Tritul Tenpa Rabgye (1759-1815) is a native of Lithang, Kham. Even at a young age, Tenpa Rabgye displayed strong affinity for the Dharma. At the tender age of 2, he did something very unusual for someone of his age – to request the Vajravidarna purification from the abbot of Lithang Monastery, Phuntsok Gyato.
It wasn’t long before he was recognised as the reincarnation of another great lama, Trichen Ngawang Chokden. He was then ordained by the Panchen Lama, Palden Yeshe himself and started receiving initiations from him at the age of 10. Among the teachings he received at this time were the teachings and initiations of some of the highest and most complex texts of Heruka and Guhyasamaja.
He later entered Sera Je to further his studies, and went on to aquire a Geshe Lharampa degree. Before entering Gyumed Tantric College, he was given full ordination by Palden Yeshe. He took up residence in Shidey Samten Ling in Lhasa and became a teacher for Changkya Rolpei Dorje’s reincarnation. At age 49, Tritul Tenpa Rabgye gave ten cycles of essential transmission and teachings on the Lamrim to thousands of monks when requested by Sera Je to do so.
Tritul Tenpa Rabgye had a very huge influence on many Gelug Lamas, mainly due to his amazing collection of works. As he was an ardent practitioner of Dorje Shugden, so too became many Gelug Lamas who were influenced by him, especially those of Sera Monastery.
His student, Rinchen Wangyal, authored some of the earliest Dorje Shugden initiations and life entrustment rituals that are still available today. Lobsang Trinley Namgya, who later became a Tsenshab to the 10th and 11th Dalai Lamas is also counted among his disciples. Tritul Tenpa Rabgye also requested for one of the first few extensive rituals on Dorje Shugden to be written which was done by Dragri Gyatso Thaye.
To understand more about Tritul Tenpa Rabgye, we must look at his works. He has four volumes of teachings. The four volumes of collected works was made available when they were published in 1985 by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archive, Dharamsala. The first volume of works primarily consists of liturgies of many tutelary deities.
The second volume of work is more of a collection of answers to the questions that were presented by his many students that covers a variety of subjects. It also contains many short propitiations to various Dharma protectors, both enlightened and worldly.
The third volume discusses more advanced subjects such as the method for developing bodhicitta, as transmitted in the Wheel of Sharp Weapons (Dharmarakshita). The fourth and final volume of works contains even more propitiations, rituals and liturgies for many different yidams and protectors, including a sadhana for the 13-Deity Mandala of Red Yamantaka.
From here, we can see that Tritul Tenpa Rabgye was a very learned scholar and accomplished practitioner, and that he actively promoted and practiced Dorje Shugden. His time predates that of the 13th Dalai Lama, which means that Dorje Shugden’s practice was already strong and firm back then. This refutes the claims of many ill-researched modern day scholars who assert that Dorje Shugden was a little known practice that was popularized only by Pabongkha. They also wrongly accuse of him of making up details about the nature of Dorje Shugden.
On the contrary, Trichen Tenpa Rabgye is known to have written propitiations and prayers (included within his collected words) to several protectors, including Dorje Shugden and Setrap. In both cases, the protectors are referred to as emanations of enlightened beings, with Dorje Shugden associated as an emanation of Vajrapani, a view commonly held by many masters of the time. He also makes references in a praise to the fact that Dorje Shugden abides in the Dharmakaya, strongly indicative of the fact that he is fully enlightened for only Buddhas reside in this sphere.
In combination with works from other Lamas, Trichen Tenpa’s short though important writings on Dorje Shugden form a part of a very significant cannon of work about this Protector and his true nature as an enlightened Buddha. It is clear that many high Lamas back in the day could see the true nature of Dorje Shugden and that he was practised widely by lamas of the highest calibres of the Gelug tradition. It was commonly reputed that those who propitiate him only excelled in their spiritual growth.