A forgotten perspective – Who is persecuted?

Who is persecuted and whose human rights are being violated?

The Western Shugden Society (WSS), a front group of the controversial[1] New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), and some Shugden followers stress accusations against the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile, are performing “religious persecution” against them in a world wide media campaign. It seems to be forgotten however, that the actual persecution and injustice occurs in Tibet – occupied by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) – and not in India.

Some information to balance the claims of WSS/NKT or Kundeling Lama and his followers.

The PRC is very interested to use this conflict to undermine the unity of the Tibetans and their faith towards the Dalai Lama. So for example when the official Xinhua news agency said 17 Tibetans destroyed a pair of statues at Lhasa’s Ganden Monastery on 14 March 2006 depicting the deity Dorje Shugden, the mayor of Lhasa blamed the destruction on followers of the Dalai Lama. Alternatively, according to the BBC, analysts accused China of exploiting any dispute for political ends. The BBC reported “…some analysts have accused China of exploiting the apparent unrest for political gain in an effort to discredit the Dalai Lama. Tibet analyst Theirry Dodin said China had encouraged division among the Tibetans by promoting followers of the Dorje Shugden sect to key positions of authority. ‘There is a fault line in Tibetan Buddhism and its traditions itself, but it is also exploited for political purposes’…”[2]

The anonymous website dorjeshugden.com presents the Chinese fake Panchen Lama in front of a Shugden thanka and suggests indirectly he may be an emanation of the real Panchen Lama by stating:

“Whether we accept this as the authentic Panchen Lama or not is not the issue here. The Panchen Lama may have many emanations of we are to follow the scriptures.”

The Panchen Lama is traditionally one of the senior teachers for a young Dalai Lama and helps to identify an incarnation of a Dalai Lama.[3] Only a Dalai Lama can certify a Panchen Lama.[3] The present Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, recognized Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the XIth Panchen Lama.[3] Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was arrested by the Chinese government in 1995 and as of 2008 has not been seen in public.[4] The Chinese government imposed their own candidate Qoigyijabu.

It is obvious that the Chinese government will make every effort to support Shugden monasteries and Shugden lamas wherever they can and wherever someone accepts their financial support.

The New Kadampa Truth site, which was set up by the Secretary of the New Kadampa Tradition, reports about being accused of being sponsored by the Chinese government. NKT rejects this claim and states:

This is not true, and not a shred of evidence has been produced to support this repeated claim. In the Internal Rules (§3) it says:

The New Kadampa Tradition shall always be an entirely independent Buddhist tradition and the NKT-IKBU shall have no political affiliations.

The NKT has never had, and never will have, any political affiliations with the Chinese or Tibetan Governments. This is because mixing religion and politics is the cause of many problems, such as those evidenced by the Dalai Lama’s political interference in the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It is common for critics of the Dalai Lama to be labelled “Chinese sympathizers” (or usually far worse epithets) or to be accused of being on the payroll of the Chinese Government but, in the case of the NKT-IKBU, this is an entirely false accusation.

If one reads this statement carefully, it does not reject that NKT is financially supported by the PRC, it only states that NKT “never had, and never will have, any political affiliations”. Of course such a statement doesn’t prove that NKT or their front group, Western Shudgen Society, is financially supported by the PRC either. However, the statement sounds fuzzy and invites more doubts.

According to France TV 24[5]:

Behind this Shugden witch-hunt lies the fear of Chinese infiltration in the ranks of the Tibetan refugees. In the northern Indian city of Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government, Shugden followers, with their open Chinese sympathies are considered a political threat.

“The Shugden and the Chinese are obviously allies,” says the Tibetan Prime Minister, Professor Samdhong Rinpoche. “Their cults all over the world are financed by the Chinese”. He adds that “people are afraid of Shugden violence. They are like terrorists, they will stop at nothing, everyone knows this.” To prove his point, he shows our reporters the photo of the murder of a leading Buddhist monk and two of his disciples in 1997. Tibetans are certain the Shugden are behind the murder.

A leading Shugden figure, Mahalama Losbang Yechi, defends his links with the Chinese community: “I approve the Chinese presence in Tibet. What we are living with the Dalai Lama today shows how authoritarian his theocratic regime must have been in the past. It was much more violent than what Tibetans are living today under Chinese rule.”

