Rongchen Kirti Lobsang Trinley

“Gyalchen Dorje Shugden, the special emanated Protector of the Doctrine of the Second Buddha Manjunatha [Je Tsongkhapa]...”

The Eighth Kirti Rinpoche1 incarnation is from the Amdo region in Northeast Tibet. According to Various People, he was born to the south of the lake Kokonor in 1849. In his fifth year, the third incarnation of Kunkyen ('Jam dbyangs bzhad pa) recognized him as the reincarnation of Rongpo Choje and gave him the name Lobsang Trinley Tenpa Gyatso.

He took ordination from Je Konchog Monlam at the age of seven and received Getsul ordination from him at the age of eight. From the age of eleven, he studied the five classics at the feet of many masters and attained excellence. When he was 24, he took the full ordination of a Gelong monk (bsnyen rdzogs kyi sdom pa) at his own monastic seat. When he was 25, he established a new monastery in rNga ba and stayed there. He visited most of the monasteries in Amdo and some in Mongolia as well. He also established a debate and tantric college. When he was 56, in the wood dragon year (1904), he passed away at his own monastery stag tshang lha mo. His written works consist of 12 volumes.2

As stated above, the Eighth Kirti Rinpoche founded a number of new monasteries and colleges. More information can be gleaned from the inventory of his collected works which contains the constitutions for these institutions. For example, from volume 6:

  1. Tagtsang Lhamo Tantric College - stag tshang lha mo'i rgyud pa grwa tshang gi bca' yig nor bu'i phreng ba
  2. Tagtsang Geden Tashi Khyil - stag tshang dpal gyi lha mo dge ldan bkra shis 'khyil gyi bca' yig - written in the earth hare year (1879)
  3. Tagtsang Lhamo Loseling College - stag tshang lha mo'i mtshan nyid grwa tshang blo gsal gling gi rtsod grwa'i bca' yig blo gsal dga' ston - written in the wood bird year (1885)
  4. ma dgon gyi bca' yig - written in the wood dog year (1874)
  5. Ngaba Monastery - rnga pa'i dgon gsar gyi bca' yig
  6. tsho bdun bca' yig - written in the wood dog year (1874)
  7. dben gnas bkra shis dge 'phel gling gi bca' yig mdor bsdus
  8. A publishing center - par brkon bca' yig - written in the wood horse year (1894)

The first three items are institutions established at Kirti Rinpoche’s monastic seat stag tshang lha mo. The first is a tantric college, and the third is a debate college based on Drepung Loseling in that it follows the curriculum and manuals (yig cha) found there. The latter will be discussed more later.

Dan Wilson examines a table of contents (dkar chag) for a stupa monument at the monastery in rNgaba founded by Kirti Rinpoche in the Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library’s literary collection:

The monastery of dGe ldan legs bshad gling was newly founded in 1870, at the request of a local ruler called rMe’u Sa dbang chen po, by the Kirti Rinpoche Blo bzang 'phrin las bstan pa rgya mtsho. This teacher was quite famous during his time.


Shortly after his founding of the monastery, Kirti Rinpoche built a mchod rten named ‘Significant Vision’. He composed a dkar chag to this mchod rten in no less than 108 (a significant number) folio pages.3

Biographical data for him4 also confirms this and adds more: “famous teacher of the dge lugs tradition connected with kir+ti dgon chen” and “author of a highly-regarded sung 'bum in 12 large volumes: ka-da and ithi.” His collected works5 was published by Tala Tulku, being “No. 25 in series one of the Bod brgyud nang bstan dpyad gzhi yig rigs = Historical materials of Tibetan Buddhism, published by the Krung go'i Then cin Dpe rnying Dpar skrun Khang.”

His collected works has a number of rituals for various protectors, including a life entrustment (srog gtad) for Setrabchen and Nechung. Also, there are rituals for Karma Vajra, Tshang pa, and of interest here an initiation manual for Dorje Shugden. This is called rdo rje shugs ldan gyi rjes gnang byed tshul.6 This introduces Dorje Shugden in the unique Gelug language:

Here is the method of initiation (rje gnang) for Gyalchen Dorje Shugden, the special emanated Protector of the Doctrine of the Second Buddha Manjunatha ('dir 'jam mgon rgyal ba gnyis pa'i bstan srung khyad par can sprul pa'i chos skyong rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan gyi rjes gnang bya ba'i tshul la).

A rje gnang is a generally referred to as an initiation, though it literally translates as subsequent permission. It is a much shorter ceremony than the full initiations (dbang) that are given for various yidams. Most protectors have their own rje gnang, and do not have a full initiation (dbang). The text continues, giving details on where it should be performed, the layout and special materials needed and the preliminary rites. Like other rje gnang-s, the main procedures are initiations of body, speech and mind. This is then followed by a life force initiation (srog dbang) which has its own special commitments.

As for a description of the source and subsequent fate of this rje gnang, this is found in The Source of the Dorje Shugden Tsel Initiation (rje gnang), written by the Mongolian scholar Lobsang Tayang (1867-1937) in Some Historical Accounts of the Secret Activities of Lamas, Gods and Protectors.7 Earlier, Ngagrampa Dorje Chang of Great Khure (a monastery in Mongolia), Choje Loringpa and others had sought out a Dorje Shugden initiation and, although they questioned many learned Tibetan and Mongolia masters most said that they had not heard of such an initiation existing in Tibet. However, one Amdo lama said, “in my homeland stag tshang lha mo there is an initiation.”

