Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mysterious Spirit of the Past Haunts the Dalai Lama

In 1976, the current Dalai Lama made a startling announcement banning his followers from seeking propitiation of a certain Buddhist deity, namely the one called Dorjé Shukden. While relatively unknown to Westerners, this has created a rift in the Tibetan community, most of whom are in exile around the world as a result of the Chinese take-over of Tibet many years ago. The reasoning behind this announcement was to prevent the very thing it seems to have created, Sectarian division within the ranks of his Tibetan community at large. While most of this does not play on the radar of most Americans, there is an interesting and mysterious story behind it that spans centuries and reaches far into the last vestiges of the Mongol Empire.

This story started in Tibet during the chaos and upheaval of early 1600's Tibet, during a civil war in which the Mongols ended up winning. The 4th Dalai Lama had died shortly before and a search for a successor had been outlawed by the winning side. This search was undertaken in secret, and two small boys were located who seemed to fit the requirements to serve as the re-incarnated leader.

One of these boys, Drakpa Gyeltsen, seemed to encompass more of the previous leader's nature than the other. However, he was not picked, but later he did assume the role of another famous individual within the monastic world, but held no leadership authority. The other child became the famous Fifth Dalai Lama, known for uniting the Buddhist Monasteries, and driving the Mongol Empire out of Tibet.

In time, Drakpa Gyeltsen proved himself a much more capable and charismatic leader, rivalling the fame and power of the Dalai Lama, who eventually saw him as a threat. Many of Drakpa Gyeltsen's followers believed him to be the true Dalai Lama, and tensions rose accordingly. As tensions rose, so did the threats and harrassment.

Drakpa Gyeltsen challenged the Dalai Lama to a verbal debate one day, and walked away the winner, taking with him a small ceremonial cloth he won as a wager in the debate. He was later found dead with this cloth stuffed down his throat. Several different stories exist, and nobody really knows what truly happened.

A few of these stories involve a combination of political intrigue, jealousy, and a link to a large family inheritance. Most of the other's imply that the monk, sick of constant harrassment and assassination attempts, killed himself as part of a strange revenge ritual he perpetrated upon his enemies. The real truth will probably never be known, having been lost to the winds of history.

What is known is that soon after his death, the Dalai Lama and his court began to complain of visitations by an aggressive spirit or ghost. They believed it to be the spirit of the deceased monk, returned to exact revenge from beyond the grave. Several exorcisms were attempted, including one where the exorcist allowed himself to be possessed by the spirit and threw himself into a bonfire. As none of the these attempts were sucessful, the Dalai Lama assumed the spirit he was dealing with was no mere ghost. He later proclaimed that he had made peace with the spirit and identified it as Dorjé Shukden, saying it was to be the new protector deity of their sect.

In the intervening years, this spirit became a central figure in the "Yellowhat" sect that the Dalai Lama is a part of, eventually becoming one of the "wrathful" deities that protects the Dharma and keeps the teachings pure. In fact, stories abound of the violent end met by many of those within the Yellowhat's when their Dharmic practices became tainted by teachings from other sects. As a "worldly" deity, Dorje Shukden is said to be able to influence events and possess individuals to enable his intentions to see fruition, and to protect the Gelugpa(Yellowhat) sect. He seems a rather dangerous entity for such a peaceful and pacifist religious order.

Now, jump ahead to the early 21st Century, if you will. In Dharmasala, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile, at least three ritualistic murders have taken place involving individuals with a high standing in the Buddhist Gelugpa "Yellowhats" organization. Who commited these crimes has never been solved. Many within the sect speculate that this entity was involved in some way, and the true killers will never be found.

While this story embodies much myth and legend, it also leaves a lot of mystery in the process. The future of the Tibetan Government in exile, and even that of the Dalai Lama himself reads like a Shakesperean curse. Even the Dalai Lama himself admits he will probably be the last of his line. Is it possible that this monk from the 1600's is still exacting his revenge upon the descendants of those who killed him?

No comments: