(Written by Georges Dreyfus)
In recent years the community of Tibetan Buddhists has been agitated by an intense dispute concerning the practice of a controversial deity, Gyel-chen Dor-je Shuk-den (rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan). Several Tibetan monks have been brutally murdered, and the Tibetan community in general and the Ge-luk tradition in particular have become profoundly polarized. Outsiders have been puzzled by the intensity of this dispute, for it concerns an unusual type of deity, the dharma protector (chos skyong srung ma), the concept of which is difficult to understand within the modern view of religion as a system of individual beliefs.
Despite the importance of these events and the coverage that it has received in both print and electronic media, modern scholars have remained relatively silent on the subject. One reason for this is that few scholars are willing to enter into a conflict as highly charged as this one. Moreover, the dispute concerns a rather baroque area of the Tibetan religious world that is neither well known nor easy for a modern observer to conceptualize. Nevertheless, this scholarly silence is regrettable, in that it has allowed less well-informed viewpoints to acquire legitimacy. It has also contributed to the irrational atmosphere that has surrounded this question.
In this essay, I will attempt to fill this scholarly gap and to promote a more rational approach by examining the quarrel surrounding Shuk-den and delineating some of the events leading to the present crisis. I will examine the narrative of Shuk-den's origin, focusing on the meaning of the hostility toward the Dalai Lama which it displays and which is confirmed by recent events. The irony is that Shuk-den is presented by his followers as the protector of the Ge-luk (dge lugs) school, of which the Dalai Lama is the (de facto) leader. How can there be a practice in the Ge-luk tradition opposed to its own leader? To answer this question, I will examine the historical development of the Shuk-den practice. I will first consider the events related in the Shuk-den story. I will then turn to later historical developments, in particular the way in which Pa-bong-ka (pha bong kha,) 1878-1941), the central figure in the Shuk-den lineage, developed this practice in response to contemporary events. I will also examine some of the events that took place in India in the 1970s when the "Shuk-den Affair" started to emerge. I will show that although the dispute concerning this deity has an important political background, it primarily concerns the orientation of the Ge-luk tradition and its relation to other Tibetan Buddhist traditions. In exploring these questions, I will also seek to answer other related questions such as: Why is Shuk-den so controversial? Is the practice of propitiating Shuk-den different from the practices associated with other protectors? Why has the present Dalai Lama been so opposed to the practice of propitiating Shuk-den? These are some of the questions that I seek to answer in this interpretive essay. What I will not attempt to explain are the more recent events that have unfolded in the 1990s.These events are still shrouded in controversy and will need to be established with any reasonable degree of objectivity before they can be interpreted.
In order to address some of the questions just mentioned, I explore the practice of Dor-je Shuk-den as it has been understood over time. In doing so, I follow the critical methods of the historical approach, whose assumptions are quite different from those of the believers. I examine how Shuk-den is presented in the rare texts where he appears prior to the contemporary period, that is, as a worldly deity ('jig rten pa'i lha) who can be propitiated but not worshiped. His followers often reply that this description refers to the interpretable meaning (drang don) of the deity, not its ultimate meaning (nges don), for in such a dimension Shuk-den is said to be fully enlightened (nges don la sang rgyas).  It is this kind of normative distinction that I leave aside in this essay intended for a modern audience.
The Founding Myth
When asked to explain the origin of the practice of Dor-je Shuk-den, his followers point to a rather obscure and bloody episode of Tibetan history, the premature death of Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen (sprul sku grags pa rgyal mtshan, 1618-1655).Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was an important Ge-luk lama who was a rival of the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngak-wang Lo-sang Gya-tso (ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, )1617-1682). Drak-ba Gyel-tsen and Ngak-wang Lo-sang Gya-tso were born at a crucial time in the Ge-luk tradition. The tradition had by then survived a protracted civil war with the forces of Tsang (gtsang) backed by some of the other Tibetan Buddhist schools. It had not yet won the war but had begun to establish an alliance with Mongol groups that would allow it to triumph two decades later. Around the same time, two of the most important Ge-luk lamas had died: the fourth Dalai Lama and the second reincarnation of Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba (bsod nams grags pa,) 1478-1554), who was one of the most important Ge-luk teachers during the sixteenth century. Between the two boys, Ngak-wang Lo-sang Gya-tso was chosen as the Fifth Dalai Lama over Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, who was designated by way of compensation as the third reincarnation of Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba.  This choice did not seem, however, to have resolved the contention between the two lamas, as they remained rivals at the heads of two competing estates known as the "Upper Chamber" (zim khang gong ma) under Drak-ba Gyel-tsen and the "Lower Chamber" (zim khang 'og ma) under the Dalai Lama. During the next two decades, the struggle between the forces of Central Tibet supported by the Mongols of Gushri Khan and the forces of Tsang continued, gradually turning to the advantage of the former party. Due to his connection with the Mongols, which had been established by the Third Dalai Lama and reinforced by the Fourth, the Fifth Dalai Lama and his party were able to establish their supremacy. In 1642, the Fifth Dalai Lama became the ruler of Tibet and entrusted the actual running of the state to his prime minister, So-nam Choe-pel (bsod nams chos 'phal). This victory, however, still did not eliminate the rivalry between the two lamas and their estates. Very little is known about the events that took place in the next ten years but it seems quite clear that there was a contentious between the two lamas' estates. What is less clear is the reason behind this conflict. Was Drak-ba Gyel-tsen perceived as a focus of the opposition to the rule of the Fifth Dalai Lama and his prime minister within the Ge-luk hierarchy? Was there a personal rivalry between the two lamas? Or was the main reason for the tension a dispute between Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's family, the Ge-kha-sas, and So-nam Choe-pel, as a recent work argues? 
