Reliance on Dorje Shugden: Preliminary practice of the Guru Yoga of Je Tsongkhapa

Within the Kadampa tradition we are advised to practice the sadhana Heart Jewel as our daily practice.  If we are a Tantric practitioner, we engage in the Tantric version of this practice known as the Yoga of Buddha Heruka.  In either case, the sadhana beings with the Guru Yoga of Je Tsongkhapa.  I will explain things from the perspective of Heart Jewel since it is a common practice.

In general, the practice of Heart Jewel is the method for practicing the entire path to enlightenment.  There are three main parts – affectionately called a ‘Heart Jewel Sandwich.’  The first part is the Je Tsongkhapa part – the function of this part of the practice is to be able to draw closer to Je Tsongkhapa and receive his external and internal guidance to be able to realize his Dharma of Lamrim, lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  The second part is our Meditation on Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  We do this in the middle of the practice.  And the final part is the Dorje Shugden part – this creates the causes to be able to receive Dorje Shugden’s care and protection for being able to gain the realization of Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  This series of posts is primarily about how to rely upon Dorje Shugden, but I will nonetheless give a brief explanation of how to engage in the first two parts of the Heart Jewel sandwich.

To actually engage in the Je Tsongkhapa part, we do as follows:

  1. Refuge and bodhichitta – here you are establishing your motivation for engaging in the practice.  “With the wish to become a Buddha so I can help all the beings around me attain the same state, I will now engage sincerely in the paractice of Heart Jewel, trying to generate the minds indicated by the words.”
  2. Prayer of the seven limbs and the mandala.  This accomplishes two main functions:  Accumulate merit – merit is positive spiritual energy.  It is like gasoline in your spiritual car.  Purify negativities – negative karma prevents us from engaging in spiritual practices and is the substantial cause of all our suffering.  It is like lots of traffic and debris on the roads.
  3. Migtsema prayer and prayer of the stages of the path.  These two enable you to receive the blessings of all the Buddhas.  Blessings are like spark plugs which ignite the gas of your merit to push you along the road to enlightenment.  The migtsema prayer draws you closer to JTK, and enables you to receive the blessings of the wisdom, compassion and spiritual power of all the Buddhas.  The prayer of the stages of the path is a special prayer for requesting the realizations of the lamrim.
  4. At this point in the sadhana we typically engage in meditation on lamrim.  Usually people use the book the New Meditation Handbook and cycle through the 21 lamrim meditations explained there, one each day.  For more information, we can also attend classes on the Lamrim at our local Dharma centers.
  5. After our meditation, we recite the dedication prayer from the Je Tsongkhapa part of Heart Jewel.

For more detailed information, we can read in the book Heart Jewel which provides an extensive commentary.  Geshe-la has said that this is his most important book.  It is available for sale at

We should also take advantage of the opportunity to attend courses on Heart Jewel at our local Kadampa center, and we should make many requests that our local teacher grant the empowerments of Je Tsongkhapa and Dorje Shugden.  What is an empowerment?  An empowerment in general is establishing a very close connection with a particular enlightened being.  The closer our karma with a given enlightened being, the more ‘bandwidth’ they have for being able to help us.  It is a bit like making a connection with a very special friend.  When we meet somebody very powerful and we have a close connection with them, we can more easily call upon them and ask them for help.

An empowerment is like receiving a personal deity within our mental continuum.  We can all appreciate the qualities of the different Buddhas, and think how wonderful it would be to know them and be able to call upon them.  But how much more wonderful would it be to have a personal emanation of a Buddha who is available for us 24/7.  During the empowerment, we receive our own personal emanation of Dorje Shugden into our mental continuum.  We will be able to develop a personal relationship with this Dorje Shugden and he will care for us.  Geshe-la once told a very senior teacher about the Dorje Shugden empowerment, “people need this empowerment, they need this protection.”


23 thoughts on “Reliance on Dorje Shugden: Preliminary practice of the Guru Yoga of Je Tsongkhapa

  1. Enjoying this series thank you , my favorite practise. One question, if one is a tantric practitioner and engages in Heruka Body Mandala is it possible to sandwich your Lamrim meditation within this?

