Khure Monastery’s Great Abbot
Rabjampa Ngawang Lobsang
“I will write here Dorje Shugden’s historical account.”
Rabjampa Ngawang Lobsang,1 who had been graced by an epiphany of Tara,2 was born in Mongolia in the early 19th century. When he was seven, he took the Genyen vows and was given the name Lobsang Thubten. He entered Khure (khu re) monastery and studied the five great classical texts. When he was 17, Ngawang Khedrup conferred on him the novice monk vows and gave him the name Ngawang Thubten.3
At a respectable age, he travelled to Central Tibet for studying sutra and tantra, and for this he relied on the Tenth Dalai Lama tshul khrims rgya mtsho (1816-1837), the Fourth Panchen Rinpoche bstan pa'i nyi ma (1782-1853), and the first Trijang Rinpoche byang chub chos 'phel (1756-1838, who was the Ganden Tripa from 1816-1822). He was given the title khu re mkhan po no mon han when he travelled back to Mongolia and became the abbot of Khure monastery.
Tibetan Histories: A Bibliography of Tibetan-language Historical Works by Dan Martin (pp. 147-148) lists texts by “Rab-’byams-pa Ngag-dbang-blo-bzang (= Ngag-dbang-ye-shes-thub-bstan.”4 It says:
The author was abbot of the great monastery Khu-re in Urga [Ulanbator, Mongolia]. It lists works on the origin of the Tara Tantra and a history of the “Mani” prayer of Avalokiteshavara in India.
These are indeed in his collected works, which is two volumes in the Potala edition and four volumes in the Ulanbator edition5 with copies in the State Library of Ulanbator. A complete catalog of the Ulanbator edition can be found in Chandra (vol. 1, pp. 326-333). Among the hagiographies is a hagiography of Panchen Sonam Dragpa listed with a highly influential text called rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal byung tshul mdo tsam brjod pa pad dkar chun po.6
This is also listed in Tibetan Histories, which has a bibliography of Tibetan historical texts by century; under the 1700s, it lists:
Btsun-pa Ma-ti, Rgyal-’bai Bstan-bsrung Chen-po Rdo-rje-shugs-ldan-rtsal-gyi Byung tshul Mdo tsam Brjod pa Pad-dkar chun-po. A copy seen appended as part of a 27 folio woodblock print to a work with the title cover: Lha-dbang-rgya-mtsho, Rje-btsun Tham-cad-mkhyen-pa Bka’-drin-can Bsod-nams grags-pa'i Dpal Rnam-dpyod Mchog-gi Sde'i Rnam-par Thar-pa Ngo-mtshar Rmad-du Byung-ba Dad-pa'i Rol Rtsed. The text by Btsun-pa Ma-ti is contained on folios 19v through 27v, and is concerned with the origins of the protective deity Rdo-rje-shugs-ldan, with special reference to the Gzims-khang Gong-ma incarnation lineage. This entry supplied by E. Gene Smith (letter March 9, 1996).
Indeed, the work is signed with the reincarnation name (sprul ming) btsun pa ma ti. The colophon also states that it was written at Drepung Loseling monastery. Given this information, we could assume it was written by a reincarnate lama who belonged to this monastery in the 18th century.
Rabjampa Ngawang Lobsang is the same person as Ngag-dbang-ye-shes-thub-bstan,7 as his other works described later are signed with the name Rabjampa Ngawang Lobsang. In Pabongkha Rinpoche’s lengthy citation of this text, he credits the work to Rabjampa Ngawang Lobsang’s collected works. Thus, this work can be at least be traced as far back to Rabjampa Ngawang Lobsang. Until this can be proven to be written by somebody else, it will be credited to Rabjampa Ngawang Lobsang at the earliest.
Most of the material in this woodblock primarily consists of Panchen Sonam Dragpa’s (1478-1554) biography. Panchen Sonam Dragpa was the first of the gzims khang gong ma reincarnation lineage that ended with Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen who subsequently became Dorje Shugden. It is explaining this particular point that the first text referred to above (Rgyal-’bai Bstan-bsrung Chen-po Rdo-rje-shugs-ldan-rtsal-gyi Byung tshul Mdo tsam Brjod pa Pad-dkar chun-po, translated as Rosary of White Lotuses in short) is primarily concerned with.
