This page on Vajrayoginī is a resource for research and translations on the fully awakened goddess, as practiced in the different traditions.
Research and Translations
Vajrayoginī/Vajravārāhī, is a representation of complete buddhahood in female form. Classified as Wisdom or ‘Mother’ Anuttarayoga Tantra, the practices originate with the Chakrasamvara Cycle of Tantras. Vajrayoginī (rdo rje rnal ‘byor ma) /Vajravārāhī (rdo rje phags mo), as the consort of Heruka Chakrasamvara, is the very essence of the Chakrasamvara Cycle of Tantras. The Chakrasamvara Tantra was originally given on top of Mt. Meru in three versions: the expanded, the intermediate, and the abbreviated (which has 51 chapters). The source for Vajrayoginī teachings is said to be the 47th and 48th chapters of the Abbreviated Root Chakrasamvara Tantra.
Although found in a variety of forms, she is common to all lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. Vajravārāhī” (Vajra Sow) and “Vajrayogini” (Vajra Female Yogin) are used to indicate a specific deity, that can be differentiated from its iconography. Usually, Vajravārāhī is often pictured with a sow’s head on the side of her own as an ornament and in one form has the head of a sow herself. Vajrayogini is often associated with triumph over ignorance, the pig being associated with ignorance in Buddhism. For an excellent description of the symbolism of Vajravārāhī (passed down from Tilopa via Naropa to the Karma Kagyu) see Chogyam Trungpa in The Heart of the Buddha: Entering the Buddhist Path (pp. 117-121).
The iconography of Vajravārāhī is based on a vision of Tilopa (928 – 1009 C.E.), and Vajrayoginī’s on a vision of Nāropa (956 – 1040 C.E.), There are a number of different iconographic types, or appearances, of Vajrayoginī in the Nāropa Traditions. In the Sakya tradition depiction, she wears a necklace of fifty white skulls. In the Kagyu system, she wears a necklace of fifty freshly severed heads. The Thirty-seven Deity Mandala tradition depict the central Yogini in the same manner as the Sakya Tradition. The Shangpa is similar to the Sakya. In the Pabongkha style, the Yogini looks down towards sentient beings rather than drinking blood and looking up towards the pureland of Khechara.
The Lineages and the ‘three red ones’
All Nyingma and Sarma traditions have methods which are comprising both Generation and Completion Stages. Some forms of the Vajrayoginī practice contains an “outer” yogini, an “inner” yogini and a “secret” yogini. Of all these lineages from Sarma traditions, there are three that are most commonly practiced:
- Nāropa’s Vajrayoginī lineage, which was transmitted from Vajrayoginī to Mahasiddha Nāropa;
- Maitripa’s Vajrayogini lineage, which was transmitted from Vajrayoginī to Mahasiddha Maitripa; and
- Indrabhuti’s Vajrayoginī lineage, which was transmitted from Vajrayoginī to Mahasiddha Indrabhuti.
These three Vajrayoginī practices are known as The Three Red Ones (Tibetan: mar mo skor gsum) in the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
Nāropa’s Kechari Vajrayogini
There are two main lineages of Nāropa’s Vajrayoginī:
- Short (or close) Lineage: Vajradhara, Vajrayogini, Mahasiddha Naropa, Phamthingpa Brothers: Jigme Dragpa (Phamthingpa) & Ngawang Dragpa (Bodhibhadra), Sherab Tsegpa, Mal Lotsawa, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, Lopphon Sonam Tsemo, Jetsun Dragpa Gyaltsen, Choeje Sakya Pandita, Drogon Chogyal Phagpa, etc.
- Long (or distant) Lineage: Vajradharma, Vajrayogini, Mahasiddha Ghantapada, Mahasiddha Tengipa, Mahasiddha Antarapa, Mahasiddha Tilopa, Mahasiddha Naropa, Marpa Lotsawa, etc.
Mahasiddha Nāropa did not transmit the Short Lineage to Marpa Lotsawa but instead to the Phamthingpa Brothers who passed it on to the Sakya tradition from where it came later to the Gelug tradition. However, Nāropa transmitted the Long Lineage to Marpa Lotsawa and later, this lineage became one of the various Vajrayoginī/Vajravārāhī practices found in the Kagyu tradition (for more details see below).
It is often incorrectly stated in some online accounts, that Nāropa did not pass his Vajrayogini lineage to his student, Marpa the translator. However as Chogyam Trungpa states, in The Heart of the Buddha Entering the Buddhist Path (pp. 117-121), the ‘long lineage’ tradition of Vajrayogini was passed from Tilopa (who received it directly from Vajrayogini) to Nāropa to Marpa (the first Tibetan holder of the lineage), then to Milarepa, Gampopa, First Karmapa, Drogon Rechengpa, Pomdragpa, Second Karmapa, then Orgyanpa who passed it to the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje. It was the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, who composed the written sadhana of the form according to Tilopa and the oral instructions of Marpa, that is still practised to this day.
