Keep Religion and Politics Separate

By Jigme Duntak

Tibetan Parliament in Exile
Tibetan Parliament in Exile

After reading Samten G. Karmay’s article “Tibetan Religion and Politics” his statement about a secular state being “neutral when it deals with religion by not supporting or opposing any particular sect [and also not giving] any preferential treatment for a citizen who belongs to a particular religion”, I thought about how this would relate to the Shugden issue, which I just previously wrote a post on (see here).

In June of 1996 the Tibetan Parliament in Exile passed a resolution concerning the Shugden issue that was passed unanimously (see here). The resolution’s first clause had the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies and the Parliament of the Tibetans in Exile pledge to abide by his His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s every advice against the propitiation of Shugden. In addition, the other seven clauses within the resolution encouraged all Tibetans to follow suite with this announcement.

The question that came to my mind after reading this was why was this resolution passed by a supposed secular government?

I recall watching a video where Tashi Wangdi (the representative to the Americas for the Dalai Lama and ex-cabinet minister) told the media at a Shugden protest in the US that the Tibetan Government in Exile had not banned the practice of Shugden, like the protesters had been suggesting, but rather the TGIE had only made a resolution to encourage Tibetans to give up their Shugden practices. While this statement by Tashi Wangdi is appropriate when looking at the clauses of the resolution, it still does not explain what the TGIE was doing passing a resolution to advise Tibetans on a religious issue.

The Dalai Lama, who is a spiritual and religious leader of the Tibetan people, had already voiced his stance on the Shugden issue to all Tibetans so why did the secular government follow suite and pass a resolution dealing with this religious issue?

A secular government is to remain “neutral when it deals with religion by not supporting or opposing any particular sect”, as mentioned in Samten G. Karmay’s article, the TGIE has not done so by taking a specific stance against this particular religious group.

The resolution has not only merely “encouraged” Tibetans to stop practicing Shugden but it has gone into the religious sphere of argument by siding with the notion that the propitiation of Shugden goes against the practice of the guru lineage as something that is “totally prejudicial, self-motivated and has no substance whatsoever.” This is not something for the TGIE to judge, argue, or engage in, this is a religious matter and should be dealt with by religious authorities. Clause five of the resolution perhaps shows that the TGIE does in fact view it within there mandate to advise on religious issues:

It must be stated emphatically that giving advice within the context of a particular religious practice on the merit and demerit of propitiating spirits does not by any means constitute the infringement of religious freedom.

Yes, giving “advice within the context of a religious practice” does not constitute infringement of religious freedom, but it does constitute infringement of a secular government’s mandate in governance.


28 thoughts on “Keep Religion and Politics Separate

  1. Atisha's cook


    so, Tashi Wangdu and co., what is the substantial difference between advice not to do something, and a ban on doing that thing, if in both cases the results of ignoring the advice/ban are the same: in this case excommunication from society?

    if i tell you that i will shoot you if you fail to follow my advice, and then claim that i am not denying you your freedom because it is entirely up to you whether or not you follow my advice, am i not a liar and a tyrant?

    how can anyone defend the Dalai Lama’s calumny? his behaviour is disgusting and his actions are a disgrace, even for a politician, let alone a religious figure.

  2. dspak08

    I appreciate your article in highlighting the non-secular nature of the TGIE. The Dalai Lama himself is the very embodiment of mixing religion and politics. Since he is considered Tibet’s ‘God-king’ (god being religion, king being politics), to disagree with him politically is taken as a denial of religion. Thus, you get all of teh classic problems related with mixing religion and politics.

    As a point of clarification, while it is true that the 1996 resolution says it is just advice, if you look at the social and political context of that advice we see that it becomes a violation of religious freedom. To not choose the official ‘governmentally approved’ religious view will result in people losing their jobs, being denied access to basic social services such as medical care, face social and economic ostricization and being labeled a national traitor who wants the Dalai Lama to die. According to human rights experts, religious freedom is violated when there are political or economic penalties for making certain spiritual choices, which is clearly the case in the TGIE.