It begins with introducing the work as a short account (byung tshul mdo tsam) of the Conqueror’s Dharma protector, Dorje Shugden Tsel (rgyal ba'i bstan srung chen po rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal). This very first line contains the name rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal, an almost unanimous epithet used by early and later followers of this deity. This is followed by an introduction of devotional poetry addressing the greatness of the Panchen Sonam Dragpa incarnation lineage ending with the lines:
For the sake of protecting Jamgon Lama’s doctrine and doctrine holders [Dorje Shugden] displays the hundred-fold wrathful expressions, I will write here Dorje Shugden’s historical account.
Then begins the account:
As for this protector, he intentionally revealed a wrathful form for the sake of completely subjugating (tshar gcad) those who out of contention harm the doctrine and doctrine holders (bstan 'dzin) of the Jamgon Second Conqueror ('jam mgon rgyal ba gnyis pa). In that manner, the famous Panchen Sonam Dragpa’s later reincarnation called Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen was said to have taken the form of a dregs [worldly spirit] by the reincarnation of Yontan Gyatso [Fourth Dalai Lama] and those who had fallen into error.
The author goes on to tell this story he has heard in person from some eminent lamas:
At the time of Panchen Sonam Dragpa the chief of the Dreg, Pehar, considered what types of stainless Buddhadharma there were in the world and also what types of exalted realizations and qualities its followers had. He wandered the entire world searching and found Je Lama’s Dharma and its head, the all-knowing Pandit Sonam Dragpa, exalted from possessing the transmissions, realizations and qualities. Knowing that Panchen Sonam Dragpa was a great being from a high place, he went in his presence and made a request.
The author quotes Pehar’s request:
“For the sake of holding, keeping pure, increasing and completely annihilating harm to Je Lama’s Dharma and its upholders, please show activities of expertise in pacifying, increasing, empowering and wrath. I will also try and help you as much as I can. As for myself, I was ordered to protect the Buddhadharma in general in the presence of Padmasambhava and being entrusted I took that responsibility. By the power of that oath I have no ability to protect Je Lama’s doctrine in particular. For that purpose please consider this.”
The author refers back to how the later reincarnation of Panchen Sonam Dragpa, Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen, fulfilled this request:
Thus by the condition of this request, he intentionally arose to protect Je Lama’s dharma and its followers, performing extremely wrathful and fast activities for the sake of completely destroying inappropriate harm with force, reducing enemies of the Dharma to dust in an instant, conquering legions of demons holding the boundless, powerful Vajra. He manifested the form of Gyalchen Dorje Shugden Tsel. This was said by the lineage of past lamas through oral teachings and up to now became praised as the protector of Je Lama Tsongkhapa’s dharma.
The author then goes on to explain that Panchen Sonam Dragpa became famous as the reincarnation of Buton Rinchen Drup and that Buton Rinchen Drup became famous as the reincarnation of Shakya Shri. In other words, they are all in the same reincarnation lineage. He then quotes a story about Shakya Shri from Yongzin Pandita’s Origin of the Vinaya:
When Shakya Shri was staying in Magadha [the ancient Buddhist city in India] the king of Magadha continually made offerings to a foe destroyer that was living in Singhala [Sri Lanka]. At that time, the foe destroyer told the king’s messenger “you are bringing offerings from a very long distance, but in your own kingdom the seventh Buddha, Tathagatha Pure Light, the Mahasattva called Shakya Shri is staying. If you make offerings to him it will create much greater merit.”
Then Panchen Shakya Shri’s younger brother went to Singhala to meet the foe destroyer and he told him the same thing as he told to the king’s messenger and Panchen Shakya Shri became renowned as the Seventh Tathagatha of the fortunate aeon. Trophu Lotsawa also wrote [in his biography of Shakya Shri written in praises] “as shown by the foe destroyer of Sri Lanka, the Rishi of Jakang Mountain [in Yunnan, China], Orgyan protector, to the Seventh Buddha of this aeon to attain enlightenment and return to Ganden afterwards I prostrate.”
