The Spirit Nyatrul: Magic, Mischief and Misery
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with a learned geshe who said he had some information to share about the spirit Nyatrul. It is often claimed that this spirit is what inhabits the body of the Nechung Oracle whenever he takes trance in Dharamsala, and that it is not really Nechung (or rather, Pehar) who is addressing the congregation and giving prophecies and advice. Some people reason that it is this switcheroo that is the cause of the multiple false prophecies that the Nechung Oracle has given over the decades.
Not much information exists in general about the spirit Nyatrul who has created so much trouble for the Tibetan leadership so I grabbed the opportunity to learn more about him, especially when Geshe-la told me Tagphu Pemavajra was involved with Nyatrul’s story. Tagphu Pemavajra is one of the tutors of His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo, and the same one who astral travelled to Tushita in order to receive the practice of Dorje Shugden from Dorje Shugden himself.
Geshe-la told me the story of Nyatrul’s rising as a vengeful spirit and how it relates to Tagphu Pemavajra, according to the writings of H.E. Kyabje Dagom Rinpoche (who happens to be one of H.E. the 25th Tsem Rinpoche’s gurus). He explained how and why Nyatrul continues to cause problems for the Tibetan leadership and, according to the workings of karma, why no one has been able to subdue him. Most of all, Geshe-la explained how it relates to the rumours that it was really Nyatrul (and not Nechung) who told His Holiness the Dalai Lama to ban Dorje Shugden.
I had always suspected as such because Rinpoche previously told us that Nechung had been bound by oath by Guru Rinpoche to protect the Dharma. Given Guru Rinpoche’s fearsome reputation for engaging in (and winning!) wars of magic, and for being an incredibly effective subduer of spirits, it seemed impossible that Nechung would be able to break this oath and make up false prophecies, to the detriment of the Tibetan people. Surely it had to be someone else doing it and according to Dagom Rinpoche, it seems my initial suspicions are correct.
What I found intriguing about Nyatrul’s story was the Tibetan leadership’s extensive history of resorting to violence and murder to solve their problems. Detractors, enemies and people they are jealous of (or find to be a nuisance) are done away with and just like Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen, attempts are made to wipe them from the history books. Fortunately, there is one form of history they have not been able to whitewash, which is a tradition that is particularly strong in Tibetan society – oral history.
Equally intriguing for me also is why the Tibetan leadership continue to rely on the Nechung Oracle when questions have been raised for decades regarding the accuracy of his prophecies and the authenticity of his trances. In any case, I hope you find the story of Nyatrul as interesting as I do, and that it sheds some light into a leadership that clearly has a long way to go in terms of providing for and benefiting their people.
Pastor Jean Ai
Geshe-la started by telling me that he does not think it was Nechung who told the Dalai Lama to ban Dorje Shugden, and he suspects that it was in fact Nyatrul who told the Dalai Lama to do this. In many incarnations, Nechung had requested Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen, Panchen Sonam Drakpa and Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen to become a Dharma Protector. It was not logical, therefore, that Nechung would tell the Dalai Lama to ban Dorje Shugden when it was he who created the circumstances for Dorje Shugden to arise.
As a peaceful lama, Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen lacked the anger to become a Protector. Nechung therefore had to create conditions between Zimkhang Gongma (Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen’s Ladrang) and Zimkhang Ongma (the 5th Dalai Lama’s Ladrang) for conflict to manifest and lead to Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen’s death. [click here to learn about how Dorje Shugden arose] The origins of how he got the name “Dorje Shugden” are unclear; even His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche said he needs to check who gave him this name. One tradition says the name “Dorje Shugden” was given by the Sakyas and another tradition says it was given by Nechung.
On the topic of Nechung, when in trance of the Oracle, he had previously warned, “You must be careful! The ghost will touch Heruka’s mandala” meaning he will kill Pabongka Rinpoche (who is Heruka). The meaning is that the Dalai Lama must ban Dorje Shugden. If he does not, Nechung will kill him.
