What is faith or devotion in Buddhism? – Asanga/Abhidharmasammuccaya

Here is a brief introduction approaching to clarify the terms “faith” and “devotion” in Buddhism / Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. To clarify the terms “faith” and “devotion” a sober definition from Buddhist scriptures is essential as a start for further investigation.

Faith and devotion are synonymous.

Faith / Devotion (skt. shraddha, tib. dad pa)

The essential key point is that faith has as its object an existent phenomenon. Also the faults of an object (like the faults of Samsara or the faults of delusions) can be the object of faith [they can be the objects of the faith of conviction but not the objects of the faith of wishing]; so, it needn’t be only existing qualities which are the objects of faith.

In the definition below given by Asanga in his Abhidharmasammuccaya one must pair the following types of faith with their respective objects:

(1) the mind of the faith of clarity (or inspirational faith) has as its object excellent qualities
(2) the mind of the faith of conviction has as its object existent phenomena
(3) the mind of the faith of wishing has as its object phenomena that have power/potential (one sees the potential and wishes to bring it to full maturation)

The faith of clarity is free of delusions and apprehends its object, which is really existent excellent qualities, therefore very clearly. This type of faith leads usually to a strong emotion; one is touched by what one has as the object of faith (e.g. the qualities of compassion, the qualities of concentration or the qualities of a person) and bodily responses can manifest like getting goose bumps, tears fill the eyes, the body hairs stand on end. That’s why it is also called “faith of inspiration”.

Here the explanation by Yeshe Gyaltsen from his Lorig Commentary (translated from the Tibetan by Toh Sze Gee)

[C1] Faith (dad pa)
Regarding the entity of faith, the Compendium of Knowledge [Asanga’s Abhidharmasammuccaya] says:

QUESTION: What is faith?
RESPONSE: It is a conviction, clarity, and wishing with respect to an existent that is endowed with excellent qualities and power. It has the function of acting as a support for aspiration.

Just as it has been said above, faith is a knower that has the aspect of conviction, clarity, or wishing, and it serves as the direct antidote for non-faith. When divided, faith is of three types:

1. clarifying faith,
2. faith of conviction and
3. wishing faith.

Clarifying faith is a clear mind engendered by seeing the excellent qualities of those so endowed, such as the Three Jewels. Why is it called “clarifying”? For example, when one places a water-purifying gem in dirty water, the murkiness of the water is immediately cleared away. Similarly, when this faith is generated, the murkiness of the mind is cleared away, whereupon all excellent qualities of realization become suitable to arise in one’s continuum.

Faith of conviction is the gaining of conviction through contemplating the modes of dependent-arising, cause and result, and so forth that are taught by the Conqueror.

Wishing faith, is, for instance, having contemplated the modes of the four noble truths, ascertained true sufferings and true origins as objects of abandonment, and true cessations and true paths as objects of attainment, and having understood that these can be attained if one makes the proper effort, the faith thinking, “I shall definitely obtain them.”

Here I have merely identified some illustrations of the three types of faith; it is not that all [instances] have been exhausted here. Nowadays, in our world, liking and faith are spoken of as if they are the same; liking beer is said to be “faith in beer,” but liking and faith are nevertheless not the same. Faith is by entity a virtuous mental factor, whereas liking has both virtuous and non-virtuous factors. If this is explained in detail, there are the four possibilities:

1. that which is liking but not faith
2. that which is faith but not liking
3. that which is both
4. that which is neither

The first, that which is liking but not faith is, for example, liking one’s son, one’s wife and so forth, and liking sources of misdeeds, such as drinking alcohol and eating meals after noon [when ordained].

The second, that which is faith but not liking is, for example, fear from one’s depths and faith of conviction regarding the drawbacks of the sufferings of cyclic existence.

That which is both faith and liking is, for example, faith from one’s depths and liking due to contemplating the excellent qualities of the spiritual guide and the benefits of wholesome actions and their results.

That which is neither faith nor liking is anger, suffering, and so forth.

QUALM: Well then, are liking and respect the same or are they different?
RESPONSE: Again, in the world we speak of them as if they are the same, but in fact they are not. Liking a spiritual friend is faith, but respect for him involves contemplating his kindness, knowing shame, and valuing him highly. Hence, when [liking and respect] arise in the continuum, they are separate mental factors.

If, in accordance with how they appear in the great treatises, you analyze these modes in detail with the wisdom of individual investigation, examining the way in which they are generated in the continuum by turning your mind inwards, then you will get to know them; you cannot know them merely through words. With these meanings in mind, the Foremost Omniscient [Tsong-kha-pa] repeatedly advises that, in order to perform wholehearted practice, you must rely upon a skilful spiritual friend and acquire much hearing on the meaning of the scriptures. However, nowadays, when these great textual systems are explained to foolish beings who are deprived of the gem of intelligence and are inferior in merit, they become frightened, terrified and flee faraway, as though a poisonous snake had sensed the odor of musk, or a little child had caught sight of a whirlpool.

Those who view the exalted speech of the great scholars and adepts from the Land of Superiors [i.e., India] as pith instructions seem like stars during daytime.
Here, the function of faith is specified as “acting as a support for aspiration,” because, as explained above, the cause of all excellent qualities is effort; in order to generate effort, one needs the aspiration that seeks; in order to generate aspiration, one needs to see the excellent qualities as well as possess the faith of conviction. For this reason, faith is praised more than once as the foundation of all virtuous qualities in the scriptures and their commentaries. In this vein, the Formulae of the Three Jewels’ Blaze (Ratnolka-dharani) also says:

“Faith is the forerunner, and, like a mother, is the procreator.
It guards and increases all excellent qualities.
It dispels doubts and frees you from the four great rivers[1],
Faith signifies the city of happiness and goodness.

Faith is without murkiness and clarifies the mind.
It abandons pride and is the root of respect.
Faith is a jewel, a treasure,
And the best of feet.
Like hands, it is the root of gathering virtue.”

Also the Ten Teachings Sutra (Dasa-dharmaka-sutra) says:

“Faith is the best of vehicles
Through which you will be guided and definitely emerge.
Therefore, intelligent people
Rely on following faith.

Wholesome qualities do not grow
In people who have no faith,
Just as green sprouts [do not grow]
From seeds scorched by fire.”

Thus, all wholesome qualities are companions of faith. [Shantideva’s] Compendium of Trainings (Siksasamuccaya), stating, “having made firm the root of faith,” also teaches that faith is the root of all paths. Even the Great Being, the Protector Nagarjuna, emphatically taught that faith is the foundation of all paths. With these meanings in mind, the Foremost Omniscient [Tsong-kha-pa] made the statement “Training in faith, the root” one of the outlines in his Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path, and stated that “the root of all happiness and goodness is the faith of conviction.”

[1] From the causal point of view, the four rivers are: (1) ignorance, (2) views, (3) existence, and (4) craving.
From the resultant point of view, they are: (1) birth, (2) aging, (3) sickness, and (4) death.

The key thing is to understand that faith in Buddhism doesn’t mean to project qualities onto animate or inanimate objects they don’t possess, and that faith includes to see the really existing faults of an animate or inanimate object, like the faults of Samsara.

Haribhadra (ca. 700–770) discriminates additionally between faith based on reasoning and faith not based on reasoning. The former is stable and the attribute of beings with sharp intellectual faculties and the latter is not stable and it is the attribute of beings with dull intellectual faculties. The Abhisamayalamkara and its commentaries explain that both types of person, sharp faculty Bodhisattvas and dull faculty Bodhisattvas, will reach their destiny.

This topic is quite complex and it has many consequences for Buddhist practice, spirituality and our society in general. A sober understanding and a careful thorough analysis of it, using different texts and angles, is therefore crucial.

To give some hints for further investigation & analysis:

  1. The meaning of faith includes to be able to see the really existing qualities in others, like to see the generosity of a child, the patience of person or the affection, compassion or care of an animal.
  2. Faith is the basis for striving and striving is the basis for joyous perseverance; from joyous perseverance comes the fulfillment of one’s wishes (Nagarjuna). If you suffer from the three types of laziness the right response is not to push and force yourself but to go back to cultivate faith in the qualities you are striving for, the more you are touched and moved by the qualities of the object you are striving for, the more you strive for it and the more joyous perseverance naturally will unfold to attain it.
  3. In western society we have lost somewhat to stress and to see real human values, like compassion, self-restrained, patience, generosity, contentment, respect, gratitude, a sense of caring for others etc. With this lack of focus on qualities and an overly emphasis on seeing and discussing the faults of others our western society tends towards to not see qualities therefore basis human qualities cannot be cultivated and will degenerate. That’s why, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s emphasis on secular ethics and science is a real gift to the western world with far reaching consequences for generations to come.
  4. Self-confidence arises naturally when one sees one’s own qualities and faults realistically as they are. This needs introspection and honesty. That’s why the Dalai Lama stresses correctly that self-confidence comes from honesty: “If you conduct your life on the basis of truth and honesty, it gives you a sense of satisfaction and self-confidence.” Compassion itself gives us also self-confidence because it makes more open and strong; strong enough to admit our faults. Again the Dalai Lama: “Kindness and compassion give rise to self-confidence, which in turn empowers us to be honest, truthful and transparent.”

In 2014 I had the honour to be part of the opening discussion about »Cultures of Faith« at the International Festival of Literature in Berlin. The Danish writer Janne Teller spoke about ethics, power and confidence in the context of writing and the South African Bishop Dr. Ndanganeni P. Phaswana spoke about reconciliation and the ubuntu philosophy, which forms the basis for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held in South Africa. It was a very inspiring fruitful intercultural discussion about these topics.

Its really worth to dig deeply into these topics and not to be satisfied with a mere superficial understanding of the terms faith, trust, belief or confidence. As the Dalai Lama put it: We need to be 21st century Buddhists.

See also

What is the meaning of patience in Buddhism? – Ajahn Succito

Here is a wonderful experiential explanation of what real patience is.

Patience deals with checking emotional reactions, but it’s not a denial of emotional intelligence. Patience has the gut-knowledge that recognizes that a problem or a pain is not something to run away from, get flustered by or be self-pitying about. It has the wisdom to know that we have to prioritize the steps through which we can resolve suffering. It’s true that it may be possible to find an alternative route to the destination; it may well be that more negotiations are needed to resolve the problem; it may be that there’s a medicine that will ease the pain. But the first thing to do is to not react — to not rage, despair or mentally proliferate. Our first effort is to draw a line around the suffering, take a step back and know ‘that’s that.’ Then there’s the effort to recollect that we can be free of the suffering: that we can let go; we don’t have to take suffering in and adopt it as final, real and solid. After that initial recollection we have the encouragement to investigate, and then to draw out the hook that snags our hearts on the rough stuff of life.

All this takes patience. Patience holds us present with the suffering in a spacious way, encouraging the mind to open. And an open mind both feels more peaceful in itself, and more readily sees into the cause of its suffering.

Patience is not a numbing resignation to the difficulties of life; it doesn’t mean that suffering is all right. It doesn’t mean shrugging things off and not looking to improve our behaviour. Nor does it mean putting up with something until it goes away. The practice of patience means bearing with dukkha without the expectation that it will go away. In its perfection, patience means giving up any kind of deadline, so the mind is serene and equanimous. But if the patience isn’t pure yet (and it takes time to develop patience!), the mind still feels pushy or defensive. Impure patience is the attitude: ‘Just hold on and eventually things will get better; I’ll get my own way in the end if I’m patient enough.’ This approach can temporarily block or blunt the edge of suffering, but it doesn’t deal with the resistance or the desire that is suffering’s root.

Pure patience is the kind of acceptance that acknowledges the presence of something without adding anything to it or covering it up. It is supported by the insight that when one’s mind stops fidgeting, whining and blaming, then suffering can be understood. It is this suffering that stirs up hatred and greed and despair, and it is through practising the Dhamma, or Way, of liberation that its energy and emotional current can be stopped. Reactivity isn’t the truth of the mind; it’s a conditioned reflex, and it’s not self. Because of that, suffering can be undone, and when it is, the mind is free.

From Parami, Ways to Cross Life’s Floods by Ajahn Sucitto

Tibet’s top religious leaders condemn Shugden worshippers’ anti-Dalai Lama tirade

On June 20, 2015, Tibet’s top religious figures – the heads of the five schools of Tibetan Buddhism¹ and Tibet’s Bon tradition – have condemned those among the controversial Shugden (Dolgyal) worshippers who make “false allegations” and continue a “hate campaign” against the Dalai Lama. They made their position clear at the conclusion of the 12th Religious Conference of the Four Schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon Tradition held at Dharamshala, India, over Jun 18-20.


The press release from the CTA web site (20th June 2015) states:

The 12th Religious Conference of the Four Schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon Tradition strongly condemn the false allegations and the continued hate campaign carried out by the Dolgyal cult group against His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a global icon, known for his immense contribution towards world peace and particularly for his service in the promotion of Tibetan Buddhism and culture.

We are deeply grateful and appreciate His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s concern for the Tibetan people and Buddhists worldwide, and for truthfully explaining the harmful effects of propitiating Dolgyal.

Therefore, we, the participants of the 12th Religious Conference of the Four Schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon Tradition, under the leadership of our respective spiritual heads, wholeheartedly pledge to follow His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s advice and urge others to do the same.

The Tibetan Review reports that

The conference reviewed the resolutions passed in the previous conferences and discussed ways to develop Buddhist learning, co-ordination with other Buddhist nations, organising introductory Buddhist teachings, and developing the capability of the monks and scholars of the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon tradition.

In his address to the conference on its concluding day, the Dalai Lama spoke about the importance of secular ethics and the need to do analytical study of the Buddhist texts so as to be able to get at the essence of the Buddha’s teachings and thereby gain real benefits from them.

More than 66 representatives from 58 monasteries and Buddhist institutes, including the Gaden Tripa Rizong Rinpoche, the Sakya Trizin, the Karmapa Rinpoche, the Menri Trizin, the Shabdrung Rinpoche, the Drukchen Rinpoche’s Representative Khenpo Tenzin and the Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche’s representative Kathok Gezey Rinpoche attended the conference, as did representatives from the Jonang tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, said the exile Tibetan administration at Dharamshala on its Tibet.net website Jun 20.

See also

More Statements

¹ Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu, Jonang & Gelug.

