Dorje Shugden’s Lineage/History and Authenticity of the Practice

The belief in reincarnation is essential to all schools of Buddhism. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is believed that certain lamas of high spiritual attainment can direct their reincarnations consciously and return to the human fold for the sake of assisting other human beings to achieve liberation. A spiritually attained person capable of such a feat of conscious rebirth is called a tulku, meaning “altar, shrine.” According to the history of the Gelugpa lineage, Dorje Shugden is the most recent incarnation of a long line of enlightened tulkus, taking the form of a Dharma Protector.

Whilst the origin of the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden is conventionally related to a 17th century Buddhist scholar, the most eminent lama of the time, by the name of Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen, the Protector’s story goes back even further to the time of Je Tsongkapa himself, when the Gelugpa lineage was established. It was said that Je Tsongkapa had such perfect insight into and understanding of Arya Nagarjuna’s Madyamaka (Wisdom of the Middle Way), that Tsongkapa’s doctrines were precise expositions of the all-important realization of Emptiness, without which practitioners cannot hope to attain the state of enlightenment. So crucial was the teaching that it was necessary for a Dharma Protector to arise to protect it from corruption.

That duty fell on one of Tsongkapa’s closest disciples, Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen, who swore an oath to be its protector when it became necessary. It was Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen’s enlightened mind-stream that eventually became reincarnated in the form of Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen. Dorje Shugden’s heritage is therefore intricately linked to the Gelugpa lineage from inception, and any discussion of Dorje Shugden would be incomplete without a corresponding acknowledgement of the primary purpose of the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden – to protect a crucial key to enlightenment.

Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen’s religious lineage is impressive. Apart from the illustrious Duldzin Drakpa Gyalsen, it also includes the famous Mahasiddha Birupa (Virupa) and some of the greatest Tibetan Masters of old such as Sakya Pandita Kungo Gyaltsen (1182 – 1251), Bhuton Rinchen (1290 – 1364), and Panchen Sonam Drakpa (1478 – 1554). The authenticity of Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen’s lineage was confirmed by the most important Buddhist master of the time, the first Panchen Lama Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen who was the spiritual master of both Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen and the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso. Just as the first Panchen Lama recognized the Fifth Dalai Lama as an emanation of the Buddha of Compassion, he recognized Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen as the emanation of Manjushri. Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen’s lineage has never been questioned by any Tibetan master until today.

The era of Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen and the Fifth Dalai Lama was an extremely turbulent time. It was a time when politics and religion were being compressed into a single institution of absolute power that gave rise to the phenomenon of the Dalai Lamas as god-kings of Tibet. Although Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen himself was not politically inclined, he was immensely popular with the Mongols who played significant roles in Tibetan political affairs at the time, and therefore he was perceived as a threat to the establishment whose status depended on the Fifth Dalai Lama remaining in power, unchallenged.

It was this perceived threat that led to the assassination of Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen, who was choked to death by having a silk cloth forced down his throat. As to why an enlightened mind such as Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen would submit himself to such brutality, the reasons are two-fold:

  1. It was time for Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen to fulfill the oath he made in his previous life as Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen, to become the protector of Tsongkapa’s doctrine when the need arose. With the establishment of the Ganden Podrang, and ascendancy of the Fifth Dalai Lama as the absolute ruler, it became necessary for him to represent all prevailing Buddhist traditions fairly and therefore he openly incorporated the beliefs and doctrines of other lineages into orthodoxy. Some accounts claim that the Fifth Dalai Lama had personally preferred the Nyingma approach to practice and he took the Gelug sect merely as a political-administrative power base. Regardless of the Fifth Dalai Lama’s real purpose, the purity of Tsongkapa’s teachings was in danger of dilution;
  2. As Buddhists believe that everything is ‘caused’, such a violent death is the necessary condition to cause an otherwise enlightened mind to be born as a wrathful being, like a Protector. Therefore it was a condition that Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen had to meet to arise as Dorje Shugden.

After the death of Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen, many inauspicious signs appeared and while some treated the signs as omens of the bad karma that was created by the murder of an enlightened being, others, especially officials of the Fifth Dalai Lama took the signs as the malice of the perfidious spirit of the murdered tulku bent on revenge. However, after a few failed attempts to destroy the spirit by even the most powerful exorcism rituals known at the time, the Fifth Dalai Lama finally acknowledged the mistake of his officials and composed several verses in praise of Dorje Shugden as an enlightened Dharma Protector who had arisen in fulfillment of a promise to protect the precious teachings of Je Tsongkapa. Around the same time, high lamas of other lineages such as the Sakyas, by their own divination began to recognize and deify Dorje Shugden as a powerful Dharma protector having arisen from the death of an enlightened lama.

Thus began the religious tradition of propitiating Dorje Shugden as a wrathful and ‘Uncommon Dharma Protector’, who in nature was none other than Manjushri. While scholars and historians today may engage in academic disagreement on the ontology of Dorje Shugden, what no one can dispute is the fact that in the course of over 350 years since the passing of Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen, Dorje Shugden’s practice became buttressed as a legitimate and integral component of the Gelugpa tradition, by the advocacy and participation of subsequent Dalai Lamas, Panchen Lamas, Ganden Tripas (spiritual heads of the Gelug lineage), as well as abbots, geshes and high lamas over the course of the lineage history.

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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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