Kyabje Phabongkha Rinpoche, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and Dolgyal

Button_Eng[Note: The following is not His Holiness’ speech, but a general analysis.] In the early part of Kyabje Phabongkha’s life, he practised a non-sectarian, ecumenical form of Buddhism, embracing practices from others schools such as the Nyingma and so forth, and received special favoritism from His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama; thus, although he did not have the prestige of any high ranking reincarnation, his reputation got prominence and his activities proliferated with the special attention and patronage of His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama. Later, as he came across Dolgyal, the local god of his mother’s birth place, he gave up the ecumenical practice, abandoning the practices that he had received from the Nyingma tradition. It is a well known fact that he was later reprimanded by the 13th Dalai Lama for his overt propitiation of Dolgyal and sectarian religious attitude. This fact is also mentioned in his biography written by his secretary Lobsang Dorji.

Khabje Phabongkha Rinpoche

Khabje Phabongkha Rinpoche

As Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche was recognised as a reincarnation whose birth was traceable to Tri Jangchup Choephel, one of the Gaden Tripa [hierarchal head of the Geluk tradition], he had the privileged honour of a Tritul [reincarnation of Gaden Tripa]. Initially, he was appointed as one of the official debate assistants of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, and later he got promoted to the position of the junior tutor to His Holiness. As a result of holding these privileged positions, he came to be recognised as one of the most senior Geluk Lamas of his time. His connection with Dolgyal came solely from his teacher, Kyabje Phabongkha Rinpoche, and his propitiation of Dolgyal was a continuation of his own master’s legacy.

Kyabje Phabongkha’s prominence rose with the attention he had received from the great 13th Dalai Lama. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche’s prominence was widely recognised when he became one of the tutors of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Thus, the presence of the Dalai Lama Institution known as Gaden Phodrang greatly contributed to their prominence, although there is no denying the fact that these two masters were greatly learned and accomplished ones. Although there is no need to repeat this for those who already knew this, yet, there are many bigots practising Shugden who speak of the Great 5th Dalai Lama and the 13th Dalai Lama with such hateful and defamatory accusations, and hence, I felt that a brief mention of their contributions towards the legacies of Kyabje Phabongkha and Trijang Rinpoche is essential here.

[In 1996, on 8th May, His Holiness gave an extensive talk on Dolgyal at Thekchen Choling Tsuklagkhang in Dharamsala to an audience that consisted of reincarnated lamas, Geshes, representatives from local monasteries, congregation of monks and nuns, Tibetan officials from the Cabinet and the Assembly, acting members of Tibetan Non-Governmental Organizations and the public. The following is an excerpt from that talk.]

The insidious nature of Dolgyal [as a perfidious spirit] is something that had been decisively attested by three of the past prominent Geluk masters, all of whom were practitioners of exclusively the Geluk tradition. This is not something that I have concocted based on my natural instinct without any thought or examination on the matter. It is also not the case that I extended a very soft ear to Nechung’s instructions and went on bluffing about it. The issue is something that has continued for several generations. In the past, Dolgyal was called Gyalpo Dolgyal. Other epithets for him are Gyalchen and Shugden. That he is called with the honorary title of the protector of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teaching is something that came to be used much later; it is not the name by which he was referred to in the past. Although wrathful protectors may be hailed as being emanations of supreme beings, as it is the case with the Five Kings who are sometimes acclaimed as being emanations of the Eight Tantric Deities of the Kagye Mandala, this kind of acclamation comes only in association with the ritual of Celebration and Appeasement. When mentally generating these wrathful beings while performing their propitiatory rituals, they are generated as wrathful beings, keeping them in their own place.

However, in Phabongkha Rinpoche’s ritual for generating Dolgyal, he writes thus:

“From the syllable Hung arises the one whose real nature is Manjugosha, but who appears as the protector of Jamgon Gyalwa [Lama Tsongkhapa]…. .”

I have seen this in the very beginning of Gyalchen’s Generation Ritual. This is really a grandiloquent expression that has gone beyond the limit. So, then the question that might arise is, ‘wasn’t Phabongkha Rinpoche an extraordinary lama?’ Yes, indeed he was an extraordinary lama. But in Longdhol Lama Rinpoche’s writing Terminologies in Tantrayana, as he speaks of the different kinds of mandalas for bestowing empowerments and while commenting on one version of a past master who tried to justify that the Mentally Constructed Mandala can be used for empowerments, he commented that it was an exaggerated leap by someone with higher realisations. Kyabje Phabongkha Dechen Nyingpo was truly an extraordinary master. However, without being disrespectful, his works on Dolgyal can be called as ‘an exaggerated leap by someone with higher realisations’. Phabongkha Rinpoche himself was a competent lama, someone with higher attainments. For someone of his calibre, propitiating a wrathful one is another matter, but to praise Dolgyal to this extent is an exaggeration: I am sure I could comment on this. Even if I were to give an opinion summarised from looking at it from various dimensions, I could say that.

