Response to the refutation of Tenzin Wangdak by an anonymous Shugden supporter

These days in exile unity among the Tibetans is more important than ever. The last thing they want is some puritanical protector terrifying those who wander between spiritual traditions. Harmony between the main religious traditions is essential. Shugden hardly fits the role of a mediator or peace-bringer, does he? – Gavin Kilty

The article that this is a response to is found at:
I would like to reply to the above. I don’t do this with anger or resentment, or because I am partisan to Tenzin Wangdak, or that I belong to one side in this dispute. Anger, indignation, partiality and resentment will only entrench a position, and prevent any understanding or consideration of the other side. Anger, in particular, fogs the mind and obscures any rational and middle-way thinking.

In that spirit, I do hope you publish this reply. If you are sure of your views, there is nothing to fear in publishing those views that disagree with yours. For a discussion to proceed both positions must be aired. If for some reason you do not publish this reply, I will publish it elsewhere, together with your article for all to see.

In your very first sentence you prefix the title Dalai Lama with the derogatory “false.” You do this throughout the article, and indeed in most articles posted online and elsewhere you cannot refer to him without using this prefix. If you think that by bombarding the public and your followers with this appellation it will gradually come to be accepted as true, you woefully underestimate the intelligence of your target audience. You might think that if you say it enough it will be accepted as fact, but most intelligent readers will just become tired of it. Moreover, they will compare your assertion with what they know of the Dalai Lama from their own personal experience and observation of him, and rely upon that for their assessment of him, because mere name-calling is childish and baseless.

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You might refute this by saying you have published a book “proving” that the Dalai Lama is a false incarnation. But it seems to me that this book is mere retaliation for the Dalai Lama labeling Shugden as a malevolent spirit or a ghost. You regard Shugden as a manifestation of Mañjuśrī, and so any denigration of him is not going to be taken kindly. (I know that Trijang Rinpoche and Phabongkha Rinpoche both proclaimed him thus but we can deal with that later). Just as the Dalai Lama addresses him as a worldly spirit or as Dölgyal, so you seek to retaliate by addressing the Dalai Lama as “false” in all mention of him. This is a childish way of dealing with criticism.

Your book, The False Dalai Lama, comes across as a predetermined conclusion seeking justification. You have already decided that he is false and so you set about finding “proof” to back up that claim. If that is not the case, and I am making baseless allegations, then why several years after the Dalai Lama stated his doubts about Shugden do you suddenly produce this book? Would you have produced it if the Dalai Lama had not said the things he did?

Moreover, the Dalai Lama has set out clearly reasons for his stance that Shugden is not an exclusive protector of Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings or the Geluk tradition, not an emanation of Mañjuśrī, and that he is a spirit who does more harm than good. Therefore, your book seeks to mirror that process by setting out reasons why the Dalai Lama is not a genuine Tülku entrusted with the welfare of the Tibetan people, and not an emanation of Avalokiteśvara, and just a politician and dictator who harms the Tibetan people. Again, this just seems like childish tit for tat. Unable to deal with the criticism of your protector, you respond by lashing out instead of employing careful thought and consideration of the issues.

Moreover, look at the motivations for the Dalai Lama’s position on Shugden and your position on the Dalai Lama. He did not denigrate Shugden from some perceived slight, or out of resentment for what someone had said, or from any innate dislike of Shugden. He too was a believer in Shugden for many years. The doubts surfaced in the 70’s from circumstances that have been well documented elsewhere, and he felt it was his responsibility to act upon what he had discovered. He explained everything to Trijang Rinpoche before taking any action, because he felt his conscience would not allow him to do otherwise. Your motivations for deriding him as false, however, seem far removed from those. They appear to come from an open hostility to the Dalai Lama, and his public pronouncements on Shugden.

