The Bad Boys of Buddhism

Leave it to the boys and me to find the one Tibetan Buddhist Monastery that has been ostracized by His Holiness, The Dalai Lama.  It really is a compelling story for all you who think Buddhism is about chanting, meditating, and living a life of compassion.

When we arrived here at Shar Gaden, one of the first things Jampa, the charismatic secretary of the monastery said to me was, “We are having some issues with the Dalai Lama”.  I was taken back, as I was under the impression that His Holiness was the Kingpin of Buddhism.

Apparently a number of years ago, the Dalai Lama asked all of his monasteries to quit practicing a certain meditation called Dorje Shugden. My understanding is that the Dalai Lama’s oracle, or guidance counselor, suggested to the His Holiness that they stop doing this particular practice.  Because Dorje Shugden has been perceived by some as more of the “fire and brimstone” approach to Buddhism, His Holiness decided to give it the ax.  It probably doesn’t help matters that the deity they propitiate is a scary looking figure with three eyes, a human heart in his one hand, a sword in the other, and a wrathful look on his face.  Perhaps the Dalai Lama thought this menacing figure might scare some westerners away.  Therefore, he required all the monks of the Tibetan monasteries to sign a pledge that they would no longer participate in this very old Tibetan ritual. 

Here’s where the Bad Boys of Buddhism, my friends and monks of The Shar Gaden monastery, come in.   It seems that the senior monks of Shar Gaden felt like discontinuing this practice was not in the best interest of their lineage.

They refused to sign the agreement… and apparently all hell broke lose.  Many followers of the Dalai Lama became enraged with the Dorje Shugden followers. At one point when one of the Dalai Lama’s people was murdered, they blamed it on the group that chose not to sign the paper.  

Cut to years later…  In this isolated area of south-central India where an entire community of monks live, there is a great divide.  As I walk down the street with my friend, Losang Tenpa, or as the boys and I call him, Monk Duke, he is glared at and in certain shops, they even refuse to serve him.

Monk Duke is a character.  He’s from Minnesota and has been a practicing Buddhist for the last fifteen years.  He has recently committed his life to the “monkhood”.    He is the perfect poster child for the Bad Boys of Buddhism.  He’s a sort of James Dean of the Red Robes.  Rugged, with a past of drugs, alcohol and near death experiences… and I quote, “I have had a pretty crazy past.”   Now he is a full-fledged member of Shar Gaden and the face of Western Buddhism in a sea of Tibetan and Nepalese monks.  He holds his head high when he goes into town, even though he knows that many are scrutinizing him.   He chose to side with the Shar Gaden lineage because his teacher, Geshe Tsultrim Gyaltsen, was determined to keep the Dorje Shugen practice alive.   Monk Duke said that,  “I have chosen to follow the teacher I have worked with for years. I have taken vows and commitments with this teacher, and my alliance is with him.”

The whole thing is shocking to me… My idea of Buddhism was about losing the ego, getting centered and quiet, and finding enlightenment.  But it seems that things are a bit tense here in this area that was given to exiled Tibetan monks by the country of India.  Over the last few years, words have been spoken, rocks have been thrown and most disturbing, great walls built around each of the many monasteries in the area.  What’s wild is that, after the split, the properties here were allotted in a strange way so that some of Shar Gaden’s building are surrounding by building gained by the other monasteries that have issue with this group, making it an uncomfortable and tense living situation.

As an experiment the other day, Monk Duke and I visited a local store famous for not serving Shar Gaden monks.  I went in and smiled, bought some flip flops for Buck, and then Duke came in to buy some incense.  They wouldn’t even look up at him.   So I piped in, “Hey, how much for the incense?” … they replied, “Forty Rupies”, and then I said, “I’ll pay for it.”   They then smiled, took my money and when we went to leave, the man behind the counter and Monk Duke exchanged a smile.   I felt like it was one step closer to Nirvana and I had done my small part to bridge a chasm between the two factions.  Who knows… that simple meeting of the minds could have been the beginning of the reunification of the Tibetan Buddhist Federation.   Or maybe not… I think it’s going to take more than a westerner’s smile to sort things out here. I’m thinking of coming back next year and shooting a documentary on the subject.

