January 11, 2011

Nice art, troubled history: Dorje Shugden

dorje shugden, himalayan art resourcesIssues around the worship of the Tibetan deity Dorje Shugden have been the source of much conflict ever since the deity and its associated practices were adopted by the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. But it was not the Gelugs who inducted the deity into the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon. In fact, it was only in the early 20th century that Gelugs adopted practices linked to Dorje Shugden. Previously, such practices were primarily associated with the Sakya sect.

Depending on your teacher, Dorje Shugden is either a deity or a potentially harmful demon. Tibetan iconography expert Jeff Watt's interest, however, is not sectarian. At Himalayan Art Resources, Jeff lays out for us the history of Dorje Shugden and the deity's representation in Tibetan art. Above, Dorje Shugden is depicted riding a lion. For an overview and easy navigation, click here.

Warning: Fine to discuss the art but sectarian mudslinging is strictly prohibited (seriously)!

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rabten62's picture

Last words...

To Monty and Tricycle, thanks again for trying to host a vitriol-free discussion of Dorje Shugden's form and symbolism - it was lovely while it lasted - and thanks for shutting it down now it's veered off course.

To DG (in case you bother coming back to read this), I'd like to take the opportunity to apologise on behalf of the WSS for any hurt our actions have caused you and your fellow Tibetans. We really don't want to add to the suffering you already feel. It's obvious that the Tibetan people are pre-dominantly an extremely good-natured lot. The fact that the Dalai Lama has had to involve himself so personally in this, and push so hard for so long with such extreme words to create the present atmosphere of intolerance shows this. Our issue is with him and him alone. Even those of you who hold an extremely negative view of Dorje Shugden showed little appetite for the Dalai Lama's purge until he really demanded it.

I do believe that if the Dalai Lama were to permit it, there could be a healing within the Tibetan community. After all, despite centuries of yellow hat, red hat conflict and the more recent 13 settlements issue the bonds that bind are stronger that what pulls apart. If the Dalai Lama would drop his agenda, the Tibetan community could pull together... you could blame the previous disharmony on the crazy injis. We'd happily give you that.

One positive thing to come out of all of this is the restored purity of Je Tsongkhapa's lineage. Since the time of the 5th Dalai Lama it's been stained by its association with the Tibetan government - power politics and worldly concerns have abounded. Now anyone who wants to carry on Je Tsongkhapa's tradition in Trijang's lineage knows that they will suffer ostracism and have no prospects for any high position. The fact that around a third of the Gelug monks in India chose to step into such hostile circumstances so as to follow the spiritual path they trust shows that the flame of Je Tsongkhapa's teachings is burning brightly.

Finally, DG, it's a shame we never got into a proper conversation, perhaps I'm deluding myself that it would have been possible. In any case I wish you well... you mentioned your nephew going to law school, I hope he has a great time and a distinguished career.

May everyone be happy.

Wisdom Moon's picture

Thanks for your tolerance with this discussion, Monty,

I pray that the holy images of Enlightened beings will pervade this world for the benefit of all.

I also pray, as everything4others did, that peace and harmony between Shugden and non-Shugden practitioners will be restored, that the persecution of innocent Shugden practitioners and their families will cease, that in the Tibetan monasteries the common spiritual activities of Shugden and non-Shugden practitioners will be re-established.... and most importantly, that Buddhism will be freed from politics.

May the tradition of Je Tsongkhapa flourish.

Dolgyal's picture

This is my last post, WSS/NKT can have the final word–you know you want it.

1. Arguing from the point of view, 'my guru is absolutely infallible' is absurd and immature. I prefer a teacher who will admit he or she has made mistakes and is willing to accept a modern view, as scientists do.

2. To wear the badge, 'I am non-sectarian' other than some sort of weasel word, one ought to feel it as well. A little eclectic knowledge in a diverse society enhances one's empathy and understanding. The study of comparative tenets is a major topic of study in Buddhism. Jamgon Mipham could argue with Tsong Khapa's view because he understood it. Same with Sakyapa critique of Karmapa Mikyo Dorje. Pobanka, on the other hand, clearly misunderstood and ridiculed Ka-Nying philosophy, perhaps in part due to differences in denotation and connotation of terminology. In any case this chauvinist tradition has been cut off at the root in Tibetan society as the feudal system, that was the crucible of the ultra-conservative power elite is well and truly long gone. There is no desire to continue it either–we are now trying to establish democratic institutions. If some western people want to propagate the old fundamentalist attitude, frankly it is of no consequence to us.

3. I am willing to concede His Holiness is both a Nazi and a Communist if it makes you happy. Also a Muslim, you can win that one too.

Monty McKeever's picture

Hi everybody,

Thanks for participating.

FYI- I am going to close this discussion at 5:00pm EST today. If you wish to make any final, civil concluding points, please do so before then.

