The Shugden Controversy: some reflections on "deva-yoga" and related matters
May 20, 1998 08:51 AM
by Daniel H Caldwell
The Shugden Controversy: some reflections on "deva-yoga" and related
There are now numerous accounts on the published admissions of the Dalai
Lama concerning Dorje Shugden, who is considered by some as a "protector
god" in the Gelugpa tradition. News accounts in the last two years only
scratch the surface of this subject. Even in the 1970s, if my memory
serves me well, the Dalia Lama was giving private talks in which he was
discouraging "worship" of Shugden.
In THE OPENING OF THE WISDOM EYE, written decades ago, the Dalai Lama
advocated the attaining of Buddhahood with "the aid of devayoga."
"Devayoga" is defined therein as "the selection of and practice with
the aid of the form of a celestial being---Buddha, Bodhisattva or SOME
PROTECTOR-GOD." Caps added. The text goes on to indicate that "the
onepointed upon the picture form of the celestial being whose practice
one has taken up." His Holiness writes that "through this [meditation]
one achieves the Rupakaya of a Buddha."
Now in the recent NEWSWEEK article, it was reported that the Dalai Lama
once "worshipped" Shugden, but now admits such worship "was when I was
young and ignorant." Now instead of considering Shugden "a protector
god", the Dalai Lama considers this "deity" as "an evil spirit". "We
should practice the Dharma, not spirit worship," he commmented as
by NEWSWEEK. And from what David Green quoted re the current issue
of TRICYCLE, Thubten Jigme Norbu believes "Shugden is a malevolent
On the other side of the debate and struggle, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
Shugden is "a buddha."
So is Dorje Shugden: (1) a benevolent deity, protector god and buddha
or (2) is
he an evil spirit, demon, agent of evil and malevolent ghost?
In Blavatsky's writings, "demons" would probably be considered as
species of "elementals" while "ghosts" would be "elementaries." I'll
to this theme later in my post.
Maybe the Dalai Lama and his brother would now agree with
the sage advice of Madame Blavatsky when she wrote in two different
"One and all of those who put their theory into practice are rapidly
THROUGH IGNORANCE, into black magic. Happy are those who escape from
as they have neither test nor criterion by which they can distinguish
the true and false. . . ." Caps added.
"Much of this may be avoided if people will only abstain from rushing
into pratices neither the nature nor importance of which they
I'm sure Blavatsky's mention of "black magic" will be to some readers
like waving a
red cloth before a bull.
But moving on . . . .
All of the above brings up the subject of the inner worlds, especially
psychic worlds. Over the last few years on Theos-World and Theos-L, I
read postings in which Theosophical students have either had the
to view the "psychic world" as an almost totally negative, evil realm
or the opposing 180 degree view that the inner worlds are all light,
and sweetness. Either extreme in my opinion is naive and unrealistic.
Let me quote from a 1970s anthology of articles published under the
of Martin Ebon. The title of the book is: THE SATAN TRAP: Dangers of
Occult. This is NOT a book written by orthodox Christians who see
devils in everything outside of their narrow view of the world. Anyway,
Dr. and Mrs. Elmer Green ("noted biofeedback researchers at the
Minninger Foundation, Topeka, Kansas") in their article issued a warning
against the "mind training programs" in which a student is instructed to
create "psychic advisors and
assistants" at the deep level of his mind. The Greens write:
"In the *mediumistic* version of the parapsychological paradigm, these
however constructed or found, may serve as masks for 'entities' who may
(now that the student has become amenable to suggestion at the
level) to control the student's mental, emotional and physical behavior.
. . .
The physical frontiers of our planet have presented many dangers to
can it be safely assumed that the inner frontiers have no corresponding
. . . Is it realistic to accept the assurances of commerical mind
instructors that dangers that may be associated with 'terriorial
by humans on 'astral' levels are not possible? For those who accept the
possibility of 'entities,' is it safe to assume that only good, nice,
and safe beings (like humans?) are functioning in 'astral' dimensions?
. . . ."
The Greens give a number of examples to illustrate their point.
Compare the above with what Master K.H. writes in THE MAHATMA LETTERS
the "spirit guides" of the medium William Eglinton:
"They are both elementaries and elementals---at best a low,
mischievous, degrading jangle. . . .the 'guides' are
both elementals and elementaries and not even a decent 'half
and half,' but the very froth in the mug of mediumistic beer."
