Dorje Shugden in Tricycle

A screenshot of the article on the Tricycle website. Click the image to enlarge to the full version

This article ( was published by Tricycle – a reputable Buddhist magazine and web portal that in the past only published interviews and articles that discussed the political aspects of Dorje Shugden practice.

In a recent turnaround, Tricycle has featured two articles on Dorje Shugden. The first was about the art and in the second article discusses the historical basis for the practice to have emerged in recent times. The facts in this article are mostly accurate and so, it paints a rather promising picture of acceptance of Dorje Shugden as an enlightened Protector in the near future. has included some notes to clarify certain points within the article.



Treasury of Lives: Dorje Shugden

Dorje Shugden is a deity that most in Tibetan Studies would prefer to avoid discussing. Proponents and opponents of his worship have clashed for well over a century, with sometime tragic consequences. (Ed: There is no proof of clashes prior to the Shugden ban and the ban only came into effect during the 80s. Before that, Dorje Shugden practice had become very popular due to Kyabje Pabongka and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche’s efforts.)

In his blog post on Tricycle the week before the last, Jeff Watt offered an invaluable historical perspective to the issue, writing that the art-historical record gives ample evidence that Dorje Shugden became a major deity in the Geluk tradition only in the late 19th century.

The collected biographies on the Treasury of Lives confirm this. Although Dorje Shugden seems to have spread somewhat in Mongolia during the early 19th century, and Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje (1800–1866) encountered the deity in the Samye region during the same period, three Tibetan men who lived at the turn of the 20th century appear to have done the most to promote Dorje Shugden practice as it is known today.

All legends surrounding Dorje Shugden look back to a popular lama of the 17th century named Drakpa Gyeltsen (1619–1656). Born in Tolung to a noble family, he led as a candidate for recognition as the reincarnation of the 4th Dalai Lama, Yonten Gyatso (1589–1615). After his rival Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso (1617–1682) was selected as the 5th Dalai Lama, however, their mutual teacher, the 4th Panchen Lama, Lobzang Chokyi Gyeltsen (1570–1662), identified him as the rebirth of 15th Ganden Tripa, Paṇchen Sonam Drakpa (1478–1554), himself a reincarnation of Duldzin Drakpa Gyeltsen (1374–1434), a close disciple of Tsongkhapa (1357–1419).

Drakpa Gyeltsen was reportedly as popular as the young Dalai Lama, whose supporters resented the Ganden Tripa’s ascent within the sect. In 1656 Drakpa Gyeltsen was found dead—possibly murdered, possibly from suicide. (Ed: Why would such a renowned High Lama, whose popularity overshadowed that of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, commit suicide? It does not make sense on a conventional level. According to Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, who wrote the seminal work “Music Delighting An Ocean of Protectors”, it was clearly stated that Drakpa Gyeltsen was murdered.)

Some say that Drakpa Gyeltsen was at that point a fully realized buddha, and that he immediately returned as an embodiment of Manjushri named Dorje Shugden. Others claim that his spirit, which was subjugated as a protector deity named Dorje Shugden, perpetrated a series of calamities—diseases, deaths, and crop failures—following his death. (Ed: A spirit could not have created those calamities without being subjugated by the Dalai Lama or any other highly attained masters of that time. High Lamas who are enlightened beings such as the Dalai Lama would be able to subjugate any spirit. In addition, there are many great Dharma masters who possessed a wide range of rituals to subjugate spirits and pacify negative interferences, yet they were unable to subdue him. Hence, a mere spirit could not have caused the calamities. In fact, their inability to subdue the ‘spirit’ indicated to the Great 5th Dalai Lama that Dorje Shugden was NOT a spirit. Traditional account states that the collective negative karma of murdering a highly attained being created those calamities.)

Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche is one of the most influential Gelug lamas of the 20th Century

Around 250 years later, three lamas — the 6th (or 4th) Takpu Rinpoche (1876–1935), his student Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo (1878–1941), and his student the 3rd Trijang, Lobzang Yeshe Tendzin Gyatso (1901–1981) — took this minor deity and promoted him to a major protector of the Geluk tradition. The three lamas came of age during a time of great innovation and intersectarian exchange in eastern Tibet commonly referred to as the Rime Period, by which the Geluk tradition was certainly effected—for good or for ill depends on whom one asks.