² The translation is made by Shugden followers. The usage of English terms which should represent the meaning of the Tibetan is often not very precise and suggestes an ideological bias. For a detailed account about Shugden based on academic research see: Dorje Shugden / Dolgyal – Untangling a Complex Issue by Tenzin Peljor / Wikipedia

Tibetan Community UK Statement Concerning The Protests Against The Dalai Lama


Issued by Tibetan Community in Britain on 12 June 2015

  • Since early 2014, a sectarian group, the International Shugden Community (ISC), has been staging aggressive public protests during His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visits to the West. This group is a front organisation of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), a group of religious extremists based in the UK with a known history of antagonism towards the Dalai Lama.[1]
  • His Holiness the Dalai Lama is committed to promoting religious harmony and understanding among the different Buddhist schools, and between the world’s major religious traditions. Given this commitment, His Holiness takes a strong position when it comes to sectarian intolerance.
  • In Tibetan Buddhist history, Dolgyal (Shugden) practice has a long association with extremism and causing sectarian disharmony. As a result, His Holiness has advised his followers of the negative consequences of this divisive practice and has discouraged Dolgyal followers from attending his teachings. He has not ‘banned’ the practice as the demonstrators claim. His Holiness has repeatedly said: “It’s my moral responsibility to tell others what I believe to be beneficial or harmful. In the end, it’s up to each individual to decide whether or not they heed my advice.”[2]

NKT followers are mostly non-Tibetan Westerners in monks’ and nuns’ robes. Increasingly, they have adopted aggressive strategies to undermine the Dalai Lama across the world, in the form of social media campaigns and public demonstrations outside teachings and talks by His Holiness.

In doing so, the International Shugden Community has aligned itself with the Chinese Communist Party authorities in Tibet, which are engaged in a systematic ideological campaign against the exiled Tibetan religious leader; a key element of their policies aimed at undermining Tibetan religion and culture.[3] In Tibet, Dolgyal worship is actively financed and promoted as a means of dividing Tibetans and of undermining the Buddhist religion. Discouraging worship of the spirit is now a criminal offence in Tibet, for which one man was recently imprisoned for 10 years.

Clearly aware that the main allegations of its demonstrators are easily disproven, the ISC has made increasingly outrageous claims against His HolinessISC propaganda for instance, features an offensive depiction of the Dalai Lama as a pig. And appearing to believe it is an insult to characterize someone as a ‘Muslim’, the Dalai Lama is described by the ISC as a ‘Muslim masquerading as a Buddhist’, and, echoing the allegations of the Chinese government in Beijing, is also compared to Hitler.[4]

The Tibetan Community in Britain is deeply distressed by this inflammatory and extremist campaign against His Holiness the Dalai Lama, one of the world’s most respected religious teachers and the beloved leader of the Tibetan people. We condemn the protests and baseless allegations against His Holiness made by Dolgyal Shugden organisations. We would like to take this opportunity to express our deepest respect and confidence in His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his advice on the dangerous nature of the practice of Dolgyal Shugden.

Allegations of the International Shugden Community demonstrators

  • The demonstrators allege that His Holiness has ‘banned’ Dolgyal worship, but have failed to provide any evidence for this ‘ban’ – because it does not exist. Since the Dolgyal devotees do not acknowledge His Holiness the Dalai Lama as an authority, they are free to simply ignore his advice. In reality, devotees continue practicing freely, both privately and in Dolgyal monasteries and temples in India, Nepal and in NKT communities in the West.
  • The majority of monasteries in exile, based on democratic majority decisions and their monastic rules, have decided against this practice. Monks who wish to continue the practice of Dolgyal worship have formed two new monasteries in South India and were provided with land, property and funds by the two parent monasteries. They refused to accept Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala’s monthly allowance for the monks in the Tibetan monasteries.
  • The NKT/ISC alleges His Holiness is “restricting religious freedom”. Historically however, the main function of Dolgyal practice has been to prevent open-minded Buddhists from studying outside their own school’s teachings, in other words, restricting religious freedom.

Geshe Tashi la, Spiritual Director at Jamyang Buddhist Centre advises members of Tibetan Community to show restraint against misguided Shugden followers

Further information and contacts

“Shugden: A History” by the Shugden Research Society, published by Tibet House, New York, US, 2014 [Available via Amazon]

Also see


[1] Over the past few years, the Home Office-funded research group ‘Inform‘, whose task is to provide the UK-Government, NGOs and the public with neutral information on New Religious Movements, has received more queries about the NKT annually than any other organization.

[2] See: His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s advice concerning Dolgyal (Shugden): http://www.dalailama.com/messages/dolgyal-shugden/his-holiness-advice

[3] In 2014 the Chinese government issued a new internal directive, promoting propitiation of the controversial Tibetan Buddhist spirit in a bid to further discredit the Dalai Lama: http://www.savetibet.org/chinas-new-directive-on-controversial-shugden-spirit-in-tibet-in-bid-to-further-discredit-dalai-lama/#sthash.6cNWqTMX.dpuf

[4] Even former members of the organisation, who describe themselves as ‘survivors’, have condemned the ISC demonstrators for making “completely unwarranted allegations and insults” against His Holiness: http://buddhism-controversy-blog.com/2014/09/26/revised-declaration-from-new-kadampa-survivors-concerning-the-demonstrations-against-his-holiness-the-dalai-lama/



Tibetan Community UK is a non-governmental community-based organisation. Its affairs are run by a democratically elected Council Members on pro bono service. The Council Members, who serve a two-year term, organise cultural and socio-political events for members and friends of Tibet. We also work with UK-based Tibet-related organisations as well as Tibetan Communities (currently across 15 countries) in Europe  towards creating a greater awareness of Tibet’s political and human rights situation.

Read more …

www.tibetancommunityuk.net | Statement

New design & new articles about NKT, Hitler’s letters to Reting, Vinaya etc. + Revised articles about the NKT “Kadampas”, Geshe Kelsang & Shugden

Bildschirmfoto 2015-06-09 um 15.57.40

After about 18 months of hard work, with the kind support of friends, I am happy (and somewhat relieved) to announce the revision and redesign of the site http://www.info-buddhism.com.

Key objectives were to create a modern and fresh design, to use more images because visitors complained about the lack of visual stimuli, to make it mobile device able (responsive), to add new articles, to revise existent articles, and to make it social media able – up to now I was not very interested in using social media, but I have had to learn that there is no way to ignore social media if you want to reach people.

Kadampa-Buddhism-Modern-Geshe-la-3bEspecially the revisions of the New Kadampa TraditionGeshe Kelsang Gytaso and the Shugden Controversy article might be worth reading.

Feedback and constructive criticism is welcomed.



Shugden Protests During The Dalai Lama Australia Tour: The Dalai Lama, A Profaning, Nazi-Loving Muslim Dictator?

The final point he makes is that the Dalai Lama is often accused by the pro-Shugden side as suppressing freedom of religion. “This accusation makes no sense,” states Dr Hill. “The Dalai Lama is not head of any state; he has no military or police at his command; he has no political jurisdiction over which he can exercise suppression.” – Prof. Dr. Nathan Hill in The Foreigner

You might have noted that there appeared some questionable press articles during the Australia tour of the 14th Dalai Lama – especially by The Guardian and The Sidney Morning Herald – who gave ISC spokes person Nicholas Pitts / Kelsang Rabten – a platform for his strange allegations without consulting any independent academic expert. In a way, its the naïvety and lack of responsibility and care of these media that give so much space to a controversial fringe group that uses Scientology-tactics to misinform the public, allowing them to abuse their media platform as a means to attack their perceived enemy.

However, if you are interested in a well researched newspaper article about the Anti Dalai Lama protesters and the Shugden controversy, since 2008 it is Foreign Policy which has published the most thoroughly investigated article. How could this happen? Because the journalist did not allow himself to be carried away by time pressure, lack of expertise or sensationalist greed etc. but instead he took time to investigate the topic carefully and in depth. Journalist Isaac Stone Fish spoke with all sides and he relied on an academic expert of contemporary Tibetan politics, Robert Barnett (Columbia University):

It is quite sad to see – once again – that also during the Dalai Lama’s Australia tour most of the media lack time and effort to do their work and that the press team of the Office of H.H. the Dalai Lama appears to be not very effective to get out sober information and to really correct the wrong claims by addressing them directly.

However, here is a funny video comment by the “China Uncensored” YouTube-Channel, that gives the visual summary and an appropriate comment to the ISC claims which scientists called more or less “non-sense” and Foreign Policy called “absurd”:

Update June 12, 2015

ABC News posted two well investigated articles ‘Zealous’ supporters of minority Buddhist sect target Dalai Lama and Explained: Who are the Shugden Buddhists criticising the Dalai Lama? for which they interviewed Dr. David Templeman, a Tibetan history scholar at Monash University’s Asia Institute and Professor John Powers from the Australian National University who corrected the ISC claims and put the whole issue into perspective.

Shugden followers forcefully bang drums – Sidetrack Attack on the Dalai Lama by Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ)

Beat U. Wieser, Basel 8.2.2015, 7 PM

In St. Jacob’s Hall the Dalai Lama gives teachings to his followers, while his opponents demonstrate outside (The image is from an earlier visit to Switzerland, April 16, 2013)

The Buddhist splinter group of Shugden worshippers is currently staging a protest against the Dalai Lama, geared to draw the attention of the media. In Basel, as previously in Washington and next in Copenhagen, they denounce the Tibetan leader as a liar.

Thousands stream into St. Jacob’s Hall in Basel. Neither a television show nor a sports event is drawing the people. It is a nearly eighty year-old Buddhist monk, whose scriptural lectures are as complex as they are dry, that the crowd yearns to follow for hours. Asian and Western faces can be spotted in the fully occupied tiers. Tibetans, however, dominate the picture. The presence of the Dalai Lama, having arrived from Washington and on his way to Copenhagen, works like a magnet.

Controversy about a Patron Protector

Outside the hall, on the other side of the street, a few hundred people, predominantly of Western origin, have positioned themselves. Together with a handful of Tibetans, in the icy cold they chant their slogans, accompanied with rhythmic beats from drums, portraying the Dalai Lama as a liar and dictator. The polished rhetoric of the spokesperson for the media who accompanies the demonstrators cannot hide the fact that here is a fringe group that is blowing itself up out of all proportion to draw the attention of the media. It is not very credible, however, that on the other side of the street thousands of people should be flocking to their dictator or that they themselves are oppressors.

There exist many tensions and rifts within the Tibetan community, as also in any other religious community. The image of harmony within Buddhism and the Tibetan world, which is often cultivated in the West, says more about one’s own longings than about reality. The Shugden movement, which has recently come onto the scene more strongly and virtually latches itself onto the Dalai Lama’s heels in order to slander him at each of his appearances in a way that will draw the attention of the media, is neither new nor deals doctrinally with the central Buddhist teachings. The controversy fanned by it is going off on a minor sidetrack. It is as if, within Christianity, one were to lead a dispute over some patron saint.

At its core, Buddhism is an atheistic religion that does not require a creator god. At its center, stand ethics, concentration, mental stability and wisdom. On the Buddha’s path, people are encouraged to take responsibility for themselves if they want to reach enlightenment. Despite that, veneration of protector spirits such as Dorje Shugden is traditionally a component of Tibetan Buddhism. However, it has no canonical basis and its origins probably lie in a diversity of folk religions.

Tendency toward Sectarianism

At the end of the 1970s, the Dalai Lama, who admits that previously he had also honoured Shugden among others, restricted this cult, which had already been controversial for centuries. He did this because he wanted to prevent believers from starting to strive for their wellbeing through the worship of a protector deity, rather than following the path of the Buddha based on individual responsibility. Moreover, the veneration of Shugden stems from the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, to which the present Dalai Lama belongs. He therefore felt a special duty to intervene based (not only) on the basic principles of Buddhism, but also especially because the Shugden followers set themselves off in contrast to the other three big schools, whereas he, as the pre-eminent Tibetan spiritual leader, emphasizes their common ground. This is also the reason why he sees in the Shugden cult a dangerous tendency toward sectarianism.

This decision was never without controversy among the Tibetans. Even on a political level, there were concerns on the part of the negotiators in the dialogue with the Chinese that the restriction could trigger internal discord that Peking would exploit for its own purposes. And this is in fact what has happened. China promotes Shugden worship in Tibet and asks exiled Tibetans about their stance on Shugden on the application form for an entry visa. Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama has upheld his decision because, in such a question, he did not see himself, as the religious head, to be in a position to let considerations of political tactics direct him.

The restriction on Shugden worship is not absolute, but concerns mainly the sphere of influence of the Tibetan administration in exile. Privately and in separate schools and monasteries Shugden (rituals) can be practiced. However, the Dalai Lama strongly requests that Shugden worshippers not attend his teachings, because then the trusting teacher-disciple relationship necessary in Buddhism could not develop between them.

Nevertheless, the restriction has over and again led to unrest and discord within the Tibetan community. It has also come to slander, threats and attacks. In 1997, three monks were brutally murdered in Dharamsala near the residence of the Dalai Lama. The Indian police declared that Shugden followers had been involved in the bloodshed.

Western Zealots

This internal Tibetan conflict has captured international attention mainly on account of Western Shugden followers and their work with the media. This organisation, which has forcefully banged drums in Basel, calls itself the International Shugden Community (ISC) with its seat in the USA. Despite all attempts at a cover-up, one can detect close connections to the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), a Buddhist organization with over a thousand worldwide offshoots founded in Great Britain by Kelsang Gyatso and focused exclusively on him. The NKT has over and again launched groups and organisations just to conduct protests.

It appears absurd when on one side Western persons equipped with banners, megaphones and grim faces broadcast their message of false Dalai Lama and his lies into the cold winter air, while on the other side of the street thousands of Tibetans stream to His Holiness. It is quite possible that among the followers of the Dalai Lama there may be a few Shugden worshippers. However, most of them will probably practice the cult only in private and, because of that, do not turn away from their spiritualhead. That they are acting in that way simply under great pressure is not obvious in St. Jacob’s Hall, and one would not believe that to be the case despite listening to the smart Shugden spokesman with his cultivated English.


Originally published by Neue Zürcher Zeitung: Shugden-Anhänger rühren in Basel kräftig die Trommel: Angriff auf den Dalai Lama auf einem Nebengeleise.

The 14th Dalai Lama met with the Sarin gas murder Shoko Asahara – Take a Closer Look!

I found out today that Tricycle magazine has kindly put an important and thought provoking interview in that context online. Lawrence Shainberg interviewed academic expert Robert Jay Lifton in From Mysticism to Murder on Aum Shinri Kyo.

