Dorje Shugden on a Black Horse

by Brunhild Hekate

In the middle of a whirling palace of black wind… is the Great King with a body red-black in colour, one face two hands, the right holds a club aloft to the sky and the left a skull cup filled with blood and a human heart. On the head a lacquer hat is placed, riding a black horse surrounded by inconceivable emanations… to the Dhamapala King Shugden Tsal, together with attendants… ~ Sakya kangsol, based on an earlier text from the 19th century.


A History of Dorje Shugden in the Sakya Tradition

The Sakya lineage holders are emanations of Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri and their family lineage is famously divine. Practices within the Sakya lineage are passed down from father to the eldest son, ensuring the continuity of the lineage across generations, pure and accurate. Similarly, the practice of Dorje Shugden has been passed down within the Sakya lineage for several generations until recently, when the practice lost its popularity due to political expediency.


Morchen Kunga Lhundrub

Historically, the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism has viewed Dorje Shugden as an enlightened being. Dorje Shugden was first practised by the Sakyas in the early 17th century, beginning with the Sakya Kangsol written by Morchen Kunga Lhundrub (1654–1728), who was Sakya’s most precious Tantric and Lamdre Lineage holder. He wrote praises to Dorje Shugden as an enlightened being, and composed some of the earliest descriptions of the iconography and activities of Dorje Shugden and his four cardinal emanations.

Morchen Kunga Lhundrub was also the first to describe Dorje Shugden as being seated on a lion throne. Prior to this, the Sakya Kangsol refers to Dorje Shugden as Dorje Shugden Tanag, or Dorje Shugden Riding a Black Horse, one of the forms of Dorje Shugden unique to the Sakyas.

Paintings, thangkas and murals of Dorje Shugden Tanag were found in Sakya Monastery located in Tsang, Tibet before the turn of the 20th century.

Main temple of Sakya, Lhakang Chenmo

Northern Sakya Seat, Tibet

Southern Sakya Seat, Tibet


The 30th Sakya Throneholder Sonam Rinchen

Dorje Shugden was inducted into the pantheon of Sakya protectors by the 30th Sakya Trizin Sonam Rinchen (1705-1741), who strongly propitiated the form of Dorje Shugden riding a black horse. Sonam Rinchen later placed Dorje Shugden together with two other Protectors, Dorje Setrab and Tsiu Marpo, and these three principle protectors were collectively known as the “Three Kings” (Gyalpo Sum).

Dorje Shugden, one of the Three Kings, is part of the Sakya pantheon of Dharma Protectors


The 31st Sakya Throneholder Sachen Kunga Lodro

Sakya Kunga Lodro

Sachen Kunga Lodro (1729–1783), a great master of the Sakya tradition and the 31st Sakya Trizin, is believed to have been an incarnation of the great Sakya Pandit, Buton Rinchen Drub and Shakya Shri, a Kashmiri Pandit in the line of Sakya masters of Dorje Shugden’s lineage. One of Shakya Shri’s predecessors, an Indian master named Jetari, was also Atisha Dipamkara’s guru.

Sachen Kunga Lodro received all the transmissions of Dorje Shugden, amongst others, from his father, Sonam Rinchen, and it was he who fully culminated the various rituals of Dorje Shugden, combining the lineages received from his father with those of Morchen Kunga Lhundrub. Sachen Kunga Lodro clearly carried on the tradition of his father, praising Dorje Shugden as an enlightened protector, .

Sachen Kunga Lodro also wrote a wrathful torma offering to Dorje Shugden called ‘Swirl of Perfect Sense Offerings‘. This ritual was later used by Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche as part of his ‘Melodious Drum Victorious In All Directions‘, one of the most well-known rituals to Dorje Shugden. Thus, the source of some modern-day Dorje Shugden practices can be traced to the Sakya school. The text written by Kunga Lodro has also been included in the latest edition of the Dorje Shugden bebum, published by Lama Gangchen Rinpoche.

The 32nd Sakya Trizin Wangdu Nyingpo (1763–1809) depicted in this 19th century thangka, with Dharmapala Chitipati (left) and Dharmapala Dorje Shugden (right)

A close up of Dorje Shugden Tanag

The complete thangka. At the top are the principal meditational deities special to Wangdu Nyingpo – Chakrasamvara, Vajrayogini and Hevajra at the upper left and Vajrakila, Hayagriva and Vajrapani at the upper right. To the left is Chitipati, the two dancing skeletons, and to the right is Dorje Shugden Tanag, riding a black horse. Below him is Panjarnata Mahakala with Brahmarupa Mahakala on the left and Shri Devi Dudsolma on the right.