This point can also be found in Buton Rinchen Drub’s biography written by his disciple Dratshadpa Rinchen Namgyal, who also imparted Buton’s lineages to Je Tsongkhapa. In the introduction to the biography it clearly states that Buton is the reincarnation of Shakya Shri:8
It was prophesied that of the 1,000 Buddhas who will appear in this fortunate era, he will appear as the seventh Buddha to teach the Dharma. This was prophesied by the Siddha and Rishi of Ribo Jakang (China), the Siddha from Ugyan (Swat) and the Arhat from Sri Lanka unanimously.
This introduction to Buton Rinchen Drub’s biography also says:
In a period long ago, this great being was a mighty Lord of the twelve stages and reached Buddhahood with a Corpus of Complete Enjoyment (Sambhogakaya) after which he manifested various Corpora of Emanation (Nirmanakaya). Thus he simultaneously resided in the pure realm Tushita and took birth and played as a child.
The author of Rosary of White Lotuses states that the specifics about the Seventh Buddha can be found in Bhadrakalpika Sutra (mdo sde bskal pa bzang po). As it says in this sutra regarding the Seventh Buddha of this Aeon:9
The Tathagatha Pradyota will have as his birthplace the land called Constellation. He will be of princely descent, and his light will extend for five yojanas... In his first assembly will be 100 thousand times ten million disciples; in his second will be 990 million; and in his third assembly will be 980 million. His life will span ninety million years, and the holy Dharma will remain a further eighty-five thousand years. His relics will be extensive.
The purpose of following the lineage back to Shakya Shri quoting these stories is part of the thesis the author is creating to establish the legitimacy of Dorje Shugden with the following points:
- The previous reincarnation lineage of Panchen Sonam Dragpa includes the incarnations of Buton and Shakya Shri, who are definitely exalted beings.
- The reincarnation lineage after Panchen Sonam Dragpa (the gzims khang gong ma lineage reincarnation lineage) includes Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen among others.
- The reincarnation after Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen definitely became Dorje Shugden.
- Therefore, Dorje Shugden is an emanation and not an ordinary rebirth as a result of throwing karma.
The author established points one and two with ample quotations above. It is points three and four that the author now argues to make his case. Interestingly, the author quotes a source that has been used by detractors of Dorje Shugden to discredit him as an ordinary spirit. Desi Sangye Gyatso’s history of the Gelug (Vaidurya Serpo) tradition is quoted:
Panchen Sonam Dragpa’s reincarnation Sonam Yeshe Wangpo, his reincarnation Ngawang Sonam Geleg, for his reincarnation [who was Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen] there was a hope he was the reincarnation of the All Knowing Yonten Gyatso [the Fourth Dalai Lama] but at the end of his life resulted having an unfortunate rebirth.
This point is important because it shows that it was indeed the same incarnation lineage that ended in this purported unfortunate rebirth, which leads into the next point. The author next asks the hypothetical question how could it be he ended up having an unfortunate rebirth (skye gnas mi bzang)? The answer to this question is how the author concludes his thesis with the following argument paraphrased here.
For a bodhisattva dwelling on the bhumis (the bodhisattva levels), the door to unfortunate rebirth is closed; it is inappropriate to say that they are thrown into unfortunate rebirth. In general when one attains the first bhumi, one can emanate hundreds of bodies at one time for the benefit of beings, and these emanations can be disguised as Indra, Brahma or a demon in order to benefit beings. Therefore for the sake of protecting the Dharma, these great beings come disguised as dregs (spirits) for the benefit of beings, how is there any contradiction to this? This concludes the author’s first presentation.
The work continues for many folios giving a summary of Panchen Sonam Dragpa’s life and how he attained the common and uncommon goals. It concludes with incidents of the Fifth Dalai Lama’s time, namely how terrified he was initially of Dorje Shugden. Dreyfus attributes his quote to Pabongkha Rinpoche, however the original Tibetan cited by Pabongkha is taken directly from this very work:
“Because the All Seeing Great Fifth practiced and developed all tenets of the old and new [schools], this great protector through the power of previous prayers produced a variety of extremely frightful appearances to the supreme Powerful King (the Fifth Dalai-Lama) in order to protect and defend spotlessly Dzong-ka-ba’s great tradition.”10
Thus, it was not Pabongkha who invented this idea of Shugden’s wrath toward mixing Gelug with Nyingma.11 Next, it says the Fifth Dalai Lama first tried to destroy him by requesting Sakya Rinpoche to do rituals (gtor rgyag), but more harm came as a result. From that experience, he wrote a torma offering ritual to Dorje Shugden. This is followed by the story that the Fifth Dalai Lama sent the messenger to Dol:
In the region of Dol, offered by the Great Fifth as an abode, there is a fortress (pho brang). At the time of Great Fifth, he gave a government official special eye ointment and a magical hat (sgrib zhva) and sent him to deliver a letter to the presence of Dolgyal. When he went to this place he saw Dolgyal’s palace as being like a god’s mansion. The right and left doors were blocked by two fearful Acharyas. Putting on his magical hat he was able to enter. In the middle of the extremely beautiful mansion was a high throne. On this was a monk wearing the three types of monk’s robes. In front of him was arranged a light natured mandala. The smell of ethics pervaded the air.