Takpu Rinpoche, the senior of the three, was born in the Naksho region of Kham and studied at Drepung Monastery from the age 12. He likely received his first exposure to Shugden at an event hosted by the 9th Demo Rinpoche (1855–1900) at Tengyeling Palace in Lhasa. Takpu Rinpoche is said to have seen a ring of fire around the parapet of the building. His teacher, Lhotrul Ngawang Kyenrab Tenpai Wangchuk, interpreted the vision as a sign of Shugden’s displeasure at the Geluk hierarch’s associating with Nyingma lamas, a large number of whom were in attendance. Not long afterward, the 9th Demo was arrested for his role in an assassination attempt against the 13th Dalai Lama in which he enlisted the services of a Nyingma practitioner. The Demo died in custody. (Ed: A common misconception is that Dorje Shugden is displeased with Geluks mixing with Nyingma lamas and those of other traditions due to sectarianism. But in fact that is not the case. Dorje Shugden’s oath is to protect the purity of the Geluk lineage and therefore his displeasure manifests when there is a corruption of the pure teachings as it originates from its source, and the corrupted approach is then propagated. The danger of mixing teachings from various traditions is obvious, that is, eventually the original approach that is pure and proven by the lineage lamas becomes unrecognizable and therefore lost.)

After a short visit to his homeland, Takpu Rinpoche returned to Lhasa and settled for a time at Chubzang Hermitage above Sera Monastery. Either there or while still in Kham (at the request of his disciple Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo), he had an extensive vision in which he traveled to the Tushita Pure Land. In the vision he saw both Tsongkhapa, who is said to reside there, and Duldzin Drakpa Gyeltsen, who gave him the complete cycle of instructions regarding Dorje Shugden practice. He then transmitted this cycle of teachings and practices to Pabongkha and his other disciples. (Ed: This account is surprisingly accurate!)

Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche’s foremost disciple, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche

Pabongkha was one of the most influential Geluk lamas of the 20th century. He was a teacher to many, including the 13th Dalai Lama. He is remembered by some as a fierce sectarian (Ed: Pabongkha Rinpoche was immensely popular, especially with the Tibetan lay people who were the traditional stronghold of the Nyingma and Kagyu lineage. Out of jealousy, rumors began to be spread that he was sectarian. These false rumors have perpetuated since.), but those who knew him described a gentle and open man, and one finds in his writings expressions of respect for all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. (Ed: This is the truth and reveals Pabongka Rinpoche’s true nature and intention.)

In the 1930s Pabongkha stayed at Chamdo Jampaling, a major Geluk monastery in Kham. While there he gave teachings—including those on Shugden—to the monastery’s many young incarnate lamas, such as the 10th Pakpa Lha and the 7th Zhiwa Lha. Chamdo remains a center for Shugden practice to this day. (Ed: This shows that Dorje Shugden lamas are strongly and loyally propagating Dorje Shugden practice in Tibet, despite the ban.)

Pabongkha was a main teacher to the 3rd Trijang Rinpoche, who became such a widely sought-after teacher that it is safe to say that most living Geluk teachers have received teachings or empowerments from either Trijang or one of his immediate students. Recognized as the reincarnation of the Second Trijang (Lobzang Tsultrim Pelden) as a young child, he was brought to Lhasa in 1904 and installed at the Chubzang Hermitage, where he was tutored by Pabongkha. Although his youth was marked by poverty, he was able to continue his studies at Ganden Monastery and receive the Geshe Lharampa degree—the highest academic degree in the Geluk tradition. He went on to study tantra and receive more advanced teachings from Pabongkha back at Chubzang.

Starting in his 20s, Trijang Rinpoche traveled widely across Tibet and even into India, teaching to hundreds. He was made tutor to the current Dalai Lama in 1941. He was also a prolific author: his collected works, published in New Delhi between 1978 an 1985, consists of eight volumes. The fifth volume is comprised entirely of ritual texts associated with Dorje Shugden that Pabongkha Rinpoche asked him to complete. (Ed: Looking at Trijang Rinpoche’s qualities from being the tutor to the Dalai Lama to his writings in his most recent previous life, Trijang Rinpoche is definitely not an ordinary being and able to discern the enlightened being who Dorje Shugden is. The same mind stream and high attainments of Trijang Rinpoche continues today in his present incarnation as Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche who is acknowledged by virtually all Geluks, as an incomparable master)

