Comparison between the Shamarpa and Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen
Tulku is a Tibetan term for the ‘emanation body’ (Sanskrit: Nirmanakaya) of an enlightened being. This refers to one of the three main types of manifestations of an enlightened being who deliberately takes rebirth within samsaric existence in order to benefit sentient beings.
In Tibet, the recognition of Tulkus has become an established institution whereby the reincarnation of attained and high-ranking lamas are discovered by the students of their previous reincarnation and enthroned. This is so that these lamas are able to inherit the spiritual roles and responsibilities of their predecessor and be of great benefit to many beings. Hence in the Tibetan tradition, there are many lines of incarnations that have been established over the centuries and across major Buddhist traditions. These include the incarnation lines of the Dalai Lama, Panchen Lama, Shamarpa and Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen.
Within the Tibetan historical context, two of the most controversial lines of incarnations are Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen and Shamarpa. The basis for the controversy for each of these two incarnations differs greatly but nonetheless, the governing body of Tibet at that time still outlawed them. In this article, we will explore the basis of the controversy in order to uncover the similarities between them.
Shamarpa is literally known as the ‘holder of the red crown’ and is therefore known as Shamar Rinpoche or more formally as Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche. The faithful consider him an emanation of Buddha Amitabha and a lineage holder of the Karma Kagyu School, a major sub-sect of the Kagyu tradition. His monastic seat is at Yangpachen Monastery near the capital Lhasa.
First in the line is Shamarpa Drakpa Sengye (1283-1349 CE) and he was the main disciple of the third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje. It was this Karmapa who bestowed upon his disciple the ruby-red crown that was identical to his and the title, ‘Shamarpa’, thus establishing him as one of the earliest recognised incarnation lines. Shamarpa was so closely related to the Karmapa that he was often referred to as the ‘Red Hat Karmapa’ in old Kagyu writings.
However, controversy first struck during the lifetime of the 6th Shamarpa Mipan Chokyi Wangchuk (1584 -1630 CE). As in previous incarnations, the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje recognised him and became his principle student. He was an accomplished scholar and his fame grew so much that he was invited to China to teach and oversaw the completion of the printing of the complete set of the Kangyur. Upon his return to Tibet, he enthroned the 10th Karmapa Choying Dorje and bestowed upon him the instructions of the Karma Kagyu tradition.
During this time, Tibet was sliding into a civil war due to brewing rivalries between various Tibetan kings who were followers of the Karma Kagyu and Gelug order. Sharmapa at this time wrote many letters to various sides in order to foster peace. This effort was appreciated in the writings of the 5th Dalai Lama himself and also the Gaden Tri Rinpoche Konchok Chopel who admonished the office of the 4th Dalai Lama for handling the situation badly and preventing the Sharmapa and the Dalai Lama from meeting. It was generally believed that if the meeting did take place, it would have eased all tensions between both factions.
During the lifetime of the 10th Shamarpa Mipham Chodrup Gyatso (1742 – 1792 CE), he was the brother of the 3rd Panchen Lama Palden Yeshe, the second highest-ranking lama in Tibet. Unfortunately, the relations between 10th Shamarpa and the Tibetan government in Lhasa degenerated due to a series of issues that arose. After the Panchen Lama entered clear light, a conflict broke out over the handling of the estate. Shamarpa was sidelined and prevented from receiving his share of the inheritance due to the fact that he was a Kagyu lama and being a lama, he had his own estate and wealth as well.
However, tensions grew from that day on, which led to the Shamarpa travelling on a teaching trip to Nepal. Shortly thereafter, a letter from the Gurkha king was sent to the 8th Dalai Lama, claiming that the Shamarpa was held hostage and demanded ransom to be paid in exchange for the lama. The government deliberated, felt it was a hoax and refused to pay the ransom. Subsequently, the Gurkha army invaded Tibet and nearly captured the capital Lhasa. In the midst of chaos, the 8th Dalai Lama stood his ground and remained in Lhasa thus inspiring his people to rally an army to defend Lhasa. After a fierce battle, the Gurkha army was pushed back and a peace treaty was negotiated.
As a result of the talks, the blame was placed squarely on the Shamarpa’s shoulders and he was tried for treason in conspiring with the Nepalese Gurkha army. Recently, Sam Van Shaik (in his book, Tibet – A history) who is a Tibetologist, asserted the claim that Sharmapa actually attempted to mediate during the conflict but to no avail. The Tibetan government seized the Shamarpa’s estate and his line of incarnations was outlawed. They seized his red ceremonial hat and sent it to Lhasa where rumours circulated that it was buried beneath the steps of the Jokhang Cathedral so pilgrims on their devotional rounds would have to step over his hat – the ultimate desecration of Shamarpa’s spiritual authority. His incarnation line would not be officially reinstated until his 14th incarnation, Mipham Chokyi Lodro (1952 – 2014 CE) was officially recognized by the 16th Karmapa.
Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen
Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen was the last of the Drepung Zimkhang Gongma line of incarnations. This illustrious line of incarnations was established by Panchen Sonam Drakpa and has a long and reputed line that extends all the way back to ancient India. It comprises of various Indian and Tibetan lineage masters that had made tremendous contributions to the growth of Tibetan Buddhism. He was the student of Panchen Lobsang Chokyi Gyeltsen, as was the 5th Dalai Lama.
