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The Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyel
|The biography of Yeshe Tsogyel (Bod kyi jo mo ye shes mTsho rgyal gyi mdzad tshul rnam par thar pa gab pa mngon byung gyud mangs dri za'i glu 'phreng), a revealed text (terma) attributed originally to Gyelwa Jangchub and Namkhai Nyingpo and revealed by Taksham Nuden Dorje; translated by Keith Dowman and Choepel Namgyel; introduction and commentarial essays by Keith Dowman; foreword by Trinley Norbu Rimpoche, illustrations by Eva Van Dam; cover picture by Robert Beer. Published by RKP, London, 1983; Arkana Series, Penguin, London, 1991; Snow Lion, New York, 1997.|
'Among the great female adepts of Tibetan Tantra, Yeshe Tsogyel is foremost, and this masterpiece of Tibetan biographical literature conveys the meaning of her sublime apocalyptic life with lyrical beauty. Yeshe Tsogyel was an eighth century Tibetan princess who became the tantric consort of Tibet's Great Guru Padmasambhava. Her exemplary life story describes the ideal path of a yogini (a female practitioner) and in so far as it provides a blueprint for every woman who aspires to Buddhahood, Sky Danceris one of the most important translations to be made from the Tibetan. It describes her motivation, the initiations taken from the Guru, her path of practice, her tribulations and the impediments in meditation practice, and the signs of her success in realisation of her buddha nature. 'Skydancer' is a translation of the Tibetan word 'Khandroma' (dakini), 'female buddha'. Many of the songs provide secret precepts given to her by her teachers and by her to her disciples. These oral instructions belonging to the supreme path of tantra (anuttara-yoga-tantra) and Dzokchen provide the core of the biography.
'This work is important not only for its profound and detailed instruction on tantra-yoga, as an inspiration and guide on the tantric path, but also as an historical work shedding light upon the heroic period of Tibetan history, the epoch of empire, and the life and activity of Guru Padmasambhava.'
'Keith Dowman's four essays on the historical and religious background and woman's place in the tradition introduce readers to the Buddhist Tantra and elucidate the main points touched upon by the text.'
'Mr Dowman's translation possesses an immediate, compelling voice, its clarity all the more remarkable when one considers the relative inaccessibility of the spiritual biography he translates...The brilliance of this translation stems from the fact that Dowman combines the linguistic and historic skills of a scholar with the insight and practical wisdom of a sadhaka. Jane Casey in ReVision.
'No doubt it will be found relevant by feminists who yet have to make much headway against the taboos of Western Christianity. Tantra may provide an exciting alternative.' Iain Finlayson in the Glasgow Herald.
'Tsogyel's biography overflows with profound meanings that either cannot or may not be fully explained in print. Where many fools have rushed in before him, Keith Dowman has trod lightly and well. Anne Klein in Parabola.
'PREMATURE READING OF THIS BOOK MAY SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH.' Michael Hookham in The Middle Way
Contents of Sky Dancer
[Click on Highlighted Chapter Heading for Excerpt]Foreword by Trinley Norbu Rimpoche
The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyel
Gyelwa Jangchub's Introduction
1 Tsogyel's Conception
2 Auspicious Omens and Birth
3 Disillusionment and Meeting the Master
4 Initiation and Instruction
5 Meditation, Austerity and Spiritual Accomplishment
6 Signs of Success and Proofs of Power
7 Establishing, Spreading and Perpetuating the Teaching
8 Fruition and Buddhahood
Notes to the Text
1 The Path of Inner Tantra
2 Woman and the Dakini
3 The Nyingma Lineages
4 The Historical Background
Notes to the Commentary
The Mother of the Conquering Buddhas past, present and future, the apparitional being Yeshe Tsogyel, whose name is known to all, having accumulated vast resources of virtue and awareness in previous aeons, finite and infinite, the veil of ignorance torn away she made this great wave of compassion for the sake of all sentient beings.
During the life-time of the great saint Takngu, when I was the daughter of a merchant, together with five hundred other girls I went for the saint's audience. Introduced to the Buddha's teaching I expressed the supreme, irreversible wish-fulfilling prayer of commitment to Buddhahood. After the transition at the end of that lifetime, I travelled through many Buddhafields of visionary pleasure, and then I took apparitional form as the Goddess Ganga Devi, and at the feet of the Lord Buddha Sakyamuni I absorbed and compiled his sacred word. Returning to the fields of visionary pleasure I was known as the Goddess Sarasvati, serving all manner of beings.