  3. Lyara

    Thanks for this article. For centuries there have been spiritual debates between the various Buddhist traditions — for example,
    between the Nyingmas and the Gelugpas. However, for centuries also the two sides have agreed to disagree most of the time, with, as Stephen Batchelor put it, “saintly” people in both traditions. The great Gelug Lama Trijang Rinpoche got on fine with the Nyingma Lamas of his time, and the great Gelug Lama Geshe Kelsang has also gotten on fine with Nyingma Lamas and said repeatedly that he respects all Buddhist traditions.

    So, Nyingmas and Gelugpas may have had polemical differences but they still respected and admired each other most of the time. The problem is not the ancient debates between schools, which could be construed healthy, but with using political power to lay sole claim to the truth — to crush the Gelugpas who wish to follow just the tradition of Je Tsongkhapa (symbolized by the Gelug Protector Dorje Shugden) in favor of a Rime (so-called “non-sectarian”) tradition headed up by the Dalai Lama.

    This is what is so wrong about what the Dalai Lama is doing. He is welcome to his own spiritual tradition and view. but using his political power to ban the worship of Shugden sends the clear message that Gelugpas are no longer welcome to their own tradition.

    Please see new article called “Lama Policy”, which explains this more eloquently.

  4. Daba

    Thanks, you made me think about the issues a little differently. On the Buddhism side, His Holiness is perfectly within His rights (and perfectly right, if you ask me) to forbid any practice He wants to forbid among those who will then go on to call themselves His followers. The sectarian repercussions of the cult of Shugden are and have long been clear and undeniable. And it is on that basis that I, too, am opposed to it.

    At the same time, I think you are completely right that the TGIE ought to stay out of this type of matter. (And they are mistaken: decisions about how people are going to deal with spirits is indeed a religious matter!)

    But on the other hand, I’m not in a position and have no desire to tell other people how to run their lives, let alone their political lives. I think what Tibetans want they will eventually get. And I call that optimism.

  5. dorjeshugdentruth

    I totally agree with you that it is inappropriate for a secular government to be passing a motion against a particular religious practice.

    It’s clear that the TGIE is not neutral when it comes to supporting or opposing a particular religious sect. In India they are being accused in the High Court of breaking the Indian law of Deity discrimination.

    The passing of a resolution by a secular government against a religious Deity clearly shows the mixing of politics and religion that is taking place in Tibetan society, born of the confusion as to whether the Dalai Lama is the head of a secular government or a spiritual leader. This is a very ugly and dangerous situation which threatens the purity of Buddhist teachings for future generations of Tibetan Buddhists.

  6. Pingback: Keeping Religion and Politics Separate « Dorje Shugden Truth

  7. Daba

    P.S. I also think non-Tibetans should not get involved with this issue until they have at least 25 years of Tibetan studies to back themselves up in their arguments. Also, an equal time meditating on equanimity and the other 3 immeasurables. Until then be quiet. (Well, yes, I recognize my hypocrisy in telling other people what to do here. I’ll be quiet now, allowing the Shugdenists to take over the comments section and self-righteously shout at the rest of us to let them be, like they are always doing these days…)

  8. Thanks again for the thoughtful and balanced post, I added it to my Blog links.

    In that context there are many different problems involved which are quite complex.

    I try to bring up some question to open space for further thinking. Personally I have no answer.

    The question and consequences involved may be:

    Do the Tibetans wish for a secular mundane government? If yes, then also war becomes an option and religion should be excluded as a perspective, and no monk should work in the government.

    Do the Tibtans wish to be led and governed based on Buddhist principles? If yes, then religious issues and statements are unavoidable and it is ok if monks serve the Tibetan people and the government.

    Do the Tibetans wish for a mix of both: a government based on mundane and religious principles then people who are capable of both perspectives should serve the Tibetan people and the government and government declarations of both perspectives are acceptable as long as they serve the majority and the harmony of the complete community.

    In that context it should be understood that the Tibetans choose their government and have to decide what they prefer and the government has to follow their wishes.

    It is quite clear in that context that the Tibetans followed for a very long time a theocracy and the leadership either of kings or Bodhistattvas. Of course one can also posit this as feudal system but I think such a negative label underestimates the values and positive outcome of the Tibetan nation. What the Tibetan people have to offer nowadays for the complete world is a very unique gift and it should be also thought about what are the constructive forces which led to such a rich heritage.

