SEEING SICKNESS AND SUFFERING AS POSITIVE: Female Mahasiddha and Lineage Founder, Gelongma Palmo and the 11-faced, 1000-armed Avalokitesvara (Nyung Ne) and teaching by 8th Garchen Rinpoche

“Generally, speaking samsara is an ocean of suffering, but it is not necessarily a negative thing. Dzogchen Patrul Rinpoche said: ‘I prefer not to be happy, I prefer to suffer. When I suffer, I am purifying my negative karma. Yet, when I am happy the five poisons/afflictive emotions increase.””  —excerpt from teachings on 1000-armed Avalokitesvara by 8th Garchen Rinpoche

15th Century Tibetan thangka of 1000-armed Avalokiteshvara See: https://www.himalayanart.org/items/211

In May 2021, HE 8th Garchen Rinpoche (1937- ) gave a teaching and empowerment on the 11-faced, 1000-armed Avalokitesvara practice from the tradition of the female mahasiddha, Bikshuni Lakshmi, known in Tibetan as Gelongma Palmo. In this post, I briefly consider the female lineage and the life of Gelongma Palmo and the iconography of 1000-armed Avalokitesvara and its meaning. This is then followed by a full, transcript of the teachings given by Garchen Rinpoche on the lineage and practice (based on the oral translation of Ina Bieler). The full empowerment and teaching can be viewed here.

Garchen
HE 8th Garchen Rinpoche (1937- )

Gelongma Palmo Life, Lineage and 1000-armed Avalokiteshvara Iconography

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Image of Gelongma Palmo, female mahasiddha and lineage founder. See: https://www.himalayanart.org/search/set.cfm?setID=4225

As I wrote about here before in Vajrayogini’s instructions on the ‘Great Compassionate One’: Tsembupa’s Lineage, there are five main traditions of Avalokiteśvara in Tibet[i].

The Gelongma Palmo lineage is thus unique and important not only because it is one of the few lineages headed by a woman but also it is the fasting practice, Nyung Ne, is very popular, practiced by all lineages in Tibet. It is a key event in the Tibetan Buddhist ritual year and, in addition to its annual performance during the sixth lunar month, can be undertaken at any time. As Shaw (1994:126] states :

“Unlike some of the other founding mothers, Bikshuni Laksmhi has attained the stature of a culture hero. She introduced a vastly popular ascetical discipline for lay people that continues to be important for Tibetan Buddhism in all its geographical locations and among followers of all the sects. One cannot live in a Tibetan Buddhist community for very long without hearing about individuals or, more often, large groups undertaking the fasting ritual of Bhikshunu Lakshmi.  Works of art depicting her meditating at the feet of Avalokitesvara will be encountered in Tibetan homes and temples. Bikshuni Laksmhi has is better known than some of the other female founders perhaps because her practice is less esoteric and hence more public and also because she is often put forward as an exemplar when her practice is imparted.”[ii]

The core of the fasting practice is a total fast from food and drink, accompanied by prostrations, prayers, and mantra recitation. The laity may also shave their heads, go barefoot, and avoid leather products. It is a chance for lay people to undergo the rigors of monasticism and for monastics to undergo a period of intensified renunciation. The usual length of the ritual is between two and four days, although consecutive sessions may be undertaken, in some cases for several months.The end of the ritual and return to ordinary life is marked by a feast.”

Textual Sources and lineage

Like other famous male panditas such as Saraha, it is not easy to say whether or not Gelongma Palmo was an historical person, since there is little information in the sources available. As Vargas (2001), one of the few contemporary scholars to write extensively about Gelongma Palmo, points out not only are there few textual sources but it is not clear whether she may have been the Indian siddha Lakshminkara (lineage holder and founder of the severed-head Vajrayogini) and she may also have been Nepalese:

“First, the only textual historical source that establishes the dates for Gelongma Palmo’s possible historical existence in a particular time period is the Blue Annals (1476-1478) which links this nun with Avalokitesvara and with imparting a fasting lineage, and gives details about her impressive lineage of fasting descendents:

“The Degree of propitiating Arya Avalokitesvara by performing the rite of fasting was preached by the Nun Lakshmi (dPal mo) personally blessed by Arya Avalokitesvara. She taught it to the pan∂ita Ye shes bzang po (Jñanabhadra), blessed by her. He to Bal po (the Nepalese) Peñaba, blessed by him. They were all saints (siddhas)…. Also there existed a Lineage of the dmar-khrid (detailed exposition) of the Cycle of the Great Merciful One (Mahakaru∞ika). The Nun LakÒmi (dGe-slong ma dPal mo) imparted it to dPal gyi bzang po (Sribhadra). The latter to Rin chen bzang po who imparted it to Atisa…. The Chapter on the Lineage of the system of dPal mo (Lakshmi) of the Cycle of Avalokitesvara.

