Buddhist Superstition is Just As Much Bullshit As Any Other Kind of Superstition

Recently someone sent me the following email:

I have a question – what’s your impression of The New Kadampa Tradition and the practise 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 http://www.dorjeshugden.org/. 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.”


PS I’m having trouble accessing my bw@hardcorezen.info email. If anyone is awaiting a response to something set there, I’ll get to you as soon as I can figure out how to access that account.


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88 Responses

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  1. Jinzang
    Jinzang October 5, 2012 at 6:21 pm |

    “Walk us through exactly how that works. On the path to what?”

    Deity practice is done to overcome the obstacle of pride. You know, the emotion that makes one spout off about what Zen and enlightenment are all about without having the slightest personal experience. It’s easy to see how this kind of pride can be a big obstacle, even in its subtler forms. There are other ways to overcome pride, but compared to devotion they’re all pretty painful.

  2. AnneMH
    AnneMH October 6, 2012 at 8:11 am |

    First of all, has anyone noticed the yellow hat and had ‘macho man’ by the Village People stuck in your brain for days!!

    I see the value of stories and tales in religion and spirituality. They teach us something to another part of the brain rather than the rational section. Humans have always had this way of dealing with the world through stories that make sense of events we do not fully understand. When we teach a child or a newcomer about a religion or culture we start with all the stories, the Bible stories or the Buddhist stories. Then some of us start to take the stories very very seriously. I have seen faith rested on being able to prove Noah’s ark and the flood, not necessarily on the story of Noah’s ark and the flood. Even King Arthur, who cares if he is real. There are some great stories there that tell us so much about what the people who told the story valued and cared about. There is an entire cultural history that can be overlooked by searching for a sword handed out of the water.

    It is entirely reasonable to have these stories without then crossing into the superstition that they are more real than a story should be. Which brings me back to my imperfect understanding of the middle way. I was taught that we do not go to black and white extremes but instead balance in the gray of the path, and that is a pretty hard road at times. There is something easy about falling off the edge into a place where you just believe what you are told in a superstitious way and then you can stop striving and working.

  3. Fred
    Fred October 6, 2012 at 9:09 am |

    Somebody’s ego went off like an alarm clock. Time to wake up.

  4. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 6, 2012 at 9:13 am |

    “In more recent myths among the Ojibwe, Nanabozho saves the forests from Paul Bunyan . They fought for forty days and nights, and Nanabozho killed Bunyan with a Red Lake walleye .” (from Wikipedia- Bugs Bunny the killer, who knew!)

    Speaking of deities pushing us into transportation, didn’t Dogen spend his last days circumabulating a pillar inscribed with “buddha, dharma, sangha”? Turning to faithful Wikipedia, I find this:

    “At Hatano Yoshishige’s invitation, D?gen left for Ky?to in search of a remedy for his illness. In 1253, soon after arriving in Ky?to, D?gen died. Shortly before his death, he had written a death poem:
    Fifty-four years lighting up the sky.
    A quivering leap smashes a billion worlds.
    Entire body looks for nothing.
    Living, I plunge into Yellow Springs.”

    “Is it an altered trance state, or is our everyday self the trance state.” One thing at a time, one thing at a time: it’s a wonder that I still know how to breathe, even if it is like falling off a log.

    “There is something easy about falling off the edge into a place where you just believe what you are told in a superstitious way and then you can stop striving and working.”

    The quivering leap, redound?

    With a quivering leap, the adrenal response of the amygdala to falling embraces a freedom of equilibrioception, the dynamic of feeling with respect to nerve passages between the bones and vertebrae informs the free equilibrioception, and the stretch of ligaments and fascia occasioned by the moment of equilibrioception engenders activity in response to the necessity of the length of this inhalation or exhalation.


  5. Fred
    Fred October 6, 2012 at 9:37 am |


    “entire body looks for nothing
    living, I plunge into the Yellow Springs

    Nothing left, no traces, no shadow. Just the taste of what is as it is. That’s our way to live, far from the hopes and consolations found in so many religions and belief systems.

    Life sucks and it is OK!”

  6. Fred
    Fred October 6, 2012 at 9:44 am |


    Sunday, April 22, 2012

    Self portrait

    Taigu at 48

    les mains en mudra

    la tete dans les nuages

    sceptre de bois crasseux

    hands in mudra

    head in clouds

    filthy wooden scepter

    Abbe dans la bourrasque
    bon a rien
    je me trimballe dans les trois mondes

    Abbot in the wind

    Good at nothing

    I roam the three worlds

    Miroir en pièces
    ni vertu ni sagesse ni Bouddha
    ma vie

    broken mirror

    no virtue no wisdom no Buddha

    my life

  7. boubi
    boubi October 6, 2012 at 11:07 am |

    This is as good as that (been told)

    >>>Megatron is a Martian feeding off weed and cash
    I dash from my ship in the Roswell crash
    You smash when you dash with the clashing ox
    Saw you in half without a fucking magical box
    Wet pussy always seems to splash my cock
    I’m dead they just didn’t leave the casket locked
    Pass my block I let shots drill in your spleen
    We’re ill marines with hand held killing machines
    Steal dreams with the armored steel
    Guard your grill
    Nigga, I was brought up by the Kents in Smallville<<<


    So why not

    KONG we miss youuuuuuu 🙂

  8. boubi
    boubi October 6, 2012 at 11:33 am |

    @ Jinzang


    Went to your page and followed to your Kagyu lineage history page.

