The Doggedness of Clinging to Shugden

By Carol McQuire
I was looking up the recent origin of the phrase ‘Shugden Buddhists’ when researching a commentary on the New Kadampa Tradition’s recent letters denying the valid lineage of Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche¹ ² – the currently accepted reincarnation of Kelsang Gyatso’s ‘main’ teacher Trijang Rinpoche (although he had far more teachings, support and sponsorship throughout his life from other teachers such as Geshe Lhundup Sopa) and came across an article in an Australian paper (June 2015) which quotes…

…there are many historical precedents for Tibetan Buddhists giving up vows for certain deities at certain times and there’s nothing to really prevent them [giving up Shugden] except doggedness.

Origin of dogged; 1275-1325; Middle English: having characteristics of a dog; adj.”having the qualities of a dog” (mostly in a negative sense), c.1300, from dog (n.). Meaning “persistent” is from 1779. Hence doggedly (late 14c.), “cruelly, maliciously;” later “with a dog’s persistence” (1773).

And the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) ‘Shugden Buddhists’ certainly do cling persistently! We can be glad, however, that the lies or attempts to cover up seem to be diminishing (or the NKT is now unrealistically confident in their ability to hide) as the most recent letter about the validity of the general Tibetan recognition of the current reincarnation of Trijang Rinpoche – Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche – is signed by a Mr Henry Shefveland – who is none other than the Deputy Spiritual Director of the NKT – Gen Kelsang Jampa! Kelsang Jampa – an American – says that all the Tibetan Shugdenpas have got it wrong. As well as all the Tibetans in general!²

Considering that the NKT’s own constitution states that they should, as ‘Modern Kadampa Buddhists’, have nothing to do with tulkus, etc, or Tibetans and Tibetan culture, and they even published an announcement in Tricycle magazine saying there are ‘not Tibetan Buddhists’(!), we can wonder why they are so preoccupied with dismissing and demeaning the current reincarnation. Out of ignorance perhaps? In footnote three³ below I address the stunning inaccuracies of Mr Shefveland’s letter including comments from sources in Dharamsala.

Every protest against His Holiness the Dalai Lama – and conflict with Tibetans – has been reawakened when there has been a crisis of power within the NKT itself – such as disillusion with the sexual activities of senior monks (alleged and never denied) – and lately, with the disappearance of Kelsang Gyatso amidst the insistent statements by top NKT teachers that they have ‘talked to him this week’, etc, and got ‘special advice’, etc, even though not a whisper of his actual existence is apparent. Until the NKT prove that Kelsang Gyatso is well and truly alive I think we can sensibly assume that he is not; or that he is seriously ill somewhere and needs to be hidden. It’s been almost three and a half years since his last public appearance. As someone said – even Osama Bin Laden managed to make videos.⁴

I suggest that these ‘announcements’ by the highest teachers of the NKT – whose second letter in the name of the ISBC has been shared to so many NKT centres that it appears to be an instruction to do so – means that every ‘good’ NKT student will now be aware that they should not go for refuge to Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche, who is soon to give the Heruka Body Mandala initiation with 9 days of commentary to westerners – a delightfully attractive event for NKT followers starved of genuine Tibetan Buddhism. [In the NKT the Heruka Body Mandala Commentary barely lasts a few mornings] How dangerous then, when Kelsang Gyatso’s demise could soon be announced, that a real, live, young, articulate, comparatively well trained, traditional Tibetan Shugden lama should be there in direct competition to the NKT! What painful timing! When the cohesion of the NKT needs to be guaranteed before the risk can be taken of announcing the looming absence of all Tibetans from the NKT. [Kelsang Gyatso’s sister still lives at Manjushri and his nephew in town close by but they are not Dharma teachers in the NKT.]

The “Open Letter” signed by Henry Shefveland (Mr Henry Freymueller Shefveland aka Gen Kelsang Jampa, Deputy Spiritual Director of the NKT) calling the Trijang Tulku “false” came out six weeks before the first big empowerment from Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche in the USA. According to Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche’s US passport “Jade Trijang Rinpoche” was born on “15 Oct 1982”. Shefveland claims in his letter he was born on “October 15th, 1981”, concluding erroneously that Trijang Choktrul was born before his predecessor, Trijang Dorje Chang (March 10, 1901 – November 9, 1981), died.

I was told in the late 1990s by a very good source within the NKT, someone who is still in a Gen-la role there, that Kelsang Gyatso did not recognise the current reincarnation of Trijang Rinpoche and that he had been to visit the ‘real one’ instead. So, why was this information kept a ‘secret’ for so long? (I was told not to tell anyone.) This also contradicts the second part of Steve Cowing’s letter in which Kelsang Gyatso is saying that Trijang Rinpoche told him he would not reincarnate at all! So, who was he ‘visiting’? Was I told yet another story? And why wasn’t this ‘secret’ of the supposed non recognition (whether there is another one or not) announced until well after the last protests ended, until it was convenient to do so, when that ‘wrong’ reincarnation finally took up his position as spiritual guide to all the Shugden worshippers except the NKT? When he finally became more attractive and far closer to the original sources of the NKT – to valid lineage and ritual – than the NKT itself?

