Dharma Demystified: Dorje Shugden As A Yidam

Dorje Shugden has always been propitiated as a powerful Dharma Protector. However, if you stop to think, it is possible to propitiate Dorje Shugden as a Yidam as well. How is this possible? The answer to this question lies in the same reason why Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche sought to propagate Dorje Shugden’s practice for our time.

According to the Buddha, we currently live in the Degenerate Age and people today revel in distractions and have precious little time for spiritual practice. In order for beings of this time to submit their minds to the Dharma, they need to rely on an enlightened being of extraordinary strength and capability. In other words, they need living proof that enlightened beings do exist and engaging in Dharma practice does bear results.

People of our time need a practice that will bear results swiftly and with as little effort and austerities as possible. Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche foresaw all these and out of a whole pantheon of powerful and enlightened Dharma Protectors, he identified Dorje Shugden to be the most suitable and efficacious Protector practice for our time.

The proposition to consider here is this – if Dorje Shugden is so powerful and efficacious as a Dharma Protector, can the same deity be just as effective as a Yidam? Before we delve into the reasons why Dorje Shugden could be a Yidam, we must first understand the differences between a Yidam and a Dharma Protector.

As we can see, the Vajrayana Buddhist pantheon is populated by an incredible amount of Yidams and Dharma Protectors. In the Gelug tradition, we only take refuge in enlightened beings and therefore, the differentiation between Yidams and Dharma Protectors is not based on their enlightened nature but solely on their role and function in a person’s spiritual practice. The following is an explanation of the roles and functions of Yidams and Dharma Protectors.


First, let us explore the meaning of Yidam. The word Yidam is actually Tibetan and the original Sanskrit equivalent is Istadevata. Like many Tibetan words, Yidam is a contraction of words – Yi means ‘the mind’ and Dam means ‘to hold’. So Yidam actually means something that holds our mind.

This phrase literally means that a Yidam is meant to hold our minds from negative karma, predispositions and mental states. It is a transformative practice that not only purifies our karma but assists the practitioner to become spiritually attained and ultimately enlightened. Yidam refers to any of the meditational deities like Manjushri, Tara, Lama Tsongkapa, Vajrayogini, Yamantaka and so forth.

Now that we have established the Yidam’s purpose, we will inquire into the actual practice of propitiating a Yidam, which is called Dakkeh in Tibetan or Sadhana in Sanskrit. Dakkeh is also another contraction with Da meaning ‘self’ and Keh meaning ‘to change or transform’.

Therefore, Dakkeh is a practice of self-transformation from an ordinary person into an extraordinary enlightened Being. Although their original purpose is not to increase one’s wealth, heal our bodies of sickness or to chase away evil spirits, Yidams do assists practitioners in these matters. Ultimately however, the Yidam’s purpose is not to help us with these things but to help us to become spiritually attained and ultimately enlightened.

An old monk doing his daily sadhana

Sadhanas are usually composed and empowered by highly attained lamas who have received the practice directly from the Yidams themselves in a pure and perfect vision.

Sadhanas are usually made up of a few common elements and the first always begins with the refuge recitation. After that, the practitioner engages in Vajrasattva mantra recitation to purify obstacles and obscurations.

If it is a higher Tantric sadhana that we are practicing, there would also be a solicitation and dissolution of all the lineage lamas (of that particular practice) of the past all the way to our root lama and finally into the practitioner. This is an important part of the sadhana because it opens up the merits to be successful in the practice.

This is followed by the dissolution mantra where one dissolves ordinary perception, ordinary self-identity and environment into emptiness. After that, the practitioner makes sensory and other offerings to the Yidam.

Next comes the part on the visualization of the Yidam and this is where the practitioner visualizes himself arising as the Yidam.

The central psychic channel runs from your head down to your secret organ

In higher Tantric practices, there are 72,000 psychic channels in your body and they gather into three main channels – Tsa Uma, Tsa Gyungma and Tsa Rongma meaning central, left and right channels. They run between the crown of the head straight down to the secret organ (genitalia). In between these channels, the psychic energies gather into five or six whirls or chakras depending on the Tantric system being practiced.

