Header image header image 2  


Controversy and confusion are integral to Shugden.

Largely because of NKT's battle with the Dalai Lama since the mid 1990s, Shugden research, defense and criticism have become commonplace as well as emotional. The debates over Shugden seem to boil down to 'yes he is, no he isn't' and a diversion from practicing true Buddhism.

Unfortunately, the Shugden debate created by NKT casts disrepute on Buddhism because few can watch NKT's protests or read NKT's web sites and countless blog posts without feeling that what is going on should be avoided, even if it includes true Buddhism. To those yet to glimpse the beauty and wonder of Buddhism, NKT's spiteful mission will disuade many from exploring Buddhism any further.

This Sunday afternoon, once again I found myself wondering why NKT prefers its version of Shugdenism, uses its resources to publicize NKT's theology of controversy and is so determined to shadow the Dalai Lama with negativity.

So, today, amidst thinking about NKT's fundamentalist reductionism and why it provides NKTites more comfort and spirituality than practicing compassion, I found 4 interesting assessments that provide insights into Shugden beyond those I have previously considered.

The first was a 'movie' produced and broadcast in 2006 in The Netherlands about Tibetan oracles, relevant because Shugden, in contrast to Buddhas, is reached through oracles who contact earthly mundane spirits, who benefit living beings when they are subdued by masters (e.g., Padmasambhava, who subdued various wrathful spirits sufficiently to control them to become Dharma protectors). Approximately three quarters through the film, Shugden is discussed. For the full film, click here. For an excerpt discussing Shugden...

Next, an interesting 1996 article by Dr. Gareth Sparham, who teaches Tibetan and Sanskrit languages at the University of Michigan, entitled Why the Dalai Lama Rejects Shugden. Dr. Sparham is a prolific author (click here for his books at Amazon.com).

"If it is usually said that fools rush in where angels fear to tread, in this case it is a case of a fool rushing in on angels uninvited, because I propose to explain the political ramifications of the controversy over the angel (Tibetans would call him protector) Shugden. It is a controversy which has very much to do with the leadership of the Dalai Lama and also with differing visions of what an independent Tibet will look like. The controversy, as it is now playing itself out, has nothing at all to do with the Dalai Lama's infringement on the right of individuals to religious freedom (this is what some contributors to a discussion about Shugden on the Internet have recently argued) and everything to do with support for a secular vision of a future Tibet. In essence, as I shall try to show, the argument over which angel one is supposed to worship is, among Tibetans, an argument over whether a future Tibet should be a fundamentalist religious state or whether it should be a secular state in which no single religious dogma is privileged over others.

First, though a brief digression into the story of Shugden to let readers know exactly who we are talking about. Who, exactly, is this angel in the Tibetan pantheon? A cursory investigation of the primary literature reveals two main opinions about where the angel comes from. Both of these opinions originate in the seventeenth century when the Gelugpa sect in general, and the Dalai Lamas in particular, were becoming the major power in Tibet. According to one opinion the angel is the embodiment of the spirit of one of the two ancient centres of power in Drepung, the biggest of the Gelugpa monasteries. Old records show that there were two centres of power in Drepung: the so-called lower chamber associated with the Dalai Lamas-to-be, and the upper chamber associated with the descendants of Sonam Drakpa, an illustrious teacher who died in 1554. According to one opinion, Drakpa Gyaltsen, the third incarnation of Sonam Drakpa, died a violent death in the 1650s while antagonistic to the Fifth Dalai Lama, and his spirit came forth in the form of the angel Shugden. A second opinion is that the angel arose not as an embodiment of the spirit of Drakpa Gyaltsen, but rather as an embodiment of the spirit of Sonam Chomphel (died 1657), a supporter of the Fifth Dalai Lama. In the intrigues and wars of the seventeenth century which brought the Gelugpa school to power in a loose federation with powerful families associated with the Nyingmapa sect, etc. Sonam Chomphel was a champion of the interests of the Gelugpa school. As an embodiment of his spirit, therefore, these people say Shugden is a unique Gelugpa protector.

For reasons that are unclear to me, the propitiation of the angel Shugden became quite popular as part of the religious life of many Tibetans at the beginning of the twentieth century, particularly amongst aristocrats in Lhasa and in the big Gelugpa monasteries. Whether this was in response to the attempts of the Fifth Dalai Lama to partially modernize Tibetan society is unclear. In practical terms, however, it meant that many of the refugees arriving in India after 1959 had the propitiation of Shugden as part of their spiritual practice. Understandably, in the face of the horrible attempts of the Chinese to eradicate Tibetan identity by denying them the right to freely practice their religion in their own country, these Tibetan refugees carried on in exile propitiating the angel Shugden, as well as with many other aspects of their varied and rich religious lives.

And so might the propitiation of the angel Shugden have remained, except that the present Dalai Lama, beginning at the end of the 1970s, began insisting that he did not like the practice of propitiation of Shugden being in any way associated with his person, that those who wished to be known to others as associated with his person could not at the same time propitiate this particular angel publicly, or even secretly if they wished to be his religious disciples, and that one could not be an authentic supporter of the government-in-exile of which he is the head if one insisted on associating oneself with the propitiation of this angel. Since the person of the Dalai Lama is so important for Tibetans, this insistence that the propitiation of Shugden be divorced totally and utterly from him caused many people great spiritual anguish, all the more so because many had been taught the Shugden propitiation practice in earlier years by the saintly junior tutor of the Dalai Lama himself, and understood themselves to be pleasing the Dalai Lama by doing what his teacher had said to do.

It is in light of these developments, then, that some contributors to the Internet (apparently Western students of a Tibetan teacher from Sera monastery living in England called Geshe Kelsang Gyatso) have said that the Dalai Lama is interfering with their right to freely practice their chosen religion. In bald terms, their criticism of the Dalai Lama is that he wants to stamp out a particular religious practice because of a belief in the superiority of his own values. It is an important criticism and it deserves to be taken seriously, not because it has any truth in it (it is a criticism devoid of any validity whatsoever), but because there should be no suspicion that because the Dalai Lama is a powerful Tibetan, perhaps the world's most famous Buddhist and a very popular man, therefore, his actions should not be open to the same scrutiny as any other person's. That having been said, it is surely preposterous to accuse the Dalai Lama (a man who has always preached religious tolerance) of wanting to stamp out any religious practice, particularly a Tibetan one. The accusation itself, I would suggest, results from the same religious intolerance and obscurantism that the Dalai Lama associates with the Shugden symbol and from which he is taking such pains to dissociate himself.

It seems to me that it is only possible to understand the present controversy about Shugden, inside and outside Tibet, in political terms. Although originally, no doubt, in the old world of Tibet primarily a religious figure, Shugden is today a political symbol representing for Tibetans the aspirations of an emerging political party which looks back to a golden age when the rule of Tibet was invested in the Gaden Phodrang. I say "emerging political party" because a party system is yet to fully develop amongst Tibetans. This emerging political party is wedded to the idea that the final arbiters of Tibet's destiny should be monks, that the future government of a free Tibet should uphold its own particular version of a religious truth taught (they say absurdly) by Tsongkhapa, that the future government of Tibet should fund particular monasteries and ceremonies and support a curriculum of monastic education in opposition to modern secular education, and in particular, that it should champion a fundamentalist version of Tibetan Buddhism as a state religion in which the dogmas of the Nyingmapa, Kagyudpa and Sakyapa schools are heterodox and discredited. In this sense, it is a religious fundamentalist party which wants to make its religious dogma into the sole political ideology acceptable to the state, and, like fundamentalist parties everywhere, it is intolerant of any suggestion that its own is simply one in a variety of truths.

It is the pressing need to clearly and unequivocally let it be seen that he and his government-in-exile will support and defend equally the right of all Tibetans to follow whatever religious tradition or practice that they wish that lies behind the Dalai Lama's insistence that those who want to be associated with the Tibetan government in exile publicly distance themselves from the propitiation of the angel Shugden. With the gradual emergence of a party-like system amongst Tibetans (something, incidentally, which the Dalai Lama has always tried to foster, even at the expense of that power that presently attaches to the institution of the Dalai Lamas) the angel Shugden has become more and more the symbol of a fundamentalist party that excludes religious pluralism. It is because of this that the Dalai Lama has more and more felt the need to insist that his "party" reject it, in particular, because of the immediate reality that those who are in the Dalai Lama's "party" are, to all intents and purposes, the present Tibetan civil service in exile. Caught in a dilemma, where the only language for political discourse presently intelligible to ordinary Tibetan people is a religious language, he has to say he opposes a religious practice in order to say clearly that he wants to guarantee all Tibetans an equal right to religious freedom and political equality in a future Tibet.

A question which needs to be asked, though, is whether the Dalai Lama has over-reacted. The natural constituency of the fundamentalist party that has taken Shugden as its symbol is amongst religious obscurantists in the Gelugpa school, after all, and the reality is that over the last forty years, like other Tibetan religious groups, its monasteries have been gutted, its leaders killed and its influence on the Chinese administration now operating inside Tibet minimal or non-existent. And as an outside observer of the Tibetan scene, one cannot but look on the destruction of even Tibetan fundamentalism, unpleasant though it may be, without feeling sadness for those who are struggling in the face of such overwhelming odds to retain something of their old values and life. But caught as he is in the very centre of Tibet's political life, the Dalai Lama cannot treat it as just a minor issue. Divisive tendencies are always a danger amongst Tibetans (hardly surprising given the nature of the mountainous country where inhabitants of each valley and region feel a strong sense of regional identity) and the emerging fundamentalist party that has taken the angel Shugden as its symbol threatens to become a rallying point for disaffected regional leaders. Even more destructively, it seems to be drawing dispirited Tibetans faced with the absence of any signs that a viable compromise with the forces of the Chinese occupation will ever be reached back into superstitious belief.

