Nechung – The Retiring Devil of Tibet
Dear friends around the world,
I am honoured to have been given the privilege of presenting my research on Nechung with all of you, here on His Eminence the 25th Tsem Rinpoche’s blog. Nechung has been a Tibetan Buddhist Dharma protector for the past 1,300 years, keeping his promise to preserve the precious teachings and Dharma practitioners. His oracle was officially appointed the State Oracle of Tibet during the reign of His Holiness the 5th Dalai Lama and has been consulted by the Tibetan Leadership until this day.
I sincerely wish that the content below will be able to clear any doubts and confusion anyone may have regarding the role of Dharma Protectors, their qualities and most of all, the unnecessary ban of the practice of Dorje Shugden.
I would like to take this opportunity to extend my sincere appreciation to Pastor David Lai, Pastor Niral Patel, Martin Chow, Valentina Suhendra, Beatrix Ooi, Abby Foo and Pastor Jean Ai for their time, valuable advice, as well as research, editing and uploading for this article.
Last but not least, I am indebted to my Guru, His Eminence the 25th Tsem Rinpoche, for his invaluable guidance, care and trust without which I will not be where I am or even who I am today.
Pastor Adeline Woon
13 May 2016
- Dharma Protector
- Nechung Oracle and CTA
- Tibet to India
- Nechung’s Advice
- Nechung and Dorje Shugden
- Nechung Rinpoche
Urged on by spirits and demons,
The British, with their false God, their wealth and manpower,
Came to this Snowy Land surrounded by mountains
With their barbaric army.
These events, the like of which I’ve never seen before
Have broken the heart of this old devil.
-Pehar (Nechung), through Lobsang Jigme, the 16th State Oracle
What is a Dharma Protector?
According to Buddhist tradition, a Dharma Protector’s role is to protect the Buddha’s teachings and its religious institutions against adversaries as well as to preserve the integrity of its teachings. For individuals, the Dharma Protector provides conducive circumstances and methods to overcome our inner enemies, negative emotions such as fears, doubts, laziness and outer difficulties such as accidents, sickness, financial problems and so forth. In the various traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, the role of the Dharma Protector is more so to preserve the Buddhists’ teachings, its lineages and institutions by overcoming obstacles and providing necessary resources. This important task is assigned to a specific group of deities best known under the name chokyong (Skt. dharmapāla), “protector of the Buddhadharma”. Other terms such as dansungma, “guardians of the Buddhist teachings” or simply sungma, “guardians” are also given to this specific group of deities. The term damcan, “oath-bound one” is primarily given to non-Buddhist deities who were subdued and made to take on the role of Buddhist protectors.
In Tibetan Buddhism, there are two ways a lama would deal with harmful spirits. The first is to bind them to become a Dharma Protector and the other is to perform a special fire puja called jinsek. One of the functions of jinsek fire pujas is to call upon an interfering spirit that is very harmful and cannot be bound and then, with a Bodhichitta motivation (compassion), the spirit is summoned onto a ceremonial ladle by the power of the lama’s meditation and lowered into the ritual fire, thereby killing the spirit. By the power of the lama’s ritual, the spirit reincarnates into one of the pure lands instantly. In the case of binding a spirit, an attained lama will arise as a yidam (meaning he will meditate and become one in nature with meditational deity) and subdue a harmful spirit by making the spirit swear to protect the Dharma. In the case of Nechung or more correctly known as Pehar Gyalpo, Guru Rinpoche sealed his oath with the blessing of the vajra and anointed his tongue with the sacred liquid of Guru Rinpoche’s inner offering.
In the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon, the specific group of protectors and guardians are divided into two groups: 1) supramundane protectors and, 2) mundane protectors. The former refers to those powerful, high-ranking deities who are usually emanations of enlightened beings and are beyond the six-realms of existence (the god, human, demigod, animal, hungry ghost and hell realms). The latter refers to beings who are still reside within the six-realms of existence. Within the supramundane category of protectors, there are those who appear in supramundane form such as Kalarupa, Palden Lhamo, Mahakala, and those who manifest in mundane forms like Setrap, Kache Marpo and Dorje Shugden. In accordance to the specific duties the protectors have to fulfill, they are usually depicted in a wrathful aspect, holding weapons and crushing human and supernatural enemies of Buddhism under their feet. Amongst mundane protectors Pehar Gyalpo is the most well-known in Tibetan Buddhism. While Dorje Shugden serves as a protector of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings, Pehar Gyalpo is the protector for all Tibetan Buddhism.
Origins and Iconography of Pehar Gyalpo
Pehar Gyalpo was originally from Zahor in ancient Persia and from there he travelled to Tibet. He was bound by an oath to protect Tibetan Buddhism by Guru Rinpoche together with various other spirits. Gyalpo means ‘king’ in Tibetan. Guru Rinpoche also bound and subdued other local spirits, put them under the control of Pehar and then installed Pehar Gyalpo as the guardian of the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet, Samye monastery. Dorje Dragden is Pehar’s main minister, and through him Pehar began to communicate with the Tibetan government and its subjects through a medium who became known as the Nechung Oracle. The Nechung Oracle is regarded as the State Oracle of Tibet, and in addition to protecting Tibetan Buddhism is also charged to give advice regarding the country’s governance. This institution known as the Nechung began during the reign of the Great 5th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso (1642–1682 CE).
When Guru Rinpoche arrived in Tibet in the 7th century, Tibet was considered an uncivilised place, its people were fierce and the indigenous spirits and gods they worshipped were very powerful. Prior to that, Shantarakshita, the Abbot of Nalanda Monastery in India, attempted to preach the Dharma in Tibet for 11 years. He was driven off by Tibet’s native spirits and gods who were summoned by the local people who were not inclined to accept the new faith of Buddhism. Guru Rinpoche, well known for his tantric attainments, was invited to Tibet where he inundated the Tibetans with miracles, and subjugated the unruly spirits through supernatural battles, finally binding them to protect Buddhism.
There were five other powerful spirits known as the ‘most arrogant ones’. During this time one came before Guru Rinpoche to offer devotion for all of them in the form of an eight-year-old novice monk wearing a golden hat and holding a crystal rosary. Guru Rinpoche took his vajra and branded the child on the crown of his head, anointed the tip of his tongue with nectar, and named him and his brother spirits the Five Ferocious Kings, under Pehar Gyalpo. Guru Rinpoche also installed Pehar Gyalpo as the head of the entire hierarchy of mundane protective spirits.
Pehar Gyalpo appears in five forms, known at times as the five brothers which are in fact five manifestations that are associated with his body, speech, mind, qualities and activities. Each of the five has a different appearance and the most commonly found form is Activity Pehar who is depicted with three faces, white in colour, and riding on a lion.
The Principal Forms of Pehar Gyalpo are as follows:
- King of Body – Monbu Putra (rides on a blue lion)
- King of Speech – Dra Lha Kye Chigbu (rides on a mule)
- King of Mind – Gya Jin (rides on an elephant)
- King of Qualities – Shing Cha Chen (rides on a zombie, or a horse)
- King of Activities – Pehar (rides on a white lion)
The form that takes trance of the Nechung Oracle is the emanation of the speech aspect, Dra Lha Kye Chigbu, also known as Dorje Dragden.
Pehar is white in colour and has three faces of differing colours: red, white and blue. Each face displays a grimace, a mouth that opens baring fangs, and three round and bulging eyes. He has six arms, of which the primary left and right hands hold a bow and an arrow respectively. The arrow is drawn on the string of the bow, ready to fire. In his lower right and left hands, he holds a cleaver and a club, while his upper right and left hands he holds a stick with a taming hook and a sword respectively. He wears a tiger skin loin cloth and a round domed traveling hat with a vajra upon his head. He is adorned with various ornaments including necklace, bracelets and anklets and his mount is a snow lion in the middle of a sea of blood. He is surrounded by blazing fire.
The King of Qualities, Shing Cha Chen, wears garments similar to Pehar, but his body is a natural colour with one face and two hands holding a hook and lasso. He rides on a zombie. The King of Speech, Dra Lha Kye Chigbu, is red in colour. He holds a stick of cane and a stick of sandalwood in his hands and rides on a black mule. The King of Mind, Gya Jin, is blue in colour, with one face and two hands holding a knife and lasso, riding a white elephant. The King of Body, Monbu Putra, is blue in colour with one face and two hands holding a vajra and lasso attached to two monkeys.
What is an Oracle?
Oracles were once common in Western culture, specifically in ancient Greece and Rome. The most important of these were the Oracle of Delphi in Greece and the Sibyl Oracle in Rome or the Tuscan area. The Oracle of Delphi specifically had characteristics which are very similar to those of Tibetan oracles. The tradition of communication between the gods and humans in Tibet is virtually untouched and is still practiced right up to this day. There were hundreds of oracles in Tibet and the Himalayan highlands originally, but over time the oracles became fewer while the native shamans became more widespread.
