The Shugden Affair: Origins of a Controversy (Part II)

Keeping the Ge-luk Tradition Pure – The Shugden Affair: Origins of a Controversy (Part II) (Written by Georges Dreyfus)

We now begin to understand the main message of the founding myth of the Shuk-den practice. We are also in a position to grasp some of the reasons for the troublesome nature of this deity and we understand the history of this myth, which is a classical case of invention, or, perhaps re-invention, of tradition in which past events are re-interpreted in the light of a contemporary situation. Still, a few questions remain. For example, why was Pa-bong-ka so emphatic in his opposition to Ge-luk eclecticism? Why did he worry so much about this limited phenomenon which was no threat to the overwhelming domination of the Ge-luk tradition in Central Tibet? It is true that several important Ge-luk lamas such as the Fifth Pen-chen Lama Lob-zang Pal-den (blo bzang dpal ldan chos kyi grags pa,) 1853-1882) and La-tsun Rin-bo-che (lha btsun rin po che) were attracted by Nying-ma practices of the Dzok-chen tradition. But this phenomenon remained limited in Central Tibet. Why did Pa-bong-ka feel the integrity of the Ge-luk tradition threatened?
 To answer, we must place Pa-bong-ka in context. The idea of keeping the Ge-luk tradition pure (dge lugs tshang ma) was hardly new. It may even date to Kay-drub’s tenure as the second Holder of the Throne of Ga-den during the first half of the fifteenth century. It appears that Kay-drub urged his followers to stick to Dzong-ka-ba’s views and scolded those who did not. This approach became stronger during the seventeenth century, probably as a result of the civil war that led to the emergence of the Dalai Lama institution. But even then, not all Ge-luk-bas agreed with this approach. For example, the Fifth Dalai Lama advocated a more eclectic and inclusive approach.
 As we have seen, his approach did not meet the approval of several Ge-luk hierarchs. After their victory at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the more restrictive view became dominant. It is only much later, around the turn of the twentieth century that this issue resurfaced in connection with the success of the Non-sectarian (ris med) movement in Eastern Tibet, which developed as a reaction against sectarian abuses among Non-Ge-luk schools. It was intended to promote a more ecumenical atmosphere among these schools, but it was also a way for the weaker traditions to oppose the dominant Ge-luk tradition by presenting a united front. Their strategy was remarkably successful, and in short order the movement revived Non-Ge-luk institutions and greatly strengthened their position, particularly in Kham.  It also influenced several important Ge-luk lamas, as we will see shortly.
This success could not but worry the more conservative elements of the Ge-luk establishment. Pa-bong-ka was particularly worried about the situation in Khams, which influenced his view of other traditions. In an earlier period of his life, Pa-bong-ka was rather open-minded. He had received several Dzok-chen teachings and was eclectic himself, despite his close personal connection with Shuk-den, his personal deity. After receiving these teachings, however, he became sick and attributed this interference to Shuk-den’s displeasure. He thus refrained from taking any more Dzok-chen teaching and became more committed to a purely Ge-luk line of practice. Nevertheless, Pa-bong-ka did not immediately promote Shuk-den as the main protector of the Ge-luk tradition against other schools, perhaps because of the restrictions that the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and his government placed on his practice of Shuk-den. The situation changed after the death of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama in 1933. Shortly after, Pa-bong-ka left Lhasa and visited several important Ge-luk monasteries in Khams, the area where the Non-sectarian movement was the strongest. There he could not but notice the strength of this movement as well as the poor shape of the Ge-luk institutions. Whereas in Amdo and Central Tibet, the Ge-luk school’s hegemony was overwhelming and the challenge of other schools had little credibility, the situation in Khams was quite different.  Ge-luk monasteries were large but had little to show for themselves. There were very few scholars and most monks were almost completely illiterate. Moreover, the level of discipline was poor. Given that situation, the success of the Non-sectarian movement was hardly surprising.
Pa-bong-ka perceived this situation as a serious threat to the overall Ge-luk supremacy, and this led him to a more sectarian and militant stance. He saw the inclusion by Ge-luk-bas of the teachings of other schools as a threat to the integrity of the Ge-luk tradition. The task of protecting the tradition from such encroachments was assigned to Shuk-den, the protector with whom he had a strong personal tie. This renewed emphasis on Shuk-den was also made possible by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s death which removed the restrictions imposed on Pa-bong-ka’s practice and diffusion of Shuk-den.
The sectarian implications of Pa-bong-ka’s revival movement and the role of Shuk-den therein became clear during the 1940s, when the cult of Shuk-den spread in Khams and the Ge-luk tradition became much more aggressive in its opposition to the other schools. Under one of Pa-bong-ka’s disciples, Tob-den Rin-bo-che, several Nying-ma monasteries were forcefully transformed into Ge-luk establishments and statues of Guru Rin-bo-che are said to have been destroyed. In certain parts of Khams, particularly in Ge-luk strongholds such as Dra-gyab and Cham-do, some Ge-luk fanatics tried to stamp out the other traditions in the name of Shuk-den. It is hard to know, however, what Pa-bong-ka thought about these events, which may have been the work of a few extremists. It is clear, however, that since this time Shuk-den played a central role for Pa-bong-ka, who continued to promote his practice to support Ge-luk exclusivism after his return to Central Tibet.
We now start to understand Shuk-den’s particularities and the reason he is controversial. First is his origin as Dol-gyel, an angry and vengeful spirit. This makes him particularly effective and powerful but also dangerous according to standard Tibetan cultural assumptions. Second is his novelty as the protector of the tradition of the victorious lord Manjushri, the protector of a Ge-luk revival movement who is said to replace the main supra-mundane protector of the tradition. This promotion is all the more controversial that it is recent, for Shuk-den was nothing but a minor Ge-luk protector before the 1930s when Pa-bong-ka started to promote him aggressively as the main Ge-luk protector. Third is his sectarian role as Do-je Shuk-den, that is, holder of the adamantine violence now understood to be aimed at keeping the Ge-luk tradition separate from and above other schools. Shuk-den is now depicted by his followers not just as the main Ge-luk protector, but as the one in charge of visiting retribution on those Ge-luk-bas tempted by the religious eclecticism of the Non-sectarian movement.
