Yeshe Tsogyel’s Descent to the Hell Realms and How She Got Her Name

Yeshe Tsogyel (c. 757 or 777–817CE)

As part of the purpose of this page and website is to promote the work and lives of female practitioners, teachers, scholars and translators, here is a quote from a recent PhD on the life of Yeshe Tsogyel, Literature and the Moral Life: Reading the Early Biography of the Tibetan Queen Yeshe Tsogyal (p123-4) by Elizabeth Angowski (Earlham College). For the full paper, see here:

” The chapter begins at the Gégong Cave in Chimphu where, one evening, a group of women have gathered to learn how to attain enlightenment quickly. Apart from Yeshé Tsogyal, ten other women are named. After arranging heaps of turquoise on seven golden maṇḍalas, in unison, they appeal to Padmasambhava: “O great Oḍḍiyāna, for as low as women like us are born, even higher is our self-esteem. Since our lineages are bad and our knowledge minimal, we beseech you speak few words full of significance, the instructions for quickly attaining enlightenment. Following his instructions related to the path of the secret mantra, each of the women meditate for one month and achieve spiritual success. On the evening of Yeshé Tsogyal’s seventh day of practice a fierce, blue-bodied entity (khro bo sku mdog sngon po) wielding a hooked knife and holding a skull cup of blood appeared in front of her practice chamber. After acknowledging that Yeshé Tsogyal had realized all of her own aims (rang gi don), he asked her if she is yet able to help others.
When she affirms that she is indeed ready to help others, the fierce entity challenges Yeshé Tsogyal to go to the hell realm and descend to the lowest level where she will find Shanti, the evil minister who is supposed to have attempted to thwart her pursuit of Dharma. The entity then leans a white ladder down a pitch-black hole and points Yeshé Tsogyal downward. As Yeshé Tsogyal descends the ladder into lower and lower levels of hell, she witnesses different gruesome forms of torture being inflicted on hell denizens by armies of demons (‘dre’i dmag) known as dré. At each level, she asks a member of the torturers at work what the people being tortured had done to deserve their fate. She also inquires after Shanti, the minister who advocated for her execution. Shanti, she finds, resides in the level of hell reserved for beings who attempted to prevent others from practicing the Dharma. Though she offers to take on Shanti’s suffering, the king of the hell in which he resides informs her that this is not possible, for Shanti must endure the effects of his own karma. Instead, says the king, if she knows a ritual for emptying the hells (na rak dong sprugs kyi cho ga), she should perform it. Yeshé Tsogyal creates a maṇḍala of peaceful and fierce deities, and her veneration of those deities saves numerous hell beings, including Shanti. At this, the king of the hell realm acknowledges that Yeshé Tsogyal’s compassion exceeds that of all previous buddhas. When she ascends back up to the Chimphu charnel ground, she informs the fierce entity that she was successful in saving many beings from hell. Before the entity is absorbed into Yeshé Tsogyal’s heart, he praises her and dubs her “Yeshé Tsogyal.”
“You are the mother who gave birth to all the Victors. You are the dakini who possesses all qualities.” – Padmasambhava afterwards to Yeshe Tsogyel

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