: Khandro Tsering Chödrön :
“With the blessings of Tsogyal, wisdom dakini of great bliss,
Emanation of the lady of Shelkar,
Ayu Dharma Dipam (Long Life, Lamp of the Dharma), to you I pray.
Grant your blessing so that all our wishes in accordance with the Dharma be fulfilled.”
By Dzongsar Jamyang Chökyi Lodrö
Remembering Khandro Tsering Chödrön
‘In a figure like Khandro Tsering Chödrön, the greatest woman master of our day, you see very clearly what years of the deepest devotion and practice can create out of the human spirit.’
~ Sogyal Rinpoche
Prayer to Khandro Tsering Chödrön by Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche
“Namo guravé! Homage to the lama! Outwardly, you are Sarasvati, the daughter of Brahma, Inwardly, you are the youthful lady Tara, Secretly, you are the innate Vajravarahi, You who embody them all—the dakini of the Lakar family—may you reign supreme!
The great master of Orgyen knows all past, present and future, and with his vajra words The revealers of the terma treasures, those universal kings of realization, Have praised you in their predictions, undisputed, As the emanation of Shelkar Dorje Tso —and so to you I pray!
Just as they foretold in their vajra prophecies, You joined Pema Yeshe Dorje, supreme embodiment of skilful means, As the consort symbolizing wisdom and emptiness— Lady of great bliss, granter of the four joys, to you I pray!
Moved by a devotion so deep that I perceive lama and consort as indivisible, From the core of my heart I pray: on such a person as me Grant your blessings, so that the bliss-emptiness of chandali is invoked, And the blissful warmth and wisdom are set ablaze!
Through the blessings of such a prayer as this, May my mind be turned towards the Dharma, May Dharma progress along the path, and, as delusory appearances Are purified into wisdom, may I come to master the bodhichitta supreme!
In this and all my future lives, hold me in your compassion! At all times and in any situation, grant me your blessing, I pray! For in this life, the next and in the bardo state, O Jetsünma, there is no other source of hope for me but you!
When the supreme Khandro Tsering Chödrön was absorbed into the expanse of primordial purity, the youthful vase body, one who joyfully seeks her protection, Orgyen Tobgyal, made this prayer of whatever came into his mind and then, some days later, had it inscribed on a sheet of white paper.”
Rigpa Translations, 2011
: Yeshe Tsogyal :
‘If you know me, you know that I reside in the hearts of all beings.
Just summon me and I will return!’
~ Yeshe Tsogyal
‘Now until the dualistic identity mind melts and dissolves,
it may seem that we are parting.
Please be happy.
When you understand the dualistic mind,
there will be no separation from me.
May my good wishes fill the sky.’
~ Yeshe Tsogyal
*Image: ‘Yeshe Tsogyal’ by Robert Beer
: Mandarava :
“As spiritual practitioners we receive encouragement and inspiration by reading the lifestories of great and sublime teachers, and the inspiration we receive from their exemplary lives allows us to progress more swiftly along the path to liberation. Because the appearance of everything we can know and experience depends on causes and circumstances, ordinary individuals embarking on the path must do so through a gradual process. Princess Mandarava, however, already liberated from the cycle of suffering and perfectly omniscient, was not an ordinary individual. She intentionally emanated into realms of ordinary existence in order to inspire beings and lead them through this gradual process, teaching them how to practice through her example. … The accounts of Mandarava’s remarkable lives illuminate the experiences of a great wisdom dakini who inspired everyone she met, turning their minds irrevocably toward liberation.
In the thirty-eight chapters of this revelation [‘The Lives and Liberation of Princess Mandarava‘ is a treasure of Padmasambhava], one comes to know a nirmanakaya (emanated manifestation) dakini who chose numerous times to enter the world as an aristocrat. The purpose of this depiction is not to show us that only those of high status or wealth are fortunate enough to have such opportunities, but to reveal that Mandarava was able and willing to renounce that which is most difficult to renounce, namely attachment to the so-called pleasures of worldly life. In each of her lifetimes, she unflaggingly forsakes fame and pleasures to work for the benefit of others through example and skillful means. Her abandonment of the temporary pleasures that steal away precious time and opportunities for spiritual development mirrors the struggles facing modern day Dharma practitioners. Although Mandarava was a famous female practitioner, she ultimately defies gender distinctions, and her enlightened activities are timeless. The Dharma that Mandarava – and all sublime teachers like her – teach is the path that transcends all relative distinctions made by ordinary individuals based on the ordinary habits of dualistic mind.
The notion that Vajrayana Buddhism is male-oriented is misleading. Still, many women attempting to pursue the path may naturally become discouraged when they encounter the strong Tibetan cultural influence. The more Dharma takes root in the West, however, the easier it becomes to relate directly to the Dharma, which is perfectly pure and free from biased distinctions, rather than focusing on the habits of ordinary individuals from foreign cultures. It is my prayer that this book may be of some benefit in encouraging the many excellent female practitioners in the world to cultivate their noble qualities and, through the force of their practice, go on to become fully qualified teachers themselves. May this work bring immeasurable benefit to all living beings, who are all equal and able to realize their precious buddha nature.”
~ Sangye Khandro: From her preface to her translation of ‘The Lives and Liberation of Mandarava‘
*Image: ‘Mandarava’ by Dru-gu Choegyal Rinpoche
: Sukhasiddhi :
“Give up the mind that wants to meditate and calm down. Focus on nothing at all.
Disturbing thoughts and lazy indifference are not liberation.
Remain unstained by thoughts and circumstances.
Rest relaxed in the uncontrived nature of mind, free of elaboration or alteration.
For the benefit of one and all, simply preserve peerless awareness.”
: The Story of Sukhasiddhi :
‘The life story of Sukhasiddhi is very wonderful. When she was about sixty years old, or maybe sixty-five, she experienced a great deal of suffering. Due to that, she engaged in the practice of vajrayana and attained a state where she appeared like a sixteen-year-old girl. Her story is that she and her family were very poor and they got to the point where they only had one container of rice left. So, her husband and son went out to look for food. They went all over, searching, begging for food. Though they went through a great deal of difficulties, they were unable to find any food. Thinking that they had one container of rice left, they went back home to eat it. However, while they were gone, Sukhasiddhi, out of great compassion, had given the food to a beggar. When her husband and son came back, they were very hungry and expecting to eat the last container of rice, but they found that there was no rice left, that she had given it away to a beggar. They were very upset and very angry with her, saying that though they were all experiencing a great deal of suffering, a great deal of problems, she had given their last food away. They were so upset with her that they threw her out of the house. Then she became very upset and cried about her husband and son throwing her out of her home. Leaving her town, she gave rise to a very strong renunciation for samsara, and based upon this very strong renunciation and good fortune, she was able to meet with a siddha from whom she received oral instructions. She meditated upon them and realized mahamudra, the supreme siddhi. Her mind was liberated within this state of luminosity, and her body became an empty form like a rainbow. She looked like a sixteen-year-old girl. She unified luminosity and the illusory body. It is said that even at this time she resides in India and can be found in various places there. So it is on the basis of having a lot of suffering and difficulties that one is able to
practice the dharma very well. In order to meditate upon mahamudra, one needs to have problems and difficulties. If one doesn’t have problems, but is just happy, one won’t meditate and will just be distracted.
Therefore, it is said that when one is meditating upon mahamudra, it is very good if one has a lot of suffering. Within the true nature, or essence, of mahamudra, there is no time, and therefore one does not need to think about needing a long time for these practices. It is enough just to realize the true nature of one’s present mind, mahamudra.’
“Upon receiving empowerment and instruction from Virupa, Sukhasiddhi, then a sixty-one-year-old, attained full enlightenment that very evening. Like Niguma, her body became rainbowlike. Niguma is remembered as a wrathful, dark-brown woman who wore bone ornaments, whereas Sukhasiddhi is portrayed as a peaceful, light-skinned sixteen-year-old.”
‘The Story of Sukhasiddhi‘, as told by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche:
: Niguma :
“This variety of desirous and hateful thoughts
that strands us in the ocean of cyclic existence
once realized to be without intrinsic nature,
makes everything a golden land, child.
If you meditate on the illusion-like nature
of illusion-like phenomena,
actual illusion-like buddhahood
will occur through the power of devotion.”
Source: “Path of Illusion” in ‘Niguma, Lady of Illusion’ by Sarah Harding.
: Lakshminkara :
“The beautiful Lakshminkara was the sister of the great king Indrabhuti who ruled over the kingdom of Sambola in the land of Oddiyana. She was wise and through listening to the teachings of Lawapa, she became well versed in many tantras. When she was of age, her brother arranged to marry her off to prince Jalandhara, a son of the King of Lankapuri.
Accompanied by a group of friends and attendants, Lakshminkara set out for Lankapuri with a large dowry. When she arrived, she was told to wait outside the palace because it was an inauspicious day. As she waited she looked at the people of the city and became deeply disheartened when she saw that they were not Buddhist. Then, as she thought she could not feel any worse, she saw a hunting party returning to the palace with many dead game animals and was told that the leader of this group was her husband to be. Seeing the numerous animals that had been killed for mere sport, she realized that her future husband was also not a Buddhist. Her heart was broken. She proceeded to give away all of her precious dowry to the poor of Lankapuri. Without any wealth, she took up residence in a cave, covered herself in mud, and began to act crazy. To sustain herself, she would scavenge food that had been discarded or left as offerings in the charnel ground outside of the city of Lankapuri. Despite her appearance, she was inwardly focused on concentration, compassion and the search for truth.
Lakshminkara continued to live in this manner and after seven years achieved a level of realization. She then gave instruction to a lowly toilet cleaner who worked in the royal palace and he also achieved success. No one knew of this mans attainment except for Lakshminkara and he continued to work in the palace as though nothing had changed.
One day, Jalandhara and his court went out on one of their many hunting trips. While deep in the forest, the prince became separated from his servants. He dismounted to rest while his subjects caught up with him. Tired from the hunt, he fell asleep under a tree and awoke several hours later, only to find that no one had yet found him. Needing to find shelter before nightfall, he began searching for a place of refuge and by chance came upon Lakshminkara’s cave. Upon entering, he was surprised to find Lakshminkara radiating light and being adored by an uncountable retinue of goddesses. This beautiful sight deeply effected Jalandhara who then began making regular visits to the cave. Despite his visits, Lakshminkara remained skeptical of his presence and eventually inquired as to his motives. He affirmed his faith in the Buddha and requested teachings from her. She taught him only one single verse of profound spiritual meaning and said that she was not his teacher. She informed him that his teacher is one of his very own toilet cleaners in the palace.
When Jalandhara returned home to the palace, he found the servant that would be his teacher and brought him to his chambers. Paying respect and requesting teachings, the servant that cleaned the toilets for the prince agreed and gave Jalandhara the initiation into the Transference of Consciousness and the practices of the Generation and Perfection Stage Yogas of the meditational deity Vajravarahi.
Both Lakshminkara and the toilet cleaner lived and taught for many years in the city of Lankapuri and performed countless miracles before they each departed in their physical bodies for the pureland of Khechara.”
:: Machig Labdrön མ་གཅིག་ལབ་སྒྲོན་ (1055 – 1149) ::
“Machig Labdrön was born in 1055, during a time of great innovation, a kind of religious renaissance in Tibet. She had several male teachers, most notably Padampa Sangye and Sönam Lama, both important lamas during that time. Possessing extraordinary skill and wisdom, Machig received teachings from the Sutra tradition from these teachers. However, she needed a female role model, so she drew on Tara, gathering teachings through visions and dreams from this celebrated Tibetan deity. It is said that she received the Tantra teachings from Tara in her energetic form, downloading amazing sadhanas for subtle body practices, sacred sexuality, and phowa, the practice of ejecting consciousness through the top of one’s head. This last practice in particular became a powerful method for Machig to open the gates to the sky, integrating nature of mind teachings of Prajña Paramita, the perfection of wisdom, that she is known to have memorized and recited from a very early age. Machig also developed Chöd, an esoteric practice including the offering of one’s body to demons of sickness, debt, and obscuration. All of her practices were rooted in the Prajna Paramita, as this was her personal study and also the representation of the mother of all buddhas, the wisdom space from which Tara emerged.”
~ Devon Ward-Thommes
: Jomo Menmo :
“This teacher was known as a tulku of Yeshe Tsogyal. When she was five, her mother died and she had to tend the domestic animals. One day, in a vision, Vajravarahi Buddha, entrusting her with a sacred text, empowered her, wherewith she enjoyed a sacred feast with the assembly of practitioners. Since that time, a stream of sacred teachings burst spontaneously from her with no need of learning. She continually danced and sang sacred dances and songs as if she were a born dancer and singer. She was able to see what thoughts people were having. She became the consort of the great terton Guru Chowang, and they helped each other to decode sacred ter teachings. Wandering in many places in South, West, and Central Tibet, she served many beings. Finally, at the age of only thirty-six, accompanied by two realized attendants, they flew up into the sky higher and higher and went toward Zangdog Palri without leaving their bodies behind. Nomadic girls and boys tending domestic animals in nearby grassy valleys saw them flyging away. Children picked up and ate the remains of the feast offerings that they left, and these caused all of them to experience a deep meditative state.”
Source: “Incarnation” by Tulku Thondup Rinpoche
: Kunga Bum :
Machik Kunga Bum was born in a monkey year in the thirteenth century in a place called Tashi Dokhar in the On region. Her father was named Tsangpa Dorje Wangchuk and her mother was named Lhakyi Peldzom, who was said to have been an incarnation of Shekarza Dorje Tso, a legendary disciple of Yeshe Tsogyel. She stayed at Densatil until she was six, and later took ordination from a Nyingma lama named Drakpa Gyeltsen, receiving from him the name Kunga Bum.
She studied with many lamas of multiple traditions and received numerous empowerments and instructions, which she practiced until mastering. She entered a retreat in the so-called Clear Light Cave at the Drak Yongdzong cave complex for seven years, seven months, seven days and seven hours. While there she received various prophesies from ḍākinī, including one from Vajravārahī that she would reveal a treasure text there titled the Secret Mother Tantra, Daily Practice Cycles . She transmitted this treasure to people across the U region.
She transmitted her treasures to Dungtso Repa, with whom she is said to have engaged in consort practice, and they collaborated on teaching.
Kunga Bum attracted considerable numbers of disciples, and taught widely. At the end of her life she entered another retreat at Tashi Yanggon in On and at a hermitage near the Jemo Stūpa. She passed away after seven days, reportedly amidst signs of accomplishment such as the attainment of the rainbow body.
By the nineteenth century her lineage had been lost, but was revived by Jamgon Kongtrul and Chokgyur Lingpa. Kongtrul reported in his One Hundred Treasure Revealers that he located a copy in Yarlung Sheldrak and another in Drakyongdzong, which she is said to have reconcealed as treasure. In the same source Kongtrul reports that Chokgyur Lingpa revived the transmission by claiming to have received it in a former life. In his autobiography Kongtrul relates a dream from 1859 in which he saw himself in the form of Dungtso Repa, and that he thereby received the transmissions for both Dungtso Repa’s and Kunga Bumpa’s treasures.
