The Dalai Lama, one of the world's most iconic figures and a symbol for world peace, is visiting the UK this week. While many are due to gather at his talks in London on 19 and 20 September, not everyone will be welcoming His Holiness with open arms.
Dr John Powers, a specialist in Asian religions with a focus on Buddhism in India and Tibet, says that after the violent death of a rival of the Dalai Lama, Drakpa Gyaltsen (1618-1655), the Dalai Lama began to be haunted by the spirit of his enemy. The spirit became known as the Dorje Shugden and became a Gelugpa protector.
"It is associated with sectarianism and is viewed as a malevolent force by members of the other orders," Powers said. "Because of its associations with sectarianism and in light of the need for unity among the Tibetan refugee community, the current Dalai Lama has urged Tibetans to cease propitiating Shugden."
Powers says he has also spoken to members of other orders who are also deeply afraid of Shugden and believe it wishes them harm.
Powers speaks of his visits to Shugden monasteries in Tibet, saying his tour guide would not go any closer than a kilometre away and said locals also shun the monasteries. He pointed out that while most Tibetan monasteries are full of people, the Shugden monasteries he visited had high walls, spiked metal fences, and no visitors – just a few monks. "My tour guide clearly saw Shugden practice as something distasteful," he said.
Many Tibetans believe the International Shugden Community is funded by the Chinese government to undermine the Dalai Lama. Kate Saunders, from the International Campaign for Tibet, described the group's actions against the Dalai Lama as "a political agenda which is clearly unsuccessful given the Dalai Lama's global popularity and influence".
She said: "The very vocal protests by this group, which compares the Dalai Lama to Hitler, creates distress among many Tibetans and British people who are turning out to give His Holiness a warm welcome this week in the UK."
The International Campaign for Tibet maintains that no established human rights group has confirmed any of the ISC's claims of international human rights abuses by the Dalai Lama or the Central Tibetan Administration.