The meditation is the visualization of various emanations of the Yidam appearing inside various parts of the body to manipulate, gather and disperse psychic winds. This is of course a simple overview of the meditations as the actual meditation can only be taught to initiates.

These meditations and recitations of the Yidam’s mantra help the practitioner to identify with the Yidam and assume the qualities of the Yidam. In other words, these meditations are meant as a speedy way to gain enlightenment via the Tantric path. The sadhana is meant for the practitioner to become enlightened and thereby develop control over the mind and develop control over death and rebirth. That is how many highly attained Tibetan Lamas gain their power over death and rebirth.

When the practitioner has control over the mind, he or she would also have control over delusions like anger, desire, jealousy and so on. In Tantra, these delusions arise from blockages and impairment of the psychic winds within the body. However, the results from a sadhana would only come about if the practitioner has maintained good samaya (spiritual relationship) with his or her Guru, the vows that one received are intact and one has the realization or at least a deep understanding of the three principle aspects of the path.

Towards the end of the Sadhana, one can recite various prayers and felicitations to the Yidam and finally dedication. Sadhanas are usually given by the lama when we have received the initiation of a particular Yidam. Upon receiving initiation, the lama would require of the practitioner the daily practice of the sadhana of that particular Yidam.

Dharma Protectors

The Dharmapalas or Dharma Protectors are emanations of Buddhas that have arisen to clear our obstacles so that we can engage in deeper spiritual practice. Dharma Protector practice was originally meant to be a secondary practice to supplement Yidam practice as they are related.

The Dharma Protector’s role is really to protect our Dharma practice because inner and outer obstacles can arise to prevent us from engaging in deeper practice. Inner obstacles refer to doubt, anger, jealousy and so forth while outer obstacles refers to health, financial and other physical difficulties.

Hence, the Protector’s role is to clear these obstacles that obstruct our spiritual path and what the Protector bestows on the practitioner is based on need and may not necessarily fulfill what the practitioner wishes for. However, the practitioner will definitely be benefited both in the short and long term.

A Dharma Protector practice is called a Kangsol in Tibetan and it literally means to confess and propitiate. Like the sadhana practice of Yidams, attained lamas compose the Protector’s kangsol and its efficacy would be due to the blessings of these lamas.

Traditionally, a Yidam’s sadhana like Yamantaka or even Lama Tsongkapa’s Ganden Lhagyama is performed before the Protector’s Kangsol. Then the Kangsol begins with the visualization of the abode of the Protector and invocation of the Protector to enter into the abode that we have visualized.

Dorje Shugden’s mandala as described in the Kangsol text

This is followed by sensory and other auspicious offerings to the Protector. After which, the practitioner performs confessions to infractions of our sadhana, vows and violations to our devotion to the Guru. This is where one would be engaging in the kawang practice. After that, the practitioner recites the mantra of the Dharma Protector to invoke the blessings and make requests for the Protector’s assistance.

Next would be the offering of tormas (ritual cakes) and various commitment offerings to the Protector and entourage. Each Protector would have a unique and specific torma and commitment offerings. This is followed by a Serkyem or Golden Drink offering to a Dharma Protector, the entourage, Lama, Yidam and the Dakas and Dakinis. This offering is a unique way to make offerings and requests to the Dharma Protector.

Then, the practitioner would request the Protector to dissolve into his own image as represented by a thangka, statue or return to the Protector’s abode. In the end, the Kangsol like the sadhana practice concludes with dedication prayers.

Dorje Shugden as a Yidam

A Yidam is traditionally considered by practitioners to be higher than a Dharma Protector because attainments and enlightenment derived from engaging in a sadhana is the ultimate goal of any Buddhist practice. However, from the side of the practitioner, this does not mean that a Yidam is higher or more enlightened than a Dharma Protector.

Dorje Shugden is currently propitiated as a Dharma Protector and he is also the emanation of Manjushri, who is propitiated as a Yidam. From the side of the deity, he is enlightened whether he manifests as a Lama – Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen, Yidam – Manjushri or Protector – Dorje Shugden.