The 37th Sakya Throneholder Kunga Nyingpo

A close up of the 33rd Sakya Throneholder Mahasiddha Pema Dudul from the thangka below

Sachen Kunga Lodro would later go on to fulfil the prophecy of Mahasiddha Pema Dudul, who said in response to the 35th Sakya Throneholder Tashi Rinchen’s question about his future heir:

These days times are so degenerate no-one else is coming, but now Grandpa Shugden himself will definitely come as your son!

By this cryptic statement, Mahasiddha Pema Dudul meant that his grandfather, the great 31st Sakya Trizin Sachen Kunga Lodro, would eventually take rebirth as the son of the 35th Sakya Trizin Tashi Rinchen, thus upholding the most esoteric and precious Sakya teachings to benefit living beings.

In 1850, Sachen Kunga Lodro was indeed reincarnated as Kunga Nyingpo, who went on to ascend the Sakya Throne in 1883 as the 37th Sakya Trizin.

A 19th century Sakya thangka depicting the Five Emanations of Dorje Shugden. At the bottom left is the grandson of Kunga Lodro, the 33rd Sakya Throneholder Pema Dudul (1792–1853) . This form of an enthroned Dorje Shugden is similar to another thangka in Trode Khangsar


The 39th Sakya Throneholder Dragshul Trinley Rinchen

Dragshul Trinley Rinchen, the 39th Sakya Trizin explained in his autobiography that his father, the great Sakyapa Kunga Nyingpo was one with Avalokiteshvara. To prove this, he recounted the story of Mahasiddha Pema Dudul and Tashi Rinchen mentioned above. He then wrote:

The Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden Tsel definitively is Avalokiteshvara. In the scripture of the Nyingma Tantra, Rinchen Nadun says: The one known as Dolgyal is not mistaken on the path to liberation, he is by nature the Great Compassionate One. Hence, the Nyingma tantra quoted that Dorje Shugden and Avalokiteshvara are the same person.

As can be seen throughout his autobiography, Dragshul Trinley Rinchen was also a staunch Dorje Shugden practitioner, with many rituals and offerings to Dorje Shugden recorded in great detail.

His autobiography also notes the occasions when he met Dorje Shugden through an oracle, and it was during one such occasion that Dorje Shugden reminded Dragshul Trinley Rinchen to uphold the Dharma in general and gave some prophecies. Dragshul Trinley Rinchen was a great Sakya master, and is considered one of the most outstanding lineage masters of our time.


The 40th Sakya Throneholder Ngawang Thutob Wangchuk

The 40th Sakya Trizin Ngawang Thutob Wangchuk was born as the heir-apparent to Dragshul Thrinley Rinchen. The biography of the 41st Sakya Trizin names Ngawang Thutob Wangchuk as an emanation of Avalokiteshvara who has the ability to see and speak to Manjushri. As demonstrated on one occasion, the famous and holy Manjushri statue called Jamyang Tsodgyalma did speak to him, instructing him to practise the Guru Yoga of his father (instead of reciting confession prayers) while contemplating the ultimate view, thus merging his mind and the primordial wisdom of his father into one.

The Sakya Lineage

Thus, one can see clearly that Dorje Shugden Tanag has been an important and integral practice of the Sakya Tradition for the past few hundred years. Furthermore, the line of Sakya Throneholders has viewed Dorje Shugden as a fully enlightened being who is one with Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri. However, since the early 20th century, the Dorje Shugden Tanag practice has gradually declined.

The offering rituals for the Three Kings are no longer found in the standard Sakya Protector manuals of Indian and Tibetan monasteries. Neither can paintings or murals of Dorje Shugden Tanag be found in Sakya monasteries. It would appear that since 1996, the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) have successfully pressured the current 41st Sakya Trizin into giving up the practice of Dorje Shugden Tanag. How is it that the Dalai Lama, a Gelugpa monk, can interfere and influence the religious practices of the Sakya School?

H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya (b. 1929)

Today, there are still a few enlightened masters who continue to be bastions of Dorje Shugden’s practice in the Sakya school. One is the Abbot of Ngor monastary, an important branch of the Sakyapas. Another is H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya, the current head of the Phuntsog Phodrang who lives in Seattle, Washington with his descendants.

H.H. Dagchen Rinpoche is the twenty-sixth generation of the Sakya-Khon lineage, and is regarded as an embodiment of Manjushri. He is in line to be the 42nd Sakya Trizin, which means that the lineage of Dorje Shugden Tanag may rise to prominence once again. After all, some of the Sakya Trizins are, without a doubt, emanations of Dorje Shugden!

