Point 10: The Shugden Affair: Origins of a Controversy (Part I)

Point 10: The Shugden Affair: Origins of a Controversy (Part I)

(Written by Georges Dreyfus)

http://www.dalailama.com/messages/dolgyal-shugden/ganden-tripa/the-shugden-affair-i

In recent years the community of Tibetan Buddhists has been agitated by an intense dispute concerning the practice of a controversial deity, Gyel-chen Dor-je Shuk-den (rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan). Several Tibetan monks have been brutally murdered, and the Tibetan community in general and the Ge-luk tradition in particular have become profoundly polarized. Outsiders have been puzzled by the intensity of this dispute, for it concerns an unusual type of deity, the dharma protector (chos skyong srung ma), the concept of which is difficult to understand within the modern view of religion as a system of individual beliefs.

Despite the importance of these events and the coverage that it has received in both print and electronic media, modern scholars have remained relatively silent on the subject. One reason for this is that few scholars are willing to enter into a conflict as highly charged as this one. Moreover, the dispute concerns a rather baroque area of the Tibetan religious world that is neither well known nor easy for a modern observer to conceptualize. Nevertheless, this scholarly silence is regrettable, in that it has allowed less well-informed viewpoints to acquire legitimacy. It has also contributed to the irrational atmosphere that has surrounded this question.

In this essay, I will attempt to fill this scholarly gap and to promote a more rational approach by examining the quarrel surrounding Shuk-den and delineating some of the events leading to the present crisis. I will examine the narrative of Shuk-den’s origin, focusing on the meaning of the hostility toward the Dalai Lama which it displays and which is confirmed by recent events. The irony is that Shuk-den is presented by his followers as the protector of the Ge-luk (dge lugs) school, of which the Dalai Lama is the (de facto) leader. How can there be a practice in the Ge-luk tradition opposed to its own leader?

(Ed: EXACTLY. It is illogical that Dorje Shugden arose specifically to protect the Gelugpa school and its teachings, but is threatening to the most important figure of Tibetan Buddhism – the Dalai Lama – who promotes Tibetan Buddhism in general and Gelugpa teachings specifically.

Further, there is documented evidence that it was Dorje Shugden who had given Dalai Lama the specific advice to leave Tibet in safety – he even gave him the specific routes to take so he could escape successfully. Why would this same Protector lead him out of danger and then simultaneously be a threat to his life?

The claim that practitioners (Gelugpa or not) of Dorje Shugden risk their lives is completely illogical – why would a Protector destroy people who are doing his practice?)

To answer this question, I will examine the historical development of the Shuk-den practice. I will first consider the events related in the Shuk-den story. I will then turn to later historical developments, in particular the way in which Pa-bong-ka (pha bong kha,) 1878-1941, the central figure in the Shuk-den lineage, developed this practice in response to contemporary events. I will also examine some of the events that took place in India in the 1970s when the “Shuk-den Affair” started to emerge. I will show that although the dispute concerning this deity has an important political background, it primarily concerns the orientation of the Ge-luk tradition and its relation to other Tibetan Buddhist traditions. In exploring these questions, I will also seek to answer other related questions such as: Why is Shuk-den so controversial? Is the practice of propitiating Shuk-den different from the practices associated with other protectors? Why has the present Dalai Lama been so opposed to the practice of propitiating Shuk-den? These are some of the questions that I seek to answer in this interpretive essay. What I will not attempt to explain are the more recent events that have unfolded in the 1990s.These events are still shrouded in controversy and will need to be established with any reasonable degree of objectivity before they can be interpreted.

In order to address some of the questions just mentioned, I explore the practice of Dor-je Shuk-den as it has been understood over time. In doing so, I follow the critical methods of the historical approach, whose assumptions are quite different from those of the believers. I examine how Shuk-den is presented in the rare texts where he appears prior to the contemporary period, that is, as a worldly deity (‘jig rten pa’i lha) who can be propitiated but not worshiped. His followers often reply that this description refers to the interpretable meaning (drang don) of the deity, not its ultimate meaning (nges don), for in such a dimension Shuk-den is said to be fully enlightened (nges don la sang rgyas). [2] It is this kind of normative distinction that I leave aside in this essay intended for a modern audience.

(Ed: I don’t think it is appropriate nor relevant to conduct an academic study of something of this nature – Dorje Shugden’s practice has become a political issue but the nature of the practice itself is not political. It is spiritual – how he arose as a Protector and the reason that many practitioners have chosen to propitiate him for hundreds of years are not for political reasons. Discussing the controversies in a socio-cultural, historical or political light is not relevant to understanding the nature of the practice itself nor how it could or could not be “harmful”.

Even the discussions about whether he is a worldly deity or an enlightened being cannot be studied purely from a cultural point of view – this is very much of a spiritual nature. I.e. protectors like Dorje Shugden can be fully enlightened but manifest in a worldly form as a protector, which makes them karmically closer to us and therefore more able to help us on a mundane level. It is not as straightforward as just saying that he is a worldly deity or he is not.)

The Founding Myth

When asked to explain the origin of the practice of Dor-je Shuk-den, his followers point to a rather obscure and bloody episode of Tibetan history, the premature death of Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen (sprul sku grags pa rgyal mtshan, 1618-1655).Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was an important Ge-luk lama who was a rival of the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngak-wang Lo-sang Gya-tso (ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, )1617-1682).[3] Drak-ba Gyel-tsen and Ngak-wang Lo-sang Gya-tso were born at a crucial time in the Ge-luk tradition. The tradition had by then survived a protracted civil war with the forces of Tsang (gtsang) backed by some of the other Tibetan Buddhist schools. It had not yet won the war but had begun to establish an alliance with Mongol groups that would allow it to triumph two decades later. Around the same time, two of the most important Ge-luk lamas had died: the fourth Dalai Lama and the second reincarnation of Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba (bsod nams grags pa,) 1478-1554), who was one of the most important Ge-luk teachers during the sixteenth century. Between the two boys, Ngak-wang Lo-sang Gya-tso was chosen as the Fifth Dalai Lama over Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, who was designated by way of compensation as the third reincarnation of Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba.  [4]

(When the young Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen was identified as the incarnation of Panchen Sonam Drakpa, it was not merely “compensation”. It was because he really was recognized as the incarnation of Panchen Sonam Drakpa! This was confirmed by many of the high Lamas and Gelugpa authorities at the time (Lindsay G. McCune). The 5th Dalai Lama had also recognized the enlightened incarnation lineage of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen – unfortunately, it was for political reasons later that this was not publically announced.)

This choice did not seem, however, to have resolved the contention between the two lamas, as they remained rivals at the heads of two competing estates known as the “Upper Chamber” (zim khang gong ma) under Drak-ba Gyel-tsen and the “Lower Chamber” (zim khang ‘og ma) under the Dalai Lama.  During the next two decades, the struggle between the forces of Central Tibet supported by the Mongols of Gushri Khan and the forces of Tsang continued, gradually turning to the advantage of the former party.  Due to his connection with the Mongols, which had been established by the Third Dalai Lama and reinforced by the Fourth, the Fifth Dalai Lama and his party were able to establish their supremacy.  In 1642, the Fifth Dalai Lama became the ruler of Tibet and entrusted the actual running of the state to his prime minister, So-nam Choe-pel (bsod nams chos ‘phal). This victory, however, still did not eliminate the rivalry between the two lamas and their estates.  Very little is known about the events that took place in the next ten years but it seems quite clear that there was a contentious between the two lamas’ estates.  What is less clear is the reason behind this conflict.  Was Drak-ba Gyel-tsen perceived as a focus of the opposition to the rule of the Fifth Dalai Lama and his prime minister within the Ge-luk hierarchy?  Was there a personal rivalry between the two lamas?  Or was the main reason for the tension a dispute between Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s family, the Ge-kha-sas, and So-nam Choe-pel, as a recent work argues?  [5]

(Ed: Spiritual accounts written by high Lamas such as Pabongka Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche do not mention that there was a specific conflict between the two Lamas. That seems to indicate that the Dalai Lama, who is widely recognized as an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara – Buddha of Compassion, is not subject to petty quarrels and rivalry! Rather, the conflict was between the students and Labrangs of each Lama.

It was widely acknowledged that Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen was a very good teacher and Lama and had many students, both within Tibet as well as nobility and royalty from China, Mongolia etc. It was believed that he was just as capable than the Dalai Lama as a teacher, if not more so. This meant that he was often more sought after than the Dalai Lama and would receive many offerings. This would have been the bone of contention for followers of the Dalai Lama, who quickly became jealous of his success.)

What seems to be well established is that in these circumstances, in 1655, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen suddenly died.  The exact conditions of his death are controversial and shrouded in legends.  Some of the Fifth’s sympathizers claimed that there was nothing extraordinary in Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s death.  He had just died of a sudden illness. Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s sympathizers seemed to have disagreed, arguing that he had died because he had not been able to bear the constant efforts from the Dalai Lama’s followers to undermine him.  Others claimed that he was killed while in the custody of the prime minister. Still others claimed that he submitted himself voluntarily to death by strangulation or by suffocation in order to become a wrathful protector of the Ge-luk tradition.  [6] In a particularly dramatic and highly revealing account, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s death is described as occurring after a traditional religious debate that he had with the Fifth Dalai Lama.  As an acknowledgment of his victory, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had received a ceremonial scarf from the Fifth.  Shortly after, however, he was found dead, the scarf stuffed down his throat.

Whatever the exact details of his death, the important point is that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s death was perceived to be related to his rivalry with the Fifth Dalai Lama.  It was also taken to have been violent and hence the kind of death that leads people to take rebirth as dangerous spirits.  According to standard Indian and Tibetan cultural assumptions, a person who is killed often becomes a ghost and seeks revenge.  In his famous description of the demonology of Tibet, Nebesky-Wojkowitz provides several examples of the transformation of a person into a spirit due to a violent death.  [7] Such a spirit is considered more dangerous when the person has religious knowledge, which is said to explain the particular power of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s spirit.  He [8] is not just one among many protectors but a particularly dangerous one as the vengeful ghost of a knowledgeable person who died violently and prematurely.

According to the Shuk-den legend, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen manifested himself as a (gyel-po,) i.e., the dangerous red-spirit [9] of a person, often a religious one, who is bent on extracting revenge against those involved in his death.  Since he had been an important lama, however, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen turned his anger from a personal revenge to a nobler task, the protection of the doctrinal purity of the Ge-luk tradition.  According to the legend, he first manifested his wrathful nature by haunting his silver mausoleum, which became animated by a buzzing noise, and by inflicting damage on his own estate.  Then the monks serving the Fifth Dalai Lama began to encounter difficulties in performing their ritual duties.  [10] Finally the Dalai Lama himself became the target.  He began to hear noises such as that of stones falling on the roof, which became so loud that it is said that he could not eat his meals without monks blowing large horns on the roof of his residence.  Frightened by these wrathful manifestations, the prime minister So-nam Choe-pel decided to get rid of the troublesome silver mausoleum by packing it into a wooden box and throwing it in the Kyi-chu river.  Carried by the current the box reached Dol, a small pond in Southern Tibet.  It is there that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s spirit resided for a while in a small temple built for him at the order of the Fifth Dalai Lama, who decided to pacify his spirit by establishing a practice of propitiation under the name of (Gyel-chen Dor-je Shuk-den (rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan) and entrusting it to the Sa-gya school.  [11]

(Ed: Many calamities arose after the death of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen – widespread famine, deaths of animals, earthquakes etc. This is not because Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen was extracting revenge upon the Dalai Lama or the people. It was the collective karma of the people who had dared to kill such a high Lama. In the Dharma teachings about karma, it is clearly explained that nothing bad can happen to us unless we have created the cause for it to happen. It is illogical to say that a high Lama would do things to punish the people. He is recognized as the incarnation of Panchen Sonam Drakpa, which means that he would also have been recognized as highly attained, if not enlightened, being. As we know, enlightened beings do not operate by the same emotions of anger and sadness as we do; they would never hurt anyone. It does not then make sense to say that this same being would suddenly turn vengeful – it goes against all principles of the dharma to say that an enlightened being can return to such base states of mind and emotion.

However, the karma of drawing blood from a Buddha (considered one of the five most heinous crimes) is tremendous. The corresponding results of that karma would also be massive which manifested in the calamities which immediately follow the death of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen – it is at this moment that the evil deed is thought of, executed, completed and rejoiced in, which are the four completing factors for the full karmic effect to take place.)

This story is striking.  In particular, its undertone of hostility toward the Dalai Lama is remarkable given that the Dalai Lama represents to a large extent the ascendancy of the Ge-luk school, also the school that the Shuk-den rituals seek to protect.  Our first task here is to explain the meaning of this narrative, an important task given that the recent events in India seem to illustrate its hostility toward the Dalai Lama.  The most obvious and tempting explanation are to assume that this story is primarily a political tale reflecting the tension between a strong Dalai Lama and a restive Ge-luk establishment.  This may surprise an outside observer for whom the institution of the Dalai Lama is a Ge-luk creation and represents the power of this school.  This interpretation appears more credible to an insider who knows that the Dalai Lama institution rests on a complex coalition in which the Ge-luk school is central but which includes other people, such as members of aristocratic families, adherents of the Nying-ma tradition, etc.

In such a coalition, the relationship between the Dalai Lama and the Ge-luk establishment is difficult and must be carefully negotiated.  The delicacy of this situation is illustrated by the question of the leadership of the Ge-luk tradition.  The nominal leader of the Ge-luk school is not the Dalai Lama but the Tri Rin-bo-che (khri rin po che), the Holder of the Throne of Ga-den in direct line of succession from Dzong-ka-ba.  But in times where the Dalai Lama is strong, the leadership of the Holder of the Throne of Ga-den, who is chosen among the ex-abbots of the two tantric colleges, [12] is mostly nominal, and the Dalai Lama exercises effective leadership over the Ge-luk school through his government.

(Ed: it is not accurate to say that the Gaden Tripas have “nominal” power over the Gelugpa school. He is of the same level, ranking and power as the Sakya Trinzins in the Sakya school, and the Karmapa in the Kagyu lineage. All these leaders have the sole power to make and implement decisions and are authorities related to the practices within their respective schools. Yes, the Dalai Lama can exert his leadership over the Gelugpas – both spiritual and political – but this also applies across the board, to all the other schools. His authority is not any stronger over the Gelugpas than it is over the other three lineages.)

The Ge-luk school and more particularly its three large monasteries around Lhasa have played a leading role in the Dalai Lama’s rule in Tibet.  They have supported and legitimized his power and have received in return considerable socio-economic power.  But this power also has been a source of tension with the Dalai Lamas, particularly when he was a strong personality who had his own power basis and intended to lead-In the history of the Dalai Lamas, there have been three such politically powerful figures: the Fifth, the Thirteenth and the Fourteenth Dalai Lamas, and all three have had serious difficulties with the Ge-luk establishment.

(Ed: It does not make sense to separate the different incarnations of the Dalai Lamas from each other and make comparisons like this. We don’t talk of the Dalai Lamas as separate entities but should remember that they are in fact one enlightened mindstream that manifest different methods at different times to suit the times, people and place.)

It is also these same three Dalai Lamas who are said to have had problems with Shuk-den.  Shuk-den could then be a manifestation of the political resentment of the Ge-luk hierarchy against the power of a strong Dalai Lama seeking to restrict and control it.  The dispute surrounding Shuk-den would be a thinly disguised way for Ge-luk partisans to express their political opposition to an institution that does not sufficiently represent their parochial interests, an opposition manifested in the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s wrathful manifestation against the Fifth Dalai Lama.

(Ed: what are these “serious difficulties with the Ge-luk establishment?” It is not possible to draw conclusions from this without first establishing what difficulties these were. Are they of a political nature? And if so, examining this aspect should be kept separate from the nature of spiritual practices within any lineage or institution – you cannot define nor validate a practice by the politics surrounding it. Are these difficulties of a spiritual nature? If so, that would be to say that the Dalai Lama is being contrary and contradicting himself – this is not really possible if we consider him to be an incarnation of Chenrezig, a fully enlightened Buddha.

It is incorrect to make statements like “Drakpa Gyeltsen’s wrathful manifestation against the Fifth Dalai Lama. Never in history has there ever been clear evidence of how Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen (nor his subsequent arisal as Dorje Shugden) has directly harmed or affected the Dalai Lama in any way. As already mentioned above, the calamities that shook Tibet were never proven to be directly the action of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen but explained by high Lamas to be the manifestation of the Tibetan people’s terrible negative karma at that time.)

I would argue that although tempting, this reading of the Shuk-den story is inadequate for at least two reasons.  First, it fails to differentiate the stages in the relations between the Dalai Lama and the Ge-luk establishment.  It is true that these relations have often been tense.  But to run together the opposition between the Fifth Dalai Lama and the Ge-luk hierarchy, and the tension surrounding the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dalai Lamas fails to take into account the profound transformations that the Dalai Lama institution has undergone, particularly around the turn of the eighteenth century.  Secondly, the political interpretation of the saga of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s wrathful manifestation is anachronistic, confusing the story and the events that it narrates.

(Ed: Yes, definitely. When discussing the practice Dorje Shugden, we must be very clear on two fronts: the spiritual nature and purity of Dorje Shugden and his practice; the surrounding political tensions, which are related but does not have any bearing on the history or nature of the practice itself)

Or, to put it differently, this interpretation fails to see that we are dealing here with two stories: the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, a seventeenth century victim of the Fifth Dalai Lama’s power, and the story of Shuk-den, the spirit in charge of maintaining the purity of the Ge-luk tradition as understood by his twentieth century followers.

(Ed: Saying this is already to assume that Shugden definitely arose as a spirit – which has not been determined yet in this paper. Also, it make the Dalai Lama out to be someone who would make another contemporary a “victim”. This is not likely behavior of someone who is widely recognized by his own people as the incarnation of Avalokiteshvara. This is why, as already mentioned, we cannot study the politics and history in isolation. There are many levels to a situation like this and it seems the most important element – the spiritual – is omitted in the study of this practice and its bearing on the people and time.)

The former narrative is clearly political but is not about Shuk-den. It concerns the nature of the Dalai Lama institution and its relation to the Ge-luk hierarchy in the seventeenth century. The latter is about Shuk-den. It is mostly religious but does not concern the Dalai Lama’s political power.

(Ed: exactly – so why do we even discuss all this political clutter in the first place?)

To further clarify these two points, I will examine the political context in which the Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s story took place and the nature of the Dalai Lama institution at that time. I will then consider the events surrounding Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s tragic death in a historical perspective, and try to reconstruct the way in which it was understood by his contemporaries.

The Historical Context

The events surrounding Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s death must be understood in relation to its historical context, the political events surrounding the emergence of the Dalai Lama institution as a centralizing power during the second half of the seventeenth century. The rule of this monarch seems to have been particularly resented by some elements in the Ge-luk tradition. It is quite probable that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was seen after his death as a victim of the Dalai Lama’s power and hence became a symbol of opposition.

(Ed: It should be clarified that it was not the Dalai Lama who necessarily exerted this “power” and or victimized anyone. It is more likely to be his students and followers that acted in these evil ways. A high Lama like the Dalai Lama would not act in a way that deliberately hurts anyone, especially not his own friend and contemporary. The Dalai Lama carries the unusual title as both spiritual and political head, but there is also a government under him who have considerable influence over the decisions made and executed – this is true up until today. In every instance, where there is politics, there will be power strugglers and human frailties – to do a study like this, it is absolutely necessary to determine which decisions were made specifically by the Dalai Lama, and which were decided upon and executed by his people. It would not be surprising to find huge discrepancies between the two.)

The resentment against the power of the Fifth Dalai Lama was primarily connected to a broad and far-reaching issue, the desire of some of the more sectarian Ge-luk hierarchs to set up a purely Ge-luk rule. Some even seem to have argued for the suppression of the schools against which they had fought for more than a century, particularly the Kar-ma Ka-gyu¸ tradition.[13] The Fifth seems to have realized that such a rule would have had little support and would have exacerbated the intersectarian violence that had marred the last two centuries of Tibetan history. To avoid this, he attempted to build a state with a broader power base, state which he presented as the re-establishment of the early Tibetan empire. His rule was to be supported by the Ge-luk tradition, but would also include groups affiliated with other religious traditions.

The Fifth was particularly well disposed toward the Nying-ma tradition from which he derived a great deal of his practice and with which he had a relation through his family. This seems to have created a great deal of frustration among some Ge-luk circles, as expressed by several popular stories. The stories frequently involve a colorful figure, Ba-ko Rab-jam (bra sgo rab ‘byams), who was a friend of the Dalai Lama. In the stories, he is often depicted as making fun of the Fifth Dalai Lama. For example, one day he comes to see the Dalai Lama, but the enormous Pur-ba (ritual dagger) he wears in his belt prevents him from crossing the door, an obviously sarcastic reference to the Nying-ma leanings of the Fifth Dalai Lama.

In the light of this opposition, it would seem that the narrative of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s wrathful manifestation makes perfect sense. Is not the Shuk-den story about the revenge of a group, the Ge-luk hierarchy, in struggle against the Fifth’s strong centralizing power?

(Ed: This is not a common story at all – where did this interpretation come from?! It is very contradictory. How is the “Shugden story” (whatever that may be in this case –  it is very unclear here!) a revenge upon the Dalai Lama? Yes, Tulku Drapa Gyeltsen was killed by the Dalai Lama’s people –  the 5th Dalai Lama himself even confessed this and wrote an apology on behalf of his people. But how does the subsequent incidents become any sort of revenge on the part of the Gelugpa school? Is this saying that the Gelugpa institution “sent” this spirit back to harm the Dalai Lama? How is it revenge?

From a spiritual perspective, it is impossible to extract revenge upon the Dalai Lama, as he is a fully enlightened being and would therefore not have any karma to be harmed. He is also a fully ordained monk who holds full sets of vows – this and his practices alone will protect him from any interfering actions of a mere “spirit”. This is very basic knowledge and logic within the Buddhist teachings. To say that Shugden was a form of revenge against the Dalai Lama and his people completely contradicts the most basic Buddhist teachings and the entire basis of karma. No practitioner (Gelugpa or not) in their right mind and with understanding of the teachings would attempt to extract revenge on any high Lama in this way.)

Although tempting, this interpretation completely ignores the historical transformations of the Dalai Lama institution. In particular, it ignores the fact that after the Fifth’s death the Dalai Lama institution was taken over by the Ge-luk hierarchy and radically changed. To put it colorfully, if Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had manifested as Shuk-den to protect the Ge-luk hierarchy against the encroachments of a Dalai Lama not sufficiently sympathetic to the Ge-luk tradition, this vengeful spirit would have been out of business by the beginning of the eighteenth century when his partisans, the Ge-luk hierarchy, won the day!

(Ed: It is incorrect to say that Dorje Shugden arose to “protect the Ge-luk hierarchy against the encroachments of a Dalai Lama…” If we examine the historical story all the way back to the time of Je Tsongkhapa, when Dorje Shugden was then Duldzin Drakpa Gyeltsen, it is clear that Dorje Shugden was requested to arise as a Dharma protector specifically to protect and preserve Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings (specifically his teachings on Nagarjuna’s Middle Way) so that they could continue to spread. It was in no way political, or had anything to do specifically against any other political institution of figure head.)

As long as the Fifth was alive, the Ge-luk hierarchy had to endure his rule, but his death changed the situation. His prime minister Sang-gye Gya-tso (sangs rgyas rgya mtsho) at first tried to conceal this death. When this proved impossible, he attempted to continue the Fifth’s tradition by appointing his candidate, Tsang-yang Gya-tso (tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho), as the Sixth Dalai Lama. But with the latter’s failure to behave as a Dalai Lama, Sang-gye Gya-tso lost the possibility to continue the task started by the Fifth. A few years later (1705) he was killed after being defeated by a complex coalition of Ge-luk hierarchs involving Jam-yang-shay-ba, the Dzungar Mongols and Lhab-zang Khan with the backing of the Manchu emperor. [14]

After this defeat, the role of the Dalai Lama was transformed. His political power was limited and the nature of the ritual system supporting the institution was changed, as we shall see later. In these ways, the institution of the Dalai Lama became a more purely Ge-luk creation. Hence, it makes very little sense to speak of Shuk-den as representing the spirit of Ge-luk opposition to the Dalai Lama institution after the demise of the Fifth, for by then the institution had become to a large extent favorable to the Ge-luk hierarchy. (Ed: Again, it is not relevant nor correct to speak of Dorje Shugden in the context of opposing the Dalai Lama and protecting the Gelugpa school against his power. This was never the motivation for him to arise as a Protector in the first place!) Admittedly, there were a few incidents between the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and some elements of the Ge-luk tradition. There was also some resentment against the high-handedness of this ruler but these were minor and should not be blown out of proportion.

Did Drak-ba Gyel-tsen become a spirit?

(Ed: The most definitive story of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen arising as Dorje Shugden can be viewed on this illustrated story, which explains the sequence of events very clearly. The video can be viewed here: /?p=5741

This account has been upheld through the years and passed down through generations of teachers to their disciples. The most recent and comprehensive text on Dorje Shugden – Music Delighting an Ocean of Protectors by HH Trijang Rinpoche – also gives this account.

Trijang Rinpoche received teachings from Pabongka, who received teachings from Tagphu Pemavajra, who received the transmissions directly from Dorje Shugden himself. Pabongka Rinpoche was commonly regarded as a direct emanation of Vajrayogini / Heruka; Trijang Rinpoche too was acknowledged as a fully enlightened being.

So are these enlightened beings mistaken in their teachings and writing? Are these Lamas – and other Lamas of similar caliber – wrong for recognizing Dorje Shugden as an emanation of Manjushri, also a fully enlightened being? To deny these accounts is to say that all these Lamas are wrong, Manjushri is wrong and, more dangerously, all our own Lamas (who have directly or indirectly received teachings from these lamas) are wrong!)

This interpretation is confirmed by an analysis of the view of the contemporaries of these events. In the founding myth of the Shuk-den practice, the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s death and wrathful manifestation is presented as the view of his followers. Given the cultural assumptions of Tibetans, this scenario cannot be dismissed without further analysis. Impressed by his violent and premature death, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s followers may have begun to propitiate his spirit in an atmosphere of strong hostility against those who were thought to have been responsible. But although this scenario is culturally plausible, is it historical? That is, did Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s followers think of him in this way? This question is more difficult, given the paucity of contemporary sources, but it needs to be asked, for we cannot simply assume that these legendary episodes reflect the perception of contemporaries. In fact, there are indications that they do not.

The most decisive evidence is provided by the later Ge-luk historian, Sum-pa Ken-po ye-shay Pel-jor (sum pa mKhan po ye shes dpal ‘byor), 1702-1788), who reports for the year 1657 (Fire Bird) the following:

The assertion that this Tibetan spirit (bod de’i rgyal po) is Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, the reincarnation of the Upper Chamber, is just an expression of prejudice. Thus, I believe that the rumor that it is So-nam Choe-pel, who after passing away in the same year is protecting the Ge-luk tradition having assumed the form of a dharma protector through his “great concern for the Ge-luk tradition,” is correct. [15]

This passage is significant in several respects. First, it confirms the fact that there were stories of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen becoming Shuk-den quite early on. Although Sum-pa does not mention the deity by name, it seems quite clear that this is who he has in mind. But it also shows that Sum-pa Ken-po does not concede the identification of Shuk-den as the wrathful manifestation of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, which he takes to be an insult to “the reincarnation of the Upper Chamber.” In what is probably a tongue in cheek tit-for-tat, he rather identifies the troublesome spirit with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s enemy, So-nam Choe-pel, the hated first prime minister of the Fifth Dalai Lama whom he sarcastically credits with a “great concern for the Ge-luk tradition.”

Second, Sum-pa’s remark is important because it reflects the view of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s sympathizers as the respectful epithet (“the reincarnation of the Upper Chamber”) makes clear. Sum-pa was the disciple of Jam-yang-shay-ba (‘jam dbyangs bzhad pa,) 1648-1722), one of the leading Ge-luk lamas opposing the Fifth and his third prime minister (sde srid) Sang-gye Gya-tso.[16] Thus, when he denies that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had become Shuk-den, Sum-pa is reflecting the views of the people who considered Drak-ba Gyel-tsen with sympathy as an unfortunate victim of a rule they resented. The ironical remark about So-nam Choe-pel (“his great concern for the Ge-luk tradition”) and his identification as Shuk-den confirms this. Sum-pa disliked So-nam Choe-pel, whom he considered responsible for the Fifth’s rule and Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s death.

Sum-pa’s remark, however, raises a question. For, who then are the people claiming that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had become Shuk-den if not the followers of this lama? Could it be that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s followers had changed their minds by the time Sum-pa Ken-po wrote his account (1749)? Though further investigations may change our view, the evidence seems to suggest that this is not the case. The people who were identifying Shuk-den as the wrathful manifestation of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen were not his followers but his enemies, i.e., the Fifth Dalai Lama and his followers. This seems to be the implication of comments by Sang-gye Gya-tso when he says, referring to Drak-ba Gyel-tsen:

After [the death of] Ngak-wang So-nam Ge-lek (Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba’s second reincarnation), [his reincarnation was born] as a member of the Ge-kha-sa family. Although [this person] had at first hopes for being the reincarnation of the All-knowing Yon-ten Gya-tso (the Fourth Dalai Lama), he was made the reincarnation of Ngak-wang So-nam Ge-lek and finally ended in a bad rebirth.[17]

Although Sang-gye Gya-tso is not explicit, his words seem to refer to the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s reincarnation as a spirit such as Shuk-den. This is confirmed by the Fifth Dalai Lama, who describes Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s demise as leading to his becoming a spirit. The Fifth explains that:

Due to the magic of a spirit (?), the son of the noble family Ge-kha-sa turned into a false reincarnation of Ngak-wang So-nam Ge-lek and became a spirit [motivated by] mistaken prayers (smon lam log pa’i dam srid).[18]

(Ed: It is important to note here that the 5th Dalai Lama had changed his mind about who Shugden was. He himself wrote praises in honour of Shugden, which referred to him clearly as an enlightened Being. Is it that the Dalai Lama was being contradictory? Surely someone as highly attained as the Dalai Lama would know the difference between a spirit and an enlightened being? The prayers that he wrote in praise of Dorje Shugden as an enlightened being are still being recited today and passed down by many of the highest Gelugpa Lamas. For example, he says, “Though unmoving from the sphere of primordial spontaneity,” and “Always protect us with the Three Jewels!” Both indicate the enlightened nature of Dorje Shugden and the fact that he is one of the Three Jewels.

Unfortunate as it is, we must also remember that there was a strong political scene that did dictate that the entire estate of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen and his name be completely erased from all historical records. Was the Dalai Lama under these influences too?

Given these many political manipulations, how do we then judge whose opinion was “wrong” or “right” then? As this issue is – at its heart – actually of a spiritual nature, we believe that we should be more inclined to believe in the spiritual masters and Lamas who have been propitiating Dorje Shugden these many years – they are less under the influences of politics and more likely to be doing their practices purely without external interferences. They too have followed the same spiritual thought and practices of the 5th Dalai Lama when he wrote prayers in praise of Dorje Shugden; this has been the most constant factor when we look at Dorje Shugden’s practice across time. The political context has changed, but the spiritual aspect hasn’t.)

What this quote indicates is that after Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s death the claim that he had become a spirit such as Shuk-den was not a praise of his followers, but a denigration, not to say downright slander, by his enemies! It is not Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s partisans who were identifying him as Shuk-den, but his adversaries who were presenting this scenario as a way to explain away the events following his tragic demise.

We must wonder, however, why the Fifth Dalai Lama and his followers were interested in propagating the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s wrathful manifestation, a story which the latter’s followers were keen to dispel? The answer to this question is bound to be tentative and highly speculative, and it is unlikely that any clear historical evidence will answer this question. Nevertheless, I think that it is not unreasonable to assume the following scenario. Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s premature death must have been a momentous event in Tibet at that time. It must have created a considerable malaise among Tibetans, who consider the killing of a high lama a terrible crime that can affect a whole country (as attested by the perception of the Re-ting affair in this century). Such a perception of misfortune must have been accompanied by events perceived as bad omens. There were probably stories of the possession and destruction of objects associated with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, as reported in the founding myth. Finally, there was the fact that the reincarnation of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen seems not to have been sought for, an extraordinary occurrence given that he was the reincarnation of Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba, one of the foremost Ge-luk lamas. [19]

(Ed: It was documented that the government at the time erased all records of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen and discontinued his Labrang and in fact, forbade, any searches for his incarnation. This is one of the reasons it is difficult to trace historical evidence of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen’s work and times for most of it was destroyed or removed.)

It is in these circumstances that the story of his wrathful reincarnation must have appeared, not as a vindication of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, but as an attempt by the Fifth Dalai Lama and his followers to explain the absence of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s reincarnation and to shift the blame for the bad omen that had followed his death. These events were not the karmic effects of his violent death but the results of his transformation into a dangerous spirit. The Fifth Dalai Lama mentions that after Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s demise his spirit started to harm people.