The history of Tibet’s tradition of oracles traces back to before the arrival of Buddhism. It was definitely a feature of the Bon tradition, the pre-Buddhist Tibetan religion. Practitioners of that time made use of the pre-existing tradition and use it for Buddhist purposes. In the Tantric tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, it is believed that the body possesses 72,000 psychic channels, which flow towards five circular confluences of energy channels called chakras. These chakras act like gateways into the mind of the individual. A Tibetan oracle engages in specific meditations to purify these psychic channels, gain control of the chakras and seal the chakras so only specific protector beings can enter in order to take full possession of the oracle. The most common practices that an oracle would engage in are Yamantaka and sometimes Hayagriva.
In the Tibetan tradition, the word oracle is used to refer a person who acts as a medium between the human and the spiritual realms. Thus, the medium is known as kuten, which literally means “the physical basis.” The oracle’s mind is believed to go into the background (traditionally believed to be in a ring that is placed on the oracle’s finger) while the protector deity takes over the body of the oracle in order to speak, bless and engage in various actions.
The Nechung Oracle of Tibet
The phenomenon of oracles is an important part of the Tibetan way of life just like other ancient civilisations of the world. Tibetans rely on oracles as the physical vessel for the deity. There are various reasons for this, apart from foretelling the future, they also give advice, offer guidance, are called up-on as protectors and sometimes as healers as well. However, their primary function is to protect the Buddha Dharma and its practitioners.
The main purpose of an oracle is to provide a direct connection with the protector deities in order to receive blessings and prophetic advice. Within the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, oracles take trance of protector beings who are charged with the task of removing obstacles and providing protection along one’s spiritual journey towards enlightenment, such as Nechung. This is because the oracle provides the ‘physical basis’ for the protector to enter in order to speak, provide prophetic pronouncements, give direct blessings, heal people of their various afflictions and become a direct object for offerings. Some higher level protectors can even give teachings that lead sentient beings out of their suffering and aid them on their spiritual journey towards enlightenment.
The goal of oracular trances is to provide a service to many people. This service involves eliciting the wisdom of the deity, as expressed through the oracle’s advice and pronouncements and this also includes access to the deity’s clairvoyance directly through prophetic advice concerning the future. An oracle can be consulted by individual patrons regarding personal crises such as family problems, wealth and relationship issues, or for communal concerns such as unsolved crimes and legal matters.
State Oracles are called as such because they act primarily in service to the Tibetan government. For instance, State Oracles like those of Nechung traditionally search for the rebirths of the Dalai Lamas. The State Oracles would then be approached to give a clear indication on the unmistaken child. Sometimes other methods of divination would be further employed by state officials to ensure a clearer interpretation, since all of these forms of prophecy are prone to ambiguous meanings. Since the 16th century, State Oracles like Nechung have served as advisors to the Dalai Lamas and provided counsel on important decisions, especially those that concerned national security or religious expansion.
Furthermore, oracles – specifically on the local level – act as healers, using their powers of divination to assess an individual’s illness and respond with appropriate advice as to its remedy. Hildegard Diemberger states that the success of an oracle is in his or her ability to mediate at times of personal and public crisis; an oracle’s reputation is dependent on their efficacy.
It is believed that there were hundreds of oracles throughout Tibet in earlier times, however, only a handful survive to this day, including the Setrap, Dorje Shugden oracles and those consulted by the Tibetan government. Of those the principal is the Nechung oracle. Through him manifests Dorje Dragden, the principal protector divinity of the Tibetan government and the Dalai Lama.
Nechung was formally institutionalized as the Tibetan state oracle by the Great 5th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso. The 5th Dalai Lama established Nechung Monastery as the seat of Tibet’s state oracle by installing Pehar as the protector of Tibet’s newly consolidated Ganden Phodrang government. Pehar was original installed at Samye monastery that was established by King Trisong Detsen (755-798 CE) in 767 CE. Samye then became Nechen, an “important or holy place.”
In between Samye and Nechung Monasteries, the worship of Pehar first moved from Samye to Tse Gungtang. At Tse Gungtang, Pehar was believed to have started a fire at a monastery that angered a powerful high lama. This high lama used his meditational powers to capture Pehar in a box and then threw him in a river. The box floated westwards into the vicinity of Drepung Monastery where an abbot requested an attendant to retrieve it. Out of curiosity, the attendant opened the box while carrying it back to the monastery. Pehar took the form of a bird and flew out and then perched upon a nearby tree before disappearing. The Pehar chapel which later expanded into Nechung monastery was built around this tree. After the shrine was built around the life-tree of Pehar, it started to be called Nechung, “small place”. Pehar inherited the name of the monastery, so people began referring to him as Nechung. Nechung is located about ten minutes east on foot from Drepung monastery near Lhasa.
In spite of holding the respected position of State Oracle over the past centuries, many high lamas in the past and today refuse to consult the Nechung oracle even on the smallest of matters as this oracle has been given inaccurate pronouncements and prophecies over the years.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama wrote in his autobiography, Freedom in Exile:
Before a trance, the oracle will be dressed in elaborate costume consists of several layers of clothing topped by a highly ornate robe of golden silk brocade, covered with ancient designs in red and blue and green and yellow. On his chest he wears a circular mirror which is surrounded by clusters of turquoise and amethyst, its polished steel flashing with the Sanskrit mantra corresponding to Dorje Dragden. Before the proceedings begin, he also puts on a sort of harness, which supports four flags and three victory banners. Altogether, this outfit weighs more than seventy pounds and the medium, when not in trance, can hardly walk in it.
The ceremony begins with chanted invocations and prayers, accompanied by the urgings of horns, cymbals and drums. After a short while, the Oracle enters his trance…Then, as the first prayer cycle concludes and the second begins, his trance begins to deepen. At this point, a huge helmet is placed on his head. This item weighs approximately thirty pounds, though in former times it weighed over eighty.
Now the Oracle’s face transforms, becoming rather wild before puffing up to give him an altogether strange appearance, with bulging eyes and swollen cheeks. His breathing begins to shorten and he starts to hiss violently. Then, momentarily, his respiration stops. At this point the helmet is tied in place with a knot so tight that it would undoubtedly strangle the Oracle if something very real were not happening. The possession is now complete and the mortal frame of the medium expands visibly.
Next, he leaps up with a start and, grabbing a ritual sword from one of his attendants, begins to dance with slow, dignified, yet somehow menacing, steps. He then comes in front of me and either prostrates fully or bows deeply from the waist until his helmet touches the ground before springing back up, the weight of his regalia counting for nothing. The volcanic energy of the deity can barely be contained within the earthly frailty of the Oracle, who moves and gestures as if his body were made of rubber and driven by a coiled spring of enormous power.
There follows an interchange between Nechung and myself, where he makes ritual offerings to me. I then ask any personal questions I have for him. After replying, he returns to his stool and listens to questions put by members of the Government. Before giving answers to these the Oracle begins to dance again, thrashing his sword above his head. He looks like a magnificent, fierce Tibetan warrior chieftain of old.
As soon as Dorje Dragden has finished speaking, the Oracle makes a final offering before collapsing, a rigid and lifeless form, signifying the end of the possession. Simultaneously, the knot holding his helmet in place is untied in a great hurry by his assistants, who then carry him out to recover whilst the ceremony continues.
Please watch the following video of Nechung Oracle in trance:
Or view the video on the server at: http://video.tsemtulku.com/videos/NechungOracle.flv
Testing the Oracle’s Validity
The Nechung medium is believed to be possessed by Dorje Dragden when he enters trance. When a new medium has to be found following the old oracle’s death, it is very important for the correct medium to be found. Hence, there is an extended series of tests that the prospective oracle must go through before being confirmed as the Nechung Oracle. These tests are as follows:
- Dorje Dragden takes possession of the new medium he has chosen. For example, Lobsang Jigme, the 16th State Oracle would sleepwalk and suffer from seizures during which he would shout and thrash about. This started to occur around his 10th birthday. When he was 14, he began to perform the honorific dance of Dorje Dragden during one of his trances. During this time, it is believed that the entourage of Nechung would enter and leave him in order to purify his psychic channels and basically to prepare the way for Nechung to come.
- The Gadong medium insisted while under possession by Shinjachen, that Lobsang Jigme should be the chosen medium of Nechung.
- Monks from Nechung Monastery tested the proclamation extensively via a dough ball divination. These were performed by placing Lobsang Jigme’s name along with the names of all the other candidates into various dough balls that were placed into a vessel. This vessel was then spun before the three holiest images of Tibet. Lobsang Jigme’s name was always the one that was ejected from the vessel during the spinning.
