As with all Buddhist traditions, the objects of refuge for Kadampa Buddhists are Buddha, the Dharma he taught, and the Sangha (spiritual community) following those teachings. All teaching and meditation sessions at all NKT Centers begin with reciting The Liberating Prayer, which is a praise to Buddha Shakyamuni. As Buddhists, NKT practitioners never go for refuge to an object other than the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. As part of their spiritual practice, NKT practitioners rely upon the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden – who is seen as one with the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri (pictured) – to help them gain realizations of Buddha’s teachings of Sutra and Tantra.
The Dalai Lama mistakenly pronounced that Dorje Shugden is an evil spirit or demon, and in this he rejected the view of his own teachers, in particular Vajradhara Trijang Rinpoche, who the Dalai Lama has called “his root Guru”. This is his opinion, but there are a great many Gelug and Sakya Lamas and practitioners who disagree with him.
The Dalai Lama’s pronouncements on this subject have led to most of the demonization and marginalization of NKT students found in the world today, but they are not based on any truth or any practitioner’s experience. More information on this controversy and the scriptural, historical, and practical refutations of the Dalai Lama’s opinions can be found here: Wisdom Buddha Dorje Shugden.
The Dalai Lama is entitled to his own opinions
It is true to say that the Dalai Lama is entitled to his own opinions and freedom to practice. The problem is in using his status and position to impose his opinions on others, saying that everyone else, including his teachers, was “wrong”, and taking away others’ freedom to practice through banning the practice of Dorje Shugden and the resultant oppression within the Tibetan communities. Pronouncing his own Gurus and all Dorje Shugden practitioners, past and present, to be spirit or demon worshippers is shocking and has caused untold harm and destroyed harmony within Tibetan communities and amongst practitioners in the West.
For a detailed, academic history of Protector Dorje Shugden based on the legacy of rituals, historical works, and art, please see Dorje Shugden History.