For example, the hagiographies link Gelongma Palmo with a King Indrabodhi/Indrabhuti, (perhaps one of three figures mentioned in the historian Taranatha’s The Seven Instruction Lineages, and possibly one the Indian Mahasiddhas), and a so-called King Dharmapala.  Gelongma Palmo, prior to her renunciation, is also referred to as Lakshminikara, and after her healing experience as Vajravarahi, perhaps alluding to some conflation of her identity with one of the Indian Mahasiddhas or other figures.

The Newars refer to her as Candrikanta and as Srimati Bhikshuni, who is believed to have existed in the 10th century. There may also have been two Gelongma Palmos/Bhikshuni Lakshmi-s, one of this tradition, and another who propagated higher anuttarayoga tantras.”

Because of her association with key figures in Tibetan Buddhist history like Atisa (?982-?1054), Rinchen Zangpo (Rin chen bzang po (958-1055)), and others, Gelongma Palmo is placed in the 10th to 11th century.

This possibility that Gelongma Palmo was Nepalese is also mentioned in  a teaching on Nyung Ne by Lama Yeshe[iii] who mentions a location south of Kathmandu on the way to Pharping with a temple by which is said to be her family home where she lived for many years.

Ivette Vargas is one of the main English-language scholars on the life and practice of Gelongma Palmo. In her PhD study (2003), she states that the three main texts are: Joden Sonam Zangpo (Jo gdan Bsod nams bzang po)’s (1341-1433) The Sacred Biography of the Lineage Gurus of the State of Fasting; O Pag Dorje (’Od dpag rdo rje)’s (?late 14th-?15th century), The Sacred Biography of Gelongma Palmo, and Drugpa Lama Rabten (’Brug pa Bla ma Rab brtan)’s modern text, The Liberation Story of Gelongma Palmo: A Religious Discourse for Generating Renunciation in the Mind Stream (pub. 1953).  It is interesting that a Joden text is cited, as I have written here before, the Joden communities of monastics were also very influential on the Karmapas and Karma Kamtsang in the practice of one-day fasting and vegetarianism, see here.

Vargas (2001:158) says:

“The stories of Gelongma Palmo’s life are diverse but there is a thread in both oral and written versions that holds them together, that is, the descriptions of a woman whose fortitude healed her from a devastating illness and propelled her to become the founder of a lineage of fasting (smyung gnas “nyungnay”) revealed by her tutelary deity Avalokitesvara. As texts, the stories are part of a larger corpus according to the Gelongma Palmo system. Western scholarship has, for the most part taken notice of the impact of this corpus of material in Tibetan culture, focusing mostly on the significance of the fasting ritual and limited oral versions of Gelongma Palmo’s life extracted from present-day Tibetan communities. This has generated useful sociological and religious insights. What is unique about this study is a focused attention on what has been neglected about the life of the figure behind such an influential fasting ritual: specifically, Gelongma Palmo’s illness experience as a graphic example of Buddhist teachings on suffering and renunciation and how this contributes to a more nuanced understanding of the role of the fasting ritual in these texts.”

For more on the Gelongma Palmo sources and life it is worth reading Vargas’ work in detail. Shaw (1994: 126-130) has also written a brief section about her (see Bibliography below).