If you think for a minute that your book provides reliable proof of the Dalai Lama being false, and that it is a shining example of non-partisan, academic scholarship, then think again. This is not the place to go through the book chapter by chapter, but some of the reasoning is laughable. He is a Marxist? He is a Muslim? He lost his temper when he was a child? These are proofs? He is not a Marxist ideologue to the exclusion of everything else. He is first and foremost a Buddhist, and spends every morning from 3.30am onwards engaged in Buddhist practice, the most fundamental of which is going for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. He is a Buddhist monk and keeps his vows purely (despite your slanderous accusation of lying, which is a root downfall for a monk). Just because he expresses sympathy for Marxist economics does not disqualify him from being a Buddhist!

The book states that he lost his temper when he was a child, thereby casting doubt on his suitability as an emanation of Avalokiteśvara. Well, emanations of enlightened beings act in worldly ways, something that you would attest to when pronouncing Dorjé Shugden to be a manifestation of Mañjuśrī. However, if that is a reason for proclaiming the Dalai Lama to be false, then how false must Shugden be when engaging in killing and bring sickness to many lamas who “strayed” to Nyingma teachings? It is no good dismissing these allegations as “superstition,” as you do, because they are the claims of Trijang Rinpoche written down by Zemé Rinpoche in his Yellow Book. They are there for all to see. Trijang Rinpoche even repeats some of these in his own writings.

It is true that protectors sometimes engage in wrathful actions for good reasons, but to condemn as worldly a little boy for getting angry while justifying the violent actions of a protector as enlightened, or dismissing them as “old wife’s tales to stop Gelugpas from mixing traditions” as you do is a contradiction.

I am not even going to bother dealing with the allegation that the 14th Dalai of Tibet is in fact a Muslim!

ISC propaganda video by Gen Kelsang Rabten / Nicholas Pitts

Therefore, it is hard to escape the conclusion that this book is written out of spite, and any reason, no matter how flimsy, is thrown in to bolster an already predetermined outcome.

You say, “Dorjé Shugden is an emanation of Mañjuśrī and the principal protector of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings in this age.” Phabongkha Rinpoche and Dakpo Kalsang Khedrup, the author of the verses of praise that Trijang Rinpoche commented, did assert that Shugden was an emanation of Mañjuśrī, and consequently so did Trijang Rinpoche. However, before that most masters in the Sakya tradition, where devotion to Shugden began, regarded him as a powerful spirit. Moreover, several Geluk masters regarded him as a spirit. I realize that these are assertions with no back up of scriptural reference, but to do that would turn this article in to a lengthy book. One day such a book, well researched and complete with references, will be published.

However, for now this short response is to introduce the fact that there are doubts abut the claims surrounding Shugden. There have been doubts all throughout the past three hundred years, from his beginning as Drakpa Gyaltsen in the 17th century. All parties accept that Drakpa Gyaltsen was the origin of Shugden, but at that time, the 5th Dalai Lama and those around him had their doubts. You may dismiss the 5th Dalai Lama as being unaware of the activities of his Desi’s supposed involvement in Drakgyen’s murder, or even as being complicit in it, but the written evidence at that time, as opposed to hearsay and rumour, points to other explanations. There is even no written evidence at that time that Drakgyen was actually killed.

You back up the claim that Shugden is the principal protector of the Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings with a quote from Trijang Rinpoche’s commentary on Dakpo Kalsang Khedrup’s verses of praise to Dorjé Shugden, which states that the 11th Dalai Lama enthroned him as such together with the Chinese emperor. The 11th Dalai Lama passed away when he was only seventeen, hardly a mature age to be making decisions on who is the protector of Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings. It is telling that you choose a Dalai Lama as an authoritative source to back up your position. You ignore the stances of the three most influential Dalai Lamas: the 5th, 13th and 14th , and hone in on a young Dalai Lama who almost certainly had little or no influence in affairs. But then these three Dalai Lamas don’t follow your views on Shugden and so they are denounced and ignored.