Source: Treasury of Lives
: The First Samding Dorje Phakmo, Chokyi Dronma :
Chokyi Dronma was born in the year of the tiger, most likely 1422, in Mangyul Gungtang. Her father was King Tri Lhawang Gyeltsen (1404-1464), who claimed descent from the Emperors of the Yarlung Dynasty. Her mother was named Dode. Her paternal grandfather was named Tri Sonam De (c. 1371-1404), and her younger brother, who took the throne after their father passed away, was named Tri Namgyel De (c.1422-1502). A biography of Chokyi Dronma by a colleague named Pel Chime Drubpa offers a contemporary glimpse into her extraordinary life.
Her birth was a moment when an heir to the throne of Gungtang was keenly awaited. The priest to the royal court considered her to be a divine incarnation and gave her the name that, according to a prophetic dream by her mother, she had already given herself: Konchok Gyelmo or Queen of the Jewel — a title that reflected both her commitment to become a royal supporter of the dharma and the prospect that she would be ‘victorious in all directions’. This initial effort to imply that she had a sacred role may in fact have been part of an attempt by the court to present her as a potential royal heir in case no son was born to the king.
The scenario changed radically a few years later. When Chokyi Dronma was about six a son was born to a junior queen, a woman from the Bongdzog ruling elite (in what is currently the upper Rasuwa valley in Nepal). This is said to have deeply troubled Chokyi Dronma and her mother, and this is the first point in her life at which she is supposed to have expressed a wish to renounce the world and become ordained. The birth of her brother meant a change of position in the royal family; not only would it mean that Chokyi Dronma faced the prospect of being sent away as a daughter-in-law, but it also signaled great anxiety for her mother, the main queen, since she had produced only girls while a junior queen had produced the much awaited male heir. Throughout her life Chokyi Dronma was concerned about the position of her mother as potentially vulnerable and felt responsible for ensuring that she would be looked after at all times. These were issues that might have had a bearing on her daring decision to pursue a religious life, and also on her later commitment to support Buddhism as a religion that provided assistance to women.
Despite these considerations, as an infant princess she enjoyed a happy and lively childhood, dividing her time between the capital of the kingdom and the lush valleys of Kyirong, which she loved. She would go there often, especially in the winter when the upper areas were frozen and stricken by blizzards while the lower Himalayan valleys were still rich with flowers and fruits. Chokyi Dronma seems to have been an energetic and adventurous child; the biography also describes her as compassionate towards animals, aware of worldly impermanence and daring in her choices. She is said to have showed a strong character early on, perhaps a prelude to the fact that throughout her life she never shied away from physical hardship or risky enterprises. Nevertheless, she seems to have also suffered in her early childhood from some health problems and illness seems to have repeatedly marked difficult periods in her life.
Chokyi Dronma appears to have been a clever and precocious child, even given the conventions found in traditional Tibetan biographies of Buddhist figures according to which extraordinary qualities are highlighted in childhood in order to anticipate their later accomplishments. At around the age of three she is said to have learned to read and write, activities which she pursued with dedication throughout her life. She is also said to have been able to speak Sanskrit, a claim which would have been related to her “secret” identity as the Indian tantric deity Vajravārahī.
She grew up in an environment with easy access to the Buddhist classics, and these became an important source of inspiration for her and are mentioned in some detail in her biography. Her mother seems to have taken special care of her education and the biography describes how Chokyi Dronma fondly used to read books to her. Throughout her childhood she was beloved by her family and by the citizens of the kingdom. Her mother and sister were particularly close to her, but she also enjoyed an affectionate relationship with her father although it was somewhat more distant and formal. Her paternal grandmother also seems to have been very fond of her since, much later, she supported her religious deeds and eventually expressed great sorrow when she decided to leave Gungtang to go to the east.
Around 1438 Chokyi Dronma reached the age of seventeen and was of marriageable age. As a child she had expressed a wish to be married out to Guge; a wish that was probably influenced by her mother and by the former regent, who was from the house of Guge, an area that was seen as pleasant and wealthy region and that also had long-standing genealogical links with the house of Gungtang.
However, the court decided that she should be married out to the rulers of Lato Lho. The strategic relationship between Gungtang and Lato Lho was more crucial than that with Guge, so Chokyi Dronma’s father accepted the marriage request from these important allies, who were also potential enemies. A very detailed description is given in the biography both of the grand celebrations held in honor of the marriage and of the great sorrow felt at her departure from her homeland.
The lords of Lato Lho sent a grand procession from Shelkar, their capital, to fetch the future bride and this was welcomed in the royal palace by Chokyi Dronma’s father and brother, seated on their thrones, with all the people of rank seated in rows. The princess was seated in the middle of the crowd, absolutely still and shedding tears, as is required by Tibetan marriage customs. The sorrow in this case seems indeed to have been deep, as she was parting from her beloved mother, and from all the people who had great affection for her. The biography describes everyone as broken-hearted, and lists the gifts with which she was showered. Her brother gave her one of his precious earrings; others offered jewels, rosaries and precious stones. According to the biography, the sense of loss affected not only the human population, but also all the other beings in the area, and the features of the landscape. In the words of her biographer: “All the living beings of Ngari felt as if they had lost their protector. It was as if the whole essence of the earth had been taken away and the earth had turned bleak.”
The biography carries the reader along with the weeping marriage procession leaving the royal palace and climbing the steep pass that leads towards the Porong (spo rong) plains and eventually to Shelkar. At the top of the pass, she prostrated for a last time towards her home, more than a thousand meters below, taking a last look at the royal palace. She would have seen it surrounded by the lush fields of the Gungtang plain, overlooked by the snow-capped peak of Jowo Kulha (jo bo sku lha), the ancestral mountain of her family and her kingdom, and she would have been able to make out the deep gorge leading to the south, across the Himalaya, to her beloved Kyirong and beyond it to Nepal. She offered a katak scarf with flowers towards the palace; her people seeing this, could not control their tears.
After crossing the pass the party reached the Pelkhu lake and the high plains of Porong, a vast plain, inhabited by nomads and surrounded by snow-peaks. It was a long journey, with the constant threat of attacks by bandits. At first the princess was withdrawn and shy about meeting the bridegroom’s retinue that had been sent to receive her, but eventually she accepted their request to be introduced to them. Leaving the shore of the lake behind, the procession passed near Porong Pelmo Choding Monastery, the seat of Bodong Chokle Namgyel (1376-1451). Chokyi Dronma sent some messengers to the monastery asking if she could visit the master. He suggested, instead, that they meet along her route.
Eventually the party from Gungtang that was escorting her took its leave and she proceeded on her journey surrounded by a large number of people who had come to greet her from Lato Lho. The marriage procession presumably crossed the Dingri plain, following the Pumchu river and the holy Tsibri range until they reached Shelkar. From afar they would have seen a mountain rising from the plain, Shelkar Dorje Dzong. On a ridge was a forbidding fortress below which was the monastery Shelkar Chode, established in 1385 by the great lord of Lato Lho, Situ Chokyi Rinchen, the grandfather of her bridegroom.
As the bridal procession approached the capital a group of Bonpo priests came out to meet her and celebrate some customary marriage rituals. Chokyi Dronma’s bridegroom was particularly keen on the local ancestral cults, even though his parents were great supporters of Buddhism. As a committed Buddhist Chokyi Dronma had very strong views on non-Buddhist practices; according to her biography she was openly jubilant when the Bon priests were driven away by her retinue, dropping their ritual instruments as they made a hasty retreat.
Once in the palace, she further intimidated the Bon priests by meditating and empowering herself as Vajrayoginī. This episode and a number of other details introduce a slightly dissonant note in what otherwise seems to have been the perfect fulfillment of her role as a royal daughter-in-law. She behaved respectfully towards her parents-in-law and her husband and was generally seen as a bringer of prosperity, beautiful and well behaved, even though she sometimes challenged conventions of royal protocol. For example, she sometimes dealt with secular dignitaries without the expected deference and made a point of showing maximum respect to members of the monastic community, whatever their standing. The early stages of her married life are described in an utterly glorious light, though, the real situation could not have been easy for her as a young, newly married woman in an unfamiliar place. Her father-in-law was particularly fond of her, but her mother-in-law was somewhat more critical and her husband suffered from goiter, a widespread health problem in the region even in modern times, as well as from various character disorders.
According to customary practice, after a period in the new home she was allowed to make a visit to her family. The biography reports that she was welcomed with great affection by her parents and by the whole kingdom. She stayed there for only three months since her husband kept sending messengers asking her to come back, and eventually she returned to Lato Lho with another splendid celebration that resembled her first journey there as a new bride. According to Tibetan marriage customs, this sealed her acceptance of her new status.
According to the biography she became pregnant in her nineteenth year, which would have been about 1440, and gave birth to a girl. No difficulties are described during the delivery of the child, and at first everything seemed to proceed serenely. She enjoyed being with her little daughter, living in a very comfortable residence and assisted by several nannies. When her husband expressed his wish to appoint a Bon teacher for the child, she was able to negotiate that the girl should be educated according to Buddhist principles.
When her child was more or less one year old Chokyi Dronma went to a nearby hot springs with her retinue. There she fell so gravely ill that she almost died; her eventual recovery was ascribed to a miracle. Meanwhile a major dispute had broken out in her father’s kingdom and she decided to help in mediating the conflict. She left for Gungtang escorted by one hundred horsemen, leaving her little daughter behind with her parents-in-law, her husband and the nannies.
While she was away the child had died and her parents-in-law sent her a message to this effect. She is said to have taken the news calmly, replying that there was no reason to worry since the child would soon be reincarnated. She further blamed deeds against Buddhism for the child’s untimely death. Yet she was clearly shaken, inspired by the horrible loss to pursue a radical change; before leaving Gungtang and returning to Shelkar she formally announced her wish to take religious vows as a nun.
A short while after returning to Shelkar she announced her wish to take religious vows to her parents-in-law and sent a letter to this effect to her father. Neither of the parties agreed. Predictably, her father argued strongly with her about this decision and refused to approve it, saying that at the age of twenty she had just started her life and expressing his hope that she would postpone this decision. Chokyi Dronma remained resolute in her position. This marked the beginning of her long and momentous struggle to free herself from her secular obligations.
Meanwhile she had started to take care of the property and the interests of the Porong Pelmo Choding monastery that was located in Shelkar. She read the compositions of Bodong Chokle Namgyel and received teachings from him when he came to Shelkar, after which she felt a powerful devotion to him. After he left she read the Lalitavistara, which tells the story of Śākyamuni Buddha, and felt a strong wish to emulate Prince Siddhartha, giving up her royal life to strive for enlightenment. She repeatedly requested permission from her father and her father-in-law to become ordained, but to no avail.
Eventually she decided that she had to take drastic action to achieve her aim. At first she tried to escape from the castle, without success. In desperation she unbound her hair and started to tear it out, injuring herself in the process. When her shocked parents-in-law found her in this condition she threw the hair at their feet. The sight of her, standing in the middle of the royal fortress covered in blood and with her hair disheveled, led her parents-in-law to allow her to leave and to renounce her secular obligations.
Her father-in-law calmed her down and promised to agree to all her wishes provided she would not present herself in this state to her husband, who had recently suffered some kind of mental crisis of his own. She therefore arranged a makeshift wig to cover her hair and dressed in her best clothes to meet him. At first he did not understand the situation, but eventually went along with the decision, allowing her to leave the palace and him to marry another woman.
Chokyi Dronma’s action in feigning or experiencing mental instability in order to achieve a radical change in her life places her in a long tradition of women in Tibet who had to resort to this drastic measure, whether nuns, tantric practitioners or oracles. She may have been the most prominent to do so, but she was not the first: the act of unbinding the hair as an expression of madness and transgression features prominently in the life of several female (and male) Indian Buddhist figures.
Eventually the princess was allowed by her husband’s family to leave. The biography describes her riding off into the rising sun towards the high pastures and the monastery of Porong Pelmo Choding, delighting in her newly acquired freedom. At the monastery she was welcomed by Bodong Chokle Namgyel, who ensured that she had arrived with proper permission from her family before admitting her formally. After receiving the confirmation from both Shelkar and Gungtang, she was allowed to take part in her first ritual as a member of the monastic community. The biography records that she dressed sumptuously for the ceremony — perhaps a sign that she intended to preserve her high status — had the remains of her hair cut by an attendant, and took her vows as a novice. She was then given the name under which she became famous, Chokyi Dronma, ‘the Lamp of the Dharma’ (Dharmadīpa).
She used the occasion to announce her commitment to support religious practices for women. He biography records her statement as follows: “Generally there is no significant difference between those who succeed [in being born as male] and those who fail [and are born as female]. However, from now on, I will focus on supporting Buddhist practices for women, [especially those who follow a religious path], as they are the most trustworthy among women.”
Chokle Namgyel was later to face sharp criticism for having admitted a woman into a monastic institution, but he always defended his choice staunchly. Chokyi Dronma’s life revolved around him from around 1442, when she joined the community, until his death in 1451. During this time she moved between the monastery and her homeland, to which she loved to return from time to time. In the monastery she pursued her religious training and eventually was fully ordained as a bhikṣuṇī. The biography describes the event as follows:
“Then she went to [Pelmo] Choding, the great center of meditation, to be fully ordained. She took along numerous monks whom she had invited from the religious colleges of Gungtang. [Chokle Namgyel], who was particularly skilled in teaching the eighthy-four thousand dharmaskanda, performed the role of the abbot (upādhyāyai; khenpo). Seated on his throne, wearing his headgear the Venerable Chokyi Wangchuk, who was an expert of the Tripiṭaka, acted as the master of ceremonies (karmācārya; loppon). Surrounded by enough monks who were fully qualified, she reached the final stage and became a real bhikṣuṇī . Further training in the monastic discipline had filled the vase of her mind, and she became an object of worship for all living beings.”
Chokyi Dronma was one of the rare examples of a fully ordained woman for whom contemporary accounts confirming the ordination survive; her biography seems to imply that this practice was more widespread at that time than is now assumed on the basis of the existing records.
Presumably in an effort to follow the example of the Buddha, Chokyi Dronma also spent a great deal of time travelling around as a begging nun. Although this was an established practice, seeing their princess in this guise provoked a great deal of surprise in the local population. From simple nomads to aristocrats, most people became great supporters and she was extremely successful in collecting all sorts of donations with which she was able to support the religious activities carried out by her master. She was often joined in her begging by a nun called Delek Chodren, who became her trusted companion and close disciple and followed her for the rest of her life. It was this woman who was to become one of the key figures in the process of identifying her reincarnation and probably also in the compilation of the biography.
Throughout the period during which her life was centered around Bodong Chokle Namgyel and Pemo Choding Monastery, Chokyi Dronma devoted herself to the recruitment and training of nuns. Often these were inexperienced young girls and the biography underlines the point that since they were ‘free from worldly concerns’ Chokyi Dronma had to consider all their practical needs. It appears that she even oversaw the weaving and sewing of their clothes, while at the same time being deeply committed to their education. She apparently taught them proper reading skills and introduced a very effective system of teaching the Buddhist doctrine.
