Academic Research regarding Shugden Controversy & New Kadampa Tradition

To promote understanding, the following is a list of published scholarly papers and academic research about the Dorje Shugden Controversy and the New Kadampa Tradition, listed in order of pertinence and importance:

The Dorje Shugden Controversy

  • The Shuk-Den Affair: Origins of a Controversy” (this is a revised html version of the original article from 1998) by Georges Dreyfus, Professor of Religion at Williams College, published in Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies (Vol., 21, no. 2 [Fall 1998]:227-270) (Original research paper: “The Shuk-den Affair: History and Nature of a Quarrel” | Dreyfus | Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies | PDF)
    • This continues to be the most foundational and influential work written on Dorje Shugden to date, having been cited by nearly every work of scholarship to discuss the deity or the NKT since it was published. This article is so influential that it has itself become the center of some controversy, being used on multiple sides of the Shugden debate to either buttress or dispute competing claims. For instance, opponents of Shugden practice—including the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama—cite Dreyfus’s article to support their position that Dorje Shugden (Dolgyal) is a worldly spirit. Proponents of the deity, meanwhile, suggest that Dreyfus is being biased and attempt to discredit his arguments via ad hominem attacks. Dreyfus himself has refrained from entering into the controversy. Very few have focused solely on the merits of Dreyfus’s arguments, and so an earnest reevaluation of his article and its historical propriety is still underway.
  • “rDo rje shugs ldan” ([1956] 2002) by Réne de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, in Oracles and Demons of Tibet: The Cult and Iconography of the Tibetan Protective Deities, published by Paljor Publications, 134-144.
    • This is the first prolonged discussion of Dorje Shugden in a Western scholarly source. Since it was written in the 1950s, its material predates the contemporary controversy.
  • The Tulkus and the Shugden Controversy” (2001) by Prof. Dr. Michael von Brück, Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies, in Charisma and Canon: Essays on the Religious History of the Indian Subcontinent, published by Oxford University Press, 328-349.
    • A condensed English version of the arguments made in Part 4 (Die Kontroverse um Shugden) of the author’s book entitled, Religion und Politik im Tibetischen Buddhismus.
  • Religion und Öffentlichkeit in der tibetischen Exilgesellschaft” (2009) by Prof. Dr. Karénina Kollmar-Paulenz, in Mariano Delgado, Ansgar Jödicke, Guido Vergauwen (Hrsg.), »Religion und Öffentlichkeit – Probleme und Perspektiven«, Verlag W. Kohlhammer, pp. 199-217.
    • Summery: Religion is present in the Tibetan public sphere, and that first of all as a public performance. In the Tibetan government in exile, “state” and religion thus relate to each other in a way which is unfamiliar to us. In contrast to the perception of others, Tibetan societies are characterized by great internal religious diversity as well as by a plurality of religious denominations. Using the “Shugden Affair”, a religious controversy which is splitting the Tibetan government in exile, this contribution shows that the relationship between religion as an expression of private autonomy and its public staging as a symbol of national unity holds considerable potential for conflict for the institution of the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan form of democracy developed in exile necessitates a constant renegotiating of the boundaries between private religious freedom and its symbolic public representation.
  • This Turbulent Priest – Contesting religious rights and the state in the Tibetan Shugden Controversy” (2003) by Prof. Dr. Martin A. Mills, Senior Lecturer in the Anthropology of Religion, in Human Rights in Global Perspective: Anthropological Studies of Rights, Claims and Entitlements by Routledge, 54-70.
    • Considers the human rights aspects of the Dorje Shugden controversy.
  • Charting the Shugden Interdiction in the Western Himalaya” (2009) by Prof. Dr. Martin A. Mills, Senior Lecturer in the Anthropology of Religion, in Mountains, Monasteries and Mosques: Recent Research on Ladakh and the Western Himalaya: Proceedings of the 13th Colloquium of the International Association for Ladakh Studies. John Bray and Elena de Rossi Filibeck, eds. Rome: Fabrizio Serra Editore, 251-269.
    • Using an anthropological methodology, this article focuses on the shift in Dorje Shugden practice in Ladakh after the Dalai Lama’s interdiction.