    At the moment the government and the Tibetans are in a very special situation and are faced with their greatest challenge since king Langdharma. It is naive to not allow a slow and moderate change which uses the constructive aspects of the past and interweaves modern principles, like democracy. A process to slow may be destructive as well as a process to quick.

    It may be naive to think the Tibetans should have a mundane, secular government which excludes religious issues, because the government is a reflection of their own livelihood and culture. I think Tibetans should not set themselves too much under pressure with Western values.

    Regarding the Shugden issue, as long as their is a government following model b) or c) such a declaration should be posited as the harmony of all the four orders depend upon this issue, it is not a sole Gelug problem. The Kagyuepas and Nyingmapas urged HHDL to solve this issue. So there is a need to issue such statements from the perspective of religious community life.

    Best Wishes, TP

  9. to my friends from the NKT:

    Before you criticize HHDL for “mixing dharma with politics” you may reflect on how Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is “mixing dharma with politics” and makes politics against the Dalai Lama and his own Tibetan people who he never supported in their desperate state or offered a word of gratitude.

    Things are more complex then NKT party slogans like “mixing dharma with politics” suggest.

  10. Khedrup

    HHDL never said he would shoot anyone in the foot for not following his advice, so please enough of the overly dramatic analogies.

    I agree that the TGIE should not administer religious affairs, but the difficulty is that the TGIE handles issues such as finding monasteries for arrivals from Tibet who want to be monks, organizing publication of religious texts and other issues. This is partly out of necessity, because the when the Tibetans arrived the had no infrastructure and needed to re-establish their religious institutions so as to preserve the Dharma.It is easy to judge them, but back then there simply wasn’t enough money and resources in order to establish all these seperate departments.

    The TGIE has been moving in the direction of modernization for some time, and this has gone completely unrecognized by WSS posters. There have been elections, new political parties are being formed, and debate on many issues is quite open and lively.

    Lastly, WSS seeks to portray the TGIE as a government installed by the Dalai Lama. You can see that he didn’t even excercise his right to appoint three representatives from the statement below:
    The Tibetan parliament in exile comprises of 46 seats, 10 each from the three traditional provinces, 2 each from 5 religious traditions, 1 from North America, 2 from Europe, and 3 directly appointed by the Dalai Lama. However, the current Parliament has 43 members as the Dalai Lama did not appoint anyone for the 14th Parliament.

    Why have members of the various buddhist traditions carrying seats in the TGIE? To reverse many years of Gelugpa hegemony. Finally, the voices of the other sects is being heard.

  11. @the lone ranger:

    the Dalai Lama has not two, he has eleven faces! 🙂

    —–in general—————————-
    Your yes and no answers are based on narrow minded black-and-white-patterns, as they are so common in cults and NKT.

    If NKT thinks they are true Kadampas, then NKT members and their leadership should follow the Kadampas: thinking on their own faults and make them known and praising the qualities of others and not vice versa.

  12. the lone ranger

    Who is Tenzin Peljor?

    Taken from new kadampa truth website!

    Tenzin Peljor (aka KT66; aka Tashi; aka Michael Jackel), is an East German monk living at the FPMT Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa in Pomaia, Italy. He is currently studying on the FPMT’s Geshe Program for senior students.

    He was originally ordained as a monk (Kelsang Tashi) by Geshe Kelsang. His main allegiance was not to Geshe Kelsang but to a self-styled Lama called Dechen/Carola in Germany (who broke away from Geshe Kelsang and the NKT and started a personality cult). He was her right-hand man, who helped her remove the center and its assets (a castle) in Berlin from the NKT. A lengthy legal case followed and was found by a German court in favor of the NKT. However, the decision was unenforceable in German charity law so Carola’s organization kept the castle for a while. Finally, due to them going bankrupt, the castle is now back with the NKT and running as a Dharma Center.

    A few years later Tashi got disillusioned and left Carola and re-ordained as Tenzin Peljor with the Dalai Lama, whom he reveres. There seems little doubt that he feels justified in his obsessive campaign against the NKT due to his devotion to the Dalai Lama and disorientating personal history with Carola.

