Collated Comments His Holiness the Dalai Lama has made about Dolgyal 2015

Long Life Empowerment and North American Long Life Offering in Gratitude to His Holiness the Dalai Lama
New York, USA, 10 July 2015

"You've asked me to do something and now I'll ask you to something in return. You alluded to the Shugden problem. This is not a new story. It goes back to the 5th Dalai Lama. Inauspicious events took place then, as they did again during the 13th Dalai Lama's time. The concerned spirit describes itself as the 'perfidious spirit of the Gelugpa'.

"I don't care what these protestors outside say about me, as I've said elsewhere, they are exercising their right to free speech, but I can do that too.

"When I did the practice, I thought of Dolgyal as a special Gelug protector, although Ling Rinpoche had nothing to do with it. But even Trijang Rinpoche and Zemey Rinpoche just regarded it as a mundane spirit. During the 'life-entrustment' ceremony the spirit is supposed to submit to the yogi, not the other way round. The Gelug International Association has produced a book of research about this and you should read it. It will be soon be made available in English.

"I follow an ecumenical non-sectarian approach. I visit churches, synagogues, mosques, gurudwaras and temples. I promote harmony among all religious traditions because we all have to live side by side. Even the Buddha didn't convert everyone to his point of view. We should not harbour strong sectarian feelings between us. If you read about what happened after the 13th Dalai Lama passed away, a lot of sectarian activity took place in connection with Dolgyal, including the desecration of statues of Guru Rinpoche.

"Je Tsongkhapa's tradition is really pure. It doesn't need to be protected by a ghost. His writings stand up next to Nagarjuna and his disciples and his mature view is really impressive. His tradition doesn't need to rely on the protection of a ghost. The 18 volumes of his works speak for themselves.

"Meanwhile these Shugden protestors deserve our compassion. They don't know what they're talking about. They show such angry faces. They don't understand the real situation, but please don't be bothered by them."


Focus on Education and Meeting the Tibetan Community
Irvine, CA, USA, 7 July 2015

Commenting on the pro-Dolgyal / Shugden protestors on the streets outside the venue, His Holiness said:

“Their presence doesn’t make any difference to me. I feel compassion for them because in ignorance they’ve been deceived. From 1951 to the early 1970s, in ignorance, I also propitiated Dolgyal. But I harboured various suspicions as a result of which I did research. I discovered that the 5th Dalai Lama had written that the supposed Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen was not the real lama and had risen as a fierce spirit. The 5th Dalai Lama referred to him as an ‘evil spirit arisen from distorted prayers who harms the Dharma and sentient beings.’

“What really concerns me is the sectarianism and divisiveness associated with this practice. An example I have heard about was the Dzing Dzing monastery in Kham. While the monks of the monastery persisted in propitiating Dolgyal, members of nearby monasteries kept their distance. Once they gave it up, members of all 17 monasteries in the area became more friendly and cordial with each other.

“While I was still propitiating Dolgyal and living at Swarag Ashram I had a dream that I had left out a copy of the Pema Kathang, a biography of Guru Rinpoche, and that it disappeared. I told Geshe Rabten about this and he told me it was Dolgyal’s doing.

“Zemey Rinpoche’s Yellow Book, ‘The Sacred Words of the Able Father’, recounted relations between lamas and government officials and Dolgyal. Nechung had earlier told me that associating with Dolgyal was a mistake, and I had told him to keep quiet. Once this book appeared, I told him he could say whatever he had to say about it. Dolgyal’s being a ‘drekpa’ or fierce spirit wouldn’t have mattered if it weren’t for his harming the Dharma, but there is such severe sectarianism and intimidation associated with it. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 13th Dalai Lamas all took an ecumenical, non-sectarian view of spiritual practice. As one of their line it’s only correct that I should follow their tradition too.

“As I said, my overriding concern is the sectarianism and resulting social divisions that arise as a result of this practice. These poor people who are protesting don’t know the truth about it. We should set them right, but there’s no ground to be angry, to harass or exclude them. Right now they are exercising their freedom of expression, but that is something I have a right to do too.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama Inaugurates Buddhist Community Centre in Aldershot
June 30th 2015

Ms Maitlis asked His Holiness to explain about the protestors who now dog his travels wherever he goes calling for the lifting of a ban on the propitiation of Dolgyal or Shugden. He told her:

“There is no ban on their practice. If you go to South India you’ll find people who propitiate this spirit Dolgyal or Shugden have their own monastery beside the larger Tibetan monasteries. This matter has been controversial for almost four centuries. Over the last 80 years since the passing away of the 13th Dalai Lama it has flared up and is strongly associated with sectarianism.

