Sogtae literally means ‘life entrustment” in Tibetan, referring to the life entrustment initiation or permissory rites of a Dharma Protector. Apart from Dorje Shugden, there are many other Dharma Protectors with life entrustment initiation rituals, for instance Setrab and even Nechung, just to name a few.
During the main part of the life entrustment initiation, the lama seals the spiritual bond between the initiate and the Dharma Protector. In the case of a Dorje Shugden Sogtae, the protector is sworn to protect the initiate and the initiate swears to take Dorje Shugden as Protector, both until the achievement of Bodhichitta.
Dorje Shugden is compelled by his compassion and the commitments made during the sogtae to guide and protect the initiate until the realization of Bodhichitta, after which the initiate no longer needs such assistance and becomes a ‘protector’ for others instead. Regardless of whether the achievement of Bodhichitta takes place in this lifetime or future lifetimes, Dorje Shugden is sworn to guide and protect the initiate until it fruitions.
Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche wrote a number of rituals concerning Dorje Shugden but the fulfillment prayer entitled ‘Melodious Drum Victorious in All Directions‘ has become the most commonly used Dorje Shugden fulfillment ritual. The introduction to this text states that life entrustment is not a prerequisite to engage in Dorje Shugden’s practice. However, in order to receive sogtae, one is required to have received the Vajrabhairava initiation and kept up the general and specific commitments.
Before the advent of Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche’s composition, there seems to be an older life entrustment text composed by Rinchen Wangyal (1741-1812) of Sera Monastery, as mentioned in the introduction to a Dorje Shugden fulfillment text written by Serkong Dorje Chang. As a prerequisite, the text states that one must have obtained the initiation of a yidam. It also mentions that it would be excellent to have received the life entrustment initiation of Dorje Shugden according to the writings of Rinchen Wangyal, although it is not a prerequisite for one to perform the fulfillment ritual.
During Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche’s time, the life entrustment text of Rinchen Wangyal appears to have been lost. Therefore, Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche was requested by Dorje Shugden through an oracle to compose another text to replace it. The following is an account of what happened and how he validated it with Tagphu Dorje Chang (Tagphu Pemavajra)’s pure visions when he astral travelled to Tushita. This account is further elaborated in ‘Descended From Tushita’.
I have written this at the request of Shugden, because in the past there was a tradition of Sogtae (srog gtad) to Shugden but later neither the tradition nor the text could be found — they have become like flowers in the sky —so Shugden has asked me two times to write a new initiation text.
I have passed on the practice of initiation (dbang) to some disciples in accordance with my own experience, and (a text) has been written as a seed for (a detailed text). But only that would be not reliable and something like an illegitimate son. Therefore, I explained it in detail to my master Tagphu Dorje Chang and presented this draft to him…
He took that draft and wrote his text down, combining this seed text with his own vision. Tagphu commented about the five types of Shugden, the respective colors etc., the offerings to be arranged, thus at the time of initiation the large Lamrim text should be there on the altar, a cakra representing one’s life, ḍamaru, dorje etc. The practitioner has to utter the life generating words of Vajrabhairava and to make torma offerings…
The initiation can be given to somebody who has received initiation into Vajrabhairava and keeps the commitments connected with it…
~ Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche
By tradition, the life entrustment of Dorje Shugden can only be given to three people at a time, so public life entrustment initiations would entail a massive line of initiates in threes! Besides that, Dorje Shugden ‘heart’ crystals (lado) and cakras (stringed amulets) are consecrated during the life entrustment and given to initiates as a blessing and reminder of their commitment to Dorje Shugden.
The life entrustment initiation also requires one to perform a Dorje Shugden puja (typically, the fulfillment text of Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche) once a month thereafter. If, for whatever reason, one is unable to perform the puja, one can perform it ahead of time or request monks to perform it on one’s behalf.
On top of that, the initiate must make a commitment to the Gelug lineage, and put effort towards learning and practicing the teachings of the lineage. As Kyabje Zong Rinpoche says:
If you have to or if you wish to do some kind of Dharmic activities with other sects of Buddhism, that is okay to do some kind of activities but your main practice or the principle practice, you have to make the commitment with this lineage of Lama Tsongkhapa.
(A more extensive explanation by Kyabje Zong Rinpoche is available here).
These are the main commitments that one makes in the presence of Dorje Shugden and one’s lama during the life entrustment initiation, to be kept for the rest of one’s life. And, as Lama Tsongkapa has emphasized, the keeping of commitments is so important to our practice that they should be kept even at the cost of our lives.