When Nāropa transmitted these teachings to Marpa he told them should only be given on a one to one transmission for thirteen generations and then after that they could be more widely propagated to others. In the 1970’s the Nalanda Translation Committee first translated the Vajrayogini sadhana into English at the request of Chogyam Trungpa. Materials can be found here.
The yidam that a meditator identifies with when practicing the Six Yogas of Nāropa (one of the main practices of the Karma Kagyu) is Vajrayoginī. As Vajravārāhī, her consort is Chakrasaṃvara (Tib. Khorlo Demchog), who is often depicted symbolically as a khaṭvāṇga staff on her left shoulder. In this form, she is also the consort of Jinasagara (Tib. Gyalwa Gyatso), red Avalokiteśvara.
Nāropa’s Vajrayogini practice from the Short Lineage is very important and alive in the Sakya tradition. Over the centuries, there have been various expositions of this system, it is said to be Ngorchen Dorje Chang Kunga Zangpo who caused this practice to become widespread outside the walls of the original Sakya monastery during his life-long career. The founder of the Tshar sub-sect of Sakya, Tsharchen Losal Gyatso’s foremost disciple, Jamyang Khyentse Wangchuk, wrote an extensive commentary on the Eleven Yogas of Nāropa’s Vajrayogini, which is the basis for the 7-day teachings given by the highest contemporary Sakya teachers like His Holiness Kyabgon Sakya Trizin, Her Eminence Jetsun Kushok-la, His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Rinpoche and so on.
As for Gelug tradition, one online source claimed that Nāropa’s Vajrayogini of Sakya tradition was introduced to Gelug tradition only around 18th century AD. However, after a quick research online, this seems to be incorrect, as the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso, wrote a text, The Practice of the Eleven Deities of Naro’s Khacho’ written in 1671 with Rigje Ngawang Namkha (rig byed pa ngag dbang nam mkha’) as scribe, in instruction for the practice of both generation and completion stages of the Nāro Kacho system. In the colophon, he cites the Zurchen lamas of the essence of Vajrasattva, the Kagyu and Zhalupa as being the traditions he based it on.
One online source wrote that:
”Although it is said that Naropa’s Vajrayogini was Je Tsongkhapa’s innermost meditational deity practice, there is no evidence for this since the Gelugpas had paid attention to Vajrayogini/Vajravarahi only as the consort of Heruka Chakrasamvara being one of their three principal meditational deities (Tibetan: gsang bde ‘jigs gsum; the others are Guhyasamaja Akshobhyavajra and Vajrabhairava Yamantaka). To this very day, Vajrayogini practice is not part of the canonical teaching curriculums at the tantric colleges. It was Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo who recommended and promoted the Vajrayogini practice as the main meditational deity of the Gelug tradition. From then onwards, the Gelugpas have its own unique versions of sadhanas and commentaries for Naropa’s Vajrayogini, and they are different from those originally commented by the Sa-Ngor-Tsar masters and early Gelug masters, eg. Ngulchu Dharmabhadra. These later Gelug writings are based on Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo’s extensive Naropa’s Vajrayogini sadhana entitled “The Short Path to Great Bliss”.”
Nāro Khacho is also practised in Jonang lineage, there are several texts written by Jonang teachers on the practice, including that of Jetsun Tāranātha, a sadhana in his famous Yidam Gyamtso and a text called the Extraordinary Completion Stage of Naro’s Vajrayogini) and by Sonam Zangpo. Tāranātha was a huge influence on Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, as has been written about here before. I hope to translate these Tāranātha texts in the near future and make them available here.
Khyentse Wangpo lineage
There are several texts by Khyentse Wangpo on this tradition in his Collected Works. He also wrote a major supplementary commentary on the pith instructions of the practice of the Nāro Khacho . For information about Khyentse’s work on Vajrayogini, and translations of these texts, see here.
- Vajrayoginī: Her Rituals, Visualisations, Elizabeth English (Wisdom Publications, 2002)
- Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism, by Judith Simmer-Brown (Shambhala Publications, 2002).
- Sublime Path to Kechara Paradise. Tharchin, Sermey Khensur Lobsang (1997). Mahayana Sutra and Tantra Press.
- When a Woman Becomes a Religious Dynasty – The Samding Dorje Phagmo of Tibet, Diemberger, Hildegard (2007): Columbia University Press, 2007.
- “Longchenpa and the Possession of the Dākinīs.” David Germano and Janet Gyatso.In Tantra in Practice. Ed. David Gordon White. Princeton University Press, pp. 241-265.
- Meeting the Great Bliss Queen: Buddhism, Feminism, and the Art of Self. Anne C Klein (1995 Boston: Beacon Press).
- Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism. Miranda Shaw, Princeton University Press, 1994.
- “Is Vajrayogini a Feminist? A Tantric Buddhist Case Study.” In Is the Goddess a Feminist? The Politics of South Asian Goddesses, ed. Alf Hiltebeitl and Kathleen Erndl. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.