As far as the life-entrusting initiation of Dolgyal is concerned, the source for its authentication is attributed to a supposedly pure vision-experience of Takphu Padma Vajra, an extraordinary Lama. However, if you really ponder deeply on this matter [by considering Takphu Padma Vajra’s humble personality], it makes me wonder if this might have been a relented response to an earnest request of Phabongkha Rinpoche who had long been associated with Dolgyal from childhood. Takphu Rinpoche was like Latsun Dorji Chang, with a very gentle and meek personality. This [his confirmation of Dolyal’s story] could have resulted due his gentleness. We need to do more research on this. One reason to support this suspicion is something that my senior tutor Ling Rinpoche, who had shown me much kindness, told me once. (Ling Rinpoche himself had heard it from Kyabje Phabongkha Rinpoche.) In the writings of Takphu Padma Vajra, there were some teachings which were more in line with the Bon religion of Tibet. Once, he asked Phabongkha Rinpoche to edit his writings and when doing so, Phabongkha Rinpoche had extracted those that were uniquely Bon teachings. As there were many Bon students of Takphu Dorje Chang, those were written to fulfill requests of his Bon students, which he couldn’t turn down. This indicates the kind of gentle personality Takphu Rinpoche had. Judging from this perspective, it is plausible that the late Phabongkha could have received Takphu’s confirmation for the life-entrusting initiation of Dolgyal in a similar manner. As such, years back when I asked Nechung about the pure vision in connection with the life-entrusting initiation, he told me that it is not impossible for such things to happen due to obstacles. Whatever the case is, as Dolgyal’s insidious nature is undeniable and tangible, it is not easy to accept Takphu Rinpoche’s pure vision as infallible.

[In 2000, on 6th December, His Holiness gave a talk on Dolgyal at the second conference of International Geluk Foundation. The following is an excerpt from that talk.]

Kyabje Phabongkha’s propitiation of Dolgyal started during the latter part of his life. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche told me that in the early part of Phabongkha’s life, the latter also practised the Nyingma tradition. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche said that as a young child he had lived with Kyabje Phabongkha at Chusang hermitage. During one of those days, he had witnessed Phabongkha Rinpoche moulding pieces of pills to be used as special substances for the fire ritual to conclude his retreat on the Extremely Secret Haryangriva. However, in the latter part of his life, he considered it inappropriate to include the Extremely Secret Haryangriva in the merit field of Guru Yoga or Lama Choepa. This is mentioned in his biography printed in Tibet. Earlier, as he was practising an ecumenical form of Buddhism, he also received the teachings of The Sealed Secrets of His Holiness the Great 5th Dalai Lama. He even considered receiving the teaching of the Bounteous ExcellentVase [or Doe Joe Bumsang] which is purely a Nyingma teaching. The Sealed Secrets teachings seem to belong to neither the new translation tradition, nor the old. Thus, although it is one of the unique teachings of the Dalai Lamas, it almost got discontinued due to neither side paying attention to its preservation. However, the Bounteous ExcellentVase is not like that. When Phabongkha Rinpoche was planning to receive it, he experienced Dolgyal’s conjuring hex, a fact stated in Zemey Rinpoche’s Words from the Mouth of My Heroic Fatherly Master.

It is very clear that during the early part of his life, Phabongkha Rinpoche used to practise the non-sectarian ecumenical form of Buddhism. However, since his encounter with Dolgyal, he got wary of the Nyingma tradition and recoiled away from it. Thus, you should examine if that helped the proliferation of his activities or whether that caused him more obstructions. His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama, whose compassion is immeasurable [for the Tibetans at large], initially showed solicitous support for Phabongkha Rinpoche. The 13th Dalai Lama initially had good expectations of Kyabje Phabongkha. Although it was customary for the Gaden Tripas [hierarchal head of the Geluk tradition] to give the Spring Lamrim Teachings at Meru, once it happened that the great 13th Dalai Lama instructed Phabongkha Rinpoche to give the Lamrim teaching instead of the Gaden Tripa. This very same person in whom His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama had much expectation became someone he had to reprimand later. Some might speculate that it was because of jealousy, but in truth, it was due to Dolgyal’s issue. The simple and yet essential question is, did His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama’s displeasure with Phabongkha Rinpoche help the latter’s activities or not?

Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche

Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche

As Kyabje Phabongkha Rinpoche and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche promoted the propitiation of Dolgyal quite extensively, some speak of it as if it were very important, and even hold it as their most important activity: This is definitely not the case. If you look at the volumes written by Kyabje Phabongkha, you will come to appreciate him as a genuine custodian of the doctrine of Lamrim and the mind training instructions. The same applies to Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. As for myself, I have received many of the various kinds of Lamrim teachings from Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. His teaching skills were unique, the uniqueness of which I came to experience by myself. So, both of them are definitely custodians of the doctrine of Lamrim. On top of that, we all know of them to be great practitioners of Tantrayana, specifically the ‘Father and Mother Tantra of Chakrasamvara’. The unique qualities of these two lamas must be understood in terms of their proliferation and preservation of Lamrim and mind training teachings as well as the ‘Father and Mother Tantra of Chakrasamvara’. Their activities concerning Dolgyal were very minor, and definitely not the most significant ones.

As I have said earlier, even if it was a deed of a past master, if it did not accord with the main-stream of Buddhism, then, Lama Tsongkhapa emphatically gave us this direction:

‘With respect to instructions [of particular lamas], it is important to discern, and then abandon the wrong and embrace the proper. However, the great treatises [such as Buddha’s owns scriptures and those of other reliable Indian masters] must never be abandoned.’

I too, follow this advice of Tsongkhapa. Usually, it doesn’t intrigue me when people pretend as if they have some special instructions. What Je Tsongkhapa had said is really very true: Other than Nagarjuna and his spiritual sons, and the two brothers, Asanga and Vasubandu, who else are there to be called as more knowledgeable sources of instructions? If there is any particular instruction apart from what they had given, it is something to consider if such an instruction is a sign of goodness or badness. Instructions should ultimately be traceable to the Buddha himself. Who is there more outstanding than Shakyamuni Buddha himself? To consider an instruction as quintessential and ultimate, but never spoken even by the Buddha himself is completely untenable. Basically, an instruction means something that aids in understanding a particular content of Sutras or Tantras instantly. For example, in the case of Maitreya’s Abhisamaya Alamkara, the reason why it is called an instruction is that it aids in understanding the meanings of the Sutra instantly; thus it is given the name ‘Alamkara’ which means instruction. If Maitreya’s Abhisamaya Alamakara teaches any point not taught in the Sutras, it cannot be called an instruction.

[On 26th March, 2004, His Holiness gave a talk on Dolgyal during a Chakrasamvara Empowerment]

Changya Ngawang Chogden was a custodian of the Chakrasamvara Tantra; his unique practice was Chakrasamvara. He had written about accomplishing the outer mandala and the body mandala in accordance with the tradition of Drilpupa’s version of Chakrasamvara. There is also his brief commentary on the empowerment ritual of Chakrasamvara. In short, he was a yogi of Chakrasamvara. His reincarnation, Changkya Rolpai Dorji, was a unique practitioner of Chakrasamvara, practising both the ‘Father and Mother Tantra’. Kyabje Phabongkha Dechen Nyingpo had inherited the Chakrasamvara lineage coming from the Chakya masters, and was a greatly realised custodian of the tradition himself. Among his students, we have Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, who also was a custodian of the Chakrasavara Tantra. As I have also mentioned, these two great masters were genuine custodians of Lamrim and mind training instructions as well as the Tantric teachings of Chakrasamvara. This is something we can easily make out from seeing their works. Both of them were definitely well qualified Lamas. However, as far as Dolgyal is concerned, Kyabje Phabongkha was mistaken, and so was Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. Not only were they mistaken, but their mistake had deleterious effects on their activities. However, to disqualify these two masters for their mistake on Dolgyal is totally wrong. Both of them were inconceivably great Lamas. However, if we were to accept all of their actions as perfect because of their being inconceivably great masters, from the perspective of prioritising the mainstream of Buddha Dharma as authoritative, we are mistaken. Although this is off the topic, I saw a reason in pointing this out here.

