Out of great compassion for all sentient beings, Dorje Shugden reincarnated as a Dharma Protector in order to be of benefit. He arose from a long line of incarnations that stem all the way back to the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Manjushri.
In each lifetime, he manifested great compassion and wisdom as can be seen in each existence’s tremendous contribution to preserving and propagating the Buddha’s teachings. In particular, the earlier incarnations performed many miraculous deeds because it was easier for people to gain faith through miracles at that time. Later incarnations focused on spreading and teaching the Dharma.
These tales of Dorje Shugden’s previous lives and deeds will inspire the practitioner and help develop deeper faith in his extraordinary abilities to assist on the spiritual journey.
Manjushri: The Embodiment of Wisdom
Manjushri is the Bodhisattva of Wisdom and his name means ‘Gentle Brilliance’. In the Sutra Revealing the Abode of Manjushri, Buddha Shakyamuni states that Manjushri attained full Enlightenment in his pure land as the Buddha called ‘Tathagata Lamp of the Nagas‘.
In this aeon, Manjushri emanated as a Bodhisattva in order to benefit sentient beings. He was one of the Bodhisattva students of Buddha Shakyamuni. According to the Sutras, Manjushri would frequently pose questions to the Buddha so that he would give an important teaching. He was also asked by the Buddha and others to give teachings as well. The Buddha would send certain students to Manjushri because he had greater affinity with them.
Manjushri has emanated in many forms including Kalarupa, Four-Faced Mahakala, Yamantaka, Lama Tsongkhapa and Dorje Shugden. Great lineage lamas including Mahasiddha Tagpu Pemavajra, His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche and His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche have formally recognised Dorje Shugden to be an emanation of Manjushri.
Magadha Sangmo: The Buddha’s Patron
One of Dorje Shugden’s first recorded incarnations is Magadha Sangmo, the daughter of Suddatta who was a disciple and the primary patron of Lord Buddha Shakyamuni. It was the generous Suddatta who built and offered Buddha the first monastic abode named Jetavana. Suddatta soon became a shining example of the perfect sponsor of the Guru’s virtuous work.
Following in the footsteps of her father, Magadha Sangmo became a model patron of the Sangha through her offerings of food and incense to the Buddha and his monastic community. She is perhaps best known for single-handedly bringing Buddhism to thousands in the city of Gokhara.
Magadha Sangmo invited the Buddha and his entourage to Gokhara to partake of a meal by offering incense and heartfelt prayers from the rooftop of her home. The very next day, the Buddha and his entourage miraculously descended from the sky to partake of the food offerings.
The Buddha also gave teachings to those present, thus developing faith in the minds of thousands and turning them to Buddhism. Through her faith, devotion and selflessness in serving others, Magadha Sangmo achieved arhatship during her lifetime as a lay householder.
Thus, Magadha Sangmo’s story is one of pure devotion to the Buddha’s teachings which, in turn, has made the Dharma available to countless others. She is immortalised in the scriptures of all three Buddhist traditions – Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana.
Mahasiddha Virupa: Master of Enchantment
Around the 7th or 8th Century CE, Dorje Shugden was born into a royal family of East India. He was given the name Dharmapala but later became known as Biwawa, Virupa or Birwapa.
Although Virupa was one of Nalanda Monastery’s great practitioners of the Chakrasamvara Tantras, he almost gave up his practice because he received negative dreams. He threw his rosary (mala) into the latrine but recovered it after the goddess Nairatmya appeared to him in a vision and explained that he was about to achieve realisations. He became enlightened soon afterwards.
When Virupa engaged in Tantric rituals such as tsog, dakinis (female celestial beings) would enter his chambers to partake of the offerings. The other monks saw them as ordinary women and so Virupa was evicted from Nalanda Monastery because they thought he had consorted with women.
Virupa roamed all over India as a disheveled yogin and performed many miracles to subdue people’s minds. Many became his students, amongst them a boatman who later became known as the Mahasiddha Dombi Heruka.
The most famous of Virupa’s miracles was when he stopped the midday sun in the sky for almost three days, seemingly because he couldn’t pay for drinks at a tavern. In the end, the entire kingdom embraced Buddhism and entered the Buddhist path.
Thonmi Sambhota: Father of the Tibetan Script
In the 7th Century, Dorje Shugden was Thonmi Sambhota, a bright young man chosen by King Songtsen Gampo to travel to India in an expedition of 16 young and brilliant Tibetans. They were to study the Sanskrit language in order to devise a script for the Tibetan language.
