the second officially appointed successor of Kelsang Gyatso, Samden Gyatso, a.k.a. Steve Wass.) Currently Neil Elliot is the resident teacher of NKT’s London Centre “Kadam Meditation Centre”. People aware of the NKT history find it very hypocritical that Elliot partakes in the protests against the Dalai Lama, calling the fully ordained monk and the holder of the monastic discipline the 14th Dalai Lama a hypocrite and liar, while Elliot turns a blind eye on his own inglorious past.

And we can say these days, previously you could find the practice of the Mahamudra outside this Tradition; other Traditions held this practice. But these days we can say definitely it doesn’t exist outside of our Tradition. Only this Tradition holds the lineage, the pure lineage, of the Vajrayana Mahamudra. So this is what we need to preserve, this is what we need to protect.

As some (controversial) Buddhist leaders get older, they or their Western students seem to be concerned about their legacy (see also Propaganda: The making of the holy Lama Ole Nydahl). There seems to be a need to establish their uniqueness and special contributions even before they die. For that purposes myths are created which single out those persons as unique and extraordinary. Tharpa publications produced a new book where NKT is publicly announcing such a myth in order to raise awareness within the Tibetan community about the uniqueness of the NKT founder Kelsang Gyatso. After NKT – based on the diligence of Kelsang Gyatso – has denounced the Dalai Lama (who Tibetans regard in the majority as their supreme leader) worldwide as a liar, hypocrite, saffron-robed Muslim, evil, cruel, worst dictator etc., it seems now is the time to teach Tibetans about the supremacy of Kelsang Gyatso by publishing a book in Tibetan, The Oral Instruction of Mahamudra. Via the NKT publishing arm, Tharpa publications, Kelsang Gyatso himself is keen to insinuate that he might be the last person on the planet who possesses the oral lineage of Mahamudra passed on by Trijang Rinpoche to him. Which means, enlightenment goes only through him (or his books) nowadays.

line-gothicTitle: “Meaningful to Behold” (mthong ba don ldan) : The Mahamudra of the Ganden Hearing Lineage Well Explained, Combined with A Summary of Essential Instructions of the Hearing Lineage

author credited on cover: Lama Losang Thubwang Heruka


Front cover of “The Oral Instruction Of Mahamudra” by Kelsang Gyatso


1.”Meaningful to Behold”: The Mahamudra of the Ganden Hearing Lineage Well Explained

2. The Preliminary Practice of the Mahamudra of the Ganden Hearing Lineage: How to Practice the Guru Yoga of the Hundreds of Deities of Tushita – in Accordance with the Mantrayana System

3. The Ganden Whispered Lineage Mind Ornament (“Adornment of Realization”): The Meaning of Profound Emptiness Well Explained (in verse)

4.”Essence of Tantra” Way of Practice of the Method of Accomplishment (Sadhana) of the Great Ghantapa’s Body Mandala of Glorious Chakrasamvara

Summary of Forward (Quick, Rough Rendition, Not Checked or Polished):

Many years ago Gelek Rinpoche, now resident in America, via telephone, asked a question to the Honorable Palden la of Trijang lhabrang. Gelek Rinpoche asked Palden la if there was anyone who had received the Mahamudra commentary instruction lineage suitably.

Palden la replied that he remembered, back in Tibet, at Tsechokling Monastery, among those who requested teachings of the Profound Instruction of Mahamudra there was Tsangpa Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, now of England, present. He also indicated another suitable receiver of this teaching may not exist.


Back cover of “The Oral Instruction Of Mahamudra” by Kelsang Gyatso

Then, at the insistence of a few lamas and geshes in both India and the West, who said since you are advanced in age it would be difficult for you yourself to teach/transmit this to assemblies of Tibetan people.

Within Tibet, Lama Thubten Purbu Rinpoche said you must offer this lineage of Mahamudra Instruction that you hold.

The reason to offer this is to revive the essence of the Conqueror’s doctrine (Gelug tradition), which has degenerated, and also to develop it, amongst the Tibetan people.

In this way may hearts  hold a cherishing of Jamgon Tsongkhapa’s Doctrine.

Kelsang Gyatso


It is clear that after the Dalai Lama failed so tremendously (in the eyes of Kelsang Gyatso and NKT) there is now only one shining star that is the bearer of the holy, secret and pure lineage of Trijang Rinpoche and Tsongkhapa, which is Kelsang Gyatso. “How fortunate we are!” (as NKT would joyfully exclaim the underlying message.)

