Lotus (padma) - Born (sambhava)

Note: the Karmapa was Padmasambhava
in one of his earlier incarnations

A Tsakli Painting (i.e., "Initiation-image")
Tibet, circa 16th Century
[See link directly below].
This is an elegant, youthful image of the 8th century C,E. Padmasambhava. Here is the site's brief commentary:
The painting in brilliant mineral pigments depicts Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) who incarnated as an 8 year old child, on a lotus blossom floating in a lake in Oddiyana -- hence his other name 'Lotus born'. His special nature became famous, and he was invited by Tibetan King Trisong Detsen, in the 8th Century, to travel to Tibet to subdue the demons plaguing the land and its peoples. Having accomplished this by means of his spiritual powers he went on to found Tibet's first Buddhist monastery - Samye - thereby introducing the Tibetan people to the practices of Tantric Buddhism. Here he is shown seated on a lotus throne wearing robes of rich red and green, with a tiger-skin lining. He holds a dorje and skull cup, and his khatvanga (ritual staff) appears at his left shoulder.
About Tibet's tsakli paintings:
Tsakli or tsakali are miniature paintings in the Tibetan tradition on card or cloth. Sets of tsakli are used in evocation rites to initiate novices, and also in the performance of certain rituals such as those associated with the Bardo, or After Death Realms.

        This lengthy site offers a great deal of lore about Padesambhava's life. Here is a brief passage about his lotus-born birth:

...In the land of Uddiyana situated to the west of Bodhgaya there was an island in a huge lake on which appeared a multicolored lotus flower through the blessings of the buddhas. Buddha Amitabha sent from his heart center a golden vajra marked with the letter HRIH into the bud of this lotus flower which miraculously turned into a small child eight years of age holding a vajra and a lotus and adorned with the major and minor marks. The child remained there teaching the profound Dharma to the devas and dakinis on the island.....
For more from on Padmasambhava and The Tibetan Book of the Dead, mentioned above, see our Tibetan Buddhism page:
...The Bardo Thodol of Tibetan Buddhism (also spelled Bardo Thotrol), commonly known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, was...composed in the 8th century by the famous spiritual leader Guru Padmasambhava, then written down by his primary student Yeshe Tsogyal.  It is said to have been buried in the Gampo hills in central Tibet and then subsequently discovered by a Tibetan “terton” (an individual who discovers something previously hidden) Karma Lingpa in the 12th century.....

The Lotus-Born: Padmasambhava
He holds a dorje in his right hand and a skull cup in his left hand.

About that cup: "Padma often holds a skull cup filled with divine liquor
that he offers to all who choose him as their Guru, bidding them drink of it to attain liberation...."
[Abbreviated & edited]:
The Nyingma tradition actually comprises several distinct lineages that all trace their origins to the Indian "Lotus-Born" master Padmasambhava, who is lauded in the popular canon as the founder of Tibetan Buddhism in the 8th century, and is still propitiated in the discipline of reciprocity that is guru yoga sadhana, the staple of the tradition(s). It was the main center for dharma transmission in Tibet during this age. Nyingma also maintains the earliest tantric teachings, derived from Nagarjuna, which have been given the popular nomenclature of Vajrayana....
Around 760, King Trisong Detsen invited Padmasambhava and the Nalanda University abbot (Tibetan Shiwatso) to Tibet to introduce Buddhism in the "Land of Snows." King Trisong Detsen ordered the translation of all Buddhist Dharma Texts into Tibetan. Padmasambhava, Shantarakshita, 108 translators, and 25 of Padmasambhava's nearest disciples worked for many years in a gigantic translation-project. The translations from this period formed the base for the large scriptural transmission of Dharma teachings into Tibet. Padmasambhava supervised mainly the translation of Tantra; Shantarakshita concentrated on the Sutra-teachings. Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita also founded the first Buddhist monastery Samye on Tibetan ground. It was the main center for dharma transmission in Tibet during this age....From this basis, Tantric Buddhism was established in its entirety in Tibet.....

