The Ticking Bomb That Took 23 Years to Explode. Part Two
By Tenzing Wangdak
It was in April 1991, thoughts on recent unpleasant episode were still lingering in my mind. We were driving from Seville to Cordoba by car and I could see miles and miles of sunflower fields out of the window touching the horizon. Suddenly I felt myself gripped by a strong emotion of seeing how small and insignificant I was before the universe. Momentarily I was lost in thought, and recovering, I saw tears rolling down my cheek. I wiped them off with the back of my right hand, with a wry smile on my face. Such a feeling lifted a very heavy weight off my mind. Then I felt very happy. After the summer of the same year, I left the centre definitely.
A very important question arises, why is Geshe Kelsang Gyatso so determined to fight tooth and nail on Shugden issue? To answer this question, I have to go back to the mid July 1989. Myself and Geshe Tamding Gyatso rode from Manjushri Institute, Cumbria, England, to a small retreat centre called Tharpaland in Scotland where Geshe Kelsang Gyatso was doing retreat along with some of his students. We spent one weekend over there. During one of the conversations between the two geshes, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso said that his teacher Trijang Rinpoche instructed him to carry on Dorjee Shugden practice. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso said and, I quote; “Kyabje Triyang Rimpoche was very ill. When I saw him in poor health, I felt very sad. I implored him to extend his life and live longer for the sake of Dharma and the well-being of living beings. I prostrated before him, and then performed a long-life prayer repeatedly. After the prayer, Kyabje Trijang Dorjeechang told me, “Be cautious. Now, Shugden practice is declining”.” Well, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso took this statement as if he were given the responsibility of upholding and reviving it.
Another time, Geshe Tamding Gyatso was speaking with him and at one stage of their conversation he praised Geshe Kelsang Gyatso for his invaluable work for the Dharma, publishing the books entitled “Clear Light of Bliss” and “Meaningful to Behold”. Geshe Tamding Gyatso told him that some of his students in Spain appreciated them. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso responded, “Thanks to the Buddhist books composed by the previous Tibetan masters like Panchen Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen, Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen, Ngulchu Dharmabhadra, etc. They made my work simple. Without their help, it would be an uphill task to give teaching on these two texts. The credit goes to them.” He was right. I saw most of the Tibetan lamas using commentaries written by highly accomplished teachers of the past as a reference to teach Buddhism to their students in the west.
I talked with Geshe Tamding Gyatso many times over the importance of a dharma protector in Buddhist practice. Once we were talking on Dorjee Shugden, I asked him whether or not Dorjee Shugden was a worldly deity. He replied very clearly that Dorjee Shugden was a worldly deity; Kyabje Triyang Rinpoche said that he was a worldly deity. Geshela was thoughtful for a while and continued, “Had H. H. the Dalai Lama advised us not to propitiate Dorjee Shugden in the early 1960s, I wouldn’t have received the Life Entrustment Empowerment. In the early 60s at Buxa Refugee Camp, Assam, Kyabje Triyang Rinpoche and Kyabje Song Rinpoche were the most famous known lamas of the time, and most of the monks received teachings and tantric initiations from them. I was amongst them.” Fortunately, Geshe Tamding Gyatso stopped the Shugden practice in the 90s.
In the summer of 1989, we were invited to give teachings in the Buddhist Centres in England, which were under the direction of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. I still remember vividly one incident at Madhyamaka Centre, Yorkshire. It was in August, 1989. One day I attended for the long life prayers of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and I was sitting next to Geshe Tamding Gyatso in the front row. Neil Eliot, the spiritual director of the centre, was sitting on the opposite side, first in the front row. As soon as we finished the long life prayer, a small book was distributed. I opened it and saw the picture of Dorjee Shugden. I turned the pages, and then put the book upside down on my desk. After that, I looked at Neil Eliot and he was smiling at me. I smiled him back. Well, he realized I was not going to do this practice. Neil Eliot was considered quite a charismatic personality. He resembled Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo with his bulky physique and bald head. He was regarded as the worthy successor to Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. I remembered him calling himself Thubten Gyatso, and he was quite proud of his Tibetan name. In fact, it was also the name of the 13th Dalai Lama. During my 8-day stay at the centre, even I got along very well with him.
I came to realize later that Geshe Kelsang Gyatso expelled him from Madyamaka Centre due to the unfortunate incident of his sexual life in the centre. His life as a Buddhist monk ended rather in an inglorious way. He has already changed his name from Thubten Gyatso to Kadam Neil Eliot. Perhaps, this gives him a new lease of life. Nowadays, from the sources of the New Kadampa survivors, he is one of those who mastermind behind closed door to mobilize protest against H.H. the Dalai Lama in the streets of Europe and USA. Nevertheless, he does it at the behest of Kelsang Gyatso. I thought that he lost the opportunity to be Kelsang Gyatso’s successor. Now it seems that he enjoys absolute power in the NKT community.
