Is the ‘Stick Referendum’ against Buddhist and democratic principles?

When a society comes together and makes decisions in harmony, when it respects its most noble traditions, cares for its most vulnerable members, treats its forests and lands with respect, then it will prosper and not decline…

Mahaparinirvana sutra

The Buddhist monk Khedrup researched the claim of New Kadampa Tradition the ‘Stick’ referendum would be against Buddhist and democratic principles.

Here are his results and thoughts:

Resolution by Majority

“The NKT has claimed that the “Stick” referendum was against Buddhist and democratic principles. I decided to research this topic and consulted several books as well as the abbot where I reside, a Sri Lankan scholar monk of some 30 years.

Here is what I found: Tibetan English Dictionary of Buddhist Terminology, Revised Edition

Please excuse the phonetics as I only know how to read Tibetan script, not the phonetic system. So I translate the script the way it sounds.

Kang Mang Gi Shi Wa
Resolution by Majority: One of the seven ways of pacifying quarrels and arguments within the Sangha community according to Vinaya rules. If any dispute cannot be resolved through the eight appellate procedures, it is then decided by throwing tooth sticks, and whichever side gets the majority is considered the winner.

There are also several Theravada sources on similar procedures, so it is not a Tibetan invention. It can be found in the Vinaya Pitaka under Sattadhikarana samatha. Also it can be found in the Agahatapatiminaya in the Anguttara Nikaya of the Pali canon.

When I spoke with the senior abbot from Sri Lanka here he confirmed according to Vinaya, a stick referendum would be considered proper and democratic procedure.

I guess the NKT people don’t understand traditional Buddhist procedures properly.”

Monastic Community and Western Society

Khedrub continues:

“Keep in mind a monastic community is not the same as a country. For example, in a country people dwell seperately and go about their own jobs, raise their own families etc. In monastic communities everyone must live together in close quarters, practice together, seek alms together, share requisites etc. This is the very reason why Westerners don’t fare so well in traditional monastic communities.

Because of the lack of privacy, close quarters and the impossibility of avoiding interaction, it is almost impossible for people to have anonymous opinions about this issue. Having lived at Sera for some time, I can tell you that everyone knows everybody else, and the Shugden contingent was very outspoken and very visible.

If we look in Buddhist history there are many precedents for the way this dispute is being handled. In the Theravada countries, when there were disputes as to how closely to follow the Vinaya, the methods for resolving disputes were used. When consensus could not be reached, a vote was held. The two parties usually went their separate ways, and that is why we see so many various “Nikaya” or monastic sublineages, in the Theravada world. Doctrinally there is very little difference, but in terms of how to follow the Vinaya rules there are some differences. Thailand and Cambodia have 2 Nikayas, in Sri Lanka there are 3 and I believe Burma may have as many as 4.

In terms of using this method for doctrinal disputes, we can look to the ancient Buddhist council where the Mahayana and Theravada monks went their seperate ways. In the end, I think this was so beneficial. Both of these systems were able to evolve seperately but peacefully, and because of that we have beautiful and tremendous variety in Buddhism. We Westerners can benefit by having access to so many unique and different teachings!

As a student at Sera Mey who was forced by the pro-Shugden Khangtsen Gen to attend Pujas after which the short Shugden prayer was recited (we were disciplined or fined for not attending)I can tell you that this issue was forced into a vote. Those of us loyal to the Dalai Lama, his samaya students, at first just sat silently during the prayer. Then the house Gen and his disciplinarian printed it and started putting it in the laps of those of us who didn’t recite. We still remained silent. But the situation was tense and uncomfortable.

While sad, I think this seperation into the two seperate monasteries is the best solution. The Shugden monks are WELL funded. Trijiang Rinpochey has a wealthy sponsor in Vermont, Gangchen Tulku has many sponsors (including several officials in the PRC Tibetan region), and Gonsar Tulku in Switzerland is one of the best funded Tibetan lamas on the planet. They have the money to establish and support monasterie, especially considering we are only talking about 200 or 300 monks here, instead of the 5,000 at Sera for example.

For those interested in researching Vinaya procedure:

Hope this information is useful.”

These two posts were originally posted on New Kadampa Survivors’ Forum, Aug 2008.



  1. More Background

    Someone with knowledge of Buddhist history and Vinaya stated this at the Tricycle Editor’s Blog:

    Perhaps some people do not know this, but Buddha himself imposed segregation on bikshus and bikshunis who were acting out of order. They were not to partake in sojong, nor beg for alms with the others. No other member of the sangha was to communicate with them. This was the harshest discplinary action enforced by the Buddha. Furthermore, when Devadatta was about, Buddha avoided him and advised members of the sangha to do so as well. So if the Sera monks do not wish to perform sojong with Shugden monks, there is no reason why the monastery should perform it, as the sangha is not in harmony. Considering the claims that such a large number of monks and lay people are being persecuted, I don’t see why they can’t set themselves in a separate pro-Shugden monastery.

    As for the Dalai Lama’s ban, it was originally the use of a teacher’s right to refuse students, in this case people who practised Shugden. However, as time went by and they continued to attend even initiations from him, harsher measures were put in place. Not to mention that many of the monasteries such as Sera, Drepung and Ganden have always been loyal to the Dalai Lama.


  2. Manjushri's Sword says:

    The referendum was, indeed, against the Vinaya.

    Please see this article:

    [blog link withheld by Blog owner]

    Very informative!

    comment TP

    Dear MS, I do not link to people who state things about the Vinaya without having proper monk’s ordination and never studied or heard the Vinaya. If the author is a Gelong or Gelongma or at least a Gestul or Getsulma and received Vinaya teachings then I am happy to debate or to link.

    If people who have no idea about a topic (in this case the Vinaya) start to discuss about what they don’t know, this is just foolish and a waste of time, only confusion will result from this.

    To spread or to support confusion is is not the aim of this blog.
    Thanks for your understanding. TP


  1. […] “protests will finish.” Rabten needs to understand first that the Dalai Lama cannot over rule the majority vote of the monks in the monasteries, who decided democratically, and based on the Buddha’s Vinaya, to separate from Shugden monks. If […]

  2. […] to reject his advice. He also said that he will accept any result of the (democratic) Vinaya “Stick Referendum“: if the majority wants to practice Shugden, he will accept that and he will never loose a […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: