By: Shashi Kei
When the 14th Dalai Lama officially banned the practice of the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden in 1996, His Holiness inflicted more than just a dent on the credibility of a Protector the Gelugs have worshipped for almost 400 years. He in fact exposed to doubt and ridicule, the very foundations of the Tibetan Buddhist religion.
A prominent and distinguishing feature of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition is the great emphasis placed on the guru and also the lineage masters. In the tantras that the Vajrayana school of Buddhism is known for, the guru is regarded as the embodiment of the Three Jewels – the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. In Vajrayana, it is said that a successful practice is based on the Three Roots – the root of the blessing, the root of the siddhi and the root of the activity. The most crucial of these three is the root of blessings, of which the source is the Guru.
As a matter of fact, it is firmly believed that one’s Dharma practice cannot yield any fruits unless it has the blessings of the guru. Milarepa’s story illustrates this well. Milarepa tricked Lama Ngokpa into teaching him how to practice by lying that Marpa had sent him to Lama Ngokpa to be trained. And yet, Milarepa’s greatest efforts bore no results. Lama Ngokpa was surprised for the teachings he gave Milarepa were certain to produce a positive outcome. In the end, when Milarepa confessed that he had not in fact been sent by Marpa, Lama Ngokpa replied, “Well, that must be the truth, because without the lama’s blessing, experience and realization cannot arise.”
In tantra, it is the guru and lineage lamas that give validity to and empower a practitioner’s training. Lama Ngokpa taught Milarepa the very same practice that his Guru, Marpa had taught him and yet, Milarepa gained nothing. Without the blessings of the guru, the potency of the training is absent.
This story and many similar anecdotes show the importance of lineage in the transmission of a practice. It is through the unbroken succession of lineage masters that unending blessings flow from the enlightened originator of the practice to the practitioner. The lineage is the source of all the blessings without which there can be no authentic transmission of the Buddhadharma, and the practice becomes a farce, void of any results. This is the most basic tenet embraced by all major schools of Tibetan Buddhism until this day.
When the Dalai Lama imposed a ban on the practice of Dorje Shugden, alluding to the Protector practice being anti-Dharma and demonic, His Holiness in effect invalidated the greatest Gelugpa lamas such as Takphu Pemavajra, Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo, Trijang Dorje Chang and Zong Dorje Chang. In fact, seeing that the aforementioned masters were inextricable sources of the Gelug lineage, it follows that through the Dalai Lama’s declaration of Dorje Shugden being spirit worship, that the Gelug school of Buddhism is void by definition from the time of at least Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo.
But the damage does not end there, for if we were to trace the ‘demon’ that perverted the Gelugpa lineage to its source, we will ultimately end up at the fountainhead of the Dorje Shugden practice, which is in fact the Sakya lineage. The Gelug masters did not ‘invent’ the Dorje Shugden practice. That honor, or dishonor depending on which side of the Dorje Shugden divide you stand, belongs to the 30th Sakya Throne Holder, Sonam Rinchen. It was Sonam Rinchen who recognized Dorje Shugden as an enlightened protector and enthroned the deity together with Dorje Setrap and Tsiu Marpo. Together they were known as the Three Kings (Gyalpo Sum) and were regarded as the Protectors of the Sakya lineage.
Another great Sakya master of the 17th century, Morchen Kunga Lhundrub (1654 – 1728) who was undoubtedly a well-respected and trusted holder of the Sakya lineage’s Lamdre and Tantric teachings, and also the Vajrayogini lineage, wrote praises to Dorje Shugden acknowledging the Protector as an enlightened being. It was Morchen Kunga Lhundrub who told his disciples, “Now is the time to rely upon Dorje Shugden.”
Clearly it was the Sakyas who endorsed Dorje Shugden as a protector worthy of worship. So immediately we see an inconsistency – why is it that historical Gelug masters who embraced the Dorje Shugden practice are denounced by His Holiness the Dalai Lama but not the historical Sakya masters who initiated the practice and, by their reputation and position, legitimized a ‘demon’?
History records that after Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen was murdered, his estate at Drepung Monastery was destroyed, as were the stupas containing his relics. The search for his reincarnation was also forbidden. Such a search would not have been fruitful anyway if we are to believe what the Tibetan leadership claims, which is that Dorje Shugden arose a ghost of an oath breaker. That would have been the end of the oath breaker and it would have remained as Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen’s legacy, except that around the time of his death the Sakya Throne Holders began to recognize Dorje Shugden to be in the essence of Avalokiteshvara. What is even more interesting is how these Sakya masters arrived at their conclusion by referring to the Nyingma Tantra Rin chen sna bdun that suggested that this “Dolgyal is in essence the Buddha of Compassion”.