Yechi has filed a lawsuit against the Dalai Lama in an Indian high court for religious persecution. He denies acting on the orders of Chinese authorities.

Shugden followers, willingly or not, have become the symbol of a schism that threatens the struggle for Tibetan autonomy. For that, thousands of refugees have begun to pay a price.

France 24 TV also reports about what they portray as “Apartheid in Buddhist land” stating:

Photos of Shugden leaders are posted on city walls, branding them as traitors. Signs at the entrance of stores and hospitals forbid Shugden followers from entry. It’s apartheid, in Buddhist land.

Our reporters followed an ostracized Buddhist monk as he tried to affront the fellow villagers who have banned him. “We’re not violating Buddha’s teachings, and we’re excluded from everywhere just because of our religion” he complains.

“Aren’t you ashamed of betraying the Dalai Lama? You’re a monk! He is our only pillar, the only person we can count on,” he is asked.

In India, Shugden followers are forced to go into hiding. “I fled my house three days ago” says an old woman taken in by a family 300 kilometers away from her home. “I was the only Shugden in my village. Every day I grew more afraid of attacks.I had to block my door with stones for people not to break into my house”.

France 24 TV tries to balance their report but seem to have fallen under the influence of the exaggerated claims of some Shudgen followers. While it is certainly the case that injustice acts were performed by some Tibetans against Shugden followers, it is also the case that fanatical Shudgen followers forced the events. The claim of France TV Shugden worship is “a religion” and that 4 million Tibetans (from 6 million) would practice Shugden worship is incorrect and an exaggeration. It is far more an exaggeration to label the events in India “Apartheid in Buddhist land”.

The claims of the Western Shugden Society and some few Tibetan Shugden followers about “religious persecution” and violation of “human rights” are still unproven and seem to be heavily exaggerated. None of the independent human right groups have ever confirmed these claims. The controversial New Kadampa Tradition had already performed an Anti-Dalai Lama campaign under the guise of another front group, the Shugden Supporter Community (SSC), twelve years ago:

In 1996 Geshe Kelsang and his disciples started to denounce the Dalai Lama in public of being a “ruthless dictator” and “oppressor of religious freedom”,[6] they organised demonstrations against the Dalai Lama in the UK (later also in the USA, Swiss and Germany) with slogans like “Your smiles charm Your actions harm”.[7] Geshe Kelsang and the NKT accused the Dalai Lama of impinging on their religious freedom and of intolerance,[8] and further they accused the Dalai Lama “of selling out Tibet by promoting its autonomy within China rather than outright independence, of expelling their followers from jobs in Tibetan establishments in India, and of denying them humanitarian aid pouring in from Western countries.”[9] (see The Conflict in the West)

After investigating these claims carefully Amnesty International stated:

Amnesty International (AI) has received and studied a large amount of material alleging human rights abuses against worshippers of the Tibetan Buddhist deity Dorje Shugden. These alleged abuses are reported to have happened largely in Tibetan settlements in India. None of the material AI has received contains evidence of abuses which fall within AI’s mandate for action – such as grave violations of fundamental human rights including torture, the death penalty, extra-judicial executions, arbitrary detention or imprisonment, or unfair trials. While recognizing that spiritual debate can be contentious. Amnesty International cannot become involved in debate on spiritual issues. AI campaigns on the grave violations of human rights in Tibet, as well as the rest of the People’s Republic of China. In 1997 a widespread crackdown on Tibetan nationalists and religious groups continued. At least 96 Tibetans, most of them Buddhist monks and nuns, were reported to have been detained during the year for peacefully exercising fundamental freedoms. A continuing ‘patriotic re-education campaign’ in monasteries and nunneries has led to expulsions and arrests. Prison conditions remain harsh in Tibet and prisoners are often ill-treated for minor infringements of prison regulations. (AI Index: ASA 17/14/98, June 1998) [10]

Amnesty International focuses on the places where real persecution and violation of human rights take place, e.g. in Tibet. Neither AI nor any other independent human right group confirmed the claims of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) or their front groups “Western Shugden Society” (WSS), 2008-??, and “Shugden Supporters Community” (SSC), 1996-1998, respectively.