Thartse Jampa Namka Chime, the abbot of Ngor monastary in the late 18th century and the previous incarnation of Jamyang Kyentse Wangpo.

It is truly unfortunate that the CTA’s political power and influence has affected the teachings and practices upheld by the previous Sakya Trizins. While the Sakyapas may deny the fact that they stopped the practice of Dorje Shugden Tanag in order to maintain good relations with the Dalai Lama and CTA, there is no doubt that for the moment, they have abandoned a practice endorsed by their lineage masters.



An Overview of the Sakya Trizin Line
from the 30th to the 40th Throneholders
Sakya Trizin Throneholder Lived Reigned
30th Duchod Labrangpa Jamyang Sonam Rinchen 1705-1741 1711-1741
31st Duchod Labrangpa Sachen Kunga Lodroe 1729-1783 1741-1783
32nd Duchod Labrangpa Jamgon Wangdue Nyingpo 1763-1809 1783-1806
33rd Dolma Phodrang Padma Dudul Wangchug 1792-1853 1806-1843
34th Phuntsog Phodrang Jamgon Dorje Rinchen 1819-1867 1843-1845
35th Dolma Phodrang Thegchen Tashi Rinchen 1824-1865 1846-1865
36th Phuntsog Phodrang Ngawang Kunga Sonam 1842-1882 1866-1882
37th Dolma Phodrang Kunga Nyingpo Samphel Norbu 1850-1899 1883-1899
38th Phuntsog Phodrang Zamling Chegu Wangdu 1855-1919 1901-1915
39th Dolma Phodrang Dragshul Thinley Rinchen 1871-1936 1915-1936
40th Phuntsog Phodrang Ngawang Thutob Wangchuk 1900-1950 1937-1950


His Holiness the 41st Sakya Trizin


Special Mention to the Following Great Masters


Shakya Shri Bhadra

Shakya Shri Bhadra b.1127 – d.1225

Shakya Shri Bhadra (Shakya Shri) was a Kashmiri paṇḍit who was invited to Tibet by Tropu Lotsāwa Rinchen Sengge. He arrived in 1204, at the age of either fifty-nine or seventy-eight, and remained for ten years, leaving in 1214.

Active primarily in Tsang, his significance to Tibetan Buddhism is characterized by his initiating four important lineages of teachings: to Sakya Paṇḍita he taught exoteric philosophy; pith instructions to Tropu Lotsāwa; tantra to Chel Lotsāwa; and Vinaya to Tsang Sowa Sonam Dze.

Shakya Shri was born in Daśobharā, in Kashmir, in 1127 (or 1145). During the earlier stages of his time in Tibet, possibly while still en route to Tropu from Chumik in 1204, he met Sakya Paṇḍita Kunga Gyeltsen, who was on his way to Kyangdur with funeral offerings following the death of his father, Pelchen Opo. Shakya Shri is said to have given him teachings on logic at the time.

During the 1208 summer retreat at Gyangong, he met Sakya Paṇḍita again and served as the upadhyaya in his ordination ceremony. During the 1210 summer retreat at Sakya, he gave Sakya Paṇḍita extensive teachings on Kalachakra, Vinaya, linguistics, poetry, logic and epistemology, and Abhidharma. The two worked on a retranslation of Dharmakirti’s Pramaṇavarttika. From this connection, Shakya Shri is often credited with initiating the tradition of logic in the Sakya school; while some dispute this characterization, his importance to the Sakya tradition was considerable.

Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang’s ‘Music Delighting an Ocean of Protectors’ also quotes Kyabje Ling Dorje Chang’s previous incarnation, Losang Lungtog Tenzin Trinley’s recognition of Shakya Shri as a previous incarnation of Dorje Shugden. The incarnation lineage is said to be as follows:

  • Shakya Shri
  • Choku Ozer
  • Buton Rinchen Drub
  • Panchen Sonam Drub
  • Panchen Sonam Dragpa
  • Sonam Yeshe Wangpo
  • Sonam Geleg Pelsang
  • Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen


Atisha Dipamkara

Atisha Dipamkara b.982? – d.1054

The Bengali monk Atisha Dipamkara was of pivotal importance in the second transmission of Buddhism in Tibet. Invited from the Indian monastery-university of Vikramshila to Tibet by the Purang kings, Atisha spent thirteen years in Ngari and U-Tsang.

He is credited with the propagation of the Lamrim and Lojong teachings that later became the core of the Geluk tradition; his composition, the Bodhipathapradipa is a central text for the Lamrim, or Stages of the Path. He was also instrumental in the spread of the cult of Tara in Tibet.