Princess, to abbess of a monastery, to kicked out for leprosy
Bikshuni Lakshmi/Gelongma Palmo – female mahasiddha and lineage founder

Shaw (1994: ) gives a summary of the earlier part of her life in which she succeeded in becoming a highly-skilled debater and the abbess of a monastery, only to then be kicked out by the monks there when she contracted leprosy:

“Brilliant scholar-abess, kicked out by monks after contracting leprosy Bhikshuni Lakshmi (Tib. dGe-slong-ma dPal-mo), a Kashmiri princess of the late tenth or eleventh century, forged this widespread fasting practice out of her experiences of life-threatening illness, devastating rejection by her religious community, and healing hierophany. Young Laskhmi was endowed with a sensitive and sympathetic temperament, and when she discovered that animals-:-such as lambs, of which she was particularly fond-are slaughtered for food, she was so horrified that she resolved to cut her ties with worldly life. Overcoming the opposition of her parents, the princess became a fully ordained nun (bhikshuni) and then apprenticed herself to a Tantric guru. Laskhmi became extremely skilled at logical debate, so her guru ordered her to debate the leading philosophers and Tantric scholars of the day. When she defeated one after another, Lakshmi was installed as abbess of a monastery and held this position for many years, until she contracted leprosy. The monks then drove her out and ruthlessly abandoned their abbess to die in the forest-according to one version of the story because they suspected her of having a miscarriage.”

Dreams and twelve years practice of Avalokitesvara – healed from sickness

1000arm

Garchen Rinpoche describes her meeting with Avalokitesvara and bestowal of the 1000-armed fasting practice on her thus:

“Indivisible from the essence of Vajrayogini, Gelongma Palmo was the daughter of the King of Oddiyana. At a young age, she contracted leprosy. Once she had a dream in which she received a prophesy to travel to the Kasaparni jungle. She asked her father for permission and he sent her off. When she arrived there she came to a temple that was housing a Avalokitesvaran statue, although the gatekeeper didn’t allow her to enter, the Avalokitesvara statue told her to stay outside the temple. One night she dreamt of a young boy that was actually her father. He told her that her principal deity is Avalokitesvara and that she should travel to the East to find a monk who was the emanation of Avalokitesvara, to receive his instructions on the practice of Avalokitesvara. The boy said if she devoted herself to the practice of Avalokitesvara for twelve years her illness would be cured, that she would attain the supreme siddhi and become the chief dakini of Oddiyana.

When she practiced Avalokitesvara at first, her sickness and pain increased. After eleven years,  blood and pus were streaming from her mouth, nose and she couldn’t move her body any longer, nevertheless she persevered in practice. One night she dreamed of many Oddiyana dakinis who told her not to stay here and go to Kasaparni and practice there. They said she would become Vajrayogini for most of the other dakinis.  Gelongma Palmo replied she would not be able to go there as she could not move her body any longer. In her sleep, the dakinis miraculously carried her off. When she awoke she found herself in Kasarparni.  There she practiced Avalokitesvara for twelve  years and progressively healed from her illness.

Eventually she began to see other various deities. Once she supplicated Avalokitesvara and a bright light appeared. She wondered what that might be and they she beheld the 1000 arm, 1000 eyed, 1000 armed Avalokitesvara. She said I have been practicing you for many years. Waiting for you to appear and only now can I see you, you surely have little compassion for me. Avalokitesvara replied, I have been with you from the very beginning, from the time you started praying to me but due to your obscurations you were unable to see me. He showed her his robes which were stained with all her blood and pus of many years, after that she gave rise to trust and finally attained the ultimate siddhi.”

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Shaw (1994:128) then says that Gelongma Palmo, despite initial aversion, eventually returned to the monastery where they had treated her so badly, and passed on the practice to the monks there:

“As the culmination of her visionary journey, the bodhisattva of compassion revealed a fasting practice to her and instructed her to teach it to everyone-including lay peopleas a powerful method of merit-accumulation and purification. Meanwhile, the abbess’s personal attendant assumed that she had died in the forest and came looking for her bones. Bikshuni Lakshmi emerged from the cave fully restored to health and reported all that had happened. The attendant advised that they should return to the monastery and impart the fasting practice to the monks. Still upset about her treatment there, she retorted, ”That monastery? I wouldn’t even go there to pee!” Compassion prevailed, however, and the two women went to the monastery and taught the newly revealed practice, which was accepted by those who still felt devotion to their abbess and rejected by those who had turned against her. The two women then set out traveling and taught the newly revealed fasting practice in India and Tibet.”

Taking a consort and severing her head for her father/King

8th Garchen Rinpoche explains that Gelongma Palmo then took a male siddha as a consort and to appease her father’s doubts about that, severed her head to demonstrate her spiritual powers:

 “To uphold the siddha’s lineage, she took the siddha, Patsangpa [not sure who this is] as her consort. This was very upsetting to her father the King, who developed many doubts. To dispel his doubts, she severed her own head and casting it into the sky, she said: “If I have broken any vows then my head shall not return, otherwise it shall. And so it did. Her head returned to her neck like before. Thus, she became known as the Vajravarahi with the severed-head.

