A Biography of Yeshe Tsogyal: Part One

It is a great honor to be here today at the Jaling Buddhist Center. I am very sorry I could not come here at the previously scheduled time. KTD has a retreat center and the previously scheduled time coincided with Chakrasamvara practice in the three year retreat.

The role of women in Tibetan Buddhism is vast and great. Forty different kings ruled Tibet and both they and their queens have contributed to the welfare of country. There are four main Tibetan Buddhist traditions and there a number of great yogis and masters in them and an equally number of great yoginis. In Milarepa’s time there was a great woman teacher named Yamapadabum. There are teachings called Chod. If you have evil thoughts that come into your mind, you should practice Chod. Although Buddhism came from India, the practice of Chod was not taught there The tradition of Chod was spread in Tibet by Machig Lapdron, and now they are spreading in India from Tibet.

All the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism are contained in the life story of Yeshe Tsogyal, so now I am going to teach about her. Shakyamuni taught Buddhism in India and prophesied in future there would be a great teacher in Danakosha, which is located in Afghanistan. This teacher was Guru Padmasambhava. In the prophecy Buddha said he will teach more than me and will be based on the tantric tradition. Before Guru Padmasambhava taught Tantra it was only practiced by a few. After Guru Padmasambhava, it was widely spread all over the world. A saying says that Buddha Shakyamuni taught mostly on sutra and Padmasambhava mostly on Tantra. Since then both teachings have been spread widely in the world. According to Buddhism there are four ways of taking birth, from a womb, from an egg, from warmth, and miraculously. Padmasambhava was born miraculously in the middle of a lotus flower. At that time there was a king named Indrabodhi who was without a son. He made many offering to the needy in order to gain the merit to have a son. He was blind and a prophecy had said when his son came he would be able to see again. When he heard that Guru Padmasambhava was born in middle of lotus he was happy and went with his retinue and invited him to palace to be his adopted son. When he did this, his blindness went away. Padmasambhava took the throne of Indrabodhi and served the people for 108 years. Then the Tibetan King Trisong Deutsen invited him to Tibet and he went to teach. Trisong Deutsen was an emanation of Manjushri and came to establish Buddhism in Tibet.

Yeshe Tsogyal is an incarnation of Dorje Phagmo and was born to help establish Buddhism in Tibet. She was born in Taiyespa. Because Yeshe Tsogyal was a bodhisattva she could be in any form or place that she chose. In order to assist Trisong Deutsen Yeshe Tsogyal she took birth in Tibet. There were many auspicious signs at her birth. She nursed at a sandalwood tree with a breast. She grew much faster than other children. She grew in one month as other children grew in a year. When she played with other children she would leave her foot and handprints on rock. She knew how to read without being taught. Her father asked her how and she replied I am Yangchenma. She realized the need to escape from samsara and had the mind of bodhicitta. She was compassionate and made offerings to the needy. She had a sharp mind and understood everything and had a peaceful nature. She was devoted to the three jewels and practiced meditation. Through her meditation she saw the true nature of existence.

At the age of seven and eight she prayed for the happiness of all sentient beings. She prayed to gain knowledge and wisdom so that she could help others effectively. She had an extraordinary compassionate mind and whenever anyone saw her they were peaceful and happy. At the age of thirteen many noblemen requested that she be her bride. But because of her parents concern for her, they did not give her to any of them. She always said she wanted to learn more and understand how to help others effectively. She wanted to gain the wisdom that the Buddha had.

Her popularity and the signs at her birth and her great compassion became known throughout Tibet and eventually came to Trisong Deutsen. He sent a minister to her home and asked them to send their daughter to the king. When she heard of this request, she ran away from home to a remote place where she took off all her jewelry, crushed them to dust and threw them in the ten directions. She prayed to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas to remove the obstacles to enlightenment.

When she prayed a sixteen year old boy appeared with a mala on his right hand. He said it doesn’t help to cry and destroy your ornaments. You need to have determination and pray to all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas continuously. Your prayers will be heard and you will realize all your wishes. The boy said come with me and I will show you the path to enlightenment. He took her hand and they instantly came to a remote spot in Tsang.

It was a beautiful, verdant place. The boy was a manifestation of Guru Padmasambhava. The boy taught Yeshe Tsogyal a teaching on life and samsara. He told her to remain in that place. Yeshe Tsogyal asked him how she should practice when he was gone. He gave her the pointing out instructions on the nature of mind and told her how to practice. She thanked him for his teaching and asked him who he was and where he came from. He said I came from the dharmakaya and whatever I said to you should practice. She asked to stay with him forever so that she could receive teachings. She asked why can’t you stay with me. The boy said to her the time will come that I can be with you, but I cannot remain now for a long time, because I am an apparition. Then the boy disappeared.

