Western Shugden Society – Review and Present Situation

The New Kadampa Tradition started in the midst of April 2008 a highly professional world wide media campaign under the guise of the front group Western Shugden Society, which has “no leader nor registered office”. The activities are “against the Dalai Lama” and have the aim “to stop his evil actions” of “inflicting terrible human rights abuses on his own people and interfering with the religious freedom of thousands and thousands of people around the world.”. WSS/NKT portray the Dalai Lama as a “liar”, “hypocrite”, and “21st Century Dictator” who is “cruel and evil”. Accusing him of being ‘The Saffron Robed Muslim´ who has throughout his life “pretended to be a Buddhist holy being giving Buddhist teachings” while having “stolen” the teachings “from Trijang Rinpoche.” (see The Tibetan Situation Today)

WSS/NKT demands:

  1. “To give freedom to practice Dorje Shugden to whoever wishes to rely upon this Deity.
  2. To stop completely the discrimination between Shugden and non-Shugden practitioners.
  3. To allow all Shugden monks and nuns who have been expelled from their monasteries and nunneries to return where they should receive the same material and spiritual rights as the non-Shugden practitioners.”

WSS state many points which from their point of view are proof of a systematic “religious persecution” by the Dalai Lama.

These points include that six Shugden monks were expelled from their monasteries. According to WSS this has been done “to fulfil the Dalai Lama’s wish”. According to a monk from Sera, Shugden monks forced events and their actions led to different disputes, which couldn’t be solved. Finally the monastery decided to expell the Shugden monks after they recognized that the preceding Sera administration’s “live and let live approach” failed.

According to WSS “The true creator of all these problems is the Dalai Lama” and they demand:

  1. “To reverse the expulsion of the six monks and allow them to return to Sera Monastery where they should receive the same spiritual and material rights as the other monks who do not follow Shugden.
  2. If you do not accept the first point, we will immediately organise worldwide public demonstrations directly against the Dalai lama whenever he visits any country.

If you have some wisdom you should understand how important the Dalai Lama´s reputation is—this is now in your hands. We need your answer by the 22nd April 2008″

Obviously HH the Dalai Lama didn’t fulfil these wishes. So the protests of WSS started 22nd April 2008 at Colgate University, USA.

To find out the dynamics of the conflicts, what happened exactly, and to get the complete picture of events will take a lot of time and effort to thoroughly investigate the events in India. Although there are some records and eye witness reports from both sides, they are still one perspective.

According to WSS:

Using his people like an army, the Dalai Lama has destroyed all Shugden Temples and shrines, caused millions of people to experience inhumane situations and unbearable feelings of pain, and expelled all Shugden practitioners from the Tibetan community. He has separated innocent people from their families, friends and community. As a result of these actions, thousands of Shugden practitioners have been forced to become refugees for the second time in their life as they try to escape such inhumane actions that exist in this modern world by seeking exile in other countries. Now, as recently as 8th February 2008, the Dalai Lama has expelled 900 monks from their monasteries. On January 9th 2008 he was invited to inaugurate a Prayer Hall for a large monastic community in South India. At this spiritual event he publicly announced a “Referendum on the practice of Dolgyal (Shugden)” and proposed a collection of votes on this issue with a deadline on 8th February 2008. Since when did the action of prayer become an object for political vote? And since when did voting become a “yes” or “no” game with colored sticks with no middle/neutral option for abstaining? Well, this is precisely the nature of the referendum held by the Dalai Lama and the direct cause for these 900 innocent monks being expelled from their monasteries in recent days.

According to a Bhikshuni:

“During the recent teachings in Drepung by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness mentioned the issue of Shugden a number of times, and this time there was much more concern around the issue. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said (Geshe Dorje Damdrul was translating):

‘The government of China is funding lamas who support Shugden in order to create difficulties for me, especially they (the Chinese government) give financial support to these lamas if they cultivate Shugden. China is very critical of me and the Indian government is being pushed against me by saying that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is restricting religious freedom by saying you cannot practice Shugden. It is my duty to warn people, and then it is up to the individual to decide, so I am not restricting religious freedom.’