Furthermore, it was not only Sonam Rinchen, the 30th Sakya Throne Holder, and Morchen Kunga Lhundrub who regarded Dorje Shugden as an enlightened being. The 31st Sakya Throne Holder Kunga Lodro, famed for his teaching of the Lobshe (the uncommon Lamdre), was regarded as an emanation of Dorje Shugden. It was Kunga Lodro who wrote a beautiful wrathful torma offering prayer to Dorje Shugden called ‘Swirl Of Perfect Sense Offering’ which became the basis of Pabongka Rinpoche’s composition ‘Melodious Drum Victorious In All Directions’ which is in turn a key text used in modern day worship of Dorje Shugden.
Later on in the Sakya lineage of throneholders, the 32nd Sakya Throne Holder Wangdu Nyingpo, regarded by the Sakyas as the ‘second Padmasambhava’, also worshipped the Protector Dorje Shugden. The 33rd Sakya Throne Holder Pema Dudul Wangchuk, a high Mahasiddha in the Sakya tradition, was a firm believer and practitioner of Dorje Shugden as well. His son, the 35th Sakya Throne Holder Tashi Rinchen, even relied on Dorje Shugden in order to continue the Sakya family line. When Tashi Rinchen could not have an heir, they turned to Dorje Shugden and Pema Dudul declared that Dorje Shugden would reincarnate as Tashi Rinchen’s son in order to continue the Sakya family line.
So we see, Dorje Shugden played more than just a devotional role in the Sakya lineage. The deity was also intimately involved in the bloodline of the Sakyas and had a direct role in the procreation of Sakya masters. The Sakyas’ faith in Dorje Shugden continued in the 35th Sakya Throne Holder Tashi Rinchen. In fact, Tashi Rinchen not only brought Kunga Nyingpo, the reincarnation of the ‘demon’ Dorje Shugden into the world, but he also founded Dolma Phodrang that the present 41st Sakya Throne Holder is from. This ‘demon’ Kunga Nyingpo (son of the 35th Sakya Throne Holder) ascended the Sakya seat of the lineage as the 37th Throne Holder and held over dominion over the entire Sakya clan, who are long thought of as a people borne out of Manjushri himself.
From Kunga Nyingpo came the 39th Sakya Throne Holder Dragshul Trinley Rinchen who was also a firm believer that Dorje Shugden is an enlightened being. In his autobiography, Dragshul Trinley Rinchen wrote:
“The Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden Tsel definitively is Avalokitesvara. 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,” which establishes this by scripture [lung gis grub]. The Great Je Sakyapa Kunga Nyingpo is well known as an incarnation of the Arya Lotus in Hand. The Arya Lotus in Hand definitively is none other than the Lord of Mandalas, but provisionally by assuming the manner of a tenth level bodhisattva he simultaneously sports billions of superior, middling and inferior emanations to accomplish immeasurable benefit for beings, such as setting them on paths to the higher realms and liberation”.
If we agree with His Holiness the Dalai Lama that Dorje Shugden is a malevolent spirit bent on destroying the Dharma, then we must also agree that it was the greatest masters of the Sakya lineage at the time who established this ‘demonic’ practice, that four centuries later threatens the sanctity of Dharma and created the most damaging split in the Sangha.
Therefore when His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaks against Dorje Shugden, His Holiness in fact calls into question the legitimacy of the Sakya lineage. What makes this even more unbelievable and disastrous for the Sakyas is how the present and 41st Sakya Throne Holder, His Holiness Ngawang Kunga Tegchen Palbar Trinley Samphel Wangyi Gyalpo, supported the Dalai Lama’s views of Dorje Shugden, and in so doing belittled his own lineage and lineage masters, and nullified all blessings of the Sakya practices.
After all, in agreeing with the Dalai Lama’s statements regarding Dorje Shugden as demon worship, he as the head of the lineage has invalidated his entire tradition as an authentic Tibetan Buddhist school by maligning a large part of its history as ‘demonic’ worship. Moreover, given that the Sakya lineage has a rich and legitimate history of relying on Dorje Shugden, it can safely be said that the lineage the present Sakya Throne Holder inherited was worthless and ineffective. As we established earlier, all Tibetan Buddhist schools agree that the potency of a teaching or transmission flows through the lineage masters to the practitioners. And so, what contaminated blessings and empowerments did the 41st Sakya Throne Holder receive or inherit if the channel that is supposed to convey the lineage blessings had already been commandeered by demon worshippers since the time of the 30th Sakya Throne Holder? How can a valid lineage pass through seven ‘demon worshippers’ en route to the present Throne Holder and yet be regarded as authentic? The present Sakya Throne Holder is under an obligation to provide answers to these valid questions.
When the present and 41st Sakya Throne Holder claimed that “some Sakyas worshipped Shugden as a lower deity…” and implied that Shugden was a worldly spirit or demon who is kept in check because he is controlled by Mahakala, he annulled the Sakya lineage from the time of Sonam Rinchen and Morchen Kunga Lhundrub. And in doing so, the Sakya Throne Holder also undermined the great Mahakala as being incapable of subduing a mere ‘demon’, only capable of keeping him in check. If Dorje Shugden is indeed under the control of Mahakala, then what is all the fuss in Dharamsala about, unless the Sakya Throne Holder is inferring that Mahakala is incompetent?
