The Dalai Lama on Sectarianism, Religious Freedom and the Shugden Issue

So in fact, restricting a form of practice that restricts others’ religious freedom is actually a protection of religious freedom. So in other words, negation of a negation is an affirmation.

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Spoken During a Teaching in Madison, Wisconsin, 2008

This particular spirit, called Shugden … start[ed] during Fifth Dalai Lama, so now over 370 years. Since fifth Dalai Lama, almost I think, 300 years, this spirit, this deity, [has] always remain[ed] very very controversial. Only last 70 years, after 13th Dalai Lama’s death, then this spirit became more prominent in some area, in Lhasa area. That also, I think, almost like reaction to 13th Dalai Lama’s restriction.

… Since ’51 to early ’70, I myself [was] also a sincere worshipper of this spirit. I made [a] great mistake with [the] Dalai Lama’s name to worship this, due to my junior tutor. So eventually, I notice[d] this [was] something wrong, as a result of reading the autobiography of the fifth Dalai Lama and then many reliable, well known Gelugpa masters’ biographies. Then it became clear, this is wrong. This is evil spirit. So, Fifth Dalai Lama {translator}“clearly wrote and identified this spirit to be a spirit that has arisen on the basis of a distorted aspiration and its nature is that of destructive[ness] and its consequence is also harmful to the Buddha dharma and sentient beings in general.

So therefore, eventually I noticed that and then I dropped my practice. And then eventually [I] made [this] known to those monasteries , to those scholars or monks. Then they also [were] fully convinced because [there were] sufficient reasons or facts there. And 13th Dalai Lama also put restrictions.

Then [there are several reasons that] I feel [this]. Number one: Tibetan Buddhism [is] Nalanda tradition, such a profound tradition … Some Tibetans now not only [worship] this deity, but also some [other] spirits—Tibetans sometimes [put] too much emphasis on the importance of these spirits, rather than Buddha—or Nagarjuna—that’s a disgrace. So there’s real danger, such profound Nalanda tradition eventually degenerate [and] become something [like] spirit worship. It is [a] pity. Number one.

Of course, we can offer [to] those local spirit[s], or something like [asking] someone, please do some help, like that, then ok. But worship, or something very important, it is totally a mistake. {Translator} “In fact, the 13th Dalai Lama has actually made this statement to Gyabje Phabonkha Rinpoche, very clearly that if someone worships Shugden with such devotion, there is a danger that it could conflict with one’s precepts of taking refuge in the Three Jewels.”

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So that is one factor, one reason. Second reason [is] I think part of [the] first reason … The second reason is: As you know, I [am] fully committed [to] non-sectarian principle. As fifth Dalai Lama and Second Dalai Lama, First Dalai Lama, Third Dalai Lama, all these previous masters, previous Dalai Lamas, as well as many great masters from all sects, Gelug, Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, Chonang, and many sects, many great masters, well known masters, [follow] according to non-sectarian principle. So worshipper of this spirit, they are very sectarian …

So therefore, I [am] fully committed to [the] promotion of nonsectarian principle. So therefore, this Shugden spirit—There are reliable stories [which] mention, according to my Junior tutor’s verbal accounts, [that] some of the Gelugpa lamas, as well as high officials, who practice Nyingma tradition, because of that, this deity destroyed [them], killed [them]. It’s recorded. About 13 cases mentioned in that story. So very sectarian.

So therefore, these two reasons. Then third, because the fifth Dalai Lama consider this [to be an] evil spirit, I have the name of 14th Dalai Lama, so therefore, I have to follow the principle of previous Dalai Lamas, fifth Dalai Lama and 13th Dalai Lama. So, I am trying to follow their example.

Then … religious freedom. Now here, firstly, spirit worship is not, I think, genuine religious practice. Certainly, this is not genuine Buddhist religion. But aside [from that], … now, my own story. In late 60’s, as I mentioned … this morning, 1967, I received teaching [from] Shantideva’s book from late Khunu Lama Rinpoche. Then, [I] received many other teachings from him, very rare teachings, which [were] not available from my two tutors.

