Nechung : The State Oracle of Tibet

oracle

The Tibetan state oracle

Like many ancient civilizations of the world, the phenomenon of oracles remains an important part of the Tibetan way of life.

Tibetans rely on oracles for various reasons. The purpose of the oracles is not just to foretell the future. They are called upon as protectors and sometimes used as healers. However, their primary function is to protect the Buddha Dharma and its practitioners.

In the Tibetan tradition, the word oracle is used for a spirit which enters those men and women who act as mediums between the natural and the spiritual realms. The mediums are, therefore, known as kuten, which literally means, “the physical basis.”

In early times it is believed that there were hundreds of oracles throughout Tibet. Today, only a few survive, including those consulted by the Tibetan government. Of these, the principal one is the Nechung oracle.

Through him manifests Dorje Drak-den (Nechung), the principal protector divinity of the Tibetan government and the Dalai Lama. It is because of this that Nechung Kuten is given the rank of a deputy minister in the exiled Tibetan government hierarchy.

In his autobiography, Freedom in Exile, His Holiness the Dalai Lama writes:

“For hundreds of years now, it has been traditional for the Dalai Lama, and the Government, to consult Nechung during the New Year festivals. In addition, he might well be called upon at other times if either have specific queries. I myself have dealings with him several times a year This may sound far-fetched to twentieth-century western readers. Even some Tibetans, mostly those who consider themselves ’progressive’, have misgivings about my continued use of this ancient method of intelligence gathering.

But I do so for the simple reason that as I look back over the many occasions when I have asked questions of the oracle, on each one of them time has proved that his answer was correct. This is not to say that I rely solely on the oracle’s advice. I do not. I seek his opinion in the same way as I seek the opinion of my Cabinet and just as I seek the opinion of my own conscience. I consider the gods to be my ’upper house’. The Kashag constitutes my lower house. Like any other leader, I consult both before making a decision on affairs of state. And sometimes, in addition to Nechung’s counsel, I also take into consideration certain prophecies.

“In one respect, the responsibility of Nechung and the responsibility of the Dalai Lama towards Tibet are the same, though we act in different ways. My task, that of leadership, is peaceful. His, in his capacity as protector and defender, is wrathful.

However, although our functions are similar, my relationship with Nechung is that of commander to lieutenant: I never bow down to him. It is for Nechung to bow to the Dalai Lama. Yet we are very close, friends almost. When I was small, it was touching. Nechung liked me a lot and always took great care of me. For example, if he noticed that I had dressed carelessly or improperly, he would come over and rearrange my shirt, adjust my robe and so on.

“Nechung has always shown respect for me. Even when his relations with the Government have deteriorated, as they did during the last few years of the Regency, he invariably responds enthusiastically whenever asked anything about me. At the same time, his replies to questions about government policy can be crushing. Sometimes he just responds with a burst of sarcastic laughter. I well remember a particular incident that occurred when I was about fourteen. Nechung was asked a question about China.

Rather than answer it directly, the Kuten turned towards the East and began bending forward violently. It was frightening to watch, knowing that this movement combined with the weight of the massive helmet he wore on his head would be enough to snap his neck. He did it at least fifteen times, leaving no one in any doubt about where the danger lay.

“Dealing with Nechung is by no means easy. It takes time and patience during each encounter before he will open up. He is very reserved and austere, just as you would imagine a grand old man of ancient times to be. Nor does he bother with minor matters: his interest is only in the larger issues, so it pays to frame questions accordingly. He also has definite likes and dislikes, but he does not show them very readily.

“Nechung has his own monastery in Dharamsala, but usually he comes to me. On formal occasions, the Kuten is dressed in an elaborate costume consisting of several layers of clothing topped by a highly ornate robe of golden silk brocade, which is covered with ancient designs in red and blue and green and yellow. On his chest he wears a circular mirror which is surrounded by clusters of turquoise and amethyst, its polished steel flashing with the Sanskrit mantra corresponding to Dorje Drakden.

Before the proceedings begin, he also puts on a sort of harness, which supports four flags and three victory banners. Altogether, this outfit weighs more than seventy pounds and the medium, when not in trance, can hardly walk in it.

New Year prophecy of Nechung oracle

Dharamsala, India 1999

“The ceremony begins with chanted invocations and prayers, accompanied by the urgings of horns, cymbals and drums.

After a short while, the Kuten enters his trance, having been supported until then by his assistants, who now help him over to a small stool set before my throne. Then, as the first prayer cycle concludes and the second begins, his trance begins to deepen. At this point, a huge helmet is placed on his head. This item weighs approximately thirty pounds, though in former times it weighed over eighty.

