Untouchables in Tibetan Buddhism

The 73 old Geshe Sopa Thoemey, a Shugden worshiper says Shugden devotees have no rights.

His Holiness 14th Dalai Lama is a symbol of love and compassion all over the world but a few in Tibetan Buddhism community questions this claim. They blame Dalai Lama of taking away their religious freedom. These are worshipers of a controversial deity named Dorje Shugden.

Dorje Shugden is a protector deity in Tibetan Buddhism but the worship of this deity was banned by Dalai Lama in 1996. He said that Dorje Shugden is an evil spirit which hampers the cause of Tibet and also shortens his life.

Ironically, Dalai Lama himself used to propitiate Dorje Shugden till 1975. And most of his teachings come from teachers who used to worship shugden.

Dalai Lama`s words changed the life of these practitioners. Those who continued worshiping this 350 year old deity were termed ‘anti Dalai Lama’ and ‘Chinese spies’. They were ostracized from the Tibetan community. Many cases have come to light where the shugden practitioners were not allowed to enter in hospitals, shops, restaurants, and monasteries.

A young  girl Perma (named changed) who came from Tibet to India to study  said, she had to leave her college in Shilong because of the discrimination faced by her for being a shugden devotee. I have never faced such discrimination in China [Tibet].

“The government says that all shugden devotees have the same rights as Tibetans. But in reality, we don`t have any rights.” said 73 old Geshe Sopa Thoemey, the acting president of  Delhi based Dorje Shugden Devotees’ Charitable and Religious Society.

“We [Monks] used to live like brothers with non-shugden monks before this problem surfaced but now the situation has so much deterioted that a shugden monk was not allowed to attend the funereal of her mother. ” says a shugden worshiper Tsering Lama

“We are not anti Dalai Lama, We respect him, He is a god even though he doesn`t love us.” said Perma.

In 2008, a referendum , in open, was organized in southern India monasteries where the monks were made to select either a yellow stick or a red stick with former stick for choosing Dalai Lama and red stick for Dorje Shugden. The shugden monks were expelled from the monasteries. All the monks who were expelled after the referendum have opened their own monasteries so that can freely worship Shugden.

Dalai Lama has upped the ante in recent years by encouraging the monasteries to expel shugden monks. In 2008, he said in a public speech “Recently monasteries have fearlessly expelled Shugden monks where needed. I fully support their actions. I praise them. If monasteries find taking action hard, tell them the Dalai Lama is responsible for this.” He further added “These monks must be expelled from all monasteries. If they are not happy, you can tell them that the Dalai Lama himself asked that this be done, and it is very urgent”.

Dorje Shugden Devotees’ Charitable and Religious Society also filed an petition in Delhi court against the Dalai Lama and Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) regarding the discrimination and violence incidents against shugden devotees. But the court stated their are not enough evidences to prove the claim.

Geshe Thoemey accuses Tibetan administration of not allowing Tibetans to study in Shugden monasteries, he says, “If students come to our monasteries, we wll grow but they stop students , they want to dry our monasteries ”

But the Tibetan government in exile does not support these allegations. The govt considers  Shugden issue as a Chinese weapon against His Holiness.

Dalai Lama has been continuously taking up this issue in public speeches from 1996. “We request Dalai Lama to stop saying anything on this issue, if he doesn`t say anything then there is no problem.” says Tsering.

Since the Dalai lama is talking about the retirement, Its really difficult to see where the struggle for Tibet leads.

“There is no hope for Tibet, to happen such kind of thing you need blessings from your gods but you criticize the god who gives you blessings” said Geshe Thoemey

This video is added at 9.40 PM IST on 30 April 2011


23 Responses to Untouchables in Tibetan Buddhism

  1. Lee says:

    I’ve never really understood this issue. I could understand if people got upset if someone told them to stop taking refuge in Buddha, but that’s not what happened.

    A protector is just a protector, they’re not a central part of Buddhist practice, that’s why they’re never in the center of any Buddhist altar, at least they shouldn’t be

  2. yes you are a true in a way.
    But Dorje Shugden worshipers consider Dorje Shugden to be an emanation of Manjushri.

    Even the Dalai lama is not the central concept of Tibetan Buddhism but Tibetans are worshiping Dalai lama from last 700 years. He is considered as wisdom Buddha.

    The worship of Shugden deity is also nearly 350 years old.

    Current 14th Dalai Lama says 5th Dalai Lama performed a negative fire ritual to subdue Dorje Shugden. But shugden devotees believe 5th Dalai lama couldn`t subdue shugden and later he regretted his action. He constructed a temple of Dorje Shugden in Tibet with his own hands.

