“You are a fully qualified dakini and the mother who gives life to all triumphant buddhas. Yours is the great force of all buddhas, as the motherly loving protector of all beings of the six realms. My own qualities as Lotus-Born don’t come from me— they come from you.”
—Praise of Guru Rinpoche to Yeshe Tsogyel after she travelled to the hell realms to liberate beings
Today on the Guru Padmasambhava tenth lunar day, I was delighted to discover a short text written by the 15th Karmapa, Khakyab Dorje (mkha’ khyab rdo rje, 1871-1922) of a Yeshe Tshogyel Guru Yoga. It can be found in a publication called The Collected Works of the Garland of Karmapas, published in Lhasa, Tibet in 2013[i]. The translated text (with English and Tibetan phonetics) is available for free download here. It also available now in Portuguese and Vietnamese.
Much has been written about Yeshe Tshogyel, a yogini woman of the 8th Century who attained full awakening, and was one of the main consorts and students of Padmasambhava. More can be read about her life in the Treasury of Lives biography by Dr. Alex Gardner here (see also Further Reading below). Yeshe Tsogyal is also considered a manifestation of Saraswati and sometimes identified with the Buddha Tara. She is also considered to be an emanation of Samantabhadrī, Prajnaparamita, and Vajrayogini.In the Life of Yeshe Tsogyel, Padmasambhava predicted that Yeshe Tsogyel would be reborn as Machig Labdrön; her consort, Atsara Sale, would become Topabhadra, Machig’s husband; her assistant and another of Padmasambhava’s consorts, Tashi Khyidren, would be reborn as Machig’s only daughter, and so on. All of the important figures in Tsogyel’s life were to be reborn in the life of Machig Labdron, including Padmasambhava himself, who would become Dampa Sangye. Guru Padmamsambhava sang her Praises on many occasions, including the one quoted above when she travelled to the hell realms to liberate a being who had tried to harm her (for more on that, see here).
As I have written about here before, the 15th Karmapa was not only the head of Karma Kagyu but also a lineage holder of many Nyingma treasures. His connection to Guru Padmasambhava is also significant. He received the empowerment of the ‘Six Books of Guru Padmasambhava’ (rGya-chan Pod-drug) from Pawo Tusglag Nyingche. While he was at the major mountain and pilgrimage destination Tsāri meditating, he is said to have had visions of Guru Rinpoche, and the protector of Tsari appeared and presented him with a statue of Padmasambhava and a sky-fallen scepter. These are housed at Rumtek monastery, Sikkim[ii] (not the image below). He was also a lineage holder of the ‘Immortal Life-Force’ practice of Guru Rinpoche and Yogini Mandāravā (see here) and of the Seven Profound Phurba Vajrakilaya (see here). For more on the 15th Karmapa see a biography here.
The Yeshe Tshogyel Guru Yoga, is one of the few, if only, guru yogas of her in outer human form alone to be written for a female realised master in Tibetan by a Tibetan Buddhist teacher that I have seen publicly available. It is certainly the first time this text has been translated and published in English. Both the Nyingma and Karma Kagyu schools of Tibetan Buddhism recognize her as a female Buddha. There is the Khandro Tuktig, discovered by Nyingma master, Dudjom Rinpoche, where Yeshe Tshogyel is visualised in her outer, inner and secret forms (see image below).
As Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tshogyel are inseparable, then doing a guru yoga of her would be no different than doing one with Guru Rinpoche. It was composed by the 15th Karmapa when he was eleven years old[iii].
It is a very short and simple visualisation and recitation, so ideal for a practice on the tenth lunar day, or a daily practice for those who feel a strong connection to her. In these degenerate times, with more and more cases of powerful male lamas misusing the teachings to exploit female students for sex and power, perhaps now (more than ever) is the time for a female guru yoga practice, such as this one. I am sure that the powerful blessings of the emanations of Yeshe Tshogyel are immediately present when she is called upon!
