Retreng Rinpoche
Trichen Tenpa Rabgye (1759-1815)

“Great powerful protector of the Buddhadharma, Gyalchen Dorje Shugden and retinue come here!”

Tritul Tenpa Rabgye (1759-1815),1 the reincarnation of Trichen Ngawang Chogden, was born in Lithang, Kham in 1759. At age 2, he requested the Litang abbot Phuntsog Gyatso for Vajravidarana purification. At age 6, he was recognized as the reincarnation of Trichen Ngawang Chogden.

He took ordination from Panchen Rinpoche, Palden Yeshe, and at age 10 received from him initiations and teachings such as Guhyasamaja and Heruka. He entered Sera Je monastery and studied the Five Great Subjects and received the Geshe Lharampa degree. He received full ordination from Panchen Palden Yeshe and entered Gyumed Tantric College. He then resided at Zhide Samten Ling in Lhasa. He served as tutor to the reincarnation of Changkya Rolpei Dorje. At 49 he gave, at the request of Sera Je College, essential transmission and teachings on the Lam-Rim in ten cycles to thousands of monks.2

His collected works comprises of four volumes, published by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala 1985.3 Volume 1 contains sadhanas for various yidams including one for Naropa’s Vajrayogini (nA ro mkha' spyod), written at the request of a monk from Namgyal monastery. Volume 2 comprises of various works including answers to questions by various students, such as the reincarnation of Jaya Pandita, on various subjects. Volume 3 includes teachings on the method for developing bodhicitta transmitted from Dharmarakshita called Wheel of Sharp Weapons (mtshon cha 'khor lo). Volume 4 contains sadhanas and propitiations for various yidams and protectors such as for 13 Deity Mandala of Red Yamari.

In volume 2 of his collected works are short propitiations to various transworldly and worldly protectors. One of the short propitiations is an interesting combination of protectors. First listed are the Liberation Ging and Eight Sword Wielding Butchers, which are epithets for Begtse or lcam sring and his retinue, a protector of the Hayagriva cycle (transworldly).4 This is followed by Dorje Legpa, Dorje Shugden and Karma Trinley (also apparently associated with Hayagriva). The invocation is as follows:5

Although unmoving from the wisdom Dharmakaya,
To tame evil displaying wrathful forms,
Liberation Ging and Eight Sword Wielding Butchers,
Come here with your ocean-like assembly!

Armed with strong, powerful flames,
Obstructor-enemy liberator Dorje Legpa,
Great powerful protector of the Buddhadharma,
Gyalchen Dorje Shugden and retinue come here!

This invocation is followed by requests, confession, fulfillment (thugs bskang) and praises individually.6

Although unmoving from the peaceful Dharmadhatu,
Manifesting as wrathful Dorje Shugden Tsel,
Red bodied holding a Dorje in right hand,
And a black lasso in the left hand, [to you I] praise.

This is followed by requests to the assembly to crush obstructors of the Buddhadharma to dust and to care for the Dharma and its holders.

Another short propitiation involves another set of protectors, including Setrapchen, Dorje Shugden and an unknown protector referred to as bdud 'joms 'bar ba. In this case, both Setrapchen and Dorje Shugden are referred to as emanations of exalted beings, in the case of Dorje Shugden he is referred to as an emanation of gsang bdag or Vajrapani.7

Amitabha’s manifestation Setrapchen,
Lord of Secrets emanation Dorje Shugden Tsel,
Especially the powerful Ne’u Naga’s
Commander Blazing Demon Subduer come here!

This is followed by requests for peaceful, increasing, powerful and wrathful action. This is then followed by a short request for fulfillment. Next are individual verses of praise. This is very interesting because it appears to be one of the few Gelug texts that actually mentions Dorje Shugden riding a horse, which was a more popular form in the Sakya tradition. Also, the second two lines seem to refer to the peaceful emanation of Dorje Shugden, who is white riding an elephant.8

From the inseparable play of bliss and void,
Magical Dorje Shugden on a black horse,
Gleaming like a snow mountain, extremely wrathful,
Praise to you wearing white scarfs and a headdress.

As this is one of the earliest incorporations of Dorje Shugden into the Gelug tradition, it has historical value. Dreyfus claims to follow the historical approach in The Shuk-den Affair, however, he dismisses nearly all Gelug Dorje Shugden texts up to Pabongkha Rinpoche. This is hardly an evenhanded approach. This assumption is quite crude, namely that up to the time of Pabongkha Rinpoche Dorje Shugden was treated as a worldly protector, and then all of a sudden he was promoted by Pabongkha Rinpoche or Trijang Rinpoche as a transworldly protector. His position implies “believers” in Shugden, namely disciples of including Pabongkha Rinpoche, have a different view that is not in accord with history.

