Wikipedia: Dorje Shugden’s Enlightened Lineage or How to Make ‘History’


I gave up contributing to Wikipedia.

NKT editors were very busy to establish Dorje Shugden as an enlightened protector on Wikipedia, and finally they have successfully accomplished this aim. Now this rather recent and minor view has become the main view in Wikipedia’s article on Dorje Shugden. Further, the use of sources like Xinhua News Agency and Die Weltwoche in the introduction section of Dorje Shugden Controversy are mediocre for an encyclopaedia. To be able to include these dubious sources in the introduction section the NKT editors deleted quotes from Mills’ research. There are many other dubious sources added by NKT editors which now replace formerly quoted 3rd party Wikipedia:Reliable Sources.

For more than one year Wikipedia:Reliable Sources, like Dreyfus, Kay, von Brück, Mumford or Nebesky-Wojkowitz, as well as other qualified scholarly papers on the history of Shugden worship (and / or the Shugden Controversy / New Kadampa Tradition) have been repeatedly deleted or misrepresented on Wikipedia – in almost all cases by a group of engaged NKT editors – or these qualified sources have been blocked by them as being “heavily biased”; and for a long time NKT blogs and anonymous websites made by Shugdenpas replaced Wikipedia:Reliable Sources. Now the academic sources are just not mentioned any more or they are presented as only marginal, and in a way that it does not interfere with the World-view of NKT.

The history and talk pages of Wikipedia, as well as the notices on the Adminboard, offer everybody the chance to explore this for themselves. The last notice on the Adminboard can be read here: Users Emptymountains and Truthbody. Other strategies included the sockpuppets of ‘Wisdombuddha’ or multiple accounts fom the same IP. One year ago an editor, who was not involved in editing these articles, already gave a notice on the Administrators’ noticeboard, stating

… these users are deleting sourced information and have a clear POV that they’ve conspired to promote on Wikipedia. They are pretty intransigent when it comes to talking about reverting and they show bad faith in editing. I don’t know the intricacies of this dispute, but you don’t need to in order to see how mass deletions of verifiable and reliable information are a bad idea….

and since then nothing has really changed, hence, a “fruitless case”.

Recently Rodney Billman, probably a NKT follower related to the Tushita Kadampa Buddhist Centre, has set up a website, ‘Dorje Shugden History’ under the pseudonym ‘Trinley Kalsang’ to establish a new version of history on Shugden which is more in line with the propagators of the practice, because neutral academic research clearly differs to Shugden-pas’ views. Rodney Billman or ‘Trinley Kalsang’ is not known to have academic credits or to be a scholar but is nevertheless celebrated by some NKT posters to be a scholar, and I guess it will be just a question of time when also he is used for Wikipedia as a “reliable source”….

(I just checked, he was today quoted and introduced in the German Wikipedia as the “Buddhist scholar Trinlay Kalsang”.)

To balance the information given by NKT followers on Wikipedia, I use now my own blog, this is easier and less time consuming than to work or to negotiate with people who accept only one view as “the truth”, and who delete or block what is in opposition to their own way of thinking. Since the Wikipedia articles offer now extensive accounts on the “enlightened lineage” of Shugden, I focus in this post on the “mundane lineage” of Shugden. For a balanced and proper presentation of both views see Dorje Shugden – Origin, Nature and Function.

Of course, it’s up to the reader to put all this different information together and into perspective, and to check their factual correctness and credibility.

Dorje Shugden – The Mundane Protector

Kay states in his 1997 research, which is recommended by CESNUR, that the view that Dorje Shugden is actually a worldly protector “is widely supported by representatives of non-dGe lugs traditions.”[1]; hence it is not only the view of H.H. the Dalai Lama. Kay states that those who follow this view are convinced that Shugden’s “relatively short lifespan of only a few centuries and dubious circumstances of origin (i.e. from a situation of conflict between a prominent dGe lugs lama and the Fifth Dalai Lama) make him a highly inappropriate object of worship and refuge.” He continues, “Supporters of this view reject the pretensions made by devotees of rDo rje shugs ldan, with respect to his status and importance, as recent innovations probably originating during the time of Phabongkha Rinpoche and reflecting his particularly exclusive sectarian agenda.”