Yeshe Tsogyal felt a mixture of happiness and sadness. She wondered if all this was real or just a dream. Then she thought it can’t be a dream because she was awake. She was happy to be in such a beautiful place. But she thought she didn’t have food or clothing to stay there. Then she saw wild animals in the area and thought she could live there if they could. So she lived eating wild plants and drinking water. She continued to practice and as time passed she realized she had developed some understanding. So she practiced in that way. When it rained she would stay in a cave and at other times she would meditate outside.

At that time both her parents were constantly worried and berated the minister who had come to take her to the king. The parents said you are the one responsible for her disappearance and is your responsibility to track her down. The minister said I don’t know anything of her disappearance and returned to the king and told him what he had heard. The king sent out people all over Tibet to look for Yeshe Tsogyal and bring her back. The king said whoever brings her to me will be properly rewarded. The minister sent out many people to search for her.

At that time Yeshe Tsogyal was meditating at that remote place. Some pilgrims who came to visit the area and saw Yeshe Tsogyal. They were amazed to see a young beautiful girl in that wild place. They asked her where she came from and what she was doing there. She thought that if she told them the truth they wouldn’t understand and people would come to take her. So she didn’t tell them the truth. She told them she did not know who she was and where she came from. She asked them where they were going and why they were passing through here. They answered since you say you don’t know, you are lying and we won’t tell you where we are going either. They said maybe you ran away from some place or you may be a nun who came to practice in this secluded place. Maybe you ran away from the monastery so that you wouldn’t have to practice according to their rules. And anyway what do you eat in this place. She said I am eating wild plants and drinking water and am self sufficient. If you strive for food and wordily goods it causes sinful acts. By dwelling here I am free of this and am happy. She taught about the suffering of samsara and how afflictive emotions arise from ignorance. She explained that these are like poisonous food so she avoided them. The pilgrims were astonished and offered her tsampa and tea. They said please take this so we can accumulate merit. So the pilgrims left. After eating the tsampa and tea she felt healthier and took a nap. Eating wild plants make you feel lighter with less need to sleep, so she felt sleepy after eating the tsampa. The pilgrims spread the news about the nun meditating in the secluded place when they returned to the village.

The evil minister heard the news and went to Yeshe Tsogyal’s place. When the minister saw her he said you have caused us a lot of problem and we have been looking for you all over. The minister asked her why she was living such a miserable life in that place. It will be better if you come along with me I am here to take you to the king. This king is not an ordinary person, he is like a god. His name is Trisong Deutsen and I am here to take you to be his queen. You should be happy about that. She told the minister to leave her there. To be a que of worldly life and I will only accumulate suffering. It is better to stay here and practice dharma. So please leave. The evil minister was furious. He said I came with the approval of your parents. Thinking this would be a great benefit to you, I came here. If you don’t agree to come peacefully I will use other alternatives. I will have to force you to go to the king. He picked her up and carried her to the king, ignoring her cries. During the day he carried her and at night she was guarded. In that way she was brought to the king. At that time she was thirteen years old.

Q: What is the difference between sutra and Tantra?

A: Sutra teaching takes a longer time to achieve enlightenment. Tantra is different. It’s like walking vs flying to New York.

Q: What’s the difference in practice?

A: Mainly the difference is in attitude. It is based on the wish to attain enlightenment for all beings.

Q: Can you explain the eightfold path?

A: It will lead to enlightenment. It is explained by the name. Right speech is speech to benefit and not harm others. Some speech is kind and other is harmful. The others are similar.

Q: Is everything dependent on karma?

A: It depends on your level. At karmic level you experience the results of your karma. At the bodhisattva level, everything done is of benefit to others.

Q: When you do deity practice is it necessary to dissolve the deity?

A: It is very necessary to dissolve. The creation and completion stages are interdependent. We have a strong clinging to I. To dissolve this we use the practice of visualizing yourself as a deity. This takes care of “I am.” One doesn’t get rid of that notion right way. It is like strong coffee. If you take one sip and replace it with water, eventually it will become pure water. Essentially you will develop some sense of deity. But this is also an obstacle. There is an attachment to this. In order to remove this, the dissolution is important.

Part Two