This thread was intended to be a discussion about art and there have been many informative, interesting, and illuminating posts in this regard. This is very much appreciated.

Monty McKeever

everything4others's picture

Thank you, Monty and Tricycle, for facilitating this discussion.

I have been a Shugden practitioner for only 8 years, so I have never yet had the opportunity to read or participate in a forum discussion about my beloved Protector without encountering insult, contempt, vitriol and off-topic slander, often under the guise of teaching and debate.

I did think for a naive few minutes that this might be different, and am grateful to those who tried.

Please can I request prayers in keeping with Buddha's compassionate intention that peace and harmony between Shugden and non-Shugden practitioners will be restored, that the persecution of innocent Shugden practitioners and their families will cease, that in the Tibetan monasteries the common spiritual activities of Shugden and non-Shugden practitioners will be re-established.... and most importantly, that Buddhism will be freed from politics.

drmnaga78's picture

In answer to your question, I know about 3 Tibetans in the NKT. I also know quite a few more Tibetan Dorje Shugden practioners in the WSS and I stayed with some at Sera-mey in India.
It is a shame that this has turned into another battle of view. I am happy with my practice and feel a bit sad that you call me and my Sangha cultists. I am a Buddhist because I have faith in, and go for refuge to, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and try to keep the vows I have taken. My practice helps me to be a nicer person and improves my relationships with my friends, family and colleagues. It helps me to recognise the true enemy of delusions in my mind. This thread has again helped me to see my inner foe so thanks Dolgyal The Great King of Dol Duldzin Dorje Shugden!

Dolgyal's picture

1. The difference in view presented by Reting Rinpoche is not sectarian, he is a Kadampa, his monastery was founded by 'Brom-ston himself. Shady Gelugpa politics caused the death of the Fifth Reting, which Trijang openly boasts about in his Yellow book.

2. What passes as logic from the dolgyal cultists does not conform to standard definitions of fallacies (ex. magical thinking, appeal to authority, slippery slope arguments, red herring), neither in Tibetan nor western philosophical thought. We have seen anyone who disagrees with NKT/WSS is subject to lawsuits, labelled mentally unstable or insulted and slandered (ex. liar, muslim, thief, criminal etc.)

3. There is Police evidence, eyewitness accounts linking the murder to the S––––Society in Delhi otherwise the Himachal authorities and Interpol would close the file. The victim was a Khampa, it is highly convenient for you to try and deflect culpability, but then manufacturing scapegoats for your troubles seems to be WSS stock in trade. This does not include the death threats issued to numerous people or the recent attempted strangulation attempt on the over ninety year old Ven. Chatral Rinpoche by a western man.

4. How many Tibetans in NKT?...zero except for the embittered former Geshela, expelled from his dratsang years ago, your estimate of millions of cultists worlwide is a complete fabrication.

rabten62's picture

I hadn't heard about this attack on Chatral Rinpoche. How sad.

Despite his writings on Shugden, I've always been fond of him and inspired by his example.

I hope he has made a full recovery. Presumably whoever attacked him has some mental health issues, I hope he receives appropriate care and finds inner peace.

Dolgyal's picture

The person probably did have mental health issues but nevertheless may have been in the pay of someone with bad intentions, he seemed to have had money, spoke some Tibetan and also tried to cause trouble at the Nyingma centre in Byalakuppe in the south. He escaped, so, like the Dharamsala murders we will probably never know for certain.
However, for conspiracy fans, there was another intrigue in Suisse–
Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche gave a radio interview in Dharamsala, India, stating in his own wods...
“I could not decide against him [the Dalai Lama] but nor could I stop propitiating Sxxxxxx with whom my relationship dates back to previous incarnations. I find myself in an immensely difficult situation. The followers of the Protector would not have listened to me...and no one seems to care about the difficulties I am facing...
I also don't want the people of Chatreng, who have great expectations of me, to be disheartened. But if I continue to propitiate the Protector publicly, I would be compelled to become a sort of head of his worshippers, and this would be an offence to the Dalai Lama from whom I received my Bhikshu ordination, and has always treated me with extraordinary benevolence. I cannot even hope to keep a low profile as they [the Sxxxxxxpas] would not let me.
I have reason to believe that my return to India may possibly result in internal chaos, attempts on lives and other immoral activities bringing disgrace to His Holiness...
I cannot sleep and I have had health problems. I am worried about thinking what will happen next. It is quite terrifying to think that I might be a cause of disgrace instead of serving the Tibetan people and His Holiness...
Some have told me, 'If you abandon the Protector [Sxxxxxx], there is no knowing what will happen. We will not consider you a lama [as guru]. The people of Chatreng are strange, very wild and unruly. We do not know what they may do.'
It is very clear my life might be in danger. So I have decided to leave my Labrang and disrobe, so that none of the Sxxxxxx worshippers can ask me to be their leader. I hope that this way I can respect the wishes of the Dalai Lama and still revere the protector, practicing in private and far from everyone. I intend to follow a middle way, neither for nor against Sxxxxxx. I appeal to both parties not to contact me."
In my own Labrang I have recently witnessed a kind of factionalism and I have discovered that one person in particular was planning an evil conspiracy. This plan was to murder my assistant, Tharchin, and to implicate His Holiness's government in exile with this odious crime. The conspirator aimed to become chakzoe [manager] of my estate. Tharchin has been very kind to me, more so than my own parents, and has taken care of me since I was three years old. As well as managing the affairs of my Labrang.
With my own ears I heard this person discussing on the telephone a plan to assassinate Tharchin. It is really a matter of great sadness and surprise, especially since the person involved in this ploy has been very close to me as well. If he succeeds in his plan, it would be a cause of great trouble for the Labrang, as well as a cause of disgrace to the Tibetan government and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
These are not lies, but true facts which I want everyone to know. That is why I made this statement."
Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche concluded his message urging Sxxxxxx followers to stop seeking him, "I do not wish to be in touch with you."