Still, for many years nothing happened. Some Ge-luk teachers may have been uncomfortable at the promotion of Shuk-den but there was no reason to engage in a controversy with Pa-bong-ka, who was popular but just one among many important Ge-luk lamas. Despite some tension between him and the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, no major differences surfaced and the Ge-luk tradition seemed strong and united. After the death of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, there was very little discussion concerning Shuk-den. Pa-bong-ka’s promotion of Shuk-den’s cult and its founding myth were not considered threatening to the Tibetan government or the young new Dalai Lama, for the cult was not opposed to the Dalai Lama institution but affirmed the primacy of the Ge-luk tradition, a goal shared by many in the Tibetan government. In later years, the importance of Pa-bong-ka’s lineage was further reinforced by the nomination of Tri-jang as the Junior Tutor of the Dalai Lama.
The exile both confirmed this situation and changed it. Pa-bong-ka’s disciple Tri-jang became in exile the main source of teaching and inspiration for the Ge-luk tradition. The Dalai Lama was still young; his other tutor, Ling Rin-bo-che, had a modest personality that took him out of contention and most of the other great Ge-luk lamas remained in Tibet. The preeminence of Tri-jang further strengthened the position of Pa-bong-ka’s lineage as embodying the central orthodoxy of the tradition. Moreover, Tri-jang seems to have been personally extremely devoted to Shuk-den. In his commentary on Pa-bong-ka’s praise of Shuk-den, [44] Tri-jang devotes several pages to explaining the many dreams of Shuk-den that he had from the age of seventies-jang stressed this practice among his disciples and pushed the glorification of Shuk-den even further than Pa-bong-ka, insisting on the fact that this deity is ultimately a fully enlightened Buddha who merely appears as a mundane deity.
Ge-luk teachers who were uncomfortable with this situation could say little against Tri-jang, the Dalai Lama’s own teacher. Moreover, everyone (myself included) was won over by Tri-jang’s astonishing qualities, his command of the Tibetan tradition, his personal grace, his refined manners, his diplomatic skills, and commanding presence. Finally, there was no reason for open controversy, for there was enough room in the tradition to accommodate several views. Ling Rin-bo-che offered an alternative to those who did not completely share Tri-jang’s orientation. Thus, at the beginning of the 70s, the tradition seemed to be strong and united in its admiration of its great teachers, the Dalai Lama and his two tutors, a trinity that almost providentially seemed to be the mirror image of the original relation between Dzong-ka-ba and his two disciples. Nobody would have dreamed of the crisis that was about to come. The Dispute Begins The situation began to deteriorate in 1975, a year which can be described as the Ge-luk (annus terribilis.) In this year a book (henceforth the “Yellow Book”) written in Tibetan about Shuk-den by Dze-may Rin-bo-che (dze smad rin po che,) 1927-1996) was published. [45] Retrospectively, we can say that the whole affair started from this book and the Dalai Lama’s reaction to it. Prior to its publication, there was no controversy concerning Shuk-den. There may have been some tension between the Dalai Lama and some Ge-luk-bas. Some of the more conservative elements may have believed that the three monasteries should rule the Tibetan state and hence have resented the power and orientation of the last two Dalai Lamas. These elements may have also tended toward the Shuk-den practice. Thus, elements of resentment, suspicion and discontent provided the background for the present crisis, but they did not create it. The present crisis is a new phenomenon, largely a product of contingent circumstances and even coincidence.
The Yellow Book was intended to complement Tri-jang’s commentary on Pa-bong-ka’s praise of Shuk-den.[46] It consists of a series of stories which the author had heard informally from his teacher Tri-jang during the many years of their relationship which he wanted to record for posterity before the death of his teacher. The book enumerates the many Ge-luk lamas whose lives are supposed to have been shortened by Shuk-den’s displeasure at their practicing Nying-ma teachings. First, the Fifth Pen-chen Lama, Lob-zang Pal-den, is described as the object of Shuk-den’s anger because he adopted Nying-ma practices. Despite the repeated warnings of the protector, Lob-zang Pal-den refused to mend his ways. After an unsuccessful ritual self-defense, which backfired, Lob-zang Pal-den died at the age of twenty nine. [47] The book cites several other Ge-luk lamas who had similar fates. Most noticeable is the long description of the Re-treng (rwa streng) affair. According to this account, Re-treng’s tragic fate is not due to his real or alleged misdeeds, [48] but because he incurred the wrath of Shuk-den by practicing Nying-ma teachings.
Another particularly revealing story is that of the preceding reincarnation of Zi-gyab Rin-bo-che (gzigs rgyab rin po che), a lama from Tre-hor, who first studied at Tra-shi Lhung-po where he became learned and then developed a link with the Sixth Pen-chen Lama Tub-ten Choe-gi-nyi-ma (thub stan chos kyi nyi ma,) 1883-1937), who asked him to stay with him. Because of the past Pen-chen lama’s eclectic ritual practice, Zi-gyab studied and practiced Nying-ma teachings. Later he decided to receive one of its central teachings, Jam-gon Kong-trul’s (‘jam mgon kong sprul,) 1813-1899) (Rin chen gter mdzod) from Kyung Rin-bo-che (khyung rin po che). According to the story, Shuk-den warned Zi-gyab against this course of action. When the lama refused to heed the protector’s advice, he fell sick and died suddenly without having been able to listen to the (Rin chen gTer Mdzod).In short order Kyung also died suddenly after several ominous signs of Shuk-den’s anger. Shuk-den’s anger at Zi-gyab’s attempt to receive the (Rin chen gter mdzod) is particularly revealing in view of the central place held by this collection of teachings in the Non-sectarian movement.
Whatever the intentions of its author, the main message of the Yellow Book is hard to miss. Ge-luk lamas should absolutely not practice the teachings from other schools, otherwise they will incur Shuk-den’s wrath and die prematurely. The author of the Yellow Book was repeating the views already expressed by the two most important figures in the tradition of Shuk-den followers, Pa-bong-ka and Tri-jang, as illustrated by the above quote (for the former) and claimed by the book itself (for the latter). [49] The Yellow Book provided a number of cases that illustrate this point, emphasizing that the dire warnings were not empty threats but based on “facts.”
The Dalai Lama reacted strongly to this book. He felt personally betrayed by Dze-may, a lama for whom he had great hopes and to whom he had shown particular solicitude. More importantly, he felt that the Yellow Book was an attack on his role as Dalai Lama, a rejection of his religious leadership by the Ge-luk establishment, and a betrayal of his efforts in the struggle for Tibetan freedom. In 1976 the first signs of the impending crisis appeared which I will explore in some detail, since I do not believe that these events have been well documented even by Tibetans. I will use my own memories to supplement the sketchy public records.
One of the first public manifestations of the Dalai Lama’s state of mind was his refusal, after the Tibetan New Year of 1976, of the long life offerings made by the Tibetan government. Traditionally, the Dalai Lama accepts such an offering after the New Year as a sign of the pure bond (dam tshig tshang ma) that exists between him and Tibetans: this bond is based on his commitment to continue his work as Dalai Lama and the Tibetans’ allegiance. His refusal signaled in effect that he thought that the bond had been undermined and that the behavior of Tibetans was incompatible with his remaining as Dalai Lama. When pressed by the National Assembly to accept the offerings, the Dalai Lama sent back even stronger signals, mentioning dreams in which dakinis had entreated him to return to the pure realms. The refusal of the offerings of long life was already bad enough. The mention of these dreams was akin to a declaration of intention to abandon this world and his role therein. This sent the Tibetan community into a veritable ritual frenzy. The state oracle of Ne-chung ordered Tibetans to recite an enormous number of Mani, the mantra of the bodhisattva Avalokeshtevara of whom the Dalai Lama is said to be a manifestation.