Bodong Chokle Namgyel himself was particularly sensitive to women’s issues and was a great innovator in this respect. Just as he had insisted on bestowing the full ordination on Chokyi Dronma, so he also established new ritual traditions for women. He encouraged Chokyi Dronma to initiate the performance of ritual dances by nuns at a time when female roles used to be performed by monks. A lengthy passage in the biography gives a very vivid description of the social and cultural challenges that this innovative enterprise entailed and of her skill in successfully overcoming them:
“At one point the Omniscient [Chokle Namgyel] said to her: ‘If the tantras are practiced in a complete way, the vajra-dance is indispensable. However this practice does not exist in Tibet. Nowadays people do not follow the original tradition completely and the teachings have been transformed from tantra into something else. Therefore the Buddhist rituals have been declining. Although, after listening to the doctrine of the Buddha, I wrote about his teachings and practiced them comprehensively, I have never managed to establish a dance performed by women. If you, the Great Woman, cannot set up this tradition, who else could do it in the future? It seems that there was such a tradition in India, but women have not been able to do the same thing in Tibet so men usually perform female roles, wearing wigs and female masks. Now, the time has arrived in which we can enjoy the Vajrayāna according to the vows. Great Woman, you have attained the highest perfection, you should be the first practitioner to set up this tradition and let the nuns learn from you. Then during our ritual meditation and offering you will perform it for the sake of the Buddha.’
“According to the instructions of the great lama she started to teach her retinue. However some nuns said: ‘We don’t know how to do it and even if we did know how to practice it we wouldn’t be able to perform in public, in front of a crowd.’ Chokyi Dronma said: ‘There isn’t anything else that would please our lama more than this, therefore we will do it. I’ll try my best as well.’ Then she asked some craftsmen to make the masks, including those for the sixteen tantric consorts. She earnestly told sixteen nuns, under the lead of the great woman Delek Chodren, that they should learn by heart the words of the rituals of the four classes of tantra.”
They eventually managed to perform the dances at Pelmo Choding with great success.
As long as her master was alive Chokyi Dronma seems to have been constantly torn between her wish to be with him and her desire to return to Mangyul Gungtang. Even though the closeness to her master made bearable the harsh, high nomadic areas where Pelmo Choding was located, she apparently preferred the more hospitable agricultural environment of her homeland and the hermitages in the lower, forested valleys of the Himalayas. In Mangyul Gungtang she was also more effective in mobilizing networks of support for religious enterprises and was able to count on the availability of skilled craftsmen.
In the last period of Bodong Chokle Namgyel’s life, she seems to have spent most of her time in Mangyul Gungtang, returning to Pelmo Choding whenever her master’s health deteriorated. The biography gives a striking description of how she rushed back after having been summoned by Delek Chodren with the news of the master’s fatal illness. The two women, together with Chokyi Dronma’s father, rode in great haste by day and night through icy storms over the 5,200 metre pass that separates Gungtang from Porong. They all succeeded in reaching the monastery before the demise of the great lama, and Chokyi Dronma’s father was able to receive important teachings. He returned to Gungtang, while Chokyi Dronma remained to nurse her master.
In 1451, at the end of the third month in the year of the sheep, she was summoned to Chokle Namgyel and joined him in meditation so as to be with him at his passing. She joined other close disciples in supervising the funeral rituals, and she mediated disputes that arose over the distribution of the relics from his cremation. She distributed the bone fragments among all members of the monastic community and had little figurines (tsa tsas) made of clay mixed with his ashes which were given to the lay disciples and patrons.
Chokyi Dronma was deeply disturbed by her master’s death and, according to her biography, lapsed into a period of several months of erratic behavior. She wandered the hills of her homeland and practiced meditation, the faithful Delek Chodren alongside her. Her friend is said to have felt distress and helplessness at seeing Chokyi Dronma in extreme disarray, covered in lice and randomly praising her master in front anyone she encountered even if that person would not understand what she was talking about. In due course she recovered from this extreme distress and was able to take care of other disciples of Bodong Chokle Namgyel.
After a while, probably sometime in 1452, she mobilized her whole retinue, all the disciples of Bodong Chokle Namgyel and the people of Mangyul Gungtang, in order to fulfill her pledge to collected the entire writings of her master, and to have them edited and published. While it is unclear whether print copies were made on this occasion, she is reported to have edited for printing (spar zhu dag) teachings her master gave. Chokyi Dronma played an important part in supporting the use of printing technology in Tibet — specifically the carving of woodblocks — when this technique was not yet widespread.
Following this endeavor Chokyi Dronma embarked on an irrigation project to create fields that would in turn support the establishment of a center of Buddhist learning and practice. She was, reportedly, discussing moving on to other places, and the plan was an effort by the people of Pelmo Choding to convince her to stay. Construction was begun and the details of the work are described in the biography; some surviving traces of channels and ruins are still attributed, by some of the Porong people, to these efforts. However, things were not carried out as well as she envisaged and she eventually gave up on this plan.
By this point she had made contact with Tangtong Gyalpo (1361?-1464?), the extraordinary Nyingma master who had become famous both for his religious deeds and miracles and for the production of iron-chain bridges over the Tsangpo River. She had sent Delek Chodren as a messenger and, sometime after she had received his reply to her request for guidance, she decided to visit Tangtong Gyalpo herself. She set out from Gungtang and never returned. Chokyi Dronma had wished to take her mother with her but this was not permitted by the court. However, both her mother and sister were allowed to escort her up to the pass that leads to the Porong plains, where they had a moving farewell.
After staying briefly at Porong Pelmo Choding she left for Lato Jang where Tangtong Gyalpo was then residing. She probably arrived some time in 1452 or 1453, and met the great siddha at Chung Riwoche, where with her support he would later complete the famous stūpa. She stayed with the master until the autumn of 1454, less than two years in all.
Tangtong Gyalpo appears to have had a decisive impact on her life and is said to have delivered famous prophecies according to which she would enjoy a long life but would have few disciples if she remained in her region, but would have an uncertain life span and a multitude of followers if she were to leave for the east. This prophecy is mentioned several times in the biography and is considered the reason for her final journey to south-eastern Tibet and the holy mountain of Tsari.
By this point in her life Chokyi Dronma was, like Tangtong Gyalpo, already engaging in the tradition of the “crazy saints”, using transgressive behavior to convey essential religious messages. Such a path was not unheard of for female masters of the time. For example, her biography reports the story of a female teacher of Tangtong Gyalpo who was meditating in a cave in Lato Jang and was visited by a scholar who was utterly shocked by the way she looked: “She had a frightening appearance with all her hair light-blue standing on her head. He prostrated to her and asked for blessings. She did not pay much attention to him and gave him her blessing with her hand that looked like the foot of a black crow. Having lost all devotion he thought: ‘Who was able to take me to this? Perhaps I was blessed by a demon.'” It seems that the scholar, by later reflecting on his first reaction, learned the importance of not being dependent upon appearances and conventions in assessing religious value.
Chokyi Dronma remained in Lato Jang until the end of the rainy season, presumably of 1454 (this tentative date is based on the time of her encounter with Vanaratna), and then set out towards central Tibet. A number of letters sent to the local rulers and a letter of introduction Chokyi Dronma took with her enabled her to take advantage of Tangtong Gyalpo’s large network of followers and rely on their support along the way. The text of the letter is quoted in her biography:
“All former scholars and members of the monastic community acted for the benefit of other living beings, but now there is nobody who cares. In particular since the death of Machik Labdron (1055-1149), there has not been a woman who was dedicated to the benefit of other living beings. Now there is a lady who stems from the royal lineage of the Gods of Clear Light who turned her back to worldly life, and is committed to spiritual liberation and to the benefit of all living beings. Her outer name is Lady Queen of the Jewel; her inner name is Female Teacher Lamp of the Doctrine; her secret name is Vajravārahī (Dorje Phagmo). Her residence is undefined. Her companions are undefined. And foremostly her lama is undefined. Since all elements are empty and have no essence, she practices selflessness. Now she is coming to your place, so please welcome her and give her adequate support at her departure. Follow the solemn commitment (dam tshig) of religion. Refrain from shameful worldly customs. Wherever she stays, teaching place and meditation place, do not feel jealous about what is mine and what is yours. People living in the east, you have always showed great kindness to my followers, the King of the Empty Plain (Tangtong Gyalpo). In return for your kindness, the Female Teacher and her retinue are coming. Renounce to any jealousy and provide harmonious conditions.”
Chokyi Dronma travelled from Lato Jang to Shigatse, Rinpung, the Gampa La pass, Lhasa and eventually Tsari. On her journey she encountered several political and religious personalities such as the Lord of Rinpung, Norbu Zangpo, and the Indian paṇḍita Vanaratna (1384-1468). In Lhasa she visited the Jokhang Temple, paid respect to the holy statue of the Jowo and had complex interactions with the local rulers who were utterly surprised by some of her informal behavior, especially since she was wandering around on her own. At the time of Chokyi Dronma’s visit to Lhasa the fame of Tsongkhapa (1357-1414), the founder of the Geluk tradition, was rapidly spreading, and Chokyi Dronma was deeply impressed.
After leaving Lhasa she visited Ushangdo, a temple established by her ancestor, the King Relpachen, in the ninth century. She then went to Chakzam Chuwori where she stayed for a few days next to the iron-chain bridge built by Tangtong Gyalpo. Here she received an extraordinary visit from a lama called Riksum Gonpo, a disciple of Tangtong Gyalpo who had been appointed as the first abbot of his monastery at Tsari Tsagong Nesar. He told her the astonishing story of how he had come to be there: while at Tsari he had experienced a vision of Chokyi Dronma and her retinue who summoned him to Chuwori. According to his instructions she continued her journey along the southern bank of the Tsangpo river. Here, just as she had left Tsetang to travel towards Tsari, her biography ends, and the final part of her life must be reconstructed on the basis of other sources.
She travelled to Tsari Tsagong Nesar, where she stayed for several months and expanded the meditation center of Menmo Gang. As she arrived there was a heap of iron rings for the bridge that had been ordered by Tangtong Gyalpo. She gave great gifts to the Kongpo people because they had fulfilled the orders of the master, and escorted the loads of iron as far as Orsho. When the iron arrived at the Nyago ferry landing, the master was delighted. Soon after, in 1455 or 1456, in Tsari Tsagong, Chokyi Dronma passed away at the age of thirty-four. Alternate dates for her death are given as 1467.
After her funeral her skull was declared to be one that Tangtong Gyelpo had prophesied: “A skull with special features will come to this sacred place, together with a mountain dweller from Ngari.” Chokyi Dronma’s skull is also mentioned in a short text attached to a painting currently preserved in Samding Monastery, the Shangpa Kagyu monastery that is the seat of her incarnation line. Her companion, Delek Chodren, located her rebirth in the person of Kunga Zangmo 1459-1502), who was born in eastern Kongpo, thus initiating the incarnation line of the Samding Dorje Pakmo.
*Source: Hildegard Diemberger at Treasury of Lives.
: Jetsün Mingyur Paldron :
“This great teacher is known as a tulku of both Yeshe Tsogyal and Machig Labdron. She was a daughter of Minling Terchen, the famed luminary terton and author of important texts of the Nyingma lineage. As soon as she was born, sitting up, she sang the sacred syllable HUM.
She received extensive teachings and transmissions from her father, her uncle Lochen Dharmashri, and many others. At the age of sixteen, her father passed away. At the age of nineteen, the forces of Dzungar Mongols destroyed Mindrolling Monastery and assassinated Lochen Dharmashri along with many masters. However, Jetsun with her mother and two sisters, escaped to Sikkim.
After the defeat of the Dzungars in Tibet, she went back and devoted her whole life to rebuilding Mindrolling and giving teachings and sacred transmissions. She also remained in retreat for many years at Khachod Dechenling. At the age of seventy-one — now even more youthful and radiant than before — sitting up in lotus posture and glancing up into the sky, she passed away. After passing, her mind and body remained in meditation for three days.
During the cremation, a ball of white smoke rose upward and moved toward the western direction. Some birds kept circling the smoke in the sky throughout the cremation ceremony. Every seventh day after her passing, for many weeks, the amazingly clear sky appeared filled with beautiful white rainbow lights. Monks and nuns of the monastery made three ceremonial visits to her sacred body. Each time five-colored rainbow light arched around the temple. Also a beam of very bright five-colored light rainbow light appeared linking one mountain to another, and linking one major temple to another. Many colorful lights appeared in the forms of various offering objects, such as a wheel, a horse, and flowers with four petals. On her cremated bones the images of many deities and sacred syllables appeared.”
Source: “Incarnation” by Tulku Thondup Rinpoche
: Shuksep Jetsunma Chonyi Zangmo :
“I, the Yogini who engages in the uncontrived conduct of fearlessness, moves in the measured tread of dance that extends evenly throughout samsara and nirvana.”
~Dakki Chonyi Zangmo (aka Shuksep Jetsunma Mani Lochen, 1865-1953)
Shuksep Jetsunma was born Lochen in Tso Pema, a holy place associated with Padmasambhava in the hills of north-west India. Her life, characterized by incessant wanderings throughout the Himalayan regions of India, Nepal and Tibet, emulated those of Tibetan yogis who had roamed these regions, meditating and teaching, for hundreds of years. She is probably one of the last examples of this lifestyle, which came to an abrupt end in the 1950s, with the Chinese invasion of TibetLochen’s childhood was marked by the domestic difficulties and squabbles of her wandering parents. Her father, Dondrup Namgyal, was quarrelsome and inclined to drink. Originally from the U province of Central Tibet, he was send away as an adolescent to serve his nephew, an incarnate lama called Yandro Yonten Tulku, at his monastery. He soon quarrelled with the local people and left both the monastery and the area, telling his nephew, ‘You are like a wolf and your monastery a wolf’s lair.’ He did not return home, but wandered here and there, ending up in Bhutan.
There he met a local lama by the name of Khanden and was taken into his service. The Swayambu stupa in Kathmandu had been under Bhutanese care until it was lost to the Nepalese a few years before. Shortly after Dondrup Namgyal’s arrival, Khenden Lama went to Kathmandu and managed to regain custody of the stupa. Feeling the Dondrup Namgyal had bought him good fortune, he told him, ‘Your name may be Namgyal, but I’m going to call you Thong,’ (which meant good luck like Tashi in Tibetan).
The Early Years
Dondrup Namgyal stayed in Khenden Lama’s service for several years, then went to serve another Bhutanese lama, Kalwar in the monastery of Thong Hago. Kalwar Lama was old and passed away soon afterwards, leaving his young wife, Tsentsar Pemba Dolma, who originally hailed from Nepal, alone and childless. Pemba Dolma was much grieved by her husband’s death. Declaring that she found cyclic existence quite meaningless, she planned to renounce the world and spend the rest of her life visiting the pilgrimage places of Western Tibet, India and Nepal.