This type of prophecy cannot be real and cannot come from Nechung as the real Nechung, bound by oath to serve the Dharma, would not give this type of prophecy. As has been said by many high lamas of the past, it is not easy to take trance of Nechung. Based on this and the fact that the Nechung Oracle has been giving false prophecies (when he should not be doing so), Geshe-la strongly feels that it must be Nyatrul who is entering the Nechung Oracle.
In the past, back in Tibet, when the trance invocation (chendren) was done by the Tibetan government བོད་གཞུང་། Gaden Phodrang, people did not believe the resulting prophecies. If Drepung Loseling Monastery did the invocation however, then people would believe the prophecies given. So before the Nechung Oracle took trance, people would ask where the trance was being held and who was conducting the invocation prayers. If it was a government one, they would say that there is no need to go. If it was being done at Drepung, then they would go. This was back in Tibet and it was commonly known that people would ask these questions.
People did not believe the government trances were real because they knew Gaden Phodrang actually murdered Nyatrul, so Nyatrul hated them. Hence when there was a trance at Gaden Phodrang, Nyatrul would come to disturb and make problems by giving false prophecies. People however, believed the Drepung trances because Nyatrul did not have any issue or connections with Drepung so he did not go to disturb and enter the Oracle when the trance was held at Drepung Loseling.
The basis of why the Nechung prophecies are unreliable, and some of the false prophecies given by Nechung (possibly Nyatrul) to the Tibetan government:
|1.||In his biography, the 6th Dalai Lama said we cannot trust or rely on Nechung’s prophecies.|
|2.||The 13th Dalai Lama’s debate partner (tsenshab), a Mongolian geshe from Drepung Gomang called Dorje Yab, and a famous minister Zha Gab Pa’i (ཞྭ་སྒབ་པའི།) recorded in their respective writings Nechung’s misprophecy during the 1903 British invasion of Tibet, which resulted in the 13th Dalai Lama fleeing to China. Dorje Yab recorded this in his autobiography, and Zha Gab Pa’i recorded this in his book on Tibetan history titled Sid Don Gyal Rab (སྲིད་དོན་རྒྱལ་རབ།).
During the British invasion, Nechung told the Tibetan government not to have fear. He told them to tie a vajra on the flag and carry it at the front of their army, who were mostly from Tsangpa. They should wave this flag at the British army and the enemy would be vanquished immediately, falling where they stood. Instead, when the Tibetan army went to war and did that, after they saw the British army and before a single cannon could be fired, the Tibetans themselves fell down and pretended to play dead to escape further harm. The Tibetan general, seeing his men’s reaction, ran away.
After that incident, the public in Lhasa gathered a group of beautiful girls to perform and sing a song to tease Nechung and the Tibetan government. One of the lyrics from the song they sang is “The army went to war and Nechung went in another direction to look after the sheep.” This story was recorded by the Delhi Shugden Society as part of the first President’s 25 volumes of writings titled Cut Down the Liars.
|3.||The 13th Dalai Lama received wrong medication as prescribed by the Nechung Oracle and died as a result of this. After his death, the Kashag questioned the doctor on the Dalai Lama’s illness and what medication was given. It was then revealed what the Oracle had done. Subsequently, the Oracle was expelled and removed from his Oracle position. Kun Phen (ཀུན་ཕན།), one of the 13th Dalai Lama’s assistants, was banished to Kongpor (ཀོང་པོར།) as a result of this.|
|4.||In 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama was told to stay in Tibet by Nechung (another misprophecy). It was Dorje Shugden who told Dalai Lama to leave.|
|5.||In 1973, Nechung said that Dorje Shugden must be banned. From that day, it can clearly be seen that there have been a lot of problems in the Tibetan community. From the number of problems that have arisen, it can clearly be seen that this was one of the misprophecies.|
|6.||Some time before Geshe-la arrived in India (in the 1980s), Nechung took trance of the Oracle and said he has sent a 12 billion-strong army of gods to Tibet. He told everyone not to worry, that they can go back to Tibet soon. So His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama told everyone not to make or build anything permanent because they would be going back to Tibet soon. Nechung said, “It is now morning. Just have to wait for the sun to rise.”|
If it was really Nechung taking trance of the Oracle, Geshe-la said that these types of misprophecies would not happen because Nechung is bound by oath to protect the Dharma. Hence these problems and misprophecies must be coming from Nyatrul.