At that time I was living at the Rikon monastery in Switzerland. I did not witness the scenes I am describing but heard about them from Tibetan friends and read reports in the (Shes Bya) review in Tibetan. I remember very clearly, however, the emotion that the news created among the monks living in Switzerland. Some were devastated, crying openly. I also remember the many hours that the Tibetan community in Switzerland spent reciting the number of required mantras. I was puzzled by the fact that not all Ge-luk monks seemed equally affected. Some seemed to be distinctly cool, despite their participation in the public rituals intended to protect the life of the Dalai Lama. Why were they so unmoved by the news of the Dalai Lama’s reaction?
The answer, about which I had no idea at the time, was that they agreed with the views expressed by the Yellow Book. Hence, they were less then moved by the Dalai Lama’s negative reaction. They understood that it manifested a profound division within the Ge-luk tradition, a division about which they could not but worry. Primarily, however, they saw his reaction as a rejection and a betrayal of the teachings of his tutor, Tri-jang, whom they considered to be the main teacher of the Ge-luk tradition and the guardian of its orthodoxy. They also may have foreseen that the Dalai Lama would counterattack. The crisis that has agitated the Ge-luk school since then had begun.
In the mid 1976, the Dalai Lama finally accepted the long life offerings of the Tibetan government and the Tibetan people. He would lead them after all, but this was not the end of the story, for he would also take strong actions to strengthen the loyalty of the Ge-luk establishment. His offensive started at the beginning of 1977 when Dze-may was publicly berated for his book. He was expelled from one of the public teachings that the Dalai Lama gave that year. The Dalai Lama also began to apply pressure against the practice of Shuk-den, laying several restrictions on the practice. The three great monasteries of Dre-bung, Ga-den and Se-ra, which traditionally, though not unambiguously, have supported the Tibetan government and the two tantric colleges were ordered not to propitiate Shuk-den in public ceremonies. Moreover, several statues of Shuk-den were removed from the chapels of the three monasteries. Finally, the Dalai Lama ordered the monks of Se-ra in Bylakuppe not to use a building originally intended for the monthly ritual of Shuk-den. Individuals could continue their practice privately if they so chose, as long as they remained discreet about it. The Ritual Basis of the Dalai Lama Institution Many found the Dalai Lama’s reaction excessive. After all, the views expressed by the book were rather unexceptional. The book was undeniably sectarian, but this is not rare in any of the four (or more) Tibetan schools. Similar sectarian views were held by Pa-bong-ka. [50] Even the Non-sectarian movement had at times used its inclusive strategy against the dominance of the Ge-luk school. Thus, the mere presence of a sectarian element in the Yellow Book could not justify or explain the Dalai Lama’s strong reaction. We need to find another explanation.
Throughout the crisis, the Dalai Lama has gone to great lengths to explain his position. At first reserved to a limited audience, these explanations, some of which are of great scholarly quality, are now available in Tibetan and are invaluable to understand the present crisis.[51] The Dalai Lama repeatedly points to the relation between Shuk-den and the ritual system underlying the institution of the Dalai Lama as the source of the problem.
The institution of the Dalai Lama is not just political, but also rests on an elaborate ritual system, which has undergone several transformations. When the Fifth Dalai Lama assumed power after 1642, he attempted to build a broad- based rule legitimized by a claim to reestablish the early Tibetan empire. This claim was supported by an elaborate ritual system, which sought to reenact the perceived religious basis of the Tibetan empire. This ritual system was not limited to the practices of the Ge-luk tradition but included teachings and figures closely associated with the Nying-ma tradition, the Buddhist school that for Tibetans has a close association with the early empire. The ritual system involves an extremely complex network of practices which cannot be examined here. Two elements require mention, however.
The first element is devotion to Padmasambhava, the semi-mythical founder of the Nying-ma tradition. His role is central to the ritual system as conceived by the present Dalai Lama, for Guru Rin-bo-che is responsible for taming the negative forces in Tibet. According to legend, he started the practice of transforming pre-Buddhist deities into worldly protectors by binding them through oaths. He is in charge of making sure that these gods keep their word, and he is the guarantor of all the worldly protectors of the Tibetan world. [52]
The second element of this ritual system is the primacy of the protector Ne-chung. Like most other collective entities in the Tibetan cultural landscape, the Dalai Lama and his government have mundane protectors, who are often described as the “Two Red and Black Protectors” (srung ma dmar nag gnyis). The black protector is identified as the Great Goddess (dpal-ldan lha mo), the Tibetan equivalent of (MahÂ-dev^). The identification of the red protector has varied over time, but since the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ne-chung has been recognized as the red warrior deity protecting the Dalai Lama institution.[53] Together, they are taken to protect the Dalai Lama and his institution, including the Tibetan government.
Ne-chung is one in an important group of deities named “the five kings” (rgyal po sku lnga,) lit., five king-bodies) who are considered to be the manifestations of Pe-har, the deity appointed by Padmasambhava as the main guardian of Buddhism in Tibet. Among the five deities, Ne-chung is usually identified with Dor-je Drak-den (rdo rje grags ldan), the speech deity of the five kings. [54] Because of his connection with Pe-har, the guardian deity of Buddhism during the early Tibetan empire, the Fifth Dalai Lama and his government have chosen Ne-chung as the “Red Protector” thus emphasizing their connection with the early empire and strengthening their legitimacy. This choice further reinforced the centrality of Guru Rin-bo-che, and reflected the Fifth Dalai Lama’s personal association with the Nying-ma tradition.
The Yellow Book and the propitiation of Shuk-den threaten this eclectic system centered on the worship of Guru Rin-bo-che and the propitiation of Ne-chung. By presenting Shuk-den as a deity in charge of visiting retribution upon those Ge-luk who have adopted practices from the Nying-ma tradition, which is based on and closely associated with the devotion to Guru Rin-bo-che, the Yellow Book undermines the ritual system underlying the Dalai Lama institution, and the present Dalai Lama’s efforts to implement this system more fully. I also believe that the timing of the Yellow Book was particularly disastrous.

