Sakya Throne Holders: Sonam Rinchen (1705-1741) & Kunga Lodro (1729-1783)

His Holiness the 41st Sakya Trizin Ngawang Kunga. The Sakya Trizin is considered to be the supreme spiritual head of the Sakya tradition.

Originating from the 11th century, the Sakya Lineage has been closely tied with the Khon Family since early times. The Khon Family is also known as one of the “holy families” of Tibet.

One of the Khon family members, Khon Lui Wangpo Sungwa, became a disciple of the great Indian saint Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) in the 8th century. He was amongst the first seven monks to be ordained in Tibet. It was Khon Konchok Gyalpo who built a Sakya monastery in 1073, and thereby established the foundations of the Sakya Tradition in Tibet. Since that time, the Sakya’s unbroken lineage has descended within the Khon family.

The Sakya tradition is one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The head of the Sakya lineage in Tibetan is called, “Sakya Trizin”. Its direct translation means the “Sakya Throne Holder”. In keeping with tradition, the Sakya throne is passed down from father to son in the Khon family.

His Holiness the 41st Sakya Trizin Ngawang Kunga

History shows that the propitiation of Dorje Shugden was first practised by the Sakyas. According to some accounts, Dorje Shugden was inducted into the pantheon of Sakya protectors by Sakya Trizin Sonam Rinchen (1705-1741). Later, Sonam Rinchen placed Dorje Shugden together with two other Protectors: Setrab and Tsi’u Marpo. Collectively, they were known as the “Three Kings” (Gyalpo Sum).

In the Sakya texts, Dorje Shugden is known as Dorje Shugden Tanag, or Dorje Shugden Riding a Black Horse which is a unique tradition of the Sakyas. He holds a butcher’s stick upraised in the right hand and a heart in the left, lifted up to the mouth. He is dressed in robes of a monk and wears a gold riding hat. He sits on top of a black horse. (Source:

However in the early 20th century, Dorje Shugden Tanag fell out of favour with the Sakya Tradition in general. Subsequently, his devotees and practices diminished. From the late 20th century onwards, the offering rituals for the “Three Kings” were no longer found in the standard daily use of the Sakya Protectors’ texts in monasteries of India or Tibet.

The Sakya depiction of Dorje Shugden Tanag in paintings can be found as far back as the 1800s. There are approximately half a dozen Sakya paintings known to feature Shugden Tanag as a minor figure within its composition. These are mostly gathered from the first half of the 20th century. There is an ongoing research on this subject. (Source:

There are also several short liturgical works on Dorje Shugden written approximately 200 years ago by the Sakyas. This collection of works is known as the Dorje Shugden Be’u Bum. In one part of the Sakya ritual, Requesting to Annihilate Interfering Forces, the name Dorje Shugden was mentioned.

As mentioned earlier, Sonam Rinchen is said to have composed this ritual. In the biography of his son, Kunga Lodro, the 31st Sakya Throne Holder, Kunga Lodro asserted that the ritual was written by his father. He added that he received the tranmission of the ritual from his father. It is said that the ritual is performed during the Secret Hayagriva puja.

His Holiness the 30th Sakya Trizin Sonam Rinchen (1705-1741 CE)

Although it was Sonam Rinchen who brought the worship of Dorje Shugden Riding a Black Horse to the Sakya community and made it well accepted, it was Kunga Lodro who completely embraced Dorje Shugden’s various other forms and rituals. Apart from receiving all the transmissions and initiations (such as Lamdre) from Sonam Rinchen, Kunga Lodro also received all the lineage practices from Morchen Kunga Lhundrub, who was the heart disciple of Nesar Dorje Chang. In addition, Kunga Lodro became widely regarded as the emanation of Dorje Shugden himself.

Kunga Lodro received many transmissions and initiations from Sonam Rinchen, his father and teacher, including the Guhyasamaja initiation in the tradition of Arya Nagarjuna, transmissions of Manjushri’s mantras, the Drubta Gyatsa collection of a hundred sadhanas, the Sakya Kabum, which is the collected works of the Sakya tradition and several long life initiations. He also studied under the 30th Ngor Khenchen, Jampa Sonam Pelzang (1689-1749), the 33rd Ngor Khenchen, Namkha Samdrub (1696-1754), and the 34th Ngor Khenchen, Pelden Chokyong (1702-1760). From these teachers, he received the Lobshe set of teachings, which are the esoteric presentation of the Lamdre – Path and its Fruit. The Lamdre is the core practice within the Sakyas that merges sutra and the tantric practice of Hevajra and this set of teachings originally descend from the great Indian Mahasiddha Virupa.