    • Lee says:

      Yes the Dalai Lama is considered to be Chenrezig, but the Dalai Lama and Shugden are two different things. The Dalai Lama is the guru to hundreds of 1000s of people, while Shugden is just a deity.

      In the monasteries of Drepung, Ganden and Sera, they’re allowed to debate anything, even if the Buddha even existed. The only thing that isn’t allowed to be debated is the qualities or validitiy of someon else’s guru.

      The Dalai Lama is the guru of so many people, that its inapprorpriate to debate his qualities because it would negatively affect the practices of many people. Shugden on the other hand might not even be Manjushri and many scholars have put together logical texsts on why this isn’t so.

      I can understand if people left the monasteries because they had to follow their teacher, but leaving for only a protector doesn’t make sense. Manjushri doesn’t manifest in only one form. He also manifests in the form of the protectors Kalarupa and 6 armed Mahakala, as Yamantaka, as Lama Tsongkhapa and Longchenpa, or even HH Sakya Trizin, or as Manjushri himself. Manjushri isn’t a solid fixed thing, he can be found in many places and its almost impossible to to turn away from Manjushri

      I’m not sure how much research you’ve done into this subject, but this is extremely messy, its almost a black eye in Buddhism. Many scholars who have fiercly debated through logic against this practice ended up being murdered.

      As you probably know, many reincarnate lama or tulkus, when recognized at a young age, are hidden away in order to protect them from the Chinese government. Many young tulkus in their previous lives also have written texsts against Shugden, and have had to be hidden away in order to protect them as well

      This isn’t a very black and white issue, isn’t actually very messy

  3. Malerie says:

    This article mentions that only “a few..” are impacted by the Dalai Lama’s edict. My understanding is that it is thousands-THOUSANDS of Dorje Shugden worshipers are persecuted, ostracized, tormented, rejected. In India, people need to to carry cards indicating that they denounce Dorje Shugden and follow the DL. Did he study Hitler’s teachings? What Buddha would not renounce such a protocol? Where are the minds of Buddhists? More than ever, Buddhism needs Dharma protectors-when a FEW wish for total power over the beliefs of others. Born and raised in America-religious freedom reigns, even over the wishes of the many fundamentalists who want everyone to believe as they do. This entire issue once again, points to the flaws in any organized religious and political system. Power corrupts even the greatest among us…and especially in these degenerate times. I so always saddened by this issue and try to distance myself from, however, I feel compelled at this moment in time-to comment. It is good to understand that a true Buddha or Bodhisattva would never be the intended cause of suffering for others-because of what they believe. If it could be true that Dorje Shugden would cause the life of the DL to be shortened- if it were true-wouldn’t a Buddha gladly have a shorter life rather than cause harm to others? The Dalai Lama has done beautiful and great good deeds in spreading the Dharma and I love him. This action is greatly suspect however, and saddening. I pray for all those staying true to their own hearts and courageously holding onto their beautiful faith. I pray for the DL and his followers for no doubt, they are setting up future conditions for their own sufferings. We all need to follow our own hearts…not blindly follow the beliefs of others.

    • Lee says:

      “If it could be true that Dorje Shugden would cause the life of the DL to be shortened- if it were true-wouldn’t a Buddha gladly have a shorter life rather than cause harm to others? ”

      If he is a Buddha, how do you know he’s harming others? Do you trust your own karmic appearances? A group of hearers were on the way to arhatship when Manjushri taught them emptiness. They developed wrong views and took lower rebirths. However, the instincts of the Mahayana were implanted and they would attain enlightenment quicker. How can you be so sure what a Buddha or bodhisattva would do, are you one?

      “I pray for the DL and his followers for no doubt, they are setting up future conditions for their own sufferings.”

      They say that the worst karma someone could create is turning against the Dharma, and in the context of the vajrayana, to break their samaya with their teacher. Doing so would lead to definite lower rebirth births. If that is so bad, what do you thinkt the negative karma is of causing someone else to break their samaya?

      I think whatever practices you have are your practices and your teachers are your teachers, and you should continue to follow them, and I wouldn’t say otherwise. I’m happy that you’re deriving benefit. But making blanket statements like that in itself has negative karmic repurcussions

  4. Peacock In The Poison Grove says:

    Thank you for posting this video – it is very clear and shows discrimination that is happening. If the Dalai Lama does not want to practice Dorje Shugden, fine. He has freedom and can practice religion in the way that he pleases. But to enforce a ban goes against all democratic principles and restricts religious freedom. This is the opposite of what he is supposed to stand for.