and the Lion-Faced Dakini

Simhamukha: The Lion-faced Dakini
Brief but mentions Padmasambhava and his connection with Lion-faced Dakini:
...It seems that the Vajrayana practice of the prayer wheel spread when Nagarjuna gave the practice to Lion-faced Dakini, who gave it to Padmasambhava, who then brought it to Tibet.
Note, as the passage below makes clear, the above image "is unrelated to the deity of the same name and appearance in the Nyingma 'Terma' (treasure) traditions. In that tradition, of the many forms of Padmasambhava, she is regarded as the secret form of Guru Rinpoche." In other words, although the appearance and name of Simhamukha is considered the secret form of Padmasambhava, and although that form and name are exactly the same as the above, they are completely unrelated. It is as if a famous singer has taken the name of an even more famous personage from an earlier time.

Further excerpts from this brief, but attractive, page:

                          Snarling and roaring with a gaping large mouth on a white lion face, she stands fierce and
                          menacing with two hands, dark blue in color, with protruding fangs, curled tongue, two large
                          round eyes and dark green flowing hair....

                          In the Sarma (new) Schools the dakini Simhamukha is a tutelary deity arising out of the
                          Cakrasamvara cycle of Tantras and belongs to the anuttarayoga 'wisdom' classification. The
                          Sarma tradition Simhamukha is unrelated to the deity of the same name and appearance in
                          the Nyingma 'Terma' (treasure) traditions. In that tradition, of the many forms of
                          Padmasambhava, she is regarded as the secret form of Guru Rinpoche.

This is another page with a fine image and brief text on Simhamukha, the Lion-Faced Dakini (Tibetan: Seng
All schools in Tibetan Buddhism carry a lion-faced dakini practice because of the belief that she is the wrathful manifestation of the “Guhyajnana dakini” – the secret Wisdom dakini who is said to have been the principle female teacher of Padma Sambhava in Oddiyana. Also that of Atisha in his youth when he studied in the same region and that of the Dalai Lama incarnations in their pre-Dalai Lama life as Ratnadas. Her lion face demonstrates fearlessness and that all fierce emotions are turned into a constructive activity towards enlightenment.
Abbreviated, edited excerpts from northern California's Tibetan Buddhist Center:
The Lion-faced Dakini of Timeless Awareness represents the wisdom that enables one to clear away the negativity of one's own mind. Through her practice one is imbued with spiritual power to gain mastery over samsara and nirvana.

At the time of Buddha Amitabha, many aeons even before Shakyamuni Buddha, there was a lion-faced demoness called Tramen Sengdongma. She delighted in taking the lives of countless beings, and by harming practitioners she increased the negative forces in the world and undermined the Amitabha Buddha's doctrine. All the buddhas gathered together and concluded that to tame her they would need to manifest an identical-looking being.

The enlightened beings' collective wisdom arose in the form of a wisdom being, the Lion-faced Dakini, empowered by all the buddhas of the ten directions with their power and compassion to tame the demoness. The Dakini became far more powerful than the demoness, who then began to lose her strength. Tramen Sengdongma, now pacified, took an oath to serve the dharma and became a protector.

Guru Rinpoche remained in Tibet for 111 years and in his 73rd year there he gave many teachings on the Lion-faced Dakini. The practice was transmitted to Yeshe Tsogyal, who is an emanation of the Lion-faced Dakini, and with her siddha of infallible memory, she recorded the text in dakini script and concealed it, to be revealed later by tertons. This particular treasure was revealed by Dudjom Lingpa, and kept secret for 44 years. When he felt it was the right time, he opened  the practice, recorded it in human script and transmitted it to others....