  • The Predicament of Evil: The Case of Dorje Shukden” (2011) by Georges Dreyfus in Deliver Us From Evil, pp. 57-74, Editor(s): M. David Eckel, Bradley L. Herling, Boston University Studies in Philosophy and Religion.
  • Phabongkha Dechen Nyingpo: His Collected Works and the Guru-Deity-Protector Triad” (2015) by Joona Repo, Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines 33,  pp. 5-72.
  • Hunting the guru: Lineage, culture and conflict in the development of Tibetan Buddhism in America” by Chandler, Jeannine M., Ph.D., STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AT ALBANY, 2009, 306 pages;
  • Monastic Politics and the Local State in China: Authority and Autonomy in an Ethnically Tibetan Prefecture” (2005) by Ben Hillman, in China Journal, no. 54, 29-51.
    • This is an anthropological analysis of the tensions surrounding Dorje Shugden practice at an unnamed Tibetan monastery.
  • “Politics of Religion: The Worship of Shugden Among the Tibetans” (2002) by R.P. Mitra, in Indian Anthropologist(Vol. 32, nos. 1 and 2:47-58).
    • Explores the practice of Shugden worship among Tibetans in India, as well as the effects of the Dalai Lama’s “ban”.
  • Lopes, Ana Cristina O. (2014) “Tibetan Buddhism in DiasporaCultural Re-signification in Practice and Institutions”, Routledge. (Google-Books
    • Chapter 8 she has a fairly long discussion of some aspects of the Shugden issue.
  • Rigumi, Wokar Tso. 2010. “He Who Shall Not Be Named: the Shugden Taboo and Tibetan National Identity in Exile.” In New Views of Tibetan Culture. David Templeman, ed. Caulfield: Monash University Press, pp.93-102.
    • This is perhaps one of the least useful articles published on Shugden in recent years; it is included here only for the sake of comprehensiveness. First, half of the article simply rehashes the claims made in Dreyfus 1998 without really adding anything or reflecting on the material. The other half provides an interesting but otherwise poorly developed model of Shugden as an example of cultural memory. Second, throughout the article it’s clear that Rigumi either does not read Tibetan or chooses not to for her research. Nor does she appear to be well-versed in Tibetan history. This is most obvious when she consistently makes the rather egregious mistake of confusing Drakpa Gyeltsen (1619-1656) with the Third Panchen Lama (Penden Yeshe, 1738-1780) (see her pp.95-96). I [Christopher Paul Bell] suspect that this comes from a basic misreading of a line in Dreyfus 1998 (p.229): “…Drak-pa Gyel-tsen, who was designated…as the third reincarnation of Pan-chen So-nam-drak-ba”—the later referring to the famed early 16th-century Geluk master who had served at various times as abbot of all three major Gelukpa monasteries. Presumably Rigumi does not realize that “Panchen” is a reverential title also found outside the lineage of the Panchen Lamas. Finally, while it is at most a minor annoyance, it would have been nice had Rigumi actually explained at some point that her article’s title is a not-so-veiled reference to Voldemort, the main villain in the Harry Potter book series. This is all the more confused by the fact that she spends almost a page discussing how many Tibetan refugees living in India refer to Shugden as “Gabbar Singh,” a well-known Bollywood villain (p.98). This is an amusing aside, but not much more than that. Overall, this is a poor piece of scholarship and it offers very little to advance the discourse on Shugden.
  • 西藏多麥區域研究凶天小組 [Dolgyal Research Committee of the Central Tibetan Administration]. 2010. 護法神vs厲鬼: 西藏護法神的探究 [Dharma Protector vs. Malicious Spirit: Investigation of a Tibetan Dharma Protector.]. 見悲靑增格西等 [Geshe Jampal Chozin], trans. Taipei: 雪域出版社 [Snowland Publishers].
    • This book is a Chinese translation of the Tibetan text, Dol rgyal gyi byung rim dang rnyog gleng la dpyad pa g.ya’ sel me long (The Mirror that Clears Away Dirt: an Investigation into the History and Controversy of Dolgyal) published by the Dolgyal Research Committee of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala, 2006. This text purports to be a comprehensive monograph of the Committee’s position on the Shugden issue. This Chinese edition was translated by Geshe Jampal Chozin, a head teacher of the Tibet Religious Foundation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama (達賴喇嘛西藏宗教基金會) based in Taipei, Taiwan.  As you can see, the original title is not maintained in the Chinese translation, which opted for a more provocative one.  It’s also interesting to note that the Chinese translation for Dolgyal (凶天, xiongtian) is not exact, but is a rather generic expression meaning “fierce deity.” This book was published in Taiwan but is also available in Hong Kong, and likely elsewhere in East Asia.  This indicates that such translated materials on the Shugden issue are becoming more available to a wider East Asian audience.

