Previous Incarnations of Dorje Shugden
The highly realized Master Tagpo Kelsang Khädrub Rinpoche composed the following two verses concerning Dorje Shugden:
With deep faith I prostrate to you, Vajradhara Dorje Shugden. Although you have already attained the Buddha ground and engaged in the twenty-seven deeds of a Buddha, You appear in various forms to help the Buddhadharma and sentient beings.
You have manifested in different aspects as Indian and Tibetan Masters, Such as Manjushri, Mahasiddha Biwawa, Sakya Pandita, Butön Rinchen Drub, Duldzin Dragpa Gyaltsän, Panchen Sönam Dragpa, and many others.
The meaning of the first verse is quite clear. The twenty-seven deeds of a Buddha are explained in the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras and in the eighth chapter of Maitreya’s Ornament for Clear Realizations. These twenty-seven deeds range from showing sentient beings the way to enter the spiritual path to liberation up to guiding them to the final attainment of Buddhahood. Since Dorje Shugden performs all these twenty-seven deeds it is clear that he is a Buddha.
To guide living beings along the spiritual path, Dorje Shugden manifests many different aspects. Sometimes he appears in a peaceful aspect, sometimes in a wrathful aspect, sometimes as an ordained person, sometimes as a lay person, sometimes as a Bodhisattva, sometimes as a Hinayanist, sometimes as a non-Buddhist, and sometimes even as a non-human.
Since there are so many different emanations of the Buddhas it is difficult to tell who is an emanation and who is not. The only person we can be certain about is ourselves; we know whether we are a sentient being or a Buddha, but we do not know about others.
Each Buddha has the ability to manifest as many emanations as there are living beings. This ability is necessary because if Buddhas remained in only one form, without any emanations, they would not be able to help all living beings according to their different needs.
Thus, if we refuse to believe that a Buddha can have many different emanations, we are indirectly holding the wrong view of denying that Buddhas can help all living beings. In the Meeting of Father and Son Sutra Buddha Shakyamuni says:
Buddhas manifest in many different aspects such as Brahma, Indra, and sometimes even as a mara or in the aspect of an evil person, but worldly people do not recognize these emanations.
Buddhas can emanate even as inanimate objects. At one time the great Indian Master, Phadampa Sangye, journeyed to Tibet. When Milarepa heard of this great Yogi’s visit he decided to test his realizations. He went to the border and waited for Phadampa Sangye to arrive.
When he saw him approaching he transformed himself into a flower to see whether Phadampa Sangye had the clairvoyance to see through his disguise. Phadampa Sangye, however, walked straight past Milarepa, seemingly unaware of his presence.
Milarepa thought to himself, “This so-called Yogi has no clairvoyance”, whereupon Phadampa Sangye turned round and kicked the flower. “Get up Milarepa!” he said, and Milarepa, delighted to discover that Phadampa Sangye was a genuinely realized being, sprang up in his usual form to greet him.
As Tagpo Kelsang Khädrub Rinpoche said, Dorje Shugden has manifested in many different forms to help living beings. There now follows a brief account of each of the past incarnations of Dorje Shugden mentioned in the verse quoted above.
At the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, Dorje Shugden appeared as the Bodhisattva Manjushri, one of Buddha’s principal disciples. In reality Manjushri had already achieved full Enlightenment in a previous age, long before the time of Buddha Shakyamuni.
In the Sutra Revealing the Abode of Manjushri, Buddha explains that in the remote past Manjushri had completed the Bodhisattva path and attained Enlightenment in his Pure Land as a Buddha called Tathagata Lamp of the Nagas. In the same Sutra, Buddha also describes the many different Buddha Lands of Manjushri and how Manjushri manifests countless emanations to help sentient beings.
Although Manjushri showed the aspect of being a disciple of Buddha, he had great power to help sentient beings. Sometimes people would come to Buddha for help and advice but Buddha would refer them to Manjushri because they had a stronger karmic link with him. Some had such a strong connection with Manjushri that through his blessings and skill they were able to develop very powerful realizations with almost no effort on their part.
One such person was King Ajatashatru, who had committed two particularly negative actions, killing his father and raping a fully-ordained nun who was also a Superior being. The consequences of such actions are horrendous. In the Vinaya Sutras, such actions are called “actions of immediate retribution” because whoever commits them will definitely take rebirth in a hell realm immediately after his or her death.
