Oct 2012 11

by Brad Warner

Recently someone sent me the following email:

I have a question – what’s your impression of The New Kadampa Tradition and the practice of “worshiping” or “venerating” Dorje Shugden? Is this all hogwash, or is there something of value in Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s teaching or is he just another charlatan?

I replied:

I’ve heard the name New Kadampa but know absolutely nothing about it. It’s something Tibetan, I guess. I have no idea who or what Dorje Shugden is or was. “Worshiping” and “venerating” are words that make me a little nervous.

He sent the following back to me:

Thanks for replying, it’s appreciated. I’ve done some digging and it seems that Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is regarded by the NKT followers as the “one true Buddha alive today” and his teachings (and only HIS teachings) are not to be questioned, lest ye be banished (seriously). Other teachings are “deceptive and evil” including the teachings of the Dalai Lama, it seems, who Gyatso openly opposes. Opinions of the Dorje Shugden thing seems to vary from him/it being incarnated in the 17th Century and is a “Dharma Protector” or even a “demon” – there is even an NKT Survivors forum on Yahoo, so I think I’ll steer clear of the whole shebang, as consensus seems to indicate that the NKT should be regarded alongside the likes of the “Dark Zen” crowd. Ugh.

To which I said:

OH RIGHT! THAT STUFF! I’d forgotten about it. Stephen Batchelor mentions it in his latest book. Yeah. That’s all superstitious nonsense. I don’t know why anybody believes that garbage. It’s like thinking the Earth was created 6000 years ago and that dinosaurs died out in the Great Flood. There is no difference at all in those kinds of beliefs. They’re all 100% arbitrary products of human imagination.

I am so not interested in this stuff that I had totally blanked out on what the names Dorje Shugden and New Kadampa Tradition meant even though I read the story just a few months earlier. In my mind it was all lumped in under the category of “Superstitious Nonsense That I Don’t Need to Bother With.” If you want to read something truly moronic about this subject, go to Anyhow, there’s Dorje’s picture up on top of this post. He’s wearing a fireman helmet.

There are some fictional stories I know very well, that I find interesting and that I continue to follow from time to time. I know the difference between Captain Kirk (cool) and Captain Picard (often cool in his own way, but not as cool as Kirk). I know why Hayata can use the Beta Capsule to transform into Ultraman. I know what Tatooine is and what the Death Star is.

I know some of the religious fictions that are part of my culture. I know that Noah built the Ark, that Moses brought the tablets down from Mt. Sinai, that Jesus died and rose again on the Third Day. I don’t actually believe any of this stuff. But it’s useful to know the stories. I know the major fictions of a few other religions. I know that Krishna could fuck a million girls all at once and I know why one of Ganesh’s tusks is broken (he broke it off and used it as a pen to write the Vedas). I know the basic story of Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him, not that any of that is fiction, of course, please don’t kill me).

I know most of the fictions that Zen people find comforting. I know that Bodhidharma stared at a wall until his arms and legs fell off. But I don’t believe that actually occurred. I know that Buddha supposedly confirmed Mahakashapa’s enlightenment and that this has been passed on in an unbroken succession for 2500 years. I don’t think that really happened either. But I led the congregation in chanting the list of names of the men and women who got it a few times last month in Tassajara.

But if I tried to memorize everybody’s superstitions, I’d never get to the end of it. In the final analysis, superstition is superstition, whether it’s Buddhist superstition or anyone else’s superstition. I can find no more compelling reason to believe in some spiritual entity named Dorje Shugden than to believe in Zeus or Apollo. It’s silly and useless. In fact it’s more useless to study Dorje Shugden than to study Zeus and Apollo because so few people give a shit about Dorje Shugden. At least if you know about Zeus and Apollo there is always a chance that knowing a bit about classical literature might get you laid by some cute librarian in a pair of horn-rimmed glasses and a turtleneck sweater. Will knowing about Dorje Shugden get me laid? Not likely. Or if it did, I would really have to go out of my way to find a girl who cared. So that’s the end of my study.

For reasons that are difficult for me to fathom, though, a lot of people who ought to know better seem to think that exotic superstitions might be more true than the plain old superstitions we’re familiar with. But why bother? If you’re thinking about putting your faith in Dorje Shugden, why not just make life simpler and put your faith in the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny? At least you know those superstitions already. There’s not so much need to study up on them. Santa Claus is a good one to believe in because he might bring you stuff. Personally I have way more faith in Santa Claus than in any supposed Buddhist “guardian spirit.”


Brad Warner is the author of Sex, Sin and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between as well as Hardcore Zen, Sit Down and Shut Up! and Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate. He maintains a blog about Buddhist stuff that you can click here to see. You can also buy T-shirts and hoodies based on his books, and the new CD by his band Zero Defex now!

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