Both Mumford and Nebesky-Wojkowitz show clearly that Shugden is regarded also among Shugden practitioners as a mundane protector. Kay states correctly:

Scholarly English language accounts of rDo rje shugs Idan reliance seem to corroborate the latter of the two positions [that rDo rje shugs Idan is actually a ‘jig rten pa’i srung ma (worldly protector)] emerging from within the Tibetan tradition, suggesting that the status and importance of rDo rje shugs Idan was gradually elevated from around the time of Phabongkha Rinpoche. De Nebesky-Wojkowitz presents rDo rje shugs Idan as a deity “of comparatively recent origin” (1956: 134), who is one of the main dGe lugs protective deities operating in the worldly spheres, and Mumford’s references (1989) indicate how modern-day dGe lugs and Sa skya Buddhists in Nepal still regard the deity as a popular ‘jig rten pa’i srung ma. rDo rje shugs Idan’s rise to prominence through the sectarian activities of Phabongkha Rinpoche has already been mentioned. This appears to have preceded another important development whereby, during the 1930s and 1940s, Phabongkha supporters began to proclaim the fulfilment of the tradition “that the guardian-deity rDo rje shugs Idan … will succeed Pe har as the head of all ‘jig rten pa’i srung ma once the latter god advances into the rank of those guardian-deities who stand already outside the worldly spheres” (de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, 1956: 134) and maintain that the Tibetan government should turn its allegiance away from Pe har, the State protector, to rDo rje shugs Idan.

It is unclear when belief in rDo rje shugs Idan as an enlightened being first developed; the likelihood is that it emerged gradually as the Dharma-protector grew in prominence. This belief seems to have been in place by the time the young Fourteenth Dalai Lama was introduced to the practice by Trijang Rinpoche prior to the exile of the Tibetan Buddhist community in 1959.[1]

Mumford[2] states:

The Tibetan guardian deity called Shugs-ldan (or rGyal-po Shugs-ldan, rDo-rje Shugs-ldan, etc.) provides a special case study of the Tibetan Srungma and its transmutation. He is extremely popular, but held in awe and feared among Tibetans because he is highly punitive. Dawa Tshering, a wealthy merchant of Tshad-med village, has done very well with Shugs-ldan as his guardian deity. He gave the following oral account of Shugs-ldan’s origin:

Long ago in Tibet, rGyal-po Shugs-ldan was a powerful, learned lama who was more popular than the Dalai Lama himself. Other lamas envied him and tried to kill him. They shot at him but could not hit him. They tried to crush him under a rock, but he did not die. They tried to burn him in a fire, but he was not burned. Shugs-ldan called his enemies before him and said: “You want me to die. All right, I will.” Then he stuffed a scarf down his own throat. Thus he died by his own hand.

The spirit of the dead lama became a demon. He attacked his own former enemies and they died. The people asked the Dalai Lama to send a lama to exorcise the demon. A Jinseg [sbyin-seg: “fire exorcism”] was prepared. But when the fire was lit, it burned the lama instead of the demon. The people called another lama. Chanting mantras, the lama tricked the demon into entering his body. Then the lama himself entered the fire and died. The demon part of Shugs-ldan was destroyed, so Shugs-ldan became a god.


Shugs-ldan participates in a folk belief that is regularly transmuted by the lamas: a historical person who dies a strange, sudden death is likely to become a dangerous wandering ghost having “unfinished business,” often regarded as a vindictive btsan warrior spirit. Such a warrior may, like the Ghale ancestor, become the protector of a noble clan and its dependents, but when bound by the oath of the Buddha it becomes a protector of both the kin group and the Buddhist dharma. Lamaist authority is particularly strengthened when the warrior spirit is also, like Shugs-ldan, a historical lama…. The merchant Dawa Tshering for instance does an offering once a month, but at high risk:

‘If I forget, then he’ll make me sick. But if I do not neglect him he will aid me wherever I go. When I travel I pray to him, “May sickness not come.” When I cross a bridge I ask, “May the bridge not fall.” If I do not serve Shugs-ldan he will get angry. He will kill my animals and I will lose my wealth and the members of my household will fight.’

Researcher von Brück[3] makes clear that:

[…] the whole controversy focuses on the interpretation of the status of Shugden. There is a contradiction concerning Shugden that cannot be resolved. On the one hand it is argued that Shugden is a wrathful, mundane protector deity with such and such an origin in history, and to deal with such a spirit one has to have control over him. On the other hand, those who propitiate Shugden maintain that Shugden is a high deity beyond the mundane level and therefore deserves life-entrustment (srog gtad), i.e. complete surrender, like emanations of the Buddha. Whether the sectarian issue (Gelukpa exclusivity) is connected with this problem is a different question. It depends on the interpretation of Shugden, and this varies, as has been demonstrated.


