Before Dorje Shugden was widely practised in the Gelugpa tradition, he was enthroned as a Protector of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. The...
Before Dorje Shugden was widely practised in the Gelugpa tradition, he was enthroned as a Protector of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. If one was to examine the Sakya practice of Dorje Shugden, one would quickly realise that for more than three centuries, Dorje Shugden has been viewed as an Enlightened Protector.
In the middle of a whirling palace of black wind… is the Great King with a body red-black in color, one face two hands, the right holds a club aloft to the sky and the left a skull cup filled with blood and a human heart. On the head, a lacquer hat is placed, riding a black horse surrounded by inconceivable emanations to the Dhamapala King Shugden Tsel, together with attendants… – Sakya Kangso, based on an earlier text from the 19th Century
The evidence comes from none other than the Sakya throne holders themselves, who are the holders of the Sakya tradition’s most precious Tantric transmission – the Lamdre lineage. As stated by His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche in his work “Music Delighting the Ocean of Protectors”, the Sakya reliance on Dorje Shugden began with the supreme Sakya throneholder, the 30th Sakya Trizin Sonam Rinchen (1705 – 1741), who enthroned and worshipped Dorje Shugden as a Dharma Protector, along with Setrap and Tsiu Marpo. These three principle protectors were collectively known as the “Three Kings” (Gyalpo Sum). Another fine example of the Sakya reliance on Dorje Shugden was Morchen Dorje Chang, who wrote praises to Dorje Shugden as an enlightened being.
The 30th Sakya Trizin Sonam Rinchen
In the Sakya tradition, there are two main houses (pho brang) from which a Sakya Trizin (Sakya Throneholder) may arise – Dolma Phodrang and Phuntsok Phodrang. Alternating between the two houses, when a Sakya Trizin enters clear light and his sons are still minors, a child of the previous Sakya Trizin will ascend the throne, thus allowing the young potential-throneholders to mature and receive training befitting a leader of the Sakya tradition.
The Sakya lineage holders are considered to be emanations of Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri, and their family lineage is regarded as divine. Practices within the Sakya lineage are transmitted from father to the eldest son, ensuring purity, accuracy and the continuity of the lineage across generations. Similarly, the practice of Dorje Shugden has been passed down within the Sakya lineage for generations.
For instance, the 30th Sakya Trizin Sonam Rinchen passed the practice of Dorje Shugden to his son, the 31st Sakya Trizin Kunga Lodro (1729 – 1783), who was believed to be an emanation of Dorje Shugden himself. During his lifetime, Kunga Lodro composed a Dorje Shugden kangso (fulfilment ritual) to invoke upon the blessings of Dorje Shugden. He also propitiated Dorje Shugden as a fully enlightened being and composed a praise to him. This prayer has since achieved prominence and is still widely used today. Thus, it is safe to conclude that modern-day practice of Dorje Shugden has its roots in the Sakya tradition.
The fact that Dorje Shugden is an enlightened being was also confirmed by the 39th Sakya Trizin Dragshul Trinley Rinchen (1871 – 1935) who wrote,
The Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden Tsel definitively is Avalokiteshvara.
He further quoted from the Nyingma Tantra Rinchen Nadun to definitively establish his point by scripture.
The one known as Dolgyal [Dorje Shugden] is not mistaken on the path to liberation, he is by nature the Great Compassionate One.
With this statement, Dragshul Trinley Rinchen confirms that Dorje Shugden’s nature is that of Avalokiteshvara, a fully enlightened being.
The 39th Sakya Trizin Dragshul Trinley Rinchen praised Dorje Shugden as an emanation of Avalokiteshvara
It is very significant that these three Sakya Trizins all relied on Dorje Shugden and referred to him as an enlightened being. The Sakya Trizin is a position equal in rank to the heads of the other major traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, such as the Gaden Tripa of the Gelug school or the Karmapa of the Karma Kagyu school.
Thus, their teachings and writings form the spiritual foundation of the Sakya tradition and serve as a guide that all Sakya practitioners can rely on, especially in terms of what they should study and what deities they can propitiate. This also applies to Dorje Shugden seeing that not one but THREE Sakya Trizins believed in him, relied on him and encouraged his practice for Sakya practitioners.
It follows that Dorje Shugden’s practice is not a minor practice, because the 31st Sakya Trizin felt strongly enough about the benefits of Shugden practice to compose an extensive kangso text to propitiate the deity. A Sakya Trizin would not spend the time, energy and effort to compose such an extensive supplicatory text if the practice had little benefit.
Considering the status of the author and the fact that the Sakya Dorje Shugden kangso is still widely used to this day, it further follows that the practice definitely bears results and is effective.
