Khandroma Kunzang Wangmo
Khandroma Kunzang Wangmo was a remarkable contemporary yogini from an area know as Dzachuka in Eastern Tibet. The grand-daughter of Dudjom Lingpa as well as the daughter of Jigme Chokyi Wangpo, the fourth reincarnation of Dza Patrul Rinpoche, she is highly revered by many. Known as just Khandroma or simply ‘Ama’ meaning ‘mother’, she was both a laywoman and lineage holder of the Dudjom and Longchen Nyingthig lineages. As a woman in Tibet, it is extremely rare to be authorized to give empowerments and teach from a lofty throne. As a young child, Khandroma was recognized for her special qualities and given an education, something virtually unheard of for girls in her society. He father, a renowned Dzogchen master, predicted that she would be the one to continue his lineage.
Khandroma was a prominent leader and guide to her entire community. People came to her, often from very long distances, to ask for her help and guidance. Whether she offered a prayer for their deceased relatives or clothing for their backs, she always provided what people needed. Khandroma was very active in preserving her religious lineage. She oversaw, renovated, and expanded her father’s two monasteries at Arikza and Dzagya. Dzagya monastery was once a famous place of study and practice founded by Patrul Rinpoche himself. Khandroma considered that her life’s work to be renovating the buildings, including the main temple. However, her main focus was to add to the monastery a monastic college, or shedra, where monks could pursue higher education.
Khandroma Kunzang Wangmo was perhaps best known for her accomplishments as a practitioner of chod. She was known to have mastered the Dudjom Chod practice, and it is believed that she could travel to other realms and liberate beings there. Khandroma became famous in her region after she successfully performed an exorcism on the wife of an official in her village. However, most of her time was spent performing shabtens or elaborate rituals for the deceased.
Khandroma was considered the matriarch, not just of her own family, but of the entire region. Although she had no children of her own, she adopted many children and disciples in need, both Tibetan and Chinese alike. In this way, she helped bridge the gap between these two cultures, which have historically been so divided. Her unbiased and boundless compassion was perhaps among her most exceptional qualities. When asked what was the most important thing she had accomplished in her life, Khandroma responded, “I have searched for my mind…. where it came from, where it is going, where it will remain. That is all that I do. There is nothing bigger than that, which I can tell you.”
In 2006 Jodi Kemmerer filmed Sky Dancer, a documentary on Khandroma Kunzang Wangmo’s life and teachings. You can watch it online:
Photo by Andre Lambertson.