Taking Dondrup Namgyal with her, she wandered from place to place, leading the life of a pilgrim, begging from falling back on the resources left her by Kalwar lama. A relationship eventually formed between them and Pemba Dolma, who had regretted remaining childless, began to follow the advice of the older village woman on am infallible method for bearing a male heir. It involved her collecting stones from holy places and carrying them on her back. She went about lugging and increasingly heavy loads until she began to have unusual dreams and felt her wish had been fulfilled. In one particular dream she was standing by a crowd of women washing their hair in a spring. She suddenly looked up and saw staring down at her someone attired like the deity Heruka. In another, she was returning from Tibet and came across women wearing ornaments who told her,’ You bathe first and when you are finished, you can look after our ornaments while we bathe.’
Pemba Dolma convinced that the dreams were special signs concerning the child she had conceived. She felt very happy and announced that the infant in her womb must be a lama or at least some special being.
On the fifteenth day of the first month of the wood ox year (1852), Pemba Dolma gave birth in Tso Pema to a female child. The delivery was painless, accompanied by a slight earth tremor and a rain of flowers. Voices were heard reciting manis, the six-syllable mantra of Avalokiteshvara. It is said that the child was born cross-legged, her arms crossed on her chest in the gesture of holding a bell and vajra and that many heard her say, ‘Om mani padme hum.’
Though most people witnessed these events were filled with respect and awe, Dondrup Namgyal remained unimpressed. The birth of a daughter made him feel he had somehow been cheated and he directed his discontent at his wife, sneering, ‘You said you were giving birth to a lama and you had only a girl. Throw her out!’ He continually mocked her for her previous dreams and statements concerning the child. After Lochen’s birth, things went from bad to worse between her parents, her father drinking and mistreating her mother. When Lochen was a few months old and they were staying in Gashar, in the Indian Himalayas, he sold mother and child to some chang sellers, probably in payment for drink. For Pemba Dolma he took three silver rupees, and for Lochen two. The incident was reported to the local official, who objected to such transactions under his jurisdiction and ordered Lochen and her mother to be returned to Dondrup Namgyal. When she heard the official’s decision, Pemba Dolma begged him just to let her go, for she had no wish to stay with her cruel husband. Hearing this Dondrup Namgyal was filled with remorse and broke down in tears. He asked the official at least to give him custody of his daughter. Trying to resolve the dispute, local people advised Dondrup Namgyal to treat his family better and made him promise not to beat his wife. Pemba Dolma finally agreed to stay with him and they left together for Spiti, Lochen strapped to her mother’s back.
On the way, they came to a large river, on the banks of which they found a sword. Pemba Dolma, worried about the future for herself and Lochen, felt this was a special sign. Picking up the sword she prayed, ‘If my daughter is to be of benefit to the doctrine and beings may we cross that river. If not, let the water carry us both away.’ There was neither bridge nor ferry, but Pemba Dolma resolutely entered the water and began to ford the river. Due to the strong current she soon lost her balance and mother and daughter were nearly drowned. Suddenly, a woman appeared out of the sky and grabbed hold of Pemba Dolma’s hand. When they reached the other side she disappeared and Pemba Dolma was unable to find her though she looked everywhere. Some people said they had seen a woman flying away.
Although apparently fond of his daughter, Dondrup Namgyal continued to drink and was often short of money. One day, he sold Lochen to a merchant for a handful of silver. Pemba Dolma had to wait outside the merchant’s house until she came out, when she picked her up and ran off with her. Coming to the hot springs in Kulu, they found Dondrup Namgyal there before them. After he promised never to sell either of them again, they were reconciled once more.
The First Teachings
One day, when the family was living in a tent, Dondrup Namgyal came home drunk and told his wife he wished to leave her. He proposed that since they had only one daughter, they should cut her in half so they could each have their share. Lochen was listening outside ran away terrified to hide under some thorny bushes. Crouching in her hiding place she suddenly felt very light and heard melodious voices all around her.
Immersed in physical and mental bliss, Lochen did not notice time go by and one week passed without her knowledge. Her family and all the local people had searched high and low and failing to find her, concluded that she had been eaten by wild animals.
When she finally emerged from her hiding place, Lochen was greeted by many children who, bewildered at seeing her alive, prostrated to her, blew trumpets and asked her for teachings. Sitting on an elevated spot, she recited these verse,
In order to lead all sentient beings to Buddhahood,
One must accumulate merit
And with great motivation one must listen (to the teachings).
She taught refuge and other basic practices. Stating that Tibet’s protective deity was Avalokiteshvara, she instructed her young listeners to meditate on him and to recite his mantra, OM MANI PADME HUM, saying it was the essence of the Buddha’s doctrine. At that time many took refuge in the three jewels as well as making commitments to recite the mantra.
When this took place, Lochen was about four and still drinking her mother’s milk. Many people criticized her, saying it was wrong to preach at so young an age, but a mani master called Gonkar defended her saying she was either an emanation of Tara or Machig Labdron. He gave her many transmissions on ways of reciting Avalokiteshvara’s mantra and said that when she reached six, Lochen would be a mani lama in her own right, having mastered all the necessary transmissions and ways of reciting the texts.
Dondrup Namgyal was never really kind to his wife, but he learned to love his daughter. When Lochen was five he felt she should learn to read and took her to a former government official, who having become a devout practitioner, the local people respected the lama. He taught Lochen to read and write and she learned quickly and easily.
At the age of six Lochen began to give teachings. She had a patron, a Khampa merchant called Tashi who asked her to travel from town to town, explaining the meaning of mani. People would assemble in the marketplaces by the thousands to hear her. Tears sprang from the eyes of the crowd as they watched this tiny figure standing on tiptoe to point an enormous stick at an even larger thanka, teach and comment faultlessly on the stories concerning Avalokiteshvara’s mantra.
Slowly, her fame spread and while travelling in the Western Tibetan area of Rampur, the local king asked her to teach. She inspired such faith that people started referring to her as dakini. In a place called Tsondarong, people offered her money and valuables, sheep and goats. She returned the former and left the few sheep and goats to her mother.
One cold, rainy morning, when the family was staying in a straw hut, Lochen heard a voice singing from the roof. She was busy lighting a fire and looking up, saw a bearded Indian sage. He sang, ‘Father who sells his child eats his own flesh, drinks his own blood.’ He remained there, singing about Lochen’s father. Next day, the sage returned, bringing a partly burned rosary. He showed it to Lochen and asked, ‘How did this happen?’ Her father who had been eyeing the sage curiously replied for her with a flow of insults and the sage disappeared. Later, while the father and daughter slept, the fire from the stove suddenly spread through the hut until the flames were licking their feet. Both awoke in pain. The sage appeared, picked up Lochen and carried her to the river where he dipped her burned feet into the cool water. They were instantly healed.
Thinking the sage had stolen his daughter, Dondrup Namgyal ran out of the hut shouting, ‘Don’t take my child!’ when he reached the river bank, he found Lochen alone. The sage had disappeared.
Lochen continued to travel and teach throughout Western Tibet and the adjoining areas of Ladakh. At Pitu monastery during the cham festival she saw the ritual dances and had visions of many gods riding dragons about to speak to her.
One New Year, the family came to Tso Pema. Dondrup Namgyal continuing to drink heavily, threatened to burn down a local house. Outraged, the people beat him with burning sticks until Lochen begged them to stop. When they asked her for teachings, some pointed out that it was ludicrous on the one hand to beat up the father and on the other to ask the daughter for teachings and they promised to let him alone, however unpleasant he might be. They mused, ’The father is like a devil, the girl like a goddess, where can these people be from?’
Lochen liked to save animals from slaughter and often spent money given to her ton buying sheep and goats, especially in the nomad areas. She kept a large female goat on which she rode. It was so tame that it would get down on its knees so Lochen could mount it without difficulty. She travelled throughout Western Tibet riding that goat. When they encountered difficulties, they were helped by the protectors. In one dangerous place, full of wild animals, they could find no water. Lochen spotted a raven flying above them and following it, found a spring where they all quenched their thirst.
Lochen’s parents continued to accompany her on her travels, and though her father’s mood and behaviour had its up and downs, he didn’t really change. Once when they were in Purang, he felled in love with a woman called Doltso, and decided to stay with her. Thinking it wiser to let him have his way, his wife and daughter left him there and went to Nepal. A few days later, he joined them where they were staying. He asked where they planned to go, but before they answered, added, ’If you go east, I will go west.’ He is mentioned no more in Lochen’s biography.
Lochen Finds Her Root Guru
When Lochen was thirteen and travelling through Tso Pema, she met a lama of the King Sawor who told her, ‘Ani Dolma, my uncle Pema Gyatso is a disciple of Shalikar Rinpoche. He lives in Kyirong (Western Tibet). You should go there a meet him.’ Hearing the name ‘Pema Gyatso’ though she had never met him, Lochen was felt very moved and determined to find this lama, wherever he might be. She took several months to reach Kyirong, where she heard that Pema Gyatso was staying in a cave a few hours walk away. Lochen and her mother had prepared offerings and were about to set out to meet him, when they heard there was an epidemic in the area. Pema Dolma decided to stay behind, but Lochen went ahead, though night was coming on.
That night, she slept under the stars and at daybreak had an auspicious dream about the lama she was going out to meet. She awoke in a very joyful mood, bought a clay pot full of milk from some nearby nomads to give as an offering, and set off towards the cave. One the way she saw a nun collecting water from the river. The nun stopped and looked her up and down. Later Lochen said that meeting this nun holding a vessel filled with water was an auspicious sign of her future fame. She asked the nun, whose name was Tsultrim, where the lama was to be found, and if she could meet him. Tsultrim offered to show her the way.
Lochen met the lama in his cave, made her offerings and paid her respects. It is said that as a result of Lochen’s offering of a vessel of milk to her lama, many years later someone offered a cow to her nunnery at Shungsep. And though it bore no calf for eight years, it provided milk continuously.
Pema Gyatso blessed her and told her that if she were willing to observe the ascetic precepts known as the Ten Innermost Jewels of Kadam, he would accept her as his disciple. She decided there and then that whatever might happen, she would put all her heart into these practices and told the lama so. Pema Gyatso began to explain the meaning of the Six Causes and One Result method for generating the altruistic mind of enlightenment. It was difficult and Lochen was unable to grasp the meaning. Her lack of comprehension bought tears to her eyes and she begged for further explanations. Those present were amazed to see such a young girl paying such close attention to religious teachings.
Lochen stayed a few days with Ani Tsultrim and was soon joined by her mother. They built a small house of bamboo in the mouth of a cave and Lochen attended the lama’s teachings during the day. They were rarely over before dark, and her mother would wait for her outside the lama’s cave with a bamboo torch. Lochen received transmissions of Kunzang Lama and all the empowerments. Transmissions and explanations of Longchenpas’ Heart’s Drop instructions of the Dzogchen or Great Completion, as well as one hundred initiations of Chö, the ritual for severing the ego.
One day, as Lochen went begging for alms, she came to a small nunnery where a young nun was churning milk. The nun welcomed her and offered her a bowl of milk. It was poisoned and Lochen became violently ill. She prayed hard and practised the Vase-liked Wind meditation with the result that she threw up the milk riddled with snakes.
Training and Hardship
Lochen had met her lama in the summer. In winter, he moved from his cave to another small nunnery nearby, where he gave extensive teachings and their food begging alms and wherever Lochen went, people showed her great respects and generosity. Close by was a lama who received far fewer alms than Lochen and consequently highly resented her popularity. Finally, feeling he could bear it no longer, he went to see Pema Gyatso and told him that Lochen received a great deal of offerings. Pema Gyatso asked what was wrong with that and he replied, ‘Nothing, but she goes around saying she is an incarnation of Dorjey Phagmo’. Pema Gyatso said nothing, but when Lochen appeared before him a few days later with offerings she received, instead of accepting her gift, he grew very angry and accused her of lying and pretending she was an incarnation of Dorjey Phagmo. As she stared at him in disbelief, he grabbed her offerings. Climbed up to the roof of the nunnery and flung them down at her along with his boots. Though Lochen was hurt, she crouched down to pick up the boots, and placed them on her head as a mark of respect.
After this incident, Lochen continued to attend her lama’s teachings though he ignored her. One day, he gave each of his disciples a clay statue of Machig Labdron, but when Lochen came to receive hers, Pema Gyatso told her sarcastically that being either and incarnation of Machig Labdron or Machig Labdron herself, she didn’t need one.
Lochen began to meditate on the psychic channels and energy winds at the age of seventeen. From the outset she consulted her lama who consented to guide her and gave her a text. The following day, he called her back and asked her to return the book. He explained that he had had a bad dream and consequently felt she shouldn’t be doing this practised. Instead he taught her the practised of the Vase-liked Wind for a few days and stopped there. Since they were receiving no teachings, Lochen and a few companions decided to go begging for alms. While they were away, Pema Gyatso gave his remaining disciples an explanation of the way to meditate on the channels and winds, a prerequisite for the practice that Lochen was so much aspiring to. When she returned and found out that she had missed the teaching, she was very upset, but nonetheless decided to ask her lama to give it to her as well. To her joy, he agreed and she immediately went to buy the meditation band and white shawl required to do the practice following the initiation.
The twenty-one day of that month was an auspicious date, and Pema Gyatso assembled all his disciples to bestow on them once more the explanation of the practice of wind and channels. Some days earlier, Lochen had come to know that Ani Tsultrim, the nun who had originally shown her the way to the lama’s cave, had stolen some corals. Shocked and upset she had mentioned it to several people. Pema Gyatso caught wind of the rumour and called Lochen in to see him. He told her in a dry and cutting tone, ‘You have three faults. You criticize the Ani Umzey, you lie by pretending the incarnation of Dorjey Phagmo, and you accused your friend of stealing. I cannot have you here any longer, you are not fit to be given these precious teachings.’ He then stamped her forehead with a seal representing a dog and ordered her to leave both the nunnery and the locality immediately and go to a place called Pomdra in Nepal.
Miserable and deeply humiliated, Lochen begged her lama to let her stay. Her pleas failed to move him and feeling totally dejected, she packed her belongings and left with her mother and two friends, who insisted on accompanying her.
After some distance, they came to a crossing. Pondering which path to follow, a nomad suggested the right as the other led to a region stricken with disease. They followed his advice, though with little joy, for the road was steep and rocky, which made travelling with difficult. Finally they reached a village, set in a narrow valley, where the people spoke a dialect they could barely understand. No one offered them a roof for the night, so they slept out in the open and were bitten by insects. In spite of such hardship, Lochen clung on to her faith in her lama and did not forsake her compassion for all beings. That night she had a very clear dream of him giving teachings. She woke feeling sad and sang,
I prostrate to the great yogi Pema Gyatso,
The exalted Heruka,
All-encompassing Lord Vajradhara
Of all infallible objects of refuge.
I, Mani Lochen, am just a beggar
Vowed to accumulate merit
And purify and purge my sins for three years
Near the mirror-like rock hermitage.
Amidst the Hai mountains, in the western direction.
Father-like holy root guru
Following your instructions, I meditate on this life
As a free and fortunate human being
And the stages of the path without any mental distraction.
And when I meditate with undivided attention I experience (the following):
Ordinary appearances having simply ceased,
(Intuitive awareness) appears vividly to my mind
Yet is inexpressible by speech.
When mind is relaxed, I experienced that beyond mind
In my experience of peace, I ecstatically uncovered non-conceptual reality.