Dalai Lama and Shoko Asahara What does this really say, that they met?

Dalai Lama and Shoko Asahara
What does this really say, that they met?

The interview puts the meetings of Shoko Asahara with the Dalai Lama into context. However, the whole interview is worth to be read and to be reflected upon – not just only the passage that deals with the meetings of Shoko Asahara and the Dalai Lama – because it shows the dangers of gradually growing fundamentalism / dogmatism / totalitarism in a group; especially when there is a guru who abuses the guru-teacher relationship in order to gain total control over his devotees.

Read the interview …

A must read in that context is Robert Jay Lifton’s Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism.

See also

Prove it, Kelsang Khyenrab! Prove it!

GUEST POST by Carol McQuire

Kelsang Khyenrab on Korea NKT failure

Prove it, Kelsang Khyenrab, prove it! Prove that all your ‘successes’ are due to Shugden and all your ‘failures’ are due to His Holiness the Dalai Lama! How absurd!

I would argue that this mistaken and completely unprovable ‘thought’ is at the basis of every action you take against His Holiness! It is nothing but an invented ‘value’, a ‘maxim’, the ‘mantra’ you have taken to heart and believe at the core of your being to be true (or else you are truly a hypocrite!). Why do you think this way? I think you have a deep need to preserve your teacher and your ‘tradition’ as ‘perfect’ and ‘unmistaken’. However, as your teacher has given you the impossible ‘agenda’ of creating an New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) centre ‘in every city of the world’ you need to have something else to blame for the problem with this ‘agenda’ other than your teacher and his exaggerated expectations of you as one of his most ‘senior’ teachers.

What is the problem with your ‘agenda’?

I remember when I was an NKT nun and Kelsang Gyatso saying, live, that we should ‘be like Christian monks’ as they were very successful in ‘converting’ the whole world. He set these missionaries up as an example – that NKT monks and nuns should have that same ambition but in the ‘name’ of the Buddhist compassion of the NKT! What was he actually suggesting that you convert people ‘to’? Your ‘compassion’ means that you think people should be coming to your teachings and should pay for your further expansion – more ‘temple’ buying! – whilst your teachers fumble in their training for the impossible – to be ‘Dharma teachers’ in a very short period of time, so that they can go and ‘teach’ in these new temples and centres as soon as possible! There are already too many NKT centres for the number of people you try to train and the pressure to be ‘perfect Dharma teachers’ is too much for so many of these new teachers. Why? Anyone who knows Buddhism knows that becoming a ‘Dharma teacher’ in a few months or even years, is impossible – ‘Dharma’ means the inner realisations that take time to ripen, like the best wines and cheeses – but you are forced to create teachers far too quickly because of your challenging and ultimately absurd ‘agenda’ or ‘missionary cause’ of NKT expansion.

Instead of harassing His Holiness and those who respect him, why don’t you examine the basic premises of your ‘agenda’ to convert us all to the NKT world? (If we have the ‘good karma’ to be converted!) It is your basic expansionist ‘agenda’ that is at fault, and the demands this makes on you, not His Holiness the Dalai Lama. And where does this kind of ‘agenda’ come from? Not just from ‘your teacher’! His Holiness has pointed this out when addressing the issues surrounding Shugden – the ‘fault’ of Shugden lies in the ability that Shugden has to create ‘sectarian’ agendas. The Shugden ‘agenda’ is very similar to the missionary ‘agenda’. (Is Shugden to Tibetan Buddhism what Jehovah’s Witnesses are compared with, say, the Church of England?) Shugden is what your teacher loves and your teacher is the one making you travel so much, ‘expounding’ your NKT Dharma in every country you can, trying to convince others that your way – the ‘Modern Buddhist’ way – is the very best Buddhism. You are jealous of the Tibetan world – otherwise why take Tibetan teachings and make them into your own ‘Modern Buddhist’ teachings forgetting to credit the great Masters whose works – transmissions, commentaries and retreat manuals – your teacher has used as his own?

I think you are forgetting something, Kelsang Khyenrab … You are getting older; your bones will start to crave rest, your speed will diminish, you will become more forgetful of what you wish to ‘teach’ and your eyes are already weakening. This is not a curse, it is old age and it is in your NKT books too. What will you do when you can no longer ‘follow the agenda’ of your teacher? What will you do when you can no longer blame His Holiness for your problems? What are you doing now, in your heart of hearts, when you blame His Holiness the Dalai Lama for what I am sure you know is nothing to do with him at all – the failures of your own intensely unrealistic ‘agenda’?

NOTE: His Holiness the Dalai Lama does not even teach in Korea for political reasons. I wonder how he can be so immensely powerful and your teacher so weak in comparison? Is that the basic problem? You wish to compensate for your own teacher’s lack of ‘greatness’ by making a big fuss? Perhaps in Korea, a land with a long and rich history of home-grown Buddhism, the ‘Modern Buddhist’ packaging of NKT just isn’t appealing…

It’s time to stop blaming His Holiness the Dalai Lama for your own very real problems. If you hadn’t been asked to go to Korea in the first place, you wouldn’t have any ‘failures’ to blame on Him. It’s time to blame ‘Shugden’s agenda’ instead. And why, oh why, should everything you do be regarded as ‘perfect’? I have heard that this is one of Shugden’s problems too.



Originally posted: PROVE IT, KELSANG KHYENRAB!

Religious Trauma Syndrome – Leaving a Religious Extremist or Fundamentalist Group

Yesterday I met a friend I have not seen since 20 years. He was quite amazed to hear that on my encounter with Buddhism I got sucked into Buddhist cults (NKT, GTC). He wondered because I was quite of a rebellious person in the past, nobody whom you expect to end up in a cult. He wondered even more how I was able to get out of the cults. Talking about these issues with him – which are quite far away for me nowadays – I realised (again) that it is really very hard to leave a cult and even harder to recover and to settle in life again. It is even more difficult to continue to pursue a (genuine) spiritual / religious path …


In my own case I needed four years of hard work on myself to recover and I was extremely fortunate to have had excellent support, among others from Alex Berzin. I had the fortune to meet and to receive different levels of help from incredible good, kind, wise and compassionate Buddhist teachers. A key factor in the healing process was also that I lived in those years in a community of ex-members and that we were gradually able to talk more and more openly about our experiences, sharing and exchanging our stories, thoughts and observations. We helped each other on all levels: the financial, emotional and spiritual level.

According to my own experiences, people who never followed a cult cannot really (or at least not fully) understand an ex-cult member, and in most of the cases they will rather have a problem to be compassionate towards an ex-cult member.

Except for the genuine Tibetan lamas I met – who didn’t have any understanding of cults but who showed tremendous compassion and kindness – only four Westerners were able to relate to me in a compassionate and open way, without being blocked by feelings of fear, superiority (looking down on me) or insecurity.

With the wisdom of hindsight I can say, that I suffered clearly from a Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and an endless stream of thoughts that deluded my mind to connect with reality. I remember a scenery in Berlin were I waited for a train (S-Bahn) and gazed on a big, yellow poster at that train station. The poster consisted mainly of the color yellow not much more. While looking on it, I literally saw that there is this endless stream of thoughts in my mind that is the result of the indoctrination and mental manipulation of my cult life. I cultivated this endless stream of thoughts, doubts, feelings of guilt, fear, insecurity, lack of self-esteem in the cults and these thoughts literally hindered me to connect with reality. They kept me captured in an inner world, with no ability to connect in a healthy way to myself and the outer world.

The harm the indoctrination of cults – no matter if Buddhist, secular, Christian, Islamic, Jewish etc. – can do to you, is quite difficult to understand.

There is now a new book – related to fundamentalist approaches in Christianity – that might also help ex-members of Buddhist cults to understand their own situation and their own experiences better. I would like to suggest to have a look on it.

Don’t underestimate that to heal from a fundamentalist group – such as the New Kadampa Tradition/Kadampa Buddhism (NKT) – will take a very long time. According to my experience, observation and talks with ex-NKT you can expect that the healing process for fully committed members of the NKT takes at least as long as your commitment to the NKT. Only if you have excellent conditions for recovery it might be slightly shorter.

Don’t underestimate this process and the time it needs.

However, if you were not fully committed to the cult, if you were not a member of the ‘inner circle’, if you only occasionally participated in the courses or teachings, things are far easier and not that complicated. So the level of damage and the time you need to heal depend also very much on the level of your involvement.


A series of three articles by Dr Marlene Winell

leavingthefoldcover200Marlene Winell is the author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion, published by Aprocryphile Press. The book and analysis of religious trauma is mainly based on a fundamentalist Christian background, however, I think also Buddhists who were damaged by Buddhist extremist groups might benefit from it by gaining a better understanding of their own situation.

There are three articles online by Winell:

You can also hear and watch Dr Winell on YouTube:

Here some quotes from those online articles I can really relate to – and maybe you can too.

… religious indoctrination can be hugely damaging, and making the break from an authoritarian kind of religion can definitely be traumatic. It involves a complete upheaval of a person’s construction of reality, including the self, other people, life, the future, everything. People unfamiliar with it, including therapists, have trouble appreciating the sheer terror it can create and the recovery needed.

In my view, it is time for the mental health community to recognize the real trauma that religion can cause. Just like clearly naming problems like anorexia, PTSD, or bipolar disorder made it possible to stop self-blame and move ahead with treatment, we need to address Religious Trauma Syndrome.

At present, raising questions about toxic beliefs and abusive practices in religion seems to be violating a taboo. In society, we treasure our freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion. Our laws and mores reflect the general principle that if we are not harming others, we can do as we like. Forcing children to go to church hardly seems like a crime. Real damage is assumed to be done by extreme fringe groups we call “cults” and people have heard of ritual abuse. Moreover, religious institutions have a vested interest in promoting an uncritical view.

But mind-control and emotional abuse is actually the norm for many large, authoritarian, mainline religious groups. The sanitization of religion makes it all the more insidious. When the communities are so large and the practices normalized, victims are silenced.

Another obstacle in treatment is that most people with RTS have been taught to fear psychology as something worldly and therefore evil. It is very likely that only a fraction of sufferers are even seeking help. Within many dogmatic, self-contained religions, mental health problems such as depression or anxiety are considered sins. … Doubt is considered wrong, not honest inquiry. Moreover, therapy is a selfish indulgence. Focusing on one’s own needs is always sinful in this religious view, so RTS victims are often not even clear how to do it. The clients I have worked with have had to overcome ignorance, guilt, and fear to make initial contact.

The kind of religion that causes damage is that which requires rigid conformity in order to survive in the group or have hope for the afterlife. Such a fundamentalist religion has a closed system of logic and a strong social structure to support an authoritarian worldview. It can be a comfortable environment as long as a member does not question. Children learn very early to repress independent thinking and not to trust their own feelings. For truth, believers rely on external authority – Scripture and religious leaders. With the consequences of disbelief so severe, leaders are able to demand acceptance of farfetched claims at the expense of personal observation or scientific evidence. The culture rewards individuals who contribute in religious ways. Proselytizing is generally expected, even for children. Obedience is the highest value and personal development truncated.

Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) is a function of both the chronic abuses of harmful religion and the impact of severing one’s connection with one’s faith and faith community. It can be compared to a combination of PTSD and Complex PTSD (C-PTSD). …

With PTSD, a traumatic event is one in which a person experiences or witnesses actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others. Losing one’s faith, or leaving one’s religion, is an analogous event because it essentially means the death of one’s previous life – the end of reality as it was understood. It is a huge shock to the system, and one that needs to be recognized as trauma.

What it means to leave

Breaking out of a restrictive, mind-controlling religion is understandably a liberating experience. People report huge relief and some excitement about their new possibilities. Certain problems are over, such as trying to twist one’s thinking to believe irrational religious doctrines, handling enormous cognitive dissonance in order to get by in the ‘real world’ as well, and conforming to repressive codes of behavior. Finally leaving a restrictive religion can be a major personal accomplishment after trying to make it work and going through many cycles of guilt and confusion.

However, the challenges of leaving are daunting. For most people, the religious environment was a one-stop-shop for meeting all their major needs – social support, a coherent worldview, meaning and direction in life, structured activities, and emotional/spiritual satisfaction. Leaving the fold means multiple losses, including the loss of friends and family support at a crucial time of personal transition. Consequently, it is a very lonely ‘stressful life event’ – more so than others described on Axis IV in the DSM. For some people, depending on their personality and the details of their religious past, it may be possible to simply stop participating in religious services and activities and move on with life. But for many, leaving their religion means debilitating anxiety, depression, grief, and anger.

Usually people begin with intellectually letting go of their religious beliefs and then struggle with the emotional aspects. The cognitive part is difficult enough and often requires a period of study and struggle before giving up one’s familiar and perhaps cherished worldview. But the emotional letting go is much more difficult since the beliefs are bound with deep-seated needs and fears, and usually inculcated at a young age.

Problems with self-worth and fear of terrible punishment continue. Virtually all controlling religions teach fear about the evil in ‘the world’ and the danger of being alone without the group. Ordinary setbacks can cause panic attacks, especially when one feels like a small child in a very foreign world. Coming out of a sheltered, repressed environment can result in a lack of coping skills and personal maturity. The phobia indoctrination makes it difficult to avoid the stabbing thought, even many years after leaving, that one has made a terrible mistake, thinking ‘what if they’re right?’

See also

Questions & Answers or reporting about New Religious Movements or “Cults”

Why ‘Kadampa Buddhism’ (NKT) has all the characteristics of a cult

Here is something I wrote several years ago about what makes the NKT a cult. Since I don’t debate the cult much these days I thought I would share it again. Please overlook any grammar mistakes I may have made. Grammar was always my worst subject in school. – David Cutshaw

The leader is always right

It’s blasphemy to question Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (GKG). He knows all, and sees all. The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) teaches he is a Buddha, the one and only one living today. Not many people will go against the wishes of a Buddha, so when people are told Geshe-la says: it’s best not to mix with other traditions, or read books with other teachers, most in the NKT do as they’re told. The NKT makes GKG out to be god like. Even making such statements that he visits each NKT center several times a day. I was told he doesn’t even need to fly on planes to get to empowerments. He can just magically appear. I was also taught if I place all my faith in Geshe-la I would not only have a fortunate rebirth so would my family. The NKT uses the mystical Geshe-la to have complete control of it’s practitioners. Some who have dared to question his authority have been banned from their center. I for one had deep guilt when I saw faults in Geshe-la. I just knew I would go to hell for it.

