Dorje Shugden worship has not been banned

GUEST POST by Ani Tsultrim

The Buddhist monk, Tenzin Peljor, on his blog, “Tibetan Buddhism: Struggling with Difficult Issues:” writes:

Over the past two decades and, more recently during his tour of the US, the International Shugden Community (the latest New Kadampa Tradition “front organization” and its political wing) have protested against the Dalai Lama’s decision to “ban” the worship of the gyalpo Shugden. When asked to provide explicit evidence of such a ban, supporters of the deity frequently point to the following statement, purportedly from the Dalai Lama, which appears at Youtube (see 2:53 onwards)

“I began this ban to continue the Fifth Dalai Lama’s legacy, I started this by myself and I have to continue, and carry it to the end.”

Whether or not the Dalai Lama actually said this is highly questionable. To date, no evidence has been forthcoming from the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) to confirm or deny what His Holiness said.

Further, it is noteworthy that the NKT has a long history of distorting the statements made by the Dalai Lama. They produce sound bites; they slant the truth to support their unproved claims, they edit videos, and then post deceitful propaganda in various places on the Internet; on Youtube, on NKT web sites, and on NKT Facebook pages. They say the Dalai Lama has banned the practice of Dorje Shugden. They say he is lying. They say that he is not the real Dalai Lama. They say that he is suppressing religious freedom. These are wild assertions, each of which need to be addressed and refuted, one-by-one.

Ostensibly, the NKT vitriol found on the Internet, centers around what they are calling a ban against the practice of Dorje Shugden. If, as they assert, the Dalai Lama has banned the practice of Dorje Shugden, then any critical evaluation would include the answers to these questions:

What does the word “ban” mean, in English?

The modern English definition is this:

The definition:

Verb: to prohibit, forbid, bar, interdict

Noun: the act of prohibiting by law; interdiction

Examples: to ban nuclear weapons; to ban genocide

– The Random House College Dictionary, Revised Edition, 1984
Online source:

Clearly, the first, and modern, definition of “ban” is understood by English-speaking people as a law, or laws, which have been handed down by judicial bodies, both local and international. The Dalai Lama simply has no legal or judicial authority to ban the propitiation of Dorje Shugden, nor anything else, for that matter; not in Tibet, nor in India, nor anywhere in the world. He would be the first to affirm that this is so, and it would be re-affirmed by every judicial body and government in the world.

Is there a Tibetan word that means “ban” as understood by native English speakers?

Kelsang Khyenrab of the New Kadampa Tradition, on the face book blog, “Dalai Lama Truth,” says he consulted two sources for the meaning of the Tibetan word “ban.” He found these English equivalents:

  •, and the synonym

These Tibetan words are translated as: “prohibition,” “restriction,” “restraint”

– The Chinese – Tibetan Dictionary, People’s Publishing House, Beijing, Second Edition, 1996, and the Light English-Tibetan Dictionary compiled by T.G. Dongthog, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA), Dharamsala, 1985.

These words–“prohibition,” “restriction,” and “restraint”–do not carry the force of law, since the Dalai Lama cannot have one thrown into prison for practicing Shugden. The best example of a true ban is that of the Chinese government’s ban on displaying pictures of the Dalai Lama. Many have been incarcerated and/or sent to labor camps for doing so.

Steve Maxwell, posting on the face book page “We Need to Talk About Shugden,” observed this concerning the deliberate attempts to deceive through the video edits done by the New Kadampa Tradition:

Then there is the issue of what HH  Dalai Lama actually said. Put it another way, just because the Shugdenites subtitle a video with the word ‘ban‘, it does not mean that that is an accurate translation.

In addition to the NKT’s total lack of understanding about the meaning of the word “ban,” there is the question of what words the Dalai Lama actually used. There are two other Tibetan words that could be expressed within this context, which are Dham Drak, and Kag Dhom.

Siling Tongkhor, a Tibetan monk, viewed all of the NKT videos that were posted on the “Dalai Lama Truth” page, and noted the following:

In all those video compilations, HHDL used the word Dham Drak only once. Though Dham Drak can be loosely translated as a “ban” it actually is an ambiguous word in Tibetan that could mean both ban and restriction. Though it may have identical impact in English, in Tibetan, Dham Drak sounds less like an actual ban. The important point is that His Holiness didn’t speak of “banning Shugden” in any other cases.” The word “Kag Dhom,” which unmistakably means ban, was not used by His Holiness at all.

Finally, from a Western Tibetan scholar regarding the terms used by His Holiness:

Dam-sgrags, which is the term cited as the term His Holiness has used, is translated as “restriction” in Goldstein’s Tibetan-English Dictionary of Modern Tibetan. In Bod-rgya tshig-mdzod chen-mo it is defined as ‘khrims-kyis ‘doms-pa’am do-dam btsan-po, which means a regulation or strong directive (made) by law.  It is clear from the Chinese translations in the dictionary and the examples of the usage of the term that it means a regulation restricting something, like a directive for a curfew regulating when or where you can and cannot go walking at night. This does not have the same connotation as a ban.

This brings us to a deeper look into this issue; namely, the second dictionary definition of the word “ban.”

Is there an ecclesiastical definition of the word “ban” that would apply to the statements made by the Dalai Lama?

The second definition of the English word “ban” is this:


a. to pronounce an ecclesiastical curse upon
b. to curse; to execrate
c. a malediction; curse

Accordingly, the word “ecclesiastical” relates to Christianity, and by its very nature and original use, it meant that one who had been banned by the church was also summarily excommunicated. That was quite a drastic event to befall a true believer.

So, because an ecclesiastical curse is a malediction, and unmistakably Christian, to try to equate His Holiness’ considered evaluation of Dorje Shugden to a Christian edict is an oxymoron. It is absurd to think that the Dalai Lama, a Buddhist, could, or would, pronounce an ecclesiastical ban on other Buddhists because they practice Shugden. He does not have the authority to do so, nor does he have the authority to excommunicate them.

If there is not a law, the breaking of which could incarcerate or fine practitioners, and if there is not an ecclesiastical curse, or pronouncement by the Dalai Lama which would lead to excommunication, then how can the NKT claim that there has been a ban?

Does the word “advice” have the same meaning as “ban?”

According to the Random House College Dictionary “advice” is: a) an opinion or recommendation offered as a guide to action; b) it is a communication containing information; c) it refers to opinions as bases worthy of thought; d) it is given after careful deliberation.

On the official website of the Dalai Lama there is this statement under the heading ‘His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Advice concerning Dolgyal (Shugden)’:

His Holiness has strongly urged his followers to consider carefully the problems of Dolgyal … and to act accordingly. He has stated that, as a Buddhist leader with a special concern for the Tibetan people, it is his responsibility to speak out against the damaging consequences of this kind of spirit worship. Whether or not his advice is heeded, His Holiness has made clear, is a matter for the individual. However, since he personally feels strongly about how negative this practice is, he has requested those who continue to propitiate Dolgyal not to attend his formal religious teachings, which traditionally require the establishment of a teacher-disciple relationship.

His Holiness is a Buddhist leader. He makes it clear that it is up to the individual. He is offering advice based on careful deliberation. Advice is not a ban. Because His Holiness is giving advice, it follows that:

>>> The New Kadampa Tradition is completely mistaken in making such a claim. By every definition of the word, there simply is not a ban against the worship of Dorje Shugden.

See also

Last edited on October 7, 2014 at 8:20 pm