“Now the kuten’s face transforms, becoming rather wild before puffing up to give him an altogether strange appearance, with bulging eyes and swollen cheeks. His breathing begins to shorten and he starts to hiss violently. Then, momentarily, his respiration stops. At this point the helmet is tied in place with a knot so tight that it would undoubtedly strangle the Kuten if something very real were not happening. The possession is now complete and the mortal frame of the medium expands visibly.

“Next, he leaps up with a start and, grabbing a ritual sword from one of his attendants, begins to dance with slow, dignified, yet somehow menacing, steps. He then comes in front of me and either prostrates fully or bows deeply from the waist until his helmet touches the ground before springing back up, the weight of his regalia counting for nothing. The volcanic energy of the deity can barely be contained within the earthly frailty of the kuten, who moves and gestures as if his body were made of rubber and driven by a coiled spring of enormous power.

“There follows an interchange between Nechung and myself, where he makes ritual offerings to me. I then ask any personal questions I have for him. After replying, he returns to his stool and listens to questions put by members of the Government. Before giving answers to these the Kuten begins to dance again, thrashing his sword above his head. He looks like a magnificent, fierce Tibetan warrior chieftain of old.

“As soon as Dorje Drakden has finished speaking, the Kuten makes a final offering before collapsing, a rigid and lifeless form, signifying the end of the possession. Simultaneously, the knot holding his helmet in place is untied in a great hurry by his assistants, who then carry him out to recover whilst the ceremony continues.

“Surprising as it may seem, the oracle’s replies to questions are rarely vague. As in the case of my escape from Lhasa, he is often very specific. But I suppose that it would be difficult for any scientific investigation either to prove or disprove conclusively the validity of his pronouncements.

The same would surely be true of other areas of Tibetan experience, for example the matter of tulkus (reincarnate lamas).”

Mediums of Nechung

The earliest account of Nechung can be traced back to his relationship with the great Indian Spiritual King Kunchog Bhang, who was an emanation of Arya Avalokiteshvara. In 750 AD, the Dharma protector had a special connection with the Tibetan King Tri-Song Deu-Tsan.

However, it was only in 1544 AD that for the first time the spirit of Nechung was possessed in a human being. Thus, Drag Trang-Go-Wa Lobsang Palden became the first medium of Nechung. During the reign of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, Gangkyi-Pa Tsewang Pelbar was recognized as the fourth medium of Nechung or Tibet’s State Oracle.

At that time, Nechung monastery had around 50 monks.

Nechung Kuten Venerable Thupten Ngodup

Medium of the State Oracle | November 1997

oracle

Nechung Kuten Venerable Thupten Ngodup

After the passing away of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, the Regent Desi Sangye Gyatso (1653-1705) ruled Tibet, and Kongpo Lobsang Gyatso succeeded the previous medium. It was during this period that Nechung monastery flourished extensively.

The sixth medium, Ngawang Gyatso brought some major changes in the liturgical tradition of Nechung monastery. He instituted the entire cycle of practices comprising of the retreat, the accomplishment, and the ritual tradition of Sog-Khang Drub-Pa Chen-Mo (Grand immutable Life Shelter), a primary meditational retreat practice on Hayagriva and Gyal-Po Ku-Nga (Five Dharma Kings), and the complimentary ritual fire offering, invocation rite and the cross-thread rituals (Doe) and longevity rites, as are explained in Shal-Treng Kar-Poi Gyud (White Crystal Tantra).

The medium also introduced Sog-Khang Nam-Shad Lak-Pe Kun-Shay (Omniscience Through Reading the Commentary of the Life Shelter) and others.

The Seventh Medium, Tsangyang Tamdin, also known as Lobsang Tashi, instituted the rites of Dag-Dun Bum-Sum (Self-generation, Generation In-front and Vase-generation) of the Thirteen Deities of Yamantaka, as well as the grand consecration rite of Ge-Leg Char-Beb (Auspicious Shower).

Lhalungpa Shakya Yarphel became the eighth medium of Nechung during the reign of the Tenth Dalai Lama, Tsultrim Gyatso (1816-1837) and remained so, until the first part of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s rule. During this time, Nechung monastery then had 115 monks.

This medium of Tibet’s State Oracle restored Zhi-sum (Three Basic Rites) of the monastic discipline. He also founded retreat cells on the hills of Lhalung, where there used to be a meditation cell belonging to Lhalung Pelgyi Dorjee, the Buddhist monk responsible for killing Lang Dharma, the anti-Buddhist king. The medium Lhalungpa Shakya Yarphel built Pehar Chog (chapel) at the old Me-Ru monastery.

