True Stories



Dear friends,

As humans we are always inspired to read what others have done and perhaps it gives us the hope we can too.  We all need hope very much. We like to set limits on ourselves projecting them as solid, permanent and fixed when in actuality they are just easily changeable. We put limitations on ourselves for many reasons. Sometimes for comfort zones, fear, face, competition, fear of losing, and many other reasons. The reasons may be valid and sometimes not valid. The bottom line is, limitations limit what we can do. If we have limits, then how to become awakened? What we can achieve is far more gratifying then just regrets. I was told by one of my teachers in Gaden that reading the life stories of accomplished beings will uplift my spirit, motivate my practice and is even helpful when I am feeling down. It is really true.

Well here are three real genuine stories of practitioners who endured much hardship and gained accomplishments. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND EVERYONE SHOULD READ AND SHARE THESE STORIES WITH ALL YOUR FRIENDS. Don’t just read this real life stories once, but many times.

I posted the stories here with the pure motivation to let you know that commitment and being steadfast in our spiritual goals do bring powerful results. Read these please. They will inspire you as they did me tremendously. I only wish everyone the best through these stories. Good luck always. And remember, spiritual practice is the only activity that truly brings us lasting happiness.

Tsem Rinpoche







The story of Nangsa is set in the 12th century in central Tibet, at place called Gyantse. It has been enjoyed by generations of Tibetans around smoky hearths on winter nights and undergoing countless variations and embellishments in the telling. Our version is a tale of a time, long ago, when a pretty dakini called Nangsa, was born as a human. So now, pay attention and I’ll begin.

In a village called Zhangpei Kurnangpa near Gyantse there once lived an old man named Kunsang Dechen and his wife Nyangtsa Seldon. They were simple country people, who had only one sorrow, which was that they had no children. Day and night they prayed to the Goddess Tara for a child and, at last, after completing the recitation of 100,000 prayers, Nyangtsa Seldon had a wonderful dream. A beam of light came from the letter at the goddess Tara’s heart and passed through her crown into her own heart. Then a lotus grew within her body and dakinis appeared and made offerings to it. From every directioin, bees came to enjoy the nectar of the lotus. On hearing of his wife’s dream, Kunsang Dechen knew that it foretold the birth of a baby girl and they made offerings and gave alms to the poor in gratitude. In the course of time a girl child was born, who at once made an offering of her mother’s milk to the goddess Tara and prayed that she would be able to use her life to benefit all sentient beings. She was an extraordinary child possessing all qualities: strength and health, sweetness and gentleness, intelligence and beauty. More like a dakini than a human being, she became the apple of everybody’s eye. As she grew up, not only was she conscientious and devout, but she also mastered the practical arts of farming, weaving, cooking and so on. Through her industry the family prospered and by the time she had reached the age of fifteen she was famous throughout central Tibet. Many rich and handsome men came to win her hand in marriage, but Nangsa had no interest in choosing a husband, preferring to lead a religious life.

At this time there was a powerful lord of the region named Dagchen, whose noble lady had died leaving two children, a daughter and a son. His son, Dakpa Samdup, had just reached the age of eighteen, and now, considering it time to find a pretty girl of good lineage as a bride for him, Dagchen, his family and retinue dressed in their finest clothes and set off for the annual Nenying Sungtuk festival which was about to take place. Everyone, young and old, rich and poor, ordained and lay people were going to attend the festival. And so Nangsa too, though she had never been to the summer festival before, thought to go and take part in the activities. Willingly, her parents allowed her to dress in her most elegant clothes and she set out with Zompa Kyi, her maid servant carrying a basket of delicious food.

Nangsa joined the sea of people paying homage at the holy places and receiving blessings from the lamas, and then she watched the dancing. In the crowd she shone like the moon amongst the stars, and so attracted the attention of the lord Dagchen. Once he had set eyes on her he could no longer enjoy the dancing, but, captivated by her grace and beauty, watched her every movement and, at last, sent his squire to bring her to him. Poor Nangsa was caught as a kite catches a sparrow and was brought before the mighty lord. He, seized with fear that this unearthly creature might suddenly elude him, grasped hold of the hem of her cloak with his left hand and, offering her his beer with the other said,

‘Oh, lovely lady, endowed with the five qualities of a perfect maid, beauty, fragrance, sweetness, softness and melody. I cannot tell if you are the daughter of a human being or a goddess. Whatever you are, tell me frankly: what is your name and where is your family and birthplace? I am Dagchen, the renowned lord of Rinang. My son Dakpa Samdup, the jewel of my house, has reached six times three years. Would you not consider taking him as your husband?’

Nangsa was dismayed for she had not taken human form in order to become engaged in worldly activities. Therefore she replied to the lord with candour and humility,

‘I prostrate to mother Tara, look on me, a humble girl.

Heed me lord Dagchen, lend me your ears.

My home is in Gyantse, my house in Zhangpekur.

My father is Kunsang Dechen and my mother Nyangsta Seldon.

I am but the child of a simple family.

Though the flower of a poisonous plant is beautiful,

You cannot make offerings with it.

Though a green stone is bright,

It cannot compare with the real turquoise.

So, Nangsa may be pretty,

But how can she be a noble lady?

Kindly leave me to follow the Dharma.’

At this the squire quietly advised the lord to quickly seal the engagement by placing the turquoise and the five coloured flag on her head, for she would surely never agree to the proposal willingly. The lord did accordingly and addressed Nangsa saying,

‘Are you a lhamo that you have bewitched my eyes?

Listen carefully to me lovely girl,

Like the name of the dragon, Lord Dagchen resounds,

For I am more powerful than any on earth.

If you choose not to heed your lord’s command,

Though you seem wise, you would be foolish.

You shall not turn away and follow the Dharma,

Nor shall I let you remain at your home.

The sun rides high in the sky,

The lotus sits low on the ground.

Despite the great distance between them,

Through actions they may be united.

The ocean is endlessly vast,

And the silver scaled fishes so small.

Despite their great difference in size,

Through actions they may be united

The powerful lord Dakpa Samdup,

And the simple farmer’s daughter, Nangsa,

Despite their difference in possessions and power,

Through actions they may be united.’

He then announced to the crowd that Nangsa was engaged to his son Dakpa Samdup,

‘From this time on, the powerful cannot take her by force, the weak cannot kidnap her and those who are neither may not woo her.’ So, it was publicly declared that Nangsa was to be the noble lady in the lord’s house. Sadly, Nangsa and Zompa Kyi hid the five colour flag and the turquoise and returned home and said nothing to her parents about what had happened.

A few days later, Nyangtsa Seldon’s attention was attracted to the window and when she saw the great lord and squire knocking at their gate, she ran to her husband in alarm. He was reluctant to let them in, fearful of why they had come and sent his wife to say that he was not at home and to try and find out their purpose. When she returned with the news that the lord had come to claim their daughter’s hand in marriage, the father’s fears turned to joy and he threw open his gates and entertained the guest with home made beer. The lord explained how he had been entranced by Nangsa at the festival and that she had submitted to his proposal. He declared,

‘Henceforth this lady is my son’s bride and nothing can prevent it. No one can say she has flown away into the sky or hidden under ground. No one can say she has been taken away by force. Even you, her parents may not stop her and she herself cannot refuse. Five hundred horsemen will come in three days to receive the bride, so prepare to send her to my house without delay.’ With that, the lord asked Nangsa to bring the five colour flag and the turquoise, which he had put on her head at the festival and he again placed them upon her head. Greatly distressed, Nangsa appealed to her parents to not let her be married, for worldly pleasures are impermanent and her only desire was to follow the everlasting Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Frightened, her parents begged her to submit for if she did not, they would surely all be killed. Such a powerful lord would not be thwarted. At last, realizing the hopelessness of her position and the harm she might bring upon her parents, Nangsa was compelled to agree to their request and sadly began to prepare for her wedding day.

The bridegroom’s party came to fetch Nangsa at the appointed time and were properly entertained by her parents. They gave their beloved daughter a valuable dowry and in their parting advice they instructed her,

‘Respect the lord and his son;

Devote yourself to your husband and love him;

Show no partiality to any of the servants and direct them compassionately;

Do not sleep late and go to bed early,

Above all, pray that we may often meet again.’

Then Nangsa and her maid servant Zompa Kyi set off with the groom’s party to face a new life.

The bride was received at the lord’s house with a great display of singing and dancing and the wedding ceremony was a grand affair. Seven years sped by, and then their house was blessed by the birth of a baby boy. He was named Lhawo Tarpo and an elaborate birth celebration was held for him. Everybody at the lord’s house praised Nangsa’s virtues and she was so cherished by both the lord and the son that it seemed that they could not bear to part with her even for a minute. On this occasion they decided to take back the keys of the storerooms from Ani Nyimo, the lord’s daughter and give them to Nangsa to keep.

Now, Nangsa did her best to respect Ani Nyimo in the same way that she respected the lord and her husband, but her sister-in-law was jealous of her and always tried to find fault with her in front of the servants, making trouble whenever there was a chance. She was very resentful of losing her position as mistress of the house and did not give all the keys to Nangsa. She kept the good food and the warm clothes separately for herself, leaving only the spoiled food and worn clothes for Nangsa. But Nangsa did not complain, for she thought that it would only cause trouble in the household to tell tales about Ani Nyimo’s cruel behaviour, and that to cause friction between father and the daughter would not be right. All she could do was to shed tears when she was alone with her baby in her room. Cradling the child in her lap, she lamented that he had ever been born, for if he had not she could have retreated to a hermitage.

One day, Nangsa took the baby into the garden to play and Dakpa Samdup, her husband, joined her there after washing his hair. As he lay next to her with his head on her lap, the sight of the autumn leaves and the bees buzzing among the last flowers of the year made Nangsa recall her home and her dear parents. Tears of sadness filled her eyes and one drop fell into her husband’s ear and woke him up. Astonished he begged her to tell him honestly why, since she was the mistress and possessed everything anyone could want, she was shedding tears?

Caught off her guard, Nangsa thought that perhaps there was no harm in telling her husband a little about Ani Nyimo’s unkind behaviour and that it might help in the future. So she related some of the incidents that had occurred between them and also confessed that she was feeling homesick. Realising that she had indeed not seen her parents for years, Dakpa Samdup sympathized and suggested that she should visit her home after the harvest had been taken in and stored. As for Ani Nyimo’s bad attitude, he would investigate and if it were true, he would advise her to treat Nangsa better. Three days later the harvesting began so Nangsa and her sister-in-law went to the fields to direct the labourers. While they were hard at work, two yogis arrived and begged Nangsa for alms. They gave teachings on the impermanence of all conditioned things and exhorted her to use her human life to do something meaningful. But of course Nangsa had nothing to give them and asked them to go to Ani Nyimo. When they approached her, she angrily scolded them saying,

In the summertime you want white alms (dairy products)

In the wintertime you want sour (chang)

When you’re in the mountain you don’t practice

When you’re in town you don’t work.

All you’re waiting for is the chance to thieve.

You yogis are leading a meaningless life,

Continually lying and being dishonest.

If you want alms, go over there.

See there, the lady as pretty as a peacock,

As melodious as a song bird, as radiant as a rainbow,

She with the power to move mountains,

There is Nangsa, the mistress of the lord’s house.

I am just her servant.

You go and beg alms from her!

The yogis returned to Nangsa who had, by this time, set aside seven bundles of the harvested barley which she gave them with the request that they pray that she might be able to spend the latter part of her life in retreat.

The yogis thanked her and told her how they had come from Mount Kailash and were disciples of the great yogi Milarepa. They were going to central Tibet in order to find patrons which would be a source of great merit for both parties. By giving them offerings with such a noble wish, Nangsa had certainly created a cause to practice the Dharma in the latter part of her life. When she heard this, her heart was filled with joy and she prostrated before the yogis, offering them three more bundles of the harvested barley. They gave her their blessings and left content.

Seeing that Nangsa had shown great kindness towards the yogis, Ani Nyimo fell into a rage and furiously attacked her saying,

‘So many so-called yogis wander this land; do you intend to beggar our household by handing out gifts to all of them?’ But Nangsa gently replied,

‘It is for the sake of the reputation of our noble lord that I give, for yogis travel far and wide and will tell of the treatment they receive. Moreover, logic dictates that the more offerings we make, the more we shall receive, therefore why should you not rejoice in giving? Those yogis were disciples of the great yogi Milarepa, therefore we should fear to call them beggars and thieves.’

At this, Ani Nyimo’s anger was doubled and she accused Nangsa of not giving the alms with a good motive, but because she found the yogis attractive.

‘Just because you are a mother you feel that you can do as you please, disregarding the rest of the household. But you are only a member of this family by marriage, whereas I have the true blood of the lord. So far I have not punished you, but now the time has come.’

Forthwith she beat poor Nangsa with a stick most cruelly. As she grew tired, she began to worry about what explanation she should give to her brother. She therefore pulled out some of Nangsa’s hair and putting in her pocket went crying to Dakpa Samdup. Showing him the hair, she told him that Nangsa had pulled it out because she had discovered her about to be unfaithful to him.

‘While we were in the field this morning two yogis came. Nangsa stopped her work to speak to them and was obviously attracted by them for they were handsome and had sweet voices. But for my intervention she would have been a fallen woman. Yet in her shameless anger she attacked me and pulled my hair and beat me.’ She begged her brother to be fair and punish his wife. Dakpa Samdup thought that his sister would not have come to him without reason and accepted the hair as proof of her story. Thinking that if he was not strict with his wife she would continue to behave badly, he set off to find Nangsa. He discovered her crying in the corner of the courtyard and, grabbing her by the hair, dragged her about, kicking her and beating her with the flat of his sword. When roughly questioned by her husband, though Nangsa wanted to tell the truth she realized the trouble it would create between brother and sister and kept quiet. Taking her silence as an admission of guilt, her husband beat her even more severely until her body was a mass of blood and three of her ribs were broken. Only there did she cry out loud and the servants persuaded her husband to stop.

Now at this time there lived a lama in Yalung monastery, called Shakya Gyeltsen who, through clairvoyance, knew what was to come of Nangsa and that she would become of great benefit to all sentient beings. In order to provide the circumstances for her to turn towards the Dharma he now transformed himself into a handsome young beggar with a monkey and stood beneath her window. There he sang a song about the uselessness of wasting one’s precious human life in worldly activities and begged her for alms.

Nangsa was delighted to hear him but, although she wanted to give to him, she didn’t dare ask Ani Nyimo’s consent to take something from the store. All she had that was her own was a piece of jewellery which she had been given by her parents. Intent on giving him this and hoping that he might be able to tell her the whereabouts of a lama, she called him secretly into her room. He told her how he had traveled the length and breadth of Tibet and found every monastery good and filled with excellent lamas, but, of all of them, Sera Yalung monastery where lived lama Shakya Gyeltsen was the nearest. The moment she heard his name, from deep within her welled an ardent faith in the lama and tears streamed down her cheeks.

Now, the sound of the conversation between Nangsa and the young beggar was overhead by the lord who, realizing that the man’s voice was not his son’s peeped in through a crack in the door and saw Nangsa giving her jewellery to a beggar. Convinced that his daughter Ani Nyimo had been proved right and Nangsa was indeed shameless, he flung the door open and rushed into the room as the young beggar disappeared through the window. Furious, the lord grabbed Nangsa and beat her unrestrainedly, though the wounds of her previous beating had not yet healed. That night, separated from her son, Nangsa suffered a heart attack and died. All night long the poor child was wakeful, crying for his mother but when, the next morning, Zompa Kyi secretly took him to her she found her lady dead. Immediately there was uproar in the house; the lord and his son rushed to her room and tried to revive but her body was cold and they were filled with sorrow and remorse.

According to custom, offerings were made and an astrologer consulted about the cremation. He told them to put the body on the eastern mountain and not to move it for seven days. Then he would see whether they should cremate it, throw it into the river, or give it to the vultures. So it was that they wrapped Nangsa’s dead body in a white shroud and laid it in a cave on the eastern mountain, stationing some servants there to guard it.

While all this was going on Nangsa came before the Lord of Death and saw him sending those who had accumulated merit during their lifetimes to the place where bliss prevails, and those who had amassed non virtue to the 18 different stages of hell. In the hot hells living beings were being tortured in molten iron and in the cold hells they were tormented by freezing cold. Seeing the unbearable sufferings in hell, Nangsa was frightened and she knelt before the Lord of Death saying,

‘Oh lord, when I was in the world I had no opportunity to follow religious practice, but I did try to be kind to others. Realizing that death is at the end of our life I was not attached to my beautiful body, realizing that all accumulated possessions are temporary, I made offerings; realizing the worthlessness of hatred I never hated those who were unkind to me’. The Lord of Death looked in his mirror and judged her to be pure and blameless and seeing that she came from the lineage of a good dakini, told her to return to the world and practice the Dharma. Delighted, she prostrated before him and her consciousness returned to her body, and she came to life once more.

Nangsa found herself sitting wrapped in a white shroud in the cave on the mountainside. As she prayed to the Buddhas and to the assembly of dakinis it began to rain and a magnificent rainbow appeared in the sky. The servants, hearing a voice, came to see what was happening and when they saw Nangsa sitting up in her shroud they were afraid. Some said the apparition was not Nangsa but a zombie and would not go near it, others determined to stone her. But then she spoke, telling them not to be frightened for she was no zombie but Nangsa resurrected and they were filled with wonder and joy. A messenger was hastily sent to report to the lord.

At home the little prince had not eaten or slept since his mother’s death. He asked Zompa Kyi to take him onto the roof of the house and show him where his mother’s body was, for he wanted to pray to be reunited with his mother in the pure land of dakinis. The maid servant pitied the child and with tears in her eyes she pointed out the mountain far in the east. Shielding his eyes with his hand he gazed in that direction lamenting,

‘My father ended my dear mother’s life.
Like an abandoned little bird I was left behind.
What joy would be mine if my dear mother could hear me
Look there, Zomkyi!
No vultures or crows fly over that mountain,
See the bright rainbow!
Please take me to the eastern mountain,
Where my mother’s body lies’.

Just then the messenger arrived and broke the news that Nangsa, the mistress of the house was alive again.

The lord and his retinue hastened to the mountain and seeing Nangsa in her shroud begged her forgiveness for their cruel treatment. They requested her to return with them and resume her position as mistress of the house. But Nangsa, resolved not to become involved in worldly activities, refused, singing,

‘Lord of Rinang listen to me.
When I was alive, I lived in comfortable chambers
When death overcame me, I was left in a cave on this mountain.
So I reject worldly abodes.
When I was alive, my family and retinue surrounded me
When death overcame me I was left alone.
So I reject my family and worldly companions.
When I was alive, I wore beautiful ornaments
When death overcame me, I was left naked,
So I reject earthly ornaments.
When I was alive, I ate sumptuous food
When death overcame me, there was no place for food
and possessions, even my body was left behind.
So I reject worldly possessions.
When I was alive, you lords took others’ words as the truth
When death overcame me, you pretended remorse,
So I reject men.
When I was alive my husband treated me harshly
When death overcame me, he merely made offerings for me,
So I reject my husband.
When I was alive, I worked hard to care for my little prince,
When death overcame me, he became a string binding me to the world
So I reject even him.
Therefore, great Lords find other beautiful brides to take my place,
For I am going to a hermitage.’
The lord and his son realizing the truth in Nangsa’s words and regretting that they had been unfair to her could not reply but wept silently. At that moment the little prince rushed to his mother and seating himself of her lap sang a song of request to her,
‘Dear mother, good dakini,
You passed away once and came back to life.
How can I know if it is real or a dream?
Oh, how sad if it is a dream, but how glad I shall be if it is true.
If you are a zombie then kill me, if you are real than sustain me.
Though he practices the Dharma, it is hard to achieve Buddhahood.
A mother and son should not be parted.
Without you mother, I am like a bird with clipped wings,
Trying to soar high, it plummets to the ground.
A mother and son should not be parted.
Without you mother, I am like a barren desert stripped of water and grass,
Like a leper, I am shunned by everyone,
Oh Mother, you must come home’.

Nangsa felt pity for her son, but she knew that to return home as he wished would do no good, but would only an obstacle to her practice. Therefore she replied,
‘Do not fear, I am no zombie but really have come back to life. This is no dream but the truth, so you may be happy.

But not everybody comes back to life once they have died. And I do not know when death will take me if I do not follow the Dharma, therefore:
Do not cling to me as the green-maned snow lion does to the snow mountain,
Like the snow, I will be melted by the sun.
Better you rely on Mount Kailash.
Do not cling to me as the skilful eagle does to the high ledge of a rocky mountain
Like the mountain ledge, I will be destroyed by thunder.
Better you rely on Mount Sumeru.
Do not cling to me as the antlered deer does to the wide grassland,
Like the grass, I will be destroyed by frost.
Better you rely on richer pastures.
Do not cling to me as the swift fish does to a lake,
Like the lake I will dry up in the drought.
Better you rely on the ocean.
Do not cling to me as the song bird does to the willow garden,
Like the willows I will fall in the autumn.
Better you rely on the spacious park.
Do not cling to me as the silver winged bee does to a holly-hock,
Like the holly-hock I will be destroyed by the hail.
Better you rely on the lotus.
Do not cling to me, your resurrected mother,
For death will soon overcome me.
Better you rely on these great lords.’

But the little prince was not satisfied and again pleaded with her,
‘How could I have become the string to bind you to the world unless you my parents had sown the seed?
If I don’t depend on the snow mountain, the blizzard cannot harm me,
But the lion will never grow strong.
I beg the mountain to remain until the lion is old enough.
Then let us, the mountain and lion follow the Dharma together.
We can call upon the evening shade if the snow mountain is melted by the sun.
If I don’t depend on the high ledge of a rocky mountain, the thunder cannot harm me,
But the eagle’s wing will never stretch.
I beg the high ledge to remain until the eagle learns its skills.
Then let us, the high ledge and eagle follow the Dharma together.
We can call upon sorcerers if the high ledge is threatened by thunder.
If I don’t depend on the wide grassland, the hunter cannot harm me,
But the deer’s graceful antlers will never grow.
I beg the wide grassland to remain until the deer follow the Dharma together.
We call upon the south wind if the grassland is threatened by frost.
If I don’t depend on the willow garden, the kite cannot harm me,
But the little bird will never learn how to sing.
I beg the willow garden to remain until the birds’ singing is sweet.
Then let the song bird and willow garden follow the Dharma together.
We can call upon the spring if the willow is threatened by the seasons.
If I don’t depend on the lake, the hook cannot harm me,
But the fish will never learn to swim swiftly.
I beg the lake to remain until the fish become agile.
Then let the fish and lake follow the Dharma together.

We call upon the rain if the lake is threatened by drought.
If I don’t depend on the holly-hock, the birds cannot harm me,
But the bee’s silver wings will never shine.
I beg the holly-hock to remain until the bee has gathered enough nectar.
Then the holly-hock and the little bee follow the Dharma together,

We can call upon the hail for protection if the holly-hock is threatened by it.
If I don’t depend on you, your death cannot harm me,
But I shall never grow into a man.
I beg you, mother, to remain until I am old enough, then let us follow the Dharma together.
We can call upon the lama to give us long life initiation if you are threatened by death.’

Everybody there wholeheartedly joined the prince in his plea; even Ani Nyimo came forward and sincerely apologized to Nangsa for her past behaviour. Persuaded by the youth of her son and thinking that she might have a beneficial effect on the minds of the family and the servants of the household, Nangsa finally agreed to return for a while. She put on pretty clothes and jewellery once more, but applied herself to giving teachings on the difficulty of obtaining human life, the logic of the law of cause and the effect, the sufferings of the world, and the benefits of nirvana. Her advice, however, failed to touch the hearts and minds of her family, so she felt dejected and unhappy.

When asked the cause of her unhappiness, she said:


‘I am not unhappy because I lack good food, pretty clothes or fame in this life. I am not troubled by some illness or disturbance. It is not only that you do not follow the Dharma, but that you do not let me do so either. For this reason I am dejected. Beautiful chambers, no matter how heavenly cannot please me, good food even if it taste like nectar cannot satisfy me. Neither could my family delight me even were they divine children. Therefore, allow me to follow the Dharma, and if you will not, then at least let me return to my parents’ house’.

Although the lords had no wish to lose her they could see no other way of pleasing her, and hoping that perhaps her parents might influence her to return to their house, they finally agreed to let Nangsa go. As she journeyed home, accompanied by Zompa Kyi and the little prince, she gave teachings at all the villages on the way. When they reached her birth place, Zhangpei Kurnangpa, they were greeted by her parents who offered them scarves and sang a song of greeting,

‘How fares the snow lion?
A long time has passed since we have seen you.
We are grateful for the lion’s return
Before the snow mountain is melted by the Sun.
How fares the eagle?
A long time has passed since we have seen you.
We are grateful for the eagle’s return
Before the rock is destroyed by the thunder.
How fares the deer?
A long time has passed since we have seen you.
We are grateful for the deer’s return
Before the pasture is destroyed by the frost.

How fares the fish?
A long time has passed since we have seen you.
We are grateful for the fish’s return

Before the lake is dried in the drought.
How fares the song bird?
A long time has passed since we have seen you.
We are grateful for the bird’s return
Before the green leaves begin to fall in the square willow garden.
How fares our daughter?
A long time has passed since we have seen you.
We are grateful for your return
Before death comes over your parents.’
Nangsa sang in rely
‘The snow lion is well,
Though a little hurt by the rain, snow and wind.
The lion delights to see the snow mountain again.
The eagle is well,
Though a little hurt by the arrow.
It flew high in the sky to escape,
And delights to see the rock again.
The deer is well,
Though a little hurt by the hunting dogs.
It defended itself with its horns,
And delights to see the spreading pasture again.
The fish is well,
Though a little hurt by the hook.
Saved by its swift movement,
It delights to swim in the lake again.
The song bird is well,
Though a little hurt by the kite.
Helped by its sweet voice,
It delights to be in the willow garden again.
I, your daughter Nangsa, who died, but came back to life again
Am overjoyed to see my parents again’.

Then they entered the house and talked at length of all that had happened: about Nangsa’s life at the lord’s house and her sister-in-law’s jealousy, of her untimely death and how the Lord of Death had sent her back into the world. Sometimes during the tale her parents felt the urge to laugh and sometimes to cry.

Time passed until, one day, she saw the unfinished weaving she had started before her marriage. Thinking to complete it she sat down to the work. As she wove, some of her childhood friends came to her with gifts. The girls sat together talking of their likes and dislikes and of their husbands. But Nangsa told them of her desire to follow the Dharma which made them laugh and gently tease her, not believing that she was serious. In order to convince them that this was her chosen way of life she sang a song,

‘Human life is very difficult to find’
If we do not follow the Dharma at once,
It will be over, like a flash of lightning.
Our lives are like dew drops; they disappear with the slightest misfortune.
Even without you, my childhood friends, I will go to a hermitage.
Our lives are like rainbows, they quickly fade
Even without you, my childhood friends, I will go to a hermitage.
Our lives like animals in the hands of the slaughterer soon die.
Even without you, my childhood friends, I will go to a hermitage.
Our lives are like rays of the setting sun, soon sinking
beyond the western mountain
Even without you, my childhood friends, I will go to a hermitage.
Our lives are like festivals, they are soon over.
Even without you, my childhood friends, I will go to a hermitage.
Our lives are like the beauty of young girls, not remaining forever.
Even without you, my childhood friends, I will go to a hermitage.

Overhearing this, Nangsa’s mother was worried and begged her daughter not to follow the Dharma. When she paid no heed to her words she became annoyed and thought that because Nangsa was the chief lady of a noble house she had been treated too gently and become willful. Feeling it was now time to use harsh words to make her change her mind, she sang,

‘If you will not listen to me, who cared for you as a babe,
What use is there in having a daughter?
Like the sprouts in the field, well nourished and watered, you grew,
Will you have no regret when frost and hail destroy you?
If you are sick yet consult not the doctor nor take medicine,
Do not grieve when you leave the world forever
Nangsa, my pretty child,
If you will not be the lord’s lady or an obedient daughter
Do not grieve when you are neither a householder nor a nun’.

She rushed at Nangsa throwing ashes in her face and beating her with the stick. The other girls at once came between them, but her mother drove her out into the night and she was obliged to beg a room from a friend.

That night she saw the opportunity she had been waiting for to cast off worldly concerns to follow the Dharma. At midnight, she secretly left the village and set out for Sera Yalung. As she was passing over the Tsetchen bridge the full moon rose over the eastern mountain. This she saw as an auspicious sign and made an offering with the water from the Nyiangchu river. In the morning, as the first brilliant rays of sun rose over the mountain, she arrived at Sera Yalung and rejoicing made her way straight to Lama Shakya Gyeltsen’s door.

His attendant demanded to know who she was and why such a pretty girl had come. Nangsa replied,

‘I have come from Nyiangto Rinang, but I am going nowhere. I am the daughter of a simple village family. My husband is the lord’s son, but I have nothing. Rejecting worldly life I came here in order to follow the Dharma. Please permit me to meet the lama.’

Doubtful of her intentions the attendant tried to persuade Nangsa to go home, but eventually, unable to move her he spoke to the lama and she prayed,

‘I pray to the lama who has realized the natural state of emptiness to let me meet him, for I reject every aspect of the world. In this tranquil place, Sera Yalung, you are the only lama on whom I can depend. Do not cast me out like dust, but hold me fast by the hook of your compassion.’

Then the lama replied,

‘A mere girl cannot practice unless se is an emanation of Tara. Though you may think you want to practice now, in time you’ll change your mind and when your parents see you without your ornaments they will come and make trouble for me. It is better therefore, if you go back home’.

In desperation Nangsa vowed that if she could not become his disciple she would kill herself and proceeded to unsheathe her knife. Finally, accepting her sincerity the lama allowed her to be his disciple. A small room was built for her next to the lama’s and he initiated her into Tantric path and gave her detailed instructions on meditation. After three months of concentrated practice she gained some realization.

When Kunsang Dechen and Nyangtsa Seldon had searched and failed to find Nangsa they reported her disappearance to the Rinang lords. They too looked everywhere and months later they come to know that Nangsa was living at Sera Yalung monastery. Immediately they gathered an army and set out at its head with the intention of destroying the monastery, killing the lama and bringing Nangsa home. When they arrived and surrounded the buildings some of the monks came out and fought to defend their monastery. A great battle ensued in which many monks were killed. The soldiers captured the lama and brought him before the lords. Seeing all the killing and destruction Nangsa emerged from meditation and approached the lords begging them not to harm the lama and to leave her alone in her practice. The sight of Nangsa without her ornaments and wearing a plain yogi’s robe filled them with fury and they said,

‘How dare you, Lama Shakya Gyeltsen ravish our lady, dressing her in that yogi’s cloth and stealing her jewels? You have gone too far! Though there are countless stars in the sky none can compete with the sun and the moon. Though there are many lords in Central Tibet nobody can stand against Rinang lords. We should have put an end to you before now!’

The lord aimed his arrow and his son raised his sword, but suddenly, the lama rose from the ground and moved the eastern mountains to the west and the western mountains to the east. Through his power, the wounded monks were healed and the dead ones came back to life. He addressed the lords saying,

‘The mind’s of beasts in the bodies of men are the lords,
As, in eclipse, the sun and moon compete.
So I, opposing the great lords, took Nangsa away.
Listen and you shall hear why it was so:
How useless not to adorn the altar with the lotus while it is blooming,
What shame when it decays in the foul mud without being used.
How useless not to gallop the horse on the wide plain when
it can race with the wind,
What shame when it grows old in the stable without being ridden.
How useless not to allow Nangsa to practice when she was human.
What shame if she remains in the house of the unholy lords
without following the Dharma.
I meant not to show you my magic power, but to subdue the enemies of
Dharma I have revealed it’.
Then he invited Nangsa to reveal her own powers, which she did, singing,
‘The lords presumed to keep a snow lion at home like a dog.
But it will not stay, even if you tie it up.
The lion sports its green mane among the mountains.
The lords presumed to keep a wild yak as a domestic animal.
But it will not stay, even if you put a ring in its nose.
The wild yak flaunts its horns on the high plateau.
The lord presumed to clasp a rainbow.
But how could they catch it?
The lords presumed to use the white clouds as cloaks.
But how can it be?
The lord presumed to have Nangsa as their mistress all their lives.
But how could I stay?
High in the sky, I will demonstrate my feats’.

Overawed by the unique power of the lama and amazed at the results of Nangsa’s three months’ practice, the lord and his men laid down their weapons and prostrated to the lama and his disciple. They sincerely regretted their misguided behaviour and many, including the lord and Ani Nyimo remained to follow the Dharma under the guidance of these excellent spiritual teachers. The young lord, Dakpa Samdup returned home until his little son was fifteen years old and could take charge of the family house and lands. Then he too followed the Dharma.

The whole region buzzed with the news of change that had come over the Rinang lords. When Nangsa’s parents heard about it, they too became practitioners and for the rest of their lives the little prince supplied them all with the necessities of life.

Translated by Dorjey Tseten with Dominic Wynniatt-Husey, edited by Philippa Russell, drawings by Gangzey Tashi Gyaltsen.

[Extracted from:] 




Victoria Huckenpahler



In December 1978, a 28 year old American woman, Suzi Joy Albright (ordained as Karma Wangmo), entered a twelve-year solitary retreat in a small hut, she had helped build with her own hands in the grounds of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa’s monastery in Woodstock, New York. She had already accomplished three retreats of Ngöndro or preliminary practices and two hundred days of Nyungney fasting practice. In an interview published in Chö Yang 3, the present Tai Situ Rinpoche referred to her as ‘the best practitioner’.

That a Westerner would have the courage and single-mindedness to accomplish such a long retreat, rare even among Tibetan practitioners, necessarily gave rise to much curiosity. Occasional word would slip out through Monastery staffers indicative of the intensity of Wangmo’s practice. Khenpo Karthar, the resident Abbot and Wangmo’s Retreat Master had likened her to Milarepa; no matter how difficult the practices given her she never complained, but responded only with joy. Nonetheless, by late 1990 as the time grew near for Wangmo to end her retreat, many people wonder what kind of person would emerge?

Wangmo tall and sturdily built, with hands and feet that are more workman-like than feminine, she nonetheless gives an overall impression of grace. But perhaps her most striking feature is her emotional independence. Her detachment is so total that it is disconcerting.

When I remarked, for instance, that it might be difficult for her to do her daily practices before strangers during the three-day bus journey on which she embarked immediately following this interview, she dismissed the subject swiftly with the remark: “Yes, but a commitment is a commitment, that’s all.” The finality of her tone was a reminder of how often most of us let worldly considerations sideline Dharma practice.

Your path has been highly unusual, especially for a Western practitioner. Did you receive any religious training, Christian or other, as a child?

My family wasn’t affiliated with any religious organisation at all. In Arizona where I grew up the only exposure I had to religion was through the Mexican population and the Mormons. But the sight of crucifixes and of people going door-to-door preaching didn’t appeal to me. My impression of religion was that it was a blue collar thing based on superstition. There was nothing inviting about it.

Did you at least have personal spiritual leanings at that time?

I remember in grammar school I got into this religious bent and felt the need for prayer and a sense of higher power, but it only lasted a short time. I don’t know what brought it on.

As a child, did you think a lot about helping others?

I don’t think noticeably more than anyone else. What did interest me was always the mind, how it functioned and what caused it to dysfunction. When I eventually went to the University (Arizona State) I majored in psychology but in my junior year I left to travel with the intention of being away one semester. As it turned out, I kept travelling for three years.

Did you go to the East because you were already interested in Buddhism?

No, at that point it was just for the adventure. I love to travel, being a nomad at heart, so I went around the world through Europe, North America, Asia, the South Pacific and so on. While I worked in Australia, a friend with whom I had gone overland through Asia went back to Nepal where she became involved with the Buddhists. I had no interest in Buddhism, but after finishing my degree at Arizona State I went to Lama Thubten Yeshe’s centre in Kopan just to see her. This was in 1974.

When I arrived, I was completely turned off by the whole scene. Many people there seemed unhealthy mentally and physically. I remember asking my friend, “Is this Buddhism?”, and thinking, “If this is what meditation is about, who needs it?” Nonetheless, I attended the month-long course in Kopan taught by Lama Zopa. At the time my attitude was that I was strictly an attendee, I was no way involved as a participant. For this reason, I was slow to start prostrating. It just seemed to be one more trip these people were into. But when Lama Yeshe walked in, I swear he was just glowing. You immediately sensed that this person knew something that most people don’t. My father was a university professor, so I had met a lot of people who were educated, but none who were wise. But Lama Yeshe was as wise as one could ever get. His compassion and wisdom were so overt that you were really struck by his presence. A lot of people can talk Dharma, but they don’t have that effect on you. I always regarded him as a Buddha. If he weren’t a Buddha, I don’t know what could be. It was after he came that I began making prostrations.

When did you decide to take refuge?

Lama Yeshe was giving refuge and lay precepts at the end of that Kopan course, but I had no intention of making commitments. However, one day I was taking this Tibetan mastiff for a walk, and along came another huge dog who leaned up against me, as if seeking protection. The three of us were standing there overlooking the beautiful valley with a herd of water buffalo. It was like a Disney scene. All those animals seemed to be looking at me, reminding me of fortunate human rebirth, so that I felt the obligation to take refuge and one vow: not to kill.

When I ran back and asked to take refuge, I was told I had to take two vows. That immediately broke my stride! I had no intention of disrupting my lifestyle to that extent. Up until then I had led the life of a happy hedonist. Growing up in the sixties you had all the options in terms of sense pleasures. I immediately ruled out vowing not to take intoxicants and not to engage in sexual misconduct, and instead settled on vowing not to steal, as I had never particularly enjoyed it! But it was the animals who inspired all this. They have always had a big impact as far as motivating me to do the practice – more so than most people.

I hate to think why I have such close contact with animals; maybe we were even closer in our last lives! When I later did Nyungne for seven months in a tree house not far from Woodstock, I had a huge Persian cat with me. He was deaf, so when I did Chenrezig practice he would sit on my lap and I would play my bell over his head without bothering him.

How did you come to take nun’s vows?

It all happened rather rapidly. After I attended that first Kopan course in November 1974, I did a Lam Rim group retreat for several months, then a solitary Vajrasattva retreat in Dharamsala for three months. In fact, since that time I have been in retreat almost constantly with only brief spells in between. In November 1975 I returned to Kopan and received ten vows and robes from Lama Yeshe with the thought that I would go to Dharamsala and take ordination in the Gelugpa tradition with the Dalai Lama. But around March 1976 the Karmapa came to offer a month-long cycle of Kagyu wangs. I attended that with Lama Yeshe’s blessing, and decided to be ordained by the Karmapa in the Kagyu tradition.

So in one year’s time you went from not wanting even to take two vows to being ordained. Was it difficult to make so radical a transition in so short a time?

We don’t know where we have come from before this life, but I am sure many of us have very strong Buddhist connections from the past. Obviously, in other lives I was very connected with the Dharma, so there was really no conscious decision on my part. Situations and circumstances just arose so that the retreats were there and I was there, and everything fell into place as far as my doing them. So I was propelled to follow in this direction, and there were no particular obstacles. I didn’t feel myself especially worthy of all this, but I was aware that I was meant to be doing it. When I was in retreat it was the only time that I felt I was doing what I should be doing with my life. It even transcended contentment because it’s so natural. With contentment there is a certain amount of self-consciousness involved, but with the retreat situation it was a natural thing to be doing. Maybe this seems odd coming from the place I was in, but in another sense, being obsessive-compulsive about sense pleasures can be helpful if you’re doing practice. What has driven you in one direction can be redirected.

Beyond this, I am the cold turkey type. I cannot move in moderation. I remember Lama Yeshe using the phrase, “Integrate Dharma into your life.” In my life that would be like mixing tar and water. So I would either have to give up the one to do the other, or I would have to forget the Dharma. And there was a side of myself which would have preferred that! But the Dharma takes all the fun out of samsara. You’re left with ignorance, but knowing enough to make you miserable. I never wanted to be a nun, but ordination seemed part of the process. Milarepa said, “If you want to do something useful with your life, follow in my footsteps.” I really believe that. So that is what determined my path. But I still don’t relate to being a nun. I see other ordained people, and I think of them as nuns, but I don’t particularly relate to that. I could never live in a monastic setting. I’m basically a loner, an extroverted introvert.

There were several tragic events in your family: your father’s suicide and your brother’s death in Vietnam. Did these have any bearing on the life you have chosen?

I don’t think that was a determining factor. Ordination was something that transcended this particular lifetime. But it gave the teachings more impact. It’s true of everyone that when tragedy hits close to home, the idea of attachment and death becomes clear. You see the futility of relationships whether they were very attached or unpleasant. They all end. We waste such tremendous energy on things so short-lived.

Do you care to share your impressions of Gyalwa Karmapa, who became your root Lama?

Nice situations happened, but it is probably better not to discuss them because if you do, they lose their significance. But it was always easy to be near him, literally and otherwise. Actually, I didn’t see him that often, but he always appeared at the exact moment when you needed direction. For instance, he came to my retreat hut KTD when I was considering how long I should stay in retreat. I thought, five minutes with His Holiness, and I can get this settled. And that was about how long it took for him to give me permission to stay in retreat for twelve years.

What was your motivation for entering a twelve-year retreat?

In December 1978 I went in with the intention of doing a three-year retreat. Khenpo Karthar, KTD’s Abbot, had told me, “You build a hut, and I will teach you.” So I worked as a health aide at Woodstock while doing my third Ngöndro, and the money I earned from that, plus contributions, made it possible for me to build a hut with the help of volunteers for just a few hundred dollars. As far as extending the time for twelve years, there is a twelve-year cycle in the Tibetan calendar, and Milarepa meditated in retreats for twelve years. I felt that, given the opportunity and KTD’s kindness in supporting me, it would be a wonderful thing to do. On some other level I’m sure it was in the game place long before it surfaced in my mind, because His Holiness seemed to have the same thing in view.

During that time did you experience any of the inner or outer obstacles many yogis normally encounter in retreat?

In all honesty, no. I was very fortunate because I was never really ill, which is unusual over a twelve-year period. Physically I was fine, and mentally everything went as well as I could hope [this with a laugh]. Of course, I could hear the Monastery being built from day one, but the noises weren’t a problem because they become so familiar. I also want to say that anyone who, like myself, has Khenpo Karthar as a Retreat Master is very fortunate, and need look no farther. The man is about as pure as anyone could possibly be, and about as wise as anyone could hope to find in a teacher.

Along more general lines, you have told me things indicating that you had an unusual turn of mind even before you were involved in Buddhism – for instance, that you always looked on the idea of a limitless lifespan with distaste. Was this view brought on by experiencing a great deal of personal suffering?

Death always seemed like a great relief to me. Old age was obviously not an appealing situation to be in because the body fails. And I’ve always had the relationship with my body that when it fails on me it’s incredibly frustrating. I admire people who have lost legs or are quadriplegic, yet who cope. I would find that excruciating. On the other hand, staying young forever would also be boring, like California weather. No seasons, all sunshine. But it wasn’t suffering that made me feel this way. I’m not one of those who say that life is miserable, because it certainly isn’t. Life can be wonderful, people can be happy, there is love, and that type of thing. You don’t have to suffer if you don’t want to. If you move fast enough, you can have sense pleasures out of your ears! But that just becomes constant input; people who live like that become zombied out. And anyway, the highs are so short-lived. So the main thing that gave me pause was, what is the purpose of life? Each of its phases is so temporal, and anyhow you wouldn’t want any of them lasting forever.

Out of your long years of retreat experience, do you have any realisations you can share in the areas of emptiness and One Taste?

The realisation has to be something experienced. All the talk in the world won’t help someone understand what emptiness is about; only meditation will. It can be more of a hindrance than a help to understand emptiness intellectually. There has been a lot said about emptiness, but obviously very little experienced because there are few enlightened beings.

After being in retreat for so long, which involved a commitment not to see anyone or be seen, you emerged in December 1990 to find many people present, some of whom had come from afar to attend the ceremony that was given for you. Could you describe your feelings about such a radical change of situation?

During retreat, Khenpo Karthar had said, “Pretend you are a thief hiding.” So for twelve years I was attuned to that. I remember seeing my reflection once in the burner of my stove dodging, thinking I had seen someone. Occasionally I would by accident catch sight of a foot or arm of someone coming to leave food at the hut door, but that was all. There is a necessary intensity in maintaining that sort of solitude for retreat practices. Then, suddenly, you come out and see all those people and they see you! It was a blatant antithesis to the way I had been living, yet not wholly unfamiliar. You just adopt to situations as they arise. Being in solitude so long, however, results in your identity becoming very rarefied. Many people living at KTD when I came out had not been there when I went in. Their only contact with me was my dirty dishes and laundry left on my doorstep. I knew that I could drop dead and the only way they would know is that the dishes wouldn’t have been left outside! Probably a lot of people who had been feeding this thing were curious as to what it was that would emerge.

You strike me as the most detached person I ever met. Was this the cause of your moving comfortably into retreat situations, or is it the result of long years of solitary practice?

Growing up, I was as socially occupied as anyone, but I was always comfortable alone. The only thing uncomfortable about it was that you felt you shouldn’t be comfortable! I was never particularly needy in relationships. People were usually more attached to me that I was to them. I was never attached to anyone that I couldn’t leave – very easily. I consider attachment to people worse than attachment to vices because with the former you are hindering others, dragging them down. It becomes difficult for them to do Dharma practice if they are tied by relationships.

While in retreat, did you feel at some level connected to the world, or were you sufficiently in another space that re-emerging was a shock?

I always felt that being in retreat was a group project. I occasionally received moving letters from people saying how inspired they were to know I was doing the practice, and that it was helpful. I’ve never taken any personal interest in my practice. The twelve-year retreat hopefully inspired others to do it. It didn’t matter that it was I, or how poorly I was doing it. The point was that it was being done. I knew that for twelve years nothing must interfere I felt I had to do this. It was just a minor contribution to the cosmos, for what it’s worth. But it was not just something I was doing; we were all rooting for one another. Those people who supported me while I was in retreat were also creating good karma.

But socially speaking, was it a shock to see how crime, for instance, had increased since you went in?

Actually, I’m impressed with the qualities I see in people who aren’t even Buddhist. They have a tremendous amount of compassion, more in many cases than a lot of people who have been Buddhist longer than they should admit. I think that in many cases there aren’t more problems than there used to be, but that people are more aware of them. H. H. the Dalai Lama made a good point [at the recent Kalachakra initiation given in New York] that the fact that people are so shocked by the news is an indication of how compassionate we all are. We blare headlines about these atrocious nightmares because people are disturbed by it. For that reason it sells papers. But there’s hardly a problem, no matter how far in left field it might be, that doesn’t have its own support group. Every issue that could possibly come up is being addressed.

You have chosen not to be called Ani-la. What is your reason for this?

Ani simply means nun. Among Tibetans it is not disparaging, but just as people don’t like being called ‘boy’ or ‘girl’, I don’t like being called Ani. I regard it as sort of demeaning, but that’s just my take on it. Anyway, I never really related to being a nun. Wangmo is the shortened version of the name I was given at ordination. I’m not into titles. I think it’s perfectly all right to call someone by their name rather than a title. That’s comfortable with me.

How do you view the status of women practitioners?

I think there are more women practicing in the West than in the East, and that their situation is very good. No one is going to stop anyone from obtaining enlightenment. All that’s necessary is that one be able to receive the teachings, and that one’s own karmic situation be favourable as far as having one’s own body and mind together enough to be able to practice. It’s up to the individual; no one is going to be enlightened by proxy. If someone wants to put forth the effort in the hope of benefiting all sentient beings and attaining enlightenment, no one is going to stop them. Some of the strongest practitioners I’ve met are women because everything is telling them that they don’t really have to do it. So the women who say they are going to do it are usually very determined and diligent.

Do you have any sense of your role in the Dharma in the future?

Lama Yeshe told me in a special moment, “You are going to teach. Expect that.” So I anticipated that, though getting up in front of a group of people and lecturing is not my thing. I never received the formal training one gets in a monastic setting where you go to school for many years, so I probably know a lot less about Buddhist philosophy than most people who walk into the room. Therefore, who am I to be lecturing? But I do feel obliged to do something. When you’ve been at this for twelve years, people need you to be available in whatever capacity. Before coming out of retreat, I did ask Khenpo Karthar if I could stay in retreat for the rest of my life. He said, “You can if you want to.” I knew I should come out, though, because my elderly mother wanted to see me, and maybe some other people would want to have me around for whatever reason. Also, I am one who basically likes to expose sentient beings to Dharma. If a fly lands on my leg, I think it’s auspicious for both of us, and I say, let’s make the most of this situation.