Shugden worshippers practice their protector freely whenever and wherever they like. Nobody has imposed any restriction on their religious freedom. Nonetheless, they have no right to encroach on the rights of other people. His Holiness has said over and over again that they are free to do their own practice of Shugden, but with the condition that they are advised not to attend his teachings. How foolhardy they are! Despite having full religious freedom, they still believe it has been cut. Consequently, they have protested against the Dalai Lama in the streets of big cities in Europe and USA, demanding a religious freedom that they already have. They have gone too far and made this situation intolerable for Tibetan people. Going against something obvious is a clear indication of mental disorder.
Recently I found the infamous Yellow Book by Zemey Rinpoche on the internet, only the relevant parts of it. It recounts the stories of prominent Geluk teachers and government officials who became the victims of Shugden for having gone astray from the path of Gelukpa tradition. It was appalling. According to Yellow Book, their lives revolved around Shugden. One powerful Spirit played the decisive role to dictate the fates of those unfortunate victims. The fact remains that the book is based on wild assumptions rather than logic. Such assumption is open to discussion. How true is it? There was no evidence to prove the veracity of these claims. Now, let me believe that it is true for a while, then, how is it possible that a religion with non-violence as its foundation act violently? Is this the way to instil fear in the hearts of fellow Gelukpa practitioners? Is this the way to leave fellow dharma practitioners out in the cold? Are they deliberately wreaking havoc in Gelukpa Society? Has Lord Buddha taught them to kill fellow dharma practitioners? I have come to the conclusion and will say that they messed up Tibetan Buddhism in the 20th century.
This kind of belief is deeply imbedded in a strict religious orthodoxy. We must take into consideration other important factors that could be the causes of their untimely death. In the first half of the 20th century, the life expectancy of Tibetan people was very low. Untimely death was a commonplace. The causes of the death could be poor nutrition, harsh climate, lack of hygiene, lack of medical facilities and improper diet.
There is a general saying among the Tibetan Buddhists that having taken the Life Entrustment Empowerment of Shugden, you are left with no choice but to practice it compulsorily everyday in your lifetime. Failing to comply with it would result in severe punishment. Wow! Divine Wrath in Buddhism! This sounds very similar to the Christian concept of making “pact with the devil” in which, you ask his favour of wealth, fame and power, and in return, you are obliged to sell your soul to him.
Kyabje Pabongka was mainly responsible for the revival and spread of Shugden practice. The 13th Dalai Lama admonished him for the spread of Shugden practice even in the Drepung monastery, which had no connection whatsoever with the spirit until then. Consequently, Pabongka promised the Dalai Lama through a letter that he would abandon it immediately and never perform it in the future. Shortly after the death of H. H the 13th Dalai Lama, not only did he renew his Shugden practice but also spread it far and wide in Tibet. He brazenly broke his solemn promise. Now it could be a sheer coincidence that, he did it at the time when the whole world was passing through one of the darkest periods in human history. The world was in turmoil – the Sino-Japanese war was in full swing, the dark cloud of the Second World War was looming in Europe. Communism was expanding rapidly like wild fire towards many Eastern countries. Religious persecution was rampant in the Communist countries.
In Mongolia, during the great purge of 1937, more than 18,000 monks were either shot through the head or burnt alive. Buddhism was facing a real danger of a total extinction in that country. A famous Mongolian Buddhist teacher, Lobsang Tayang, was one of the victims. I even heard that he was burnt alive during the religious persecution in Mongolia, but I cannot confirm it. During the teachings of H.H. the Dalai Lama at the temple in Dharamsala, 1983, a booklet “A Precious Crystal Rosary” was distributed freely to all the people who attended the teaching. It deals with one hundred and eight verses in praise of great compassion. The famous Mongolian Geshe Lobsang Tayang composed this beautiful poem. H.H. the Dalai Lama, at that time, advised us to read it over and over again till it wears out. Sadly the life of this great master, who happened to be a Shugden practitioner, met with a tragic end.
ROLE OF A WORLDY DHARMA PROTECTOR
In Highest Yoga Tantra, the role of a dharma protector is to help the practitioner on his or her spiritual adventure to Buddhahood. The practitioner encounters innumerable obstacles in his spiritual career, especially at the beginning, when his mind is wild and undisciplined. In the Guru Yoga Assembly Tree, the position of a Dharma protector is placed down on the 6th row. The practitioner who reaches a high level of inner realisation, with the strong and stable divine pride of the meditational deity, is in a commanding position to entrust his Dharma protector to obey his order. The relationship between the practitioner and the dharma protector is comparable to a powerful king and his chief minister. The minister is ready to listen and obey the orders given by his powerful king. In a similar way, a highly realized tantric practitioner commands his protector and entrusts him with the work of eliminating all the obstacles coming in his path to Buddhahood.
Now, let me take into consideration the possibility of this relationship working the other way round. Suppose the practitioner is spiritually weak and lacks high spiritual experience. Naturally, his position becomes vulnerable. Under such circumstances, he could easily fall prey to his worldly dharma protector. It is comparable to a weak king who obeys to every single word of his powerful minister. Most of the Shugden worshippers belong to the second category.
