The Dalai Lama’s ‘Research’ Concerning Past Masters and Dorje Shugden

When the Dalai Lama speaks out against the practice of Dorje Shugden, he often describes how he came to renounce his own practice of this deity, a practice he engaged in for a quarter-century. In these speeches, he inevitably mentions his own “thorough research.” Due to this reference, repeated over and over again, most people already inclined to believe the Dalai Lama are mollified, and are therefore disinclined to look into the matter further.

As an example, consider this introduction on the Dalai Lama’s own website…

His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Advice Concerning Dolgyal (Shugden)
Following long and careful investigations, His Holiness the Dalai Lama strongly discourages Tibetan Buddhists from propitiating the fierce spirit known as Dolgyal (Shugden)….

and from the Dalai Lama’s talk at Lehigh University in July 2008.

During the Fifth Dalai Lama this problem started. From 1951 to the early 70’s, I myself was a worshipper of this spirit, so actually, previously, I was also one of them….Then around early 70’s..using different sort of methods to investigate, also reading the biographies of past many great masters, mainly the lamas of the yellow hat sect, …suppose if this Shugden is truly reliable, most of the great lamas after the fifth Dalai Lama, then I think must practice….but this is not the case. So….I developed some doubt.  Then…thorough investigation, then it became clear.

So, what are the results of all this thorough research? What did the Dalai Lama discover amongst the thousands of works written by the great masters of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition?

Let’s take a look.

Three of the seven “historical references” listed on the Dalai Lama’s website refer to works that do not even mention Dorje Shugden. Of the remaining references, one is by Je Pabongka, one of the most well-know advocates of Dorje Shugden practice. Another is from the Fifth Dalai Lama, although it is believed by many that he later retracted this opinion and changed his view, composing prayers to Dorje Shugden as an enlightened being. The final mention is by one “Jigme Damchoe Gyatso” and is hardly compelling. It is also rejected by several important contemporary Lamas, such as Lama Zopa and Zong Rinpoche.

However, this does not stop the Dalai Lama and his government from citing the many “references” they have found, and representing them as being about Dorje Shugden when they are not.

Trichen Ngawang Chogden

Trichen Ngawang Chogden

This extraordinary master was the root guru of Kelsang Gyatso, the Seventh Dalai Lama. He was also the 54th Ganden Tripa, head of the Gelugpa Tradition. The view that this Lama spoke out against the practice of Dorje Shugden is derived from an episode in his biography written by Chankya Rolpai Dorje, another highly renowned Lama of the Gelug tradition. This Biography, however, never mentions Dorje Shugden. Instead, it talks about a local spirit known as Taktse Gyalpo.

The incident (the Dalai Lama) refers to is narrated in Changya’s biography of Trichen Ngawang Chogden. An evil monk spirit (rgyal.’gong) from Dragsob (brag.sob) who was invoked by some active Lama retired from his monastic office (bla.zur) and a Khamtsen at Ganden. They built a wayside shrine for this spirit in the circumambulation path of Ganden.

Trichen Ngawang Chogden declared this unsuitable. He said that since the time of Je Tsong Khapa and his disciples no worldly spirits were worshiped at his [Ganden] monastery and that in future this would also not be permitted. When that spirit was invoked through an oracle, he said that since the Trichen Rinpoche had said this, he had no choice but to leave and he excused himself and left for Taktse-Shöl. The Lama retired from his monastic office who had relied on that evil spirit died soon after as punishment by Kalarupa [one of Je Tsong Khapa’s protectors]. There is no reference to Dorje Shugden in this passage . The evil monk spirit (rgyal.’gong) was continued to be worshiped as a local deity at the place where he came from.

-Ursula Bernis,  Condemned to Silence A Tibetan Identity Crisis, 1999

The reason this spirit from went back to “the place where he came from,” Taktse, an estate not far from Ganden Monastery, is because the spirit referred to in this verse is Taktse Gyalpo, a local spirit said to have been the spirit of a monk who died in bad circumstances.

In this biography master Changya clearly mentions what Trichen Ngawang Chogden has expelled is a ‘Gyalpo’, instead of ‘Dolgyal’. ‘Gyalpo’ is a general name used for all the deities and spirits born as incarnation of former lamas or monks. Therefore hundreds of Gyalpos exist in the Tibetan pantheon, and the term does not only apply to the Dolgyal. The name Dolgyal is a short term for ‘dol gyi gyalpo’. Dol is the name of a place, where the first temple of Dorje Shugden was erected by the 5th Dalai Lama.