His Holiness spoke a lot about the issue and as in the past explained His reasons for taking this stand.

His Holiness has asked for a referendum among the Tibetans regarding 2 questions:

1. Do you want to practice Shugden?
2. Do you want to be a part of a community sharing facilities, materials, doing Dharma activity together where some of the community practice Shugden? (This a concern especially in the monasteries where some monks still practice)

If the vote is more than 60% yes on both, then His Holiness the Dalai Lama said He will not even speak one word on the subject again!”

I feel that the actions taken at Sera were probably a result of what HH said, and it was not HH himself who was behind them. I cannot imagine that HH would ask people to sign statements vowing that they would never practice Shugden, or ask that monks be expelled if they do the practice. It seems he expressed his concerns, and perhaps the monks at Sera took these actions.

According to a Bhikshu:

I then travelled to Sera, where I stayed for a further four weeks. After less than a week of the teachings having ended in Drepung, all Sera monks were summoned to the monastery and those outside the monastery had to return within one month. The day after my arrival in Sera, Je and Me monks were signing the declaration [see above]. This is not just filling in a form, but each monk has to stand up in front of the entire Sera Je or Me assembly and declare that they won’t practice DS and then sign the declaration. This was done in accordance with the practices as outlined in the vinaya (the code of conduct for monks as set forth by Lord Buddha). Those that refuse to sign the declaration will be expelled (Drepung and Ganden had already expelled monks). Sera Je only has 4 monks who are practising and all are in Switzerland (Gonsar Rinpoche etc.), but for Sera Me, it is a much more serious issue as they have a few hundred monks who do the practice.

The day I left Sera, in mid-February, Me was conducting the final declarations, including those of the two kamptsen’s that have monks that do this practice. As DS practitioners have a reputation, there was a large presence of Indian policemen who were searching all the monks before they entered the Dukang. Sera Me’s gekyö (the disciplinarian who was named in the letter by the Western Shugden Society) had reportedly visited the chief of police in Mysore, and given him a list of names of people who should be investigated in case he was murdered (fortunately I am not aware that there has been any violence). But it is a very sad state of affairs when the police feel that they need to come into a monastery and that one of the most senior administrator’s fears that a fellow monk may murder him. Maybe it is time for a decisive conclusion!

Now some months later, Gonsar Rinpoche and his three geshes have been expelled by Je and 300 Me monks have been expelled. Unfortunately the difficulty in Me is continuing as these monks refuse to leave the monastery.

Life has at least returned to some normality. Whilst I was in Sera sojong (the monk’s purification ceremony) wasn’t performed, Me didn’t hold evening debate (there was less than a week’s classes between the end of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings and the start of the Losar holidays), and all other joint activities were cancelled and the Lachi premises were closed. Sojong was only performed for the first time, two weeks ago!

Because all conflicts are solved in monasteries based on the Vinaya, and from the perspective of the welfare of the majority, it will be hard to judge the events without knowing that background. The way to solve conflicts in Tibetan monasteries is well explained by the previous (100th) Ganden Tripa, the Head of the Gelugpas, Lobsang Nyingma Rinpoche:

The Mahayana teachings advocate an altruistic attitude of sacrificing few for the sake of many. Thus why is it not possible for one, who acclaims oneself to be a Mahayana, to stop worshipping these dubious gods and deities for the sake and benefit of the Tibetans in whole and for the well-being of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In the Vinaya [Buddhist code of discipline], it is held that since a controversial issue is settled by picking the mandatory twig by “accepting the voice of many by the few” the resolution should be accepted by all. As it has been supported by ninety five percent it would be wise and advisable for the remaining five percent to stop worshipping the deity keeping in mind that there exists provisions such as the four Severe Punishments [Nan tur bzhi], the seven Expulsions [Gnas dbyung bdun] and the four Convictions [Grangs gzhug bzhi] in the Vinaya [Code of Discipline].(see Statement Ganden Tripa)