Apparently the book seems to be looking for legitimacy from Tibetans (although two people who speak Tibetan say it is full of grammatical mistakes). It claims that Kelsang Gyatso received this transmission from Trijang Rinpoche at a place called Tsechokling in Tibet and that he might be the only living person who has it. This increases his importance and subsequently he claims that he was urged to “offer this lineage of Mahamudra Instruction” – and kindly he did. As the back cover puts it: “This precious text was written by Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in Tibetan.” The author credited on the front cover: Lama Losang Thubwang Heruka (which insinuates an enlightened being) is one with the author credited on the back cover: Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Quite modest. According to the book, the name of the person who officially requested the book is a lama in Tibet, Lama Thupten Phurbu Rinpoche.


David with the head of Goliath

The book must be seen in wider context of a long battle (or vendetta) of Kelsang Gyatso against the Dalai Lama. It appears a bit as the fight of the small David (Kelsang Gyatso) against the giant Goliath (Dalai Lama). Kelsang Gyatso spend a lot of time and effort to denounce the Dalai Lama as a total non-spiritual fake Dalai Lama and he himself personally took responsibility to organize the international protests against the Dalai Lama in 1996-98 and from 2008 onwards. Kelsang Gyatso also tried to educate Tibetans with his own pamphlets in Tibetan language where he claimed such things as:

He (the Dalai Lama) spent his whole life only collecting the wealth of simple Tibetan People. What material help has he provided to the Tibetan people? And regarding the issue of Tibet, what has he done that is really helpful? – see “A refutation of attacks on the advice of H.H. the Dalai Lama regarding the propitiation of guardian deities” by Tenpai Gyaltsan Dhongthog, 1996, p.33

In that context it is noteworthy to watch how NKT tries by all means to claim that the Dalai Lama would have lied with respect to Trijang Rinpoche’s acceptance of HH the Dalai Lama’s stance on Dorje Shugden. The NKT wants to tell: this man is not reliable (whereas Kelsang Gyatso is). The more the giant Dalai Lama is put down the higher the glory of small David. The NKT put a new video on YouTube that continues to spin the NKT myths. Without having any convincing argument the NKT / ICS still claim that the Dalai Lama lied. As a part of the video the NKT / ICS present a rather young monk, Geshe Lobsang Kalsang, as the Disciplinarian Master of Sera Mey Monastery.


According to the screen shot of this new NKT / ISC video this Lharampa Geshe Lobsang Kalsang is ‘from Sera Mey Monastery, Pomra Khamsten, Disciplinary Master from 200-2003′. However, according to Siling Tongkhor, Coordinator at Geden Tulku Association and Spiritual Director at Sermey Rongpo Khangsten, previously at Sera Mey Monastic University and Sera Tulkus group: “This monk, Lobsang Kalsang has never been the Disciplinarian Master of Sera Mey Monastery. He was from Sera Mey Monastery prior to the 2008 separation. And he became the disciplinarian master of Serpom, the Shugden monastery near Sera Mey.”

Geshe Lobsang Kelsang who was surely not any witness of the discussions between the Dalai Lama with Trijang Rinpoche and Ling Rinpoche issues forth one claim after the other what Trijang Rinpoche had said without naming any reliable source. Mere claims that prove not anything.

Bildschirmfoto 2014-08-03 um 20.29.26The cover of the book is a portrait of Kelsang Gyatso ‘as’ Je Tsongkhapa, with Buddha Shakyamuni at his heart, and Heruka inside his heart. That makes Kelsang Gyatso appear as the direct ‘successor’ of Je Tsongkhapa, insinuating to bring to fruition the prediction of the Whispered Lineage – the Ganden Oral lineage – that states that one of the Buddhas of this fortunate aeon will actually be a manifestation of Tsongkhapa and will teach tantra … (In the past NKT spread quotes “from a Sutra” that in extremely degenerate times – which is now according to NKT – a very pure being will appear that restores the “pure Dharma”. Such claims are part of the myths which NKT creates to attribute a special role in this world to their leader Kelsang Gyatso – a special role also Kelsang Gyatso is convinced of to have.)

Lama Lobsang Thupwang Dorje Chang is now called ‘Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka’ (on the frontspiece) and in Tibetan ‘Lama Losang Tubwang Heruka’.