From outside came many frightful non-humans (mi ma yin). They requested many times “in this land we are receiving much harm from arrows, we need a way to give them harm.” Although they insisted compassion was not appropriate, they were stopped. Finally, when they came back one more time and insisted, he gave them a handful of white mustard seed and told them to throw it in the direction of the 'On region. When the non-humans threw this the land’s harvest for the year was completely destroyed. Then the government official said “this letter was sent by the Fifth Dalai Lama, which I was given to deliver.” Handing it over Dorje Shugden took and it and placed it on his forehead. Thus seeing the situation he returned back to the Fifth Dalai Lama and told him everything that happened. I have heard from this my holy teacher.
This is an illustration of the views regarding the relation between Dolgyal and Fifth Dalai Lama by masters generations before Pabongkha Rinpoche. The colophon states this was written with much devotion to Panchen Sonam Dragpa by the reincarnation name (sprul ming) btsun pa ma ti at Drepung monastery. This also challenges the assertion by Dreyfus that earlier development of the Shugden practice was not related to Panchen Sonam Dragpa.12
The author, by his own admission, is merely writing down oral accounts that existed in the lama hierarchy at the time. Is there any reason to conjecture that the author would have made this all up himself? This is the earliest known documented account of:
- Pehar requesting Panchen Sonam Dragpa to become Dorje Shugden.
- The reincarnation lineage of Dorje Shugden from Shakya Shri at the earliest to Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen being the last human incarnation.
- Logical proofs defending Dorje Shugden not being an ordinary worldly deity but an emanation.
- Dorje Shugden being entrusted to specifically protect the Gelug tradition.
Also, the oral traditions captured in writing in this work continued into the 20th century to Pabongkha Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche. Some scholars have accused the aforementioned authors of making up these ideas, while blatantly overlooking the evidence in this work. This is even more irresponsible when considering that Pabongkha Rinpoche explicitly cites Rosary of White Lotuses in his work on the origin of the Dorje Shugden called shugs ldan srog gtad kyi sngon 'gro'i mtshams sbyor kha skong, which contains an introduction to the history of Dorje Shugden.
This text is in volume 7 (’ja’) of Pabongkha Rinpoche’s collected works (pp. 525-540). On page 526 in the opening sentence, he cites “as written in sources including rab ‘byams ngag gi dbang po’s Rosary of White Lotuses.”13 On page 527, he quotes verbatim from this text starting with the story about Pehar appearing to Panchen Sonam Dragpa. Georges Dreyfus even cites this text by Pabongkha Rinpoche as a source in his essay The Shuk-den Affair,14 while still making the claim that Pabongkha made up the “Shugden myth,” such as the connection between Dorje Shugden and Panchen Sonam Dragpa himself!
In addition, there are rituals to Dorje Shugden that were definitely written by this author. There are two rituals15 described as belonging in his collected works, which can also be found in the Dorje Shugden be bum. The first ritual16 is called mchod gtor ‘bul tshul dam can dgyes pa'i mchod sprin las bzhi lhun grub. The bulk of this text is that of the torma offering written by 'on rgyal sras rin po che described earlier. In the colophon, the author describes how the ritual was written using 'On Gyalse Dorje Chang’s work as a valid scriptural authority, while making minor adaptations.
Following this lengthy work in Guru Deva’s collection is a wealth of rituals to Dorje Shugden:
- First, on pages 311-314, there is a thanksgiving torma ritual called bstan bsrung rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal la gtang rag ‘bul tshul bzhugs so.