If you say that the mention of the 11th Dalai Lama as someone who enthroned Shugden was a comment made by Trijang Rinpoche, that is true, but one (among many) differences between you and Trijang Rinpoche is that he had the greatest of respect and devotion for all the Dalai Lamas. He didn’t cherry pick those who supported his views. In his commentary to these verses of praise he goes out of his way to show nothing but total respect to the Great Fifth. Moreover, in his works and teachings he repeatedly praised the 14th Dalai Lama, urging his disciples to dedicate themselves to him. If you claim you are followers of Trijang Rinpoche, why don’t you follow his advice?

You say that Trijang Rinpoche “regarded the upholding of the Shugden practice to be very important.” Maybe, but he also regarded devotion to the 14th Dalai Lama as very important. So why don’t you follow that advice too? You berate Tenzin Wangdak for not bowing to Trijang Rinpoche, but it seems that you don’t either.

You say that the reason Dorjé Shugden is preferable these days to Kālarūpa, Vaiśravana and six-armed Mahākāla is, “The Dharma Protector who has the strongest karmic connection with the practitioners of Lama Tsongkhapa’s tradition in this modern times is Dorjé Shugden. He is the one who is most able to help.” Really? And how does he help? By picking on those who practice any tradition other than the Geluk? These days in exile unity among the Tibetans is more important than ever. The last thing they want is some puritanical protector terrifying those who wander between spiritual traditions. Harmony between the main religious traditions is essential. Shugden hardly fits the role of a mediator or peace-bringer, does he?

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If you respond by saying that it is the Dalai Lama who has caused divisions in the Tibetan community by introducing restrictions (no, not a ban) on Shugden practice, you should know that no-one has worked harder than him to bring all traditions together. Just look at his record in doing this since they arrived in exile. Just for once, be fair. Give him some credit. He has organized inter-tradition conferences, regularly welcomes, visits and shows respect to leaders of other traditions. He even included the Bon in Tibetan traditions. In teachings he will often try to bring the various philosophical traditions together (Dzokchen, Mahamudra, Mādhyamika) by unpicking the tradition-specific terminology and finding common ground. Isn’t this working for the unity of the Tibetan communities?

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It was in this spirit of responsibility that he expressed his thoughts on Shugden. In 1975 the local Tibetans in Dharamshala were frightened to attend a Padma Saṃbhava offering ritual in the temple because they were afraid of what Shugden would do to them. Is this how Shugden helps? That was the catalyst for Dalai Lama’s embarking on an investigation into Shugden, culminating with the pronouncements he made. How can this be seen as anything other than a genuine concern for the unity of the Tibetan people? It is the unfortunate response of others that has caused the problems we have now.

These days in exile, and in the 21st century, the days of petty sectarianism are over. There is no place for each tradition to tightly cling to their own tradition to the exclusion of others. That may have worked in Tibet but not now in the modern world. The tradition of Tsongkhapa is open to everyone. The traditions of the Nyingma, Sakya and Kagyü are open to everyone. Does Shugden facilitate that? If so, please let me know.

You say, “You are all lost and confused because you have broken your Guru devotion by abandoning your reliance on the great Masters of the Gelugpa tradition such as Je Pabongkhapa and Trijang Rinpoche. You don’t trust your Gurus, you trust politics.”

What nonsense this is. And what an insulting judgment to pass on others you don’t even know. Guru devotion (as in the Fifty Verses on the Guru) allows for disagreement with the guru on certain points, as long as that disagreement is not based on anger or prejudice. If it is allowed in guru devotion practice, it must be something that exists within that practice and does not constitute an abandonment of the guru. Ling Rinpoche said he regarded Phabongkha as a perfect Buddha but when the Shugden issue came up he was uneasy. Did he too abandon his guru? The Dalai Lama has said many times that he has never lost devotion for Trijang Rinpoche as his guru. However, you believe he is a false Dalai Lama, and so you wouldn’t believe him. It is very convenient for your position if the person you are disagreeing with is damned as unreliable from the outset, because then you don’t have to disprove anything he says, as to your eyes he is almost certainly lying!