Ironically, the Tibetan Shugdenpas thought they went to protest against His Holiness the Dalai Lama to ‘help Kelsang Gyatso and the NKT’. The NKT followers thought they went to protest against His Holiness the Dalai Lama ‘to help the Tibetans’. So who is playing games with whom?

I would suggest that the ‘brilliant’ mind that has been behind the NKT ‘editing’ Kelsang Gyatso’s words since the 1980s or earlier – his ‘heart son’ Neil Elliott, is the person who ‘edited’ the two versions of the letter published by the NKT’s secretary Steve Cowing¹. Either Kelsang Gyatso’s words come from a historical record of a meeting – and therefore shouldn’t be altered – or they are alterable when convenient and thus cannot be considered historically truthful! Who else would have the confidence to alter Kelsang Gyatso’s words for the public? Neil is the person who teaches every teacher in the NKT via his online ‘Special Teacher Training Programme’. I was present in the days when Neil supposedly ‘wasn’t’ running the NKT, but came down to my NKT centre to suggest policy to my Resident Teacher. He is the only person with the confidence to tell every teacher in the NKT what to do. He is the person who developed the idea of ‘ridicule as a protest technique’ against His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Who knows what is going on? There is so much change in the NKT. Their Shugden has no ‘tradition’ except what the NKT itself – this small group of westerners around Neil – has invented. The NKT, sooner or later, will keel over from the weight of this ambition. An ambition that is leading to complete isolation … An ambition that leads to alienation from everything except what can be seen in the mirror is a losing game. A Tibetan tradition relies on ‘lineage’. The NKT have no more Tibetan lineage – they are ‘modern’. ‘Modern Shugden Buddhists’ who have created their own ‘lineage’. So why don’t they leave the Tibetans alone? Why is the International Shugden Buddhist Community (ISBC) ‘strongly urging the Tibetan people’ when all they have done is alienate the Tibetan people for the last 25 years? What business is this of theirs? Who is this letter from Mr Shefveland really for? It alienates NKT followers from Tibetans. If the NKT had cared at all about Tibetans they would have run a decent and benign campaign ‘for’ Shugden. But sadly, perhaps it is only the angry rants of a disaffected and lonely Tibetan monk reflected through the addiction of his followers.

Doggedly clinging to their ‘own’ Shugden – who makes them speak so out of place – but for how long?

So much of what the NKT followers say is fabricated, unreal, pretence and pretentiousness …⁴ Fake it until you make it and you’ll be a Buddhist teacher who thousands will follow … ’Shugden’ will help you – even though you have no idea who he really is. The personification of ambition itself, perhaps? A ‘modern lineage’ of ridicule? A deeply racist ‘ridicule’ of Tibetan Buddhism when statements made by a renegade Tibetan monk are used to justify white westerners wearing Tibetan Buddhist monastic robes demeaning the intelligence and integrity of the Tibetan Shugden community (and East Asian and Mongolian Shugden communities) and Tibetan Buddhist ritual and culture; a culture which they have appropriated for their own organisation and repackaged and renamed and made into a commercial product they call ‘Modern Kadampa Buddhism’.

And talking of dogs – Shugden was once described to me – by an experienced Tibetan lama – as the ‘guard dog’ of a master. Shugden was originally a ‘life entrustment’ (not a life style!) taken by choice by monks (no nuns or lay people) who had finished their tantric training and had the skills and power to use Shugden as their servant, to make him work for them. We can see Kelsang Gyatso acting like a servant to his own master, fearful of the dog his master possesses – and by his giving too much to the dog out of fear the dog grows in power until he is master of the servant in the absence of the true master.

¹ First letter from Steve Cowing, Secretary of the NKT, posted on the New Kadampa Tradition Facebook page on January 7th – an explanation of the context of Kelsang Gyatso’s ‘historical’ statements about the reincarnation.

Second almost identical letter from Steve Cowing – but edited! ‘Some lamas’ is changed to ‘one lama’;

² Letter on March 10th from Henry Shefveland as ‘representative of the ISBC’ (PDF)

The ISBC – the International Shugden Buddhist Community – a ‘change of name and function’ from the old ISC – International Shugden Community – the 5th in an increasing line of ‘Shugden’ organisations NKT followers have set up to organise the protests against His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

³ I will address some inaccuracies in Henry Shefveland’s letter including comments from sources in Dharamsala.

