The underlying presentation of The Shuk-den Affair essay follows the same approach as that found in polemical Tibetan works such as Earth Shaking Thunder by Dhongthog Rinpoche and the Brief History of Opposition to Shugden by the TGIE’s “Dolgyal Research Committee.”1 The main thrust of the presentation is to discredit the Dorje Shugden practice by discrediting Pabongkha Rinpoche. With this approach, it is possible to present the existing practice as a whimsical device of one person rather than as a true spiritual practice with precedence. The Shuk-den Affair takes this same pre-existing presentation and wraps it in a scholarly package by putting some historical context around the Fifth Dalai Lama and Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen. It seeks to further challenge the Shugden myth with historical information, implicating Pabongkha Rinpoche as fabricating this myth to justify the practice as part of the Gelug heritage.
Although this skeptical approach is needed to sort fact from fallacy, The Shuk-den Affair commits not only factual blunder, but certain interpretations reach far beyond their sources. Not only that, the omission of a large source of the Shugden legacy since the 17th century makes it difficult for The Shuk-den Affair’s presentation to stand up to scrutiny. When more sources are taken into account and individual accusations are examined, not only does it paint a much different picture, it vindicates Pabongkha Rinpoche as well.
After omitting any reference to a single, particular Dorje Shugden ritual written by a master of the Gelug tradition in the 18th or 19th centuries, Dreyfus attributes the transformation of Dorje Shugden into the central protector of the Gelug sect with this statement, under the heading The Rise of the Spirit:2
Where Pa-bong-ka was innovative was in making formerly secondary teachings widespread and central to the Ge-luk tradition and claiming that they represented the essence of Dzong-ka-ba’s teaching. This pattern, which is typical of a revival movement, also holds true for Pa-bong-ka’s wide diffusion, particularly at the end of his life, of the practice of Dor-je Shuk-den as the central protector of the Ge-luk tradition.
There are really two claims here: how Pabongkha Rinpoche allegedly diffused the practice widely, and how he transformed Dorje Shugden into a central Gelug protector. In terms of the former, this is difficult to quantify; namely, how can one measure the number of adherents to this protector before and after Pabongkha Rinpoche? The Shuk-den Affair wisely avoids trying to quantify this, as there is no way to measure it. Yet without quantification, it is difficult to prove that Pabongkha Rinpoche was responsible for the diffusion the practice. Not only that, in terms of geographic diffusion, the texts examined in this essay show that by the time of Pabongkha Rinpoche’s prime, the practice of Dorje Shugden as the Protector of Je Tsongkhapa’s Tradition was already present in Amdo, Khalkha Mongolia, Southern Tibet, Central Tibet and Kham alike. With this claim of diffusion severely weakened, it consequently weakens Dreyfus’ claim that the alleged spread of Dorje Shugden practice in Kham was a response to the Rime movement. This in turn vindicates Pabongkha Rinpoche of sinister motives, which also lacks firm establishment in terms of the sources used in The Shuk-den Affair as well.
The latter claim about how Pabongkha Rinpoche transformed Dorje Shugden into a central Gelug protector is indirectly posited by Dreyfus using many points, including:
- Creation of exalted titles for Dorje Shugden, such as “Protector of the Tradition of the Victorious Lord Manjushri,” etc.3
- The allegedly sectarian and violent overtones in Dorje Shugden protecting the Gelug tradition.4
- The claim that Dorje Shugden was previously not associated with Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen, but that the association was created later.5
- The general Dorje Shugden narrative as a mere myth built in terms of expediency rather than historical fact.
- The position that there was only one Dorje Shugden transmission of which Pabongkha Rinpoche was the forefather and manipulator.
This essay has addressed all of these points. In summary, many rituals examined herein show that the title Protector of the Tradition of the Victorious Lord Manjushri and other titles related to special protector for Je Tsongkhapa began to be used commonly in the century before Pabongkha’s influence. It can be factually concluded that it was not Pabongkha Rinpoche who invented the title. Violent overtones pervade nearly all protector practices in Tibetan Buddhism, and the particular language associated with Dorje Shugden exists in earlier Sakya texts. The “sectarian” language attributed to Pabongkha Rinpoche is a verbatim quote taken from a work found in a 19th century Mongolian master’s collected works (Rabjampa Ngawang Lobsang).
Although there are not many early sources that boldly state that Dorje Shugden arose from Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen, there are enough claims to clearly show that Pabongkha Rinpoche did not fabricate the association: Ngulchu Dharmabhadra, Rabjampa Ngawang Lobsang, etc. The Dorje Shugden narrative is not as flawed as Dreyfus’ skepticism paints it. Dreyfus concludes that Dolgyal cannot be the reincarnation of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen because there are references to Dolgyal as early as 1636, long before the latter’s death in 1657, yet this is a factual mistake on Dreyfus’ part. According to the Fifth Dalai Lama’s autobiography, the correct year for Dolgyal’s appearance is 1657, after Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen’s death. Moreover, many of the claims made by Shugden adherents are found in the Fifth Dalai Lama’s autobiography.
Finally, full examination and disclosure of all the Dorje Shugden rituals and transmission shows a wide diversity and unique diffusions into different Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhist cultural zones. In particular, Pabongkha Rinpoche propagated a particular transmission stemming from Dagpo Kelsang Khedrup, and further developed by his teacher Tagphu Dorje Chang. It would also appear that Pabongkha Rinpoche was merely an assimilator of various facets of this practice that existed in various transmissions held in Mongolia and in the Sakya sect. Thus, whether one agrees with the practice of Dorje Shugden and what he represents, Pabongkha Rinpoche did not invent nearly any aspect of this practice, but merely absorbed and propagated this tradition.
2 Dreyfus (1998), p. 246.
3 Dreyfus (1998), p. 247.
4 Dreyfus (1998), pp. 250-251.
5 Dreyfus (1998), p. 251.