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One of the highest Gelugpa lamas, Kyabje Denma Gonsa Rinpoche’s name is synonymous with that of a master having achieved perfect attainments and an exemplar of devotion to the pure lineage founded by Je Tsongkapa. Denma Gonsa Rinpoche studied under Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang and Kyabje Dragri Dorje Chang from whom he received the complete transmissions and all the necessary empowerments that bestowed upon him the responsibility and role of an essential lineage holder.
So highly accomplished was Denma Gonsa Rinpoche, that in his vocation as a Dharma master, he not only represented the three Great Gelugpa Seats of Ganden, Sera and Drepung but also Reting Monastery and other distinguished monastic colleges around Tibet. Such a feat could only be accomplished by a lama who is universally regarded by the Gelugpa establishment as being a most erudite and highly realized master. Denma Gonsa Rinpoche’s monastery, featuring huge statues of Lama Tsongkapa and Dorje Shugden, is regarded by all as a fortress of the Gelugpa tradition that preserves all the lineage teachings in their purity.
Given Denma Gonsa Rinpoche’s widely acknowledged precision and faultlessness in his grasp and mastery of the lineage teachings, his opinion of Dorje Shugden carries significant weight and should be considered by anyone seeking the truth. In a speech to his students, the 19th Denma Gonsa Rinpoche spoke with fervid commitment of how he received the teachings and practice of Dorje Shugden from two of the greatest Gelugpa masters, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso and Kyabje Dragri Dorje Chang, from whom he also received Dorje Shugden’s ‘life-entrustment’ (sogtae).
Denma Gonsa Rinpoche was unwavering in his decision not to give up the practice of the Protector until the end of his life. It is steadfastness such as Rinpoche’s that detractors of Dorje Shugden have pounced on, to wrongly portray Dorje Shugden as the cultish practice of an extreme-fundamentalist sect of the Gelugpa school. Many have spread lies that it is because Dorje Shugden practitioners have surrendered their lives to Shugden and are bound by the life-entrustment vow (which they say is against the refuge vows to the Three Jewels), that they are unable to part with the Protector practice. Such misinformation has been spread on purpose to paint Dorje Shugden in a negative way.
The reality is that ‘sogtae’ is not surrendering one’s life to Dorje Shugden at the expense of one’s refuge vows to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Dorje Shugden ‘sogtae’ resembles ‘rje gnang’ which directly translated means ‘subsequent permission’. In other words, it is an initiation into the Protector practice which requires the initiate to abide by certain commitments such as the fulfillment of monthly pujas to the Protector, and to request Dorje Shugden to protect the practitioner from harm and perform activities on behalf of the practitioner to increase merits and provide dharmic as well as earthly endowments. Commitments are in fact a very common feature of Vajrayana Buddhism.
Moreover, such life-entrustments are common in other protector practices and it is not an extraneous feature of a ‘cult’ practice that those who attack Shugden worship have attempted to induce people to think. For example, the Fifth Dalai Lama performed similar life-entrustment rituals to the protector Dorje Barwa, a life-entrustment ritual to Nechung was found amongst the works of Thuken Dharmavajra, a sogtae to Dorje Setrab was written by Gendun Dhargye, and life-entrustment rituals to Tsiu Marpo and Four-faced Mahakala were found to have been regularly performed by Jamgon Kongtrul.
In fact, there is no requirement whatsoever for any Dorje Shugden practitioner to take ‘life-entrustment’ vows. And so clearly, as Denma Gonsa Rinpoche said in his speech, there are many lies and deceptions designed to malign the practice of Dorje Shugden.
In his speech, Denma Gonsa Rinpoche also tells his students that they should maintain guru devotion even at the cost of their lives, meaning to say that they should never go against their gurus nor abandon the practices that their gurus have given them, for to do so is tantamount to breaking samaya with their gurus. Again, critics of the Dorje Shugden practice have often distorted this resoluteness and labeled it as fanaticism that is characteristic of an extremist cult. Far from being a cult characteristic, firm commitment to the guru is innate in the pure practice of Tsongkapa’s lineage (and indeed Vajrayana Buddhism). Je Tsongkapa himself wrote in The Foundations of All Good Qualities, the following instructions:
Then the foundation for the two attainments,
Is keeping the pure vows and commitments,
Having found unfeigned conviction is this,
Bless me to keep them at the cost of my life.
The importance of keeping strict commitments to the guru is common knowledge to all Vajrayana practitioners. Ironically, some lamas who received the Dorje Shugden practice from their gurus but are now advocating forsaking the Protector are in fact very familiar with the dangers of breaking samaya. For example, Lama Zopa who received the Dorje Shugden practice from Lama Yeshe has taught his students that:
Guru devotion is the quickest way to collect the most extensive merit, the means to achieve enlightenment… but having a pure mind of guru devotion, with no negative mind arising toward the guru – which is very heavy negative karma – is also very important.
A negative attitude, such as a thought of giving up respect, even just thinking, ‘What is the use of this teaching?’ creates negative karma; one breaks the samaya vows. A kind of pollution comes, and whatever you offer becomes negative and can invite sickness or obstacles. So, I think, the most important thing is keeping samaya, not doing any wrong thing, not letting heresy arise, having negative thoughts, or losing faith. Lost faith is very heavy [karma]. - http://fpmt.org/tag/guru-devotion/
It is with that thought in mind that Denma Gonsa Rinpoche advises his listeners to see him as their lama and receive teachings which will benefit them, and cautions them that if they view him in a negative light (for instance, as a ghost), there will be nothing he can do for them and their wrong view may hurt them.
This short and very important speech by the most holy Denma Gonsa Rinpoche is an invaluable treasure that demonstrates with clarity why it is extremely harmful to force, coerce or trick practitioners into parting with their gurus and their protector practice, and similarly why those who have disowned their teachers and Protector have wrought very heavy damage unto themselves. Denma Gonsa Rinpoche’s speech is also a clarion call for all Shugdenpas to persevere and like Rinpoche, be unmoving in their devotion to the guru and the Protector.