What seems to be well established is that in these circumstances, in 1655, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen suddenly died. The exact conditions of his death are controversial and shrouded in legends. Some of the Fifth's sympathizers claimed that there was nothing extraordinary in Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's death. He had just died of a sudden illness. Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's sympathizers seemed to have disagreed, arguing that he had died because he had not been able to bear the constant efforts from the Dalai Lama's followers to undermine him. Others claimed that he was killed while in the custody of the prime minister. Still others claimed that he submitted himself voluntarily to death by strangulation or by suffocation in order to become a wrathful protector of the Ge-luk tradition.  In a particularly dramatic and highly revealing account, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's death is described as occurring after a traditional religious debate that he had with the Fifth Dalai Lama. As an acknowledgment of his victory, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had received a ceremonial scarf from the Fifth. Shortly after, however, he was found dead, the scarf stuffed down his throat.
Whatever the exact details of his death, the important point is that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's death was perceived to be related to his rivalry with the Fifth Dalai Lama. It was also taken to have been violent and hence the kind of death that leads people to take rebirth as dangerous spirits. According to standard Indian and Tibetan cultural assumptions, a person who is killed often becomes a ghost and seeks revenge. In his famous description of the demonology of Tibet, Nebesky-Wojkowitz provides several examples of the transformation of a person into a spirit due to a violent death.  Such a spirit is considered more dangerous when the person has religious knowledge, which is said to explain the particular power of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's spirit. He  is not just one among many protectors but a particularly dangerous one as the vengeful ghost of a knowledgeable person who died violently and prematurely. According to the Shuk-den legend, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen manifested himself as a (gyel-po,) i.e., the dangerous red-spirit  of a person, often a religious one, who is bent on extracting revenge against those involved in his death. Since he had been an important lama, however, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen turned his anger from a personal revenge to a nobler task, the protection of the doctrinal purity of the Ge-luk tradition. According to the legend, he first manifested his wrathful nature by haunting his silver mausoleum, which became animated by a buzzing noise, and by inflicting damage on his own estate. Then the monks serving the Fifth Dalai Lama began to encounter difficulties in performing their ritual duties.  Finally the Dalai Lama himself became the target. He began to hear noises such as that of stones falling on the roof, which became so loud that it is said that he could not eat his meals without monks blowing large horns on the roof of his residence. Frightened by these wrathful manifestations, the prime minister So-nam Choe-pel decided to get rid of the troublesome silver mausoleum by packing it into a wooden box and throwing it in the Kyi-chu river. Carried by the current the box reached Dol, a small pond in Southern Tibet. It is there that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's spirit resided for a while in a small temple built for him at the order of the Fifth Dalai Lama, who decided to pacify his spirit by establishing a practice of propitiation under the name of (Gyel-chen Dor-je Shuk-den ((rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan) and entrusting it to the Sa-gya school. 
This story is striking. In particular, its undertone of hostility toward the Dalai Lama is remarkable given that the Dalai Lama represents to a large extent the ascendancy of the Ge-luk school, also the school that the Shuk-den rituals seek to protect. Our first task here is to explain the meaning of this narrative, an important task given that the recent events in India seem to illustrate its hostility toward the Dalai Lama. The most obvious and tempting explanation are to assume that this story is primarily a political tale reflecting the tension between a strong Dalai Lama and a restive Ge-luk establishment. This may surprise an outside observer for whom the institution of the Dalai Lama is a Ge-luk creation and represents the power of this school. This interpretation appears more credible to an insider who knows that the Dalai Lama institution rests on a complex coalition in which the Ge-luk school is central but which includes other people, such as members of aristocratic families, adherents of the Nying-ma tradition, etc.
In such a coalition, the relationship between the Dalai Lama and the Ge-luk establishment is difficult and must be carefully negotiated. The delicacy of this situation is illustrated by the question of the leadership of the Ge-luk tradition. The nominal leader of the Ge-luk school is not the Dalai Lama but the Tri Rin-bo-che (khri rin po che), the Holder of the Throne of Ga-den in direct line of succession from Dzong-ka-ba. But in times where the Dalai Lama is strong, the leadership of the Holder of the Throne of Ga-den, who is chosen among the ex-abbots of the two tantric colleges,  is mostly nominal, and the Dalai Lama exercises effective leadership over the Ge-luk school through his government.
The Ge-luk school and more particularly its three large monasteries around Lhasa have played a leading role in the Dalai Lama's rule in Tibet. They have supported and legitimized his power and have received in return considerable socio-economic power. But this power also has been a source of tension with the Dalai Lamas, particularly when he was a strong personality who had his own power basis and intended to lead-In the history of the Dalai Lamas, there have been three such politically powerful figures: the Fifth, the Thirteenth and the Fourteenth Dalai Lamas, and all three have had serious difficulties with the Ge-luk establishment. It is also these same three Dalai Lamas who are said to have had problems with Shuk-den. Shuk-den could then be a manifestation of the political resentment of the Ge-luk hierarchy against the power of a strong Dalai Lama seeking to restrict and control it. The dispute surrounding Shuk-den would be a thinly disguised way for Ge-luk partisans to express their political opposition to an institution that does not sufficiently represent their parochial interests, an opposition manifested in the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's wrathful manifestation against the Fifth Dalai Lama.