It was during his time that Nechung monastery received Dra-Chyis Phun-Rab estate and Min-Drug estate and others. Drapchi Phunrabpa Tsering Palden also voluntarily offered the exquisite golden roof placed atop Nechung monastery and the 21 gold-coated statues of Tara, a human-sized statue of Avalokiteshvara Sem-Nyid Ngal-So, as well as a silver cascade altar containing two statues made of Sha-li bronze and Zhi-Khim bronze.

For the assembly hall below, he offered a special Guru Nang-Srid Zil-Non statue, and a pair of gold butter lamp pots, known as Kal-Zang Chod-Kong (Auspicious Butter Lamp Pot) that could each retain about four kilograms of butter.

In short, Drapchi Phunrabpa Tsering Palden offered all his wealth, property and belongings to Nechung monastery as a resource for the conduct of future ceremonial activities.

During the same period, Barn-Rim monastery in Kongpo region also came under Nechung’s administrative control. The general masses serving the government estates voluntarily offered a portion of their taxes to the government as offerings to Nechung monastery and requested the monastery to accept them as its subjects.

Besides, a small monastery known as Lha-Ri Zim-Bug or Pad-Me Zim-Bug of Phung-Po Ri-Bo-Che in the Tsang region and two nunneries located in Ki-Lung area of Phenpo also became branch monasteries of Nechung monastery.

Lobsang Sonam of Kham became the ninth medium of Tibet’s Nechung Oracle, and Lhalungpa Gyaltsen Tharchin became the tenth medium. Lobsang Sonam was reinstalled as the eleventh medium. While he was in trance, the State Oracle pronounced a prayer for the speedy return of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama.

After the demise of the Great Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Lobsang Namgyal (ca. 1935) of Derbag, near Nechung monastery, became the twelfth medium. He accompanied the Regent, Reting Rinpoche, to Samye monastery at the Samye restoration ceremony.

When the Tibetan government requested him to perform a trance in the presence of Guru Nga-Dra-Ma’s statue, the oracle through him made prophesies regarding the search for the reincarnation of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. The oracle left a resource for the conduct of ceremonial rituals at Nechung monastery, especially for the conduct of Avalokiteshvara Dro-Wa Kun-Drol rituals.

In 1945, Lobsang Jigme of Lhasa was publicly proclaimed to be the new and the thirteenth medium of Tibet’s State Oracle. He became the first Nechung kuten (medium) to rise from the ranks of Nechung monastery. His predecessors had all come from else-where.

In 1949, during a trance performed at Tsom-Chen Nyi-Od (Sunny Hall), the oracle gave clear prophesies concerning the spiritual and temporal issues relating to Tibet.

Likewise, during a trance performance at the main hall of Drepung monastery, it left clear-cut prophesies to remove obstacles and hindrances to the life of the present Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.

The medium also offered costumes and built a special altar for the Thousand golden statues of the Buddha and the Twenty-one Taras housed in Nechung monastery’s middle storey called Zam-Ling Zim-Chung (Universal Chamber).

During the 1959 Tibetan national uprising against China’s invasion and occupation of Tibet, the State Oracle, Nechung, communicating through his medium Venerable Lobsang Jigme, left very clear prophesies about the escape route to be followed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama into exile in India.

Venerable Losang Jigme, who also escaped to India, following the Chinese occupation of Tibet, continued to serve as the medium of Tibet’s State Oracle until he passed away in Dharamsala on April 26, 1984.

The present and the fourteenth medium of the State Oracle is Venerable Thubten Ngodup. Born in 1957 in Phari, Tibet, he and his family fled the country after the Chinese invasion. He came to Dharamsala in 1969 and joined Nechung monastery in 1971.

The first time Venerable Thubten Ngodup was possessed by Nechung’s spirit was on March 31, 1987. After this, His Holiness the Dalai Lama privately had Venerable Thubten Ngodup perform a trance in his presence, during which His Holiness tested him in accordance with tradition.

Later on, a number of trances were requested and he also went on a retreat of Hayagriva, the meditational deity Padma Wangchen and of Guru Rinpoche’s La-Drub (Self-generation) practice.

On September 4, 1987, Venerable Thubten Ngodup was recognized by His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the new medium of the State Oracle of Tibet and an official ceremony to this effect was held at Nechung monastery in Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile.

Source : http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sociopolitica/sociopol_shambahla01a.htm



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It is very interesting His Holiness the Dalai Lama a monk, scholar, erudite master and a very down to earth and logical person also consults ancient oracles for his decision making.

The first deity he consults through the oracle is Nechung, who is known to be an unenlightened being. This is very fascinating also.

