Pabongkhapa Déchen Nyingpo
|Pabongkhapa Déchen Nyingpo|
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Pabongkhapa Déchen Nyingpo (Tibetan: ཕ་བོང་ཁ་པ་བདེ་ཆེན་སྙིང་པོ, Wylie: pha bong kha pa bde chen snying po), (1878–1941) was a Gelug lama of the modern era of Tibetan Buddhism. He attained his Geshe degree at Sera Mey Monastic University, Lhasa, and became a highly influential teacher in Tibet, unusual for teaching a great number of lay people. Pabongkha was offered the regency of the present Dalai Lama but declined the request because "he strongly disliked political affairs."
His Spiritual Guide and practice of Buddhism
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Ribur Rinpoche described how Phabongkhapa met his root Guru: "His root guru was Dagpo Lama Rinpoche Jampael Lhuendrub Gyatso, from Lhoka. He was definitely a bodhisattva, and Pabongkha Rinpoche was his foremost disciple. He lived in a cave in Pasang and his main practice was bodhichitta; his main deity was Avalokiteshvara and he would recite 50,000 manis [the mantra, om mani padme hum] every night. When Kyabje Pabongkha first met Dagpo Rinpoche at a tsog offering ceremony in Lhasa, he cried out of reverence from beginning to end."
According to Ribur Rinpoche: "Dagpo Lama Rinpoche would teach him a Lam-rim topic and then Pabongkha Rinpoche would go away and meditate on it. Later he would return to explain what he’d understood: if he had gained some realization, Dagpo Lama Rinpoche would teach him some more and Pabongkha Rinpoche would go back and meditate on that. It went on like this for ten years."
Pabongkha Rinpoche was a renunciate and eschewed worldly attainments and politics. His faithful attendant once demolished the small old building inhabited by Pabongkha Rinpoche while he was a way on a long tour, and constructed in its place a large ornate residence rivaling the private quarters of the Dalai Lama. When Pabongkha Rinpoche returned he was not pleased and said, “I am only a minor hermit Lama and you should not have built something like this for me. I am not famous and the essence of what I teach is renunciation of the worldly life. Therefore I am embarrassed by rooms like these.”
According to Rilbur Rinpoche, Phabongkhapa was always gentle and never got angry: "Any anger had been completely pacified by his bodhichitta." Even when long lines of people were waiting for blessings, he would ask each one individually how they were and tap them on the head. Sometimes he dispensed medicine.
His two main spiritual qualities according to his disciples were, from the Tantric point of view, his realization and ability to present Heruka, and from the Sutra point of view, his ability to teach Lamrim. He attributed all his qualities to his own Spiritual Guide, showing him deference throughout his life. Whenever he visited his Spiritual Guide's monastery, he would dismount as soon as it appeared in view and prostrate all the way to the door and when he left he would walk backwards until it was out of sight.
According to one reincarnate Lama who attended his teachings: "He was an exceptionally learned and gifted scholar, and his interpretation of the Doctrine adhered to the meaning of the Lord Buddha's words exactly. He was short, broad-faced, and of rather heavy build, but when he opened his mouth to speak his words had such clarity and sweetness that no one could help being moved." .
When he taught he would sit for up to eight hours without moving. About two thousand people would come to his general discourses and initiations and fewer to special teachings, but when he gave Bodhisattva vows, up to ten thousand people would show up.
Phabongkhapa had a profound and far-reaching influence on the Gelug tradition:
Pabongkha Rinpoche was probably the most influential Gelug lama of this century, holding all the important lineages of sutra and tantra and passing them on to most of the important Gelug lamas of the next two generations; the list of his oral discourses is vast in depth and breadth. He was also the root guru of the Kyabje Ling Rinpoche (1903-83), Senior Tutor of the Dalai Lama, Trijang Rinpoche, and many other highly respected teachers. His collected works occupy fifteen large volumes and over every aspect of Buddhism. If you have ever received a teaching from a Gelug lama, you have been influenced by Pabongkha Rinpoche.
