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Question
What was your reaction to the Dalai Lama on Shugden. What are your thoughts on Dharmapalas in light of Shugden? How is a Westerner supposed to investigate the authenticity of these protectors? Any thoughts are appreciated.

Answer
Hello Tom –

Thank you for letting me answer these questions.

Well, my thoughts are based on some research I myself have done about the subject as well as being a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism.

According to the Berzin Archives website, the idea of having Dharma Protectors (dharmapalas) and doing practices to them has evolved through a long history going from India during Hindu times into Tibet. People do protector practices to help them develop the feeling of being safe while they practice some of the more intense esoteric practices in Buddhism.

From what I understand, Dharma Protectors are not gods, nor, I believe are they Buddhas.  The Berzin Archives says they can be forceful spirits.

Buddhism has many kinds of Buddhas and Dharma Protectors. Some people can relate better to Buddhas with stronger personality traits and some work better with Buddhas with more mellow Buddhas.  But even the wrathful Buddhas are wrathful with compassion – that they would never do anything to actually harm anyone as they use their strong personality tendencies as lessons to teach about compassion, wisdom and how the world really works – that unlike some spirits or ghosts that we might believe in, these beings are full of compassion and are incapable of causing harm.

I may have some of the facts incorrect as my research was done a while ago but this is what I recall and still believe.

Back before His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was recognized, there was a Dharma Protector called Dorje Shugden.  Many of His Holiness’ teachers and even His Holiness himself practiced Dorje Shugden.

There are 4 major lineages of Tibetan Buddhism.  From my understanding, Dorje Shugden made a promise as a dharma protector to protect the Gelugpa lineage and its teachings from the other 3 lineages and to keep it as pure as possible. Long ago, it was very popular to keep the 4 lineages separate.

And many high lamas practiced the Dorje Shugden practice without incident.

As I understand it, so although he started out in the Gelugpa tradition there came a time in the life of His Holiness, the Dalia Lama when he felt that it was important to understand and bring together the 4 lineages as opposed to keeping them separate.

When he started to do this, some negative things began to happen to him.  When he went to his teacher for an explanation, he was told that Dorje Shugden was causing these things to happen because he perceived that His Holiness was trying to leave the Gelupa lineage.

It was then that His Holiness reasoned that because he was being harmed by Dorje Shugden, Dorje Shugden cannot be a proper Dharma Protector because no proper Dharma Protector would actually cause harm.  It was then he believed that Dorje Shugden was a powerful spirit and might have originally wanted to keep the Gelupa lineage free of being misinterpreted or lost to history, Dorje Shugden was actually using his power in harmful ways and therefore no Shugden practices should be done because Dorje Shugden was not a proper being to put ones faith in.

So, as I understand it, he began to tell his followers that since he has been harmed by this spirit, that for the safety of all Buddhist practitioners, no one should do any Dorje Shugden practices.

So, although I have had the opportunity to practice Dorje Shugden, I have chosen not to.

The reason is that from my own experience, it seems that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is someone I can trust and is at a higher place in his practice than anyone I know that practices Dorje Shugden. I do not feel His Holiness would have reason to lie about this.

Now, there is a lot of politics in the Tibetan world and even in Buddhism which I am not privy to and so many people still think that doing Shugden Practice is all right.   

There are 2 other Dharma Protectors (dharmapalas) that I am aware of – Palden Lhamo and Mahakala.  I know people who practice both of these practices.  To the best of my knowledge, His Holiness has never said anything negative about these two practices.

I think to investigate this, you have to trust your judgment and your instincts.  If you have teachers that practice these practices, do you trust them and are you comfortable calling these people your gurus?

As Buddha himself said, do not believe anything I said just because I said it or heard that I said it, but you must try things out for yourself and see if they ring true for you.

Another reason that practicing Dorje Shugden did not work for me was the people that practiced it did not follow His Holiness the Dalai Lama and that did not feel right for me as I have not seen anything in my experience that caused me not to trust the Dalia Lama.

Plus it seems to me that bringing the 4 major Tibetan lineages together so that we can learn and grow from them all has had nothing but positive benefits.

That is what I have learned and believe.  I hope this helps in some way. I hope that what I have written is accurate and causes no harm to anyone.

Namaste - Laurie

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Laurie McLaughlin

Expertise

I can answer questions about basic Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism and meditation especially how the Buddha's teachings can help us in day to day living.

Experience

I have been studying Mahayana Buddhism and meditation since 2001. I have lead meditation classes and retreats for over 5 years. I have lived at a Buddhist retreat center for over 4 years and am currently ordained as a novice Buddhist nun. My nun name is Gyalten Yanghchen.

Education/Credentials
I hold a BA degree in technical theatre from the University of South Florida.

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