(Ed: This is not correct. High Lamas and the 5th Dalai Lama himself eventually recognized that Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen had in fact arisen as Dorje Shugden, an enlightened protector, and not as a spirit. These are also in the 5th Dalai Lama’s writings. This therefore also refuted the fact that all the calamities were vengeful acts by Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen. It became clear then that it was a result of the people’s collective negative karma.)

In order to pacify him, the Fifth had a small temple built near the pond of Dol, but this did not help and the reports of harm continued unabated. With the help of several important lamas such as Ter-dag Ling-pa (gter bdag gling pa,) 1646-1714), the Fifth decided to launch a final ritual assault and to burn the spirit during a fire ritual in which the spectators were said to have smelled the odor of burnt flesh.

(Ed: This is a common story that is often cited until today, to explain that Dorje Shugden was a spirit. It is completely illogical. If indeed Dorje Shugden was a spirit and was really burned to death (so that even the “odor of burnt flesh” could be smelled), then why are we even still discussing him today, over 350 years later? Why are so many people terrified and threatened by what is supposed to be a spirit that was already destroyed 350 years ago?)

As we realize, this description of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s posthumous fate is highly partisan and it is no surprise that his sympathizers rejected these explanations. They were keen on keeping the blame on the party of the Dalai Lama, arguing that the unfortunate events were not due to the wrathful reincarnation of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, who had taken rebirth as the emperor of China.[20] Finally, there are other stories that seem to hint that the evil spirit connected with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was already active prior to the latter’s demise, even as early 1636.[21] If Shuk-den was already active prior to Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s tragic demise, how can he be the latter’s wrathful manifestation? These conflicting stories show that what we have here is not a unified narrative but several partly overlapping stories. The founding myth of the Shuk-den tradition grew out of a nexus of narratives surrounding these events and developed in accordance with the new changing historical circumstances. It is not the account of the followers of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, as claimed by Shuk-den’s modern followers, but it is only one of the many versions of the bundle of stories surrounding these tragic events. In fact, the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s demise as it appears in contemporary sources has little to do with Shuk-den. It is not about the deity but about Drak-ba Gyel-tsen. Only much later, when the significance of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s story faded, did this story resurface and get taken as the account of the origin of Shuk-den.

The fact that the founding narrative of the Shuk-den practice is largely mythological does not mean that we should dismiss it. Rather we should inquire into its meaning. This is what I will do in the later pages of this essay, where I examine the story of the violent manifestation of Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen as the founding myth of the tradition of those who propitiate Shuk-den. Before going into this, we need to inquire about the history of this propitiation. For, if this practice did not start with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s death, where does it come from? And the Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s story was later recast as the founding myth of the Shuk-den lineage, when did this appropriation take place?

The Early History of a Practice

To understand the history of the Shuk-den practice, we need to examine the way in which this deity has been considered throughout most of the history of the Ge-luk tradition. To his twentieth century followers, Shuk-den is known as (Gyel-chen Dor-je Shuk-den Tsal (rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal)), the “Great Magical Spirit Endowed with the Adamantine Force.”[22] If we look at earlier mentions, however, we can see that Shuk-den also appears under another and less exalted name, i.e., as (Dol Gyel (dol rgyal).Even Pa-bong-ka calls him in this way when he says: “The wooden implements (i.e., crate) having been thrown in the water, the pond of Dol became whitish. After abiding there, he became known for a while as (Dol-gyel).”[23]

(Ed: It is not that Pabongka himself refers to Dorje Shugden in this way – he merely points out one of the names he was known by. This is very different from calling him that name himself!)

This name helps us to understand how Shuk-den was considered in the earlier period, that is, as a troublesome but minor spirit, an interpretation confirmed by the explanations concerning Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s reincarnation.

The name (Dol Gyel) is quite interesting, for it yields a possible explanation of the origin of Shuk-den. It suggests that originally Shuk-den had a close regional connection with the area of the Tsang-po and the Yar-lung valleys where the pond of Dol lies. There, Shuk-den/ Dol-gyel was considered a (gyel po (rgyal po)), that is, the dangerous red-spirit of a religious person, who had died after falling from his monastic vows or had been killed in troubling circumstances.[24] Shuk-den/ Dol Gyel would then be a spirit from Southern Tibet, potentially troublesome like other red-spirits. No wonder then that his identification with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was rejected by the latter’s followers as an insult to this important and unfortunate lama.

We find confirmation of Shuk-den’s regional connection in the description given in 1815 by a Nying-ma teacher Do Kyen-tse (mdo mkhyen brtse ye shes rdo rje).While narrating his travels, he mentions the unpleasant presence of Shuk-den in Southern Tibet. On his way to Lhasa, after passing through the Nying-ma monastery of Dor-je Drak, Do Kyen-tse arrived in the area of Dra-thang (grwa thang) where Gyel-po Shuk-den (this is the name he uses) was active. Nevertheless, the spirit was unable to interfere with his travel and he reached his destination safely.[25] Thus, the existence of a deity, Dol-gyel/ Shuk-den, and his regional connection with the area of Southern Tibet seem to have been well established quite early on.

This regional connection is further confirmed by the fact that Shuk-den was propitiated in some of the monasteries of the same area, particularly in Sam-ye (bsam yas), which was by then Sa-kya. There Shuk-den appears as a minor but dangerous worldly protector. This also suggests that this deity was first adopted by the tradition of the monastery of Sa-gya,[26] a hypothesis further confirmed by the reference in the founding myth to his being taken over by the holder of the Sa-gya throne So-nam-rin-chen (bsod nams rin chen). In one of the versions, Shuk-den first attempts to go to Ta-shi Lhung-po, the residence of his teacher, the First Pen-chen Lama, Lob-zang Cho-gyen (blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan,) 1569-1662). He is prevented from doing so by Vaibravala (rnam thos sras), the supra-mundane protector of the monastery. He is then taken in by So-nam-rin-chen, who pities him and writes a text for his propitiation. This reference to the holder of the Sa-gya throne.

So-nam-rin-chen throws some interesting light on the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s wrathful manifestation and the establishment of the Shuk-den cult entrusted to the Sa-gya. It seems at first to confirm this story until we realize that So-nam-rin-chen was born in 1704, long after the events surrounding Drak-ba Gyel-sten’s tragic demise. This considerable gap suggests that the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s wrathful manifestation as Shuk-den is a later creation, which incorporates a variety of narratives rearranged in the light of later situations. The founding myth of the Shuk-den practice is not a historical account but one of the many versions of a nexus of stories surrounding these tragic events, which developed gradually in the light of new historical circumstances.

Although So-nam-rin-chen’s role in the Shuk-den’s saga is more than questionable, his contribution to the tradition of this deity is not deniable. The small text that is attributed to him does seem to exist. It is the first ritual text focusing on Shuk-den that I have been able to trace. It can be found in the collection of ritual texts for the protectors of the Sam-ye monastery and confirms the existence of the practice of Shuk-den early on in the Sa-gya tradition.[27] Its title (“The Request to the Gyel-po [for the] Termination of Ganeþa”) suggests that Shuk-den was considered as an effective spirit in charge of clearing away obstacles (Ganeþa being the king of obstacles).[28] Shuk-den does not seem to have played, however, a major role in the Sa-gya tradition, where he seemed to have remained a dangerous though minor worldly protector. This is confirmed by a story told by Ka-lu Rin-bo-che, who mentions coming across a small Sa-gya temple for Shuk-den in Western Tibet and the profound fear that this deity inspired in the care-taker of this temple. [29]

(Ed: This account of Shugden being a “dangerous though minor worldly protector” in the Sakya lineage is not accurate. Historical accounts by Sakya Lamas (see this article /?p=4002) as well as prayers written by Sakyas clearly indicate his enlightened nature. See the prayer here: /?page_id=349) In fact, there are also parties that claim that Dorje Shugden is an emanation of Avalokiteshvara – who is certainly not a “minor worldly protector!” There is a discussion on this here: http://www.dorjeshugden.com/forum/index.php?topic=519.0 )

The regional connection with Southern Tibet and the sectarian link with the Sa-gya tradition are further confirmed by Stanley Mumford’s anthropological description of the propitiation of Shuk-den in the Himalayan region. In his study of the religious life in the remote village of Tsap in Nepal, Mumford describes the practice of Shuk-den as a Sa-gya practice well established among the Tibetans of the region. In a small text used for this practice Shuk-den is presented as a worldly protector in charge of bestowing wealth, food, life and good fortune, of protecting the dharma, preventing its destruction, and of repelling the external and internal enemies of the ten regions. Finally, Shuk-den is invoked as a special protector of the Sa-gya tradition: “Protect the dharma in general, and in particular the Sakyapas. I praise you, who have agreed to be the Srungma of the Sakyapas”. [30]

Given this evidence, it is reasonable to assume that the practice of Dol-gyel was at first a minor Sa-gya practice later adopted by the Ge-luk tradition. But here another difficult question remains. When did this happen? The evidence available establishes that the practice of propitiating Dol-gyel existed in the Ge-luk tradition during the eighteenth century. One of the clearest proofs appears in the biography of the Ge-luk polymath Jang-gya-rol-bay-dor-jay (1717-1786), written by his disciple Tu-gen-lo-sang-cho-gyi-nyi-ma (thu’u bkwan blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma), 1737-1802). [31] Tu-gen reports that Jang-gya mentions that Dol-gyel was propitiated by several Ga-den Tri-bas. After several unfortunate events, another Tri-ba, Ngak-wang Chok-den (ngag dbang mchog ldan,) 1677-1751), the tutor of the Seventh Dalai Lama Kel-zang Gya-tso (bskal bzang rgya tsho,) 1708-1757) put an end to this practice by expelling Shuk-den from Ga-den monastery.

This mention of Dol-Gyel is quite interesting for a number of reasons. First, it dates the practice of propitiating this deity in the Ge-luk tradition. This practice must have existed prior to Ngak-wang Chok-den’s intervention, and it must have had a certain extension to have been adopted by several Ga-den Tri-bas. Second, it attests to the troublesome character of this deity. However, no connection is made with Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen. Jang-gya was after all one of the followers of Jam-yang-shay-ba, one of the main Ge-luk hierarchs opposed to the Fifth, and hence not inclined to consider favorably the story of Shuk-den as Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s wrathful manifestation. Finally, this passage illustrates the minor status of this deity in the Ge-luk tradition at that time, as Jang-gya mentions the expulsion of this deity in passing. This impression of small importance is confirmed by the fact that it is so difficult to document the practice of Shuk-den prior to the beginning of this century. But if Dol-gyel, as he is called by Jang-gya, is minor, why did Ngak-wang Chok-den and Jang-gya oppose his propitiation? Possibly because of its troublesome character. (Ed: Should we rely on assumptions for something as serious as a spiritual practice? There is no clear evidence of this “troublesome character” nor clear reasons for why the deity was expelled. There could have been any number of reasons for removing the practice, but conjecturing in this way does not help to support any argument). Jang-gya mentions that the Tri-bas who propitiated Dol-gyel encountered difficulties but he does not elaborate. Another possible reason for expelling Dol-gyel from Ga-den is that no mundane deity is allowed to remain permanently in Ga-den. Even Ma-chen Pom-ra, the local god (yul lha) of Dzong-ka-ba, the founder of the Ge-luk tradition, is not supposed to stay in Ga-den overnight, and must take his residence below the monastery.[32] Finally, the political connection alleged by the Fifth Dalai Lama’s followers between this deity and their nemesis, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, may have played a role, though this is far from sure since by this time the story of the latter’s demise must have started to fade away. Jang-gya may not have opposed the practice in general, for we find a representation of Shuk-den in a collection of thanka paintings given to Jang-gya by the Qianlong Emperor. Because the thanka is not dated, we cannot be sure of the date of its appearance in the collection. Despite this uncertainty concerning some details, an impression emerges which suggests that around the middle of the eighteenth century Dol-gyel was a troublesome but minor deity propitiated by some Ge-luk lamas. (Ed: What impression? Where does one get this impression from? Has anyone explicitly stated this? What evidence is there of this “troublesome deity?”)

(Ed: All of this becomes very confusing and contradictory. Jang-gya Rol-bay Dor-jay, more commonly spelt as Changkya Rolpai Dorje, was a previous incarnation of the most very famous Pabongka Rinpoche. Pabongkha Rinpoche was instrumental in promoting the practice of Dorje Shugden in his time, so it is contradictory to bring up these points that are mentioned in his previous incarnation. What is the context of all these writings of Changka Rolpai Dorje? What was it that prompted him to write these things? If these things are unclear, that it is also difficult to draw anything conclusive from just a few quotes.

Pabongka Rinpoche taught clearly Dorje Shugden’s enlightened nature and his practice and many practitioners who are propitiating Dorje Shugden now are doing so by the teachings of Pabongka Rinpoche. Consider that Pabongka Rinpoche was a Lineage lama of almost every Gelugpa Lama in the world as we know it today – either he taught them directly or he is in their lineage of teachers. More importantly, the tutors of the 14th Dalai Lama himself were direct disciples of Pabongka Rinpoche. Almost all the teachings and practices that the Dalai Lama received in his lifetime were from Trijang Rinpoche and Ling Rinpoche, who were among Pabongka’s closest disciples.

To cite Pabongka Rinpoche in this discussion should be very clear – either we are following his teachings, lineage and advice, or we are going against his teachings. In this case, citing Changkya Rolpai Dorje’s advice is like using his own words against him! It is saying that one incarnation advises that the practice is wrong; while another advises that it is right and good. So which is it? We have to be careful how we choose to quote a Lama’s words.

Once we choose to say that a particular practice that he advocated is wrong, then what’s to say everything else he has taught is also not wrong? We open up a lot of doubt in many other practices and teachings, which is entirely not in accordance with the practices of Guru devotion and keeping our samaya.)

The practice of Dol-gyel or Shuk-den also surfaced as an issue during the rule of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, who put restrictions on the oracle for Shuk-den but did not prohibit his activities completely. Dol-gyel could be propitiated in his proper place in the order of Tibetan gods, namely, as a minor mundane deity. His oracle was permitted only at certain fixed locations such as Tro-de Khang-sar (spro bde khang gsar) in Lhasa or Tro-mo (gro mo) in the Chumbi valley, but not in any of the large monasteries. Finally, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and his government applied pressure on Pa-bong-ka to desist from propitiating Shuk-den. They were particularly displeased by the diffusion of the Shuk-den practice in Dre-bung. They perceived these efforts as attempts to displace Ne-chung, who is, as we will see later, the worldly protector of the Dre-bung monastery and the Tibetan government. Hence, they ordered him to abstain from propitiating Shuk-den altogether. According to his biographer, Pa-bong-ka promised not to propitiate Shuk-den any more. [33]

These events seem to indicate that the propitiation of Shuk-den had spread to a certain extent during or just prior to the rule of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. This may have been due to a gradual spread of this practice during the nineteenth century, particularly its second half. This practice was widespread enough during the time of the Thirteenth to raise some concern in governmental circles. But even then references to Dol-gyel or Shuk-den remain very rare. Although the Thirteenth opposed what he saw as an excessive emphasis on Shuk-den by Pa-bong-ka, the issue was minor and there was little controversy concerning the practice of this deity.

Thus, what emerges from this impressionistic survey is that Shuk-den was a minor though troublesome deity in the Ge-luk pantheon throughout most of the history of this tradition. (Ed: should we really be relying on what is merely an “impressionistic survey”? Again, there is no clear evidence throughout this text of how this deity is troublesome or what difficulties he have created. Until now, it appears to be only assumptions, based upon the decision of some Lamas to discontinue the practice. There can be many reasons a Lama chooses to continue or discontinue a practice. In a spiritual context, there are many actions of a Lama that we may not be able to understand fully at our relatively unattained level. There could be much larger reasons for what they choose to advise or not at any particular time. It is extremely simplistic and illogical to just assume that it is because he is “troublesome”.)

This deity does not seem to have been considered early on as Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s manifestation, except by his enemies, who intended the identification disparagingly. Its gradual adoption in the Ge-luk tradition does not show any relation with either Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba or his third reincarnation, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen.