Atisha’s main disciple Dromtonpa founded several important monasteries and gave rise to the Kadam tradition, which was later absorbed by the Gelug and, to some extent, the Sakya and Kagyu traditions.


Buton Rinchen Drub

Buton Rinchen Drub b.1290 – d.1364

Buton Rinchen Drub, a Sakya lama raised in a Nyingma family, was the eleventh abbot of Zhalu Monastery from 1320 to 1356. Some enumerations list him as the first abbot, as he significantly expanded the institution.

He was an important teacher of the Prajnaparamita, a key lineage holder of the Guhyasamaja and Kalachakra tantras as transmitted in the Geluk tradition, and the Kalachakra, Hevajra and Sampuṭa tantras as transmitted in the Sakya tradition.

He is generally credited as the creator of the Tibetan Buddhist canon, the Kangyur and Tengyur, and his History of Buddhism is still widely read. In addition to his Sakya training, he also studied in the Kadam and Kagyu traditions.


Addendum – Importance of Dorje Shugden in the Sakya tradition

Since the great Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism was founded, the lineage of practice has been passed down through forty-two successive spiritual heads, known as Sakya Trizins. From this list of prestigious masters, six of these heads or throne holders of the tradition stand out for their practice and proliferation of Dorje Shugden. This is a practice that they even spread amongst their innumerable disciples. These throne holders constructed shrines and protector houses to Dorje Shugden, composed prayers to him and taught their students how to engage in the practice. This list includes:

  1. His Holiness the 30th Sakya Trizin Sonam Rinchen (1705-1741 CE)
  2. His Holiness the 31st Sakya Trizin Sachen Kunga Lodro (1729-1783 CE)
  3. His Holiness the 33rd Sakya Trizin Padma Dudul Wangchug (1792-1853 CE)
  4. His Holiness the 35th Sakya Trizin Tashi Rinchen (1824-1865 CE)
  5. His Holiness the 37th Sakya Trizin Kunga Nyingpo (1850-1899 CE)
  6. His Holiness the 39th Sakya Trizin Dragshul Trinley Rinchen (1871–1936 CE)

The spiritual responsibility of the throne holder is to receive teachings covering the entire Sakya lineage, which consists of the common and esoteric transmissions of the Lam Dre, the Thirteen Golden Dharmas, the Hevajra tantric practices, and many others. These masters are then to proliferate these teachings. If is for this reason that they are considered to be highly learned and accomplished masters. It is through these six throne holders that the entire breadth of the Sakya lineage has descended to this day.

Due to the current political situation, with the Tibetan leadership telling everyone that the practice is bad, people might dismiss these six throne holders as being mistaken about the true nature of Dorje Shugden and their history of promoting the practice. But to come to this conclusion, one would need to assume that these throne holders were just ordinary men who are flawed, ignorant and make mistakes. If we think that, then they are rendered unreliable for spiritual growth. What is the point of going to get teachings from them if what they teach can be wrong?

To make such a dire accusation has far-reaching implications on the lives of everyday practitioners as they may lose confidence in what could well be a ‘flawed’ Sakya lineage. Since the throne holders were wrong, ordinary practitioners may feel it is pointless to continue practicing as the lineage is broken and has no blessings. Following this line of thinking, the Sakya lineage is invalidated because the entire lineage flows through these great throne holders.

According to the Tibetan leadership, Dorje Shugden is a spirit and by worshiping him one is no longer Buddhist. By engaging in his worship you lose the connection to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha because you break the refuge commitment of not worshiping an unenlightened being. This creates the cause for an unfortunate rebirth in the three lower realms. Following this logic, the six throne holders should have taken rebirth in those realms, but that is impossible as they have reincarnated back successively into the same family. The 37th throne holder, Kunga Nyingpo, is said to be the reincarnation of the 31st throneholder, Sachen Kunga Lodro, both of whom are even considered emanations of Dorje Shugden themselves. Some like Sachen Kunga Lodro have also composed lengthy prayers to Dorje Shugden which are still in use today.

It was due to their spiritual attainments that these Sakya throne holders were able to distinguish the nature of formless beings like Dorje Shugden. They did this using logical analysis or using their supernatural clairvoyant abilities. Most probably they used both methods and arrived at the same conclusion – Dorje Shugden is definitely an enlightened being and his practice is beneficial. This is why the throne holders composed extensive prayers to him.

From learning about these great throne holders, their abilities and achievements, great faith arises not only in the throne holders themselves, but also in the practices they taught, such as the practice of the Dharma protector Dorje Shugden.

