Tracing the lineage between Guru and disciple is a very important aspect of the Buddhist teachings. This is held sacred in the Gelug lineage because it authenticates the teachings and proves that the practices have a basis, a proven history and are not made up. More importantly, blessings descend from the lineage masters to the practitioner when the teachings and practices are engaged in correctly according to lineage tradition.
Hence, the lineage masters are often displayed in thangka or statue form in a Dorje Shugden chapel to illustrate how the practice of Dorje Shugden descended through various teachers and masters to ourselves. What follows below is a brief summary of the close lineage of Dorje Shugden’s practice.
The Tagphu or Dagpo line of incarnations can be traced back to the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, as the disciple Dharmati. He is better known as Tagphu Dorje Chang or Tagphu Pemavajra and is renowned for his supernormal abilities of astral-travelling to pure realms and receiving pure visions of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
Tagphu Pemavajra Jampel Tenpai Ngodrub started his monastic education in Drepung Loseling Monastery in 1888. After he turned 30, he spent a lot of time in Chuzang Retreat where he taught his most famous disciple, His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche. According to traditional sources, Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche after being prompted by Dorje Shugden via an oracle had requested Tagphu Dorje Chang to travel to the pure realm of Tushita. Tushita or Gaden Paradise is significant because it is the realm in which Lama Tsongkhapa Losang Drakpa (1357-1419), the founder of the Gelug tradition currently resides.
While in Tushita, Tagphu Dorje Chang requested and received the complete set of practices related to Dorje Shugden and his five families from Lama Tsongkhapa through Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen (1357-1419), who was one of Dorje Shugden’s previous incarnations. Upon his return, Tagphu Dorje Chang transmitted the complete set of teachings on Dorje Shugden to Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche, who then disseminated them widely in Tibet.
Tagphu Dorje Chang’s previous incarnation Losang Chökyi Wangchuk (1765-1792) also had numerous visions of deities which are recorded in the ‘Thirteen Pure Visions of Tagphu’ (stag phu’i dag snang gsang ba bcu gsum). These visions include the practices of Amitayus, Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani and Cittamani Tara which are also widely disseminated today.
Therefore, the lineage of Dorje Shugden can be traced in this order:
- Lama Tsongkhapa
- Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen
- Tagphu Dorje Chang
- H.H. Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche
- H.H. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche
- H.H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche
- H.E. the 25th Tsem Rinpoche
H.H Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche
His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche Dechen Nyingpo is perhaps one of the most influential Gelug Lamas of the 20th Century. He has a long line of incarnations that stems all the way back to the Mahasiddha Krisnacharya. In another incarnation he was Tsako Ngawang Drakpa, a great student of Lama Tsongkhapa and later, he was also Changkya Rolpai Dorje who was the tutor to the Qianlong Emperor of China.
Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche is best remembered for his month-long teaching on the Lamrim, for which his closest student Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche wrote extensive notes. These notes have since been published as a book and translated into English, Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche had a large following of lay as well as monastic students, which was unusual for that time. Perhaps, that is why he advocated the practice of Lama Tsongkhapa, Vajrayogini and Dorje Shugden for the masses.
Dorje Shugden is said to have followed Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche and would speak to him through oracles. On one of those occasions, Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche was requested to compose a fulfilment ritual (kangso) of Dorje Shugden. He embarked on this project by referring to earlier texts from the Sakya tradition and various other sources. Dissatisfied, he presented his work to Tagphu Dorje Chang who entered into meditation and ascended to Tushita Paradise to retrieve the complete set of teachings directly from Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen.
He then transmitted these to Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche who was able to complete the composition of the kangso to his satisfaction. It is named Melodious Drum Victorious In All Directions and is the main text that is used to invoke Dorje Shugden today.
H.H Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche
His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche Losang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso was the heart disciple of Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche and widely believed to be an emanation of Vajrayogini. He has a long line of incarnations that stems all the way to Buddha Shakyamuni’s time when he was the Buddha’s charioteer, Chandra who led the Buddha out of the palace to become a mendicant. Two of his later incarnations, Yongzin Trichen Jangchub Chopel and Trichen Losang Tsultrim Palden ascended the throne of Lama Tsongkhapa as the 69th and 85th Gaden Tripa respectively.
Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche met Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche at a very young age and received the complete set of teachings, particularly the Lamrim, various Tantric initiations and Dorje Shugden’s lineage from his Guru. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche wrote extensive notes during Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche’s famous Lamrim teaching as mentioned earlier. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche also met Tagphu Dorje Chang and received a prophecy concerning his Yidam and where he would go after this life.
Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche was appointed as the Junior Tutor of the 14th Dalai Lama along with Kyabje Ling Rinpoche who was appointed as the Senior Tutor. He taught the Dalai Lama everything he needed from the Lamrim and Tantric initiations to the proper etiquette that is expected of a High Lama. Even the practice of Dorje Shugden was first taught to the Dalai Lama by Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche.
While still in Tibet, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche was requested by various scholars and incarnate Lamas to write a commentary on Dorje Shugden’s practice. He gathered notes from various ancient texts and began this very important project. However, the writing came to an abrupt end when he was forced to flee to India with the 14th Dalai Lama, leaving everything behind.