    As for his activities, until recently he was very active on the New Kadampa Survivors’ site under his new name Tenzin Peljor, where he could be seen clearly to manipulate people to cause them to lose their faith, and siding with David Cutshaw (see below) to encourage worse and worse verbal attacks on the NKT. He helps to moderate E-Sangha and has a long history of posts against the NKT. He runs his own defamatory website against the NKT and Dorje Shugden practitioners. He has also recently started a blog and Flickr account (Flickr shut him down for going against their terms of service by storing defamatory material).

    On Wikipedia he was the main editor for years, hiding almost entirely behind one heavily biased “academic” book by David Kay (who had his own disgruntled history with the NKT when he briefly attended meditation classes in Lancaster). As kt66, Tenzin Peljor was responsible for the strong bias there was against the NKT on the articles: NKT, Kelsang Gyatso, and Dorje Shugden. Due to the introduction of many new sources and points of view, those articles are now more neutral, but they spread a lot of disinformation and pain while he was still the main editor. Many people have said they lost faith and many more have not attended NKT meditation classes in the first place as a result of reading Wikipedia and believing that, because it is an encyclopedia, it must be neutral (an impression and result that Tenzin Peljor of course is orchestrating).

    He has written hostile book reviews on Amazon. He focuses not on the book (for it is hard even for him to find fault with the Buddhism taught in Geshe Kelsang’s 21 books, and also he clearly has not read many of them) but on the NKT as being a cult.

    He wrote repeatedly to the BBC website and encouraged others to do so too, bombarding them with old articles (e.g. the Guardian article from 1996, long-since discredited as an unworthy piece of tabloid journalism from which no mud stuck) to tell them to include the word “cult” on their website. Eventually in one place they did add it even though there is no explanation of how or why the NKT is a cult and the rest of their description is fair and would seem to suggest the opposite, that the NKT is a time-honored Mahayana Buddhism tradition.

    He posts almost daily under his different names (including just Mike or Michael) on different blogs and news outlets.

    He boasts about how INFORM (an organization in Britain that tracks New Religious Movements) was writing a “neutral” report against the NKT thanks to him getting people writing to them with their stories. He says he plans on posting this report all over the Internet. Luckily INFORM are in communication with the NKT to get a more balanced viewpoint.

  13. dorjeshugdentruth

    From the 1998 Swiss Documentary 10 vor 10:

    Narrator: Today, the Dalai Lama’s seat of government in exile is at the foot of the Himalayas. His residence has become more modest, but he has formed a government with ministries and a parliament of its own. The Dalai Lama presides over it. Thubten Lungrig is the Vice President of the parliament

    Thubten Lungrig: All important decisions need a seventy five per cent majority.

    Reporter: Has there ever been a decision against His Holiness the Dalai Lama?

    Thubten Lungrig: No, no

    Reporter: Is a decision of the parliament opposing the Dalai Lama even conceivable?

    Thubten Lungrig: No, no


    Let’s face it, the Dalai Lama doesn’t need to appoint people to TGIE for it to be a dictatorship. Since most Tibetans are completely loyal to the Dalai Lama, as shown in this documentary, it can still be a dictatorship because no one will disagree with the Dalai Lama.

    Even those Tibetans who disagree with what he says, for example in the Dorje Shugden issue, experience great pain and internal conflict in having to do so. They are torn between their Deity and the DL.

  14. Khedrup

    Dear Lone Ranger,

    What I find sad and offensive is that rather than engaging in debate about the views of its detractors, the NKT seeks to personalize disagreement by posting attacks against its critics. I’m not sure what this accomplishes apart from turning this dispute into a repeat of the US presidential campaign ads.

  15. the lone ranger

    I think it is very important for everyone to know who Mr Tenzin Paljor really is! Maybe it’s good for Mr Tenzin to recieve some of his own medicine once in a while that he’s loves to dish out to others all the time! He’s a big boy, right! He doesn’t need you to fight his battles! Tenzin has been attacking and smearing NKT for many years now. It’s rather obvious that Tenzin is totally obsessed with NKT and Dorje Shugden issue. I’m surprised he ever gets anything done, he must spend hours and hours everyday on his computer blogging. lol. Actually, i feel rather sorry for Mr Tenzin actually, he must be a very sad lonely monk!