I would argue that although tempting, this reading of the Shuk-den story is inadequate for at least two reasons. First, it fails to differentiate the stages in the relations between the Dalai Lama and the Ge-luk establishment. It is true that these relations have often been tense. But to run together the opposition between the Fifth Dalai Lama and the Ge-luk hierarchy, and the tension surrounding the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dalai Lamas fails to take into account the profound transformations that the Dalai Lama institution has undergone, particularly around the turn of the eighteenth century. Secondly, the political interpretation of the saga of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's wrathful manifestation is anachronistic, confusing the story and the events that it narrates. Or, to put it differently, this interpretation fails to see that we are dealing here with two stories: the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, a seventeenth century victim of the Fifth Dalai Lama's power, and the story of Shuk-den, the spirit in charge of maintaining the purity of the Ge-luk tradition as understood by his twentieth century followers. The former narrative is clearly political but is not about Shuk-den. It concerns the nature of the Dalai Lama institution and its relation to the Ge-luk hierarchy in the seventeenth century. The latter is about Shuk-den. It is mostly religious but does not concern the Dalai Lama's political power.
To further clarify these two points, I will examine the political context in which the Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's story took place and the nature of the Dalai Lama institution at that time. I will then consider the events surrounding Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's tragic death in a historical perspective, and try to reconstruct the way in which it was understood by his contemporaries.
The Historical Context
The events surrounding Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's death must be understood in relation to its historical context, the political events surrounding the emergence of the Dalai Lama institution as a centralizing power during the second half of the seventeenth century. The rule of this monarch seems to have been particularly resented by some elements in the Ge-luk tradition. It is quite probable that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was seen after his death as a victim of the Dalai Lama's power and hence became a symbol of opposition.
The resentment against the power of the Fifth Dalai Lama was primarily connected to a broad and far-reaching issue, the desire of some of the more sectarian Ge-luk hierarchs to set up a purely Ge-luk rule. Some even seem to have argued for the suppression of the schools against which they had fought for more than a century, particularly the Kar-ma Ka-gyu¸ tradition. The Fifth seems to have realized that such a rule would have had little support and would have exacerbated the intersectarian violence that had marred the last two centuries of Tibetan history. To avoid this, he attempted to build a state with a broader power base, state which he presented as the re-establishment of the early Tibetan empire. His rule was to be supported by the Ge-luk tradition, but would also include groups affiliated with other religious traditions.
The Fifth was particularly well disposed toward the Nying-ma tradition from which he derived a great deal of his practice and with which he had a relation through his family. This seems to have created a great deal of frustration among some Ge-luk circles, as expressed by several popular stories. The stories frequently involve a colorful figure, Ba-ko Rab-jam (bra sgo rab 'byams), who was a friend of the Dalai Lama. In the stories, he is often depicted as making fun of the Fifth Dalai Lama. For example, one day he comes to see the Dalai Lama, but the enormous Pur-ba (ritual dagger) he wears in his belt prevents him from crossing the door, an obviously sarcastic reference to the Nying-ma leanings of the Fifth Dalai Lama.
In the light of this opposition, it would seem that the narrative of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's wrathful manifestation makes perfect sense. Is not the Shuk-den story about the revenge of a group, the Ge-luk hierarchy, in struggle against the Fifth's strong centralizing power? Although tempting, this interpretation completely ignores the historical transformations of the Dalai Lama institution. In particular, it ignores the fact that after the Fifth's death the Dalai Lama institution was taken over by the Ge-luk hierarchy and radically changed. To put it colorfully, if Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had manifested as Shuk-den to protect the Ge-luk hierarchy against the encroachments of a Dalai Lama not sufficiently sympathetic to the Ge-luk tradition, this vengeful spirit would have been out of business by the beginning of the eighteenth century when his partisans, the Ge-luk hierarchy, won the day!
As long as the Fifth was alive, the Ge-luk hierarchy had to endure his rule, but his death changed the situation. His prime minister Sang-gye Gya-tso (sangs rgyas rgya mtsho) at first tried to conceal this death. When this proved impossible, he attempted to continue the Fifth's tradition by appointing his candidate, Tsang-yang Gya-tso (tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho), as the Sixth Dalai Lama. But with the latter's failure to behave as a Dalai Lama, Sang-gye Gya-tso lost the possibility to continue the task started by the Fifth. A few years later (1705) he was killed after being defeated by a complex coalition of Ge-luk hierarchs involving Jam-yang-shay-ba, the Dzungar Mongols and Lhab-zang Khan with the backing of the Manchu emperor‚‚‚. 
After this defeat, the role of the Dalai Lama was transformed. His political power was limited and the nature of the ritual system supporting the institution was changed, as we shall see later. In these ways, the institution of the Dalai Lama became a more purely Ge-luk creation. Hence, it makes very little sense to speak of Shuk-den as representing the spirit of Ge-luk opposition to the Dalai Lama institution after the demise of the Fifth, for by then the institution had become to a large extent favorable to the Ge-luk hierarchy. Admittedly, there were a few incidents between the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and some elements of the Ge-luk tradition. There was also some resentment against the high-handedness of this ruler but these were minor and should not be blown out of proportion.
Did Drak-ba Gyel-tsen become a spirit?