(Ed: this is completely wrong. The Gelugpa institutions and practitioners around the world understand clearly that Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen (and therefore Dorje Shugden) are emanations of Panchen Sonam Drakpa, Duldzin Drakpa Gyeltsen etc. It is stated clearly in their texts and widely taught and acknowledged among all Gelugpa practitioners who propitiate Dorje Shugden. It has been clearly documented by Pabongka Rinpoche who composed the ritual text “Melodious Drum victorious in all directions” and Trijang Rinpoche who wrote the most extensive commentary of Dorje’s Shugden’s practice, “Music delighting an ocean of protectors”. To deny or ignore these two definitive texts is to deny and ignore two of the most influential Lamas of our time, not just in the Gelugpa lineage but in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition as a whole. It is also to deny the writings of lamas that we frequently regard as being emanations of enlightened beings; it is directly saying that Heruka and Vajrayogini are wrong.)

Shuk-den seems to have been adopted by Ge-luk lamas because of his power as a worldly deity, not on the basis of a connection with Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba’s lineage. Lamas who are part of this lineage do not show any special inclination toward Shuk-den. Moreover, the monks of the Lo-sell-ling college of Dre-bung, who take Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba’s works as their textbooks (jig cha) and consider him as perhaps the foremost interpreter of Dzong-ka-bag’s tradition, have had very little connection with Shuk-den (with a few individual exceptions).

(Ed: each monastic institution / college has their own Dharma Protectors, as advised by their high Lamas over time. This does not necessarily mean that they deny or reject any other Dharma Protector; nor does it imply that they have “very little connection” with them. It is possible that many people do the practice on an individual basis or that the practice is passed directly from teacher to disciple. It is very common for monks to have their own personal protector, while also paying homage and praying to the protectors of their respective kamtsen (houses), colleges or monastery. E.g. a monastery could have Kalarupa as their protector; a college within the monastery could have Palden Lhamo as their protector; a kamtsen within that college could have Mahakala as their protector; and again an individual can hold Dorje Shugden as his personal protector as advised by his Guru.

What is also not considered here is Ganden Shartse Monastery, which also study Panchen Sonam Drakpa’s texts and historically, were known to very strongly propitiated Dorje Shugden –in fact, there is still a Dorje Shugden chapel on the monastery’s grounds to this very day! Drawing conclusions fro this loose relationship with Dorje Shugden, based on the monastery’s “affiliations” to Dharma Protectors is inaccurate and incorrect.)

How is it then that this minor spirit coming from an obscure location in Central Tibet has become the center of raging controversy that has cost the lives of several Ge-luk monks and continues to threaten the unity of the Ge-luk tradition? Moreover, how is it that this deity is now so pervasively identified with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen by his staunchest supporters, who take this connection as a vindication of both Shuk-den and Drak-ba Gyel-tsen?

The Rise of a Spirit

To answer these questions, we must consider the changes that took place within the Ge-luk tradition during the first half of the twentieth century due to Pa-bong-ka (1878-1941) and the revival movement that he spearheaded. Though Pa-bong-ka was not particularly important by rank, he exercised a considerable influence through his very popular public teachings and his charismatic personality. Elder monks often mention the enchanting quality of his voice and the transformative power of his teachings. Pa-bong-ka was also well served by his disciples, particularly the very gifted and versatile Tri-jang Rin-bo-che (khri byang rin po che,) 1901-1983), a charismatic figure in his own right who became the present Dalai Lama’s tutor and exercised considerable influence over the Lhasa higher classes and the monastic elites of the three main Ge-luk monasteries around Lhasa. Another influential disciple was Tob-den La-ma (rtogs ldan bla ma), a stridently Ge-luk lama very active in disseminating Pa-bong-ka’s teachings in Kham. Because of his own charisma and the qualities and influence of his disciples, Pa-bong-ka had an enormous influence on the Ge-luk tradition that cannot be ignored in explaining the present conflict. He created a new understanding of the Ge-luk tradition focused on three elements: Vajrayogini as the main meditational deity (yi dam,), Shuk-den as the protector, and Pa-bong-ka as the guru.

Like other revivalist figures, Pa-bong-ka presented his teachings as embodying the orthodoxy of his tradition. But when compared with the main teachings of his tradition as they appear in Dzong-ka-ba’s writings, Pa-bong-ka’s approach appears in several respects quite innovative. Although he insisted on the Stages of the Path (lam rim) as the basis of further practice, like other Ge-luk teachers, Pa-bong-ka differed in recommending Vajrayogini as the central meditational deity of the Ge-luk tradition. This emphasis is remarkable given the fact that the practice of this deity came originally from the Sa-gya tradition and is not included in Dzong-ka-ba’s original synthesis, which is based on the practice of three meditational deities (Yamantaka, Guhya-samaja, and Cakrasamvara). The novelty of his approach is even clearer when we consider Pa-bong-ka’s emphasis on Tara Cintamali as a secondary meditational deity, for this practice is not canonical in the strict sense of the term but comes from the pure visions of one of Pa-bong-ka’s main teachers, Ta bu Pe-ma Baz-ra (sta bu padma badzra), a figure about whom very little is presently known. We have to be clear, however, on the nature of Pa-bong-ka’s innovations. He did not introduce these practices himself, for he received them from teachers such as Ta bu Pe-ma Baz-ra and Dak-po Kel-zang Kay-drub (dwag po bskal bzang mkhas grub). Where Pa-bong-ka was innovative was in making formerly secondary teachings widespread and central to the Ge-luk tradition and claiming that they represented the essence of Dzong-ka-ba’s teaching. This pattern, which is typical of a revival movement, also holds true for Pa-bong-ka’s wide diffusion, particularly at the end of his life, of the practice of Dor-je Shuk-den as the central protector of the Ge-luk tradition. Whereas previously Shuk-den seems to have been a relatively minor protector in the Ge-luk tradition, Pa-bong-ka made him into one of the main protectors of the tradition. In this way, he founded a new and distinct way of conceiving the teachings of the Ge-luk tradition that is central to the “Shuk-den Affair.”

(Ed: Tsongkhapa did in fact teach the practice of Vajrayogini – she was one of his own Yidams and he was known to have received direct visions from her also. Although they were not principle practices at the time of Tsongkhapa, we must consider the fact that different practices will become more prominent and relevant at different periods of time, in accordance with the changing mores, minds and aptitudes of people as well as with the environmental changes.

These paragraphs above suggest that Pabongka made up his own lineage and that his propitiation and promotion of these practices of Vajrayogini and Dorje Shugden were not quite so authentic. This is not true as the practices were most definitely included within the cannon of teachings that Tsongkhapa gave during his lifetime. They just began to take more relevance at this time. Moreover, the crux of all of Pabongka’s teachings was based on the Lamrim – he was most famous for his propagation of the Lamrim teachings and for his own Lamrim commentaries, notably “Liberation in the Palm of your Hand”. This is without a doubt also the most central teachings of Tsongkhapa so he does in fact, remain very close to the original teachings as disseminated by Tsongkhapa.

There is also a very amazing account of the Dalai Lama questioning Pabongka Rinpoche about the lesser known Southern tradition of the Lamrim which Pabongka had learnt from his teacher and which he was propagating. Pabongka proved the validity and authenticity of this practice in a letter to the Dalai Lama, where he pointed out, by clairvoyance, the exact position of books and scriptures in the Dalai Lama’s personal library, which contained information and proof of this tradition. The Dalai Lama accepted this explanation and therefore authorized this tradition as authentic and valid.

There also seems to be insinuations that Pabongka and Trijang Rinpoches rose in fame because of their charismatic personalities. While it is true that they were very much loved by the people and had particularly strong connections with both lay and monastic students, it is disrespectful and wrong to attribute their greatness only to their “charismatic personality”. Their teachings were very authentic and powerful in promoting practices which are being upheld until today. It is common sense – if they were popular only by their personalities, then surely the popularity of their teachings would have died down the moment they passed away. We see clearly that this is not the case, as the teachings they have passed down only continue to grow throughout the world. Dharma institutions in both the East and West continue to study the Lamrim and all the practices that were passed down through these two Lamas. Remember that the Dalai Lama himself is practicing and passing down teachings that he received through this lineage!)

In promoting Shuk-den as the protector of his charismatic movement, Pa-bong-ka did not invent the practice of this deity, which he seems to have received from his teachers, [34] but he transformed a marginal practice into a central element of the Ge-luk tradition. This transformation is illustrated by the epithets used to refer to Shuk-den. Instead of being just “The Spirit from Dol” (dol rgyal), or even the “Great Magical Spirit Endowed with the Adamantine Force” (rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal), he is described now by Pa-bong-ka and his disciples as “the protector of the tradition of the victorious lord Manjushri (i.e., Dzong-ka-ba)” (‘jam mgon rgyal ba’i bstan srung)[35] and “the supreme protective deity of the Ge-den (i.e., Ge-luk) tradition” (dge ldan bstan bsrung ba’i lha mchog).[36]

These descriptions have been controversial. Traditionally, the Ge-luk tradition has been protected by the Dharma-king (dam can chos rgyal), the supra-mundane deity bound to an oath given to Dzong-ka-ba, the founder of the tradition. The tradition also speaks of three main protectors adapted to the three scopes of practice described in the Stages of the Path (skyes bu gsum gyi srung ma): Mahakala for the person of great scope, Vaibravala for the person of middling scope, and the Dharma-king for the person of small scope.[37] By describing Shuk-den as “the protector of the tradition of the victorious lord Manjushri,” Pa-bong-ka suggests that he is the protector of the Ge-luk tradition, replacing the protectors appointed by Dzong-ka-ba himself. This impression is confirmed by one of the stories that Shuk-den’s partisans use to justify their claim. According to this story, the Dharma-king has left this world to retire in the pure land of Tushita having entrusted the protection of the Ge-luk tradition to Shuk-den. Thus, Shuk-den has become the main Ge-luk protector replacing the traditional supra-mundane protectors of the Ge-luk tradition, indeed a spectacular promotion in the pantheon of the tradition.

Pa-bong-ka’s promotion of this deity has several reasons. There was an undeniable personal devotion to Shuk-den in Pa-bong-ka derived from his early experiences, dreams or visions. This devotion was also based on a family connection, for Shuk-den was his mother’s female god (skyes ma’i rgyud kyi lha). [38] Pa-bong-ka’s writings reflect this strong devotion to Shuk-den, as is shown by the following passage:

Praise and prostration through remembering your three secrets [to you] the violent poison for the obstacles, the enemies, [and] those who have broken [their] pledges, [to you] the magical jewel who fulfills the hopes and wishes of the practitioners, [to you] the only life tree [i.e., support] in protecting Dzong-ka-ba’s tradition.[39]

The very real personal devotion found in many of the Shuk-den texts written by Pa-bong-ka and his disciples explains Pa-bong-ka’s fervor in diffusing Shuk-den. From the viewpoint of his followers, it is the most important element of Pa-bong-ka’s heritage.

(Ed: What is forgotten here is also the very important fact that the practice was directly handed down to Pabongka by one of his main teachers, Tagphu Pemavajra, who had received the transmissions and teachings directly from Dorje Shugden himself (he had travelled to Tushita Heaven astrally and received the teachings there – I don’t think there would be demons and bad spirits hanging around there giving wrong teachings!). Tagphu Pemavajra then entrusted these teachings solely to Pabongka, instructing him to uphold and disseminate them. This is a very key point in the lineage of Dorje Shugden and would also have had a remarkable influence on Pabongka Rinpoche to spread these teachings and practice.)

There is, however, another element that must be examined in order to understand the troublesome nature of the practice of Shuk-den, namely, the sectarian stance that it reflects. This is where the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen becomes relevant again. For Pa-bong-ka, particularly at the end of his life, one of the main functions of Gyel-chen Dor-je Shuk-den as Ge-luk protector is the use of violent means (the adamantine force) to protect the Ge-luk tradition. Pa-bong-ka quite explicitly states:

Now [I] exhort to violent actions Shuk-den, who is the main war-god of Dzong-ka-ba’s tradition and its holders, the angry spirit, the Slayer of Yama (i.e., Yamantaka or Manjushri in his wrathful form)….In particular it is time [for you] to free (i.e., kill) in one moment the enemies of Dzong-ka-ba’s tradition. Protector, set up [your] violent actions without [letting] your previous commitments dissipate. Quickly engage in violent actions without relaxing your loving promises. Quickly accomplish [these] requests and entrusted actions without leaving them aside (or without acting impartially). Quickly accomplish [these] actions [that I] entrust [to you], for I do not have any other source of hope. [40]

This passage clearly presents the goal of the propitiation of Shuk-den as the protection of the Ge-luk tradition through violent means, even including the killing of its enemies. We should wonder, however, what this passage means? Is it to be taken literally? And who are these enemies?

(Ed: As mentioned before, it is very important to consider the spiritual elements in writing a paper like this. Without understand the spiritual context, symbology or true meaning behind such Dharma writings and teachings, things will definitely be taken out of context and misunderstood.

Vivid and wrathful imagery of killing, destruction, slaying etc. is a common element in all Dharma Protector practices – such imagery can also be found in the propitiation texts and rituals of Mahakala, Kalarupa, Setrap, Palden Lhamo etc. It is not supposed to be taken literally, but are largely symbolic of our request to the protectors to remove negative interferences to our spiritual practice – this includes both external forces as well as our own internal demons and negative karma. “Killing” is not literal killing, but a destruction of the root of negative states – i.e. our delusions, ignorance, hatred and desire from which all other evils arise.

Wrathful methods in Buddhist symbology and imagery is not to be taken literally as angery, ferocity or violence. It functions on various levels. Firstly, wrath is an indication of speed. Requesting a Buddhist protector to use “wrathful means” is to request them to act quickly and remove fearful obstacles quickly, which necessitates type of force that is brought about only by wrathful energy. Wrath in a Buddhist context is not true anger and is always motivated by and actually abides within compassion. It is likened to a mother using fierce methods and shouting at her child when she sees him about to harm himself.

So this claim that Pabongka relied on Dorje Shugden to use “violent means” is completely taken out of context and wrongly misunderstood. It is by no means “troublesome” and to attribute his “troublesome” nature to this is to make a very childish and uninformed conclusion.)

To answer these questions in detail would take us beyond the purview of this essay. A short answer is that in certain ways the statements of this ritual text are not very different from the ones found in similar texts devoted to other mundane protectors. By itself, this text does not prove very much. Combined with Pa-bong-ka’s other writings, however, the statement about killing the enemies of the Ge-luk is more than the usual ritual incitements contained in manuals for the propitiation of protectors. Consider this rather explicit passage contained in an introduction to the text of the empowerment required to propitiate Shuk-den (the (srog gtad,) about which more will be said later):

[This protector of the doctrine] is extremely important for holding Dzong-ka-ba’s tradition without mixing and corrupting [it] with confusions due to the great violence and the speed of the force of his actions, which fall like lightning to punish violently all those beings who have wronged the Yellow Hat Tradition, whether they are high or low.[This protector is also particularly significant with respect to the fact that] many from our own side, monks or lay people, high or low, are not content with Dzong-ka-ba’s tradition, which is like pure gold, [and] have mixed and corrupted [this tradition with ] the mistaken views and practices from other schools, which are tenet systems that are reputed to be incredibly profound and amazingly fast but are [in reality] mistakes among mistakes, faulty, dangerous and misleading paths. In regard to this situation, this protector of the doctrine, this witness, manifests his own form or a variety of unbearable manifestations of terrifying and frightening wrathful and fierce appearances. Due to that, a variety of events, some of them having happened or happening, some of which have been heard or seen, seem to have taken place: some people become unhinged and mad, some have a heart attack and suddenly die, some [see] through a variety of inauspicious signs [their] wealth, accumulated possessions and descendants disappear without leaving any trace, like a pond whose feeding river has ceased, whereas some [find it] difficult to achieve anything in successive lifetimes.[41]

In this passage, which is based on notes taken by Tri-jang during a ceremony given by Pa-bong-ka and published in his (Collected Works,) Pa-bong-ka takes the references to eliminating the enemies of the the Ge-luk tradition as more than stylistic conventions or usual ritual incantations. It may concern the elimination of actual people by the protector. But who are these people?

A number of people may be included in this category. Several Nying-ma lamas have claimed to have been the target of Shuk-den, who is often greatly feared by the followers of this school. In this passage, however, Pa-bong-ka seems to have in mind less members of other schools than those Ge-luk practitioners who mix Dzong-ka-ba’s tradition with elements from other traditions, particularly the Nying-ma Dzok-chen to which he refers indirectly but clearly. [42] The mission of Shuk-den as defined here is to prevent Ge-luk practitioners from mixing traditions and even visiting retribution on those who dare to go against this prescription.