There is in Tibetan a hierarchical language to describe the myriad members of the Buddhist pantheon. This language, which has great complexity, describes many ranks of the buddhas, bodhisatvas, gods, demons, goblins, and so on almost without end. It is the particular feature of this language that it retains the primary status of universal symbols of good (the Buddhist symbols which transcend just Tibet) while at the same time empowering and giving true religious value to the symbols of personal or group idiosyncratic worship. It is features of the propitiation ritual of the angel Shugden that the angel himself, because of the way he must be propitiated, moves up from the lower ranks and comes to be approached with a level of devotion usually reserved for only the very highest symbols. Since, like most of the lower ranking members of the Buddhist pantheon, the angel Shugden has most often been propitiated for less than the most noble purposes, in particular nowadays it appears out of the belief that propitiating him will make one richer, the danger of rank superstitious nonsense being elevated to the highest level becomes apparent. And when the object of such superstitious belief becomes tied up with hopes for Tibetan freedom, not only does the possibility of freedom recede further into the distance, the dissemination of the wider Buddhist heritage which so many Tibetans see as the whole purpose of regaining Tibet is made impossible as well.

To sum up, then, the Dalai Lama's rejection of the Shugden propitiation is not part of an attempt to stamp out a religious practice that does not accord with his own beliefs. He rejects it in order to ensure that his exile government is fair and is seen to be fair, to ensure that he be clearly seen to represent the widest constituency amongst Tibetans so that in the long term he will ensure that his own reputation as a fair and honest leader remains strong amongst the Tibetan population at large."

And, then, a 2008 newsletter article by John Vincent Bellezza who researches Tibetan archeology and culture,

"Flight of the Khyung

Welcome to another issue of Flight of the Khyung, the monthly newsletter that flies highest to bring you a wide range of Himalayan issues of both historical and contemporary significance. There is no shortage of interesting and colorful subjects to choose from, and I can always dip into the annals of my many adventures in the Himalaya as well. This month we shall focus on a Tibetan Buddhist religious issue of critical importance.

The Shukden Problem Revisited
Recently, I was approached by journalists working for French and Arabic TV. They wanted information on a highly controversial and sensitive subject concerning Tibetan religion and society. These TV reporters are doing an in-depth feature piece on the fallout surrounding the worship of a notorious spirit by certain Tibetan Buddhists. In addition to an interview on camera, I prepared a written statement for the TV crew, and this forms the basis of the following essay. I have opted to compose this essay as if I was an informed insider (rather than the non-Tibetan scholar I am) in order to give it added weight and poignancy.

In the mid-17th century CE, there was a lama of much learning and fame named Drakpa Gyaltsen (Grags-pa rGyal-mtshan). He was a leading monk at Lhasa’s Drepung monastery. Tragically, Drakpa Gyalsten was a deeply troubled man and finally after many intrigues he took his own life. The spiritual liberation of this deceased individual’s consciousness proved problematic, not least of all because his followers wanted to use him as an instrument of revenge against their enemies. As a result, the consciousness of Drakpa Gyalsten was transformed into a malevolent spirit known as Shukden (Shugs-ldan).*

Shukden is a spirit bound to the world, one that was created through the practice of necromancy (conjuring the dead). According to the ethos of Tibetan Buddhism, all sentient beings are to be regarded with great compassion. The deceased ought to be guided either to a better rebirth or to enlightenment depending on the disposition of their karma (the law of cause and effect). To encourage a deeply tormented spirit to remain in the worldly sphere creates much distress for it on both subtle and gross levels. To cause such harm is ethically incorrect in Tibetan Buddhism. Those who engage in such practices for their own ends also endure much suffering due to the debilitating nature of their activities. In other words, necromantic practices fundamentally harm both the dead and the living. And this is true despite the short-term material gains that accrue to those who carry them out. In Buddhism, as in all other major world religions, necromancy is proscribed precisely because of its pernicious influences.

Shukden is infamous for its ability to bring material gain to its followers and destruction to their enemies. This malicious ghost is especially known for its extreme possessiveness, vengefulness and ire. These qualities make it attractive to spiritually flawed persons mired in mundane activities, as their wishes can be quickly and ruthlessly realized. For these reasons, Shukden became a popular object of propitiation among certain adherents of the Gelukpa sect. These followers claim that Shukden is a high level Buddhist protector (Choekyong) or even an incarnation of the Buddha. However, for most Tibetan Buddhists this view of its divinity is simply unacceptable.

A study of Tibetan eschatological scriptures shows that those deceased who are lost between rebirths are in desperate need of rehabilitation and liberation, bar none. They are considered pitiable beings floundering in a murky limbo, and make unreliable and menacing allies. It is not surprising then that over the last 300 years, devotion to Shukden has proven highly antagonistic to the interests of Tibetan Buddhism. In addition to debasing Buddhist doctrines and morality, this ghost has been the cause of much sectarian ill-will and tension.

The 70% of Tibetans who belong to sects other than the Gelukpa (Nyingma, Sakyapa, Kagyudpa, etc.) are deeply opposed to Shukden because of the extreme proprietary nature and spiteful personality of this aggressive spirit. The majority of Tibetans have been calling upon those Gelukpa who use Shukden to give up their attachment to it. Until recently, however, their pleas have largely fallen on deaf ears. Fortunately, the present-day Dalai Lama, His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, acutely aware of the wishes and aspirations of the Tibetan people, has done much to put an end to Shukden worship. This has won him much admiration and respect among the great majority of Tibetans. The Dalai Lama has unambiguously instructed all Tibetan Buddhists who follow him to foreswear Shukden, and most have heeded his call. Sadly, some have not, and this sorcerer’s associate continues to cause very serious problems in Tibetan society. This is all the more appalling because it is the Gelukpa who pride themselves with having the most refined doctrines and the strictest discipline among the various Tibetan sects.

In Tibetan Buddhism, the bond between a spiritual master and his disciples is known as samaya. In order that this spiritual bond remains true and strong, it is necessary that disciples fully implement the instructions of their spiritual masters. Failure to do so can create many psychological and physical difficulties for disciples. In matters of vital importance, the dishonoring of the spiritual bond can even harm a religious master. That is why the Shukden worship is potentially detrimental to the Dalai Lama and to all those who are dedicated to authentic Buddhist values and ideals.**

According to Bon, the other major religion of Tibet, Shukden belongs to the shindre (gshin-’dre) class of demons, those deceased persons who are marooned in the intermediate state between death and rebirth, bringing much misery to themselves and discord to the living. In pre-Buddhist times, the Bon religion possessed highly effective ritual methods for containing and liberating the infernal shindre demons. Unfortunately, many of these ancient religious systems have broken down with time and the dominance of Buddhism. In matters of practical concern, the Indian funerary traditions of Buddhism have not proven as effective as those of the old Bon religion, which remained vibrant to around 800 CE.

The disintegration of the Bon religious legacy over the last 1000 years has led to a host of practical difficulties regarding death and dieing. This is particularly borne out in the cultural phenomenon known as rolang (ro-lang), whereby corpses become reanimated and go on to terrorize the living. Despite their best attempts, the Tibetan Buddhists could never eradicate the rolang phenomenon. Another unintended consequence of the suppression of the old Bon traditions was the rise of a class of demons known as mishi tsankye (mi-shi btsan-skyes). This involves the transformation of those who died violently into wrathful spirits. Many of these problematic spirits have been brought under a religious oath (dam-can) and inducted into the pantheon of the various Lamaist sects. Such practices can be traced to the 11th century CE Kagyudpa and Sakyapa sects. For example, it was the Taklung Kagyud who selected the spirit of a deceased individual to be their triad of chief protective gods (bDud-btsan, g.Ya’-dmar and dGe-bsnyen). At least in this particular case, the motivation for doing so was the furtherance of Buddhist traditions, and not crass worldly gain. Nevertheless, historically speaking, such ecclesiastic customs opened the door to degenerate practices involving necromancy to spread. Even the Bonpo succumbed to such decadence, enlisting the ghosts of deceased persons such as Changtsan (Byang-btsan) into their pantheon.

Under the Gelukpa sect the practice of necromancy gained much popularity, as its adherents increasingly neglected legitimate Buddhist protective deities (such as the mountain and lake spirits, warrior gods and Buddhist Choekyong divinities). Intoxicated by the power of the shindre demons, some Gelukpa have made systematic and sustained attempts to harbor and exploit them. This in a nutshell is the cultural historical background to the current Shukden problem.

For three centuries, the propitiation of Shukden and analogous entities has grievously harmed the Tibetan people and religions. Many of the catastrophic events afflicting Tibet over the last 60 years can be partially attributed to necromancy and the consequent degradation of authentic forms of Buddhism (leading to manifold negative impacts on Tibetan society). Unless necromancy is halted once and for all, it will continue to eat away at what remains of Tibet’s glorious spiritual heritage. In the long run it could even possibly lead to the demise of Tibetan Buddhism.

In the service of kindness and compassion, it is of the utmost importance that Shukden and all the other wretched spirits that are kept enthralled in the world are spiritually liberated. This should be done in order that the deep sufferings of the ghosts and the sufferings they engender in others be brought to an end. This is the correct and only positive course of action that can be taken. In the meantime, those who foreswear Shukden should be afforded the spiritual protection of bona fide lamas. Then the religious practices of the contrite can be rehabilitated to reflect the qualities of unalloyed wisdom and compassion. The teachings of the Buddha demand no less.

Of course in any democratic society that cherishes religious freedom, no attempt whatsoever should be made to use physical force against Shukden supporters. Rather they should be discredited and branded for what they are: members of a renegade cult. Gradually through the use of intellectual persuasion, peer pressure and ostracism the apostasy itself and the social ills that stem from it can be fully eradicated.


* According to an article entitled “Why the Dalai Lama rejects Shugden”, by Gareth Sparham (appeared in the Tibetan Review, June 1996), rather than Drakpa Gyalsten, it is possible that a Gelukpa lama named Sonam Choephel (died 1657) was the suicidal victim that gave rise to Shukden. In his article, Sparham notes that Drakpa Gyalsten represented a faction at Drepung monastery that was in competition with the Fifth Dalai Lama for ecclesiastic influence, while Sonam Choephel was part of a Drepung faction allied to the Fifth Dalai Lama.