and Yeshe Tsogyal, his Consort


Drops of Life
Nicholas Roerich:  1924
Courtesy of the Nicholas Roerich Museum in NYC
A few interesting excerpts about Yeshe Tsogyal from Wikipedia:
Among lay Tibetans she is seen as a Buddha who takes the form of an ordinary woman so as to be accessible to the average person, "who, for the time being, do not see her Vajravarahi form as a fully perfected deity." In fact,
     She displays whatever emanation form will tame
     Any given [person], just as, for example, the full moon in the sky
     Emerges as [various] reflections in different water vessels.
According to legend she was born in the same manner as the Buddha, a Sanskrit mantra sounding as her mother gave birth painlessly, and she is considered a reincarnation of the Buddha's own mother, Maya Devi. Her name ("Primordial (ye) Wisdom (shes) Queen (rgyal mo) of the Lake (tso)") derives from her birth causing a nearby lake to double in size.[3]

As a young girl, she is said to have prayed for the happiness of all sentient beings. At the age of sixteen, she was initiated into Buddhism by Guru Padmasambhava.  Although she was originally one of the Queen consorts of Trisong Detsen, she was given to Padmasambhava and became his main spiritual consort. After many years of diligent study she achieved a level of enlightenment equal to his. Yeshe Tsogyal was the main compiler of Padmasambhava's teachings, and it was she who concealed most of the termas.

According to Karmapa lineage Tsogyel had attained Buddhahood in that very life. On the Gyalwa Karmapa website [see below] it is said that she -some thirty years before transcending worldly existence- finally emerged from an isolated Meditation Retreat (796-805) as "a fully Enlightened Buddha " (samyak-sa?buddha).

Padmasambhava is supposed to have said to her: "The basis for realizing enlightenment is a human body. Male or female, there is no great difference. But if she develops the mind bent on enlightenment the woman’s body is better."
[Abbreviated and edited from the 17th Karmapa's site]:
Yeshe Tsogyal, Princess Of Karchen: Yeshe Tsogyal (777-837 A.D.) was born in the princely karchen family.1 Her father's name was Namkhai Yeshe and her mother was called Ge-wa Bum. When she was born, a spring of fresh water spontaneously burst from the ground and formed a sizable pond next to her house. This pond came to be known as "Lha-tso", the Divine Lake. Later the spot would become a famous pilgrimage site for generations of devotees....

... It is said that Yeshe Tsogyal was an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Saraswati-devi.

Life was not at first good to Yeshe Tsogyal. She was brutally raped by her first suitor and fought over by her second. When she fled from the latter, she was taken and placed in the Emperor's harem. Later the Sage-Emperor offered her as a consort to our Master, the Lord Padmasambhava.

Lord Padmasambhava set her free and she became his disciple. Only then did she begin to discover happiness in her life. That was in the year 794 A.D., when Yeshe Tsogyal was sixteen years old. When she received Empowerment her flower fell on the sacred mandala of Vajrakilaya and through practicing the appropriate sadhana she rapidly gained accomplishment. She then received all of the Lord Padmasambhava's teachings and became his spiritual heir.

Since Yeshe Tsogyal possessed a phenomenal photographic memory, it was possible for her to memorize vast numbers of texts without the slightest difficulty. Thus the entire Khadro Nying-t'ig teachings were handed into her care....

There came a period when, while living alone in the wintry cave of Nering Senge that Yeshe Tsogyal began to face all the demons of her mind. Visions rose up before her in the process of her meditations, equal to those of Buddha Sakyamuni beneath the Bodhi-tree, or Christ in the throes of his Temptation, or St. Anthony in the Desert, full of hideous and terrifying intensity. Hordes of phantoms advanced upon her: fearful, seductive, malign, and evil. With these, the product of her own traumatic passions, she wrestled, while remaining unmovable in her vajra-like samadhi, the immutable poise of impartial contemplation. For days the onslaught continued, until finally she was left in peace. This was the trial of her final spiritual catharsis.