I meditated on that which is neither continued nor reversed,
Earlier or later not just once, but again and again.
I burst into natural laughter
Upon seeing the self-nature and self’s spontaneity,
I can definitely ascertain there is no more to look for.
Thus this offering of the mode of appearance of a beggar.
I offer to the Victorious Ones and their Sons.
Through the kindness of my lama
I sing a song of spiritual experience
And dedicate my virtues to all mother sentient beings.
May this be a cause for realizing the Great Completion (Dzogchen).
Unfortunately, an attendant of the local king overheard her song and misinterpreted it as criticism of his master. He reported that a young nun was singing strange verses about him. The king was annoyed and sent out men to punish her. Unable to find Lochen, they caught her friend Tsering Gyalmo and locked her in prison. Lochen, her mother and Kador, their other companion, pleaded before the king, but he remained unyielding. Lochen then decided to go with Kador begging for tsampa, leaving her mother to look after her imprisoned friend. They came to a frail rope bridge over a broad river. Kador was crossing first when one of the ropes suddenly snapped. With a jerk Kador felled straight into the torrent below.
Observing her friend from the edge of the precipice, and pondering a few seconds over her bad luck – of her two companions, one was in prison, and the other in the river below – she made up her mind. Praying to her lama, she meditated on the Vase-like Wind and wishing that all sentient beings be freed from cyclic existence, she jumped down into the water. She landed near Kador who was struggling for breath and managed to pull her onto a large rock. Local people, who had been watching from the river bank, concluded she must be a dakini and reported what had happened to the king. Realizing his mistake and filled with regret, he summoned Lochen, her mother and Kador and had Tsering Gyalmo released immediately from prison. Then bowing before Lochen, he begged her for religious instruction and offered her many gifts. She gave him teachings on the meaning of Avalokiteshvara’s six syllable mantra and how to practise it.
A few weeks passed and Lochen and her companions decided to return to the nunnery and Pema Gyatso, hoping his anger has abated. For her part, Lochen knew that despite the ill treatment she had received from him, her faith in her lama remained intact and she was more willing to face his anger than to stay away. Upon reaching the nunnery, she prostrated before Pema Gyatso and told him that she and her companions had been to the place he had instructed and had now returned. He seemed to be pleased, though not particularly impressed when they related the incident at the river.
Soon after this, Pema Gyatso, accompanied by Lochen and other disciples set out on a pilgrimage through Western Tibet. They first went to Penchen Pema Wangyel’s monastery in Ngari, visiting the holy sites and viewing the many stones naturally adorned with mantras. When they came to a cavern, Pema Gyatso instructed Lochen to strike a large boulder with her staff. She obeyed and to everyone’s surprise. Excrement came pouring out. The lama then struck it and a large piece detached itself, revealing a natural image of Avalokiteshvara’s mantra. More and more pieces fell off, creating a shower of naturally formed mani stones. Lochen gathered them up and built a mani wall. As they performed the consecration ceremony she realized that her lama was clairvoyant.
In the years that followed, Lochen continued to wander throughout Tibet, giving teachings and begging for alms. Sometimes she and her companions came to wild places where, like Milarepa, they lived on nettle soup. In inhabited areas, local people readily offered them food. Once somebody gave them a brick of tea. Having never seen one before they mistook it for a kind of vegetable. Lochen cooked it and carefully removed all the juice before eating the leaves.
At a place called Nagtsel Monastery, Lochen entered a three year retreat on the Heart’s Drop and Accomplishment of the Guru Milarepa. During this retreat, she had visions of girls wearing beautiful ornaments beckoning her to visit their land. She had an urge to write and thought of gathering tree bark. Then feeling that she was in a pure land, she remained some time in a state of bliss. When she emerged she found her lap strewn with strips of bark covered in writing. Before she had time even to read them, the nun who was directing Lochens’ retreat, Chu Sang, came into her cell and saw these Hidden Treasures, which had been revealed to her. Seizing the strips of bark she said these were not for anyone to see. When Lochen tried to retrieve them, she hit her on the head and burned them all. From that moment, Lochen’s realizations disappeared and she was beside herself with regret and disappointment. One of her friends, Ani Woser, tried to console her saying, ‘Don’t worry, although there is much doctrine in this world, it is very difficult to attain any kind of realization. You may not have been able to spread these Hidden Treasures, but they are safe in the dakini’s land, so please don’t worry.’ At the end of her retreat, Lochen reported her experiences to her lama, adding that she had felt great bliss while meditating. He said nothing but ‘Hetta’, meaning that her view on emptiness was correct.
Sometime later, Pema Gyatso and his disciples, including Lochen; went on a pilgrimage to Nepal and many holy sites in Tibet. At Swayambu in Nepal, they repainted the stupa and Lochen gave teachings on Avalokiteshvara’s mantra. Her main aim was to educate the local people in the correct method of practising Buddhism and to put a stop to the doings of a local lama called Ja Lama who, mixing Buddhist and Hindu teachings, sacrificed buffaloes and offered their heads on Buddhist altars. Lochen’s instruction had a positive effect and the sacrifices stopped. Ja Lama said that he regretted his actions and promised to change his behaviour.
At Sakya they met Dagtri Rinpochey. A Phurbu dance was in progress at the monastery and they remained for the whole duration. Lochen had visions of rainbows and rains of flowers and felt that Sakya was a pure land. Sakya Dagmo inspired her with great faith, and throughout her stay, she prayed that she might benefit all sentient beings.
In Tashi Lhunpo, Lochen circumambulated the monastery each morning, reciting a special text. She had a very beautiful way of singing the verses and it is said the Gesheys listened to the melodious sound with great pleasure.
In Lhasa, they met lama Kyabgon Dharma Sengey who lived in retreat in Lhasa Phumba-ri. With him, they had an audience with the Thirteen Dalai Lama. They offered him a mandala and he gave them the transmission of the Hundreds of Deities of the Land of Joy and teachings on the Migtsema prayer to Jey Tsongkhapa. Then, they visited all the holy places in Lhasa.
When she arrived at Ganden monastery wearing her thin cotton robe, many of the monks, having heard that a yogini had come, crowded round to see her, staring and whispering to each other. She sang the following verses to them:
Father, revered guru Pema Gyatso
I prostrate to you, who have realized the true nature of the mind
When I arrived at Ganden monastery,
Hearing that there was a yogini,
Many gathered in crowds to stare at me.
I examined myself (to see) whether I was a yogini or not
And it seems you are right (in implying I am not).
The white yogi is Padmasambhava
Who taught the entire doctrine of sutra and tantra,
The white yogi is Tsogyal (Padmasambhava’s consort)
I am just a beggar who is only their follower.
Atisha was the multi-coloured yogi
Who has spread the Dharma wide in India and Tibet
And from whom emerged the new and old traditions of Kadam.
The mother Tara is the many coloured yogini,
I am just a beggar who has received her blessing.
The black yogi is the father Dampa,
Who taught the doctrines of peace and of Chö.
I cut off the self-grasping consciousness and realized emptiness.
The black yogini is mother Labdron
Ugly though I am, I preserve her doctrine
All that I hear, see and feel
Are the blessings of three yogis.
May I be the liberator of all mother sentient beings
And may the Dharma shine like the sun.
Lochen and her lamas stayed in Lhasa for some time, Pema Gyatso and Dharma Sengey residing at Tsechok Ling monastery on the other side of the Tsangpo. From Dharma Sengey, Lochen received the teachings of the essence of the Yuthok Chö and initiations for the transference of consciousness, as well as instructions on averting harms from Nagas and harmful spirits. Following these teachings, she made a Chö fire offering and went to sleep while performing it. Dharma Sengey hit her on the head with the butter pourer. Many people were present and Lochen was both frightened and embarrassed by the incident, though the next day her mind felt sharp and clear. The lama asked if she had felt ashamed at his rebuke and although at first she denied it, she finally admitted she had.
One day, Pema Gyatso became very ill after eating pork at a patron’s house. She did her very best to help him, but he never recovered. When he passed away at Banashu, an area of Lhasa, Lochen saw many rainbows overhead.
After her lama’s death, Lochen ceased wandering and settled down. In the winter she stayed in a cave at Sangyey Drak and in the summer at Shungseb, which became her nunnery. It stood near Lhasa, on a pine-covered slope, from which it got its name. She also dwelt in caves on the rocky mountain Thogar-yag. There she taught the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life one hundred times to men, spirits and gods and spent the rest of her time in retreat, meditating on her personal deity.
One day, as she meditated the yelp of an animal was swiftly followed by a dog trembling with fear, which ran into her cave and took refuge on her lap. Soon after a leopard thrust in its head and was about to pounce on the dog. Lochen firmly meditated a few moments on great compassion, then she gestured to the leopard to sit, thinking there was no need for fear for all phenomena are like illusions. The leopard slowly crouched and sat on her right. From then onwards, both animals stayed near her cave, fearless and harmless, and Lochen preached to them, feeling that the seeds of the altruistic mind of enlightenment had been implanted in their mindstreams.
While in six months retreat in the Sangyey cave, Lochen passed away for three weeks, after which she revived once more. The shock of returning to life made her suddenly remember her lama, and she called his name out aloud. Her special faith in him made her spend days and nights in tears and she expressed praised of him and the dharma in the following verses:
Supreme guide, O my root guru,
Look on the sufferings of sentient beings
Who have no dharma,
Have mercy on unfortunate yogini,
Her body moving in different positions
As if she were doing a religious dance.
These came to her spontaneously out of her great faith and the immeasurable compassion she felt for sentient beings. She recited the six-syllable mantra for a long time to a slow tune and through the blessings of Arya Avalokiteshvara, water emerged from the rock. This spring was so abundant that all the lamas and disciples who had gathered in the area used to draw their drinking water from it. They gave her the nickname, Chudon Kushog, ‘the master who extracted the water’.
Lochen’s behaviour at that time was so odd that people wondered if she were mad. Her mother, who was most worried of all, asked Taglug Matrul Rinpoche for a divination. He told her, ‘Let your daughter do whatever she feels like doing. She is completely different from ordinary people and will be successful’.
At that time, Lochen was practising the initiation and commentary of The Wishfulfilling Gem of Liberation, which she had received from Drupai Tenpai Gyeltsen. As a result of her practice she achieved some of feats and no matter on what object she placed her mind, it remained there undisturbed. The various beings of the six realms spoke to her in their own tongues and she could perceive the beings in the three realms of desire, form, and formlessness as clearly as if they were in the palm of her hand.
Experiencing great physical well-being and mental bliss, she never stopped singing, her hands always performed mudras, her mind was ever in samadhi, and her deep awareness was unobstructed and free of extremes. She had many such experiences at this time.
She reached the stage at which the winds enter the central channel and she spontaneously and unrestrainedly started jumping, dancing, producing various sounds and running ceaselessly in and out of her cave. Once, while in the midst of such an experience, she suddenly fell. Her physical heat dwindled away and her breath stopped. Only her subtle mind remained, totally concentrated, abiding on its object. Her mother and her friends decided she had passed away and prepared for her funeral, crying and lamenting.
Though there was no movement in her body, her increased awareness was nine times sharper and clearer than normal. After some time a one-eyed lady with green hair appeared before her and asked, ‘Lady, do you want to go to Padmasambhava’s Pure Land?’ Lochen assented and the strange woman took her, without their feet touching the ground, to the realm of an elaborately roofed celestial mansion. There, she came face to face with the great Padmasambhava. His face smiling, white and radiant with a tinge of red, his peaceful aspect with a hint of wrath, like a white conch shell with a light red hue. On his head, Padmasambhava wore a hat marked with a vulture’s feather, the sun and the moon. In one hand he held a vajra and in the other a vase of the nectar of immortality and a scarf. He was dressed in tantric regalia, a blue robe over the three robes of a monk, and was sitting in the regal posture, one leg outstretched and the other withdrawn. He was surrounded by all the great Indian and Tibetan Mahasiddhas and scholars, including his twenty five main disciples in Tibet. All this great beings held different attributes in their hands, and though there seemed to be no space between them, each of them was very clearly defined. Padmasambhava spoke to her, calling her the mind manifestation of the Dakini of Shining Blue Light. He then conferred all the four initiations on her. Out of great faith Lochen sang verses of praise and Padmasambhava placed a long-life arrow on her head, granting her special blessings.
Then Lochen felt she was returning to an ordinary level of perception. She visited the heavens, saw Brahma and Indra, all the kings and the demi-gods and the realm of the hungry ghosts. Wherever she went she practised the exchange of self and others. Visiting the hells, she saw unbearable suffering. In the hot hells were re-hot iron houses full of molten metal and burning floors, beings whose bodies were of one entity with fire, others being boiled and cut to pieces. All the while, she felt as if she were experiencing these sufferings herself.
In the cold hells were snow and blizzards, beings with bodies as blue as an utpala flowers with blisters cracking into a hundred different pieces. In other hells, Lochen saw beings being eaten away by worms, being pierced by weapons, having their hearts torn out, dreadful birds describing and picking up their eyes, dogs gnawing their flesh, molten liquids being poured upon them and others being pressed down under stupas, books and statues. The sight of so much suffering was unbearable to Lochen. Tears of compassion sprang from her eyes and she sang many verses of prayers.
Suddenly the dakini with an iron hook in one hand and a lasso in the other appeared before her with Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion who relieves the sufferings of beings in the six realms. They said,
“Om Mani Padme Hum, please listen to me compassionate dakini. You have from your previous lives, the seeds of the two minds of enlightenment, and those seeds have been moistened by the collection of merit and purification, you are now like a plant, accomplishing the welfare of beings. You should practise all the great qualities of Avalokiteshvara, expressed in his six-syllable mantra which alleviates the sufferings of beings in the six realms. You should also meditate on the seven causes and one result mind training precepts which are:
Recognizing all sentient beings as one’s mother
Remembering their kindness
Repaying their kindness
The Special Resolve, and
Mind of Enlightenment
Lochen immediately meditated in the way and saw fire and ice, sharp weapons, and cauldrons gradually melt away. The hell beings’ shrieks and screams slowly quietened down until all became silent and they sat still who their hands folded, an infinite crowds of beings, stretching as far as Lochen’s eyes could see. The dakini then taught her the use of Avalokiteshvara’s six syllable mantra and told her to meditate on it. This Lochen did and gradually the remaining sufferings of beings before her vanished and they uttered the verse for taking the refuge.
The same dakini also taught her the nature of all phenomena, which are totally devoid of an inherent self. Receiving these teachings and meditating simultaneously on the four immeasurable wishes, immeasurable love, compassion, joy and equanimity and the perception of their ultimate nature, all the remaining parts of the hells turned into a land of happiness and the former hell’s beings were transformed, gained faith and were able to take refuge. Lochen prayed and meditated even harder and many of the creatures appeared before her died and took birth in better realms. She felt infinitely grateful to the dakini who had taught her how to help sentient beings.
