Nyungne Lama Yeshe Zangpo
(18th century)

“Just by remembering you, outer and inner obstacles are cleared. Four activities’ bestower, Dorje Shugden’s Five Families, I prostrate to you and your retinues.”

Yeshe Zangpo, also known by the Sanskrit equivalent Jñanabhadra, is most well known by the title Nyungne Lama Yeshe Zangpo. The origin of his name is derived from one of his most well-known deeds, as stated in the White Conch dictionary:

The Nyungne temple found on the eastern boundary of the Zhide [one of the four regent estates in the heart of historical Lhasa, in particular Zhide associated with the Reting Rinpoches] was founded in the 18th century by Nyungne Lama Yeshe Zangpo, a student of Tsechog Ling Khachen Yeshe Gyaltsen, a Yongzin [root guru] of the Eighth Dalai Lama, Jampel Gyatso. Its principal holy object is a one-story high, eleven-faced, thousand-armed, thousand-eyed Avalokiteshvara statue made from the six medicinal metals [gold, silver, copper, iron, brass, and zinc]. At this eight pillar temple on the fourth Tibetan month [Saka Dawa] people of Lhasa congregate to follow Nyungne tradition.1

In short, this temple that he established is dedicated to the practice of Nyungne itself, which is a fasting ritual done through Avalokiteshvara and is very popular amongst Tibetans.

As for his biography,2 he was ordained by Yongdzin Yeshe Gyaltsen3 (1713-1793)—holder of the Ganden Emanation Scripture4 and one of the most important Gelug masters of the 18th century—and received his ordained name, Yeshe Zangpo, from him as well. Yongzin Yeshe Gyaltsen founded Tsechog Samten Ling monastery5 south of Lhasa in the 18th century. Under Yongdzin Yeshe Gyaltsen and his heart disciple Lama Yeshe Tenzin, Yeshe Zangpo studied sutra and tantra including the stages of the path (lam rim), generation and completion stages of Guhyasamaja, Heruka and Yamantaka.6 After that he lived in a cave for many years like Milarepa, where he practiced austerities and meditation. He then returned and went to Tsechog Samten Ling at the request of Lama Yeshe Tenzin to serve as head lama. There he gave teachings every year on the stages of the path.

After doing this for many years, he was requested by Nyungne practitioners at Zhide to reside there. He stayed there for a number of years and gave teachings to many types of people. His written works consist of two volumes, principally on the subjects of the stages of the path, mind training, and Mahamudra. He upheld the Gelugpa tradition with these vital teachings at a time (the end of the 18th century) when many great masters such as Yongdzin Yeshe Gyaltsen, Purchog Ngawang Jampa, and Longdol Lama had passed away.

One of the most well-known accounts of Dorje Shugden in the West is the chapter in René de Nebesky-Wojkowitz’s classic Oracles and Demons of Tibet, first published in 1956. What is less well known is that the translated ritual comprising half of this chapter7 is taken from Nyungne Lama’s long fulfillment ritual to Dorje Shugden. The initial translation excerpt describes the mandala of Dorje Shugden:

Surrounded by a protective circle of meteoric iron, stands a large and spacious gur khang, around which horrible, fierce fires black wind and whirlwind, these three, are sweeping in succession.

Next, it describes the fearsome, macabre details of this environment, much in the vein of those found with other wrathful deities. Finally, the principal figure is described:

The lord-protector of the royal creed, the great king of the dgra lha, the “king of mind”, the frightful rDo rje shugs ldan, whose body is of a dark-red colour, who becomes fierce like a savage raksasa...

And his retinue:

In the East resides the “body emanation” (sku'i sprul pa) Zhi ba'i rgyal chen...
In the South dwells the “emanation of excellence” (yon tan gyi sprul pa) rGyas pa'i rgyal chen...
In the West dwells the “emanation of speech” (gsung gi sprul pa) dBang 'dus rgyal chen...
In the North resides the “emanation of karma” ('phrin gyi sprul pa) Drag po'i rgyal chen...

Nebesky-Wojkowitz goes on to compare the names of these five emanations and their iconography to those described in Pabongkha Rinpoche’s middling-length kangso (bskang chog 'bring bo). Next, Nebesky-Wojkowitz translates the invocation part of the fulfillment ritual,8 which involves enumerating various holy places (gnas) in general and of Dorje Shugden in particular. This list mentions a few and adds some context to describe these places:

  1. The Buddhas’ Sambhogakaya paradise Gandhavyuha ('og min zhing).

  2. The pond where the remains of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen floated after being thrown into the Tsangpo river (Chu mig dkar mo).