- Further test consisting of three main parts are carried out to prove the correct candidate, Lobsang Jigme, in this case.
- The prospective oracle is asked to name the contents of sealed boxes during trance.
- While possession the body of the oracle, Dorje Dragden is required to be able to recite verbatim prophecies that he had given on a previous occasions, as specified by the monks. As Dorje Dragden’s prophecies are very cryptic and poetic, unless he is actually present, this test is nearly impossible to pass.
- The medium’s breath is checked to see if it has the faint odor of alcohol (inner offering) that is characteristic of possession by Pehar. This final test is considered to be the most accurate and the most definitive.
- The final sign is the appearance of the imprint of a vajra on the top of his head for several minutes after the trance that reveals the spirit of Dorje Dragden had actually possessed the medium.
Discovery and Characteristics of an Oracle
An oracle is someone whose psychic channels are purified and their chakras blessed and sealed. Therefore, an oracle’s chakras would only permit specific external entities to enter. Generally speaking, the person will notice he or she has chakras that are open between the ages of 10 and 20 when they begin to exhibit specific signs such as in the case of Lobsang Jigme (see the list of oracles below). They will undertake very severe methods of purification, during which they may have strange dreams and are constantly in a state of exhaustion. Although people may be afraid that this is some sort of disease, there is no medical cure as this is not an illness but a method of purification. They will also go through periods of uncontrollable fits but slowly and gradually these symptoms will subside.
In the Tibetan Buddhist context, only a highly attained lama qualified to train oracles is able to distinguish a potential oracle and exclude illnesses such as epilepsy or other mental conditions that could be afflicting the potential candidate. Once the lama has confirmed the ‘ill’ person is showing the signs of becoming an oracle, he will also look into the family history as this ability can also be hereditary. This is the case of with the 6th and 7th Panglung Oracles of Dorje Shugden. The 7th Panglung Oracle is actually the son of the 6th Panglung Oracle. So, this ability can be found in several generations of the same family either transmitted from father to son or from mother to daughter.
In other cases such as the Nechung Oracle, who is usually a monk, his successor has to be searched for. Since monks hold a vow of celibacy, therefore they do not have children. These are the two different ways in which an oracle is discovered, once he has shown the signs of being an oracle. However, there is also a third possibility for becoming an oracle and this is through an attained lama who is able to induce a trance in a particular person. In this process, he is able to invoke the deity into the body of the oracle.
Once a candidate is identified, a number of rituals are performed in order to open up the channels of the subtle body in order for the physical body to facilitate the arrival of the deity and to make this experience easier. The most important factor is that the oracle have the ability to speak during the trance as this is how the deity communicates with practitioners. There are a number of practices and retreats for the candidate to engage in for his body to be transformed into the sacred vessel to house the deities during trance.
Position of Nechung Oracles
The position of the Nechung Oracle is not easy but it can be rewarding if the oracle is a good one. The position was highly regarded but there have been instances of oracles that have been disgraced and deposed. Many Nechung Oracles have suffered the later while only a few have achieved the former. The very first Nechung Oracle, for example, had been executed when, through possession by lesser spirits, revealed the secret government information to the public.
Since that time, there has never been instances in which such drastic measures have been used against the Nechung Oracles. However the 13th and 14th Nechung Oracles, Lhalungpa Gyaltsen Tharchin and Lobsang Sonam, had both been disgraced and fired from their posts after their meditational practices had deteriorated to the point of interfering with the coherence of their trances. Lhalungpa Gyaltsen Tharchin was discovered in 1913 during his first trance at the Losar festival and was later dismissed by the 13th Dalai Lama in 1920, entering exile in Lhokha. Lobsang Sonam was a monk from Kham who was discovered in February 1901 during his first trance. Lobsang Sonam was removed for precipitating the death of the 13th Dalai Lama by giving misleading and ultimately deadly medical advice.
List of Nechung Oracles
1. 1st Nechung Oracle
Pehar Gyalpo first took possession of a human being in 1544, making Drag Tranggowa Lobsang Palden the first oracle of Nechung. Lobsang Palden was the oracle through which Pehar Gyalpo is known to have given indications to locate the 3rd Dalai Lama while in trance.
2. 2nd Nechung Oracle
The 2nd Nechung Oracle was known as Jampa Gyatso or Ringangpa, which identifies him as coming from the region of Rinchen Gang.
3. 3rd Nechung Oracle
The 3rd Nechung Oracle, Nangso Gonor, was a lay member of the government (nangso) when he had his first trance.
4. 4th Nechung Oracle
The 4th Nechung Oracle, Sepo Sonam, had links to the 5th Dalai Lama to whom he gave advice in trance many times, especially when Tibet experienced difficulties with the kingdom of Bhutan in the 1650’s. During that period, the Dalai Lama placed the Nechung monastery under his protection and made the Nechung Oracle the Tibet State Oracle of Tibet.
5. 5th Nechung Oracle
Tsewang Pelbar was appointed the 5th Nechung Oracle for 10 years between 1679 and 1689. The regent Sangye Gyatso, who was taking care of the monastery was known to have made statues for Nechung monastery. At that time there was about 50 monks who lived at the monastery. Upon the death of the 5th Dalai Lama, Tsewang Pelbar delivered a prediction regarding the Dalai Lama’s return. Tsewang Pelbar died in 1689 at the age of 58.
6. 6th Nechung Oracle
The 6th Nechung Oracle, Lobsang Gyatso Legjor, was originally from Kongpo. He had his first trance in 1690. It was around this time that the number of monks at Nechung Monastery increased to 101.
7. 7th Nechung Oracle
The 7th Nechung Oracle, Tsangyang Tamdrin (also known as Lobsang Tashi), experienced his first trance in 1725. He was close to the Seventh Dalai Lama and had many trances. Tsangyang Tamdrin also transmitted the Thirteen Deity Yamantaka practice and the Ritual of Burnt Offerings (jinsek) for Consecration according to the lineage of Gyuto Tantric College to the monks of Nechung Monastery. His was so highly respected that he received the gift of a piece of land in the region of Dartsedo, eastern Kham, for Nechung Monastery. He died of old age in 1747.
8. 8th Nechung Oracle
The 8th Nechung Oracle, Ngawang Gyatso, was originally from Dartsedo and belonged to the Gar Dratsang monastery founded by Kamsum Silnon, the incarnation of Rigzin Goden. The monastery was under the patronage of the royal family of Chagla, one of the kingdoms of Kham. Ngawang Gyatso had his first trance in central Tibet in 1747 in the presence of the 7th Dalai Lama. Ngawang Gyatso also had links to the Thubten Dorje Drag monastery and had good relations with Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche and Pema Kalsang Wangchug, two tulkus or reincarnated lamas from this monastery. The relationship with Pema Kalsang Wangchug was so strong that he became Ngawang Gyatso’s root Guru.
9. 9th Nechung Oracle
The 9th Nechung Oracle, Yulo Kopa, was active as the Nechung Oracle in around 1822 and believed to have come from Yulo Ko, a small hamlet close to Nechung monastery. He was promoted to the rank of Khenchung and later became part of the religious administration of the State in 1822.
10. 10th Nechung Oracle
The 10th Nechung Oracle, Kalsang Tsultrim, was appointed oracle between 1837 and 1856. In 1849, he was nominated the Khenchen, a high governmental rank, for the accuracy of his prophesies. He died shortly after the 12th Dalai Lama.
11. 11th Nechung Oracle
The 11th Nechung Oracle, Lhalung Yarphel Shakya, was one of the most remarkable of oracles. In 1878, Lhalung Shakya Yarphel nominated Lobsang Dargye, the former abbot of Gyume Tantric College, to search for the reincarnation of the 12th Dalai Lama. Lobsang Dargye went to the shores of the Lhamo Latso Lake, which is a renowned lake for the granting of visions in its waters. On the night of the seventh day, he saw a child, his parents, their names and their home. The 11th Nechung Oracle confirmed the visions to be correct.
A fact-finding mission led by Lobsang Dargye discovered the boy Dagpo, living in the house of a humble woodcutter. His father was named Kunzang Rinchen and his mother was Lobsang Dolma. During a trance, Lhalung Yarphel Shakya confirmed the boy was the 13th Dalai Lama. Later in February 1899, Lhalung Yarphel Shakya warned the Dalai Lama during a trance that his life was in danger, prompting him to exercise extreme caution. Despite his advice, the Dalai Lama, previously energetic, became sick regularly and tired quickly.
When asked again in trance, the oracle specified that black magic was involved and asked that a pair of boots held by Sogyal Terton was to be disposed of. Sogyal Terton was questioned and brought the boots that a lama from Nyarong named Nyaktrul, who was renowned for his magical powers, had given him to offer to the Dalai Lama. During the session, Sogyal Terton mentioned he had a bad feeling about the boots when he received it, so he had kept them until one day he tried them on himself. His nose had begun to bleed once he wore the boots, so he decided to leave them in a corner rather than offer them to the Dalai Lama.