To avoid conflicts and to protect lay people from losing faith in monks and nuns, the Buddha set up different rules which – when kept – avoid disputes and turmoil:

  1. Not Causing a Division within the Sangha (monastic order)
  2. Not Siding with a schismatic (e.g. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso)
  3. Not Causing lay people to lose faith in the Sangha
  4. Heeding advice about one’s offences

It is obvious that these rules are not kept by those few Tibetan monks who support now the WSS/NKT protests. The Vinaya is very different from worldly perspectives. Mixed with a Western context and values a clash, confusion and a loss of faith in Buddhism will be a natural outcome. Buddhists don’t appreciate the harsh abusive language and noisy aggressive public protests of WSS. There are to many points contradicting Buddhist principles and Buddhist ethics.

On the other hand The Time Magazine is of course correct when stating:

What pushes the current allegations into a potential human rights matter is the contention that those who won’t take the oaths are denied monastery I.D. cards that the Tibetan Government in Exile allegedly requires to process visa requests through to the Indian government.[1] (Most of the Tibetan diaspora lives in India.) “Families are being torn apart,” reads Shugden literature.

One week before starting the series of protests at Colgate University until now WSS/NKT has set up a considerable quantity of anonymous websites, the main one in 11 languages, issuing a great number of press releases, “sending out glossy leaflets to selected Buddhists, publicising protests on various websites, giving interviews, and sending letters to Buddhist organisations” (TripleGem), and printing and spreading brochures (e.g. “The Tibetan Situation Today“). A number of YouTube Videos were produced, and in every suited forum the message of WSS has been published. The campaign included also to remove critical information from Wikipedia, using sockpuppets and blocking strategies, removing academic sources from related Wikiepdia articles while adding sources of anonymous websites.

Recently the NKT secretary has set up a new anonymous website, New Kadampa Truth, attacking some Buddhist masters and some Buddhist individuals – who disagree with them – including the ASA and researcher David N. Kay whose academic paper about NKT is portrayed as being “heavily biased” and “who had his own disgruntled history with the NKT”. After NKT members removed the History of NKT, based on Kay’s research, from the NKT-Wikipedia article, the NKT secretary offers now their own understanding of The Emergence of NKT in Britain.

A Buddhist, who is no former member of NKT, concerned about the present development and viewing NKT as a cult, has set up the anonymous website Buddhism under assault. According to him this is his respond to NKT’s “ugly attacks on esteemed Tibetan teachers of Buddhism – The Dalai Lama, Lama Yeshe (died 1984), Lama Zopa, Lama Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche – and 5 other individuals.” A group of former NKT members set up the Blog New Kadampa Truths.

The former Wikepdia articles which were published before April, 15, 2008 have been saved on a separate website. Those interested can see the differences by comparing the articles, reading the talk pages and screening the history of the respective articles.

The Dalai Lama’s or his representatives’ responses to the accusations are:

In a BBC interview, “the Dalai Lama said he had not advocated a ban, but he had stopped the worship of the spirit because it was not Buddhist in nature. The protesters said they wanted to discuss the issue with the Dalai Lama. The exiled Tibetan leader said people were free to protest and it was up to individuals to decide.”

Tsering Tashi, the Dalai Lama’s representative in London, told AFP later that they respected the Shugden Buddhists’ right to protest but said their allegations were untrue. He added, “the group had not made any formal request to meet the Dalai Lama or his representatives.”

The NYT quoted the Dalai Lama: “This is just spirit worship,” he said. “After I read more about it, I realized my mistake and dropped my practice.”, “I think 99 percent of Tibetans follow my practice. Some small portion worship this spirit. I am committed to freedom of speech, freedom of talk. So I say to them, enjoy freedom of talk.”