In his early years, the present Dalai Lama followed the advice of his teachers and practiced an almost purely Ge-luk ritual system. In doing so, he was continuing the tradition of the last seven Dalai Lamas, who had adopted a strictly Ge-luk ritual system as the religious basis of their power. Important changes were introduced after the death of the Fifth and the defeat of his party, when the role of the Dalai Lama and the ritual system supporting the institution were changed. Instead of an eclectic system emulating the religious basis of the early empire, a more purely Ge-luk ritual system was installed under the auspices of the Seventh Dalai Lama Kel-zang Gya-soothe monks of Nam-gyel, the personal monastery of the Dalai Lama, were replaced by monks from the Ge-luk Tantric Colleges and the Nying-ma rituals that they had performed were discontinued. [55] This situation continued into this century, forming the religious practice of the young Fourteenth.

As the Fourteenth became more mature, however, he started to question this orientation. He felt a strong appreciation for the Fifth’s political project, which he has described as a master plan for building Tibet into a nation able to take part in the history of the region rather than a marginal state governed by religious hierarchs mostly preoccupied with the power of their monasteries and estates. [56] He also felt a strong religious bond with the Fifth and gradually came to the realization that he needed to implement the latter’s ritual system. Consequently, he abandoned his Shuk-den practice in the mid-seventies, for he could not keep propitiating this deity while using Ne-chung, the protector associated with Guru Rin-bo-che and with whom he had had a special relation for many years.[57] He also attempted to promote the role of Guru Rin-bo-che in the ritual system of the Tibetan state. Only by strengthening this role, which he saw as vital to the integrity of the ritual basis of the Tibetan state, could the cause of Tibet be successful. Were not the political difficulties experienced by Tibetans signs that this ritual support had been undermined?