Following the advice of the oracle, the boots were dismantled. An evil pentagram with the name of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, and his date of birth was found in the soles together with harmful substances. An investigation was conducted and the former Regent Demo Rinpoche and his accomplices confessed to plotting to cast black magic against the Dalai Lama. They were arrested and was imprisoned. The group died not long after that, either by natural causes or committed suicide. Nyaktrul, the black magician, jumped out of a window and killed himself.
12. 12th Nechung Oracle
The 12th Nechung Oracle, Lobsang Sonam, a monk from Kham, was discovered in February 1901 after taking his first trance.
13. 13th Nechung Oracle
The 13th Nechung Oracle, Lhalungpa Tharchin Gyaltsen, was born in a Bhrumpa family who owned land in the Dagpo region. He was discovered in 1913 after entering his first trance during Losar. He was dismissed by the Dalai Lama in 1920 and went into exile in the Lhokha region.
14. 14th Nechung Oracle
The Dalai Lama reinstated Lobsang Sonam (the 12th Nechung Oracle), who is therefore also considered the 14th in the line of the Nechung Oracle. During the celebrations of the Tibetan New Year of 1932, he went into trance and warned the Dalai Lama of his impending death, revealing his illness and indicating the urgency of delivering his guidelines for the country’s future stability. He wrote a text known as his “will” and some of its contents have been proven prophetic.
15. 15th Nechung Oracle
Lobsang Namgyal took part in the search of the 14th Dalai Lama. Gyalpo Pehar asked that three teams were to be sent to central Tibet, Amdo and Kham respectively to locate the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.
16. 16th Nechung Oracle
According to Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison, the 16th Nechung Oracle, Lobsang Jigme, was appointed in 1945. He was the first oracle to come from the Nechung monastery itself. Lobsang Jigme, on the 21 July 1951, advised the young Dalai Lama, then a refugee at Yatung, to return to Lhasa. Similarly, in March 1959, the oracle was consulted twice before giving the expected answer. According to Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison, the advice for the Dalai Lama to enter exile in India was confirmed by dice divination.
In his book, Way to Freedom, the Dalai Lama gives another explanation for this episode. On the 10th of March 1959, there was a marked influx of people from Lhasa coming to defend him against the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) who positioned themselves in front of the Norbulingka. Tensions increased and despite a request for the dispersal of the crowd by the Dalai Lama, many remained on site. It was then that the Dalai Lama consulted the oracle, who informed him that he had to stay and continue dialogue with the Chinese. It was at this point that doubt first arose as to the accuracy of Pehar Gyalpo’s advice through the oracle.
In the following days, Ngabo Ngawang Jigme informed the Dalai Lama that the PLA was preparing to attack the crowd and to bomb the Norbulingka. On the 17th March, the Dalai Lama again consulted the oracle, who to his surprise shouted “Go away! Go away! Tonight!” He then proceeded to write clearly and in detail the route the Dalai Lama should take from the Norbulingka Palace to reach the border. Just as Dorje Dragden left and the oracle fainted, two mortar shells exploded in the marsh near the north gate.
In retrospect, the Dalai Lama thinks that Dorje Dragden knew from the beginning he had to leave Lhasa on 17th March, but he did not say it immediately, to prevent the news from spreading. He said the mo, the method of dice divination, confirmed the advice of the oracle. Another version of this episode is presented under The Flight from Tibet to India heading below.
Two famous prophecies from Lobsang Jigme are also related by Ellen Pearlman, one announcing that in 1950, Tibet would encounter great difficulties and the other concerning the escape of the Dalai Lama in 1959. Pearlman said that in 1951, Lobsang Jigme became ill because of his repeated and disturbing visions. According to some these visions were so intense, that he was unable to walk without assistance for years. In 1959 he left Tibet for India alongside the Dalai Lama. There he was finally able to cure his illness. Lobsang Jigme passed away in Dharamsala on 26th April 1984.
17. 17th Nechung Oracle
Thubten Ngodup became the 17th Nechung Oracle in 1987.
Nechung Oracle and Tibetan Leadership
As mentioned earlier, Pehar Gyalpo was institutionalised as the protector of the Tibetan government when the Great 5th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, gained temporal power in 1642. This made Nechung monastery, Nechung Dorje Drayang Ling, the seat of Tibet’s State Oracle. The 5th Dalai Lama was also the principal architect of the Nechung monastery in Tibet. It was on his advice and guidance that the monastery was expanded during the regency of Desi Sangye Gyatso in 1681 and completed in 1683. The Great 5th also composed Dra Yangma (Melodic Chant), a text of a self-generation practice and an invocation of the protector, which was incorporated into the monastic rites. Other specialised prayers, rituals and systems of training from many other lineages were also incorporated into the monastery’s practices and have been preserved until the present time.
The Tibetan State Oracle
In Tibet, the State Oracle lived as one of the highest ranking lamas in the Nechung residence. The oracle would have had at his command a considerable “court” and celebrated Pehar Gyalpo’s liturgies in a temple of his own. At the beginning of a trance session, the Nechung Oracle is sent into a trance via all manner of rituals and incense. Pehar is invoked to take possession of the Nechung Oracle but often only his minister, Dorje Dragden, is invoked due to the direct appearance by Pehar Gyalpo being too violent and threatening to the life of his medium. Pehar has under his command a group of five wrathful gods, who together are called the “protective wheel”. Pehar Gyalpo has exercised a decisive influence upon Tibetan politics for centuries and still continues to do so.
In the sphere of practical politics, Pehar’s advice has not always been advantageous for the Tibetans. For example, he gave the catastrophic advice to the 13th Dalai Lama that he should attack the British army under Colonel Younghusband which led to a massacre of over 600 Tibetan soldiers.
Tibetan Leadership and the Oracle System
Given the strident secular nature of democratic systems, the oracular system as such should be in decline or have even been abandoned. However, the Tibetan leadership in exile located in Dharamsala continue to rely on divinatory arts, astrology, dream interpretation, and oracles for the most decisive policies and political matters. In fact, every significant political step is only undertaken once the oracle, soothsayers, and court astrologers have been consulted. Every important state-level political activity also requires the invocation of Pehar Gyalpo. This tendency has increased in recent years to the consultation of two more oracles, the Gadong and Tenma Oracles, whose services are made use of.
The Dalai Lama writes in Freedom in Exile that it is tradition for the Dalai Lama to consult the Nechung Oracle during the New Year festivals. In addition, the Nechung Oracle might well be called upon at other times for specific queries. All this may sound far-fetched to 21st century readers.
The Dalai Lama has further mentioned that in one aspect, Pehar and the Dalai Lama’s responsibilities towards Tibet are the same. The Dalai Lama’s task is of leading the Tibetan people which is peaceful, while Pehar in his capacity as a protector, is wrathful. However, he highlighted that his relationship with Pehar is that of commander to lieutenant: he never bows down to Pehar. It is Pehar who bows down to the Dalai Lama, yet they are very close, similar to friends. When the Dalai Lama was younger, if Pehar noticed that he had dressed carelessly or improperly, Pehar would come over and rearrange his shirt, adjust his robe, etc.
The Dalai Lama also mentioned that dealing with Pehar is not easy. It takes time and patience during each encounter before he will open up. He is very reserved and austere, just as one would imagine a grand old man of ancient times to be. Pehar does not bother with minor matters and is only interested in the larger issues, so it pays to frame questions accordingly. He also has definite likes and dislikes, but he does not show them very readily. Sometimes he would just respond with a burst of sarcastic laughter to questions that were asked. This kind of behaviour matches a worldly being that is still attached and in samsara.
There are many Protectors in the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon such as Dorje Shugden who are enlightened and his compassion, patience and affection are shown spontaneously during trance. Yet, the Dalai Lama continues to consult this worldly spirit despite the wrong advice he has been given in the past.
Please watch the video below to witness affectionate relationship between Nechung Pehar and the Dalai Lama.
Or view the video on the server at: http://video.tsemtulku.com/videos/DalaiLamaandOracle.flv
The Flight from Tibet to India
In the 1950’s, the 14th Dalai Lama was called upon to assume full political power of Tibet, which he had agreed on. Following this he went to Beijing in 1954 to attend peace talks with Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders such as Deng Xiaoping. However in 1959, the Dalai Lama escaped Tibet, during the Chinese invasion, and entered exile in India.
The Dalai Lama received explicit instructions on 17th March 1959 from the Dorje Shugden Oracle that he should leave the country. The decision was further confirmed when a divination was performed by His Holiness himself that produced the same result. For the sake of his people and the continuance of Tibetan culture, the Dalai Lama finally decided to undertake the harrowing 15-day journey through the Himalayas to India.
