Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Worldly Protector (Buddhist) - Dorje Shugden

འཇིག་རྟེན་པའི་ལྷ། ནང་ལྷ། 世俗的神(佛教)
(item no. 54349)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1900 - 1959
Lineages Gelug and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Field Museum of Natural History
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Wrathful

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Dorje Shugden (English: the Vajra Possessing Strength): a minor Buddhist worldly protector originating in Tibet in the 17th century. In Dorje Shugden's previous birth he is believed to have been the Gelugpa Lama Dragpa Gyaltsen (1619-1656) of Drepung Monastery, a contemporary and a rival to the Lama that was to become the Great Fifth Dalai Lama.

Whitish in colour with one face and two hands he holds in the right a curved sword with a vajra handle. In the left hand is a human heart. He is slightly fierce with three staring eyes and a gaping mouth with the canine teeth exposed. Richly attired in monastic robes, silk brocades, and a golden yellow riding hat of Chinese origin, he is completely surrounded by flames. The mount is a mythical Tibetan snow lion, white with a green-blue mane, fierce in appearance with a snarling face - gazing up at Dorje Shugden as an expression of respect.

At the top center is Je Tsongkapa, founder of the Gelug Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. At the right and left are the two principal students of Tsongkapa, Gyaltsab and Kedrubje. At the bottom of the composition are three Tibetan worldly protectors with Dorje Setrab on the viewers left, Tsi'u Marpo in the middle and then a white figure riding a white horse on the right.

This form of Dorje Shugden, of which there can be a number of different appearances, is the form typically found in Gelugpa art of the 20th century. In the Sakya Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism there is a form of Dorje Shugden called Tanag Chen (Shugden [riding] a Black Horse. See the bottom right).

During the early decades of the last century Dorje Shugden became a subject of considerable controversy among the principal four Tibetan traditions of Buddhism, and namely the Gelug. The controversy still continues today. Within the Sakya Tradition there is no initiation or 'life-entrusting' (Tibetan: srog gtad) ritual for Shugden as found in the Gelug Tradition. For the Sakyapa all forms of the practice fell into disfavour in the early part of the 20th century and are essentially non-existent outside of Tibet. Small temples in regional areas of Tibet historically connected with the indigenous local deity may still proffer offerings for the purpose of protection and removing obstacles.

Jeff Watt 2-2010

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