This line includes the likes of Magadha Sangmo, Mahasiddha Birwapa, Thonmi Sambhota, Tibetan King Trisong Detsen, Mahasiddha Naropa, Ra Lotsawa, Panchen Shakya Shri, Lotsawa Loden Sherab, Shakya Shri Bhadra, Sakya Pandita, Buton Rinchen Drub, Dulzin Drakpa Gyeltsen, Panchen Sonam Drakpa, Sonam Yeshe Wangpo, Ngawang Sonam Geleg and Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen. Just like Sharmapa, the incarnation line of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen was also banned by the Tibetan government. However, the circumstances that led to this banning was very different.
In one of his previous lifetimes as the leading disciple of Lama Tsongkhapa, Dulzin Drakpa Gyeltsen (1374 – 1434 CE), he made a powerful commitment to protect Lama Tsongkhapa’s special teaching of Nagarjuna’s Middle Way view. It was said that he did so on the behest of the Protector Nechung who manifested as a white dove and hovered over one of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings.
Then in the lifetime of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen (1619–1656 CE), he was reminded of this promise via the Nechung Oracle. Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen explained to Nechung that he did not have it in him to generate wrathful energy, which was necessary to become a Protector. Nechung reassured him that he did not have to worry about that because Nechung would help him by creating the necessary conditions for this wrathful energy to arise.
Around that time, there were prevalent rivalries between the followers of the 5th Dalai Lama and Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen. After Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen’s audience with the Nechung oracle, the fame of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen was generally perceived as eclipsing that of the Dalai Lama. At that time, it was said that Nechung had fanned the rivalries to a fever pitch. Finally, the Desi Sonam Choepel, the regent of Tibet and the head of the Dalai Lama’s household, and several attendants of the Dalai Lama decided that the only solution to end the rivalries was to assassinate Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen. This was carefully planned and when the lama was ill, they sought audience and tried various means to murder him but to no avail. It was said that later the lama himself revealed that the only way they could accomplish this task was by strangulation with a khata. His assailants quickly grabbed a khata and stuffed it down the lama’s throat.
After the passing of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen, the monastery and his ladrang (lama’s estate) were in turmoil due to the shock that such an important High Lama had been murdered. They placed his remains on a huge funeral pyre in Lhasa with thousands of disciples, Mongol royalty and other High Lamas in attendance. They came to pay their last respects to the great lama Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen.
Initially, the funeral pyre could not be lit. It was at this time that the Dalai Lama learned of the assassination plot and was very disturbed and remorseful. Therefore, he composed an apologetic verse. It was brought to the funeral and after the apologetic pronouncement from the Dalai Lama was read out loud, the funeral pyre suddenly burst into flames. It was said that a whirlwind of black smoke arose when one of the grieving attendants hit the funeral pyre with his zen (part of a monk’s maroon robes) out of frustration. The pile of smoke grew into the shape of a hand and completely covered the skyline. It was said that this was when Dorje Shugden had arisen.
After the demise of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen, the search for his reincarnation was banned which ended Drepung Zimkhang Gongma line of incarnations. The ladrang founded by Panchen Sonam Drakpa in 1554 CE at the Upper Chamber of Drepung ceased to exist in 1656 CE. In fact, the Nechung oracle has instructed that the Zimkhang Gongma or Upper Chamber at Drepung be dismantled, and the reliquaries from that ladrang were relocated elsewhere by Desi Sonam Choepel. Although Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen continued to incarnate to benefit sentient beings, his line of incarnation was never formally reinstated.
Comparing Both Incarnations
Although both the incarnations of Shamarpa and Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen had little in common, as belonging to completely different traditions, they both ended up with the same fate – their incarnation lines were banned. In the case of the Shamarpa, the problems within the Tibetan government is reflected in the issues faced by the earlier incarnation of the Shamarpa that tried to mediate between the Kings who were the followers of the Karma Kagyu and those of the Gelugs.
Needless to say, the efforts of the Shamarpa were ignored. Then, in the later incarnation, it was clear that his involvement with the Nepalese invasion embarrassed the Tibetan government, and he naturally became the scapegoat for their failures to stop the advancement of the Gurka army all the way to Lhasa. Despite his efforts to mediate between both sides, he became the scapegoat for their failures and his incarnation was outlawed in the most humiliating manner.
In the case of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen, he was literally eliminated in order to make room for the 5th Dalai Lama to ascend as the leading High Lama of the time. The attendants of the 5th Dalai Lama were ruthless and wanted to ensure that no new incarnation of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen would return to the helm and rival the Dalai Lama ever again.
Therefore, both incarnations are clear examples of the machination of the Tibetan government that is hell-bent on controlling and sacrificing the lamas for its own agenda of maintaining their influence in the Tibetan state.
- Glenn H. Mullin; The Fourteen Dalai Lamas, A Sacred Legacy of Reincarnation; 2001, Clear Light Publishers
- Music Delighting the Ocean of Protectors by Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche
For more interesting information:
- Who is Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen?
- The Buddhist Divide – An Unholy Campaign against Religious Freedom
- To Sum It Up
- Dorje Shugden: My side of the story (多杰雄登：我这方面的说法)
- How My Protector Healed Me
- Are You Secular Or Spiritual?
- Nechung – The Retiring Devil of Tibet
- 700 Meet A Buddha (七百人幸睹佛现)
- 10 Holy Dorje Shugden Statues around the World
- The Sakya Lineage & Dorje Shugden
- The Prophecy of the 16th Karmapa
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