A Holy Trinity: Trijang Rinpoche, Dorje Shugden and Setrap

By: Mar Nee

We are very glad to share this beautiful, heart-warming image of H.H. Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche, sitting near a thangka that features both Protectors Dorje Shugden and Setrap. Lift up your hearts and rejoice to see that the incarnation of one of our principal lineage lamas is continuing and promoting the very same heart practices that he did in his magnificent previous life.

For hundreds of years, Setrap and Dorje Shugden have remained very closely connected and it is believed that praying to one ‘brother’ instantly calls upon the other too. Texts about Dorje Shugden and his prayers always include references and/or prayers to Setrap. Even the way in which Dorje Shugden arose as a Dharma Protector was assisted by Setrap. (See this beautiful video for the full story).


But What’s So Special About This Thangka?

It is no surprise seeing Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche near an image of Dorje Shugden. After all, he has always been open and proud about his practice of this great Protector and is now even beginning to give Shugden initiations and pujas openly and globally.

But there is the Protector Setrap in this thangka too… And what of Setrap?

Since the ban on Dorje Shugden, some have claimed that Shugden is not an enlightened protector, but a mere spirit or demon come to wreak havoc upon those who worship him and exact revenge upon those who stop his practice. His practice was banned and images forcibly removed from monasteries and Dharma institutions all around the world. Though he had been propitiated as an emanation of the Buddha Manjushri for over 350 years, with prayers composed to him by the 5th and 14th Dalai Lamas, he was suddenly considered not enlightened anymore.

Disappearing from altars after over 360 years of reliance, monasteries were now to rely only on ‘authorised’ Protectors like Palden Lhamo, Kalarupa and Setrap, whose practices are ‘safe’, powerful and effective.

So highly regarded is Setrap that Gaden Shartse Monastery and Drepung Loseling Nyeari Khamtsen both holds him as their principal Protector. But here we see both Dorje Shugden (an alleged spirit) and Setrap (an enlightened Protector) on a thangka together. Other old traditional thangkas depicting Dorje Shugden’s mandala / entourage also include Setrap within the ‘tiers’ of the mandala. Setrap is shown clearly to reside on the level just above Dorje Shugden and just below the Buddha Amitabha. Considering thangkas are used as objects of worship and meditation, it is logical that only beings worth propitiating and praying to would be painted in. It would be illogical and perhaps even harmful to include samsaric beings like spirits into a thangka, which people pray to.

Realizing that mandalas and celestial abodes themselves are manifestations of the enlightened mind, we must also understand that these beings are residing in or arising out of an enlightened place and must therefore be enlightened themselves. It is illogical that something enlightened could or would give rise to something unenlightened.

So, by these images, we can only conclude that if Setrap is regarded as an enlightened being, then so must Dorje Shugden for they arise from that same enlightened space. And if mainstream institutions like Gaden Shartse Monastery rely on Setrap as their principal Protector, regarding him as a definite enlightened being, then why would they regard Dorje Shugden as a spirit, when these two beings have worked together hand-in-hand for centuries? Surely it would follow that if Setrap is good enough for Gaden Shartse, then so is Shugden.

Lastly, Trijang Rinpoche is well known for his practice of Dorje Shugden, in previous and current incarnations. If Dorje Shugden was really a spirit, then logically, the current incarnation would not have returned. He would have taken rebirth in a lower realm for having relied on a spirit, which would have broken the basis of his refuge.

The unmistaken young Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche is definitely back, practicing and identifying again with the strongest practices of his previous life. In this picture, it is clear that he regards both Shugden and Setrap as equals in the pantheon of enlightened Dharma Protectors. Any qualified and attained incarnated lama would not permit incorrect drawings, nor be photographed with them.

We hope that with more open acknowledgements like this, Trijang Rinpoche will continue to promote the practices of these powerful Protectors and eventually, contribute towards lifting the ban so that anyone is able to practice and connect with them equally.

Many great masters have kept their practice of Dorje Shugden strong. Here we see Kyabje Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche, meeting with Kensur Lati Rinpoche and Geshe Tsultrim Gyeltsen. The Tibetan leadership forced Kensur Lati Rinpoche and Geshe Tsultrim Gyeltsen to give up the practice, but they went to meet Kyabje Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche in 2000, a sign that they still had great faith in Dorje Shugden. Why else would they meet a Dorje Shugden lama? Despite the ban enforced by the Tibetan leadership, they held their own views strongly. Click on image to enlarge.

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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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