If Dalai Lama is to ban deities entering oracles to speak as in the case of Dorje Shugden, how come Nechung is allowed to enter a Oracle to speak. And also Dalai Lama himself is consulting the spirit Nechung via the oracle in his private quarters as in the video?

I am not looking to find fault with Dalai Lama or asking for criticism, but was wondering why two rules? Or two standards? His Holiness Dalai Lama asks us to trust Lord Buddha and not go into ‘spirit worship’ or get involved with spirits. What is happening here?

Any answers to this anyone?

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6 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. This is well-documented history of the Nechung oracles. There are 14 of them!There is a Nechung monastery and one can become a Nechung monk! Incredible! Nechung only serves the Dalai Lama and he is given the rank of a deputy minister in the Tibetan Government! Reliance on oracles remains very much a Tibetan way of life. One thing that struck me in this article is the close relationship between the Dalai Lama and Nechung. Nechung seemed to be very fond of the young Dalai Lama and took great care of him, rearranging his clothes if he dressed carelessly. This is evidence that the Dalai Lama can actually see Nechung. By inference, H.H. can see other beings that ordinary beings cannot see. I’m not surprised they talk to each other like old friends.

  2. In Tibet everyone depends on a Protector to tell them of the coming events or to request for protection or even as a healer as in the mountains in Tibet there are no doctors only traditional healing using herbs. All this are done by invoking the Protectors thru an Oracle. The Protectors will talk thru an Oracle or medium. In the State of Tibet, Nechung is very popular and is also Dalai Lama’s Protector. His Holiness will call upon Nechung through an Oracle. Nechung will always be there as he is suppose to take of care of Dalai Lama as his guardian.

  3. Comparing the western culture to the asian culture, the phenomena of oracles, of mediums, of people taking trance is definitely more prevalent. To the western mind, we tend to view this phenomena as archaic, superstitious and unreliable.

    If we have this view, will this skepticism work for us or against us in our Buddhistic path. If we believe in the Buddha, do we also believe in the many manifestations of the Buddhas including in the form of Dharmapala.

    In Tibetan Buddhism, Kuten is the honorific given to a person who has gone through disciplined and extensive training to take trance of higher beings, some enlightened such as Dorje Shugden and some not, such as Nechung.

    This article mentions how Nechung has been consulted for hundreds of years now by the Tibetan Government. We may take a critical stance and question the validity of such an archaic method of information gathering. However, I can also take an opposing stance and question the advice of the advisors of political leaders. Many of which have landed us in wars and countless lives lost throughout history… On this basis, who has the right method of ruling a country? I am neither for nor against Nechung..but merely exploring from different viewpoints.

    Nechung was oath bound by Padmasambhava. Nechung Kuten is given the rank of deputy minister in the exiled Tibetan government hierarchy.
    According to the Dalai Lama, “Tibetans rely on oracles for various reasons. The purpose of the oracles is not just to foretell the future. They are called upon as protectors and sometimes used as healers. However, their primary function is to protect the Buddha Dharma and its practitioners.”(source wikipedia)

    I find it fascinating with the availability of different sources of intelligence. It is said that Nechung’s time is nearing to be enlightened. And why not..? Nechung, just like all of us are sentient beings with potential to achieve enlightenment.

  4. Aiyo, the great 14th is so funny, if DS is evil spirit, Lord Setrab would already captured him and sent him to Tushita haven….and since the great 14th is so powerful, he would has used his meditation power to ‘destroy’ DS much much earlier without any effort….

    The thing is, until now we still talk non-stop how evil DS is…blah blah blah….like old women….what a waste of time…..hey DL, put your words on your mouth already lol….

  5. This is a very detailed article about Nechung. It has allowed the readers to know who is Nechung better. It describes the process of each oracle and how they came about which is what I really like about this article.

    It is said that when the Dalai Lama escaped to India, he consulted another oracle as well. He consulted the oracle of Dorje Shugden on his escape to India. And because of this, Nechung is upset and has claim that Dorje Shugden is an evil spirit and we should not make prayers to Dorje Shuden.

    In my opinion, it is because of the fact that Nechung is unenlightened and jealous of Dorje Shugden’s popularity among the high lamas of the Tibetan Buddhism, hence, there is such a ban.

    Thus, Dorje Shugden would not be an evil spirit, instead he is an enlightened protector. Otherwise, it would be not logical for the Dalai Lama to consult the oracle of Dorje Shugden as well.

  6. In my personal humble opinion Nechung is a unenlightened spirit who has lost his way and become confused and jealous. He has harmed the cause of Tibet. With respect, I think now is the time to step down and let a more qualified enlightened oracle take his places I personally have experienced his anger. I hope his find enlightenment and pure happiness soon. I am praying for him xx .

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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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