Afterwards, at the lonely cave of Paro Taktsang in the highlands of Bhutan, she disciplined herself through vigorous fasts, long meditation, and the spiritual practice known as karmamudra, so as to blend the refined positive and negative seed essences (bindus) of her heart nerve-plexus (cakra) and branch nervous-systems (nadi), from whence the five major and five secondary bio-energies (vayu) of the living body derive, so as to crystallizing in the whole of her presence the basis of an inner vajra-body. This rigorous blending together of refined nerve substance (the white and red seed essences), and the undoing of the last psychological knots of the heart centre, pertains to the final stage for winning Buddhahood in a single lifetime. Yeshe Tsogyal's retreat at Paro Taktsang would be the last austerity practiced for her own benefit.

In Paro Taktsang after pursuing her goal with incredible diligence, Yeshe Tsogyal attained the level of a world-encompassing Insight holder. Thus she gained the basic stages of Enlightenment.

Later she travelled all over Tibet with her Precious Guru, the Lord Padmasambhava, blessing particular locations and depositing Treasure texts for the benefit of future mystics.

She went into an isolated Meditation Retreat in 796 and did not come out until 805, after her great Guru had already left Tibet, but when she did finally emerge it was as a fully Enlightened Buddha. Possibly in 837, but perhaps later, she transcended worldly existence, ascending bodily to the manifest pure field dimension of the Sacred Red Mountain, the luminous sphere of her Guru, the Lord Padmasambhava.

                     Notes from this Site:
An excellent biography in English translation of Yeshe Tsogyal is Sky Dancer, the Secret Life and Songs of  the Lady Yeshe Tsogyal, by K. Dowman, Snow Lion, NY.

In the lore of ancient India the gracious Saraswati, patron saint of the arts and learning, is considered the female aspect, or soul mate, of Arya Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of wisdom and science. There was a river named after her, now called the Sarsuti, which flows from the Himalayas and is lost in the sands of the desert. In ancient times it flowed on to the sea and bestowed fertility to the neighbouring lands. Just as this river once watered the ancient civilization of India, which arose along its green banks, so it is, said that the Bodhisattva Sarasvati's divine mission is to nurture worldly beings with an appreciation for artistic beauty and gentle culture. She is usually pictured as of a white colour, with graceful but full figure, wearing a slender crescent on her brow and sitting on a lotus. Other names of Saraswati are Brahmi, Sarada-devi, Putkari, Vagiswari and Devi.

Yeshe-tsogyal Banner
[See the site directly below]
This is "Yeshe Tsogyal: Woman and Feminine Principle" from the Shambhala Times by Buddhist scholars Rita Gross and Acharya Judith Simmer Brown. Excerpts:
Yeshe Tsogyal has long been a key figure in the Nyingma lineage, important to the Vidyadhara and the Sakyong. In the “Supplication to the Shambhala Lineage,” she is paired with “Lotus-born Padmakara” as “Wisdom Yeshe Tsogyal.” Her name means literally “wisdom ocean queen,” and her blessing is associated with the development of genuine nondual wisdom in our practice....

According to all Tibetan stories about her, Yeshe Tsogyal was an historical woman who lived in Tibet in the eighth century. Like the historical Buddha Sakyamuni, she had a human conception, birth, life and death, and became enlightened in a single lifetime. As princess of the kingdom of Karchen, she married the king of Tibet, Trisong Detsen, and became one of his queens. Her spiritual teacher was Padmasambhava, or Guru Rinpoche, who is always credited with having a pivotal role in the transmission of Buddhism to Tibet. She was his most important student, and after his death she propagated the Vajrayana teachings throughout Tibet, and so was an important teacher in her own right, indispensable to Guru Rinpoche’s work and success. As an historical, real woman, Yeshe Tsogyal is important as an enlightened role model for women in a context that often seems lacking in female role models. Yeshe Tsogyal was chosen by the Sakyong precisely because she was a real Tibetan woman, rather than an abstract non-human symbol like Tara or Prajnaparamita.

According to the Nyingma accounts, Yeshe Tsogyal achieved buddhahood, the immortality of the vajra body, and continues to come in visions to those of pure aspiration....