We could go on quoting several oral traditions which are related by Trijang Rinpoche to establish and defend the Shugden tradition. Trijang wants to show that Nechung and Shugden do not clash or, in other terms, that there is no contradiction between the general protection of the whole of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and the specific protection of the Gelukpa school only. Looking into the history of the struggle between different schools in Tibet and judging from the heat of the present controversy there is more to say. It is clear that by historical evidence the authenticity of that tradition on Shugden cannot be decided.

Some Eminent Buddhist Masters who Oppose the Claims on Shugden’s Enlightened Nature

There is a film documentary, Dorjee Shugden, The Spirit and the Controversy, by the TGIE which interviews the heads (or eminent lamas) of the four Tibetan Buddhist schools. They state:

H.E. Tai Situ Rinpoche, one of the four main disciples of H.H. the Karmapa – Head of the Karma Kagyu Tradition

We Kagyu followers normally do not mention this name without fear. There is no Shugden practitioner among Kagyu followers. The reason why we fear the one I name just now, is because we believe that he causes obstacles to spiritual practice and brings discord in families and among the community of monks.

H.H. Mindolling Trichen Rinpoche, the late Head of the Nyingma Tradition:

Shugden is a ghost. We Nyingma practitioner do not follow him. We propagate only those protectors that were bound by Padmasambhava. Shugden came after Padmasambhava. Shugden is a hungry ghost in the human realm.

H.H. Sakya Trizin, Head of the Sakya Tradition:

In the beginning the Sakya throne holder Sakya Sönam Rinchen bound Shugden to protect Dharma. However, neither Shudgen nor other worldly spirits were depended upon during prayer meeting at Sakya. The statue of Shugden was in some shrine rooms but in the lowest category in the pantheon. No Sakya follower has ever taken life pledging empowerment through the medium of Shugden … Later Shugden worship decreased strongly among Sakyas due to the efforts of three leading Sakya lineage lamas” [including the root Guru of Sakya Trizin who was] “extremely unhappy with Shugden practice and advised on the demerits of Shugden practice. One of his disciples, Ngawang Yönten Gyatso, took strong actions to remove Shugden statues from the Sakya monasteries and to destroy them. Khyentse Dorje Chang Chökyi Lodrö was also very unhappy with Shugden practice, although he didn’t destroy statues, he performed rituals to banish Shugden. Since these three leading Sakya Lamas were against Shugden, this practice declined greatly among Sakya followers.

H.H. the 100th Ganden Tripa, Lobsang Nyingma Rinpoche, late Head of the Gelug Tradition:

[..] Gelug Lamas of the past would have taken notice of Shugden if he was really the embodiment of the three refuge. But there is no historical record to show that they took any interest in Shugden. Therefore I can not accept Shugden as the embodiment of the Three Refuges.

H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama quoting the 5th Dalai Lama:

In his autobiography the 5th Dalai Lama writes that he performed a fire ritual against Shugden during which he composed a prayer to protect the deities. In the prayer the 5th Dalai Lama says that he is performing this ritual to vanquish Dorje Shugden who is harming the Buddhadharma and sentient beings. He clearly says that Dragpa Gyaltsen’s negative prayer resulted in his rebirth as Shugden.

This list can be continued endlessly, more accounts can be found in the former Wikipedia Article or in A Brief History Of Opposition To Shugden (PDF), however, I will focus here mainly on a Sakya scholar, since he directly opposes Kelsang Gyatso and NKT and also Kelsang Gyatso seems to know his accounts, since he stated in an Open Letter to Newsweek (PDF) about this scholar, Dongthog Tulku:

Some scholars debate with each other, such as the well-known Gelugpa scholar Yonten Gyatso and Dongthog Tulku, a scholar from another tradition, who conducted a debate by letter over a number of years. They have written many books replying to each other’s assertions, but this does not mean they are criticising each other. They are simply clarifying the doctrines of their own traditions, with good motivation.

I will add some other sources with quotes by either eminent academic scholars or eminent Buddhist masters as an appendix, so that this blog fulfils what it promises, to be a Resource Blog.