Avalokitesvara revealed to her the ascetic fasting practice of the 1000-arm Avalokitesvara and this is where the tradition of the Nyung Ne comes from and told her that one who engages in the practice for just a single time will purify all negativities and obscurations accumulated in 84 000 kalpas.”

Gelongma Palmo composed a Praise to Great Compassionate One, which has been translated into English and can be downloaded from the Garchen Institute website, here. Jetsun Taranatha also composed a short sadhana of the Gelongma Palmo practice (phags pa spyan ras gzigs bcu gcig zhal dpal mo lugs kyi sgrub thabs/.” In yi dam rgya mtsho’i sgrub thabs rin chen ‘byung gnas/  TBRC W12422). I hope to translate this and publish in the future.

Vargas (2001) concludes:

“Uncertainty about the identity and historical existence of Gelongma Palmo has not detracted from her historical relevance as a symbol since her stories have provided a model and illustrated a doctrine throughout a long historical period. Examples of this are explicitly seen in present-day Buddhist female renunciants’ tendency in Tibetan Buddhist communities to be the holders of her ritual tradition. Their nunneries are places for the retelling of her stories. And as the compiler of the modern text and contemporary evidence from Nepal and Tibet show, sufferers of severe illnesses like leprosy have sought solace through the printing and transmission of her story, practicing her ritual, or visiting a temple associated
with Gelongma Palmo.”

1000-armed, 1000-eyed Avalokitesvara Iconography

1000 arm chenrezig

In terms of the depiction of this form of Avalokitesvara, images speak louder than words as they say. There are a number of different forms and traditions of the Eleven-faced Lokeshvara, who can be seated or standing.

8th Garchen Rinpoche says that:

“One outer representation of the deity  is 1000-arm and 1000-eyed Avalokitesvara. This is the Sambhogakaya that arises from the Dharmakaya. From the expanse of the Dharmakaya from which arises limitless forms of Sambhogayakaya with different appearances to benefit sentient beings.  That is what the image of a thousand arms and thousand eyes represent, it is the limitless appearances to benefit sentient beings. It is symbolic of these inconceivable activities.”

Shaw (1994: 130):

“The form in which Avalokitesvara appeared to the Kashmiri abbess is one of the most widely depicted of Tibetan Buddhist icons. As a tremendously beloved deity and major focus of religious aspiration, this form of Avalokitesvara is often encountered in Tibetan scroll paintings, statuary, and temple frescoes. He can be recognized by his eleven heads, thousand arms, and identifying attributes in his eight major hands: a rosary, Dharma-wheel, and gesture of giving (varada-mudrii) in his right hands; a golden lotus, bow and arrow, and initiation vessel in his left hands; and a pair of hands in afijalr-mudrii cupping the wishgranting gem of enlightenment at his heart. The colors of the heads, the hand positions and implements, and the significance of the hand attributes are described in her meditation manual and other writings.”

Generally, the deity is male, although as Shaw (1994) points out there is an original textual source, Praise to the Great Compassionate One, that describes the deity as a female too[iv]. Gelongma Palmo describes the visualization/image of the deity in sources[v] and there is also a form called the “Eleven-Headed Avalokitesvara according to (Bhikshuni) Lakshmi’s system” (sPyan-ras-gzigs bcu-gcig-zhal dpal-mo-lugs). This form, with four subsidiary figures is found in Sakya Ngor pantheon of deities.[vi]

1000-armed-avalokiteshvara-chenrezig-by-carmen-mensink
Thangka image by Carmen Mensink. https://www.tibetan-buddhist-art.com/1000-armed-chenrezig-avalokiteshvara-by-carmen-mensink/

In this video, thangka artist, Carmen Mensink explains the iconography and symbolism of the 1000-armed and eyed Avalokitesvara.