This interpretation is confirmed by an analysis of the view of the contemporaries of these events. In the founding myth of the Shuk-den practice, the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's death and wrathful manifestation is presented as the view of his followers. Given the cultural assumptions of Tibetans, this scenario cannot be dismissed without further analysis. Impressed by his violent and premature death, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's followers may have begun to propitiate his spirit in an atmosphere of strong hostility against those who were thought to have been responsible. But although this scenario is culturally plausible, is it historical? That is, did Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's followers think of him in this way? This question is more difficult, given the paucity of contemporary sources, but it needs to be asked, for we cannot simply assume that these legendary episodes reflect the perception of contemporaries. In fact, there are indications that they do not.
The most decisive evidence is provided by the later Ge-luk historian, Sum-pa Ken-po ye-shay Pel-jor (sum pa mKhan po ye shes dpal 'byor), 1702-1788), who reports for the year 1657(Fire Bird) the following:
The assertion that this Tibetan spirit (bod de'i rgyal po) is Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, the reincarnation of the Upper Chamber, is just an expression of prejudice. Thus, I believe that the rumor that it is So-nam Choe-pel, who after passing away in the same year is protecting the Ge-luk tradition having assumed the form of a dharma protector through his "great concern for the Ge-luk tradition," is correct. 
This passage is significant in several respects. First, it confirms the fact that there were stories of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen becoming Shuk-den quite early on. Although Sum-pa does not mention the deity by name, it seems quite clear that this is who he has in mind. But it also shows that Sum-pa Ken-po does not concede the identification of Shuk-den as the wrathful manifestation of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, which he takes to be an insult to "the reincarnation of the Upper Chamber.” In what is probably a tongue in cheek tit-for-tat, he rather identifies the troublesome spirit with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's enemy, So-nam Choe-pel, the hated first prime minister of the Fifth Dalai Lama whom he sarcastically credits with a "great concern for the Ge-luk tradition."
Second, Sum-pa's remark is important because it reflects the view of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's sympathizers as the respectful epithet ("the reincarnation of the Upper Chamber") makes clear. Sum-pa was the disciple of Jam-yang-shay-ba ('jam dbyangs bzhad pa,) 1648-1722), one of the leading Ge-luk lamas opposing the Fifth and his third prime minister (sde srid) Sang-gye Gya-tso. Thus, when he denies that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had become Shuk-den, Sum-pa is reflecting the views of the people who considered Drak-ba Gyel-tsen with sympathy as an unfortunate victim of a rule they resented. The ironical remark about So-nam Choe-pel ("his great concern for the Ge-luk tradition") and his identification as Shuk-den confirms this. Sum-pa disliked So-nam Choe-pel, whom he considered responsible for the Fifth's rule and Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's death.
Sum-pa's remark, however, raises a question. For, who then are the people claiming that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had become Shuk-den if not the followers of this lama? Could it be that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's followers had changed their minds by the time Sum-pa Ken-po wrote his account (1749)? Though further investigations may change our view, the evidence seems to suggest that this is not the case. The people who were identifying Shuk-den as the wrathful manifestation of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen were not his followers but his enemies, i.e., the Fifth Dalai Lama and his followers. This seems to be the implication of comments by Sang-gye Gya-tso when he says, referring to Drak-ba Gyel-tsen:
After [the death of] Ngak-wang So-nam Ge-lek (Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba's second reincarnation), [his reincarnation was born] as a member of the Ge-kha-sa family. Although [this person] had at first hopes for being the reincarnation of the All-knowing Yon-ten Gya-tso (the Fourth Dalai Lama), he was made the reincarnation of Ngak-wang So-nam Ge-lek and finally ended in a bad rebirth.
Although Sang-gye Gya-tso is not explicit, his words seem to refer to the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's reincarnation as a spirit such as Shuk-den. This is confirmed by the Fifth Dalai Lama, who describes Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's demise as leading to his becoming a spirit. The Fifth explains that:
Due to the magic of a spirit (?), the son of the noble family Ge-kha-sa turned into a false reincarnation of Ngak-wang So-nam Ge-lek and became a spirit [motivated by] mistaken prayers (smon lam log pa'i dam srid).
What this quote indicates is that after Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's death the claim that he had become a spirit such as Shuk-den was not a praise of his followers, but a denigration, not to say downright slander, by his enemies! It is not Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's partisans who were identifying him as Shuk-den, but his adversaries who were presenting this scenario as a way to explain away the events following his tragic demise.
We must wonder, however, why the Fifth Dalai Lama and his followers were interested in propagating the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's wrathful manifestation, a story which the latter's followers were keen to dispel? The answer to this question is bound to be tentative and highly speculative, and it is unlikely that any clear historical evidence will answer this question. Nevertheless, I think that it is not unreasonable to assume the following scenario. Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's premature death must have been a momentous event in Tibet at that time. It must have created a considerable malaise among Tibetans, who consider the killing of a high lama a terrible crime that can affect a whole country (as attested by the perception of the Re-ting affair in this century). Such a perception of misfortune must have been accompanied by events perceived as bad omens. There were probably stories of the possession and destruction of objects associated with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, as reported in the founding myth. Finally, there was the fact that the reincarnation of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen seems not to have been sought for, an extraordinary occurrence given that he was the reincarnation of Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba, one of the foremost Ge-luk lamas. 
It is in these circumstances that the story of his wrathful reincarnation must have appeared, not as a vindication of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, but as an attempt by the Fifth Dalai Lama and his followers to explain the absence of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's reincarnation and to shift the blame for the bad omen that had followed his death. These events were not the karmic effects of his violent death but the results of his transformation into a dangerous spirit. The Fifth Dalai Lama mentions that after Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's demise his spirit started to harm people. In order to pacify him, the Fifth had a small temple built near the pond of Dol, but this did not help and the reports of harm continued unabated. With the help of several important lamas such as Ter-dag Ling-pa (gter bdag gling pa,) 1646-1714), the Fifth decided to launch a final ritual assault and to burn the spirit during a fire ritual in which the spectators were said to have smelled the odor of burnt flesh.
