Who is Dorje Shugden?


Dorje Shugden is a Dharma Protector manifestation of the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri. This means he protects the Dharma of love, compassion and especially wisdom in our minds. His relatively wrathful aspect symbolizes his power to help us defeat the inner enemies of our “delusions”, or negative minds, such as anger, greed and ignorance. Dorje Shugden’s compassion protects all beings, but his main job is to protect the spiritual development of those following the tradition of Buddha as transmitted via Atisha (982-1054 AD) and Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419 AD), variously known as the Gelugpa tradition or the Kadampa tradition. For 400 years Dorje Shugden practitioners have made peaceful prayers to this Buddha.

What is a Dharma Protector? To follow the path to enlightenment taught by Buddha, we must develop love and compassion for all living beings and then train sincerely in giving, moral discipline, patience, joyous effort, meditative concentration and wisdom. Our motivation is to become free from all faults and accomplish all good qualities so that we can help every living being find lasting peace and happiness. When we recite the Dorje Shugden prayer we ask him to protect the growth and development of these precious realizations, or Dharma, within our mind. That is the function of a Dharma Protector.
According to Mahayana Buddhism, Buddhas’ omniscient minds can appear in any form they choose to assist practitioners on the path to enlightenment. This is because they have mastered reality, the illusory, dream-like nature of all phenomena. Enlightened beings can appear as Spiritual Guides (in any tradition), as “Dharma Protectors”, as ordinary beings, even as inanimate objects. A Dharma Protector (Tib. Chokyong; Skt. Dharmapala) is an emanation of a Buddha or a Bodhisattva, often in a wrathful aspect, whose main function is to avert inner and outer obstacles that prevent practitioners from achieving spiritual realizations and to arrange all the necessary conditions for their practice.

How does Dorje Shugden protect the growth of spiritual realizations within our minds? Because he is the nature of enlightened wisdom, he helps us to identify, reduce, and eventually eradicate our harmful states of mind such as anger, pride, jealousy, desirous attchment, and ignorance. Buddha called these harmful minds the real enemy of living beings, and the wrathful aspect of Dorje Shugden symbolizes the power of spiritual wisdom to destroy them. Buddhists never regard other living beings as their enemies. Our only enemies are the inner enemies of the harmful minds that cause suffering to ourselves and others. The sword held by Dorje Shugden symbolizes the power of spiritual wisdom to cut these harmful minds at their root, and the heart he holds in his other hand symbolizes his enlightened love and compassion. He wears the robes of a monk to remind us that we should always observe pure moral discipline. In reality, Dorje Shugden is a compassionate Buddha, like an enlightened father who cares for us and provides for us while we are progressing on the spiritual path. He shows a wrathful aspect only to remind us that harmful states such as anger, pride and jealousy within our minds should not be tolerated.

shugden symbols

Followers of Dorje Shugden think of him as an emanation of their Spiritual Guide, who is a faithful follower of Je Tsongkhapa. Je Tsongkhapa was a great 14th century reformer who restored the purity of Tibetan Buddhism, emphasizing the original teachings of Buddha as passed down through an unbroken lineage of realized teachers. To this day, the masters of this tradition are able to reveal the complete path to enlightenment originally taught by Buddha himself.In the Dorje Shugden prayer we pray for this pure tradition to be preserved so that all living beings can follow the path to enlightenment and experience lasting inner peace and happiness. But we do not pray only for followers of Je Tsongkhapa, or even just for Buddhists, we pray for Dorje Shugden to protect every living without exception.


In Among Shugden Texts by Trinley Kalsang, we receive an extensive history of Dorje Shugden. Dorje Shugden is in the continuum of the Panchen Sonam Dragpa lineage, connected to the distant past lineage of Manjushri, Shakya Shri Bhadra and Buton to mention a few.

Historically, the last human incarnation in this lineage was Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen who lived and suddenly died at the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama. His estate at Drepung monastery was subsequently destroyed, the stupas containing his relics were relocated and a reincarnation was never sought out. After his death, a deity called Dorje Shugden emerged.

As with other deities in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, there is a general tradition of a particular deity sharing common characteristics as well as various specific transmission lineages with their own features. Within just over 300 years, there are definite unifying characteristics as well as unique transmissions and specialties of Dorje Shugden that have developed. There is the unique Sakya transmission of Dorje Shugden riding the black horse in addition to the five forms (rigs lnga) presentation that was apparently developed in the Sakya, which became the basis for adoption within the Gelug.