    Hey Mr Tenzin, if your listening, try to let go! I think you have a mental illness called ‘obsessive compulsive disorder?’ Try to relax now and again, catch a movie once in a while!

  16. Daba

    None of this covers for the fact that Tenzin P. is perfectly correct when he says:

    “If NKT thinks they are true Kadampas, then NKT members and their leadership should follow the Kadampas: thinking on their own faults and make them known and praising the qualities of others and not vice versa.”

    We, too, should take all faults upon ourselves and award all the victory to the NTK. Any objections?

  17. Daba

    Those primarily western followers of the NTK etc. express their shock that there should be sectarian-based political rule in Tibet (“union of religious and political affairs”). Well, there has been some form of this for 900 years. Where were you people all that time? How is this all new to you? Do you think everybody simply has to automatically reject the very idea? How naive. Grow up. Learn to respect differences. We are not all of one mind.

  18. Pingback: Tibetan Blogger Speaks Up About the Undemocratic Nature of Ban on Dorje Shugden « Western Shugden Society

  19. Lyara

    Check out this article by a non-Shugden, non-NKT Tibetan woman who is interested in the cause of Tibet — she seems to have hit the nail on the head.

    One extract: “The way Tibetans have been handling the Dholgyal/Shugden issue says quite a bit about the state of our democratic values. We Tibetans are okay with dissenters being forced into obedience. We see nothing wrong with this political style. We have no issues with the Dalai Lama exerting pressure on dissenters by using secular government organs and tolerating oaths and signature actions in his name. Some even believe it is their duty to expose Dholgyal/Shugden supporters and slander them.

    Until recently I thought, the more we talk about this conflict, the worse it becomes. I have changed my mind. I know now that it is wrong to remain silent. All genuine Tibetan democrats must speak up in the political debate over Dholgyal/Shugden. When a few are forced to take on the view of many, we’re going down a dangerous path. It is our duty to speak up. Our young democracy will remain in bad shape if we let this happen without a reaction.”

  20. Lyara

    For Al Jazeera video and news article on this, please see:

    Al Jazeera reports:

    “The Dalai Lama has imposed a ban on the worship of a 500-year-old deity called Dorje Shugden.

    Across the world 4 million Buddhist Tibetans worship this particular deity. The ban has created tension and dissent amongst the one million Tibetans living in India and in May 400 monks were thrown out of monasteries because of their religious beliefs.

    In the Tibetan refugee camps, Shugden worshippers have been turned away from jobs, shops and schools. Posters with the message “no Shugden followers allowed” cover hospital and shop fronts.

    The tension has been fueled by the Tibetan exile government who brandish Shugden worshippers as terrorists closely linked to China.

    Shugden followers in India have decided to take matters into their own hands, taking the Dalai Lama to court for religious discrimination.”

    and this too:

  21. Hi Jigme Duntak, the WSS blog claims that you are the author of the blog entry linked in comment #22. Is this true?

    My doubt is: in the past NKT or their front groups published posts claiming to be Tibetans and “reported” of persecution. That’s why I wish to check if this claim is true or just another claim in the line of endless baseless claims.

    Regarding Al Jazeera, a monk from Sera reported when they were there they didn’t ask the monks who were threatened or even beaten up by Shugden monks. The abbot received death threats a government member was bound at a chair etc. So the violent events which happened before by Shugden followers were not reported. The claim of Al Jazeera of 4 Million Tibetans would practice Shugden is plain wrong.

    The very beginning is wrong:
    “500-year-old deity called Dorje Shugden.

    Across the world 4 million Buddhist Tibetans worship this particular deity. The ban has created tension and dissent amongst the one million Tibetans living in India and in May 400 monks were thrown out of monasteries because of their religious beliefs.”

    The deity is not 500 years old. There are not 4 Millions practising it. There are not 1 Million Tibetans living in India. Its not true that 400 monks were expelled. The tensions were there before the “ban”. The “ban” is not the cause for the tensions although WSS wishes to make people believe this. The tension existed before, see:

    They were not thrown out due to their religious belief but because it was felt after they forced events that it is better to separate. Sera was almost closed due to the trouble.