-Dorje Shugden Charitable Societey, Chronicle, 2008.

So the original text says “Gyalpo,” and clearly refers to Taktse Gylapo, not Dorje Shugden. Dorje Shugden is not mentioned.

The Samlo department of Ganden monastery took over (the Taktse) estate, and with it, adopted that spirit of the estate as a protector deity of the department. It was then worshipped in the Ganden monastery in their department for some time, until it was expelled by the great master Trichen Ngawang Chogden, who at that time was the throne-holder of Ganden. The spirit was sent back to its estate, where it was worshipped by the villagers until 1959.

-Chronicle

The recognized reincarnation of Trichen Ngawang Chogden was called Trichen Tenpa Rabgya. Tenpa Rabgya was a Geshe lharampa from Sera Monastery, and became the tutor to Changkya Yeshe Tenpai Gyaltsen, the reincarnation of Chankya Rolpai Dorje. Among his teachers were such luminaries as Panchen Lama Palden Yeshe and Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen. Tenpa Rabgya was a famous practitioner of Dorje Shugden, and wrote praises and rituals for his practice, requesting him to come from the “wisdom Dharmakaya,” clearly indicating his view that Dorje Shugden was a Buddha.

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“An Unbelievable Expert on All Subjects…”

Sermey Jetsun Khen Rinpoche Losang Tharchin on Pabonka Rinpoche

Dalai Lama, Corje Shugden, NKT, Kadampa Tradition

Khen Rinpoche, Geshe Lharampa, ex-Abbot Sera Monastery

KYABJE PABONGKA RINPOCHE DECHEN NYINGPO and his classmate, Gyelrong Sharpa Choje—known as Jangsem Choje Lobsang Nyima—went together very often to debate when they were at their monastery. Indeed, both of them became Geshes. Later Jangsem Choje Lobsang Nyima entered Gyu Me Tantric College and became a great scholar. He proceeded to become gi-go, an administrator, as I did, then Lama Umdze, then Abbot, and finally almost reached the position of Ganden Tripa.

Pabongka Rinpoche Kyabje Dechen Nyingpo’s life proceeded in another direction such that he was later to become a very famous teacher of Sutra and Tantra, especially of the Lam Rim (Stages of the Path to Enlightenment) tradition. Whenever he taught, many people came from miles and miles around to attend his teachings. Everybody said he was an unbelievable expert on all subjects.

Later, when Lobsang Nyima had learned that Kyabje Dechen Nyingpo was going to be in nearby Chusang Ritro, his curiousity piqued from having heard so much relating to Kyabje Pabongka’s fame coming from all quarters, he decided to visit him and so he brought along a pot of excellent yogurt as a gift for Rinpoche. During that visit they met for a long time discussing many points on numerous topics. Since Kyabje Pabongka had answered every one of his questions so thoroughly, Lobsang Nyima couldn’t argue with him at all on any of the points.

Upon his return, when others asked about the visit he remarked: “When we were on the debate ground at Sera Mey, Kyabje Dechen Nyingpo wasn’t an expert at debate by any means. At the time I didn’t think he had learned very much. But now I understand that his way of studying and mine went in different directions. For instance, when we debated, I for my part, would apply reasons and quotations to back up my arguments, all the time focusing on the other debater. But Kyabje Pabongka, for his part, when studying, asking questions, giving answers, reciting quotations, giving reasons, everything, would focus all of these on himself, applying them to his own mind. Therefore, by using such a method, there is no way to argue with him on any of the points since he has mastered them all.”

Black Magic Indeed!

“Later, on another occasion, we were performing a ritual of Hayagriva. It was not particularly aimed at Dholgyal. The aim was to destroy anything, be it human,non-human, a lama, a deity or a ghost, that harms the Dharma and the just cause of Tibet. Whatever it is, it should be eliminated. It can’t be helped. “

the Dalai Lama
“Concerning Dholgyal with reference to the views of past masters and other related matters,” Dharamsala, October 1997 (dalailama.com, emphasis mine)

Dalai Lama, New Kadampa, Dorje Shugden

Wrathful Hayagriva

So the Dalai Lama uses religious rituals to destroy anything, including other people, that harms the cause of Tibet? They should be “eliminated?” Are these the words of Avalokiteshvara, Buddha of Compassion? And meanwhile he accuses Dorje Shugden pracitioners, with no proof and no basis whatsoever, of using “black magic?” (see Not Afraid of Spirits, below).