Chankya Rinpoche’s reincarnation is here in the audience to receive the empowerment of the Drilbuwa’s Body Mandala of Chakrasamvara. I feel privileged [to be able to give him the empowerment]. I would be truly glad if Kyabje Phabongkha’s reincarnation was here with us, but now he has fallen under adverse circumstances. As for Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche’s reincarnation, although I very much desired that his presence in this empowerment would become something of the spur of the moment as there appeared to be some hopes due to some unfolding events, it has become difficult now. I heard that the reincarnation of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche has said that propitiating Dolgyal was the unique and special practice of his predecessor. This is not true. If one were to point out the unique and special practice of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, it was his practice of the ‘Father and Mother Tantra of Chakrasamvara’ and his special practice of Lamrim and ‘Mind Training Instructions’. It is untenable to call his propitiation of a controversial wrathful spirit as his unique practice.

Also, we have Zong Rinpoche’s reincarnation here. The previous Zong Rinpoche was a great scholar, well learned in Sutras, Tantras, rituals, biographies and history. He was also very good in all the five treatises. Yongzin Ling Rinpoche told me that Zong Rinpoche was very proficient in Abhidharma, the treasury of manifest knowledge by Vasubandu. He was a remarkable person, straightforward and always truthful, and never knew how to apply any appeasement tactics on others. However, here again, one of his drawbacks was his propitiation of Dolgyal as well as his role in spreading the practice. I am not sure how widespread his activities were in Tibet, before our escape to India. However, although he had been the abbot of Shartse monastery, he was stripped off his official position in Tibet. Perhaps his activities in Kham region of Tibet might have been extensive; otherwise he didn’t have much opportunity in Tibet. However, his activity in India was vast, although together with his vast activities, he had also caused several sectarian rifts within the Tibetan community in India. When I was in the Orissa Tibetan settlement, I heard very unpleasant stories there. They told me that earlier, there was much harmony in their settlement, but Zong Rinpoche’s visit there gave rise to many conflicts in their settlement. Such incidents also took place in the Bylakuppe Tibetan settlement. Although he was a remarkable Lama, one of his drawbacks was the propitiation of Dolgyal. However, his present reincarnation, through his own intellectual analysis and with concern for the wellbeing of the Buddha Dharma in general, has decided not to bend to anyone’s pressure or to appease them, but to follow the path as shown by the Dalai Lama. Thus he has made a very decisive choice. Yesterday, I bestowed upon him the bhikshu’s vow. When he arrived yesterday, although I had finished bestowing vows upon the general assemblage there, I specifically devoted time aside for his ordination. I am very happy with his decision and would like to thank him here.

I would like to share with you a story. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and the previous Karmapa Rinpoche were very good friends, often cutting jokes and chatting playfully with one another. As Kyabje Rinpoche would often come to see me, on one of his visits, he told me that he had been in such haste the day before. When I asked what happened, he told me that he had a surprise visit from Karmapa Rinpoche when he was performing the monthly Fulfillment and Revival Ritual of Choekyong [Dolgyal]. As Karmapa was not fond of Choekyong [literally meaning the protector], Trijang Rinpoche said he had to rush to put away all the ritual cakes and offerings. If Dolgyal were a Geluk protector, one should be proudly conducting the ritual and showing it off to any of the Nyingma, Kagyu or Sakyapa practitioners. What good was there in hiding it when a Kagyu Lama paid a visit? When it comes to the Five King Protectors [Gyalpo Ku-Ngya], there is no need of hiding them from anyone. Anyhow, it seemed that Karmapa Rinpoche did not know what Dolgyal looks like. Once when we were talking about ‘Dukpa’, and when referring to Dolgyal, he said, ‘isn’t the one riding an elephant?’

Usually, the Tsurphu Kagyupa tradition holds the Black Mahakala in very high esteem. As the colour of Mahakala is black, they say that they have put on the black lower attire [shamthup] for the monastics. Although Lord Buddha had prescribed specific colours for the monastics in Vinaya, they seem to consider the colour of Mahakala even more important than the Buddha’s own prescription. Likewise, we had some past Tibetan Lamas like Changkya Huthotho [a Chinese honorific] and Kundeling Huthotho [both prominent Geluk Lamas], both of whom had continued to put on Chinese the attire such as Dratruo, Dagotse and so forth, although clothes with arms and sleeves were abandoned for monks and nuns by Lord Buddha himself. It appears that these Lamas held the Chinese emperors who gave them such clothes more important than the Buddha. Such actions were disgraceful on their part as Tibetans. So, be it a Lama, or a Tantric deity, or a protector, so long as they are connected with the tradition of Geluk, one should feel proud in presenting them to others or within your one’s tradition. They should be the ones in whom you have confidence and of whom you are proud in presenting to others. If you need to keep them hidden from being discovered by others, it is not a good sign. Except for this, I don’t have much to say today.