Perhaps Dreyfus would like us to believe this particular view of 20th century followers would have been something invented later, to reconcile the so-called earlier lesser status of Shugden and the newer exalted status of Shugden. In particular, Dreyfus leaves this issue aside as a “normative distinction” between the interpretable meaning (drang don) and ultimate meaning (nges don) of the deity.9 Indeed, this concept was clearly explicated by Trijang Rinpoche, but this ambiguity has its roots in rituals clearly much earlier. Dreyfus writes that Trijang Rinpoche “pushed the glorification of Shuk-den even further than Pa-bong-ka, insisting on the fact that this deity is ultimately a fully enlightened buddha who merely appears as a mundane deity,”10 yet this concept is clearly found in many other early rituals.

Although these points could be addressed with several approaches, Trichen Tenpa Rabgye’s rituals are a perfect case in point to challenge them. The main point is that the seed of this ambiguity between interpretable meaning (as a worldly protector) and ultimate meaning (as in actuality being a Buddha) is found in Trichen Tenpa Rabgye’s rituals. In particular, Trichen Tenpa Rabgye mentions Dorje Shugden as an emanation of Vajrapani, who from a tantric point of view is enlightened. Also, in a praise, Dorje Shugden is mentioned as unwavering in the Dharmakaya, an ontological sphere only Buddhas dwell in. The wording of the ritual plays on this paradox, namely the deity has achieved a peaceful Buddha state, but for a particular purpose takes on a wrathful form. This description also shows it is not just the “pure view” of the reciter of the ritual that recognizes the ultimate nature of the deity. Instead, the deity itself has achieved the Dharmakaya and out of volition takes the form of a protector. Morchen Dorje Chang’s ritual contains a similar verse as well as several other 19th century rituals that explicate this same idea (see rituals by Namkha Tenkyong, Serkong Dorje Chang, etc.). Yet are the lofty implications of these verses merely hyperbole? Cross examination of other historical documents gives good insight as to whether hyperbole is used as such.

Another way to examine this ambiguity is through the rigid classification of protectors as worldly and transworldly. It is not clear when the distinction between the two types of protectors began, but it became more important to explicate this distinction beginning in the 18th century with the large systematic incorporation of various protectors into Gelug liturgies. In particular, Longdol Lama Ngag dbang Blo bzang (1719-1794)11 wrote a definition for the distinction between the two and listed many of the protectors under their respective category in bstan srung dam can rgya mtsho'i ming gi grangs. Longdol Lama defines transworldly protectors as those who have attained the Arya path (’phags lam thob) who manifest various forms in the perception of beings. These include both Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Worldly protectors are beings of two types, those who have entered the path and those who have not. Those who have entered the path are called virtuous protectors and have heard teachings from past Buddhas and have taken an oath to protect the four assemblies: novice and fully ordained monks and nuns. There are oath-bound protectors who, in the presence of past Indian and Tibetan masters, have taken vows and oaths.12

Longdol Lama’s classification of particular protectors sometimes relies on statements found in earlier masters’ works to determine if they are worldly or not. These similar arguments are found in Trijang Rinpoche’s classification of worldly protectors who are emanations of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. For example, Longdol Lama lists the Five Long Life Sisters as transworldly naming the reason that in the Seventh Dalai Lama’s collected works it says that they are the five classes of dakini and that, similarly, the basis emanation of the 12 goddesses bstan ma bcu gnyis is Heruka’s five essence dakinis and eight door keepers.13 Normally these two sets of protectors are considered worldly as they have oracles and were indigenous deities bound by Padmasambhava. Thus, it appears Longdol Lama does not interpret these claims as mere hyperbole. Moreover, in Longdol Lama’s work he refers to a few transworldly protectors as being manifestations having arisen from bliss/void (ewam) as his basis for categorization.14

Thus, Longdol Lama’s methodology of classification is prioritized by his definition, namely that if a protector can be established as an emanation of an Arya being or from the Dharmakaya nature, then that overrules if it was also bound by oath by past masters. This would also imply behaviors of the protector, such as possessing the oracle, are not a disqualifier for categorization as a transworldly protector.

It should be noted, however, that Setrapchen is listed as a worldly protector in Longdol Lama’s list. Apparently he did not have any pronouncements that Setrapchen was an emanation of Amitabha as found in Trichen Tenpa Rabgye’s ritual, or he had personal partiality for the Five Long Life Sisters over Setrapchen. In any case, Dorje Shugden is not categorized in Longdol Lama’s enumeration. Thus recognizing his methodology is more pertinent than the particularities.