That night, a few minutes before 10pm, the Dalai Lama disguised himself as a common soldier, managed to slip past the massive throng of people outside, together with a small escort and proceed towards the Kyichu River. There he was joined by the rest of the entourage, including his immediate family members.
The Dalai Lama recounts in Freedom in Exile the accuracy of Pehar’s advice, including the case of the Dalai Lama’s escape:
“Surprising as it may seem, the oracle’s replies to questions are rarely vague. As in the case of my escape from Lhasa, he is often very specific. But I suppose that it would be difficult for any scientific investigation either to prove or disprove conclusively the validity of his pronouncements. The same would surely be true of other areas of Tibetan experience, for example the matter of tulkus (reincarnate lamas).”
Contrary to the statement on the advice for the Dalai Lama’s escape, John F. Avedon in In Exile from the Land of Snows recalls the following:
“When Lobsang Jigme regained consciousness, he looked up from the bed on which he had been placed and saw the small group of monks weeping over him. He inquired if shells had fallen on Drepung and if so whether or not any of them had been hurt. They replied in the negative. “Then why are you all crying?” he asked. After conveying Dorje Dragden’s message, the senior attendant said, “This is the Choekyong’s advice, but how can we follow it? You are a sick man. During the celebration of the Buddha Jayanti in 1956 you went by car through India and even under those conditions suffered tremendously. Now we have to walk and ride for weeks. How can we possibly cope with this problem?” As Lobsang Jigme had no answer for them, one and all lapsed into silence, pondering Dorje Dragden’s other statement: the stunning news of the Dalai Lama’s flight from Norbulingka – unknown to Tibetans and Chinese alike until the following week.”
The actual flight of the Dalai Lama involves Changtso Lobsang Yeshe, a member of Pomra Khangtsen of Sera Mey Monastery. Sera Monastery is one of the Three Great Gelugpa monasteries of Tibet. The other two are Gaden Monastery and Drepung Monastery. Lobsang Yeshe was the main attendant and biological brother of the Abbot of Sera Mey Monastery at that time, Kensur Ngawang Dakpa Rinpoche. Kensur Ngawang Dakpa Rinpoche assigned Lobsang Yeshe to seek advice from the 6th Panglung Oracle who took trance of the Dorje Shugden in regards to the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet. As the time was crucial, Kensur Ngawang Dakpa Rinpoche was closely observed by the PLA, therefore he couldn’t carry out the instruction personally as given by Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, the junior tutor of the 14th Dalai Lama.
On the 10th of March 1959, Lobsang Yeshe had a private audience with the Protector Dorje Shugden via the 6th Panglung Oracle as the representative of Kensur Ngawang Dakpa Rinpoche. Specific advice for the Dalai Lama to leave Tibet without delay was given by Dorje Shugden. During the audience, Dorje Shugden even offered a Pudri (a bracelet-like article with three eyes worn by the Panglung Oracles) to ensure the safe journey of the Dalai Lama and his entourage. Lobsang Yeshe took this holy item to give Kensur Ngawang Dakpa Rinpoche together with a handful of blessed rice. This was “to be burnt in times of trouble” during the Dalai Lama’s escape.
Lobsang Yeshe was also witness to another important audience between Dorje Shugden and Ratoe Chowar Rinpoche. Ratoe Chowar Rinpoche was requested by Trijang Rinpoche to seek advice from the Panglung Oracle regarding the same matter. During this audience, Dorje Shugden divined a suitable route of escape and via the Oracle shot three arrows into the south, indicating the direction that the Dalai Lama and his entourage should take.
Please watch the video of Lobsang Yeshe recalling about Dorje Shugden’s advice on the Dalai Lama’s escape.
Or view the video on the server at: http://video.tsemtulku.com/videos/AdviceFromDorjeShugden.flv
Dorje Shugden also gave a ceremonial sword to Ratoe Chowar Rinpoche, and told him that Dorje Shugden would ensure a safe journey for the Dalai Lama if the sword was waved by a person named Dorje in the air three times in the direction of the Dalai Lama’s escape route. This sword was also to be held up by this person while leading the Dalai Lama into India.
Ratoe Chowar Rinpoche’s audience to seek Dorje Shugden’s advice was in fact requested by the Dalai Lama himself through Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. It is understandable that due to his position, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche was also closely watched by the PLA. In Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche’s autobiography titled The Illusory Play, it clearly recounts the incident below as stated below:
“Following the intentions and orders of the Dalai Lama, I secretly ordered Rate Chubar (Rato Chowar) Rinpoche to go to Panglung Retreat and to ask Gyalchen Dorje Shugden for his instructions.”
The Dharmapala said, “You must go immediately! If you go by way of the southwestern direction, no harm will come to the Dalai Lama or any of his entourage; I guarantee it! You must go raising this sword in my name at the head of the Dalai Lama’s column.” Thus, he advised using the path leading to the southwest through Ramagang and then performed the shooting arrow and sword dances.
Following this very advice, on the night of the eighth day of the second month at nine o’clock, preceded by members of his family such as his mother, the Gyälyum Chenmo, the Dalai Lama and a small entourage then left.
As a result, the Dalai Lama and his entourage crossed the border into India safely on the 31st March 1959, after a 15-day journey on foot from Lhasa over the Himalayan Mountains, protected by Dorje Shugden throughout.
Accuracy of Nechung’s Advice
In 1970, when the Fourteenth Dalai Lama was still practicing Dorje Shugden as taught by His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, there were monthly pujas to Dorje Shugden performed in the Dalai Lama’s personal monastery, Namgyal Monastery. This is a widely known fact.
When the Dalai Lama was about to receive the Dorje Shugden Sogtae or Life-Entrustment Initiation from Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, the State Oracle took trance and stopped him from receiving the practice through negative counsel about Dorje Shugden.
This is not the first time the Nechung Oracle has such negative advice. During the time of the 13th Dalai Lama, as recounted by his personal physician, Jampala, the Nechung Oracle was asked to go to Norbulingka for a spontaneous trance in front of the Dalai Lama and prescribed medicine that his attendant happened to have with him. The oracle took a spoonful of this medicine and offered it to the Dalai Lama. From that night onwards, the fever rose higher than before and the Dalai Lama became delirious. The illness progressed from bad to worse and on the 19th December 1933, the Dalai Lama passed away.
Before the death of the 13th Dalai Lama, Pehar Gyalpo also gave disastrous advice to him that the Tibetans should attack the British army under Colonel Younghusband, which caused more than 600 Tibetan deaths.
In more recent times, the 14th Dalai Lama granted an audience with an Indian girl who claimed to be an incarnation of the Hindu goddess Sambhavi. The girl took trance in the Dalai Lama’s presence during which she warned him of health concerns and also gave a prediction that the Tibetans would return to Tibet in 2012. The Nechung Oracle was consulted to verify the girl’s claims. The Dharma Protector concurred with the girl’s predictions. It is now 2016, and the Tibetans are still struggling in India, remain nationless and in exile.
Earlier in 1986, the Nechung Oracle offered another prediction concerning the Tibetan cause. The oracle pronounced that in the Year of the Dragon, something extraordinary would happen: the Tibetans in exile and abroad would reunite and that this day was very near. The prediction was written on a piece of paper distributed widely. On another occasion, the State Oracle also said:
“I will send 100 million divine soldiers to China.”
Optimistic that Nechung’s prediction would come true, in 1987, the Year of the Dragon, the Tibetans organised an uprising against the Chinese. The Chinese police swiftly crushed the uprising and there were no signs of divine soldiers coming to the rescue. In fact, Nechung would make further (and similar) predictions about the Year of the Ox (1997) and the Year of the Pig (1995) but with no success. The Tibetan situation has remained the same.
Clearly, Perhar Gyalpo has a track record of making unreliable and inaccurate pronouncements and prophecies via the Nechung Oracle. These incorrect predictions have led to tremendous damage to the Tibetan cause, not to mention the trouble they have caused the Dalai Lama. What is puzzling though, despite all the problems arising from the reliance on the Nechung Oracle, the State Oracle is still very much revered and consulted to this day.
Although there are some who believe that the being who enters the Nechung Oracle’s body may not necessarily be Pehar himself, many high lamas still have high regard for the Dharma Protector. There are also some who claim that a powerful and malignant spirit of someone who had been murdered by the Tibetan Leadership has been entering the Nechung Oracle to make incorrect pronouncements intentionally. This would suggest negative karma is coming back to afflict the Tibetan leadership.
Whatever the case may be, what is certain is that there is a general belief that the trances by the Nechung Oracle are not really of Pehar Gyalpo or that Pehar Gyalpo’s pronouncements cannot be relied upon. In all likelihood, Nechung’s pronouncement against Dorje Shugden is just another fake prophecy.
