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 March 27, 2017
(Some of the content, annotations, and the order of the list was added or modified by Christopher Bell.)