  3. The temple in Sakya where regular kangso was performed for Shugden (Sa skya rmu chung).

  4. A shrine to Dorje Shugden at Ngor monastery (Ngor gyi rten mkhar).

  5. The Gelug monastery Riwo Choling in Yarlung valley in charge of maintaining Khra 'brug temple and entrusted with maintaining Trode Khangsar in Lhasa by the Fifth Dalai Lama (Ri bo chos gling).

  6. A chapel in the 'On valley in Yarlung valley ('On gyi gtsug lag khang, see the section about 'On Gyalse Rinpoche).

  7. A monastery near Ganden monastery (bKra shis ljongs).

  8. Trode Khangsar, the btsan khang for Dorje Shugden founded by the Fifth Dalai Lama, where the Dorje Shugden oracle was invoked (sPro khang bde chen lcog).

  9. Kha'u brag rdzong is “where the Lama Kha'u-pa propitiated the deity Mgon-po-zhal-(bzhi). There too is a cave called Dpal Mgon-thim-pa, inside of which, on a rock, there is a white Tibetan letter A which is self-originated, and there are many who have found black, triangular stone slabs there, which are known as Dpal Mgon-kyi bla-rdo (i.e., the “life-power” rocks of Dpal Mgon).”9

These and others not mentioned here give a glimpse into the areas that were considered holy places (gnas) in both specific and general senses, and some had monasteries that relied on Dorje Shugden as a protector at the time (late 18th - early 19th century).

Finally, René de Nebesky-Wojkowitz’s goes on to describe the part of the fulfillment ritual that makes various offerings to Dorje Shugden and his retinue.10 The beginning folios11 of this Tibetan manuscript translated by Nebesky-Wojkowitz are encoded in Wylie in the book’s appendix. The text’s title and author is noted, and part of the colophon is translated in the appendix12 as a source of the text: 'jam mgon rgyal ba'i bstan bsrung mthu ldan dgra lha'i rgyal chen yongs kyi gtso bo srid gsum skye 'gro kun gyi srog bdag sprul pa'i cho skyong rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan rab 'jigs khro bo sku lnga'i sger bskang rgyas pa dga' ldan bstan srung ldan dgra tshar gcod ma bzhugs so, written by Nyungne Lama, being 21 folios total. Part of the translated colophon states:13

This text was composed and written down by the bla ma Djñanabhadra of the sMyung gnas (lha khang) in Lhasa, upon the request of the head-priest of the bKra shis chos gling monastery in lHo brag and the assembly of monks of this religious establishment, as well as upon the request of the sde sras bSod nams dpal 'byor and many other devotees of this srung ma. The mgron gnyer Blo bzang shes rab of sBar kha and dPal ldan don 'grub of mDo sgar donated the money for carving the blocks.

This also illustrates that by this time Dorje Shugden practice had become somewhat popular in Southern Tibet and elsewhere. By the late 19th century, this text had been exported and found in Mongolia as it is listed in Lobsang Tamdin’s catalog (dkar chag)14 to the Dorje Shugden be bum that he compiled. Thus, this text cannot be considered obscure, which can be further confirmed in the travel diary of Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Where the Gods are Mountains,15 in which he devotes a chapter to describing the performance of this text by a monastery led by Dhardo Rinpoche. Given that this was witnessed in the 1950’s, clearly after the influential period of Pabongkha Rinpoche, also shows that Pabongkha Rinpoche’s texts did not necessarily replace all pre-existing ritual texts used in ritual cycles.

Publication of this complete text can be found in the Dorje Shugden be bum.16 Note of its existence can also be found in Asian Classics Release IV; in the references section, there is a catalog (R0020):

Great Many Works of Numerous Masters of All the Traditions of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, starting with the Precious Kangyur and Tengyur, found in Puntsok Rabten Temple at the Religious Estate of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche.

This is credited to the previous attendant of Trijang Rinpoche, Kungo Palden. In here is listed a text that Nyungne Lama wrote called rdo rje shugs ldan gyi bskang chog sdang dgra tsar gcod, this being the shortened title of the text. Furthermore, it is cataloged in Tibetan Texts in the Bihar Research Society by David Jackson17 with the full title noted above by Smyung-gnas-bla-ma Ye-shes-bzang-po, “Propitiation of the protector Rdo-rje-shugs-ldan.”

Upon re-examination of the original Tibetan version of this text (most of this can be found in the appendix of Nebesky-Wojkowitz’s book), there are several remarkable things that stand out: the newly-coined terminology and epithets used, the first usage of the long Dorje Shugden mantra later incorporated by the works of Serkong Dorje Chang and Pabongkha Rinpoche, and the extensive description of the mandala of Shugden with its implication noted in the colophon. With regard to the first, the terminology quite explicitly indicates a promotion of Dorje Shugden’s status. Here we find the first coinage of a number of titles later commonly used by other 19th century rituals and especially those written in the 20th century. These include the following from the title of the ritual itself mentioned above:

  1. Dharma Protector of Conqueror Manjunatha ('jam mgon rgyal ba'i bstan srung), where Conqueror Manjunatha refers to Je Tsongkhapa.

