Pabongka Rinpoche and the Gelugpa Tradition

Pabongka Rinpoche (1878-1941AD) was one of the greatest Gelugpa Lamas of the past century. He possessed many spiritual realizations and was highly revered.

He was the root Guru of both the 14th Dalai Lama’s own principal teachers, Trijang Rinpoche and Ling Rinpoche; therefore, almost all the Dalai Lama’s Dharma knowledge comes from Pabongka Rinpoche.

His reputation is currently being besmirched by some detractors of Dorje Shugden, but there is an increasing amount of information about him becoming available on the Internet to show that this criticism is unfounded. This includes the new blog called “Scholars and Yogis Please Check!”, which has recently run a series of articles on Pabongka Rinpoche.

As the translator of his famous text Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand explains, Je Phabongkhapa had a profound and far-reaching influence on the Gelug tradition:

Pabongka Rinpoche was probably the most influential Gelug Lama of this century, holding all the important lineages of Sutra and Tantra, and passing them on to most of the important Gelug Lamas of the next two generations; the list of his oral discourses is vast in depth and breadth.

He was also the root guru of the Kyabje Ling Rinpoche (1903-83AD), Senior Tutor of the Dalai Lama, Trijang Rinpoche, and many other highly respected teachers. His collected works occupy fifteen large volumes and over every aspect of Buddhism. If you have ever received a teaching from a Gelug Lama, you have been influenced by Pabongka Rinpoche.

Zong Rinpoche, also a highly regarded Gelug Lama, says on the blog mentioned above:

Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and Kyabje Ling Rinpoche were tutors to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. They taught His Holiness everything from basic teachings to advanced levels.

Kyabje Phabongka passed all of his lineages to Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang. He often said this in discourses. The purpose of this detailed exposition is to affirm the power of the lineage. If we lose faith in the lineage, we are lost.

We should remember the biographies of past and present teachers. We should never develop negative thoughts towards our root and lineage gurus.”


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  1. Lineage teachings are very important as they represent an unbroken transmission of teachings, from master to disciple, all the way to the present time from Lord Buddha over 2500 years ago. This unbroken lineage bears the hallmarks of authenticity and empowerment. It carries the blessings of all the enlightened lineage masters beginning with Buddha Shakyamuni, all of whom have attained enlightenment through the methods enshrined in their teachings.
    It is without doubt that HH Kyabje Pabongkha Rinpoche is the attained lineage Master who has had the greatest influence on the Gelug tradition and lineage in the last hundred years. It was Pabongka Rinpoche who held all the important Gelug lineages of Sutra and Tantra, and who passed them down to most of the important Gelug lamas of the next two generations. These great lamas , in turn, practiced and passed them down to their own disciples, including those in the West and in the rest of the world. Indeed, it can be said that any student of a Gelug lama today has been influenced by Pabongka Rinpoche, through the transmission of his lineage teachings.( The great Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, tutor to the 14th Dalai Lama, was the main disciple of Pabongka Rinpoche and was the disciple to whom Pabongka entrusted all his lineage teachings).
    In order to fathom the extent of Pabongka’s vast work in collecting together and preserving the lineage teachings,one can just focus on the Gaden Oral Tradition or Lineage. Geshe Helmut Gassner explains that Pabongka Rinpoche , the ‘pivotal or key holder’ of this lineage, had painstakingly located and found all the partial transmissions of this lineage, had learned and realized them and then had brought them together again to pass them on through a single person. Although in his lifetime there was hardly any significant figure of the Gaden tradition who had not been his disciple, he chose to pass this lineage to Trijang Rinpoche, who was the most capable one to receive and to transmit once more this lineage. In this way, through the unbroken transmission of lineage teachings, the Dharma remains ‘eternal’.
    The power of transmission of lineage teachings, for example in the case of this oral Gaden tradition, lies in the manner of the transmission. The lineage remains a living lineage because the teachings have been passed down from ‘master to gifted disciple, given continuously until the transmitted knowledge becomes the student’s second nature’.
    The power of lineage transmissions, to ensure that the Dharma remains eternal and benefits all in this current degenerate age, can be seen in the transmission of the Lamrim via Pabongka Rinpoche’s teachings which have been compiled into a text (by Trijang Rinpoche who had himself received these oral teachings from Pabongka) entitled ‘Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand’. These great classic teachings of the Graduated Stages of the Path to Enlightenment( which contains all 84000 teachings of Lord Buddha) were passed down from Je Tsongkhapa , and before him from Atisha, and all the many illustrious scholars and Masters throughout history within the lineage’s Guru Tree. ‘Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand’ has been studied and meditated upon by millions of people today, people who have found their Dharma path laid out for them so profoundly and yet so clearly in its pages.

  2. Pabongka Rinpoche was one of the most influential Gelug masters of the 20th century. Many eminent teachers were his students and they in turn passed on the lineage. One of them, Dagpo Rinpoche, the incarnation of Pabongka Rinpoche’s own root guru, Dagpo Lama Rinpoche, remembers him well in his autobiography “Le Lama Venu du Tibet”. Dagpo Rinpoche recalls that Pabongka Rinpoche transmitted the Lamrim teachings (which he received from Dagpo Lama Rinpoche) back to his incarnation. To me, this is an example of how interconnected these great beings are and they all take rebirth to benefit the world in a continuous manner. How fortunate we are to be living at this age and be able to receive teachings from these lineage gurus.

  3. When you are from the Gelupa Lineage you are very lucky as you would have got teachings indirectly from the Lamrim whose author is Pabongka Rinpoche. If you have a Guru whose Gurus are Ling Rinpoche, Tsong Rinpoche, and Trijang Rinpoche you would be indirectly getting teachings from Pabongka Rinpoche. One very important information I know is that Pabongka Rinpoche was very staunch in his practice of Dorje Shugden. And the people who comes down the line from Pabongka Rinpoche will definitely be practicing Dorje Shugden.

  4. Pabongka Rinpoche’s teaching about Dharma has definitely influence the Gelug lineage in many way that we cannot argue. It is because of all these great masters that allowed the Gelug lineage to continue growing. Allowing all the students know about the different teachings.

    With Pabongka Rinpoche practicing Dorje Shugden practices and giving the practices to his students like Trijang Rinpoche and Ling Rinpoche, who are the teachers of Dalai Lama, I do not understand why would Dalai Lama put a ban on Dorje Shugden. By having a ban initiated by the Dalai Lama on Dorje Shugden, it would tell the world that high lamas such as Pabongka Rinpoche, Trijang Rinpoche, Ling Rinpoche, etc. are all wrong. Reason being that they practice and pray to an evil spirit Dorje Shugden.

    I believe that for the Dalai Lama to say something like the high lamas of the Gelug lineage are wrong, there definitely would be something more to what we know for the ban. The ban might be a disguise to bring Dorje Shugden practices and knowledge to more people and to influence China to practice Buddhism.

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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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