His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Advice Concerning Dolgyal (Shugden)
Tibet Custom, June 1 2008
Statement issued by Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dharamshala, 30 May 2008
Dharmsala, India -- Following a long and careful investigation, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has strongly discouraged Tibetan Buddhists from propitiating the fierce spirit known as Dolgyal (Shugden).
Although he once practiced Dolgyal propitiation himself, His Holiness renounced the practice in 1975 after discovering the profound historical, social and religious problems associated with it. He did so with the full knowledge and support of his junior tutor, the late Kyabje Trichang Rinpoche through whom His Holiness first became associated with this practice.
Even within the Geluk and Sakya schools - the Tibetan Buddhist traditions to which majority of Dolgyal practitioners belong - the propitiation of this spirit has been controversial throughout its history.
Historical investigation reveals that Dolgyal practice, which has strong sectarian overtones, has a history of contributing towards a climate of sectarian disharmony in various parts of Tibet, and between various communties of Tibetans.
Therefore, from 1975 onwards, His Holiness has regularly made public his views on the inadvisability of this practice and underlined the following three key reasons:
1. The danger of Tibetan Buddhism degenerating into a form of spirit worship: Tibetan Buddhism originally evolved from the authentic and ancient tradition upheld at the great Indian monastic university of Nalanda, a tradition that His Holiness often describes as a complete form of Buddhism. It embodies the original teaching of the Buddha as developed through the rich philosophical, psychological and spiritual insights of such great Buddhist masters as Nagarjuna, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Dignaga and Dharamakirti. Since the great philosopher and logician Shantarakshita was instrumental in the establishment of Buddhism in Tibet in its earliest stages in the 8th century, philosophical enquiry and critical analysis have always been important hallmarks of Tibetan Buddhism. The problem with Dolgyal practice is that it promotes a tendency to consider spirits like Dolgyal (Shugden) as Dharma protectors and moreover to take them as more important than the Buddha himself. If this trend goes unchecked, and innocent people become seduced by cult-like practices of this kind, the danger is that the rich tradition of Tibetan Buddhism may degenerate into the mere propitiation of spirits.
2. Obstacles to the emergence of genuine non-sectarianism: His Holiness has often stated that one of his most important commitments is the promotion of inter-religious understanding and harmony. As part of this endeavour, His Holiness is committed to promoting non-sectarianism in all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. In doing so His Holiness is following the personal examples set by his predecessors, especially the Fifth Dalai Lama and the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. Not only is a non-sectarian approach mutually enriching for all Tibetan Buddhist schools, but it is also the best safeguard against a possible rise of sectarianism that could have damaging consequences for the Tibetan tradition as a whole. Given the acknowledged link between Dolgyal worship and sectarianism, this particular practice remains a fundamental obstacle to fostering a genuine non-sectarian spirit within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
3. Especially inappropriate in the context of the well-being of Tibetan society: In the context of the current condition of the Tibetan people in particular, Dolgyal propitiation is especially problematic. Textual and historical research demonstrates that Dogyal propitiation arose out of hostility to the great Fifth Dalai Lama and his government. The Fifth Dalai Lama, who assumed both the spiritual and temporal leadership of Tibet in the 17th century, personally denounced Dolgyal as a malevolent spirit, which arose out of misguided intentions and is detrimental to the welfare of beings in general and the Tibetan government headed by the Dalai Lamas. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama and other respected Tibetan spiritual masters also spoke strongly against this practice. Therefore, in the current context of Tibetan society, where unity among the Tibetan people is vitally important, engaging in this controversial and divisive propitiatory practice is inappropriate.
On the basis of these three reasons, His Holiness has strongly urged his followers to consider carefully the problems of Dolgyal practice and to act accordingly. He has stated that, as someone in a leadership position, it is his responsibility to speak out against the damaging consequences of this kind of spirit worship. Whether or not his advice is heeded, His Holiness has stated, is a matter for the individual. However, since he personally feels strongly about the negativity of this practice, he has requested that those who continue to propitiate Dolgyal, do not attend his formal religious teachings which traditionally require the establishment of a teacher-disciple relationship.