If the Western Shugden Society/NKT, Kundeling Lama and his followers are financially supported by the PRC or not has to be proven as well, however it is clear that their world wide media campaign and actions against the Dalai Lama under the guise of “religious freedom” clearly support the Chinese Government’s aim to significantly weaken the XIV Dalai Lama’s powerful influence. Also their verbal attacks against the Dalai Lama have the same aggressive sound as those of the Chinese government. e.g. the PRC named the Dalai Lama a ‘wolf in monk’s robes’, the Western Shugden Society named him a ‘saffron robed Muslim’ who is ‘evil and cruel’.


What independent human right groups report about religious persecution is very different from what WSS or Kundeling Lama report. Here is an example by Human Rights Watch:[11]

Opposition to Worship of Dorje Shugden

Chinese authorities also used an esoteric religious dispute over Dorje Shugden, a Tibetan Buddhist protector deity, to attack Tenzin Delek, equating his active support for the Dalai Lama’s anti-Shugden stance with opposition to Chinese policy. Although the debate, which has waxed and waned for more than two decades, has no specific political aspect, support for the Dalai Lama on the issue seems to have been viewed as tantamount to “splittism.”

Dorje Shugden is considered a powerful magical being who can help propitiators acquire worldly goods and other powers and benefits. The deity is also seen by some as a protector of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. In addition, the deity is regarded as being able to inflict harm on those who stop propitiating it or on those who belong to other sects of Tibetan Buddhism.

In 1976, the Dalai Lama stopped worshipping Shugden and began to teach that such worship could be harmful to individuals who offended the deity. He advised that Dorje Shugden was harmful to him and to the cause of Tibetan independence. He said that genuine deities think in terms of liberating people from suffering, not in terms of harming them. He saw it as his duty to bring the issue to the attention of Tibetan Buddhists, but to leave it to each individual to decide whether to follow his advice.

In 1996, the Dalai Lama went further, banning Shugden worship for those who wished to be his immediate followers or to take teaching from him. At that point, well-organized Shugden supporters in the Tibetan diaspora mounted active opposition to the Dalai Lama’s position, going so far as to accuse him of denying religious freedom to Shugden supporters. The seemingly narrow issue of whether Dorje Shugden was a beneficial or harmful deity masked other issues within and among the four sects that comprise Tibetan Buddhism. It also became a deeply divisive issue within the Gelugpa school, which the Dalai Lama leads, between ultra-conservatives who continued to worship the deity and a larger grouping which followed the Dalai Lama’s approach.

According to some accounts, Chinese government officials even promoted Shugden worship in Tibetan communities.[153] Their goals, it appeared, were to dampen the Dalai Lama’s moral authority within the Tibetan and international communities and to use theological differences to exacerbate divisions within the Tibetan community.

Southern Kham is where support for the deity in the region has traditionally been strongest. Tenzin Delek joined the campaign against Shugden worship as early as 1979 when he brought evidence of the practice at Lithang Gonchen monastery to the attention of the 10th Panchen Lama. When Tenzin Delek returned from India in 1987, he again resisted pressure to join in Shugden worship and again preached against the practice to the general public, to monks at Lithang Gonchen monastery, and to village elders. He even announced he would not set foot in Lithang Gonchen monastery until the practice there stopped.[154] His doing so reportedly resulted in some monks leaving Lithang Gonchen, the major religious facility in the area, and taking up residence at Orthok monastery.[155] Such defections, coupled with others attributable to the availability of new permanent facilities at Orthok monastery and Tenzin Delek’s presence there, might have been regarded as evidence of his rising prominence and have led to anxiety over competition for resources.

The controversy continued to simmer and occasionally to flare. In 1999, several non-Shugden worshipping Lithang Gonchen monks were briefly detained.[156] Two years later, not long before Tenzin Delek was arrested and after an influential lama at Lithang Gonchen monastery decided he would not longer propitiate the deity, Shugden worship there all but disappeared. Monks came from “everywhere” to participate in a ceremony marking the change.[157]

Chinese officials continue to call for Dorje Shugden worship. As noted at the outset of this report, they also claim that one or two of the bombings to which Tenzin Delek and Lobsang Dondrup allegedly confessed occurred in close proximity to a senior monk who had supported Shugden worship.[158]

Other highly respected Buddhist leaders in Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture have suffered because of their support for the Dalai Lama as a religious figure and because of the respect and loyalty they engender from within local monastic and lay communities. Although the stories differ in the details, a common theme runs throughout, starting with concern on the part of Chinese authorities that these popular and charismatic figures make it difficult for the government to eliminate the veneration of the Dalai Lama and to dampen enthusiasm for religion. Chinese leaders fear that belief in Tibetan Buddhism, entwined as it is with Tibetan identity, will continue to support popular yearning for an independent Tibet.