There is no question of whether Dorje Shugden qualifies as a Yidam. For an enlightened mind, there is neither labels nor differing levels of enlightenment and so they are all equal in nature. Therefore, the distinction lies not in the deity itself but in the way the deity is propitiated. In other words, what separates a Yidam from a Dharma Protector is their differing role and function from the side of the practitioner and not the deity.

As mentioned earlier in the article, Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche propagated Dorje Shugden practice because he felt that our modern time calls for an extraordinarily swift and powerful Protector. Therefore, Dorje Shugden is the most suitable Protector of our time based upon his extraordinary strength and swiftness.

This is also the reason why Dorje Shugden would also be suitable to be meditated on as a Yidam. The same level of efficacy and swiftness would ensure that more practitioners would become attained through his practice. Due to his efficacy, Dorje Shugden would be quicker to bestow attainments than many of the other Yidams if he was to be propitiated as a Yidam.

Now, let us explore the reasons for Dorje Shugden’s efficacy and speed. The first reason is the fact that Dorje Shugden currently exists in a worldly form but with an enlightened mind and that means Dorje Shugden exists in the Nirmanakaya form or emanation body of Manjushri just like the Dalai Lama or Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen.

This also indicates that Dorje Shugden’s form exists within Samsara and has greater karma and affinity with the beings of this time. This was brought about because Dorje Shugden arose from the aspiration of a highly attained lama, Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen when he passed away. Therefore at the final moment, the mind of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen took on the form of a powerful worldly being in order to fulfill this aspiration.

This is unique because most of the other Dharma Protectors and all of the Yidams are in the Sambhogakaya form or enjoyment body. This means that it would take far more merits to contact and receive assistance from them than it is with Dorje Shugden.

The other reason is the fact that Dorje Shugden is a relatively ‘new’ Protector having been only 300 years since he first arose. Therefore, a new Protector like Dorje Shugden would have a greater karma and affinity with the practitioners of this time when compared to the other Protectors. Some Protectors are not propitiated anymore because their time and karma have passed. So, the Protectors assume different forms to benefit sentient beings.

At present, Dorje Shugden is propitiated as a Dharma Protector but one can meditate upon Dorje Shugden as a Yidam as well if a lama composes the necessary texts. The lama needs to compose the initiation text, sadhana and commentary in order for Dorje Shugden to be regarded as a Yidam.

The previous Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche was known to have composed a sadhana to Vajrayogini and its commentary that is widely in use today. Since the other great sadhanas were composed by attained lamas of the past, therefore, an attained lama like Pabongka Rinpoche or Trijang Rinpoche could also compose the initiation text, sadhana and commentary on how to meditate on Dorje Shugden as a Yidam. Interestingly, Dorje Shugden would be the first Yidam to be in a worldly form.

Having Dorje Shugden propitiated as a Yidam would prove to be very beneficial for the growth of the Dharma because we live in a time of degeneration where attained practitioners and masters are very few and far in between and people have little time for Dharma. Therefore, if Dorje Shugden is propitiated as a Yidam, it would help many practitioners to quickly develop spiritual attainments. What remains now is for a sincere practitioner to make the request to a qualified lama – a request that will benefit the world once it comes to fruition.

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11 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. This article is quite presumptuous. If Dorje Shugden or any supermundane dharma protector was suitable to be a yidam for this age or any age, don’t you think Trijang Rinpoche or Pabongkha Rinpoche would have said so? The author of this article must think she or he knows better than these high lamas. Next article by this author will say Dorje Shugden will manifest as a tulku and be the fifth Buddha of this age pushing Buddha Maitreya to the one after…

  2. Dear Twostepsdown,

    I disagree with you. This article is not presumptuous because it tells you the facts about Yidams and Protectors and the differences between them. Then, it goes on to explore the possibility that Dorje Shugden could be a Yidam for his speed and efficacy. There is no distinction between one enlightened being and another and so this leads one to think of the possibility of Dorje Shugden arising as a Yidam and that depends on the composition of a sadhana and its commentary.