I understand this is problematic as

a) This kind of portrait of the teacher as ‘the Guru Tsongkhapa’ is a private part of practice and paintings such as this are traditionally not done until a teacher has died.

b) Siling Tongkhor told that ‘this is acceptable, technically’, or ‘theoretically’ ‘as long as they don’t regard him as a Yidam but merely as an spiritual protector – Dharmapala’. This requires more thought.

c) The cover features a living teacher seated on a lotus. This lotus seat is traditionally only used for teachers who are dead and it is considered highly inauspicious to depict a living teacher in this way; if I remember correctly it is said to be the cause of premature death. (This is also true for the NKT practice to put a hair of Kelsang Gyatso in statues. This is done only with hairs of dead teachers. If it is done with the hairs of a living teacher, such an action too is seen as very inauspicious and as a cause for calamities.)

The Middle Way Approach of the Dalai Lama – A Self-Deception?

Tibet belongs to Tibetans. Victory to Tibet! – Jamphel Yeshi

Recently the German Buddhist Magazine Tibet und Buddhismus asked Elliot Sperling – a well known and frequently quoted Tibetologist at Indiana University (US) who had just been barred from China – to write an essay that sums up some of his positions he has taken on Tibet issues over the years.

In that essay he thoroughly questions the effectiveness of the Middle Way Approach of the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and a cult of personality of the Dalai Lama that prevents to question the effectiveness of the Middle Way Approach and that undermines and ignores all other opinions. According to Sperling, the drive within the CTA has led to a situation where “the Dalai Lama was unwittingly turned into the prime spokesperson against Tibetan independence, to the benefit of China.”

The analysis of Elliot Sperling with the title “Self-Delusion” (in German Selbsttäuschung – „Die Politik des Mittleren Weges ist realitätsfern“) Sperling is pointing out how the CTA and the Dalai Lama have undermined unintentionally the Tibet independence movement and have weakened thereby the Tibet cause.

When one examines and thinks about Elliot Sperling’s essay it is hard not to agree with him. In order to appease the Chinese and to get international support the Dalai Lama and the CTA gave up the correct claims of an independent Tibet (experts of the US congress and the German Bundestag agreed that Tibet has been occupied against international law by China). China has illegally colonized Tibet and the Tibet support groups and people who support the Tibetans and their rights for an independent country or self determination about living in their country base their support on the injustice China has done to the Tibetans. Some of the people who self immolated killed themselves for an independent Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama but not for autonomy or a Tibet under Chinese control. The Tibetan Rangzen movement has been largely ignored and even treated animus by the CTA – as a threat to their idea of a Middle Way. In a way the own exile government seems to have betrayed Tibetans and their wish for independence. I hope this situation can change. Tibetans started to challenge and to question as well as to document the changes of the CTA’s /Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Approach, and it would be very useful I think, if the whole approach is really reconsidered instead of silencing down critical voices of the Middle Way Approach and becoming unwillingly a devoted and effective arm of China.

The Tibet support groups have been seriously weakened by Samdhong Rinpoche who asked the Tibet support groups on the international level to stop to protest when Chinese officials visit their countries. China demanded from the CTA that if the CTA wants to have any dialogue with them the CTA/Kashag should stop the protests which are performed where ever Chinese officials visit a Western country. China was fed up with loosing face in the West. The CTA was naive enough to follow this instruction and Samdhong Rinpoche became unwittingly the arm of China by trying to silence down all those international Tibet support groups for three years. There was no open discussion just pushing through this policy (there was a conference held in Berlin about this issue where Samdhong Rinpoche was present). After those three years China of course didn’t make any move forward with respect to the Tibet issue but the power of the international support groups was broken and has not yet recovered – except for those who chose to ignore Samdhong Rinpoche’s demands.

Its quite interesting to read this article by Tibetans in the Tibetan Political Review in which they explore the differences in the terms of 1) Freedom, 2) Independence, and 3) Autonomy and how the Kashag edits out clear voices for independence:

The Kashag effectively edits out even crystal-clear voices for independence. According to the Kashag, the self-immolators’ demands are “freedom for the Tibetan people and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet.”  While not technically inaccurate (since freedom could include independence or autonomy), it is misleading for two reasons:

- First, some self-immolators have expressly called for independence, while none have called for autonomy.

