Being an avid reader on topics related to Tibetan Buddhism, it happened few years ago that I bought a book by a writer named Kelsang Gyatso.
At the time, I had no idea about this author who looked like a genuine Tibetan Buddhist monk. Eventually, after doing some extensive research on him, it came to my knowledge that Kelsang Gyatso happens to be the founder of a breakaway faction named – New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) and also is said to be behind another notorious group called Western Shugden Society, both of which happen to be groups of Tibetan Buddhism that are actively involved in a hateful propaganda against His Holiness – The 14th Dalai Lama.
Tibetan Buddhists against Dalai Lama? Initially I could not comprehend this. My mind could make no sense about this guy – Kelsang Gyatso and his group's smear campaign against the Dalai Lama and his supporters. And a really viscous campaign – in the media (on national channels – yes that's correct), on internet websites, on youtube videos, in real world – they hassle Dalai Lama wherever he goes – greeting His Holiness with banners such as "Dalai Lama Stop Lying", "Dalai Lama Give Religious Freedom" etc.
So what's behind this Kelsang Gyatso vs Dalai Lama Controversy? I can understand China's Communist Government's fear of His Holiness, but why is Kelsang Gyatso so badly after him? Curious, I decided to do some research into the controversy myself and following are my own views on what's going on.
Among the Sakya and Gelug schools, is a Dharma Protector Deity called Dorje Shugden. A practice of Dorje Shugden's worship started sometimes in the 17th century during the times of the Fifth Dalai Lama.
Thus, as a child, the current 14th Dalai Lama was also trained in practices involving worship of Dorje Shugden by his teacher and root Guru – Trijang Rinpoche. This was before, as His Holiness puts it, he started his own investigations into the practice.
In 1976 a work of Zemey Rinpoche titled – The Yellow Book was published. This work promoted elements of what we can call – "Religious Intolerance". In this book, were contained fear promoting tales of Dorje Shugden punishing those who do not follow Gelug school exclusively and instead also practiced Nyingma teachings alongside.
Such teachings, invoking the fear factor against Nyingma school and an attempt to subdue it forcefully through spirit-worship were seen by Nyingma and other orders as threat and an outright promotion of intolerance against it by attempting to make Gelug school an exclusive authority in Tibetan Buddhism. As a consequence, the Nyingma protested against this promotion of intolerance against itself by the Gelug School. To this, Dalai Lama, himself a Gelug, declared in 1996 that worshiping Dorje Shugden not only is detrimental to the Tibetan Cause (as this practice promoted intolerance and sectarianism among Tibetans), it will also reduce Tibetan Buddhism to nothing more than Spirit worship. Thus, in order to maintain harmony among different schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama declared that from that time onwards, no tantric initiation shall be given to worshipers of Shugden.
Dalai Lama's refusal to not initiate Shugden worshippers had a strong reaction from the worshippers of Dorje Shugden; the rebellion led by Kelsang Gyatso for whom, Dalai Lama became – well not one of his favourite man, as those who have been following this controversy, know.
Now, charges have been put against Dalai Lama by Kelsang Gyatso's people of His Holiness being a "Spiritual Dictator", "Persecutor", "Imposter", "Hypocrite" and the funniest of all – "CIA Agent".
Logically, the ban looks geniune. If you are a Dorje Shugden worshipper, your path clearly is set on the proposition that except Dorje, if you worship any other spirit, you are in for a trouble. The Dalai Lama's initiation asks you to regard rest of the sects (and rest of the spiritual paths) with equal respect. So clearly practicing both paths together are incompatible. Another way to put this will be – the requirement of Exclusivity of Dorje Shugden practice (that thou shall worship no other deity except me) are incompatible with the idea of Compassion – the central point of Tibetan Buddhism (of Chenrezig – the Bodhisattva of Compassion).
Now the next question that Shugden followers ask is – Why, then, did the Dalai Lama initially practice Shugden worship? My understanding in this regard is that in Buddhism till the time you actually become a Buddha – the fully realized being, there is always a space for growth. And the act of Dalai Lama, a Bodhisattva, still preaching Compassion and also practicing Dorje Shugden worship at the same time would, in fact, have been a contrary practice. It is very much in line with the Buddhist vision that just because your teacher asks you to do something is not the final line. Your own investigation and experience is the final word. And its a sign of courage, in my view, that Dalai Lama has taken a firm stand on this practice, otherwise incompatible with the tolerant ideas of Buddhist thought.
And yet another question that is raised is that did J. Tsongkhapa's (the founder of Gelug Order) vision, supported the practice of the worship of this deity? Again, the problem is not the worship. The problem is fanatic attitude against sects like Nyingma and other schools that do not worship Dorje Shugden. Can the Shugden followers show it anywhere that J. Tsongkhapa supported sectarianism or exclusivity that is the central cause behind this dispute? No. And neither did the Fifth Dalai Lama.
As a final word on this subject, I must say that all this talk and anti-Dalai Lama rhetoric around Dorje Shugden controversy by Kelsang Gyatso and his gang rests around one figure – The Dalai Lama himself.
I mean do this simple thought experiment. Take Dalai Lama off the picture. How many people around the world would be aware of Dorje Shugden in the first place? So all this business of Kelsang Gyatso rests on negative anti-Dalai Lama propaganda. So without Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso is out of the picture too.
Using this logic, Kelsang still needs to show some level of Gratitude for the Dalai Lama. And intellectual differences should stay at a healthy debate level. Stooping down to the level of mud-slinging, obviously false propaganda, crying wolf to the media to gain attention – all such desperate attempts lead nowhere.
Perhaps Kelsang Gyatso and his followers should base their propositions around Dorje Shugden and teachings that are revolved around him. If they don't agree with Dalai Lama, then they should spend their time and energy towards promoting Dorje Shugden. Trying to create an Anti-Dalai Lama wave and then trying to ride on those sentiments is immature and childish.
Final word of advise for Kelsang Gyatso – Grow Up, Grow Mature.