How Nyatrul Came to Be (Origins)
Based on the writings of H.E. Dagom Rinpoche
When the 13th Dalai Lama was around 20 years old, one of his senior tutors, Demo Rinpoche met a really strange man who was a Ngakpa. This man gifted a very precious, rare pair of silk soles (for the shoes) to Demo Rinpoche. After receiving the soles, Demo Rinpoche thought, “This is a very good pair. For an old man like me, this is not very useful. This one, the Dalai Lama may like it.” So he gave it to the 13th Dalai Lama who was very, very happy to receive the offering.
The Dalai Lama was about to put on the soles and wear it when Nechung took spontaneous trance and said, “You cannot wear this. It may have something bad that can harm you. You should cut it first then wear it.” After cutting it, the Dalai Lama found there was a chakra inside with a black magic spell. The Kashag then held a meeting to investigate who gave the gift and sent people to find that person.
When they discovered that it was Demo Rinpoche who offered the soles, they expelled him from the position of tutor. His Ladrang was sealed and a ban was put on the search for his reincarnation. All of this was announced publically. To this day, no one knows who the Ngakpa was.
At that time, there was a lama who Demo Rinpoche highly respected as someone worthy of making offerings to. His name was Nyari Tulku and he was an expert on retreats, having done millions of mantras of Tamdrin Yangsang. The Tibetan government started to doubt him because he was a tantric master who was very close to Demo Rinpoche so they had him arrested.
They bound his hands behind his back and publically, they split his skin down the length of his torso and skinned him so his chest skin flapped downwards to expose his internal organs. Behind him, they hung up a sign saying that he was the one who sent black magic to the Dalai Lama.
Nyari Tulku did not die immediately. As he died, thousands of people passed by and spat on him, rebuked him, scolded him and insulted him because they could see the sign. In reality, he was actually innocent and falsely accused and punished. Being extremely disappointed and disheartened, he made prayers and swore that in his next life, he would reincarnate as someone who can destroy the Tibetan government (including high lamas and anyone else who tried to stop him). Subsequently, he passed away and his body was not given a proper burial – they did not do a sky burial where he was offered to the vultures nor was he given a proper cremation. They just dug a big hole and dumped his body in there, then buried it and built a black stupa on top of it.
After a year or so, the stupa began to crack. In an incident that was universally known, a crow was seen emerging from the stupa and flying away. In Lhasa, in the same year, there was a drought and as a result, many difficulties arose, for example a bad harvest. The Tibetan government then ordered Gyuto Monastery to repair the stupa as there were so many cracks. When the Gyuto monks went to rebuild it, they had to remove the stupa from the base in order to repair and rebuild it. When they did so, they found that Nyari Tulku’s body had arisen from its formerly flat position and was now sitting halfway upright.
After this, whenever the Nechung Oracle took trance, a dusty / sandy whirlwind would be seen emerging from near the stupa and going to Nechung Monastery. This incident was also universally known.
At the order of the 13th Dalai Lama therefore, the Tibetan government sponsored a wrathful fire puja led by Serkong Dorjechang and involved 20 Gyuto and Gyume monks who had completed the retreats for the yidam practice. This fire puja was to destroy Nyatrul.