In 1741, Kunga Lodro ascended the throne as the 31st Sakya Trizin after the passing of his father. Following this Kunga Lodro also received the Sakya lineage practices from Morchen Kunga Lhundrub (1654-1728). Morchen Kunga Lhundrub was another very important Sakya lineage holder and he a lineage holder of Naropa’s Vajrayogini, a lineage which has since also spread to the Gelug tradition. Morchen Kunga Lhundrub was the heart disciple of Nesar Kunga Lekpai Jungne (1704-1760) or Nesar Dorje Chang, the 37th Abbot of Ngor Ewam Chodan Monastery.

His Holiness the 31st Sakya Trizin Sachen Kunga Lodro (1729-1783 CE)

In his biography, Kunga Lodro wrote that Nesar Dorje Chang has written several writings on Dorje Shugden. As such, Kunga Lodro was well aware of Morchen’s practice of Dorje Shugden. It is stipulated that it was Kunga Lodro himself who successfully combined the five forms of Dorje Shugden with the main figure called, Duldzin or Vinayadhara.

In the Rubin Museum of Art, there is a particular art piece that gives a clear explanation of the five lineages of Dorje Shugden, based on the depiction in a Sakya thangka from the 19th Century. In the thangka, there is an image of the grandson of Sachen Kunga Lodro, the 33rd Throne Holder (1792-1853). It is said that this thangka could have been painted during his reign.

Dorje Shugden is the central figure in the thangka. He is depicted as sitting on a lion throne, holding a vajra club and lasso. The four cardinal emanations are also represented in the thangka. They are the Great Peaceful King (Shizey Gyelchen), the Great Increasing King (Gyenzey Gyelchen), the Great Powerful King (Wangzey Gyelchen) and the Great Wrathful King (Trakzey Gyelchen).

Kunga Lodro’s biography provides a clear perspective of the Sakyas’ practice of Dorje Shugden at that time. The Dorje Shugden Protector practice was prevalent and accepted by the various Tibetan schools in the early 19th century.

Depiction of Dorje Shugden and his four cardinal emanations. From the Rubin Museum of Art.

This reinforces the premise presented by Stan Mumford in his book, Himalayan Dialogue that Dorje Shugden was commonly practiced at that time. Mumford related a story told by a villager of Shamey. It showed a striking similarity to the history of Dorje Shugden as shared by Kunga Lodro in his biography. Although there were some differences in Mumford’s account, the essence of the stories remained the same.

Mumford further recounted that people in Gyasumdo, a village that followed the Nyingma tradition, also propitiated Dorje Shugden. During that time, it was common to find that in every Tibetan household, the image of Guru Rinpoche was placed together with the Protector Dorje Shugden on their altars. In fact, many household heads said that their altars were primarily set up to propitiate the Protector’s practice.

Those who held strong faith in the relationship between Guru Rinpoche and Dorje Shugden would religiously make daily offerings. It is also said that each family owned a Dorje Shugden text written by a lama of their family’s tradition.

Here, we can see that Dorje Shugden was not only practised by high lamas in monasteries. Mumford’s findings show very clearly that Dorje Shugden was also propitiated as a family protector amongst lay people. In fact, Dorje Shugden practice was so common that HIS practice became a crucial part of the daily lives, and not only specific to their religious traditions.

As such, it can be said that while Dorje Shugden was first practised by the Sakyas, this practice was in fact embraced and practised by a wide segment of the community, and even by the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Dorje Shugden has been accepted by the Sakyas, Nyingmas and the Gelugpas from as early as the 1800s. It is perfectly logical that Dorje Shugden, being an enlightened being, is impartial and would be a Dharma Protector for all who propitiate him.

Since the great Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism was founded, the lineage of practice has been passed down through forty-two successive spiritual heads, known as Sakya Trizins. From this list of prestigious masters, six of these heads or throne holders of the tradition stand out for their practice and proliferation of Dorje Shugden. This is a practice that they even spread amongst their innumerable disciples. These throne holders constructed shrines and protector houses to Dorje Shugden, composed prayers to him and taught their students how to engage in the practice. This list includes:

  1. His Holiness the 30th Sakya Trizin Sonam Rinchen
    (1705-1741 CE)
  2. His Holiness the 31st Sakya Trizin Sachen Kunga Lodro
    (1729-1783 CE)
  3. His Holiness the 33rd Sakya Trizin Padma Dudul Wangchug
    (1792-1853 CE)
  4. His Holiness the 35th Sakya Trizin Tashi Rinchen
    (1824-1865 CE)
  5. His Holiness the 37th Sakya Trizin Kunga Nyingpo
    (1850-1899 CE)
  6. His Holiness the 39th Sakya Trizin Dragshul Trinley Rinchen
    (1871–1936 CE)

Dragshul Trinley Rinchen (1871–1936), the 39th Sakya Trizin, was a strong practitioner of Dorje Shugden. He proved Dorje Shugden to be an enlightened being by using scriptural sources.