In Geshe Ngawang Dhargeyey's commentary to the Wheel of Sharp Weapons, he says:
Likewise, Lama Trijang Dorje Chang, Junior Tutor to His Holiness the present Dalai Lama, folds his hands upon the crown of his head whenever he mentions Kyabje Pa-bongkha Rinpoche. He was such a great lama, unsurpassed by any, that hardly any lamas or geshes of the Three Pillars (the monasteries of Ganden, Sera and Drepung) had not been his disciples.
In 1921 at Chuzang Hermitage near Lhasa, Pabongkha Rinpoche gave a historic 24-day exposition on the Lam Rim, or "stages of the path," that was attended by some seven hundred people. Many monks came from the three major monasteries in Lhasa, and many more travelled weeks from the Central Province, from Tsang, and from as far away as Amdo and Kham. This included about 30 lamas and reincarnations of lamas. There were also many lay people present. According to Rato Khyongla Rinpoche, who was present: "During that summer session several traders and at least two high government officials found their lives transformed by his eloquence: they forsook their jobs to study religion and to give themselves to meditation." 
Zong Rinpoche explains:
Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and Kyabje Ling Rinpoche were tutors to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. They taught His Holiness everything from basic teachings to advanced levels. Kyabje Phabongka passed all of his lineages to Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang. He often said this in discourses. The purpose of this detailed exposition is to affirm the power of the lineage. If we lose faith in the lineage, we are lost.
According to Kyabje Zong Rinpoche:
Once Kyabje Phabongka invoked the wisdom beings of Heruka’s mandala to enter into a statue of Heruka Chakrasamvara. Heruka then offered nectar to Kyabje Phabongka, and prophesied that seven generations of his disciples would be protected by the body mandala of Heruka. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche is cared for by Heruka Chakrasamvara, as are his disciples.
Position on politics and religion
When the regency of the 14th Dalai Lama was offered to Pabongkha Rinpoche, he declined to become the regent saying, "If one cannot give up the worldly dharma, then you are not a true religious person." According to Goldstein, Pabongkha was quite well known for saying that "lamas should not become involved in politics."
Deviations from Tsongkhapa's teachings
Dreyfus notes Pabongkha's deviations from Tsongkhapa's teachings:
...when compared with the main teachings of his tradition as they appear in Dzong-ka-ba's writings, Pa-bong-ka's approach appears in several respects quite innovative. Although he insisted on the Stages of the Path (lam rim) as the basis of further practice, like other Ge-luk teachers, Pa-bong-ka differed in recommending Vajrayogini as the central meditational deity of the Ge-luk tradition. This emphasis is remarkable given the fact that the practice of this deity came originally from the Sa-gya tradition and is not included in Dzong-ka-ba's original synthesis, which is based on the practice of three meditational deities (Yamantaka, Guhya-samaja, and Cakrasamvara). The novelty of his approach is even clearer when we consider Pa-bong-ka's emphasis on Tara Cintamali as a secondary meditational deity, for this practice is not canonical in the strict sense of the term but comes from the pure visions of one of Pa-bong-ka's main teachers, Ta bu Pe-ma Baz-ra (sta bu padma badzra), a figure about whom very little is presently known. We have to be clear, however, on the nature of Pa-bong-ka's innovations. He did not introduce these practices himself, for he received them from teachers such as Ta bu Pe-ma Baz-ra and Dak-po Kel-zang Kay-drub (dwag po bskal bzang mkhas grub). Where Pa-bong-ka was innovative was in making formerly secondary teachings widespread and central to the Ge-luk tradition and claiming that they represented the essence of Dzong-ka-ba's teaching. This pattern, which is typical of a revival movement, also holds true for Pa-bong-ka's wide diffusion, particularly at the end of his life, of the practice of Dor-je Shuk-den as the central protector of the Ge-luk tradition. Whereas previously Shuk-den seems to have been a relatively minor protector in the Ge-luk tradition, Pa-bong-ka made him into one of the main protectors of the tradition. In this way, he founded a new and distinct way of conceiving the teachings of the Ge-luk tradition that is central to the "Shuk-den Affair.".
