Understanding the origins and history of any Buddhist practice is highly recommended to cultivate faith, devotion and stability in one’s practice. This is a true account of how Dorje Shugden manifested as a compassionate Lama, martyr and enlightened Buddhist Protector.
Dorje Shugden arose from a lineage of highly attained masters who have been taking rebirth successively in order to proliferate the Buddhadharma and benefit sentient beings. Although he came into existence as a Dharma Protector over 350 years ago, traditional accounts trace the causes of his dramatic transformation to a time more than half a century ago.
Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen Makes a Promise
The story of Dorje Shugden begins during the time of the Vinaya-holder Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen (1374-1434). He was a great Lama and one of the eight main disciples of Manjunatha Je Tsongkhapa. So devoted was Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen to his Guru Lama Tsongkhapa that he is often quoted as an exemplary example of the perfect relationship between Guru and disciple.
The incomparable Lama Tsongkhapa had many students, both human and non-human, who would attend his teachings. One day the great Protector of Samye, Nechung, entered the prayer hall where Lama Tsongkhapa was given a teaching and circled above in the form of a white dove. Many eminent and clairvoyant students of Lama Tsongkhapa saw this but they remained silent. After the teachings, Duldzin approached the dove and asked, “Nechung, why did you disturb my Lama’s teachings? It is not proper. What do you want?”
The dove transformed into a young boy dressed in white and said, “I need your help. A Protector needs to arise to protect these perfect teachings. I cannot do this because I have sworn to Guru Rinpoche that I would protect all of Buddhadharma…”
O great Duldzin, can you be the Protector of the uncommon Gaden lineage, to protect Nagarjuna’s Middle Way view as elucidated by your Guru, Lama Tsongkhapa? Will you do this?Nechung said to Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen
Duldzin immediately replied, “Me? Yes, I will do it for the sake of my precious Lama.”
“Do not forget your promise!” Nechung uttered these last words before disappearing.
Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen Remembers His Promise
Over 200 years later, Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen’s sacred promise came to fruition during the lifetime of the great Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen (1619 – 1656). Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen was the reincarnation of Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen and he was just as erudite and accomplished as his predecessor.
Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen was a contemporary of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso (1617–1682). As a young boy, he showed special signs of being a reincarnated high Lama and was one of the shortlisted candidates during the search for the reincarnation of the 4th Dalai Lama.
Both incarnations were duly confirmed and recognised, and subsequently became students of the Panchen Lama Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen (1570 – 1662). They lived in Drepung Monastery, one of the three largest monastic institutions in Tibet. The residence of the 5th Dalai Lama was named “Zimkhang Ogma” (lower house) while the abode of Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen was named “Zimkhang Gongma” (upper house).
Having accomplished his studies of Sutra and Tantra, Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen soon became renowned as an exceptional Lama-yogi. He lived in more than a hundred caves to meditate and as a result, received many direct visions of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. A pure monk and an erudite scholar, he had a great following of students particularly amongst Mongol royalty. One day while attending the Monlam festivities in Lhasa, he met with the Nechung Oracle in trance who asked him, “Do you remember your promise?”
Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen replied that he could not remember making any promise and so the Oracle gestured for some rice. Scooping up a handful of rice, he blew onto it and asked the Lama to eat it. Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen took the rice and swallowed it. The memory of his previous life’s promise came back to him!
I remember my promise! But there is a problem. I do not have the necessary anger to arise as a Protector of the teachings.Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen told Nechung
Nechung via the oracle then replied,
Do not worry. I will create the causes for ‘anger’ to arise.
At the time, both Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen and the 5th Dalai Lama enjoyed a very good personal relationship. However, rivalries were rampant between the followers of the two Lamas. Everything from the height of their thrones to the position of their Ladrangs (household and office) became a bone of contention between the students of both Lamas. The fact that both Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen’s throne and residence were higher than the 5th Dalai Lama’s did not help.
To make things worse, being the older Lama, Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen received more patronage. It appeared as though his fame eclipsed that of the 5th Dalai Lama although in reality, Nechung was emanating as pilgrims and petitioners to add to the numbers swarming Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen’s residence. Clearly, Nechung had kept his promise and fanned the differences to a feverish pitch.
Finally, Desi Sonam Chopel and other attendants of the 5th Dalai Lama hatched a plan to assassinate the rival Lama. Meanwhile, through his clairvoyance, Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen knew his time was near and began making the necessary preparations. Feigning illness, he informed his closest attendants that he was not to be disturbed and entered into retreat.
Those seeking audience with the great Lama were informed that he was ill. When the 5th Dalai Lama himself wanted to visit, his own attendants prevented him from doing so, saying that it was an infectious disease. They offered to represent him instead. Unbeknownst to everyone, it was all going according to Nechung’s plan.
At the appointed day and time, the attendants of the 5th Dalai Lama including one Depa Norbu, the brother of Desi Sonam Chopel, entered the audience room of Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen bearing offerings and khatas (ritual scarf) for the Lama. At first, Depa Norbu offered Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen food laced with poison, which had no effect as the highly attained Lama did not have the karma to be poisoned.
Next Depa Norbu tried to stab Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen but to his dismay, the stab wounds took on the appearance of menacing eyes and the Lama was unharmed.