According to Himalayan Art Resources:

At one time the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara made a promise that should he give rise to thoughts of self benefit may the head break into 10 pieces and the body into 1000. After continuously witnessing the misery of beings in various states of existence, discouraged, he gave rise to thoughts of seeking only his own happiness. At that very instant the head and body shattered. Calling out to Amitabha, the Buddha came forth and spoke words of encouragement. Gathering up the 10 pieces of the head Amitabha constructed 10 faces – representing the 10 perfections. Gathering the 1000 pieces of the body he constructed another with 1000 hands each with an eye on the palm – representing the 1000 buddhas of the Golden Eon. Finally he placed a duplicate of his own head at the crown – illuminating the entire threefold universe. This story is found in the apocryphal Tibetan text called the Mani Kabum. In that text it also describes how Tara appears from a tear drop coming from Avalokiteshvara’s right eye and the goddess Bhrikuti appears from a tear drop of the left eye. Both Tara and Brikuti are manifesting, like the other enlightened figures, to assist Avalokiteshvara on the path of benefiting all beings and reaching enlightenment. Some modern tellings of the story name the two goddesses as Green Tara and White Tara.”

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Image of 1000-armed Chenrezig in the main temple in Mcleod Ganj, Dharamsala, India.

TRANSCRIPT

Teachings by 8th Garchen Rinpoche  on 1000-armed Avalokiteshvara (May 2021)

The Dharmakaya, Buddha and love and compassion

Who is Buddha? We tend to think he is so precious and yet so far away from us. We speak about a Buddha appearing every aeon and kalpa and infinite Buddhas appearing in those aeons and kalpas. We think of them being so far away from us. On one hand, there was an outer Buddha who appeared, There was a Buddha who appeared and attained merit for three endless eons and then attained enlightenment.  What does that mean? It means Bodhicitta, the Buddha arises from bodhicitta.  Buddhas arise from and through sentient beings, and so sentient beings arise from Buddhas. Milarepa said that from the state of non-conceptuality arises the Dharmakaya and also it is said elsewhere that within the expanse of primordial wisdom all the Buddhas are one. The Dharmakaya is the space-like nature of mind. Buddha and everything, in the end, dissolve back into that open expanse, the space, the Dharmakaya. So when one attains enlightenment, one dissolves into the space of Dharmakaya. One does not just go out of existence. One becomes a Buddha, Vajradhara, and thus one continues to remain. So from non-conceptuality arises the Dharmakaya.

Then,  from bliss arises the Sambhogakaya. The non-conceptual mind is indeed a very blissful state. When we practice Mahamudra and other similar practices, we experience great bliss within our minds. From great bliss, Milarepa said, the Sambhogakaya arises. So all of us who practice these things such as Mahamudra, we know about these meditative experiences that arise. There are basically three. The experience of bliss, clarity and non-conceptuality, or non-thought.  From this non thought,  arises the realization of the Dharmakaya. The non-conceptual state is the thought-free mind. The thought-free mind is blissful and from that bliss arises the Sambhogakaya. Bliss, the sambhogakaya,  is also connected to love. All the deities arise really from a mind of love and compassion.

When we speak about nature of mind, how I explain it, is the Buddha said all beings are Buddhas, but although their mind is Buddha they have not recognized that. So, even though all sentient beings are Buddhas, their mind is like an ice block, but that ice is actually water. We need to understand that point.  It is the concept of a self and a perception of me that leads to a perception of self and other. A dualistic existence.  So ice has arisen from water because the weather/external circumstances got very cold. If you want to melt the ice, you need heat. The heat and warmth [that melts the self and other] in the mind is love and compassion. That is where all Buddhas come from; that is really Buddha. That is why we say that at the beginning, the Buddha gave rise to bodhicitta, and then after that he attained enlightenment.

Buddhas arises from love and compassion. Bodhicitta is love and compassion and that is where Buddhas arises from. That is the essence of the deity. Which deity is the very embodiment essence of bodhicitta? It is Noble Avalokitesvara. For that reason, it is also said that he is the father of all the deities. That is how I put it in simple terms, for those like myself who do not have much learning. There is no way to attain enlightenment without love or compassion. This is the indispensable ingredient for enlightenment. As Avalokitesvara is the embodiment of love and compassion, he is the father of all the deities.

One outer representation of the deity  is 1000-armed and 1000-eyed Avalokitesvara. This is the Sambhogakaya that arises from the Dharmakaya. From the expanse of the Dharmakaya  arise limitless forms of Sambhogayakaya with different appearances to benefit sentient beings.  That is what the image of a thousand arms and thousand eyes represent; the limitless appearances to benefit sentient beings. It is symbolic of these inconceivable activities.