No questioning

As stated above people who have dared to question GKG have been banned from their center. Not just GKG but also their resident teacher. A lot of which where committing sexual misconduct, but those who so dared to report their teacher where more than likely the ones who got into trouble. They where often told not to tell anyone or they may lose faith. But more often then not they where told something along the lines that they are the ones with the problems. You see GKG chose those teachers to teach on his behalf. He is a Buddha, so he knows what’s best and has no faults. If you see faults in your resident teacher, you are seeing faults in a Buddha. In other words all the blame should be placed on the one seeing faults. Not the one screwing everything he can get his hands on. It’s not wise to ask questions in the NKT. Like for instance saying you disagree with something GKG has said. Or making a remark you don’t like how your center is operated. You’d most likely get a reply that Geshe-la has made the rules, and he knows what’s best.

The whole world is against us

The whole world is against the NKT. I was pretty much lead to believe I’m a Jew, and HH the Dalai Lama is Hitler. The NKT teaches they have Pure Dharma, but to make matters worse there are people who are trying to destroy it. Namely the Dalai Lama and the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT). I was lead to believe that HH the Dalai Lama had the power to ban Buddha’s and even enter peoples centers and remove Dolgyal statues. I was taught that the FPMT was trying their best to destroy the NKT, and will even take it over after the death of GKG. All of this left me paranoid, and I felt it was my duty to protect the NKT’s pure Dharma at all cost. I debated against HH the Dalai Lama and of course I made a lot of donations to the NKT to protect it from the people who are trying to destroy it.

No one else is right

I was taught only the NKT has pure Dharma. I was taught only the path set forth by GKG lead to enlightenment. All other Buddhist traditions where corrupt, especially Tibetan traditions who are corrupted with Tibetan politics.

Financial Exploitation

Since people are trying to destroy the NKT’s pure Dharma, there’s no better cause then donating to it, and it’s growth. The NKT gives to no other charity then the International Temples Project. I was asked all the time to make a donation with a promise if I did I would always have Dharma not only in this life, but all my future lifes to come. Just touching a NKT built Buddhist temple would lead to a higher rebirth so my teacher claimed. I donated all that I could. I also paid my centers rent in the summer time while my teacher was away doing TTP. I felt honored to do it. I was after all giving the gift of pure Dharma to all living beings. I was even asked to take out a loan and donate the money to my center. Thankfully I never did that. One person at my center was not so fortunate. She gave my center a credit card under her name. After my center folded she was left with thousands of dollars to pay out of her pocket. Other people have given their life savings, and even their homes to the NKT. They more than likely did so believing in the NKT cause. Which is to give and protect pure Dharma.

Using fear and intimidation

If you question GKG you will burn aeons in hell. If you see faults in GKG, the NKT, your resident teacher, etc you have an impure mind, which can only lead to the lower realms. If you say anything bad against the NKT you will be taken to court. If you stray from the path GKG has set forth for you, you’ll also burn in hell for that. No wonder those of us who get the courage to leave have a lot of fear at first. We’re even afraid to tell people what our experience was like practicing with the cult, because if we did the NKT and it lawyers would sue us. The NKT installs fear into it’s practitioners. It works very well I might add.


All of the above will do just that. I was so brainwashed I needed my teachers permission to vote. I did what was expected of me, as the brainwashed Kadampa that I was. I believed the world was out to destroy the NKT with a passion. To the point I used to pray to Dolgyal to protect the NKT from the mean ol’ Dalai Lama. I was so brainwashed I felt the NKT was the only family I needed. As a result I neglected my family and friends.

All of this and more is what makes the NKT harmful.

Originally posted: https://www.facebook.com/groups/talkaboutshugden/697555483689267/



David Cutshaw founded the New Kadampa Survivors.

See also

BBC: An Unholy Row

Why do Buddhists – especially but not exclusively ‘Kadampa Buddhists’ – fear enlightenment?

Recently a monastic elder from Switzerland pointed out an article from the New York Times that was reprinted in an Indian newspaper, the Deccan Herald. Omri Boehm, an Israeli, criticizes in The German silence on Israel and its cost, the silence of German’s public intellectuals (Habermas, Grass) with respect to Israel’s wrongdoings. Boehm calls for “rational, ethical voices”, “not silence are needed”.

I found the whole article very inspiring and to the point. Most of the well thought out arguments have a great meaning in other context, like Buddhism, and for a 21st century Buddhist too. For instance the silence of Buddhists within and outside the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) with respect to the wrong doings and damage the NKT leadership and the whole organization are creating for many individuals and Buddhism at large, or the case of Sogyal Rinpoche etc.

However, in this post I will mainly focus on the NKT.

What is enlightenment?

The enlightenment Boehm is referring to, is not one of the three types of Buddhist enlightenment (or awakenings) but the European enlightenment (in German: Aufklärung). Boehm about Immanuel Kant’s concept of enlightenment:

In his well-known essay from 1784 — “What Is Enlightenment?” — Kant defines enlightenment as “man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity,” a process of growing up that consists in finding the “courage” to think for oneself. That does not mean, however, to think by oneself, or alone. On the contrary, Kant insists that using one’s “own understanding” is possible only through a “public use of one’s reason,” in at least two interrelated ways.

First, in order to think for oneself one must strive to transcend the perspective of one’s private commitments — personal, historical, professional, civic — and attempt to judge from the cosmopolitan “standpoint of everybody else.” Second, and closely related, is the idea that thinking for oneself is possible only by thinking aloud. We would not be able to think very “much” or all too “correctly,” Kant writes, if we would not think together “with others with whom we communicate.” Transcending our private perspective thus depends on submitting our opinions to the judgment of the “entire reading public” — striving to reach, through public debate, an agreement of “universal human reason in which each has his own say.”

How to engage Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s students in rational discussion?

For 15 years I have had discussions with NKT followers, read their comments, answered to them. NKT followers have been given from the outset space here on the blog to express their views openly and to engage in discussion or dialogue. I read their and Kelsang Gyatso’s views on google groups, in Buddhist and non-Buddhist forums, newspaper comment sections etc. and I recognized the effectless trials of other Buddhists (mostly Ex-NKT) to reach out to NKT followers with reasonable arguments. Engaging with NKT followers in discussion is and was in 99,9% of the cases a discussion or a dialogue with a deaf.

Since I was myself an NKT follower and became over time within the NKT immature and stopped my process of growing up, replacing critical thinking and analysis with the repetition of arguments that were parts of the group propaganda and most often totally untrue or a spin of the facts, I understand very well how NKT followers feel and think.

Rarely has anybody from the NKT managed to have any reasonable public discussion – except “seeking clarity” on Tricycle blog [He was the most open guy I witnessed in public discussions. After his open research he left the NKT.] or a bit Kadam Ryan here on the blog. However, at the end Kadam Ryab asked me to delete all of his contributions basing his wish on what I see as ‘irrational fears’ like fear of “splitting the Sangha” etc. (I promised to fulfill his wish and will do this in the next week, [hopefully!].) So one of the rare NKT persons, Kadam Ryan, who opened up a bit, and who was brave enough to be faced with corrections (and also some hostility), who finally had eve to agree with some of the corrections, retreated into silence. The other NKT person, “seeking clarity” on Tricycle blog, left the NKT altogether. Kadam Ryan asked for the future not to be involved in any public discussions and he decided to ignore the misbehavior of the Anti-Dalai Lama activists from his own organization and what the leadership of the NKT has to do with this. Why? My thesis is, because Kadam Ryan as well as the vast majority of NKT followers fear enlightenment. 

I think, NKT followers deeply fear to think for themselves, to come to another view than the NKT leadership, especially Kelsang Gyatso. Having another view than the omniscient Keslang Gyatso is feared to “doubt going into the wrong direction”, which hinders your to attain enlightenment.

I think, NKT followers deeply fear to find out that Kelsang Gyatso, the NKT and they themselves might have fundamentally erred. They fear the consequences of their possible new findings. Findings that might contradict what they have learned until now and believed to be true. Therefore, it is by far easier to withdraw from open, honest public discussion and to avoid to get aware of the own and the NKT leadership’s errors. An awareness, based on a valid perception, that would enable to address and to correct these faults and to finally overcome them is the most dangerous thing for an NKT follower.

A former NKT follower has summarized these fears as “terrors”:

1. The terror of uncertainty and ‘not knowing’

2. The terror of having made a dreadful mistake in ‘trusting’ the NKT blindly

3. The terror of having to work it out for oneself when one’s intuition has been on hold, perhaps for decades

4. The terror of breaking ‘vows and commitments’ to the NKT

5. The terror of ‘losing face’ 

6. The terror of ‘starting again’

7. The terror of losing all those years for nothing

There is much to keep people ‘in’ the NKT and not much to entice them out. Except exhaustion or ethics. 

During the process of their involvement with the NKT those following the NKT will gradually, unaware of that process, block all their critical analytical faculties. Open analysis and critical thinking will be replaced by Dharma phrases, what “Geshe la says”, simple slogans, narrow-minded concepts, simplified Buddhist teachings, faulty propaganda etc. There is not any chance within the system of the NKT to question these claims, concepts, superficial Buddhist teachings that have a strong tendency to Nihilism and growth-hindering simplifications because the NKT is a totally closed and self-referential system where “purity” and salvation can be found only within the very organization and its enlightened and sole leader + his books, Kelsang Gyatso. Only by adhering 100%ly “purely” to the material of NKT, enlightenment can be attained. Outside of NKT there are evil forces of a “degenerated Tibetan Buddhism”, with the “the worst dictator of the Modern world” (the “false Dalai Lama”) etc. or just impure Dharma or Dharma that in no way should be “mixed” with the “pure Dharma” of the NKT.

Discussions within the NKT study programs aim solely to ‘help’ ‘Kadampa Buddhists’ to adopt exactly the same view on NKT, Kelsang Gyatso, his Dharma presentation and the outside world as Kelsang Gyatso has expressed them. Discussions within the NKT study program don’t aim to help the student to form an own, mature, critical, differentiated understanding of Buddhism, the Dharma or the NKT and its leader but to form a homogeneous view that is totally, 100%ly, in line with the views of NKT’s enlightened leader, the third Buddha, Kelsang Gyatso. That’s why NKT followers act and discuss like parrots in public discussions. They see themselves as “vessels” through which “Geshe-la speaks”. It is a successful institutionalised process within the NKT that eradicates any individuality and independent thinking for the sake of forming an homogeneous body of followers that expresses at all times and at all places what “Geshe la said”, an organisation in which every individual can be replaced at any time by any body else.

People like me, who come from a Communist dictatorship or Russians who followed the NKT, have it easier to identify the whole setting of the NKT as a dictatorship setting with all its mechanism you commonly find in dictatorships. In a way the NKT seems to be more successful than dictatorships to manipulate their followers because you will always find dissidents in dictatorships but where are the dissidents in the NKT? There seem to be none at all. What a dream for any dictator!

In such a setting as that of NKT you will become mentally like a child, you will become immature, there is no true growth possible. Why? Because growth and maturity need critical thinking, critical analysis, vast knowledge and understanding, the ability to look at yourself and your own environment with an open and clear but critical and differentiated attitude. As a genuine spiritual seeker you must have the wish and bravery to question everything for the sake to find truth based in facts. Just as the Buddha did it. (He learned from his teachers but when they erred or couldn’t further help him, he left them.)

Buddhism stresses to find faults in yourself and not primarily in others. This is only possible by getting aware and by discussing your own faults (including the context in which you live and work), by openly investigating them, by admitting them (if they are really there), by exposing them and not by ignoring them. An open spiritual seeker will be grateful about reasonable criticism (advanced practitioners will be able embrace also unreasonable criticism as a tool to improve their patience.) But in the NKT all energy is used to brush errors and facts that contradict the NKT world view under the carpet and to blame instead others, attacking them, and to defend the own “purity” by all means, portraying oneself as the poor victim of outer hostile forces.

What I read and heard from the NKT founder & leader Kelsang Gyatso were always things like these:
“I have not done anything wrong!”, “You my students have not done anything wrong”, “These are wrong accusations against the innocent” (you could find this sentence for years on the NKT main site*), “I promise that I and NKT have never acted inappropriately” etc.. While claiming his own purity and infallibility Kelsang Gyatso points out only others as the sole culprit of unwelcomed or painful  developments – be it a certain NKT resident teacher or the Dalai Lama. While bathing himself in innocence he puts the blame on others. It was this amazing lack of Buddhist thinking and Buddhist practice by Kelsang Gyatso personally – his total unawareness that things arise in dependence of many causes and conditions and that oneself might have contributed to the effects one does not like – which led to my “emergence from self-incurred immaturity”, when I had the good luck to witness directly in around June 2000 in Berlin at NKT’s Dipankara Centre.

If you read all those comments by NKT followers in the internet and if you see how much they missed (e.g. see comment section of the Open Letter to Followers of the New Kadampa Tradition by Gavin Kilty) or regretted (e.g. Kadam Ryan here on the blog) to have engaged in public discussion, you will easily detect that uninformed people who have no clue whatsoever about Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism and the history of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism or the history and practice of Shugden in Tibet and the Dalai Lamas – including the vast and profound qualities of the current Dalai Lama – repeat like parrots the faulty propaganda or empty Dharma phrases that the NKT / Kelsang Gyatso / Kadam Neil Elliot have skillfully and gradually instilled in them.

At the end the blind want to “educate” the world to “understand the deceptive nature” of the Dalai Lama, who is – according to the blind – “destroying pure Buddhism in this world”. Ignorant people who missed to educate themselves first before they try to educate others – including better informed people – want to educate the world! Wow! Buddhists who have become so blind and so deluded that they cannot see that most of these (baseless) accusations they throw against their opponents are all projections that just reflect the situation within their own organization with its autocrat leader.

Isn’t it deeply sad when a man, who practices ‘Kadampa Buddhism’ since about 35 years, who was appointed as the successor of Kelsang Gyatso to uphold his lineage, Gen Kelsang Khyenrab (Steve Booth), thinks and behaves like an ignorant child, when he writes in the comment section of  an all in all factual rather correct article by Newsweek Relentless: The Dalai Lama’s Heart of Steel:

Another thorough whitewash of the mafia-style false Dalai Lama and demonization of sincere Shugden Buddhists. This article is just propaganda not worth serious reading.