An earlier incarnation of Kyabgon Kirti Rinpoche traveled to Lhasa. For the purpose of establishing a Loseling college at his own monastery, he entreated Gyalchen Shugden who was very pleased and gave him a detailed, lucid explanation [on what to do] and gave the promise “in the near future I will come to that college to protect it.” Later, one day at the fence surrounding Kirti monastic college, there was a herder of dark complexion riding a wild horse. Both the herder and the horse were making eccentric expressions as they hastily raced around the circuit outside of the monastic college. The monks became afraid and promptly requested Kirti Rinpoche who immediately came to the monastic college and said, “it is as was said before, Gyalchen Dorje Shugden has come to protect our monastery.” Performing the binding in the presence of sacred objects and the mandala, he was happy and explained clearly what had happened earlier. He gave the Vajracharya and the monks the initiation, and then riding the horse quickly he departed near a boulder. They built a btsan khang in that very place where offering services are still performed.

Later, the author of this account (Lobsang Tayang) entreated Ngagrampa Bakshi who told him to try bringing that rje gnang (initiation), also to compile a be bum for the purpose of spreading the Dorje Shugden practice. An Amdo lama called stag tshang lha mo Vajracharya Chogtrul had come to the author’s country many times earlier. Because he had a Dharma connection with him, he requested to try finding the Dorje Shugden rje gnang that existed at Kirti Rinpoche’s monastery stag tshang lha mo. Upon returning, the Vajracharya Chogtrul learned that when the earlier Kirti Rinpoche was close to death he wrote this Dorje Shugden initiation rite. At that time, Kirti Rinpoche bestowed the initiation to Alag Chojor and told him by all means not to break the continuity of the lineage.

The Vajracharya entreated Alag himself with Lobsang Tayang’s entrustment and requested the rje gnang. Vajracharya gave the rje gnang at his own main monastery to over 30 monks. Then Vajracharya again came to the author’s own monastery and gave the requested initiation to 21 students in three groups of seven.

As noted above, the constitution of stag tshang lha mo Loseling College was written in 1885, which most likely puts the time of the initiation being initially transmitted in the 1880s. Volume ‘Ga’ of Rongchen Kirti’s collected works contains praises to Panchen Sonam Dragpa (paN chen bsod nams grags pa la bstod pa mkhas pa'i mgrin rgyan), written at the request of the abbot of this Loseling college. Moreover, when Rongchen Kirti sought Dorje Shugden’s guidance, he must have recognized the connection between this deity and Panchen Sonam Dragpa. Panchen Sonam Dragpa’s syllabus (yig cha) is the core of Loseling’s curriculum. This presents a challenge to Dreyfus’ assertion that the Gelug sect adopted Shugden on the basis of his power as a worldly deity and not the basis of the connection with Panchen Sonam Dragpa’s lineage.8 Also, according to Some Historical Accounts of the Secret Activities of Lamas, Gods and Protectors, the spread of Gelug monasteries and colleges in Mongolia appears to have been guided by the consultation of oracles such as Setrapchen and Dorje Shugden. According to these accounts, the adherence to specific curriculum (yig cha), especially that of Panchen Sonam Dragpa, was another important factor in establishing new colleges.

This is a Dorje Shugden initiation tradition that began earlier and separately from the one that Tagphu Dorje Chang and Pabongkha Rinpoche later derived. Although the reliance on Dorje Shugden is clearly a diffusion from Central Tibet, this initiation is also an innovation created outside of Central Tibet, which later spread to Mongolia. This probably explains why it has been so overlooked; compared to those in Central Tibet these regions’ works have not been extensively studied in modern times.

As noted by Dreyfus, this concurs with the spreading of the practice in the late 19th century.9 However, should the status of Dorje Shugden at the time of this diffusion be considered on the basis of a mere minor deity of the Gelug as posited by Dreyfus? The initiation itself and the titles used shows that by this time, the status of Dorje Shugden was being elevated beyond that of a minor worldly protector. This is definite given that the initiation manual uses the term “special emanated Protector of the Doctrine of the Second Conqueror Manjunatha,” a title similar to that coined earlier by Nyungne Lama Yeshe Zangpo in the late 18th century or early 19th century.

1 blo bzang 'phrin las bstan pa rgya mtsho, TBRC Person RID: P249.

2 Don rdor and bsTan 'dzin chos grags (1993), pp. 939-940.

3 Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre - 30. Tables of Contents (dKar chag) by Dan Martin.

4 TBRC Person RID: P249.

5 TBRC Work RID: W4615.

6 TBRC Work RID: W4595.

7 Lobsang Tamdin (1975), v. XIV, pp. 341-357.

8 Dreyfus (1998), p. 245: “Its gradual adoption in the Ge-luk tradition does not show any relation with either Pan-chen So-nam-drak-pa or his third reincarnation, Drak-pa Gyel-tsen. Shuk-den seems to have been adopted by Ge-luk lamas because of his power as a worldly deity.” Perhaps the strongest challenge to this point is Lobsang Tamdin’s organized collection of rituals for Dorje Shugden (be bum) in which biographies and supplications to Panchen Sonam Dragpa’s reincanation lineage are paramount and abundant.

9 Dreyfus (1998), p. 244.