Nechung and Dorje Shugden
Generally speaking, the current Dorje Shugden ban was substantiated by a long-standing feud that extends back to the time of the 5th Dalai Lama, who had initially blamed the calamities befalling Lhasa at the time on the spirit of the deceased lama, Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen.
At that time, the 5th Dalai Lama commissioned various lamas who were known for their efficacious and miraculous attainments to perform fire pujas to eradicate the Dorje Shugden ‘spirit’. However, the pujas were ineffective as Dorje Shugden is of the same indestructible nature as Yamantaka. The Dalai Lama later manifested this realisation and composed a praise to Dorje Shugden as well as building the Trode Khangsar, which houses crafted statues according to the vision he had of Dorje Shugden. According to the elder monks of Gaden Phelgyeling Monastery, the 5th Dalai Lama was the one who appointed Dorje Shugden to be the protector of their monastery as well.
Although the issues between Dorje Shugden and the 5th Dalai Lama were resolved, during the time of the 13th Dalai Lama, the issue with Dorje Shugden resurfaced. Historical records, however, reveal the truth of the matter – the 13th Dalai Lama merely reshuffled state approval of deities. The 13th Dalai Lama outlawed the worship of a number of deities and oracles due the rife worship of innumerable deities and oracles within Tibetan society at the time. The Dalai Lama continued to approve of the state oracles of Nechung and Gadong, Dorje Shugden from Trode Khangsar, Tsangpa (believed to be the peaceful aspect of Setrap) and the Tenma oracle from Drepung.
Rising of Dorje Shugden
René de Nebesky-Wojkowitz in his book Oracles and Demons of Tibet based upon extensive research gathered from several eminent Tibetan Buddhist masters gives a clear description of the Nechung Gompa (temple):
“The southern gate (no. 1 on the diagram) is held closed in accordance with an old tradition that the chokyong Dorje Shugden is waiting at this entrance for the day to come on which he will be allowed to enter the monastery, to succeed Pehar as the chief dharmapala of Tibet…” page 445, Oracles and Demons of Tibet: The Cult and Iconography of the Tibetan Protective Deities.
The Nechung oracle sits at a throne at the head and center of the monastery (no. 23) whenever Nechung or one of his emanations is due to take trance. This central positioning symbolises that Nechung is the reigning deity of this place at this time. There are three entrances to this sacred temple (No. 1, 2 and 3). Entrances 2 and 3, at the east and west, are accessible and open to everyone to enter and leave the main temple. Visitors to the temple will pass through these two gates. The southern gate (No. 1) towards the end of the temple, however, always remains sealed. It is believed that Dorje Shugden stands at this gate, waiting for his time to enter. This will happen only when Nechung attains enlightenment and ‘leaves’, unlocking the southern gate for Dorje Shugden to enter.
Through serving the Dalai Lama over many lifetimes, Pehar Gyalpo has created a lot of merit which will eventually propel him towards full enlightenment. When this happens, he will no longer stand as the chief of worldly Dharma Protectors and will ‘leave’ the temple, a symbol of him stepping down as the chief of Protectors. Dorje Shugden will then take over his role, rising to be the next great protector of our time and the ‘chief Dharmapala of Tibet’ which means that he will be the most prominent Buddhist protector of the Tibetan Buddhist lineages.
However, it has been noted by high lamas that this period of the Changing of the Guardians would not come about so easily. Perhaps the ban on Dorje Shugden’s practice together with all the ensuing controversy is precisely to hasten this change of power. Alongside the ban, Nechung himself contributes to this seemingly volatile shift in energy by manifesting many ‘errors’ in his prophecies and showing a growing reluctance to speak. Nebesky-Wojkowitz also noted in the same book:
“A Tibetan popular belief claims that Pe Har, who will become shortly a ‘jig rten las ‘das pa’i srung ma (enlightened protector), feels more and more reluctant to speak through the oracle-priest of Nechung, and that in many cases rDo rje grags ldan (Dorje Dragden) answers in his place.” page 125, Oracles and Demons of Tibet: The Cult and Iconography of the Tibetan Protective Deities)
As noted in the passage above, Nechung has started to withdraw and is now not speaking as frequently through his oracles, a sign that could be referring to Pehar preparing for his eventual enlightenment. Not only is he speaking less, he has over the last century appeared to make very grave mistakes in his prophecies and oracular pronouncements. Some of these have already been outlined above.
The fact that Pehar was relied upon for hundreds of years by highly qualified and attained Buddhist masters would suggest that he wasn’t always unreliable, and that the inconsistencies have only manifested in more recent times. Adding the fact that he is also withdrawing from speaking as frequently, this might lead people to believe that Nechung is deliberating pronouncing inaccuracies to wean the Tibetans off the reliance on his prophecies.
Perhaps it is worth considering that the uncertainties and instabilities of the time are merely a shift in universal energy and power, in anticipation of the next great Protector. Could all these be signs that the prophecy of the Changing of the Guardians – when the incomparable Protector Dorje Shugden rises in prominence throughout the world – is about to be fulfilled? Only time will tell. However all clues point to the fact that the event is drawing ever closer as Nechung retreats behind the curtain, and Dorje Shugden rises to the center of a global stage.
During the time of the 11th Nechung Oracle (Lhalung Shakya Yarphel), Nechung Rinpoche Ogyen Thinley Choephel moved from Mindrolling Monastery to Nechung Monastery. His was believed to have come to Nechung Monastery due to the practice of the Nechung and in particular for his unique practice of the Treasured Doctrine. Ogyen Thinley Choephel was recognised as the incarnation of the great treasure master Ratna Lingpa (1403-1479) who is well-known in the history of Tibetan Buddhism. Ratna Lingpa himself was considered a reincarnation of Langdro Kunchok Jungne, one of the 25 chief disciples of Guru Padmasambhava. As such a highly regarded reincarnation Ogyen Thinley Choephel became both the spiritual guide to the Nechung Oracle and the Nechung Sangha. Ogyen Thinley gave extensive transmissions of the meditation practices relating to the psychic energy channels, wind, and yogic exercises (tsalung and trulkhor) of the generation and completion stage practices of tantra.
In 1891, following the prophecies given by Nechung, and as instructed by the Dalai Lama, Ogyen Thinley left for Dokham, in the eastern part of Tibet, to retrieve the holy image of Guru Rinpoche, a treasured object originally discovered by the master Ogyen Lerab Lingpa, from Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892). He brought this image to be enshrined in the Jokhang Temple for Dharma and peace to flourish.
After the demise of Ogyen Thinley Choephel, the 13th Dalai Lama recognised the next reincarnation of Nechung Rinpoche, Thupten Kunchok Pal Zangpo (1917-1983), who became a highly realised master. He studied Tibetan literature and astrology from a learned master of Mindroling Monastery in addition to what was taught in Nechung monastery. Thupten Kunchok taught Tibetan language at China’s Minority School in Beijing from 1956 to 1959, and returned to Tibet following the Chinese occupation. He was imprisoned for a few months and escaped from Tibet to India in 1962 carrying with him sacred items into exile. In accordance with his premonitions, Thupten Kunchok was able to bring the sacred Sebag Mugchung mask to Nechung Monastery in India. This is one of the important and holiest belongings of the Nechung protector.
Thupten Kunchok became a professor at the Ladakh Buddhist Institute (Buddha Vihar) in Delhi on 2nd December 1964. During his stay at the monastery, he continued his spiritual works by conferring initiations, oral transmissions and commentaries on the practices that are unique to the tradition of the Nechung Monastery. In 1973, Thupten Kunchok established Nechung Dorje Drayang Ling, a temple and meditation center in Hawaii for the study of Buddhist meditation and Tibetan culture where he passed the numerous practice lineages Nechung Monastery. He lived in Hawaii until 1983, and in between made a few visits to his main monastery in Dharamsala as well as Thubten Dhargye Ling in Los Angeles.
Thupten Kunchok visited Geshe Tsultrim Gyeltsen often at Thubten Dhargye Ling in the 1980’s. The young His Eminence the 25th Tsem Rinpoche was staying at Thubten Dhargye Ling at the time and used to serve Thupten Kunchok and Geshe-la tea while the two lamas meet. Geshe Tsultrim Gyeltsen also mentioned to the young Rinpoche that Thupten Kunchok, the Nechung Rinpoche, was also a Dorje Shugden practitioner. Prior to the 1996 ban of Dorje Shugden, there was no conflict in practicing Dorje Shugden at all.
On 31st August 1982, Nechung Rinpoche entered clear light and remained in a state of clear light meditation (tukdam) but following the past tradition of Nechung Monastery, he left his physical body three days after at the behest of Taglung Tsetrul Rinpoche.
