The Life and Visions of Yeshe Tsogyal

The Autobiography of the Great Wisdom Queen
By Drime Kunga and Yeshe Tsogyal
Translated by Chonyi Drolma

“If Guru Rinpoche is the sun, then without any doubt, Yeshé Tsogyal is the sun’s rays.” ~ Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse

“This is an inspiring sacred text from the spiritual point of view… It shows that, in the beginning, she confronted many challenges in her determination to cultivate bodhicitta, the burning desire to be enlightened for the sake of all living beings.” ~ Anam Thubten Rinpoche

“In this degenerate age of aggression and fear, the Secret Biography promises us that the Mother of the Victorious Ones is always available with her enduring faith, her quiet courage, and her unfailing compassion.” ~ Acharya Judith Simmer-Brown

This treasure biography of the wisdom dakini Yeshé Tsogyal, a female master of eighth-century Tibet, is a valuable addition to the English-language corpus of her legacy. Its publication is an endeavor of the Jnanasukha Foundation, established in the belief that Yeshé Tsogyal’s teachings can lead us to full awakening and a better world.

To make an educated guess, I would be willing to wager that the title, The Life and Visions of Yeshé Tsogyal: The Autobiography of the Great Wisdom Queen, is quite irresistible, and that readers might fast-forward to chapter 3, “The Princess Asks Lotus-Born of Oddiyana for Songs of Meditation Instruction.” Am I right?

When the crushing circumstances of her position in society are finally resolved, Tsogyal is sealed into a twelve-year retreat. But wait…her difficulties are just beginning. She painfully realizes through visionary travels to Oddiyana that although she may be praiseworthy in conventional society, in the context of those dedicated to attaining enlightenment, she is sadly lacking in the basics—genuine faith, diligence, courage, pure vision, and more. Later, even after twelve years of retreat, Tsogyal hears her teacher’s assessment: “You still have only a slight understanding of realization and omniscience.” How could this be, you might wonder?

It’s because the matter of attaining enlightenment is not a soothing pursuit. It’s all about cleaning up the mess after the apple cart has been upset. With or without our consent, hardship and difficulties are the way, but whether they become obstacles or not is up to us.

Time and again, Tsogyal is tested by the external and internal until, finally, she has exhausted the potential for distraction. This is precisely the moment she transitions from being a princess, albeit a Dharma princess, to being a dakini, and receives the name Yeshé Tsogyal.

The travails of Tsogyal’s life are a precursor to the well-known Milarepa theme: it’s not so much the past that counts as it is the navigation of the present in all its complexity. Something very present for me in glimpsing Tsogyal’s life through this biography is the amazing mettle of her spirit—something I aspire to but am still in up and down stages. But meanwhile, back on the gradual path, there are other themes more familiar, such as the effect of receiving love and appropriate nurturance to fuel the climb to the mountaintop.

We come to Dharma not just with our questions, but with the way we live our lives. Secret Mantra’s spiritual biographies are ostensibly about others, but in point of fact, they are guides into ourselves. This particular biography, a super-intimate, unfiltered look into Tsogyal’s struggles and triumphs, helps us remember our wholeness and move into a deeper sense of ourselves. The point is not whether Tsogyal’s life actually happened, but that the process of her path is under way within us.

It is a privilege to apply this sacred text to our own lives. May I offer it to you as a homecoming? I encourage you to imagine your own chapter 1, and the following chapters as well, until you can sense your own emergent liberation and enlightened activity to benefit all. Go ahead, walk in the shoes of Yeshé Tsogyal! And even if this biography projects an unlikely trajectory for us, it can nevertheless shape how we understand ourselves and how we interpret the world. Enlightenment…if not now, then later, as Lama Tharchin Rinpoche would say.

To Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, receiving your blessings and your praises of Yeshé Tsogyal consecrates this publication as a true source of wisdom for all beings. Thank you for your profound teaching on the significance of Guru Rinpoche and Yeshé Tsogyal in your Foreword.

Most of the dots on the map leading to this publication are invisible. However, to connect a few that I can see, I would like to express my deep gratitude to our exceptional yogini-translator, Chönyi Drolma; our realized commentators Anam Thubten, Chagdud Khadro, Judith Simmer-Brown, Holly Gayley, Khandro Thrinlay Chodon, and Ngawang Zangpo; our diligent editor Ellis Widner; and Shambhala Publications’ Nikko Odiseos. Thank you all for carrying the torch.

My own enlightenment teachers have not been my friends. They have always challenged and upset me and brought chaos to my life. May I never separate from them!

Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo, the founder of Jnanasukha Foundation.