As an expression of his resolve to return to the ritual system developed by the Fifth Dalai Lama, the present Dalai Lama developed the role of Nying-ma rituals in the practice of his own personal Nam-gyel monastery. The monastery’s repertoire was expanded from the usual Ge-luk tantric rituals to include typical Nying-ma practices such as Vajra k^laya and others. He invited several Nying-ma lamas to give teachings and empowerments to his monks. He also ordered them to do appropriate retreats. I remember the tongue in cheek comments of some of my friends of the Nam-gyel monastery about their “becoming Nying-ma-bas.”They were surprised, taken aback and uncomfortable, for the rituals of the Nam-gyel monastery had been for many years Ge-luk, not very different from that of the two tantric colleges. They were ready to follow the Dalai Lama, however, despite their obvious misgivings.

Another key element in the Dalai Lama’s strategy of returning to the Fifth’s ritual system was the institution in October 1975 of a yearly ceremony of making a hundred thousands offerings to Guru Rin-bo-che. The collective worship of Guru Rin-bo-che would restore the synergy that existed between this figure and the Tibetan people, thus strengthening the power of the gods appointed by Guru Rin-bo-che to protect Tibetans from danger. But this event was not very successful. Many Ge-luk monks and nuns felt rather lukewarm, if not downright hostile, toward Guru Rin-bo-che, and abstained from attending the event. They profoundly resented the adoption of rituals they saw as coming from an alien tradition.

This was precisely the time that the famous Yellow Book first circulated, a coincidence I consider particularly unfortunate. [58] Although the connection between the low attendance at this new ceremony and the book is hard to establish, the Dalai Lama felt that the Yellow Book had contributed to the lack of support among Ge-luk monks and nuns. More importantly, he felt that the appearance of such a book precisely when he was trying to restore the ritual basis of the Tibetan state represented an act of open defiance by the very people, the high Ge-luk lamas, who were supposed to support him. These were the same people who had thwarted the attempts of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama toward reform with tragic consequences for Tibet. These were also particularly difficult times for Tibet politically. The repression in Tibet had gone on practically uninterrupted since 1959 and there seemed no end in sight. The sadness and even desperation thereby induced in the exile community and the Dalai Lama must have contributed to the crisis. [59]

Finally, the Dalai Lama felt directly attacked by the Yellow Book. For, after all, who was the person who was designated as a potential target of Shuk-den, the person who was undermining the purity of the Ge-luk tradition by adopting practices from the Nying-ma tradition, if not he? Also, the Dalai Lama felt that this book was working against his efforts to promote harmony among the Tibetan schools. The matter was made much worse by the attribution of the opinions expressed by the Yellow Book to Tri-jang, who, to my knowledge, has never rejected this attribution. In fact, everybody assumed that Dze-may had indeed reported the words of his teacher and this is why the book was thought to be particularly damaging. What could the Dalai Lama say against his own teacher?

The Role of Shuk-den If we can recognize the Dalai Lama’s reasons for reacting to the diffusion of the Yellow Book, we have yet to understand the place of the practice of Shuk-den in this affair. Why focus so exclusively on the propitiation of Shuk-den? We need to consider briefly the role of mundane protectors in Tibetan culture. Mundane protectors (‘jig rtenpa’i lha) are guardians in a universe alive with forces which can quickly become threatening, and are considered by Tibetans to be particularly effective because they are mundane, i.e., unenlightened. [60] They share human emotions such as anger or jealousy, which makes them more effective than the more remote supra-mundane deities (‘jig rten las ‘das pa’i lha), but also more prone to take offense at the actions of humans or other protectors.  Shuk-den, for example, is presented as being hostile to those Ge-luk-bas who do not stick to the pure tradition of Dzong-ka-ba and seek the teachings of other traditions. Shuk-den is also said to undermine Ne-chung, who is said to resent Shuk-den’s role and actions. Ne-chung is often depicted as acting out of resentment against and jealousy toward Shuk-den, prodding the Dalai Lama to act against Shuk-den, to abandon the propitiation of this deity, to ban his practice, etc. The Dalai Lama himself has described on numerous occasions the strength of his relation to Ne-chung and the role of this deity in his decisions concerning Shuk-den. [61] Although the decision to limit the role of Shuk-den in 1970s cannot be solely attributed to Ne-chung, this deity has played an important role in the Dalai Lama’s decisions.