- Second, pages 313-315 contain a tsok offering called chos skyong rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal la tshogs mchod ‘bul tshul, rgyal chen dgyes pa'i ‘dzum zhal zhes bya ba bzhugs so. The colophon for this tsok says that it was written using Je Gungtang Rinpoche’s offering to sku lnga (Pehar) as a basis, as requested by the chief monk blo bzang tshe ring.
- Third, pages 315-316 contain a serkyem offering that the colophon says was compiled (bsgrigs), not written, by this author. These verses consist of Morchen Dorje Chang’s serkyem verbatim, with a few additional verses at the end.
Finally, pages 317-318 contain a ritual called bstan bsrung rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal la gtor ma ‘bul pi dza ha ra ti sma. This consists of a variety of offerings, such as various animals as spectacles, the four-fold world, etc. The verses are very similar to those from Trehor Khangsar Rinpoche’s work mentioned next, who may have borrowed many of the elements from this ritual.
2 Chandra, Lokesh (1963). Materials for a History of Tibetan Literature. International Academy of Indian Culture: New Delhi. v. 2, p. 18.
3 Since Ngag dbang mkhas grub died in 1838 (TBRC Person RID: P4699), Rabjampa Ngawang Lobsang could not have been born after 1821 since he received vows from him at age 17. Therefore, his lifespan most likely is from the 1810s to the 1890s.
4 This text lists 1779-1838, which are the incorrect years; these are the years for ngag dbang mkhas grub, who was his teacher and abbot of Khure monastery as well.
6 Chandra, Lokesh (1963). Materials for a History of Tibetan Literature. International Academy of Indian Culture: New Delhi.p. 326.
7 The Panchen Sonam Dragpa biography and Rosary of White Lotuses are indeed included in rab ‘byams ngag gi dbang po’s collected works. Upon investigation, his name is ngag dbang ye shes thub bstan (TBRC Person RID: P259). This work shows up twice in TBRC as mkhas grub chen po paN chen bsod nams grags pa'i sde'i rnam par thar pa ngo mtshar rmad du byung ba dad pa'i rol rtsed dang rgyal ba'i bstan bsrung chen po rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal byung tshul mdo tsam brjod pa pad dkar chun po. The first reference belongs to ngag dbang ye shes thub bstan (TBRC Person RID: W5327): “38 ff. in vol. ka of the 4 vol., largely printed, gsung 'bum.” The second belonging to lha dbang rgya mtsho (TBRC Person RID: P4949) as Work RID: W17594. These are the sources while they have been published separately several times as described in the TBRC entries.
8 Introduction section in A Handful of Flowers (1996), a brief biography of Buton Rinchen Drub, translated by Hans van den Bogaert, published by Library of Tibetan Works and Archives.
9 The Fortunate Aeon: How the Thousand Buddhas Become Enlightened (c1986). Translated into English by Dharma Publishing staff; under the auspices of the Yeshe De project. Berkeley, Calif. : Dharma Pub., pp. 523-525.
10 Dreyfus (1998), pp. 250-251.
11 It should be stated that Dreyfus is slightly contradictory on whether Pabongkha personally developed the Dorje Shugden practice. From page 228 it states “[Pa-bong-ka] developed this practice in response to contemporary events.” This proposition is one the main objects of refutation in this essay. Yet on page 246 we find: “We have to be clear, however, on the nature of Pa-bong-ka’s innovations. He did not introduce these practices himself, for he received them from teachers such as Ta-bu Pe-ma Baz-ra and Dak-po Kel-zang Kay-drub (dwag po bskal bzang mkhas grub). 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 teachings.” This latter statement can be challenged by many of the points in this text, as it clearly links Dorje Shugden to be the protector who arose specifically for the sake of protecting the Gelug tradition, in particular from the dilution of its traditional doctrine, especially Je Tsongkhapa’s presentation of emptiness.
12 How much is actually historically true of both of these points is difficult to determine. Nevertheless, this much proves these views and ideas existed and were accepted in the 19th century.
13 It is certain that ngag dbang ye shes thub bstan is synonymous with rab ‘byams ngag gi dbang po, as this is the name by which he signs his other works with, including those listed below.
14 Dreyfus (1998), pp. 250-251.
16 Guru Deva Rinpoche (1984), pp. 299-311.