Thonmi Sambhota studied Sanskrit grammar, literature and other related topics under the masters Lipikara and Devavidyasimha, and was their brightest student. Upon his return to Tibet, he fused the Devanagari and Kashmiri scripts together and is said to have composed six reference texts on the new written language. Today, only two of these texts survive (sum bcu pa and rtags kyi ‘jug pa) and those pursuing Tibetan grammar studies must study these two texts.
After completing the gruelling project, Thonmi Sambhota presented the Tibetan script to the king and the royal court. The king then entered a retreat of four years to master the new language, after which he engaged in many translation projects. Thonmi Sambhota would eventually become one of the most trusted advisors of King Songtsen Gampo.
King Trisong Detsen: Great Dharmaraja
In the 8th Century, Dorje Shugden was the second of the three great Dharma Kings of Tibet, King Trisong Detsen. As a military leader, he waged several successful military campaigns against the Arabs in the West and against the Tang Chinese in the East.
In order to spread Buddhism in his country, King Trisong Detsen invited the Indian master Shantarakshita and later Guru Padmasambhava to teach in Tibet. He also founded Tibet’s first monastery, Samye, which ordained Tibet’s first Buddhist monks and initiated great translation projects of the Indian treatises.
King Trison Detsen was instrumental in ensuring the purity and accuracy of the Buddhist teachings in Tibet. At the time, Samye Monastery attracted teachers from India, Kashmir, China and so forth. One of them, a monk named Hoshang, taught the meditative practice of emptying the mind of all conceptual thoughts and had become very popular.
The king doubted the source and accuracy of these teachings. Thus, he initiated the great two-year debate called the Council of Lhasa at Samye Monastery, between the Chinese and Indian scholars. The Indian master Kamalashila was proclaimed the winner of the debate and thenceforth, Tibetan Buddhism was taught only from Indian sources.
One of King Trisong Detsen’s five wives was Yeshe Tsogyal, who was later considered to be an emanation of the female Tantric Buddha, Vajrayogini.
Mahasiddha Naropa: The Indomitable Disciple
In the early 11th Century, Dorje Shugden was born as a Kashmiri prince who renounced his throne to become a monk at the prestigious Nalanda Monastery of India.
Already an erudite scholar, a chance meeting with an old woman made him realise his lack of realisations. Following her advice, Naropa decided to seek out the great Mahasiddha Tilopa and became a wandering yogin in search of his Guru.
After a long search, Naropa finally found Tilopa but upon their first meeting, Tilopa did not accept Naropa as a student. What followed has since become known as the 12 major and 12 minor trials that Naropa had to endure.
Having persevered and successfully overcome the challenges and tasks set by his Guru, Naropa was given the full set of teachings including an initiation into the Tantric practice of Vajravarahi. He is said to have attained full Enlightenment within just a few months of practice due to the purification and merits accumulated through serving his Guru. Thus, Naropa’s story is often quoted as a great example of devotion to a spiritual guide
Naropa is known for having gained a vision of Vajrayogini, and one of her most common forms which is widely practised today is called Naro Kacho, named after how she appeared to Naropa. He is also known for the Tantric practice of the Six Yogas of Naropa. Naropa had many students, amongst them the Tibetan master Marpa who later became the teacher of Milarepa.
Ra Lotsawa: The Great Yamantaka Yogin
In the early 11th Century, Dorje Shugden was also Ra Lotsawa, a controversial figure who almost single-handedly proliferated the Yamantaka Tantras in Tibet. He lived at the same time as the great Mahasiddha Naropa and Lotsawa Loden Sherab, and all three are the previous lives of Dorje Shugden. It is possible for attained Bodhisattvas to split their consciousness and take rebirth simultaneously in order to benefit an even greater number of people.
Born in 1016 in Nyenam, Tibet, Ra Lotsawa was a contemporary of Lotsawa Loden Sherab and they traveled together to India in an expedition of five young men to study the Sanskrit language.
He received the Yamantaka and Vajrayogini Tantric lineages from his Guru, Bharo Chakdum, who was a specialist in these Tantras. He also received the Chakrasamvara and Namasamgiti lineages from Mahakaruna, a master in Naropa’s lineage of disciples, and the Kalachakra Tantras from the Indian master Samantashri.
Upon his return to Tibet, Ra Lotsawa began proliferating these lineages in the Land of Snows. At that time, he faced many obstacles because of Yamantaka’s frightful appearance which was thought to be non-Buddhist in nature. In the face of such opposition and threats, Ra Lotsawa had no choice but to engage his accusers in arcane magical combat, successfully dispatching 13 Lamas of various traditions. Although these appear to be ordinary actions, in actuality the lamas were divine actors playing their part to highlight the superiority of the Yamantaka Tantras in order to eliminate the opposition that Ra Lotsawa was facing in propagating them.