The Earth Shaking Thunder of True Word by T. G. Dhongthog Tulku Rinpoche[4]

In the Introduction of this work the Sakya scholar Dongthog Tulku states:

The circumstance that led to my studying and writing on these matters was due to my appointment as librarian at Tibet House. In the early days there were not very many Tibetan books available in India. Therefore, Tibet House borrowed the collected works of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, Yongdzin Yeshe Gyaltsen (tutor of the seventh Dalai Lama) and Thuken Chokyi Nyima from the private residence of H.H. the Dalai Lama. We also borrowed the collected works of Pawong Khapa from the lama palace of Trijang Rinpoche, and the collected works of Zhuchen Tsultrim Rinchen from the lama palace of Ngor Luding. Tibet House purchased the collected works of Kongtrul Lodo Thaye and Longdol Lama. Accordingly, our library became replete with many Tibetan books. In the course of making a modern catalogue of these books I thus had the opportunity to read many of the various books by Gadenpa Lamas. Most of these I had never read before. When I was young I had heard that Phawong Khapa promoted many sectarian discourses and even ordered some disciples to desecrate images of Guru Padma Sambhava, but at that time I could not really believe it. Now, by reading his books myself, I came to know that these reports had been true. Most of the texts that are of this sectarian nature are in Phawong Khapa’s collected works, volume Cha. These consist of letters and admonitions addressed to lamas, tulkus, geshes, Chinese and Tibetan patrons, all in promotion of this sectarian bias. Following the brief refutation that I outlined in “The Timely Shower”, I wrote still more under the title, “The Timely Flame”.

Dongthog Tulku mentions a ‘pamphlet’ by Kelsang Gyatso entitled, “A Sword that Cuts the Suffering Plaint of Tibetans-in-exile” which Kelsang Gyatso, the New Kadampa Tradition’s founder, spread in the Tibetan exile community, and states that this compelled him to write a refutation. Dongthog Tulku wrote a point-by-point response, which can be read by everybody who is interested. (A PDF Copy of The Earth Shaking Thunder of True Word can be purchased.) With respect to the  claims of an “enlightened lineage” he states on page 18-19:

In later years, Phawong Khapa Dechen Nyingpo introduced the rite of “Dorje Shugden Life Entrustment”. The basis of this rite derived from an illusory dream that Tagphu Pema Dorje had which he believed was a “pure vision”. Dolgyal Shugden was thus promoted to the level of a transworthy deity and adorned with the titles, “chief protector of the teachings of Manjushri-Tsongkhapa” and “war deity of the Gadenpa doctrine”. Moreover, from his own subjective viewpoint, Phawong Khapa also introduced elaborations of Shugden such as, peaceful and wrathful forms, five-family forms, and sadhanas composed in the categories of outer, inner and secret. Phawong Khapa thus disgraced the Gadenpa tradition in a magnitude as great as Mount Sumeru by establishing this tainted system of propitiation that makes Shugden more important and favored than the traditional Gadenpa guardian deities, six-armed Mahakala, Dharmaraja and Shri Mahakali Devi.

Among the Gadenpa tradition holders Penchen Lobzang Chogyen (1570-1662) was the most outstanding and is described as the second Je Rinpoche. The Great Fifth Dalai Lama was also very kind to the Gadenpa tradition. The promotion of the wrathful incarnation of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen, who broke his spiritual commitment with these two kind lamas, to the high level of chief guardian deity of Manjushri-Tzongkhapa’s doctrine is nothing less than perversity. It is amazing that Phawong Khapa said that even putting other Tibetan Buddhist books together with Gadenpa books is prohibited (his collected works, vol. Cha) and yet a spirit, rebirth of a Gadenpa pledge breaker, can be assigned to the rank of a Gadenpa chief guardian deity. In case one might think that the Sakyapa viewpoint regarding Shugden is compatible with Phawong Khapa’s view, I can say that it is absolutely different. As mentioned above, Sakya Dagchen Sonam Rinchen put Dolgyal under his spiritual custody. Following that, the great Sakyapa Kunga Lodo and Morchen composed texts to Shugden but it should be understood that this was a wise method to secure the obedience of this spirit. However, when it came to propitiating chief pardian deities and protective war-deities, Kunga Lodo, Morchen and their followers propitiated Mahakala, Tsaturmukha and Mahakali rather than Dolgyal Shugden.

The basic difference between the Sakyapa view and that of phawong Khapa is that the Sakya placate Shugden conditionally. providing him with offerings of food and shelter. We understand that the time is not right to eliminate him because he is still under the karmic repercussions of his wrong conduct. And even the Buddha is unable to undo Karma. Whereas Phawong Khapa (and you followers) propitiate Dolgyal with the idea that he came purposely in this degenerate time to protect the Gadenpa doctrine. Therefore, there is a great difference; like the difference between feeding a criminal who is being held in custody or assigning that criminal to a high rank and worshiping him. Additionally, the Sakyapa also preserved the Buddha Dharma and saved the people of Tibet from harm by annihilating or restricting other spirits as well. These include Shangbal, Nyagrong Bulongma and others. So, please remember this kindness.