At that time the Emperor of Tibet was Trisong Detsen, who was in truth an emanation of the Bodhisattva Manjusri. Trisong Detsen invited the Great Master Pema Jungne to come to Tibet to establish the tradition of the Buddha's teaching. This Great Master's being was unborn and undying, because in reality he was the Buddha Amitabha, Boundless Light, come to this world of men. Pema Jungne came to Tibet, and after the Emperor had fulfilled his commitment to build the great monastery of Samye Ling and innumerable other major and minor temples in the provinces and border areas, the light of the Buddha's teaching shone forth like the rising sun.
Then Pema Jungne thought to himself, 'The time has come for the Goddess Sarasvati to project an emanation so that I can spread the teaching of the Tantra.' Instantaneously, like the planet Mercury falling into the immensity of the sun, Pema Jungne returned to Orgyen, the seat of all his emanation. When it was discovered that the Master had disappeared, the ministers of Tibet whispered abroad that he had been punished, banished to a savage land, Turkhara; the King said that the Master had gone to Senge Dzong Sum in Bhutan, where he was sitting in meditation; and the common people said that he had reconciled the King and Queen and had returned to India.
Meanwhile, in reality, the Guru was coursing through hundreds of Buddhafields of the sphere of apparitional being, and he continued his travelling for the duration of seven human years. Finally, he gathered together Vajra Dakini, the Goddess Sarasvati, Tara Bhrikuti, the Dakinis of the Four Families, the Dakinis of the Power Places and many other Dakinis, and revelling with us all in pleasure, he exhorted us to ultimate pleasure with this song of pleasure:
HRI! Through the light-rays of the supreme outflow that
Then from the very centre of the assembled goddesses, I, the Goddess Sarasvati, arose and answered the Guru:
HO! Buddha Hero, Heruka, Pleasure God!<>
'SAMAYA HO!' exclaimed the Guru. 'The bond is
Thus the Guru's vajra and the Dakini's lotus were joined, and we entered a trance of union. The Five Goddesses of the Five Buddha Families, Lochana and her sisters, gave us worship and adoration; their Heruka Consorts expelled malevolent spirits; the Bodhisattvas gave their benediction; the great Takritas defended us from all intruding obstructive influences; the Four Door Keepers kept the mystic circle intact; the Four Vajra Goddesses danced; and the Guardians of the Teaching, the Fierce Lords of the Ten Directions, and the Mamo Dakinis, vowed to defend the teaching. At the same time the great pleasure of we mystic partners caused the elements of the mundane worlds of the ten directions to tremble and quake repeatedly. It was then that from the junction of Guru and Dakini beams of light in the form of a red syllable A surrounded by a circle of white vowels, and the white syllable BAM surrounded by a circle of red consonants, shot like the flight of a shooting star towards Tibet, to Seulung in Drak.
(Tsogyels Conception pp 6-9)
The Third Initiation
Obeying the Guru's instruction, sealing my body as a lighted butter-lamp, I applied myself to meditation until Awareness, the value of the initiation, had become strong. Initially, I was oppressed by anxiety, but later the sounds of the syllables in the focal points of the psychic nerves resonated spontaneously; I gained full awareness and perfect control of my vital breath and energy flows, and instinctive and immediate knowledge of how to employ them; I attained intuition of the meaning of seed-essence as mahamudra; and the potential of the warmth of transcendent delight was fully realised. Thereafter, the capricious movements of karmic energy subsided, the energy of Awareness injected into the medial nerve; and a few signs of mastery occurred.
However, the Guru enjoined me 'not to eat the barley until it was ripe', that my initiations were not yet complete. So with greater faith in Guru Rimpoche than the Buddha himself, I addressed him thus:
0 Venerable Orgyen Rimpoche,
Then the Guru appeared as the mandala of the Red Heruka, and from the syllable HUNG in his heart extremely fierce beams of red light radiating and again concentrating in his mandala, he took up the Absolute Heruka in his hand like a spear, and he replied:
I, the girl Tsogyel, sank beneath mundane appearances, and having slipped into the nakedness of pure pleasure, I anointed my mandala of delight with the five sacred substances, and made further petition:
Buddha Hero of Pure Pleasure, do as you will.