  5. Pingback: Untouchables in Tibetan Buddhism « Western Shugden Society

  6. goldenmala says:

    Great article! I noticed that you also made a video, but that your video has not been posted on your blog. Was that meant to go with this article? I posted a link to your article and your video on my blog:


    Have you read the book entitled ‘A Great Deception – The Ruling Lamas’ Policies’? It is the most detailed explanation of the controversy. http://www.agreatdeception.com

  7. Firstly I could not do justice with the story… I was having very few resources at the time I was doing this story. I met victims also but somehow they were not ready to come on camera because of the fear of being identified in Tibetan community and later become victim of further persecution.

    Secondly, I used the word ‘few’ because I was trying my best to know the total number of Dorie shugden worshipers. There are no full proof numbers. Most of the shugden devotees prefer to worship privately. Majority of Tibetans I talked to said they don`t worship and they don`t even know any shugden devotees.

    I am still working on this story , I reported from New Delhi. Now I am thinking on going Darhamshala and get the perspective of Tibetan administration and also thinking forward to visit monasteries in south India and talk to expelled monks.

  8. Malerie says:

    Did not mean to sound critical-the article is a good one and I should have thanked you for posting it and the video. I am sorry. Thank you.

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  10. Shelley Tanner says:

    Thank you for publishing this article. It is a very sensitive issue for many people and for the people involved it has become a finger pointing game. It is very important that people independent of the issue investigate and give a non-biased account so that the reporter does not have a vested interest either way. Thank you for giving fair-balance a chance. Shelley

  11. Lee says:

    Hi Praveen,

    In case you’re interested, one hour, 2 minutes into this video, is an explanation how the whole Shugen thing started and the politics behind it. The person explaining the history is Guy Newland. He’s a professor in Buddhism, but doesn’t hold biases towards groups.


    • I understand how painful it is, dear Lee, if you have the Dalai Lama as a teacher, to face the sad truth. Talking only of the religious matter, and remembering that you mentioned that one should not speak ill of other’s Teachers, I’m sorry to remind you that all of this started as a rebellion of the Dalai Lama against his own teachers. Every time he belittles the holy Deity he is belittling his teachers. So that’s that, no matter the pretexts and niceties he’s tried to use to cover this truth.
      The amount of pain that he has caused and still causes in the Tibetan communities around the world is simply unimaginable. I personally know several cases and constantly receive reports, not only from India and Tibet, mind you, from communities in the United States. A friend of mine, a very kind monk, had his photo posted with a “WANTED” sing, as if the poor soul were a criminal, in a restaurant that I know in New York. There were several other photos but that particular monk is a personal friend. Almost a caricature of the smiling, incredibly kind, devout, helpful Buddhist monk. I’ve known him for years. His brother had a small business ruined because he was the brother of a Buddhist monk that happened to follow the teachings of Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche … holier than these I don’t imagine and still, their faithful disciples are persecuted just because they kept their word of honor, they kept their samaya pure, no matter the persecution.
      So, listen, I try not to talk much about this matter because I’m so sorry for the people that beleive in the Dalai Lama, but I beg you to show some respect for the many victims. Do not try to distort the truth, have some sense of shame or sorry for what is going on.
      I’m sorry for us all.

      • Dear Friendofthetruth,

        I know this is a very difficult topic, this sort of thing (all, somehow, a result of misunderstanding aspects of the teachings of the Buddha) causes much suffering; the ancient root of this issue concerns the acquisition of power—primarily, an old battle raging over the Tibetan throne. This is the origin of the problem…people killing other people, because political power was up for grabs. A person’s vows are between themself and the other to or wth whom they have taken them. I do not trust political problems, but, still, each Tibetan-Buddhist and practicioner and Tibetan refugee must decide, by way of their decision, if they stand for a unified Tibetan political office headed by the Dalai Lama or if they do not, and consider both the immediate and long term consequences of their decisions, and their public displaying of their decisions. Vows have long been held in secret, and the rNying-ma-pa are among the earliest Tibetan-Buddhists persecuted for their faith in Tibet after the subjection of the murderous practicioners of some of the Bon-po. The polemics here are tricky.

        As for your statements that the Dalai Lama went against his teachers in this regard, this is incorrect: see http://www.fpmt.org/organization/announcements/511-shugden.html “His Holiness renounced the practice in 1975 after discovering the profound historical, social and religious problems associated with it. He did so with the full knowledge and support of his junior tutor, the late Kyabje Trichang Rinpoche through whom His Holiness first became associated with the practice.”

        The source of the confict over such issues should be obvious, the spirit of human greed for power, and the blood-lust for revenge. These should, somehow cease; this has been the unique political message of the fourteenth Dalai Lama.

      • Sahaja says:

        Yes and wasn’t the 13th Dalai Lama, who also prohibited the practice of Shugden, the teacher of of some of the lamas who spread thus practice? Even Tsongkhapa apparently criticized several of his own teachers.

        Trijang Rinpoche and Zong Rinpoche also took initiations from the Dalai Lama – so they were also his students too which all makes it rather complicated from an ordinary person’s point of view.