- Second, the Kashag and Sikyong often use the word “freedom” to promote their specific Middle Way policy of autonomy, implying that the goals are either “freedom” (really meaning “autonomy”) or “independence”.

Furthermore, it is a conspicuous omission when the Kashag argues that self-immolation is caused by “political repression, economic marginalization, cultural assimilation and environmental destruction”.  This list prominently ignores that many self-immolators demanded independence.  So it seems this list should also include not just “repression” (which is a human rights issue) but also “a demand for Tibet’s independence”. That would make it far more complete.

In another recent example, at a book-launch about Takna Jigme Sangpo, the Sikyong discussed the former political prisoner’s “activism”, “various political activities”, and “slogans of Tibetan freedom” while in prison.  This was a painful omission: the core motivation of Sangpo’s heroism was, quite simply, Tibetan independence.  This should not be edited out even if one supports autonomy.

In fact, Sangpo was originally sentenced for “seeking ‘Tibetan independence’ among other reactionary propaganda”, according to Chinese documents.

However the Sikyong merely referred to Sangpo’s “opposition against harsh policies”, implying that Sangpo merely disagreed with certain Chinese policies.   It is truly regrettable that, in this case, Chinese sentencing documents are more accurate than the Sikyong’s remarks.

Read more

Bad News About Dharma


Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche

Never think that you will be able to settle your life down by practicing the dharma. The dharma is not therapy.
In fact, it is just the opposite.
The purpose of the dharma is to really stir up your life.
It is meant to turn your life upside down.
If that is what you asked for, why complain?
If it is not turning your life upside down, on the other hand, the dharma is not working.
That kind of dharma is just another one of these New Age methods;
the dharma should really disturb you. –  Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche

See also


Bringing the Nalanda Tradition to the West: Reflections and Challenges

Dharma Studies in the West: The FPMT Master’s Program

Since the time of the Buddha, approximately 2,500 years ago, the Buddhist teachings have been transmitted in an uninterrupted lineage, eventually reaching Tibet and flourishing there for more than 1,200 years. In recent years, as Buddhism has come to the West, there has been a steady rise in interest among Western students of Buddhism in deepening their understanding of the philosophical teachings that form the foundation of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as a wish from the side of Tibetan teachers and scholars to develop study programs to meet these needs. A number of highly respected academic institutions have programs focusing on Tibetan Buddhist religion, culture, and philosophy, but it is a fairly recent phenomenon that Western Dharma centers have attempted to develop serious, in-depth programs for the study of the great philosophical treatises of the Indian and Tibetan masters. One of the most ambitious of these programs has been the FPMT’s Master’s Program in Buddhist Studies,[1] which was initially conceived by Lama Thubten Yeshe, and further developed and taught by Geshe Jampa Gyatso. The Master’s Program (or MP) is aimed at training both lay and ordained Western students in the classical philosophical treatises (known as the “great texts”) and the practice of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The program involves six to seven years of study, and is supplemented by one year of meditation in order for the students to integrate their learning and practice. I graduated from the first full-length program in 2004 and, since 2008, I have served as an online tutor for the most recent program, which just recently concluded.[2] This experience has led me to reflect at length on the challenges involved in developing advanced Buddhist study programs in the West, and I would like to share some of my thoughts on how we might begin to address these challenges.

The MP curriculum is similar to that of the Geshe programs in major Gelug Tibetan monasteries, although it is completed in a much shorter period—obtaining a Geshe degree would normally take from fifteen to twenty years in a Tibetan monastery. This difference in itself presents a huge challenge: how to condense such a vast amount of material into a program that is less than half the length of the traditional course of study. However, we should not make the mistake of assuming that those entering the program are lacking in knowledge or study skills when compared with their Tibetan counterparts: most MP students have already done many years of study before entering the program, many having earned various levels of university degrees, and thus have a wide range of knowledge of different fields, including science, humanities, business, and philosophy. Clearly, such students may begin with little formal Buddhist knowledge, but it would be unwise to underestimate the value of the intellectual and scholarly skills they have acquired in other fields. At this juncture, when the ancient teachings of Buddhism have really begun to penetrate into the fabric of societies that are not traditionally Buddhist and interact with Western fields of thought—philosophy, cognitive science, psychology, just to begin with—we need to think seriously about how an advanced program of Buddhist studies may look in the future.