According to the Vinaya Sutras it is impossible to prevent such a rebirth, although it may be possible to shorten its duration. According to the Mahayana Sutras, however, these heavy negative actions can be purified if the correct opponents are applied purely.
King Ajatashatru developed strong remorse for his negative actions and requested Buddha to give him a special method for purifying them. Buddha taught the Sutra for Eliminating Ajatashatru’s Regret and then suggested that the king seek the help of Bodhisattva Manjushri.
Immediately upon hearing this advice, Ajatashatru developed strong faith in Manjushri. He invited Manjushri to his house for a banquet and after the meal he rose to offer Manjushri a very expensive cloak, but just as he was presenting the garment Manjushri disappeared. The king was left wondering, “Who is Manjushri? Where is Manjushri?”
By thinking in this way he realized that he could not find a real, truly existent Manjushri, and he came very close to understanding emptiness. Since Manjushri had disappeared, the king decided to try the cloak on himself, but as he put it round his shoulders he started asking the same questions about himself, “Who am I? Where am I? Who is the king? Where is the king?”
Being completely unable to find a real, truly existent self or truly existent king, he achieved an understanding of emptiness. He then entered into meditation and quickly attained a direct realization of emptiness, becoming a Superior being on the path of seeing.
According to the Hinayana teachings, a person who has committed one of the five actions of immediate retribution cannot become a Superior being in that same life, but the Mahayana viewpoint is different. As a result of Manjushri’s blessings, King Ajatashatru was able to purify his heavy negative karma and achieve the path of seeing. Manjushri performed many other special actions such as this.
Later, to help the Buddhadharma flourish, Manjushri took rebirth as the Mahasiddha Biwawa. Biwawa was born in India, to the east of Bodh Gaya, and joined Nalanda Monastery at a young age.
Although he was an emanation of Manjushri and therefore a fully enlightened being, Biwawa studied and practised Buddha’s teachings at Nalanda so as to demonstrate a perfect example of how to practise the path to liberation and enlightenment.
During the day he studied and meditated on the Sutra teachings and during the night he practised the yogas of Heruka Tantra. As a result of his pure practice he was able to see Vajrayogini and her retinue directly. Whenever he made tsog offerings, Vajrayogini together with fifteen other Dakinis with whom he had a particularly strong karmic connection would come to his room to participate in the feast.
Unfortunately, the other monks at Nalanda did not recognize Vajrayogini and the Dakinis but saw them as ordinary women. Believing that he was breaking his ordination vows, they became very critical of him and nicknamed him “Biwawa”, which means “bad man”. Thinking that Biwawa’s behaviour gave the monastery a bad reputation, they asked him to leave.
Although Biwawa had never broken any of his Vinaya vows, he agreed to leave Nalanda saying, “Yes, I am a bad man, I will leave.” He handed back his robes, changed into lay clothes, and left the monastery. Then, just like a poor, homeless beggar, he began wandering from place to place.
He first went to an area near Varanasi and lived in a cave deep in the forest. The land belonged to a non-Buddhist king who had an intense hatred of Buddhists. One day the king met Biwawa and invited him back to the palace, but when he learnt that Biwawa was a Buddhist he ordered his servants to kill him.
The servants first tried drowning Biwawa, but they were unable to pick him up to throw him into the river. They then tried to bury him alive, but he reappeared the next day unharmed. Finally they tried to burn him to death, but again he emerged unharmed.
When the king saw that Biwawa was able to protect himself through his miracle powers he developed strong faith in him and in the Buddhadharma, and he and all his subjects became Buddhist practitioners and disciples of Biwawa. This fulfilled a prediction made by an astrologer at the time of Biwawa’s birth that Biwawa would become very powerful and, through demonstrating miracle powers, would cause many people to enter the Buddhadharma.
Sometime later, Biwawa travelled south to the River Ganges. When he arrived at the river he asked a ferryman to take him across, but the ferryman refused because Biwawa had no money with which to pay him. Biwawa declared, “Since this river flows continuously, perhaps it is tired and would like a rest” and, causing the waters to part, he walked across to the other side.
The ferryman was astounded and asked Biwawa who he was. Biwawa told him a little of his life story, whereupon the ferryman developed great faith and asked to become one of his disciples. Biwawa accepted him as a disciple and gave him many teachings. The ferryman practised diligently and eventually became a highly realized Yogi called Drombi Heruka, one of the eighty-four Mahasiddhas.