Trijang Rinpoche has not spoken publicly about his Shugden practice following the current Dalai Lama’s restrictions on the practice beginning in the late 1970s. (Ed: Trijang Rinpoche passed away in 1981 before the Dalai Lama formally decreed the ban on Dorje Shugden. The present incarnation of Trijang Rinpoche however was not spared the persecutions with anti-Shugden proponents going as far as issuing death threats to Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche in spite of the fact that he is the only person that the Dalai Lama has allowed to continue with the practice. In the face of tremendous pressure Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche openly declared in a radio interview of his unwillingness to stop the Protector practice stating, I could not decide against him [the Dalai Lama] but nor could I stop propitiating Shugden with whom my relationship dates back to previous incarnations.)

Having made the decision to leave the monastery, Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche remains an ardent Dorje Shugden practitioner and master and is recognized as such by the highest Geluk lamas today. Recently Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche has begun to give public teachings and Dorje Shugden life-entrustment initiations and his emergence in public is seen as the start of Dorje Shugden renaissance. Learn more about Trijang Rinpoche’s life in his autobiography “The Illusory Play“.

Alexander Gardner has a PhD from the University of Michigan in Buddhist Studies and serves as the Associate Director of the Rubin Foundation.

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3 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. The Dalai Lama has made Tibetan Buddhism so sectarian, but of course Trijang Rinpoche taught at Nyingma and Sakya Monasteries in Tibet, he was great friends with the 16th Karmapa and supported him when the “Thirteen Settlements” tried to break away from the Dalai Lama’s control and wished to make the 16th Karmapa their head.
    Perhaps there is no surviving “thangka evidence” of Dorje Shugden before the 19th Century because 1. the Chinese destroyed them, or 2. the Dalai Lama has since destroyed them.

  2. Yes, the Dalai Lama, with his normal double-speak talks of promoting unity and non-sectarianism while causing schism and ostracizing practioners who practiced the same practice as his root guru; the Dalai Lama definition of non-sectarian appears to be ‘bring all 4 schools under the influence of the Dalai Lama.” His version of harmony is something like “don’t disagree with anything I say.”
    Truly non-sectarian Buddhist teachers such as the 16th Karmapa respect all 4 lineages of Buddhism and wish for each school to maintain its own tradtions in the way that that school deems would most benefit all living beings, rather than simply doing everything one person says.

  3. Yeah, I agree with the editor that the article published by Tricycle is pretty objective with a bit of a misinformation with regards to the opening para re: clashes between Shugdenpas and anti Shugden followers.

    If everyone can stay objective and take it as it is, that it is a difference of opinion, and stay calm, then there is hope for peace. After all, the Buddha had 84,000 teachings for different minds, so, why begrudge the difference within the 4 major schools of Tibetan Buddhism?

    After the great master of the time, including the Mindroling lamas and Dalai Lama could not subdue Dorje SHugden should imply something to the lamas as to the nature of Dorje Shugden.

    Furthermore, the Dalai Lama is an emanation of Avalokiteshvara, an enlightened being, so he is not subject to harm by anything. Nothing can harm him except a Buddha who is of equal attainments as him. But, Buddhas, are enlightened and do not harm anyone, not even and ant or a snake, so why would he want to harm another Buddha? Buddhas won’t even harm a spirit, he will just send the consciousness of the spirit to Dharmadhatu so that it can eventually have redemption to go on the path to enlightenment too.

    So, i kind of like this article. It’s objective enough without trying to shove any bias opinion down anyone’s throat.

    Thanks, Editor for clarifying the points of the article. Informative.

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.…Instead of turning away people who practise Dorje Shugden, we should be kind to them. Give them logic and wisdom without fear, then in time they give up the ‘wrong’ practice. Actually Shugden practitioners are not doing anything wrong. But hypothetically, if they are, wouldn’t it be more Buddhistic to be accepting? So those who have views against Dorje Shugden should contemplate this. Those practicing Dorje Shugden should forbear with extreme patience, fortitude and keep your commitments. The time will come as predicted that Dorje Shugden’s practice and it’s terrific quick benefits will be embraced by the world and it will be a practice of many beings.

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