Then with three fingers stirring the pollen dust of the lotus, I offered my mandala to the mandala of the Guru's Body with an intense snake-like dance. The mandala of dynamic space having gathered into itself the nature of the Great Pema Heruka himself by means of the hook of the lower member's focal point, the Absolute Heruka, his magnificent flaming vajra in a state of rapacity and violent abuse, his wrinkles uncreased, projecting his full emanation, took command of the lotus throne with a roar of scornful laughter that flooded appearances with glory, transmuting them into pure pleasure. Thus he revealed to me the Mandala of the Blazing Sun of Radiant Inner Space, conferring power upon me.
In this mandala of mystic union, Skilful Means and Insight, in this radiant mandala of Pure Being and Light Seed - the Pure Being of the Sublime Pure Land of the Four Herukas, the masters of the four focal points, and the Light Seed that is the actuality of a hundred million seed syllables - I was conferred the initiation and empowerment of the four joys.
Out of the bliss-waves of the forehead centre of our union, in the sphere of intense experience of Awareness of joy, arose a white paradise divided into thirty-two lesser pure lands. In each of these pure lands was a white Heruka in mystic union with his Consort surrounded by hundreds of thousands, an incalculable number, of Herukas and their Consorts identical to the principal. In the centre of this vast mandala was the Master of all the Herukas, the principal Heruka and Consort into whose Awareness of joy I received initiation. Through this joy the passion of anger was purified, the body cleansed of all traces of habitual action and reaction patterns, insight was gained into the elements of the path of application, and I was enabled to act for the benefit of the seven worlds of the ten directions. At this level I was conferred the secret initiatory name, Tsogyel the White Goddess of Pure Pleasure (Dechen Karmo Tsogyel).
Accordingly, in the throat centre was a yellow paradise divided into sixteen pure lands in each of which was a yellow Heruka in union with his Consort surrounded by hundreds of thousands of identical Herukas as in the forehead centre. In the middle of this mandala was the master of all the yellow Herukas, Ratna Vira and Consort, from whom I received initiation into all the infinite potentialities of superior joy. Thus the passion of desire was purified, all traces of action and reaction patterns were eradicated, and I gained insight into all the elements of the path of accumulation, obtaining the ability to assist the twenty worlds of the ten directions. Here, I received the secret name Tsogyel the Quality Increasing Yellow Goddess (Yonten Gyeje Sermo Tsogyel).
In the same way, in the blue-black paradise of the heart centre comprised of eight lesser pure lands were eight blue-black Herukas in union with their Consorts surrounded by innumerable likenesses as above. In the centre was the master of all the blue-black Herukas, the principal Heruka, Buddha Vira and Consort, who initiated me into the mahamudra of supreme joy. Thus all the seeds of passion inherent in the mind were eradicated, and I gained insight into the elements of the path of liberation and the ability to assist the twenty-six worlds of the ten directions. I was given the name, Liberating Samaya Tsogyel (Drolje Damtsik Tsogyel) at this time.
Accordingly, in the red paradise of the gut centre, in the sixty-one lesser pure lands, were sixty-one Herukas in mystic union with their Consorts, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of identical forms, in the centre of which was the principal of them all, the Red Heruka and Consort, into whose Awareness of innate joy I received initiation. Thereby, all traces of emotional clinging and the action and reaction patterns of undifferentiated body, speech and mind were eradicated, and with insight into the elements of the path of utter purity I gained ability to benefit the infinite unbounded universe. Here, I received the secret name, Boundless Awareness Tsogyel (Taye Yeshe Tsogyel).
Then the Guru instructed me to practise in this manner: 'In the Ultimate Mandala of the Four Joys bestow upon yourself the four initiations and empowerments into the four levels of Awareness for seven days. Then visualise the ascent of "love" as Awareness.'
So maintaining unimpaired the progression of the four joys through the love-Awareness that is the value of this initiation, my experience intensified, increasing from height to height. If there is leakage of bodhichitta, the Buddha Unchanging Light is slain, and since there is no superior presence to whom such a crime can be acknowledged and thus atoned, such karma as that of the Avichi Hell results. Therefore, with the power of retraction, drawing up 'love' with the base energy of life-force, I held it in the pot of my belly, and maintaining the recollection of pleasure uncontaminated by lust, divesting myself of mindcreated samadhi yet not slipping into an instant of torpor, I experienced the ascent of Awareness.
