By Thierry Dodin / TIN
In early October 2014, followers of the Dorje Shugden cult dedicated a monastery in the United States, which they plan as their major American hub. The event, attended by many Shugden figures worldwide, marks a major step forward in the cult’s attempt to establish itself and expand in North America, which by now has become home to a significant Tibetan Diaspora. To date, the followers of the cult have typically been weaker in the United States compared to Europe.
The monastery, situated on 150 acres in Bloomington, Indiana, was actually created in 2007 under the name Gaden Kachoe Shing, but has only now become fully operational through the opening of its main temple. Circumstances indicate how the Shugden leadership is planning its U.S. expansion.
Bloomington is an important seat of Tibetan and Central Asian studies as well as Buddhist learning. In the mid-1960s, the elder brother of the Dalai Lama, the late Taktser Rinpoche, was invited to teach at Indiana University. He spent the rest of his life there. Bloomington is also a center of ethnic Mongolian exiles. Notably, most of the ethnic Mongolian Buddhists are from the Gelugpa lineage, the supremacy of which the Shugden cult emphasizes. Hence, the area offers, in principle, a good environment for the proliferation of the Dorje Shugden practice.
Indeed, Shugden followers have been trying to establish a strong center in Bloomington for a long time, and in particular, have been looking for a prominent figurehead. During the 1990s, for instance, they tried to get Taktser Rinpoche, himself, to take up this role, but he refused. Even though he had some political disagreement with his illustrious brother, the Dalai Lama, Taktser Rinpoche fully endorsed his policy on Shugden. Later, the Shugden group tried to attract another prominent Gelugpa lama in the US – Geleg Rinpoche – but was rebuffed.
Bloomington’s Shugden followers now have a full-fledged monastery, and they have also convinced a notable lama to become their leader. This lama is Trijang Rinpoche, the reincarnation of one of the two tutors of the Dalai Lama, who was a most active proponent of Shugden for several decades, first in Tibet, then in exile.
For years, the new incarnation of Trijang Rinpoche has lived a confused life, torn between the Dalai Lama’s disapproval of Shugden worship and the Shugden followers in his entourage, who urged him to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps. Eventually, he left both the monkhood and India entirely, settling instead in Vermont State and staying out of the public’s eye. Even today his website avoids mentioning the deity Shugden directly, while it does display a dedication letter by the Dalai Lama for the Vermont center, dated 2007.
More recently, however, other Shugden lamas succeeded in convincing the young Trijang Rinpoche to return to the fold to take a leading role in their community. His pompously orchestrated, recent trip to Mongolia, and now the dedication of the monastery in Bloomington, underline that he is being made the figurehead of the Shugden movement outside of the western New Kadampa Tradition (NKT). In fact, it appears that he is the only lama in the Shugden community who is addressed as His Holiness, a title normally reserved for the heads of major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
The expansion of the Shugden cult in the United States is important in the context of ongoing preparations throughout Tibetan Buddhism for the post-Dalai Lama scenario. Shugden followers, for instance, would almost certainly recognize any Dalai Lama reincarnation put forth by the Chinese government, a figurehead that will doubtlessly be rejected by much of the rest of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as by the Tibetan communities.