In 1993, both the 14th Dalai Lama and the Nechung Oracle recognised the reincarnation of the present Nechung Rinpoche who was born in Lhasa on 20th May 1985. He went to school in Tibet for some years, and was then taken to India in September 1993. Upon arriving in Dharamsala, he began his studies earnestly at the Nechung Monastery and was officially enthroned on 15th March 1995. He has successfully memorised all the traditional ritual texts unique to Nechung Monastery as well as received extensive initiations from the Venerable Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche. He is currently studying Buddhist Philosophy and other subjects at the Monastery.
Nechung Dorje Drayang Ling Monastery has an important place in Tibetan history as it is the seat of the State Oracle of Tibet. Also known as Nechung Monastery, in Tibet it is located below Drepung Monastery, just 6 km west of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. This monastery is responsible for keeping the link with Tibet’s main spirit Protector, Pehar Gyalpo intact. Rituals and practices, such as the Treasure Doctrine of Nyang Nyima Odzer, were practiced and preserved in the monastery. The Great 5th Dalai Lama compiled a collection of liturgies text known as Dra Yangma and incorporated this as one of the principal practices of Nechung monastery. Thereafter, the monastery was named Nechung Dorje Drayang Ling (The Immutable Island of Melodious Sound), by the Regent, Desi Sangye Gyatso.
Following the 1959 Cultural Revolution, the Nechung Monastery was re-established in the Gangchen Kyishong area of Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India.
Questions and Answers
1. What does a comparison between the Dorje Shugden and Nechung tell us about the nature of Dorje Shugden?
The table below highlights the differences between Nechung and Dorje Shugden:
|Nechung was a spirit that was subdued and bound by Guru Rinpoche to protect Tibetan Buddhism.||Dorje Shugden arose as a protector after the untimely demise of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen. He was misunderstood to have taken rebirth as a raging spirit but after several failed attempts to destroy his consciousness through fire pujas, it was clear that he is of the same mindstream as Yamantaka and Manjushri.|
|Guru Rinpoche subjugated Pehar (Nechung), made him swear to protect the Buddha dharma and promised to stop all harmful activities.||His Holiness the 11th Dalai Lama, his regent and the Chinese Emperor Dao Guang, enthroned Dorje Shugden as an enlightened protector.|
|During trance, Dorje Dragden through the Nechung Oracle will make offerings to the Dalai Lama and then listen to Dalai Lama’s reminder of his oath and promises to Guru Rinpoche.||During trance, high lamas will make offerings to Dorje Shugden while Dorje Shugden is sitting on the throne. The high lamas will whisper their question to Dorje Shugden who will answer their question in the manner of a high lama.|
|Dorje Dragden receives the tsog offering during trance sessions with a sword.||Dorje Shugden receives the tsog offering during trance sessions with a vajra and bell, in the manner of an accomplished tantric master.|
|The Nechung Oracle has given inaccurate prophecies on a number of occasions, including those pertaining to the health of the 13th Dalai Lama, the British Younghusband expedition, the returning of Tibetans in exile to Tibet, etc.||Dorje Shugden through Panglung Oracle is well known to have given accurate prophecies including those relating to the escape of the 14th Dalai Lama to India from Tibet.|
|Nechung is known only to give prophesies and pronouncements. When Kyabje Ling Rinpoche was seriously ill, the Changtzos (assistants) of Ling Ladrang (household) and the then Abbot of Sera Mey requested for an emergency trance with the Nechung Oracle for of a way to heal Ling Rinpoche’s illness. The paper containing the questions was presented to Nechung in trance, who took it and crumpled it into a ball and put it under his buttocks. Nechung then proclaimed that if Ling Rinpoche gets better after three days, there would be no harm to Ling Rinpoche’s life. Nechung further commented that this is “Obstacles from the big (interpreted to be the Dalai Lama) is put on the head of the small. (Interpreted to be Ling Rinpoche).” This got the Changtso worked up in confusion and anger. He said, “How can the Guru be considered small and the student considered big?”||Dorje Shugden takes trance as a peaceful lama in the Gaden oracles and teaches various scriptures, gives transmissions and initiations. Kyabje Ling Rinpoche had been consulting Dorje Shugden via the oracle for many years. Whenever Dorje Shugden’s divination answers from the Choyang Oracle (another famous oracle that took trance of Dorje Shugden) returned, the Changtso would present the letter containing the answers to Kyabje Ling Rinpoche. The oracle would first place the letter on top of his head as mark of deep respect and then passed it back to the Changtso in order to read the answers out loud to Ling Rinpoche. When the Changtso was done reading, he would wrap the letter with a khata and present it to Kyabje Ling Rinpoche who would again put it on top of his head in reverence before keeping it away. This shows the deep respect Ling Rinpoche had for Dorje Shugden and his pronouncements. This was witnessed by the Shimla Oracle who is a student of Ling Rinpoche and has served in the Ladrang for 15 years.|
The video below is a summary for the comparison between an enlightened and unenlightened Dharma Protector:
Or view the video on the server at: http://video.tsemtulku.com/videos/OraclesEnlightenedOrNot.flv
2. Nechung is said to be intimately connected with Dorje Shugden. How is Nechung connected with Dorje Shugden and how does this relationship affect the dynamics of both protectors today and in the future?
Dorje Shugden’s line of reincarnations can be traced back to Lama Tsongkhapa’s time. At that point in time, he had taken birth as Duldzin Drakpa Gyeltsen, one of the eight main disciples of Lama Tsongkhapa who is regarded as attained as Lama Tsongkhapa himself. Nechung appeared as a young boy to request Duldzin Drakpa Gyeltsen to take on the role of a Dharma Protector with the specific function to protect Lama Tsongkhapa’s teaching of Nagajurna’s Middle Way. Duldzin Drakpa Gyeltsen agreed and this event marks the beginning of their relationship.
During the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama, Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen was reminded by Nechung about his promise to arise as a Dharma Protector that he made in his previous incarnation as Duldzin Drakpa Gyeltsen. Nechung assisted Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen in the process, especially increasing Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen’s fame and fanning jealousy amongst the supporters of the Dalai Lama. This resulted in Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen’s assassination. It was then that Dorje Shugden arose after the untimely demise of Drakpa Gyeltsen.
As listed in the karchag (guide-book) of Nechung monastery, there are three gates that lead into the cloistered courtyard of the monastery. According to an old tradition, Dorje Shugden is waiting just outside the entrance of the southern gate that is held closed. On the day the gate is opened, he will enter the monastery to succeed Pehar as the Chief Dharma Protector of Tibet. This will occur when Pehar has attained enlightenment and has vacated the temple.
As of this moment, Dorje Shugden has become extremely popular the world over despite the controversy started by the Dalai Lama. As the Dalai Lama bans Dorje Shugden, he is still being worshipped in thousands of centers all over the world and in China, Dorje Shugden practice and monasteries are growing according the Glenn Mullin, an expert and biographer of the Dalai Lamas.
In other words, Nechung and Dorje Shugden are working hand-in-hand for the sole purpose to protect the Dharma, especially the special teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa’s lineage.
“In recent decades the present Dalai Lama has attempted to discourage the practice, but with little success. It is as strong today as ever, if not stronger; for with the Dalai Lama discouraging it in India, the Chinese are fully promoting it in Tibet.”
~Extract from page 208 of The Fourteen Dalai Lamas: A Sacred Legacy of Reincarnation by Glenn H. Mullin
3. Since Nechung and Dorje Shugden have a close relationship, are there any lamas who practice or accept both Nechung and Dorje Shugden?
The 5th Dalai Lama himself wrote prayers to both Nechung and Dorje Shugden. The invocation of the protector Nechung is contained within the Dra Yangma (Melodic Chant) ritual text. The Great 5th not only wrote a prayer, but even crafted a famous and still-existing statue of Dorje Shugden with his own hands.
Nechung Rinpoche, Thupten Kunchok, a erudite master and attained practitioner also practised both Nechung and Dorje Shugden. This was conveyed to His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche by Geshe Tsultrim Gyaltsen back in the 1980’s. Nechung Rinpoche used to visit Geshe-la at his centre, Thubten Dargye Ling in Los Angeles. There is clearly no conflict between these two practices.
Nechung monastery belongs to the Nyingma lineage. As per the Nechung Monastery’s description in the answer for Question 2, it has been made clear that the Nyingma lineage recognised and accepted Dorje Shugden. Dorje Shugden is considered as waiting at the southern gate, waiting to take his place as the Chief Protector or Tibet. Nechung Monastery also has close links to Drepung Monastery, one of the three main monasteries of the Gelug lineage. Therefore most of the ceremonies are carried out there are a mixture of Nyingma and Gelug practices. This again shows us that both Nyingma lamas and Gelug lamas accepted and recognised both traditions as well as both Dharma protectors.
