Dragshul Trinley Rinchen (1871-1935)

“The Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden Tsel definitively is Avalokiteshvara.”

In the early nineteenth century, the Sakya family divided into the Drolma and Phuntsok Phodrang that alternated terms serving as Sakya Throne Holders. From the Drolma Phodrang, Dragshul Trinley Rinchen—the 39th Sakya Trizin (Sakya Throne Holder)—was born in 1871 as the son of Kunga Nyingpo (1850-1899), the 38th Sakya Trizin. As in Kunga Lodro’s autobiography, the introduction concerns showing that the Sakya Throne Holders were incarnations of divine beings, and that the Sakya Throne Holders were occasionally reincarnations of their own grandfather. Dragshul Trinley Rinchen, per his autobiography, was the reincarnation of his own grandfather Tashi Rinchen, the 35th Sakya Throne Holder.

Also, in his autobiography, Dragshul Trinley Rinchen is interested in proving that his father, Kunga Nyingpo, was an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara. He proves this by way of showing that his father was an incarnation of Dorje Shugden, as Dorje Shugden is by nature Avalokiteshvara. To illustrate this, he tells a story about just before his father was conceived, involving his grandfather Tashi Rinchen and his great grandfather Padma Dudul Wangchuk, the 33rd and 35th Sakya Throne Holders, respectively:

My father is an incarnation of the Arya Lotus in Hand [phyag na pad+mo], this is not deniable by anybody. The reason for this is his father Tashi Rinchen requested his own father Drupwang Padul [pad 'dul] to do a ritual [phrin bskul] for the swift birth of a descendent. During a break in ritual at Mugchung [a Shugden temple in Sakya] when he had spoken this and asked who was coming, [Padul] said “nowadays because of the degenerate time nobody else is coming, Grandpa Shugden is coming as your descendent.” Tashi Rinchen repeated this again and again. Although in earlier times there was no tradition of this, in the ninth Tibetan month there is a celebration of the kindness of Kunga Nyingpo. Similar to Ganden Namcho, on the roof butter lamps are burned and various instruments including horns and trumpets proclaimed a vast offering cloud of melodies. This tradition was first started was when our holy father came into the womb.

The Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden Tsel definitively is Avalokiteshvara. The Nyingma Tantra Rinchen Nadun says "The one known as Dolgyal is not mistaken on the path to liberation, he is by nature the Great Compassionate One,” which establishes this by scripture [lung gis grub]. The Great Je Sakyapa Kunga Nyingpo is well-known as an incarnation of the Arya Lotus in Hand. The Arya Lotus in Hand definitively is none other than the Lord of Mandalas, but provisionally by assuming the manner of a tenth level bodhisattva he simultaneously sports billions of superior, middling and inferior emanations to accomplish immeasurable benefit for beings, such as setting them on paths to the higher realms and liberation.1

Thus, more than simply being a peripheral oath-bound protector, Dorje Shugden was recognized as an inextricable link in the Sakya Throne Holders’ exalted genealogy and a vital conduit for their spiritual lineages. In addition, Padma Dudul Wangchuk is quoted above as saying “Grandpa Shugden,” which possibly alludes to his own grandfather Kunga Lodro being considered an incarnation of Shugden. Kunga Lodro (1729-1783) was an earlier Sakya Trizin who wrote significant rituals to Dorje Shugden. In Kunga Lodro’s own autobiography, he also includes the quote from the Nyingma Tantra Rinchen Nadun to justify Dorje Shugden as being the same nature as Avalokiteshvara. In the quote above by Dragshul Trinley Rinchen, he views Avalokiteshvara as the Lord of Mandalas, in other words a fully enlightened Buddha; this would also entail that he viewed Dorje Shugden as fully enlightened. Although Dragshul Trinley Rinchen was explicit in writing his views, there is little reason to doubt that this reflected the longstanding view of the enlightened nature of Dorje Shugden in the Sakya tradition.

Dragshul Trinley Rinchen received Lam Dre precepts from his father and completed a Hevajra retreat with excellent signs at age 16. In 1909, he welcomed the 13th Dalai Lama when the latter returned to Tibet from China and gave many teachings in Lhasa. In 1915, he became the 39th Sakya Throne Holder. In 1920, he visited Lhasa again, met with the 13th Dalai Lama, and performed rituals for the Tibetan Government. He spent much of his life in retreat, and deities such as Vajrayogini and Tara appeared before him on occasion. One time when he held a torma it became hot, and he was also able to recite prayers without having to learn them.2 His teachers included his own father Kunga Nyingpo, Dorje Drag Rigdzin Thubten Chowang Nyamnyid Dorje, Ngor Khangsar Ngawang Lodro Shenpen Nyingpo, Jamyang Chokyi Lodro and many others.3

In his autobiography, Dragshul Trinley Rinchen recorded the occasions when lamas from various sects had visited him. In particular, in approximately 1905 (the wood snake year) he noted that Sera Pabongkha Tulku visited, and Dragshul Trinley Rinchen happily gave him, among various things, some initiations (rjes gnang) including Four Face Mahakala (bsnyen grub las gsum dang las bzhi). He also noted that “this tulku [Pabongkha Rinpoche], possesses a wide dharma eye, and discussed on many points arising including those from fields of study (rig gnas), philosophy (mtshan nyid), and the four classes of tantra (rgyud sde bzhi).”4 Four Face Mahakala occupied a prominent position for Pabongkha Rinpoche throughout his life, as many rituals to this protector can be found in his collected works. Again, in approximately 1930, Dragshul Trinley Rinchen’s autobiography notes that five monks from Sera Ja who were students of Pabongkha Rinpoche came and received a transmission on a particular Vajrayogini practice.5