Brief mentions:

In 1998 CESNUR suggested:

for the background of this controversy, a good starting point is the scholarly paper by David Kay, “The New Kadampa Tradition and the Continuity of Tibetan Buddhism in Transition“, Journal of Contemporary Religion 12:3 (October 1997), 277-293. Essential for understanding the controversy is vol. VII, n. 3 (Spring 1998) of Tricycle The Buddhist Review, including a scheme of the principal players on the controversy (p. 59), the article by Stephen Batchelor “Letting Daylight into Magic: The Life and Times of Dorje Shugden” (pp. 60-66) and “Two Sides of the Same God” by Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (pp. 67-69), introducing Lopez’s interviews of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (pp. 70-76) and of Thubten Jigme Norbu, the elder brother of the Dalai Lama (pp. 77-82). Also recommended is Donald S. Lopez, Jr.’s book “Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West”, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1998 (see pages 188-196 on Dorje Shugden).

“Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West” by Lopez is reviewed by Tsering Shakya and in 2005 Dreyfus responded in an essay, “Are We Prisoners of Shangri-la? Orientalism, Nationalism, and the Study of Tibet” (PDF) to it. Dreyfus’ essay “examines the consequences of Said’s critique of orientalism for Tibetan studies, particularly in relation to Lopez’s claim that we are all ‘prisoners of Shangri-la.’” Lopez’ “controversial work” “has been refuted by Tsering Shakya and by Germano, who points out Lopez’ latent conservative interpretation of Tibetan culture and history and instead points to the dialectic of autochthonous creativity and inculturation of exogenous ideas so typical of Tibet’s cultural history.” (Dodin, Räther 2001:410)

Martin Brauen‘s book “The Dalai Lamas: A Visual History” (2005) – reviewed by Jose Cabezon (PDF) – includes an essay by Georges Dreyfus, pp. 172-79, analysing the stance of the XIV. Dalai Lama towards modernity and Buddhism in relation to the propitiation of the protective deity Dorje Shugden: “From Protective Deities to International Stardom: An Analysis of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s Stance towards Modernity and Buddhism“.

In 2007 Lindsay McCune completed her master’s thesis at Florida State University “TALES OF INTRIGUE FROM TIBET’S HOLY CITY: THE HISTORICAL UNDERPINNINGS OF A MODERN BUDDHIST CRISIS”. According to McCune: “Dreyfus’s work [The Shuk-Den Affair: Origins of a Controversy] has been the most thorough. It asks the most insightful questions and employs many diverse means of answering these queries…”. However, the main aim of McCune’s thesis is to critique Dreyfus’s assessment of the 17th-century history regarding Drakpa Gyeltsen and her conclusion is that it has little historical foundation. The essay by Dreyfus is used in different academic research and it is also listed in bibliographies of reputable scholars. Prof. Geoffrey Samuel also referred to it in his expert testimony: The Recognition of Incarnate Lamas in Tibetan Buddhism and the Role of the Dalai Lama (*.DOC) for a court case.

Furthermore there is a short piece by Prof. Paul Williams: A quick note on Dorje Shugden (rDo rje shugs ldan) (1996) and a thesis by Michael Nau (Miami University) ‘Killing for the Dharma: An Analysis of the Shugden Deity and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism’ (2007).

On May 8, 2014 an Interview about the Shugden conflict with Tibetologist Thierry Dodin was posted, and there are also four articles by Thierry Dodin (TibetInfoNet):

In 2014 the following essays by scientists were made available:

At the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in November 2009 Christopher Paul Bell, University of Virginia, presented a paper Dorjé Shukden: The Conflicting Narratives and Constructed Histories of a Tibetan Protector Deity in the context of the Tibetan and Himalayan Religions Group‘. Bell has already explored Dorje Shugden in relation to the section on oracles in his master’s thesis (Florida State University, 2006) Tsiu Marpo The Career of a Tibetan Protector Deity (PDF). However, his mention of Shugden is incredibly brief, only citing Nebesky-Wojkowitz’s description of a Shukden oracle to discuss Tibetan oracles in general. In Dec. 2009 Klaus Löhrer, a student of Tibetology at the University of Kopenhagen, wrote a paper on the democratic implications of the Shugden controversy called Pluralism the Hard Way: Governance Implications of the Dorje Shugden Controversy and the Democracy- and Rights Rhetoric Pertaining to It.