drmnaga78's picture

Hi Dolgyal,
There is no actual evidence that the person that commited that horrific crime was a practitioner of Dorje Shugden, it's quite clear they weren't a Buddhist as Buddhists practise compassion not murder. It is convenient for the TGIE to blame it on Dorje Shugden practitioners as they like to blame alot of things on them. The truth is delusions such as anger are to blame, not the thousands of Buddhists who rely upon Dorje Shugden as their Dharma protector. I understand that the Gen-la had many people who were upset by his various writings, including the Khampa fighters, it seems more likely that one of them did this as they are trained in killing. Even if it were someone who's religion involved relying on Dorje Shugden it is still incorect to presume that all people who rely upon Dorje Shugden are violent murderers and to blame such crimes on Dorje Shugden. Its like me blaming Jesus for the horrific crimes of the Crusades and disliking my Christian colleague for the actions of those Christians.
I know many Gelugpas that rely upon Dorje Shugden, Tibetans and non-Tibetans, ordained and lay, they are all sincearly practising Buddha's holy Dharma and would not committ such terrible crimes.

You seem to ignore the logical arguments presented by the other folk on here and just come back with another irrational claims without accepting what has been presented. Do you agree with what I have said in my response to your above post about these horrific murders? If not, why?

Wisdom Moon's picture

I think it's a shame that Dolgyal is using this thread to attack Dorje Shugden practitioners. It's the sectarian mudslinging that Tricycle moderators were asking us to avoid. I think it was brave of them to post an article on Dorje Shugden and hope that it would not cause a mudslide of negativity. Things started well, but....

There's really no point going over this again. As was pointed out, there is already a Dorje Shugden mega thread on Tricycle where all these issues were thrashed out ad-nauseum. How is going over all of that again going to solve any problems? There are fundamental differences of opinion and these seem unresolvable, but all of these problems would be solved simply by the Dalai Lama's followers practising the non-sectarianism that he is constantly talking about. Why can't we live and let live? Why can't we respect that everyone has the right to choose their spiritual practices without criticism or condemnation? Let's all get on with our Dharma practice in peace, both Shugden and non-Shugden practitioners.

So, is there anything constructive to say about Dorje Shugden's holy form, or have we made all the points that we can about this and reached the end of our discussion? :-)

Dolgyal's picture

Memoirs of a Tibetan Lama By Blo-bzaṅ-rgya-mtsho (Phu-khaṅ Dge-bśes.), Gareth Sparham Published by Snow Lion 1998
available free online in Google books

"They came in the evening just before dark and stabbed him. They stabbed him through the eye, cut his throat, and unkindest of all stabbed him through his heart. It would be better if this were the ending to a story book, not a description of the end of the life of the outspoken Tibetan monk who recorded these memoirs....when I went out into the street and one monk said Gen-la had been murdered, I knew, as did everyone else, that it had to do with Gen-la's writing about S–––––n

rabten62's picture

The murder of Gen Losang Gyatso and his assistants was a terrible and shocking event.

It's sad that the Dalai Lama and his followers chose to exploit it to further their political ends. As in the account you mention the blame was pinned on Dorje Shugden practitioners before any investigation had begun.

Even now on the Dalai Lama's personal website he links this terrible tragedy with Dorje Shugden practitioners. And yet no one has been convicted. The members of the Dorje Shugden Religious Society have been completely exhonerated by the Indian courts. And the supposed evidence that was presented on television by the Indian police and the Dalai Lama's ministers has been shown to be deliberately fabricated.

No one knows who actually killed Gen Losang Gyatso and his assistants. Even if it was a Dorje Shugden practitioner - for which there is no credible evidence - then clearly they were deranged. The 9/11 bombers were muslims, that doesn't make all muslims terrorists.

