Ayu Khandro Dorje Paldron
There are two introductions into the life and being of this wonderful dakini here, the first a synopsis of her life at Treasury of Lives and the second Introductory excerpt from Namkhai Norbu’s recollections of meetings with Ayu Khandro in “Women of Wisdom”:
Ayu Khandro Dorje Paldron was born in 1839 in a place called Takzik in Kham, and was given the name Dechen Khandro by Tokden Rangrik, a local yogi. Her father’s name was Tamdrin Gon and her mother’s was Tsokyi. She had three brothers and three sisters.
At the age of seven, Ayu Khandro went to live with her aunt Dronkyi, a practitioner who lived in a cave near Tokden Randrik. She was betrothed at the age of thirteen to Apo Wangdo, the son of a wealthy family, but she nevertheless remained with her aunt until 1856, when she was eighteen. There she helped her aunt with daily chores and learned to read and write with the help of one of the tokden’s students. At the age of thirteen she received her first empowerments and teachings, those of Rigdzin Longsel Nyingpo’s terma, Longsel Dorje Nyingpo.
At the age of fourteen Ayu Khandro went with her aunt and Tokden Rangrik to visit the great Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgon Kongtrul at Khyentse Wangpo’s monastery of Dzongsar. Chokgyur Lingpa was possibly there as well. During this journey Ayu Khandro received many instructions from these and other teachers and upon her return home she began the Longchen Nyingtik preliminary practices.
She visited Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo again when she was sixteen and received from him the name Tsewang Peldron and a number of teachings and empowerments, including his own recently-discovered treasure on White Tārā, The Heart Essence of the Sublime Lady of Immortality. Again, on returning home, Ayu Khandro entered into retreat to put the teachings into immediate practice.
In the summer of her nineteenth year, Ayu Khandro was married to Apho Wangdo and moved in with him and his family, against her own wishes and those of her aunt. Within three years, however, Ayu Khandro became extremely ill and it was only when her husband told her that she could return to her cave and continue her religious life that she became better. Ayu Khandro continued to practice under the guidance of the tokden and her aunt until they both passed away in 1865. Grieving the loss of her mentors, she entered a three year retreat.
At the age of thirty, Ayu Khandro decided to begin travelling and practicing Chod. With several companions she went to meet and receive teachings from masters such as Nyakla Pema Dudul and Adzom Drukpa Drodul Pawo Dorje, from whom she received the Tsokchen Dupa (tshogs chen ‘dus pa) and a number of important Dzogchen instructions.
From Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo she also received several months of teachings in both Nyingma and Sarma traditions, such as the Khandro Sangwa Kundu, and essential Dzogchen instructions such as the Nyingtik Yabzhi. She learned chudlen and tummo from Lhawang Gonpo, a Chod practitioner she briefly travelled with.
At the age of thirty-two she received from Nyakla Pema Dudul the Longsel Dorje Nyingpo, the instructions for the Yangti Nakpo dark retreat, and the name Dorje Peldron. Nyakla Pema Dudul also instructed her to continue to travel and practice Chod, which she did with her friend, a nun named Pema Yangkyi. For the next decade Ayu Khandro moved across Kham, U-Tsang, Nepal, and Ngari, where she visited Mount Kailash, practicing Chod everywhere she went, visiting holy sites, and receiving instructions and initiations. Her companions changed throughout her journey. Only at the age of forty-three that she decided to journey back home.
The following year after her return, Ayu Khandro’s ex-husband and other acquaintances began building her a meditation hut. She also went to visit and receive more teachings from Adzom Drukpa, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgon Kongtrul. In 1885 her hut was completed and she entered into a seven year retreat, focusing on the practice of dark retreat. In 1891, seven months before the end of her retreat, she is said to have experienced a vision of a group of ḍākinī in a tikle carrying Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo inside another tikle; she took this as an omen of the impending death of her teacher. She thus cut short her retreat and went to visit the lama, who clarified all questions and doubts she had about her practice, and told her to return to her dark retreat. In 1892, Ayu Khandro received news of her teacher’s death and decided to commit the rest of her life to retreat. By the end of her life she had spent more than fifty years in dark retreat, although she also made time to give teachings to numerous students.
In 1894 her mother died, and in 1897, her ex-husband also died. Her travelling companion, Pema Yangkyi, came to visit her in 1900 and told her the miraculous stories of one of her other former travelling companions who had attained the rainbow body while practicing at Mount Kailash. Pema Yangkyi stayed with Ayu Khandro for a year and then travelled to Mount Khawa Karpo, where she became a famous teacher and also is said to have attained the rainbow body. Ayu Khandro was also visited by Pema Yangkyi’s students and those of her other former companions, to whom she gave as much advice and teaching as possible.
In 1951 Namkhai Norbu visited Ayu Khandro for just over two months and received from her Jamyang Khyentse’s Khandro Sangwa Kundu, the Chod practice of Dzinba Rangdrol, Longchen Nyingtik, Yangti and Nyakla Pema Dudul’s Tsedrub Gongdu, amongst others. He requested and received from her the Sakya Vajrayoginī Nāro Kechari initiation and commentary, as she was considered a manifestation of this deity.
During this stay, Namkhai Norbu recorded notes on her life story, which she recounted to him. He later composed these into a biography, without which there would be little documentation left of her existence, as is the case with numerous Tibetan Buddhist female practitioners.