    • Yes, of course. There are a couple of different ways you can do this. The first way is you can do your lamrim meditation right after you dissolve the guru into your heart. The other way you can do it is you can integrate your lamrim meditation into your self-generation meditation. Geshe-la told me in an email once that if we want to guarantee we attain the pure land at the end of this life we train in lamrim and tantra simultaneously. You can meditate on the inter-relationship between the self-generation meditation and each of the 21 lamrim meditations. For example, what is the self-generation other than the Spiritual Guide, so by meditating on the self-generation it is the ultimate form of reliance on the Spiritual Guide. We have a precious human life with which we can train in self-generation. We can die at any point, so we need to train in self-generation so we can do our own powa. If we don’t attain the pure land we will likely fall into the lower realms. The self-generated mandala is the synthesis of the three jewels towards whom we go for refuge. Training in self-generation moment by moment creates the karma to attain rebirth in the pure land. Why settle for ordinary samsaric aggregates when we can have the pure aggregates of the deity (renunciation). Heruka has a feeling of equanimity towards all living beings, sees them all as his mother, remembers their kindness, etc., etc., etc. This is a very powerful way to train in the union of Sutra and Tantra.

  2. The prayer of the stage of the path is not only for gaining lamrim réalisation but also for the two tantric stage
    It is for ALL the réalisation

  3. Thank you Kadam Ryan, as always.

    Geshe-la has continuously simplified our practices and the Yoga of Buddha Heruka is a great example. As my daily practice, it has helped me to feel like I am keeping many commitments that I would have a hard time keeping as a fellow “working dad”. As you say: “If we are a Tantric practitioner, we engage in the Tantric version of this practice known as the Yoga of Buddha Heruka.”

    My question: how do we fit reliance on Dorje Shugden into YBH? It is one of the things I have “missed” from Heart Jewel though I suspect that it is “in there” if I approach it with the correct mind. I have occasionally wondered why Geshe-la didn’t put the DS prayers from HJ at the end of YBH but I believe it gets back to the simplification focus I mentioned earlier.

    Any thoughts appreciated!

  4. Hi again, I did try out your advice re HBM / Lamrim and am wondering if I lost the plot or was on the right lines. After self -gen I contemplated Precious Human Life a) I had one so I could self-gen b) all L.B. also had one, and had to make the most of it, therefore as self-gen Heruka with the nature of compassion it was my job to help all LB achieve this (that was my object) ????This going in the right direction?

    • Both work. The question is whether you incorporate divine pride into the meditation or not. If you are your “practitioner” self, then you think, “I have a precious human life with which I can train in self-generation. I don’t want to waste a minute of it. This is what gives my life its meaning… etc….” If you are maintaining your divine pride, then you can think, “all the beings I know and love have a precious opportunity. I need to generate them as deities or send out emanations and blessings to ripen them fully in their opportunity.”

      You can actually combine the two by thinking, “I am meditating inside the minds of all living beings for them. They have a precious human life and with their minds I am generating the HBM in their mind for them to bless their mind, bestow all of the realizations and heal their subtle body.”

      Basically, just ask yourself “how do these two meditations interact and mutually reinforce one another?” Then explore and contemplate the interrelationship between the two. Some new understandings will come. These can be your objects of placement meditation. If you do this with each of the 21 lamrim meditations, it won’t take long until Sutra and Tantra are united inseparably, and your meditation on any one of them will strengthen your meditation on all of the others. We are Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition, and his principal contribution to the lineage was completely uniting Sutra and Tantra. So our main job is, in many ways, to connect the dots between all that VGL has given us.

  5. KR:
    Thank you very much for working out of this series, are very valuable and have provided great help to my tantric practice , It is very joyful, every day to improve our understanding and comprehension, and so, go slowly gaining more skill and experience. is a privilege. thank you again.

  6. While I enjoy and appreciate very much your posts on Dorje Shugden, I wish to know if there are any scriptural or commentary basis for your assertions? Thanks.