** The shenanigans of a certain Tibetan well-known proponent of Shukden in the UK was the topic of two well researched articles that appeared in The Guardian newspaper (July 6, 1996) entitled “Smear campaign sparks safety fears over the Dalai Lama’s UK visit” and “Shadow boxing on the path to Nirvana”."

And, finally, a 1998 article by George Dreyfus, the first Westerner awarded the Geshe degree and Professor of Religion at Williams College in Massachusetts,

"In recent years the community of Tibetan Buddhists has been agitated by an intense dispute concerning the practice of a controversial deity, Gyel-chen Dor-je Shuk-den (rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan). Several Tibetan monks have been brutally murdered, and the Tibetan community in general and the Ge-luk tradition in particular have become profoundly polarized. Outsiders have been puzzled by the intensity of this dispute, for it concerns an unusual type of deity, the dharma protector (chos skyong srung ma), the concept of which is difficult to understand within the modern view of religion as a system of individual beliefs.

Despite the importance of these events and the coverage that it has received in both print and electronic media, modern scholars have remained relatively silent on the subject. One reason for this is that few scholars are willing to enter into a conflict as highly charged as this one. Moreover, the dispute concerns a rather baroque area of the Tibetan religious world that is neither well known nor easy for a modern observer to conceptualize. Nevertheless, this scholarly silence is regrettable, in that it has allowed less well-informed viewpoints to acquire legitimacy. It has also contributed to the irrational atmosphere that has surrounded this question.

In this essay, I will attempt to fill this scholarly gap and to promote a more rational approach by examining the quarrel surrounding Shuk-den and delineating some of the events leading to the present crisis. I will examine the narrative of Shuk-den's origin, focusing on the meaning of the hostility toward the Dalai Lama which it displays and which is confirmed by recent events. The irony is that Shuk-den is presented by his followers as the protector of the Ge-luk (dge lugs) school, of which the Dalai Lama is the (de facto) leader. How can there be a practice in the Ge-luk tradition opposed to its own leader? To answer this question, I will examine the historical development of the Shuk-den practice. I will first consider the events related in the Shuk-den story. I will then turn to later historical developments, in particular the way in which Pa-bong-ka (pha bong kha,) 1878-1941), the central figure in the Shuk-den lineage, developed this practice in response to contemporary events. I will also examine some of the events that took place in India in the 1970s when the "Shuk-den Affair" started to emerge. I will show that although the dispute concerning this deity has an important political background, it primarily concerns the orientation of the Ge-luk tradition and its relation to other Tibetan Buddhist traditions. In exploring these questions, I will also seek to answer other related questions such as: Why is Shuk-den so controversial? Is the practice of propitiating Shuk-den different from the practices associated with other protectors? Why has the present Dalai Lama been so opposed to the practice of propitiating Shuk-den? These are some of the questions that I seek to answer in this interpretive essay. What I will not attempt to explain are the more recent events that have unfolded in the 1990s.These events are still shrouded in controversy and will need to be established with any reasonable degree of objectivity before they can be interpreted.

In order to address some of the questions just mentioned, I explore the practice of Dor-je Shuk-den as it has been understood over time. In doing so, I follow the critical methods of the historical approach, whose assumptions are quite different from those of the believers. I examine how Shuk-den is presented in the rare texts where he appears prior to the contemporary period, that is, as a worldly deity ('jig rten pa'i lha) who can be propitiated but not worshiped. His followers often reply that this description refers to the interpretable meaning (drang don) of the deity, not its ultimate meaning (nges don), for in such a dimension Shuk-den is said to be fully enlightened (nges don la sang rgyas). [2] It is this kind of normative distinction that I leave aside in this essay intended for a modern audience.

The Founding Myth

When asked to explain the origin of the practice of Dor-je Shuk-den, his followers point to a rather obscure and bloody episode of Tibetan history, the premature death of Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen (sprul sku grags pa rgyal mtshan, 1618-1655).Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was an important Ge-luk lama who was a rival of the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngak-wang Lo-sang Gya-tso (ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, )1617-1682).[3] Drak-ba Gyel-tsen and Ngak-wang Lo-sang Gya-tso were born at a crucial time in the Ge-luk tradition. The tradition had by then survived a protracted civil war with the forces of Tsang (gtsang) backed by some of the other Tibetan Buddhist schools. It had not yet won the war but had begun to establish an alliance with Mongol groups that would allow it to triumph two decades later. Around the same time, two of the most important Ge-luk lamas had died: the fourth Dalai Lama and the second reincarnation of Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba (bsod nams grags pa,) 1478-1554), who was one of the most important Ge-luk teachers during the sixteenth century. Between the two boys, Ngak-wang Lo-sang Gya-tso was chosen as the Fifth Dalai Lama over Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, who was designated by way of compensation as the third reincarnation of Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba. [4] This choice did not seem, however, to have resolved the contention between the two lamas, as they remained rivals at the heads of two competing estates known as the "Upper Chamber" (zim khang gong ma) under Drak-ba Gyel-tsen and the "Lower Chamber" (zim khang 'og ma) under the Dalai Lama. During the next two decades, the struggle between the forces of Central Tibet supported by the Mongols of Gushri Khan and the forces of Tsang continued, gradually turning to the advantage of the former party. Due to his connection with the Mongols, which had been established by the Third Dalai Lama and reinforced by the Fourth, the Fifth Dalai Lama and his party were able to establish their supremacy. In 1642, the Fifth Dalai Lama became the ruler of Tibet and entrusted the actual running of the state to his prime minister, So-nam Choe-pel (bsod nams chos 'phal). This victory, however, still did not eliminate the rivalry between the two lamas and their estates. Very little is known about the events that took place in the next ten years but it seems quite clear that there was a contentious between the two lamas' estates. What is less clear is the reason behind this conflict. Was Drak-ba Gyel-tsen perceived as a focus of the opposition to the rule of the Fifth Dalai Lama and his prime minister within the Ge-luk hierarchy? Was there a personal rivalry between the two lamas? Or was the main reason for the tension a dispute between Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's family, the Ge-kha-sas, and So-nam Choe-pel, as a recent work argues? [5]

What seems to be well established is that in these circumstances, in 1655, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen suddenly died. The exact conditions of his death are controversial and shrouded in legends. Some of the Fifth's sympathizers claimed that there was nothing extraordinary in Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's death. He had just died of a sudden illness. Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's sympathizers seemed to have disagreed, arguing that he had died because he had not been able to bear the constant efforts from the Dalai Lama's followers to undermine him. Others claimed that he was killed while in the custody of the prime minister. Still others claimed that he submitted himself voluntarily to death by strangulation or by suffocation in order to become a wrathful protector of the Ge-luk tradition. [6] In a particularly dramatic and highly revealing account, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's death is described as occurring after a traditional religious debate that he had with the Fifth Dalai Lama. As an acknowledgment of his victory, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had received a ceremonial scarf from the Fifth. Shortly after, however, he was found dead, the scarf stuffed down his throat.

Whatever the exact details of his death, the important point is that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's death was perceived to be related to his rivalry with the Fifth Dalai Lama. It was also taken to have been violent and hence the kind of death that leads people to take rebirth as dangerous spirits. According to standard Indian and Tibetan cultural assumptions, a person who is killed often becomes a ghost and seeks revenge. In his famous description of the demonology of Tibet, Nebesky-Wojkowitz provides several examples of the transformation of a person into a spirit due to a violent death. [7] Such a spirit is considered more dangerous when the person has religious knowledge, which is said to explain the particular power of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's spirit. He [8] is not just one among many protectors but a particularly dangerous one as the vengeful ghost of a knowledgeable person who died violently and prematurely. According to the Shuk-den legend, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen manifested himself as a (gyel-po,) i.e., the dangerous red-spirit [9] of a person, often a religious one, who is bent on extracting revenge against those involved in his death. Since he had been an important lama, however, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen turned his anger from a personal revenge to a nobler task, the protection of the doctrinal purity of the Ge-luk tradition. According to the legend, he first manifested his wrathful nature by haunting his silver mausoleum, which became animated by a buzzing noise, and by inflicting damage on his own estate. Then the monks serving the Fifth Dalai Lama began to encounter difficulties in performing their ritual duties. [10] Finally the Dalai Lama himself became the target. He began to hear noises such as that of stones falling on the roof, which became so loud that it is said that he could not eat his meals without monks blowing large horns on the roof of his residence. Frightened by these wrathful manifestations, the prime minister So-nam Choe-pel decided to get rid of the troublesome silver mausoleum by packing it into a wooden box and throwing it in the Kyi-chu river. Carried by the current the box reached Dol, a small pond in Southern Tibet. It is there that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's spirit resided for a while in a small temple built for him at the order of the Fifth Dalai Lama, who decided to pacify his spirit by establishing a practice of propitiation under the name of (Gyel-chen Dor-je Shuk-den ((rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan) and entrusting it to the Sa-gya school. [11]

This story is striking. In particular, its undertone of hostility toward the Dalai Lama is remarkable given that the Dalai Lama represents to a large extent the ascendancy of the Ge-luk school, also the school that the Shuk-den rituals seek to protect. Our first task here is to explain the meaning of this narrative, an important task given that the recent events in India seem to illustrate its hostility toward the Dalai Lama. The most obvious and tempting explanation are to assume that this story is primarily a political tale reflecting the tension between a strong Dalai Lama and a restive Ge-luk establishment. This may surprise an outside observer for whom the institution of the Dalai Lama is a Ge-luk creation and represents the power of this school. This interpretation appears more credible to an insider who knows that the Dalai Lama institution rests on a complex coalition in which the Ge-luk school is central but which includes other people, such as members of aristocratic families, adherents of the Nying-ma tradition, etc.

In such a coalition, the relationship between the Dalai Lama and the Ge-luk establishment is difficult and must be carefully negotiated. The delicacy of this situation is illustrated by the question of the leadership of the Ge-luk tradition. The nominal leader of the Ge-luk school is not the Dalai Lama but the Tri Rin-bo-che (khri rin po che), the Holder of the Throne of Ga-den in direct line of succession from Dzong-ka-ba. But in times where the Dalai Lama is strong, the leadership of the Holder of the Throne of Ga-den, who is chosen among the ex-abbots of the two tantric colleges, [12] is mostly nominal, and the Dalai Lama exercises effective leadership over the Ge-luk school through his government.