Other scholarly sources covering range of Dorje Shugden Controversy or the nature and function of Dorje Shugden include:

See also

New Kadampa Tradition

(in chronological order)

David N. Kay’s research “Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation – The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), and the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives (OBC)” (2004) (PDF) was reviewed by

There is a Book Extract available.

In 1995 Prof. Geoffrey Samuel published Tibetan Buddhism as a World Religion: Global Networking and its Consequences curtly discussing NKT’s split from FPMT (see The Problem of Stability).

The Guardian article of Bunting, Madeleine (1996), Shadow boxing on the path to Nirvana (PDF), is also used in Bluck’s, Kay’s, Lopez’s and other’s academic research.

In 2006 Routledge Curzon published Prof. Robert Bluck‘s “British Buddhism” which includes some pages about the NKT. In general his interviewees denied or rejected the criticism NKT is faced with. Bluck suggested a number of different angles from which the NKT can be viewed:

  • The NKT could be viewed from outside as a movement aiming at what Titmus (1999: 91) called ‘conversion and empire-building’, with a dogmatic and superior viewpoint, ‘narrow-minded claims to historical significance’, intolerance of other traditions and ‘strong identification with the leader or a book’.
  • A more scholarly external view might emphasize instead the enthusiasm, firm beliefs, urgent message and ‘charismatic leadership’ which Barker (1999: 20) saw as characteristic of many NRMs.
  • An alternative picture from inside the movement would include a wish to bring inner peace to more people, based on a pure lineage of teaching and practice, with faith and confidence in an authentic spiritual guide.

About the possible ways how to picture the NKT, Bluck said: “Our choice of interpretation may depend on how we engage with the other viewpoint, as well as the evidence itself, and until recently the NKT’s supporters and critics have largely ignored each other.”

Some non-academic sources

Other Sources

Pico Iyer discusses the Shugden issue and some details in his book The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (pages 135-139)—Iyer’s book was reviewed by Robert Barnett and Patrick French. Jeff Watt from the Sakya Resource Guide explains the point of view of the Sakya Tradition: Do Sakyas rely upon Dorje Shugden?

As researcher Mills puts it: “The Shugden dispute represents a battleground of views on what is meant by religious and cultural freedom.” The point of view of the Dalai Lama can be found here and the point of view of Shugden followers can be found here. There is also an Essay “Exiled from Exile” by Bernis, however it is neither used in any academic research nor has it been published by an academic publisher or newspaper, but can be found at the website of the Dorje Shugden Devotee’s Charitable & Religious Society, Majnu Ka Tilla, Delhi 54, India.

A book by investigative journalist Raimondo BultriniIL DEMONE E IL DALAI LAMA’ (2008) includes details about the political and ideological background of the Dorje Shugden Controversy and the main players of that controversy; the book is written from an investigative perspective. The book has been translated into English in 2013: The Dalai Lama and the King Demon Tracking a Triple Murder Mystery Through the Mists of Time. A summary of Bultrini’s investigation can be read in A Spirit of the XVII Century. One academic asked to mention Trinley Kalsang’s website Dorje Shugden History. The Department of Religion & Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration (TGIE) published in 1989 a work called A Brief Opposition to Shugden.

UK journalist Isabel Hilton wrote in The Search for the Panchen Lama (p. 297-298):

“It was not only inside Tibet, however, that the Dalai Lama’s religious status came under attack. He also had a number of serious difficulties in the exile world, which began, for the first time, to threaten to tarnish his image.

As far as the outside world was concerned, the trouble came to light through the activities of a Gelugpa dissident, Geshe Kelsang, who had left India to live in the UK. After a controversial passage he gained control of a spiritual centre in Cumbria in the north of England, from where he launched a campaign that appeared to be aimed at destroying the reputation and authority of the Dalai Lama.

The substance of the campaign was the right to worship a particular deity called Dorje Shugden. Dorje Shugden was a popular deity for many Tibetans. He had the reputation of being able to impart enormous good fortune to his devotees but also of being extremely vindictive and jealous. One of the Dalai Lama’s tutors had encouraged the Dalai Lama himself to worship Dorje Shugden, but the Dalai Lama had decided, as a result of several dreams, that the deity was harmful. He gave up the practice himself, then banned it in all institutions that were connected with his person. This included Gelugpa monasteries and, of course, the government in exile.