We may wonder about the meaning of these conflicts between deities, their resentment against each other. What does it mean to say that Ne-chung resents Shuk-den, that he asked the Dalai Lama to ban him? For traditional Tibetans, such a statement is perfectly clear and does not require any further explanation, since it refers to entities whose reality is as certain as that of the solar system is for scientifically educated people. The propitiation of these entities is an integral part of their culture, and the conflict between worldly protectors or gods is a normal occurrence in a universe which is filled by entities who can harm humans. I remember at one point becoming quite close to a young lama and his servant. I used to eat with them, until one day I was told that my visits were not welcome any more. They had had bad dreams, one of the privileged channels through which protectors communicate with humans. [62] According to these dreams, their protector was unhappy at my visits. My god apparently did not agree with theirs!

For modern educated people such an explanation is hardly satisfying. In the case of personal relations, incompatibilities can be easily explained as temperamental. But what does it mean for Shuk-den and Ne-chung not to get along? To understand this aspect of Tibetan culture, we need to realize that protectors are not just individual guardians but also protect collective entities. Monasteries, households of lamas, regional houses in large monasteries, and clans or families have their own protectors. This collective dimension of protectors is most relevant to the present conflict between Shuk-den and Ne-chung, which is quite obviously a reflection of the conflict between two groups, the conservative Ge-luk-bas, who resent the Dalai Lama’s reliance on the Nying-ma tradition, and the g‚groups who accept or support the Dalai Lama’s eclectic approach. The relation between groups and worldly protectors becomes clear if one remembers that the deities who are protectors are defined as such because they protect the person or the group, often by violent means, from enemies. These enemies are described as the “enemies of Buddhism” (bstan dgra); they are the “other” in opposition to which the person and the group define their identity. The connection between group and protector is very close.

There is, however, an important distinction to be made here. In the case of supra-mundane protectors, enemies of Buddhism threaten Buddhism as well as their own spiritual welfare. [63] The violence that protectors unleash against them is said to be strictly motivated by compassion and aims at benefiting the beings who are its target, much like the actions of bodhisattvas described in the Mahayana literature. [64] This violence is impartial and cannot be used for one’s personal advantage. However, the violence of mundane deities is quite different, for it involves quasi human emotions. Since these deities experience these emotions, they are thought to be partial and can be enrolled in actions performed on behalf of the person or the group who propitiates them. The term “enemies of Buddhism” is used and the practitioner or the group will ask the protector to get rid of these beings. But in this case the term “enemies of Buddhism” refers less to the objects of compassionate and impartial violence than to the being perceived by the person or the group as threatening. An “enemy of Buddhism” may belong to a rival Buddhist group, or may be a member of one’s own tradition, such as Ge-luk practitioners who are interested in other schools such as the Nying-ma. [65] We now begin to understand the close connection between group identity and mundane protectors, and the reason why the propitiation of some protectors can be quite troubling.

Moreover, the close connection between group and protector is not just symbolic, it is also inscribed in the nature of the practices relating to protectors which is based on the notion of loyalty. The relation between a person or group and the protector is described as being based on the maintenance of “pure bond” or “pure commitment” (dam tshig tshang ma). This notion of pure bond is particularly important in Tibetan Buddhism, where there is a strong emphasis on preserving the commitment between students and their teachers, especially in the context of tantric practice. But this sense of loyalty goes well beyond the domain of tantric practice. It plays a vital role in the social life of Tibetans, who put a great emphasis on personal friendship and group loyalty. It also informs a part of Tibetan political life, as we noticed earlier.

It is this same sense of loyalty that lies at the basis of the relations between protectors and their followers. This is particularly true regarding the practice of Dor-je Shuk-den, a practice based on the taking of a solemn oath similar to that of friends swearing life-long loyalty to each other. The propitiation of Shuk-den requires a ceremony called “life entrusting” (srog gtad), during which the followers and the deity are introduced to each other by the guru who confers the empowerment.[66] The follower swears his or her fidelity to Dor-je Shuk-den who in exchange promises to serve him or her. It is clear that this practice fosters a very strong loyalty to the deity and by extension to the group that the deity represents.

In Shuk-den’s case, devotion has been strengthened further by the central role of the charismatic teachers Pa-bong-ka and Tri-jang, who have transformed this formerly minor practice into one of the main elements of the Ge-luk tradition. Because of the central place of keeping commitments to one’s guru among Tibetans, and because of the considerable personal qualities of these teachers, they have succeeded in inspiring an extreme devotion in their followers, who seem to value their commitment to these figures more than anything else. In fact, from the point of view of many of Shuk-den’s followers, the devotion to teachers such as Pa-bong-ka or Tri-jang is the basis for the practice of Shuk-den. They propitiate this deity first and foremost because it is the protector recommended by their guru. This situation has contributed significantly to the polarization that surrounds the issue and has further enhanced the troubling potential of the Shuk-den practice. For when the Dalai Lama opposes Shuk-den, the followers of this deity feel his opposition is directed against the founding fathers of their own tradition, and hence an attack against their own group. They also feel misrepresented when they are accused of being sectarian, for in their perspective the sectarian element pales in significance when compared to their commitment to their guru and his tradition.