Gen Kelsang Khyenrab (Steve Booth)

left: Gen Kelsang Khyenrab (Steve Booth)

I am younger than Khyenrab and I would be happy to respect him as an elder Buddhist from whom I can learn. But his comment is just so childish and totally ignorant of the facts, hostile to others (“mafia-style false”) and self-praising (“sincere”) that it makes me really sad to see what the NKT made out of a man who once might have started as a sincerely seeker of a genuine spiritual path.

What are the forces in the NKT and in Khyenrab himself that make an adult, a practicing Buddhist for about 35 years, who should be wiser or more mature now, behaving more stupid than an uneducated child?

If you 1) read all of those internet comments by NKT followers or Kelsang Gyatso’s statements on Google Groups or his Open Letters, 2) if you have sober knowledge about Tibetan Buddhism, Tibet, its history etc., 3) if you can think for yourself, and) if you really openly look into this case, you will realize that the elders in the NKT (as well as newbees who swallowed the NKT agit prop) have attained a realization within the NKT setting that is the opposite of Kant’s enlightenment:

  • a self-incurred immaturity
  • a state that is the opposite of growing
  • a thorough lack of finding the “courage” to think for oneself
  • an inability to engage in any meaningful discussion of one’s “own understanding” through a “public use of one’s reason”
  • a total lack of the ability to transcendent the perspective of their private commitments — personal, historical, professional, civic — and attempting to judge from the cosmopolitan “standpoint of everybody else.” (For instance, they have never ever tried to understand [or even to note] why Shugden practice is feared by Kagyupas, Nyingmapas, and even Sakyapas; why it harms the unity of the Tibetans in exile, the life of the Dalai Lama. Instead they wrongly claim there would have been never ever any problems between Nyingmapas and Gelugpas, “Shugden loves Nyingmapas, Dalai Lama please don’t lie!” etc. Why do they expound such untruths? Because this is what Kelsang Gyatso wrongly proclaimed to them or in interviews, and because “he is enlightened” “it must be true”.)

Among the many other distorted attainments people have gained within NKT are misconceptions about monastic vows and life or what even simple things like lying actual is. To call another person who points out facts that can be found in any sober academic research a liar – because the NKT holds another (historical distorted) view on it – reveals that NKT followers do not even have a correct understanding of basic Buddhist ethics because another opinion is no lie, even when the opinion is considered to be wrong.

However, this is only a secondary thought …

My thesis and concluding thoughts

As long as NKT followers or ‘Kadampa Buddhists’ – and we Buddhists in general! – do not even attain a fraction of the enlightenment as defined by Kant, we can forget about Buddhist enlightenment because Buddhist enlightenment includes to see the facts as they are and not to turn the facts upside down. To see the facts as they are is the very basis for being able to eradicate the own wrong views that block one’s spiritual growth and that block the increase of one’s understanding, wisdom and compassion and the ability to relate to oneself, others and the world in a healthy, fact-based and constructive way.

Further, IMO, genuine spirituality is based on honesty, openness, introspection, spiritual integrity, and the constant questioning of the own believes and understandings until one sees the things as they are. At least one should get closer to reality and not further away from it …

You can be a Buddhist without having any sense of spirituality or spiritual integrity at all. Maybe it would be good to avoid that because it is of no use, except to please and to decorate the samsaric ego by attaching a new nicely shining label on it: “I am a (purely practicing) Buddhist, please adore me!”


* Scroll down the site image at web.archive.org there you can find:

New Kadampa Truth
Now is the time to dispel false accusations against the innocent

See also

A Tibetan Translator’s Testimony by Tenzing Wangdak – Part 2

The Ticking Bomb That Took 23 Years to Explode. Part Two

This present writing is a sequel to my previous Tibetan Translator’s Testimony.

By Tenzing Wangdak

It was in April 1991, thoughts on recent unpleasant episode were still lingering in my mind. We were driving from Seville to Cordoba by car and I could see miles and miles of sunflower fields out of the window touching the horizon. Suddenly I felt myself gripped by a strong emotion of seeing how small and insignificant I was before the universe. Momentarily I was lost in thought, and recovering, I saw tears rolling down my cheek. I wiped them off with the back of my right hand, with a wry smile on my face. Such a feeling lifted a very heavy weight off my mind. Then I felt very happy. After the summer of the same year, I left the centre definitely.

GesheKelsangGyatsoA very important question arises, why is Geshe Kelsang Gyatso so determined to fight tooth and nail on Shugden issue? To answer this question, I have to go back to the mid July 1989. Myself and Geshe Tamding Gyatso rode from Manjushri Institute, Cumbria, England, to a small retreat centre called Tharpaland in Scotland where Geshe Kelsang Gyatso was doing retreat along with some of his students. We spent one weekend over there. During one of the conversations between the two geshes, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso said that his teacher Trijang Rinpoche instructed him to carry on Dorjee Shugden practice. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso said and, I quote; “Kyabje Triyang Rimpoche was very ill. When I saw him in poor health, I felt very sad. I implored him to extend his life and live longer for the sake of Dharma and the well-being of living beings. I prostrated before him, and then performed a long-life prayer repeatedly. After the prayer, Kyabje Trijang Dorjeechang told me, “Be cautious. Now, Shugden practice is declining”.” Well, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso took this statement as if he were given the responsibility of upholding and reviving it.

Another time, Geshe Tamding Gyatso was speaking with him and at one stage of their conversation he praised Geshe Kelsang Gyatso for his invaluable work for the Dharma, publishing the books entitled “Clear Light of Bliss” and “Meaningful to Behold”. Geshe Tamding Gyatso told him that some of his students in Spain appreciated them. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso responded, “Thanks to the Buddhist books composed by the previous Tibetan masters like Panchen Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen, Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen, Ngulchu Dharmabhadra, etc. They made my work simple. Without their help, it would be an uphill task to give teaching on these two texts. The credit goes to them.” He was right. I saw most of the Tibetan lamas using commentaries written by highly accomplished teachers of the past as a reference to teach Buddhism to their students in the west.

I talked with Geshe Tamding Gyatso many times over the importance of a dharma protector in Buddhist practice. Once we were talking on Dorjee Shugden, I asked him whether or not Dorjee Shugden was a worldly deity. He replied very clearly that Dorjee Shugden was a worldly deity; Kyabje Triyang Rinpoche said that he was a worldly deity. Geshela was thoughtful for a while and continued, “Had H. H. the Dalai Lama advised us not to propitiate Dorjee Shugden in the early 1960s, I wouldn’t have received the Life Entrustment Empowerment. In the early 60s at Buxa Refugee Camp, Assam, Kyabje Triyang Rinpoche and Kyabje Song Rinpoche were the most famous known lamas of the time, and most of the monks received teachings and tantric initiations from them. I was amongst them.” Fortunately, Geshe Tamding Gyatso stopped the Shugden practice in the 90s.

In the summer of 1989, we were invited to give teachings in the Buddhist Centres in England, which were under the direction of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. I still remember vividly one incident at Madhyamaka Centre, Yorkshire. It was in August, 1989. One day I attended for the long life prayers of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and I was sitting next to Geshe Tamding Gyatso in the front row. Neil Eliot, the spiritual director of the centre, was sitting on the opposite side, first in the front row. As soon as we finished the long life prayer, a small book was distributed. I opened it and saw the picture of Dorjee Shugden. I turned the pages, and then put the book upside down on my desk. After that, I looked at Neil Eliot and he was smiling at me. I smiled him back. Well, he realized I was not going to do this practice. Neil Eliot was considered quite a charismatic personality. He resembled Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo with his bulky physique and bald head. He was regarded as the worthy successor to Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. I remembered him calling himself Thubten Gyatso, and he was quite proud of his Tibetan name. In fact, it was also the name of the 13th Dalai Lama. During my 8-day stay at the centre, even I got along very well with him.

I came to realize later that Geshe Kelsang Gyatso expelled him from Madyamaka Centre due to the unfortunate incident of his sexual life in the centre. His life as a Buddhist monk ended rather in an inglorious way. He has already changed his name from Thubten Gyatso to Kadam Neil Eliot. Perhaps, this gives him a new lease of life. Nowadays, from the sources of the New Kadampa survivors, he is one of those who mastermind behind closed door to mobilize protest against H.H. the Dalai Lama in the streets of Europe and USA. Nevertheless, he does it at the behest of Kelsang Gyatso. I thought that he lost the opportunity to be Kelsang Gyatso’s successor. Now it seems that he enjoys absolute power in the NKT community.

Shugden worshippers practice their protector freely whenever and wherever they like. Nobody has imposed any restriction on their religious freedom. Nonetheless, they have no right to encroach on the rights of other people. His Holiness has said over and over again that they are free to do their own practice of Shugden, but with the condition that they are advised not to attend his teachings. How foolhardy they are! Despite having full religious freedom, they still believe it has been cut. Consequently, they have protested against the Dalai Lama in the streets of big cities in Europe and USA, demanding a religious freedom that they already have. They have gone too far and made this situation intolerable for Tibetan people. Going against something obvious is a clear indication of mental disorder.

Recently I found the infamous Yellow Book by Zemey Rinpoche on the internet, only the relevant parts of it. It recounts the stories of prominent Geluk teachers and government officials who became the victims of Shugden for having gone astray from the path of Gelukpa tradition. It was appalling. According to Yellow Book, their lives revolved around Shugden. One powerful Spirit played the decisive role to dictate the fates of those unfortunate victims. The fact remains that the book is based on wild assumptions rather than logic. Such assumption is open to discussion. How true is it? There was no evidence to prove the veracity of these claims. Now, let me believe that it is true for a while, then, how is it possible that a religion with non-violence as its foundation act violently? Is this the way to instil fear in the hearts of fellow Gelukpa practitioners? Is this the way to leave fellow dharma practitioners out in the cold? Are they deliberately wreaking havoc in Gelukpa Society? Has Lord Buddha taught them to kill fellow dharma practitioners? I have come to the conclusion and will say that they messed up Tibetan Buddhism in the 20th century.

This kind of belief is deeply imbedded in a strict religious orthodoxy. We must take into consideration other important factors that could be the causes of their untimely death. In the first half of the 20th century, the life expectancy of Tibetan people was very low. Untimely death was a commonplace. The causes of the death could be poor nutrition, harsh climate, lack of hygiene, lack of medical facilities and improper diet.

There is a general saying among the Tibetan Buddhists that having taken the Life Entrustment Empowerment of Shugden, you are left with no choice but to practice it compulsorily everyday in your lifetime. Failing to comply with it would result in severe punishment. Wow! Divine Wrath in Buddhism! This sounds very similar to the Christian concept of making “pact with the devil” in which, you ask his favour of wealth, fame and power, and in return, you are obliged to sell your soul to him.

Kyabje Pabongka was mainly responsible for the revival and spread of Shugden practice. The 13th Dalai Lama admonished him for the spread of Shugden practice even in the Drepung monastery, which had no connection whatsoever with the spirit until then. Consequently, Pabongka promised the Dalai Lama through a letter that he would abandon it immediately and never perform it in the future. Shortly after the death of H. H the 13th Dalai Lama, not only did he renew his Shugden practice but also spread it far and wide in Tibet. He brazenly broke his solemn promise. Now it could be a sheer coincidence that, he did it at the time when the whole world was passing through one of the darkest periods in human history. The world was in turmoil – the Sino-Japanese war was in full swing, the dark cloud of the Second World War was looming in Europe. Communism was expanding rapidly like wild fire towards many Eastern countries. Religious persecution was rampant in the Communist countries.

In Mongolia, during the great purge of 1937, more than 18,000 monks were either shot through the head or burnt alive. Buddhism was facing a real danger of a total extinction in that country. A famous Mongolian Buddhist teacher, Lobsang Tayang, was one of the victims. I even heard that he was burnt alive during the religious persecution in Mongolia, but I cannot confirm it. During the teachings of H.H. the Dalai Lama at the temple in Dharamsala, 1983, a booklet “A Precious Crystal Rosary” was distributed freely to all the people who attended the teaching. It deals with one hundred and eight verses in praise of great compassion. The famous Mongolian Geshe Lobsang Tayang composed this beautiful poem. H.H. the Dalai Lama, at that time, advised us to read it over and over again till it wears out. Sadly the life of this great master, who happened to be a Shugden practitioner, met with a tragic end.


In Highest Yoga Tantra, the role of a dharma protector is to help the practitioner on his or her spiritual adventure to Buddhahood. The practitioner encounters innumerable obstacles in his spiritual career, especially at the beginning, when his mind is wild and undisciplined. In the Guru Yoga Assembly Tree, the position of a Dharma protector is placed down on the 6th row. The practitioner who reaches a high level of inner realisation, with the strong and stable divine pride of the meditational deity, is in a commanding position to entrust his Dharma protector to obey his order. The relationship between the practitioner and the dharma protector is comparable to a powerful king and his chief minister. The minister is ready to listen and obey the orders given by his powerful king. In a similar way, a highly realized tantric practitioner commands his protector and entrusts him with the work of eliminating all the obstacles coming in his path to Buddhahood.

Now, let me take into consideration the possibility of this relationship working the other way round. Suppose the practitioner is spiritually weak and lacks high spiritual experience. Naturally, his position becomes vulnerable. Under such circumstances, he could easily fall prey to his worldly dharma protector. It is comparable to a weak king who obeys to every single word of his powerful minister. Most of the Shugden worshippers belong to the second category.

In my opinion, dharma protectors work effectively only on a personal level. A tantric practitioner who develops a firm divine pride of his meditational deity could command his protector to eliminate the obstacles on his way to Buddhahood. Granting the protector any big responsibility that he cannot cope with is doomed to failure. Since my school days I have loved History. I realized at that time that the most famous Buddhist universities like Nalanda and Vikramashila were ransacked and plundered by the foreign invaders led by Bakhtair Khilji and his army around 1193 to 1205 AD. All the monks were beheaded and many burnt alive. All the sacred books were burnt and the pall of smoke hung in the sky for many days. Sadly, no dharma protector saved the most famous Centres of learning of the world from the brutal onslaught of the Muslim invaders. Nowadays, we can only see Nalanda’s ruins. There is no trace of Vikramashila left. If the story is true, then the dharma protector of Nalanda, Raven-faced protector, was so frightened with the raid that he ran away from the place. But, it sounds more like a buzz or the words on the street. I saw the ruins of Nalanda for the first time on a silver screen of Bollywood when I was 13 years old in 1972.

