The nearly complete development of the Dorje Shugden rituals, iconography and exalted legacy of this protector are found among these texts. Herein are many details seemingly not even known by modern adherents of this protector that have nearly slipped into extinction.
Connecting the distant past of Buddhist roots in India, the present manifestation and the long-term future has been an integral part of Tibetan Buddhism, primarily engendered in the incarnation lineages. Such a view is not in contradiction to Mahayana Buddhism, which acknowledges that obtaining the Bodhisattva bhumis allows a being a multitude of emanations. In this case, Dorje Shugden is in the continuum of the Panchen Sonam Dragpa lineage, connected to the distant past lineage of Manjushri, Shakya Shri Bhadra and Buton to mention a few. The future of this incarnation lineage can be found in his past as Shakya Shri Bhadra, when he was prophesied by an Arhat in Sri Langka as the Seventh Buddha of this eon.
Historically, the last human incarnation in this lineage was Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen who lived and suddenly died at the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama. His estate at Drepung monastery was subsequently destroyed, the stupas containing his relics were relocated and a reincarnation was never sought out. After his death, an entity called Dolgyal emerged and sometime within a 50-year period important masters (mentioned herein) linked this entity to the violent death of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen and developed the initial rituals. Again, such a view is not in contrast to Mahayana Buddhism, as spoken by Buddha in The Meeting of the Father and Son Sutra:
Appearing in the guise of Indra or Brahma,
Or sometimes clothed as Maras,
They act for the sake of sentient beings
Though worldly beings are unaware of it.
Some act and dress as women.
There are emanations, as well, in the animal realm.
Acting desirous although they are not,
Showing fear although unafraid,
Acting ignorant, insane, or crippled,
While in fact they are none of these,
In various emanations,
They subdue sentient beings.
As with other deities in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, there is a general tradition of a particular deity sharing common characteristics as well as various specific transmission lineages with their own features. Within just over 300 years, there are definite unifying characteristics as well as unique transmissions and specialties of Dorje Shugden that have developed. There is the unique Sakya transmission of Dorje Shugden riding the black horse in addition to the five forms (rigs lnga) presentation that was apparently developed in the Sakya, which became the basis for adoption within the Gelug.
Both the Sakya Throne Holders and Morchen Kunga Lhundrub enthroned Dorje Shugden and entrusted him with activities. The Sakya Throne Holders justified their relation with Dorje Shugden with the Nyingma Tantra Rin chen sna bdun which states that Dorje Shugden was in essence Avalokiteshvara. Sachen Kunga Lodro cultivated the two basic iconographic systems of the practice and wrote rituals recognizing the principal form as the Vinayadhara, holder of the monastic Vinaya.
Dorje Shugden first seems to have gained a foothold in the Gelug establishment of Trode Khangsar, in central Lhasa near the Tsuklhakhang, and its parent monastery Riwo Choling. Whether that was at the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama or not, this was established by the early 18th century as both are mentioned in Morchen Kunga Lhundrub’s autobiography. In any case, Trode Khangsar and Dol in Southern Tibet are important bases that were enumerated in various rituals, and the former housed the oracle medium for Dorje Shugden.
Dorje Shugden practice first seems to have gained a foothold in the three main Gelug monasteries at Sera Monastery around the end of the 18th century. The first initiation and life entrustment transmission lineage is mentioned in the writings of Rinchen Wangyal (1741-1812) of Sera Monastery and his reincarnation resided at Dol Sungrab Ling. Rinchen Wangyal was a student of the Second Reting Rinpoche and Dragri Gyatso Thaye, both important figures of Sera Monastery as well. The Second Reting Rinpoche’s writings describe Dorje Shugden as an emanation of Vajrapani, and he requested Dragri Gyatso Thaye to write the first Gelug long ritual (kangso) for Dorje Shugden. This Sera tradition of recognizing Dorje Shugden as Vajrapani continued through the rituals of the Sera Tantric College abbot Namkha Tenkyong. Finally, Serkong Dorje Chang of Ganden Monastery seems to written his kangso in view of this tradition recognizing him as Vajrapani.
Not only was Dorje Shugden recognized individually as Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani, but he was recognized as Manjushri as well. This tradition is the most popular in contemporary times, yet it is multifaceted when examined. The Mongolians, as stated by Lobsang Tamdin, recognized Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen and subsequently Dorje Shugden as Lion’s Roar Manjushri. Dagpo Kelsang Khedrup of the Dagpo region in Southern Tibet recognized Dorje Shugden as Wrathful Manjushri. In addition, Dagpo Kelsang Khedrup recognized an extended retinue of Dorje Shugden that later was fully cultivated by Tagphu Padmavajra and Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo at the beginning of the 20th century, which became the mainstream transmission of that century continuing today.
Yet another initiation lineage seems to have been started by the Eighth Kirti Rinpoche in the region of Tagtsang Lhamo in Amdo. The transmission of this lineage was later brought to Lobsang Tamdin in Khalkha Mongolia, who collected most of the Dorje Shugden rituals into a be bum and wrote an introduction. In there he states ultimately Dorje Shugden is an expression (nam 'gyur) of Four Face Mahakala.
Although earlier Gelug teachings emphasize Dharmaraja, Vaishravana and Six Arm Mahakala as the main protectors (of the three scopes), there are only a few references to Dharmaraja as being the main protector of the Gelug tradition. In the 19th century, Dorje Shugden is referred to widely as “Dharma Protector of the Conqueror Manjunatha” and “Manjushrigarbha’s Dharma Protector,” wherein ‘Conqueror Manjunatha’ and ‘Manjushrigarbha’ refer to Je Tsongkhapa. Thus, it would appear that Dorje Shugden is the only protector to bear this recognized responsibility of protecting the Gelug tradition. Moreover, Lobsang Tamdin stated that this uncommon form of Dorje Shugden as the protector of the Gelug tradition was first recognized by Nyungne Lama Yeshe Zangpo, when at Trode Khangsar Dorje Shugden possessed the oracle and requested him to write a kangso to the transworldly form of Dorje Shugden.
In short, it has been revealed from historical sources that Dorje Shugden is the Three Bodhisattvas: Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani and Manjushri. He is the sole protector ever to bear the title Protector of the Conqueror Manjunatha, having the responsibility to protect and promote the doctrine of the Second Buddha Jamgon Lama Tsongkhapa. In the distant future, he is the Seventh Buddha of this fortunate eon.