Ra Lotsawa also rebuilt many monasteries particularly in the southern Tsang region, engaged in numerous translation works and sponsored the printing of Dharma texts and the installation of Buddha statues.
Lotsawa Loden Sherab: The Prolific Translat0r
In the second half of the 11th Century, Dorje Shugden was Lotsawa Loden Sherab, a nephew and student of the great master Ngok Lekpai Sherab, who ordained him as a fully ordained monk.
Lotsawa Loden Sherab was a contemporary of Ra Lotsawa and, together with an expedition of five young Tibetans, they travelled to India to study Sanskrit and the great treatises. He returned to Tibet after mastering the Sanskrit language and brought along with him many great Indian treatises including the Dharma Protector practice of Setrap Chen.
Lotsawa Loden Sherab established his seat at Sangphu Neutog Monastery and was renowned as a great Lama and teacher who attracted audiences of over 20,000 students to his Dharma discourses. A prolific translator, he also engaged in huge translation projects of the Indian treatises and called upon many Indian scholars to assist him in his work.
Over the course of his life, Lotsawa Loden Sherab translated over 135,000 verses and trained countless students in ancient Buddhist philosophy. He entered clear light amidst auspicious omens of rainbows, earth tremors and celestial lights, and his relics are enshrined in Sangphu Monastery.
Shakya Shri Bhadra: The Great Kashmiri Scholar
In the early 12th Century CE, Dorje Shugden was born into a Brahmin family in Kashmir. The boy, named Shakya Shri Bhadra, eventually took the position of Mahapandita of Nalanda Monastery and was also appointed the abbot of both Nalanda and Vikramashila monasteries .
Shakya Shri Bhadra’s fame grew far and wide, and he was a highly sought-after teacher in Tibet. Together with his entourage, he travelled to many monastic seats in the Land of Snows giving extensive teachings on a range of topics including the five main texts of Buddhist philosophy. He also turned the Wheel of Sutra and Tantra through the efforts of Tropu Lotsawa, an outstanding translator and debater.
Throughout his travels, Shakya Shri Bhadra ordained innumerable monks into the Kashmiri Vinaya system that eventually became the guiding principle for the Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug monastic traditions. He is also credited for authenticating the lineage of the Vajrakilaya practice, and for introducing the Indian system of logic into the Sakya school through Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen, whom he met on his travels.
Sakya Pandita: Accomplished Sakya Master
In the late 12th Century CE, Dorje Shugden was born in Tibet as the great Sakya master, Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen. His teacher was the famed Sakya Jetsun Drakpa Gyaltsen and under his tutelage, Sakya Pandita grew to become a great scholar and invincible debater.
Even in his youth, he silenced six great Hindu scholars including the famous Harinanda. As a writer, he wrote prolifically on Buddhist philosophy and is famous for his commentary on Pramana or logic called Rig Ter, that corrected some wrong views of his day.
Sakya Pandita’s fame spread to China and he was invited to visit by Godan Khan, the Mongol emperor of China. When he first arrived, he was put to the test. Unbeknownst to Sakya Pandita, the emperor had secretly instructed the court magicians to conjure a temple for the Lama to bless.
After Sakya Pandita had blessed the illusory temple, the triumphant emperor told his magicians to dissolve the illusion. However, they were unable to do so as Sakya Pandita’s blessings had made the temple real. Embarrassed, the emperor begged Sakya Pandita for forgiveness and requested to become his student. It was this lifetime that began Dorje Shugden’s connection to the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism which later culminated in his enthronement as one of the Protectors of Sakya.
Buton Rinchen Drub: Kangyur and Tangyur Collector
Around the turn of the 13th Century, Dorje Shugden took rebirth as the great Buton Rinchen Drub of Zhalu Monastery. Like many of his previous incarnations, he became a very famous scholar and translator and was a teacher to many in the 14th Century.
During this period, the Muslim invasion had systematically destroyed many great Buddhist institutions of India. When Buton Rinchen Drub heard of this, he embarked on a grand project to compile the Kangyur, which are texts recording the spoken words of the Buddha and the Tangyur, which are the great Indian and Tibetan commentaries on the Buddha’s teachings. A prolific writer, he also composed 26 volumes of commentaries over the course of his life.
Buton Rinchen Drub acquired many Sanskrit texts and their corresponding Tibetan translations, many of which he corrected and improved. His compilation of the Kangyur and Tangyur was highly sought after by monasteries from all traditions in Tibet and became the foundation for Buddhist study. This encyclopaedic compilation is Buton Rinchen Drub’s most enduring legacy and as a result, he almost single-handedly preserved the Buddha’s teachings for future generations of scholars and masters.