There was some resistance to this edict in the monasteries in India, but the most visible and virulent campaign against it was conducted in exile on the direction of the Cumbrian centre. From Cumbria came a stream of anti-Dalai Lama invective which accused him of violating the religious freedoms of Dorje Shugden followers. It was a damaging charge against the man who had spent forty years pleading his country and his religion’s case.

The origins of the Dorje Shugden dispute lie deep in Gelugpa politics and the controversy is too complicated to explore here. But the significance of it pertains to sectarianism in Tibetan Buddhism: the defenders of Dorje Shugden are characterized as Gelugpa fundamentalists who regard the Dalai Lama’s association with other Buddhist sects – an association greatly strengthened in exile – as a betrayal of the Gelugpa. By insisting on worshipping the deity, they attack the Dalai Lama’s authority as a true Gelugpa leader.

It was a controversy that the Chinese, of course, were happy to publicize inside Tibet, and although no direct connection between the Dorje Shugden campaign and the Chinese government can be proved, there is no doubt that it served Beijing’s purposes well. In February 1997, for instance, the magazine China’s Tibet published a two-page article in which the Dalai Lama was ridiculed as a ‘self-styled believer in religious freedom’ and attached for his rejection of what the author described as an ‘innocent guardian of Tibetan Buddhist doctrine’. The Dalai Lama had, the article claimed, ’declared a virtual war against a holy spirit of the Gelug sect’.”

  Last edited by tenpel on December 31, 2015
(Some of the content, annotations, and the order of the list was added or modified by Christopher Bell.)


  1. i will certainly bookmark this thread…very useful indeed.. great work Tenzin !

  2. Unfortunately I am not very technical but I wish others could post some pieces on youtube to counter these sleek but false propaganda adds. I am shocked youtube allows a policy where two comments can be posted and then the comments section closed. It allows too easily for manipulation.

    I am hoping that some of the holocaust imagery used in the other propaganda is noticed by Jewish groups because they don’t take their sad history being used as a propaganda tool lightly.

  3. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

  4. You can add to this list Christopher Bell’s recent paper Dorjé Shukden: The Conflicting Narratives and Constructed Histories of a Tibetan Protector Deity given at this year’s annual meeting of the AAR

  5. Thank you Chris!

    The AAR meeting says:

    Christopher Bell, University of Virginia
    Dorjé Shukden: The Conflicting Narratives and Constructed Histories of a Tibetan Protector Deity

    My paper will explore in a metahistorical fashion the constructed narratives surrounding the Tibetan protector deity Dorjé Shukden (Rdo rje shugs ldan). As is well known in Tibetan Studies, Dorjé Shukden has a very conflicted status within the Tibetan pantheons. He has a sizable following of devotees who believe that he is an enlightened Buddha, yet many others argue that he is a mere worldly deity or even a demon. What is more interesting than the historical veracity of such beliefs is how those involved in this dispute use history to authenticate their claims. I will use Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s ‘formulas of silence’ to read previously unexamined historical sources, Georges Dreyfus’s landmark study “The Shuk-den Affair,” and modern resources for Shukden’s history, in order to understand better the manner in which reconstructed histories can affect how Shukden’s cult is perceived and how they have impacted the social status of his practitioners.

    I added it to the list above + a link to the PDF of his MA thesis which can be downloaded here: There is also an interpretative essay by Bell Tibetan Deity Cults As Political Barometers which he has generated when still a student at the UoV.

    BTW, there is also an unpublished list of concerns by Dr. Edward Reiss about NKT. It is mentioned in Waterhouse’s 1997 ‘Buddhism in Bath’ paper. It is said that The six-page document [is] organised into several sections: 1. ‘Cultism: Personality Cults’, 2. The Benefit of Buddhists: Milking the DSS (the residents on public benefit issue), 3. ‘Free to Leave? Insider and outsider doctrines’, 4. Deceptive Presentation, 5. Mind Control: By-passing the critical facilities, 6. Buddhist Fundamentalism? Dissent and independence. This is followed by two pages of ‘Recommendations and Questions’ to the NKT/Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.

    Further it is said that this list by Reiss uses extensive quotes from internal NKT documents – Full Moon magazine and an internal ‘Notes on Teaching Skills’ document to justify its points.; and In June 1995, Geshe Kelsang wrote a 6-page response to the individual problems Reiss mentions.