A central concern in designing and implementing such a study program is how to continue the transmission of traditional Buddhist teachings while bringing them into a modern, Western context and making them relevant to our own times and cultures, without sacrificing their essence and integrity. We need to reflect on how study of these texts can enrich understanding and practice of the Dharma, without their becoming seen as a canon that is beyond question and automatically accepted as infallible. In other words, we should not abandon the spirit of rational and scientific inquiry that forms the basis of modern Western thought, and we should seek ways to harmonize this with our study of Buddhism. This development can only occur when we approach the teachings with a balance of critical analysis and respect, having faith in the teachings without being afraid to challenge and understand them in new ways.

The Nalanda Tradition: Balancing Faith and Reasoning

His Holiness the Dalai Lama often refers to the basis of Tibetan Buddhism as the “Nalanda Tradition,” emphasizing the direct connection between the Tibetan Buddhist tradition with the work of the great scholars of Nalanda University, the ancient Indian Buddhist institution that produced some of Buddhism’s greatest scholar-practitioners, including Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, Vasubandhu, and Dharmakirti. A central aspect of the Nalanda Tradition is an emphasis on approaching the Buddhist teachings not just through faith and devotion, but also through rigorous critical inquiry. This emphasis on intelligent investigation in Buddhism is illustrated by the analogy, often cited in Buddhist teachings, of a merchant who only buys gold after determining its quality and purity through various tests. All of the Buddha’s teachings emphasize the importance of investigating the Dharma deeply before accepting it. This critical inquiry is precisely what is being pursued in programs such as the Master’s Program.

Developing such programs is a crucial and difficult step in the transmission of the Buddha’s teachings to the West, and one of the most significant difficulties we face is how to successfully present such complex and dense material to people whose cultures, beliefs, and history are fundamentally different from those of a traditional Asian culture, such as Tibet. I have often struggled to find a balance between respect for tradition and honest critical inquiry, how to cultivate stable faith in Dharma while not giving up a healthy level of skepticism. This process of investigation is an indispensable part of our progression towards a more awakened, more compassionate, and wiser state, the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice. However, it is not easy to skillfully balance these various facets of the spiritual path in our lives. Many Western Buddhists, especially those pursuing advanced philosophical studies, come from a perspective that is highly suspicious of orthodoxy or dogma, religious or otherwise. The past few centuries of European and American thought have, after all, elevated the status of rational inquiry far above that of religious piety. On the one hand, Buddhism appeals to this rationality by deeply challenging engrained ideas about success, happiness, material wealth, and even mainstream religion. On the other hand, when we study Buddhism with traditionally trained Tibetan teachers, we often find that the teachings are intertwined with a wide range of cultural assumptions, which do not always fit neatly or comfortably with a strictly rational perspective.

It is useful to look briefly at how Buddhist philosophy has traditionally been studied by Tibetans, and to consider how this contrasts with Western educational methodologies.[3] (I am mainly referring here to the Gelug tradition, which places strong emphasis on scholastic understanding as a basis for spiritual realization.) Historically, in Tibetan culture the study of high-level Buddhist philosophy has been almost exclusively the domain of monks. The Tibetan monastic approach involves many years of memorization, study, and debate of texts that are complex and multi-layered, sometimes incomprehensible without explanations of highly trained masters. The students learn the art of debate from a young age, methodically analyzing a wide range of subjects, beginning with simple phenomena such as colors and shapes and moving on to more complex topics, such as divisions of the mind, advanced logic, and so forth. The debate format is tightly structured and follows strict rules, requiring students to thoroughly memorize the texts and to internalize the rules of debate to the point of their becoming virtually automatic. Without memorizing the texts, it is impossible to get far in a debate. There is no room for guessing or speculation; the respondent must be able to reply with absolute precision, based on what is stated in the text. As their studies progress, they apply their analysis to increasingly subtle topics, such as the four noble truths, emptiness, dependent arising, and the paths to liberation and enlightenment. After gaining a solid foundation in logic, debate, and the overall Buddhist worldview, those seeking to attain the degree of Geshe (a Buddhist monastic academic degree) spend many years studying subjects such as the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajnaparamita), Middle Way (Madhyamaka), valid cognition (Pramana), ethical discipline (Vinaya), and manifest knowledge (Abhidharma). Monks (and now nuns) can obtain one of several types of Geshe degree, the highest level being Geshe Lharampa. Although this approach is most emphasized in the Gelug tradition, the different Tibetan traditions offer variants of the Geshe degree. The deep understanding that one gains from these many years of study and debate becomes the basis for the transformational wisdom that one may later gain from deeper meditation on these subjects.

