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Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen

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Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen (Tibetan: སྤྲུལ་སྐུ་གྲགས་པ་རྒྱལ་མཚན, Wylie: sprul sku grags pa rgyal mtshan) (1619–1656) was an important Gelugpa lama and a contemporary of the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617–1682). His Seat was the upper residence (gzims khang gong ma) of Drepung monastery (wylie: 'bras spungs dgon), a famous Gelugpa monastery located near Lhasa.

Incarnation Lineage

Dragpa Gyaltsen is usually considered to be the 4th incarnation of Panchen Sonam Dragpa (wylie: Pan-chen bSod-nams grags-pa), who was the 15th Gaden Tripa. Some say he has been the second reincarnation of Sönam Drakpa, who, before his death in 1554, had established his own estate, the Upper Chamber (Zimkhang Gongma), which was named because of its location at the top of Drepung, just below the Ngakpa debating courtyard.

According to Lindsay G. McCune the "Gelukpa authorities" agreed that he was the incarnation of Sönam Gelek Pelzang (1594–1615), the fourth incarnation, or trülku, in the Drepung Zimkhang Gong ma line.

His short "incarnation lineage" includes:

  1. Buton Rinchen Drub (1291–1364) - Seat: zhwa lu dgon monastery/Shalu Monastery
  2. Panchen Sonam Dragpa (1478–1554)
  3. Sonam Yeshe Wangpo (1556–1592) - Seat: Drepung monastery
  4. Sonam Gelek Palzang (1594–1615) - Seat: Drepung monastery
  5. Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen (1619–1656) - Seat: Drepung monastery

Drakpa Gyaltsen (1619–1656) was born at Ge Khasa in Tolung in 1619 to his mother Lak Agyal and father Namsey Norbu. The Fifth Dalai Lama was asked to write a prayer to Dragpa Gyaltsen mentioning his previous lifetimes. "His chamberlain, Sonam Chöpel, who when he became involved in politics became known as Sonam Rabten, objected ... and he created disturbances ... saying that [the] prayer ... was wrong. This stirring of conflict and division made it so that the fifth Dalai Lama did not compose [this] prayer."

Tibetan historian Samten Karmay writes that after the death of Dragpa Gyaltsen the search for his reincarnation was banned. Thus the Drepung Zimkhang Gong ma line ended and the estate founded by Panchen Sönam Dragpa (also called Dakpa) in 1554 at the Upper Chamber of Drepung ceased to exist in 1656. Later on he (Dragpa Gyaltsen) appeared as Dorje Shugden.

Rivalry, Murder and Reincarnation

Tibetan historian Samten Karmay writes "It should be recalled that he had been one of the candidates for the reincarnation of the Fourth Dalai Lama. As a result, he was always seen as a rival of the Fifth Dalai Lama though he invariably proclaimed himself a disciple of the latter. He came to be despised by a number of officials and especially the sDe-srid."

Because Dragpa Gyaltsen's fame rivaled that of the Fifth Dalai Lama, Sonam Chöpel and some of the Dalai Lama's other attendants became extremely jealous and later murdered Dragpa Gyaltsen.

Tibetan historian Samten Karmay further writes "The circumstances of his death, whether natural or not, were contested and part of the dGe-lugs-pa school believed that the official Norbu, acting under the sDe-srid's orders had assassinated him. Whatever the truth, the search for his reincarnation was banned, which suggests that the affair must have been quite serious indeed. In 1658, the actual building of the 'Upper Chamber' was destroyed and the stupa containing the remains of the Lama was supposedly thrown into the sKyid-chu river. It was then believed that the spirit of Grags-pa rgyal-mtshan had returned as a sort of 'protector of the Buddhist religion'."

After he reappeared as Dorje Shugden, the Fifth Dalai Lama was frightened and requested various lamas to perform an exorcism:

"Because of the manipulations of Lag Agyal (the mother) of Gekhasa, the false reincarnation of Tulku Sonam Geleg Palsang (Tulku Dakpa Gyaltsen) got his way (and was installed as the successful candidate). However, because of distorted prayers he became a perfidious spirit and brought serious harm to sentient beings. Therefore, a total of seven groups of practitioners led by (Pema Trinley) Rinpoche of Dorje Drag, Choegyal Terdag Lingpa, Choeje Vugja Lungpa, Ngari Ngagchang Konchok Lhundup, Palri Tulku and two groups of practitioners of Phende Legshe Ling (Namgyal Dratsang) performed a ritual fire offering and burnt the interfering spirit."

This exorcism was unsuccessful, and so the Dalai Lama realized Dorje Shugden to be a holy being, wrote one of the first prayers to him, built a temple to him called Trode Khangsar, and made a statue of him with his own hands.

Selected information from different sources

One of his disciples, the Mongolian Buddhist monk Jaya Pandita Lozang Trinle (Jaya Pandita blo bzang 'phrin las, 1642-1708) is said to have mentioned in his Collected Works several of the prophesies of Drakpa Gyeltsen, and his rnam thar was preserved in Mongolian Jaya Pandita's works. The latter was an important master at the time when much of the profound knowledge of Buddhism and the Gelug in particular was being imported into Mongolia..

Lobsang Tamdin’s be bum extracted the biographies (rnam thar) of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen and his reincarnation lineage into a work called sprul sku grags pa rgyal mtshan gyi sngon byung ‘khrungs rabs dang bcas pa'i rnam thar (dza ya pandi ta blo bzang 'phrin las kyi gsan yig nas zur du bkod pa bzhugs so). The originals can also be found directly in the catalog of received teachings (thob yig) of Jaya Pandita published by Lokesh Chandra, International Academy of Indian Culture (1981, vol. 4, folios 43-60). This contains the list of the long incarnation lineage of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen, with brief biographies. The biography of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen himself contains a year by year account of his life.

In his introduction to the be bum, Lobsang Tamdin writes that Dorje Shugden is a magical emanation of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen’s three enlightened secrets (gsang gsum).

A relevant entry is found in Sumpa Khenpo’s Chronology of Tibet for the Wood Sheep year (1655–1656), preceded by a symbol that denotes an entry for a person’s birth:6 “The Kangxi Emperor [is born and] becomes famous as the reincarnation of Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen.

The Compassionate Martyr

During the era of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, Dorje Shugden took rebirth in the form of a very special incarnate Lama. This would be Dorje Shugden’s “last” incarnation before arising as a Dharma Protector. From childhood, this incarnation exhibited many signs of a superior being. For example, he had clear visions of Yidams and enlightened beings when he was only five or six years old.

At the age of six, the Fourth Panchen Lama, Panchen Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen recognized him as the unmistaken tulku incarnation of his predecessor, Ngawang Sonam Geleg Pelsang, and installed him upon his former throne, giving him the name Dragpa Gyaltsen.

When he was just seven, the young Tulku took novice vows, ‘out of his own volition’, from Panchen Lozang Chogyen, and received from him Vajra Bhairava empowerment, long life initiation and initiations of Dharmapalas such as Mahakala and Dharmaraja. At that young age, he also received transmission of Lord Atisha’s texts on the path to enlightenment.

By the time he was 13, Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen had already studied and mastered the Lamrim. Among other teachings, he also received extremely vast and profound instructions on the Path of Bliss commentary to the stages of the path to enlightenment (Lamrim), as well as transmission and commentary for Guru Yoga of the Segyu Tradition, Ganden Lhagyema, and many other transmissions and commentaries.

Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen received his full ordination vows at the age of 20. From that time onward, like all his previous incarnations, he upheld his ordination vows perfectly and purely, without transgressing even the slightest foundation of the precepts. In the following years, until he was 28, this young erudite Lama continued to request for and received countless teachings transmissions and initiations of the highest practices from his Lama. It seemed his capacity and thirst for learning was without limit.

The relationship between Guru and disciple was very close and governed with great mutual respect. It is said that the Panchen Lama was at one time very busy, but when Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen requested for profound teachings, the Panchen Lama took a break from his schedule to give him the entire Kadam Volume with many other various essential and important teachings such as Lamrim Chenmo and Ngagrim Chenmo, combining instructions of Je Tsongkhapa and Kedrub Rinpoche. After receiving these teachings, Master and student then entered isolated retreat together, where Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen received the rest of the profound teachings of the uncommon ear-whispered Ganden lineage.

Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen was one of the two main disciples of the 4th Panchen Lama, Lobsang Chokyi Gyeltsen, the other being the Great Fifth Dalai Lama himself. Contrary to what is often mistakenly recounted, Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen and the Great Fifth shared a very respectful and close relationship.

Though they both studied under the Fourth Panchen Lama, Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen received many direct teachings from the Dalai Lama also. On several occasions Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen also made offerings and served the Dalai Lama directly, coming out personally to receive or escort him on his travels. He even invited the Dalai Lama to his own residence and received from him a hundred long-life initiations.

Throughout his life, from his childhood, Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen was highly recognised for his vast study and incomparable ability to easily absorb and understand even the most subtle and profound points of the teachings. His skill in teaching, speaking, debate, composition were unrivalled and known to have conveyed the Buddha’s original teachings perfectly, without any slightest deviation or error. By this alone, we can see that he did not just study and know the teachings, but had full realization of them.

Further, in his lifetime, he also engaged in many isolated retreats, engaging in purification practices and the accumulation of merit based upon the Guru Yoga. He also accomplished full retreats that focused upon many Yidams, thus achieving all the highest realizations described in sutric and tantric texts.

In his biographical account of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen, His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche writes in Music Delighting an Ocean of Protectors that, “He reached the state of a supreme mahasiddha and the infinite pure simultaneous appearance of the entire ocean of mandalas, and it is with reverent regard for this that he is praised.”

Apparently, he had also received many direct visions of deities and exalted Gurus from a very young age but in following the Kadam tradition of humility and keeping such attainments secret, there were only very few and scattered accounts of these visions. (One rare and very precious example of such secret writings of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen can be read in Music Delighting an Ocean of Protectors).

Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen became one of the most highly respected and sought-after Lamas of the land who was known to have the complete qualifications for teaching. His body was pure as he held ethical discipline throughout his life and firmly upheld every of his commitments and vows. He was deeply learned and extremely well-versed in scripture, reasoning and the BuddhaDharma. Lastly, because of his pure altruism he was very beneficial to others in all his actions throughout his life.

"He had all of the realized qualities for teaching without exception, making his teachings so exalted that it was as if Arya Nagarjuna, one of his disciples, or the great master Haribadra was actually present." ~ H.H. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche


Wikipedia:Tulku Dragpa Gyaltsen