This is also the central message of the founding myth of the Shuk-den practice as defined by Pa-bong-ka and his followers. Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen becomes a wrathful deity to visit retribution, not on those who caused his death, but on those who defile Dsong-ka-ba’s pure tradition. According to the legend, Shuk-den takes the Fifth Dalai Lama as his target because the latter was eclectic, including in his practice many elements from the Nying-ma tradition, which provoked the anger of Shuk-den as a guardian of Ge-luk orthodoxy. Pa-bong-ka is quite explicit:

Because the All Seeing Great Fifth practiced and developed all tenets of the old and new [schools], this great protector through the power of previous prayers produced a variety of extremely frightful appearances to the supreme Powerful King (the Fifth Dalai Lama) in order to protect and defend spotlessly Dzong-ka’ba’s great tradition.[43]

(Ed: There is a lot of debate surrounding this issue of sectarianism, with many claiming that Gelugpa practitioners – particularly Dorje Shugden practitioners – are sectarian. This is based upon similar quotes as this one. This claim is never clearly substantiated; nor do we know the context of these quotes – what was the larger teaching about? Or was it to address a particular group of people who may have been particularly unfocused or destructive in their methods of practicing and spreading the teachings? The aptitude of the audience, the time, place, context are all important points to consider when we study any quote – in every case, it is not clear how these quotes or teachings came about.

Further, there are apparently cases where people have “mixed” teachings and then suffered terrible consequences. There is no direct or clear evidence to support that the death or calamities they suffered were a result of having mixed teachings. There are so many factors to why things happen to us – all dependent on our individual karmas across so many lifetimes, our samaya and how well we are doing our practices or not. The Dalai Lama himself, in this very incarnation, has also taken teachings from other schools of Buddhism, as well as done Dorje Shugden’s practice in his earlier years. He seems to be doing very well! Why has nothing bad happened to him, if indeed these claims are true?

It is not unusual for practitioners of any particular sect to study only the teachings and practices of their own sect. Just because someone does not take teachings from other schools, it does not mean they are sectarian nor disrespectful in any way to the other sects. It just means he is focused on studying the teachings of his own school first until he is stable and sure in them. This is common practice among any Buddhist school – practitioners of the Sakya, Nyingma and Kagyu sects, as well as of other traditions such as Zen, Hinayana etc. don’t all take teachings from each other. It would be quite normal and acceptable for them to focus only on their own sect. Why is this not considered sectarian, but the Gelugpas are?)

We may now understand the peculiar fate of the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s wrathful manifestation as Shuk-den, which shifted from a slander of the former into a praise of the latter. Pa-bong-ka was aware of the stories surrounding Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s death but understood them quite differently from the way contemporaries of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had. For him, the narrative was not about Drak-ba Gyel-tsen but about Shuk-den and the identification of the latter with the former was a way to legitimize the diffusion of a practice that had been previously marginal.

(Ed: It would be wrong to say that “for him”, the narrative was this or that. This implies wrongly that Pabongka skewed the emphasis or change the story. This is not the case, as the story that he promotes can also be found in the 5th Dalai Lama’s own writings as well as in other very accomplished lamas of the Gelugpa school, such as Pabongka’s own teacher, Tagphu Pemavajra, who was famously known for being able to astral travel and communicate directly with the deities. The teachings and practices of Dorje Shugden which Pabongka upheld were passed to him from Tagphu Pemavajra, which were in turn transmitted to him by Dorje Shugden himself directly in Tushita. This is well documented and authorized. So writing in this way seems to indicate that both high Lamas and the Buddhas are wrong.)

The choice of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was particularly meaningful for Pa-bong-ka, who had been pressured by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama to renounce his practice of Shuk-den and may have been somewhat resentful. He may have felt a communion with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, who like him had been the object of unwelcome attention from a strong Dalai Lama. More importantly, however, Pa-bong-ka must have felt that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s alleged posthumous antagonism to the Fifth Dalai Lama’s eclecticism paralleled his own opposition to the adoption of Nying-ma teachings by some Ge-luk-bas. Shuk-den’s anger against the Fifth Dalai Lama is not directed at the Dalai Lama institution (per se) but at the Nying-ma leanings of the Fifth. Finally, the choice of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen as the source of the Shuk-den lineage was an ideal way to legitimize an originally Sa-gya practice. By tracing back the lineage to Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, Pa-bong-ka could present the Shuk-den practice as authentically Ge-luk and reinterpret its undeniable roots in the Sa-gya tradition as an interlude in an essentially Ge-luk story.

(Ed: First of all, no one ever denied the importance of the Sakya tradition in the history of Dorje Shugden – it is actually very much respected. Secondly. This entire paragraph seems to be mere guesswork. There is nothing in his writings or teachings that would have indicated that Pabongka had these feelings or inclinations during his lifetime.

Secondly, it is not merely a “choice of Drakpa Gyeltsen as the source of the Shugden lineage” – as if Pabongka just decided to change the course of history on his own! Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen arising as Dorje Shugden is what happened and has been documented as such, even by the 5th Dalai Lama. This is further confirmed by many highly attained masters through time, including many of the most renowned teachers today – Zong Rinpoche, Trijang Rinpoche etc. It is illogical for us to regard them as such holy, enlightened beings on the one hand, but on the other to say that they are all following a lineage and history that has been manipulated and is not really what they believe. Is that to say that all these enlightened Lamas have been wrong about Dorje Shugden all these hundreds of years? If so, then why do we call them high Lamas, follow them, take them as our lineage teachers and listen to their teachings?)

Appendix

[1] This is a revised version of an essay published earlier in the (Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies) (Vol., 21, no. 2 [1998]: 227-270) and reprinted here with the permission of the editors of the above-mentioned journal. I would like to thank them. I would also like to acknowledge all the people who have helped me in this project. Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, however, I feel that I should not mention any name and just thank them collectively.

[2] Tri-jang Rin-bo-che, (The Music that Rejoices the Ocean of Pledge Bound, Being an Account of the Amazing Three Secrets [of Body, Speech and Mind] of Great Magical Dharma Spirit Endowed with the Adamantine Force, The Supreme Manifested Deity Protecting the Ge-den Tradition (dge ldan bstan bsrung ba’i lha mchog sprul pa’i chos rgyal chen po rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal gyi gsang gsum rmad du byung ba’i rtogs pa brjod pa’i gtam du bya ba dam can can rgya mtsho dgyes pa’i rol mo,) Collected Works, Delhi: Guru Deva, 1978), V.5-159, 8.

[3] Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s lineage is said to go back to Dul Dzin Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, a direct disciple of Dzong-ka-ba. This lineage is, however, a kind of spiritual lineage and quite different from the recognized lineage of a lama. See Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement to the Explanation of the Preliminaries of the Life Entrusting [Ritual]) (rgyal chen srog gtad gyi sngon ‘gro bshad pa’i mtshams sbyor kha bskong),) Collected Works, New Delhi: Chopel Legdan, 1973), VII.517-532, 520.

[4] Sang-gye Gya-tso (sangs rgyas rgya mtsho), explains that after Ngak-wang Ge-lek (ngag dbang dge legs) had died, the second reincarnation of Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba was found in the Ge-kha-sa (gad kha sa) family. He adds: “Although he had hopes for being the reincarnation of the All-knowing Yon-ten Gya-tso, he was made the reincarnation of Ngak-wang Ge-lek” (thams cad mkhyen pa yon tan rgya mtsho’i sprul sku yong du re yang ngag dbang dge legs kyi sprul sku byas pas). Sangs-rgyas-rgya-mtsho, (Vairya-ser-po) (Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1960), 72.

[5] Dol rgyal zhib ‘jug tshogs chung, (Dol rgyal lam shugs ldan byung rim la dpyad pa) (Dharamsala, 1998), 25-35.

[6] Tri-jang, (Music,) 101-109.

[7] R. Nebesky-Wojkowitz, (Oracles and Demons of Tibet). (The Hague: Mouton, 1956).

[8] In this essay I will treat deities as “real persons” since they are experienced as such by Tibetans.

[9] Such a spirit is also called (tsan) (often but not always the spirit of a monk who has either fallen from his monastic commitment or has been killed), who lives in rocks and must be pacified with special red offerings. Tibetans speak of eight classes of gods and spirits (lha srin sde brgyad). See: Samuel, (Civilized Shaman) (Washington: Smithsonian, 1993), 161-163.

[10] Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement,) 521.

[11] Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement,) 523 and Tri-jang, (Music,) 105.

[12] The Tri-ba seems at first to have been elected, which would have strengthened his position. Later he was selected by the Dalai Lama. When did this change occur? Only further research will provide an answer which will greatly help us in understanding the history of the Ge-luk tradition.

[13] E.G. Smith, “Introduction,” (Kongtrul’s Encyclopedia of Indo-Tibetan Culture) (New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1970), 17.

[14] L. Petech, Introduction to Sangs-rgyas-rgya-mtsho, (Vaidrya-ser-po), xi-xii.

[15] bod de’i rgyal po ni gzim khang gong ma sprul sku grags rgyan zer ba ni chag(s) sdang gi gtam kho nar zad do/ des na bsod nams chos ‘phel ni lo ‘dir ‘das nas khong dge lugs la thugs zhen ches pas chos bsrung ba’i tshul bzung nas dge lugs pa skyong zhes grags pa bden nam snyam mo/. (Rehu mig or chronological tables) in Sum pa mkhan po, (dPag bsam ljon bzang) (Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1959), 70-1.

[16]This opposition had come to the fore when the prime minister tried to entice the Lo-sel-ling college of Dre-bung monastery to adopt the fifth Dalai Lama’s works as its textbooks in place of Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba’s works. After the college’s refusal, Sang-gye Gya-tso asked Jam-yang-shay-ba to refute Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba.This was an attempt at strengthening the government’s control over the monasteries as well as a way of removing Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s posthumous influence, two goals with which Jam-yang-shay-ba had little sympathy. Hence, the latter refused to oblige.

[17] (de’i rjes su gad kha sa pa’i nang so gro (grod?) lhug thog mar thams cad mkhyen pa yon tan rgya mtsho’i sprul sku yong du re yang ngag dbang bsod nams dge legs kyi sprul sku byas pas mthar skye gnas mi bzang bar gyur to/) Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, (Vai∂rya-ser-po) (Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1960), 71-2.

[18] gad kha sa lags a rgyal gyi ‘phrul la brten ngag dbang bsod nams dge legs dpal bzang gyi sku skye rdzus ma lam du song ba smon lam log pa’i dam srid gyur te/.Fifth Dalai Lama, (Collected Works,) vol. Ha, 423-4. A similar scenario is presented in the Fifth’s autobiography. Both passages were quoted by the present Dalai Lama in a talk given in Los Angeles, June 1997.

[19] Some stories present the Nga-ri Rin-bo-che as the reincarnation of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen but they are hard to trace and are probably significantly posterior to the facts here discussed.

[20] In reference to the year 1655 (Wood Sheep), Sum-pa-mkhan-po notes: “[Birth of] the Kangshi emperor renowned as the reincarnation of Tul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen (sprul sku grags rgyan skye bar grags pa’i khang zhi bde skyid rgyal po) (Rehu mig,) 70.

[21] in his autobiography, the Fifth Dalai Lama mentions the existence of a harmful spirit around the pond of Dol. See (Du ku La’i gos bzang,) II. Ý157.a-.b.

[22] Pa-bong-ka gives the following gloss of Shuk-den’s name: “[This] great protector, who holds the adamantine force which is all pervading regarding the destruction of the army of the devil, [this] spirit who is a war god, the protector of the Ge-den tradition, who assumes the pretense of being a worldly boastful god though he is beyond the world, is well known “Great Magical Spirit Endowed with the Adamantine Force” (de ltar ‘jig rten las ‘das kyang dregs pa’i zol ‘chang dge ldan bstan srung dgra lha’i rgyal po/ bdud kyi sde ‘joms pa la thogs pa med pa’i rdo rje’i shugs ‘chang ba bstan srung chen po rgyal chen dor je shugs ldan rtsal zhes yongs su grags pa.(Supplement,) 528.

[23] shing cha rnams chu la bskyur ba dol chu mig dkar mor chags pas der gnas pas re zhig bar du dol rgyal zhes grags. Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement,) 521.

[24] Another informant has suggested that Shuk-den became at some point a monastic deity in charge of eliminating rogue monks who had broken their vows but still pretended to be pure. This hypothesis would account for the monastic appearance of Shuk-den’s main form (for a description of Shuk-den’s five forms, see Kelzang Gyatso, (Heart Jewel,) 77) and provide a precedent for Shuk-den’s opposition to Ge-luk practitioners who have adopted Nying-ma teachings. From punishing rogue monks, it is quite easy to imagine.

 


 

The original article at dalailama.com in full:

The Shugden Affair: Origins of a Controversy (Part I)

(Written by Georges Dreyfus)

In recent years the community of Tibetan Buddhists has been agitated by an intense dispute concerning the practice of a controversial deity, Gyel-chen Dor-je Shuk-den (rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan). Several Tibetan monks have been brutally murdered, and the Tibetan community in general and the Ge-luk tradition in particular have become profoundly polarized. Outsiders have been puzzled by the intensity of this dispute, for it concerns an unusual type of deity, the dharma protector (chos skyong srung ma), the concept of which is difficult to understand within the modern view of religion as a system of individual beliefs.

Despite the importance of these events and the coverage that it has received in both print and electronic media, modern scholars have remained relatively silent on the subject. One reason for this is that few scholars are willing to enter into a conflict as highly charged as this one. Moreover, the dispute concerns a rather baroque area of the Tibetan religious world that is neither well known nor easy for a modern observer to conceptualize. Nevertheless, this scholarly silence is regrettable, in that it has allowed less well-informed viewpoints to acquire legitimacy. It has also contributed to the irrational atmosphere that has surrounded this question.

In this essay, I will attempt to fill this scholarly gap and to promote a more rational approach by examining the quarrel surrounding Shuk-den and delineating some of the events leading to the present crisis. I will examine the narrative of Shuk-den’s origin, focusing on the meaning of the hostility toward the Dalai Lama which it displays and which is confirmed by recent events. The irony is that Shuk-den is presented by his followers as the protector of the Ge-luk (dge lugs) school, of which the Dalai Lama is the (de facto) leader. How can there be a practice in the Ge-luk tradition opposed to its own leader? To answer this question, I will examine the historical development of the Shuk-den practice. I will first consider the events related in the Shuk-den story. I will then turn to later historical developments, in particular the way in which Pa-bong-ka (pha bong kha,) 1878-1941), the central figure in the Shuk-den lineage, developed this practice in response to contemporary events. I will also examine some of the events that took place in India in the 1970s when the “Shuk-den Affair” started to emerge. I will show that although the dispute concerning this deity has an important political background, it primarily concerns the orientation of the Ge-luk tradition and its relation to other Tibetan Buddhist traditions. In exploring these questions, I will also seek to answer other related questions such as: Why is Shuk-den so controversial? Is the practice of propitiating Shuk-den different from the practices associated with other protectors? Why has the present Dalai Lama been so opposed to the practice of propitiating Shuk-den? These are some of the questions that I seek to answer in this interpretive essay. What I will not attempt to explain are the more recent events that have unfolded in the 1990s.These events are still shrouded in controversy and will need to be established with any reasonable degree of objectivity before they can be interpreted.

In order to address some of the questions just mentioned, I explore the practice of Dor-je Shuk-den as it has been understood over time. In doing so, I follow the critical methods of the historical approach, whose assumptions are quite different from those of the believers. I examine how Shuk-den is presented in the rare texts where he appears prior to the contemporary period, that is, as a worldly deity (‘jig rten pa’i lha) who can be propitiated but not worshiped. His followers often reply that this description refers to the interpretable meaning (drang don) of the deity, not its ultimate meaning (nges don), for in such a dimension Shuk-den is said to be fully enlightened (nges don la sang rgyas). [2] It is this kind of normative distinction that I leave aside in this essay intended for a modern audience.