        It’s probably better not to judge or comment on the samaya of others, just look after your own.

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  13. friendofthetruth says:

    Dear Lhun gyi druppa,

    I´m not sure to understand your message. Are you justifying the persecution unleashed by the Dalai Lama against the practitioners, and personally sustained by him with manic zeal until this day, are you justifying it as a way for the Tibetans of choosing a political scenario (united or not united behind the Dalai Lama)? If this is so, I don´t have anything to say, what is there to say? Such suffering inflicted to so many, such trampling of the precious doctrine, such persecution of innocent people … and this is justified with political reasons?

    About the Dalai Lama and his holy Teachers, do not beleive nice words, beleive him, beleive what he says until today. Watch the interview, in 1996, that he gave to the Swiss television, where he says, talking of all of our lineage masters: “WRONG, THEY ARE WRONG !!!” What else is there to say? All our holy Lamas are wrong and him, right?

    Give me a break.

    And again, have some respect for the victims.

  14. Sahaja says:

    What’s wrong with a temple or monastery deciding which deities, saints, and “protectors” can or cannot be formally worshipped there? If the Dalai Lama believes Shugden is a “demon” or “angry spirit” then his banning worship of this entity is like the Pope or banning demon worship, or the worship of Santa Muerte, in churches and amongst Roman Catholic believers loyal to him. If leaders of monasteries and temples loyal to the Dalai Lama want to ban Shugden worship in those monasteries and temples really that’s up to them.

    Shugden worshipers have now established their own independent monasteries and temples. So long as those against this practice leave them alone there to worship Shugden, so be it. I wonder would they let people worship the Dalai Lama in their temples?

    Can anyone prove Shugden, or any other “deity”, actually exists – or whether it is good or bad?
    It is all a matter of belief – or maybe just a figment in the imagination of believers.

    – C

    • Miri says:

      Let’s say he had the right to ban the practice inside his own tradition (provided the Ganden Tripa, the actual head of his tradition, plays along), that still doesn’t give him the right to enforce his views on practitioners from other schools (eg some sakyas also practice) and it certainly doesn’t give him the right to enforce it outside of the temples/monasteries. It also doesn’t give him / the cta the right to call anybody who doesn’t comply ‘criminals’. If your counter argument is that he doesn’t have the formal power to do so and therefore it’s not his fault that practitioners are turned away from hospitals, schools, libraries and shops or that businesses of practitioners are boycotted ( a serious thing for a Tibetan family who has no other means of income), or that practitioners are not to be employed by the Tibetan government – well, then consider 2 things: (1) he may no longer be the official head of state, but he remains the figure head and the most influential person in the community. Sticking with him means prosperity for many. (2) Tibetans are raised in the belief that he is a god king, an incarnation of the Buddha of compassion. They by and large do not question his actions, and if he/ the cta said that bananas posed a threat to his life, Tibetan independence and the Tibetan community at large, they would purge and ban bananas and anybody who continues to eat them.

      Agreed that finally you cannot prove one or the other, that it is down to belief – but that just reinforces the need for religious freedom and an end to slander and oppression.

      And yes, anybody is welcome in our temples – it is the dalai lama’s followers who are told not to associate with Shugden practitioners, we never closed our doors.

  15. Miri says:

    On march 17 of this year, the Tibetan central administration released a resolution whereby Shugden practitioners are to be considered criminals.


    In a way It doesn’t matter what or who Dorje Shugden is, fact is that the Dalai Lama and the CTA are engaging in suppression of religious freedom (in fact, as the resolution shows, they don’t even understand the meaning of it). The sad truth us that the ban is causing much distress to many: the Tibetan Shugden practitioners who find themselves ostracized inside the exile community (remember that many depend on that community for their daily survival) and who are denied access to public services provided by official Tibetan associations and the “government” – but also to westerners who practice Buddhism in accordance with the Tibetan lineages and who are effectively experiencing slander (spirit worshippers, cultists, ‘… Not affiliated to any school if Tibetan Buddhism” even though the lineages are unbroken and they practice purely in accordance with the teachings handed down to them through their Gurus).

    I have no problem with the Dalai Lama asking his devoted followers to change their way of practicing, but he has no right to force people to follow his advice.

  16. Na Rea Kim says:

    Thank you Praveen for this great article. Your article can help Shudgen practitioners to end suffering, human abuses and danger to their lives. I appreciate your reporting on the true state of affairs.


  17. Kadampa Friend says:

    To ban a religious practice is wrong and an abuse of human rights. In this case, the only reason people do not think so is because it was the Dalai Lama who did it. It’s a very dangerous thing when people stop thinking for themselves. Just look at history.

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