Position on the other schools
Pabongka stated that the others schools go to hell:
So it happens that some have fallen into the philosophical view of nihilism, which is a cause of going to hell. Everything apart from the school of Tsongkhapa represents a mistaken philosophical view.
Phabongkhapa actively opposed the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Stephan Beyer writes:
"P'awang kawa was undoubtedly one of the great lamas of the early twentieth century, but he was a man of contradictory passions, and he shows us two different faces when he is recalled by those who knew him. In many ways he was truly a saint; he was sent to Ch'amdo by the central government to represent its interests and administer its Gelug monasteries, and he was sympathetic to the concerns of the K'am people over whom he had been granted jurisdiction, a scholar and an enthusiast for all aspects of Tibetan culture. But many eastern Tibetans remember him with loathing as the great persecutor of the "ancient" sect, devoting himself to the destruction throughout K ' am of images of the Precious Guru and the burning of "ancient" books and paintings."
Buddhist scholar Matthew Kapstein echoes these remarks, writing, "There has been a great deal of sectarian dispute among Tibetan refugees in India. Much of this has its roots in the works of Pha-bong-kha-pa Bde-chen snying-po (1878-1937), whose visions of the Dge-lugs-pa protective deity Rdo-rje shugs-ldan seem to have entailed a commitment to oppose actively the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism and the Bon-po."
Regarding Pabongkha Rinpoche's attitude toward the Bön, he said that "The dharmas of Bönpos, tirthikas, and so forth are non-Buddhist and should not be taken as our refuge." In his famous work Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, he calls it an "evil system", "false dharma", "not worthy of being a refuge", "plagiarized", and "invented". Although the Bön religion was originally highly hostile to Buddhists, Phabongkhapa never advocated intolerance towards them: "Bön is not a refuge for Buddhists; it is not worthy of being a refuge. All the same, Buddhists and Boenpos say things to each other out of attachment or hostility, and this hardly makes for honest debate. It is vital that you should know the sources of the Bön religion." To support his claim that Bön is not a fitting refuge for Buddhists, Phabongkhapa quoted several Buddhist scholars, including Milarepa who said, "The source of Bön is perverted Dharma. A creation of nagas and powerful elementals, it does not take one to the ultimate path."
Persecution of the Rimé movement
David Kay notes that Shugden was a key tool in Phabongkha's persecution of the Rimé movement:
"As the Gelug agent of the Tibetan government in Kham (Khams) (Eastern Tibet), and in response to the Rimed movement that had originated and was flowering in that region, Phabongkha Rinpoche and his disciples employed repressive measures against non-Gelug sects. Religious artefacts associated with Padmasambhava – who is revered as a ‘second Buddha’ by Nyingma practitioners – were destroyed, and non-Gelug, and particularly Nyingma, monasteries were forcibly converted to the Gelug position. A key element of Phabongkha Rinpoche’s outlook was the cult of the protective deity Dorje Shugden, which he married to the idea of Gelug exclusivism and employed against other traditions as well as against those within the Gelug who had eclectic tendencies."
"His teaching tour of Kham in 1938 was a seminal phase, leading to a hardening of his exclusivism and the adoption of a militantly sectarian stance. In reaction to the flourishing Rimed movement and the perceived decline of Gelug monasteries in that region, Phabongkha and his disciples spearheaded a revival movement, promoting the supremacy of the Gelug as the only pure tradition. He now regarded the inclusivism of Gelug monks who practised according to the teachings of other schools as a threat to the integrity of the Gelug tradition, and he aggressively opposed the influence of other traditions, particularly the Nyingma, whose teachings were deemed mistaken and deceptive. A key element of Phabongkha’s revival movement was the practice of relying upon Dorje Shugden, the main function of the deity now being presented as ‘the protection of the Ge-luk tradition through violent means, even including the killing of its enemies’."
