Advocacy against worship of Dorjee Shugden lands elderly Tibetan man in jail for one and half years in Chamdo

DHARAMSALA, Dec 16: An elderly Tibetan man has been sentenced to one and half years in prison in early December in Chamdo Prefecture in Tibet Autonomous Region for advising Tibetans in his area to heed to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s call not to indulge in propitiation of Dorje Shugden (or Dhogyal), a controversial deity deemed divisive and sectarian, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported Dec 12.

Jamyang Tsering, 77, a native of Chamdo was arrested in June this year for encouraging a group of Chamdo-area students visiting Lhasa to follow the wishes and guidance of the Dalai Lama and to always “hold to their pride in being Tibetan”. In early December, a court in Dzogang County in Chamdo sentenced him to one and half years in prison.

An undated photo of Jamyang Tsering. Photo: RFA
An undated photo of Jamyang Tsering. Photo: RFA

He is currently being held in the Dzogang detention centre pending transfer to a jail in Chamdo. His relatives are said to be worried about his health as he suffers from abdominal disorders, diabetes, and high blood pressure, among otherailments.

“He himself says he has done nothing wrong and has no regrets.  His only concern is for his wife, who is 86 and was left behind in [the regional capital] Lhasa after he was detained,” RFA quoted a source as saying.

Tsering had also reportedly advised as many people as possible during local gatherings not to worship Dorje Shugden whose rituals have been denounced by the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama as divisive and sectarian.

Since late 1970s, His Holiness the Dalai Lama began advising the Tibetan people against propitiation of Dorje Shugden reasoning that it disrupts harmony among the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism and thereby, harms the common cause of the Tibetan people. On numerous occasions, His Holiness had asked Tibetans who worship the deity not to attend his teachings as it undermines the “teacher-student” pledge. However, His Holiness left it to individual Tibetans the choice to worship Dorje Shugden, considered by its followers as a Buddha as well as a Dharmapala (Protector of Buddha dharma).

Followers of Dorje Shugden accuse the Tibetan spiritual leader of denying religious freedom and carries out slanderous campaigns against the Tibetan leader whenever he visits foreign countries for talks or teachings.

As these campaigns against the Tibetan spiritual leader became more organized and frequent, Tibetans are accusing China of supporting the followers of Dorje Shuden financially as well as providing a safe haven for Shugden followers who indulge in criminal activity in countries like India.

The controversy took a violent turn when Geshe Lobsang Gyatso, the founder and principal of Dharamsala-based Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, an eclectic (Tib: Rime) Buddhist school was murdered along with two of his students in early February 1997. The subsequent investigation by the Indian police directly linked the murders to the Dorje Shugden association and later in 2007, the Interpol issued a Red notice to China to extradite two of the alleged killers, Lobsang Chodak and Tenzin Choezin.

Brief history about the controversy

The controversy over the worship of the 17th century spirit resurfaced in 1975 with the publication of the The Yellow Book, also known as The Oral Transmission of the Intelligent Father (Tib: Phagoe Lamai Zshelung) written by Zemey Rinpoche which promoted the purity of the Gelugpa (also called Yellow Hat) school of Tibetan Buddhism and contained series of stories heard from Trijang Rinpoche (Junior tutor of Dalai Lama) about how Doerje Shugden, the spirit had shortened the lives of Gelugpa lamas who incorporated Nyingma (oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism also known as Red Hat) teachings into their practice.

The publication of the book led to angry reactions from the other three non-Gelug schools and His Holiness publicly rejected the book saying it damages the common cause of the Tibetan people because of its sectarian content. His Holiness’ renunciation of Shugden in 1976 caused great discord within the Gelugpa School and also led to some factions questioning the Tibetan spiritual leader’s wisdom.

Some not only showed their dissatisfaction but also broke away from the mainstream Gelugpa community and also formed their own tradition such as the New Kadampa Tradition. Founded by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in 1991, the British-based NKT continues to worship Dorje Shugden and regards itself as following the “pure” teachings of Je Tsonkhapa, the founder of Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism.

The controversy also led to the formation of Dorje Shugden Religious and Charitable Society (DSRCS) and Shugden Supporters Community (SSC), now called Western Shugden Society.


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