Most deity practices within the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition have an initiation or empowerment of that particular deity which grants permission to practice and gives the practitioner access to the full benefits of the practice. The initiation or empowerment is a process whereby a qualified teacher confers upon his or her students the oral transmission, description, explanation, visualisation and ways to practice, along with instructions on appropriate offerings and specific mantras tailored to the particular student if necessary. Although the process appears to be very technical to the casual observer, the deeper significance behind receiving such practices is that one receives a lineage transmission filled with blessings stemming from the lineage lamas that can be traced all the way back to the time of Buddha Shakyamuni.
Serious practitioners who wish to establish a deeper connection with Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden can receive the life entrustment initiation, also known as sogtae. The life entrustment initiation is not unique to Dorje Shugden’s practice. The ritual can also be found in other Dharma Protector practices, including the Dharma Protector Setrap whose sogtae is in the works of Changlung Pandita and Dharma Protector Nechung’s sogtae which is contained in the collected works of Thuken Dharmavajra.
Commonly asked questions relating to Dorje Shugden’s sogtae are ‘Is practising without sogtae allowed?’ and ‘Is it beneficial to practise if one does not have sogtae?’ The answer is yes it is allowed, and yes it is beneficial. To verify this answer, one has to examine the history and nature of Dorje Shugden’s practice.
In nearly all rituals and prayers to Dorje Shugden, there is no indication of a pre-requisite sogtae; a note which is often indicated for practices that are forbidden to non-initiates such as the higher practices of Vajrayana Buddhism. Looking back through its 350-year history, there are no indications of any Life-Entrustment practices in the Sakya and early Gelug rituals of Dorje Shugden. As the practice grew, an earlier life-entrustment ceremony was developed; however the great scholar and Lama Rinchen Wangyal of Sera Monastery stated clearly in his writings that while it is excellent to receive the Life-Entrustment initiation, it is not absolutely necessary.
Due to unknown circumstances, the life-entrustment ritual was lost with time, only to be revived later by His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche at the request of Dorje Shugden through an oracle. The text ‘Melodious Drum Victorious in All Directions’ composed by Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche has become the most commonly used text for Dorje Shugden’s fulfilment ritual (kangso) today. In this text, it is clearly stated that the life-entrustment ritual is not a pre-requisite to engage in Dorje Shugden’s practice.
After Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche composed the life-entrustment ritual to replace the one that was lost, he brought it to be validated by his own Guru, the great yogi and meditation master Tagpu Pemavajra, who was able to astral travel to Tushita Heaven.
I have written this at the request of Shugden, because in the past there was a tradition of Sogtae (srog gtad) to Shugden but later neither the tradition nor the text could be found — they have become like flowers in the sky — so Shugden has asked me two times to write a new initiation text.
I have passed on the practice of initiation (dbang) to some disciples in accordance with my own experience, and [a text] has been written as a seed for [a detailed text]. But only that would be not reliable and something like an illegitimate son. Therefore, I explained it in detail to my master Tagpu Dorje Chang and presented this draft to him.
He took that draft and wrote his text down, combining this seed text with his own vision. Tagpu commented about the five types of Shugden, the respective colours etc., the offerings to be arranged, thus at the time of initiation the large Lamrim text should be there on the altar, a chakra representing one’s life, damaru, dorje etc. The practitioner has to utter the life generating words of Vajrabhairava and to make torma offerings.
The initiation can be given to somebody who has received initiation into Vajrabhairava and keeps the commitments connected with it. His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche Dechen Nyingpo
While one may engage in the practice of Dorje Shugden without taking the life-entrustment initiation, in order to receive it one must have Yamantaka’s initiation and have kept the commitments associated with this practice.
Traditionally, the life-entrustment ritual which lasts for about 30 minutes can only be given to three people at any one time. When a practitioner has received sogtae, he or she has to uphold the associated commitments, just like in the case of receiving the initiation of a Tantric deity. The practitioner is also given a ‘heart’ crystal (lado) and a chakra (sogkhor) which have been consecrated during the life entrustment ceremony, as a blessing and reminder of their commitments.
Once the Lama has sealed the spiritual bond between the practitioner and Dorje Shugden during the life-entrustment ritual, Dorje Shugden is sworn to protect the initiate until the initiate has achieved Bodhicitta, and the initiate swears to take Dorje Shugden as their Protector until they attain Bodhicitta. Regardless of whether Bodhicitta is gained in this lifetime or over the course of several lifetimes, Dorje Shugden is sworn to guide and protect the practitioner until its fruition. Once this is achieved, the practitioner no longer requires the assistance of a Dharma Protector as they have become high-level Bodhisattvas themselves and, as such, they protect other sentient beings in turn.
Just like any other initiation into a deity’s practice, receiving the life entrustment of Dorje Shugden entails a certain set of commitments to be upheld by the practitioner in order to continuously generate the merits to receive his divine help. Upon receiving sogtae, the practitioner is required to perform a Dorje Shugden kangso once a month. If he or she is unable to perform it themselves at the appointed time, they can do the kangso ahead of time or request the monasteries to perform the kangso on their behalf.
As Dorje Shugden originally arose to protect Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings from degeneration, another of the commitments upon receiving sogtae is for the practitioner to put their full effort into learning and practising the teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche said,
If you have to or if you wish to do some kind of Dharmic activities with other sects of Buddhism, that is okay to do some kind of activities but your main practice or the principle practice, you have to make the commitment with this lineage of Lama Tsongkhapa. H.H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche
Receiving Dorje Shugden’s life-entrustment is a big step in our spiritual progress as he not only guides us in this lifetime, but also gently leads us back to the Dharma in all future lives so that we may eventually gain Bodhicitta. And if we keep the commitments that we have undertaken for the rest of our lives, it is a sign of our spiritual growth, a sign that we have lessened our self-grasping and a sign that we have clarity in engaging in Dharma activities. As Lama Tsongkhapa has mentioned,
Keeping one’s vows is important, and should never be forsaken even at the cost of one’s life.
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