The Ge-luk school and more particularly its three large monasteries around Lhasa have played a leading role in the Dalai Lama's rule in Tibet. They have supported and legitimized his power and have received in return considerable socio-economic power. But this power also has been a source of tension with the Dalai Lamas, particularly when he was a strong personality who had his own power basis and intended to lead-In the history of the Dalai Lamas, there have been three such politically powerful figures: the Fifth, the Thirteenth and the Fourteenth Dalai Lamas, and all three have had serious difficulties with the Ge-luk establishment. It is also these same three Dalai Lamas who are said to have had problems with Shuk-den. Shuk-den could then be a manifestation of the political resentment of the Ge-luk hierarchy against the power of a strong Dalai Lama seeking to restrict and control it. The dispute surrounding Shuk-den would be a thinly disguised way for Ge-luk partisans to express their political opposition to an institution that does not sufficiently represent their parochial interests, an opposition manifested in the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's wrathful manifestation against the Fifth Dalai Lama.

I would argue that although tempting, this reading of the Shuk-den story is inadequate for at least two reasons. First, it fails to differentiate the stages in the relations between the Dalai Lama and the Ge-luk establishment. It is true that these relations have often been tense. But to run together the opposition between the Fifth Dalai Lama and the Ge-luk hierarchy, and the tension surrounding the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dalai Lamas fails to take into account the profound transformations that the Dalai Lama institution has undergone, particularly around the turn of the eighteenth century. Secondly, the political interpretation of the saga of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's wrathful manifestation is anachronistic, confusing the story and the events that it narrates. Or, to put it differently, this interpretation fails to see that we are dealing here with two stories: the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, a seventeenth century victim of the Fifth Dalai Lama's power, and the story of Shuk-den, the spirit in charge of maintaining the purity of the Ge-luk tradition as understood by his twentieth century followers. The former narrative is clearly political but is not about Shuk-den. It concerns the nature of the Dalai Lama institution and its relation to the Ge-luk hierarchy in the seventeenth century. The latter is about Shuk-den. It is mostly religious but does not concern the Dalai Lama's political power.

To further clarify these two points, I will examine the political context in which the Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's story took place and the nature of the Dalai Lama institution at that time. I will then consider the events surrounding Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's tragic death in a historical perspective, and try to reconstruct the way in which it was understood by his contemporaries.

The Historical Context

The events surrounding Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's death must be understood in relation to its historical context, the political events surrounding the emergence of the Dalai Lama institution as a centralizing power during the second half of the seventeenth century. The rule of this monarch seems to have been particularly resented by some elements in the Ge-luk tradition. It is quite probable that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was seen after his death as a victim of the Dalai Lama's power and hence became a symbol of opposition.

The resentment against the power of the Fifth Dalai Lama was primarily connected to a broad and far-reaching issue, the desire of some of the more sectarian Ge-luk hierarchs to set up a purely Ge-luk rule. Some even seem to have argued for the suppression of the schools against which they had fought for more than a century, particularly the Kar-ma Ka-gyu� tradition.[13] The Fifth seems to have realized that such a rule would have had little support and would have exacerbated the intersectarian violence that had marred the last two centuries of Tibetan history. To avoid this, he attempted to build a state with a broader power base, state which he presented as the re-establishment of the early Tibetan empire. His rule was to be supported by the Ge-luk tradition, but would also include groups affiliated with other religious traditions.

The Fifth was particularly well disposed toward the Nying-ma tradition from which he derived a great deal of his practice and with which he had a relation through his family. This seems to have created a great deal of frustration among some Ge-luk circles, as expressed by several popular stories. The stories frequently involve a colorful figure, Ba-ko Rab-jam (bra sgo rab 'byams), who was a friend of the Dalai Lama. In the stories, he is often depicted as making fun of the Fifth Dalai Lama. For example, one day he comes to see the Dalai Lama, but the enormous Pur-ba (ritual dagger) he wears in his belt prevents him from crossing the door, an obviously sarcastic reference to the Nying-ma leanings of the Fifth Dalai Lama.

In the light of this opposition, it would seem that the narrative of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's wrathful manifestation makes perfect sense. Is not the Shuk-den story about the revenge of a group, the Ge-luk hierarchy, in struggle against the Fifth's strong centralizing power? Although tempting, this interpretation completely ignores the historical transformations of the Dalai Lama institution. In particular, it ignores the fact that after the Fifth's death the Dalai Lama institution was taken over by the Ge-luk hierarchy and radically changed. To put it colorfully, if Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had manifested as Shuk-den to protect the Ge-luk hierarchy against the encroachments of a Dalai Lama not sufficiently sympathetic to the Ge-luk tradition, this vengeful spirit would have been out of business by the beginning of the eighteenth century when his partisans, the Ge-luk hierarchy, won the day!

As long as the Fifth was alive, the Ge-luk hierarchy had to endure his rule, but his death changed the situation. His prime minister Sang-gye Gya-tso (sangs rgyas rgya mtsho) at first tried to conceal this death. When this proved impossible, he attempted to continue the Fifth's tradition by appointing his candidate, Tsang-yang Gya-tso (tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho), as the Sixth Dalai Lama. But with the latter's failure to behave as a Dalai Lama, Sang-gye Gya-tso lost the possibility to continue the task started by the Fifth. A few years later (1705) he was killed after being defeated by a complex coalition of Ge-luk hierarchs involving Jam-yang-shay-ba, the Dzungar Mongols and Lhab-zang Khan with the backing of the Manchu emperor���. [14]

After this defeat, the role of the Dalai Lama was transformed. His political power was limited and the nature of the ritual system supporting the institution was changed, as we shall see later. In these ways, the institution of the Dalai Lama became a more purely Ge-luk creation. Hence, it makes very little sense to speak of Shuk-den as representing the spirit of Ge-luk opposition to the Dalai Lama institution after the demise of the Fifth, for by then the institution had become to a large extent favorable to the Ge-luk hierarchy. Admittedly, there were a few incidents between the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and some elements of the Ge-luk tradition. There was also some resentment against the high-handedness of this ruler but these were minor and should not be blown out of proportion.

Did Drak-ba Gyel-tsen become a spirit?

This interpretation is confirmed by an analysis of the view of the contemporaries of these events. In the founding myth of the Shuk-den practice, the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's death and wrathful manifestation is presented as the view of his followers. Given the cultural assumptions of Tibetans, this scenario cannot be dismissed without further analysis. Impressed by his violent and premature death, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's followers may have begun to propitiate his spirit in an atmosphere of strong hostility against those who were thought to have been responsible. But although this scenario is culturally plausible, is it historical? That is, did Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's followers think of him in this way? This question is more difficult, given the paucity of contemporary sources, but it needs to be asked, for we cannot simply assume that these legendary episodes reflect the perception of contemporaries. In fact, there are indications that they do not.

The most decisive evidence is provided by the later Ge-luk historian, Sum-pa Ken-po ye-shay Pel-jor (sum pa mKhan po ye shes dpal 'byor), 1702-1788), who reports for the year 1657(Fire Bird) the following:

The assertion that this Tibetan spirit (bod de'i rgyal po) is Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, the reincarnation of the Upper Chamber, is just an expression of prejudice. Thus, I believe that the rumor that it is So-nam Choe-pel, who after passing away in the same year is protecting the Ge-luk tradition having assumed the form of a dharma protector through his "great concern for the Ge-luk tradition," is correct. [15]

This passage is significant in several respects. First, it confirms the fact that there were stories of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen becoming Shuk-den quite early on. Although Sum-pa does not mention the deity by name, it seems quite clear that this is who he has in mind. But it also shows that Sum-pa Ken-po does not concede the identification of Shuk-den as the wrathful manifestation of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, which he takes to be an insult to "the reincarnation of the Upper Chamber.� In what is probably a tongue in cheek tit-for-tat, he rather identifies the troublesome spirit with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's enemy, So-nam Choe-pel, the hated first prime minister of the Fifth Dalai Lama whom he sarcastically credits with a "great concern for the Ge-luk tradition."

Second, Sum-pa's remark is important because it reflects the view of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's sympathizers as the respectful epithet ("the reincarnation of the Upper Chamber") makes clear. Sum-pa was the disciple of Jam-yang-shay-ba ('jam dbyangs bzhad pa,) 1648-1722), one of the leading Ge-luk lamas opposing the Fifth and his third prime minister (sde srid) Sang-gye Gya-tso.[16] Thus, when he denies that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had become Shuk-den, Sum-pa is reflecting the views of the people who considered Drak-ba Gyel-tsen with sympathy as an unfortunate victim of a rule they resented. The ironical remark about So-nam Choe-pel ("his great concern for the Ge-luk tradition") and his identification as Shuk-den confirms this. Sum-pa disliked So-nam Choe-pel, whom he considered responsible for the Fifth's rule and Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's death.

Sum-pa's remark, however, raises a question. For, who then are the people claiming that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had become Shuk-den if not the followers of this lama? Could it be that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's followers had changed their minds by the time Sum-pa Ken-po wrote his account (1749)? Though further investigations may change our view, the evidence seems to suggest that this is not the case. The people who were identifying Shuk-den as the wrathful manifestation of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen were not his followers but his enemies, i.e., the Fifth Dalai Lama and his followers. This seems to be the implication of comments by Sang-gye Gya-tso when he says, referring to Drak-ba Gyel-tsen:

After [the death of] Ngak-wang So-nam Ge-lek (Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba's second reincarnation), [his reincarnation was born] as a member of the Ge-kha-sa family. Although [this person] had at first hopes for being the reincarnation of the All-knowing Yon-ten Gya-tso (the Fourth Dalai Lama), he was made the reincarnation of Ngak-wang So-nam Ge-lek and finally ended in a bad rebirth.[17]

Although Sang-gye Gya-tso is not explicit, his words seem to refer to the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's reincarnation as a spirit such as Shuk-den. This is confirmed by the Fifth Dalai Lama, who describes Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's demise as leading to his becoming a spirit. The Fifth explains that:

Due to the magic of a spirit (?), the son of the noble family Ge-kha-sa turned into a false reincarnation of Ngak-wang So-nam Ge-lek and became a spirit [motivated by] mistaken prayers (smon lam log pa'i dam srid).[18]

What this quote indicates is that after Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's death the claim that he had become a spirit such as Shuk-den was not a praise of his followers, but a denigration, not to say downright slander, by his enemies! It is not Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's partisans who were identifying him as Shuk-den, but his adversaries who were presenting this scenario as a way to explain away the events following his tragic demise.