After the investigation of the history of Shugden worship, the qualifications of Pabongkha Rinpoche, the omissions and additions to Tantric texts he made (e.g Lama Chöpa ritual), the reprehension of Pabongkhapa by the 13th Dalai Lama etc., Dongthog Tulku states on page 29,30:

You who claim that Dolgyal is inseparable from Manjushri, what is the source of your assertion? There is no prophesy or scriptural reference to this in any of Buddha’s teachings or in any of the works of Indian Buddhist masters or in the works of Tzongkhapa. If there is one, supply the quote. Even the primitive Tibetan deity, Machen Pomra, Tzongkhapa’s own birth deity was not accomodated within the circumambulatory path of Gaden monastery, but rather, his cairn was installed on the outskirts of the monastery.[5] There is no doubt that Dolgyal, a reborn ghost, propitiated as a chief guardian deity of the Gadenpa doctrine is not in agreement with Je Tsongkhapa’s view.

Appendix – Quotes from Other Authoritative Sources

Geoffrey Samuel, states in Civilized Shamans p.545-546

The dominant Gelugpa figure of this period, apart from the 13th Dalai Lama himself, was his near contemporary, the 1st P’awongk’a Rimpoch’e (1878-1943). P’awongk’a Rimpoch’e was by all accounts a brilliant scholar and accomplished Tantric meditator, who is remembered with devotion by his disciples. He is remembered with less favor by the Nyingmapa order in K’am where, as the Dalai Lama’s representative, his attitude was one of sectarian intolerance towards non-Gelugpa orders and the Nyingmapa in particular. […]

P’awongk’a thus stood in a complex relationship to the 13th Dalai Lama, and in fact the two men where not personally close. The 13th Dalai Lama, like the Great 5th, was interested in the Nyingmapa and Dzogch’en traditions, and received teachings from Rimed lamas such as Terton Sogyal. His own orientation seems to have been open minded and eclectic, and was not identified with P’awongk’a’s conservative and traditionalist faction. Nonetheless, P’awongk’a was in some respects the logical expression in the religious sphere of the transformation that the 13th Dalai Lama was trying to bring about. Had the Lhasa government ever succeeded in turning Tibet into an effective cetralized state, the Gelugpa might have continued to move in this direction and might have gradually eliminated the other Tibetan religious traditions in favor of a well-controlled academic and clerical version.

In fact, P’awongk’a’s influence was strongest after his death and that of the 13th Dalai Lama, and particularly after the forced resignation of the regent Reting (Ratreng) Rimpoch’e in 1941 and his replacement by Tagtrag Rimpoch’e, who had been a close associate of P’awongk’a and shared his conservative orientation. It was at that time that P’awongk’a’s students gradually moved into the dominant position that they have held within the Gelugpa order into the 1970s and 1980s.

Excerpt from Lord of the Dance: The Autobiography of A Tibetan Lama, By Chagdud Tulku, an eminent Nyingma master, Padma Publishing, 1992, Pilgrims Publishers Edition, Kathmandu 2001, page 107

In Chamdo I first encountered the bitter dregs of sectarian friction between the Gelugpa and other traditions of Tibetan Buddhism… Although there were doctrinal differences among the traditions, sometimes strongly disputed in formal debates, in Kham there was generally both acceptance and cooperation. Since both my father and stepfather were Gelugpa lamas, my mother’s family was Sakya, and I was trained in both Kagyu and Nyingma traditions, any outer sectarian divisiveness would have inwardly fragmented me. I was spared this conflict until I listened to stories in Chamdo, and hearing them I felt uncomfortable and sad.

People told me that previously several monasteries housing statues of Padmasambhava and Nyingma texts were located near Chamdo, but then a Gelugpa lama named Phabongkhapa came from Central Tibet. He had contempt for the Nyingma tradition and thought that its doctrine was false and its practitioners wrongheaded. The dissention that ensued resulted in persecution, the destruction of many Nyingma texts and statues of Padmasambhava, and the conversion of monasteries from Nyingma to Gelugpa. This was followed by a severe drought and famine in the region.

Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro wrote to Jigme Damchoe Gyatsho about Phabongkhapa’s sectarianism:

Some followers of Ven. Phabongkha Dechen Nyingpo Rinpoche engaged in heated argument on the philosophical tenets of the new and the ancient. They engaged in many wrong activities like destroying images of Padmasambhava and those of other peaceful and wrathful deities, saying that reciting the mantra of the Vajra Guru is of no value and fed the Padma Kathang to fire and water. Likewise, they stated that turning Mani prayer wheels, observing weekly prayers for the deceased etc. are of no purpose and thus placed many on the path of wrong view. They held Gyalpo Shugden as the supreme refuge and the embodiment of all the Three Jewels. Many monks from small monasteries in the Southern area claimed to be possessed by Shugden and ran amok in all directions destroying the three reliquaries (images of the Buddha, scriptures and stupas) etc. displaying many faults and greatly harming the teaching of Je Tsongkhapa, the second Conqueror. Therefore, if you could compose an instructive epistle benefitting all and could publish it and distribute it throughout the three (provinces) U, Tsang and Kham it would greatly contribute to counteracting the disturbance to the teaching.

David Jackson wrote an essay The Bhutan Abbot of Ngor: Stubborn Idealist with a Grudge against Shugs-ldan published by Amnye Machen Institute, 2001, Lungta #14, Review by Mark Turin

Excerpts of that essay, which has been transcribed and sent to me by a Buddhist monk living in India, Dharamsala, state:

During his abbacy, Ngag-dbang-yon-tan-rgyamtsho failed to visit and pay respects to his teacher at the Khang-gsar lama palace. He was reluctant to do so because he was suspicious of the cult of the protector-deity Shugs-ldan, which was practiced at the monastery. He was also critical of certain old practices of Ngor Monastery, such as its tradition of sending a monastery appointed functionary to collect animals from the nomad regions for their flesh.

The senior Khang-gsar abbot, Ngag-dbang-mkhyen-rab-‘jam-dpal-smying-po, was a well known devotee of Shugs-ldan … Both he and his late uncle mKhanchen Ngag-dbang0blo-gros-snying-po visited Khams and established there in the 1890s in numerous monasteries the cult of Shugs-ldan, before the dGe-lugs-pa zealot Pha-bong-kha-pa (1878-1941) and his disciples brought the cult into disrepute through their sectarian excesses …

During these troubles, Dam-pa Rin-po-che was staying at rTa-nag giving the esoteric transmission of the Path with Its Fruit. One day, when he was reciting the text-transmission, he laid aside the text he was reading and said “Alas, the young abbot’s horse has died!” Among the more than one hundred disciples present, nobody understood what the master had alluded to. In fact, this harm to the young abbot he mentioned was caused by the rgyal-po spirit Shugden …

Dam-pa Rin-po-che, too, had on several occasions rebuked the malignant rgyal-po spirit. During the founding of the rDzong-gsar scriptural seminary seventeen years before in 1918, the same spirit had caused obstacles. At the founding of the scripture-exposition seminary at Ngor, similar obstacles had occurred. Dam-pa Rinpoche, too, was thus not at all fond of this spirit, and tension in this regard must have existed within the Khang-sar lama-palace even before Ngag-dbang-yon-tan0rgya-mtsho brought it to a head …

Evidently also during his second visit, he decided to attack at Ngor the deity Shugs-ldan, who was worshipped there as a minor protector. He explained to some of the monks how harmful this deity was. He made liberal gifts and decided to use this chance to expel the cult of Shugs-ldan from the monastery. This was one of the most important battles in what was to become a lifelong crusade against rDor-rje-shugs-ldan.

Helped by a single trusted monks … Ngag-dbang-yon-tan-rgya-mtsho threw the “life stone” (bla rdo) of Shugs-ldan from the roof of the eastern side of the central abbatial residence. People later said that the spot where the stone hit the ground seemed to be smeared with blood. He also removed the mask and thangkha of the rgyal-po spirit to the far side of the lCags pass, and thus attempted to frive out that spirit …

What can have pushed Ngag-dbang-yon-tan-rgya-mtsho to engage in open “war” against that deity? He saw Shugs-ldan as his personal enemy, blamind him for causing the premature death of his previous life. He also professed to be the rebirth of dBang-sdud-snying-po, (1763-1806?), the thirty-third throneholder of Sakya who had putted himself against Shugs-ldan and likewise had not lived to old age.

Ngag-dbang-yon-tan-rgya-mtsho’s mother and two siblings died mysteriously while crossing the Nyungka La pass in sGa-oa south of Khri-du. Some said the three had been killed by Chinese, but no Chinese had been around at the time, and no human culprits were ever caught. It was later believed they had directly fallen victim to the vengeful Shugs-ldan.