“Until the early ‘70s I propitiated this spirit, but one of the results was that my right to receive teachings from other traditions was restricted because of fear of what this Shugden spirit might do. I decided to investigate, reading particularly the 5th Dalai Lama’s biography and other writings. When I gave up the practice I became free to explore other Buddhist teachings; while I still did it I had no such freedom. The 5th Dalai Lama called Dolgyal an evil spirit, so I consider it my duty to tell others of this reality. Whether they listen to me or not is up to them. These young people in monastic robes shout, ‘Stop lying’, but they don’t know the full history of the issue. They should do more research on its effects.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama Arrives in the UK
London, UK, 27 June 2015

He was asked how he responded to the protests against his visit by the International Shugden Community and the fierce criticism of it by the Chinese authorities. He answered that the Chinese complaint has become routine. He said since they portray him as a demon, hardliners among the Chinese authorities feel they have to oppose him even though he is not pursuing independence for Tibet. However, he does assert a right to try to preserve Tibet’s unique religion, culture and language.

As for the Dolgyal / Shugden issue, it’s been going on for nearly 400 years.

“From the early ‘50s until the early ‘70s, I propitiated this spirit myself out of ignorance, but then I noticed that there were problems associated with it and did some research into it. I discovered that it began at the time of the 5th Dalai Lama and that he considered it to be an evil and harmful spirit. What people choose to believe is their own business, but it is my duty to make clear what is a source of harm. Members of this group are angry with me, but they are just exercising their freedom of speech.”

A Long-Life Offering, a Meeting with Chinese Intellectuals and a Continuation of Teachings in the Blue Mountains
Leura, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia, 7 June 2015

Speaking to Tibetans, he said:

“You have also pledged not to have anything to do with Dolgyal. In the nearly 400 years since it arose, Dolgyal has always been controversial. At Dromo I made the mistake of starting to propitiate it and in doing so deviated from the tradition of past Dalai Lamas. It provokes widespread sectarianism and when I realised its shortcomings I stopped the practice. Then Ganden Jangtse Monastery experienced a series of misfortunes about which they consulted Trijang Rinpoche. He told them their main protector, Palden Lhamo, was displeased. They asked me what they could do about it. My investigations revealed the displeasure to derive from their propitiating Dolgyal and recommended they give that up.

“Once I had suggested restrictions on the practice of Dolgyal, those who promote it formed their own organization. Research reveals that the 5th Dalai Lama described Dolgyal as having arisen as a result of distorted prayers and as harming sentient beings and the Dharma. When I discovered this I stopped the practice, but I also felt I had a responsibility to inform others too.
“People started to demonstrate against me. They call me a Muslim and display photos of me wearing a Muslim cap. They say I’m a false Dalai Lama and flaunt ugly caricatures of me.

“As Buddhists we don’t take spirits as objects of refuge. We take refuge in the Three Jewels. When Machen Pomra, the local deity of Tsongkhapa’s birthplace, was summoned to Central Tibet, a shrine to him was not allowed within the monastic precincts of Ganden. Whether you propitiate Dolgyal or not is up to you, but doing so brings more harm than good.”

During Teachings at Upper TCV, Dharamsala on the second day 28 May 2015
Question and Answer Session

My question is about relying on Dharma Protectors. We’ve done this for a long time, but sometimes have made mistakes. How did this begin? And how should we recognize Dharma Protectors?

Before Buddhism came to Tibet, we had the Bön tradition. And as in other places there was a tradition of shamanism. When people were frightened and felt helpless, they sought the help of ‘higher powers’ like the gods and spirits. We can find this sort of custom in Africa and Asia. So the practice of worshipping spirits was there in Tibet before the arrival of Buddhism. In Buddhist practice, the objects of refuge, the source of protection and guidance are the Three Jewels, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The Buddha is the teacher, the Dharma is the actual refuge and the Sangha is the body of supporters. But the actual refuge to rely on is the Dharma.

There are many deities and spirits referred to in our tradition that you don’t find in the Pali tradition. Some are related to the practice of Tantra. However, originally Tantra was practised in secret, whereas in Tibet it came to be practised openly. There are entourages of deities and we paid attention to them. A Japanese man who went to Tibet told me about his visit to the Gyantse Kumbum. The dark rooms filled with fierce deities frightened him and disturbed his sleep. “Buddhism is about love and compassion,” he said, “why are there all these fierce deities?” This is partly to do with the practice of taking negative emotions into the path as part of tantra, but we may not have practised it properly. For one thing we have practised it openly, whereas it should have been done in secret. We mixed things up. And it’s difficult to make clear decisions about these deities without having real insight and wisdom. We rely on divinations and so on, but even then you need to become properly qualified through practice.

Perhaps you were wondering about Dolgyal. I used to do the practice, until I thought about it more carefully. This is something that came about during the time of the 5th Dalai Lama, who said that this spirit had arisen as a result of distorted prayers and consequently brought harm to beings and the Dharma. He mentioned this in his autobiography too.