    • Everything I know and have written about Dorje Shugden comes either directly from commentaries in Geshe Kelsang’s books and teachings, most notably the book Heart Jewel and teachings given at empowerments, or from my personal experience having put Geshe Kelsang’s teachings into practice. If there is a specific thing I said that you want to know where it comes from, I am happy to try explain.

      • Sure. Your explication made Shugden practice sound like Yidam Yoga (even like Higher Tantra), that is, to transform our experiences into manifestations of DS; also your advocacy of complete faith in Shugden, letting go so that DS can take charge of our lives, with a strong Christian-like accent to it. Where are these ideas based on?

  7. I am also interested to know more about what you meant by Shugden shifting the course of our previous lives (future as well?) to shape our present practice. Thanks.

  8. Hi Lester,

    Sorry for the delay in responding. First, there are three lineages – the lineage that arises from listening/reading, the lineage that arises from contemplation, and the lineage that arises from meditation. Just because something isn’t explicitly said in Geshe-la’s teachings does not mean it is not there, waiting to be discovered through our contemplation and meditation on what he has given us. The test to make sure our contemplation and meditation-discovered insights are true is three-fold. First, does the new understanding logically follow from everything you have been given; second, does the new understanding contradict anything you have been given; and third, you make continuous requests over a fair amount of time to Dorje Shugden that he sabotage any incorrect understandings in your mind. He is a Dharma protector, and the Dharma is primarily protected within our own understanding and mind.

    Second, just because something has a Christian flavor to it does not mean it is wrong. Many people come into Dharma mistakenly thinking they need to reject all that is Christian, and then when they encounter things that are similar (or even the same), they then wind up rejecting the Dharma because of it. Geshe-la has said on numerous occasions that “there is no contradiction” between the Kadam Dharma and Christianity. Realizing this non-contradiction, especially for those who live in predominantly Christian cultures, is extremely useful for being able to help the Dharma flourish. This is not mixing. Mixing is when you take something from one tradition add it to something from another tradition, to make your own third thing. The wisdom that finds the truth of the Kadam Dharma in everything arises from following one tradition purely without mixing.

    Something becomes Yidam practice when we impute our I onto the self-generated deity. Geshe-la has not taught this, and I have not suggested we do so; therefore I am not quite sure what you are referring to when I make it sound like Yidam practice. One thing that is common between Dorje Shugden practice and Yidam practice is “invoking the deities to accomplish their function.” We do this by generating faith in the function and power of the deity, and then requesting them to perform that function. But this is not Yidam practice, this is simply praying.

    Transforming appearances into manifestations of Dorje Shugden is explicitly explained in Melodious Drum. It is also explained in many places that Dorje Shugden is a Buddha, and we know from elsewhere that Buddhas send out countless emanations to all living beings. We also know that wherever you imagine a Buddha a Buddha actually goes – this is one of hte special qualities of a Buddha. And wherever a Buddha goes, they accomplish their function. The function of Dorje Shugden is to arrange all of the conditions necessary for our swiftest possible enlightenment. Therefore, if we imagine Dorje Shugden enters into some phenomena, he actually will do so; and once there, he will accomplish his function. From this, we can validly view everything as an emanation of Dorje Shugden simply by believing it to be true. How does the condition become a cause of our enlightenment? By our viewing it and understanding it differently. Dorje Shugden is a wisdom Buddha, so he primarily helps us by blessing our mind to view why our toothache, for example, is in fact exactly what we need for our practice. As it says in the Heart Jewel sadhana, “all the attainments I desire arise from merely remembering you.” By remembering him with faith in everything, he enters everything, and it all becomes exactly what we need. Not from its own side, of course, but we are able to VIEW it as perfect thanks to his blessings.