  2. Lord of All Kings of the Powerful War Gods (mthu ldan dgra lha'i rgyal chen yongs kyi gtso bo).

  3. Life Owner of All Beings of the Three Worlds (srid gsum skye 'gro kun gyi srog bdag).

  4. The Emanated Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden (sprul pa'i chos skyong rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan).

Another important title can be found throughout the ritual itself:18 Five Families of Dorje Shugden Tsel (rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal rigs lnga). This indicates the principal, surrounded by the four emanations; the title also uses sku lnga to indicate this. Similarly, rgyal chen rigs lnga refers to five classes of Shugden and was apparently coined by Sachen Kunga Lodro.

In the text itself there are many variations of these titles. Of course, many later Shugden texts use these titles with other variations as well. In any case, the genesis of the exalted titles is in this ritual itself written by Nyungne Lama. This is in sharp contrast to Dreyfus’ claim that it was Pabongkha Rinpoche and his followers who coined and propagated these epithets.19 While Dreyfus is correct in asserting that these epithets illustrate the transformation Dorje Shugden into a central element of the Gelug sect, this transformation clearly began to happen at the time of Nyungne Lama. In particular the title 'jam-mgon bsTan-bsrung has been used occasionally with the protector Chos-kyi rGyal-po,20 also known as Dharmaraja or Dharma King, who has been the main protector of the Gelug as he was bound by Je Tsongkhapa himself. However, Dorje Shugden is the first protector to be commonly referred to by the title of Protector of the Second Conqueror Manjunatha.

Such titles were later ratified in usage by later lamas such as Rongchen Kirti Lobsang Trinley and Serkong Dorje Chang (1856-1918). To further assess Dreyfus’ claim, was this promotion just a title or was it backed up by a larger role and task? There are several considerations at this time to address this question. Further investigation of the ritual and its colophon reveals more unique details.

The colophon of this ritual21 states that when the author Nyungne Lama was at Trode Khangsar (lha ldan spro khang), Dorje Shugden possessed the oracle (khog phebs) and repeatedly mandated that he immediately compile a torma offering in accordance with a wrathful transworldly form ('jigs rten las 'das pa'i rang chog), an extensive fulfillment to the five forms (sku lnga). This clearly indicates that this ritual is intended to be in the manner of those of other transworldly Dharma protectors such as Dharmaraja, the primary protector of the Gelug order. In order to be promoted as the main protector of the Je Tsongkhapa’s doctrine, such a system of worship was necessary.

The general meanings as well throughout the text, as found in praises and requests, clearly indicate the relation of Shugden protecting Tsongkhapa’s doctrine. For example, “protect the Buddhadharma in general, and especially the Sutra and Tantra teachings of Manjunatha Dharmaraja Je Tsongkhapa.”22 The concept can be found embedded in the iconography of the principal figure Dorje Shugden as well, from Nebesky-Wojkowitz’s translation:23

The yellow-brown hair of his head stands on end and in the centre above, within a sun mandala, resides the lord-protector and king of religion, the great Tsong kha pa bearing a placid expression.

Furthermore, his transworldly form is extremely wrathful like Dharmaraja. There is no lack of wrathful expression in the requests made in the ritual. This ritual contains requests such as “annihilate all harmers of Manjunatha’s doctrine” ('jam mgon bstan la gnod byed tshar gcod mdzod). The wrath itself is in relation to protecting Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition. This can be found in the invocation as well, from Nebesky-Wojkowitz’s translation:24

The lord of religion, he who destroys all evil-doers, the foes of the religious law and all obstacle-creating demons, who is able to obtain complete concentration of mind, the lord-protector of the loyal creed, the great king of the dgra lha, the “king of mind”, the frightful rDo rje shugs ldan.

There are two other influential things to note briefly which appear to have originated in this ritual. The first is the long Dorje Shugden mantra which is used throughout the ritual. Second, there is a very popular short praise to Dorje Shugden, one verse in length:25

Just by remembering you, outer and inner
Obstacles are cleared, four activities’
Bestower, Dorje Shugden’s Five Families,
I prostrate to you and your retinues.

Taking this all into consideration, this challenges Dreyfus’ claim about the alleged revival movement spearheaded by Pabongkha Rinpoche. Instead, this author and this text, whether directly and indirectly, ushered in the 19th century as beginning the era of Dorje Shugden being the Gelug protector supported by these new titles and roles which in fact spread as such throughout Central Tibet, Amdo, Kham and Mongolia. Furthermore, in contrast to Dreyfus’ claim,26 the promotion of Shugden did not necessarily entail replacement of the existing Gelug protectors, such as Dharmaraja, in their respective ritual cycles. Even Pabongkha Rinpoche did not replace Dharmaraja with Dorje Shugden in the Vajrabhairava ritual cycle27 and those of other yidams and their respective wisdom protectors.

