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<-Back to WTN Archives Dalai Lama mired in religious spat
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World Tibet Network News

Friday, August 22, 1997

3. Dalai Lama mired in religious spat

NEW DELHI, August 22, 1997 (AP) -- 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 more than a dozen times each
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.

"If we were in Tibet, we would all be in prison, tortured or dead by now,"
said Cheme Tsering, a monk whom police have named as a suspect. Tsering 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
that 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.
Everyone working for his administration was told to forswear Dorje Shugden or

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, in much the same way
Catholics view saints. 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 dress. Dorje Shugden is the renamed spirit of
Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen, a popular 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

The passions surrounding Dorje Shugden are not surprising considering that
for Tibetans, history, legend and superstition have equal weight in measuring
truth. Jampal Chosang, secretary of the Dalai Lama's office in New Delhi,
says the charges of intolerance against the Nobel Peace Prize laureate are
unjustified. An individual can still worship Dorje Shugden, but the Dalai
Lama does not want Dorje Shugden devotees counted among his loyalists.

Articles in this Issue:
  1. Rep. Wolf's Trip to Tibet (WP)
  2. Statement by U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf Tibet - A First-Hand Look August 9 - 13, 1997
  3. Dalai Lama mired in religious spat

Other articles this month - WTN Index - Mail the WTN-Editors

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