In Vajrayana secret mantra this is a skillful method to introduce. This is the empowerment we will get today, the 1000-armed Avalokitesvara. We are indeed very fortunate.

Seeing sickness and suffering as positive

Generally, speaking samsara is an ocean of suffering, but it is not necessarily a negative thing. Dzogchen Patrul Rinpoche said: ‘I prefer not to be happy, I prefer to suffer. When I suffer, I am purifying my negative karma. Yet, when I am happy the five poisons/afflictive emotions increase.” So from a Buddhist perspective, suffering has many good qualities. In Buddhism, we are given a method to transform suffering into happiness. If we are not able to do that, then we will even turn happiness into suffering. Basically, one cancels the other out, if there is suffering there is no happiness, and if there is happiness there is no suffering. So there is a way to find happiness though suffering, or to find suffering even through happiness. The Buddhist way is to transform suffering into happiness.

The next part is the story of Gelongma Palmo, who experienced a lot of suffering, who practiced the deity Avalokitesvara and who actually is a nirmanakaya who appeared in the human world, to whom the sambhogakaya, Avalokitesvara directly appeared. Through this story we can understand that suffering is actually not a negative thing, since it purifies our negative karma and obscurations. Also, Jigme Lingpa said that suffering is like a stepping stone in our Dharma practice. Lord Jigten Sumgon also had the same sickness, leprosy, as Gelong Palmo, and he finally accepted it, and through acceptance, he ultimately attained enlightenment.

There are so many individuals who have attained enlightenment through suffering because basically the greater the suffering is, the more the self-clinging becomes eliminated/dissolves. And self—grasping is what is suffering by nature. An intelligent person would recognize that and see that samsara is suffering. The source of that suffering is the self and such a person will be able to identify the self and the self-clinging within themselves and through that ultimately they can release suffering and realize selflessness. Gelongma Palmo was such a practitioner who became completely liberated from her misery; who attained the rainbow body of Vajrayogini. She was a nirmanakaya who came in this world to benefit beings, to give us this method to transform suffering into happiness.

History of Gelongma Palmo and the 1000-armed Avalokitesvara practice

Indivisible from the essence of Vajrayogini, Gelongma Palmo was the daughter of the King of Oddiyana. At a young age, she contracted leprosy. Once she had a dream in which she received a prophesy to travel to the Kasaparni jungle. She asked her father for permission and he sent her off. When she arrived there she came to a temple that was housing a Avalokitesvara statue, although the gatekeeper didn’t allow her to enter, the Avalokitesvara statue told her to stay outside the temple. One night she dreamt of a young boy that was actually her father. He told her that her principal deity is Avalokitesvara and that she should travel to the East to find a monk who was the emanation of Avalokitesvara, to receive his instructions on the practice of Avalokitesvara. The boy said if she devoted herself to the practice of Avalokitesvara for 12 years her illness would be cured, that she would attain the supreme siddhi and become the chief dakini of Oddiyana. When she practiced Avalokitesvara at first, her sickness and pain increased. After 11 years,  blood and pus were streaming from her mouth, nose and she couldn’t move her body any longer, nevertheless she persevered in practice. One night she dreamed of many Oddiyana dakinis who told her not to stay here and go to Kasaparni and practice there. They said she would become Vajrayogini for most of the other dakinis.  Gelongma Palmo replied she would not be able to go there as she could not move her body any longer. In her sleep, the dakinis miraculously carried her off, when she awoke she found herself in Kasarparni.  There she practiced Avalokitesvara for 12 years and progressively healed from her illness.

Eventually she began to see other various deities. Once she supplicated Avalokitesvara and a bright light appeared. She wondered what that might be and then she beheld the 1000-eyed, 1000 armed Avalokitesvara. She said: ‘I have been practicing you for many years. Waiting for you to appear and only now can I see you, you surely have little compassion for me’. Avalokitesvara replied: ‘I have been with you from the very beginning, from the time you started praying to me but due to your obscurations you were unable to see me’. He showed her his robes which were stained with all her blood and pus of many years, after that she genreated trust and finally attained the ultimate siddhi.

To uphold the siddha’s lineage, she took the siddha, Patsangpa as her consort. This was very upsetting to her father the King, who developed many doubts. To dispel his doubts, she severed her own head and casting it into the sky, said: “If I have broken any vows then my head shall not return, otherwise it shall. And so it did. Her head returned to her neck like before. Thus she became known as the Vajravarahi with the severed-head.