    Very interesting, i didn’t know that the lineages were waging war against each other, occupying and distroying monastries, looks like renaissance italian history, kind of a bloody melee in the dark, with feuds, turncoats and so on.

    How came that the followers of Milarepa became those power thirsty landlords?

  9. Fred
    Fred October 6, 2012 at 12:46 pm |

    “The discussion of how to attain mah?mudr? entails methods for meditating on mind itself as something having voidness as its nature”.

    If it has voidness as its nature how did it come to practice warfare?

    If there is no clinging, including to voidness itself, what is the source of shedding

  10. Fred
    Fred October 6, 2012 at 12:57 pm |

    Life is bullshit, not just the fairy tales spun around so-called religions.

    Bullshit from top to bottom.

  11. Jinzang
    Jinzang October 6, 2012 at 4:09 pm |

    “How came that the followers of Milarepa became those power thirsty landlords?”

    I don’t know. Merit and demerit are individual affairs and there is no institutional substitute for individual virtue.

  12. Jinzang
    Jinzang October 6, 2012 at 4:12 pm |

    “If it has voidness as its nature how did it come to practice warfare?”

    Voidness is unimpeded in its manifestation and can kill, fuck, steal, and ask obnoxious questions on blogs.

  13. Jinzang
    Jinzang October 6, 2012 at 4:46 pm |

    Clearly this forum is hostile to Tibetan Buddhist practitioners and there’s no point in me hanging around any longer. Bye, everyone.

    1. Buddha Shaman
      Buddha Shaman October 13, 2012 at 1:05 pm |

      Come on now. I love Tibetan Buddhism. It just happens that through its complex history and complex practices there are a lot of additional elements that are closer to shamanism than a rational Buddhism that most westerners are more comfortable with, especially if they’re atheist. I personally adore a good number of elements of Tibetan Buddhism.

  14. SoF
    SoF October 6, 2012 at 5:14 pm |

    Prayer is superstition.

    Chanting is superstition.

    Talking to invisible friends in the sky is superstition.

    Saying “bless you” after a sneeze is superstition.

    Roshi = “Venerable Master” (That’s why the Reverend Suzuki laughed. Poor Alan Watts didn’t know.) see: REV. SUZUKI VS ROSHI

    A lot of suffering comes from ignorance. And pointing out someones ignorance may not help them… On the other hand, it may be beneficial to offer wise council.

    Worshipful – O.E. worðscip, wurðscip (Anglian), weorðscipe (W.Saxon) “condition of being worthy, honor, renown,” from weorð “worthy” (see worth) + -scipe (see -ship). Sense of “reverence paid to a supernatural or divine being” is first recorded c.1300. The original sense is preserved in the title worshipful (c.1300). The verb is recorded from c.1200.

    Venerable – early 15c., from L. venerabilis, from venerari “to worship, revere” (see veneration). As a title, used in reference to ecclesiastics or those who had obtained the first degree of canonization.

    Reverend – early 15c., “worthy of respect,” from M.Fr. reverend, from L. reverendus “(he who is) to be respected,” gerundive of revereri (see reverence). As a form of address for clergymen, it is attested from late 15c.; earlier reverent (late 14c. in this sense). Abbreviation Rev. is attested from 1721, earlier Revd. (1690s). Very Reverend is used of deans, Right Reverend of bishops, Most Reverend of archbishops.

    These three are merely honorifics. All are worthy [pun] of consideration.

  15. Khru
    Khru October 6, 2012 at 5:47 pm |


    Your comments on lucid dreaming are interesting.

  16. boubi
    boubi October 6, 2012 at 6:07 pm |

    @ Jinzang

    Come back ! Yo !

    I for one, am NOT against any tibetan thing, particularly Kagyu, can’t find it now but i posted a few Vajradhara pics on this blog, cited a few times too Tilopa instructions to Naropa , because it strikes me somewhere, it’s maybe the best buddhist litterature for me.

    Have a look here

    Nobody said anything about them, neither against me.

    Look it’s still the best blog about zen buddhism i found, nobody is dogmatic and we get along reasonably well.

    Come back, we can talk about stars, galaxies, dark energy, lambda constants … 😉

  17. boubi
    boubi October 6, 2012 at 6:23 pm |

    People !

    It’s Niels Bohr birthday !


    Second row, far right in the Openers of Universes conference picture, Oppenheimer was not present due to a flue

  18. boubi
    boubi October 6, 2012 at 6:27 pm |

    Oppy here, in one of his manifestations, surrounded by guardians

  19. Fred
    Fred October 6, 2012 at 6:48 pm |

    “A wake-initiated lucid dream occurs when the dreamer goes from a normal waking state directly into a dream state, with no apparent lapse in consciousness. The wake-initiated lucid dream “occurs when the sleeper enters REM sleep with unbroken self-awareness directly from the waking state”.