There will soon be a three-year retreat starting at KTD’s new retreat centre, and it seems I’ll be helping in some capacity.

During your retreat years you had a sign on the door of your hut reading: Buddha or Bust. Do you care to comment on how far you’ve gone towards that goal?

That’s still the slogan! I don’t by any means pretend to be enlightened, but even intellectually you know what the goal is, you can see that developing. I may be a fool, but at least I have enough sense to keep practicing. You never get to a state where you say, “I’m too impure to practice.” You’re not too sick to take medicine! When I met Kyabje Sakya Trizin, he said, “You must be realised since you did a twelve-year retreat.” I replied, “I just keep practicing.”

Is there anything you would particularly like to say to people who might read this and other practitioners?

Only as a sort of pep talk to all people practicing all over the cosmos who sometimes feel removed, especially women, who can feel a little estranged from the Buddhist male hierarchy, there is room for everyone, and it is important that everybody practice and that no one be estranged from anyone. There are people who can relate to whatever problem you are experiencing. It is helpful to stay in touch with one another, network if necessary. If you remember that your motivation is to benefit all sentient beings, you cannot go wrong. If you’re doing it for yourself you can get bored with it, or decide it’s a hobby you don’t want to pursue anymore. As long as you’re clear in your heart, it doesn’t matter how poorly you’re doing it, just keep doing it and everything else will eventually fall into place.

Do people find you greatly changed since you have come out of retreat?

When I returned from India as a ‘meditator’ in 1976, my sister said she expected these profound changes, but it was just the same old fool that had come back! That’s the secret, of course.

[Extracted from:]

The Story of a Tibetan Yogini

Shungsep Jetsun 1852-1953

Prepared by Kim Yeshi & Acharya Tashi Tsering
With the assistance of Sallie Davenport & Dorjey Tseten


Shungsep Jetsun was born Lochen in Tso Pema, a holy place associated with Padmasambhava in the hills of north-west India. Her life, characterized by incessant wanderings throughout the Himalayan regions of India, Nepal and Tibet, emulated those of Tibetan yogis who had roamed these regions, meditating and teaching, for hundreds of years. She is probably one of the last examples of this lifestyle, which came to an abrupt end in the 1950s, with the Chinese invasion of Tibet.

Lochen’s childhood was marked by the domestic difficulties and squabbles of her wandering parents. Her father, Dondrup Namgyal, was quarrelsome and inclined to drink. Originally from the U province of Central Tibet, he was sent away as an adolescent to serve his nephew, an incarnate lama called Yandro Yonten Tulku, at his monastery. He soon quarrelled with the local people and left both the monastery and the area, telling his nephew, “You are like a wolf and your monastery a wolf’s lair.” He did not return home, but wandered here and there, ending up in Bhutan.

There he met a local lama by the name of Khanden and was taken into his service. The Swayambu stupa in Kathmandu had been under Bhutanese care until it was lost to the Nepalese a few years before.  Shortly after Dondrup Namgyal’s arrival, Khenden Lama went to Kathmandu and managed to regain custody of the stupa. Feeling that Dondrup Namgyal had bought him good fortune, he told him, “Your name may be Namgyal, but I’m going to call you Thong,”(which meant good luck like Tashi in Tibetan).

The Early Years

Dondrup Namgyal stayed in Khenden Lama’s service for several years, then went to serve another Bhutanese lama, Kalwar, in the monastery of Thong Hago. Kalwar Lama was old and passed away soon afterwards, leaving his young wife, Tsentsar Pemba Dolma, who originally hailed from Nepal, alone and childless. Pemba Dolma was much grieved by her husband’s death. Declaring that she found cyclic existence quite meaningless, she planned to renounce the world and spend the rest of her life visiting the pilgrimage places of Western Tibet, India and Nepal.

Taking Dondrup Namgyal with her, she wandered from place to place, leading the life of a pilgrim, begging and falling back on the resources left her by Kalwar lama. A relationship eventually formed between them and Pemba Dolma, who had regretted remaining childless, began to follow the advice of the older village woman on an infallible method for bearing a male heir. It involved her collecting stones from holy places and carrying them on her back. She went about lugging increasingly heavy loads until she began to have unusual dreams and felt her wish had been fulfilled. In one particular dream, she was standing by a crowd of women washing their hair in a spring. She suddenly looked up and saw staring down at her someone attired like the deity Heruka. In another, she was returning from Tibet and came across women wearing ornaments who told her, “You bathe first and when you are finished, you can look after our ornaments while we bathe.”

Pemba Dolma was convinced that the dreams were special signs concerning the child she had conceived. She felt very happy and announced that the infant in her womb must be a lama or at least some special being.

On the fifteenth day of the first month of the wood ox year (1852), Pemba Dolma gave birth in Tso Pema to a female child. The delivery was painless, accompanied by a slight earth tremor and a rain of flowers. Voices were heard reciting manis, the six-syllable mantra of Avalokiteshvara. It is said that the child was born cross-legged, her arms crossed on her chest in the gesture of holding a bell and vajra and that many heard her say, “Om mani padme hum.”

Though most people who witnessed these events were filled with respect and awe, Dondrup Namgyal remained unimpressed. The birth of a daughter made him feel that he had somehow been cheated and he directed his discontent at his wife, sneering, “You said you were giving birth to a lama and you had only a girl. Throw her out!” He continually mocked her for her previous dreams and statements concerning the child. After Lochen’s birth, things went from bad to worse between her parents, her father drinking and mistreating her mother. When Lochen was a few months old and they were staying in Gashar, in the Indian Himalayas, he sold mother and child to some chang sellers, probably in payment for drink. For Pemba Dolma he took three silver rupees, and for Lochen two. The incident was reported to the local official, who objected to such transactions under his jurisdiction and ordered Lochen and her mother to be returned to Dondrup Namgyal. When she heard the official’s decision, Pemba Dolma begged him just to let her go, for she had no wish to stay with her cruel husband. Hearing this, Dondrup Namgyal was filled with remorse and broke down in tears. He asked the official at least to give him custody of his daughter. Trying to resolve the dispute, the local people advised Dondrup Namgyal to treat his family better and made him promise not to beat his wife. Pemba Dolma finally agreed to stay with him and they left together for Spiti, with Lochen strapped to her mother’s back.

On the way, they came to a large river, on the banks of which they found a sword. Pemba Dolma, worried about the future for herself and Lochen, felt this was a special sign. Picking up the sword she prayed, ‘If my daughter is to be of benefit to the doctrine and beings, may we cross that river. If not, let the water carry us both away.’ There was neither bridge nor ferry, but Pemba Dolma resolutely entered the water and began to ford the river. Due to the strong current, she soon lost her balance and mother and daughter were nearly drowned. Suddenly, a woman appeared out of the sky and grabbed hold of Pemba Dolma’s hand. When they reached the other side she disappeared and Pemba Dolma was unable to find her though she looked everywhere. Some people said they had seen a woman flying away.

Although apparently fond of his daughter, Dondrup Namgyal continued to drink and was often short of money. One day, he sold Lochen to a merchant for a handful of silver. Pemba Dolma had to wait outside the merchant’s house until she came out, when she picked her up and ran off with her. Coming to the hot springs in Kulu, they found Dondrup Namgyal there before them. After he promised never to sell either of them again, they were reconciled once more.

The First Teachings

One day, when the family was living in a tent, Dondrup Namgyal came home drunk and told his wife he wished to leave her. He proposed that since they had only one daughter, they should cut her in half so they could each have their share. Lochen was listening outside and ran away, terrified, to hide under some thorny bushes. Crouching in her hiding place, she suddenly felt very light and heard melodious voices all around her.

Immersed in physical and mental bliss, Lochen did not notice time go by and one week passed without her knowledge. Her family and all the local people had searched high and low and failing to find her, concluded that she had been eaten by wild animals.

When she finally emerged from her hiding place, Lochen was greeted by many children who, bewildered at seeing her alive, prostrated to her, blew trumpets and asked her for teachings. Sitting on an elevated spot, she recited this verse,

In order to lead all sentient beings to Buddhahood,
One must accumulate merit
And with great motivation one must listen (to the teachings).

She taught refuge and other basic practices. Stating that Tibet’s protective deity was Avalokiteshvara, she instructed her young listeners to meditate on him and to recite his mantra, OM MANI PADME HUM, saying it was the essence of the Buddha’s doctrine. At that time, many took refuge in the three jewels as well as making commitments to recite the mantra.

When this took place, Lochen was about four and still drinking her mother’s milk. Many people criticized her, saying it was wrong to preach at so young an age, but a mani master called Gonkar defended her, saying she was either an emanation of Tara or Machig Labdron. He gave her many transmissions on ways of reciting Avalokiteshvara’s mantra and said that when she reached six, Lochen would be a mani lama in her own right, having mastered all the necessary transmissions and ways of reciting the texts.

Dondrup Namgyal was never really kind to his wife, but he learned to love his daughter. When Lochen was five, he felt she should learn to read and took her to a former government official, who having become a devout practitioner, the local people respected as a lama. He taught Lochen to read and write and she learned quickly and easily.

At the age of six, Lochen began to give teachings. She had a patron, a Khampa merchant called Tashi who asked her to travel from town to town, explaining the meaning of mani. People would assemble in the marketplaces by the thousands to hear her. Tears sprang from the eyes of the crowd as they watched this tiny figure standing on tiptoe to point an enormous stick at an even larger thangka, teach and comment faultlessly on the stories concerning Avalokiteshvara’s mantra.