As I said I did the practice, but once I came to know more about it I stopped and I advised others to stop too. If we are not careful we may become like those who believe in a creator god. As Buddhists what’s important is the Dharma that has to be developed within us. When I go to monasteries I sometimes joke about how we offer a simple butter lamp in front of the Buddha statue in the prayer hall, but make much more elaborate offerings in the protector chapel. Someone told me that in Lhasa people bring liquor to offer to the deities in such chapels and at the end of the day the attendants drink it.                .
Dialogue with Sri Lankan Theros and US Diplomats
New Delhi, India, 19 March 2015

Regarding the impact recent events have had on the Tibetan people and their traditions he said it was too early to say. He warned, however, against becoming too attached to your own tradition, which can lead to partisan divisions into ‘us’ and ‘them’, with destructive consequences. He asked his listeners to look at the conflict between Sunnis and Shias in several Muslim countries. Chuckling he remarked that even among Tibetan Buddhists there are such divisions, with the Shugden group accusing him of being a ‘false Dalai Lama’. He narrated how they had made a placard of a photograph of him wearing a Muslim skullcap, which they explained as showing he is a Muslim not a Buddhist. His own explanation is that he likes to visit other people’s places of worship and that it is properly respectful to cover your head when you visit a mosque. He said:

“I too mistakenly propitiated Dolgyal from 1951 until 1970. Then I undertook investigations that revealed that the 5th Dalai Lama had rejected it as an evil spirit. I realised that if I followed the Shugden peoples’ way, I would truly have been a ‘false Dalai Lama’, following practices contrary to the traditions of my predecessors.”

Meeting Tibetans and Buddhists from Trondheim to Copenhagen
Copenhagen, Denmark, 10 February 2015

An encounter with protestors from the pro-Shugden group at the door of the hotel prompted His Holiness to speak about the Shugden issue.

“This is not something new. The concerned spirit arose about 400 years ago out of difficult relations with the 5th Dalai Lama. From then until the time of the 13th Dalai Lama it was generally considered to be a local spirit and remained low key. Phabongka Rinpoche spread its practice. He came to rely on it not for good reasons but out of fear. In the early part of his life he had adopted a non-sectarian approach. Trijang Rinpoche told me of an occasion when he was young when Phabongka Rinpoche did a retreat in connection with the Most Secret Hayagriva during which he made pills. Later, the 13th Dalai Lama warned him that if he relied too strongly on this spirit he would breach his Buddhist refuge commitments. Consequently his practice remained low key during the rest of the 13th Dalai Lama’s life, but once he passed away he revived it.

“In 1951, in Yatung, I made the mistake of taking this practice up. Later, in the 1960s I looked more closely into it, found out what it was about and stopped. I kept both my tutors informed and they supported me. I take a non-sectarian approach. I do practices from the Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug traditions. I consider it my duty to make this issue clear to others. The people manipulating these demonstrators and protestors, who are not fully informed, do so for their own reasons. I feel sorry for them in their ignorance.”

Avalokiteshvara Empowerment and Talk on Secular Ethics in Basel
Basel, Switzerland, 8 February 2015

When a man began, “Millions of Shugden people ...” the microphone was snatched from him and he was unable to complete what he had to say. However, His Holiness picked up the point and calmly addressed it:

“Yes, there are people out there shouting at me. They are exercising their freedom of expression. But this is not a new issue; it dates back to the 17th century and the time of the 5th Dalai Lama. Since then, most prominent lamas in all Tibetan traditions have referred to Shugden or Dolgyal as an evil spirit. I propitiated it until the 1970s when I realized there was something wrong with it. My senior tutor was quite opposed to it. I conducted research and it became clear that it was an evil spirit. So I stopped and shortly afterwards one of our monasteries faced problems that my junior tutor had advised was because they had shifted their loyalty to this disreputable spirit. Their traditional protector, Palden Lhamo, was displeased.

“I haven’t banned it, but it’s my duty to make clear what’s true. These people are still free to exercise freedom of choice.”

Teaching Nagarjuna’s ‘A Commentary on the Awakening Mind’ in Basel
Basel, Switzerland, 7 February 2015

In the context of religious freedom he was asked what he had to say to the pro-Shugden protestors on the street outside. He replied that the issue has nothing to do with religious freedom because it’s about spirit worship. The Buddha counselled his followers only to take refuge in and seek guidance from the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. He said we should not seek refuge in spirits. The history of the controversy goes back to the time of the 5th Dalai Lama in 17th century. And the 5th Dalai Lama pronounced Dolgyal or Shugden an evil spirit. Many prominent Gelugpa masters concurred. His Holiness continued:

“In 1951, at Yatung, due to a variety of circumstances I took up the practice. However, my Senior Tutor remained sceptical about it. In 1970, because I already harboured doubts about it I investigated further and discovered what the 5th Dalai Lama had written about this practice. Realizing it was a mistake, I stopped and eventually word got out.”

He explained that these protestors have tried to create  mistaken impression, particularly in Tibet, that the Dalai Lama opposes this practice because he’s pandering to the Nyingmapas. He said this is nonsense. They accuse him of lying, but he asserts that he is not, while they just don’t know the reality of the situation. His advice, he said, is to investigate the matter more thoroughly. His Holiness concluded that the protestors are clearly able to exercise their freedom of expression, which is good. Nevertheless, it remains his duty also to share what he knows. That’s all he’s done.