    Note: The comment has been updated different times.

  6. Update:

    Buddhism without Borders: Contemporary Developments of Buddhism in the West

    at the Institute of Buddhist Studies
    Berkeley, California
    March 18 – 21, 2010
    Panel VI: Interpreting Buddhism in the West, 9:30 -12:30

    The abstracts says:

    An Analysis of Western Involvement in the Dorje Shugden Controversy

    Jeannine Chandler, Siena College

    For centuries, Tibetan Buddhists have witnessed the unfolding of a controversy regarding the status and worship of Dorje Shugden, a wrathful protector deity in the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon. Shugden is known for his power and success in protecting members of the Gelug tradition and for punishing those adherents who mix the practices and teachings of the Tibetan schools. Since 1996, the Dalai Lama has proscribed Shugden practice amongst Tibetan Buddhists, citing Shugden’s troubled past and sectarian tendencies. In consideration of Tibetan Buddhism’s globalization, his restrictions on Shugden worship have confused and angered a number of Tibetan Buddhists around the world, both Tibetans and non-Tibetans. The Dalai Lama’s proscription of the deity’s worship and the alleged persecution of Shugden worshippers in exile communities have drawn criticism of his roles as a politician and a religious leader. The debate over the status and worship of protector deity Dorje Shugden has highlighted issues in Tibetan Buddhism relating to the guru-disciple relationship, the authenticity of lineage, and authority amongst the schools in exile and in the West.

    Tibetan lamas who have settled in the West have taken sides in the Shugden debate, and subsequently influenced the perspectives of their Western students. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, founder of the New Kadampa Tradition (of which Shugden worship is a central component), has led his Western students in the crusade against the persecution of Shugden worshippers. The injection of Western attitudes, views and values into the Shugden affair has further facilitated the transformation of the dispute. The different cultural context of liberal Western society has added a new dimension to the debate, as each side has co-opted Western “foot soldiers” and used Western rhetoric to gain supporters for its point-of-view. Western confusion regarding the position of the lama in Tibetan Buddhism has exacerbated the Shugden conflict. Shugden-worshipers have organized and initiated protests against the Dalai Lama’s decree throughout Europe and North America. The cult-like devotion to Kelsang Gyatso by his disciples and the protests against the Dalai Lama expose the ambiguity that surrounds the guru-disciple relationship in Tibetan Buddhism in the West. The Shugden conflict provides evidence that, despite a surface commitment to ecumenicism in the overall exile Tibetan community, sectarian consciousness has actually become entrenched amongst Tibetan Buddhists in the West.

    The globalization of Tibetan Buddhism has also influenced the forms and forums of the Shugden controversy. Westerners have perpetuated the conflict, specifically via inflammatory rhetoric on the Internet. Debates over topics such as the deity’s status and the position of the Dalai Lama in the dispute have appeared on myriad websites, blogs and discussion boards. These online polemics and international demonstrations have intensified the Shugden conflict. Western involvement has thus complicated and prolonged a centuries-old Tibetan religious dispute.

  7. Klaus Löhrer says:

    Dear bloghost

    I am a student of tibetology at the university of Copenhagen. Last year I wrote a paper on the democratic implications of the Shugden controversy called “Pluralism the Hard Way: Governance Implications of the Dorje Shugden Controversy and the Democracy- and Rights Rhetoric Pertaining to It”

    Now it is just lying on my harddisk doing nothing, so if you want more stuff on this controversy to post on this site, you can have it.

    My email is:

    • excellent, thank you very much! I just sent you an email!

      March 30, 2010
      The paper is online now and I included it also in the post. Thanks again for your kind offer!

  8. I’d like to add the chapter 10d: “Trodé Khang-sar: The Temple of Dorjé Shukden,” pp. 194-199, of André Alexander’s book The Temples of Lhasa, Serindia (Chicago 2005), a book that might be hard to get, unfortunately. This chapter is about a temple that is often mentioned as ‘proof’ by Shugden advocates. Its existence is attested in 1744, it was desecrated in 1959 and given to an opera troupe, only reopened in 1986. It has nice stonework and a few preserved mural paintings from pre-59 when there were 12 monks (now there are 7), but overall relatively small and pathetic compared to all those great Buddhist monuments of the Lhasa area. Indeed, in its day, it was primarily used as a residence for an oracle priest who was possessed by the ghost of Sonam Dragpa. But the 3rd story where his residence was had been removed in the 1960’s. Anyway, I think you should add this to your list.