According to Kasur Tashi Wangdi, the Dalai Lama’s representative in America:

“There’s no suppression! His Holiness made it very clear that according to his own observations over many years—in fact, he himself used to worship Shugden—and over many years of his own experience and observation and investigation, he found that this practice is not according to Buddhist practice. That practice is also bringing in divisions within the Buddhist traditions. The practitioners are attaching more importance than the basic Buddhist practice, and therefore he felt that it’s a practice that he would not approve of and therefore he advised people to not engage in it. But he made it very clear right from the beginning it was up to the individuals. He has a responsibility to explain the negative aspects of it and then it’s up to the individuals to decide on their own. Officially there has never been any repression or denial of rights to practitioners. But after His Holiness’ advice many monastic orders adopted rules and regulations that would not accept practitioners of Shugden worship in their monastic order. The followers have set up their own groups and they are free to function. But it’s in the right of institutions to make their own decisions.” and “There’s some misunderstanding that groups taking their own actions is the policy of the Tibetan government, but it’s not. Institutions take advice and it is within their right to say they do not want Shugden worship. But now if a group of people say they want to set up their own institution because they are different practitioners, which is within their right.” (see Interview with Tashi Wangdi)

According to The Time Magazine:

“Shugden practitioners deny that they are fundamentalist, purist or violent, and have renewed their complaints in light of an intensifying crackdown by the Dalai Lama. He — or people acting in his perceived interests — has expanded the loyalty demand from abbots to monks and even laypeople as far afield as France. In a nod to the Tibetan Government in Exile’s self-definition as a democracy, each monastery has been taking a referendum on Shugden. When the “anti” faction inevitably wins, the monks pledge to renounce Shugden and deny spiritual or material aid to those who hold out. In transcripts that Shugdenpas allege record the Dalai Lama’s comments, he sounds atypically (to the Western ear) authoritarian. “Shugden devotees are growing in your monastery,” he is quoted as snapping at one abbot. “If you are this inept, you had better resign.”


The problem is that in Tibet most people shun those whom they think the Dalai Lama wants them to shun. The protesters display photos of signs they say have gone up recently in Tibet urging shopkeepers not to do business with tainted monks. They could be written by anybody, but most people assume they know the ultimate author of the signs.

Experts seem to think that there is something to the Shugden allegations. “There is considerable anecdotal evidence to support what they say,” Stephen Batchelor, co-founder of the Sharpham College for Buddhist Studies and Contemporary Enquiry, wrote in an email to TIME, although, he adds, “I have yet to see any hard evidence.” Wrote Donald Lopez of the University of Michigan, “Buddhist monks who apply for an Identity Certificates must also submit a letter form their abbot. I was told that there may have been cases in which, contrary to the policy of the Government-in-Exile, monks who worship Shugden have not been provided with such a letter.”

A witness from Sera and TibetInfoNet portrayed the situation in India from the perspective of what happened in Sera and what lamas and how the PR of China are involved.

The Australian Sangha Association (ASA) issued an official statement, suggesting to the protesters: “Therefore, in the spirit of Dharma and in accordance with Buddhist principles the ASA would encourage the NKT and WSS protesters to request forgiveness from the Dalai Lama for their behaviour and in future to conduct themselves with humility and restraint.” Regarding the status of NKT monks and nuns whether being authentic Buddhist monks and nuns or not, the Australian Sangha Association expressed their opinion “that for NKT members to represent themselves to the public as authentic Buddhist monks and nuns is wrong and misleading.”

NKT published 24 hours later their point of view “NKT monks and nuns are authentic and try to show a good and practical example of service, celibacy and humility for our modern world. Buddha Shakyamuni himself said that the Vinaya should be practiced in accordance with what is most acceptable for society. The NKT is following this advice from Buddha.”. According to NKT ASA is “delivering a misleading and injurious statement”; “Nowadays, in Tibetan Buddhism, …in practice many of these are broken from the day the vows are taken. We should appreciate that the NKT is acting honestly, in accordance with this reality, following the truth. They are not pretending to be lofty or important simply by collecting a large number of vows that are subsequently not possible for a modern-day practitioner to keep.” The statement of ASA is felt as being led by “bias” and “a mixture of religion and politics”. (see also How important is the Vinaya?)