Suddenly, Lochen felt she should meet Shinjey, the Lord of Death and King of Hells. She found herself in a radiant cave, at the end of which appeared sixteen fearful buildings without doors. In one of them, standing on a sun, moon and lotus seat, trampling a human corpse, was the Lord of Death, with a dark brown body, holding a slate in one hand and a mirror in the other. He was clothed in shrouds and performing the nine wrathful dances. Accompanied by his retinue of grimacing monsters, he came up and asked in a booming voice, ‘You have come before the time of your death, while everyone else comes after. Can you explain the meaning of this?’ In response, Lochen requested that he release all the beings in the hells from their suffering.
Meanwhile, Shinjey’s attendants were busy searching for her name in their records. They told her, ‘There is nothing on you here which justifies your presence. Please proceed to one of the heavens.’ Lochen replied, ‘It would be shameful for me to leave for the heavens alone, while all mother sentient beings remain in the hells. We should all go to the happy realms together, and you, King of the Hells, should help me to bring this about.’ The King replied, ‘Listen that has been tried before. Avalokiteshvara, the god of compassion himself, with his unique disposition to help beings came and three times attempted to transform the hells. It didn’t really help. In spite of all his good will, beings continue to accumulate the negative karma which brings them here. After that, the dakini Yeshey Tsogyal came, and she also transformed the hells once. But again, it didn’t help. After a while, the hell-beings start coming again and the hells are filled up once more. There is no end to the karma which continues to ripen and bring about the miseries of beings. No one can transform the fruits of other beings’ good and bad actions, so what can you do?’
There was a silence, and the Lord of Death resumed, ‘Before doing anything else, religious guides and teachers should examine themselves. As community leaders they should be truthful and observe the laws they prescribe. Ordained monks and nuns should avoid transgressing their vows. Tantric practitioners should be well-versed in the two stages of generation and completion. Those who have attained powers should use them carefully and not be misled by circumstances. Realized persons should not chase conceptual thoughts and practitioners on the path should not run after the appearances of duality. Practitioners of Chö should not see one thing as the devil and another as divine. Learned scholars should not be satisfied merely with words. Tantric practitioners should not change to the Hinayana path, and those whose realization is gradual should not be satisfied merely with hearing teachings, but must generate experience. Men should avoid lustful actions and women should not misled or mislead others through deception. Religious patrons should not feel that they have done something splendid and religious practitioners should not chase after offerings from the lay community. Holders of the doctrine should keep their lineages pure and not mix them up with others.’
The hells around her disappeared and Lochen’s mind re-entered her body. She resumed a normal life and remained in Namkha Dzong, giving oral instruction entitled The Garland of Flowers. She had other experiences in which she saw the ten directions becoming filled with tigers. She was afraid, not knowing where to hide. Then her body took the form of a syllable HUM and she flew away.
Lochen also did a twenty-one day retreat in darkness under Trulshig Rinpochey’s guidance. When she emerged she felt her mind was very clear and found that just by thinking about a place, she could actually be there. She realized this when one day she strongly felt that she should go to meet Karmapa Khakhyab Dorjey. Though it was a feeling, it took her to him and she received teachings without any of his attendants knowing. Meanwhile, her companions thought she was still in her retreat cave.
Eventually, Lochen’s eccentric behaviour, death-like states and mystic experiences worried her mother who decided she needed the constant and direct guidance of a lama. She packed a yellow cloak and they set off for the dwelling of a famous adept called Semnyi Rinpochey. Prostrating before him and offering him the cloak, Pemba Dolma told him that so far she had been looking after her daughter in her retreat, but now she wanted to pass the responsibility to him. She pleaded that he would not let her indulge in strange behaviour and that whenever she was not attending teachings, she should be made to stay in retreat. She said that if she was not controlled, the two mad lamas, Ragshar Jetsun and Taglung Matrul Rinpochey would make her daughter go here and here and her practice would not lead her anywhere.
Thus, Pemba Dolma left Lochen in the care of Semnyi Rinpochey. Though she was an ordinary woman, she devoted the rest of her life to religious practice and said ten million Amitabha mantras. Lochen had said that if her mother remained at Shungseb Nunnery she would suffer from defilement which would harm her practice so she dwelt in a cave below the nunnery. She lived to the age of ninety-nine, becoming smaller and smaller. When the dakinis saw that she would not remain on the earth much longer, they prepared to welcome her to their realm. On the eighth day of Sagadawa, while praying to Amitabha and facing to the west she passed away.
From then on, to pray for her mother, every year in the fourth month Lochen would perform eight sets (sixteen days) of the fasting retreat, a practice which entails taking only a vegetarian meal every other day in conjunction with reciting manis.
Soon after the death of her mother Lochen became very ill and made up her mind that she was going to die. To that end she did the practice of generating a feeling of disgust for cyclic existence through body, speech and mind, meditated on the winds and channels and applied the Six Yogas of Naropa. These made her feel as light as a piece of wool. In the morning and the evening she performed highest practices of Dzogchen, watching the sun and rising and just setting, and perceived all phenomena as heavenly appearances.
In the dog, pig and bird years, Lochen was often very seriously ill. Her disciples became worried and bought a doctor to see her/ after taking her pulses, the doctor declared that Lochen’s illness was definitely not due to a disorder of the elements. He advised her disciples that instead of giving her medicine they should offer her long-life prayers to drive away the dakinis, who were trying to take her to their pure lands. They followed his advice and Lochen soon recovered.
Spiritual guidance of the Shungsep nunnery relied very much on Lochen, who came to be known as Shungsep Jetsun. One day a young girl came to see her and asked her to be ordained. She was accepted as a novice and named Urgyen Chözom. Soon after she had begun the preliminary practices everyone realized she was exceptionally gifted and hard-working. In a short time, she had memorized one the principal Dzogchen texts, Tri Kunzang Lama Shelung by Patrul Rinpoche. She rapidly became a capable of leading the classes on all the texts and the lama at Shungseb began to hope that this girl would succeed him as throneholder.
Because of Urgyen Chözom’s increasing responsibilities, Shungsep Jetsun had more time for retreat. She spent one year meditating on White Tara, after which she gave a series of oral transmissions which included, the brief, intermediate and extensive Perfection of Wisdom Sutras in twelve volumes, the collections if precious sutras and tantras known as Sungdu and the Seven Treasures of Longchenpa, and its commentary, the Songs of Milarepa and the Songs of Shakpar Rinpoche. Following these transmissions, she would break down the ritual cakes that had been offered, roll them into small pellets and put them in her soup. This is what she mostly lived on, boasting that it was tastier than the noodle soup of the Lhasa aristocracy.
In the Autumn following a Phurba retreat, she gave her annual teachings, mainly on some of preliminary practices of the Nyingma. These teachings involved trying to separate and clearly identify, the worldly and the transcendental aspects of one’s own mindstream. These techniques, which can be taught from texts, are the vest explained from experience. Mastering these doctrines is the most useful at the time of death. If the practitioner is unable to discriminate between the various appearances that arise at death, then he will be led by his karma and winds to another existence. By clearly identifying and recognizing what appears before him, he has a chance of becoming liberated. Shungsep Jetsun had great mastery over these techniques and was particularly capable of experiencing and teaching them simultaneously. That year, as she was giving such teachings she suddenly became seriously ill and died. Her teacher Semnyi Rinpochey was about to perform the transference of consciousness, when a lama called Sargu Rinpochey advised that it was not yet appropriate, as there was still some warmth at her heart.
During that short period of death, Lochen had an opportunity to sharpen her practice of the subtle primordial awareness. She then suddenly returned to life and her disciples requested Semnyi Rinpochey to perform long-life rituals for her. He became very angry and chose to give her the wrathful aspect of Guru Rinpochey, Garuda, and Hayagriva, and performed the long-life ritual of the essence of the five Buddha families. Placing the vase on Shungsebma’s head and the vajra in her hand, he said scoldingly, ‘If you don’t live long your disciples will accuse me of killing you! They will wage war against me!’ Then he appealed, ‘You must stay for a period of 100 years, like Machig Labdron.’ Since this was her guru’s order, she had no choice but obey, and her illness disappeared.
The mistakes of some of his followers caused Semnyi Rinpoche to fall ill one winter. Though he usually opposed long life rituals, he consented to let his disciples do one for him, and he recovered after a month. However, his discovery was short lived, and two months later, on the first of the third month, he passed away.
Every year Shungseb Jetsun performed many prayers and rituals for her deceased lama. She had two stupas erected, one made of silver and one made of clay. The silver stupa was given to Yarlun Tsering Jong in accordance with the lama’s last instructions. The clay stupa and an image of Semnyi Rinpochey made by Sagur Rinpochey became the main objects of worship in Shungsep nunnery.
Now that her lama had passed away and her mother had died, Shungsep Jetsun thought that she should make a pilgrimage to Kailash as Trulshig Rinpoche had instructed her sometime ago. She made secret preparations, consulting only her closest disciples. Just as she was about to leave, Sagur Rinpochey and some of Semnyi Rinpochey’s other disciples came to know of her plans. They refused to allow her to go, saying that Semnyi Rinpochey had held the special seat of Longchen Rabjampa and that she should help them preserve the monastery’s tradition and agree to be his heir. She conceded and accepted the position. She gave many teachings and the number of disciples increased. Though the monastery had 300 residents, nuns and some monks, thousands came to attend her teachings.
In the year of the iron sheep (1930), the Dzogchen Abbot Ngawang Norbu came to serve the general doctrine of the Buddha, and the doctrine of Longchen Rabjampa in particular. He gave extensive teachings to the local people advising them that the best way to ensure the flourishing of the doctrine was to become ordained and many agreed to take vows. Shungsep Jetsun made several religious robes from yellow cloth she had and gave them to the poorer disciples. After the ordination the Abbot told them that merely taking vows as not enough, disciples should know and understand the vows, how they should be kept and preserved. He then explained Ngari Penchen Pema Wangyel’s Clear Realization of the Three Vows.
Urgyen Chözom had become a learned and highly realized nun, sharing many of the virtuous qualities of Shungsep Jetsun. Unfortunately, she suddenly fell seriously ill and died. Shungsep Jetsun sang many songs lamenting the death of one so young and well qualified.
Sometimes when she was in retreat, disciples visited her seeking special teachings. One, Tenzin Yeshe, came to perform self-initiation after completing a retreat meditating on Avalokiteshvara. Although the cave had walls, he could only feel empty space and walked right through them. While performing the self-initiation he saw Shungsep Jetsun in the form of Avalokiteshvara with one thousand arms, and thought, ‘What are all those arms for?’ Returning to his own retreat house, for nearly a week his mind never turned towards food or mundane activities. Everywhere he looked the space was filled with deities and he found himself speaking religious words he had never thought of before. His mind remained in a clear and blissful nonconceptual state and he experienced happiness as if he were in a pure land. He felt that anything could appear if one’s vision were pure.
After the young reincarnation of Semnyi Rinpochey had been found, Shungsep Jetsun gave him a Chö initiation and some objects that had belonged to him in his previous incarnation.
Not much later, Shungsep Jetsun again fell ill and died for one night. During that time, she experienced the full appearance of the 100 peaceful and wrathful deities. She found herself in a happy valley, where she met someone with a human body and a horse’s head, who said he was the king of the Gandharvas. ‘Where is this country?’ she asked. He said ‘This is hell,’ pointing to the empty throne of the Lord of Death.
The next day, while she slept she had a vision of many beautifully adorned women who lifted her up and carried her away through different pure lands. She had one hundred silver coins with which she intended to build a stupa. The Lama Arapatsa came and with one of her disciples he built a stupa which disintegrated after one month. They then invited a Geshey from Drepung and to make a victory stupa. Many non-human beings made offerings and some of them made prophecies. One, adopting a human aspect, said there were great obstacles to the building of the stupa, and great danger in attempting to erect it again. Shungsep Jetsun made strong prayers, but even so two or three times people were buried by rocks, although they were uninjured.
Due to these visions, she realized that to attain Buddhahood one must collect great merit and purify unwholesome deeds. And unless one has a very firm understanding of emptiness, all these virtues alone will not give rise to liberation. She realized that a practitioner’s degree of realization can decline. She told herself, ‘I shouldn’t possess all these worldly things and be so involved with composite phenomena.’ She encouraged herself in a series of verses:
As a novice I determined
To follow Mila and Gyalwa Longchenpa
In cutting off the self-centred mind
For the sake of enlightenment.
I wandered everywhere begging for alms in my youth
And engaged in worldly activities as I grew old.
The desires of patrons had to be fulfilled inadvertedly
When they made offerings of their worldly possessions.
Though I meant to accumulate merit
I was unsure whether I did virtue
Unless I realized the nature of unconditioned phenomena.
Slack and lazy though I may be
In my religious practice,
Through the power of my master’s blessings
May I overcome all obstacles.
One day, in the earth tiger year (1938), Shungsep Jetsun’s disciples received a message that the Regent of Reting Rinpochey wished to meet her. Because he was the Regent, they advised that she should call on him, rather than let Reting Rinpochey call on her. She was old and ailing and needed to be carried on someone’s back. While they were preparing to leave for Lhasa, Reting Rinpochey appeared at the door by himself. He asked her, ‘How long have you been here? How old are you?’ She told him, ‘When I came I had a mouth full of teeth and a head full of black hair. Now all the hair has turned white and my mouth empty.’ Then he asked, ’What is the core of your practice?’ ‘The core of my practice is ‘ra-don’,’ accidentally slipped out of her mouth. It was a very sarcastic remark, ‘ra’ for Reting and’ don’ for devil and she wondered whether she should repeat it if he asked. That she had unintentionally uttered this comment was an evil premonition concerning Reting Rinpochey. When the troubles at Sera took place, she realized that that was what she had been referring to.
During the iron-snake year (1941) Shungsep Jetsun was visited by the official Manager of the Great Prayer Festival, Dorjey Damdul and his wife Namgyel Dolkar. They asked to remain at the nunnery and receive her teachings. She replied, ‘The three great monasteries Sera, Drepung, and Ganden are full of great bodhisattvas. Why are you so helpless that you ignore them and come to me with this request? You are being foolish behaving in this way,’ and sent them away. They regularly returned to visit her and renew their request. Telling her they felt worldly life to be senseless, impermanent and unpredictable, they begged her to help them to make best use of their lives.
She finally replied that, although she had no qualities to help people, she could not refuse and earnest request. She said she would pray Tara and see what would be best for them to do. She saw that if they began religious practice it would be very successful, like the sun rising out of darkness and told them, ‘I will pray to the Jo-wo Norbu (the Shakyamuni statue in the Jokhang in Lhasa) to help me fulfil your wish. Please offer this scarf on my behalf and then begin your religious practices. You should know beforehand that there are many obstacles, so don’t ask your father what to do and don’t rely on your mother’s advice; make the decision yourself. Since this is a personal matter, you must decide on your own. You must have courage to follow in the footsteps of the holders of the tantric doctrines.’
In due course, Dorjey Damdul and his wife resigned their duties and abandoned their possessions to come to her and totally dedicate their lives to religious practice. Shungsep Jetsun became their teacher, and gradually gave them all the teachings according to the capacity. They were very good vessels and she found that whatever she taught was suitable for them. They engaged in intensive meditation at several hermitages and gradually attained high realization.