Construction of Dorje Shugden
Dreyfus states "the propitiation of Shukden as a Geluk protector is not an ancestral tradition, but a relatively recent invention of tradition associated with the revival movement within the Geluk spearheaded by Pabongkha." Pabongkha transformed Dorje Shugden's "marginal practice into a central element of the Ge-luk tradition," thus "replacing the protectors appointed by Dzong-ka-ba himself" and "replacing the traditional supra-mundane protectors of the Ge-luk tradition." This change is reflected in artwork, since there is "lack of Dorje Shugden art in the Gelug school prior to the end of the 19th century."
Pabongkha fashioned Shugden as a violent protector of the Gelug school, who is employed against other traditions. Within the Gelug school itself, Pabongkha constructed Shugden as replacing the traditional Gelug protectors Pehar, Nechung, Palden Lhamo, Mahakala, Vaisravana and Kalarupa, who was appointed by Tsongkhapa.
When Phabongkhapa died, an elaborate reliquary was constructed, but the Chinese demolished it. Rilbur Rinpoche managed to retrieve some of his cremation relics ("ring sel") from it, which are usually kept at Sera Monastery. They are on the relics tour of saints and enlightened masters organized by Lama Zopa.
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- But not everyone agreed with the decision to hold that ritual in the monastery dedicated to the guardian deity of the Dalai Lamas and the Tibetan government. Among these was the Abbot of Drepung Monastery, who immediately consulted Nechung, the State Oracle. The Oracle’s silence was more explicit than a thousand words. There could not be two protectors under the same roof, wrote the abbot to His Holiness, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. A month had gone by since Phabongka Rinpoche had conferred the initiation at Drepung. From that day the practice of the gyalpo spread like oil on water among the young students in the colleges. The Dalai Lama, aware of the risk of open conflict, decided to have Phabongka formally rebuked by a government functionary. Then he wrote to him personally, revealing how disconcerted he was by his behavior. A few days went by, and a messenger brought Phabongka’s response to the Potala, with a gold coin and a white kata. Phabongka apologized, saying it was his fault alone and that he had nothing to add in his defense: “What I have done is unjustifiable and in the future, as you have asked of me, I shall take your instructions to heart. I ask your forgiveness for what I have done and written.” The Dalai Lama responded to Phabongka’s apology with a second letter, which did not entirely mask his displeasure:
There is much to be said about your words and deeds, in both in logistical and doctrinal terms, but I do not want to continue on this subject. Concerning your references to the practice of the refuge, first of all you are propitiating Shugden as a protector. And since these students now have a connection with you, the practice has notably spread at Drepung. Since the monastery was first founded by Jamyang Choejey, Nechung has been designated as guardian and protector of Drepung, and his oracle has expressed his great dissatisfaction to the abbot on several occasions, saying that appeasing Shugden has accelerated the degeneration of the Buddha’s teaching. This is the root of the problem. In particular, your search for the support of a worldly guardian to ensure benefits in this life is contrary to the principle of the taking of refuge. Therefore, it is contradictory to affirm, as you do “from the bottom of your heart,” that what happened is only the fruit of your “confusion and ignorance,” and that you were not aware of having “followed a wrongful path and led others onto it." Phabongka replied with apparent humility: "You have asked me why I am interested in this protector. I must explain that, according to my old mother, Shugden was a guardian for my family from the start, and that is why I have honored him. But now I want to say that I have repented and I have understood my mistake. I shall perform purification and promise with all my heart that in the future I will avoid propitiating, praying to, and making daily offerings [to Shugden]. I admit to all the errors I have made, disturbing Nechung and contradicting the principle of the refuge, and I beg you, in your great heartfelt compassion, to forgive me and purify my actions.
- Mullin, Glenn, & Shepherd, Valerie (2001). The fourteen Dalai Lamas: A sacred legacy of reincarnation. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light, p. 475.
- Rilbur Rinpoche, Pabongkha Rinpoche: A Memoir quoted in Liberation in the palm of your hand: A concise discourse on the path to enlightenment (2006). Boston: Wisdom Publications, p. xiii
- Rilbur Rinpoche, Pabongkha Rinpoche: A Memoir quoted in Liberation in the palm of your hand: A concise discourse on the path to enlightenment (2006). Boston: Wisdom Publications
- Rato Kyongla Nawang Losang, My Life and Lives, p 98, published by Dutton.