Before the puja started, the night sky was so clear that all the stars could be seen. As soon as the puja started however, black clouds covered the sky. It started to rain heavily with sleet and the fire for the puja nearly died out. Staff from the Tibetan government arrived to add a lot of oil and butter to the fire to stop this. During the fire puja, Serkong Dorjechang had finished making offerings to the yidam (meditational deity). When he was about to make offerings to the entourage, the fire became very red and inside the fire, a loud snap could be heard. A sparking ember flew from the fire and landed on the side of Serkong Dorjechang’s nose. It burned him and he cried out, “Ah tsao!” At that time, the other 20 monks whispered amongst themselves that this was not good.There are many requirements of a fire puja but the main three compulsory ones are:
- You cannot speak or make any sound other than chanting the prayers
- Your elbows have to be kept close to your body, no wider than your knees
- Your hands must grasp the vajra and bell at all times
In crying out due to being burned, and the subsequent whispering after that, all of the monks involved in the fire puja had broken one of the three compulsory requirements of a fire puja. So it was said that the fire puja was not completed well and it was not a good sign / auspicious. Sure enough, after the fire puja, nothing changed and Nyatrul still continued to harm.
Later in his life, the 13th Dalai Lama entered Yamantaka retreat. At that time, Tagphu Pemavajra came from Ngashu (his homeland) to Lhasa for a pilgrimage. He came by himself, incognito and quietly, taking on the appearance of a normal monk without rank. The Dalai Lama heard that Tagphu Pemavajra was in Lhasa on pilgrimage. Speaking to one of his retreat attendants, Abso, the Dalai Lama said to him, “I think Tagphu Pemavajra is in Lhasa nowadays. Call him, I want to meet him.”
Abso asked the Dalai Lama, “Rinpoche, are you going to scold him or something? I can call him.” The Dalai Lama said, “No no, I have a request for him.”
During Tagphu Pemavajra’s visit, he was staying at Tashi Choling with Pabongka Rinpoche. Abso sent a messenger there. The messenger said, “The day after tomorrow, the Dalai Lama has confirmed to meet with you at Tse Phodrang [in the Potala]. You must be there at that time.” After the messenger relayed the message, there was a lot of talk and confusion in Tashi Choling. People were wondering and questioning why the Dalai Lama wanted to see Tagphu Pemavajra. Was he being summoned to be scolded or something?
[[Geshe-la’s addition based on Tagphu Pemavajra’s biography: Why did Abso and the Tashi Choling people immediately assume that the Dalai Lama wanted to scold Tagphu Pemavajra? Because many years ago, the 13th Dalai Lama had jailed Tagphu Pemavajra as part of a widespread campaign to arrest and get rid of tertons (terma / treasure finders). Many of these were fake and running around claiming this and that. Tagphu Pemavajra however, was real. During his incarceration, he showed a lot of miracles and gave teachings. His jailers and fellow prisoners were so impressed, many become monks. Eventually, he was released when people realised he was real. This story was recorded in Tagphu Pemavajra’s namthar (biography).]]
Pabongka Rinpoche and Tagphu Pemavajra did mö (dice divination) and the result came that there was nothing to be worried about, that it was very good and Tagphu Pemavajra could go. Even if the Dalai Lama scolded Tagphu Pemavajra when he went, because it is a lama scolding, he can take it as a purification and blessing. According to the tantric teachings, obstacles can be removed through the lama’s scolding. It is the guru’s wrathful method of clearing our obstacles. So based on this, Tagphu Pemavajra went to Tse Phodrang.
When Tagphu Pemavajra went to Tse Phodrang, the Dalai Lama said to him that because Tagphu Pemavajra is a high lama, when he arrives and leaves Lhasa, he should inform the Dalai Lama and seek audience with him.
[[Geshe-la’s addition for context: this custom originally arose from the Dalai Lamas not being able to travel out of Lhasa very much to other places, being the king of the country. So the Dalai Lama relied on these lamas who travelled to and from Lhasa to carry out his instructions in other regions of Tibet, and then report back to him on their works, results and findings upon their return to Lhasa. This used to be for Dharma purposes – what teachings to give, how the monasteries are faring, etc. – but over time it has devolved into spying and politics.]]