The curriculum of the Master’s Program as it is presently structured includes three of these five “great texts” and their Tibetan commentaries—Maitreya’s Ornament for Clear Realization (Abhisamayalamkara), Chandrakirti’s Supplement to the “Middle Way” (Madhyamakavatara), and Vasubandhu’s Treasury of Manifest Knowledge (Abhidharmakosha)—as well as the “grounds and paths” of tantra and the Guhyasamaja Tantra (which are normally studied only in specialized tantric universities). Supplementary subjects such as mind and awareness, philosophical tenets, or reviews of the main topics are sometimes taught if time allows. Students take regular exams, and at the end of the program, they review and are examined on all five subjects. In order to receive a completion certificate, they are also required to do one year of retreat, which allows them to integrate the material more deeply. Parallel to the residential course is an online course, with students around the world studying via an e-learning environment, with recorded review lectures, quizzes and exams, and online discussion.

Given the much shorter length of the Master’s Program compared to traditional geshe studies, the MP clearly does not aim to produce “Western geshes,” but to give Western students a complete education in Buddhist studies. However, this format is not without its shortcomings. While students in such a program receive an enormous amount of teachings, and thus a good basis for deepening their studies and practice, relatively little time is dedicated to a deep analysis of the teachings, and formal debate is virtually absent. There are numerous reasons for this, one of the principal ones being the difficulty of translating the highly formalized Tibetan debate method, so deeply based on rote memorization, into a Western context where students have little familiarity with memorization as a learning tool. With this lack of debate, the teachers and tutors of such a program are forced to come up with effective tools for helping students not only to learn, but to master such dense, difficult material. So far, this has been one of the greatest challenges of this program.

I have had the great fortune to study these texts with highly qualified teachers, including my principal teacher Geshe Jampa Gyatso, who helped me to understand that Dharma is not just about knowledge obtained from study, but the skillful integration of this knowledge into our experience, and the transformation of our very way of being. As a tutor for such a program, I have found myself trying to explain Buddhist texts that are often centuries old, with multiple layers of meaning and complex terminology, to students whose culture and worldview differs radically from that which informs these texts. These texts are often obscure and difficult to understand, even for the most erudite lamas and scholars. A Western tutor working with this material may feel obligated to be faithful and respectful to the tradition, on one hand, and wish to make the teachings relevant to students’ lives and spiritual development, on the other—not an easy task. With more general subjects such as the Stages of the Path (lam rim), this is already challenging, but many lam rim subjects are self-explanatory and one has some flexibility in how to present the topics, choosing to emphasize some more than others, offering different interpretations, and so forth. However, with texts as complex as the Abhisamayalamkara or Abhidharmakosha, just to understand the basic meanings of the texts requires extensive study and reflection, and understanding their relevance to practice means taking a huge leap beyond that.

Difficulties for Western Students: Challenging Orthodoxy

Western students of Tibetan Buddhism must wrestle with apparent contradictions between the worldview and didactic methods in our own culture and those that we encounter in traditional Asian Buddhist teachings. The cornerstone of a modern Western education is critical examination of facts from varying points of view, without automatically privileging any one of these points of view as absolutely true. We are taught to value originality and to explore ideas that innovate and challenge orthodoxy. In traditional Buddhist teachings, on the other hand, innovation is often regarded with deep suspicion, and even discouraged. Although we are encouraged to rigorously analyze the teachings before accepting them, this analysis takes place almost entirely within the accepted parameters of the Buddhist worldview, and those propounding new interpretations of the Dharma may be viewed as pariahs, whose straying from accepted explanations might somehow contaminate the teachings—even Tsongkhapa was heavily challenged and criticized for his sometimes radical interpretations of Buddhist teachings.