In my opinion, dharma protectors work effectively only on a personal level. A tantric practitioner who develops a firm divine pride of his meditational deity could command his protector to eliminate the obstacles on his way to Buddhahood. Granting the protector any big responsibility that he cannot cope with is doomed to failure. Since my school days I have loved History. I realized at that time that the most famous Buddhist universities like Nalanda and Vikramashila were ransacked and plundered by the foreign invaders led by Bakhtair Khilji and his army around 1193 to 1205 AD. All the monks were beheaded and many burnt alive. All the sacred books were burnt and the pall of smoke hung in the sky for many days. Sadly, no dharma protector saved the most famous Centres of learning of the world from the brutal onslaught of the Muslim invaders. Nowadays, we can only see Nalanda’s ruins. There is no trace of Vikramashila left. If the story is true, then the dharma protector of Nalanda, Raven-faced protector, was so frightened with the raid that he ran away from the place. But, it sounds more like a buzz or the words on the street. I saw the ruins of Nalanda for the first time on a silver screen of Bollywood when I was 13 years old in 1972.
Lama Tsongkhapa painstakingly established Gaden Monastery in 1409 in the hope of perpetuating Buddhism. It is generally accepted that he entrusted the three dharma protectors Kalarupa, Vaisravana and six-armed Mahakala to help true dharma practitioners of the three scopes of Lamrim on their spiritual journey to Buddhahood. In fact, they are the protectors of true Gelugpa practitioners rather than the tradition itself. Shugden claims that he is the undisputed dharma protector of Gelukpa Tradition of our time. What was his reaction when the Red Guard Army undertook the systematic destruction of Gaden monastery during the Cultural Revolution? Even the most precious relic, the preserved body of Lama Tsonkhapa, was not spared and was burnt. Luckily, Bomi Rinpoche, one of the monks, managed to save the skull and some ashes from the fire. Shugden’s boastful claim flies in the face of historical evidence. In fact, he stood helpless in the face of such a mournful event – the worst humiliation he faced. He failed miserably to save the three most important monasteries of Gelukpa tradition which he was supposed to protect. Therefore, it is foolhardy to consider him as the most important dharma protector of the Gelukpa tradition. However, in the NKT he still enjoys the title the most important protector of Gelukpa tradition! Shugden claims he has a direct access to Lama Tsongkhapa. Now he says he comes from the pure land of Lama Tsongkhapa. Really? Did he report the total destruction of the three centres of learning of the Gelukpa School to Lama Tsongkhapa? Did he explain to him his own failure to protect them and especially, Gaden Monastery?
I think the main cause of our failure lies in our basic emotional set-up. Often, when we find ourselves in a situation where we have no answer to solve our problem, we become desperate and insist on finding some solution from non-human sources like worldly spirits, but when these become desperate, they tell lies.
GEN. LOBSANG GYATSO: NEMESIS OF DORJEE SHUGDEN.
Gen. Lobsang Gyatso, my teacher, was an outspoken critic. His critical writing on Trijang’s overemphasis on Shugden’s role in Gelukpa School provoked condemnation. In mid 70s, he infuriated many people, mainly the Tibetan government officials in exile and the monks from Sera, Gaden and Depung. To my teacher, Trijang’s behaviour was unacceptable. It was the most difficult period for him, but he stood the ground. Indeed, He was a monk with steel nerves, who could rise to the occasion when the odds were against him. Fortunately, he received H H. the Dalai Lama’s support. My teacher believed strongly that Dorjee Shugden was an evil spirit. In November 1991, I met him for the first time after my four years in Spain. In the course of our conversation, I told him openly and straightforwardly that I got an impression that Shugden was not a non-sectarian dharma protector of Gelukpa school after having listened to the tape recorded teaching by an oracle who channelled peaceful Shugden. My teacher responded me saying, “He is cunning and manipulative. Long time ago in Tibet, he wanted to impress me using the same tactic of his apparent non-sectarian attitude. He thought that I would fall into the psychological trap he laid, but I did not”. My teacher belonged to Drepung Loseling Monastery, which has no connection whatsoever with the spirit. The majority of the monks in Drepung Monastery have always considered Dorjee Shugden a demon, dating back some three hundred years.
In my last meeting with him in 1996, he said and I quote, “Shugden is lying low. In the past, he would often appear in my dream, wearing magnificent clothes and very bright ornaments. Nowadays, he looks sad and miserable. His clothes are dusty and worn out”.
One year later, on the 4th Feb. 1997, some Shugden followers murdered him ruthlessly along with two students in his room. However, his sacrifice has not gone in vain. In fact, it has proved to be a turning point in the history of Gelugpa society. Since then many lamas and monks have abandoned the Dogyal practice. He carved a niche for himself in the Tibetan Buddhist history as an undaunted monk who was mainly responsible for the downfall of Dorjee Shugden practice in Tibet, both within and without.
If Gen. Lobsang Gyatso were alive, he would be 87 years old, enjoying the glory of the great contribution he made not only to the Buddhist world, but also to Tibetan society. He would be extremely satisfied with his own students working to make this world a better place.
Links to translated works by the authors mentioned can be found here:
- Panchen Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen
- Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen
- Ngulchu Dharmabhadra
[Photographic image chosen by the author. Photographer unknown]
Originally posted on New Kadampa Survivor Actvists