    OK, just my additions here.
    How do you see that? Do you have numbers and facts? Religious scientists who were approached by a friend agreed 4 Millions Shugden practitioners are exaggerations.

    Thanks, TP

  22. no, sorry, my fault, the WSS blog says:
    “Below is a section of a recent post from the blog Mountain Pheonix Over Tibet. The author of Tibet Talk recently wrote a blog post called Keep Relgion and Politics Separate. Both of these blog posts are written by Tibetans who are not Shugden practitioners, but they don’t agree with the Tibetan Government in Exile’s handling of Shugden practitioners.”

    However, I would like to hear your opinion as a Tibetan. Thanks a lot, TP

  23. DAWA

    I’m feeling extremely uneasy about Sugden followers using this article to prove their factual arguments.

    They are taking Jigme’s article out of context and making it a propaganda fool to attract the ignorant to say…look even a non Shugden follower agrees with us.

    Jigme I think its about time you address this because you’re being brought into their propaganda regardless of whether you wanted to or not.

  24. I want to allow anyone with whatever view to comment on this site so as long as it’s something offensive or obscene. So I don’t want to moderate things based on what I think is true or false or based on my own views, I’ll let people decide that for themselves.

    I did see some other blogs that posted links to this article and tried to show it as supporting there cause or argument but I think if people read the actual post they’ll see that’s not the case, the post was not about agreeing with the Shugden protesters over the TGIE.

    Anyways I’ve already posted my thoughts on the Western Shugden Society in a post here before ( So I think that speaks for itself.

  25. Tenzin

    Hi TP,

    You said: “Regarding Al Jazeera, a monk from Sera reported when they were there they didn’t ask the monks who were threatened or even beaten up by Shugden monks.”

    Where is the proof for anyone being beaten up by Shugden monks? How come France 24 also did not report on this? The only proof of violence so far has come in the other direction. For example, see this page:

    “The claim of Al Jazeera of 4 Million Tibetans would practice Shugden is plain wrong.”

    The Gelugpas were the largest school of Buddhism in Tibet before the exile, and practically every one of them was a Dorje Shugden practitioner until the seventies, when the DL started to clamp down. Even if it is only 2 or 3 million, it is still a very large number of people affected.

    “The very beginning is wrong:
    “500-year-old deity called Dorje Shugden.”

    That is true. Dorje Shugden is not 500 years old but timeless, being an emanation of Buddha Manjushri. However, the reporter probably meant the practice of Dorje Shugden, which is 400 years old.

    “Its not true that 400 monks were expelled.”

    TP, that is a blatant lie. They were expelled, and now live separately. You say as much yourself, below.

    “The tensions were there before the “ban”. The “ban” is not the cause for the tensions although WSS wishes to make people believe this.”

    If there were any tensions at all, which most people deny, they were entirely exacerbated by the ban — as you might imagine. Religious persecution always has the effect of destroying harmony.

    “They were not thrown out due to their religious belief but because it was felt after they forced events that it is better to separate. Sera was almost closed due to the trouble.”

    Not true. They were practicing peacefully side by side with their fellow monks until they were chucked out of their monastery. At least you admit here that they were “thrown out”, that is some progress.


  26. I found two quotes related to the media campaign of NKT 10 years ago. The statements were made by independent British media who consulted specialists and didn’t just overtake the exaggerated claims by NKT or their sub-organisation Shudgen Supporter Community (SSC). They stated:

    “The figure of four million worshippers is grass exaggeration, experts estimating the figure to actually be around 100,000 or less than 2% of the Tibetan population, a large proportion of whom abandoned propitiation of the deity after the Dalai Lamas pronouncements.”



    The figure of four million worshippers of Shugden was preposterous. There are only about six million Tibetans in the world at most, of whom less than half are members of the Gelugpa order (Steven Lane estimated 30 per cent), where the veneration of Shugden is concentrated. Even among the Gelugpa, only monks can be initiated into the cult of Shugden, and only a minority of those actually are. Most of the experts I talked to thought that about 100,000 people at most could be affected by the Dalai Lama’s ban.

    As I stated already my other points there is nothing more to be added, just this verification.

    Best Wishes,
    Tenzin (p)

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