Continuing on his travels, Biwawa reached a town where he stopped at the local tavern. After he had consumed several drinks the landlady asked him to pay, but Biwawa replied that he had no money. The landlady became angry and threatened him, “You have until sunset to pay me, otherwise I will call the authorities and have you thrown into jail!”
Biwawa promptly used his miracle powers to stop the sun moving and held it motionless for three whole days. The local people were aghast and wondered how such a thing could happen. Finally they asked the king to help them.
When the king asked Biwawa what was happening Biwawa replied that he was responsible for the sun not setting. “If I allow the sun to set,” he explained, “I shall have to go jail.” The king then reassured Biwawa that if he allowed the sun to set he would not have to pay for his drinks or go to jail. Upon hearing of his reprieve, Biwawa was delighted and immediately allowed the sun to continue its journey across the sky!
As a result of Biwawa’s extraordinary deeds, many people developed faith in him and in the Buddhadharma. In this way he led many people into the spiritual path. When the monks at Nalanda heard of his activities they developed great regret at having expelled him and requested him to return to the monastery, but Biwawa declined their invitation.
Biwawa later took rebirth in western Tibet as the great Lama of the Sakya Tradition, Sachen Kunga Gyaltsän, more usually known as Sakya Pandita. Even ordinary beings recognized that he was a very special being.
When he was a young child the first language he spoke was not Tibetan but Sanskrit, even though he had never been taught it. He was able to memorize texts even during his dreams. For example, he once dreamed that the great Indian Pandit Vasubandhu was giving him teachings on his text Treasury of Phenomenology, and when he awoke he had memorized the entire text, which is almost fifty pages long.
Following his Guru, Jetsün Dragpa Gyaltsän, Sakya Pandita studied and practised both Sutra and Tantra and became a great scholar and meditator who was famous for his wisdom and miracle powers.
Sakya Pandita’s name spread far and wide, reaching even the Chinese Emperor. The Emperor took a keen interest in Sakya Pandita and invited him to China so that he could meet him in person. He decided to use the visit as an opportunity to check whether or not Sakya Pandita was actually enlightened.
He summoned a highly qualified magician and told him to emanate a beautiful palace together with servants, magnificent ornaments, and decorations. Such magicians were very different from those we have nowadays in the West.
Through a combination of their concentration, mantra recitation, and special substances, they could emanate houses, or even whole cities, for days or months. Unfortunately they did not have the powers to maintain their magical creations indefinitely, and after a while the emanations would disappear.
For the duration of their existence however, their emanations seemed to be real, and people would live in them without ever suspecting that they were magically created illusions. The Emperor thought that if Sakya Pandita really was enlightened he would not be fooled by such an emanated palace, but if he was just an ordinary person he would probably think that it was real.
When Sakya Pandita arrived in China, the Emperor took him to the emanated palace and asked him what he thought of it, and Sakya Pandita replied that it was very beautiful. “Do you think this is a real palace?” enquired the Emperor, “Yes”, replied Sakya Pandita, “Of course it is real.”
From this reply the Emperor concluded that Sakya Pandita was not actually a Buddha but just an ordinary being who was deceiving the people of Tibet and China. The Emperor then commanded the magician to re-absorb his emanation, but when he tried to do so he found that he could not. Unbeknown to the Emperor and the magician, Sakya Pandita had used his own miracle powers to transform the emanated palace into a real one!
When he discovered this, the Emperor was filled with remorse for having had such negative thoughts about Sakya Pandita. He immediately developed strong faith in him and became one of his disciples. It is said that the palace still exists today as a temple known as “The Emanation Temple”.
Buton Rinchen Drub
Sakya Pandita later took rebirth as Butön Rinchen Drub. He was born in western Tibet near the place where Tashilhunpo Monastery now stands, and was ordained as a monk at an early age.
Even while he was a young child his parents realized that he was a very special being. The child would often converse with Manjushri as naturally as he would talk with other people, and it was clear from his speech and his actions that he had already attained great compassion and bodhicitta.