If mixing politics and religion in this macabre way, and using your prayers to kill others is not black magic, what in the world could black magic be?

Scholars and yogis, please check!

Not Afraid of Spirits

“That’s why, as I just mentioned, when it is said that (my opponents) have been doing lots of black magic, I just have to laugh. I don’t do anything about it, I don’t even visualise the protection wheel(…) I really have true faith. I told the government staff that I have a pure refuge in my continuum. When I generate faith in the precious Dharma, I generate real faith in the precious Buddha. And I also have genuine faith in the qualified followers of the Buddha. The statement that if you have pure refuge, you will not be harmed either by humans or non-humans, is definitive.”

-Concerning Dholgyal with reference to the views of past masters and other related matters
A talk on Dholgyal by H.H. the Dalai Lama , Dharamsala, October 1997, Dalailama.com

Inspiring words. All Buddhists agree that if one has refuge in the three jewels, there need be no fear of harm from spirits or worldly gods. The Dalai Lama himself claims to have “pure refuge in (his) continuum”

And what about Ling Rinpoche, his Spiritual Guide? This is a Lama so renowned that he was chosen to be one of two gurus to the Dalai Lama, who many felt was the most important reincarnate lama in the land. Why would he have any “fear of Dolgyal?” (see The End of Vajrayana, below) This is an odd statement for someone who claims to have guru devotion to his lamas, saying, in effect, “I have this realization, but my spiritual guide does not.”

Moreover, when “opponents,” apparently Dorje Shugden practitioners, engage in “black magic,” he has no fear. So why does he use this reason, that the practice of Dolgyal will harm his life, over and over in justifying his ban? Doesn’t he know that people can check his words and see that there is a huge contradiction?

The End of the Vajrayana


“…Then I thought of taking the
Secret Essence Tantra from (Kunnu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen) as well. I happened to mention this to Ling Rinpoche one day, but he discouraged me. He told me that it was rather controversial and that it would be better not to take it.

Now what actually had happened was that Ling Rinpoche, being rather timid, seems to have been under the impression that if I were to take the transmission, Dholgyal was likely to have responded by inflicting some harm.

I was the one who was pushing to take this. The Secret Essence Tantra is, I believe, one of the texts that Buton Rinpoche decided to exclude from the collection of the Kangyur. However, it is a text that the Nyingma and Karma Kagyu treat as authentic.

Anyway, Ling Rinpoche’s opposition to me receiving the transmission of that Tantra was based upon his fear of Dholgyal. Therefore, what happened was that though I wanted to take that Tantra, because of someone’s fear of Dholgyal, I was unable to. My rights to freedom of religious choice were thus violated.”

-Tenzin Gyatso XIV Dalai Lama

Kyabje Yongdzin Ling Rinpoche

Yongdzin Ling Rinpoche

Does this strike anyone else as strange? Was Ling Rinpoche, Guru to the Dalai Lama, tantric master, and pure preceptor, really afraid of harm from a worldly spirit? All Buddhists know that pure refuge protects from spirits and the like, that is why the Dalai Lama said, in reference to Dorje Shugden, “I don’t even visualize the protection wheel.”

If the Dalai Lama had nothing to fear from Dorje Shugden, why should Ling Rinpoche, his own Guru?!?

Perhaps more distubing still, this quotation raises an important question….

Since when does following the advice of your Vajrayana guru constitute a loss of religious freedom?!?

The only freedom lost through following the advice of one’s spiritual guide is the freedom to wander endlessly in the scorching pits of samsara.

This kind of attitude marks the begining of the end of the secret Mantra path in this world. The Guru gradually comes to be seen as outmoded, unecessary in the attempt to attain liberation from suffering. The result of this view spreading in our world is that the Vajrayana becomes a hollow shell,  a vehicle without power, a car with no engine.

Scholars and Yogis, PLEASE check.

Ganden Tripa Authorizes Dorje Shugden Pratitioners to represent the Gelugpa tradition

"I confer upon Trijang Buddhist Institute the authority to represent and transmit the teachings of the Gelug order of Tibetan Buddhism in the United States."

"I confer upon Trijang Buddhist Institute the authority to represent and transmit the teachings of the Gelug order of Tibetan Buddhism in the United States."

