The Shugden Dispute Represents a Battleground of Views on What is Meant by Religious and Cultural Freedom. (Mills)

The Dalai Lama is trying to modernize the Tibetans’ political vision and trying to undermine the factionalism. He has the dilemma of the liberal: do you tolerate the intolerant? Paul Williams [1]

At the moment the anonymous Western Shugden Society (WSS) with no legal office has started a Worldwide Press and Internet Campaign against the Dalai Lama. One may wonder who is behind that group and what are the facts?

Until now no investigative press article has explored this issue thoroughly. Most of the media just report what the Press speaker, Kelsang Pema, close disciple of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, founder of the British-based New Kadampa Tradition, states to them. It may be that the Press are overstrained with the complex spiritual issues involved and possibly they are a bit surprised, as many others are too.

Here are some well informed and interesting websites and articles which unlock the secrets of the WSS.

Two scholarly papers on the Dorje Shugden Controversy:

Three articles by the Dzogchen Community Italy on the Shugden Controversy:

Two articles about the first Worldwide Media Campaign of the New Kadampa Tradition (1996-1998) against the Dalai Lama:

Although these Western followers of Dorje Shugden try to give the impression that the Tibetans support them, and they blog and post under Tibetan names in the Internet, it can be doubted if the picture they draw is in any way correct. The situation of the present ‘misinformation campaign’ is not very different from that which started 12 years ago under the label Shugden Supporters Community (SSC), another front-group of the New Kadampa Tradition. The Independent wrote: “The view from inside the Shugden Supporters Community was almost a photographic negative of everything the outside world believes about Tibet and the Dalai Lama.”[2] Regarding the facts SSC (NKT) spread, the Independent said: “It was a powerful indictment, flawed only by the fact that almost everything I was told in the Lister house was untrue.”[2]

The Tibetan Deepak Thapa wrote the following article and it seems to be the perfect mirror of the actual situation as well:

  • It’s Dalai Lama vs Shugden by Deepak Thapa (Sept 1996) – PDF-copy

Gareth Sparham, a former Buddhist monk and now Lecturer at the University of Michigan explained in 1996

Cross-Cultural Confusion

According to Press speaker Kelsang Pema, Dorje Shugden ‘practice’ “is a simple prayer that encourages people to develop pure minds of love, peace and compassion.”[3]

But according to researcher Mills: “in defence of the deity’s efficacy as a protector, [the Yellow Book] named 23 government officials and high lamas that had been assassinated using the deity’s powers”[4], and researcher Mumford states, Dorje Shugden is “extremely popular, but held in awe and feared among Tibetans because he is highly punitive.”[5]

Moreover at the peak of the conflict in exile, in February 1997, three Tibetan Buddhist monks, opponents of the Shugden practice, including the Dalai Lama’s close friend and confidant, seventy-year-old Lobsang Gyatso (the principal of the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics), were brutally murdered in Dharamsala, India, the Tibetan capital in exile. The murdered monks were repeatedly stabbed and cut up in a manner resembling a ritual exorcism. The Indian police believe the murders were carried out by monks loyal to Shugden, and that the perpetrators are now under the protection of the Chinese government. The Indian police have accused Lobsang Chodak, 36, and Tenzin Chozin, 40, of stabbing Lobsang Gyatso and two of his students. In 2007 Interpol has issued wanted notices for Lobsang Chodak and Tenzin Chozin. According to a disciple of Geshe Lobsang Gyatso, before he was killed, Lobsang Gyatso had to face many death threats, but refused any personal security.

For more see:

There is a lot the Western Shugden Society do not tell to the public. Why?

Researcher Makransky states about the cross-cultural confusion in the Dorje Shugden issue:

A stunning recent example of this: some Tibetan monks who now introduce Westerners to practices centred on a native Tibetan deity, without informing them that one of its primary functions has been to assert hegemony over rival sects! The current Dalai Lama, seeking to combat the ancient, virulent sectarianisms operative in such quarters, has strongly discouraged the worship of the “protector” deity known as Dorje Shugden, because one of its functions has been to force conformity to the dGe lugs pa sect (with which the Dalai Lama himself is most closely associated) and to assert power over competing sects. Western followers of a few dGe lugs pa monks who worship that deity, lacking any critical awareness of its sectarian functions in Tibet, have recently followed the Dalai Lama to his speaking engagements to protest his strong stance (for non-sectarianism) in the name of their “religious freedom” to promulgate, now in the West, an embodiment of Tibetan sectarianism. If it were not so harmful to persons and traditions, this would surely be one of the funniest examples of the cross-cultural confusion that lack of critical reflection continues to create.[6]

According to Thubten Jigme Norbu, the Dalai Lama’s brother:

The worship of Dorje Shugden is not a religion at all. It is a cult.[7]

According to Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, founder of the New Kadampa Tradition:

We believe that Dorje Shugden is a Buddha who is also a dharmapala. Problems have arisen because of someone’s view.[8]

Check it out yourself!


[1] The Guardian, London, 6 July 1996, Shadow boxing on the path to Nirvana by Madeleine Bunting (PDF-Archive)
[2] The Independent, London, 15 July 1996, Battle of the Buddhists by Andrew Brown, (PDF-Archive)
[3], 27 May 2008, Protest at Dalai Lama prayer ban
[4] Mills, Martin (2003) “This turbulent Priest – Contesting religious rights and the state in the Tibetan Shugden Controversy”, p. 65, Routledge
[5] Mumford 1989: 125-126
[6] Makransky, John J. (2000). “Buddhist Theology: Critical Reflections by Contemporary Buddhist Scholars”, p. 20, Routledge
[7] Lopez 1998; An Interview With Thubten Jigme Norbu, Tricycle, Spring 1998, p. 67
[8] Lopez 1998: An Interview With Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Tricycle, Spring 1998

last update: Dec 23, 2009
(broken links were corrected or PDF archives were added)