    The possibility is there and I don’t think it is presumptuous to think of this possibility if it benefits people. This of course, can only be done by an attained lineage lama like Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche. If you do not agree with the facts presented in this article, please explain the points that you disagree and your reasoning. Otherwise, this article makes a lot of sense and hopefully some who reads this would make a request to a lineage lama to consider this.

  3. It’s common knowledge Dorje Shugden is an Uncommon Protector because he is Lama, Yidam and Protector. This is well documented in many commentaries.

  4. “there are both Yidams and Protectors, and the Protectors are of both mundane and supra‐mundane aspects. Yidams are those such as the three: Dra Nag Yamantaka, Dong Yamanataka, and Vajra Bhairava Yamantaka. In the aspect of a supra‐mundane Protector, he is Dharmaraja Kalarupa and, in the aspect of a mundane protector, he is the great Dharmapala Mighty Dorje Shugden.”

    - Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche in Music Delighting the Ocean of Protectors

    Looks like to me that Trijang Rinpoche says Manjushri in the form of a Yidam is Yamantaka and Dorje Shugden as a mundane protector, not as a yidam.

  5. This is a real good article.
    It explain clearly on the different of Yidams and Protectors
    Most important its explain the importance of daily Sadhana in order to engage into the practice of a Yidam

    Dorje Shugden can definitely be a Yidam. He is more than just a protector. To me, he manifest as a protector to be close to us.
    As per said in this article the different between Yidams and Protectors
    “is not based on their enlightened nature but solely on their role and function in a person’s spiritual practice”
    If we agree that Dorje Shugden is the emanation of Manjushri, why can’t He be Yidam? By nature, for an enlightened mind, there is just a lables.

  6. the function of Dorje Shugden is to be a protector not a yidam. That is Dorje Shugden’s role and function according to Trijang Rinpoche. Sure it is a label based on a function, and Dorje Shugden and Yamantaka are both Manjushri, but we can’t call an apple an orange just because it is a fruit.

  7. Yamāntaka is seen as a wrathful manifestation of Mañjuśrī, the bodhisattva of wisdom, Yamantaka is also a Yidam, and of the Highest Yoga Tantra class in Vajrayana. But in other contexts, his functions as a dharmapala, or ‘Dharma-protector.
    To say that DS can’t be a yidam is like saying that Yamantaka can’t manifest as both a protector and Yidam.
    As Buddhas, they emanate in whatever form is necessary for the time and practitioners. Thus, DS practice is of course just as holy and beneficial as Manjushri and Yamantaka’s practice but is considered more “effective” because DS has manifested especially to counter the obstacles of this time and in that way is karmically “closer” to us.

  8. Dear Twostepsdown,

    Trijang Rinpoche also said this:

    “If someonewere to think that it would be impossible for those great beings
    who had already attained enlightenment to transform into the aspect of a worldly spirit, although it is certainly true that it would be impossible for them to take birth in that form through the force of karma and delusion, it is possible for them to emanate in that form through the power of compassion and prayer for a special purpose, and such emanations definitely do exist.”

    I think If you understand the above, you wouldn’t even need to discuss whether DS is a Yidam or protector.

  9. buddha i love

  10. I guess at this degeneration and age. There’re no right or wrong but it is logical that we need Dharma Proctector to clear off our path in order for us to be able to focus on Dharma Practice. Especially when in the modern society we have so many distraction from samsara which we have been accumulating negative karma which we don’t even realize it, of cause the Yidam practice is important but I think if we were to able to gain any progress in our practice, Dharma Protector practice is just as important.

  11. Overall, the point of the article was summed up by the author saying a Lama would need to compose the initiations and sadhanas. That is true. But we have never, other than speculation on this website, heard of a generation and completion stage of this Dharmapala. Though he is the nature of Vajrabhairava, Heruka, our Guru and so forth, he does not yet have Yidam practices, so it is inappropriate to attempt self-generation as Dorje Shugden.

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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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