We must wonder, however, why the Fifth Dalai Lama and his followers were interested in propagating the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's wrathful manifestation, a story which the latter's followers were keen to dispel? The answer to this question is bound to be tentative and highly speculative, and it is unlikely that any clear historical evidence will answer this question. Nevertheless, I think that it is not unreasonable to assume the following scenario. Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's premature death must have been a momentous event in Tibet at that time. It must have created a considerable malaise among Tibetans, who consider the killing of a high lama a terrible crime that can affect a whole country (as attested by the perception of the Re-ting affair in this century). Such a perception of misfortune must have been accompanied by events perceived as bad omens. There were probably stories of the possession and destruction of objects associated with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, as reported in the founding myth. Finally, there was the fact that the reincarnation of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen seems not to have been sought for, an extraordinary occurrence given that he was the reincarnation of Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba, one of the foremost Ge-luk lamas. [19]

It is in these circumstances that the story of his wrathful reincarnation must have appeared, not as a vindication of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, but as an attempt by the Fifth Dalai Lama and his followers to explain the absence of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's reincarnation and to shift the blame for the bad omen that had followed his death. These events were not the karmic effects of his violent death but the results of his transformation into a dangerous spirit. The Fifth Dalai Lama mentions that after Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's demise his spirit started to harm people. In order to pacify him, the Fifth had a small temple built near the pond of Dol, but this did not help and the reports of harm continued unabated. With the help of several important lamas such as Ter-dag Ling-pa (gter bdag gling pa,) 1646-1714), the Fifth decided to launch a final ritual assault and to burn the spirit during a fire ritual in which the spectators were said to have smelled the odor of burnt flesh.

As we realize, this description of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's posthumous fate is highly partisan and it is no surprise that his sympathizers rejected these explanations. They were keen on keeping the blame on the party of the Dalai Lama, arguing that the unfortunate events were not due to the wrathful reincarnation of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, who had taken rebirth as the emperor of China.[20] Finally, there are other stories that seem to hint that the evil spirit connected with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was already active prior to the latter's demise, even as early 1636.[21] If Shuk-den was already active prior to Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's tragic demise, how can he be the latter's wrathful manifestation? These conflicting stories show that what we have here is not a unified narrative but several partly overlapping stories. The founding myth of the Shuk-den tradition grew out of a nexus of narratives surrounding these events and developed in accordance with the new changing historical circumstances. It is not the account of the followers of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, as claimed by Shuk-den's modern followers, but it is only one of the many versions of the bundle of stories surrounding these tragic events. In fact, the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's demise as it appears in contemporary sources has little to do with Shuk-den. It is not about the deity but about Drak-ba Gyel-tsen. Only much later, when the significance of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's story faded, did this story resurface and get taken as the account of the origin of Shuk-den.

The fact that the founding narrative of the Shuk-den practice is largely mythological does not mean that we should dismiss it. Rather we should inquire into its meaning. This is what I will do in the later pages of this essay, where I examine the story of the violent manifestation of Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen as the founding myth of the tradition of those who propitiate Shuk-den. Before going into this, we need to inquire about the history of this propitiation. For, if this practice did not start with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's death, where does it come from? And the Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's story was later recast as the founding myth of the Shuk-den lineage, when did this appropriation take place?

The Early History of a Practice

To understand the history of the Shuk-den practice, we need to examine the way in which this deity has been considered throughout most of the history of the Ge-luk tradition. To his twentieth century followers, Shuk-den is known as (Gyel-chen Dor-je Shuk-den Tsal (rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal)), the "Great Magical Spirit Endowed with the Adamantine Force."[22] If we look at earlier mentions, however, we can see that Shuk-den also appears under another and less exalted name, i.e., as (Dol Gyel (dol rgyal).Even Pa-bong-ka calls him in this way when he says: "The wooden implements (i.e., crate) having been thrown in the water, the pond of Dol became whitish. After abiding there, he became known for a while as (Dol-gyel)."[23] This name helps us to understand how Shuk-den was considered in the earlier period, that is, as a troublesome but minor spirit, an interpretation confirmed by the explanations concerning Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's reincarnation.

The name (Dol Gyel) is quite interesting, for it yields a possible explanation of the origin of Shuk-den. It suggests that originally Shuk-den had a close regional connection with the area of the Tsang-po and the Yar-lung valleys where the pond of Dol lies. There, Shuk-den/ Dol-gyel was considered a (gyel po (rgyal po)), that is, the dangerous red-spirit of a religious person, who had died after falling from his monastic vows or had been killed in troubling circumstances.[24] Shuk-den/ Dol Gyel would then be a spirit from Southern Tibet, potentially troublesome like other red-spirits. No wonder then that his identification with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was rejected by the latter's followers as an insult to this important and unfortunate lama.

We find confirmation of Shuk-den's regional connection in the description given in 1815 by a Nying-ma teacher Do Kyen-tse (mdo mkhyen brtse ye shes rdo rje).While narrating his travels, he mentions the unpleasant presence of Shuk-den in Southern Tibet. On his way to Lhasa, after passing through the Nying-ma monastery of Dor-je Drak, Do Kyen-tse arrived in the area of Dra-thang (grwa thang) where Gyel-po Shuk-den (this is the name he uses) was active. Nevertheless, the spirit was unable to interfere with his travel and he reached his destination safely.[25] Thus, the existence of a deity, Dol-gyel/ Shuk-den, and his regional connection with the area of Southern Tibet seem to have been well established quite early on.

This regional connection is further confirmed by the fact that Shuk-den was propitiated in some of the monasteries of the same area, particularly in Sam-ye (bsam yas), which was by then Sa-kya. There Shuk-den appears as a minor but dangerous worldly protector. This also suggests that this deity was first adopted by the tradition of the monastery of Sa-gya,[26] a hypothesis further confirmed by the reference in the founding myth to his being taken over by the holder of the Sa-gya throne So-nam-rin-chen (bsod nams rin chen). In one of the versions, Shuk-den first attempts to go to Ta-shi Lhung-po, the residence of his teacher, the First Pen-chen Lama, Lob-zang Cho-gyen (blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan,) 1569-1662). He is prevented from doing so by Vaibravala (rnam thos sras), the supra-mundane protector of the monastery. He is then taken in by So-nam-rin-chen, who pities him and writes a text for his propitiation. This reference to the holder of the Sa-gya throne.

So-nam-rin-chen throws some interesting light on the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's wrathful manifestation and the establishment of the Shuk-den cult entrusted to the Sa-gya. It seems at first to confirm this story until we realize that So-nam-rin-chen was born in 1704, long after the events surrounding Drak-ba Gyel-sten's tragic demise. This considerable gap suggests that the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's wrathful manifestation as Shuk-den is a later creation, which incorporates a variety of narratives rearranged in the light of later situations. The founding myth of the Shuk-den practice is not a historical account but one of the many versions of a nexus of stories surrounding these tragic events, which developed gradually in the light of new historical circumstances.

Although So-nam-rin-chen's role in the Shuk-den's saga is more than questionable, his contribution to the tradition of this deity is not deniable. The small text that is attributed to him does seem to exist. It is the first ritual text focusing on Shuk-den that I have been able to trace. It can be found in the collection of ritual texts for the protectors of the Sam-ye monastery and confirms the existence of the practice of Shuk-den early on in the Sa-gya tradition.[27] Its title ("The Request to the Gyel-po [for the] Termination of Gane�a") suggests that Shuk-den was considered as an effective spirit in charge of clearing away obstacles (Gane�a being the king of obstacles).[28] Shuk-den does not seem to have played, however, a major role in the Sa-gya tradition, where he seemed to have remained a dangerous though minor worldly protector. This is confirmed by a story told by Ka-lu Rin-bo-che, who mentions coming across a small Sa-gya temple for Shuk-den in Western Tibet and the profound fear that this deity inspired in the care-taker of this temple. [29]

The regional connection with Southern Tibet and the sectarian link with the Sa-gya tradition are further confirmed by Stanley Mumford's anthropological description of the propitiation of Shuk-den in the Himalayan region. In his study of the religious life in the remote village of Tsap in Nepal, Mumford describes the practice of Shuk-den as a Sa-gya practice well established among the Tibetans of the region. In a small text used for this practice Shuk-den is presented as a worldly protector in charge of bestowing wealth, food, life and good fortune, of protecting the dharma, preventing its destruction, and of repelling the external and internal enemies of the ten regions. Finally, Shuk-den is invoked as a special protector of the Sa-gya tradition: "Protect the dharma in general, and in particular the Sakyapas. I praise you, who have agreed to be the Srungma of the Sakyapas". [30]

Given this evidence, it is reasonable to assume that the practice of Dol-gyel was at first a minor Sa-gya practice later adopted by the Ge-luk tradition. But here another difficult question remains. When did this happen? The evidence available establishes that the practice of propitiating Dol-gyel existed in the Ge-luk tradition during the eighteenth century. One of the clearest proofs appears in the biography of the Ge-luk polymath Jang-gya-rol-bay-dor-jay (1717-1786), written by his disciple Tu-gen-lo-sang-cho-gyi-nyi-ma (thu'u bkwan blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma), 1737-1802). [31] Tu-gen reports that Jang-gya mentions that Dol-gyel was propitiated by several Ga-den Tri-bas. After several unfortunate events, another Tri-ba, Ngak-wang Chok-den (ngag dbang mchog ldan,) 1677-1751), the tutor of the Seventh Dalai Lama Kel-zang Gya-tso (bskal bzang rgya tsho,) 1708-1757) put an end to this practice by expelling Shuk-den from Ga-den monastery.