The Founding Myth

When asked to explain the origin of the practice of Dor-je Shuk-den, his followers point to a rather obscure and bloody episode of Tibetan history, the premature death of Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen (sprul sku grags pa rgyal mtshan, 1618-1655).Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was an important Ge-luk lama who was a rival of the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngak-wang Lo-sang Gya-tso (ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, )1617-1682).[3] Drak-ba Gyel-tsen and Ngak-wang Lo-sang Gya-tso were born at a crucial time in the Ge-luk tradition. The tradition had by then survived a protracted civil war with the forces of Tsang (gtsang) backed by some of the other Tibetan Buddhist schools. It had not yet won the war but had begun to establish an alliance with Mongol groups that would allow it to triumph two decades later. Around the same time, two of the most important Ge-luk lamas had died: the fourth Dalai Lama and the second reincarnation of Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba (bsod nams grags pa,) 1478-1554), who was one of the most important Ge-luk teachers during the sixteenth century. Between the two boys, Ngak-wang Lo-sang Gya-tso was chosen as the Fifth Dalai Lama over Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, who was designated by way of compensation as the third reincarnation of Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba.  [4] This choice did not seem, however, to have resolved the contention between the two lamas, as they remained rivals at the heads of two competing estates known as the “Upper Chamber” (zim khang gong ma) under Drak-ba Gyel-tsen and the “Lower Chamber” (zim khang ‘og ma) under the Dalai Lama.  During the next two decades, the struggle between the forces of Central Tibet supported by the Mongols of Gushri Khan and the forces of Tsang continued, gradually turning to the advantage of the former party.  Due to his connection with the Mongols, which had been established by the Third Dalai Lama and reinforced by the Fourth, the Fifth Dalai Lama and his party were able to establish their supremacy.  In 1642, the Fifth Dalai Lama became the ruler of Tibet and entrusted the actual running of the state to his prime minister, So-nam Choe-pel (bsod nams chos ‘phal).  This victory, however, still did not eliminate the rivalry between the two lamas and their estates.  Very little is known about the events that took place in the next ten years but it seems quite clear that there was a contentious between the two lamas’ estates.  What is less clear is the reason behind this conflict.  Was Drak-ba Gyel-tsen perceived as a focus of the opposition to the rule of the Fifth Dalai Lama and his prime minister within the Ge-luk hierarchy?  Was there a personal rivalry between the two lamas?  Or was the main reason for the tension a dispute between Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s family, the Ge-kha-sas, and So-nam Choe-pel, as a recent work argues?  [5]

What seems to be well established is that in these circumstances, in 1655, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen suddenly died.  The exact conditions of his death are controversial and shrouded in legends.  Some of the Fifth’s sympathizers claimed that there was nothing extraordinary in Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s death.  He had just died of a sudden illness.  Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s sympathizers seemed to have disagreed, arguing that he had died because he had not been able to bear the constant efforts from the Dalai Lama’s followers to undermine him.  Others claimed that he was killed while in the custody of the prime minister.  Still others claimed that he submitted himself voluntarily to death by strangulation or by suffocation in order to become a wrathful protector of the Ge-luk tradition.  [6] In a particularly dramatic and highly revealing account, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s death is described as occurring after a traditional religious debate that he had with the Fifth Dalai Lama.  As an acknowledgment of his victory, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had received a ceremonial scarf from the Fifth.  Shortly after, however, he was found dead, the scarf stuffed down his throat.

Whatever the exact details of his death, the important point is that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s death was perceived to be related to his rivalry with the Fifth Dalai Lama.  It was also taken to have been violent and hence the kind of death that leads people to take rebirth as dangerous spirits.  According to standard Indian and Tibetan cultural assumptions, a person who is killed often becomes a ghost and seeks revenge.  In his famous description of the demonology of Tibet, Nebesky-Wojkowitz provides several examples of the transformation of a person into a spirit due to a violent death.  [7] Such a spirit is considered more dangerous when the person has religious knowledge, which is said to explain the particular power of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s spirit.  He [8] is not just one among many protectors but a particularly dangerous one as the vengeful ghost of a knowledgeable person who died violently and prematurely.  According to the Shuk-den legend, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen manifested himself as a (gyel-po,) i.e., the dangerous red-spirit [9] of a person, often a religious one, who is bent on extracting revenge against those involved in his death.  Since he had been an important lama, however, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen turned his anger from a personal revenge to a nobler task, the protection of the doctrinal purity of the Ge-luk tradition.  According to the legend, he first manifested his wrathful nature by haunting his silver mausoleum, which became animated by a buzzing noise, and by inflicting damage on his own estate.  Then the monks serving the Fifth Dalai Lama began to encounter difficulties in performing their ritual duties.  [10] Finally the Dalai Lama himself became the target.  He began to hear noises such as that of stones falling on the roof, which became so loud that it is said that he could not eat his meals without monks blowing large horns on the roof of his residence.  Frightened by these wrathful manifestations, the prime minister So-nam Choe-pel decided to get rid of the troublesome silver mausoleum by packing it into a wooden box and throwing it in the Kyi-chu river.  Carried by the current the box reached Dol, a small pond in Southern Tibet.  It is there that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s spirit resided for a while in a small temple built for him at the order of the Fifth Dalai Lama, who decided to pacify his spirit by establishing a practice of propitiation under the name of (Gyel-chen Dor-je Shuk-den ((rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan) and entrusting it to the Sa-gya school.  [11]

This story is striking.  In particular, its undertone of hostility toward the Dalai Lama is remarkable given that the Dalai Lama represents to a large extent the ascendancy of the Ge-luk school, also the school that the Shuk-den rituals seek to protect.  Our first task here is to explain the meaning of this narrative, an important task given that the recent events in India seem to illustrate its hostility toward the Dalai Lama.  The most obvious and tempting explanation are to assume that this story is primarily a political tale reflecting the tension between a strong Dalai Lama and a restive Ge-luk establishment.  This may surprise an outside observer for whom the institution of the Dalai Lama is a Ge-luk creation and represents the power of this school.  This interpretation appears more credible to an insider who knows that the Dalai Lama institution rests on a complex coalition in which the Ge-luk school is central but which includes other people, such as members of aristocratic families, adherents of the Nying-ma tradition, etc.

In such a coalition, the relationship between the Dalai Lama and the Ge-luk establishment is difficult and must be carefully negotiated.  The delicacy of this situation is illustrated by the question of the leadership of the Ge-luk tradition.  The nominal leader of the Ge-luk school is not the Dalai Lama but the Tri Rin-bo-che (khri rin po che), the Holder of the Throne of Ga-den in direct line of succession from Dzong-ka-ba.  But in times where the Dalai Lama is strong, the leadership of the Holder of the Throne of Ga-den, who is chosen among the ex-abbots of the two tantric colleges, [12] is mostly nominal, and the Dalai Lama exercises effective leadership over the Ge-luk school through his government.

The Ge-luk school and more particularly its three large monasteries around Lhasa have played a leading role in the Dalai Lama’s rule in Tibet.  They have supported and legitimized his power and have received in return considerable socio-economic power.  But this power also has been a source of tension with the Dalai Lamas, particularly when he was a strong personality who had his own power basis and intended to lead-In the history of the Dalai Lamas, there have been three such politically powerful figures: the Fifth, the Thirteenth and the Fourteenth Dalai Lamas, and all three have had serious difficulties with the Ge-luk establishment.  It is also these same three Dalai Lamas who are said to have had problems with Shuk-den.  Shuk-den could then be a manifestation of the political resentment of the Ge-luk hierarchy against the power of a strong Dalai Lama seeking to restrict and control it.  The dispute surrounding Shuk-den would be a thinly disguised way for Ge-luk partisans to express their political opposition to an institution that does not sufficiently represent their parochial interests, an opposition manifested in the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s wrathful manifestation against the Fifth Dalai Lama.

I would argue that although tempting, this reading of the Shuk-den story is inadequate for at least two reasons.  First, it fails to differentiate the stages in the relations between the Dalai Lama and the Ge-luk establishment.  It is true that these relations have often been tense.  But to run together the opposition between the Fifth Dalai Lama and the Ge-luk hierarchy, and the tension surrounding the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dalai Lamas fails to take into account the profound transformations that the Dalai Lama institution has undergone, particularly around the turn of the eighteenth century.  Secondly, the political interpretation of the saga of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s wrathful manifestation is anachronistic, confusing the story and the events that it narrates. Or, to put it differently, this interpretation fails to see that we are dealing here with two stories: the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, a seventeenth century victim of the Fifth Dalai Lama’s power, and the story of Shuk-den, the spirit in charge of maintaining the purity of the Ge-luk tradition as understood by his twentieth century followers. The former narrative is clearly political but is not about Shuk-den. It concerns the nature of the Dalai Lama institution and its relation to the Ge-luk hierarchy in the seventeenth century. The latter is about Shuk-den. It is mostly religious but does not concern the Dalai Lama’s political power.

To further clarify these two points, I will examine the political context in which the Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s story took place and the nature of the Dalai Lama institution at that time. I will then consider the events surrounding Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s tragic death in a historical perspective, and try to reconstruct the way in which it was understood by his contemporaries.

The Historical Context

The events surrounding Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s death must be understood in relation to its historical context, the political events surrounding the emergence of the Dalai Lama institution as a centralizing power during the second half of the seventeenth century. The rule of this monarch seems to have been particularly resented by some elements in the Ge-luk tradition. It is quite probable that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was seen after his death as a victim of the Dalai Lama’s power and hence became a symbol of opposition.

The resentment against the power of the Fifth Dalai Lama was primarily connected to a broad and far-reaching issue, the desire of some of the more sectarian Ge-luk hierarchs to set up a purely Ge-luk rule. Some even seem to have argued for the suppression of the schools against which they had fought for more than a century, particularly the Kar-ma Ka-gyu¸ tradition.[13] The Fifth seems to have realized that such a rule would have had little support and would have exacerbated the intersectarian violence that had marred the last two centuries of Tibetan history. To avoid this, he attempted to build a state with a broader power base, state which he presented as the re-establishment of the early Tibetan empire. His rule was to be supported by the Ge-luk tradition, but would also include groups affiliated with other religious traditions.

The Fifth was particularly well disposed toward the Nying-ma tradition from which he derived a great deal of his practice and with which he had a relation through his family. This seems to have created a great deal of frustration among some Ge-luk circles, as expressed by several popular stories. The stories frequently involve a colorful figure, Ba-ko Rab-jam (bra sgo rab ‘byams), who was a friend of the Dalai Lama. In the stories, he is often depicted as making fun of the Fifth Dalai Lama. For example, one day he comes to see the Dalai Lama, but the enormous Pur-ba (ritual dagger) he wears in his belt prevents him from crossing the door, an obviously sarcastic reference to the Nying-ma leanings of the Fifth Dalai Lama.

In the light of this opposition, it would seem that the narrative of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s wrathful manifestation makes perfect sense. Is not the Shuk-den story about the revenge of a group, the Ge-luk hierarchy, in struggle against the Fifth’s strong centralizing power? Although tempting, this interpretation completely ignores the historical transformations of the Dalai Lama institution. In particular, it ignores the fact that after the Fifth’s death the Dalai Lama institution was taken over by the Ge-luk hierarchy and radically changed. To put it colorfully, if Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had manifested as Shuk-den to protect the Ge-luk hierarchy against the encroachments of a Dalai Lama not sufficiently sympathetic to the Ge-luk tradition, this vengeful spirit would have been out of business by the beginning of the eighteenth century when his partisans, the Ge-luk hierarchy, won the day!

As long as the Fifth was alive, the Ge-luk hierarchy had to endure his rule, but his death changed the situation. His prime minister Sang-gye Gya-tso (sangs rgyas rgya mtsho) at first tried to conceal this death. When this proved impossible, he attempted to continue the Fifth’s tradition by appointing his candidate, Tsang-yang Gya-tso (tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho), as the Sixth Dalai Lama. But with the latter’s failure to behave as a Dalai Lama, Sang-gye Gya-tso lost the possibility to continue the task started by the Fifth. A few years later (1705) he was killed after being defeated by a complex coalition of Ge-luk hierarchs involving Jam-yang-shay-ba, the Dzungar Mongols and Lhab-zang Khan with the backing of the Manchu emperor‚‚‚. [14]

After this defeat, the role of the Dalai Lama was transformed. His political power was limited and the nature of the ritual system supporting the institution was changed, as we shall see later. In these ways, the institution of the Dalai Lama became a more purely Ge-luk creation. Hence, it makes very little sense to speak of Shuk-den as representing the spirit of Ge-luk opposition to the Dalai Lama institution after the demise of the Fifth, for by then the institution had become to a large extent favorable to the Ge-luk hierarchy. Admittedly, there were a few incidents between the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and some elements of the Ge-luk tradition. There was also some resentment against the high-handedness of this ruler but these were minor and should not be blown out of proportion.

Did Drak-ba Gyel-tsen become a spirit?

This interpretation is confirmed by an analysis of the view of the contemporaries of these events. In the founding myth of the Shuk-den practice, the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s death and wrathful manifestation is presented as the view of his followers. Given the cultural assumptions of Tibetans, this scenario cannot be dismissed without further analysis. Impressed by his violent and premature death, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s followers may have begun to propitiate his spirit in an atmosphere of strong hostility against those who were thought to have been responsible. But although this scenario is culturally plausible, is it historical? That is, did Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s followers think of him in this way? This question is more difficult, given the paucity of contemporary sources, but it needs to be asked, for we cannot simply assume that these legendary episodes reflect the perception of contemporaries. In fact, there are indications that they do not.

The most decisive evidence is provided by the later Ge-luk historian, Sum-pa Ken-po ye-shay Pel-jor (sum pa mKhan po ye shes dpal ‘byor), 1702-1788), who reports for the year 1657(Fire Bird) the following:

The assertion that this Tibetan spirit (bod de’i rgyal po) is Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, the reincarnation of the Upper Chamber, is just an expression of prejudice. Thus, I believe that the rumor that it is So-nam Choe-pel, who after passing away in the same year is protecting the Ge-luk tradition having assumed the form of a dharma protector through his “great concern for the Ge-luk tradition,” is correct. [15]

This passage is significant in several respects. First, it confirms the fact that there were stories of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen becoming Shuk-den quite early on. Although Sum-pa does not mention the deity by name, it seems quite clear that this is who he has in mind. But it also shows that Sum-pa Ken-po does not concede the identification of Shuk-den as the wrathful manifestation of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, which he takes to be an insult to “the reincarnation of the Upper Chamber.” In what is probably a tongue in cheek tit-for-tat, he rather identifies the troublesome spirit with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s enemy, So-nam Choe-pel, the hated first prime minister of the Fifth Dalai Lama whom he sarcastically credits with a “great concern for the Ge-luk tradition.”

Second, Sum-pa’s remark is important because it reflects the view of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s sympathizers as the respectful epithet (“the reincarnation of the Upper Chamber”) makes clear. Sum-pa was the disciple of Jam-yang-shay-ba (‘jam dbyangs bzhad pa,) 1648-1722), one of the leading Ge-luk lamas opposing the Fifth and his third prime minister (sde srid) Sang-gye Gya-tso.[16] Thus, when he denies that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had become Shuk-den, Sum-pa is reflecting the views of the people who considered Drak-ba Gyel-tsen with sympathy as an unfortunate victim of a rule they resented. The ironical remark about So-nam Choe-pel (“his great concern for the Ge-luk tradition”) and his identification as Shuk-den confirms this. Sum-pa disliked So-nam Choe-pel, whom he considered responsible for the Fifth’s rule and Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s death.

Sum-pa’s remark, however, raises a question. For, who then are the people claiming that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had become Shuk-den if not the followers of this lama? Could it be that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s followers had changed their minds by the time Sum-pa Ken-po wrote his account (1749)? Though further investigations may change our view, the evidence seems to suggest that this is not the case. The people who were identifying Shuk-den as the wrathful manifestation of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen were not his followers but his enemies, i.e., the Fifth Dalai Lama and his followers. This seems to be the implication of comments by Sang-gye Gya-tso when he says, referring to Drak-ba Gyel-tsen:

After [the death of] Ngak-wang So-nam Ge-lek (Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba’s second reincarnation), [his reincarnation was born] as a member of the Ge-kha-sa family. Although [this person] had at first hopes for being the reincarnation of the All-knowing Yon-ten Gya-tso (the Fourth Dalai Lama), he was made the reincarnation of Ngak-wang So-nam Ge-lek and finally ended in a bad rebirth.[17]

Although Sang-gye Gya-tso is not explicit, his words seem to refer to the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s reincarnation as a spirit such as Shuk-den. This is confirmed by the Fifth Dalai Lama, who describes Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s demise as leading to his becoming a spirit. The Fifth explains that:

Due to the magic of a spirit (?), the son of the noble family Ge-kha-sa turned into a false reincarnation of Ngak-wang So-nam Ge-lek and became a spirit [motivated by] mistaken prayers (smon lam log pa’i dam srid).[18]

What this quote indicates is that after Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s death the claim that he had become a spirit such as Shuk-den was not a praise of his followers, but a denigration, not to say downright slander, by his enemies! It is not Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s partisans who were identifying him as Shuk-den, but his adversaries who were presenting this scenario as a way to explain away the events following his tragic demise.