In 1953, apparently having lived to the age of one hundred and fifteen, Ayu Khandro passed away. For the few weeks before her death she spent most of her time seeing anyone who wanted to speak to her and gave away her valuable possessions, such as a precious statue of Padmasambhava which she gave to Adzom Gyelse Gyurme Dorje, the son of Adzom Drukpa, and a small statue of Jamyang Khyentse, made by his own hand, which she left for Namkhai Norbu. After her death, it is said she remained in meditation for two weeks and by the end of the two weeks her body had shrunk to a fraction of its original size, a sign of her accomplishment of Dzogchen practice.
*Source: Treasury of Lives
“Homage to Dorje Paldron and Vajra Yogini! This biography is only a drop of the nectar of A-Yu Khadro‘s life. As I write of her I will try to remember her presence. I am the insignificant disciple, Namkhai Norbu, and this is the story of how I met A-Yu Khadro and how I came to write her life story.
When I was fourteen in the Year of the Iron Rabbit, 1951, I was studying at Sakya College. My teacher there, Kenrab Odzer, had twice given me the complete teachings of Vajra Yogini in the Norpa and Sharpa Sakya traditions. One day he said to me: “In the region of Tagzi, not far from your family’s home, lives an accomplished woman, a great dakini, A-Yu Khadro. You should go to her and request the Vajra Yogini initiation from her. “That year he let me leave a month early for the autumn holidays with the understanding that I would be going to see A-Yu Khadro. So first I returned home and prepared to go with my mother Yeshe Chodron and my sister Sonam Pundzom. We set off, and after a journey of three days, we arrived at A-Yu Khadro’s place in Dzongsa. She lived in a little stone but near a river in a meadow under the cliff face of a mountain to the east of a small Sakya monastery. The hut was tiny; with no windows.” She had two assistants, an old man, Palden, and an old nun, Zangmo. They were also strong practitioners of yoga and meditation. We were very happy and amazed to see this situation.
When we entered Khandro’s room for the first time, only one butter lamp was lit. She was 113 at that time, but she did not look particularly ancient. She had very long hair that reached her knees. It was black at the tips and white at the roots. Her hands looked like the hands of a young woman. She wore a dark-red dress and a meditation belt over her left shoulder. During our visit we requested teachings, but she kept saying that she was no one special and had no qualifications to teach. When I asked her to give me the Vajra Yogini teachings she said: “I am just a simple old woman, how can I give teachings to you?” The more compliments we offered her, the more deferential she became toward us. I was discouraged and feared she might not give us any teachings. That night we camped near the river, and the next morning, as we were making breakfast, Ani Zangmo, the old nun, arrived with her niece bringing butter, cheese, and yogurt. These, she said, were for the breakfast of my mother and sister, and I was to come to see Khadro. I went immediately, and as I entered I noted that many more butter lamps were lit and she touched her forehead to mine, a great courtesy. She gave me a nice breakfast of yogurt and milk and told me that she had had an auspicious dream that night of her teacher, Jamyang Khentse Wangpo. He had advised her to give me the teachings of Khadro Sangwa Kundu, his gongter. This was not the teaching I had asked for, but was a teaching she had received from him directly which she had practiced extensively. While we were having breakfast, she was examining the Tibetan calendar. Then she said: “Since tomorrow is the day of the dakini, we will begin then. Today go to visit the Sakya monastery, and in the meantime we will make preparations.” So we went off to visit the monastery and made some offerings there. They had statues of the Buddhas of the Three Times and a stupa five arm-lengths high made of gilded bronze and studded with many jewels. It had been made according to Khadro’s instructions. Inside it was empty.
The next day around eleven we began the initiation of Khadro Sangdu. From that day on, every morning she gave teachings including the practices of the subtle nerves and the subtle breath. In the afternoon at the end of her meditation session, she gave further explanation of the Khadro Sangdu and the Chod of Machig Lapdron, the Zinba Rangdrol. This was the Chod practice she had done for many years when she was younger. There were five of us receiving these teachings: Khenpo Tragyal, the abbot of the monastery; Yangkyi, a nun; my mother; my sister; and I. Her hut was so small that not everyone could fit in, and Yangkyi had to sit outside the doorway. The Khenpo assisted with the shrine and the mandalas.A month later, she began the Yang-Ti,’° one of the most important of the Dzog Chen teachings in the most advanced Upadesha series, having to do with the practice in the dark. This teaching took five days. Then she began teaching on the Longchen Nying Thig. This ended on the twenty-fourth. In the seventh month on the tenth day, she gave the Vajra Yogini in the Sharpa tradition, the instruction I had requested, followed by a complete explanation. This was linked to the Kha Khyab Rangdrol teachings of Nala Perna Dundrub. Then she gave the complete teachings of her Singhamukha Gongter which took until the tenth of the following month. At the end she gave the long life White Tara practice. Not only did we receive formal teaching, but in addition, she made time for informal conversations and personal advice.
I was not with her a long time, a little more than two months. During that time she [gave] eight kinds of teachings and was really so kind and gentle. We were very content with the generous gift of these precious teachings. The Khenpo, one of her principal disciples, told us that he had, from time to time, received teachings from her, but the kind and extent of the teachings she had given us were rare indeed. She normally did not give much teaching and had never given so much in such a short time. He was afraid this meant that she might pass away very soon. Then Palden, the old man, said that several months before we came she had had a dream indicating that she should give certain teachings soon. Before we arrived they had begun the preparations. So there was definitely a motive for giving these teachings. Sometimes, at my request, after the afternoon teachings, she would tell me about her life. I had the peculiar habit of writing everything down, unusual for Tibetans, so I wrote down everything she told me. From these notes I constructed this biography. What follows is what she herself told me.”
*Introductory excerpt from Namkhai Norbu’s recollections of meetings with Ayu Khandro in “Women of Wisdom” by Lama Tsultrim Allione.
Image of Ayu Khandro by Kay Konrad.