Inseparable from her humanity is Yeshe Tsogyal as manifestation of the feminine principle – experiential nondual wisdom that takes female form (as well as male form) when it is represented symbolically. This means that the historical Yeshe Tsogyal is also an emanation of the enlightened feminine principle in much the same way that Guru Rinpoche is the emanation of the enlightened masculine principle. Feminine wisdom and masculine skillful means are the two axes of enlightened mind—wisdom without skillful means is ineffectual, and means without wisdom is not skillful. Only when each has been cultivated in our practice and the two are experienced in union, inseparably, can our enlightenment blossom....

In her story and symbolism, these two aspects of her being, as historic human being and as manifestation of the Buddha’s three-fold manifestation (trikaya) are always intricately interwoven. Telling one side of the story without the other distorts the story. For example, the story of her conception and birth is told twice, once for her as manifestation of the feminine principle, and once recounting her human parents and their conception of her. As both an ordinary human being and a manifestation of the Buddha’s three-fold manifestation, Yeshe Tsogyal is no different in her makeup from us, except that she has recognized her inherent nature more completely. In this way also, she is our role model and guide....

Western historians of Tibetan Buddhism do not mention Yeshe Tsogyal in their accounts of the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet because they regard her as a legendary figure. Most western students of Tibetan Buddhism are much more aware of Guru Rinpoche’s story than they are of the accounts of Yeshe Tsogyal. However, Tibetans themselves treasure her story–they regard Guru Rinpoche without Yeshe Tsogyal as incomplete, just as the masculine principle is incomplete without the feminine principle. She was essential to his full manifestation as a Vajrayana teacher, to his Buddha activity, to his creation of the collection of termas or hidden treasure teachings, and to his effective subjugation of obstacles to dharma practice....

Yeshe Tsogyal, from a wall mural in Tibet's Samye Monastery
Photo copyright © Vicki Noble of Motherpeace
This is "Deconstructing Yeshe Tsogyal, Tibet's Amazing 'Mother of Knowledge'," the first of a 2-part series published in MatriFocus in 2008 by well-knwn author, Vicki Noble. It is Noble's very personal look at feminist issues in Tibetan Buddhism as she experienced them in the early 1980's at San Francisco's Nyingma Institute. There is wry humor here, also deep insights, and wide-ranging experience. For example, although most people in the West are familiar with beautiful yab-yum statues of male/female union, most of us assume the partners are generic. It turns out that they are not -- they are actually Yeshe Tsogyal and Padmasambhava. Noble writes:
[In 1983] Dharma Publishing in Berkeley brought out the first English translation of the biography of Yeshe Tsogyal, the female cofounder of Tibetan Buddhism whose image is so often shown intertwined in sexual union with that of Guru Padmasambhava in the traditional “yab-yum” (father-mother) thangkas painted by Tibetan artists....

The first translation of Yeshe Tsogyal’s story was Tarthang Tulku’s Mother of Knowledge: The Enlightenment of Ye-shes mTshr-rgyal....  In the publisher’s introduction to the Tulku book, we’re told that “all of Padmasambhava’s teachings came to us through Ye-shes mTshro-rgyal,” who “received all of (his) teachings, as if the contents of one vessel were poured into another…. Her accomplishments and realizations have seldom been equaled, and the merit of her actions is beyond description” (Tulku xxiii). Most of the biography is a telling of her amazing  yogic abilities (“siddhis”) and “miraculous bodily transformations” that she exhibited through her long life of service (Tulku 33). Her awesome powers make her a more than adequate role model for contemporary yoginis.