The Life and Times of the 31st Sakya Trizin Kunga Lodro
His Holiness the 31st Sakya Trizin Kunkhyen Ngawang Kunga Lodro was born in 1729 at Sakya Monastery. He was the descendent of the Khon family bloodline and his father was the reigning 30th Sakya Trizin Ngawang Sonam Rinchen (1705-1741), who had enthroned Dorje Shugden as a Dharma Protector of the Sakya school. His mother was known by the name Sonam Wangmo.
The Three Protectors of Sakya (Gyalpo Sum) can be seen on the bottom right of this thangka.
It is widely believed that Sakya Trizin Kunga Lodro was himself the emanation of Dorje Shugden. He is also believed to have been an incarnation of the great Sakya pandit, Buton Rinchen Drub and Shakya Shri, a Kashmiri pandit. Both of these great masters are included in the line of Sakya masters who are part of Dorje Shugden’s lineage. One of Shakya Shri’s predecessors, an Indian master named Jetari, was also Atisha Dipamkara’s guru.
As was customary for nobility, his own father bestowed upon the young Kunga Lodro several long life initiations, a Guhyasamaja initiation in the tradition of Arya Nagarjuna and transmissions of Manjushri’s mantras. He was then given the auspicious name Ngawang Kunga Sonam Drakpa Lodro.
He then received the traditional education of reading, writing and memorisation of various texts under the guidance of his father. He also received from his father various initiations and transmissions such as those of the Drubta Gyatsa collection of a hundred sadhanas and the Sakya Kabum, which is the collected works of the Sakya tradition. In addition, he received initiations and transmissions from the 33rd Ngor Khenchen Namkha Samdrub (1696-1754).
Upon the demise of his father, Kunga Lodro ascended the throne as the 31st Sakya Trizin in 1741. He continued with his studies with particular emphasis on the Lobshe transmission of Lamdre teachings with many great masters including the 30th Ngor Khenchen Jampa Sonam Pelzang (1689-1749) and the 34th Ngor Khenchen Pelden Chokyong (1702-1760).
A close-up of ‘Gyalpo Sum’. They are Setrap, Tsiu Marpo and Dorje Shugden.
When he turned 14, Namkha Samdrub bestowed upon him the lay vows and gave him the name Ngawang Kunga Lodro Tenpai Gyaltsen. He later received novice vows from a lama named Khenchen Wangchuk Puntsok, who also gave him the name “Sangye” which was to be added to his existing name. Along with these masters, he also studied at the feet of Nesar Kunga Lekpai Jungne (1704-1760), the 37th Ngor Khenchen Mingyur Gyeltsen (1717-1751) and Zhalupa Yeshe Drakpa Pelzang.
Kunga Lodro became famous for his erudite mastery of the Lobshe Lamdre and he taught this to numerous students. He was invited to teach at a number of monasteries, including Tsedong, Tubten Serdokchen and Ngor Ewam Choden. As a prolific author, his written works were collected in seven volumes. This veritable scholar also composed a 149-page Tibetan-style manuscript detailing the Sakya rituals of Dorje Shugden. In his biography, Kunga Lodro wrote that Nesar Dorje Chang had written several texts on Dorje Shugden. He was also aware of Morchen Kunga Lhundrub’s practice of Dorje Shugden. Based on his writings, it appears that Kunga Lodro had combined the five forms of Dorje Shugden with the main figure called Duldzin or Vinayadhara.
Kunga Lodro also composed a wrathful torma offering to Dorje Shugden called “Swirl of Perfect Sense Offerings”. This ritual was later used by His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche as part of his “Melodious Drum Victorious in All Directions”, possibly the most well-known Dorje Shugden kangso used today. Thus, the source of some modern-day Dorje Shugden practices can be traced to the Sakya lineage. The text written by Kunga Lodro can also be found in the latest edition of the Dorje Shugden bebum, published by His Eminence Lama Gangchen Rinpoche.
In the kangso, Dorje Shugden is invoked from the Protector temple at Mugchung, which is located in Sakya Monastery
According to his descendent, the 39th Sakya Trizin Dragshul Trinley Rinchen, it is stated that Kunga Lodro would once again take rebirth as the 37th Sakya Trizin Kunga Nyingpo (1850-1899).
Thus, the Sakya throneholders since the time of the 30th Sakya Trizin Sonam Rinchen were Dorje Shugden practitioners especially the 31st Sakya Trizin Kunga Lodro, the 32nd Sakya Trizin Wangdu Nyingpo, the 33rd Sakya Trizin Pema Dudul Wangchuk, the 35th Sakya Trizin Tashi Rinchen, the 37th Sakya Trizin Kunga Nyingpo and and the 39th Sakya Trizin Dragshul Trinley Rinchen.
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