With the same claim, mixing Dharma with politics, Geshe Kelsang expressed in the past his discontentment with the Buddhist approach of Lama Yeshe – who invited him in 1977 to England in his main center (Manjushri Institute, Ulverston) – the Dalai Lama, the Gelug school and the Tibetan diaspora. Finally this claim and different radical views and policies of Geshe Kelsang, as well as his growing insularity, led to a schism with Lama Yeshe and his organisation (FPMT) and his breakaway and isolation from the Gelug school,Tibetan Buddhism and the monasteries and ordained Sangha. As a result, since its inception in 1991, NKT is isolated from the Buddhist world and Tibetan Buddhism.

Although NKT acknowledges that “mistakes have been made” and NKT states “we are genuinely sorry for those mistakes and trying honestly to learn from them”, as long as NKT leadership repeats the same old narrow-minded habits using extremely skilful defence and attack means (we are pure and good persons “acting honestly” while concerned Buddhist lack proper motivation, are hostile or “pretending to be lofty or important”), there seem to be less hope for a positive change in NKT. Just some new Internal Rules will not end, what inwardly, in the heart, has gone wrong.


Due to a lack of information and inconsistent information, it is difficult to give a clear picture of the actual situation in India – the situation for the monasteries and for the expelled monks.

According to a Bhikshu, who received this information from a Sera Geshe: “Sera Me has expelled 180 monks – 80 from Nepal and 100 from the same area in Tibet that the former Zong Rinpoche came from. They have left the monastery and have formed their own monastery just outside Sera. They are being supported financially by the usual lot from Europe and the Chinese government.” According to a Getsul closely related to Sera, only few monks have been expelled “they had to issue warnings to about a hundred monks but ended up having to expel only a handful!” he added: “Even during the initial ‘stick’ referendum the supporters of HH Dalai Lama won by a large margin.”

Latest News

August 12, 2008

Sera Monastery (India): Situation for the Expelled Monks and the Monks abiding in Sera

According to a monk from Sera Monastery:

During the worst of crisis, Mey was almost closed by the police and a Sojong at Lachi was delayed for +4 hours by the police, some in riot geat. The Pomra’s wanted to come and had called the police to help. Anyhow, it’s done now but it was a SERIOUS crisis that lasted many months. Those who have not pledged still live in Sera but have “established” a monastery, separate to Sera Mey. They do their own debates, prayers, food and school. They kept the buildings of the old Kangsten and the new one being built, plus, well, almost everything…! We don’t care and, we don’t need to go anymore to those horrible night prayers that went well into the night. We may have less pocket money but what we have is clean. Could not be more happy.

See also

[1] The problem with this suggestion, made by the Time Magazine, is that Tibet scholar Robert Barnett of Columbia University clearly stated to Time Magazine, that “ID cards are not given out by the exile administration, but by the Indian authorities”.  (see TibetanReview.net) Another problem which should be taken into consideration is that China favours monks practising Shugden by mainly giving them permission to undertake studies in India. (see: Hillman, Ben, 2005, Monastic Politics and the Local State in China: Authority and Autonomy in an Ethnically Tibetan Prefecture, The China Journal, No. 54, July 2005, p. 38) The more Shugden monks arrive in India and enter the monasteries for studies, the more tensions there will be. For China such policies are a perfect means to undermine the unity of the Tibetans and to sow discord. A Western monk who lived in Sera Je, India, and speaks fluently colloquial Tibetan reported to me that monks in the Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in India assume strongly that the Chinese secret service is sponsoring Shugden pujas in the Gelug monasteries to provoke more schism and quarrel. A Tibetan doctor reported to me that Kundeling Rinpoche (Nga-Lama), who has close ties and a lot of sympathy for China’s presence in Tibet (see France 24 TV), offered money to local Indian people nearby Sera Je if they start protests against ‘the Dalai Lama’s religious intolerance’—however, the Indians refused to do this saying that it is better to have good long-term relations with the monasteries than accepting short term benefit by getting some money.