By: Mar Nee
Nechung, the state oracle of Tibet who the Dalai Lama and his ministers have relied on for hundreds of years, seems to be withdrawing from his place of prominence. While the Dalai Lama has relied on him throughout incarnations and the Tibetan government have looked to him for some of the most important decisions of the state, it seems that in recent times Nechung is quickly diminishing in prominence – refusing to speak and giving wrong prophecies. However, though this has been troubling and a cause for alarm, a lesser-known secret now revealed may well explain the sudden inconsistencies in his prophecies and pronouncements.
But who is Nechung?
According to traditional accounts, the powerful spirit Pehar was first subdued by the great Buddhist Tantric master, Padmasambhava and oath-bound to protect the Dharma. This was in the 8th century. He was then duly installed as the Dharma Protector of Samye Monastery, Tibet’s first monastic institution.
Later, during the time of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama (in the 17th century), Pehar was moved to the spot where Nechung Monastery was built. Historians note that it was perhaps around this time that he started to be referred to as Nechung. At this monastery, a tradition of oracles also developed and the Fifth Dalai Lama installed Nechung Pehar as the chief Dharma Protector of the State. Naturally, the Nechung oracle also became the State Oracle who would take trance of the subdued spirit Nechung and give prophecies and advice to the state ministers, the Dalai Lama and other devotees.
Nechung is also the Dharma Protector of Drepung Monastery because of a strong connection and promise he made to the founder of Drepung, Jamyang Choje, a direct disciple of Lama Tsongkhapa. Nechung was believed to have appeared to this great Lama and urged him to build a monastery. In turn, he promised to safeguard this monastery and to bring the necessary resources for its growth. To this day, Nechung is propitiated as the Dharma Protector of the combined monastic assembly of Drepung Gomang and Drepung Loseling Monasteries.
As the State oracle of Tibet, Nechung is regularly consulted on state matters and would give predictions of the future. In old Tibet, Nechung would also take trance of the state oracle during the prayer festivals (Monlam) in Lhasa to give yearly pronouncements and blessings.
Unfortunately, his prophecies have not always been accurate. Over the last century, he has begun to make a number of significantly inaccurate prophecies. First, Nechung was known to have made a huge mistake about the British invasion when he was consulted before the British invasion of 1904. At another time, the Nechung oracle was believed to have been under the influence of another harmful spirit and prescribed the wrong medicine to the Great Thirteenth Dalai Lama, which gravely injured his health. In more recent times, Nechung made prophecies that Tibet would gain independence in the year 2000; we all know that this too failed to come true. Due to this growing number of inaccurate prophecies and inconsistent action, trust and faith in this protector gradually eroded over time, especially among the high Lamas.
However, upon closer examination of a study on oracles and demons, we find an important illustration and explanation of Nechung Monastery’s interiors which may very well explain why Nechung seems to be fading into a darker background. The mysteries, built into the structure of the monastery itself may also point to an age-old prophecy concerning the ascendency of the next great being of our time, the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden…
The Rising of Dorje Shugden
Based upon extensive research gathered from several eminent Tibetan Buddhist masters, René de Nebesky-Wojkowitz gives a clear description of Nechung Gompa (temple) in his book, Oracles and Demons of Tibet:
“The southern gate (no. 1 on the diagram) is held closed in accordance with an old tradition that the chokyong Dorje Shugden is waiting at this entrance for the day to come on which he will be allowed to enter the monastery, to succeed Pehar as the chief dharmapala of Tibet…”
- (Pg. 445, Oracles and Demons of Tibet: The Cult and Iconography of the Tibetan Protective Deities)
Currently, the state or the main Dharma Protector is Nechung, widely acknowledged to be an unenlightened Dharma Protector and chief of all worldly Dharma Protectors. The Nechung oracle sits at a throne at the head and center of the monastery (no. 23) whenever Nechung or one of his emanations is due to take trance. This central positioning symbolizes that Nechung is the reigning deity of this place at this time.
There are three entrances to this sacred temple at nos. 1, 2 and 3. Entrances 2 and 3, at the east and west, are accessible and open to everyone to enter and leave the main temple. Visitors to the temple will pass through these two gates. The southern gate (no. 1) towards the end of the temple, however, always remains sealed. It is believed that Dorje Shugden stands at this gate, waiting for his time to enter and the gate will remain locked until he ascends the throne. This will happen only when Nechung attains enlightenment and ‘leaves’ this place.
Nechung’s work to serve the Dalai Lama over many lifetimes has created a lot of merit which will eventually propel him towards full enlightenment. When this happens, he will no longer stand as the chief of worldly Dharma Protectors and will ‘leave’ this temple, a symbol of him stepping down as the chief of Protectors. Then, at this time, Dorje Shugden will take over his role, rising to be the next great protector of our time and the ‘chief Dharmapala of Tibet’ (which means that he will be the most prominent Buddhist protector of the Tibetan Buddhist lineages).
It has been noted by high lamas that this period of the changing of the guardians would not come easy – that it might even be tumultuous – to pave the way for the future king, Dorje Shugden. Perhaps the ban on Dorje Shugden’s practice – and all the ensuing controversy – is precisely to hasten this change of power.
Alongside the ban, Nechung himself contributes to this seemingly volatile shift in energy by manifesting many ‘errors’ in his prophecies and showing a growing reluctance to speak. In the same book, Nebesky-Wojkowitz also notes:
“A Tibetan popular belief claims that Pe Har, who will become shortly a ‘jig rten las ‘das pa’i srung ma (enlightened protector), feels more and more reluctant to speak through the oracle-priest of Nechung, and that in many cases rDo rje grags ldan (Dorje Drakden) answers in his place.”
- (pg. 125, Oracles and Demons of Tibet: The Cult and Iconography of the Tibetan Protective Deities)
As noted in the passage above, Nechung has started to withdraw and is now not speaking as frequently through his oracles. This could well be a sign that Pehar is retreating from this world and preparing for his eventual enlightenment.
Not only is he speaking less but events over the last century have shown Nechung appearing to make very grave mistakes in his prophecies and oracular pronouncements. Some of these instances have already been outlined above. At other times, perhaps because he was slighted by followers who didn’t follow his advice, Nechung even refused to take trance. Controversies also arose around the human oracles who were sometimes suspected of taking trance of malevolent spirits instead of Nechung himself.
So was Nechung always this unpredictable? The fact that he was relied upon for so many hundreds of years by highly qualified and attained Buddhist masters would suggest that he wasn’t, and that the inconsistencies have only manifested in more recent times. Coupled with the fact that he is also withdrawing from speaking as frequently, we might be led to believe that Nechung is deliberating pronouncing inaccuracies to wean the Tibetans off a reliance on his prophecies.
Perhaps we might consider that the uncertainties and instabilities of the time are merely a shift in universal energy and power, in anticipation of the next great Protector. Could all these be signs that the prophecy of the Changing of the Guardians – when the incomparable Protector Dorje Shugden rises in prominence throughout the world – is about to be fulfilled? Only time can tell now and it seems that that time is drawing ever closer as Nechung retreats behind the curtain, exit stage left, and Dorje Shugden rises to the center of a global stage.