Dragshul Trinley Rinchen (1871–1936), the 39th Sakya Trizin, was a strong practitioner of Dorje Shugden. Researching his family history, he even proved that his holy father, the 37th Sakya Trizin Kunga Nyingpo (1850–1899), was an emanation of Dorje Shugden.

The 39th Sakya Trizin Dragshul Trinley Rinchen (1871–1936), head of the Sakya lineage, was a strong practitioner of Dorje Shugden. He is known for spreading the practice of Dorje Shugden within the Sakya tradition.

Click here to download the entire Sakya Dorje Shugden kangsol

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9 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. When one studies the lineage masters of the Sakyapa one couldn’t help but marvel at the illustrious and super magnificent incarnations of these lineage masters who are none other than Dorje Shugden himself. The Sakyapas were coerced by CTA into abandoning DS practice since1996 at the start of the ban when it was enforced. None the less there are stalwarts in the Sakya tradition preserving and upholding the DS lineage while waiting for the precise moment to re-emerge and continue to spread their bloodline practice.

    In an old Sakya temple in Shigatse, an old and extremely holy mask of DS could be found. They are still worshipping DS.

  2. The Sakyas had a long association with Dorje Shugden, only to be cut short by CTA meddling. Lifting the ban will help Dorje Shudgen to be part of the Sakya practice once more.

  3. This shows Dorje Shugden practise is NOT and NEVER a practise of Gelug, but across sect and practised by Gelug and Sakya sects and etc.

    Secondly, political power should NOT interfere into religious matter and affecting purity of a lineage.

    I hope with lifting of the BAN, we can see more, especially Sakya practitioners able to continue or revive their practise in this protector practise.

  4. Dorje Shugden was first practised by the Sakyas in the early 17th century, beginning with the Sakya Kangsol . They were forced to end this practice to support the CTA and HHDL in 1996. That makes it a practice that has been in the Sakya lineage for almost 300 years. How can all the highly attained Sakya practioners been revering a “spirit” (as the CTA claims DS to be) in the last 300 years without knowing the facts? That seems totally illogical.

  5. Dorje Shugden was riding on a black horse, that is something very new to me, He has been always riding on a snow lion. These old thangka with history was very precious, its an important evidence that the Shakyas has been practising DS for century. How could the Shakyas throw away their lineage for century, just because someone else said so? What happen to the teachings and initiation that pass down by their teachers? Misleading the dharma practitioner in breaking their Guru’s samaya is a big no no.

  6. The mind stream of DS stems from a lineage of great Lamas, teachers and masters who left a legacy in the world of Dharma in the Gelug as well as the Sakya schools of Vajrayana. This is one reason why when he first arose as a Dharma Protector, he went to the Sakya lineage and was recognized with the composition of a kangsol in praise of him. His presence is also recognized in the Nyingma tradition as illustrated in their traditional thangka.

    Even in more recent history, it is claimed by Tibetan leadership that the Karma kagyu leader also practices Dorje Shugden.

    These scenarios all reveal that DS is not a sectarian practice but one that has been respected and embraced in various sects. In fact, non-Buddhist friends of mine who asked DS for help also updated that he resolved their problems.

    I am simply happy that DS is with us in our practice and on our spiritual journey.

  7. Interesting that the practice of Dorje Shugden is not peculiar to the Gelug but is also very much a part of the Sakya tradition. And, the Sakyas have practiced Dorje Shugden for longer than the Gelugs.

    Now, they say they do not practice Dorje Shugden. They are breaking all their samaya with their Gurus from centuries ago. What heavy negative karma there is to carry. And, asking more people to break their samaya by stopping the practice of Dorje Shugden, adds even more negative karma.

    Quite a sad state of affairs.

  8. We can see clearly that Dorje Shugden is not only a dharma protector for Gelug lineage but also for other lineage. This implies Dorje Shugden is a Buddha an due to his compassion, he can manifest in many different forms just to help sentient beings.

    Thank you for this wonderful history of Dorje Shugden in other lineage.

  9. Dorje Shugden riding on a black horse is a form unique to the Sakya sect of Buddhism. It goes to show that Dorje Shugden practice is not sectarianism. Practitioners of any faith / school can practice and be blessed or protected. This is because Dorje Shugden is an enlightened Dharmapala and the emanation of Manjushri, hence, he is not restricted to labels. From our side, it is our karma and affinity to be connected to Dorje Shugden as he is the Dharmapala of our time, propiatiating to him will grant us aid and blessing faster because of this strong(er) affinity. May more people beneift from Dorje Shugden’s practice.

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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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