Finally, Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen revealed that he could only be killed through strangulation. Immediately, the 5th Dalai Lama’s attendants held the Lama down while Depa Norbu strangled him with a khata. As he suffocated, Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen generated the mind of Enlightenment. He offered his life up to Lama Tsongkhapa, to the lineage and to all who would become practitioners of Lama Tsongkhapa’s stainless teachings. Happily, he accepted the responsibility to assist, protect, nurture and clear obstacles for the lineage and its followers. Thus, he generated that aspiration and entered clear light.
Arising as Dorje Shugden
After Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen passed away, the monastery and his ladrang were in turmoil because such an important High Lama had been murdered. Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen’s attendants were grieving yet angry at the same time; they had discovered the plot to harm their precious teacher.
The funerary rites were held in Central Lhasa. Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen’s remains were placed on a large cremation pyre. Thousands of disciples, the Mongol royalty and all the High Lamas were in attendance. They had come to pay their last respects to the great Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen. However, they soon discovered that they could not light the funeral pyre. No matter how many times they tried, it just would not light.
This further aggravated Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen’s attendants and made them even more upset. In utter frustration, one attendant took his zen (part of a monk’s maroon robes) and hit the pyre with it, saying while sobbing,
Some kind of Lama you are! You were supposed to be a High Lama and you don’t even exact revenge on them and you don’t show any signs… They just simply kill you and that’s it?!
The 5th Dalai Lama too was very disturbed by the whole matter. It had come to his attention that his own attendants were responsible for the murder. Shocked and distraught, the 5th Dalai Lama composed a poem of apology to the late Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen. One of his attendants brought the poem down and it was read aloud to the assembly gathered around the funeral pyre. The moment the poem was read, the wood on the pyre suddenly burst into flames.
Strong tumultuous winds blew and an earthquake shook the city. From the fire, a tornado appeared – a powerful swirling black wind. This was a sign that Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen had transformed into a Dharma Protector – the wrathful form of Dorje Shugden.
The mind of Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen left his body in a thick gust of black smoke which formed the rough outline of a hand covering the skyline of Lhasa.
Mistaken for A Spirit
As the smoke dispersed into the sky, many negative omens befell the city. Crops failed, many animals died and monasteries lost great sponsors and patrons. Great calamities such as earthquakes and disease epidemics enveloped the land. The negative karma of killing such a highly attained Lama was very heavy and had caused these negative events.
Many people thought that Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen had become a raging evil spirit and the 5th Dalai Lama invited very powerful Lamas such as Mindrolling Rinpoche to perform pujas to subdue the spirit that was believed to be causing these calamities. Mindrolling Rinpoche was a very high Nyingma Lama. His incarnation lineage extends to this day and they are known to be accomplished Tantrikas.
In reality, the 5th Dalai Lama clairvoyantly knew that Dorje Shugden was not an evil spirit but did what he did on special intuition. He felt that doing so would reveal Dorje Shugden’s special qualities. If Dorje Shugden was not an evil spirit, he would not be killed.
So Mindrolling Lama performed a powerful fire puja (sbyin sreg) to kill Dorje Shugden. His attendants arranged grand offerings to be ritually offered into the fire and they had the highest Nyingma lama who attained siddhi (spiritually accomplished) holding the ladle. At this point in the ritual, the Lama compelled Dorje Shugden onto the ladle by the power of mantra. Then, he threw Dorje Shugden into the fire.
This powerful ritual ‘kills’ evil spirits and sends their consciousnesses to take rebirth in a Pure Land. However, every time Mindrolling Lama threw Dorje Shugden into the fire, he would have a vision of Yamantaka arising unharmed from the flames, standing on the ladle. After a few attempts, he ceased the puja realising that he was not dealing with an ordinary spirit but an enlightened being who was one with Yamantaka. Mindrolling Rinpoche reported this turn of events to the 5th Dalai Lama, who was very pleased. He had known all along that Dorje Shugden was none other than an enlightened Dharma Protector.
In a separate fire puja, the Dharma Protector Setrap swiftly arose from Sangpu Monastery, riding his horse like the wind. He was a vision of red, galloping along with his five wisdom flags fluttering. Setrap created visions to stop the monks from successfully completing the puja. Then, Setrap ‘introduced’ Dorje Shugden to the other Dharma Protectors and requested that he be enthroned as a Dharma Protector in his own right.
The Enthronement: A Promise Fulfilled
The 5th Dalai Lama composed a praise to Dorje Shugden, recognising his awakened nature and qualities. With this, the calamities befalling Lhasa abruptly ceased and peace reigned in the land once more.
Dorje Shugden then travelled first to Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in memory of his Guru, Panchen Lama Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen, who resided there. However at the entrance, the Dharma Protectors of the monastery refused to allow him to pass through – an inauspicious occurrence. Dorje Shugden went on to Sakya (Mug Chung) instead, a connection from his previous life as Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen.
It was in Sakya that their patriarch, Dagchen Sonam Rinchen first enthroned Dorje Shugden as a Dharma Protector of the Sakya lineage. Later, the 8th Dalai Lama, the regent of Tibet and the Qing Emperor Daoguang recognised and enthroned Dorje Shugden in an elaborate ceremony as the Dharma Protector of the Gaden lineage, thus fulfilling the original promise that Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen made to Nechung to protect the unmistaken teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa.
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