Lama Tsongkhapa painstakingly established Gaden Monastery in 1409 in the hope of perpetuating Buddhism. It is generally accepted that he entrusted the three dharma protectors Kalarupa, Vaisravana and six-armed Mahakala to help true dharma practitioners of the three scopes of Lamrim on their spiritual journey to Buddhahood. In fact, they are the protectors of true Gelugpa practitioners rather than the tradition itself. Shugden claims that he is the undisputed dharma protector of Gelukpa Tradition of our time. What was his reaction when the Red Guard Army undertook the systematic destruction of Gaden monastery during the Cultural Revolution? Even the most precious relic, the preserved body of Lama Tsonkhapa, was not spared and was burnt. Luckily, Bomi Rinpoche, one of the monks, managed to save the skull and some ashes from the fire. Shugden’s boastful claim flies in the face of historical evidence. In fact, he stood helpless in the face of such a mournful event – the worst humiliation he faced. He failed miserably to save the three most important monasteries of Gelukpa tradition which he was supposed to protect. Therefore, it is foolhardy to consider him as the most important dharma protector of the Gelukpa tradition. However, in the NKT he still enjoys the title the most important protector of Gelukpa tradition! Shugden claims he has a direct access to Lama Tsongkhapa. Now he says he comes from the pure land of Lama Tsongkhapa. Really? Did he report the total destruction of the three centres of learning of the Gelukpa School to Lama Tsongkhapa? Did he explain to him his own failure to protect them and especially, Gaden Monastery?

I think the main cause of our failure lies in our basic emotional set-up. Often, when we find ourselves in a situation where we have no answer to solve our problem, we become desperate and insist on finding some solution from non-human sources like worldly spirits, but when these become desperate, they tell lies.


Gen. Lobsang Gyatso, my teacher, was an outspoken critic. His critical writing on Trijang’s overemphasis on Shugden’s role in Gelukpa School provoked condemnation. In mid 70s, he infuriated many people, mainly the Tibetan government officials in exile and the monks from Sera, Gaden and Depung. To my teacher, Trijang’s behaviour was unacceptable. It was the most difficult period for him, but he stood the ground. Indeed, He was a monk with steel nerves, who could rise to the occasion when the odds were against him. Fortunately, he received H H. the Dalai Lama’s support. My teacher believed strongly that Dorjee Shugden was an evil spirit. In November 1991, I met him for the first time after my four years in Spain. In the course of our conversation, I told him openly and straightforwardly that I got an impression that Shugden was not a non-sectarian dharma protector of Gelukpa school after having listened to the tape recorded teaching by an oracle who channelled peaceful Shugden. My teacher responded me saying, “He is cunning and manipulative. Long time ago in Tibet, he wanted to impress me using the same tactic of his apparent non-sectarian attitude. He thought that I would fall into the psychological trap he laid, but I did not”. My teacher belonged to Drepung Loseling Monastery, which has no connection whatsoever with the spirit. The majority of the monks in Drepung Monastery have always considered Dorjee Shugden a demon, dating back some three hundred years.

In my last meeting with him in 1996, he said and I quote, “Shugden is lying low. In the past, he would often appear in my dream, wearing magnificent clothes and very bright ornaments. Nowadays, he looks sad and miserable. His clothes are dusty and worn out”.

One year later, on the 4th Feb. 1997, some Shugden followers murdered him ruthlessly along with two students in his room. However, his sacrifice has not gone in vain. In fact, it has proved to be a turning point in the history of Gelugpa society. Since then many lamas and monks have abandoned the Dogyal practice. He carved a niche for himself in the Tibetan Buddhist history as an undaunted monk who was mainly responsible for the downfall of Dorjee Shugden practice in Tibet, both within and without.

If Gen. Lobsang Gyatso were alive, he would be 87 years old, enjoying the glory of the great contribution he made not only to the Buddhist world, but also to Tibetan society. He would be extremely satisfied with his own students working to make this world a better place.

Links to translated works by the authors mentioned can be found here:

[Photographic image chosen by the author. Photographer unknown]
Originally posted on New Kadampa Survivor Actvists

The Buddhists Who Hate the Dalai Lama More Than the Chinese Do

Dorje Shugden is an obscure trickster spirit, believed to have originated in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in the 17th century. And though the spirit’s followers in the Western world probably number only a few thousand, they’ve been surprisingly successful at generating attention for themselves and their campaign to discredit the Dalai Lama. Recently, BloombergReuters, and the Washington Post, among other outlets, have covered the Shugden followers’ protests, and in a measured tone — surprising for the absurdity of the Shugden followers’ claims. In its Feb. 6 edition, Newsweek put the Dalai Lama on its cover with the headline “Relentless: The Real Dalai Lama.” A Shugden supporter gleefully handed me a photocopy of the article, in part because the article included the subheading “False Dalai Lama” — the same chant Shugden followers make at protests.

There is a new and thorough article by the Foreign Policy, Meet the Buddhists Who Hate the Dalai Lama More Than the Chinese Dothat covers the recent press coverage, the protesters, who is behind the protests, and the “surprising … absurdity of the Shugden followers’ claims”.

Have the Dalai Lama protesters sought dialogue?

The ISC / Dalai Lama protesters are now frequently claiming that they have sought dialogue with the Dalai Lama but the Dalai Lama has never accepted dialogue with them. Once again however, this claim is misleading.

If you really seek dialogue, you try to put yourself in the shoes of the other person. You try to understand as well as you can the way of thinking of the person with whom you seek dialogue. While you are working towards that aim you don’t denigrate the other person as ‘false’ or a ‘hypocrite’, ‘very professional liar’, ‘worst dictator’ etc, because this isn’t a basis for a dialogue. The Dalai Lama protesters have not done the former but rather stress the latter. Does this behaviour reveal a genuine motivation for a dialogue or is ‘dialogue’ just more rhetoric like the terms ‘human rights’ and ‘religious freedom’?

During the first round of the protests (1996–98) the protesters didn’t seek dialogue. They issued demands. The demand of Kelsang Gyatso – who “masterminded” and led the protests¹ – and the demand of the NKT protesters was that “the Dalai Lama signs a declaration promising freedom to propagate worship of Dorje Shugden.”¹ If the Dalai Lama does so, Kelsang Gyatso said in an interview to The Daily Telepgraph, they will “immediately cease all activity.”¹

Before that interview with The Daily Telegraph in 1996, a dialogue had been arranged in London, at Tibet House, between representatives of the Tibetan Government in Exile (TGIE, now CTA) and Jim Belither and Lucy James of the NKT, amongst others. However, whilst these NKT members were on the train from Yorkshire to the meeting, a person on the train suffered a heart attack and the train was delayed. This was interpreted by the NKT members as an inauspicious sign and because of this as well as the fact that the time of the meeting coincided with a demonstration arranged at Eccleston Square, they did not attend the meeting. The meeting was portrayed as a trap to disturb the arranged demonstration and no other meeting was arranged. It seems likely, based on the protesters refusal to accept the TGIE offer for a dialogue, that Kelsang Gyatso said to The Daily Telegraph:

There is no point in us meeting. He will reject what I say. He will never agree. Demonstrations are our only outlet.¹

On May 1st, 1998 a petition was delivered to the Dalai Lama in New York, asking him to sign a declaration. In this declaration the Dalai Lama was asked to confirm that former statements he made were “untrue”, and to acknowledge that his “false information” had created “great suffering”. It concluded, “Therefore, I declare that from now on everyone has the complete freedom to worship Dorje Shugden, and that no one should interfere in any way with their worship.” The petition was signed on behalf of the Dorje Shugden International Coalition, Morten Clausen, an NKT teacher.

During the second round (2009–2014) and during the third round (2014–??) of protests there were no calls for a dialogue, but ultimata were issued (if you don’t do as we wish we will organise protests against you, it is now in your hands). These ultimata were again unreasonable demands, such as to revert a democratic decision made via majority vote (Stick Referendum) by monks in the monasteries in 2008. There, the majority of Buddhist monks decided to remove Shugden worship from their monastic practices and to separate themselves from monks who wished to continue Shugden worship. It is the right of the monks to decide under which contitions they want to live. As a single individual, the Dalai Lama cannot go against a monastic procedure and the majority vote within monastic communities.

For analyses with further details regarding the claims of having sought dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, see:

¹ Dalai Lama Faces Revolt For Barring ‘Death Threat’ Deity, The Daily Telegraph, July 15,1996.

Some corrections with respect to claims made about me in the internet by Tenzin Peljor

Of course, as I expected, the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) tried hard to defame me online and usually I do not bother to correct them. I will continue to follow this approach.

However, I write this post because I feel this time that I have to correct a tiny piece of misinformation with respect to my person because in this case an established institution and one of the research officers working there is (ab?)used to misrepresent my intentions, some of my work, websites and blog. It appears from glancing through a recent article by the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) / International Shugden Society (ISC) activists and reading the title of the DI post that IndyHack / NKT / ISC want to portray me as an agent of the CTA / Tibetan government body in exile. This is wrong. I act on my own. I think and decide for myself according to how I see things and feel them to be correct.

It is the mental set up of ill-informed conspiracy theorists and their own experience of one final lasting, all controlling, all powerful and unquestionable authority in NKT one has to follow with “unwavering faith” – Kelsang Gyatso – that projects these ideas onto me and the CTA and the Dalai Lama. Here is the piece from the heap of misinformation available that I became aware of, rather accidentally, and which I wish to correct:

My first concern with Inform was their relationship with Tenzin Peljor and to what degree they were aware that he was working for the CTA. In addressing this aspect Suzanne Newcombe said, “We are aware that he works towards the [sic] promoting the Dalai Lama’s position on various issues.”, adding, “it is clear from his many public websites that Tenzin Peljor works actively in ways that support the agenda of the CTA.”

From the very outset (from 2006 onwards) I have started to give information critical of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) that was usually not at all, or only hardly available. Accounts of critics were actively and successfully repressed by the NKT. Initially I made this blog site in order to warn people about the demerits of an organisation which I consider to be a very destructive cult and which – in the long run – harmed me and many of my friends in many ways (though in the beginning we had a lot of benefits too).

Later my motivation changed in that I wanted to enable people – especially Western newcomers to Buddhism – to understand the harmful and manipulative aspects of the organisation in order to empower them to make an informed decision before they follow or commit to NKT. This is important because NKT won’t tell newcomers the unpleasant things and will deceive or manipulate them skillfully from the very start, unintentionally or intentionally exploiting the naivety and faith of Buddhist newcomers.

I started this blog under the name of www.westernshugdensociety.wordpress.com with the aim to correct misinformation with respect to Shugden spread by the NKT via a highly professional, media savvy worldwide campaign (using three different front groups) because misinformation increases confusion in others and correct information was hardly available in 2008. At that time, NKT editors even manipulated the Wikipedia articles so that they conformed with their own press campaign.

Correct information empowers people to understand. I always saw and still see my work as a spiritual task: to give reliable information so that based on facts and a broad range of accurate, differentiated information, people can make up their own minds, and in the best case, the mental poisons – like confusion, hate and attachment – can dissolve. Understanding (wisdom) is the way to (mental) freedom. My blog and websites were just set up to balance the NKT propaganda without the slightest aim of “promoting the Dalai Lama’s position on various issues.” or to work “actively in ways that support the agenda of the CTA.”

The same is true for my other websites, including my personal one which I started only to get some control over the misinformation NKT spread about me in the internet in different languages and on different blogs, websites, forums and comment sections.

Other articles and posts on my websites and blogs aim to dispel confusion about topics many Westerners misunderstand and that are related to Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lamas and Tibet. But again, the target is to dispel misunderstandings and the way to do this is to provide as much as possible accurate and reliable, differentiated information and knowledge (mostly but not exclusively from academic experts), which was in the past very difficult to find online.

Moreover, my websites and blog include articles, interviews and comments that are not at all promoting the Dalai Lama or the CTA but actively criticise some of their actions, e.g. how the CTA is dealing with the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Approach is criticised in Elliot Sperling’s article, or the CTA list of Tibetan Anti-Dalai Lama protesters or the Dalai Lama’s silence with respect to Sogyal Rinpoche are criticised on this blog.

Congruency of opinion is no valid evidence that a person promotes and actively supports a person who has a similar position. In my case it is rather coincidental that after a long process of investigation and analysis + research my opinion is more in line with that of the CTA and the Dalai Lama. The congruency is then the result that at the end of a careful analysis both parties found the same facts, but this congruency is not a matter of agenda and promotion.

I asked Inform for further clarification as to why they erroneously saw my websites as ‘promoting the Dalai Lama’s position on various issues’ and why they see my websites as working ‘actively in ways that support the agenda of the CTA’.  In response they issued the following statement:

This is the longer quote from which Indy Hack took those two sentences:

“We are aware of Tenzin Peljor’s multiple websites and affiliations with the Bodhicharya Centre, FPMT, and his ordination by the Dalai Lama. We are aware that he works towards the promoting the Dalai Lama’s position on various issues.

“We were not aware that he was currently working at the Central Tibetan Authority’s main offices in Dharamsala. However, it is clear from his many public websites that Tenzin Peljor works actively in ways that support the agenda of the CTA.”

Although Indy Hack has not fully misquoted, Indy Hack has carefully selected from a larger piece of text which makes the final ‘quote’ misrepresentative to some extent. Use of the phrases ‘promoting’ and ‘actively supporting’ does not necessarily imply any kind of formal affiliation; these phrases are also not a comment about Peljor’s ‘intention’ or purpose in providing these websites. 

These two statements were made in a larger response to specific questions raised in an email exchange questioning to what extent Inform was aware of potential bias of people presenting Inform with Information.

Tenzin Peljor’s public biography on http://tenzinpeljor.de/ openly states ordination by the Dalai Lama as well as affiliations with the Bodhicharya Centre and the FPMT (via study at the Lama Tzong Khapa Institute in Italy); these traditions are broadly supportive of the Dalai Lama’s teachings as a Buddhist spiritual leader.  However, working within these traditions does not necessarily mean that an individual is uncritical of them. People’s beliefs are more nuanced and varied than those presented by institutions. Specifically, Tenzin Peljor is not promoting any of these institutions’ views on his independently-run websites of buddhism-controversy-blog.com or http://info-buddhism.com/. The opinions voiced on these website are his as an individual. In particular, on http://info-buddhism.com/ Tenzin Peljor promotes a range of independent academic opinions, some of which are critical of the CTA, and Tibetan Buddhism more generally.  

