Dorje Shugden is generally believed to be a worldly protector deity that was likely practiced first in the Sakya Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. The earliest known ritual text was written by Morchen Kunga Lhundrub in the 17th century. According to some accounts he was inducted into the pantheon of Sakya protectors by Sakya Trizin Sonam Rinchen (1705-1741). Later, placed together with the two protector deities Dorje Setrab and Tsi'u Marpo they were collectively known as the Three Kings (Gyalpo Sum). In the Sakya texts Shugden is known as Dorje Shugden Tanag, or rather Dorje Shugden Riding a Black Horse. He holds a butcher's stick upraised in the right hand and a heart in the left lifted up to the mouth. Dressed in the robes of a monastic and wearing a gold lacquer riding hat, he sits atop a black horse. In the early 20th century Dorje Shugden Tanag fell out of favour with the Sakya Tradition in general. His devotees and practices have subsequently diminished. Since the late 20th century the offering rituals for the Three Kings are no longer found in the standard daily use Sakya Protectors manuals in monasteries in India or Tibet.
Sakya depictions of Dorje Shugden Tanag in paintings can be dated to circa 1800 (see examples). Although so far no sculpture have appeared nor are there any paintings with Shugden Tanag as the principal central figure. In all there are approximately half a dozen Sakya paintings known that have Shugden Tanag as a minor figure in the composition, a number of these are from the first half of the 20th century - research is ongoing. According to the lunar calendar the special day for worship of Dorje Shugden is the 15th of the month.
Liturgical formulas and religious texts for presenting offerings to Dorje Shugden were created in the Sakya, Gelug, and Drugpa Kagyu Traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. The Drugpa Kagyu texts are from Bhutan. (No Drugpa Kagyu paintings have so far come to light). It is possible that other traditions aside from these three mentioned also propitiated the worldly deity and created visual depictions. The Sakyas have several short liturgical works all written approximately 200 years ago or more, whereas in the last century Gelug writers have feverishly written enough new material to fill two standard size Tibetan volumes. This collection of works is called in short the Dorje Shugden Be'u Bum. The collection also includes those early Sakya writings.
In the Gelug Tradition evidence suggests, textual and visual, that the practice of Dorje Shugden became popular in the early 20th century and very prominent by the mid century. The popularity was also carried forth by such great teachers of the time as Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo and others. However, since very recent times, specifically the 1970s and a frenzied exchange of Tibetan language publications on the topic of Dorje Shugden, there are now two groups of Gelug followers that espouse two different views on the nature of Dorje Shugden. There are those who follow the Dalai Lama and have put the practice of Dorje Shugden aside believing that it is nothing more than the worship of a ghost or spirit (preta) and potentially harmful in the end. A second group of Gelug followers believe that Dorje Shugden is in fact a Wisdom Deity of the highest level and none other than Manjushri himself emanating in various forms through the last millennium - appearing now as Dorje Shugden - protector of the true faith.
The two Gelugpa groups remain far from reconciled over the issue of Dorje Shugden. As for the actual origins of Dorje Shugden, that remains shrouded in history at this time. However, there are many claims as to the origin of the deity.Authoritative Opinions on the Origins of Dorje Shugden:
- The 5th Dalai Lama, Lobzang Gyatso (1617-1682), was uncommitted as to the origins but did not necessarily believe that Shugden was the incarnation of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen (1619-1656).
- Terdag Lingpa Gyurme Dorje (1646-1714) suggested that Dorje Shugden arose after the tragic death of a Karma Kagyu monk that had threatened the Gelug tradition.
- Sumpa Khenpo Yeshe Paljor (1704-1788) claimed that Trulku Dragpa Gyaltsen was reborn in China and became the Kangxi Emperor.
- Sumpa Khenpo also suggested that the 'trouble causing' spirit was the deceased Desi Sonam Chophel (d.1657) - a regent of the young 5th Dalai Lama.
- The 9th Je Khenpo of Bhutan, Shakya Rinchen (1744-1755), in a protector liturgy, equates Dorje Shugden with the Five Buddha Families and Padmasambhava.
- Dragshul Trinle Rinchen (1871-1935) of the Sakya tradition states in his diary that Dorje Shugden was an emanation of Avalokiteshvara and that his own father, Kunga Nyingpo (19th century), was an emanation of Dorje Shugden.
- Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo (1878-1941) wrote that Shugden was both an emanation of Manjushri and the incarnation of Trulku Dragpa Gyaltsen. (See the Lineage Murals from Trode Khangsar Temple, Lhasa).
- Some contemporary officials of Drepung Monastery claim that Trulku Dragpa Gyaltsen is unrelated to Dorje Shugden and that the Trulku continues to be reborn, discovered and enthroned as a teacher at Drepung Monastery for the past 350 years.
- Other stories and narrative myths.....Iconographic Description:
In the Gelug protector pantheon the main form of Dorje Shugden holds a wavy long edged sword up to the sky in the right hand and a heart in the left. A mongoose sits perched at the bend of the left elbow and an upright katvanga staff leans against the left shoulder. He typically rides a lion, depicted as a Tibetan snow lion, although a number of texts state that he can ride any number of mounts. An alternate form of the deity has him holding a stick aloft with the right hand and a heart in the left, seated on a cushioned throne with one leg pendant. A variation of both these two appearances is the addition of four accompanying forms of Dorje Shugden creating a total of five prominent figures known as the Five Kings. (As an aside, the traditional Gelug depiction of Dorje Shugden is very close in appearance with the Nyingma protector Dorje Legpa or the special Sera Monastery protector Dorje Ta'og Riding a Black Horse, or a snow lion). Mindrolling Branch Monastery:
Possibly the earliest reference to Dorje Shugden in the English language comes from Laurence A. Waddell in the 1894 publication of Lamaism in Sikhim in the Gazetteer of Sikhim. Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat Press (1894). Waddell is describing the shrine of a Nyingma Monastery, Pema Yangtse, in Sikhim - a branch of Mindrolling. It is interesting to note that Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo would have been sixteen years old at the time of the English publication.
"Thus, at Pemiongchi is the Gyalpo Shuk-den with a brown face and seated on a white elephant. He was formerly the learned lama Panchhen Sod-nams graks-pa, who being falsely charged with licentious living and deposed, his spirit on his death took this actively malignant form and wreaks his wrath on all who do not worship him - inflicting disease and accident." (Page 261). Early Examples of Painting & Sculpture:
The two earliest known depictions of the Gelug iconography of Dorje Shugden are the metal sculpture in Ulan Bator and a painting in the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago. The sculpture, whether it is the original or not, was created in the early years of the 1900s to decorate the Chojin Lama Temple in Ulan Bator, Mongolia - where it can be found today. The painting, in the collection of the Field Museum of Chicago, was collected in Eastern Tibet or China by Field Museum anthropologist Berthold Laufer between 1908 and 1909. Early visual examples of a Gelug depiction of Dorje Shugden prior to the 1900s are rare at best. What is even more curious is a lack of any Dorje Shugden image depicted among the protectors in the many early examples of Gelug Refuge Field Paintings - Refuge Field paintings being a Gelugpa invention of the 17th and 18th century. It has been said that when Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo re-formulated the Gelug Refuge Field in the early half of the 20th century he included a depiction of Dorje Shugden. So far no painting example of this has been located. The HAR website has over 85 Gelug examples of these Refuge Field paintings from collections throughout the world - research is on going. (See a small selection of source texts).