  9. Valérie Berthelot says:

    D’ailleurs, a propos d’immortel, ll semblerait que le fameux libraire Gérard Collard, qui tient la librairie Griffe Noire, envisage de se présenter pour être élu à l’Académie !. Je suis convaincu que cela ferait un second élan à l’institution, foi de Saint Maurien. Vous ne trouvez pas


    “Apparently the 10th Panchen Lama, Lobsang Trinley Lhündrub, had propitiated this spirit, but shortly before he passed away in 1989, he found a charter written by the 8th Panchen, Tenpai Wangchuk, forbidding the monks of Tashi Lhunpo from doing this practice. He then published a similar notice from Beijing prohibiting its practice.

  11. David Kay’s “Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain” is available as PDF file.

  12. Found this interesting discussion about Shugden on Reddit:

    What’s annoying is the comparison of Trinley Kelsang (no academic credits and anonymous) to academic heavy weight George Dreyfus.

    • Christopher Bell says:

      I would suggest that comparing Trinley Kelsang’s and Georges Dreyfus’s mutual credentials is not relevant. Yes, Dreyfus has a PhD and is a professor, and yes, Trinley Kelsang is anonymous and does not have equivalent academic credentials; but it is clear the latter reads Tibetan well and is very familiar with the ritual content of the Shukden Beubum, while Dreyfus was not at all familiar with it, or other relevant primary sources, at the time of his article’s publication. Kelsang makes a number of valid arguments and provides a critique of some of the weakness of Dreyfus’s claims that should be considered on their own merits. Ultimately, focusing on credentials distracts from approaching the arguments themselves. The Reddit discussion is interesting, though, and provides a good dissection of some of the claims.

      • I agree a discussion of titles and institutions might distract from the arguments. And good arguments is what should really matter.

        With respect to NKT most researchers – except Kay – obviously did mainly some superficial work, and ignored key issues (e.g. ordination, harm reported by ex-NKT, sectarianism etc.) What discriminates Dreyfus from most NKT researchers is that he is a Geshe Lharampa too and knows the indo-Tibetan Buddhist tradition from within.

        With respect to Trinley Kelsang and Georges Dreyfus, Kelsang knows Tibetan and can read the sources, and he will use them to prove the validity of Shugden practice and this has some merits but is also one sided. Trijang Rinpoche had done this at length already, and this is a never ending discussion. As von Brück remarked: “We could go on quoting several oral traditions which are related by Trijang Rinpoche to establish and defend the Shugden tradition. Trijang wants to show that Nechung and Shugden do not clash or, in other terms, that there is no contradiction between the general protection of the whole of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and the specific protection of the Gelukpa school only. Looking into the history of the struggle between different schools in Tibet and judging from the heat of the present controversy there is more to say. It is clear that by historical evidence the authenticity of that tradition on Shugden cannot be decided.”

        It needs a balanced researcher to put the key issues together, a person who is able to contextualize events, claims and texts in order to give a broad background of this topic in order to understand the controversy. I doubt if Kelsang is able to do that. The key points and merits of Dreyfus’ work is – in my opinion and this is rather in accordance with what almost all researchers would agree with – that Dreyfus sums up relatively recent developments within the Gelug tradition that are a matter of fact. These include:

        – the sectarian background of the practice especially associated with Pabongkha and his claims of Gelug supremacy
        – the change of the Gelug tradition by making Shugden and Vajrayogini and him as the guru central to the tradition while Je Tsongkhapa’s central element on the tantric and protector level are the union of the three HYT deities Guhyasamaja, Chakrasambhava and Yamantaka + the three protectors Vaisharavana, Kalarupa (who was bound by Tsongkhapa himself as a protector) and Maahkala. (Tsonghapa has also a far more differentiated approach to the Guru reliance than Pabongkha.)
        – the controversial emergence and history of the practice going back to the death of a rival of the 5th Dalai Lama

        What he doesn’t state that clearly is the exorbitant stressing of the importance of the guru and it’s underlying implication that requires total obedience to the guru – an issue that is rather associated with power issues than spiritual progress. Another important issue is the trial to get rid of Nechung oracle (Pehar) based on the Nyingma tradition and to install instead Shugden as the main protector of Tibet which would have strengthened the influence and the superiority of the Gelugpas and marginalized the other traditions like Nyingma even more. There are also other issues on the political, power and group dynamic level that have to be considered. For instance: Tibetans were rather organized like tribes. Each ‘tribe’ or local community/group had their own protector(s). A tribe or group who claims to have the most powerful, most supreme protector claims implicitly to be more important and more powerful than other tribes or groups. All those issues have to looked at too. And I think the conflict is rather on the social-cultural and power level than any where else. Of course the spiritual level also plays a role and unlike other protectors Shugden has been always one of the most controversial, hasn’t it?