- The Sublime Path to Kechara Paradise: Vajrayoginis Eleven Yogas of Generation Stage Practice as Revealed by the Glorious Naropa. by Sermey Khensur Lobsang Tharchin (Oral Commentary Series. Howell, NJ: Mahayana Sutra and Tantra Press, 1997).
- The Vajrayogini Teaching According to the Ultimate Secret Yoga in the Naro-Khachod Tradition. By Jamyang Khyentse Wangchuk, Singapore: Singapore Buddha Sasana Society, 1986.
- “Dakini: Some Comments on Its Nature and Meaning” In Feminine Ground: Essays on Women in Tibet Ed. by J Willis. Ithica, NY: Snow Lion Press. Willis’ article reveiws scholarly approaches (Tibetan, Indian, and western) to the idea of the dakini. She provides some details of the history of the dakini in Tibet, as well as a Sanskrit etymology and textual uses of the term.
- Vajra Yogini. by Lama Yeshe (London: Wisdom 1979).
- “The Goddess Vajrayogini and the Kingdom of Sankhu (Nepal).” by M. Zanen, in L’Espace du temple, vol 2, Les Sanctuaires dans le royaume¸ ed Jean-Claude Galey, 125-66. Paris:Editions de l’Ecole des Hautes Etues en Sciences Sociales 1985.
 “nA ro mkha’ spyod kyi rnal ‘byor bcu gcig gi nyams len la sgro ‘dogs gcod pa dang sems ‘dzin zung ‘brel du gtong tshul mthong grol lde mig (nA ro mkha’ spyod).” In gsung ‘bum/_ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho. TBRC W2CZ5990. 10: 357 – 370. dharamsala: nam gsal sgron ma, 2007. Colophon reads: rje btsun nA ro mkha’ spyod kyi rnal ‘byor bcu gcig gi nyams len la sgro ‘dogs gcod pa dang sems ‘dzin zun ‘brel du gtong tshul mthong grol lde mig ces pa ‘di yang rang nyid kyi brjed byang du ‘bri ‘dun yod pa’i steng rigs kun bdag po mkhan chen zha lu pa rin chen bsod nams mchog grub bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan dpal lbzang pos bstan rgyun la phan pa ‘dun tshul gyi legs so gnang bar brten/ khyab bdag rdo rje sems dpa’i ngo bor bzhugs pa’i dpal ldan bla ma rnam zur chen/bka’ ‘gyur ba/ zha lu ba/ gsum gyi bka’ drin la brten nas chos tshul ‘di la blo mig yangs pa’i slob bshad pa za hor gyi ban+des lcags phag hor zla gnyis pa’i yar tshes bco lnga’i nyin sbyar ba’i yi ge pa ni rig byed pa ngag dbang nam mkha’// //sarba mang+ga laM/
Also, in gsung ‘bum/_ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho/. TBRC W1PD107937. 13: 257 – 264. pe cin/: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang /, 2009.
 tA ra nA tha, nam mkha’ grags pa. “na ro mkha’ spyod kyi sgrub thabs/.” In yi dam rgya mtsho’i sgrub thabs rin chen ‘byung gnas/ (tA ra nA tha’i gsung ‘bum las pod 15 pa/). TBRC W12422. 1: 177 – 197. new delhi: chophel legdan, 1974-1975.
tA ra nA tha. “nA ro mkha’ spyod kyi rdzogs rim thun mong ma yin pa.” In gsung ‘bum/_tA ra nA tha/ (rtag brtan phun tshogs gling gi par ma/). TBRC W22277. 4: 677 – 688. leh: c. namgyal & tsewang taru, 1982-1987.
tA ra nA tha. “nA ro mkha’ spyod kyi rdzogs rim thun mong ma yin pa/.” In gsung ‘bum/_tA ra nA tha/ ?’dzam thang par ma/?. TBRC W22276. 12: 129 – 139. dzam thang dgon: [s.n.], 199-.
tA ra nA tha , thub bstan dge legs rgya mtsho , tshogs gnyis rgya mtsho , ‘jam dbyangs mkhyen rab rgya mtsho . “rje btsun rdo rje rnal ‘byor ma nA ro mkha’ spyod kyi dbang gi zur gsal kun phan rta ljang dbang po/.” In jo nang mdo sngags rig pa’i dpe tshogs/ . TBRC W1PD95746. 26: 331 – 339. khreng tu’u: si khron dpe skrun tshogs pa / si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang , 2009.
 bsod nams bzang po . “na ro mkha’ spyod kyi sgrub thabs dang dbang chog.” In jo nang dpe rnying thor bu/. TBRC W00KG0638. 4: 791 – 808.
 mkhyen brtse’i dbang po. “byin rlabs bya tshul mthong ba don ldan/rje btsun rdo rje rnal ‘byor ma nA ro mkha’ spyod/.” In gsung ‘bum/_mkhyen brtse’i dbang po/. TBRC W21807. 7: 315 – 342. gangtok: gonpo tseten, 1977-1980.
 nA ro mkha’ spyod kyi man ngag bum pa bzang po dang mkha’ spyod sgrub pa’i nye lam gyi lhan thabs/ TBRC W1KG22546.