Binding recollection of the bodhichitta in the womb's lotus, all ignorance was purified, and suppressing the thousand and eighty movements of karmic energy at the first juncture the Awareness of the dual omniscience of quantity and quality became the path of seeing, and I attained the first degree of enlightenment and certain extra-sensory powers emerged. Then the bodhichitta was drawn up and bound in the secret energy centre and motivation and volition were purified, and inhibiting the energy flows of the second juncture I gained the second degree. Then binding the bodhichitta between the secret and the gut centres consciousness was purified, and blocking the energy flows of the third juncture I gained the third degree. In the same way, the bodhichitta bound at the gut centre, name and form were purified, and when the energy flows of the fourth juncture had been stopped I attained the fourth degree; and the mind capable of both samsara and nirvana, and Awareness and innate joy, purified, I accomplished the Buddha's essentiality of being. Binding the bodhichitta between the gut and the heart chakras the six sense-fields were purified, and the energies of the fifth juncture blocked I attained the fifth degree. Then binding the bodhichitta in the heart centre, purifying sensory contact, the energy flows of the sixth juncture were stopped and I reached the sixth degree; ordinary sleeping mind and special joy purified, I attained the goal of the Buddha's absolute, empty being. Between the heart and the throat centres the bodhichitta was bound and feeling was purified, and stopping the energy flows of the seventh juncture I reached the seventh degree. Then binding the bodhichitta in the throat centre purifying craving and clinging, the energy flows of the eighth juncture stopped I reached the eighth degree; dream and supreme joy purified, I reached the goal of the Buddha's being of consummate visionary enjoyment. Binding the bodhichitta between the throat and forehead centres sensual enthralment was purified, and inhibiting the energies of the ninth juncture I attained the ninth degree. Binding the bodhichitta in the forehead centre transmigratory existence was purified, and obstructing energy outflow at the tenth juncture I attained the tenth degree; when consciousness of the five sensory doors upon waking from sleep, the body's veins and nerves and Awareness of joy had been purified I reached the goal of the Buddha's stainless apparitional being. Then binding the bodhichitta between the forehead and the crown centres rebirth was purified, and the energy flows of the eleventh juncture contained I reached the eleventh degree. Then retracting and binding the bodhichitta at the crown centre the entire twelve interdependent elements of samsara, including old age and death, were purified, and stopping the twenty-one thousand energy flows of the twelfth juncture, lust, sleep, dream and waking - the four impure states of mind -were purified, and having purified the mind's psychic nerves, energy flows and seed-essence, together with the four joys, I reached the twelfth degree.
Thus I was endowed with the Buddha's Pure Being and all the qualities of Buddha: I was transformed into the Pure Being that functions to imbue all creatures of the infinite universe with the value and meaning of existence, and I gained the innate ability to understand and employ any of the qualities of Buddha at will.
Within six months I had attained the purpose of the three initiations, and my Guru instructed me further:
Human woman and Dakini,
But I prepared a ganacakra offering with my body and possessions, and rendered it to Guru Rimpoche with this petition:
Venerable Lord of Orgyen, Skull-Garland Skill,
'The time is not ripe for you to practise the effortless method of Ati,' Guru Rimpoche replied. 'Persist in your practice on the path of the mahayana mysteries. Now, girl, without a consort, a partner of skilful means, there is no way that you can experience the mysteries of Tantra. It is rather like this: if a pot is unfired it will not bear usage; in an area without wood a fire will not burn; if there is no moisture to sustain growth it is useless to plant a seedling. So go to the Valley of Nepal where there is a sixteen-year-old youth with a mole on his right breast, who is an emanation of the Buddha Hero Hayagriva called Atsara Sale. He has wandered there from Serling in India. Find him, and make him your ally, and you will soon discover the realm of pure pleasure.'
So, having received my Guru's prophetic injunction, with a golden begging bowl and a pound of gold dust, I set out alone for the Valley of Nepal.