So the Dalai Lama asked Tagphu Pemavajra why he came to Lhasa so quietly. Tagphu Pemavajra said he came as a normal monk to visit the pilgrimage sites. If he came as a high lama, then it would be a lot of work to do related to this and the associated expenses would be high, which his ladrang would not be able to bear / afford. So for this reason, he came quietly. “Oh, if that is so, then okay,” the Dalai Lama said. The Dalai Lama asked if Tagphu Pemavajra had visited densa sum (Gaden, Sera and Drepung). Tagphu Pemavajra said he had visited Sera and Drepung, but had not gone to Gaden yet. The Dalai Lama asked if Tagphu Pemavajra saw Nechung Monastery during his visit to Drepung, as the monastery is located below Drepung. He said that nowadays, Nyatrul had been harming many people. Tagphu Pemavajra said, “Indeed. When I visited Drepung, I saw that Nyatrul was standing in front of the Nechung Monastery gate.” But on his way back, Tagphu Pemavajra did not see Nyatrul there and where Nyatrul went, he did not know.
The Dalai Lama said, “Yes, exactly. Nyatrul has been troubling us by taking trance of the Nechung Oracle. This has resulted in a lot of harm to us. So I have gone through many lamas to destroy Nyatrul but I found out you are the best of them. Now you have to take responsibility of this. So whatever things you need to do the fire puja, the government will arrange these things for you.”
Tagphu Pemavajra had no choice, he had to agree to this. He said, “This is very important. I will stop my pilgrimage now. I have done many retreats in the past. I want to go back to my homeland Ngashu to do one more year of retreat, then I will return to Lhasa and do the fire puja.” So he returned to Ngashu and went to his meditation place, and entered into deep retreat.
After a year, Tagphu Pemavajra completed his retreat and prepared to go to Lhasa. He and a small group of assistants set off for Lhasa. Halfway on their journey, they came across a big river with a grassland nearby. They set up camp there for the night. The weather that night was very pleasant at first. Suddenly, a black cloud covered the sky and it became very windy. It started to rain very heavily with thunder and lightning. Tagphu Pemavajra was wearing a raw silk zen so he held it out in front of him. When the lightning struck, he suddenly and quickly trapped some liquid and some unknown object in his zen. He very loudly shouted, “OI!” and asked for a container to quickly be brought to him. Startled by the sudden loud shouting, his assistants became nervous and scrambled to find a container. In their haste, they picked up the dog bowl and brought it to Tagphu Pemavajra. When they put it in front of him, Tagphu Pemavajra said, “This is not right, I cannot put this in a dirty container. This is not a good sign.”
Then whatever he had trapped in his zen, Tagphu Pemavajra threw into the nearby river. On the spot, he composed a letter to the Dalai Lama. In the letter, he wrote, “I have finished my one year retreat. I did set out for Lhasa after my retreat to fulfil the commitment I made to you. In the middle of my journey, we had stopped at this place” then he wrote about the sign he had received at that place, and that they missed that good sign. He wrote, “Therefore in this life, I cannot subdue Nyatrul. I will pray for the possibility in my next life.”
After this, many subsequent attempts were made to subdue Nyatrul including recitation of the Kangyur, fire pujas, torgyas, etc. but none of the attempts so far have been successful.
Upon examination of the events, it can be concluded that up until now, Nyatrul has done a lot of harm to Tibetan politics and Buddhism through his misprophecies.
[[End of notes based on Dagom Rinpoche’s writings]]
QUESTION #1: Why does Nyatrul target lamas like Pabongka Rinpoche and deities like Dorje Shugden then? They did not do anything to him to deserve his wrath.
ANSWER: By virtue of Tagphu Pemavajra accepting the Dalai Lama’s request to subdue Nyatrul, Nyatrul was angered. Tagphu Pemavajra showed intent to destroy Nyatrul – he stopped his pilgrimage and went into retreat for a whole year for this specific purpose. So anyone subsequently related to Tagphu Pemavajra, whether it was a lama like Pabongka Rinpoche or a deity like Dorje Shugden, would invite Nyatrul’s enmity since Nyari Tulku, as he died, made a vow to destroy the Tibetan government (and therefore any high lamas or beings related to them).