This mention of Dol-Gyel is quite interesting for a number of reasons. First, it dates the practice of propitiating this deity in the Ge-luk tradition. This practice must have existed prior to Ngak-wang Chok-den's intervention, and it must have had a certain extension to have been adopted by several Ga-den Tri-bas. Second, it attests to the troublesome character of this deity. However, no connection is made with Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen. Jang-gya was after all one of the followers of Jam-yang-shay-ba, one of the main Ge-luk hierarchs opposed to the Fifth, and hence not inclined to consider favorably the story of Shuk-den as Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's wrathful manifestation. Finally, this passage illustrates the minor status of this deity in the Ge-luk tradition at that time, as Jang-gya mentions the expulsion of this deity in passing. This impression of small importance is confirmed by the fact that it is so difficult to document the practice of Shuk-den prior to the beginning of this century. But if Dol-gyel, as he is called by Jang-gya, is minor, why did Ngak-wang Chok-den and Jang-gya oppose his propitiation? Possibly because of its troublesome character. Jang-gya mentions that the Tri-bas who propitiated Dol-gyel encountered difficulties but he does not elaborate. Another possible reason for expelling Dol-gyel from Ga-den is that no mundane deity is allowed to remain permanently in Ga-den. Even Ma-chen Pom-ra, the local god (yul lha) of Dzong-ka-ba, the founder of the Ge-luk tradition, is not supposed to stay in Ga-den overnight, and must take his residence below the monastery.[32] Finally, the political connection alleged by the Fifth Dalai Lama's followers between this deity and their nemesis, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, may have played a role, though this is far from sure since by this time the story of the latter's demise must have started to fade away. Jang-gya may not have opposed the practice in general, for we find a representation of Shuk-den in a collection of thanka paintings given to Jang-gya by the Qianlong Emperor. Because the thanka is not dated, we cannot be sure of the date of its appearance in the collection. Despite this uncertainty concerning some details, an impression emerges which suggests that around the middle of the eighteenth century Dol-gyel was a troublesome but minor deity propitiated by some Ge-luk lamas.

The practice of Dol-gyel or Shuk-den also surfaced as an issue during the rule of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, who put restrictions on the oracle for Shuk-den but did not prohibit his activities completely. Dol-gyel could be propitiated in his proper place in the order of Tibetan gods, namely, as a minor mundane deity. His oracle was permitted only at certain fixed locations such as Tro-de Khang-sar (spro bde khang gsar) in Lhasa or Tro-mo (gro mo) in the Chumbi valley, but not in any of the large monasteries. Finally, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and his government applied pressure on Pa-bong-ka to desist from propitiating Shuk-den. They were particularly displeased by the diffusion of the Shuk-den practice in Dre-bung. They perceived these efforts as attempts to displace Ne-chung, who is, as we will see later, the worldly protector of the Dre-bung monastery and the Tibetan government. Hence, they ordered him to abstain from propitiating Shuk-den altogether. According to his biographer, Pa-bong-ka promised not to propitiate Shuk-den any more. [33]

These events seem to indicate that the propitiation of Shuk-den had spread to a certain extent during or just prior to the rule of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. This may have been due to a gradual spread of this practice during the nineteenth century, particularly its second half. This practice was widespread enough during the time of the Thirteenth to raise some concern in governmental circles. But even then references to Dol-gyel or Shuk-den remain very rare. Although the Thirteenth opposed what he saw as an excessive emphasis on Shuk-den by Pa-bong-ka, the issue was minor and there was little controversy concerning the practice of this deity.

Thus, what emerges from this impressionistic survey is that Shuk-den was a minor though troublesome deity in the Ge-luk pantheon throughout most of the history of this tradition. This deity does not seem to have been considered early on as Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's manifestation, except by his enemies, who intended the identification disparagingly. Its gradual adoption in the Ge-luk tradition does not show any relation with either Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba or his third reincarnation, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen. Shuk-den seems to have been adopted by Ge-luk lamas because of his power as a worldly deity, not on the basis of a connection with Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba's lineage. Lamas who are part of this lineage do not show any special inclination toward Shuk-den. Moreover, the monks of the Lo-sell-ling college of Dre-bung, who take Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba's works as their textbooks (jig cha) and consider him as perhaps the foremost interpreter of Dzong-ka-bag�s tradition, have had very little connection with Shuk-den (with a few individual exceptions).

How is it then that this minor spirit coming from an obscure location in Central Tibet has become the center of raging controversy that has cost the lives of several Ge-luk monks and continues to threaten the unity of the Ge-luk tradition? Moreover, how is it that this deity is now so pervasively identified with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen by his staunchest supporters, who take this connection as a vindication of both Shuk-den and Drak-ba Gyel-tsen?

The Rise of a Spirit

To answer these questions, we must consider the changes that took place within the Ge-luk tradition during the first half of the twentieth century due to Pa-bong-ka (1878-1941) and the revival movement that he spearheaded. Though Pa-bong-ka was not particularly important by rank, he exercised a considerable influence through his very popular public teachings and his charismatic personality. Elder monks often mention the enchanting quality of his voice and the transformative power of his teachings. a-bong-ka was also well served by his disciples, particularly the very gifted and versatile Tri-jang Rin-bo-che (khri byang rin po che,) 1901-1983), a charismatic figure in his own right who became the present Dalai Lama's tutor and exercised considerable influence over the Lhasa higher classes and the monastic elites of the three main Ge-luk monasteries around Lhasa. Another influential disciple was Tob-den La-ma (rtogs ldan bla ma), a stridently Ge-luk lama very active in disseminating Pa-bong-ka's teachings in Kham. Because of his own charisma and the qualities and influence of his disciples, Pa-bong-ka had an enormous influence on the Ge-luk tradition that cannot be ignored in explaining the present conflict. He created a new understanding of the Ge-luk tradition focused on three elements: Vajrayogini as the main meditational deity (yi dam,), Shuk-den as the protector, and Pa-bong-ka as the guru.

Like other revivalist figures, Pa-bong-ka presented his teachings as embodying the orthodoxy of his tradition. But when compared with the main teachings of his tradition as they appear in Dzong-ka-ba's writings, Pa-bong-ka's approach appears in several respects quite innovative. Although he insisted on the Stages of the Path (lam rim) as the basis of further practice, like other Ge-luk teachers, Pa-bong-ka differed in recommending Vajrayogini as the central meditational deity of the Ge-luk tradition. This emphasis is remarkable given the fact that the practice of this deity came originally from the Sa-gya tradition and is not included in Dzong-ka-ba's original synthesis, which is based on the practice of three meditational deities (Yamantaka, Guhya-samaja, and Cakrasamvara). The novelty of his approach is even clearer when we consider Pa-bong-ka's emphasis on Tara Cintamali as a secondary meditational deity, for this practice is not canonical in the strict sense of the term but comes from the pure visions of one of Pa-bong-ka's main teachers, Ta bu Pe-ma Baz-ra (sta bu padma badzra), a figure about whom very little is presently known. 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 teaching. This pattern, which is typical of a revival movement, also holds true for Pa-bong-ka's wide diffusion, particularly at the end of his life, of the practice of Dor-je Shuk-den as the central protector of the Ge-luk tradition. Whereas previously Shuk-den seems to have been a relatively minor protector in the Ge-luk tradition, Pa-bong-ka made him into one of the main protectors of the tradition. In this way, he founded a new and distinct way of conceiving the teachings of the Ge-luk tradition that is central to the "Shuk-den Affair."

In promoting Shuk-den as the protector of his charismatic movement, Pa-bong-ka did not invent the practice of this deity, which he seems to have received from his teachers, [34] but he transformed a marginal practice into a central element of the Ge-luk tradition. This transformation is illustrated by the epithets used to refer to Shuk-den. Instead of being just "The Spirit from Dol" (dol rgyal), or even the "Great Magical Spirit Endowed with the Adamantine Force" (rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal), he is described now by Pa-bong-ka and his disciples as "the protector of the tradition of the victorious lord Manjushri (i.e., Dzong-ka-ba)" ('jam mgon rgyal ba'i bstan srung)[35] and "the supreme protective deity of the Ge-den (i.e., Ge-luk) tradition" (dge ldan bstan bsrung ba'i lha mchog).[36]

These descriptions have been controversial. Traditionally, the Ge-luk tradition has been protected by the Dharma-king (dam can chos rgyal), the supra-mundane deity bound to an oath given to Dzong-ka-ba, the founder of the tradition. The tradition also speaks of three main protectors adapted to the three scopes of practice described in the Stages of the Path (skyes bu gsum gyi srung ma): Mahakala for the person of great scope, Vaibravala for the person of middling scope, and the Dharma-king for the person of small scope.[37] By describing Shuk-den as "the protector of the tradition of the victorious lord Manjushri," Pa-bong-ka suggests that he is the protector of the Ge-luk tradition, replacing the protectors appointed by Dzong-ka-ba himself. This impression is confirmed by one of the stories that Shuk-den's partisans use to justify their claim. According to this story, the Dharma-king has left this world to retire in the pure land of Tushita having entrusted the protection of the Ge-luk tradition to Shuk-den. Thus, Shuk-den has become the main Ge-luk protector replacing the traditional supra-mundane protectors of the Ge-luk tradition, indeed a spectacular promotion in the pantheon of the tradition.

Pa-bong-ka's promotion of this deity has several reasons. There was an undeniable personal devotion to Shuk-den in Pa-bong-ka derived from his early experiences, dreams or visions. This devotion was also based on a family connection, for Shuk-den was his mother's female god (skyes ma'i rgyud kyi lha). [38] Pa-bong-ka's writings reflect this strong devotion to Shuk-den, as is shown by the following passage:

Praise and prostration through remembering your three secrets [to you] the violent poison for the obstacles, the enemies, [and] those who have broken [their] pledges, [to you] the magical jewel who fulfills the hopes and wishes of the practitioners, [to you] the only life tree [i.e., support] in protecting Dzong-ka-ba's tradition.[39]

The very real personal devotion found in many of the Shuk-den texts written by Pa-bong-ka and his disciples explains Pa-bong-ka's fervor in diffusing Shuk-den. From the viewpoint of his followers, it is the most important element of Pa-bong-ka's heritage.