    In terms of generating complete faith in Dorje Shugden and letting him take charge of our lives, this follows from his function and our bodhichitta motivation. The function of Dorje Shugden is to arrange all of the outer and inner conditions necessary for our swiftest possible enlightenment. Like all Buddhas, he has the power to bestow blessings. Blessings are essentially the ripening of particular karma that causes our mind to move in the direction of enlightenment. If we have a bodhichitta motivation, the only thing we want is to attain enlightenment as quickly as possible. On the basis of this, we can then offer all of our karma, our time, our body, our mind, our resources, our family, our work, even our world to Dorje Shugden requesting him to use all of these things for our own and others enlightenment. We can, with a mind of deep faith in his power, make the request, “please arrange whatever is best for my practice.” On the basis of this request, we then subsequently believe that everything that arises is the perfect conditions we requested. If we then suddenly get cancer, for example, we wouldn’t say Dorje Shugden gave us cancer – our negative karma did that – but we can say the ripening of that karma is exactly what we need for our practice, so we can accept it and transform it. If what we want is to attain enlightenment, we would want to have this ability with respect to every single appearance in our life. Why would we want something to NOT be perfect for our practice? By believing that everything is emanated, we can then accept everything as perfect and thereby let go of all of our attachment and anger (if it is what we need, we don’t want it any different). Yes, this is quite similar to Christians who view everything as part of God’s plan for them. But this similarity alone is not grounds for saying this way of thinking is wrong. Quite the opposite, to reject such thinking just because it is similar to to deny ourselves of the benefit of this way of thinking. Thinking in this way enables us to abandon all of our delusions and accept everything with a happy mind. We are able to transform everything into fuel for our enlightenment. What could possibly be wrong with that?

    On your last question of him being able to alter the course of our past, we can take the example of somebody who was sexually abused as a child. Awful, horrible thing that scars and has the potential to really mess with somebody’s mind their whole life. But this experience does not exist outside of our mind. It is still there, having an effect on the flow of our mental continuum. There is nothing stopping us from thinking about this experience, then requesting Dorje shugden that he transform that experience into a powerful cause of our enlightenment. Through the power of our faith and his blessings, our mind will gradually change towards this experience, we will view it differently, in increasingly spiritual ways, until eventually just thinking about it naturally gives rise to some Dharma mind or another. The event still happened, but what the event means for our mind has completely changed. The worst thing that ever happened to us, through the power of Dorje Shugden’s blessings, became the best thing that ever happened to us. This can be easily misunderstood, so we need to make an effort to understand it in the correct way. The future works in the same way. If we believe that we will eventually become a Buddha, it fixes the final destination of our mental continuum. This final destination anchors us, and directs our mental continuum in that direction.


    • Dear Ryan, the part about Yidam practice, what I meant was seeing one’s environment and sensory perception as manifestations of the Yidam is similar to your advice on perceiving experiences as manifestations of Dorje Shugden. Not self generating as Shugden. Sorry for the vagueness, but anyways you have answered my question. Thanks. On a side note, say, if one is already engaged in intensive Yidam practice, how should this understanding and faith about Shugden’s omnipresence be reconciled with the visualisation of our Yidam’s omnipresence? Can they coexist?

      Also, while a practising Gelug, I am very much inclined towards aspiring for rebirth in Sukhavati. Seems that few Gelugpa are interested in that, therefore, I wish to know if Shugden support that aspiration? Asking because this brings to mind the controversial “Yellow Book” written by Zemey Rinpoche, that the protector is exclusively Kadampa.

      • Venerable Tharchin once advised me to always imagine the entire self-generated mandala is taking place inside Dorje Shugden’s protection circle. Basically, you should always imagine that everything, the entire universe, is taking place inside his protection circle, and everything that happens inside is what is perfect for the swiftest possible enlightenment of all. At the beginning of our Dorje Shugden practice, we say, “I have the clarity of the Yidam” meaning as the Yidam we invoke Dorje Shugdent to accomplish his function for the benefit of all living beings.

        Dorje Shugden is an aspect of the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri. It is absurd and unthinkable that a Buddha would be exclusionary. Yes, he protects the Kadampa tradition, but that doesn’t mean he harms others or doesn’t help others according to their own karmic dispositions.

      • Thanks for the reply. There are many gems in the comment threads. Maybe these can be compiled into a FAQ page.

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