Slowly, her fame spread and while travelling in the Western Tibetan area of Rampur, the local king asked her to teach. She inspired such faith that people started referring to her as dakini. In a place called Tsondarong, people offered her money and valuables, sheep and goats. She returned the former and left the few sheep and goats to her mother.

One cold, rainy morning, when the family was staying in a straw hut, Lochen heard a voice singing from the roof. She was busy lighting a fire and looking up, saw a bearded Indian sage. He sang, “Father who sells his child eats his own flesh, drinks his own blood.” He remained there, singing about Lochen’s father. Next day, the sage returned, bringing a partly burned rosary. He showed it to Lochen and asked, “How did this happen?” Her father who had been eyeing the sage curiously replied for her with a flow of insults and the sage disappeared. Later, while the father and daughter slept, the fire from the stove suddenly spread through the hut until the flames were licking their feet. Both awoke in pain. The sage appeared, picked up Lochen and carried her to the river where he dipped her burned feet into the cool water. They were instantly healed.

Thinking the sage had stolen his daughter, Dondrup Namgyal ran out of the hut shouting, “Don’t take my child!” When he reached the river bank, he found Lochen alone. The sage had disappeared.

Lochen continued to travel and teach throughout Western Tibet and the adjoining areas of Ladakh. At Pitu monastery during the cham festival, she saw the ritual dances and had visions of many gods riding dragons about to speak to her.

One New Year, the family came to Tso Pema. Dondrup Namgyal continuing to drink heavily, threatened to burn down a local house. Outraged, the people beat him with burning sticks until Lochen begged them to stop. When they asked her for teachings, some pointed out that it was ludicrous on the one hand to beat up the father and on the other to ask the daughter for teachings and they promised to let him alone, however unpleasant he might be. They mused, ’The father is like a devil, the girl like a goddess, where can these people be from?’

Lochen liked to save animals from slaughter and often spent money given to her on buying sheep and goats, especially in the nomad areas. She kept a large female goat on which she rode. It was so tame that it would get down on its knees so Lochen could mount it without difficulty. She travelled throughout Western Tibet riding that goat. When they encountered difficulties, they were helped by the protectors. In one dangerous place, full of wild animals, they could find no water. Lochen spotted a raven flying above them and following it, found a spring where they all quenched their thirst.

Lochen’s parents continued to accompany her on her travels, and though her father’s mood and behaviour had its up and downs, he didn’t really change. Once when they were in Purang, he fell in love with a woman called Doltso, and decided to stay with her. Thinking it wiser to let him have his way, his wife and daughter left him there and went to Nepal. A few days later, he joined them where they were staying. He asked where they planned to go, but before they answered, added, “If you go east, I will go west.” He is mentioned no more in Lochen’s biography.

Lochen Finds Her Root Guru

When Lochen was thirteen and travelling through Tso Pema, she met a lama of King Sawor who told her, “Ani Dolma, my uncle Pema Gyatso is a disciple of Shalikar Rinpoche. He lives in Kyirong (Western Tibet). You should go there a meet him.” Hearing the name ‘Pema Gyatso’ though she had never met him, Lochen felt very moved and determined to find this lama, wherever he might be. She took several months to reach Kyirong, where she heard that Pema Gyatso was staying in a cave a few hours walk away. Lochen and her mother had prepared offerings and were about to set out to meet him, when they heard there was an epidemic in the area. Pema Dolma decided to stay behind, but Lochen went ahead, though night was coming on.

That night, she slept under the stars and at daybreak had an auspicious dream about the lama she was going out to meet. She awoke in a very joyful mood, bought a clay pot full of milk from some nearby nomads to give as an offering, and set off towards the cave. On the way she saw a nun collecting water from the river. The nun stopped and looked her up and down. Later Lochen said that meeting this nun holding a vessel filled with water was an auspicious sign of her future fame. She asked the nun, whose name was Tsultrim, where the lama was to be found, and if she could meet him. Tsultrim offered to show her the way.

Lochen met the lama in his cave, made her offerings and paid her respects. It is said that as a result of Lochen’s  offering of a vessel of milk to her lama, many years later someone offered a cow to her nunnery at Shungsep. And though it bore no calf for eight years, it provided milk continuously.

Pema Gyatso blessed her and told her that if she were willing to observe the ascetic precepts known as the Ten Innermost Jewels of Kadam, he would accept her as his disciple. She decided there and then that whatever might happen, she would put all her heart into these practices and told the lama so. Pema Gyatso began to explain the meaning of the Six Causes and One Result method for generating the altruistic mind of enlightenment. It was difficult and Lochen was unable to grasp the meaning. Her lack of comprehension bought tears to her eyes and she begged for further explanations. Those present were amazed to see such a young girl paying such close attention to religious teachings.

Lochen stayed a few days with Ani Tsultrim and was soon joined by her mother. They built a small house of bamboo in the mouth of a cave and Lochen attended the lama’s teachings during the day. They were rarely over before dark, and her mother would wait for her outside the lama’s cave with a bamboo torch. Lochen received transmissions of Kunzang Lama and all the empowerments. Transmissions and explanations of Longchenpas’ Heart’s Drop instructions of the Dzogchen or Great Completion, as well as one hundred initiations of Chö, the ritual for severing the ego.

One day, as Lochen went begging for alms, she came to a small nunnery where a young nun was churning milk. The nun welcomed her and offered her a bowl of milk. It was poisoned and Lochen became violently ill. She prayed hard and practised the Vase-liked Wind meditation with the result that she threw up the milk riddled with snakes.

Training and Hardship

Lochen had met her lama in the summer. In winter, he moved from his cave to another small nunnery nearby, where he gave extensive teachings and got their food begging alms and wherever Lochen went, people showed her great respect and generosity. Close by was a lama who received far fewer alms than Lochen and consequently highly resented her popularity. Finally, feeling he could bear it no longer, he went to see Pema Gyatso and told him that Lochen received a great deal of offerings. Pema Gyatso asked what was wrong with that and he replied, “Nothing, but she goes around saying she is an incarnation of Dorjey Phagmo.” Pema Gyatso said nothing, but when Lochen appeared before him a few days later with offerings she received, instead of accepting her gift, he grew very angry and accused her of lying and pretending she was an incarnation of Dorjey Phagmo. As she stared at him in disbelief, he grabbed her offerings. He climbed up to the roof of the nunnery and flung them down at her along with his boots. Though Lochen was hurt, she crouched down to pick up the boots, and placed them on her head as a mark of respect.

After this incident, Lochen continued to attend her lama’s teachings though he ignored her. One day, he gave each of his disciples a clay statue of Machig Labdron, but when Lochen came to receive hers, Pema Gyatso told her sarcastically that being either an incarnation of Machig Labdron or Machig Labdron herself, she didn’t need one.

Lochen began to meditate on the psychic channels and energy winds at the age of seventeen. From the outset she consulted her lama who consented to guide her and gave her a text. The following day, he called her back and asked her to return the book. He explained that he had had a bad dream and consequently felt she shouldn’t be doing this practice. Instead he taught her the practice of the Vase-liked Wind for a few days and stopped there. Since they were receiving no teachings, Lochen and a few companions decided to go begging for alms. While they were away, Pema Gyatso gave his remaining disciples an explanation of the way to meditate on the channels and winds, a prerequisite for the practice that Lochen was so much aspiring to. When she returned and found out that she had missed the teaching, she was very upset, but nonetheless decided to ask her lama to give it to her as well. To her joy, he agreed and she immediately went to buy the meditation band and white shawl required to do the practice following the initiation.

The twenty-first day of that month was an auspicious date, and Pema Gyatso assembled all his disciples to bestow on them once more the explanation of the practice of wind and channels. Some days earlier, Lochen had come to know that Ani Tsultrim, the nun who had originally shown her the way to the lama’s cave, had stolen some corals. Shocked and upset, she had mentioned it to several people. Pema Gyatso caught wind of the rumour and called Lochen in to see him. He told her in a dry and cutting tone, “You have three faults. You criticize the Ani Umzey, you lie by pretending the incarnation of
Dorjey Phagmo, and you accused your friend of stealing. I cannot have you here any longer, you are not fit to be given these precious teachings.” He then stamped her forehead with a seal representing a dog and ordered her to leave both the nunnery and the locality immediately and go to a place called Pomdra in Nepal.

Miserable and deeply humiliated, Lochen begged her lama to let her stay. Her pleas failed to move him and feeling totally dejected, she packed her belongings and left with her mother and two friends, who insisted on accompanying her.

After some distance, they came to a crossing. Pondering which path to follow, a nomad suggested the right as the other led to a region stricken with disease. They followed his advice, though with little joy, for the road was steep and rocky, which made travelling difficult. Finally they reached a village, set in a narrow valley, where the people spoke a dialect they could barely understand. No one offered them a roof  for the night, so they slept out in the open and were bitten by insects. In spite of such hardship, Lochen clung on to her faith in her lama and did not forsake her compassion for all beings. That night she had a very clear dream of him giving teachings. She woke feeling sad and sang,

I prostrate to the great yogi Pema Gyatso,
The exalted Heruka,
All-encompassing Lord Vajradhara
Of all infallible objects of refuge
I, Mani Lochen, am just a beggar
Vowed to accumulate merit
And purify and purge my sins for three years
Near the mirror-like rock hermitage.
Amidst the Hai mountains, in the western direction.
Father-like holy root guru
Following your instructions, I meditate on this life
As a free and fortunate human being
And the stages of the path without any mental distraction.
And when I meditate with undivided attention I experience (the following):
Ordinary appearances having simply ceased,
(Intuitive awareness) appears vividly to my mind
Yet is inexpressible by speech.
When mind is relaxed, I experienced that beyond mind
In my experience of peace, I ecstatically uncovered non-conceptual reality
I meditated on that which is neither continued nor reversed,
Earlier or later not just once, but again and again.
I burst into natural laughter
Upon seeing the self-nature and self’s spontaneity,
I can definitely ascertain there is no more to look for.
Thus this offering of the mode of appearance of a beggar
I offer to the Victorious Ones and their Sons.
Through the kindness of my lama
I sing a song of spiritual experience
And dedicate my virtues to all mother sentient beings.
May this be a cause for realizing the Great Completion (Dzogchen).