Nevertheless, groups may feel that they fit the description “enemies of Buddhism” as defined by the Shuk-den rituals, even if the threat they imply is not implemented or is considered secondary by their practitioners. Thus the claim that the practice of Shuk-den disrupts the functioning of the Dalai Lama institution becomes-special-character: footnote [67] But, as we saw earlier, a number of Nying-ma rituals are precisely the basis of the Dalai Lama institution as understood by the Fifth and the Fourteenth Dalai Lamas. Does it not follow that the present Dalai Lama is the “enemy of Buddhism” as implied by the practice of Shuk-den?

Most of Pa-bong-ka’s followers would answer this question in the negative. They would argue that their practice is primarily not directed at anybody but stems from their religious commitments. Nevertheless, the fact that this shocking statement seems to follow logically from the way the practice of Shuk-den has been defined by its main proponents explains the challenge that such a practice raises for the leadership of the Dalai Lama. It also throws some light on the claim that Ne-chung resents Shuk-den’s success. Since Ne-chung is taken as the preeminent protector of the Dalai Lama, he must indeed be disturbed by a cult that takes the very people he is meant to protect as its target. Finally, we understand the divisiveness of the practice of mundane protectors such as Shuk-den and the danger of violence that it contains. For, after all, what can one do with the enemies of Buddhism but fight them? We are also able to answer one of the questions raised at the beginning of this essay: is the practice of Shuk-den different from the practices associated with other protectors? It is clear that there are other worldly protectors within the world of Tibetan Buddhism. It also clear that Shuk-den as a deity does not appear to be very different from other worldly protectors who are all perceived to inspire awe and fear and hence have the potential for being put to troubling uses, though the particular cultural scenario associated with Shuk-den, i.e., being a spirit of a dead religious person (rgyal po), may mark him as a particularly fierce deity. A similar cultural scenario, however, is alleged in the case of Ne-chung, a deity sometimes presented as the spirit of a monk who broke his vows.[68] Thus, the root of the problem raised by the Shuk-den affair is not the particular nature of the deity. So why is the practice of Shuk-den so problematic?

The answer is to be found in the sectarian ways in which this practice has been defined by its founders. Shuk-den was re-invented during this century not just to satisfy the worldly purposes of individuals or particular institutions, but also and mostly to affirm and defend the identity of a revival movement opposed to other religious groups, particularly within the Ge-luk tradition. Shuk-den is the protector in charge not just of protecting individual practitioners but the integrity of the Ge-luk tradition as conceived by its most conservative elements. It is this aggressively sectarian use of this deity that has been particularly problematic. The practices associated with the other protectors are different in that they are used by monasteries, lama’s estates, families, or individuals for this-worldly purposes as piecemeal elements of a traditional network of religious practices, not to affirm a systematically sectarian outlook. As such they do not map into any large-scale socio-political distinction and their potential for abuse remains limited.

This sectarian stance is the central message of the founding myth of the Shuk-den tradition, the wrathful transformation of Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen into Shuk-den and his hostility to the Fifth Dalai Lama. This hostility reflects the attitude of a part of the Ge-luk tradition which advocates a strictly Ge-luk practice and opposes the importation of Nying-ma teachings into their tradition. This opposition between two visions of the Ge-luk tradition focuses on the figure of the Dalai Lama because of the way in which the Fifth and the Fourteenth Dalai Lamas have considered the institution they represent, i.e., as resting on an eclectic religious basis in which elements associated with the Nying-ma tradition combine with an overall Ge-luk orientation. Shuk-den, then, is less the spirit of the Ge-luk political resentment against a strong Dalai Lama, than it is the spirit of a religious resentment against a perceived threat to the integrity of the Ge-luk tradition. The target of Shuk-den is not the Dalai Lama (per se) but the accommodation toward other schools, particularly the Nying-ma, shown by the Fifth and the Fourteenth Dalai Lamas, an attitude perceived by Shuk-den’s followers as a defilement of Dzong-ka’ba’s tradition.

When this sectarian orientation is combined with some of the particularities of the Shuk-den tradition such as the central role of charismatic figures such as Pa-bong-ka and Tri-jang, the extreme devotion they have inspired in their followers, as well as the intensity of the loyalty developed by the Shuk-den cult based on the life entrusting ceremony mentioned above, the troubling events that have revolved around the practice of Dor-je Shuk-den become less surprising. The strong opposition of the present Dalai Lama also becomes more understandable. For a sectarian opposition to the Dalai Lama institution cannot help but have strong political implications in contemporary Tibetan society where this institution plays such a large role. The practice of propitiating Shuk-den threatens this institution and undermines its ability to function as a rallying point for Tibetans. Is it then surprising if he opposes it so vigorously?

Appendix (Part II) [44] Tri-jang, (Music. )

[45] See above for the bibliographical reference.

[46] Tri-jang, (Music. )

[47] Or thirty according to the Tibetan way of counting years. Dze-may, (The Yellow Book,) 4.

[48] M. Goldstein, (A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951 )(Berkeley: University of California, 1989), 310-363.

[49] When compared to Pa-bong-ka’s explicit stance, Tri-jang’s stance toward other schools seems more moderate. In fact, it is clear that for him the devotional element is much more important than the sectarian element in the practice of Shuk-den. This is why some of his disciples seem to be genuinely surprised when they are accused of being sectarian. Nevertheless, Tri-jang does point to the connection between the Fifth Pen-chen Lama’s tragic fate, his Non-sectarian (ris su ma chad pa) orientation, and Shuk-den’s action.(Music,) 134.