Seeing the recent similar events in Tucson and how President Obama is trying to heal the wounds within American society, it's very dissappointing that the Dalai Lama chose to inflame tensions further. We hope for more from him.

Dolgyal's picture

reposted from Phayul

Interview with Mr. Prithvi Raj, Superintendant of Police Kangra District
An extract from the Sternstunde transcript (Swiss television) of an interview conducted with Mr. Prithvi Raj, SP Kangra on the triple murder at Dharamsala:
Prithvi Raj (PR), Chief Police of Kangra District:

We have identified two of the murderers, and we have clear indications that the murderers are directly linked to the Sxxxxxx association and directly connecting these murderers with the case. But so far we have not been able to arrest them. One is called Tenzin Chozin, the other is called Lobsang Chodrak. Before the murder, the principal received threatening letters from the Sxxxxxx association.

PR: First of all, on the location where the murders took place, we found a letter, written by the Sxxxxxx association and signed by Chime Tsering, who is the president (secretary) of Dxxxxx Sxxxxxx Charitable Trust. This letter is the threatening letter to the monk Lobsang Gyatso, and it proofs the direct connection of murderers with Sxxxxxx. This is one of the links. Then these murderers were living in Majnu-ka-tilla in Delhi, another evidence that they maintained contact with the Sxxxxxx Centre.

This made our label on the case file: linking these two murderers with Chime Tsering. Because on the day on which Lobsang Gyatso returned from Singapore, he spent the night in Delhi. On the next day, when he was coming to Dharamsala, he was followed by these murderers. At Ambala they somehow had a car breakdown. They then called to Delhi. They dialed the number of the president (secretary) of the Sxxxxxx association, at the number of Mr. Chime Tsering. They talked to him, and we have word traced that call.

PR: On the basis of some evidence we have found in Kalsura, in the district of Mandi, some pictures, which show the president (secretary) of the Sxxxxxx association along with the murderers. This is another evidence that links the murderers with the Dxxxxx Sxxxxxx association. We from the police are convinced that these murderers were engaged to assassinate the principal of the Dialectic School, Lobsang Gyatso. The principal was always opposing the Sxxxxx worship and he was propagating the ideas and ideologies of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

everything4others's picture

I so appreciate Tricycle 'trying' to host a non-sectarian discussion on Protector Manjushri Je Tsongkhapa, Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden. How wonderful to see these devotional variations on his beautiful form, which of course, appears to our eyes to teach us.

Within the extensive practice of Dorje Shugden published by Tharpa Publications there is a virtual wealth of information about this deity, who we understand is inseparable from the Guru and Yidam.

Following the thread above, anyone who is familiar with Buddhist art knows that all forms are symbolic and immensely meaningful. Weapons within Buddhist art are always representations of strong actions taken against the only real enemies of hatred, attachment, ignorance and other delusions (as drmnaga and wisdommoon point out previously).

As an example, here are a few short verses of lines of praise to Dorje Shugden from the sadhana, explaining various attributes, characteristics and so forth:

"You hold a wisdom sword that cuts asunder the foe of samsara,
And a heart of great bliss that overcomes the extremes of peace.
You display skilfull means beyond the extremes of samsara and peace,
O Glory of countless living beings; to you we offer praise!
The system of Nagarjuna is the supreme view free from extremes,
And the supreme behavior of the Vinaya is Buddha's code of conduct;
To show living beings that they should practice these,
You wear a domed hat and saffron robes; to you we offer praise!
With various mounts of indefinite form,
Such as powerful lions, mighty garudas, and dragons,
You manifest whatever will tame living beings throughout infinite worlds,
And never tire in your work for migrators; to you we offer praise!
Even though you display the manner of a fearsome being
Amidst a mass of turbulent, blazing fire,
You never move even slightly from the peaceful state of love and compassion,
O Extraordinary supreme wonder; to you we offer praise!

Practitioners of Dorje Shugden are so fortunate. Through first-hand experience we know that this Protector continually helps, guides and protects us, and functions every day to grant us blessings, increase our wisdom, fulfill our wishes and bestow success on all our virtuous activities. Wisdom Buddha Dorje Shugden (a great website, btw) is our kind and compassionate father, caring for us life after life!

Wisdom Moon's picture

It's wrathful symbolism that represents the power to destroy delusions and obstructions.

Don't give in to ordinary appearances :-)

Dolgyal's picture

and destroy enemies? Let us not forget, as was pointed out on Phayul that there is no statute of limitation on murder. Both Interpol and the Indian constabulary are still looking for the dolgyal cultists in connection to a horrific triple murder, right next door to HHDL, whom your cult websites call a 'criminal' etc.

drmnaga78's picture

Hi Dolgyal,
Maybe you're not aware, but for a Buddhist, enemies = delusions.