As we realize, this description of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's posthumous fate is highly partisan and it is no surprise that his sympathizers rejected these explanations. They were keen on keeping the blame on the party of the Dalai Lama, arguing that the unfortunate events were not due to the wrathful reincarnation of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, who had taken rebirth as the emperor of China. Finally, there are other stories that seem to hint that the evil spirit connected with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was already active prior to the latter's demise, even as early 1636. If Shuk-den was already active prior to Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's tragic demise, how can he be the latter's wrathful manifestation? These conflicting stories show that what we have here is not a unified narrative but several partly overlapping stories. The founding myth of the Shuk-den tradition grew out of a nexus of narratives surrounding these events and developed in accordance with the new changing historical circumstances. It is not the account of the followers of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, as claimed by Shuk-den's modern followers, but it is only one of the many versions of the bundle of stories surrounding these tragic events. In fact, the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's demise as it appears in contemporary sources has little to do with Shuk-den. It is not about the deity but about Drak-ba Gyel-tsen. Only much later, when the significance of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's story faded, did this story resurface and get taken as the account of the origin of Shuk-den.
The fact that the founding narrative of the Shuk-den practice is largely mythological does not mean that we should dismiss it. Rather we should inquire into its meaning. This is what I will do in the later pages of this essay, where I examine the story of the violent manifestation of Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen as the founding myth of the tradition of those who propitiate Shuk-den. Before going into this, we need to inquire about the history of this propitiation. For, if this practice did not start with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's death, where does it come from? And the Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's story was later recast as the founding myth of the Shuk-den lineage, when did this appropriation take place?
The Early History of a Practice
To understand the history of the Shuk-den practice, we need to examine the way in which this deity has been considered throughout most of the history of the Ge-luk tradition. To his twentieth century followers, Shuk-den is known as (Gyel-chen Dor-je Shuk-den Tsal (rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal)), the "Great Magical Spirit Endowed with the Adamantine Force." If we look at earlier mentions, however, we can see that Shuk-den also appears under another and less exalted name, i.e., as (Dol Gyel (dol rgyal).Even Pa-bong-ka calls him in this way when he says: "The wooden implements (i.e., crate) having been thrown in the water, the pond of Dol became whitish. After abiding there, he became known for a while as (Dol-gyel)." This name helps us to understand how Shuk-den was considered in the earlier period, that is, as a troublesome but minor spirit, an interpretation confirmed by the explanations concerning Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's reincarnation.
The name (Dol Gyel) is quite interesting, for it yields a possible explanation of the origin of Shuk-den. It suggests that originally Shuk-den had a close regional connection with the area of the Tsang-po and the Yar-lung valleys where the pond of Dol lies. There, Shuk-den/ Dol-gyel was considered a (gyel po (rgyal po)), that is, the dangerous red-spirit of a religious person, who had died after falling from his monastic vows or had been killed in troubling circumstances. Shuk-den/ Dol Gyel would then be a spirit from Southern Tibet, potentially troublesome like other red-spirits. No wonder then that his identification with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was rejected by the latter's followers as an insult to this important and unfortunate lama.
We find confirmation of Shuk-den's regional connection in the description given in 1815 by a Nying-ma teacher Do Kyen-tse (mdo mkhyen brtse ye shes rdo rje).While narrating his travels, he mentions the unpleasant presence of Shuk-den in Southern Tibet. On his way to Lhasa, after passing through the Nying-ma monastery of Dor-je Drak, Do Kyen-tse arrived in the area of Dra-thang (grwa thang) where Gyel-po Shuk-den (this is the name he uses) was active. Nevertheless, the spirit was unable to interfere with his travel and he reached his destination safely. Thus, the existence of a deity, Dol-gyel/ Shuk-den, and his regional connection with the area of Southern Tibet seem to have been well established quite early on.
This regional connection is further confirmed by the fact that Shuk-den was propitiated in some of the monasteries of the same area, particularly in Sam-ye (bsam yas), which was by then Sa-kya. There Shuk-den appears as a minor but dangerous worldly protector. This also suggests that this deity was first adopted by the tradition of the monastery of Sa-gya, a hypothesis further confirmed by the reference in the founding myth to his being taken over by the holder of the Sa-gya throne So-nam-rin-chen (bsod nams rin chen). In one of the versions, Shuk-den first attempts to go to Ta-shi Lhung-po, the residence of his teacher, the First Pen-chen Lama, Lob-zang Cho-gyen (blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan,) 1569-1662). He is prevented from doing so by Vaibravala (rnam thos sras), the supra-mundane protector of the monastery. He is then taken in by So-nam-rin-chen, who pities him and writes a text for his propitiation. This reference to the holder of the Sa-gya throne.
So-nam-rin-chen throws some interesting light on the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's wrathful manifestation and the establishment of the Shuk-den cult entrusted to the Sa-gya. It seems at first to confirm this story until we realize that So-nam-rin-chen was born in 1704, long after the events surrounding Drak-ba Gyel-sten's tragic demise. This considerable gap suggests that the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's wrathful manifestation as Shuk-den is a later creation, which incorporates a variety of narratives rearranged in the light of later situations. The founding myth of the Shuk-den practice is not a historical account but one of the many versions of a nexus of stories surrounding these tragic events, which developed gradually in the light of new historical circumstances.