Noble gives details from the book on the brutality this princess suffered in her youth. She also explores the concept of the Dakini (Sanskrit) and khandro (Tibetan) as a "sky-goer" and connects this to Yeshe Tsogyal and the shamanistic roots of Tibet. On the crucial role of a male's "secret consort," she quotes Padmasambhava from Tulku's book:
“I myself am unsullied by desire or lust; and such faults as attachment do not exist in me. But a woman is a necessary accoutrement to the secret teachings…” Listing the necessary qualities in “such a one,” he explained that without her, “the maturation and liberation practices are obstructed; the result, the achievement of the secret teachings does not occur” (Tulku 30-31).
Also citing June Campbell in her 1996 book, Traveller in Space, Noble writes:
...The female is perceived as “a required complement to the centrality and subjectivity” of the male. The dakini, Campbell says, “rarely enters the frame as the mistress of her own domain… but rather takes her identity from her role as a complementary force,” which she says might make sense for men, but is problematic for women as it “casts them always into the role of helper” or simply “other” (Campbell 129).
Noble concludes Part One of this series with this statement:
The question naturally arises: If a woman is so auspicious to the (male) practice, then isn’t it even more auspicious to BE a woman?

Vajrayogini in Tibet's Samye Monastery
Photo copyright © Vicki Noble of Motherpeace
Vicki Noble's MatriFocus Part II continues with a fascinating exploration of her question at the end of Part I. Here are several excerpts specifically focused on Yeshe Tsogyal:
Yeshe Tsogyal was the princess of Chärchän in northern Tibet who became the co-founder, with the guru Padmasambhava, of Tibetan Buddhism as we know it today. She is best known in her role as Padmasambhava’s primary consort (sexual tantric partner). Through his union with her, Tibetan Buddhism was established and permanently secured in Tibet. This story can be taken in several ways. Padmasambhava explained that "such a woman" is a necessary accoutrement in the male initiate's path of enlightenment and without her, enlightenment cannot be gained....

Yeshe Tsogyal is clearly identified as a tantric consort, and images abound of Tibet's cofounders locked in a passionate sexual embrace. Yet her practices and sexual teachings have not come down to us from her. That’s what’s missing from the Tibetan Buddhist work being disseminated throughout the world today: any direct lineage of teachings from the expressed viewpoint of the woman.

Tsogyal was believed to be an emanation of Vajrayogini, the naked red Goddess often shown with a crescent knife (chopper) raised in one hand, while she drinks menstrual blood from a skullcup held in the other. In one of the most dramatic sections of Yeshe Tsogyal's biography, she describes being near death from her yogic practice of austerities and calling out for help from the deities. "Then I had a vision of a red woman, naked, lacking even the covering of bone ornaments, who thrust her bhaga [vagina] against my mouth, and I drank deeply from her copious flow of blood. My entire being was filled with health and well-being, I felt as strong as a snow-lion, and I realized profound absorption to be inexpressible truth." She meditated naked for the next year after that direct transmission from Vajrayogini, healing herself with medicinal herbs and shrubs. (Dowman, 71) Dowman calls this transmission of menstrual blood the "red bodhicitta, the essence of the Dakini," and says it "carries the seeds of passion, thought and samsaric action that provide the modes of Awareness of Emptiness." (Dowman, 201)....

Yeshe Tsogyal embodies Vajrayogini's lineage as the shapeshifting Dakini par excellence. Dowman says, "Dakini is virtually synonymous with Tsogyel herself," (224) characterized by joy, spontaneity, and generosity of spirit....
Finally, this Padmasambhava website mentions a mind-boggling vision Yeshe Tsogyal had about him:
"The Dakini Yeshe Tsogyal had a vision in which she saw a manifestation of Guru Rinpoche called Immense Vajra Ocean in the direction to the east. Each of the pores in his body held one billion realms and in each realm there were one billion world systems. In each of these world systems there were one billion Guru Rinpoches who each created one billion emanations. Each of these emanations carried out the activity of taming one billion disciples. She then saw the same display in each of the other directions and in the center."
[Note: The implications of this are further discussed on our Tibetan Buddhism page.]

Tibetan Prayer Wheel

9 July 2012: as a longtime member of the Bodhi Tree Educational Foundation's Board of Directors, it has been a pleasure to be asked to create a number of webpages on Regional and Buddhist topics related to the Foundation. Here is our Site Map with links to the pages I have so far created.  I hope you will enjoy them.
Warm wishes,
Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
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