We must wonder, however, why the Fifth Dalai Lama and his followers were interested in propagating the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s wrathful manifestation, a story which the latter’s followers were keen to dispel? The answer to this question is bound to be tentative and highly speculative, and it is unlikely that any clear historical evidence will answer this question. Nevertheless, I think that it is not unreasonable to assume the following scenario. Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s premature death must have been a momentous event in Tibet at that time. It must have created a considerable malaise among Tibetans, who consider the killing of a high lama a terrible crime that can affect a whole country (as attested by the perception of the Re-ting affair in this century). Such a perception of misfortune must have been accompanied by events perceived as bad omens. There were probably stories of the possession and destruction of objects associated with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, as reported in the founding myth. Finally, there was the fact that the reincarnation of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen seems not to have been sought for, an extraordinary occurrence given that he was the reincarnation of Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba, one of the foremost Ge-luk lamas. [19]

It is in these circumstances that the story of his wrathful reincarnation must have appeared, not as a vindication of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, but as an attempt by the Fifth Dalai Lama and his followers to explain the absence of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s reincarnation and to shift the blame for the bad omen that had followed his death. These events were not the karmic effects of his violent death but the results of his transformation into a dangerous spirit. The Fifth Dalai Lama mentions that after Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s demise his spirit started to harm people. In order to pacify him, the Fifth had a small temple built near the pond of Dol, but this did not help and the reports of harm continued unabated. With the help of several important lamas such as Ter-dag Ling-pa (gter bdag gling pa,) 1646-1714), the Fifth decided to launch a final ritual assault and to burn the spirit during a fire ritual in which the spectators were said to have smelled the odor of burnt flesh.

As we realize, this description of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s posthumous fate is highly partisan and it is no surprise that his sympathizers rejected these explanations. They were keen on keeping the blame on the party of the Dalai Lama, arguing that the unfortunate events were not due to the wrathful reincarnation of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, who had taken rebirth as the emperor of China.[20] Finally, there are other stories that seem to hint that the evil spirit connected with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was already active prior to the latter’s demise, even as early 1636.[21] If Shuk-den was already active prior to Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s tragic demise, how can he be the latter’s wrathful manifestation? These conflicting stories show that what we have here is not a unified narrative but several partly overlapping stories. The founding myth of the Shuk-den tradition grew out of a nexus of narratives surrounding these events and developed in accordance with the new changing historical circumstances. It is not the account of the followers of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, as claimed by Shuk-den’s modern followers, but it is only one of the many versions of the bundle of stories surrounding these tragic events. In fact, the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s demise as it appears in contemporary sources has little to do with Shuk-den. It is not about the deity but about Drak-ba Gyel-tsen. Only much later, when the significance of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s story faded, did this story resurface and get taken as the account of the origin of Shuk-den.

The fact that the founding narrative of the Shuk-den practice is largely mythological does not mean that we should dismiss it. Rather we should inquire into its meaning. This is what I will do in the later pages of this essay, where I examine the story of the violent manifestation of Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen as the founding myth of the tradition of those who propitiate Shuk-den. Before going into this, we need to inquire about the history of this propitiation. For, if this practice did not start with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s death, where does it come from? And the Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s story was later recast as the founding myth of the Shuk-den lineage, when did this appropriation take place?

The Early History of a Practice

To understand the history of the Shuk-den practice, we need to examine the way in which this deity has been considered throughout most of the history of the Ge-luk tradition. To his twentieth century followers, Shuk-den is known as (Gyel-chen Dor-je Shuk-den Tsal (rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal)), the “Great Magical Spirit Endowed with the Adamantine Force.”[22] If we look at earlier mentions, however, we can see that Shuk-den also appears under another and less exalted name, i.e., as (Dol Gyel (dol rgyal).Even Pa-bong-ka calls him in this way when he says: “The wooden implements (i.e., crate) having been thrown in the water, the pond of Dol became whitish. After abiding there, he became known for a while as (Dol-gyel).”[23] This name helps us to understand how Shuk-den was considered in the earlier period, that is, as a troublesome but minor spirit, an interpretation confirmed by the explanations concerning Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s reincarnation.

The name (Dol Gyel) is quite interesting, for it yields a possible explanation of the origin of Shuk-den. It suggests that originally Shuk-den had a close regional connection with the area of the Tsang-po and the Yar-lung valleys where the pond of Dol lies. There, Shuk-den/ Dol-gyel was considered a (gyel po (rgyal po)), that is, the dangerous red-spirit of a religious person, who had died after falling from his monastic vows or had been killed in troubling circumstances.[24] Shuk-den/ Dol Gyel would then be a spirit from Southern Tibet, potentially troublesome like other red-spirits. No wonder then that his identification with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was rejected by the latter’s followers as an insult to this important and unfortunate lama.

We find confirmation of Shuk-den’s regional connection in the description given in 1815 by a Nying-ma teacher Do Kyen-tse (mdo mkhyen brtse ye shes rdo rje).While narrating his travels, he mentions the unpleasant presence of Shuk-den in Southern Tibet. On his way to Lhasa, after passing through the Nying-ma monastery of Dor-je Drak, Do Kyen-tse arrived in the area of Dra-thang (grwa thang) where Gyel-po Shuk-den (this is the name he uses) was active. Nevertheless, the spirit was unable to interfere with his travel and he reached his destination safely.[25] Thus, the existence of a deity, Dol-gyel/ Shuk-den, and his regional connection with the area of Southern Tibet seem to have been well established quite early on.

This regional connection is further confirmed by the fact that Shuk-den was propitiated in some of the monasteries of the same area, particularly in Sam-ye (bsam yas), which was by then Sa-kya. There Shuk-den appears as a minor but dangerous worldly protector. This also suggests that this deity was first adopted by the tradition of the monastery of Sa-gya,[26] a hypothesis further confirmed by the reference in the founding myth to his being taken over by the holder of the Sa-gya throne So-nam-rin-chen (bsod nams rin chen). In one of the versions, Shuk-den first attempts to go to Ta-shi Lhung-po, the residence of his teacher, the First Pen-chen Lama, Lob-zang Cho-gyen (blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan,) 1569-1662). He is prevented from doing so by Vaibravala (rnam thos sras), the supra-mundane protector of the monastery. He is then taken in by So-nam-rin-chen, who pities him and writes a text for his propitiation. This reference to the holder of the Sa-gya throne.

So-nam-rin-chen throws some interesting light on the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s wrathful manifestation and the establishment of the Shuk-den cult entrusted to the Sa-gya. It seems at first to confirm this story until we realize that So-nam-rin-chen was born in 1704, long after the events surrounding Drak-ba Gyel-sten’s tragic demise. This considerable gap suggests that the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s wrathful manifestation as Shuk-den is a later creation, which incorporates a variety of narratives rearranged in the light of later situations. The founding myth of the Shuk-den practice is not a historical account but one of the many versions of a nexus of stories surrounding these tragic events, which developed gradually in the light of new historical circumstances.

Although So-nam-rin-chen’s role in the Shuk-den’s saga is more than questionable, his contribution to the tradition of this deity is not deniable. The small text that is attributed to him does seem to exist. It is the first ritual text focusing on Shuk-den that I have been able to trace. It can be found in the collection of ritual texts for the protectors of the Sam-ye monastery and confirms the existence of the practice of Shuk-den early on in the Sa-gya tradition.[27] Its title (“The Request to the Gyel-po [for the] Termination of Ganeþa”) suggests that Shuk-den was considered as an effective spirit in charge of clearing away obstacles (Ganeþa being the king of obstacles).[28] Shuk-den does not seem to have played, however, a major role in the Sa-gya tradition, where he seemed to have remained a dangerous though minor worldly protector. This is confirmed by a story told by Ka-lu Rin-bo-che, who mentions coming across a small Sa-gya temple for Shuk-den in Western Tibet and the profound fear that this deity inspired in the care-taker of this temple. [29]

The regional connection with Southern Tibet and the sectarian link with the Sa-gya tradition are further confirmed by Stanley Mumford’s anthropological description of the propitiation of Shuk-den in the Himalayan region. In his study of the religious life in the remote village of Tsap in Nepal, Mumford describes the practice of Shuk-den as a Sa-gya practice well established among the Tibetans of the region. In a small text used for this practice Shuk-den is presented as a worldly protector in charge of bestowing wealth, food, life and good fortune, of protecting the dharma, preventing its destruction, and of repelling the external and internal enemies of the ten regions. Finally, Shuk-den is invoked as a special protector of the Sa-gya tradition: “Protect the dharma in general, and in particular the Sakyapas. I praise you, who have agreed to be the Srungma of the Sakyapas”. [30]

Given this evidence, it is reasonable to assume that the practice of Dol-gyel was at first a minor Sa-gya practice later adopted by the Ge-luk tradition. But here another difficult question remains. When did this happen? The evidence available establishes that the practice of propitiating Dol-gyel existed in the Ge-luk tradition during the eighteenth century. One of the clearest proofs appears in the biography of the Ge-luk polymath Jang-gya-rol-bay-dor-jay (1717-1786), written by his disciple Tu-gen-lo-sang-cho-gyi-nyi-ma (thu’u bkwan blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma), 1737-1802). [31] Tu-gen reports that Jang-gya mentions that Dol-gyel was propitiated by several Ga-den Tri-bas. After several unfortunate events, another Tri-ba, Ngak-wang Chok-den (ngag dbang mchog ldan,) 1677-1751), the tutor of the Seventh Dalai Lama Kel-zang Gya-tso (bskal bzang rgya tsho,) 1708-1757) put an end to this practice by expelling Shuk-den from Ga-den monastery.

This mention of Dol-Gyel is quite interesting for a number of reasons. First, it dates the practice of propitiating this deity in the Ge-luk tradition. This practice must have existed prior to Ngak-wang Chok-den’s intervention, and it must have had a certain extension to have been adopted by several Ga-den Tri-bas. Second, it attests to the troublesome character of this deity. However, no connection is made with Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen. Jang-gya was after all one of the followers of Jam-yang-shay-ba, one of the main Ge-luk hierarchs opposed to the Fifth, and hence not inclined to consider favorably the story of Shuk-den as Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s wrathful manifestation. Finally, this passage illustrates the minor status of this deity in the Ge-luk tradition at that time, as Jang-gya mentions the expulsion of this deity in passing. This impression of small importance is confirmed by the fact that it is so difficult to document the practice of Shuk-den prior to the beginning of this century. But if Dol-gyel, as he is called by Jang-gya, is minor, why did Ngak-wang Chok-den and Jang-gya oppose his propitiation? Possibly because of its troublesome character. Jang-gya mentions that the Tri-bas who propitiated Dol-gyel encountered difficulties but he does not elaborate. Another possible reason for expelling Dol-gyel from Ga-den is that no mundane deity is allowed to remain permanently in Ga-den. Even Ma-chen Pom-ra, the local god (yul lha) of Dzong-ka-ba, the founder of the Ge-luk tradition, is not supposed to stay in Ga-den overnight, and must take his residence below the monastery.[32] Finally, the political connection alleged by the Fifth Dalai Lama’s followers between this deity and their nemesis, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, may have played a role, though this is far from sure since by this time the story of the latter’s demise must have started to fade away. Jang-gya may not have opposed the practice in general, for we find a representation of Shuk-den in a collection of thanka paintings given to Jang-gya by the Qianlong Emperor. Because the thanka is not dated, we cannot be sure of the date of its appearance in the collection. Despite this uncertainty concerning some details, an impression emerges which suggests that around the middle of the eighteenth century Dol-gyel was a troublesome but minor deity propitiated by some Ge-luk lamas.

The practice of Dol-gyel or Shuk-den also surfaced as an issue during the rule of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, who put restrictions on the oracle for Shuk-den but did not prohibit his activities completely. Dol-gyel could be propitiated in his proper place in the order of Tibetan gods, namely, as a minor mundane deity. His oracle was permitted only at certain fixed locations such as Tro-de Khang-sar (spro bde khang gsar) in Lhasa or Tro-mo (gro mo) in the Chumbi valley, but not in any of the large monasteries. Finally, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and his government applied pressure on Pa-bong-ka to desist from propitiating Shuk-den. They were particularly displeased by the diffusion of the Shuk-den practice in Dre-bung. They perceived these efforts as attempts to displace Ne-chung, who is, as we will see later, the worldly protector of the Dre-bung monastery and the Tibetan government. Hence, they ordered him to abstain from propitiating Shuk-den altogether. According to his biographer, Pa-bong-ka promised not to propitiate Shuk-den any more. [33]

These events seem to indicate that the propitiation of Shuk-den had spread to a certain extent during or just prior to the rule of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. This may have been due to a gradual spread of this practice during the nineteenth century, particularly its second half. This practice was widespread enough during the time of the Thirteenth to raise some concern in governmental circles. But even then references to Dol-gyel or Shuk-den remain very rare. Although the Thirteenth opposed what he saw as an excessive emphasis on Shuk-den by Pa-bong-ka, the issue was minor and there was little controversy concerning the practice of this deity.

Thus, what emerges from this impressionistic survey is that Shuk-den was a minor though troublesome deity in the Ge-luk pantheon throughout most of the history of this tradition. This deity does not seem to have been considered early on as Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s manifestation, except by his enemies, who intended the identification disparagingly. Its gradual adoption in the Ge-luk tradition does not show any relation with either Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba or his third reincarnation, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen. Shuk-den seems to have been adopted by Ge-luk lamas because of his power as a worldly deity, not on the basis of a connection with Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba’s lineage. Lamas who are part of this lineage do not show any special inclination toward Shuk-den. Moreover, the monks of the Lo-sell-ling college of Dre-bung, who take Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba’s works as their textbooks (jig cha) and consider him as perhaps the foremost interpreter of Dzong-ka-bag’s tradition, have had very little connection with Shuk-den (with a few individual exceptions).

How is it then that this minor spirit coming from an obscure location in Central Tibet has become the center of raging controversy that has cost the lives of several Ge-luk monks and continues to threaten the unity of the Ge-luk tradition? Moreover, how is it that this deity is now so pervasively identified with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen by his staunchest supporters, who take this connection as a vindication of both Shuk-den and Drak-ba Gyel-tsen?

The Rise of a Spirit

To answer these questions, we must consider the changes that took place within the Ge-luk tradition during the first half of the twentieth century due to Pa-bong-ka (1878-1941) and the revival movement that he spearheaded. Though Pa-bong-ka was not particularly important by rank, he exercised a considerable influence through his very popular public teachings and his charismatic personality. Elder monks often mention the enchanting quality of his voice and the transformative power of his teachings. a-bong-ka was also well served by his disciples, particularly the very gifted and versatile Tri-jang Rin-bo-che (khri byang rin po che,) 1901-1983), a charismatic figure in his own right who became the present Dalai Lama’s tutor and exercised considerable influence over the Lhasa higher classes and the monastic elites of the three main Ge-luk monasteries around Lhasa. Another influential disciple was Tob-den La-ma (rtogs ldan bla ma), a stridently Ge-luk lama very active in disseminating Pa-bong-ka’s teachings in Kham. Because of his own charisma and the qualities and influence of his disciples, Pa-bong-ka had an enormous influence on the Ge-luk tradition that cannot be ignored in explaining the present conflict. He created a new understanding of the Ge-luk tradition focused on three elements: Vajrayogini as the main meditational deity (yi dam,), Shuk-den as the protector, and Pa-bong-ka as the guru.

Like other revivalist figures, Pa-bong-ka presented his teachings as embodying the orthodoxy of his tradition. But when compared with the main teachings of his tradition as they appear in Dzong-ka-ba’s writings, Pa-bong-ka’s approach appears in several respects quite innovative. Although he insisted on the Stages of the Path (lam rim) as the basis of further practice, like other Ge-luk teachers, Pa-bong-ka differed in recommending Vajrayogini as the central meditational deity of the Ge-luk tradition. This emphasis is remarkable given the fact that the practice of this deity came originally from the Sa-gya tradition and is not included in Dzong-ka-ba’s original synthesis, which is based on the practice of three meditational deities (Yamantaka, Guhya-samaja, and Cakrasamvara). The novelty of his approach is even clearer when we consider Pa-bong-ka’s emphasis on Tara Cintamali as a secondary meditational deity, for this practice is not canonical in the strict sense of the term but comes from the pure visions of one of Pa-bong-ka’s main teachers, Ta bu Pe-ma Baz-ra (sta bu padma badzra), a figure about whom very little is presently known. We have to be clear, however, on the nature of Pa-bong-ka’s innovations. He did not introduce these practices himself, for he received them from teachers such as Ta bu Pe-ma Baz-ra and Dak-po Kel-zang Kay-drub (dwag po bskal bzang mkhas grub). Where Pa-bong-ka was innovative was in making formerly secondary teachings widespread and central to the Ge-luk tradition and claiming that they represented the essence of Dzong-ka-ba’s teaching. This pattern, which is typical of a revival movement, also holds true for Pa-bong-ka’s wide diffusion, particularly at the end of his life, of the practice of Dor-je Shuk-den as the central protector of the Ge-luk tradition. Whereas previously Shuk-den seems to have been a relatively minor protector in the Ge-luk tradition, Pa-bong-ka made him into one of the main protectors of the tradition. In this way, he founded a new and distinct way of conceiving the teachings of the Ge-luk tradition that is central to the “Shuk-den Affair.”