In approximately 1915, Dragshul Trinley Rinchen gave the oral transmission of an important Dorje Shugden ritual written by Kunga Lodro called Swirl of Perfect Sense Offerings ('dod dgu yongs 'khyil) among other transmissions and initiations.6 This ritual was not included in the original Dorje Shugden be bum (collection of rituals) most likely because the compiler, Lobsang Tamdin, was not able to obtain a copy during his lifetime; however, this ritual and Kunga Lodro’s torma offering ritual to Shugden (drag po'i gtor chen dus babs thog mda' bzhugs so) have been included in the latest edition of the Dorje Shugden be bum.7 Another important thing about Swirl of Perfect Sense Offerings is that Pabongkha Rinpoche used the lengthy fulfillment (skang ba) section of this ritual verbatim8 in his most well-known ritual to Dorje Shugden, The Melodious Drum. This is remarkable because no other previous Dorje Shugden rituals in the Gelug tradition seemed to have drawn directly from this work. Although Pabongkha Rinpoche’s Melodious Drum has some unique descriptions of Dorje Shugden and borrows sections from other earlier Gelug rituals, the mode of worship is essentially the same as that originated by Kunga Lodro.

Throughout his autobiography, Dragshul Trinley Rinchen logged various instances when rituals and offerings were performed or where they were performed. This also includes instances of periodic rituals9 for Shugden and references to rituals performed at smug chung, the Shugden protector house in Sakya.10 For instance, one time a scarf with a request written on it was offered to a Dorje Shugden mask in the smug chung protector house.11 His autobiography also notes times when Dorje Shugden was met through an oracle, such as in approximately 1920 while in shel brag in Southern Tibet, where a scarf was offered to Dragshul Trinley Rinchen by the deity, reminding him to uphold the Dharma in general and giving some prophecies.12

Regarding the Sakya view of Dorje Shugden, Dreyfus asserts that before modern Gelug followers, Dorje Shugden was worshipped as a worldly deity and that worldly deities are unenlightened.13 However, given the citation above that Dorje Shugden is by nature Avalokiteshvara who is ultimately enlightened, this certainly contradicts this assertion by Dreyfus. Considering that Dorje Shugden was viewed as enlightened, he could only be a supramundane deity, otherwise there would be a contradiction. Dreyfus also claims that it was modern Gelug followers who made the distinction between the interpretable meaning (drang don) of the deity and its ultimate meaning (nge don) of being enlightened. Yet Dragshul Trinley Rinchen was quite explicit in this, stating “The Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden Tsel definitively [nges don] is Avalokiteshvara.” Given this explicit statement, there is little doubt that Dreyfus is way off the mark. Dreyfus points to Trijang Rinpoche’s Music Delighting the Ocean of Protectors as the source of this distinction. Yet, if the Sakyas did consider Dorje Shugden to be a worldly protector, it would have to be an enlightened worldly protector. This is the ontological case made in Trijang Rinpoche’s Music Delighting the Ocean of Protectors, namely that there is a class of worldly protectors that are enlightened beings. Thus, if Dorje Shugden was considered a worldly protector in the Sakya tradition, this would actually contribute historical merit to warrant this assertion.

Finally, Dreyfus imputes a sinister, sectarian motive on Pabongkha Rinpoche in his alleged promotion of Dorje Shugden as being enlightened.14 Yet, why would Pabongkha Rinpoche have to fabricate such a sentiment when one of his teachers from a different tradition asserted Dorje Shugden explicitly as being enlightened?

1 Khri chen Drag shul 'Phrin las rin chen. Rdo rje 'chang drag shul 'phrin las rin chen gyi rtogs brjod (The Autobiography of Khri-chen Drag-shul-phrin-las-rin-chen of Sakya). Dehra Dun: Sakya Centre: 1974, pp. 29-31.

2 Khri chen Drag shul 'Phrin las rin chen (1974), preface.

3 TBRC Person RID: P979.

4 Khri chen Drag shul 'Phrin las rin chen (1974), Volume 1, p. 294.

5 Khri chen Drag shul 'Phrin las rin chen (1974), Volume 2, p. 442.

6 Khri chen Drag shul 'Phrin las rin chen (1974), Volume 1, p. 416.

7 The latest Dorje Shugden be bum is five volumes and is a superset of the previous two-volume publication by Guru Deva Rinpoche in 1984. It was published by Gangchen Rinpoche in Milan, Italy; the year of publication is unknown. Swirl of Perfect Sense Offerings is found in Volume 1 of this publication on pages 205-264, with the lengthy skang ba section in particular found on pages 230-239. The wrathful torma offering to Shugden is found on pages 265-282.

8 Guru Deva Rinpoche (1984), pp. 680-688.

9 dus mchod

10 Khri chen Drag shul 'Phrin las rin chen (1974), Volume 1: pp. 391, 514, 751, & 805; Volume 2: pp. 13, 53, 161, 113, 356, 410, 427, 418, 554, & 556.

11 Khri chen Drag shul 'Phrin las rin chen (1974), Volume 1, p. 751.

12 Khri chen Drag shul 'Phrin las rin chen (1974), Volume 1, pp. 671-672.