Thus, there is historical precedent for recognizing what may be commonly called “worldly protectors” as actually being emanations of Arya beings who simply take on a worldly aspect. These are not simply later arguments invented by Trijang and Pabongkha Rinpoche to skirt around a worldly protector’s interpretable appearance. Instead, Longdol Lama’s two-pronged classification and methodology is even more liberal than the distinction posited by Trijang Rinpoche! Namely, if the protector in question (i.e., the Five Long Life Sisters) can be established through quotation as an emanation of an Arya being, then the protector can be classified as transworldly. Therefore, on the basis of Longdol Lama’s methodology and the recognition of Shugden by Trichen Tenpa Rabgye as an emanation of Vajrapani, Dorje Shugden can definitely be categorized as a transworldly protector.

Another issue is the claim by Dreyfus that worldly deities ('jigs rten pa'i lha) can be propitiated but not worshipped.15 It is not clear what is meant by worshipped, but if this means taking refuge, this is a straw man argument. In any case, Trichen Tenpa Rabgye’s rituals are a good case in point to consider the implications of this. Although Trichen Tenpa Rabgye’s rituals are very short and would be considered propitiations at most, the essential elements are present: invocation, request for activities, offering, fulfillment, confession and praise. There are no verses at the beginning for taking refuge in the protector, such as found in the sadhanas of yidams. Likewise, later rituals, which are typically longer, have these same basic components with no verses for taking refuge. One exception is that some rituals have enthronement verses (mnga' gsol) wherein Shugden is sometimes praised as the embodiment the lamas, yidams and protectors. But this is not taking refuge in the traditional sense; it is also found earlier than the 20th century, in particular in the ritual of Sera Tantric College’s Namkha Tenkyong.

Although Trichen Tenpa Rabgye’s rituals to Shugden are quite brief, he was well connected with other Rinpoches in the development of the Shugden practice in the Gelug sect, especially those of Sera monastery. As mentioned earlier, he requested Dragri Gyatso Thaye to write one of the first extensive rituals for Shugden. Also, Rinchen Wangyal (1741-1812) was an important lama from Sera and a student of Trichen Tenpa Rabgye, Dragri Gyatso Thaye and Khachen Yeshe Gyaltsen. Serkong Dorje Chang’s kangso mentions that Rinchen Wangyal has writings regarding a Dorje Shugden initiation and life entrustment, which would be the probably earliest of the sort.16 Moreover, the reincarnation of Rinchen Wangyal was known as Dol Sungrab Ling Tulku (1813-????),17 the Gelug monastery in Dol founded by the Fifth Dalai Lama.

Finally, Trichen Tenpa Rabgye’s biography was written by Lobsang Trinley Namgyal,18 who was also his student. He later became a mtshan zhabs to the 10th and 11th Dalai Lamas. He wrote a long biography of Je Tsongkhapa (tsong kha pa'i rnam thar, 376 folios), and therein are these verses in the introduction for propitiation:19

Pervasive conqueror Akshobhya,
Vajrabhairava, Heruka,
Tara, Mother of All Buddhas,
Peaceful and Wrathful Yidams
Grant common and uncommon siddhis.

Mahakala, Outer, Inner and Secret Yamaraja,
Mahakali, Five Great Kings,
Dorje Shugden conquering demons,
Ocean of protectors, perform the four activities.

1 TBRC Person RID: P304.

2 Don rdor and bsTan 'dzin chos grags (1993), pp. 832, 833.

3 TBRC Work RID: W7335.

4 Nebesky-Wojkowitz (1976), pp. 58-59.

5 Blo bzang ye shes bstan pa rab rgyas (1985), p. 10.

6 Blo bzang ye shes bstan pa rab rgyas (1985), p. 12.

7 Blo bzang ye shes bstan pa rab rgyas (1985), p. 32.

8 Blo bzang ye shes bstan pa rab rgyas (1985), p. 33.

9 Dreyfus (1998), p. 228.

10 Dreyfus (1998), p. 255.

11 TBRC Person RID: P22.

12 Longdol Lama (1973), p. 1254.

13 Longdol Lama (1973), p. 1261.

14 Longdol Lama (1973), p. 1260.

15 Dreyfus (1998), p. 228.

16 Guru Deva Rinpoche (1984), p. 510.

17 TBRC Person RID: P2429.

18 TBRC Person RID: P262.

19 The String of Incredible Jewels.