Dwelling in the palace of pure emptiness,
Immutable Dagmema, with the body illusory,
You are the Mother who bears the Buddhas of the Three Ages. 
Dagmema, I prostrate myself at your feet.

~ Milarepa

Dagmema (Nairatmya in Sanskrit, “The Selfless”) was the principle wife of Marpa the Translator, the enlightened master, founder of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Dagmema was one of the incarnations of Yeshe Tsogyal, as predicted by the Great Wisdom Queen in her biography. With eight other authentic consorts possesing good qualities taken by Marpa as mudras, they embodied the main consort and eight wisdom dakinis in the mandala of Marpa’s Yidam, Hevajra. 

Marpa and Dagmema lived in Lhodrak in the southern part of Tibet. They prospered as farmers and had had seven sons, but only one, Darma Dode, was particularly gifted. He was mortally injured while riding on his way to a festival. As he lay dying in his parents’ house, he performed phowa, the transference of consciousness. His consciousness entered the body of a pigeon, that flew to India just in time to enter and revivify the body of Tipupa, a brahmin boy who had died. Later Tipupa became the lineage holder in the Kagyu tradition of Marpa. After Darma Dode’s death, Milarepa became Marpa’s primary spiritual son.

Marpa and Dagmema had dreams the night before Milarepa arrived seeking teachings. Marpa’s dream contained masculine energy: he dreamed of his guru Naropa and a vajra, the ritual object representing the male aspect of tantric practice. Dagmema dreamed of two dakinis carrying a stupa, a womblike receptacle. These dreams established Dagmema and Marpa as Milarepa’s true parents who nurtured and gave him a new life, a rebirth, through Buddhism. Indeed, Marpa and Milarepa often referred to each other as father and son, while Dagmema and Milarepa referred to each other as mother and son.

Dagmema really replaced the figure of a mother for Milarepa. She consoled him and offerred practical advice for solving his problems. And, when it appearred that none of their combined efforts were having an effect, she provided alternate means for him to seek what he desired. She did not impress her will upon him, but instead healed him, interceded for him, lied for him, and, when he finally left Marpa, she sang a blessing over him and gave him the lavish sort of gifts that one would give a departing son.

Dagmema was the model of what a religious woman should be. She was wise in her own right, self-sufficient, but nevertheless willingly subordinated herself to the will of her husband. Her compassion was entirely of the world, providing a counterpoint to Marpa’s focus on transcendence. She exhibited love without needing a real reason – indiscriminately helping her husband and his students to the extent of giving up her own possessions in her efforts to be of service. 

Further reading: The Life of Marpa the Translator by Tsang Nyon Heruka.

Image: fragment of the thangka by the 10th Gyalwa Karmapa Choying Dorje, Marpa with his wife Dagmema.