Despite the strong emphasis on reasoning, it is difficult to escape the weight that the authority of tradition and scripture carries for traditional Buddhists. There are unspoken, but evident, taboos in not accepting certain teachings as infallible truths. Thus we see that when His Holiness the Dalai Lama questions the validity of Abhidharma cosmology or downplays certain aspects of traditional teachings, there is no hesitation in following his lead. However, if a less authoritative teacher or (heaven forbid) a Westerner challenges orthodoxy in the same way, it may even be seen as a degeneration of the purity of the lineage, when in fact such a person is simply following the Buddha’s advice to closely examine the teachings. This can create a sense that one cannot ask honest, critical questions without being judged or criticized; one may begin to feel that one is not a “good Buddhist” if one asks too many questions. We find ourselves in a quandary: our initial sense of skepticism and curiosity, which led us to the apparent tolerance and openness of the Buddhist tradition, now comes to be seen as risky, or even dangerous. However, if we are to develop into mature practitioners of the Buddha’s teachings, we must ask some difficult questions. We may even need to ask what it really means to be “Buddhist.”[4] It would be unusual for Tibetans to question whether or not they are Buddhist—Buddhism is a culture and tradition they are born into and which they, for the most part, readily accept. For Westerners, more investigation is required when one decides to actively engage with Buddhism as a practice and view.

Dharma in the Modern World: Developing New Tools

Let us consider the idea of “transmission” of the Dharma—the Buddha’s teachings—and what that entails. Traditionally, the Buddha’s teachings are divided into the Dharma of scriptures—the texts containing the teachings and commentaries of the Buddha and the lineage masters—and the Dharma of realizations—the internalization of the meanings in these texts, resulting in the final goal: liberation or enlightenment. In reality, these two are intimately related, and both are necessary in order for the Dharma to be effectively and completely transmitted from one culture to another. The transmission of Dharma depends on maintaining an “uninterrupted lineage” of the canonical texts, teachings, and commentaries from qualified masters to their disciples, but just continuing the scriptural transmission is not sufficient, even if done with great faith and diligence, if we do not also transmit the transformative aspect of the teachings, the realizations. A complete transmission of the Dharma is contingent on the development of skillful methods that enable the transmission of these teachings to different cultures, and thus a certain amount of adaptation is unavoidable. This has been the case everywhere that the Dharma has traveled from one culture to another: from India to Tibet, China, Korea, Burma, and other countries that became Buddhist. Now Buddhism has come to the West, in a period in which technological advances have rapidly sped up the availability and exchange of information. Those involved in this exchange must adapt to this reality and utilize a variety of methods in this transmission, not just traditional ones. If we simply mimic the traditional methods of Buddhist study and education without adapting them to their new context, we may well see these sublime teachings, which show us how to develop the greatest human potential, becoming little more than quaint, but largely irrelevant, cultural relics. One of the greatest challenges we face in this process is how to relate Buddhist scholastic practice to the practical, realized aspects of Dharma: cultivation of positive inner qualities such as mindfulness, mental stability, compassion, and wisdom. In Buddhist terms, we need to approach this process with a balance of skillful methods and penetrating wisdom, integrating the insights of the Buddhist tradition with the best of Western pedagogical methods and technology.

When studying the great philosophical texts of Buddhism in a traditional way, students would first memorize the “root text,” and then receive a transmission and detailed commentary on the entire text from start to finish, slowly bringing out the deeper meaning through extensive debate, as mentioned earlier. Without the process of internalization and mastery that occurs through debate, it is difficult for students to identify the essential points in a text that may consist of literally hundreds of lists, definitions, and conflicting assertions from various philosophical points of view. When studying such texts without training in debate, Western students encounter many difficulties in knowing how to “take the essence” of these teachings, and how to put them into practice.

It would be easy to suggest that Western students should simply learn how to debate like Tibetans, but the traditional reliance on memorization brings up many difficulties. We have a strong tendency to suspect or even reject anything resembling dogma or absolutist religious authority. Rote memorization has long been rejected in Western education in favor of developing skills of critical thinking and analysis; originality of thought, rather than repetition of doctrine, is one of the prime objectives of modern education. While a traditionally educated Tibetan student would not have much difficulty accepting that something is true simply because it was stated by the Buddha, Nagarjuna, or Tsongkhapa, a Western-educated student might strongly question the notion of the author’s infallibility. This is not to say that memorization should be rejected outright—it can indeed a very valuable tool for sharpening one’s mental faculties, among other things—but it needs to be supplemented with learning methodologies more familiar to Western students, where one would consider a broader range of viewpoints, even from other traditions or disciplines. We should make use of the many tools we have, not just dismiss them as irrelevant to the study of Buddhism.