In promoting Shuk-den as the protector of his charismatic movement, Pa-bong-ka did not invent the practice of this deity, which he seems to have received from his teachers, [34] but he transformed a marginal practice into a central element of the Ge-luk tradition. This transformation is illustrated by the epithets used to refer to Shuk-den. Instead of being just “The Spirit from Dol” (dol rgyal), or even the “Great Magical Spirit Endowed with the Adamantine Force” (rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal), he is described now by Pa-bong-ka and his disciples as “the protector of the tradition of the victorious lord Manjushri (i.e., Dzong-ka-ba)” (‘jam mgon rgyal ba’i bstan srung)[35] and “the supreme protective deity of the Ge-den (i.e., Ge-luk) tradition” (dge ldan bstan bsrung ba’i lha mchog).[36]

These descriptions have been controversial. Traditionally, the Ge-luk tradition has been protected by the Dharma-king (dam can chos rgyal), the supra-mundane deity bound to an oath given to Dzong-ka-ba, the founder of the tradition. The tradition also speaks of three main protectors adapted to the three scopes of practice described in the Stages of the Path (skyes bu gsum gyi srung ma): Mahakala for the person of great scope, Vaibravala for the person of middling scope, and the Dharma-king for the person of small scope.[37] By describing Shuk-den as “the protector of the tradition of the victorious lord Manjushri,” Pa-bong-ka suggests that he is the protector of the Ge-luk tradition, replacing the protectors appointed by Dzong-ka-ba himself. This impression is confirmed by one of the stories that Shuk-den’s partisans use to justify their claim. According to this story, the Dharma-king has left this world to retire in the pure land of Tushita having entrusted the protection of the Ge-luk tradition to Shuk-den. Thus, Shuk-den has become the main Ge-luk protector replacing the traditional supra-mundane protectors of the Ge-luk tradition, indeed a spectacular promotion in the pantheon of the tradition.

Pa-bong-ka’s promotion of this deity has several reasons. There was an undeniable personal devotion to Shuk-den in Pa-bong-ka derived from his early experiences, dreams or visions. This devotion was also based on a family connection, for Shuk-den was his mother’s female god (skyes ma’i rgyud kyi lha). [38] Pa-bong-ka’s writings reflect this strong devotion to Shuk-den, as is shown by the following passage:

Praise and prostration through remembering your three secrets [to you] the violent poison for the obstacles, the enemies, [and] those who have broken [their] pledges, [to you] the magical jewel who fulfills the hopes and wishes of the practitioners, [to you] the only life tree [i.e., support] in protecting Dzong-ka-ba’s tradition.[39]

The very real personal devotion found in many of the Shuk-den texts written by Pa-bong-ka and his disciples explains Pa-bong-ka’s fervor in diffusing Shuk-den. From the viewpoint of his followers, it is the most important element of Pa-bong-ka’s heritage.

There is, however, another element that must be examined in order to understand the troublesome nature of the practice of Shuk-den, namely, the sectarian stance that it reflects. This is where the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen becomes relevant again. For Pa-bong-ka, particularly at the end of his life, one of the main functions of Gyel-chen Dor-je Shuk-den as Ge-luk protector is the use of violent means (the adamantine force) to protect the Ge-luk tradition. Pa-bong-ka quite explicitly states:

Now [I] exhort to violent actions Shuk-den, who is the main war-god of Dzong-ka-ba’s tradition and its holders, the angry spirit, the Slayer of Yama (i.e., Yamantaka or Manjushri in his wrathful form)….In particular it is time [for you] to free (i.e., kill) in one moment the enemies of Dzong-ka-ba’s tradition. Protector, set up [your] violent actions without [letting] your previous commitments dissipate. Quickly engage in violent actions without relaxing your loving promises. Quickly accomplish [these] requests and entrusted actions without leaving them aside (or without acting impartially). Quickly accomplish [these] actions [that I] entrust [to you], for I do not have any other source of hope. [40]

This passage clearly presents the goal of the propitiation of Shuk-den as the protection of the Ge-luk tradition through violent means, even including the killing of its enemies. We should wonder, however, what this passage means? Is it to be taken literally? And who are these enemies?

To answer these questions in detail would take us beyond the purview of this essay. A short answer is that in certain ways the statements of this ritual text are not very different from the ones found in similar texts devoted to other mundane protectors. By itself, this text does not prove very much. Combined with Pa-bong-ka’s other writings, however, the statement about killing the enemies of the Ge-luk is more than the usual ritual incitements contained in manuals for the propitiation of protectors. Consider this rather explicit passage contained in an introduction to the text of the empowerment required to propitiate Shuk-den (the (srog gtad,) about which more will be said later):

[This protector of the doctrine] is extremely important for holding Dzong-ka-ba’s tradition without mixing and corrupting [it] with confusions due to the great violence and the speed of the force of his actions, which fall like lightning to punish violently all those beings who have wronged the Yellow Hat Tradition, whether they are high or low.[This protector is also particularly significant with respect to the fact that] many from our own side, monks or lay people, high or low, are not content with Dzong-ka-ba’s tradition, which is like pure gold, [and] have mixed and corrupted [this tradition with ] the mistaken views and practices from other schools, which are tenet systems that are reputed to be incredibly profound and amazingly fast but are [in reality] mistakes among mistakes, faulty, dangerous and misleading paths. In regard to this situation, this protector of the doctrine, this witness, manifests his own form or a variety of unbearable manifestations of terrifying and frightening wrathful and fierce appearances. Due to that, a variety of events, some of them having happened or happening, some of which have been heard or seen, seem to have taken place: some people become unhinged and mad, some have a heart attack and suddenly die, some [see] through a variety of inauspicious signs [their] wealth, accumulated possessions and descendants disappear without leaving any trace, like a pond whose feeding river has ceased, whereas some [find it] difficult to achieve anything in successive lifetimes.[41]

In this passage, which is based on notes taken by Tri-jang during a ceremony given by Pa-bong-ka and published in his (Collected Works,) Pa-bong-ka takes the references to eliminating the enemies of the the Ge-luk tradition as more than stylistic conventions or usual ritual incantations. It may concern the elimination of actual people by the protector. But who are these people?

A number of people may be included in this category. Several Nying-ma lamas have claimed to have been the target of Shuk-den, who is often greatly feared by the followers of this school. In this passage, however, Pa-bong-ka seems to have in mind less members of other schools than those Ge-luk practitioners who mix Dzong-ka-ba’s tradition with elements from other traditions, particularly the Nying-ma Dzok-chen to which he refers indirectly but clearly. [42] The mission of Shuk-den as defined here is to prevent Ge-luk practitioners from mixing traditions and even visiting retribution on those who dare to go against this prescription.

This is also the central message of the founding myth of the Shuk-den practice as defined by Pa-bong-ka and his followers. Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen becomes a wrathful deity to visit retribution, not on those who caused his death, but on those who defile Dsong-ka-ba’s pure tradition. According to the legend, Shuk-den takes the Fifth Dalai Lama as his target because the latter was eclectic, including in his practice many elements from the Nying-ma tradition, which provoked the anger of Shuk-den as a guardian of Ge-luk orthodoxy. Pa-bong-ka is quite explicit:

Because the All Seeing Great Fifth practiced and developed all tenets of the old and new [schools], this great protector through the power of previous prayers produced a variety of extremely frightful appearances to the supreme Powerful King (the Fifth Dalai Lama) in order to protect and defend spotlessly Dzong-ka’ba’s great tradition.[43]

We may now understand the peculiar fate of the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s wrathful manifestation as Shuk-den, which shifted from a slander of the former into a praise of the latter. Pa-bong-ka was aware of the stories surrounding Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s death but understood them quite differently from the way contemporaries of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had. For him, the narrative was not about Drak-ba Gyel-tsen but about Shuk-den and the identification of the latter with the former was a way to legitimize the diffusion of a practice that had been previously marginal.

The choice of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was particularly meaningful for Pa-bong-ka, who had been pressured by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama to renounce his practice of Shuk-den and may have been somewhat resentful. He may have felt a communion with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, who like him had been the object of unwelcome attention from a strong Dalai Lama. More importantly, however, Pa-bong-ka must have felt that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s alleged posthumous antagonism to the Fifth Dalai Lama’s eclecticism paralleled his own opposition to the adoption of Nying-ma teachings by some Ge-luk-bas. Shuk-den’s anger against the Fifth Dalai Lama is not directed at the Dalai Lama institution (per se) but at the Nying-ma leanings of the Fifth. Finally, the choice of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen as the source of the Shuk-den lineage was an ideal way to legitimize an originally Sa-gya practice. By tracing back the lineage to Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, Pa-bong-ka could present the Shuk-den practice as authentically Ge-luk and reinterpret its undeniable roots in the Sa-gya tradition as an interlude in an essentially Ge-luk story.

Appendix

[1] This is a revised version of an essay published earlier in the (Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies) (Vol., 21, no. 2 [1998]: 227-270) and reprinted here with the permission of the editors of the above-mentioned journal. I would like to thank them. I would also like to acknowledge all the people who have helped me in this project. Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, however, I feel that I should not mention any name and just thank them collectively.

[2] Tri-jang Rin-bo-che, (The Music that Rejoices the Ocean of Pledge Bound, Being an Account of the Amazing Three Secrets [of Body, Speech and Mind] of Great Magical Dharma Spirit Endowed with the Adamantine Force, The Supreme Manifested Deity Protecting the Ge-den Tradition (dge ldan bstan bsrung ba’i lha mchog sprul pa’i chos rgyal chen po rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal gyi gsang gsum rmad du byung ba’i rtogs pa brjod pa’i gtam du bya ba dam can can rgya mtsho dgyes pa’i rol mo,) Collected Works, Delhi: Guru Deva, 1978), V.5-159, 8.

[3] Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s lineage is said to go back to Dul Dzin Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, a direct disciple of Dzong-ka-ba. This lineage is, however, a kind of spiritual lineage and quite different from the recognized lineage of a lama. See Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement to the Explanation of the Preliminaries of the Life Entrusting [Ritual]) (rgyal chen srog gtad gyi sngon ‘gro bshad pa’i mtshams sbyor kha bskong),) Collected Works, New Delhi: Chopel Legdan, 1973), VII.517-532, 520.

[4] Sang-gye Gya-tso (sangs rgyas rgya mtsho), explains that after Ngak-wang Ge-lek (ngag dbang dge legs) had died, the second reincarnation of Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba was found in the Ge-kha-sa (gad kha sa) family. He adds: “Although he had hopes for being the reincarnation of the All-knowing Yon-ten Gya-tso, he was made the reincarnation of Ngak-wang Ge-lek” (thams cad mkhyen pa yon tan rgya mtsho’i sprul sku yong du re yang ngag dbang dge legs kyi sprul sku byas pas). Sangs-rgyas-rgya-mtsho, (Vairya-ser-po) (Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1960), 72.

[5] Dol rgyal zhib ‘jug tshogs chung, (Dol rgyal lam shugs ldan byung rim la dpyad pa) (Dharamsala, 1998), 25-35.

[6] Tri-jang, (Music,) 101-109.

[7] R. Nebesky-Wojkowitz, (Oracles and Demons of Tibet). (The Hague: Mouton, 1956).

[8] In this essay I will treat deities as “real persons” since they are experienced as such by Tibetans.

[9] Such a spirit is also called (tsan) (often but not always the spirit of a monk who has either fallen from his monastic commitment or has been killed), who lives in rocks and must be pacified with special red offerings. Tibetans speak of eight classes of gods and spirits (lha srin sde brgyad). See: Samuel, (Civilized Shaman) (Washington: Smithsonian, 1993), 161-163.

[10] Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement,) 521.

[11] Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement,) 523 and Tri-jang, (Music,) 105.

[12] The Tri-ba seems at first to have been elected, which would have strengthened his position. Later he was selected by the Dalai Lama. When did this change occur? Only further research will provide an answer which will greatly help us in understanding the history of the Ge-luk tradition.

[13] E.G. Smith, “Introduction,” (Kongtrul’s Encyclopedia of Indo-Tibetan Culture) (New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1970), 17.

[14] L. Petech, Introduction to Sangs-rgyas-rgya-mtsho, (Vaidrya-ser-po), xi-xii.

[15] bod de’i rgyal po ni gzim khang gong ma sprul sku grags rgyan zer ba ni chag(s) sdang gi gtam kho nar zad do/ des na bsod nams chos ‘phel ni lo ‘dir ‘das nas khong dge lugs la thugs zhen ches pas chos bsrung ba’i tshul bzung nas dge lugs pa skyong zhes grags pa bden nam snyam mo/. (Rehu mig or chronological tables) in Sum pa mkhan po, (dPag bsam ljon bzang) (Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1959), 70-1.

[16]This opposition had come to the fore when the prime minister tried to entice the Lo-sel-ling college of Dre-bung monastery to adopt the fifth Dalai Lama’s works as its textbooks in place of Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba’s works. After the college’s refusal, Sang-gye Gya-tso asked Jam-yang-shay-ba to refute Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba.This was an attempt at strengthening the government’s control over the monasteries as well as a way of removing Drak-ba Gyel-tsen’s posthumous influence, two goals with which Jam-yang-shay-ba had little sympathy. Hence, the latter refused to oblige.

[17] (de’i rjes su gad kha sa pa’i nang so gro (grod?) lhug thog mar thams cad mkhyen pa yon tan rgya mtsho’i sprul sku yong du re yang ngag dbang bsod nams dge legs kyi sprul sku byas pas mthar skye gnas mi bzang bar gyur to/) Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, (Vai∂rya-ser-po) (Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1960), 71-2.

[18] gad kha sa lags a rgyal gyi ‘phrul la brten ngag dbang bsod nams dge legs dpal bzang gyi sku skye rdzus ma lam du song ba smon lam log pa’i dam srid gyur te/.Fifth Dalai Lama, (Collected Works,) vol. Ha, 423-4. A similar scenario is presented in the Fifth’s autobiography. Both passages were quoted by the present Dalai Lama in a talk given in Los Angeles, June 1997.

[19] Some stories present the Nga-ri Rin-bo-che as the reincarnation of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen but they are hard to trace and are probably significantly posterior to the facts here discussed.

[20] In reference to the year 1655 (Wood Sheep), Sum-pa-mkhan-po notes: “[Birth of] the Kangshi emperor renowned as the reincarnation of Tul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen (sprul sku grags rgyan skye bar grags pa’i khang zhi bde skyid rgyal po) (Rehu mig,) 70.

[21] in his autobiography, the Fifth Dalai Lama mentions the existence of a harmful spirit around the pond of Dol. See (Du ku La’i gos bzang,) II. Ý157.a-.b.

[22] Pa-bong-ka gives the following gloss of Shuk-den’s name: “[This] great protector, who holds the adamantine force which is all pervading regarding the destruction of the army of the devil, [this] spirit who is a war god, the protector of the Ge-den tradition, who assumes the pretense of being a worldly boastful god though he is beyond the world, is well known “Great Magical Spirit Endowed with the Adamantine Force” (de ltar ‘jig rten las ‘das kyang dregs pa’i zol ‘chang dge ldan bstan srung dgra lha’i rgyal po/ bdud kyi sde ‘joms pa la thogs pa med pa’i rdo rje’i shugs ‘chang ba bstan srung chen po rgyal chen dor je shugs ldan rtsal zhes yongs su grags pa.(Supplement,) 528.

[23] shing cha rnams chu la bskyur ba dol chu mig dkar mor chags pas der gnas pas re zhig bar du dol rgyal zhes grags. Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement,) 521.

[24] Another informant has suggested that Shuk-den became at some point a monastic deity in charge of eliminating rogue monks who had broken their vows but still pretended to be pure. This hypothesis would account for the monastic appearance of Shuk-den’s main form (for a description of Shuk-den’s five forms, see Kelzang Gyatso, (Heart Jewel,) 77) and provide a precedent for Shuk-den’s opposition to Ge-luk practitioners who have adopted Nying-ma teachings.From punishing rogue monks, it is quite easy to imagine.

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Contemplate This

.…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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