Although So-nam-rin-chen's role in the Shuk-den's saga is more than questionable, his contribution to the tradition of this deity is not deniable. The small text that is attributed to him does seem to exist. It is the first ritual text focusing on Shuk-den that I have been able to trace. It can be found in the collection of ritual texts for the protectors of the Sam-ye monastery and confirms the existence of the practice of Shuk-den early on in the Sa-gya tradition. Its title ("The Request to the Gyel-po [for the] Termination of Ganeþa") suggests that Shuk-den was considered as an effective spirit in charge of clearing away obstacles (Ganeþa being the king of obstacles). Shuk-den does not seem to have played, however, a major role in the Sa-gya tradition, where he seemed to have remained a dangerous though minor worldly protector. This is confirmed by a story told by Ka-lu Rin-bo-che, who mentions coming across a small Sa-gya temple for Shuk-den in Western Tibet and the profound fear that this deity inspired in the care-taker of this temple. 
The regional connection with Southern Tibet and the sectarian link with the Sa-gya tradition are further confirmed by Stanley Mumford's anthropological description of the propitiation of Shuk-den in the Himalayan region. In his study of the religious life in the remote village of Tsap in Nepal, Mumford describes the practice of Shuk-den as a Sa-gya practice well established among the Tibetans of the region. In a small text used for this practice Shuk-den is presented as a worldly protector in charge of bestowing wealth, food, life and good fortune, of protecting the dharma, preventing its destruction, and of repelling the external and internal enemies of the ten regions. Finally, Shuk-den is invoked as a special protector of the Sa-gya tradition: "Protect the dharma in general, and in particular the Sakyapas. I praise you, who have agreed to be the Srungma of the Sakyapas". 
Given this evidence, it is reasonable to assume that the practice of Dol-gyel was at first a minor Sa-gya practice later adopted by the Ge-luk tradition. But here another difficult question remains. When did this happen? The evidence available establishes that the practice of propitiating Dol-gyel existed in the Ge-luk tradition during the eighteenth century. One of the clearest proofs appears in the biography of the Ge-luk polymath Jang-gya-rol-bay-dor-jay (1717-1786), written by his disciple Tu-gen-lo-sang-cho-gyi-nyi-ma (thu'u bkwan blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma), 1737-1802).  Tu-gen reports that Jang-gya mentions that Dol-gyel was propitiated by several Ga-den Tri-bas. After several unfortunate events, another Tri-ba, Ngak-wang Chok-den (ngag dbang mchog ldan,) 1677-1751), the tutor of the Seventh Dalai Lama Kel-zang Gya-tso (bskal bzang rgya tsho,) 1708-1757) put an end to this practice by expelling Shuk-den from Ga-den monastery.
This mention of Dol-Gyel is quite interesting for a number of reasons. First, it dates the practice of propitiating this deity in the Ge-luk tradition. This practice must have existed prior to Ngak-wang Chok-den's intervention, and it must have had a certain extension to have been adopted by several Ga-den Tri-bas. Second, it attests to the troublesome character of this deity. However, no connection is made with Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen. Jang-gya was after all one of the followers of Jam-yang-shay-ba, one of the main Ge-luk hierarchs opposed to the Fifth, and hence not inclined to consider favorably the story of Shuk-den as Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's wrathful manifestation. Finally, this passage illustrates the minor status of this deity in the Ge-luk tradition at that time, as Jang-gya mentions the expulsion of this deity in passing. This impression of small importance is confirmed by the fact that it is so difficult to document the practice of Shuk-den prior to the beginning of this century. But if Dol-gyel, as he is called by Jang-gya, is minor, why did Ngak-wang Chok-den and Jang-gya oppose his propitiation? Possibly because of its troublesome character. Jang-gya mentions that the Tri-bas who propitiated Dol-gyel encountered difficulties but he does not elaborate. Another possible reason for expelling Dol-gyel from Ga-den is that no mundane deity is allowed to remain permanently in Ga-den. Even Ma-chen Pom-ra, the local god (yul lha) of Dzong-ka-ba, the founder of the Ge-luk tradition, is not supposed to stay in Ga-den overnight, and must take his residence below the monastery. Finally, the political connection alleged by the Fifth Dalai Lama's followers between this deity and their nemesis, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, may have played a role, though this is far from sure since by this time the story of the latter's demise must have started to fade away. Jang-gya may not have opposed the practice in general, for we find a representation of Shuk-den in a collection of thanka paintings given to Jang-gya by the Qianlong Emperor. Because the thanka is not dated, we cannot be sure of the date of its appearance in the collection. Despite this uncertainty concerning some details, an impression emerges which suggests that around the middle of the eighteenth century Dol-gyel was a troublesome but minor deity propitiated by some Ge-luk lamas.
The practice of Dol-gyel or Shuk-den also surfaced as an issue during the rule of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, who put restrictions on the oracle for Shuk-den but did not prohibit his activities completely. Dol-gyel could be propitiated in his proper place in the order of Tibetan gods, namely, as a minor mundane deity. His oracle was permitted only at certain fixed locations such as Tro-de Khang-sar (spro bde khang gsar) in Lhasa or Tro-mo (gro mo) in the Chumbi valley, but not in any of the large monasteries. Finally, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and his government applied pressure on Pa-bong-ka to desist from propitiating Shuk-den. They were particularly displeased by the diffusion of the Shuk-den practice in Dre-bung. They perceived these efforts as attempts to displace Ne-chung, who is, as we will see later, the worldly protector of the Dre-bung monastery and the Tibetan government. Hence, they ordered him to abstain from propitiating Shuk-den altogether. According to his biographer, Pa-bong-ka promised not to propitiate Shuk-den any more. 