Avalokitesvara revealed to her the ascetic fasting practice of the 1000-arm Avalokitesvara and this is where the tradition of the Nyung Ne comes from. He told her that one who engages in the practice for just a single time will purify all negativities and obscurations accumulated in 84 000 kalpas. [Then Garchen Rinpoche read the names of all the lineage gurus and that he had received the empowerment from the mahasiddha, Jigme Dorje).

Difference between Nyung Ne and Nying Ne

What is the difference between the Nyung Ne and the Nying Ne? So Nyung is an honorific for ‘sickness’. Gelongma Palmo was very sick so that she could not even eat any more. It was at that time of hardship that she practiced. That’s where the term Nyung Ne comes from.   Nyung means ‘sick’ and Ne means ‘to abide’ or ‘to stay’. She stayed with her sickness. Basically it means a practice that causes discomfort. Nying Ne is a lighter practice that causes lighter discomfort. So the Nying Ne  we have to remain silent but we can eat lunch but nothing after midday. There is less of a hardship. That’s the difference between the Nying ne and the Nyung ne. it’s good for you to hear the history.  Many of you might already know it and many may not. I wanted to make that clear.

The empowerment purpose of body, speech and mind, is to purify the karmic defilements and imprints on our body, speech and mind. So what is ann imprint and how is it placed in our mind? First, imprints are placed in our own mind. The imprint ultimately is seeing a self, a me. Mind is actually like empty space, so an imprint is beginning to see an entity that is a self in empty space that does not exist. Forming imprints is like taking pictures, or filming it on a camera and storing it on the camera roll. That is where it stays, stored on the camera roll. So whatever imprints, or habitual patterns, we are accustomed to, the three poisons, the various afflictions, each of these actions is like taking a picture that is stored in the mind. Then, in future lifetimes, over and over again, the film that we have filmed ourselves becomes projected to us as our experience. Therefore, it is not someone else that is doing something for us or creating our karmas, we are naturally doing it to ourselves. Whatever imprint we put in our mind becomes projected back to us as our experience. In this way, we wander in the six realms of samsara. Until all karma has come to an end. When Karma has come to an end, then there is still Buddha nature, then we realize that we have never been separate from Buddha, that’s why the Buddha said himself that sentient beings are actual Buddhas. Thus, in brief, it’s important that we purify the mind.”

Written, compiled and transcribed by Adele Tomlin, 14th June 2021.

1000-Armed-Chinrezig-Dharamsala-Indiasmaller

Further Reading/Bibliography

Havnevik, Hanna, 1989. Tibetan Buddhist Nuns: History, Cultural Norms and Social Reality (Oslo: Norwegian University Press).

Karma Lekshe Tsomo, 1987. “Tibetan Nuns and Nunneries,” Feminine Ground: Essays on Women and Tibet, ed. Janice D Willis (New York: Snow Lion Publications, ), pp.120-121.

Price-Wallace, Darcie. 2015. “Gendering Nyungne: The Tibetan Buddhist Fasting Ritual,” Sakyadhita 14th International Conference on Buddhist Women; Compassion and Social Justice (Sakyadhita, 2015).

Shaw, Miranda, 1994. Passionate Enlightenment (Princeton University).

Tomlin, Adele, 2020. Vajrayogini’s instructions on the ‘Great Compassionate One’: Tsembupa’s Lineage

Vargas, Ivette M. 2001. “The Life of dGe slong ma dPal mo: The Experience of a Leper, Founder of a Fasting Ritual, a Transmitter of Buddhist Teachings on Suffering and Renunciation in Tibetan Religious History.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 24.2 (2001): 157-185.

Vargas, Ivette Maria, 2003. Falling to Pieces, Emerging Whole: Suffering Illness and Healing Renunciation in the Dge slong ma Dpal mo Tradition (Nepal, Tibet). PhD thesis, Harvard University.

Zivkovic, Tanya. 2013. Embodying the Past: Gelongma Palmo and Tibetan Nyungne Rituals, Journal of Ritual Studies, Vol. 27, No. 2 (2013), pp. 45-63. See: https://www.jstor.org/stable/44368895

Endnotes

[i]  1. Bikkshuni Palmo (dpal mo) from the nun, Palmo. This is the one practiced in the Nyungne. According to the Blue Annals, Lakshmi (dge slong ma dpalmo) imparted it to  Śrībhadra (dpal gyi bzan po). The latter to Ratnabhadra  (rinchen bzang po), who imparted it to Atiśa[iv].

