The following is redacted from a hard to find essay on Dharmapalas or Protector Deities in Vajrayana from the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. Much of what it says is of importance to Western magical practices. Oddly it is found on a site dedicated to Dorje Shugden. See our work, Egregores – The Occult Entities That Watch Over Human Destiny (Inner Traditions 2018) for more information.
See the following link for the complete essay by HH Shenpen Dawa Rinpoche:
By His Eminence Shenpen Dawa Rinpoche
Los Angeles, California | September 1988
Secret: Only Initiated Practitioners
Shenpa is the main guardian for all of our practices: and is a wisdom being with very high realization. “Shenpa” means “the hunter” –he hunts for human life. Shenpa is the main protector of the Dudjom Tersar lineag and to whoever practices in the lineage. If a practitioner calls on him, he will be there to answer. This doesn’t mean he will answer all the small detailed things, but if there is crucial need, he will be there.
In fact, dharmapala is the subtle communication of the Buddha. Dharmapalas are the real communication of a subtle body, and through them we can experience our subtle body in a way that we have never experienced before; we can experience the subtle body immediately in our everyday situations. Protectors are willing to show their divine form to you, and will show it to you in a way that you can relate to, but they remain behind because we are not subtle enough, and we don’t realize it, and we don’t evoke them enough. But somehow, when the time of need arises, these protectors and protectresses will come and help.
The explanation can also be very difficult and terrifying, because the dharmapalas arise from the vapors of our blood. There are so many levels of protectors: there are local palas, dharmapalas, wisdom protectors, there is a whole heirarchy of protectors. It is like a comprehensive government of dharmapalas.
The thing about the dharmapalas is that they are very disciplined wisdom Buddhas. They won’t accept any of your faults at all. They will discipline you. If, for example, you breathe into what you are pouring, they will slap you back, and in the same way, if your practice is done correctly and well, you will have a positive reaction back, straight away.
Understanding the dharmapala is really understanding how your blood and your heart beat relate to your practice. We say your heart is the drum of the dharmapala. The pumping of the blood is the offering to the protectors, and the beating of the heart is their drum.
You must be brought up in the context of being with them, or having seen them or the local protectors. If you can’t see the local protectors, how can you hope to see the dharmapalas? If you can’t see your ancestors who have died on this land, how can you hope to see a local protector, let alone a dharmapala? The level of energy is very high, very subtle. Once your energy is very subtle, then you want to name the subtleness of the protectors. This is what you want to come to. The protectors can take your life force so it can be a very costly affair.
The reason my father, Dudjom Rinpoche, was never angry towards any particular person is because once he had a bad experience, and he vowed never to get angry again. I’ll explain what happened, but we should not talk about it to anyone.
When Rinpoche was young, he had some financial difficulties, as all of us do have at one time or another. Rinpoche was sponsoring many things, and his finances weren’t so good. So he borrowed quite a large sum from these three brothers, because Rinpoche was always borrowing money. He was going to pay it back, but in Tibet it is horrible to borrow money because the interest is so high. After one or two years, if you can’t repay a loan, your interest is four or five times the amount you borrowed.
Rinpoche couldn’t pay the loan back the first year. So in the second or third year one of the brothers became very angry. One day Rinpoche was teaching, and in those days lamas would teach very casually, sitting in front of the house in the garden letting people come and go as they wanted, when all of a sudden this brother turns up and says, “Give me the money right now.” Rinpoche said, “I don’t have it.” So the brother said, “Then what you need is a whack,” and he grabbed Rinpoche by the throat and dragged him out.
All of his disciples were warriors, because Tibetans are fighters, so his disciples were dragging their swords out, and Rinpoche was screaming, “Don’t touch him, don’t touch him.” Everyone there had a knife and gun and were prepared to kill this brother straight away, but Rinpoche stopped them. So the angry brother kicked him two or three times, and Rinpcohe felt really bad, but he said, “He’s right. It is his money that I haven’t been able to give him. It is true.”
Early one morning, before the dawn light, Rinpoche was doing his practice around 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. In the middle of his practice, someone came in and put something on the table in front of him, and made a big noise in the dark.
So Rinpoche goes looking for a torch and lighting it he finds a fresh head cut off, with the brains intact. He immediately realizes that it is the head of the brother who grabbed him by the neck. The protector could not bear to see him humiliated, so he lopped that person’s head off and brought it to Rinpoche.
From that time on Rinpoche swore never to feel any emotion, or show any emotion. He had been thinking, “Why did that man treat me so badly?” He deserved it, but not in this way. Two days later, another brother went completely crazy and stabbed himself. Soon afterward, the third brother was riding his horse and fell. Once a protector gets angry, he won’t stop until he cuts the entire family line. You ask, “What logic is there in hurting family members?”, but it goes beyond logic.