[Compare this with the extract I quoted several weeks ago from one of
KH's letters in which he speaks of "seers" and "mystics" who mistake
"bats" for "angels". (They
both have wings!)
In the Shugden controversy, has a "demon" been mistaken for a "protector
and "buddha"? This opens up several cans of worms!!
And are there other "protector gods" and entities in the Gelupa
as well as in the other Tibetan Buddhist sects, who may be "demons"
than benevolent deities? What do we really know? Even the Dalai Lama
his own ignorance earlier in his life concerning Shugden.
None of the above should be viewed either as implying a wholesale
condemnation of any of the religions of Tibet or as advocating a
fearful, negative approach to the inner worlds and their inhabitants.
But just as it is dangerous to hike alone in the deserts & mountains of
the American West without knowing of the various hazards awaiting one,
so it is surely prudent and wise to be aware and knowledgeable of
possible dangers to the wouldbe traveler into the "Great Beyond." This
seems to be the basic messsage of Blavatsky's and the Mahatmas' writings
on this subject.
Speaking of "black magicians", Blavatsky writes in THE THEOSOPHICAL
that the term "Brothers of the Shadow" is "a name given by the
to Sorcerers. . . . The word is applied to all practitioners of black or
left hand magic."
Elsewhere she describes *these* Brothers as "living men possessed by the
earth-bound elementaries; at times their *masters*, but ever in the long
run falling victims to these terrible beings."
". . . And here we must beg the reader not to misunderstand us. For
whole of Būtan and Sikkhim belongs to the old religion. . . , we do not
mean to have it understood that the whole of the population is
en masse, or that they are all sorcerers. Among them are found as good
as anywhere else, and we speak above only of the élite of their
of a nucleus of priests, "devil-dancers," and fetish worshippers, whose
dreadful and mysterious rites are utterly unknown to the greater part of
the population. Thus there are two classes of these terrible "Brothers
of the Shadow"--the living and the dead. Both cunning, low, vindictive,
and seeking to
retaliate their sufferings upon humanity, they become, until final
annihilation, vampires [and] ghouls . . . ."
Quoted from Blavatsky's article on "Elementals", see web copy at
None of the above should suggest that the so-called "Red Hats" of Tibet
are all a bunch of black magicians.
HPB's above description, of course, may be somewhat distasteful and
But is it true? And the Dalai Lama's admission that the "protector god"
is an evil spirit, demon or ghost *opens the doors to many unpleasant
possibilities*. What is the end result to the practitioner who in
meditates on an "entity" whose real nature may be "demonic" in nature?
Related to this is a book review that I find in THE AMERICAN THEOSOPHIST
for July, 1976. Twenty-two years ago, Richard Ihle wrote a review of
I.K. Taimni's book titled GAYATRI. Ihle wrote that "gayatri" (in the
Hindu tradition) refers *in one sense* "to the meditative practice of
creating the image of a *Deva* in one's mind and then establishing
a dynamic interaction with it by means of *japa*, emotional worship,
internal dialogue, etc." Ihle said that such practice can "bring
the aspirant a significant degree of transcendental development."
But it would appear that Ihle also had serious reservations about the
practice. He went on to comment:
". . . in other contexts such relationships have been used for both
white and black magic. . . Does the aspirant want to *reali-ize* an
imaginary being to facilitate inner growth if that realization
carries with it the danger of arbitrary, pre-established 'fall-out'
affecting the outer development?. . . Those who meditate on the
'divine form' of various Eastern *devas* and gurus eventually take
on the Eastern garb and trappings. . . ."
Ihle remarks that he has a "marked aversion to blithely putting
things into one's 'inner planes' " and warns the would-be meditator
to consider the consequence before "plunging headlong into the
practice" of Gayatri.
Does Ihle still stand by these observations?
Do Ihle's 1976 observations also apply to "deva-yoga" as described in
the Tibetan tradition?
This is all written in haste but I hope readers may see some of my
points. I also hope there will be no knee-jerk reactions and flames to
my post. Here is an opportunity for all of us to study, ponder and
think about a subject which again is very much in the public forum due
to the controversy now surrounding the Dalai Lama's views on Dorje
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