Although Butön did not put much effort into learning Sanskrit he was able to understand it with great ease. He translated Sanskrit texts not previously translated into Tibetan and he corrected many earlier translations. He became a very great and famous Lama, a learned scholar who was wise in both Sutra and Tantra, and he wrote twenty-six volumes of extensive commentaries on subjects from the Kangyur and the Tängyur.
Butön’s works are so vast that it is difficult for ordinary people to see them as a whole and determine their essential meaning, but they can be clearly understood by following Je Tsongkhapa’s elucidations.
Butön’s works and Je Tsongkhapa’s works are very closely related. It is said that if you want to know many different things you should read Butön’s books, and if you want to come to definite conclusions you should read the works of Je Tsongkhapa.
Butön mainly emphasized the need to practise Buddhadharma purely. He demonstrated fewer miracle powers than previous incarnations, spending most of his time teaching and writing.
At the time of Manjushri and Mahasiddha Biwawa, people generally had more merit and much purer minds, and so displays of miracle powers were often very powerful and effective in causing them to develop faith and other realizations.
As times became more degenerate however, people had less merit and their minds were less pure. For them, displays of miracle powers tended to be counter-productive, giving rise to doubts, scepticism, jealousy, and other negative minds, rather than pure minds such as faith. People would even suspect those who displayed miracle powers of using them for selfish or political ends, and those who had dark inner secrets would be fearful of their being exposed.
In such situations, those who displayed miracle powers would sometimes find themselves in danger of their lives. Moreover, there would be a danger that they would attract only disciples who craved miracle powers for themselves.
It was for these reasons that Je Tsongkhapa later forbade his disciples to display their miracle powers. The later incarnations of Manjushri, therefore, placed less and less emphasis on miracle powers, choosing instead to help sentient beings by setting a perfect example and giving clear and precise instructions on the path to enlightenment.
Thus, realized beings such as Sakya Pandita and Butön Rinchen Drub showed practitioners how to meditate correctly and how to gain experience of the stages of the path, leading them to profound realizations of concentration and wisdom. In this way they tamed the deluded minds of their disciples and led them out of suffering and into pure happiness.
Duldzin Dragpa Gyaltsan
Butön Rinchen Drub was later reborn in central Tibet as Duldzin Dragpa Gyaltsän, who became one of Je Tsongkhapa’s principal disciples. Like Je Tsongkhapa he was a very pure practitioner of the Vinaya and so he was called “Duldzin”, which is short for “dulwa dzinpa”, or “Holder of the Vinaya”.
Although Duldzin showed the aspect of being a disciple of Je Tsongkhapa, he was in fact an emanation of Manjushri. Thus both Teacher and disciple were emanations of Manjushri. From the point of view of ordinary beings this may seem a contradiction, but in reality it is not.
When he was teaching the Sutras and Tantras, Buddha would sometimes manifest as both the Teacher and the principal interlocutors who helped the discourse to evolve. In one of the Tantras Buddha Vajradhara said, “I am the Teacher and I am the disciple. I am the speaker and I am the listener.”
There are Tantras that were requested by Vajrapani who was an emanation of Vajradhara, and often among the audience there were many other emanations. Since Manjushri is a Buddha, he can also manifest countless emanations simultaneously, and so it is not impossible that both Je Tsongkhapa and Duldzin Dragpa Gyaltsän were his emanations.
Duldzin Dragpa Gyaltsän’s main activity was to help the teachings of Je Tsongkhapa to flourish. He worked to remove obstacles and to gather favourable conditions for the dissemination of these precious teachings. It was Je Tsongkhapa’s wish that the special Dharma derived from Manjushri’s wisdom should spread far and wide and Duldzin, as his devoted disciple, worked tirelessly to fulfil his Guru’s wish.
Je Tsongkhapa travelled extensively in response to invitations to give teachings, and also engaged in profound retreats for the purposes of writing and meditating, and while he was away he would leave Duldzin in charge of his affairs. It was Duldzin Dragpa Gyaltsän for example who organized the building of Ganden Monastery.
Rather than demonstrating miracle powers, Duldzin demonstrated how to practise pure Dharma by relying sincerely upon his Spiritual Guide, maintaining pure moral discipline, and so forth. Like Je Tsongkhapa he showed that there is no contradiction between the external practices of Vinaya, the internal practices of the Bodhisattva path, and the secret practices of the generation and completion stages of Highest Yoga Tantra.