The spiritual responsibility of the throne holder is to receive teachings covering the entire Sakya lineage, which consists of the common and esoteric transmissions of the Lam Dre, the Thirteen Golden Dharmas, the Hevajra tantric practices, and many others. These masters are then to proliferate these teachings. If is for this reason that they are considered to be highly learned and accomplished masters. It is through these six throne holders that the entire breadth of the Sakya lineage has descended to this day.

Due to the current political situation, with the Tibetan leadership telling everyone that the practice is bad, people might dismiss these six throne holders as being mistaken about the true nature of Dorje Shugden and their history of promoting the practice. But to come to this conclusion, one would need to assume that these throne holders were just ordinary men who are flawed, ignorant and make mistakes. If we think that, then they are rendered unreliable for spiritual growth. What is the point of going to get teachings from them if what they teach can be wrong?

To make such a dire accusation has far-reaching implications on the lives of everyday practitioners as they may lose confidence in what could well be a ‘flawed’ Sakya lineage. Since the throne holders were wrong, ordinary practitioners may feel it is pointless to continue practicing as the lineage is broken and has no blessings. Following this line of thinking, the Sakya lineage is invalidated because the entire lineage flows through these great throne holders.

The 39th Sakya Trizin Dragshul Trinley Rinchen (1871–1936), head of the Sakya lineage, was a strong practitioner of Dorje Shugden. He is known for spreading the practice of Dorje Shugden within the Sakya tradition.

According to the Tibetan leadership, Dorje Shugden is a spirit and by worshiping him one is no longer Buddhist. By engaging in his worship you lose the connection to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha because you break the refuge commitment of not worshiping an unenlightened being. This creates the cause for an unfortunate rebirth in the three lower realms. Following this logic, the six throne holders should have taken rebirth in those realms, but that is impossible as they have reincarnated back successively into the same family. The 37th throne holder, Kunga Nyingpo, is said to be the reincarnation of the 31st throne holder, Sachen Kunga Lodro, both of whom are even considered emanations of Dorje Shugden themselves. Some like Sachen Kunga Lodro have also composed lengthy prayers to Dorje Shugden which are still in use today. The 39th Sakya Trizin Dragshul Trinley Rinchen even proved that Dorje Shugden is an enlightened being, an emanation of Chenrezig, by quoting a Nyingma tantra that speaks about the enlightened nature of Dorje Shugden.

It was due to their spiritual attainments that these Sakya throne holders were able to distinguish the nature of formless beings like Dorje Shugden. They did this using logical analysis or using their supernatural clairvoyant abilities. Most probably they used both methods and arrived at the same conclusion – Dorje Shugden is definitely an enlightened being and his practice is beneficial. This is why the throne holders composed extensive prayers to him.

From learning about these great throne holders, their abilities and achievements, great faith arises not only in the throne holders themselves, but also in the practices they taught, such as the practice of the Dharma protector Dorje Shugden.

Click here to download the entire Sakya Dorje Shugden kangsol

5. [Editor's Note: This link appears to have been removed from the mentioned website)]
8. Himalayan Dialogue: Tibetan Lamas and Gurung Shamans in Nepal by Stanley R. Mumford, 1989



Zasep Tulku Rinpoche’s autobiography ‘A Tulku’s Journey from Tibet to Canada’, published in 2016, provides historical evidence and irrefutable proof that the Central Tibetan Administration is falsifying the facts when it comes to the practice of the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden.

The autobiography of Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, a high lama of the Gelug lineage, provides accurate historical accounts of the Dorje Shugden practice. Click to enlarge.

The back cover of the book, click to enlarge.



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Historical accounts show that prior to the politicization of the Dorje Shugden practice by the Central Tibetan Administration, this popular deity was relied upon by Dharma practitioners to help in their spiritual practice. Contrary to detractors’ claims about Dorje Shugden being ‘anti-Dharma’, this Dharma Protector practice was traditionally deemed to be suitable to be practiced alongside the Highest Yoga Tantras.



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Zasep Rinpoche and his family were able to escape to safety prior to the events of 1959 through the clairvoyance and prophetic advice of Dorje Shugden through one of his oracles, Lama Gelong Chojor Gyamtso.