Shungsep Jetsun had a special karmic relation with Drupchen Rinpochey and saw him in very unique ways. Once, as he was teaching the root text and commentary of Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend, serpents appeared behind his head and he took on the appearance and the voice of Nagarjuna himself. Sometimes, she saw him as having a body made of light and though she could touch his clothes, his body seemed totally insubstantial. On the occasion she received the initiation for trying to identify the nature of your own mind, a special and difficult Dzogchen practice, she had an enduring vision of the 100 deities of the mandala clearly outlined on Drupchen Rinpochey’s body.
When the 16th Karmapa visited her, he told her, ‘Since you are the real Machig, please give me a long-life initiation.’ She replied, ‘If you want to achieve immortality, you should first realize the deathless nature of your own mind.’ The Karmapa replied, ‘Please help me to recognize my own mind.’ She told him, ‘Naropa, it is not appearances which bind us, but rather the grasping nature of the mind, and grasping desire. There is nothing to be meditated upon. Since there is no object of meditation, there is no object of distraction either. Hold on to this nature of non-grasping, my heart-son.’ Then she offered him an initiation of White Tara and asked him to put on the Black Hat three times. The Karmapa offered her a long-life initiation in return.
Shungsep Jetsun was also visited by the father of the 14th Dalai Lama. She offered him the oral transmission and explanation of the mani. On another occasion, Sera Kelda Tulku came and they offered Tsok together. Then she gave him the principal practice of Shabkar Rinpochey on the deities Hayagriva and Vajra Varahi, and an explanation of the permission of the Wishfulfilling Jewel empowerment. She advised him to go into retreat for three years and keep out of trouble. He was unable to do this and returned to Sera, from where he was eventually expelled following the monastery’s rebellion against the government.
Dharma Sengey had willed that certain of his possessions should be given to Shungsep Jetsun. But when he passed away, his disciples put them into a shop to be sold instead. Years later, due to the links of karma someone bought them and offered them to her. There were thangkas, an ivory damaru, a long-life vase, and a vajra and bell. Receiving these objects that had belonged to her guru made her deeply happy and she prayed that she could uphold Machig’s sacred doctrine over many lifetimes.
One of her disciples, Genyen Tsangmo, always saw a white man accompanying Shungsep Jetsun, wherever she went. She finally told Jetsunma, who had no explanation to offer, when suddenly, a white man appeared to her. Surprised, she asked who he was/ He replied, ‘Don’t you know me? I have been with you all these years, like a servant, helping you accomplish your good deeds.’ Jetsunma realized she was speaking to Tamchen, one of her protectors.
The biographies stop in 1950, although Shungsep Jetsun lived three years longer. She mainly followed Nyingma lineages, but she was remembered by all as a true practitioner of the non-partisan, Rimey, tradition, having given and received teachings from teachers of all traditions and given them to disciples of all backgrounds. People who visited her at Shungsep remember a very small woman-they say she became smaller and smaller-who could no longer walk at the end of her life. Whoever attended the rituals at her nunnery say everyone was welcome, whether laymen, women and children and all were entitled to a share of the offerings.
Love and Liberation: Autobiographical Writings of the Tibetan Buddhist Visionary Sera Khandro by Sarah Jaboby
was released in Autumn 2014. Get a copy here.
: Sera Khandro :
Sera Khandro Dewé Dorje, aka Kunzang Dekyong Wangmo (1892-1940) — a great female tertön whose treasure texts are revered by many great Nyingma masters. She was the consort of Tulku Trimé Özer, one of the sons of the illustrious Tertön Dudjom Lingpa. She was also one of the root gurus of Chatral Rinpoche and was reborn as his daughter, Saraswati.
She was a significant female terton, revealer of treasures: Immaculate White Lotus is a biography of Padmasambhava attributed to Shelkar Dorje Tso and revealed as a terma by Sera Khandro. According to Erik Pema Kunsang, it is almost identical to Wish-Fulfilling Tree, a biography revealed by Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa.
Source: Rigpa Wiki.
“Sera Khandro Kunzang Dekyong Wangmo was born into a wealthy, politically powerful family in Lhasa. Her father, Lhase Jampa Gonpo, was descended from Mongolian royalty. Her mother, Tsering Chodzom, was from the powerful Tibetan Nub clan.
From an early age, Sera Khandro was drawn towards religion; instead of playing games with other children, she recited the six-syllable mantra and encouraged other children to practice religion. She reported that revealed her first treasure when she was seven, pulling a ritual dagger part-way out of a rock at Drak Yerpa near Lhasa. In her biography she records that throughout her life she had many visionary experiences interacting with ḍākinīs and siddhas and traveling to many extraordinary Buddhafields. (All ages from her biography have been adjusted to accord with the international standard.)
Despite Sera Khandro’s proclivity towards leading a religious life, her father insisted that she be educated in literary Chinese in order to follow his footsteps into the life of the Lhasa political elite. When she was only ten years old, her father arranged a marriage to a Chinese leader’s son, a union the religiously-minded young girl opposed. Despondent at the prospect of losing her chance to practice the dharma, Sera Khandro attempted suicide by drinking a mixture of opium and alcohol.
Traumatized by this and by the death of her beloved mother, at the age of twelve, Sera Khandro experienced a vision of Vajravārahī that changed the course of her life. Vajravārahī empowered Sera Khandro in the two Treasures that would be her life’s main teachings: The Secret Treasury of Reality Ḍākinīs and The Ḍākinīs’ Heart Essence.
Emboldened by ḍākinīs’ prophecies, Sera Khandro courageously escaped from her home and her imminent marriage to join a group of Golok pilgrims, never to return to Lhasa or see her family again. From the moment she saw the Golok pilgrims’ lama, Drime Ozer (1881-1924), great faith and devotion arose in her. Yet the road ahead was full of obstacles. Sera Khandro’s wealthy upper-class Lhasa upbringing was no match for the harsh terrain and sub-zero temperatures of life on the road as a traveling pilgrim. She nearly starved and froze to death en route to Golok.
When the group finally arrived at Dartsang, the religious encampment of Drime Ozer’s father Dudjom Lingpa (1835-1904) in the high pasture lands of Golok, Sera Khandro’s presence was met with jealous hostility from Drime Ozer’s consort Akyongza, and she was forced to live elsewhere. Sera Khandro worked as a servant girl for a local nomadic family and began her preliminary practices. Quickly, she became renowned for her diligent practice, eloquent speech, and religious devotion.
Sera Khandro later became the consort of Garra Gyelse, son of the treasure revealer Garra Terton Dudul Wangjuk Lingpa (1857-1910) of Bannak Monastery in Golok. They had two children, a daughter named Yangchen Dronma / Choying Dronma (b. 1913), and a son, Rigdzin Gyurme Dorje (1919-1924), who did not live past childhood.
Life with Gyelse proved difficult for Sera Khandro; he disapproved of Sera Khandro’s calling as a treasure revealer and forbade her from writing or propagating religious teachings. Her health worsened as she became increasingly afflicted with an arthritic condition in her legs. Meanwhile, her devotion for Drime Ozer only grew stronger. These factors contributed to Gyelse’s decision to send her back to live with Drime Ozer when she was twenty-nine years old. Sera Khandro credited her reunion with Drime Ozer with curing her of her illnesses. Together they revealed many treasures. After Drime Ozer’s death only three years later, his disciple Sotrul Natsok Rangdrol (d. 1935) invited Sera Khandro to live at his monastery in Golok named Sera Monastery, the place from which she derives her title.
Sera Khandro traveled widely throughout Golok with her attendants, the monks Tupzang and her scribe Tsultrim Dorje. Her main teachings were the treasures of Dujom Lingpa and Drime Ozer as well as her own. She died in Riwoche at the age of forty-eight. It is said that before her body was burned, it dissolved into light until it was the size of a seven-year-old child’s body.
Sera Khandro’s main disciples include the First Adzom Drukpa Pawo Dorje and his son Gyurme Dorje and daughter Chime Wangmo; Dujom Lingpa’s sons Pema Ledrel/Drime Ozer and Dorje Dradul; the Fourth Katok Chaksa Pema Trinle Gyatso; Pelyul Gochen Tulku Jiktrel Chokyi Lodro; the Riwoche Zhabdrung Tulku Tsewang Drakpa; Abo Soge Tulku Natsok Rangdrol and Jikga Tulku from Sera Monastery in Serta; Trakya Lama Sherab Ozer, Tromge Khandro Dawa Dronma; Dzogchen Khenpo Norbu Wangyal; Chadral Sangye Dorje (b. 1913); the king and queen of Ling; and her own daughter Choying Dronma.”
From a forthcoming translation on Sera Khandro’s life by Sarah Jacoby.
Grateful for the wonderful work by Sarah Jacoby. Source: Treasury of Lives.
Image: Courtesy of Jnanasukha.
: A-Yu 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 A-Yu Khandro in “Women of Wisdom”:
Ayu Khandro Dorje Pendron 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 A-Yu Khandro in “Women of Wisdom” by Lama Tsultrim Allione.
: Khandro Lhamo :
By all accounts, Khandro Lhamo was a remarkable woman. The longtime wife of His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Khandro-la was also an accomplished practitioner, a skilled doctor of Tibetan medicine, and the revered matriarch of Shechen, a “mother monastery” of the Nyingma lineage where Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche undertook much of his training. The circumstances of her birth, in Eastern Tibet to a farming family of modest means, did not augur the extraordinary life she would lead. Women such as she could have expected to endure closely circumscribed existences, marked by hard labor and perhaps by early death in childbirth or by disease. Khandro-la’s dramatic shift of fortune began with an admonition rendered in verse:
“The young yogi with an A on his forehead/From the virtuous family of Sakar mansion,/To prolong his life, should wed the maiden born/in the Wood Tiger year.”
Souce: Greg Zwhalen, Autumn 2006
“Coming Home” – The Cremation of Khandro Lhamo
: Khandro Pema Dechen :
“This adept was born in Kongpo, Central Tibet. From the time of childhood she was fully inspired by Dharma and Guru Padmasambhava. At the age of sixteen, she married a great adept, Thrulzhig Pawo Dorje of Minyag, Kham. Most of the time with her husband and sometimes alone, she spent years in solitude in caves and mountains observing strict meditative practices and taking in very little food. Her retreats included shelters of rocks, clothing of rags, and quenching of thirst by hard to get water on the tops of high mountains. One time, a line of mice kept bringing tiny pieces of of food and piling them up in front of her to sustain her in a cave in a high mountain. In addition to many other serious practices, she accumulated thirteen sets of the Fivefold Hundred-thousand Ngondro practice. She attained high realization, along with many visions and revelations, but kept them all secret. After the death of her first husband, she married the Fourth Dodrupchen Rinpoche and supported Rinpoche’s Dharma activities so that they will flourish.
At the time of her passing, she remained in meditation for days. During her cremation, the sky was filled with rainbow lights. These were not just beams of rainbow lights, which are not that rare, but thigles, circles or spheres of rainbow lights, which are multiple colors, sizes, and designs. They are signs that every particle of the physical form is being transformed into pure light, and then it all is being absorbed into the Ultimate Pure Sphere. In fact, all that witnesses ever see is some slideshow of them. And this was witnessed by hundreds of people – Tibetans, Bhutanese, Nepalese, Chinese, and Westerners alike – and it was all documented in still photos and videos. … Also in Khandro’s ashes they found many ringsel.”
Source: “Incarnation” by Tulku Thondup Rinpoche
Thigles photograph at time of Khandro Pema Dechen’s cremation by Tsewang Trungkar.
: Ani Sherab Zangmo :
“The great yogini of Gebchak Gonpa, Sherab Zangmo, passed away in the autumn of last year at the enlightened old age of 86 or so. She had been unwell for some time, but then seemed to recover and was strong and in high spirits for some days. During these days she gave meditation teachings to the nuns and often sang the prayer “Calling the Lama From Afar.” Near the time of her death her complexion lightened, and her face and body became youthful and small like a child’s. She told those who were with her that she could see Jetsun Tara clearly before her, and that she was now going to Dewachen, the Pure Land of Amitabha. She counseled the nuns to serve their lamas well and to live in harmony with each other, and told them not to worry, and that all would go well for them in the future. The sky remained like a morning sky, bright and clear for the whole day of Sherab Zangmo’s death, and she remained in tukdam meditation for 6 days afterwards.
“Forty-nine days after her passing, Sherab Zangmo was cremated at Gebchak Gonpa, with the great yogi Pema Drimey, Gebchak Wangdrak Rinpoche, and all the Gebchak nuns performing the ceremony. The sky was clear blue and the temperature unusually warm on this day, in a season of constant inclement weather. After the ceremony, many white crystalline relics of different shapes were found in her ashes.
“Very sadly, four other nuns passed away as well at Gebchak Gonpa over the last year. Oser Chomtso, who was in her 50s, Choying Paldron, an elderly nun, Kunzang Jinpa, in her 20s, and Pema Palmo, also in her 20s, passed away from various sicknesses. Their deaths are a great loss, and more so of a tragedy because each of them likely could have survived had they had proper medical treatment.
“The death of the young Pema Palmo, however, is another story with cause for inspiration. She passed away in the first year of a three-year retreat, in the small retreat house where 25 nuns live side by side in their meditation boxes. After her death, Pema Palmo remained for seven days in tukdam meditation and had other amazing occurrences accompanying her death, which the other nuns in the retreat all saw and experienced.
“Being so remote and removed from easy access to proper medical care, the nuns at Gebchak Gonpa have always been resolved to bear with and sometimes die from illnesses that could be easily treatable in the modern world. This has been the way of life and death for most Tibetan people in the past.
“With the help of the Gebchak lamas, the nuns, the local medical community, and sponsors like you, the aim now is to set in place a system of regular check-ups, providing health care training for a few of the nuns, recognizing the symptoms of disease, and monitoring that the nuns follow through with necessary treatment.
“Please keep the Gebchak nuns in your mind and prayers, and remember their dedicated practice towards enlightenment for the sake of all beings. There are still places in this world where human beings reach their full spiritual potential, and the benefits very positively reach each one of us. However, these nuns need our continued support to be able to continue their practice.
“Wangdrak Rinpoche and all the nuns at Gebchak Gonpa wish you a very blessed and joyful Tibetan New Year!
Very best wishes,
Source: Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s Website
Photograph by James Gritz.
: Jomo Sam’phel :
Jomo Sam’phel is a great yogini living for a long time in Yang-lé-shöd, Nepal. She is the sang-yum of Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche, who passed into parinirvana in September 2010. In 2002 Thinley Norbu dedicated a long life prayer both to her and Kunzang Dorje, celebrating their union. She presently lives in Kathmandu.
Khandro Déchen said,
Jomo Sam’phel is ‘Rinpoche’ even though she declines this title of respect. Rinpoche means precious, and Jomo Sam’phel is one of the most precious human beings in the world.
Jomo means ‘lady’ – as in ‘lord and lady’, and Sam’phel means ‘wish-fulfilling.’ Jomo Sam’phel is she who fulfills the wishes of beings simply through their turning their minds toward her. Ngak’chang Rinpoche said,
Simply to have seen her face is to have received a cause for liberation.
