Kadampa Buddhists worldwide rely upon Dorje Shugden as their Dharma Protector.
A Dharma Protector is an emanation of a Buddha or a Bodhisattva whose main functions are to avert the inner and outer obstacles that prevent practitioners from gaining spiritual realizations, and to arrange all the necessary conditions for their practice.
In Tibet, every monastery had its own Dharma Protector, but the tradition did not begin in Tibet; the Mahayanists of ancient India also relied upon Dharma Protectors to eliminate hindrances and to fulfill their spiritual wishes.
Though there are some worldly deities who are friendly towards Buddhism and who try to help practitioners, they are not real Dharma Protectors. Such worldly deities are able to increase the external wealth of practitioners and help them to succeed in their worldly activities, but they do not have the wisdom or the power to protect the development of Dharma within a practitioner’s mind.
It is this inner Dharma – the experiences of great compassion, bodhichitta, the wisdom realizing emptiness, and so forth – that is most important and that needs to be protected; outer conditions are of secondary importance.
Although their motivation is good, worldly deities lack wisdom and so sometimes the external help that they give actually interferes with the attainment of authentic Dharma realizations. If they have no Dharma realizations themselves, how can they be Dharma Protectors?
It is clear therefore that all actual Dharma Protectors must be emanations of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. These Protectors have great power to protect Buddhadharma and its practitioners, but the extent to which we receive help from them depends upon our faith and conviction in them. To receive their full protection, we must rely upon them with continuous, unwavering devotion.
Buddhas have manifested in the form of various Dharma Protectors, such as Mahakala, Kalarupa, Kalindewi, and Dorje Shugden. From the time of Je Tsongkhapa until the first Panchen Lama, Losang Chökyi Gyaltsän, the principal Dharma Protector of Je Tsongkhapa’s lineage was Kalarupa. Later, however, it was felt by many high Lamas that Dorje Shugden had become the principal Dharma Protector of this tradition.
There is no difference in the compassion, wisdom, or power of the various Dharma Protectors, but because of the karma of sentient beings, one particular Dharma Protector will have a greater opportunity to help Dharma practitioners at any one particular time.
We can understand how this is so by considering the example of Buddha Shakyamuni. Previously the beings of this world had the karma to see Buddha Shakyamuni’s Supreme Emanation Body and to receive teachings directly from him.
These days, however, we do not have such karma, and so Buddha appears to us in the form of our Spiritual Guide and helps us by giving teachings and leading us on spiritual paths. Thus, the form that Buddha’s help takes varies according to our changing karma, but its essential nature remains the same.