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Oracles of the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden were known for the accuracy of their prophecies due to Dorje Shugden being a fully enlightened deity with perfect clairvoyance. As stated clearly by Zasep Rinpoche in his autobiography ‘A Tulku’s Journey from Tibet to Canada’, Dorje Shugden warned the Tibetans of the impending loss of their homeland but his advice was mostly ignored by the Tibetan government.

The Tibetan government chose to consult the worldly state protector Nechung, and Nechung advised that the Dalai Lama should remain in Tibet where he would be safe. This was mistaken advice, as historical events would later show. Fortunately for Tibetan Buddhists all around the world, Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang had great faith in Dorje Shugden and consulted the protector for advice on the Dalai Lama’s safety. Dorje Shugden via the Panglung Oracle urgently adviced the Dalai Lama to leave for India immediately and gave the exact escape route. In saving the Dalai Lama from certain harm, Dorje Shugden prevented the destruction of Tibetan Buddhism and preserved the future of the Tibetan culture and people.

Zasep Rinpoche’s account of events concur with monastic records that it was indeed Dorje Shugden who saved the Dalai Lama instead of Nechung, contrary to the claims of the Tibetan leadership.



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Dorje Shugden’s practice was first established within the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. The Sakya Throneholders regarded this Dharma Protector as an enlightened being and Dorje Shugden, together with Dorje Setrab and Tsiu Marpo formed the triune of Sakya Protectors known as Gyalpo Sum. Today, Sakya practitioners claim that Dorje Shugden was never widely practiced by their lineage but history proves otherwise. The undeniable fact is that before the CTA’s religious ban, Dorje Shugden was practiced first by the Sakyas and was later transmitted to the Gelug school where it was practiced by the majority of the Gelugpas.



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Contrary to the CTA’s claims that Dorje Shugden’s practice is sectarian, Zasep Rinpoche’s autobiography shows how practitioners of all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism lived and practiced together in harmony, especially during the early years of exile in India. It was only when the CTA launched a virulent smear campaign against Dorje Shugden that the general public began to label Dorje Shugden a sectarian practice. In truth, Dorje Shugden’s practice is no more sectarian than the practices of other Dharma Protectors such as Mahakala Bernagchen, Achi Chokyi Drolma or Dorje Legpa, who protect the Karma Kagyu, Drikung Kagyu and Nyingma schools respectively.



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By the 1980s, the Tibetan government had failed to fulfil multiple promises to return the Tibetan people to their homeland. A scapegoat was needed and they made one out of an ancient Buddhist practice, pinning the loss of Tibet and the failure of the Tibetan cause on Dorje Shugden. In his autobiography, Zasep Rinpoche is of the same opinion, stating that “…the [Dorje Shugden] controversy was orchestrated by the Tibetan Central Administration…”

The Tibetan leadership effectively sanctioned witch-hunts on Dorje Shugden practitioners and persecuted them using government instruments, declaring that simply by being a Shugden worshipper, one was effectively an enemy of the Tibetan nation.

As a result of the hatred against Dorje Shugden practitioners instigated by the Tibetan leadership, virtually all Shugden Buddhists had to fear for their lives, or at least for their safety.



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Dorje Shugden’s beneficial practice has continued to thrive due to the courage and commitment of high lamas such as Zasep Tulku Rinpoche.



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For centuries, Dorje Shugden has been practiced alongside the highest practices of the Gelug and Sakya lineages. Zasep Tulku Rinpoche’s list of transmission is an indication that the highest scholars viewed the Protector as an enlightened being compatible with their yidam practices.

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2 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Through the article it can be seen clearly that Dorje Shugden practices is something that is very important to some families. They practice Dorje Shugden daily, and make offerings daily,

    It is clear that Dorje Shugden is in fact a enlightened protector from this, as many lamas would write texts about Dorje Shugden. With the fact that Dorje Shugden is placed on the same alter as Guru Rinpoche, it shows that Dore Shugden is definitely a Buddha. Why would someone place a unenlightened being on the same level as enlightened beings? It is just plain disrespectful towards the Buddhas. Hence, Dorje Shugden is in fact a enlightened being.

  2. Historically Dorje Shugden can be identified and proven via art or scriptures , to have been used by different sects of Tibetan Buddhism, namely, the Sakyas, Nyingmas and Gelugpas in their spiritual practice. If 3 out of 4 schools propitiate Dorje Shugden, how can this teaching be sectarian ? How can DS be a evil spirit that will harm people ?

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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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