Then later, I developed one desire to receive some text according to Nyingma tradition. I asked Ling Rinpoche, my senior tutor, [that] I have that kind of desire to receive one important Nyingma text, that I very much want to receive oral transmission from late Khunu Lama Rinpoche. {Translator} “Guhyagarbha Tantra”. Then, although Ling Rinpoche himself was very cautious about this spirit [Shugden], … he also you see, heard that if Gelugpa lama touch Nyingma tradition, then this spirit will harm them. So Ling Rinpoche [was] a little cautious. Then, [he] advised me, “Be cautious, not good [to] receive Nyingma tradition from him.”

Although I already [had] received many texts, many teachings from [Khunu Lama Rinpoche] already, but [about receiving] this particular Nyingma text, Ling Rinpoche [was] very very cautious. So then I stopped. {Translator} “So at that time, it seems I did not get my own religious freedom.”

Because [of] fear, exaggerated fear, I lost genuine religious freedom. Because I dropped this practice, then I got religious freedom. I received teachings from Nyingma tradition, from Sakya tradition, from Kagyu tradition, from various reliable lamas, I received teachings. Now, I think I can say, with a little pride, I think I have some knowledge of all these traditions. So it is very useful.

Another sort of sad story. In the late 60s, one old Kuno (?) monk, I think age around—I still remember his face—age around 60, like that. Physically also quite small. He came to see me and ask me for some Nyingma teachings. Then I [had] no knowledge of that teaching. So I asked him, “That subject I do not know. Please go to Varanasi or Bodhgaya”– and Khunu Lama Rinpoche still alive, so—“approach Khunu Lama Rinpoche and ask him. I have no [knowledge about] that teaching.”

So later, I found, “Oh I’m Buddhist.” {Translator} “For example, the Buddha states in the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra that the bodhisattva should cultivate the knowledge of all the paths, the paths of the disciples, the paths of the self-enlightened ones and the paths of the bodhisattvas. So the bodhisattvas may be able to fulfill the needs of all people who aspire for teachings that are appropriate to their own mental faculties.”

So at that time, I really felt very sad … I failed to fulfill the wishes of that poor monk. Still I feel like that.

Now today, suppose that person come, then I proudly explain …

So also, past Tibetan history. Unnecessary conflict in the name of religion also happen, frankly speaking. Sometimes we call Sarma—“So sometimes when two monasteries clash with each other, it’s called the yellow war.” Very sad. Really sad.

Actually, after 13th Dalai Lama passed away, due to this deity, this spirit, some small Nyingma monastery or temple in some cases actually destroyed—because of the sectarian conflict. These things I later came to know. So therefore, religious freedom: {Translator} “So in fact, restricting a form of practice that restricts others’ religious freedom is actually a protection of religious freedom. So in other words, negation of a negation is an affirmation.”

So, now some of their accusations, including Chinese officials also accuse me—the Dalai Lama … sort of violated religious freedom because of Shugden worshipper. Now Chinese officially accuse me. So therefore, they use the word “ban.” I never use that. I am fully committed about freedom of speech, freedom of expression. So, right from the beginning, I made it very clear. It is my moral responsibility to make clear what is wrong, what is right. But whether listen or not, it’s up to them, [up to each] individual. I have no power to impose.

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So I am happy these people enjoy their freedom of speech, freedom of expression, very good. So the other day, in Germany, [during] my recent visit, again a group [of protestors] shouting. I hear their voice, particularly one lady’s, I think one nun maybe, so quite strong. So I think at least three or four hours shouting. Then I got real sort of worry, “oh her throat may suffer.”

Madison, Wisconsin, July, 2008

See also

Academic Research about Shugden

Overview about Shugden

  • Dorje Shugden – An overview article mainly based on academic papers

Dorje Shugden and Wikipedia