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Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, the face of Shugden opposition to Dalai Lama, dead at 91

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(TibetanReview.net, Sep23’22) – The death has been reported on Sep 17 of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, a well-known Tibetan Buddhist teacher living in the UK where he founded the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT). He was a prolific writer who authored some 25 books over the course of his lengthy career but is best known for his direct criticism of the Dalai Lama for the latter’s opposition to the worship of the Dorje Shugden spirit which he and his group strongly espoused.

Kelsang Gyatso, who remained disappeared from public view since 2013, was at the center of a widening rift after he broke off from the Gelug tradition to which His Holiness the Dalai Lama belongs. In 1991 he formed the NKT which organized vocal protests against the Dalai Lama during his visits to the UK and the USA.

Kelsang Gyatso’s death was announced on the Modern Kadampa Buddhism website which said:

“On September 17 our most precious Spiritual Guide Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche showed the manner of passing peacefully into the clear light.

Venerable Geshe-la requested that for auspiciousness at this time all Kadampa centers around the world engage in a short retreat using his special prayer, Request to the Holy Spiritual Guide Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche from his Faithful Disciples.

Manjushri KMC, the Mother Center, will close on Tuesday 20 and Wednesday 21 to engage in this retreat.”

* * *

Kelsang Gyatso was born in Ngamring county of Shigatse City, Tibet, in 1931. He joined Ngamring Jampa Ling Monastery at eight and continued his studies at Sera Monastery, in the outskirts of Tibet’s capital Lhasa. He was among the many tens of thousands of Tibetans who fled to India as China carried out a brutal armed repression of a Tibetan insurrection in 1959. In India, Kelsang Gyatso engaged in further studies and intensive retreats in the Himalayan foothills.

In 1976, on an invitation from the head teachers of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Kelsang Gyatso began to teach at the Manjushri Institute, which Lama Yeshe had founded in England the year before. This was reportedly on an advice from the Dalai Lama.

However, since 1978, a disagreement arose between Kelsang Gyatso and other members of the Manjushri Institute, which eventually led to his takeover of the center.

Over the ensuing years, Kelsang Gyatso distanced himself from the FPMT, and in 1991 founded the New Kadampa Tradition, signaling a clear break from the Gelug tradition and the FPMT.

Then, in 1992, he stopped giving regular teachings at the Manjushri Institute, although he continued his duties as spiritual director and his work as an author.

* * *

Over the course of his career, Kelsang Gyatso maintained devotion to the “Dharma protector” entity Dorje Shugden. Over the same period, the Dalai Lama and other ecumenical Gelug teachers distanced themselves from and eventually cut off devotion to Shugden. They asserted that Shugden devotion was sectarian and opposed to other schools of Tibetan Buddhism, noted the buddhistdoor.net Sep 22.

The Dalai Lama, in fact, said that he had stopped being a Shugden devotee after doubts cropped up in his mind and his research revealed that Dorje Shugden, also known as Dholgyal, was a malevolent spirit which posed a danger to no less than the Tibetan cause itself.

While some in the Tibetan Buddhist community wanted to continue their devotion to the Dalai Lama while continuing to worship Shugden – a negation of Buddhist teacher-disciple bond – Kelsang Gyatso made it clear that he would not involve himself in any anti-Dalai Lama campaign unless they all joined him in direct criticism of the ecumenically recognized Tibetan religious leader over the issue.

Since the rift emerged, the NKT, which was renamed the New Kadampa Tradition – International Kadampa Buddhist Union (NKT–IKBU) in 2003, has continued to grow. Kelsang Gyatso stepped down from his role as spiritual director of the NKT–IKBU in Aug 2009. From 2013 until his death, he made no public appearances and did not respond to media inquiries, noted the buddhistdoor.net report.

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