There is, however, another element that must be examined in order to understand the troublesome nature of the practice of Shuk-den, namely, the sectarian stance that it reflects. This is where the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen becomes relevant again. For Pa-bong-ka, particularly at the end of his life, one of the main functions of Gyel-chen Dor-je Shuk-den as Ge-luk protector is the use of violent means (the adamantine force) to protect the Ge-luk tradition. Pa-bong-ka quite explicitly states:

Now [I] exhort to violent actions Shuk-den, who is the main war-god of Dzong-ka-ba's tradition and its holders, the angry spirit, the Slayer of Yama (i.e., Yamantaka or Manjushri in his wrathful form)....In particular it is time [for you] to free (i.e., kill) in one moment the enemies of Dzong-ka-ba's tradition. Protector, set up [your] violent actions without [letting] your previous commitments dissipate. Quickly engage in violent actions without relaxing your loving promises. Quickly accomplish [these] requests and entrusted actions without leaving them aside (or without acting impartially). Quickly accomplish [these] actions [that I] entrust [to you], for I do not have any other source of hope. [40]

This passage clearly presents the goal of the propitiation of Shuk-den as the protection of the Ge-luk tradition through violent means, even including the killing of its enemies. We should wonder, however, what this passage means? Is it to be taken literally? And who are these enemies?

To answer these questions in detail would take us beyond the purview of this essay. A short answer is that in certain ways the statements of this ritual text are not very different from the ones found in similar texts devoted to other mundane protectors. By itself, this text does not prove very much. Combined with Pa-bong-ka's other writings, however, the statement about killing the enemies of the Ge-luk is more than the usual ritual incitements contained in manuals for the propitiation of protectors. Consider this rather explicit passage contained in an introduction to the text of the empowerment required to propitiate Shuk-den (the (srog gtad,) about which more will be said later):

[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.[41]

In this passage, which is based on notes taken by Tri-jang during a ceremony given by Pa-bong-ka and published in his (Collected Works,) Pa-bong-ka takes the references to eliminating the enemies of the the Ge-luk tradition as more than stylistic conventions or usual ritual incantations. It may concern the elimination of actual people by the protector. But who are these people?

A number of people may be included in this category. Several Nying-ma lamas have claimed to have been the target of Shuk-den, who is often greatly feared by the followers of this school. In this passage, however, Pa-bong-ka seems to have in mind less members of other schools than those Ge-luk practitioners who mix Dzong-ka-ba's tradition with elements from other traditions, particularly the Nying-ma Dzok-chen to which he refers indirectly but clearly. [42] The mission of Shuk-den as defined here is to prevent Ge-luk practitioners from mixing traditions and even visiting retribution on those who dare to go against this prescription.

This is also the central message of the founding myth of the Shuk-den practice as defined by Pa-bong-ka and his followers. Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen becomes a wrathful deity to visit retribution, not on those who caused his death, but on those who defile Dsong-ka-ba's pure tradition. According to the legend, Shuk-den takes the Fifth Dalai Lama as his target because the latter was eclectic, including in his practice many elements from the Nying-ma tradition, which provoked the anger of Shuk-den as a guardian of Ge-luk orthodoxy. Pa-bong-ka is quite explicit:

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.[43]

We may now understand the peculiar fate of the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's wrathful manifestation as Shuk-den, which shifted from a slander of the former into a praise of the latter. Pa-bong-ka was aware of the stories surrounding Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's death but understood them quite differently from the way contemporaries of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had. For him, the narrative was not about Drak-ba Gyel-tsen but about Shuk-den and the identification of the latter with the former was a way to legitimize the diffusion of a practice that had been previously marginal.

The choice of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was particularly meaningful for Pa-bong-ka, who had been pressured by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama to renounce his practice of Shuk-den and may have been somewhat resentful. He may have felt a communion with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, who like him had been the object of unwelcome attention from a strong Dalai Lama. More importantly, however, Pa-bong-ka must have felt that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's alleged posthumous antagonism to the Fifth Dalai Lama's eclecticism paralleled his own opposition to the adoption of Nying-ma teachings by some Ge-luk-bas. Shuk-den's anger against the Fifth Dalai Lama is not directed at the Dalai Lama institution (per se) but at the Nying-ma leanings of the Fifth. Finally, the choice of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen as the source of the Shuk-den lineage was an ideal way to legitimize an originally Sa-gya practice. By tracing back the lineage to Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, Pa-bong-ka could present the Shuk-den practice as authentically Ge-luk and reinterpret its undeniable roots in the Sa-gya tradition as an interlude in an essentially Ge-luk story.

[1] This is a revised version of an essay published earlier in the (Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies) (Vol., 21, no. 2 [1998]: 227-270) and reprinted here with the permission of the editors of the above-mentioned journal. I would like to thank them. I would also like to acknowledge all the people who have helped me in this project. Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, however, I feel that I should not mention any name and just thank them collectively.

[2] Tri-jang Rin-bo-che, (The Music that Rejoices the Ocean of Pledge Bound, Being an Account of the Amazing Three Secrets [of Body, Speech and Mind] of Great Magical Dharma Spirit Endowed with the Adamantine Force, The Supreme Manifested Deity Protecting the Ge-den Tradition (dge ldan bstan bsrung ba'i lha mchog sprul pa'i chos rgyal chen po rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal gyi gsang gsum rmad du byung ba'i rtogs pa brjod pa'i gtam du bya ba dam can can rgya mtsho dgyes pa'i rol mo,) Collected Works, Delhi: Guru Deva, 1978), V.5-159, 8.

[3] Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's lineage is said to go back to Dul Dzin Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, a direct disciple of Dzong-ka-ba. This lineage is, however, a kind of spiritual lineage and quite different from the recognized lineage of a lama. See Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement to the Explanation of the Preliminaries of the Life Entrusting [Ritual]) (rgyal chen srog gtad gyi sngon 'gro bshad pa'i mtshams sbyor kha bskong),) Collected Works, New Delhi: Chopel Legdan, 1973), VII.517-532, 520.

[4] Sang-gye Gya-tso (sangs rgyas rgya mtsho), explains that after Ngak-wang Ge-lek (ngag dbang dge legs) had died, the second reincarnation of Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba was found in the Ge-kha-sa (gad kha sa) family. He adds: "Although he had hopes for being the reincarnation of the All-knowing Yon-ten Gya-tso, he was made the reincarnation of Ngak-wang Ge-lek" (thams cad mkhyen pa yon tan rgya mtsho'i sprul sku yong du re yang ngag dbang dge legs kyi sprul sku byas pas). Sangs-rgyas-rgya-mtsho, (Vairya-ser-po) (Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1960), 72.

[5] Dol rgyal zhib 'jug tshogs chung, (Dol rgyal lam shugs ldan byung rim la dpyad pa) (Dharamsala, 1998), 25-35.

[6] Tri-jang, (Music,) 101-109.

[7] R. Nebesky-Wojkowitz, (Oracles and Demons of Tibet). (The Hague: Mouton, 1956).

[8] In this essay I will treat deities as "real persons" since they are experienced as such by Tibetans.


[9] Such a spirit is also called (tsan) (often but not always the spirit of a monk who has either fallen from his monastic commitment or has been killed), who lives in rocks and must be pacified with special red offerings. Tibetans speak of eight classes of gods and spirits (lha srin sde brgyad). See: Samuel, (Civilized Shaman) (Washington: Smithsonian, 1993), 161-163.

[10] Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement,) 521.

[11] Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement,) 523 and Tri-jang, (Music,) 105.

[12] The Tri-ba seems at first to have been elected, which would have strengthened his position. Later he was selected by the Dalai Lama. When did this change occur? Only further research will provide an answer which will greatly help us in understanding the history of the Ge-luk tradition.

[13] E.G. Smith, "Introduction," (Kongtrul's Encyclopedia of Indo-Tibetan Culture) (New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1970), 17.

[14] L. Petech, Introduction to Sangs-rgyas-rgya-mtsho, (Vaidrya-ser-po), xi-xii.

[15] bod de'i rgyal po ni gzim khang gong ma sprul sku grags rgyan zer ba ni chag(s) sdang gi gtam kho nar zad do/ des na bsod nams chos 'phel ni lo 'dir 'das nas khong dge lugs la thugs zhen ches pas chos bsrung ba'i tshul bzung nas dge lugs pa skyong zhes grags pa bden nam snyam mo/. (Rehu mig or chronological tables) in Sum pa mkhan po, (dPag bsam ljon bzang) (Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1959), 70-1.

[16]This opposition had come to the fore when the prime minister tried to entice the Lo-sel-ling college of Dre-bung monastery to adopt the fifth Dalai Lama's works as its textbooks in place of Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba's works. After the college's refusal, Sang-gye Gya-tso asked Jam-yang-shay-ba to refute Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba.This was an attempt at strengthening the government's control over the monasteries as well as a way of removing Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's posthumous influence, two goals with which Jam-yang-shay-ba had little sympathy. Hence, the latter refused to oblige.

[17] (de'i rjes su gad kha sa pa'i nang so gro (grod?) lhug thog mar thams cad mkhyen pa yon tan rgya mtsho'i sprul sku yong du re yang ngag dbang bsod nams dge legs kyi sprul sku byas pas mthar skye gnas mi bzang bar gyur to/) Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, (Vai∂rya-ser-po) (Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1960), 71-2.

[18] gad kha sa lags a rgyal gyi 'phrul la brten ngag dbang bsod nams dge legs dpal bzang gyi sku skye rdzus ma lam du song ba smon lam log pa'i dam srid gyur te/.Fifth Dalai Lama, (Collected Works,) vol. Ha, 423-4. A similar scenario is presented in the Fifth's autobiography. Both passages were quoted by the present Dalai Lama in a talk given in Los Angeles, June 1997.

