This 1996 statement clearly sets out the Tibetan Government and Dalai Lama’s positions on the issue of Dolgyal Shugden worship and the reasons behind the decision to advise against it, in particular the threat it poses to the Dalai Lama’s well being, the nature of emergent Tibetan Buddhism, and the future freedom of the peoples of Tibet.
After nearly forty years in exile under the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the chances of achieving our goal of freedom for Tibet continues to improve. Tibetans stand out among all the refugees in the world for their unique achievements. This is no doubt the result of the Tibetan people’s courage and perseverance in attempting to restore the freedom of their country, which they enjoyed for more than two thousand years of its recorded history. However, we are yet to achieve the ultimate triumph. Obstructive factors of various kinds, emanating from beings of both the form and formless realms, continue to hinder our efforts.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has investigated these obstructions and their causes for many years. One of the findings of his investigations is that depending on the spirit, Dolgyal, otherwise known as Dorje Shugden or Gyalchen Shugden, conflicts with Tibet’s two protector-deities (Nechung and Palden Lhamo) as well as the protector-deity of the Gelugpa tradition, Pledge-holding Dharmaraja (Damchen Choegyal). The inclination of this spirit is to harm, rather than benefit, the cause of Tibet.
Understanding this, His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself made a complete break with the Dolgyal in 1976. Since then, His Holiness has regularly explained to the Tibetan people why depending on the Dolgyal was inappropriate. Many Lamas, abbots, geshes, as well as the general Tibetan public, both lay and ordained, heeded his advice and stopped propitiating Dolgyal. As a result, the Tibetan situation has taken a turn for the better.
However, some people have continued to propitiate Dolgyal, either because they failed to appreciate the threat it poses to the Tibetan cause or because they have decided to disregard it. There are yet others who not only propitiate Dolgyal themselves, but also actively encouraged others to follow suit. This has impaired the sacred relationship between the people of Tibet and their protector-deities. Today, this is one of the greatest dangers to the cause of Tibet and the life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
During this spring teaching this year, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said that it was very important at this point in our struggle that the people and protector-deities of Tibet maintain a harmonious relationship based on their mutual commitments to each other. He repeated what he had declared on many previous occasions that just as a person’s breach of honor can create difficulties, so can a breach of commitments among the protector-deities. He reiterated that what he has previously announced remains unchanged. He conceded that restrictions on Dolgyal would not apply to any monastery, lama’s household or private individual who has no concern for the general interest of Tibet. His Holiness made this absolutely clear.
His Holiness clearly explained the point again on 21st March 1996 during the preparatory ritual for the Very Secret Hayagriva (Tamding Yang-sang) empowerment. He said: “Recently I have conducted a number of prayers for the well being of our nation and religion. It has become fairly clear that Dolgyal is a spirit of the dark forces. Therefore, during the Hayagriva invocation last year, I specifically mentioned Dolgyal by name and an incantation was made to ward him off.” He continued: “I wonder if any among you here today continue to propitiate Dolgyal and still feel comfortable receiving this Hayagriva empowerment. This is the reason why I suggested yesterday that it would not be appropriate for those who propitiate Dolgyal to attend this empowerment. When the protector concerned is disloyal to its commitments, the person concerned becomes disloyal in turn. As I said yesterday, this gives rise to a breach of commitments which carries with it a definite threat to the life of a Lama.