Rinpoche had to stop this, because it was spreading to the other family members. He told the parents and relatives to come to the monastery and do prostrations in the temple and ask for forgiveness. Rinpoche accepted their petitions for forgiveness, then it was cut. It didn’t get the father and mother, but next it would have been the uncles.
The wisdom mind of the dharmapalas is such that when people are cut [killed], they are also liberated. Don’t forget this. It is not that they are suffering. The dharmapalas have the right to take the life force away. The life force we are talking about is a vitality which is in the grasp of the dharmapalas.
Rinpoche felt very bad because he felt that it was that emotion which transformed into the activity of the dharmapalas. It doesn’t make sense to say the dharmapalas felt anger, because they are the wisdom deities, and are beyond anger. But when you violate a holy body, the dharmapala is sworn to protect that, so they will come into action.
If you practice consistently, then the dharmapalas have to reveal themselves to you. Their qualities will reveal in the depth of you — in the breath, in the blood vapor, in the nerve vapor — and you will be able to see them for the first time. Then you will begin to understand what is called “the unhindered action of the Buddhas.”
The drum beat is not your heartbeat, it is the heartbeat of the dharmapalas. And when you begin to understand that, fear begins to rise, because without beating the drum, the drum is still beating. Then more fear will arise. That is how you go about looking for the protectors. If you see the protectors, you might faint, the life force will just run away.
When you pray for protection, you think you are praying to be protected from something, but though it is isn’t written, what you are really praying for is the protection of the dharmapalas. The dharmapala is the manifestation of the wisdom activity of the Buddhas. Suppose you are doing practice and someone wants to kill you, but you are saved. Who saved you? It was the dharmapalas. The bridge between the intellect and the wisdom mind is the dharmapalas.
Every time something happens to you that brings a change or realization in your life, or gives you strength to live again, that is the activity of the dharmapalas. It is not just happening by accident; it is the movement of the dharmapala. The heartbeat is the heartbeat of the dharmapala.
For example, sometimes they manifest as a person, blocking you from going a certain way, and later on you see that someone going that way was hit by a car, or they go into another person’s mind and block you so you will be safe, or physically manifest so that you are saved. These are all common activities of the dharmapala. They push you from this to that until you make the auspicious connection. It just depends on how you understand it.
Non-physical things which happen to you, which are good for you, are also the dharmapala. If you think the person or situation that was good for you, and continue to practice, someday the dharmapala will come and say, “Yes, I did that for you. I gave you that situation a long time ago.” That is the way it is.
The dharmapalas can be violent or peaceful too. They can be a butterfly, they can be warmth, they can be anything. They don’t have to be just one particular form. The activity aspect is dharmapala.
When I was small I couldn’t sleep. I was constantly seeing the movement of the dharmapala. I remember my father saying, “Ah, these are things practitioners wish to see but can’t. These are your protectors.”
I couldn’t understand what these protectors were, though in my depth I could. They had three eyes, six eyes, and I couldn’t relate to them. And the words they spoke weren’t words a small kid could understand like, “I love you.” Instead they would say, “Give me your heart. I want to eat you,” or something like that. I would see their translucent bodies, and they would come and grab me. My eldest sister would never play with me because I would see these things, and when I would point them out to her, she would see the same things. And my servants, the young men who were looking after me, none of them would take responsibility for me at night. Most of my childhood was spent in either a fainting or unconscious state. I’ve always been like that. I had a difficult life and later in my life, I didn’t understand why they didn’t have the wisdom to know I was just a child.
Rinpoche would be doing a tsog [ritual], and I would look inside the tsog offering and see a whole host of non-existent people. Sometimes they would bring dead people to Rinpoche for his blessing. I would see that person walk in, sit down and observe. I saw many things that terrified me.
Rinpoche had a way of sealing this vision off, totally. After a big fight with my mother, he sealed it. My servants couldn’t bear to be with me. At night they wouldn’t go out with me, because just like with my sister, if I pointed the dharmapalas out, they would see them too. It is no wonder I had no one to play with. If it had been a dream, I would have understood it as a dream, but it wasn’t a dream. I really saw it. It was a terrible part of my life.
So when you ask about the dharmapala, I’ve had the same kinds of questions, like why would they scare the hell out of me? If they had just showed themselves to me once, I would have said, “I’ve had an experience,” but showing me again and again, daytime, evening, nighttime, whenever I played they were running after me, attacking me.
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