Je Tsongkhapa’s disciples believed that Duldzin Dragpa Gyaltsän and Je Tsongkhapa were equal in terms of their realizations, abilities, and wisdom. When Je Tsongkhapa passed away, his throne was offered first to Duldzin, but Duldzin declined the honour and offered it instead to Gyaltsabje saying, “You should become the second holder of the Ganden throne. You should teach the Dharma of Je Tsongkhapa and spread it far and wide. I will help your work to be successful by eliminating obstacles and arranging the right conditions.”
Panchen Sonam Dragpa
Duldzin Dragpa Gyaltsän was later reborn in central Tibet and became a special Lama known as Panchen Sönam Dragpa. Like Duldzin, he worked to remove obstacles to the flourishing of Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition and to gather conducive conditions.
This Lama was unique in that, at different times in his life, he became the Abbot of Gyutö Tantric College, Gaden Monastery, Drepung Monastery, and Sera Monastery, and while he was Abbot of Gaden Monastery he also became the fifteenth holder of Je Tsongkhapa’s throne.
In those days, the Abbots were elected by the resident monks, and the high esteem in which Panchen Sönam Dragpa was held was demonstrated by his having been appointed Abbot of all four principal monasteries. He is the only person ever to have received this honour.
Panchen Sönam Dragpa wrote many commentaries to both Sutra and Tantra. To this day at Drepung Loseling, the largest Gelugpa monastery, as well as at Gaden Shartse, monks qualify for their Geshe degrees by relying principally upon the works of this great Teacher. He is also highly regarded at other monasteries, such as Sera.
Throughout his life Panchen Sönam Dragpa worked to further Je Tsongkhapa’s doctrine. When he became holder of Je Tsongkhapa’s throne he composed the following prayer: “So that the tradition of Je Tsongkhapa, The King of the Dharma, may flourish, May all obstacles be pacified and may all favourable conditions abound.”
Some time later when he attended the Mönlam Chenmo, or Great Prayer Festival, founded by Je Tsongkhapa, he composed a special verse of dedication: “Through the two collections of myself and others Gathered throughout the three times, May the doctrine of Conqueror Losang Dragpa Flourish for evermore.”
These prayers, which are recited every day after teachings and pujas at all Gelugpa monasteries and Dharma centres, indicate that Panchen Sönam Dragpa’s activities were the same as Dorje Shugden’s working to cause Je Tsongkhapa’s doctrine to flourish.
Later in life, Panchen Sönam Dragpa became the Spiritual Guide of the reincarnation of the first Dalai Lama, Je Gendundrub, granting him ordination and giving him the name Sönam Gyatso. It was Sönam Gyatso who visited Mongolia and so impressed the ruler, Altan Khan, that both he and his subjects were converted to Buddhism.
The Khan gave him the title “Dalai Lama”, which in Mongolian means “Ocean Lama”. Although he was the first to be so called, he became known as the third Dalai Lama, his two previous incarnations, Je Gendundrub and Je Gendun Gyatso, acquiring posthumously the titles of first and second Dalai Lama.
When Panchen Sönam Dragpa died, he remained in single-pointed concentration on the clear light of death for fifteen days. His body then diminished to the size of a forearm and from this body many statues and relics appeared. From his manner of dying we can understand clearly that he had attained the illusory body and was truly an enlightened being.
Ngatrul Dragpa Gyaltsan
Ngatrul Dragpa Gyaltsän was the reincarnation of Panchen Sönam Dragpa. He lived at Drepung Monastery at the same time as the fifth Dalai Lama, and both these Lamas were disciples of the first Panchen Lama, Losang Chökyi Gyaltsän.
There is a further connection between these two because Panchen Sönam Dragpa had been the main Guru of the third Dalai Lama, and the fifth Dalai Lama was in the same mental continuum as the third Dalai Lama. Both Ngatrul Dragpa Gyaltsän and the fifth Dalai Lama were highly respected and considered to be very pure and precious Teachers.
Ngatrul Dragpa Gyaltsän studied both Sutra and Tantra, mainly under the first Panchen Lama, and became a great scholar and meditator. He went to over a hundred caves to meditate and received many direct visions of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Deities. He made a number of predictions, including one that he would become Dorje Shugden. Ngatrul Dragpa Gyaltsän died at a relatively young age.
Source: Tharpa Publications / Wisdom Buddha Dorje Shugden website, 2008