[50] The best example of Ge-luk sectarianism is perhaps Sum-pa ken-po ye-shay-bel-jor’s attack on the Nying-ma tradition. There has been, however, another tradition of Ge-luk thinkers who have defended and exemplified a more enlightened and tolerant view. Tu-gen rejected the conclusions of his teacher Sum-pa Ken-po and defended the authenticity of the Nying-ma tradition. See M. Kapstein, “The Purificatory Gem and its Cleansing”, (History of Religions )28 (1989) 3, 217-244. Another example is Jang-gya. More enlightened Ge-luk thinkers such as Tu-gen or Jang-gya should not be thought of as eclectic.They were not arguing for a more inclusive religious practice, as did the Fifth Dalai Lama, but for a more tolerant outlook within a purely Ge-luk practice.

[51] His collected speeches from 1978 to 1996 on the subject have been published in (Gong sa skyabs mgon chen po mchog nas chos skyong bsten phyogs skor btsal ba’i bka’ slob) (Dharamsala: Religious Affairs, 1996).(henceforth DL)

[52] DL, 24.This fact is recognized even by Shuk-den’s followers. Pa-bong-ka describes how Pe-har, the main protector appointed by Padmasambhava, is supposed to have incited Shuk-den into protecting the Ge-luk tradition.Pehar is depicted as saying: I have been assigned by Guru Rin-bo-che to protect the Nying-ma tradition and hence cannot protect Dzong-ka-ba’s tradition, the only truly faultless tradition. You should do it. (Supplement,) 519.

[53] Heller, “Historic and Iconographic Aspects of the Protective Deities,” 483.

[54] Nebesky-Wojkowitz, (Oracles ,) 107.The five king-bodies represent the five aspects of the group of deity: body, speech, mind, quality and action.Ne-chung is identified with Dor-je Drak-den, who represents the speech aspect, whereas Pe-har represents the action aspect.

[55] gDong-thog mentions the discontinuation of the practice of ‘Jam dpal gshin rje tshe bdag.(Gong sa skyabs mgon rgyal ba’i dbang po mchog gi lha srung bsten phyogs bka’ slob la rgol ba’i rtsod zlog bden gtam sa gzhi ‘dar ba’i ‘brug sgra) (Seattle: SaPen Institute, 1996), 23.

[56] Oral interview given during the second visit of the Dalai Lama in France (1987).

[57] DL., 17-20. In his account of the genesis of the Shuk-den affair, the Dalai Lama described his complex relation with Ne-chung concerning Shuk-den. He first tried to prevent Ne-chung from expressing through his oracle resentment against the success of Shuk-den, labeling this protector “the teacher of novelty seekers” (a sras mkhan po), and complaining that the practice of Shuk-den weakens him (DL, 20).The Dalai Lama ordered Ne-chung to keep silent on this topic, realizing the conflict that would be unleashed if he gave in to Ne-chung’s requests.

[58] This was also the time when the Dalai Lama was trying to prevent Ne-chung from expressing his resentment against Shuk-den. The Dalai Lama felt that the publication of the Yellow Book made this self-imposed restraint impossible. His efforts at moderation were not recognized and imitated. Henceforth, he felt that he could not stop Ne-chung from complaining and demanding that Shuk-den stop his activities.See DL, 20.

[59] A factor in the developments analyzed here has been the political situation in Tibet. The Dalai Lama and the exile community have felt a strong urgency to do something about the situation in Tibet and that has probably exacerbated the “affair.” It is not without reason that the most acute crises in the “Shuk-den Affair” have occurred in moments (1975, 1996) where, for different reasons, the situation of Tibet seemed most difficult. R. Schwartz mentions the role that millenarian elements such as oracles and protectors have played in contemporary Tibetan political actions during the most difficult times when rational modes of action seem impossible and hopeless. See (Circle of Protest)(New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 226-231.

[60] Technically, mundane protectors are defined as deities who have not attained the noble path (‘phags lam, aryamarga) in their spiritual development.

[61] DL., 17-9.

[62] The other channel is the possession of a person, who is often appointed to this office. Such a person functions as the basis (sku rten) for the deity, who speaks oracularly through his or her mouth.

[63] I am explaining the Tibetan understanding of supra-mundane deities, who are mostly Indian in their origin. Whether these gods were understood in India in the same way is a different question.

[64] The classical example in the Mahayana sutras is found in the story of the bodhisattva killing the person who was about to murder five hundred people on his ship. See G. Chang, (A Treasury of Mahayana Sutras) (Delhi: Motilal, 1991), 452-465.

[65] Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement ,) 526.

[66] This ceremony, which does not seem to have any source in the Indian tradition, is not unique to Dor-je Shuk-den. It seems to exist for some other wordly gods as well where it is called “life empowerment” (srog dbang). It does not appear that these ceremonies are practiced in the case of protectors such as Ne-chung, but I have not been able to obtain clear information on this point.

[67] Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement) 526-527.See above.

[68] Lob-zang Cho-phel, (gzhung lan drang srong rgan po’i ‘bel gtam) (Delhi: Dorje Shugden Society, 1997), 120.