Dolgyal's picture

This is post on topic under the heading Troubled History,
excerpt from
by the 6th Reting Hutuktu

"Trijang was the force who spread the doctrine of downfall to all peoples of high and low status, Tibetan and of other races. The greatest servant of S––––––– in our entire history, he succeeded in destroying the living tradition of Je Tsong Khapa. This fact is obvious to any person who studies logic with a clear mind.

Now people masquerade as monks and nuns or lay teachers of Je Tsong Khapa’s doctrine, all of them lacking the transmission of a living lineage. You have upheld the deceit, a willing partner in the continuance of lies and broken, baseless lineages."


rabten62's picture

For me the most beautiful element of Dorje Shugden's symbolism is his protection circle.

When we invite him we visualise his protection circle surrounding the entire world and all its inhabitants. So we are all inside his mandala.

For me, as a practitioner, it makes of this world a perfect environment for training in Lojong - especially transforming adverse conditions - with the confidence that the protector is providing me with the challenges I need to improve my mind but not more than I can handle. Like letting a personal trainer that you completely trust stretch your capacity.

As Geshe Kelsang says in Heart Jewel - which includes his commentary to the protector prayers:

"If we rely sincerely upon Dorje Shugdän he will arrange the conditions that are most conducive for our Dharma practice but these will not necessarily be the ones that we ourself would have chosen! Dorje Shugdän will bless our minds to help us transform difficult situations into the spiritual path."

Not that I always remember, but when I'm in the zone, boy is it good for my mind! :-)

And then with respect to other people I feel they are inside the mandala, and the protector is gently nurturing them towards peace and happiness.

Again, as Geshe Kelsang says in Heart Jewel:

"Dorje Shugdän does not help only Gelugpas; because he is a Buddha he helps all living beings, including non-Buddhists. The sun benefits even those born blind, giving them warmth and ripening the crops that become their food; but should they gain their sight, how much more obvious its benefit would be! In a similar way, although Dorje Shugdän protects even those who do not make an effort to rely upon him, when our eyes of faith in him open and we rely upon him sincerely we shall gradually become more aware of the help we receive from him."

For those who wish to understand what Dorje Shugden practice means to those who actually engage in it, I think 'Heart Jewel' would be a perfect book to read.

Dolgyal's picture

What about the guy with the gun in your paintings, why you are evading the question? Is carrying a rifle part of the militant cult's practice?

Dolgyal's picture

In terms of iconography the unabridged description of this gyalpo class deity is as briefly as follows:
"From his shoulders hangs a garland of fifty, freshly severed, blood dripping heads. A human skin serves as his carpet...Inside the palace, corpses of men and carcasses of horses are spread out, and the blood of men and horses streams together forming a lake. Human skins and hides if tigers are stretched into curtains. The smoke of the 'great burnt offering', (i.e. human flesh) spreads into the ten quarters of the world.. ..on all sides are hung up as tapestries fresh skins of elephants..."
(excerpted from 'Oracles and Demons of Tibet: The Cult and Iconography of the Tibetan Protective Deities' by Rene De Nebesky-Wojkowitz.)

Jangchub's picture

This is a verse from a praise that the Dalai Lama wrote to Dorje Shugden. In this verse, he refers to Dorje Shugden's weapons as inner-enemy-destroying weapons. I think most Shugden practitioners would agree with him that Dharma Protectors have compassion for all living beings and that their weapons signify their ability to destroy delusions, not living beings.

"Peaceful and wrathful ornaments, inner-enemy-destroying weapons and armour"

Melody of the Unceasing Vajra by the 14th Dalai Lama

rabten62's picture

It occured to me that many of tricycle's readership will not be familiar with the symbolism of the deities relied upon in Tantric Buddhism.

Certainly the deities can seem strange and ferocious. There's a really nice video where some practitioners describe their faith in Dorje Shugden, his symbolism and how it feels to rely upon him. I think it could help some of those who aren't used to deity practice bridge a gap and get a glimpse of what the practice feels like from the inside:


Actually, given the very peaceful appearance traditionally associated with Dorje Shugden, I've always thought of him as the most suitable protector for modern times. He's basically a strong monk on a snowlion, whereas Mahakala, Kalarupa, Palden Lhamo and so forth have aspects that are really confronting for most people.

Dolgyal's picture

Many people may also not know that the gyalpo spirit is depicted in paintings accompanied by ten armed youths–stag shar bcu in Tibetan. Two images in this manner were published as posters by the english enthusiasts. One can clearly see at the bottom of both rather poorly rendered and kitschy pictures the 'youths' wielding various weapons, including one zealot brandishing a rifle! What kind of compassion comes out of the barrel of a gun? Maybe only Chairman Mao knows the answer to that 'artistic' question! My father told me in the big three monasteries in the Lhasa area, the strongholds of the cult, quite a number of the monks had pistols, presumably for personal protection.