Your insults such as “lost and confused,” “wrongheaded,” “betrayers and purveyors of wrong views,” (the last one sounds almost evangelical!) are built on the notion that people such as Tenzin Wangdak have abandoned and defame great Geluk masters such as Phabongkha and Trijang Rinpoche. But they have nothing but respect for these masters as great practitioners. And they also are devoted to the Dalai Lama. The only people who are denouncing great lamas are you and your group who regularly turn up at events where the Dalai Lama is speaking and engage in your childish chant of “False Dalai Lama stop lying!”

Your proof that Shugden does not punish people is that if he did, “the False Dalai Lama would be dead for all the harm he has done to Tibetan Buddhism in general and the Gelugpa tradition in particular.” Goodness, where did you learn logic? The reason is based on the assumption that the Dalai Lama is false and that he has caused harm. As these are not accepted by those you are aiming the logic at, it falls rather flat. I could just return the logic: Shugden has not harmed the Dalai Lama because he can’t, because he is not false, and because he has not harmed Buddhism.

However, as I said above, read the Yellow Book. It is full of terrifying punishments meted out to those who practiced Nyingma teachings. As I said before, sometimes protectors can be violent, but please don’t paint Shugden as portraying only a peaceful aspect. If, as you say, Shugden’s “fearsome reputation is superstition: old wife’s tales to stop Gelugpas from mixing traditions,” then you are tagging Trijang Rinpoche’s writing as “old wives’ tales,” and that would be denigrating the words of a great Geluk master, something you would never do, surely!

You say that Shugden followers have no religious freedom because they must choose between breaking away from Shugden and breaking commitment to their gurus, or risk being ostracized from their families. Thousands of Tibetans have given up their Shugden practice, and enjoy plenty of religious freedom. They are not breaking their samaya with their gurus, as explained above. Those who continue the practice are free to do so. That is their choice. If there has been discrimination against Shugden followers in the Tibetan community that is wrong.

But look at this. Buddhist practice takes place in the mind. What you do in your mind is your choice. No one can stop you, and no one knows what you are doing. Think back to those brave Tibetans who spent years in Chinese prisons. Did they suffer the loss of religious freedom you complain about? Or were they able to practice bravely in the privacy of their own minds, away from the vicious hands of the prison guards? Palden Gyatso (author of Fire Under the Snow) spent over thirty years in prison. He managed to practice love and compassion for his jailers. I know him and he has told me these things personally. Such people did not let the vicious oppression of the Chinese daunt them. They used it to further their practice. In the face of that I find your cries of persecution rather hollow.

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Recently I met a western NKT nun here in the UK. She told me she had nothing to do with the politics of the Shugden issue, but quietly went about her devotions to Shugden. Does she not have religious freedom? Nobody was stopping her from doing her practice. As I said, if there are those in the Tibetan community who discriminate against Shugden practitioners, that is not right. But before they complain, think about Palden Gyatso.

You talk a bit about Tibetan history, in which you say that, “this practice has been passed down for three hundred and fifty years from Teacher to Student and was practiced by all the great Gelugpa Lamas and Sakya throne holders.”

Tibetan history is a hall of mirrors. You are never sure what you are looking at. The secretive nature of Tibetan society and its tendency for interpretation (outer, inner, secret, and so on) of events make it difficult, but not impossible, to come down on one side or the other. The Dorjé Shugden history site looks well researched, and I will take some time to read it.

However, it is not the case that ALL great Geluk lamas and Sakya throne holders practiced Shugden as you maintain. Moreover, much of the practice before Phabongkha centered on Shugden as a fierce worldly spirit, rather than an emanation of Mañjuśrī, even though the two may not be contradictory. Moreover, if this practice has been handed down for 350 years, that would mean it began around 1665, nine years or so after Drakpa Gyaltsen’s death. But the first recorded contact between a lama and Shugden was some 54 years after his death when he appeared before a Sakya Lama. Minor point maybe, but you would probably pick me up for it.

Maybe we should pool our research and thrash these issues out at a conference some time. What do you think? These points of history need to be sorted out in a calm and rational fashion.