“If any among you here are determined to continue propitiating Dolgyal, it would be better for you to stay away from this empowerment, get up and leave this place. It is improper for you to continue to sit here. It will not benefit you. On the contrary it will have the effect of reducing the life span of Gyalwa Rinpoche (The Dalai Lama), which is not good. However, if there are any among you who hope that Gyalwa Rinpoche will soon die, then you can stay.” Therefore rejecting Dolgyal has become a matter of the highest importance to the cause of Tibet, which is dependent on the personal security of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
His Holiness also remarked: “The biography of His Holiness the Great Fifth Dalai Lama contains a reference to discord between him and Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen (whose spirit is alleged to have become Dolgyal). The matter is made very clear in the Great Fifth’s Extensive Collection of Secrets (Sangwang Gyachen). On the basis of this evidence, the 13th Dalai Lama imposed restrictions on Dolgyal. I am a successor to the Great Fifth Dalai Lama and, likewise, have a unique karmic relationship with the previous Dalai Lama. I have therefore a duty to carry out the legacy of the Great Fifth and the 13th Dalai Lama. This is my responsibility, although some people may not like it. But then, this is not a matter of what is in the Dalai Lama’s interest, but what is in the interest of the Tibetan nation and its religion.
“When it comes to the interests of the Tibetan nation, I will carry through to completion the work I have begun. I will not back off because of a few disgruntled individuals. I am determined to implement the conclusions of my careful research and will not let it be. In the great monastic universities – Drepung, Sera and Ganden, the majority are faultless. However, it is clear that a tiny number among them are stubborn. Even private individuals may later have cause for regret if you take this lightly now in the hope that perhaps things will turn out all right after all. …Some of you feel that your business and ability to earn a living do better if you propitiate Dolgyal. This is ill-omened talk. It is an example as the notable lama and writer Gung-thang Tshang remarked, of how we human beings end up embracing evil friends.”
Propitiating spirits is a practice originating in pre-Buddhist Tibet. However, when Guru Padmasambhava was helping to establish Buddhism in Tibet in the 8th century, He recruited some spirits such as Nechung, the State Oracle, to protect the Buddhist doctrine. Due to his high spiritual attainments, he was able to subdue such spirits and bind them by oath. Propitiating of spirits, therefore, is not a Buddhist practice itself, but a means to help sustain spiritual practice. Over the centuries the practice of propitiating spirits has instead become widespread as a means to achieve fame, fortune and the general well-being for this life, concerns that run counter to general Buddhist outlook.
His Holiness has commented on this too: “Those who can afford us protection and bounty in this life alone – be they humans, deities and nagas, mountain-dwelling protectors, and so forth – are all objects for whom we might feel compassion. There is no reason for holding them in awe. Seeking refuge in them is a disgrace to the Geluk tradition. It is disgraceful to seek refuge in such beings while failing to see benefit in the Six-armed Mahakala (Gonpo Chagdrug) and Pledge-bound Dharmaraja (Damchen Choegyal), the worthy appointed guardians of the immensely valuable teachings of Je Tsongkhapa.” Allaying any fears Tibetans may have about ceasing to propitiate Dolgyal, His Holiness said: “Lamas, Geshes, religious students, and laity need not fear that they will be harmed if they stop propitiating Dolgyal. Nothing will happen. I will face the challenge. As Gelugpas, recite the migtse ma prayer, it will be enough if you also recite the Condensed Extensive Praise to Dharmaraja (Choegyal Gyi Toepa Kyangkumma). No harm will befall you.”
It is the duty of the Tibetan Government-in-exile to encourage compliance with any advice given out of concern for the cause of Tibet, the security of its head of state and the honor of all Tibetan Buddhist traditions including the Geluk tradition. Consequently, it has initiated a programme to be prevailing upon those still following Dolgyal to make a break with it. We are doing so out of concern for the greater welfare of Tibet and so that the Gelugpa teachings of Je Tsongkhapa remain pure. Representatives visited Tibetan religious seats in South India to read out His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s statements. Most people with connections to Dolgyal have come to understand that propitiating him undermines the cause of Tibet, compromises the personal security of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and brings harm to the individual propitiator himself or herself. Many of them stood up amidst the assembly of Lamas, Geshes, and the general body of monks to state that they were giving it up. Likewise, many letters undertaking to cease propitiating Dolgyal have arrived from monasteries, public and private organizations and the general public. We consider this an acceptance of responsibility for the greater good of Tibet.
