One day, Mandarava wanted to go out for a stroll. She asked the group of maidens attending her if they would like to go along. They replied in the affirmative, and all set out together for a long walk. Having passed through a dense forest, they arrived at a large lake between a mountain and a valley. Mandarava proceeded to walk directly across the top of the lake. Then she addressed the group of women as follows: “Young women who have decided to accompany me here, please listen to what I have to say. What in this world of ours brings you pleasure? What do you truly wish to accomplish? Please answer.”

The women replied: “Our greatest wish is to become like you, goddess Mandarava. We wish to be of noble caste, class, wealth, and royalty. If we marry, we wish to wed only a prince of the royal family and to live happily ever after in the great palace of the ninetiered roof!”

After hearing this, Mandarava asked them to listen with great care: “Each of you should examine your own mind, to see how you have squandered your lives on your needs and desires. Thoughtless maidens, get hold of your minds! We women establish the seeds of samsara with such hankering after ordinary pleasures. No matter how beautiful you may be, your beauty and youth are illusory. By even the smallest condition you can fall to a lower status. Your minds and eyes are both so spoiled that you cannot even see the need for the precious Dharma! You could easily be persuaded and enticed by negative companions who would lead you into the hells. You would give up your body and even your life for your husband, yet after some time you would lose control and start to bicker and quarrel incessantly, and you would experience even greater suffering than the inhabitants of the jealous god realm. The suffering of birth and death is beyond your imagination.

“Consider the ways in which karma bears fruit. All the endowments, wealth, and possessions of this world are like an illusion or a dream, with no true existence. Beauty and endowments are like a rainbow vanishing in space. Even though they are present now, they can never be permanent. A wonderful nine-tiered palace adorned with the five precious jewels is itself an illusion and a cause for downfall. Youth and beauty are like a summertime flower, unable to endure the onset of aging and destroyed by the first frost. Expensive silks and jewels are like dewdrops on the grass. Though present now, they vanish in an instant with the first strong wind. All gatherings of relatives, friends, and attendants are like visitors in a marketplace. One instant they gather, in the next they inevitably part. Your own life essence is like a candle attempting to endure a strong wind: there is no way to determine when it will be extinguished, and it must be protected with great care. Power and fame are like a roar of thunder in the sky: heard for a moment, they become a pointless echo. However you look at it, all this has less essence than a pile of crumbs.

“The cause of the mind’s destruction is the futile pursuit of meaningless, confused perception. The suffering of being born into this world is like being forced to stay within an iron-fenced prison. Taking unceasing rebirth in the realms of existence is worse than remaining in the eighteen states of hell. The suffering of old age is like a great old bird that has lost its feathers: youth, dignity, and strength inevitably decline. You cannot even escape with a needle’s worth of pleasure. The suffering of illness and disease is like falling into a pit of fire. There is not even a chance for a moment of happiness when it feels as though your flesh and bones are being pulled apart. The suffering of death is like a great meteor falling from the sky: no one can benefit you, and there is absolutely no way to escape. The suffering in the bardo is like being surrounded by a hostile army.

“There is no method to employ, except to accumulate virtue. Alas! Young maidens, you must think carefully! Your dwelling place and endowments are only the deception of Mara, leading you to further delusion. Your relatives and friends are maras who come to escort you. All these attachments are the handcuffs that bind you to samsara. Your temporary pleasures, your fleeting moments of happiness, are ultimately the cause for the executioner’s celebration. Even your cherished body is merely a vessel full of unclean substances. If you do not persevere in making offerings to the victorious ones, then to adorn and anoint this unclean vessel is only an act of delusion. The impure body is the product of confusion, which cannot transcend this karmic predicament. This is the result of cherishing and grasping one’s own body and self. The body you possess will decay and dissolve. In whatever way you examine it, nothing about it is real or true. Everything that is of this world is cause for confusion.

“By thinking in this way, you will turn to the precious Dharma as your path. Unconfused, you will persevere with clarity, through the use of your three doors, to accomplish that which is wholesome. Young maidens, consider your future life! Then enter this spiritual tradition, which is the path of Mandarava.” After receiving her personal instruction, they all took the bodhisattva vow in order to be liberated. Thereafter, each and every one of them maintained the path of virtue, bringing virtue and goodness to the kingdom. Now on the path of Dharma, they gradually erected a temple, and Mandarava taught them the three baskets of scripture.

From “The Lives and Liberation of Princess Mandarava”, translated by Lama Chonam and Sangye Khandro