If both His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the 41st Sakya Throne Holder are correct in their assessment of Dorje Shugden, it would also mean that the blood line of the Sakyas, especially those of the Dolma Phodrang, are accursed with gross maleficence. Official Sakya websites state that the 41st Sakya Throne Holder is recognized to be a reincarnation of Dragshul Trinley Rinchen, the 39th Sakya Throne Holder, who is his grandfather and also a confirmed Dorje Shugden believer. Therefore, if the 41st Sakya Throne Holder is to be regarded as an enlightened master, then he cannot be the reincarnation of a demon worshipper. Or if we insist that Dragshul Trinley Rinchen, the 39th Sakya Throne Holder was indeed a demon worshipper, then his reincarnation, the present 41st Sakya Throne Holder cannot be an enlightened being.
Five Points of Concern
As a matter of fact, with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s stance on Dorje Shugden which the 41st Sakya Throne Holder has openly and officially endorsed, they jointly and individually declare as follows:
- That from the 17th Century, the Sakya lineage became contaminated and the children of Manjushri became devil worshippers. Hence the entire Sakya lineage today cannot be regarded as a legitimate Tibetan Buddhist school capable of bringing its adherents to the state of enlightenment. In fact, the opposite should apply;
- That the Lamdre that is the final intention and instruction of the conqueror, Vajradhara to the Sakya has been destroyed at the hands of a series of infernal Throne Holders. How can the Lamdre survive in a lineage of demon worshippers? The first of the Four Authenticities in the Lamdre is ‘the authenticity of the guru’. But by the declaration of the 41st Sakya Throne Holder, the Sakya can no longer claim authenticity of their lineage gurus seeing that at least seven throne holders have broken refuge vows by worshipping the ‘demon’ Dorje Shugden;
- That the 41st Throne Holder and the heirs of the Drolma Phodrang are borne of demonic seed. In addition, the 41st Sakya Throne Holder is the reincarnation of a demon worshipper (the 39th Sakya Throne Holder Dragshul Trinley Rinchen);
- That the Sakya masters erred so completely to have equated a demon as Avalokiteshvara. What happened to their attainments, learning and clairvoyance that they were unable to discern demon from enlightened being? If they can be mistaken to such severity, what other Sakya teachings should be called into question?
- As the result of declarations 1 to 4 above, the 41st Sakya Throne Holder needs to accept responsibility for his lineage founding a practice that today ‘harms the life of the Dalai Lama’ and is also accounts for the reason why the Tibetans have failed in their efforts to regain their country.
If the Tibetan leadership was genuinely concerned about the proliferation of demon worship in their community, they should stick to the truth and refocus all the accusations leveled at Dorje Shugden practitioners at the Sakyas as the original source of the Tibetan people’s woes. This is of course in consideration of historical fact and what is universally believed by the Sakya Tradition, that seven of their Throne Holders were either adherents of Dorje Shugden practice or emanations of the Protector himself. In light of this, the 41st Sakya Throne Holder should therefor stand accused and not pretend to be an accuser of Dorje Shugden.
Clearly, the 41st Sakya Throne Holder’s argument that Dorje Shugden was merely a lower [worldly] deity and was never ‘part of the Sakya institution’ is a slippery slope argument that challenges his own legitimacy and the validity of the entire Sakya lineage. If the 41st Sakya Throne Holder truly believes that Dorje Shugden is a dark and demonic element, then the decent and remaining thing to do now is to acknowledge that the Sakya sect is no longer a legitimate Tibetan Buddhist school, and to dissolve. Why perpetuate a redundant and dangerous sect and pretend to be a legitimate Tibetan tradition? The same argument should also see to the dismantling of the Gelug lineage and the hallowed position of His Holiness the Dalai Lama who like the 41st Sakya Throne Holder, inherited an impotent lineage from a line of demon worshippers.
And yet we see none of that.
This is not to encourage criticism against the Sakya school but for readers to consider the motivation of the Tibetan leadership to direct violence exclusively against Gelug practitioners, instead of the root of the Shugden practice which is the Sakya school (as proven by fact). Ultimately the anti-Dorje Shugden argument is tantamount to argumentum ad absurdum. For the claim that Dorje Shugden is a dark and dangerous force to be regarded as valid, then proper remedies must follow and that includes the tearing down all that arose from Dorje Shugden and all that been associated with it. This would cover the greatest masters of the Sakya and Gelug lineages. Those who accuse Dorje Shugden wrongly and yet refuse to follow through with remedies are only highlighting what everyone already knows – that they are disingenuous, carrying through with the ban and enforcing it for ulterior reasons undisclosed to the people.