        • Christopher Bell says:

          I agree, Tenpel, more balanced research is definitely necessary. It is clear by his language and focus that Trinley Kelsang is pro-Shugden, and in that sense he is biased, but as with credentials this too is not wholly damning. It is important to be aware of an author’s bias so that one can keep an eye out for blind spots in their arguments, but this is the nature of scholarship overall. Research is a prolonged dialogue, a conversation between multiple participants over several years, decades, and even centuries, with the goal to shed more and more light on a matter of considerable interest.

          I disagree with assessments that claim Dreyfus is anti-Shugden; his article may have come to be used and cited by anti-Shugden materials, but Dreyfus himself doesn’t strike me as similarly motivated. However, his use of primary sources is limited; but again this is where opportunities to continue the discourse of scholarship can continue, and Trinley Kelsang has continued it. This does not mean the conversation is over, though, and Trinley Kelsang’s own claims should be scrutinized and taken to task, and the primary sources should be further explored.

          I do think von Brück’s remark is premature in that there is plenty of historical material available that could shed light on the authenticity of the Shugden tradition, it just hasn’t been fully explored yet, but Trinley Kelsang provides a strong start. With regards to Dreyfus, he offers a decent summary of the Shugden development, but Trinley Kelsang is correct to point out some of his discrepancies. The work of both author’s must be tempered by more research. In particular, I think the emergence of the cult is still largely unknown and a lot of anachronistic claims have been made by both sides of the controversy. I agree with you that the issue is at heart a matter of social-cultural conflict and power, and this needs to be further explored.

          As for how long Shugden has been controversial, this is difficult to say. There is one 18th-century Sakya text that may elude to the practice of the deity being controversial, but this needs to be examined more fully and the context fleshed out. Though, to offer some perspective, my research on the history of Nechung Monastery indicates that the Fifth Dalai Lama’s adoption of the Nechung deity as a protector of his nascent government was controversial in his day, and some members of his administration, as well as other powerful figures, were ambivalent about the deity at first.

      • Yes there are many, as yet unanswered, questions….

        How authentic is the material in the Shukden Beubum collection that Trinley Kelsang relies on? Are the texts within that collection available in earlier sources – or might some of the texts be more recent writings attributed to earlier sources (“Shugden apocrypha”)?.

        It would also be good to have some context. How does this Shugden material compare to texts on other mundane or supra-mundane protectors by the same authors? It is hard to judge the flowery verses and praises used in these texts without comparing the language to the language used in texts invoking other protectors. That might go some way to indicating whether before Phabongkha and his teacher Shugden was considered special – or just a mundane protector little different from many others. Was the 17th to 19th century composition or production of texts related to Shugden more frequent, about the same, or sparser than texts for other Gelug protectors during the same period. Jeff Watt has noted the lack of art historical evidence for widespread practice of Shugden – or that he was considered a major protector within the Gelug school prior to the 20th century.

        There also needs to be more detailed information in English on the life of Phabongkha, his relationship with the 13th Dalai Lama, his time in Amdo and Khams, etc. While young he seems to have practised Nyingma teachings but, by the end of his life, he seems to have become quite hostile. Why the transformation? What about his political involvements? Is Shugden a kind of “Gelug terma” ?

        The NKT portray Shugden as a “Wisdom Buddha” who wouldn’t harm anyone, his wrathful
        aspect as purely symbolic – and the practice as purely spiritual. Do ordinary Tibetans who invoke Shugden similarly see him as an enlightened protector who never causes harm, see his wrathful aspect as purely symbolic and invoke him only for benefiting their spiritual progress? Or is the view of the ordinary Tibetan monk or lay practitioner quite different from that of the NKT?

  13. Good post. I certainly appreciate this website. Stick
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  14. New paper: “Phabongkha Dechen Nyingpo: His Collected Works and the Guru-Deity-Protector Triad”
    Joona Repo (University of Helsinki),


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