Does the Dorje Shugden practice promote sectarianism?

This article explains two supposedly sectarian verses from Melodious Drum, Victorious in All Directions, which is the extensive fulfilling and restoring ritual of Dorje Shugden:

The stainless sun of Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition
Shines throughout the sky of samsara and nirvana,
Eliminating the darkness of inferior and wrong paths;
Please cause its light to spread and bring good fortune to all living beings.
 (p. 87)

In this context, ‘paths’ do not mean external paths that lead from one place to another. We do not need to study external paths as we can see them directly with our eyes. ‘Paths’ here refer to internal paths, which are by nature our actions. Actions of body, speech and mind that are motivated by ignorance are wrong paths because they lead to suffering, and actions that are motivated by wisdom are correct paths—or spiritual paths—because they lead to happiness.

Because there are different levels of happiness, such as the happiness of liberation and enlightenment, there are different levels of spiritual paths, such as the path to liberation and the path to enlightenment. These paths can be further divided into the path of accumulation, the path of preparation, the path of seeing, the path of meditation and the Path of No More Learning. Moreover, because there are different levels of suffering, such as the sufferings of humans, animals, and hell beings, there are different levels of wrong paths, such as those that lead to rebirth as a human being, animal or hell being. By studying the different types of paths presented by Buddha we can distinguish between correct and incorrect paths, and thereby avoid incorrect paths. Then, by entering, making progress on and completing correct spiritual paths, we can attain enlightenment and thus accomplish the real purpose of our human life.

In Guide to the Middle Way the famous Buddhist scholar Chandrakirti lists seven types of spiritual path:

  1. Actions that lead to the happiness of great enlightenment
  2. Actions that lead to liberation
  3. Actions that lead to rebirth as a god
  4. Actions that lead to rebirth as a human being
  5. Actions that lead to rebirth as an animal
  6. Actions that lead to rebirth as a hungry spirit
  7. Actions that lead to rebirth as a hell being

The first two are supramundane paths, which are correct spiritual paths that lead to great enlightenment and liberation. There are many levels of these paths corresponding to the many levels of spiritual attainment that are explained in teachings on the stages of the path, Lamrim. For example, The New Meditation Handbook explains twenty-one different meditations that accomplish twenty-one spiritual paths, or stages of the path to enlightenment. Traditionally, the first of these is strong reliance on our Spiritual Guide. As Je Tsongkhapa says in Prayer of the Stages of the Path:

The path begins with strong reliance
On my kind Teacher, source of all good.

All these twenty-one stages of the path, beginning with reliance on our Spiritual Guide, are spiritual paths that lead to pure and everlasting happiness.

The remaining five paths listed by Chandrakirti are mundane paths, which are incorrect paths that lead to states of suffering. There are also called ‘contaminated actions’ because they are motivated or contaminated by the inner poisons of self-cherishing and self-grasping ignorance. Even virtuous actions that are motivated by self-grasping ignorance, and that lead to human rebirth, are contaminated actions. In our previous lives, motivated by the delusion of self-grasping, we performed virtuous actions such as observing moral discipline. This action was the main cause of our present human rebirth, but because it was contaminated by delusions our present human rebirth is a contaminated rebirth. Because we have taken a contaminated rebirth as a human being, we have no choice but to experience the various kinds of human suffering.

Our present experiences of particular suffering and problems have a specific connection with particular actions we performed in the past. This hidden connection is subtle and not easy to understand. We cannot see it with our eyes, but we can understand it through using our wisdom, and especially through relying upon Buddha’s teachings. (Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Mahamudra Tantra: the Supreme Heart Jewel Nectarpp. 4-6, © 2005)

The perfect view that is arrived at through the powers of reasoning in Guide to the Middle Way and Commentary to Valid Cognition, which are victorious over the four types of being who, though they are proud to be counted among Buddhists, have fallen into the crevasse of inferior views, appears as the eight victory banners and other banners raised aloft for all to see. (p. 30)

(Please note: There are four schools of Buddhist tenets, which are four philosophical views taught by Buddha according to the inclinations and dispositions of disciples. They are the Vaibashika, Sautrantika, Chittamatra, and Madhyamika schools. The first two are Hinayana schools and the second two are Mahayana schools. They are studied in sequence, the lower tenets being the means by which the higher ones are understood. There are two divisions of the Madhyamika school, Madhyamika-Svatantrika and Madhyamika-Prasangika, of which the latter is Buddha’s final view.)

We may wonder what is the purpose of all these arguments between the different schools: the Hinayana schools, the Chittamatrins and the Prasangikas. There are two main purposes: firstly to recognize that it is only the ultimate view of the Prasangikas that is able to cut the root of samsara, and secondly to refute the other views that contradict this view and thus hinder us from recognizing it. However if the only correct view is that of the Prasangikas, why did Buddha not teach it alone? Why did he teach all the other views as well?

Teaching four different schools of tenets clearly illustrates Buddha’s skilful means. A wise doctor will never simply prescribe the same medicine for all his or her patients. He will treat them according to their individual complaints. Similarly, in turning the different Wheels of Dharma, Buddha was teaching in accordance with the different capacities and inclinations of his various disciples. Just as a doctor needs to cure each of his patients according to a specific course of treatment, so the Buddhas guide sentient beings to enlightenment in a manner that is suitable to their individual dispositions. Otherwise, if they taught only one view, the Prasangika view, this would be like a doctor giving all his patients the same medicine.

Buddha Shakyamuni’s intention is gradually to lead all his disciples to the highest viewpoint of the Prasangikas, and to do this he first taught the views of the Vaibhashikas, the Sautrantikas, the Chittamatrins and the Svatantrikas. These systems are like rungs in a ladder that progressively ascend to the Prasangika view. This is the reason why Buddha taught these different systems, although his ultimate intention is the Prasangika view. Therefore, if we wish to attain perfect enlightenment it is necessary to study and meditate on this view sincerely. (Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Meaningful to Behold: Becoming a Friend of the Worldp. 401, © 1980, 1986, 1989, 1994, 2007)