Rongchen Kirti Lobsang Trinley (1849-1904)

The Eighth Kirti Rinpoche incarnation was born in the Amdo region northeast of Tibet, just south of lake Kokonor in 1849 and rose quickly to fame as a renowned teacher of the Gelug tradition. He was also widely known for founding many monasteries throughout his life and for his many very respected writings, which included the highly regarded Sungbum in 12 large volumes.

Like most high incarnations, this 8th Rongchen Rinpoche met with a very early start in Dharma. Kunkyen Jamyang Shepa first recognized him as the reincarnation of Rongpo Choje and named him Lobsang Trinley Tenpa. He was bestowed his initial ordination vows by Je Kongchog Monlam at the age of seven after which he was given the Getsul ordination a year later when he was eight.

While the monastic education is a vigorous one, Kirti Rinpoche was already studying the classes at the feet of many great masters from the mere age of 11 and excelled in them. He was fully ordained as a monk at the age of 24 and a year later, at only 25, he founded a new monastery in Ngapa and established himself there.

A debate and tantric college owed its existence to this eminent lama. Many monasteries in Amdo and Mongolia were graced by visits throughout his life and he became known too for creating a remarkable number of monasteries – both tantric and debate colleges – including for example, Ngaba Monastery, Tagtsang Lhamo Loseling Collect and Tagtsang Geden Tashi Kyil.

Many rituals for many protectors were written by Eighth Kirti Rinpoche and among his many notable literary accomplishments were the life entrustment rituals he composed for the Dharma Protectors Setrabchen and Nechung, as well as rituals for Tsangpa, Karma Vajra. The ritual of most interest is an initiation manual he composed for Dorje Shugden, called Dorje Shugden Gyi Jenang Chetsul, which details the method of initiation for Shugden.

It is also said that the previous incarnation of Kirti Rinpoche had such strong connections to Dorje Shugden that people in the area would specifically consult and ask Kirti Rinpoche for advice and protection. People would travel specifically to seek him for initiation of Dorje Shugden.

An account written by a Lobsang Tayang tries to trace the origins of this particular Jenang composed by Kirti Rinpoche. It is said that an earlier incarnation of Kirti Rinpoche had also had close connections with Dorje Shugden would who give him clear instructions and promised to protect colleges associated with him.

Later, as he was dying, Kirti Rinpoche passed this initiation an Alag Chojor and instructed to keep the lineage going. By certain requests, this initiation continued to be passed on – records trace that it was passed an Amdo lama known as Vajracharya Chogtrul who then bestowed the initiation to his own students in his own monastery.

Some more contemporary scholars have suggested that the Dorje Shugden practice was proliferated greatly in the late 19th century. It has been further surmised that the diffusion of the Dorje Shugden practice was on the basis of a minor deity but this summary is clearly mistaken.

There is evidence to suggest from this initiation composed by Kirti Rinpoche and the accolades used, the status of Dorje Shugden was definitely being promoted beyond that of a minor worldly protector. Case in point, the title of the initiation manual uses the term “special emanated Protector of the Doctrine of the Second Conqueror Manjunatha”, a very clear indication of the prominent status that this protector held within Tsongkhapa’s lineage.

Another notable aspect of this initiation and other significant works of Kirti Rinpoche are praises he included in his writings to Panchen Sonam Drakpa. Closer study of his writings indicate that Kirti Rinpoche recognized the connection between Dorje Shugden and Panchen Sonam Drakpa – this is especially significant because the core of many major monasteries’ curriculum are based the works of Panchen Sonam Drakpa.

These works continue to be studied today in Drepung Loseling and Gaden Shartse and form the basis of every Geshe’s studies and degrees. This tradition of following these texts can thus be traced back to this time – or even further – which clearly disproves certain scholars claims that Dorje Shugden is propitiated only as a worldly deity and not as an enlightened teacher in his own right.

Further, according to the text Some Historical Accounts of the Secret Activities of Lamas, Gods and Protectors, the proliferation of Gelugpa monasteries and colleges in Mongolia arose as a result of direct advice from the oracles of Setrapchen and Dorje Shugden. According to such accounts, the adherence to specific curriculum, especially that of Panchen Sonam Dragpa, was another important reason in starting up the new colleges. Again this proves the central part that Dorje Shugden – as a later incarnation of Panchen Sonam Dragpa – played in the creation of these monasteries.

What is more interesting is that this remarkable initiation text composed by Kirti Rinpoche is actually a divergence from the lineage derived from Dakpo Dorje Chang and Pabongka Rinpoche. It seems that while the initiation still finds its roots from what was being practiced in Central Tibet, a a new approach was created outside of Tibet and would later spread to Mongolia.

Unfortunately, the works of Dorje Shugden from Central Tibet overshadowed this rare text and lineage and it was not been paid much attention in recent times. It does however, provide us sound evidence that the practice of Dorje Shugden had taken off in various directions, being spread and proliferated by Lamas outside of the central, more famous lineages of Tibet.

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  1. I would be interesting to find out whether the above referred “Alag Chojor”, is a previous incarnation of, or somehow related to Alak Rinpoche, who used to be the assistant and main disciple of late Kirti Tsenzhab Rinpoche, famous for his Kalachakra teachings in many Western countries. After years in the West, Alak Rinpoche currently lives in Taktsang Lhamo Kirti Gompa (Chinese Langmusi, Sichuan Povince), precisely where Rongchen Kirti Lobsang Trinley was active, as above explained.

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.…Instead of turning away people who practise Dorje Shugden, we should be kind to them. Give them logic and wisdom without fear, then in time they give up the ‘wrong’ practice. Actually Shugden practitioners are not doing anything wrong. But hypothetically, if they are, wouldn’t it be more Buddhistic to be accepting? So those who have views against Dorje Shugden should contemplate this. Those practicing Dorje Shugden should forbear with extreme patience, fortitude and keep your commitments. The time will come as predicted that Dorje Shugden’s practice and it’s terrific quick benefits will be embraced by the world and it will be a practice of many beings.

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