Copyright © 1997 The Seattle Times Company
Thursday, Aug. 21, 1997
Dalai Lama fighting ghost in religious dispute
by Arthur Max
NEW DELHI - A 350-year-old ghost is haunting the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of Tibet, a land where many believe that spirits and reincarnations are as real as the controversy over Chinese rule.
The ghost is the spirit of powerful 17th-century monk Dorje Shugden, who was murdered in his palace in Tibet.
But in rejecting the monk as a deity and calling him an evil spirit, the Dalai Lama has provoked a rare challenge to his religious and political authority among Tibetan Buddhists.
The dispute has divided families and triggered clashes among the tightly knit community of Tibetan exiles.
Police also believe it was the motive behind the slayings of three Dalai Lama disciples in February near the Tibetan leader's seat in exile in Dharmsala, where the Dalai Lama fled in 1959 with 120,000 followers.
The two men suspected of stabbing their victims are believed to have fled India. Five others, all linked to the Dorje Shugden Society in New Delhi, were questioned for months about a possible conspiracy. No one has been charged.
The Dorje Shugden Society denies involvement in the murders, and accuses the Dalai Lama's administration of implicating the group to crush religious dissent.
Cheme Tsering, a monk whom police have named as a suspect, said Dorje Shugden devotees may decide to seek Indian citizenship, which could be seen as a collective walkout from the Dalai Lama camp that has carefully preserved its refugee status as a symbol of hope of one day returning to Tibet.
"If we were Indian citizens, we would not face religious persecution," he said.
The conflict has been brewing for a long time. Nearly two decades ago, the Dalai Lama began reconsidering his own faith in Dorje Shugden, and decided the wrathful spirit was working against him, hampering his goal of seeking autonomy for Tibet with minimal interference from Beijing.
Although the Dalai Lama has not said so explicitly, his followers believe Dorje Shugden is seeking revenge for his own brutal murder, and is undermining the Tibetan's struggle against China by creating "disharmony."
Since he fled Tibet after an abortive anti-China uprising, the Dalai Lama has conducted a global campaign from Dharmsala, about 300 miles north of New Delhi. He accuses China of occupying his homeland, while China says Tibet is its rightful province.
Last year, the Dalai Lama asked all his followers to renounce Dorje Shugden.
Most exiles, who revere the Dalai Lama as a god himself, complied. But diehard Dorje Shugden followers resisted. They consider Dorje Shugden a "protector deity" with the power to answer prayers.
It's unclear how many people remain faithful to Dorje Shugden. Tsering claims as many as 20,000, but the Dalai Lama's administration dismisses them as a fringe group.
Dorje Shugden's story begins during the palace intrigues of the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama, the man credited with uniting the warlike medieval tribes of Tibet. "Dalai Lama" is a title conferred on Tibet's highest priest and means "Ocean of Wisdom." The current one is believed to be the 14th reincarnation of the 14th-century founder of the sect known as the Yellow Hats for its ceremonial
Dorje Shugden is the renamed spirit of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen, a rival of the 5th Dalai Lama. In 1656, the 39-year-old Gyaltsen, bedridden with a fever, was murdered by the Dalai Lama's closest aid, who burst into his bedroom and suffocated him by stuffing ceremonial silk scarves in his mouth.
Legend says Gyaltsen's ghost acquired the name Dorje Shugden, or "hurler of thunderbolts," because of his great power.
***************************************************** It is the political activities of the Dalai Lama that make him politically offensive. I have submitted (very lengthy) posts on LBO on Buddhism in which I have an intellectual interest. Very few people criticize the Dalai Lama for his religious role, except perhaps other Buddhists for theological reasons. Buddhism is enjoying a broad revival in China. The Dalai Lama's problem is his partisan political activities in the name of religion.
Henry C.K. Liu
> I am open to persuasion here--not being formally a Buddhist myself--but
> what exactly is up with the matter-of-fact Dalai Lama bashing? His alleged
> comment on forgiving Pinochet sounds weird (as many note, it is probably
> taken out of context) but where are people getting the rest of this left
> folk wisdom that the Dalai Lama a) supports slavery b) is against 'lust' c)
> suports nuclear war d) is an imperialist-backed stooge leading a
> reactionary peasant religion? I mean, other than from the writings of
> Christopher Hitchens, who ridicules all forms of religious belief out of
> principle? Can anyone provide quotes from the horses mouth?
> American Buddhism, within which Tibetan-inflected beliefs play a growing
> role, seems to be primarily oriented towards individual and collective
> liberation from acquisitiveness and insecurity, and the cultivation of an
> ethic of peace-mindedess. Its focus on inner revolution makes it appear
> quietist, but I think that word misdescribes the actual practice of
> American Buddhists, who seem more rather than less activist around issues
> of social justice than American Christians or Muslims for example.
> The trivia and trappings of Tibetan Buddhism are easy targets for poking
> fun, and we (post?)moderns perhaps particularly need this fun because the
> conditions of present-day Tibetans uncannily re-stage our own disavowed
> peasant heritage. I would point out that the trivia and trappings of
> Quakers seemed analogously ridiculous to the respectable heads of the 18th
> and 19th century. And yet the outrageous Quaker testimony and practice
> against the slave trade meant more for the abolition of slavery than the
> positions taken by more respectable religionists of the day.
> In the context of our ongoing attempt to articulate what a coherent
> opposition to our government's current activities in Kosovo would look
> like, is it too much to suggest that a faith-based opposition to war--as
> reflected by the ecumenical Fellowship of Reconciliation which has
> Buddhist, Christians, Jews, and other members--might play a role?
> I would hazard to guess that I agree with the Dalai Lama more than with any
> other leader of an organized religion around. I have yet to see an actual
> quote from him, in its context, that I could not second or at least respect.