Wisdom Moon's picture

From an interview with the Dalai Lama conducted by Claudia Dreifus in the NY Times, 1993:

Q: I once read that as a little boy in Lhasa, you liked war toys.
A: Yes, very much. I also had an air rifle in Lhasa. And I have one in India. I often feed small birds, but when they come together, hawks spot them and catch them — a very bad thing. So in order to protect these small birds, I keep the air rifle.
Q: So it is a Buddhist rifle?
A: [ Laughs ] A compassionate rifle!

What kind of compassion comes out of the barrel of a gun, indeed!

Back to discussing the images - in Buddhist iconography, these weapons symbolize the skilful means and qualities needed to overcome suffering. Even Manjushri holds a wisdom sword over his head. You could say "what kind of compassion comes from the blade of a sword?" but you'd be surprised how many people Manjushri has liberated with his sword of wisdom, destroying their obstacles and their ignorance.

Dolgyal's picture

Now you are getting off topic, which is art. If you have a religious experience walking past the tourist curio stalls on Janpath or Thamel–how wonderful and inspiring buddhas are everywhere! No, that is silly and shallow, unless one is having some kind of psychotic episode. So there is a difference between poorly rendered souvenirs for the tourist market and exemplary works that express universal themes. It is necessary to discriminate between what is good and rubbish. I think in nature, where essentially everything is perfect that no man-made images actually enhance it or decorate it. Je Rinpoche was a penniless practitioner with no fancy lama's paraphernalia: he performed mandala offering with sand and a stone so many times that the surface eventually became smooth and polished. I doubt that the appropriation of another's culture in the quest for ever more exotic experiences or the pursuit of 'eye candy' for sensual stimulation really equate with true spirituality. In the case of Tibetans, we would commission a thangka generally only when a family member passes away. These paintings have veils for a reason, they are not always displayed and for sure not in a bedroom as many westerners do.
My final word here (as suggested by one of your cult colleagues) is to look at just one attribute of rDorje jigs.byed, Yamataka: in one of his hand he holds a pointed pike on which a man is impailed–anus to mouth: the implication here is that we have only one way to get out of samsara, the other way puts us back on it. A poignant image when one thinks about all attachment to concepts and fetishizing false idols.

Wisdom Moon's picture

Thanks for your reply, but the commitments of Buddhist refuge say that we should have respect for Buddha images whatever their quality and whatever the materials they are made out of and we should regard them as actual Buddhas. There is no 'good and rubbish' when it comes to Buddha's form, only the skill of the artist. It's important to make this distinction because otherwise you may end up creating negative karma by criticising Buddha's form. Such distinctions were made by the great Je Pabongkhapa in his lamrim teaching.

Thanks for your explanation of the meaning of the symbolism of one aspect of Yamantaka's implements, very interesting.

Dolgyal's picture

By that reasoning, an image created with the motivation of making a large profit is the same as one sincerely made with an enlightened attitude. Ironic also coming from the so-called lineage guru Phabongkhapa, a sectarian extremist, who condoned destroying images and statues of Padmasambhava without whom there would be no Buddhism in Tibet.

Graphic art and plastic arts are considered to be among the Five Minor Sciences, as such doing something well is better than doing something in a sloppy way. That is actual Buddhist art. A Buddha image that is distorted, and display some of the above shortcomings is said not only to have no merit but also yeilds serious negative consequences for the both the creator and the worshippers. The Vajrasekarhasutra says: such artists and worshippers "will encounter failure and dissatisfaction...be short-lived and subject to robbery...without bliss.. destined to fail in lawsuits" and so forth. Also publishing inappropriately, (for example in advertising), stealing and selling sacred images–so common nowadays–is, in short, not a good idea.

Wisdom Moon's picture

Dolgyal, your statements about Pabongkhapa are the very sectarian mud slinging that we were advised not to engage in during this discussion. I will simply say that it would have been impossible for Pabongkha to have destroyed those images because he said in public teachings that Padmasambhava, Je Tsongkhapa, Atisha and Buddha Shakyamuni were one holy being, so how could he show such disrespect? Impossible! Such slanderous stories were circulated by those who were jealous of his impressive qualities as a Teacher and wished to destroy his reputation.

rabten62's picture

I have yet to see a single shred of evidence that Phabongkha Rinpoche was involved in destroying any images of Padmasambhava.

In any case, I expect you must believe the Dalai Lama's speech when he describes Phabongkha Rinpoche as 'a lord of lamrim, awakened in Bodhichitta'.

It is a bit silly to suggest that a Bodhisattva could be a 'sectarian extremist'. Rather than follow rumours and hearsay it would be better to listen to the descriptions of those who actually spent time with this precious master:


These are beautiful inspiring words that help us deepen our own guru devotion.