[19] Some stories present the Nga-ri Rin-bo-che as the reincarnation of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen but they are hard to trace and are probably significantly posterior to the facts here discussed.

[20] In reference to the year 1655 (Wood Sheep), Sum-pa-mkhan-po notes: "[Birth of] the Kangshi emperor renowned as the reincarnation of Tul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen (sprul sku grags rgyan skye bar grags pa'i khang zhi bde skyid rgyal po) (Rehu mig,) 70.

[21] in his autobiography, the Fifth Dalai Lama mentions the existence of a harmful spirit around the pond of Dol. See (Du ku La'i gos bzang,) II. �157.a-.b.

[22] Pa-bong-ka gives the following gloss of Shuk-den's name: "[This] great protector, who holds the adamantine force which is all pervading regarding the destruction of the army of the devil, [this] spirit who is a war god, the protector of the Ge-den tradition, who assumes the pretense of being a worldly boastful god though he is beyond the world, is well known "Great Magical Spirit Endowed with the Adamantine Force" (de ltar 'jig rten las 'das kyang dregs pa'i zol 'chang dge ldan bstan srung dgra lha'i rgyal po/ bdud kyi sde 'joms pa la thogs pa med pa'i rdo rje'i shugs 'chang ba bstan srung chen po rgyal chen dor je shugs ldan rtsal zhes yongs su grags pa.(Supplement,) 528.

[23] shing cha rnams chu la bskyur ba dol chu mig dkar mor chags pas der gnas pas re zhig bar du dol rgyal zhes grags. Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement,) 521.

[24] Another informant has suggested that Shuk-den became at some point a monastic deity in charge of eliminating rogue monks who had broken their vows but still pretended to be pure. This hypothesis would account for the monastic appearance of Shuk-den's main form (for a description of Shuk-den's five forms, see Kelzang Gyatso, (Heart Jewel,) 77) and provide a precedent for Shuk-den's opposition to Ge-luk practitioners who have adopted Nying-ma teachings.From punishing rogue monks, it is quite easy to imagine how Dol-gyel could have been transformed into a deity punishing "rogue Ge-luk-bas"! I have not found, however, any source confirming this hypothesis. That such a type of deity exists among Tibetans is well established (Nebesky-Wojkowitz, (Oracles,) 207), but the connection with Dol-gyel or Shuk-den remains unfounded.

[25] phyi'i nang du nged rang phyir ldog cing/ sku tshab drung du phyin nas smon lam rnam par dag pas mtshams sbyar nas/ dur khrod du zhag gcig bsdad pas tshar slong gi mtha' rdzogs pa byung/ de nas theg cing btsan thang g.yu yi lha khang du zhag gcig bsdad/ rim bzhin gtsang chu'i srib ngos nas/ byams pa gling dang o rgyan smin grol gling/ thub bstan rdor brag sogs la mchod mjal zhus/ lcags la'i sras mkhan rin po che dang mjal zhing thugs yid gcig 'dres su gyur/ grwa thang du rgyal po shugs ldan nas cho 'phrul sna tshogs byung yang nye zho ma nus.Bde bar lcags zam chu bo rir slebs.Autobiography of Mdo Mkhyen brtse Ye shes rdo rje. Gangtok:Namgyal Institutue of Tibetology, 1974), 148.

[26] The practice of propitiating Dol-gyel seems to have been absent in the Ngor-ba or Tshar-ba branches of the Sa-gya tradition. It disappeared from the tradition of Sa-gya, perhpas due to the realization of its sectarian implications.

[27] Pl 480/ IASWR microfilms 08.043. �Dpal bsam yas lhun gyis grub pa'i gtsugs lag khang gi srung ma phrin las kiy mgon pa kun khyab rdo rje drag po rtsal gyi spyan 'dren bskang pa phrin bcol, 12.b-16.a.It is by no means sure, however, that the present version is identical to the text written by So-nam-rin-chen.The colophon mentions the fact that the text was revised (bcos) by Ngak-wang Kun-ga Lo-dro (ngag dbang kun dga' blo gros).The text is found among a collections of ritual texts of Anye Zhab (amyes zhabs ngag dbang kun dga',) 1597-1659).

[28] rgyal gsol log 'dren tshar gcod.

[29] One of the main sources in this essay is the present Dalai Lama, who has done a great deal of excellent research concerning Shuk-den, tracing several mentions of this deity in the early stages of the Ge-luk tradition.Here I am borrowing from his talk given on the 8th of May 1996.

[30] S. Mumford, 'Himalayan Dialogue (Madison: Wisconsin University Press, 1989), 264.

[31] Collected works of Thu-bkwan Blo-bzang-chos-kyi-nyi-ma (Delhi :Ngawang Gelek Demo, 1969-1971), I.5-831, 221.b. Quoted by the Dalai Lama in his talk of the 8th of may 1996.

[32] Nebesky-Wojkowitz, (Oracles ,) 210.

[33] 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.

[34] Ta bu Pe-ma Baz-ra and Dak-po Kel-zang Kay-drub are often mentioned as sources of the Shuk-den teachings.

[35]Pa-bong-ka, Collected Works, VIII.498, 533.

[36] Tri-jang,(Music,) 5.

[37] Nebesky-Wojkowitz, (Oracles,) 5.

[38] Lob-zang Dor-je, (Biography of Pha bong kha,) 471.b.

[39] hung/ blo bzang bstan pa srung ba'i srog zhing gcig/ rnal 'byor 'dod pa'i re skong yid bzhin nor/ dam nyams dgra gegs srog la ha la'i dug/ khyod kyi gsang gsum dran pas bstod phyag tshal/ Pa-bong-ka, (Collection of [Rituals] concerning the Circle of Offerings, The Special Offering of Drinks, [and] the Exhortation to Action of the Powerful Protectors of Buddhismand [the propitiation of] Wealth Gods and Spirit (mthu ldan bstan srung khag gi 'phrin las bskul gser skyems tshogs mchod sogs dang/ gnod sbyin nor lha' skor 'ga' zhig phogs gcig tu bkod pa,) Collected Works, New Delhi: Chopel Legdan, 1973), VII.451-497), 467.

[40] hung/ khro rgyal gshin rje gshed/ 'jam mgon bla ma tsong kha pa'i/ bstan dang bstan 'dzind dgra lha'i gtso/ shugs ldan drag po las la bskul/ ... khyad par blo bzang bstan pa'i dgra/ skad cig sgrol ba'i dus la bab/ sngon gyi dam tshig ma gyel bar/ chos skyong drag po'i las la bzhengs/ snying ring thugs dam ma lhod par/ dra po'i las la myur du chos/ bskul zhing 'phrin las bcol ba'i las/ bstang snyoms ma mdzad myur du sgrubs/ bdag la re sa gzhan med kyi/ bcol ba'i 'phrin las myur sgrubs. Pa-bong-ka, (Collection ,) 468-469.

[41] zhwa gser gyi bstan pa la log par spyod pa'i 'gro ba mchog dman kun la drag po'i che pa thog ltar 'beb pa la 'phrin las kyi shugs shin tu myur zhing/ drag shul shin tu che bas na/ rang phyogs kyi ser skya mchog dman mang po zhig kyang rje'i ring lugs gser sbyangs btso ma lta bu 'di nyid kyis go ma chod par gzhan phyogs pa'i lta grub 'khrul pa las kyang nyid 'khrul mu 'byam du song ba'i lam log lam gol gyi grub mtha' myur myur mo dang/ zab zab mor grags pa mang po zhig bse bslad byas pa la brten nas bstan bsrung gnyan po 'dis rang gzugs dngos su bstan pa dang/ khrog gtum 'jigs shing rngams pa'i rnam 'gyur mi bzad pa'i cho 'phrul sna tshogs pas kha cig myo zhing 'bog pa dang/ la la khong khrag 'dren cing glo bur du tshe'i 'du byed pa/ 'ga' zhig mi 'dod pa'i ngan ltas ci rigs pas dpal 'byor 'du longs rigs rgyud dang bcas pa ltag chu chad pa'i rdzing bu ltar rim bzhin rjes shul med par btang ba dang/ skye ba'i phreng ba gzhan mar 'gar yang ci byas pa la lam du rgyu dka' ba sogs mngon sum du byung ba dang 'byung 'gyur mang po mthong thos kyi yul du 'gyur pa ltar lags pas blo bzang rgyal ba'i bstan pa grub mtha' chal chol gzhan gyis bse bslad med par 'dzin pa shin tu gal che zhing. Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement ,) 526-527.

[42] The ironical words (myur myur mo dang/ zab zab mo) are clear references to Dzok-chen, which characterizes itself as having the most profound view and the fastest path.

[43] kun gzigs lnga pa chen po grub mtha' gsar rnying thams cad 'dzing skyong spel bar mdzad pas/ chos skyong chen po 'dis sngon gyi thugs smon gyi dbang gis 'jam mgon bla ma'i ring lugs dri ma med par bsrung zhing skyong ba'i phyir/ rgyal dbang mchog la shin tu 'jigs su rung ba'i rnam 'gyur sna tshogs ston pa'i gzigs snang byung ba na/ Pa-bong-ka, (Supplement , )521. This text consists of notes taken by Pa-bong-ka's secretary Lob-zang Dor-je during one of Pa-bong-ka's Life Entrusting (srog gtad) ceremonies."

I cannot but ask NKT, why use Shugden to represent and promote your theology?


Editor's Note:
Shugdenism is reviewed in several essays here. Additional background includes...

In his book Himalayan Dialogue: Tibetan Lamas and Gurung Shamans in Nepal, anthropologist Stan Royal Mumford writes,

"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."

Tai Situ Rinpoche, one of the four main desciples of the Karmapa, stated,

"We Kaygue followers normally do not mention this name without fear. There is no Shugden practitioner among Kagyue 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, stated,

"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, stated,

"In the beginning the Sakya throneholder 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, late 100th Head of the Gelug Tradition, stated,

"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 Refuge."