For coercing or repelling Shugs-ldan, no lama was more powerful in those days than Ngag-dbang-yon-tan-rgya-mtsho. In direct confrontation, the lama could overpower him. But in the long run, the deity was more powerful, because he was able to harm the lama’s family members, attacking and killing his mother and two siblings …

Ngag-dbang-yon-tan-rgya-mtsho also intensely disliked the particular tradition within the dGe-lugs-pa represented by Pha-bong-kha-pa, a lama who in 1940, a year before his death, continued in his sectarian machinations, decrying to a Kuomintang Governor (Lu Cun-krang) the fact that uncle ‘Jam-bdyangs-rgyal-mtshan hade published Go-rams-pa’s works …

But Ngag-dbang-yon-tan-rgya-mtsho’s main wrath was directed against the cult of the protector rDo-rje-shugs-ldan which Pha-bong-kha-pa had popularized in various dGe-lugs-pa circles. (In the early 1940s gangs of young monks in certain dGe-lugs-pa dominted areas of Khams such as Chab-mdo, Brag-gyab and Lho-rdzong were causing so much havoc through their Shugs-ldan group “possessions” that the central government’s Governor of Khams in Chab-mdo finally was compelled to punish three ringleaders by flogging …

Ngag-dbang-yon-tan-rgya-mtsho explained to the Khri-du monks and people, “Shugs-ldan is no good. He is evil. He’s not a protector, he’s a ghost! He has a long history of causing harm. There’s no use invoking a ghost.” In this way he convinced the monks to cease the practice, and removed all images and articles of worship from the monastery.

At Thar-lam monastery, he summoned the monks and told them of his campaign against Shugs-ldan. That deity, he said, was not a protector of religion, but rather an evil spirit who destroyed the doctrine… He proposed to destroy, if they would agree, the mask of this deity the next morning. …He took down a revered mask of the deity from its shrine and carried it outside. He hurled it into a bonfire and drew a pistol, shooting at the mask numerous times. After annihilating the mask, he reentered the Protector’s chapel and removed the other ritual articles….

Afterward, he re-consecrated the chapel to the deity Beg-tse. He defied Shugs-ldan to take revenge. When nothing occurred, the monks lost faith in Shugs-ldan and accepted the new protective deity. In sGa-pa, Ngag-dbang-yon-tan-rgya-mtsho thus stamped out the practice of rDo-rje-shugs-ldan, at least in Sa-skya-pa circles, almost completely.

… Ngag-dbang-yon-tan-rgya-mtsho was thus highly exceptional, and he attracted all the Sa-skya-pa and even many Kagyupa and Nyingmapa adherents in sGa-pa as his disciples. If he gave them his personal blessing or a protection-cord, they would not be troubles by Shugs-ldan.

Ngag-dbang-yon-tan-rgya-mtsho died in the early 1960s at the age of about 60, in a large prison near Siling holding thousands of prisoners. It is said he manifested wonders even in prison, for instance, freeing himself from his shackles.

Stephan Beyer states in The Cult of Tara: Magic and Ritual in Tibet, University of California Press, 1978, p 238

The image was lent to a monastery of the “ancient” Nyingma sect named Kajegon and located in the capital of Dragyab, right next to another monastery of the Gelug sect. Indeed, it had been founded by the abbot of the latter monastery, an incarnation called Lord of Refuge Dragyab, who had been fascinated by the “ancient” teachings. The two neighbor monasteries shared the same facilities and officers, differing only in the performance of their rituals in their individual temples; and here the image rested in the amity of these sometimes rival sects.

When the Lord of Refuge Dragyab died, his monastery was taken over, during the minority of his reincarnation, by a regent named Zangmar toden, who was a very different sort of man from the former abbot. Zangmar has originally followed the “ancient” sect (he had been a disciple of the famous Drugu Shakyashri of Soderka) but then had moved to Ch’amdo, where he met and became the disciple of a Gelug lama named Master P’awang kawa.

Zangmar had fallen under the spell of this new and impressive personality. P’awang kawa was undoubtedly one of the great lamas of the early twentieth century, but he was a man of contradictory passions, and he shows us two different faces when he is recalled by those who knew him. In many ways he was truly a saint; he was sent to Ch’amdo by the central government to represent its interests and administer its Gelug monasteries, and he was sympathetic to the concerns of the K’am people over whom he had been granted jurisdiction, a scholar and an enthusiast for all aspects of Tibetan culture. But many eastern Tibetans remember him with loathing as the great persecutor of the “ancient” sect, devoting himself to the destruction throughout K’am of images of the Precious Guru and the burning of “ancient” books and paintings.

