David Kay believes that reliance upon the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden as a “defining feature” of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) can be discerned from one of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s earliest publications, Universal Compassion. This book is a commentary to the short poem Training the Mind in Seven Points by Geshe Chekhawa (1102-1176). One of the lines in this poem makes reference to transforming adverse conditions into the path through the practice of the four preparations, the fourth preparation being ‘making offerings to Dharma Protectors.’ Kay decides to compare Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s commentary on this part of the root text to Geshe Rabten’s Advice from a Spiritual Friend, saying:
Since Geshe Chekhawa’s root text on mind training encourages Mahayana trainees to make offerings to protective deities in order to be free from any interference when practising, it is of no surprise to find comment upon such practices in both Advice from a Spiritual Friend and Universal Compassion. There is a noticeable difference, however, in the emphasis placed upon protector-deity practice in the two commentaries, with Geshe Kelsang going into more detail about its function and importance. (Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain, p. 75).
Geshe Kelsang uses 322 words to explain making offerings to Dharma Protectors, while Geshe Rabten uses just 109 words. However, we have to interpret this difference in a larger context. For example, to explain all four preparations, Geshe Kelsang gives us more than 9 pages of commentary, while Geshe Rabten offers his readers only 1-and-a-half pages total. From this, it is clear that Geshe Kelsang is not ‘obsessing’ over the issue of Dharma Protectors—it is just that his commentary overall is much more detailed than Geshe Rabten’s. It is also worth noting that Dorje Shugden is not mentioned anywhere in Geshe Kelsang’s commentary. The two examples of Dharma Protectors he does give are Mahakala and Kalarupa (p. 87).
Some have been claiming recently that only Highest Yoga Tantra practitioners should be engaging in the Heart Jewel sadhana published by the NKT, saying that reliance upon Dharma Protectors has no relevance outside of Highest Yoga Tantra. In the aforementioned commentary, Geshe Kelsang says that “Buddha Shakyamuni gave explanations in many Sutras and Tantras of the nature and function of different Dharma Protectors, and of the way to rely upon them,” showing that reliance upon Dharma Protectors is not limited only to Tantric practitioners. Remember, ‘training the mind’ (Tib. Lojong) is a part of Sutra practice, and the root text Training the Mind in Seven Points mentioned above advises us to rely upon Dharma Protectors in order to have success in this practice. Returning to the question of Highest Yoga Tantra, the Heart Jewel sadhana is comprised of two practices: (1) a Guru yoga of Je Tsongkhapa called The Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land (Tib. Ganden Lhagyema), followed by (2) a condensed sadhana of Dorje Shugden. Neither of these practices requires a Highest Yoga Tantra empowerment as a prerequisite:
(1) There are two main Guru yogas related to Je Tsongkhapa: Offering to the Spiritual Guide, or Lama Chopa, which is practised in conjunction with Highest Yoga Tantra, and The Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land, or Ganden Lhagyema, which is a more general yoga that can be practised in association with either Sutra or Tantra. This second practice is very famous and all followers of Je Tsongkhapa memorize it and practise it regularly. (Great Treasury of Merit, p. 25)
This is in perfect agreement with the Dalai Lama who says that the practices of Gaden Lhagyema and Khedup Chikyue and “are very integrated guru yoga practices but do not require the receiving of initiation into highest yoga tantra” (Union of Bliss and Emptiness, p. 16).
(2) There are common sadhanas and special sadhanas of Dorje Shugden. The common sadhanas, such as the Heart Jewel sadhana, can be practised by anyone who has faith, regardless of whether or not they have received a Highest Yoga Tantra empowerment or a blessing empowerment of Dorje Shugden… If we have received a Highest Yoga Tantra empowerment, we can practise uncommon sadhanas, such as the Wishfulfilling Jewel sadhana. (Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Heart Jewel, pp. 122-123)
Anyone practicing Dharma—whether according to the initial scope, the intermediate scope, or the great scope—needs help eliminating obstacles to their practice and accumulating favourable conditions, which is the function of the Sangha Jewel. It is for this reason that Je Tsongkhapa established Kalarupa, Mahakala, and Vaishravana as Dharma Protectors for practitioners of the Gelug tradition. Otherwise, we come to the absurd conclusion that only Highest Yoga Tantra practitioners need help protecting their Dharma realizations.
The Dalai Lama says, “Actually there is no need for any dharmapala besides these three. Sometimes I say that only when we hear that Kalarupa has passed away will we have to seek some other protection” (Union of Bliss and Emptiness, p. 84). Yet, the Dalai Lama’s own root Guru, Trijang Rinpoche, believed this had already happened, in accordance with his own Guru’s Guru, as explained in his text Music Delighting the Ocean of Protectors. Geshe Kelsang used this work as the basis for his commentary to the practice of Dorje Shugden appearing in the book Heart Jewel. In it he says:
Among all the Dharma Protectors, four-faced Mahakala, Kalarupa, and Dorje Shugden in particular have the same nature because they are all emanations of Manjushri. However, the beings of this present time have a stronger karmic link with Dorje Shugden than with the other Dharma Protectors. It was for this reason that Morchen Dorjechang Kunga Lhundrup, a very highly realized Master of the Sakya tradition, told his disciples, ‘Now is the time to rely upon Dorje Shugden.’ (p. 91)
Some dispute the authenticity of the quote “Now is the time to rely upon Dorje Shugden,” saying that no reference for it has ever been given. However, Geshe Kelsang has already said it comes through Trijang Rinpoche. Now that Music Delighting the Ocean of Protectors has been translated into English, we can see that he took it from Losel Gyatso’s Dispelling the Darkness of Torment, as quoted by Lelung Shepai Dorje:
Again, at a later time, Morchen Dorje Chang Kunga Lhundrub spread the practice [of Dorje Shugden] widely, saying that, since now is the time for all of his special pure visions to be fulfilled, one must rely upon this Great King, himself. (p. 110)
Of course, now people will be running around trying to track down Dispelling the Darkness of Torment, but for me the answer is quite simple. When controversy arose during the time of the 1st Dalai Lama over the authenticity of some particular Kadampa scriptures, he said, “I don’t know whether they are authentic or not, but they actually are helpful for the mind.” That is to say, it does not matter if something is ‘true’ or not; the real question is: Does it benefit your mind? The 14th Dalai Lama agrees (at least in principle) when he says, “if something is helpful for training the mind it proves it is an authentic dharma teaching; what further qualities are needed?” (Union of Bliss and Emptiness, p. 81). That’s always been good enough for me!
When you know for yourselves that, “These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted and carried out, lead to welfare and to happiness,” then you should enter and remain in them. (Buddha Shakyamuni, Kalama Sutta)