There are several variations and interpretations of the history and lineage of Dorje Shugden. However, the source most referred to and heavily relied on by contemporary Gelugpas is the “Collected Works on Dorje Shugden” or “sungbum” written by His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang. This is also considered the most accurate account of the manifestation of Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden during the time of His Holiness the 5th Dalai Lama. It clearly elucidates the remedial actions of the Great 5th Dalai Lama upon realising the true nature of Dorje Shugden.
In Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche’s account, H.H. the 5th Dalai Lama apologised for the circumstances his ministers created, enthroned Dorje Shugden as a Dharma Protector and even composed a praise to Dorje Shugden. In addition, H.H. the 5th Dalai Lama erected a Dorje Shugden Chapel in Lhasa, Trode Khangsar, which is still actively in use today and is protected by the Chinese government as an important historical site to commemorate this great Dharma Protector.
The Dorje Shugden cham dance by and large encompasses the essence of what His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang has written about Dorje Shugden, relating the events leading to his manifestation as a Dharma Protector. The dance’s portrayal subscribes to the premise that Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen arose as Dorje Shugden during the time of H.H. the 5th Dalai Lama and ritually enacts the story through dance.
The story unfolds during the turbulent time of Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen and H.H. the 5th Dalai Lama. It was an era when the lines between politics and religion were blurred, with certain quarters compressing the two into a single institution of absolute power which gave rise to the phenomenon of the Dalai Lamas as the 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. Therefore he was perceived as a threat to the establishment whose status depended on H.H. the 5th 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 khata or silk ritual scarf 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:
- It was time for Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen to fulfil the oath he made in his previous life as Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen, to become the Protector of Lama Tsongkhapa’s doctrine when the need arose. With the establishment of the Gaden Podrang and the ascendancy of H.H. the 5th Dalai Lama as the absolute ruler, it became necessary for H.H. the 5th Dalai Lama to represent all prevailing Buddhist traditions fairly. Therefore, he was openly incorporating the beliefs and doctrines of other lineages into orthodoxy. Regardless of H.H. the 5th Dalai Lama’s real purpose, the purity of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings was in danger of dilution.
- As Buddhists believe that everything has its causes, such a violent death was a necessary condition to cause an otherwise enlightened mind to be born as a wrathful being, such as a Dharma Protector. Therefore it was a condition that Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen had to meet in order to arise as Dorje Shugden.
After the death of Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen, many inauspicious signs appeared. Whilst some treated the signs as omens of the bad karma that was created by the murder of an enlightened being, others, especially officials of H.H. the 5th Dalai Lama conveniently interpreted those signs as the malice of the perfidious spirit of the murdered tulku bent on revenge.
However, after failed attempts to destroy the spirit by even the most powerful exorcism rituals, H.H. the 5th Dalai Lama acknowledged the mistake of his officials and composed several verses in praise of Dorje Shugden as an enlightened Dharma Protector who had arisen in fulfilment of a promise to protect the precious teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa.
The Dorje Shugden cham dance also includes the depiction of Dorje Shugden and his entourage in their full regalia. This is why prior to the performance of such dances, the monks involved must perform many pujas and meditations in preparation, and remain very clean and focused, before they can don the sacred costumes.
The Dorje Shugden cham dance is rare but not an obscure lineage; there are certain monasteries in Tibet who have practised this dance for hundreds of years. The dances also serve as visual education to the many adherents of Dorje Shugden in Tibet that may not be literate or are nomadic.
It is a great blessing to be able to witness the Dorje Shugden cham dance. These are pictures taken of the annual Dorje Shugden cham dance at Nyemo Gyelche Monastery in Tibet
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