QUESTION #2: How come Tagphu Pemavajra and the other high lamas cannot subdue Nyatrul? The 13th Dalai Lama could not subdue him so he had to ask Serkong Dorjechang, Tagphu Pemavajra, etc. How come Nyatrul does not have the karma to be subdued, since he is a spirit and not an enlightened being?
ANSWER: The root of the problem is that the civil servants of the Tibetan government punished Nyari Tulku even when he was innocent. They knew he was innocent AND they knew that it is a sin to kill.
They cannot subdue Nyatrul because the fault lies with Gaden Phodrang who created the karma to be affected by Nyatrul. Until Gaden Phodrang finishes their negative karma, they will continue to be affected by Nyatrul who, when he died, had the power of truth on his side (since Nyari Tulku was innocent and did not do anything wrong).
Therefore their inability to subdue Nyatrul does not come from the side of Nyatrul as a spirit with the karma to be subdued, but from the side of Gaden Phodrang who do not have the karma to subdue him.
When they have extinguished their negative karma from killing Nyari Tulku, then Nyatrul can be subdued or he will disappear automatically (because the karma for him to exist as such is extinguished).
The Tibetan government has to experience the consequences of their actions, according to the law of cause and effect (karma). If they can subdue Nyari after they murdered him, it means they do not have to suffer the consequences of their actions. It would mean they can kill anyone, take bribes from anyone, etc. without having any negative result or karma.
QUESTION #3: the circumstances of Nyari Tulku arising as Nyatrul, and Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen arising as Dorje Shugden are quite similar. Both were innocent lamas murdered by the Tibetan government. How come Nyari Tulku became a spirit? What is to stop people from accusing Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen of becoming the same?
ANSWER: the answer is three-fold:
- Just because a lama does a lot of retreats, practices, etc. does not mean they are attained because these are external signs of practice. Hence, just because Nyari Tulku had done millions of mantras, does not mean he has the same attainments as Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen. We do not know Nyari Tulku’s attainments, BUT the attainments of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen are clear – he was Duldzin Drakpa Gyeltsen, he was Panchen Sonam Drakpa, etc. and this is recorded. So it is possible for Nyari Tulku to become a spirit, and Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen to become a Dharma protector.
- The lamas had different motivations at the time of their death. As he died, Nyari Tulku vowed to return and take revenge on the Tibetan government. As Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen died, he vowed to return as a Dharma protector. So the prayers they made at the time of their death, and their ‘motivation’ for dying was different
- The circumstances of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen’s murder was arranged by Nechung. It was intentional that he would die a violent death so that some anger would arise in order for him to return as a wrathful Dharma Protector. If you question the circumstances of how Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen arose as a wrathful Dharma protector (i.e. he must be a spirit because he died a violent death just like Nyari Tulku who became a spirit), then you must also question the origins of Palden Lhamo, Hayagriva and all of the other wrathful Dharma protectors too. Their origination stories are no less violent.
For more interesting information:
- Nechung – The Retiring Devil of Tibet
- Biography: The 4th Tagphu Pemavajra Jampel Tenpai Ngodrub
- H.H. Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche (1878 – 1941)
- Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche’s Clairvoyance
- Did you know this about Pabongka Rinpoche?
- Holy and Profound Pabongka Rinpoche
- Taking Refuge by Je Pabongka
- What Others Say About H.H. Pabongka Rinpoche
- Taking Refuge by Pabongka Rinpoche
- Incomparable Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche
- My Precious Teachers
- 700 Meet a Buddha
- 10 Holy Dorje Shugden Statues in the World
- Dorje Shugden Gyenze to Increase life merits and wealth
- Dorje Shugden Trakze to Dispel Black Magic & Spirits
- Dorje Shugden: My side of the story
- Dorje Shugden Retreat: A Powerful practice to fulfill wishes
- Dorje Shugden Teaching Videos
- H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama
- Largest Dorje Shugden in the World
- 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
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