    “Awakening and dreaming are from the beginning one suchness, the genuine reality. The buddha dharma, even if it were an analogy, is the genuine reality. As it is not an analogy, made king in the dream is the reality of the buddha dharma.”

  20. Fred
    Fred October 7, 2012 at 4:24 am |


    “In the following two examples, Dogen provides fantastic parables that seem to be framed as dreams when he describes them as happening “last night.” Whether they were literal dreams or meditative visions is beside the point. As Bernard Faure says, “For Buddhists there is no clear distinction between dreams that come during sleep and visions achieved in a waking state, or more precisely during meditation, in a state (samadhi) that, like trance, is often defined as being ‘neither sleeping nor waking.'”[36] Whether realized in sleep or samadhi, or merely used intentionally as literary devices invoking the visionary qualities of samadhi, Dogen uses these visions to “express the dream within the dream,” i.e. to reveal awakening amid the phenomenal”

  21. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 7, 2012 at 10:18 am |

    From Wikipedia:

    “In humans, equilibrioception is mainly sensed by the detection of acceleration, which occurs in the vestibular system.” (under equilibrioception).

    And from the reference to the vestibulo-ocular reflex:

    “Humans have semicircular canals, neck muscle “stretch” receptors, and the utricle (gravity organ). Though the semicircular canals cause most of the reflexes which are responsive to acceleration, the maintaining of balance is mediated by the stretch of neck muscles and the pull of gravity on the utricle (otolith organ) of the inner ear.”

    I was thinking this morning about what happens in nausea, the dizzy-whirlies that don’t cease even with the eyes open. Kind of forces my sense of the location of self away from my eyes, mostly into my abdomen. The hard way to sink ch’i to the tan-t’ien?

  22. sgriska
    sgriska October 13, 2012 at 6:56 am |

    My take on this is that people use various means to get where they’re going. Yes, it’s possible to fall prey to deception, easier to self-deception, but I don’t know that superstition in and of itself necessarily leave one any more vulnerable to them than rejection of them do cuz as with all things, it’s all in how you use it.

  23. King Kong
    King Kong October 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  24. King Kong
    King Kong October 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  25. Hoetsu
    Hoetsu October 22, 2012 at 8:11 am |

    “Clearly this forum is hostile to Tibetan Buddhist practitioners and there’s no point in me hanging around any longer. Bye, everyone.”

    Per Zinjang’s logic, both the 13th and 14th Dalai Lamas were hostile to Tibetan Buddhism, since they both banned Dorje Shugden devotion.

    1. Buddha Shaman
      Buddha Shaman October 22, 2012 at 12:08 pm |

      “…However, what particularly distinguishes these movements is the claim of each to be the exclusive representative of authentic Buddhism.”

      ” These movements satisfy belongingness and identity needs and offer an assured belief system, free of ambivalence, choice, uncertainty and other disturbing challenges encountered on more exposed spiritual paths.”

      In other words the organisation becomes a seemingly benevolent parental figure who whispers sweet promises in your ear at night so that you never have to grow up and so that you never have to truly think for yourself. It’s a dangerous game.
      These two quotes are from an interesting article about three prominent, sectarian and cultish Buddhist movements in Britain for those interested; the NKT, FWBO, Soka Gai. The above extract is what sums up my personal disdain for such organisations. Here is the link to the article. It’s well written and provides an interesting overview of the presence of these three in the UK.


  26. Hoetsu
    Hoetsu October 22, 2012 at 12:30 pm |

    “In other words the organisation becomes a seemingly benevolent parental figure who whispers sweet promises in your ear at night so that you never have to grow up and so that you never have to truly think for yourself. It’s a dangerous game.”

    Of course, although I don’t see what that has to do with my earlier comment.

    Here on the American side of the pond, Land of Religious Nuttery, we do have our crazy cults of all stripes. (I grew up in a part of the country called the “Bible Belt,” so I’m kind of inoculated. I’ve seen more mind-controlling religious groups in my day than I care to remember.)

    Here we have a lot of NKT and Soka Gakkai, especially. I wouldn’t put them into exactly the same box; I know Soka Gakkai folks who practice without taking the cultier aspects of the SG organization seriously. NKT is more worrisome, IMO, and more capable of serious mischief.

    1. Buddha Shaman
      Buddha Shaman October 22, 2012 at 12:53 pm |

      You’re right. My comment has nothing to do with your comment! I clicked on the wrong reply link by mistake. Never mind.

      The number of Christian nut jobs over in the UK is minimal, you’re right. I guess we need to try harder and push the crazy pills. It would help if we had such a farcical political process and a national obsession with God and that incredibly important issue of homosexuals marrying center stage in all political debates as you do in the US 🙂
      I can’t imagine how it must be to grow up in an area of a country where people take the bible literally though. You managed to survive it seems.

  27. Hoetsu
    Hoetsu October 22, 2012 at 1:02 pm |

    Buddha Shaman — if you ever want more religious nutters, say the word. We have plenty to spare. 🙂

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