Among Shugden Texts

by Trinley Kalsang

Dorje Shugden is a protector deity (srung ma) who came to be propitiated principally by the Sakya and Gelug sects starting in the 17th and 18th centuries. Since that time a legacy of rituals, historical works and art have been dedicated to the practice of this deity. Although there are many texts that reveal the gradual development of the system of ritual for this deity, much of this has not been brought out in the open for examination. Examination of the important details from these texts is necessary to reconstruct a more complete history, as the history presented thus far by scholars has been partial in order to paint particular constructions that concur with the events of the 20th century. In particular, contemporary views have held Pabongkha Rinpoche not only as a sole reviver of an allegedly obscure practice, but also as an innovator of the rituals and promoter of the titles and the role of Dorje Shugden in the Gelug sect itself.

This presentation focuses on works from the time period before the 20th century, leaving aside the works of Pabongkha Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche with the exception of various references to how their contemporary works have drawn on these and their explanations of the historical context of these earlier works. In particular, this shows how the basic components of the rituals were originally developed within the Sakya tradition and were incorporated into the Gelug tradition. The Gelug tradition imported and further developed these rituals, eventually giving Dorje Shugden a more prominent role as the special protector of the Gelug sect, with justifications based on Panchen Sonam Dragpa’s reincarnation lineage and the oaths to protect the Gelug sect that he made. Considering this earlier history, it is within reach to extrapolate the culmination of this deity’s propitiation in the 20th century as it did happen.

Although this is not organized as a refutation, this presentation will draw out and explain various relevant points to show how they refute many of the fallacious ideas written in existing essays on this subject, especially The Shuk-den Affair. The mere scope and historical timeframe of this essay is suited to refute some of the central tenets of The Shuk-den Affair, as Georges Dreyfus puts the onus of the development and spread of Dorje Shugden on Pabongkha Rinpoche’s personal ideas and subsequent activities in the 20th century. Not only is this clearly shown to be false, Dreyfus also imputes a derogatory sectarian agenda as the motivation behind Pabongkha Rinpoche’s alleged promotion of the practice, with very little sources or evidence noted.

Not a lot of interpretation and polemics are required to challenge many points held by scholars and those engaged in polemics, as these original works speak for themselves. The works presented are semi-chronological by author. Another aspect that is difficult to determine is the exact chronological order of the writings as they are usually not dated.

The main sources for this essay are taken from various collections listed below. In particular the Dorje Shugden be bum is an ongoing, living and complete collection of texts to Dorje Shugden. It has been published several times, with the first modern publication in 1984, listed below. However, this collection was started by the Mongolian scholar and master Lobsang Tamdin1 (1867-1937). He collected a number of earlier texts written by Mongolian and Tibetan masters. He wrote the introduction to the be bum, describing the history, as well as a catalog of the texts. In addition to writing rituals to Shugden himself, Lobsang Tamdin also wrote a history of dissemination of the texts into Mongolia in a short work called Some Historical Accounts of the Secret Activities of Lamas, Gods and Protectors.

These texts can be found in the Lobsang Tamdin’s collected works, however, the actual collection of texts in the be bum is not published in his collected works. Nevertheless, the initial edition of the introduction and catalog in Lobsang Tamdin’s collected works are important historically, as they give a snapshot into his views and which particular rituals he was able to collect at that time. For example, although his catalog mentions several dozen texts, it has no mention of any texts written by Pabongkha Rinpoche, who was a contemporary of Lobsang Tamdin. There was no known direct link between these two masters. The later publications of the be bum have appended later collected texts to the catalog and to the collection itself. Given these differences, some care will be taken to detail which publication is noted.

  • The introduction and catalog to the be bum: 'Jam mgon rgyal ba gnyis pa'i bstan bsrung mthun mong ma yin pa rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal gyi chos skor be bum du bsgrigs pa'i dkar chags gnam lcags 'khor lo mu khyud 'phrin las 'od bar zhes bya ba bzhugs so. Published in The Collected Works of Rje-btsun Blo-bzang-rta-mgrin, vol. X, pp.s 391- 408, New Delhi: Mongolian Lama Gurudeva, 1975. Already noteworthy is the title 'Jam mgon rgyal ba gnyis pa'i bstan bsrung mthun mong ma yin pa, meaning “the uncommon Dharma Protector of the Second Conqueror Manjunatha.” As will be proven, this exalted title was coined in the 18th or 19th century, not in the 20th by Pabongkha Rinpoche and his followers.
  • A collection of various historical accounts about Dorje Shugden and other protectors: Bla ma lha srung gi gsang ba'i mdzad 'phrin 'ga' zhig gi lo rgyus nor bu rin po che'i gab tse zhe bya ba bzhugs so. Published in The Collected Works of Rje-btsun Blo-bzang-rta-mgrin, vol. XIV, pp. 341-357, New Delhi: Mongolian Lama Gurudeva, 1975. This text will be referred to herein as Some Historical Accounts of the Secret Activities of Lamas, Gods and Protectors.
  • 'Jam mgon Bstan srung rgyal chen Rdo rje s'ugs ldan rtsal gyi be bum: The Collected Rituals for Performing All Tasks through the Propitiation of the Great Protective Deity of Tsong-kha-pa, Manjushri Reembodied, Rdo-rje-shugs-ldan. New Delhi: Mongolian Lama Guru Deva, 1984. This is Library of Congress control number 84902705. This collection was started by the Mongolian master Lobsang Tayang and later expanded on by Trijang Rinpoche. Also there was a be bum compiled by Trijang Rinpoche called 'Jam mgon rgyal ba gnyis pa'i bstan srung rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal gyi shos skor be bum du bsgrigs, published by brag g.yab blo bzang brtson 'grus in Lhasa in 1991.2 It is unclear if this is the same collection of texts that was merely published separately.
  • 'Jam mgon rgyal ba'i bstan srung rdo rje shugs ldan gyi 'phrin bcol phyogs bsdus bzhugs so. Sera Me Press (ser smad 'phrul spar khang), 1992. This is a much shorter collection of rituals. With a few exceptions most of these can be found in the Dorje Shugden be bum.
  • Where possible, already existing sources are re-examined to show previously overlooked details. This includes works such as Oracles and Demons. Also, texts both new and modern will be referenced to put Tibet, Mongolian and Manchu history in context to better understand the state of affairs and complex relationships.
  • As a backbone for biographies and bibliographical information, Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC) has a vast searchable database for Tibetan authors and their works. Many of the works from the publications herein can be verified against the various publications listed in TBRC, not to mention TBRC has some collected works available that contain unique works not found in the publications cited herein. Wherever possible, each work in question will refer to a TBRC number for ease of investigation and validation.

As another safeguard for texts that have not been published independently, where possible other independently published texts that refer to these will be noted to verify their existence.

1 TBRC Person RID: P1638.

2 TBRC Work RID: W22128.