4. If Pehar was subdued by Guru Rinpoche, why don’t the high lamas just bind Dorje Shugden with the same method since some consider him to be a spirit?
If Dorje Shugden is an evil spirit, any one of the great lamas can engage in rituals to subdue and bind him to become an oath-bound Dharma Protector. These lamas can also perform a jinsek fire puja to subjugate Dorje Shugden. One of the functions of performing a jinsek can be to call an interfering spirit that cannot tamed or bound and destroy their form in the wisdom fire. The consciousness of this spirit would instantly reincarnate into one of the pure lands, where they would have the conducive conditions to attain enlightenment. Hence we can see that although this method is wrathful, it is one that is motivated by compassion.
According to the writings of the 5th Dalai Lama himself, such fire rituals were already performed to subdue Dorje Shugden but they were deemed to be unsuccessful. According to many lamas, this meant that Dorje Shugden must be enlightened himself, therefore he cannot be subdued by rituals as the power of a Buddha cannot be used against another Buddha, as they are of the same and equal state which is complete enlightenment. Since no great lamas can destroy or bind Dorje Shugden, it is clear to us that Dorje Shugden is not a spirit but an enlightened Dharma protector. In fact he is an emanation of Manjushri, the Buddha of wisdom.
5. According to Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche’s writings, Nechung was instrumental in the manifestation of Dorje Shugden. However, in recent times, Nechung in trance has been stating that Dorje Shugden is a harmful spirit. Why is there a contradiction?
For many lamas, this contradiction has been used to highlight the fact that the prophecies and pronouncements of the Nechung Oracle is inaccurate and unreliable. This is a reputation that has plagued the oracles of Nechung for a long time. On the other hand, Dorje Shugden oracles have their reputation intact and that is why Dorje Shugden oracles continue to be highly sought after.
One reason for the contradiction in Nechung’s statements about Dorje Shugden could be the fact that Nechung is actually working hand-in-hand with the Dalai Lama on a higher cause to push Dorje Shugden’s practice out into the world. As the Dalai Lama bans Dorje Shugden, the practice still continues to grow all over the world and especially in China. It is believed that China would be poised to be a world power and everything Chinese, from its rich culture to its spiritual tradition would become highly sought after. In fact, all this is already happening as Dorje Shugden practice continues to grow in China.
6. Who actually saved the Dalai Lama during his escape from Tibet and contributed directly towards the spread of Tibetan Buddhism to the rest of the world?
Lobsang Jigme, the Nechung Oracle at the time of the Chinese occupation, was unaware of the escape of the 14th Dalai Lama and entourage to India, until a week after the escape. According to signed affidavit accounts by those who witnessed the events, the Dalai Lama himself instructed Ratoe Chowar Rinpoche to seek advice from Dorje Shugden through the 6th Panglung Oracle who gave clear instructions of the escape route and direction. Lobsang Yeshe was also instructed by Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche to seek advice from the same oracle for the same matter. Dorje Shugden took trance of the Panglung Oracle and instructed that the Dalai Lama should leave immediately as his life was in danger. He then went on to give specific instructions regarding the escape route and bestowed the blessing that he would protect the Dalai Lama and his entourage as they escaped.
Due to the accuracy of the advice, the Dalai Lama and entourage arrived in exile safely. It is due to the success of this escape as prophesied and assisted by Dorje Shugden that Tibetan Buddhism managed to flourish far and wide in the world. If the Dalai Lama had stayed in Tibet, he would have been killed and Tibetan Buddhism would have remained unknown to the world.
In conclusion, although Pehar is an unenlightened being, a gyalpo spirit, he is keeping his promise to Guru Rinpoche to protect the Dharma since he was bound in over 1,300 years ago. In addition, he also played a crucial role for the next Dharma protector of our time, Dorje Shugden to arise, in order to continue this important task in preserving the sacred teachings that can benefit many. There is absolutely no conflict to these two protector deities as they compliment each other in protecting the Dharma and its practitioners. The ban of Dorje Shugden is therefore unnecessary and illogical as the bigger purpose of Dorje Shugden, the preservation of the Dharma, has to be achieved.
Sources of information:
In Exile From the Land of Snows
Portrait of a Dalai Lama, The Life and Times of the Great Thirteenth
Oracles and Demons of Tibet, The Cult and Iconography of the Tibetan Protective Deities
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- 700 Meet a Buddha
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- Dorje Shugden: My side of the story
- Dorje Shugden Retreat: A Powerful practice to fulfill wishes
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- Music Delighting the Ocean of Protectors – A Definitive Guide to Dorje Shugden by Trijang Rinpoche
- Panchen Lama’s Dorje Shugden Puja Text
- Sakya Trizin’s Dorje Shugden Prayer
- Shangmo Dorje Putri the Bamo of Sakya
- The 14th Dalai Lama Prayer to Dorje Shugden
- The Great Council of Lhasa
- The Sakya Lineage of Dorje Shugden
- To Sum It Up
- Trode Khangsar – A 400 year old Dorje Shugden Chapel in Lhasa
- Who is Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen
- Who is Kache Marpo
- Dharma Protectors of Tibetan Buddhism
- A Great Deception 2011 08 -https://archive.org/stream/AGreatDeception201108/A_Great_Deception_2011-08_djvu.txt
- Lin, Shen-Yu; Pehar: A Historical Survey – http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/ret/pdf/ret_19_01.pdf
- Avedon, John F.; In Exile from the Land of Snows: The Definitive Account of the Dalai Lama and Tibet Since the Chinese Conquest; 1997; Wisdom Publications, London; ISBN-13: 978-0060977412
- Kuzder PhD., Rita; Nechung The Tibetan State Oracle; http://www.academia.edu/8360688/Nechung_the_Tibetan_State_Oracle
- Bell, Sir Charles; Potrait of A Dalai Lama: The Life and Times of the Great Thirteenth; 1987; Wisdom Publications, London; ISBN 086171055
- British Barbarians, Tibetan Prophecies – https://earlytibet.com/2010/02/03/the-nechung-oracle/
- Conboy, Kenneth and Morrison, James; The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet; 2002;University Press of Kansas; ISBN-13: 978-0700617883
- Dhondup, K.; The Water-Bird and Other Years: A History of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and after; 1986; Rang Wang Publishers, New Delhi
- Faith and the…Nechung Oracle by Mariah M. Lyndaker http://www.chinabuddhismencyclopedia.com/en/index.php/The_Role_of_Faith_and_the_Nechung_Oracle_in_Tibetan_Culture
- Nechung Foundation New York City Website – http://www.tibetanliberation.org/2004nechung.html
- Nechung: The State Oracle of Tibet – http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sociopolitica/sociopol_shambahla01a.html
- Nechung Rinpoche – http://nechungbuddhistcenter.org/Nechung%20Rinpoche.html
- Nechung Rinpoche and His Lineage – http://nechungfoundation.org/rinpoche.html
- Pearlman, Ellen; Tibetan Sacred Dance: A Journey into The Religious and Folk Traditions; 2002; Inner Traditions; ISBN-13: 978-0892819188
- Reincarnation and Politics in Tibet – http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/bot/pdf/bot_2000_01-03_01.pdf
- Sanders, Dr. Fabian; Tibetan Oracles and Himalayan Shamans; 2013; Shang Shung Institute: The London Institute of Tibetan Studies
- Oracle de Nechung – https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oracle_de_Nechung
- The Miniature Paintings of Mongolian Buddhism: Tsaklis, Thangkas and Burhany Zurags – https://www.asianart.com/articles/burhanyz/index.html
- The Nechung Foundation Official Website – http://nechungfoundation.org/
- The Official San Francisco Bay Area Branch of the Historic Nechung Monastery, Dharamsala India – http://nechungbuddhistcenter.org/
- The Shadow of the Dalai Lama – Part II – 7. The war of the oracle gods and the Shugden affair – http://www.trimondi.de/SDLE/Part-2-07.html
- The Treasury of Lives: The thirteen Dalai Lama Tubten Gyatso – http://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/Thirteenth-Dalai-Lama-Tubten-Gyatso/3307
- The Shadow of The Dalai Lama: Sexuality, Magic and Politics –
- Tibet: A Political History, Tsepon W. D. Shakabpa, Potala Publications, New York: 1984.
- Tibetan Oracles and Himalayan Shamans, transcribed from a Lecture by Dr Fabian Sanders, Talk given at SOAS on January 21st 2011 Transcribed by Emiliano Diego-Franceskides, at Shang Shung Institute – The London Institute of Tibetan Studies, UK
- Wojkowitz, Rene De Nebesky; Oracles and Demons of Tibet: The Cult and Iconography of the Tibetan Protective Deities; 1996; Book Faith India; ISBN-13: 978-8173030390
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