  1. Kyergangpa tradition from Atisha, Dimpamkara, he taught this to Geshe Lhatshorwa who passed it to Kyergangpa. He received the complete Avalokiteśvara teachings from a great practitioner of Avalokiteśvara, Pakpa Chegom. Through practicing in solitary retreat for four and half years Kyergangpa received a vision of Avalokiteśvara.
  2. Dawa Gyaltsen, a great Dzogchen siddha who appeared in Tibet who saw Avalokiteśvara face to face in a pure vision and received instructions, which he then passed on in a lineage from master to disciple. This is called the Dagyal tradition.
  3. Mitra from Mitra Yogi (mi tra dzo gi). A siddha from India who received teachings from Avalokiteśvara who appeared to him. The transmission of his “Six Vajra Yogas” is still alive and can be found in Volume 16 (Ma) of the gdams ngag mdzod of Jamgön Kongtrül (‘jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas, 1813-1899). Mitra then gave it to the great translator, Thropu (khro phu brgya rtsa), this tradition is called the Mitra tradition.
  4. Tsembupa from 13thCentury Mahasiddha Tsembupa (tshems bu pa), who got the instructions directly from Vajrayogini.

See: https://dakinitranslations.com/2020/10/12/vajrayoginis-instructions-on-great-compassionate-avalokitesvara-tsembupas-lineage/

[ii] Shaw (1994: ) also cites how important the ritual still is for the Sherpa community in Nepal and the Himalayan regions.

[iii] “However, I think Bhikshuni Lakshmi might have been Nepalese. In the Kathmandu valley, just to the south of Kathmandu on the way to Pharping, the holy place of Padmasambhava and Vajrayogini, after you cross the mountain that is said to be the one that Manjushri cut with his sword, there is a high mountain, with a long set of steps going up from the main road to the top. There you find a temple with a red Avalokitesvara inside, and outside the temple, on the walls of the surrounding buildings, are a lot of empty pots that people have offered, though I’m not sure why. There must be a reason, but I haven’t heard the explanation of its purpose. Basically, it must be to pacify some obstacles or to fulfill some wishes. It must be for happiness—otherwise, why would people do it? At one side of the temple, there’s also a house with a large, roofed platform in front of it, like a kind of seat. It is said that it was Bhikshuni Lakshmi’s family home and she lived in that house nearly a thousand years ago. (I’m not sure that she practiced there, because in the later part of her life she lived in a cave and did much recitation of OM MANI PADME HUM.) So, this is why I think Bhikshuni Lakshmi might have been Nepalese.” See: https://www.lamayeshe.com/article/chapter/chapter-3-bhikshuni-lakshmi.

[iv]  r]e btsun thugs rje chenpo In bstod pa, sDe-dge 2740, fol.127b.1-2: zla ba’I ‘od ltar rgyal ba’i yum I gzugs kyi IIIli mo yid ‘od sku/ … . /rang bzhin mi dmigs stong pa’i ngang I bud med gzugs kyis ‘gro ba ‘dul.

[v] The visualization manual is The Sadhana of the Eleven-faced Noble Chenrezig ( r]e btsun ‘phags pa spyan ras gzigs dbang phyug zhal bcu gcig pa’i sgrub thabs), sDe-dge 2737; the heads and hands are described on fol. 124b.6-125a.3. She interprets the hand implements and gestures in ‘Phags pa spyan ras gzigs dbang phyug gi bstod pa, sDe-dge 2739, fol. 126b.1-2.

[vi] As Shaw(1994) points out: “ This form, with four subsidiary figures, can be found in the Sakya Ngor (Sa-skya Ngor) pantheon of the Gyude Kuntu (rGyud sde kun btus), compiled in the nineteenth century; see bSod nams rgya mtsho and Musashi Tachikawa, The Ngor Mandalas of Tibet: Plates, p. xx and plate 135. It also occurs in the nineteenth-century sNar-thang pantheon, or “sNar-thang Five Hundred”; see Lokesh Chandra, Buddhist Iconography, no. 614.”

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