The website buddhism-controversy-blog.com is critical of a number of Tibetan traditions, including the NKT. In particular, the discussion of links between the NKT and ISC/WSS is consistent with the CTA’s more public linking of the two organisations with the survivors’ statement on its official website last summer. However, the published Information on  buddhism-controversy-blog.com suggesting links between the NKT and the ISC/WSS pre-dates any public statements of the CTA by years.  

While Tenzin Peljor’s websites can be read as working ‘actively in ways that support the agenda of the CTA’ this is not proof that he is actively working as an employee of the CTA or with the intention or purpose of explicitly supporting the CTA or Dalai Lama’s agenda. This Information was contextualised in the correspondence from which the quote was taken, but the nature of the original questions was not incorporated into how the short quotes were used in the blog post. 

Quote given with permission from Inform.

Tenzin Peljor

PS: I am not working for the CTA, I am not trained by the Stasi or any secret service etc., I didn’t take images of the protesters and sent them to the CTA … these are all blatant lies. – Nor am I York Johns ;-)

I did not set up or run the website http://www.dalailamaprotesters.com. However, I gave them permission to use articles from http://www.info-buddhism.com and after their request I gave them also the domain http://www.shugden.info which I bought for another purpose.

It is true that I said that “government official cannot practice Shugden”; but I erred. I corrected this error with a reliable academic source in this comment.


See also

How are newcomers introduced to the Dorje Shugden issues in the New Kadampa Tradition?

Question: Is there any NKT documentation that talks about when to introduce the Dorje Shugden issues to new students? Is there a deliberate policy of concealment and delay in introducing this until people are ‘too far in to get out’?

Answer – in three parts by Carol McQuire

[1] It’s simply not talked about that way. Even internally in the NKT documentation, I have not seen any that is that specifically discusses ‘Shugden’.

If you read the Notes on Teaching Skills by Gen Thubten Gyatso there is a lot in there about ‘gradual introduction’, etc,. The implicit understanding is that this is about the ‘real NKT’/Shugden, etc but that method also applies to a lot of things about Dharma, not just to ‘Shugden’.

As ‘Shugden’ is such an integral part of the NKT it’s not managed as being at all ‘dangerous’ or ‘nasty’ to bring people in to do the practice – it’s a kindness to them to do so. People are invited to do Heart Jewel/Shugden as the daily ‘Guru Yoga’ and main centre practice – every day, every centre – to say thank you for the kindness of the centres, books, study programmes, etc. It’s not ‘announced’ as ‘Shugden’ like a ‘secret practice’ or something prohibited or wrong. It’s so normalised and ordinary you have no idea what you are being drawn into. It’s the NKT’s main practice so how would it be ‘managed’ as ‘secret’? Doing Heart Jewel – the Ganden Lhagyema with Shugden prayers attached – is also a commitment when you join a study programme and of course, if you want to teach in the NKT.

It’s the Dalai Lama’s views that are ‘secret’ and as so many people who ‘drop in’ to the NKT know nothing about what the Dalai Lama thinks and as most of them know nothing about Buddhism or Tibetan Buddhism, then it’s a ‘non-issue’. We tell people who ask us how to ‘check’ that the best way to find out ‘what the NKT is’ is to ask about His Holiness in a general NKT teaching and watch the ‘reply’! It will most probably be an embarrassing silence or a mumbled excuse! Many people attracted to the NKT find it difficult to believe that there is no refuge in His Holiness the Dalai Lama by the NKT as the NKT sangha look just like him and at some point the ‘lineage’ connection to Tibetan Buddhism will be mentioned by them. People may well go to the NKT because of His Holiness and his positive influence on them. That is the sadness embedded in the lack of clarity surrounding these issues.

The NKT does a lot of ‘secret information’ sharing. Knowing ‘what the Dalai Lama says’, etc, is the more ‘secret information’ that is one of the issues you may talk about in private with your NKT teacher and it’s part of the ‘secret bonding’ between the local teacher and their students that keeps the NKT going and the protests going. NKT students are warned not to trust what is said on the internet, etc. They are told about the ‘poor, victimised’ NKT, and the ‘poor victimised Kelsang Gyatso’, etc. The ‘Shugden’ issue is almost marginalised and it’s certainly minimised – if you look at p. 148 in the ‘Modern Buddhism’ ebook that’s a free download, you can see a line drawing of ‘Shugden’ but he’s only called the ‘Wisdom Protector’ so how would a beginner in the NKT realise what the connection is to the protests against His Holiness? It all appears to be very benign and positive.

[2] When you ‘normalise’ Shugden like that, the Dalai Lama then comes across as ‘crazy’ for criticising it and you slot everyone into supporting the campaign as a ‘nice’ thing to do because His Holiness is ‘so mistaken’.

The ‘hardcore’ activists, like IndyHack and Gen La Khyenrab, ‘rev up’ the protest team with all the online accusations and that can deflect criticism of the campaign in general into criticism of their ‘crude’ techniques – this might be an actual ‘campaign ploy’ so people don’t look too much into the real issues and instead they stay ‘in house’ – but in general, it’s seen as the ‘decent’ thing to do to tell His Holiness that he is wrong.

What is also remarkable is that NKT people really seem to fear ‘going outside the box’. Sometimes their idea of ‘research’ is to watch Rabten’s videos for the International Shugden Commuity or look at the Dorje Shugden Tibetan Follower’s videos. Nothing else! Everything outside the ‘NKT view’ they really see as propaganda. I know, because that’s how I thought when I was there! His Holiness was really a ‘bad deal’! It’s fascinating how they do that – all of us ask afterwards how it happened – to university graduates and intellectuals who feel proud of our ability to ‘think independently’! I feel it’s the normalising of the NKT value system – a consistent, inward looking barrage of subtle and not so subtle praise of the ‘Special Kadampa’ techniques. Everything from the Dharma is attributed to Kelsang Gyatso’s ‘kindness’ and when we first ‘fall in love’ with Dharma the NKT justifications and consistently ‘shifted’ teachings slip in too. All your gratitude is highly focused towards the NKT and ‘Geshe-la’, not to ‘Budddha’ or ‘Tibetan Buddhism’.

That’s why a ‘normal, logical’ method when analysing the protest ‘justifications’ will fall short – it’s the whole fabric of ‘how the NKT did it with Shugden’ that needs analysing.
When the NKT/ISC, etc say that His Holiness the Dalai Lama ‘wants to destroy the NKT’, this feels like the truth as discrediting Shugden discredits the NKT world completely. So, the NKT ‘war’ becomes the almost desperate need to preserve ‘their’ tradition, which is then ‘overlaid’ back again onto a ‘Tibetan’ issue as a wider justification of their actions.

The game of ‘creating our own tradition’ which will ‘be’ Tibetan but not ‘Tibetan’ in practice (‘connected’ but ‘isolated’) started when Neil Elliott and other westerners met Kelsang Gyatso at Manjushri Institute in the 1970s. His Holiness wasn’t publicly against Shugden worship then, so it was a ‘sensible risk’ for Gyatso and Neil to create their ‘separate, Shugden tradition’ and ‘world’ during the 80s. They had designed most of it by 1992 – the music was still missing but the basic, simplified books and sadhanas in English were ready. Then, all their great new structure which had the ‘guru yoga of Shugden’ at its heart was torn apart in 1996 by His Holiness’ decision – which I am sure was not at all directed at ‘attacking the NKT’. The decision was taken to help conflicts simmer down and this eventually worked within the Indian diaspora – but Kelsang Gyatso and Neil, then ‘Gen Thubten Gyatso’ were then stuck in the cul de sac of being primarily a ‘Shugden’ group – I think that’s why Kelsang Gyatso went to India with Kelsang Pema in 1996 – to see what he could salvage as a ‘campaign’ against His Holiness, not just ostensibly to ‘see’ the political realities.

Gavin Kilty talks about the wider context here:

[3] It’s almost as if, the more logic you use ‘against’ the anti Dalai Lama protesters, the more you alienate them, as Shugden is so ‘normal’ and listening to what His Holiness says is such a big conceptual contrast to what they have been taught to think, that it produces ‘cognitive dissonance’ and ends up increasing their faith in the NKT. It’s difficult for them to think ‘beyond’ the NKT view.

It’s very, very clever. Bound onto the back of Kelsang Gyatso’s ‘love’ for Shugden as it seems to represent his bond with Trijang Rinpoche and his ‘lineage’ and is the ‘residue’ of the actual Tibetan lineage that Kelsang Gyatso holds and tried to give to his students but in a very crude way (without him having to make the actual effort to ‘be’ a spiritual guide to anyone in person), Neil Elliott used this ‘Kelsang Gyatso figurehead’ to create their own ‘New Kadampa Tradition’ using educational, psychological and politically astute management techniques. What many people don’t understand from outside the NKT is how unimportant the actual person of Kelsang Gyatso is in everyday NKT life – your local teacher, centre and the books are far more so. ‘Geshe-la’ was always more of a ‘concept’ than an actual ‘spiritual guide’ – this is more evident now that he no longer appears in public – he ‘appears’ through ‘Heart Jewel’ practice to ‘talk’ to students who so often say they feel ‘close’ to him but what are they actually close ‘to’?

It was a brilliant plan – to make their own ‘tradition’ and then sell ‘their’ Dharma as a product using corporate commercial techniques and building up a world wide empire of real estate by using students almost like ‘slave workers’ – NKT volunteers, including most of the teachers, work for nothing except the ‘privilege of being allowed’ to work for the NKT! The plan inevitably got warped – their campaign hasn’t changed with the times – it used to be more realistic in the late 90s. It’s not now – they have to look harder for justification – which is why their campaigns are becoming more and more absurd. Last week ‘Atisha’s Cook’ – one of the anonymous online protesters – produced a meme stating that His Holiness is ‘worse than Hitler’. ‘Shugden’ is even hyped up as a ‘religion’ in itself.

10  Atishas Cook the Dalai Lama is worse than HitlerThe NKT simultaneously ‘uses’ Tibetan Buddhism as validation and has to keep itself completely separate from it. The protests function to do both, very neatly. It’s difficult to do that, but they managed to pull it off – at least for their own followers! The reality that Gavin Kilty analyses, in the face of this, seems ‘abnormal’ and ‘absurd’. And to us, on this side, the NKT appear utterly absurd! It takes a lot of thought for people of either side to ‘understand’ where the ‘other side’ is coming from at all.

Carol McQuire


NEWS: Articles related to the New Kadampa Tradition, Ripga, SGI & A Review of “Dolgyal Shugden: A History”

There are some new interesting articles related to the New Kadampa Tradition and Shugden:

* Gavin Kilty has been a full-time translator for the Institute of Tibetan Classics since 2001. Before that he lived in Dharamsala, India, for fourteen years, where he spent eight years training in the traditional Geluk monastic curriculum through the medium of class and debate at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics. He also teaches Tibetan language courses in India, Nepal, and elsewhere, and is a translation reviewer for the organization 84000, Translating the Words of the Buddha.


In case you were not aware of it … Newsweek (January 29, 2015) covers the protests and the Shugden controversy in an extensive article that also mentions “The Yellow Book”: Relentless: The Dalai Lama’s Heart of Steel.

Another letter to Kelsang Rabten

The following is another letter by Carol McQuire to Kelsang Rabten in reply to his interview posted on YouTube and the dorjeshugden[.]com site.


Kelsang Rabten at Anti Dalai Lama protests

Kelsang Rabten at Anti Dalai Lama protests

Kelsang Rabten, in your first interview, you state that it was ‘outrageous’ for a boy to want to ‘smash an image’ on your public shrine. Your demos, Kelsang Rabten, are designed to ‘smash an image’ of much more than a statue (I don’t think you can ‘smash’ either a postcard or a metal statue so that choice of verb is of itself confusing). I would suggest that the ‘potent negativity’ you mention that boy had received from His Holiness, is actually what has been put into you by your teacher, quite the reverse of what you claim. What His Holiness the Dalai Lama does is empower and encourage each person he meets to see and know their own mind.

You do however, follow your own teacher in such ways, that if he says something, you consider it must be true. I have made the acquaintance of His Holiness and can say that at no level whatsoever am I expected or required to ‘believe what he says is true’ without investigation or analysis nor do anything by obligation or force. It would go against the path and be considered mistaken, confused and even repugnant if I felt I ought to do something that goes against my own sense of integrity, values or logic. However, when I was in the NKT I was expected to accept mistaken ideas that Kelsang Gyatso himself said from the throne as being the truth – statements such as ‘You will not get enlightened if you disrobe!’ You must know this cannot be true as it contradicts the basic philosophy of Buddhism which states that everyone has the potential to become a Buddha. This statement was the source of much confusing debate amongst the NKT sangha that year, after Sojong at Manjushri Centre, in 2005 or 2006. I would dare to say that what you see as ‘discrimination’ is actually a desire to protect people from this kind of confusion. In other words, it means using the ‘discrimination’ of correctly assessing the dangers of a situation.

You demean Tibetans by thinking them so cowardly that they would not protest or negotiate with His Holiness if there were problems such as those you proclaim. The monastic separation happened through the wishes of Tibetans – through voting and negotiation. You show great pretension to think that you can ‘sort out’ problems that belong to Tibetans, especially when they have already been sorted and in particular when you have so many ex NKT complaining about mistreatment when in NKT hands. I do not know of any ex NKT who have left a centre with some of the NKT’s profits in their pockets, quite unlike the monks in India who had rights to monastic funds. Other Tibetan refugees are impoverished, but not the Shugdenpa monks!

You should focus on your spiritual practice if that is your main life and your wish. These issues are not as important as you think, unless you are not telling us the real reason why you are doing these demonstrations. Why are you sitting in a café in a suit and tie when you would probably much prefer to be wearing your robes? Who tells you to do this? Where are these millions of Tibetans you are saving? You know in your heart that they do not exist. No one can find them. So who are you actually doing these demonstrations for?

The Tibetans who were watching you from the steps outside the venue in Basel must be the ones you do these demonstrations for, and for your own students and NKT followers. You want to be ‘seen’ by these people; you want to offend those Tibetans who love His Holiness for many justifiable reasons. You know you cannot convince them with your banners, shouts and slogans – you do it to ‘provoke’. I think you need a proper teacher.

When you say that His Holiness is ‘wiping out this precious tradition’ you actually express your fears for your own tradition, don’t you, not Je Tsongkhapa’s at all! Trijang Rinpoche did not start a ‘tradition’ nor did Pabongkha. They were teachers of a tradition, not a tradition in themselves. And Je Tsongkhapa never needed a’ Shugden’. Do you really think your Shugden is so weak that His Holiness saying that his students should not do this practice will ruin Shugden?  Or do you think that everything your ‘tradition’ has will be ruined and lost if Shugden is not practised by a few more people? Such dependence is extraordinary! So is such craving for His Holiness’s approval!