Dolgyal's picture

"at the time of Pabongka (and to a lesser extent his teacher Thapu Rinpoche) that the cult erupted among the higher Gelugpa hierarchs against the wish - as we have seen - of the XIII Dalai Lama, who died prophesying the impending tragedy for the Tibetan clergy and people. Both before and after the Chinese invasion throughout Tibet, and especially in east Tibet, where the Nyingmapa presence was still predominant, numerous statues of Padmasambhava were destroyed and lamas and monks of other traditions humiliated and attacked by hordes of Gelugpa fundamentalists instigated by the teachings of Pabongka and his lama disciples. In this way they intended to assert the dominion of the so-called 'pure tradition' of lama Tsongkhapa, which according to them had been neglected and abandoned in favour of offensive tantric practices, and especially for the 'termas' or hidden treasures that many Gelugpas, alongside the Nyingmapa and Dzogchen practitioners, made great use of."

Many people do not believe that hundreds of Tibetan Buddhists were shot in 2008, either. WSS/NKT supporters and Chinese ultra-nationalists claimed the photos of corpses, released by Wikileaks, were faked. However, if you are arguing from the fallacy that 'my guru is a superhuman bodhisattva' therefore I am completely right, there is little room for a rational discussion anyway!

Dolgyal's picture

Clearly you believe that even accomplished lamas can be mistaken and are not infallible because WSS/NKT published a scurrilous gossip book "A Great Deception" full of accusations against our national leader including conspiracy to murder. So, that opens the possibility that your 'gurus' are not immune from criticism, either. To deny this is to firmly demonstrate your fanaticism–'everything we is say is immaculately pure'...maybe not!
Its also notable that any writer who tries to publish a dissenting point of view is chilled by NKT's lawyers with a libel suit, for example Gary Beesley.

rabten62's picture

I'm surprised that you would want to draw attention to 'A Great Deception' here. Especially since it would seem from the description you give, that you haven't actually read it.

'A Great Deception' is an important book. It's a passionate appeal for the separation of church and state within Buddhism. It gives an authentic unvarnished history of the Dalai Lamas of Tibet.

The book provides extensive references for the statements it makes, relying on the works on respected scholars and original documents.

There's a website about the book here:

The Western Shugden Society is currently releasing further historical documents that conclusively prove the AGD version of events - in stark contrast to the Dalai Lama's version.

For example you may want to check out this document:

Also if you choose to look around the site you'll find some wonderful images of Dorje Shugden. For example you can find a photograph of the statue of Dorje Shugden that was made by the 5th Dalai Lama.

Perhaps we could post photos of thanksa and statues in this art discussion. There's a Nyingma thankha, that shows Dorje Shugden and Padmasambhava together. I think that would be a nice compliment to the images from Jeff Watts' collection.

It also does rather throw a spanner in the works for those who like to claim the Dorje Shugden harms Nyingmas etc.

Dolgyal's picture

Since you advocate 'separation of church and state' we can expect WSS/NKT cult does not recognize and will denounce the The 11th Panchen Lama Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu, member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) selected by the Chinese Communist Party.

Wisdom Moon's picture

um, sectarian alert.......

Now, we were talking about art?


rabten62's picture

I'm familiar with this work by Nebesky-Wojkowitz and the description he gives, however I find it interesting that I have never once seen a statue that depicts Dorje Shugden in that form.

Do you have any photos of such a stature?

I think it's actually a mistake to call your description the 'unabridged' version. It will be unfamiliar to most who pray to Dorje Shugden to help them improve their love and compassion.

In any case, as surely you will be aware, such symbolic imagery is not uncommon in Tantric Buddhism. For example, Palden Lhamo - who you would presumably consider an enlightened protector - rides on a saddle made from the skin of the infant son that she slaughtered... and there's that sea of blood stuff too. It would be absurd to take that literally.

Dolgyal's picture

The demon is holding a human heart, I am certain you cannot be unaware of this iconographic attribute "given the very peaceful appearance traditionally associated with D––––– S––––––" as your colleague says below.
Nebesky-Wojkowitz describes on page 142 "A great number of various substances is offered to D_____ S______ at the time of his worship: heart blood in which yellow-red bubbles rise one after the other, quivering flowers made out of the organs of the five senses, expanding clouds of smoke which rise from the burnt offering of white incense and and the smouldering "great meat"; the fire of the lamp made of human fat and having a wick of human hair. The strongly smelling liquid consisting of brain, blood and bile (etc)..."

So this is the main pillar of what is now referred to as 'modern buddhism'?

While on the topic of Nebesky-Wojkowitz, his other well known book published in German and English, 'Where the Gods are Mountains' reveals that the oracle or medium 'possessed' of this spirit in a trance had merely ingested a "a mixture of hashish and red pepper' Wow, man

rabten62's picture

Are you seriously suggesting that the symbolism of Tantric Buddhism is to be taken literally?