[On 27th March, 2006, His Holiness talked on Dolgyal during his teaching to an audience which consisted mainly of Tibetans who were on pilgrimage to India, and some other Tibetans attending the teaching. The following is an excerpt from that talk]

It is also said that Khangsar Dorje Chang, a great master from Drepung Monastery who was a contemporary of Kyabje Phabongkha Rinpoche, was greatly worried by the proliferation of Shudgen’s propitiation, and had said that it was not a good sign. As far as Kyabje Phabongkha is concerned, he was someone who had practised an ecumenical, non-sectarian form of Buddhism in the beginning, but ever since he encountered Dolgyal, not to mention other [disturbing] things, he even considered it inappropriate to place Haryangriva in the merit-field of the Guru Yoga practice [unique to Geluk]. This is written in his biography by his own secretary Lobsang Dorje. It is mentioned in the biography printed in Tibet. That biography was not printed here in India. As His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama was about to pass away due to many unfortunate circumstances such as this and others, Dolgyal reported the news in advance in a very high spirited tone, saying, ‘it would be on the 30th after completing the 9th [Tibetan month]’. This was prophesied in a dream/vision that Shide Tazur, a student of Phabongkha, had. As all of you are aware, reporting something in a high spirited tone is done only when you have something remarkable to share and rejoice about. If the news is something to mourn over, people talk about it with grief, and not in a joyous high spirited manner. However, as Shide Tazur [also known as Meru Tazur] had that dream, he reported it to Phabongkha Rinpoche who, in turn, told him that its significance would need to be examined later. So, on the 30th of the 10th Tibetan month, as His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama passed into Parinivana [died], Kyabje Phabongkha Rinpoche confirmed that Dolgyal’s prophecy was actually his report on the passing away of His Holiness. This is mentioned in Phabongkha Rinpoche’s biography. Although nothing was wrong in reporting about the sad demise, speaking of it in a high spirited tone is appalling. All of you must contemplate on this: How do we judge someone who felt greatly overjoyed on knowing in advance the demise of His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama, and celebrated the passing away of the person who had made such great contributions for the wellbeing of Tibet, Buddhism and the Tibetan people, and in whose gratitude we all remain greatly indebted to forever? Was that a good sign or despicable?

While he was alive, His Holiness had reprimanded Phabongkha Rinpoche for several reasons, one of which was about Dolgyal. Phabongkha faced difficulty due to this, and if we were to describe the event from a mundane perspective of ordinary beings [while not counting the invisible reality], the possibility that Kyabje Phabongkha snubbed the activities of His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama after the latter’s sad demise could not be ruled out. It is very important for you to come to your decisions with full knowledge of realities based on unbiased investigation, using your intelligence to discern between the beneficial and the harmful. I have many reasons, such as the one just related now, for my strong opinion against Dolgyal. Also, I have many significant dreams in connection with this, but there is no good reason to share them with you now. In short, there are many external and internal signs that I have been experiencing. You should keep my words in your mind, and should you need historical references, you should consult my office.

[On 27th March, 2006, His Holiness spoke on the issue of Dolgyal during the ‘Spring Teaching’ in Dharamsala. The following is an excerpt from that teaching.]

The previous Zong Rinpoche had given life-entrusting initiations in different parts of the Tibetan settlements in India. It also happened that rumours spread across some settlements that Shugden’s propitiation would bring money in abundance, help succeed in business and so forth. Thus, for many, keeping a consecrated wealth-vase of Shugden in their home became quite of a tradition in those settlements. At such a time, some Tibetan families who had the five sets of corpuses of Pema Kathang [Nyingma scriptures] in their possession had to give away those scriptures to others and this led to schism and chaos. How does this look? Shugden has been creating such disharmonies and divisions among different schools of Tibetan Buddhism, causing great impediments for genuine mutual respect and appreciation between them. The previous Zong Rinpoche not only propitiated Dolgyal, but also strongly propagated the practice. I even had to write him a letter in this regard.

The present reincarnation of Zong Rinpoche has used his intellectual skills for discerning between long-term and short-term interest, choosing his stance to support the general wellbeing of Tibet, spiritually and politically. As we all are gathered here today, I would like to commend Rinpoche for his proper decision and thank him; what he has done is worthy of everyone’s appreciation.

At present, we Tibetans have been forced to live in two different worlds, inside and outside Tibet. Although those of you who have come from Tibet will return back soon, since our own country is presently not free, there is no joy within you returning back home. The present di’aspora of the Tibetans is a sad one, but I really pray that we can all once again be united in our own country. So, I hope you will go back home with a happy state of mind. I send my greeting ‘Tashi Delek’ to everyone.