Another short ritual written by Nyungne Lama is called chos kyong rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan la 'phrin bcol mthu stobs drag rtsal gnam lcags thog 'bebs. The titles of both rituals are related to wrath for the purpose of repelling enemies of Dharma, peace, and harmony as indicated in the former by sdang dgra tsar gcod, and in the latter case by drag rtsal gnam lcags (literally meaning ‘wrathful thunder’, something so powerful it is unbearable). Here is a small portion of Nyungne Lama’s works on Shugden, taken from chos kyong rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan la 'phrin bcol mthu stobs drag rtsal gnam lcags thog 'bebs:28

Lamas, Yidams, Heroes,
Dakinis, Oath Bound Protectors,
Especially Dorje Shugden Tsel,
And retinue, do not forget [me] here,
For effortlessly attaining goals,
All hopes of myself the yogi,
Of accomplishing,
The holy Dharma as prayed for.

As fortunate faithful beings,
Are summoned by you,
In no time at all,
Conquer the yogi’s [obstacles].
Accomplishing uncommon goals,
And however much resulting happiness,
Enjoyments of body, speech and mind,
With devotion I put into service,
Just as ordered,
Without transgressing for a second,
Using my body for attending,
Accepting whatever is said,
Seeing you as a Buddha in mind,
Staying close to me,
For pure ethics and devotion,
Increasing lifespan, merit and endowments,
Being praised by all,
Living piously without pride,
Please perform activities
To effortlessly perfect all goals.

1 Dung dkar blo bzang 'phrin las (2002), p. 1798.

2 Blo bzang ye shes bstan 'dzin rgya mtsho (1967), pp. 122-125.

In Trijang Rinpoche’s account of Dorje Shugden, Music Delighting the Ocean of Protectors— his commentary on Dagpo Kelsang Khedrup’s Fortunate Aeons—he notes that one of the verses refers to Nyungne Lama Yeshe Zangpo. In particular, he credits him with being a guru who upheld the lam-rim tradition for lay and ordained people at a time after the great masters of the 18th century had just passed away. In addition, he claims this lama was an emanation of Dorje Shugden himself. It may seem ironic that an emanation of Dorje Shugden would write rituals to Dorje Shugden. But this is not uncommon when considering Je Tsongkhapa was an emanation of Manjushri, yet he struggled to behold Manjushri’s teachings through a direct vision. Likewise, many great masters were emanations, yet went through the common paths and did the yoga practices of the meditational deities like anybody else would.

3 TBRC Person RID: P105.

4 Willis (1995), pp. 161-162.

5 TBRC Person RID: G157.

6 TBRC Person RID: P1115.

7 Nebesky-Wojkowitz (1956), pp. 136-139, 140-142.

8 Nebesky-Wojkowitz (1956), pp. 140-142.

9 Wylie (1962), pp. 67-68.

10 Nebesky-Wojkowitz (1956), pp. 142-143.

11 Folios 2a-6a on pp. 565-568.

12 Nebesky-Wojkowitz (1956), pp. 584.

13 Nebesky-Wojkowitz (1956), pp. 584.

14 Lobsang Tamdin (1975), volume X, p. 403.

15 Nebesky-Wojkowitz (1956). Where the Gods are Mountains: Three Years Among the People of the Himalayas. Published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

16 Guru Deva Rinpoche (1984), pp. 319-360. This is a complete ritual of Nyungne Lama.

17 Jackson, David (1989). The “miscellaneous series” of Tibetan Texts in the Bihar Research Society, Patna: A Handlist, p. 97. Bihar Research Society. Published by Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden.

18 Guru Deva Rinpoche (1984), p. 320.

19 Dreyfus (1998), p. 247.

20 See Jigme Samten (1814-1881), 'jam mgon bstan srung chos kyi rgyal po'i 'phrin bcol las bzhi lhun grub dang de'i bsnyen pa gtong tshul sogs, TBRC Work RID: W5403.

21 Guru Deva Rinpoche (1984), p. 358.

22 Guru Deva Rinpoche (1984), p. 340.

23 Nebesky-Wojkowitz (1956), p. 138.

24 Nebesky-Wojkowitz (1956), p. 137.

25 Guru Deva Rinpoche (1984), p. 332.

26 Dreyfus (1998), p. 247.

27 Meditation on Vajrabhairava (2002). Translated by Richard Guard and Sherpa Tulku. Paljor Publications.

28 Guru Deva Rinpoche (1984), pp. 361-365.