Saturday, April 26, 2014
Dalai Lama troubled over Shugden worship
In contrast to his usual unflappable demeanour and respect for other religions outside Buddhism, the Dalai Lama’s condemnation of Shugden worship is anomalous. In 1996, he pronounced that Shugden, instead of being an emanation of a Buddha as his devotees maintain, was ‘an evil spirit’, and that propitiating him did ‘great harm to the cause of Tibet and imperils the life of the Dalai Lama’.
In swift response to the ban, Buddhist monasteries within the Tibetan exile community started to expel Shugden followers. Shugden lay devotees have claimed that the Central Tibetan Administration and supporters of the Dalai Lama ostracise and discriminate against them for their religious belief.
So what made the Dalai Lama, a role model of peace and tolerance, turn against Shugden, considering that by his own admission he used to worship the deity himself? The matter becomes more perplexing when the fact that one of the current Dalai Lama’s gurus, Trijang Rinpoche, was a devotee of Dorje Shugden as well. In Tibetan Buddhist tradition, a practitioner’s first loyalty is to the guru. Thus, in denouncing Shugden, the Dalai Lama also severs his allegiance to his guru — an unthinkable act within Tibetan Tantrayana.
The answer may lie in the 14th Dalai Lama’s deepest worry: what will happen to the movement for Tibetan autonomy after his own death. As he ages, he presumably wants to ensure that the struggle for Tibetan autonomy continues. Yet two immediate problems present a stumbling block for this.
First, there is no Tibetan leader of enough calibre and stature at the moment to replace the Dalai Lama. Second, there is insufficient harmony between the four existing schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Dalai Lama himself is technically the leader of the Gelugpas, so in theory he cannot presume to speak for the Nyingmapas, Kagyupas and Sakyapas. It is only his own personal stature that has allowed him to speak for all Tibetans internationally. There is no guarantee that the schools will vest such prestige in the next Dalai Lama.
The unification of all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism could ensure that the Tibetan cause does not flounder after the Dalai Lama’s death. But Dorje Shugden appears to stand in the way. Shugden is, after all, a deity that the Dalai Lama’s devotees claim as the major protector of the Gelugpa tradition. In this sense Shugden is seen to be favouring the separation of the Gelugpas from the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Dalai Lama’s own intransigence against Shugden has resulted in Beijing courting the sect to further derail the Tibetan cause. It has caused suffering for the ordinary Shugden devotees in the Tibetan diaspora. Worse still, it may eventually tarnish his well-deserved image as the embodiment of the Buddha of Compassion that many Tibetan Buddhists hold to be true.
Tenzin Gyatso appears to be particularly troubled by the prospect of China determining the next Dalai Lama. In November 2007 he indicated that the people of Tibet should be involved in selecting his reincarnated successor — breaking with centuries of monastic methods through divination and oracles. The remark was undoubtedly made in response to Beijing’s enactment of a law dictating that all high lamas of Tibet must be approved by the Chinese government.
The mere possibility of a Chinese-appointed Dalai Lama seems so repugnant to the current Dalai Lama that he declared in an interview he would not reincarnate in a Chinese-controlled territory.
Perhaps, this is the meaning behind his claim that the worship of Dorje Shugden is detrimental to Tibet and his own well-being: a Tibet fragmented by different religious schools may not sufficiently resist the Chinese after he is dead.Notwithstanding the reasons behind his ban on Shugden, Tenzin Gyatso may want to revisit his own legacy in Tibetan Buddhism. His main accomplishment may not be a Tibet free from Chinese rule, but it is an international reputation of humility, compassion and religious tolerance — for which he is much admired.
Johannes Nugroho is a writer and businessman based in Surabaya, Indonesia.