- Rilbur Rinpoche, Pabongkha Rinpoche: A Memoir quoted in Liberation in the palm of your hand: A concise discourse on the path to enlightenment (2006). Boston: Wisdom Publications, p. xvi
- Michael Richards, from the translator’s introduction, Liberation in the palm of your hand: A concise discourse on the path to enlightenment (2006). Boston: Wisdom Publications, p. x
- Wheel of Sharp Weapons, with Commentary by Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, page 55. ISBN 81-85102-08-2 Published by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives - Second revised edition 1994
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- Kay, David (2004). Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation. London: RoutledgeCurzon. p. 43. "A key element of Phabongkha Rinpoche’s outlook was the cult of the protective deity Dorje Shugden, which he married to the idea of Gelug exclusivism and employed against other traditions as well as against those within the Gelug who had eclectic tendencies."
- The Shugden affair: Origins of a Controversy (Part I) by Geshe Georges Dreyfus, retrieved Feb. 16, 2014. "For Pa-bong-ka, particularly at the end of his life, one of the main functions of Gyel-chen Dor-je Shuk-den as Ge-luk protector is the use of violent means (the adamantine force) to protect the Ge-luk tradition...This passage clearly presents the goal of the propitiation of Shuk-den as the protection of the Ge-luk tradition through violent means, even including the killing of its enemies...Pa-bong-ka takes the references to eliminating the enemies of the Ge-luk tradition as more than stylistic conventions or usual ritual incantations. It may concern the elimination of actual people by the protector."
- Kay, David (2004). Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation. London: RoutledgeCurzon. p. 48. "It seems that during the 1940s, supporters of Phabongkha began to proclaim the fulfilment of this tradition and to maintain that the Tibetan government should turn its allegiance away from Pehar, the state protector, to Dorje Shugden."
- Kay, David (2004). Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation. London: RoutledgeCurzon. p. 48. "Phabongkha’s claim that Dorje Shugden had now replaced the traditional supramundane protectors of the Gelug tradition such as Mahakala, Vaisravana and, most specifically, Kalarupa (‘the Dharma-King’), the main protector of the Gelug who, it is believed, was bound to an oath by Tsong Khapa himself."
- The Shugden affair: Origins of a Controversy (Part I) by Geshe Georges Dreyfus, retrieved Feb. 16, 2014. "These descriptions have been controversial. Traditionally, the Ge-luk tradition has been protected by the Dharma-king (dam can chos rgyal), the supra-mundane deity bound to an oath given to Dzong-ka-ba, the founder of the tradition. The tradition also speaks of three main protectors adapted to the three scopes of practice described in the Stages of the Path (skyes bu gsum gyi srung ma): Mahakala for the person of great scope, Vaibravala for the person of middling scope, and the Dharma-king for the person of small scope. By describing Shuk-den as "the protector of the tradition of the victorious lord Manjushri," Pa-bong-ka suggests that he is the protector of the Ge-luk tradition, replacing the protectors appointed by Dzong-ka-ba himself. This impression is confirmed by one of the stories that Shuk-den's partisans use to justify their claim. According to this story, the Dharma-king has left this world to retire in the pure land of Tushita having entrusted the protection of the Ge-luk tradition to Shuk-den. Thus, Shuk-den has become the main Ge-luk protector replacing the traditional supra-mundane protectors of the Ge-luk tradition, indeed a spectacular promotion in the pantheon of the tradition."
- The Shugden affair: Origins of a Controversy (Part II) by Geshe Georges Dreyfus, retrieved Feb. 28, 2014.
- Bultrini 2005, p. 25.
- The Maitreya Project by the FPMT
- Lama Zasep Tulku Rinpoche discusses Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand
- Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand (at Google Books)
- Heart Spoon a teaching on impermanence by Kyabje Pabongkha Dorje Chang
- Pabongkha Rinpoche by Buddhist International Alliance.