A brief biography as related to Ngakma Shardröl Wangmo in Yang-lé-shöd in 1995…
Jétsunma Khandro Ten’dzin Drölkar (Jomo Sam’phel) is a Dzogchen Naljorma – a Tibetan ngakmo who holds the gö-kar-chang-lo. She is not well known because she lives as a secret yogini, and has only a few close disciples. She was born into the world with many special signs of wisdom, and many Lamas considered her to be a dakini. She grew up in the Rong-shal area, close to the Nepalese border. Rong-shal is near Lip-shi the area where Milarépa practised for a long time. She grew up in Long-shal, a village strongly associated with Milarépa, and lived there until she was sixteen years old. She clearly remembered previous lives as child, and was always interested in Dharma. Her father died and she lived with her Mother who was a ngakmo. She had three younger sisters. The youngest died, and the two remaining sisters now live in Nepal.
When her mother died, she went to Trülshig Rinpoche’s gompa. At that time Trülshig Rinpoche was her root teacher. She received many teachings from Trülshig Rinpoche and practiced them intensely until she was twenty four years old. In that time she received the entire cycle of the Mindroling Térma (Southern revelation Teachings). Shortly after the age of twenty-four she met and married Ngakpa Tséring Thöndrüp, the eldest son of Lama Pasang Rinpoche. They were separated by the Chinese invasion, when she fled to Nepal, and he died in his attempt to leave Tibet. After that her life became very difficult. She went to a refugee camp and worked in a carpet factory. She didn’t know she was pregnant when she escaped from Tibet and ended up alone with her child, but continued her practices in the mornings and evenings. In 1971 she left Nepal and went to McLeod Ganj in India, where she met Ngakpa Yeshe Dorje Rinpoche, had 3 children with him (oldest child: Tséring Thöndrüp; then Tséring Lhamo, Min’gyür Chödrön, and Tulku Ten’dzin). Tulku Ten’dzin was recognised by HH Dudjom Rinpoche as the incarnation of a disciple of Shakya Shri, a Tértön and Ngakpa Lama of the Drukpa Kagyü School (who received pure vision teachings and practises from Milarépa). Her younger son and daughter are in school, and an elder son works for Tibetan exile government.
In 1975 HH Dudjom Rinpoche gave his cycle of Térma teaching in Kathmandu. Khandro Ten’dzin Drölkar received those teachings, and has been devoted to them ever since. She has had many teachers including, HH Dungsé Thrin-lé Norbu Rinpoche, Kyabjé Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche, Chatral Rinpoche, and is now engaged in practising the full cycle of Dzogchen teachings she has received. In her youth she practised many yidams from the Könchog Shindu gTerma cycle, and is a Dorje Phurba and Hayagriva master. But now she devotes herself to Dzogchen men-ngak-dé and togal practice and engages in a 3-4 month retreat every year. She now lives at the Yeshé Tsogyel Retreat Place established by Lama Gyaltsen Rinpoche, and presided over by Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche.
: Ani Rigsang :
Ani Rigsang of Pemako: A supremely accomplished hidden Tibetan yogini of combined Nyingma-Kagyu lineage who stayed nine years in solitary retreat perfecting her practice of the Six Yogas of Naropa and Mahamudra. She is based in Terdrom in Central Tibet.
Her presence attests in the practice, and assures that a picture is actually worth more than a thousand words.
May we all accomplish such simplicity of being.
Photo courtesy of Ian Baker.
: Khadro-la :
Khandro Lhamo Tseringma
Khadro-la is the State Medium of the Tenma Oracle. The Tenma Goddesses are Twelve Guardian Deities of Tibetan Buddhism.
In Dharamsala, India, there is a Tenma oracle, consulted and honored by HH Dalai Lama, for which this young Tibetan woman is the kuten, which literally means, “the physical basis”.
*Interview with a Dakini*
Ven. Roger Kunsang: Can you tell me why you left Tibet?
Khadro-la: “It happened at the last minute. I didn’t have the intention, and I didn’t have the money to travel. I followed a sign that came in my dreams. There was a bus blowing its horn indicating its departure, and until I got on the bus I was unaware of where I was heading. I learnt from the other people on that bus that they were going to Lhasa and thence to Shigatse. A couple of days into the journey I learnt that they were also planning to go to Mount Kailash.
“One day, while we had stopped our journey at Shigatse, I was circumambulating Tashi Lhunpo Monastery when I came across an elderly man dressed in an Indian cloth doti. This complete stranger gave me 2000 gormo. He asked me to sit beside him, and begun to tell me many unusual stories. He told me that India was just beyond this mountain, and that I should be meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and many other lamas. He kept urging me to head for India – and at the time it didn’t feel at all strange, although when I recall it now it seems amazing to me.”
Ven. Roger: Was it very difficult to make your way to India?
Khadro-la: “Oh yes! There was much hardship. I had no mission of my own and was just following the pilgrims. I don’t remember very clearly how long the journey was, but I did fifteen koras round Mount Kailash and due to my unusual actions and the words that I was speaking, rumors were going around that I was a dakini. People began to line up to see me, even seeking blessings from me. It was very tiring for me to deal with the crowds, but a very kind monk from a nearby monastery took good care of me with food and drink. He even organized a better system for the people who came to see me for blessings, etc. Many of those people expressed their wish to go to India with me. One night, quite suddenly and without any discussion, I made up my mind to leave for India and so a man who was our guide led seventeen of us from the bus along the trail that leads to the border. He wasn’t very experienced and it took seventeen days to reach Kathmandu in Nepal. It should have taken only seven days. We were in no man’s land, and as there were no real paths or people to ask, it was impossible to tell whether we were even out of Tibet. We had to just follow the signs I got in my dreams. When we were confused about the way, I was instructed to go in the direction where there appeared a circle of light. Maybe this was the blessing of the Dalai Lama or Palden Lhamo.
“Sometimes we had to walk all day without any food or drink, and sometimes we had to walk all through the night. We were not prepared for such a long journey.
“When I arrived in Nepal, I fell seriously ill with food poisoning and could not continue with my companions towards India. I had to stay at the reception center in Kathmandu, vomiting blood, which made the staff suspicious that I had a contagious disease. I was left to sleep outside the building in a field. I was so weak that I couldn’t change position. When I needed to move, they used long sticks to push me back and forth because they were afraid to touch me with their hands. As my condition worsened, the staff thought I wouldn’t survive, and so asked me if I wanted to leave a last message for my family and asked for the address to deliver it.
“So I made a request for monks from a monastery to do prayers after I died and to take my body for cremation to a peak which I later found out is the holy Nagarjuna hill where Buddha had spoken the sutra called Langru Lungten.
“I asked them to take my urine in a bottle and give it to whomever they met first at the Boudhanath Stupa entrance. By now I was semi-conscious, but they were kind enough to do this favor for me. The person who took my urine met a man at the gate who turned out to be a Tibetan physician. He tested my urine and diagnosed that I had been poisoned with meat, prescribed some medicine and even sent me some blessing pills. My health improved dramatically and I had many good dreams. When I recovered, I was sent to the Dharamsala reception center, together with some other newly-arrived people.
“I arrived in Dharamsala not long after some monks from my village had quarreled with the staff of the center – and so they had a negative impression of anyone who came from the same area. Consequently I, too, became the victim. Since I was quite young I was asked whether I would like to join school or did I want to have some skills training. My reply was quite straightforward and honest. I said I had no interest in going to school and neither did I want to learn something else. When I was back at home I always had the very strong will to serve good meditators, and so I used to collect firewood and deliver water for the meditators who lived around my village. I didn’t even know that Tibet was occupied by the Chinese and that that was why Tibetans went into exile. I was not tortured by the Chinese and I didn’t have any lack of food or clothing. My only wish was to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and as I have a problem of going into craziness sometimes, I merely wanted to know from His Holiness whether that was good or bad. That was all I wanted, otherwise I just wanted to return to my own home.”
Ven. Roger: So you felt that this so-called craziness was your problem at that time?
Khadro-la: “Yes. And although I had completely recovered good health, I was still passing blood. Many of the newly-arrived people had diarrhea, but whenever the toilet was dirty I was accused of doing it because they all knew that I had a stomach problem. So I was forced to clean the toilet. And the staff there scolded me saying, ‘You are said to be a dakini, so why do you have to rely on us? Why do you have to eat the food and take shelter here? Why don’t you just pull the sun down here?’ And so on and so on.
“I couldn’t take the food that was provided at the center, but sometimes I had to ask the kitchen staff for hot water. I was often kicked out and scolded. It seemed like it was the consequence of the trouble that had occurred between the monks from my village and the staff members at the center.
“I couldn’t get an audience with His Holiness because I was accused of having a contagious disease which might infect him. Some said I was mad. Some even said I ought to be leaving the center or be sent to an insane asylum. I was even banned from public audiences for several months. Instead, I circumambulated the Dalai Lama’s palace every morning. One day, I heard that His Holiness was coming back home, so I hid beside the road to greet him. As his car passed by Namgyal Monastery, I saw a very bright light radiating on the front window of the car and inside I saw him with many hands around his shoulders! It was the first time I had ever seen His Holiness and I just jumped towards the car to prostrate, and I fell unconscious, almost under the car.
“I was carried back to the center by a man from my village and again the shower of scolding began. But I think a very strong change happened in me by seeing His Holiness and I never got angry with the staff. I thought, ‘Oh! They have to take care of so many people and of course they get upset sometimes.’
“Despite many requests, I still wasn’t given an audience with His Holiness. At a public teaching I managed to find a seat. As he came in escorted by security personnel, I was possessed by the protector and the guards took me away from the courtyard where the teachings were to take place, telling me to stay at the bottom of the stairs. I felt so sad to think what evil karma I must have created in the past that now I can’t even see His Holiness.
“The teaching began with the recitation of the Heart Sutra. I could hear His Holiness chanting, and as he was saying “no eyes, no nose,” etc., I started to have a very strange feeling. By the time he was saying “form is empty and emptiness is form,” I felt rays of light were showering on me, entering from the crown and filling my whole body. I felt lifted up in the air. I had a strong feeling of joy and sentiment.
“As time went by, I came to know some meditators and came in contact with some great lamas such as Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche and Khalkha Jetsun Dampa. I received blessing water from them, and they, too, tried many ways to make my contact with His Holiness possible. But no progress was made, and so I finally made up my mind to return to Tibet. I was exceptionally sad at not being able to fulfill some of the tasks the old man in Shigatse has asked me to do. There were some important things that I should do, such as making a long life offering and some other secret thing, and time for all those activities was running out.
“I informed Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche of my decision, but he insisted that I did not return. He said that he saw in me something more important than just an oracle; he could see some specialness in me. He said I would be very helpful to His Holiness, and advised me to remain in Dharamsala. ‘I myself will make the golden bridge between you and His Holiness.’ As I listened to him, I wondered why such a great scholar and great lama said such comments about me. Soon after, and out of the blue, I was approved for an audience, together with other new arrivals.
“There were a lot of us waiting anxiously. I saw His Holiness coming toward us and I saw him with so much light radiating and many arms, just as I had seen him before. As soon as I stood up to make prostrations, again I was possessed and taken away by the security guards. Perhaps I was kicked or punched, because I found bruises on my body when I regained consciousness.
“But after His Holiness granted an audience to all the other people, he asked to bring up the lady oracle and so I was taken to him. As soon as I went to him, I grabbed at his feet and went unconscious again. When I came back to normal His Holiness asked me about my home and many other questions, but I was just left speechless. No words came out – I was too overjoyed to say anything. Later I was able to tell him all that the old man had told me in Shigatse and he heard all about me and my problems. I was confirmed as the oracle of the protector and His Holiness asked me not to go back to Tibet. His Holiness granted me different empowerments and instructions, and I begun to do the retreats that he advised me to do.”
Ven. Roger: Where were you living? Outside the monastery or somewhere else?
Khadro-la: “A house was given to me by the private office within Namgyal Monastery. It’s the same house I live in today. It was during that time when the teacher in the Dialectic School was murdered by the group of Shugden worshipers, and there were rumors that I too would be assassinated. The monks of Namgyal Monastery were very concerned about my safety. That’s how we became close. Actually, I tried to refuse their protection. I told them that if my fate is to be killed, then nothing can make it not happen, but that if my karma is not to die, the Shugden worshippers cannot harm me. The monks didn’t listen to me and they continuously took good care of me.
“As I was very weak physically, His Holiness contacted Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche and I was sent to France for treatment. At that time I came to know Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Indeed, because of my poor health I came to know so many people!
“During my retreat and practice there have been some good signs and some positive outcomes too, but I like to say that all of these are just hallucinations. Whatever good happens is no more than the blessing of His Holiness. I myself am no better than the poorest being among the rest.
“About two years ago, His Holiness advised me that whenever the opportunity comes, I should give teachings or any kind of service that I can deliver to those who are in need. But I know I have nothing to offer to others. To tell you honestly, in my mind I have a very strong belief that the essence of life is only to have the realization of bodhichitta and emptiness. Though it is difficult to gain, my primary wish is to achieve indestructible faith in these two before I die. If I cannot help people to generate these things, our meeting is just a waste of time. Other than that, I am the poorest by inner, outer and secret perspectives. The best side of me is only that I met the best Dharma, best practice and the best lamas.”
Ven. Roger: When did you first feel that you were a dakini?
Khadro-la: “I always think I am not a dakini. I don’t know who I am. Some lamas say I am Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal, some say I am Vajrayogini, and others say I am Tara. It might be their own pure appearances. I myself think I am nothing special.
“When I was young some people said I was mad. Some said I was dakini. I don’t know. I have no doubt that I have very strong karmic imprints from the past, because I have been very dear to His Holiness and many other high lamas from Tibet and outside of Tibet. Some lamas from Tibet, whom I never knew, sent me love, respect, good wishes and often offerings and praises. Another reason is that sometimes the words to express the view of emptiness come out of my mouth automatically – something I have never heard and studied before – but I can’t remember later what I said.”
Ven. Roger: Can you talk about the ways you can help the Dalai Lama?
Khadro-la: “I have a goal: there is a vast, outstanding lineage of teaching, empowerment and instruction by the Great Fifth Dalai Lama. It’s now been about 360 years since he first revealed them, and since then, it hasn’t been possible to reveal them completely again. I feel a strong karmic connection with this special lineage, so my sole wish is to restore this entire lineage for His Holiness. He can pass it to many others and I myself am very interested in practicing this lineage.
“Also, I am planning a retreat center specially dedicated for this practice. I wish to have a small group of serious practitioners there. Maybe they could be geshes who have completed the study of Madyamaka Prajñāpāramitā and who have the strong will for the practice but are looking for a suitable environment. If I can accomplish this, it will be a very good offering to His Holiness which I am confident will be the milestone cause for his long life. It is a very important teaching related to this entire world and there is no doubt that it is also important for the Tibetan cause. I think that when His Holiness calls Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Dagri Rinpoche his beloved disciples, he means because of their relation to this lineage.”
Interview by Ven. Roger Kunsang with Khadro-la, an extraordinary Tibetan woman who is widely regarded as a dakini, an oracle, certainly someone regarded as very special by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche, Dagri Rinpoche and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. This conversation with Khadro-la was published as a Mandala exclusive.
Image of Khadro-la by Piero-Sirianni.