There is no such thing as ‘Shugden Buddhism’ that Trijang Dorjechang ‘founded’. And there is no reason for any ‘special connection’ with the NKT’s ISBC! If Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche could have known that the founding of this non-existent entity, a veritable rabbit’s horn, would be attributed to him, he would have been speechless with shock. He was a Tibetan Buddhist and principally a Gelukpa, a follower of Je Tsongkhapa.

The correct name for the person referred to in the letter is Trijang Dorjechang (or Trijang Rinpoche). In the letter this is reversed. Kyabje can be added to the beginning but Dorjechang and Rinpoche would not be used together.

There is no traditional connection between Shar Ganden and Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche. Shar Ganden is not the main monastery of Trijang Rinpoche. It’s the offshoot Shugden monastery on the edge of Mundgod that was created after the divorce between Dolgyal proponents and opponents. Shar Ganden came about long after Trijang Rinpoche had died and most probably after the young Trijang Choktrul / Rinpoche had left Mundgod. They have no actual connection. The date given on the Shar Ganden website is nothing more or less than a mistake. It’s common knowledge that the boy who was recognised as Trijang Rinpoche’s reincarnation was born in October 1982 – the Shar Ganden information (1981) is just wrong. If the boy had been born before the predecessor died – which has sometimes happened – it would have been noted and an explanation found for it long before this. As Shar Ganden is not Trijang Rinpoche’s main monastery their information is not authentic or reliable. It’s true they have no reason to lie about this, so the only explanation is that they made a mistake. The challenge to the date of birth given in Trijang Rinpoche’s passport would be dependent on his birth certificate and so forth. Why would anyone go to such effort?

[We have now been sent a digital copy of Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche’s US passport on which his birthdate is October 15th 1982. Would the NKT really be accusing Trijang Rinpoche – or his associates – of this kind of fraud?]

Ganden Shartse is the location of Trijang Labrang – note it is not at Shar Ganden – and that is where Trijang Rinpoche’s relics are preserved.

Not having finished his monastic training there is certainly no possibility of Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche being more widely followed. Not many Tibetans have much interest in him because of this. He is a disrobed monk. Lama Zopa Rinpoche wrote him an extensive letter detailing the negative consequences of abandoning his monastic training. He doesn’t have the qualities needed to fulfill the full responsibilities he inherited when he was recognised. There have been attempts to foist him on the Mongolians where he described himself as the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama’s tutor. Nobody is trying to create a ‘dictator lama’ out of him.

There is no ‘lama policy’ to follow oracles. Oracles are consulted for advice but are one of many sources consulted before decisions are made elsewhere. What is particularly contradictory is that in Tibet and in exile the Dolgyal proponents were known for having several Dolgyal oracles and relying on them. That’s how it was in the Tibetan tradition. As we know Kelsang Gyatso’s uncle was one of the Dolgyal mediums, but he gave it up and retired in India having apologised and pledged allegiance to HHDL.

Note that Kuten Lama – Geshe-la’s uncle – was in the UK many times in the 1990s and consulted for advice by NKT centres where he entered into trance and did divinations. The NKT contradict and reject their own history. Perhaps it is the ‘lama policy’ of the Shugden oracle that has created the ‘dictator lama’ of the NKT? The ‘poison’ of ‘wrong predictions’ stems from Dolgyal the Shugden oracle himself.

⁴ I have been told by a good source that Mariana Libano – Kelsang Dewang – was often seen in Trijang Rinpoche’s house in Mundgod in the 1970s. She has been Kelsang Gyatso’s personal assistant since the Tibetan monk who originally helped him when he came to the west, left. Perhaps, romantically, both Dewang and Kelsang Gyatso are with the ‘real’ Trijang Rinpoche – the boy the Dalai Lama didn’t choose – somewhere in India or Tibet. Does anyone know who the other boy not chosen is? Perhaps the ‘real’ story that goes much further than just ‘promoting the NKT’ is yet to be told. Or perhaps Dewang is looking after Kelsang Gyatos’s rebirth until he is of an age that his existence can be announced to NKT followers – Kelsang Gyatso said that he would be a Spiritual Director of the NKT again but only after he had gone through all the NKT study programmes. And that he would be reborn as an English boy. I wonder what ‘fault proof’ methods he has given Neil et al to find him having said that the Tibetan methods are faulty! In the absence of facts and the abundance of ‘secrets’ any story can be fabricated and believed, particularly about Kelsang Gyatso. Followers are told that he is in hiding out of fear of being murdered by the Dalai Lama’s followers. If Tibetans do not murder their Chinese invaders why would they even think of murdering Kelsang Gyatso? Instead it is Shugden followers that have a record of intrigue and murder. NKT followers are simply told what to think. The NKT is the ‘dictator lama’. When the ‘official’ story changes, then the best quality of an NKT follower is ‘flexibility’ of mind. And on Twitter an NKT teacher tells a Tibetan they ‘lack flexibility’ if they do not agree with NKT views!


See also