The Great Dakini of Tsurphu

Urgyen Tsomo (1897–1961) was a prominent Tibetan Buddhist female master who was known as the Great Dakini of Tsurphu (Tsurphu Khandro Chenmo). She was the consort of the fifteenth Karmapa, Khakhyab Dorje. She was considered by other masters to be an emanation of Yeshe Tsogyal, the main consort of Guru Padmasambhava who lived in the 8th century and spread Buddhism in Tibet.

During the last part of his life, the Karmapa fell seriously ill again. This event had been prophesied by Padmasambhava in a terma indicating that Karmapa would have to meet a very specific consort — a dakini in a human form — who alone could help to prolong the life of the lineage head. Thanks to the precise indications of the terma and his own dreams, Khakhyab Dorje found a young woman by the name of Urgyen Tsomo, whose family lived in the valley lying behind Tsuphu, and she was invited to come to the monastery. An emamation of Yeshe Tsogyal, Padmasambhava’s main consort, she was called the “Great Dakini of Tsurphu” (Tsurphu Khandro Chenmo) and was treated with great respect. After the fifteenth Karmapa passed away, she spent the majority of her life in retreat in the hermitages above Tsurphu and achieved a high level of realization.

Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche remembers:

“Khandro Chenmo was very beautiful and she became a remarkable practitioner. She was loving and compassionate, full of devotion, and with an unfathomable spiritual depth. I knew her quite well in the last years of her life. We first met in Tsurphu when I was twenty-six, then again three years later and then later still in Rumtek, where she finally departed for the invisible realms two years after fleeing Tibet. She was a very special being, a true dakini. She spent almost all her time in retreat practicing sadhana and reciting mantra, and reached a profound level of experience and realization. This is not hearsay; I can bear witness to it myself.

Samten Gyatso had immense respect for her and once told me, “When I went to visit the Karmapa, she was often there. It felt like meeting the female buddha Tara in person. She is Noble Tara among us in a human body, an authentic dakini”. She, in her turn, was very fond of my uncle and each year would send a present to him in Kham. 

Khandro Chenmo was treated with immense respect, as though she were a great lama. Word would spread wherever she went and thousands of people would go to meet her. She traveled to Bhutan at the invitation of the royal family and when she came to visit Dzongsar Khyentse in Gangtok, he personally came out to greet her. At special ceremonies she was usually placed on a throne as high as Khyentse and Kongtrul. But she never made a big deal out of herself.”

In 1959, she fled Tibet with the sixteenth Karmapa and settled in a nunnery near the Karmapa’s monastery in Sikkhim, where she died a few years later. Before her death, Urgyen Tsomo told her students that she would be reborn in the northeastern part of India. This prophecy was fulfilled when her emanation was identified as Khandro Rinpoche, found in Kalimpong in India. The 16th Karamapa in Sikkim had also identified her when she was 10 months old as the reincarnation of Khandro Urgyen Tsomo or the Great Dakini of Tsurphu.

She is now known as Her Eminence Mindrolling Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche and she teaches Tibetan Buddhism widely, unlike her predecessors. She is now the perpetrator of the Mindrolling lineage and is considered a tulku within the Kagyu lineage, with links to the Nyingma and Kagyu lineages.

Sources: “History of the Karmapas: The Odyssey of the Tibetan Masters with the Black Crown” by Lama Kunsang, Lama Pemo, Marie Aubele; 
“Blazing Splendor” by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche.

Images: 1 – “Storm” by Tiffani Gyatso, www.dakiniasart.org;
2 – The Great Dakini of Tsurphu.