Then in 1963, a refugee escaping from Tibet arrived in India, bringing with him all of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche’s important documents and his unfinished text along with several thangkas of Dorje Shugden. Thus, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche was able to complete the text in 1967, which was named Music Delighting The Ocean of Protectors (bstod ‘grel dam can rgya mtsho dgyes pa’i rol mo). It has since become the definitive commentary on the history and practice of Dorje Shugden.
Therefore, one could say that Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche was almost single-handedly responsible for preserving Dorje Shugden’s practice (along with a myriad of other practices) and propagating it extensively throughout the modern Tibetan world. Most if not all Gelug Lamas and scholars today have been benefited by Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, either directly or indirectly.
Apart from transmitting the teachings and preserving the lineage, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche personally trained the current Panglung Oracle (sku rten) who was a young man at that time. The Panglung Oracle of Sera Mey Monastery is renowned for taking exceptionally clear trances of Dorje Shugden, Kache Marpo, and other Dharma Protectors. Thus, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche also perpetuated the old tradition of Tibetan oracles.
H.H Kyabje Zong Rinpoche
His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche Losang Tsondrue Thubten Gyaltsen was the heart disciple of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and is regarded as an emanation of Heruka Chakrasamvara. He is known to be an invincible debater and an accomplished Tantric yogi. His line of incarnations stems from the great master Khedrub Je, a close disciple of Manjunatha Je Tsongkhapa.
Kyabje Zong Rinpoche entered Gaden Shartse Monastery when he was 11 and rose to become its Abbot. In his youth, he was an unparalleled debater whose skill in debate was praised by the greatest scholars of his time. While in office as the Abbot, he introduced reforms that were beneficial to the monastery.
Kyabje Zong Rinpoche resigned from his seat in 1946 and went on a long pilgrimage to Tsari in Southeastern Tibet. During his travels, numerous miraculous stories arose which are attributed to his mastery of Tantric rituals for subjugating local deities and spirits, healing and controlling the weather.
One of his most well-known feats occurred during the events of 1959 in Tibet. Just after the Dalai Lama had escaped to India, Gaden Monastery was under siege. The monastery was shelled and in order to buy time, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche took it upon himself to engage in a supremely wrathful Trakze Shugden repulsion puja. Witnesses saw a powerful streak of light emitting from his room and landing in the enemy camp causing chaos, mayhem and destruction.
The shelling stopped for a few days which bought sufficient time for all the monks to escape, including the injured and elderly. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche refused to leave Gaden Shartse Monastery until everyone had been evacuated, and remained engaged in the rituals as the three walls of his room crumbled around him. Only the wall behind him remained standing. During his escape, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche breathed in noxious gas that ruined his vocal cords and made his voice hoarse.
Kyabje Zong Rinpoche received many Tantric initiations and practices from Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. During his later years, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche was invited to teach at many centres in the West where he actively propagated the teachings and lineages that he had received especially that of Dorje Shugden. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche also personally trained and sewed the clothes of the Gameng Oracle, who currently resides in Indiana, USA.
Towards the very end of his life, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche was known to have made an elaborate last offering to Dorje Shugden and witnesses heard him say,
Thank you for your service all these years. I have nothing else to request of you.
Kyabje Zong Rinpoche had also requested his attendant to complete the Ritual Thread Mandala of Dorje Shugden (rgyal chen brten mdos) that he was in the process of constructing.
H.E. the 25th Tsem Rinpoche
His Eminence the 25th Tsem Rinpoche Tenzin Zopa Yonten Gyatso counts Kyabje Zong Rinpoche as his root Guru. His long line of incarnations stems all the way to Magadha Sangmo, a female disciple of Lord Buddha Shakyamuni who set the precedent of incense offerings to the Three Jewels and the recitation of invocation prayers. Another of Kyabje Tsem Rinpoche’s previous incarnations is Kentrul Thubten Lamsang who was a close disciple of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and a Dharma brother to Kyabje Zong Rinpoche.
Kyabje Tsem Rinpoche was born in unusual circumstances to a Tibetan father and Mongolian princess. Although born in Taiwan, Kyabje Tsem Rinpoche spent his formative years in America, all the while under the care of foster families. Although he was brought up a great distance away from the influence of monasticism and Tibetan Buddhist norms, he manifested many signs of a high incarnation, having a natural instinct for devotion to his Guru and an undying thirst for the Dharma.
In 1983, Kyabje Tsem Rinpoche met his root Guru Kyabje Zong Rinpoche in Los Angeles and received from him a great many teachings and practices including Yamantaka, Vajrayogini, Cittamani Tara, Heruka Chakrasamvara and the life entrustment of Dorje Shugden.
In fulfilment of a promise made to Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, Kyabje Tsem Rinpoche was ordained by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama and entered Gaden Shartse Monastery. He was also recognised and enthroned as the incarnation of the 72nd Abbot of Gaden Shartse Monastery, Gendun Nyendrak.
Kyabje Tsem Rinpoche has since been requested to travel abroad to Malaysia, first to fundraise for the monastery and later, to spread the Buddhadharma. In 2000, he founded the Kechara Buddhist organisation which has grown in leaps and bounds to a variety of projects and initiatives for modern spiritual seekers. Kechara is also home to the largest Dorje Shugden statue in the world. In 2010, Kyabje Tsem Rinpoche established a Dharma blog (tsemrinpoche.com) where he brings the lineage of Lama Tsongkhapa and Dorje Shugden to millions globally.
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