None of the controversy seems to have affected Jackson or Buck’s experience of this place.  Buck instantly joined in on a game of Futbol with the younger monks. Kunga, one of the senior monks and a great character, took a liking to Buck and presented him with his own red robes.  Yes, Buck spent his entire time dressed as a monk and sitting in on the meditations.  He really took to it.  He learned how to fold and wear the robes and also how to recite some of the mantras.  Monk Duke even presented Buck with his own prayer beads, which he proudly wears to remind himself of his time at Shar Gaden.  What an amazing experience for an 8 year old boy, eh?

Jackson jumped right in helping out with Monk Duke’s English classes. They all laugh when they hear his name because of Michael Jackson.  These young monks can play a mean game of English language hang-man.  And here’s some refreshing news, when we were practicing conversational English with them, we discovered that none of them knew who Lady Gaga was.  How refreshing is that!  

Our experience here has been eye-opening and truly delightful.  We have made some great friends, had the opportunity to live with the monks and see their lives first hand, and have been able to discovery the beauty of monastic living.   If the Dalai Lama spent some time with Monk Duke, Jampa, and Kunga, I’m sure they all could resolve this issue with compassion and loving-kindness. 

If you are interested in knowing more about the Monks of Shar Gaden Monastery, check them out on FaceBook.  They are in need of dedicated Pen Pals for the younger monks to practice their English with, and also English language books.  Please let me know if you are interested in helping them. 








You continue to inspire me! Mom was so excited to speak with you last week. You made her day. You and the boys
continue to make a difference in many people’s lives. I so admire your strength, passion and your ability to give back!!!
With Love and deep respect,

Once again a fasinating write. For those of us that can’t be there in person, it really kind of brings us on the trip withyou guys. Buck has always been a monkey but he finally dropped the ey. And Jackson, I know you’ll keep quite about Lady Gaga. They are probably better off not knowing! Thanks for keeping us posted on your travels and your good work. Stay safe and you are in our thoughts and prayers. Hugs to all! xo-Ed

I so look forward to seeing your monthly adventures – I think this one is my favorite! I am so happy you’re doing this with your children – what an experience for them! I’ll almost be sad when your tour is over. Take care and we’ll see you back in Charlotte.
Sandy Bevil, Secretary
Eastover Elementary School

How fascinating! I too was under the impression that it was all love, respect, understanding….all the higher being aspects. I find it very interesting that there are politics in every religion and facet of life.
Glad to hear you all are well and that the boys are getting such wonderful experiences! It will be such an important aspect to their future character.
Sending Love!
~ Elise

Another wonderful commentary on your travels.
It is amusing and amazing how the understanding and compassion actually play out in day to day living.
It is somewhat understandable, but all too realistic to be completely fun I am sure.

We sure do enjoy your writing though and would look forward to a documentary on this topic.

Marcia, John, Christie and Julie-Kate

thank you for this slice of your adventure.

absoluetly spectacular account.
your journey never fails to amaze.
what a blessing! what a perfect place youz guyz are in.
thx & cheers!

Losang Tenpa (Monk Duke)

We miss you guys already! The students really enjoyed the three of you helping out with the classes. The young monks have been asking about Jackson and Buck everyday since you left.

We really hope you pursue your idea of a documentary. This issue is very close to the hearts of thousands of monks who are still effected by the ban. It deserves to have a bit of light shed on it.

We can still use some help with the pen-pal club, but instead of folks helping with books etc. our greater need is support for our education fund. The fund supports all of the educational programs here at the monastery. Please send an email to the general secretary at if you are interested.

Thank you to all three of you! You made a huge impact here and will be in our hearts until we meet again.