We must also remember that while Tibetan monastics often begin their religious studies as children, Western students in programs such as the Master’s Program have already acquired a great deal of knowledge and experience, both through higher education and professional careers. Despite this, it seems that when we approach traditional Dharma studies, we often feel compelled to reject large parts of our “secular” learning, rather than building on it and integrating it with our understanding of Dharma. This only serves to strengthen a false dichotomy between “worldly” knowledge—literature, art, science, philosophy, mathematics, etc.—and “Dharma knowledge,” which concerns questions that somehow transcend this world. I often get the impression that Western Buddhists feel they must ignore the great intellectual, artistic, and spiritual innovations of their own culture—whether they come from Einstein, Jesus, Shakespeare, Picasso, or John Coltrane—in order to be serious Buddhists, rather than appreciating how the insights of great minds, regardless of their culture or religious beliefs, may help to cultivate a broader, deeper understanding of Dharma. Rigidly adhering to such an artificial split contradicts the exemplary openness shown by the Dalai Lama, who has consistently pioneered and encouraged cross-cultural and interdisciplinary dialogues, such as the Mind and Life conferences, and the introduction of scientific education into Tibetan monasteries. He has even appointed an American monk as the abbot of a Tibetan monastery.[5] We would do well to learn from the example of His Holiness, who consistently shows himself to be an innovator in the best sense of the word, as well as being an undisputed master of the subtlest points of Buddhist philosophy and practice and a living example of compassion, kindness, and deep insight. Lama Thubten Yeshe was also a proponent of integrating modern knowledge with Buddhist wisdom: “Today, scientific technology has discovered many things that human beings cannot touch—energy, for example. This development of scientific higher consciousness is beautiful; we can carry it into our meditation. When people who study and practice Dharma examine developments in scientific technology, they can find extraordinary examples that they can use. This understanding of reality is very important.”[6]

Conclusions: The Road Ahead

What can we conclude from all of this? Are we looking at the inevitable degeneration of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, in favor of a dumbed-down Buddhism ready for easy consumption by a public wanting everything to be downloadable as a smartphone app? Not at all. We are looking at an evolution of Buddhism in the West, just as it has evolved in its transmission from India to many other cultures, including Tibet. In order for the Dharma to continue to thrive, and for Dharma education to develop in the West, a few fundamental ingredients are necessary: first, willingness to experiment with the format, and not being obstinately attached to an exclusively traditional approach; second, a clear understanding of the goal of such education: a combination of scholastic depth and experiential application; and third, an approach that builds bridges between the wisdom of Buddhism and of our own cultures, such as science, the humanities, and philosophy, rather than seeing them as contradictory. All of this, of course, needs to be carried out in a way that is balanced and respectful, by teachers who understand the teachings well and have made serious effort to internalize and realize their meanings. My hope is that we will see in the future a proliferation of aspiring bodhisattvas who are able to integrate their intellectual and experiential understanding of the great spiritual insights of the Buddha and the great Indian and Tibetan masters with the thought of Plato and Wittgenstein, quantum theory, neuroscientific research, and expressions of Dharma in literature, art, and poetry, all for the greatest benefit of infinite sentient beings. Why not?


Patrick Lambelet
Tutor for the online FPMT Master’s Program
Pomaia, Italy

© Patrick Lambelet
March 23, 2014


[1] Despite being called “Master’s Program,” this program is presently not formally accredited by any university and does not lead to an MA, or Master’s degree.

[2] There was an earlier version of the program, before 1998, but it was not as comprehensive, with regular examinations and certification.

[3] Georges Dreyfus’ book, The Sound of Two Hands Clapping, is an excellent resource for this subject, combining academic research on Tibetan monastic education with reflections drawn from his own experience as a Western Buddhist monk (Dreyfus was the first Westerner to obtain the Geshe Lharampa degree).

[4] Interestingly, the Tibetan word translated as “Buddhist” (nang pa) literally means “insider,” or “practitioner of the inner tradition.” It thus has a broader sense than simply being a follower of the Buddha, unlike, for example, the term “Christian.”

[5]In 2012, His Holiness appointed American monk Nicholas Vreeland as the abbot of Rato Monastery, in India, telling him, “Your special duty is to bridge Tibetan tradition and the Western world.” See Tricycle article (, Fall 2012.

[6] Lama Thubten Yeshe, Becoming the Compassion Buddha (2003, Wisdom Publications), p. 44.

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