See also

A Tibetan Translator’s Testimony by Tenzing Wangdak


My Diary – The Ticking Bomb That Took 23 Years To Explode

My name is Tenzing Wangdak. I woke up at around 8 a.m. on Wednesday morning, December 17th, 2014. I was in no mood to go to work. Looking around my bedside, I saw my small computer. I picked it up to navigate through the websites on the internet. There were messages from my Facebook friends. There was one particularly interesting message. The title was “We need to talk about Shugden.” My younger brother Zoksang, who lives in Kingston, New York City, sent it to me. It was about one western Buddhist nun who tells the story of her woeful life when she was studying in the New Kadampa Tradition. She is one of those ex-students of the NKT who came out very strongly against the high level of religious fanaticism and sexual scandals prevailing in the tradition. I asked myself a question – is it the right time to tell my part of the story of the Shugden controversy?

It was way back in March 1991 when I had a face-to-face confrontation with Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. It all started with the decision taken by the FPMT of not allowing any teachers working under the spiritual direction of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso to teach Buddhism at any Buddhist centre affiliated to the FPMT. In Menorca, we had a Dharma centre run under the direction of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. The resident lama was Geshe Tamding Gyatso, and I was his translator at this modest centre, on this small and beautiful island of Spain. Every year we visited some Buddhist centres in other parts of Spain, mainly in Madrid, Valencia, Alicante and Seville. The FPMT run those centres. Unfortunately, they informed us that Geshe Tamding Gyatso was not allowed to teach anymore at these centres from now onwards.

Well, I thought there might be some good reason that the FPMT had for taking such a decision. Quickly, we learnt that Geshe Kelsang Gyatso had taken the drastic step of transforming the face of all his centres on the pretext of establishing and following a pure Gelugpa tradition. He removed the pictures of H.H. the Dalai Lama from Manjushri Institute, Cumbria, and from all other centres in the United Kingdom. In those days he was a Buddhist teacher highly admired by his disciples, both in England and Spain, for gentleness, simplicity, pure ethical discipline, knowledge and meditation. I thought a great meditation master would never make such a mistake. Someone who, I thought, was a role model for those who followed the model of study and practice established and guided by Lama Tsongkapa.

Photo of Kyabje Khen Tamding Gyatso Rimpoche

Photo of Kyabje Khen Tamding Gyatso Rimpoche

Here at Menorca, we learnt the true news. Geshe Tamding Gyatso, our resident teacher, was very upset. It was in the middle of November, 1990, we were at the house of the director of our centre. I said to Geshe-la that there might be some kind of misunderstanding, and Geshe Kelsang Gyatso would not make such a mistake. I even insisted he make a call to clarify the situation. At the beginning he was hesitant but decided to do so. They talked for almost one hour and we were wondering what was going on. He was not saying much. Yes, yes, here and there, nothing more. The person on the other end of the phone line was doing all the talking. After the call, Geshe Tamding Gyatso said to me; “How could he be such a ruthless sectarian?” There was a deep frown on his face. I found him really upset. The board members of our centre were nervous and very unhappy. They openly told us that the attitude of Geshe Kelsang was not justifiable, and they were thinking of having a separate Dharma centre independent of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.

After a few days, we invited Geshe Kelsang Gyatso to come over to our centre to clarifying the on-going controversy of Shugden worship. At that time he was at Manjushri Institute, he accepted the invitation and decided to impart some basic Buddhist teachings during one weekend in March, the following year.

Our director was so sure of himself that the prospect of opening an independent Dharma centre under the direct spiritual direction of the resident Lama, Geshe Tamding Gyatso seemed a reality. The visit of Geshe Kelsang was drawing near and we were cleaning the centre to welcome him. The centre was in a three-storey building on the main street of Notario Quintana in Cuitadella de Menorca. Geshe Kelsang was to stay in my room. So I cleaned it up. One night I dreamt of Geshe Kelsang entering the main door of the centre and giving me a stick. I woke up in the morning with a strong feeling that something unpleasant was going to happen.

On Friday 23rd, March 1991 he visited our centre. I greeted him warmly. He reciprocated with the same customary Tibetan greeting. One Spanish nun accompanied him wherever he went. He looked thin and frail. On the same day, in evening, the centre performed the Dorjee Shugden Invocation Ritual. From September 1987 to March 1991 when the centre performed the Shugden Invocation Ritual, there were not usually more than three or four persons participating. It was always done on the 29th day of every month. That same evening, Geshe Tamding Gyatso, the resident teacher, invited Geshe Kelsang Gyatso to assist in the ceremony, but he was too tired and too weak to attend. I was on the ground floor, lying on the sofa, watching TV. I saw more and more people coming one after another to join the ritual for the first time in more than three years. Later, I could hear the sound of damarus, ringing bells and chanting in perfect harmony. I felt very sad, frustrated and helpless. There was nothing I could do to prevent them from joining the ceremony. I was completely broken inside. They were completely overwhelmed by Geshe Kelsang’s presence. After the completion of the ritual, the people returned home happily. The director saw me sullen and sulky. I had a brief conversation with him. “Well”, he said to me, “we are very happy to have you here as our translator. We want you to stay with us.” I looked straight at his face.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso commanded respect and submission. The sight of him fascinated them with awe and reverence. They idolised him the way I used to idolise some Bollywood hero when I was a teenager.

Next day, March 24th, Geshe Kelsang gave Dorjee Shugden initiation for which some new people joined to receive it. It was shocking to see people happily participating it in the hope of receiving protection from the worldly spirit in their lives. I found the arrangement manipulative in the hope of attracting more people to spread it far and wide.

On 25th/26th March, in the morning around 10 a.m., the two Geshes met in the room where Geshe Kelsang was staying. Their talk lasted for 2 hours. I was in the kitchen, and suddenly Geshe Tamding Gyatso entered to prepare momo (Tibetan dumplings) for lunch. He was not his usual self, but a bit agitated. So, I asked him, “What has happened to you?” Geshela replied, “Geshe Kelsang Gyatso was accusing me of trying to separate him from his centre. I told him frankly that I would never do such thing. It was, in fact, the board members of the centre who wanted to do it.” Geshe Kelsang continued, “If it was not you, then, most probably, it was Tenzing, the translator, who influenced them to do so, because he was from Dharamsala.” Geshe Tamding Gyatso came to my defence telling him that it was not true at all. What prompted me to meet Geshe Kelsang in his room to have a private talk was his sheer lack of respect towards a senior geshe. Geshe Tamding Gyatso was senior to Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. He was an authentic geshe of the highest class, whose mastery over tantric knowledge of Shri Guhasamaja, Heruka, Yamantaka, Kalachakra and Vajra Yogini was just breath taking. All kinds of tantric rituals were at his fingertips. I saw him performing them by heart. The wrong accusation was the last straw that broke the camel´s back.

After lunch, I went straight into Geshe Kelsang´s room. I greeted him warmly and hesitantly asked him if I could have a talk with him. He called me in warmly and I sat down on the floor. He was sitting upright on the bed. So I took the initiative of breaking the ice.

“Geshela, I am not happy with the way that the Shugden empowerment was given here yesterday, because there were several new people who had never received the basic Buddhist teaching and have no idea whatsoever of the protector Dorjee Shugden. They received the Empowerment. I think it is against the basic guideline of Tibetan Buddhism.” My explanation provoked a strong anger in him. He angrily replied, “Tenzing, it is not your business.” He repeated the phrase several times. Then he continued, “the work of a translator is to translate and nothing more, and the work of a resident teacher is to teach, nothing more. It is the board members who run the centre.” He continued, “Yesterday, the board members came up here to tell me that, not only you hate Dorjee shugden, you also hate me?” I was bewildered, could not believe my ears. However, I kept my cool and answered him firmly, “It is a sheer lie, and how could I hate Dorjee Shugden when I don´t know him. I continued saying, “I have never hated you. Had I hated you I would have never read your books and manuscripts!” I looked up at him and saw him seething with sheer anger, taking in a deep breath, and looking up at the ceiling. Suddenly he looked down and questioned me defiantly, “I want to test your skill in the art of debate, for you have studied Buddhist philosophy for many years. “Is Kyabje Trijang Dorjeechang a root spiritual teacher of H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama?” I replied, ”He, indeed, is one of them.” Kelsang Gyatso continued, “If he is one of the root teachers, how could Dalai Lama possibly go against the words of his own teacher?” At this point, he went ballistic and yelled, “He cannot go against his own teacher´s words. When we do Dorjee Shugden practice we are doing a favour to the Dalai Lama. We do not bring disgrace to him.” He then kept silence for a moment and came out with more aggressive, cold and calculated comments.

“He (the Dalai Lama) is Nyingmapa, Zogchenpa, and the one who has broken the spiritual relationship between himself and his teacher. His lineage is impure.” At this stage of the conversation I found the atmosphere in the room unbearable. I felt unsettled. Anyhow, I kept cool and retaliated with the following answer, “If a disciple can not comply with the words of his lama, he can tell this politely to his teacher.” I cited the 24th stanza from the text of Ashavagosha, Fifty stanzas of Guru yoga”.

Intelligent disciple, with joyful mind,
Listen the lama’s words with enthusiasm.
Explain to him in words
If you can´t comply with it.

For a moment, silence reigned in the room and I took the opportunity to end the conversation with the following comforting words.

“I am an ordinary monk who works as a Dharma translator and you are a Dharma teacher. So, there is no comparison whatsoever. We do have very distinct viewpoints with regard to Shugden issue. You think you are always right, and I think I am right. But, who knows who is right? I follow H.H. the Dalai Lama. I, therefore, will leave the centre for good. You find a good Dharma translator for Geshela, someone who propitiates Dorjee Shugden. The voice within me says that I am right, not wrong. Excuse me if I am wrong.” He was completely taken aback by my final words. He kept silent meanwhile I went out of the room.

He realized that I could not be pushed over easily. I kept my cool under the most difficult situation. At the end of the day, I found him callous, ruthless, devious, obstinate and unyielding. Indeed, he was a hard nut to crack.

After the summer, 1991, I left the centre. In Menorca, life was easy and comfortable. I enjoyed summer life on beautiful beaches for three years with my Spanish friends. However, I decided to leave the centre. I worked there for more than three years without any payment. I had nothing to lose and more to gain from such a decision. I stepped out of my comfort zone and took the risk to find a better future life.

I used to admire Geshe Kelsang. At one stage of my life I thought he was a role model for many Buddhist practitioners. Unfortunately, he turns out to be one of the worst Buddhist fundamentalists the Buddhist world has seen in many years. He has completely forgotten the life of Lama Tsongkapa who studied under the great masters of other schools. My teacher, Gen Lobsang Gyatso, was completely right when he said to me in 1986, “It is ironic that when you meet Kelsang Gyatso for the first time, he appears be a gentle, soft, and simple monk. He gives you the impression of someone who is on the verge of attaining Buddhahood in two or three days, but, he is rotten from inside in real life.”

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso was once considered a great meditation master, but now he is outcast officially not only from his own monastery of Sera Je, but also from the Gelukpa Society. At present, he is lying low, but still he is using his students to defame the Dalai Lama at all costs. He accuses the Dalai Lama of the violation of Human Rights, but he is blind to his own act of destroying lives of NKT survivors. He accuses the Dalai Lama of banning religious freedom but he prohibits people from reading Dharma books of fellow Buddhist teachers. How dare he say that he is following the pure lineage of Lama Tsongkhapa, while not allowing his own students to read Lama Tsongkapa’s books! I was flabbergasted to realize that there were no Dharma books other than his own books in the bookstores of his centres.

He says that the Shugden is Lama Tsongkapa’s manifestation, when more than 95% of Tibetan Buddhists consider him as a terrifying worldly spirit. He, in fact, degrades Tsongkapa to the status of a worldly deity. What a shame!

His long, reclusive life has taken a mental toll on him. He has gone insane to the point of no return. His hatred and resentment towards the Dalai Lama is clearly reflected on the banners and the placards written with “21st century Buddhist Dictator”, a “liar”, “the saffron robed Muslim”, a man whose “real nature is cruel and very evil”, etc.

It was in January, 1993, one year and a half after I left their dharma centre, when Geshe Kelsang Gyatso revisited it and carried out the so-called “Lineage cleansing”. He threw out some old members of the centre, who were his fervent admirers and Dorjee Shugden worshippers, without obvious reason.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso once said that Geshe Tamding Gyatso was the most qualified dharma teacher to come to the west. This time, he gave him no choice but to leave the centre. Geshe Kunchok Tsewang, then resident teacher at Manjushri Institute, retired at the age of 68 without choice. They sent him back to his monastery in South India. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is now 83 years old, but still holds a firm grip on all the centres of NKT. He does not want to renounce the absolute power he enjoys. What I find so unbelievable is that a man who is considered “the third Buddha” by his own followers is not spared from the unholy trinity of power, status and wealth.

The big difference between the two geshes is that Geshe Tamding Gyatso went on to become the abbot of Ganden Shartse Monastery, thus fulfilling his lifelong dream before his death, whereas Geshe Kelsang Gyatso remains a monastic outcast of Gelugpa Society.

The devil inside him makes his Dharma
Practice dust
Resentment flows deep in his blood,
Nipping the bud of empathy in his heart.
Ignorance obscures his mind completely
His frenzied mind runs like a wild elephant
His ego fills up like a balloon
That is sure to burst.
His behaviours do not match his preaching.
Hence, his books are worthless scrap of paper.
I feel sorry for him.

I write this testimony to fully support the NKT survivors who have taken the right decision to break away from the NKT. One of my Tibetan friends insisted that I do this. Personally, I have nothing against Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. His attitude and behaviour in the recent years are so intolerable for Tibetans that I take the opportunity to tell the truth. The people of the NKT need to take the blindfolds off their eyes and see the wider world of Buddhism. It is high time for them to stop running the ugly show of protest and come to their senses. Geshe Kelsang needs to recover from his spiritual madness. He can still rectify his mistakes and leave them behind as if they were a terrible nightmare. It is not surprising that a human being makes mistakes – one after another. Man is the only animal who trips over the same stone twice. After all, we are emotional creatures.

By Tenzing Wangdak.

20th January 2015


Originally posted

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