In April of this Year, the Ganden Tripa, spiritual head of the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, wrote a letter authorizing Trijang Buddhist Institute of Northfeild Vermont to “represent and transmit the teachings of the Gelug order of Tibetan Buddhism in the United States.”

He also stated catacorically that Trijang Chogtrul Rinpoche (“having been educated in the teachings of the Gelug order of Tibetan Buddhism, and officially recognized by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama as being the incarnation of the late Trijang Dorje Chang, Tutor to the 14th Dalai Lama and one of the greatest twentieth-century Buddhist masters of this order…”) is fully qualified to act as director of TBI.

As it is widely known that Trijang Rinpoche has steadfastly refused to abandon the Dorje Shugden practice that was so precious to his predecessor, this letter seems somewhat remarkable. The Ganden Tri, holder of the throne of Je Tsongkhapa and leader of the Gelugpa tradition, authorizes a famous Dorje Shugden Lama and his institute to represent and transmit the teachings of the Gelugpas?

If he feels that Dorje Shugden practitioners “represent the teachings of the

Ganden Tri Letter

Click to Read Letter

Gelug order,” this clearly indicates that Dorje Shugden practice is a valid part of the Gelug tradition, does it not? At very least, it gives lie to the idea, much promoted on the internet of late, that Dorje Shugden practitioners are a fringe group who do not represent mainstream Buddhist practice.

He also wrote ”Thus authorized, Trijang Buddhist Institute is dedicated to preserving, representing, and transmitting the Buddhist teachings of the Gelug tradition.”

I find it noteworthy that has authorized a Dorje Shugden lama to “preserve” the teachings. Perhaps he, too, is concerned that certain aspects of the precious Ganden Tradition that have been passed down master to disciple for hundreds of years, will be wiped out if someone doesn’t do something.

Scholars and yogis, Please check!

His Eminence Trijang Dorjechang Losang Yeshe

Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche

Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche

His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang was one of the foremost Tibetan Buddhist Masters of our time, taking birth at the turn of the twentieth century and passing away in 1981 at the age of eighty-one.

Not only had he followed in age exactly the example of the Enlightened Buddha, but also through his precious activities and in particular through his extraordinary method and capacity of teaching he fulfilled the purpose of countless beings and the teachings of the Buddha, particularly the tradition of Je Tsong Khapa. All the great Masters and the followers of this tradition were brought up by his compassionate spiritual guidance.

Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang served His Holiness the Dalai Lama first as philosophical assistant, then as personal tutor, together with Kyabje Ling Dorje Chang, for altogether fifty years.

Trijang Rinpoche (Right) with Ling Rinpoche (Left) and their disciple, the present Dalai Lama (center)

Trijang Rinpoche (Right) with Ling Rinpoche (Left) and their disciple, the present Dalai Lama (center)

Not only did he offer to His Holiness studies from the elementary level up to the highest tantric transmissions, he was also the backbone of the struggle against the Chinese occupation at the most difficult and confused time of Tibetan history. The escape of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from Tibet in 1959 was also thanks to the wisdom and efforts of Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang.

Up to the end of his life Trijang Rinpoche continuously turned the Wheel of Dharma for the sake of all sentient beings. The flourishing of Dharma in the West is also directly and indirectly connected with him, because of his own teachings as well as the precious activities of his disciples, such as Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, Ven. Geshe Rabten, Ven. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Ven. Lama Yeshe and many more. Without him the situation of Tibetan Buddhism in the West would be completely different.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche said

The (present) incarnation of Kyabje Dorje Chang, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche, is His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s guru and the lama of all the Tibetan people…. In his previous life (as Trijang Dorjechang Losang Yeshe) he performed incredibly holy actions; therefore, his present incarnation has the potential to spread Dharma in both the East and the West like the rising sun spreads light.

Trijang Rinpoche receives offerings at Monlam

Trijang Rinpoche receives offerings at Monlam

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has likened Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche to

“a vast reservoir from which all Gelugpa practitioners of the present day received ‘waters’ of blessings and instructions.”

He held many important positions within the Gelug School including Ganden Tripa, the head of Gelugpa tradition. He was the Lama most responsible in his generation for spreading the Dorje Shugden practice, especially to the west. Trijang Rinpoche was also responsible for editing the classic Lam Rim text Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, by Kabje Pabongka Rinpoche, from which the following quotations are drawn.