I was very fortunate to visit the sacred pilgrimage site of Yeshe Tshogyel’s cave at Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Paro, Bhutan in March 2019 (the place where she is said to have accomplished Vajrakilaya). The guest visa was kindly arranged by Rigdzin (sister of the current Kalu Rinpoche yangsi) due to my then close relation with the 10th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche. The place left a lasting impression on me, and here is a couple of photos I took at the time:
Here is a haunting melodious recording of the Yeshe Tshogyel mantra:
I dedicate this to all the female teachers, translators, practitioners and students of Tibetan Buddhism. May they all be treated with kindness, respect, love and be free of those who seek to harm them or treat them as mere objects.
May this new translation be of benefit in helping all beings realize the mind and state of Yeshe Tshogyel!
Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin, 24th November 2020.
Dowman, Keith. (1984). Sky Dancer: The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyel. Routledge & Kegan Paul, Boston, MA.
Drime Kunga and Yeshe Tsogyel. 2017. The Life and Visions of Yeshe Tsogyal: The Autobiography of the Great Wisdom Queen.
Chonyi Drolma. 2017. The Supreme Secret Biography of Yeshe Tsogyal: The Exceptional Inner Meaning of Symbols. Shambhala Publications. http://www.jnanasukha.org/news-blog?category=Translation
Gross, Rita M. “Yeshe Tsogyal: Enlightened Consort, Great Teacher, Female Role Model.” The Tibet Journal, vol. 12, no. 4 (winter 1987), pp. 1–18.
Gyalwa Changchub, and Namkhai Nyingpo. (1999) Lady of the Lotus-born: The Life and Enlightenment of Yeshe Tsogyal. Translated by the Padmakara Translation Group. Shambhala, Boston & London.
Gyatso, Janet. 2006. “A Partial Genealogy of the Lifestory of Ye shes mtsho rgyal.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 2, pp. 1-27.
Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye. 2011. The One Hundred Tertons. Yeshe Gyamtso, translator. Woodstock: KTD Publications, pp. 44-45.
Mikles, Natasha L. “A Tantrika in the Modern World: The Sexual Agency of Yeshe Tsogyal.” The Monitor (fall 2007), pp. 28–39.
Taksham Nuden Dorje. 1996. Sky Dancer: the Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyel. Keith Dowman, translator. Ithaca: Snow Lion.
Taksham Nuden Dorje. 1983. Mother of Knowledge: The Enlightenment of Ye-shes mTso-rgyal. Tartang Tulku, translator. Berkeley: Dharma Publishing.
Taksham Nuden Dorje. 1999. Lady of the Lotus Born. Wulston Fletcher and Helena Blankleder, translators. Boston: Shambhala.
Terton Drime Kunga. “The Secret Symbolic Biography of Yeshe Tsogyal.” http://skydancerpress.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=79&Itemid=107
Tulku Thondup. 1996. Masters of Meditation and Miracles: The Longchen Nyingthik Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Boston: Shambhala, pp. 92-94.
Tsogyal, Yeshe. 1999. The Lotus-Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava. Translated by Erik Pema Kunsang. Boston: Shambala Publications.
Tsogyal, Yeshe. 1978. The Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava. Translated into French by Gustav-Charles Toussaint; translated into English by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays. Berkeley: Dharma Publishing.
[i] ye shes mtsho rgyal gyi bla ma’i rnal ‘byor/ karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi gsung ‘bum phyogs bsgrigs/ Volume 95 Pages 74 – 76. TBRC W3PD 1288.
[ii] The 15th Karmapa also wrote a short supplication prayer to Yeshe Tshogyel, which has already been translated into English here: https://www.lotsawahouse.org/tibetan-masters/fifteenth-karmapa/prayer-to-yeshe-tsogyal
[iii] ces pa ‘di ni kar+ma pa kun bzang mkha’ khyab rdo rjes rang lo bcu gcig gi skabs su yab gzhi’i shag gong gi gzims chung tshe dbang bde ldan du gang shar yi ger spel ba dge//