Your friend,


Your adventures inspire me to always strive to do better in this world. I watch for your updates to see where the love is being spread now, and what new things you and the boys are learning. How amazing this adventure must have been for all of you. I was so touched by the fact that a simple smile could possibly melt some of the ice. You and the boys are truly a gift to this world. We love and miss you all.

How interesting on the monks and their seperation from the Dali L’s point of veiw. I guess your right. Even higher Masters suffer from desires. What would the Buddha say.

J.D.!!!!!!!!! This is tremendous – the story you tell with humor, love and intriguing detail are so incredible! I JUST AM BEYOND PROUD AND HONORED TO KNOW YOU! What a journey – in every sense of the word – you and the boys are on. I have so much admiration and respect – I’m sorry to have missed your call the other day but eagerly await the next dispatch! Love to you all – so in awe of the Lewis boys!

The journey just seems to get better and better. Thanks for the insight into the politics of what seemed to be a blissful nirvana. Buckford looks the part of a young monk, and Jackson seems a natural in front of a class (whodda thunk it!) The story you add chapter and verse too just is such a powerful eye-opener – we never seems to know what lies around the next corner. You are a master of story-telling and I can hardly wait for the next issue. Hugs and Love all around. XOXOXOBO

Thank you for writing this post, and for taking the time to try to understand the issue. It is so rare to hear or to read an even handed report of this situation.

I too am a western monk in a Buddhist Tradition who practice Dorje Shugden, though not the same as your friend Losang Tenpa.

We can only hope that, eventually each side of the argument will be able to learn once again how to live together happily

Hey, what a amazing story! The “bad boys” are rocking!! 🙂

I practice Dorje Shugden in Germany. (Member of the New Kadampa Tradition) Fortunately, we westerners have not these essential problems with the 14.DL. He had no direct influence to us. But for the Tibetian Shugdeners it is not fun…

The “bad boys” from Shar Gaden are for me verry great examples on how to relying upon the Dharma Protector. I wish, i will become so strong like they are.

Greetings from Berlin





Please go back and do the documentary. This situation has gone on for too long.
In the West, so many people regard This Dalai Lama as the head of Buddhism. He has achieved celebrity status and very few journalists dare to broadcast anything that sheds light on this darker side of the situation for Tibetans in exile.
What possible justification can there be for persecuting Buddhist Practitioners of this deity?

Thank you for this wonderful eye-witness account of the Dalai Lama’s unfortunate, shameful side.
I’m a Buddhist and Dorje Shugden practitioner too, enjoying the religious freedom of the UK to do so safely.
We think about our Tibetan friends a lot, and we do what we can to publicise their sad situation. Thanks so much for being there, seeing it, and sharing your experiences.
I hope you enjoy the rest of your travels in peace and safety.
With love,

Dear J.D.
Thanks very much for this down to earth account of a crazy situation brought about by the mixing of religion with politics by the 14 Dalai Lama. I am a western lay practitioner of Dorje Shugdan. The Dalai Lama would like to disqualify me as a Buddhist, but have it very easy compared to the courageous Shar Gaden Monastery monks who face the persecution that you describe (and much worse) every day. The monks you met are really brave in holding on to their religious freedom. I wish you luck with your travels and your film on the subject. Bring down this House of Cards. All the best, Tim
p.s. Really cool that you adopted two sons

I am a member of a Mexican Kadampa Budism Sangha and want to thank you for this information. It makes me realize how important it is to have faith. I like all you are writing, it is so inspiring, thank you again!

I’m so glad that you are having so much fun. I know it’s great to see things in different countries that you can only read about in books. I hope you guys are having a great time. Keep up the good work and will be looking to hear about the rest of your trip. Love you guys.
Love always,

Thank you Duke and all in monastery:-)Love you all!!!

Jordan Mitchell-Love

Was very inspired by this piece, as I have plans to travel the world and seek out ways to push the physical, mental, and spiritual. I would love to pen pal with someone, or to go there, or whatever. Shoot me an email and let me know what I can do to help!

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