It does seem that you're trying to demonise Dorje Shugden on the basis of deliberately misunderstanding symbolism that you would happily accept in other contexts.

Wrathful symbolism is about comprehensively defeating the inner enemies of the delusions - it's empowering and uplifting.

Perhaps you'd like to list the weapons that Yamataka wields and explain what he's intending to do with them?

drmnaga78's picture

Great thanks for this, nice to see these precious images of Dorje Shugden.

Wisdom Moon's picture

I think we can all rejoice in Dharma art, as seeing the forms of holy beings blesses our minds and places an indestructible imprint for enlightenment on our mental continuum. How could there be an easier way of attaining enlightenment than to gaze at the forms of enlightened beings with faith?


May the images of all enlightened beings pervade the whole universe so that all beings have the opportunity to see them and benefit from them.

Jangchub's picture

Here is a link to a beautiful image of Dorje Shugden and his retinue of Deities.


This beautiful work of art is about 10 feet tall by 4 feet wide. It is definitely the most beautiful painting of Dorje Shugden I have seen.

Dolgyal's picture

I still am waiting for answer as to why one of the ten armed youths in the bottom of this "thangka" is holding a gun.

rabten62's picture

Obviously this depiction involves artistic license on behalf of the thankha painter. To know for sure their intended meaning we would have to discuss the matter with the artist.

My speculation would be that it is a reference to the fact that Dorje Shugden was the principle protector deity of much of the Khampa resistence - Chushi Gangdruk and so forth.

There's a video that includes some of these Khampas - who were the ones that acted as the Dalai Lama's bodyguards and safeguarded his passage from Lhasa into exile - now monks, discussing their faith in Dorje Shugden:


Dolgyal's picture

Perhaps Jeff Watts can answer my question: referring to Lokesh Chandra's standard reference work on Buddhist Iconography which has, with some duplication, a total of 2,503 images of Tibetan Buddhist deities
–including the (Gelug) Beijing Three Hundred Icons,
the (Gelug) 500 Icons of Narthang,
and the (Gelug) Pantheon of the Mongolian Kangyur
...yet no image can be found in iconography texts of the gyalpo in discussion here (which we Tibetans generally find prudent not utter by name.) Here we can also note the Dege, Narthang, Beijing and Manchurian versions of the Kangyur and Tangyur do not contain mention of this obscure and new gyalpo at all, one can only conclude "he" must be very obscure indeed and not terribly historically important.

rabten62's picture

The Kangyur and Tangyur texts are the collected works of Buddha Shakyamuni and the great Indian pandits that followed afterwards.

How many of the great Tibetan Masters are mentioned in the Kangyur and Tangyur? Are you saying that they are all "very obscure indeed and not terribly historically important"?

What about all the Nyingma deities from the terma texts that aren't mentioned? I think you might be in danger of being considered sectarian if you questioned their validity just because they aren't in the K & T, don't you think? ;-)

Dolgyal's picture

The Prajnaparmita Sutra was a gter revealed by Nagarjuna, your question thus misses the point.

Dolgyal's picture

Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, whose position on the question of Phobanka was clear, wrote:
"Apart from differences in the names of all those systems mentioned above, there are not in fact many real distinctions between them; the one aim common to them all is the final attainment of enlightenment.
It is also said that the Sakyapa and Gandenpa are entrusted with the order to expound and that the Nyingmapa and Kagyüpa are entrusted with the order to practice. In actuality, the ancient scholars said it was like this: “The initiators of the tradition of the teachings in Tibet are the Nyingmapa. The source of myriads of upholders of the teachings is the Kadampa. The promulgators of the completely perfect teachings are the Sakyapa. The middle path of the unchallenged teachings is that of the Kagyüpa. The sun that illuminates the doctrinal texts is Tsongkhapa. The lords of the profound and broad tantra section are both the Jonangpa and Shalupa. This explanation is indeed quite correct."

In addition I refer you to Jeff Watt's own research into whether this demon is or is not practiced in the Sakya tradition as many of you claim without providing any evidence or references.

rabten62's picture

As far as I am aware there is no debate as to whether offerings and so forth were made to Dorje Shugden. Are you suggested that this wasn't part of the Sakya tradition for centuries? That would be a bizarre and easily refuted position to take.
There is a debate about whether the Sakyas relied on Dorje Shugden as an enlightened deity or not. You can find a lot of references to show that they did on various sites such as this one:
Do you really want to discuss that here?

Dolgyal's picture

I rather suspect that HH Sakya Trizin knows more about Sakya history than Rodney Bilman, you can "debate" al you like you will not find one living Sakya dolgyalpa, in this century or the last, period.