The Dalai Lama, heresy and politics

I like a good heresy, me.

It’s always seemed to me that heresies (that aren’t extinguished) usually end up as the new orthodoxies – but before they do, they’re interesting to watch and often instructive… at least, of the current orthodoxy.

So it was with some interest I read this bit in (of all places) The New Statesman, on the Dorje Shugden heresy in Tibetan Buddhism. I’m far from an expert on this subject (though I use some tools and concepts from Bön Shamanism which drifted into Tibetan practice long ago), but the basics go like this:

Dorje Shugden is a ‘protector-deity’ who, when called upon, looks after those seeking enlightenment. His worship is banned by the current (14th) Dalai Lama, for reasons which vary depending on who you talk to. His stance seems to be that Dorje Shugden is a) an evil spirit, b) not a real Buddha, c) the preferred version of Buddha-worship favoured by the Han Chinese authorities or d) all of the above.

Worshippers of the Dorje insist that this is a political move on the DL’s part, an attempt to unite all forms of Tibetan Buddhism under his leadership – and the tail-end of a political struggle some 400 years old, involving the previous incarnation of the Dorje who was a rival of the 5th DL…

You got to love it when the archetypal ‘peace-and-love’ belief system falls into this kind of schizm. And especially when there’s a fair bit of evidence that that nice old man the 14th Dalai Lama has caused purges of thousand of heretical worshippers from temples both in Tibet and elsewhere using the O***pics as a distraction…

I don’t, as they say, have a dog in this race. But my inner cynic leads me to seriously consider the claims of the Dorje Shugden followers – and the magician part (that is, most of me) leads me to wonder the kinds of results one might get from working a system which simultaneously claims no god-figure but has thousands of gods, goddesses and demons in the pantheon… and which are which depends entirely on context and minor differences of teaching.

Well, not wonder so much as smile slyly at the similarity to the syncretism of, say, Xtian and Yoruba traditions that resulted in the effective system usually called Voodoo.

That whole Guttershaman thing on ‘authenticity’ and tradition? Coming real soon.

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2 Responses to The Dalai Lama, heresy and politics

  1. Yvonne says:

    I’ve been meaning to write a post about heresy and haeresis.

    In ancient paganism, haeresis meant a school of thought (not something that deviated from orthodoxy; just a different perspective). It was Christianity that introduced the idea of “correct belief” into the West. I thought Buddhists were generally happy to co-exist with other schools of thought – rather disappointing then that they are succumbing to heretic-persecution.

  2. Yvonne says:

    I’ve put up the post about heresy and haeresis, but I couldn’t find as much information about haereses as schools of thought as I had hoped.

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