(Initiation and Instruction pp 39-44)
In the district of Erong I encountered seven thieves. They sought to steal my gold, and followed me like dogs stalking a deer. I invoked my Guru and visualised the thieves as my Yidam, and conceiving the perfect plan of rendering my possessions as a mandala offering, I sang to them inspired:
0 seven Yidam of Erong,
Then placing my hands together in reverence, I arranged the gold in a pile as if it was a mandala. The seven thieves, though not understanding a single word, touched by the melody of my song, stood staring at me like statues, transported to the first level of samadhi. Then, in the Newar language, they asked, 'Venerable Lady, what is your country? Who is your father? Who is your mother? Who is your Lama? What are you doing here? Please sing us another divine song!'
As they made this request, the hairs of their bodies that had bristled in aggression lay down, a wreath of happy smiles signified their satisfaction, their malicious twisted faces became serene, and their pleasure showed in garlands of teeth. Gathering in front of me they sat down. I had a bamboo cane with three joints in it, and leaning upon it I replied in their Newar tongue:
You seven thieves with whom I have previous karmic
You seven thieves with whom I have previous karmic
You seven thieves with whom I have previous karmic
You seven thieves with whom I have previous karmic
You seven thieves with whom I have previous karmic
The thieves were filled with undivided faith, and they
felt repelled by the wheel of rebirth. They begged instruction and precepts from me, and
then gained release from samsara. They begged me insistently to come to their
(Initiation and Instruction pp.44-47)
Then I went up into the palace, and having passed through three successive doorways, I found many dakinis in human form, carrying various offerings to the principal Dakini. Some cut shreds of flesh from their bodies with knives and preparing the flesh as ganachakra offering, they made worship. Some let blood from their veins, some gouged out their eye-balls, some cut off their noses, their tongues, or their ears, some cut out their hearts or their lungs, liver, spleen or kidneys, some gave their flesh and some their life blood, some gave their bone marrow and fluids, some gave their life-force or their breath, and some cut off their heads or their limbs. After cutting and preparing their offerings, they presented them to their principal Dakini and Consort who blessed them and distributed them as tokens of faith.
'Why are you pursuing pain like this?' I asked them. 'If you take your own lives, how is it possible to reach the end of the Buddha's path?'
0 woman with procrastinating mind,
Hearing this, I felt ashamed.
Simultaneous with the dedication of the merit of the offerings, a Vajra Yogini appeared in front of each of the Dakini devotees, and at a snap of the thumb and forefinger she dissolved, and all was as before. Then each of the Dakinis asked the principal for instruction before withdrawing into herself for meditation. Thus their offering and meditation periods were repeated twelve times a day. Inside each of the doors to the meditation chamber was a guardian of the gate; in the centre of the mandala was Vajra Yogin! standing in a blaze of light so intense that it was almost unbearable to gaze upon.
When Guru Rimpoche visited me again I described the various visions that I had experienced. 'I want to practise something of that kind of austerity,' I told him. 'Please accept my pledge to undertake such a sacrifice.'
'All that was only symbolic vision,'
Guru Rimpoche replied. 'It is not
Listen to me, you goddess Tsogyelma;
(Meditation Austerity and Spiritual Accomplishment, pp.65-68)
Then I went to live in Shampo Gang, and it was there that seven bandits robbed me of my possessions and raped me. Afterwards I sang them this song of introduction to the four joys.
NAMO GURU PADMA SIDDHI HRI!
Immediately you set eyes upon my body-mandala,
Uniting with space, your consort's secret mandala,
Joined to your consort's sphere of pure pleasure,
United at your consort's blissful nerve,
This is extraordinary, exalted secret instruction;
(Establishing, Spreading and Perpetuating the Teaching, pp.118-9)
After I had finished, the Nepali girl Kalasiddhi performed many prostrations and circumambulations and then made this request:
Mother, when you have vanished into inner space,
I answered her:
0 listen Dakini, well-born lady,
All you initiates into the tantric mysteries
With that understanding fixed in your heart, 0 Siddhi,
(Fruition and Buddhahood, pp.155-7)
Then Ma Rinchen Chok made his petition:
Lama, Lady Tsogyelma,
And he wept. I replied:
O listen, yogin,
Brothers and sisters of this assembly,
(Fruition and Buddhahood, pp.158-60)
Then Odren Zhonnu Pel made this petition:
O Yeshe Tsogyelma!
In response I gave this instruction:
Listen, faithful Zhonnu Pel.
'Vision' is but a quality of all meditative existence;
'Meditation' is the basis of all meditative existence;
'Action' is the dynamic form of meditative existence;
(Fruition and Buddhahood, pp.160-1)