Two cases of particular concern in Kardze are those of Sonam Phuntsog, serving out a five-year sentence for splittism, and the situation at Larung Gar, a monastic community formerly headed by Khenpo Jigme Phuntsog, which has been forced to drastically curtail its operations.

153 Isabel Hilton, “1. The Dalai Lama,” Independent, September 22, 1999; David Van Biema, “Monks vs. Monks,” Time Magazine, vol. 151, no. 18, May 11, 1998.

154 Human Rights Watch interviews with KR and ZB, September 5, 2003, and with HM, August 7, 2003.

155 Human Rights Watch interview with HM, August 7, 2003.

156 Human Rights Watch interview with KR, September 22, 2003.

157 Human Rights Watch interview with KR, December 14, 2002.

158 Human Rights Watch interview with DQ, April 4, 2003. See also Appendix II, “Interview with Kardze Court Judge.”

Also the report about the expulsion of monks who refused Shugden worship in Lama Gangchen’s monastery in Tibet invite more doubts about the honesty of the protesters who present their claims as an issue of “human rights” and “religious freedom”:

Gangchen Lama visited the monastery again on 3 December 1999, and instructed the monks to worship shugden deity (Shugden is a spirit which the Dalai Lama discourages to propitiate). He claimed himself as the re-incarnation of Panchen Sang Tashi, the founder of Gangchen Monastery, and called the monks to respect and worship him. He distributed booklets to the monks that had detailed explanation about his re-incarnation. However, no monks accepted him at the time.

Later, Gangchen Lama called 10 officials from the County Religious Department and PSB to instruct the monks to worship shugden and to respect him. A meeting was held in the monastery that very same day where the officials threatened the monks with arrest, detention and imprisonment if they oppose Gangchen Lama. Furthermore, refusal on the monk’s part would be deemed political and they would be investigated for crime against the nation. Since the beginning of 1999, Gangchen Lama had started building a new monastery of his own on the northen valley of Gangchen Monastery. The officials of County Religious Department and PSB forcefully evacuated the monks of Gangchen Monastery to the new monastery on 27 December 1999. Two new statues of the shugden deity placed in the prayer hall by Gangchen Monastery were met with protest by the monks. The statues were later taken by the monks who hid them in a nearby cave, which was used for meditation. There has been no history of shugden worship by the monks of Gangchen Monastery.

Owing to constant pressure to worship the deity and orders to carry out the instructions of Gangchen Lama, seven monks fled the monastery. Sonam fled from his monastery on January 1999, and stayed in Shigatse for two months. He escaped to Nepal in a group of eight Tibetans by paying 1800 yuan to a guide. He wishes to join a monastery in India. (see TCHRD report)


[1] Peter Bernard Clarke, a theology professor at Oxford, has characterised the NKT as a “controversial Tibetan Buddhist New Religious Movement (NRM)” see: Clarke, Peter Bernard. New Religions in Global Perspective, page 92, ISBN 0-415-25748-4, Routledge 2006

[2] BBC NEWS, Dalai Lama ‘behind Lhasa unrest’, May 10, 2006

[3] Laird, Thomas, The Story of Tibet, pages 148, 374

[4] Chinese view of Dalai Lama bodes ill for its Tibet policy, a March 29, 2008 article from the International Herald Tribune

[5] The Dalai Lama’s demon by France 24, Friday 08 August 2008

[6] Bunting, The Guardian, 1996, on July 6

[7] Bunting, The Guardian, 1996, on July 6; Lopez 1998:193

[8] Lopez 1998:193

[9] The Sydney Morning Herald, 2002, by Umarah Jamali in New Delhi November 16 2002

[10] Mills, Martin A, Human Rights in Global Perspective, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-30410-5, page 56, 57; Document – China: AI’s position on alleged abuses against worshippers of Tibetan deity Dorje Shugden, AI Index: ASA 17/14/98, June 1998

[11] Trials of a Tibetan Monk: The Case of Tenzin Delek: VII. Tenzin Delek’s Life and Work Prior to His April 2002 Arrest