Dulzin Drakpa Gyeltsen: Builder of Gaden
In the 14th Century CE, Dorje Shugden was born as the Vinaya-holder Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen, who would become the foremost disciple of Lama Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. He was bestowed the precious title of Duldzin or Vinaya-holder because he held his vows so well that he naturally exuded the fragrant scent of morality.
During his lifetime, Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen was considered by many to be equal to Lama Tsongkhapa in terms of attainments and practice. He was also accomplished in Sutra and Tantra and had many erudite students including the great Khedrub Je.
Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen was responsible for initiating and supervising the construction of the great Gaden Monastery. He engaged in this project so that his Guru, the aging Lama Tsongkhapa, could have a permanent place to reside and teach in instead of traveling all over Tibet. He also founded Tsunmo Tsel Monastery.
It was in this lifetime that the seeds for Dorje Shugden to eventually arise as a Dharma Protector were planted. Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen made a promise to the Dharma Protector Nechung to arise as an uncommon Protector to protect Lama Tsongkhapa’s special lineage of Nagarjuna’s view. He would fulfil this promise in a later incarnation.
Panchen Sonam Drakpa: The Unexcelled Scholar
Dorje Shugden took rebirth as the unparalleled scholar Panchen Sonam Drakpa in the 17th Century CE. This incarnation was a protege of the 2nd Dalai Lama Gendun Gyatso and the spiritual master of the 3rd Dalai Lama Sonam Gyatso.
Panchen Sonam Drakpa was such an erudite master and so respected by all that he served as the abbot of Gyutö Tantric College as well as Gaden, Drepung and Sera monasteries, the only master to do so in history. He also received the rare honour of ascending the throne of Lama Tsongkhapa as the 15th Gaden Tripa (Throne Holder) of the Gelugpa lineage.
Panchen Sonam Drakpa was a prolific writer and composed 45 major and minor works. To this day in Drepung Loseling and Gaden Shartse monasteries, his writings are used as textbooks by monks studying for their Geshe Lharampa degrees. He also established the ‘Upper House’ ladrang, Zimkhang Gongma, in Drepung Monastery.
Sonam Yeshe Wangpo and Ngawang Sonam Geleg: Great Masters of Fate
In the 16th Century, Dorje Shugden took rebirth as Sonam Yeshe Wangpo and exhibited all the signs of a high incarnation. As a young child, he had extraordinary memories and was able to recall various aspects from his previous life.
He was presented to the 3rd Dalai Lama Sonam Gyatso in Drepung Monastery and was given his name Sonam Yeshe Wangpo. He was able to give teachings from a young age and followed the Dalai Lama as part of a retinue to Mongolia.
He entered clear light at 37 years old and was unable to manifest further great deeds.
Towards the end of the 16th Century, Dorje Shugden was born as Ngawang Sonam Geleg. He too grew up with all the marks and signs of a high incarnation and was presented to the leading Lama of his time, Paljor Gyatso.
He began giving teachings at a young age and many were amazed by their clarity. He met with the 4th Dalai Lama Yonten Gyatso on his return from Mongolia and received teachings from this great Lama as well. Unfortunately, Ngawang Sonam Geleg contracted smallpox and entered clear light at the young age of 22.
These two previous incarnations of Dorje Shugden did not live long. It is traditionally believed that these Lamas passed away young because the people of that time and place had insufficient merits to support their great activities. Some also believe that their early passing was to allow other incarnations lineages to manifest their great deeds.
Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen: The Great Martyr
In the 17th Century CE, Dorje Shugden took his penultimate rebirth as the great master Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen, also known as Ngatrul Drakpa Gyaltsen. He was a contemporary of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama and they were both students of the 4th Panchen Lama Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen.
Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen showed the extraordinary signs of a great being and had clear visions of the enlightened beings from a young age. He was one of the leading candidates during the search for the reincarnation of the 4th Dalai Lama and was later recognised and enthroned as the incarnation of Ngawang Sonam Geleg by the 4th Panchen Lama. As a result, he inherited the Upper House ladrang, Zimkhang Gongma, in Drepung Monastery of his predecessor, Panchen Sonam Drakpa.
In that lifetime, Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen was an unexcelled scholar of Sutra and Tantra. His fame grew exponentially because of his purity and his exceptional teachings and practices. His reputation even reached Mongolia and many members of the Mongol royalty became his students and patrons. Soon, his name eclipsed that of the Fifth Dalai Lama which caused much dissatisfaction amongst the Dalai Lama’s assistants, although Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen and the Dalai Lama enjoyed a close relationship.
It was during this lifetime that Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen would fulfil the promise made in a previous life as Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen. Working together with Dharma Protector Nechung, the necessary circumstances were created that eventually led to the murder of Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen. Thus, with the right conditions, time and place, Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen arose as the wrathful enlightened Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden.
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