P’awang kawa sent his new disciple back to take charge of the Gelug monastery in Dragyab; Zangmar, with the zeal of the convert, carried with him only his master’s sectarianism and implemented only his policy of destruction. He tried to force the monks of Kajegon (who were technically under his authority) to perform the Gelug rituals, and when they obstinately continued to refuse he called in the government police on a trumped up charge of treason. They raided Kajegon, broke its images, made fire of its books and paintings, and beat its monks with sticks. The head monk, who carried with him by chance that day our image of Tara, tried to stop them; while one policeman threatened him with a stick, another shot him in the back.[6]

Pabongkha Rinpoche about the practice of Dorje Shugden:[7]

[This protector of the doctrine] is extremely important for holding Dzong-ka-ba’s tradition without mixing and corrupting [it] with confusions due to the great violence and the speed of the force of his actions, which fall like lightning to punish violently all those beings who have wronged the Yellow Hat Tradition, whether they are high or low. [This protector is also particularly significant with respect to the fact that] many from our own side, monks or lay people, high or low, are not content with Dzong-ka-ba’s tradition, which is like pure gold, [and] have mixed and corrupted [this tradition with ] the mistaken views and practices from other schools, which are tenet systems that are reputed to be incredibly profound and amazingly fast but are [in reality] mistakes among mistakes, faulty, dangerous and misleading paths. In regard to this situation, this protector of the doctrine, this witness, manifests his own form or a variety of unbearable manifestations of terrifying and frightening wrathful and fierce appearances. Due to that, a variety of events, some of them having happened or happening, some of which have been heard or seen, seem to have taken place: some people become unhinged and mad, some have a heart attack and suddenly die, some [see] through a variety of inauspicious signs [their] wealth, accumulated possessions and descendants disappear without leaving any trace, like a pond whose feeding river has ceased, whereas some [find it] difficult to achieve anything in successive lifetimes.

See Also

[1] The New Kadampa Tradition and the Continuity of Tibetan Buddhism in Transition (1997) by David Kay, Journal of Contemporary Religion 12:3 (October 1997), 277-293, page 281

[2] Himalayan Dialogue : Tibetan Lamas and Gurung Shamans in Nepal (1989) by Stan Royal Mumford, University of Wisconsin Press, pages 125-130, 261-264

[3] The Tulkus and the Shugden Controversy (2001) by Prof. Dr. Michael von Brück, Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies, in Charisma and Canon: Essays on the Religious History of the Indian Subcontinent, published by Oxford University Press, 328-349

[4] The Earth Shaking Thunder of True Word (2000) by Tenpai Gyaltsan Dhongthog, Sapan Institute, Washington

[5] This argument must be understood in the context of Pabongkha Rinpoche’s letter of excuse to the 13th Dalai Lama, where he states that his mother told him that Shugden was present at his birth and hence is his birth deity (lha). In this letter to the 13th Dalai Lama Pabongkha Rinpoche acknowledges his faults, he excuses for having violated the Buddhist refuge pledges and for having provoked the wrath of Nechung and he promises not to worship Shugden any more and to restrain from performing the rituals with respect to Shugden. (Von Brück’s German paper explains this more detailed. The fact of his promise to abstain from Shugden worship is also mentioned in Dreyfus (1998) and Dhongthog (2000). Von Brück states as the source for this Rigs dang dkyil ‘khor rga mtsho ‘l khyab bdag heruka dpal ngur smrig gar rolskyabs gchig pha bongkha pa bde chen snying po dpal bzang po’l rnam thar pa don ldan tshangs p’al dbyangs snyan, Phabongkhapa, Collected Works Vol. 14, Lhasa edition, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives , Dharamsala, Acc. 1622. Dreyfus states “According to his biographer, Pa-bong-ka promised not to propitiate Shuk-den any more.” and he gives as reference for this: Lob-zang Dor-je, (Biography of Pha bong kha (pha bong kha pa bde chen snying po dpal bzang po’i rnam par thar pa), 471.a-.b.)

[6] This quote was added on May 4th, 2009

[7] The Shuk-Den Affair: Origins of a Controversy (1998) by Georges Dreyfus, Professor of Religion at Williams College, published in Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies (Vol., 21, no. 2 [Fall 1998]:227-270) – (PDF-File)



I added the honorific term H.H. (His Holiness) where it is appropriate to add it, mainly for the Head of the Tibetan Traditions. The reason why I restrained to address Kelsang Gyatso with the title “Geshe”, an academic monastic title he claims to hold, is that three sources clearly state that he does not hold the title of a Geshe, and he himself could not give a reasonable explanation on this which is free from internal contradictions nor could he clarify what type of Geshe degree he holds.