These events seem to indicate that the propitiation of Shuk-den had spread to a certain extent during or just prior to the rule of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. This may have been due to a gradual spread of this practice during the nineteenth century, particularly its second half. This practice was widespread enough during the time of the Thirteenth to raise some concern in governmental circles. But even then references to Dol-gyel or Shuk-den remain very rare. Although the Thirteenth opposed what he saw as an excessive emphasis on Shuk-den by Pa-bong-ka, the issue was minor and there was little controversy concerning the practice of this deity.
Thus, what emerges from this impressionistic survey is that Shuk-den was a minor though troublesome deity in the Ge-luk pantheon throughout most of the history of this tradition. This deity does not seem to have been considered early on as Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's manifestation, except by his enemies, who intended the identification disparagingly. Its gradual adoption in the Ge-luk tradition does not show any relation with either Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba or his third reincarnation, Drak-ba Gyel-tsen. Shuk-den seems to have been adopted by Ge-luk lamas because of his power as a worldly deity, not on the basis of a connection with Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba's lineage. Lamas who are part of this lineage do not show any special inclination toward Shuk-den. Moreover, the monks of the Lo-sell-ling college of Dre-bung, who take Pen-chen So-nam-drak-ba's works as their textbooks (jig cha) and consider him as perhaps the foremost interpreter of Dzong-ka-bag’s tradition, have had very little connection with Shuk-den (with a few individual exceptions).
How is it then that this minor spirit coming from an obscure location in Central Tibet has become the center of raging controversy that has cost the lives of several Ge-luk monks and continues to threaten the unity of the Ge-luk tradition? Moreover, how is it that this deity is now so pervasively identified with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen by his staunchest supporters, who take this connection as a vindication of both Shuk-den and Drak-ba Gyel-tsen?
The Rise of a Spirit
To answer these questions, we must consider the changes that took place within the Ge-luk tradition during the first half of the twentieth century due to Pa-bong-ka (1878-1941) and the revival movement that he spearheaded. Though Pa-bong-ka was not particularly important by rank, he exercised a considerable influence through his very popular public teachings and his charismatic personality. Elder monks often mention the enchanting quality of his voice and the transformative power of his teachings. a-bong-ka was also well served by his disciples, particularly the very gifted and versatile Tri-jang Rin-bo-che (khri byang rin po che,) 1901-1983), a charismatic figure in his own right who became the present Dalai Lama's tutor and exercised considerable influence over the Lhasa higher classes and the monastic elites of the three main Ge-luk monasteries around Lhasa. Another influential disciple was Tob-den La-ma (rtogs ldan bla ma), a stridently Ge-luk lama very active in disseminating Pa-bong-ka's teachings in Kham. Because of his own charisma and the qualities and influence of his disciples, Pa-bong-ka had an enormous influence on the Ge-luk tradition that cannot be ignored in explaining the present conflict. He created a new understanding of the Ge-luk tradition focused on three elements: Vajrayogini as the main meditational deity (yi dam,), Shuk-den as the protector, and Pa-bong-ka as the guru.
Like other revivalist figures, Pa-bong-ka presented his teachings as embodying the orthodoxy of his tradition. But 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."
In promoting Shuk-den as the protector of his charismatic movement, Pa-bong-ka did not invent the practice of this deity, which he seems to have received from his teachers,  but he transformed a marginal practice into a central element of the Ge-luk tradition. This transformation is illustrated by the epithets used to refer to Shuk-den. Instead of being just "The Spirit from Dol" (dol rgyal), or even the "Great Magical Spirit Endowed with the Adamantine Force" (rgyal chen rdo rje shugs ldan rtsal), he is described now by Pa-bong-ka and his disciples as "the protector of the tradition of the victorious lord Manjushri (i.e., Dzong-ka-ba)" ('jam mgon rgyal ba'i bstan srung) and "the supreme protective deity of the Ge-den (i.e., Ge-luk) tradition" (dge ldan bstan bsrung ba'i lha mchog).
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.
Pa-bong-ka's promotion of this deity has several reasons. There was an undeniable personal devotion to Shuk-den in Pa-bong-ka derived from his early experiences, dreams or visions. This devotion was also based on a family connection, for Shuk-den was his mother's female god (skyes ma'i rgyud kyi lha).  Pa-bong-ka's writings reflect this strong devotion to Shuk-den, as is shown by the following passage:
Praise and prostration through remembering your three secrets [to you] the violent poison for the obstacles, the enemies, [and] those who have broken [their] pledges, [to you] the magical jewel who fulfills the hopes and wishes of the practitioners, [to you] the only life tree [i.e., support] in protecting Dzong-ka-ba's tradition.
The very real personal devotion found in many of the Shuk-den texts written by Pa-bong-ka and his disciples explains Pa-bong-ka's fervor in diffusing Shuk-den. From the viewpoint of his followers, it is the most important element of Pa-bong-ka's heritage.