Both the Sakya Throne Holders and Morchen Kunga Lhundrub enthroned Dorje Shugden and entrusted him with activities. The Sakya Throne Holders justified their relation with Dorje Shugden with the Nyingma Tantra Rin chen sna bdun which states that Dorje Shugden was in essence Avalokiteshvara. Sachen Kunga Lodro cultivated the two basic iconographic systems of the practice and wrote rituals recognizing the principal form as the Vinayadhara, holder of the monastic Vinaya.

Padmasambhava and Dorje Shugden

Dorje Shugden first seems to have gained a foothold in the Gelug establishment of Trode Khangsar, in central Lhasa near the Tsuklhakhang, and its parent monastery Riwo Choling. Whether that was at the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama or not, this was established by the early 18th century as both are mentioned in Morchen Kunga Lhundrub’s autobiography. In any case, Trode Khangsar and Dol in Southern Tibet are important bases that were enumerated in various rituals, and the former housed the oracle medium for Dorje Shugden.

Dorje Shugden practice first seems to have gained a foothold in the three main Gelug monasteries at Sera Monastery around the end of the 18th century. The first initiation and life entrustment transmission lineage is mentioned in the writings of Rinchen Wangyal (1741-1812) of Sera Monastery and his reincarnation resided at Dol Sungrab Ling. Rinchen Wangyal was a student of the Second Reting Rinpoche and Dragri Gyatso Thaye, both important figures of Sera Monastery as well. The 2nd Reting Rinpoche’s writings describe Dorje Shugden as an emanation of Vajrapani, and he requested Dragri Gyatso Thaye to write the first Gelug long ritual (kangso) for Dorje Shugden. This Sera tradition of recognizing Dorje Shugden as Vajrapani continued through the rituals of the Sera Tantric College abbot Namkha Tenkyong. Finally, Serkong Dorje Chang of Ganden Monastery seems to written his kangso in view of this tradition recognizing him as Vajrapani.

Not only was Dorje Shugden recognized individually as Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani, but he was recognized as Manjushri as well. This tradition is the most popular in contemporary times, yet it is multifaceted when examined. The Mongolians, as stated by Lobsang Tamdin, recognized Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen and subsequently Dorje Shugden as Lion’s Roar Manjushri. Dagpo Kelsang Khedrup of the Dagpo region in Southern Tibet recognized Dorje Shugden as Wrathful Manjushri. In addition, Dagpo Kelsang Khedrup recognized an extended retinue of Dorje Shugden that later was fully cultivated by Tagphu Padmavajra and Pabongkha Dechen Nyingpo at the beginning of the 20th century, which became the mainstream transmission of that century continuing today.

In recent years the person most responsible for propagating the practice of Dorje Shugden was the late Trijang Dorjechang, the root Guru of many Gelugpa practitioners from humble novices to the highest Lamas. He encouraged all his disciples to rely upon Dorje Shugden and gave Dorje Shugden empowerments many times. Even in his old age, so as to prevent the practice of Dorje Shugdän from degenerating he wrote an extensive text entitled Symphony Delighting an Ocean of Conquerors, which is a commentary to Tagpo Kelsang Khädrub Rinpoche’s praise of Dorje Shugden called Infinite Aeons.

Dorje Shugden Five Lineages in KMC Florida, US
Dorje Shugden Five Lineages

Although earlier Gelug teachings emphasize Dharmaraja, Vaishravana and Six Arm Mahakala as the main protectors (of the three scopes), there are only a few references to Dharmaraja as being the main protector of the Gelug tradition. In the 19th century, Dorje Shugden is referred to widely as “Dharma Protector of the Conqueror Manjunatha” and “Manjushrigarbha’s Dharma Protector,” wherein ‘Conqueror Manjunatha’ and ‘Manjushrigarbha’ refer to Je Tsongkhapa. Thus, it would appear that Dorje Shugden is the only protector to bear this recognized responsibility of protecting the Gelug tradition.

In short, it has been revealed from historical sources that Dorje Shugden is the Three Bodhisattvas: Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani and Manjushri. He is the sole protector ever to bear the title Protector of the Conqueror Manjunatha, having the responsibility to protect and promote the doctrine of the 2nd Buddha Jamgon Lama Tsongkhapa. In the distant future, he is the 7th Buddha of this fortunate aeon.

Prayers to Dorje Shugden by the 5th & 14th Dalai Lama & Sakyapa Master Kunkhyen Ngawang Kunga Lodroe

Dorje Shugden made by the 5th
Dorje Shugden made by 5th Dalai Lama