You mention the murder of Ven. Losang Gyatso, and cast doubt on his killers being Shugden supporters. Yes, there have been no convictions, and without a trial it cannot be conclusively determined either way. But, come on. Is your doubt based on a fair appraisal of the available evidence or is it a product of your bias toward Shugden? You level the same charge at the Tibetan government, but is there no bias in your stance of attempting to exonerate Shugden supporters of this crime?

Having said that, I must declare an interest here. He was my teacher for eight years at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics. I owe him a great debt of gratitude. He allowed me, a layman, to enter the school and join in the classes and debate sessions. I value my time at that school highly. It helped me make sense of the Dharma. So maybe I am biased too, but look at the evidence.

He was indeed outspoken. Many in the Geluk tradition complained about him as you say. And who are the most puritanical of the Geluk? Who are those who would not take kindly to criticism of the tradition? He had received threats from the Dorje Shugden Charitable and Religious Society. This letter is for all to see. And what about the obscene letter received after the murder in which the sender asks if they enjoyed the three carcasses of meat as a Losar present, and that there would be more carcasses if the present practice is continued? Although it is not signed, the contents make it clear on whose behalf the letter is written.

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You suggest that Namgyal Monastery might have committed the murder. Are you serious? Namgyal is the monastery of the Dalai Lama, who appointed Ven. Losang Gyatso as principal. What possible motive could they have? The proof offered is that there was a movie being played at Namgyal the night of the murder, and that this was unusual and could have been set up to drown out the noise of the act. Is this a serious piece of evidence!

The Indian press reported on the murders, quoting the police as clearly linking the murders to Shugden followers, and even naming four of the accused. The whole story of the taxi pursuit from Delhi and the phone call to the Dorje Shugden Society in Delhi is there. I will not go into detail here, as it is too lengthy, and this has been well documented. Also you could, and probably would, just dismiss it as uncorroborated, and so we would enter the back and forth process of discussion and argument.

In conclusion, your vilification of the Dalai Lama is unprecedented in the long history of this institution. Never before has there been such a focused attack on a Dalai Lama because of one particular action he has taken. Even if you disagree with his stance on Shugden, which of course you are perfectly entitled to, why then do you proceed to condemn the whole person with claims that he is a false incarnation, a liar, a mere politician, a harmer of the Geluk tradition, and so on. What excessive defamation just because of his stance on a particular protector. Have you never looked at the whole of his character, his dedication to world peace, the Tibet struggle? Are the hundreds of institutions who have showered awards upon him blind? Are the millions who revere him stupid? And are you, and Chinese communist party, the only ones who see the truth?

If you see someone as wholly bad because of one action that he or she has taken, then you will interpret everything they do as bad. Nobody can know everything about a person, but you can come down on one side or the other by looking at the whole person, not just one action he has committed, and making a sensible choice. I have been around the Dalai Lama since the early seventies. I have met him several times. I have taken teachings from him many times, I have examined what he teaches, I have observed him closely, and my conclusion is, at the very least he is an honourable man, an ethical person, a good monk, a kind hearted soul who puts others first, a great thinker, someone who takes his responsibility as Dalai Lama very seriously, and everyday tries tirelessly to put every Buddhist teaching he has learned into practice. How many of us can claim the same?

You could of course just dismiss me as a Dalai Lama cheerleader, and that is up to you. Or we could try and work this out, settle it once and for all. We could sit around a table and talk about it. A meeting was held in California recently. It didn’t get very far, because it was only the first one. But who knows what is possible if we only try?

Gavin Kilty
September 2015.

line-gothicGavin Kilty has been a full-time translator for the Institute of Tibetan Classics since 2001. Before that he lived in Dharamsala, India, for fourteen years, where he spent eight years training in the traditional Geluk monastic curriculum through the medium of class and debate at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics. He also teaches Tibetan language courses in India, Nepal, and elsewhere, and is a translation reviewer for the organization 84000, Translating the Words of the Buddha

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