There is, however, another element that must be examined in order to understand the troublesome nature of the practice of Shuk-den, namely, the sectarian stance that it reflects. This is where the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen becomes relevant again. 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. Pa-bong-ka quite explicitly states:
Now [I] exhort to violent actions Shuk-den, who is the main war-god of Dzong-ka-ba's tradition and its holders, the angry spirit, the Slayer of Yama (i.e., Yamantaka or Manjushri in his wrathful form)....In particular it is time [for you] to free (i.e., kill) in one moment the enemies of Dzong-ka-ba's tradition. Protector, set up [your] violent actions without [letting] your previous commitments dissipate. Quickly engage in violent actions without relaxing your loving promises. Quickly accomplish [these] requests and entrusted actions without leaving them aside (or without acting impartially). Quickly accomplish [these] actions [that I] entrust [to you], for I do not have any other source of hope. 
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. We should wonder, however, what this passage means? Is it to be taken literally? And who are these enemies?
To answer these questions in detail would take us beyond the purview of this essay. A short answer is that in certain ways the statements of this ritual text are not very different from the ones found in similar texts devoted to other mundane protectors. By itself, this text does not prove very much. Combined with Pa-bong-ka's other writings, however, the statement about killing the enemies of the Ge-luk is more than the usual ritual incitements contained in manuals for the propitiation of protectors. Consider this rather explicit passage contained in an introduction to the text of the empowerment required to propitiate Shuk-den (the (srog gtad,) about which more will be said later):
[This protector of the doctrine] is extremely important for holding Dzong-ka-ba's tradition without mixing and corrupting [it] with confusions due to the great violence and the speed of the force of his actions, which fall like lightning to punish violently all those beings who have wronged the Yellow Hat Tradition, whether they are high or low.[This protector is also particularly significant with respect to the fact that] many from our own side, monks or lay people, high or low, are not content with Dzong-ka-ba's tradition, which is like pure gold, [and] have mixed and corrupted [this tradition with ] the mistaken views and practices from other schools, which are tenet systems that are reputed to be incredibly profound and amazingly fast but are [in reality] mistakes among mistakes, faulty, dangerous and misleading paths. In regard to this situation, this protector of the doctrine, this witness, manifests his own form or a variety of unbearable manifestations of terrifying and frightening wrathful and fierce appearances. Due to that, a variety of events, some of them having happened or happening, some of which have been heard or seen, seem to have taken place: some people become unhinged and mad, some have a heart attack and suddenly die, some [see] through a variety of inauspicious signs [their] wealth, accumulated possessions and descendants disappear without leaving any trace, like a pond whose feeding river has ceased, whereas some [find it] difficult to achieve anything in successive lifetimes.
In this passage, which is based on notes taken by Tri-jang during a ceremony given by Pa-bong-ka and published in his (Collected Works,) Pa-bong-ka takes the references to eliminating the enemies of the the Ge-luk tradition as more than stylistic conventions or usual ritual incantations. It may concern the elimination of actual people by the protector. But who are these people?
A number of people may be included in this category. Several Nying-ma lamas have claimed to have been the target of Shuk-den, who is often greatly feared by the followers of this school. In this passage, however, Pa-bong-ka seems to have in mind less members of other schools than those Ge-luk practitioners who mix Dzong-ka-ba's tradition with elements from other traditions, particularly the Nying-ma Dzok-chen to which he refers indirectly but clearly.  The mission of Shuk-den as defined here is to prevent Ge-luk practitioners from mixing traditions and even visiting retribution on those who dare to go against this prescription.
This is also the central message of the founding myth of the Shuk-den practice as defined by Pa-bong-ka and his followers. Trul-ku Drak-ba Gyel-tsen becomes a wrathful deity to visit retribution, not on those who caused his death, but on those who defile Dsong-ka-ba's pure tradition. According to the legend, Shuk-den takes the Fifth Dalai Lama as his target because the latter was eclectic, including in his practice many elements from the Nying-ma tradition, which provoked the anger of Shuk-den as a guardian of Ge-luk orthodoxy. Pa-bong-ka is quite explicit:
Because the All Seeing Great Fifth practiced and developed all tenets of the old and new [schools], this great protector through the power of previous prayers produced a variety of extremely frightful appearances to the supreme Powerful King (the Fifth Dalai Lama) in order to protect and defend spotlessly Dzong-ka'ba's great tradition.
We may now understand the peculiar fate of the story of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's wrathful manifestation as Shuk-den, which shifted from a slander of the former into a praise of the latter. Pa-bong-ka was aware of the stories surrounding Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's death but understood them quite differently from the way contemporaries of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen had. For him, the narrative was not about Drak-ba Gyel-tsen but about Shuk-den and the identification of the latter with the former was a way to legitimize the diffusion of a practice that had been previously marginal.
The choice of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen was particularly meaningful for Pa-bong-ka, who had been pressured by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama to renounce his practice of Shuk-den and may have been somewhat resentful. He may have felt a communion with Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, who like him had been the object of unwelcome attention from a strong Dalai Lama. More importantly, however, Pa-bong-ka must have felt that Drak-ba Gyel-tsen's alleged posthumous antagonism to the Fifth Dalai Lama's eclecticism paralleled his own opposition to the adoption of Nying-ma teachings by some Ge-luk-bas. Shuk-den's anger against the Fifth Dalai Lama is not directed at the Dalai Lama institution (per se) but at the Nying-ma leanings of the Fifth. Finally, the choice of Drak-ba Gyel-tsen as the source of the Shuk-den lineage was an ideal way to legitimize an originally Sa-gya practice. By tracing back the lineage to Drak-ba Gyel-tsen, Pa-bong-ka could present the Shuk-den practice as authentically Ge-luk and reinterpret its undeniable roots in the Sa-gya tradition as an interlude in an essentially Ge-luk story.