However, a few Lamas, Geshes, lay people and organizations have adopted an extremist posture and continue to follow Dolgyal thinking that what they are doing accords with Gelugpa practice. Besides these, a handful of people are seeking to exploit the issue to create discord within the Tibetan community. They are spreading baseless rumors and accusations in the international community, thereby playing into the enemy’s hands. We, therefore, request them to stop.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has raised concern about the question of propitiating Dolgyal only because it has a great bearing on the cause of Tibet. It is precisely because of this that he has conducted extensive research and investigation on the matter for more than two decades. He explained his findings to his tutor, Kyabje Yongzin Trijang Rinpoche. The tutor graciously acceded to it, acknowledging that the findings were entirely faultless. This should be firmly borne in mind by all concerned.
In one of his recent statements His Holiness said: “You should not think that dangers to my life come only from someone armed with a knife, a gun, or a bomb. Such an event is extremely unlikely. But dangers to my life may arise if my advice is constantly spurned, causing me to feel discouraged and to see no further purpose in living.” In subsequent statement, he said: “I am now a man in his sixties. Owing to some merit accumulated in my past lives, I do not see any substantial danger to my life. …In the light of the Tibetan people’s plight and the tragic situation in Tibet, I will try to live long so that I can share in their sufferings and console them as well as I can. Apart from that, I have no personal interests whatsoever.” All Tibetans should think hard about this both as individuals and communities.
It is pointless to pay lip-service to religious freedom and democracy if a lack of trust amongst us undermines our cause and the personal security of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. There is no question of His Holiness the Dalai Lama ever trampling upon or neglecting any aspect of religious freedom. In fact, no one has ever attempted to prevent any Tibetan from embracing Buddhism or a non-Buddhist religion, or any school of Tibetan Buddhism. This is why Christians, Muslims, followers of the four great traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and Bön enjoy complete religious liberty in the Tibetan community. What needs to be stressed here is that there never has been, nor could there be, any attempt to impose Buddhist, Christians and Muslims. Similarly, religious freedom has never been used as a pretext to impose Kagyu, Sakya or Geluk doctrines and practices on Nyingma monasteries. On the contrary, there is a law which lays down that Christians and Muslims should follow their own respective religious doctrines and practices and that the doctrines of other religions, and practices inconsistent with their own character should not be imposed on these religious centres. This is a spiritual tradition that accords with the principles of democracy and freedom.
According to Tibetan religious tradition, it is the responsibility of the founding lama or leader of monastery of any sect to give spiritual guidance as to what guardian protector, practices and doctrines the monastery should follow. But monks of the monastery do not question that guidance in the name of religious freedom. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the supreme religious and temporal head of Tibet. It is his responsibility, in his capacity as the spiritual leader, to give spiritual guidance for the benefit of the Tibetan people. As the temporal head of Tibet, it is his responsibility to give political direction to the Tibetan people and to seek to restrain activities that would bring harm to the cause of Tibet. Fulfilling his responsibility in this way cannot amount to a violation of religious and democratic freedoms.
The essence of His Holiness’ advice is this: “Propitiating Dolgyal does great harm to the cause of Tibet. It also imperils the life of the Dalai Lama. Therefore, it is totally inappropriate for the great monasteries of the Gelug tradition, the Upper and Lower Tantric Monasteries and all other affiliated monasteries which are national institutions ever to propitiate Dolgyal. The public should be thoroughly informed so that they can gain a clear appreciation of the situation themselves. However, everyone is completely free to say: “If the cause of Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s life are undermined so be it. We have religious freedom. We are a democracy. We are free to do as we please. We will not change our tradition of propitiating Dolgyal.” The overwhelming majority of the Tibetan people will remain steadfast, keeping in mind the greater good of the Tibetan cause, and contribute as best as they can to fulfill His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s wishes. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that far from restricting religious freedom, the choice is left open to the individual concerned.