Unfortunately, an attendant of the local king overheard her song and misinterpreted it as criticism of his master. He reported that a young nun was singing strange verses about him. The king was annoyed and sent out men to punish her. Unable to find Lochen, they caught her friend Tsering Gyalmo and locked her in prison. Lochen, her mother and Kador, their other companion, pleaded before the king, but he remained unyielding. Lochen then decided to go with Kador begging for tsampa, leaving her mother to look after her imprisoned friend. They came to a frail rope bridge over a broad river. Kador was crossing first when one of the ropes suddenly snapped. With a jerk, Kador fell straight into the torrent below.

Observing her friend from the edge of the precipice, and pondering a few seconds over her bad luck – of her two companions, one was in prison, and the other in the river below – she made up her mind. Praying to her lama, she meditated on the Vase-like Wind and wishing that all sentient beings be freed from cyclic existence, she jumped down into the water. She landed near Kador who was struggling for breath and managed to pull her onto a large rock. Local people, who had been watching from the river bank, concluded she must be a dakini and reported what had happened to the king. Realizing his mistake and filled with regret, he summoned Lochen, her mother and Kador and had Tsering Gyalmo released immediately from prison. Then bowing before Lochen, he begged her for religious instruction and offered her many gifts. She gave him teachings on the meaning of Avalokiteshvara’s six syllable mantra and how to practise it.

A few weeks passed and Lochen and her companions decided to return to the nunnery and Pema Gyatso, hoping his anger has abated. For her part, Lochen knew that despite the ill treatment she had received from him, her faith in her lama remained intact and she was more willing to face his anger than to stay away. Upon reaching the nunnery, she prostrated before Pema Gyatso and told him that she and her companions had been to the place he had instructed and had now returned. He seemed to be pleased, though not particularly impressed when they related the incident at the river.

Soon after this, Pema Gyatso, accompanied by Lochen and other disciples set out on a pilgrimage through Western Tibet. They first went to Penchen Pema Wangyel’s monastery in Ngari, visiting the holy sites and viewing the many stones naturally adorned with mantras. When they came to a cavern, Pema Gyatso instructed Lochen to strike a large boulder with her staff. She obeyed and to everyone’s surprise, excrement came pouring out. The lama then struck it and a large piece detached itself, revealing a natural image of Avalokiteshvara’s mantra. More and more pieces fell off, creating a shower of naturally formed mani stones. Lochen gathered them up and built a mani wall. As they performed the consecration ceremony, she realized that her lama was clairvoyant.

In the years that followed, Lochen continued to wander throughout Tibet, giving teachings and begging for alms. Sometimes she and her companions came to wild places where, like Milarepa, they lived on nettle soup. In inhabited areas, local people readily offered them food. Once somebody gave them a brick of tea. Having never seen one before they mistook it for a kind of vegetable. Lochen cooked it and carefully removed all the juice before eating the leaves.

At a place called Nagtsel Monastery, Lochen entered a three year retreat on the Heart’s Drop and Accomplishment of the Guru Milarepa. During this retreat, she had visions of girls wearing beautiful ornaments beckoning her to visit their land. She had an urge to write and thought of gathering tree bark. Then with the feeling that she was in a pure land, she remained some time in a state of bliss. When she emerged, she found her lap strewn with strips of bark covered in writing. Before she had time even to read them, the nun who was directing Lochen’s retreat, Chu Sang, came into her cell and saw these Hidden Treasures, which had been revealed to her. Seizing the strips of bark, she said these were not for anyone to see. When Lochen tried to retrieve them, she hit her on the head and burned them all. From that moment, Lochen’s realizations disappeared and she was beside herself with regret and disappointment. One of her friends, Ani Woser, tried to console her saying, “Don’t worry, although there is much doctrine in this world, it is very difficult to attain any kind of realization. You may not have been able to spread these Hidden Treasures, but they are safe in the dakini’s land, so please don’t worry.” At the end of her retreat, Lochen reported her experiences to her lama, adding that she had felt great bliss while meditating. He said nothing but ‘Hetta’, meaning that her view on emptiness was correct.

Sometime later, Pema Gyatso and his disciples, including Lochen; went on a pilgrimage to Nepal and many holy sites in Tibet. At Swayambu in Nepal, they repainted the stupa and Lochen gave teachings on Avalokiteshvara’s mantra. Her main aim was to educate the local people in the correct method of practising Buddhism and to put a stop to the doings of a local lama called Ja Lama who, mixing Buddhist and Hindu teachings, sacrificed buffaloes and offered their heads on Buddhist altars. Lochen’s instruction had a positive effect and the sacrifices stopped. Ja Lama said that he regretted his actions and promised to change his behaviour.

At Sakya they met Dagtri Rinpochey. A Phurbu dance was in progress at the monastery and they remained for the whole duration. Lochen had visions of rainbows and rains of flowers and felt that Sakya was a pure land. Sakya Dagmo inspired her with great faith, and throughout her stay, she prayed that she might benefit all sentient beings.

In Tashi Lhunpo, Lochen circumambulated the monastery each morning, reciting a special text. She had a very beautiful way of singing the verses and it is said the Gesheys listened to the melodious sound with great pleasure.

In Lhasa, they met lama Kyabgon Dharma Sengey who lived in retreat in Lhasa Phumba-ri. With him, they had an audience with the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. They offered him a mandala and he gave them the transmission of the Hundreds of Deities of the Land of Joy and teachings on the Migtsema prayer to Jey Tsongkhapa. Then, they visited all the holy places in Lhasa.

When she arrived at Ganden monastery wearing her thin cotton robe, many of the monks, having heard that a yogini had come, crowded round to see her, staring and whispering to each other. She sang the following verses to them,

Father, revered guru Pema Gyatso
Acharya in Sanskrit and Naljorpa (yogi) in Tibetan
I prostrate to you, who have realized the true nature of the mind
When I arrived at Ganden monastery,
Hearing that there was a yogini,
Many gathered in crowds to stare at me.
I examined myself (to see) whether I was a yogini or not
And it seems you are right (in implying I am not).
The white yogi is Padmasambhava
Who taught the entire doctrine of sutra and tantra,
The white yogi is Tsogyal (Padmasambhava’s consort)
I am just a beggar who is only their follower.
Atisha was the multicoloured yogi
Who has spread the Dharma wide in India and Tibet
And from whom emerged the new and old traditions of
The mother Tara is the many coloured yogini,
I am just a beggar who has received her blessing.
The black yogi is the father Dampa,
Who taught the doctrines of peace and of Chö.
I cut off the self-grasping consciousness and realized emptiness.
The black yogini is mother Labdron
Ugly though I am, I preserve her doctrine
All that I hear, see and feel
Are the blessings of three yogis.
May I be the liberator of all mother sentient beings
And may the Dharma shine like the sun.

Lochen and her lamas stayed in Lhasa for some time, Pema Gyatso and Dharma Sengey residing at Tsechok Ling monastery on the other side of the Tsangpo. From Dharma Sengey, Lochen received the teachings of the essence of the Yuthok Chö and initiations for the transference of consciousness, as well as instructions on averting harm from Nagas and harmful spirits. Following these teachings, she made a Chö fire offering and fell sleep while performing it. Dharma Sengey hit her on the head with the butter pourer. Many people were present and Lochen was both frightened and embarrassed by the incident, though the next day her mind felt sharp and clear. The lama asked if she had felt ashamed at his rebuke and although at first she denied it, she finally admitted she had.

One day, Pema Gyatso became very ill after eating pork at a patron’s house. She did her very best to help him, but he never recovered. When he passed away at Banashu, an area of Lhasa, Lochen saw many rainbows overhead.

After her lama’s death, Lochen ceased wandering and settled down. In the winter she stayed in a cave at Sangyey Drak and in the summer at Shungseb, which became her nunnery. It stood near Lhasa, on a pine-covered slope, from which it got its name. She also dwelt in caves on the rocky mountain Thogar-yag. There she taught the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life one hundred times to men, spirits and gods and spent the rest of her time in retreat, meditating on her personal deity.

One day, as she meditated, the yelp of an animal was swiftly followed by a dog trembling with fear, which ran into her cave and took refuge on her lap. Soon after, a leopard thrust in its head and was about to pounce on the dog. Lochen firmly meditated a few moments on great compassion, then she gestured to the leopard to sit, thinking there was no need for fear for all phenomena are like illusions. The leopard slowly crouched and sat on her right. From then onwards, both animals stayed near her cave, fearless and harmless, and Lochen preached to them, feeling that the seeds of the altruistic mind of enlightenment had been implanted in their mindstreams.

While in six months retreat in the Sangyey cave, Lochen passed away for three weeks, after which she revived once more. The shock of returning to life made her suddenly remember her lama, and she called his name out loud. Her special faith in him made her spend days and nights in tears and she expressed praises of him and the dharma in the following verses:

Supreme guide, O my root guru,
Look on the sufferings of sentient beings
Who have no dharma,
Have mercy on unfortunate yogini,
Her body moving in different positions
As if she were doing a religious dance.

These came to her spontaneously out of her great faith and the immeasurable compassion she felt for sentient beings. She recited the six-syllable mantra for a long time to a slow tune and through the blessings of Arya Avalokiteshvara, water emerged from the rock. This spring was so abundant that all the lamas and disciples who had gathered in the area used to draw their drinking water from it. They gave her the nickname, Chudon Kushog, ‘the master who extracted the water’.

Lochen’s behaviour at that time was so odd that people wondered if she were mad. Her mother, who was most worried of all, asked Taglug Matrul Rinpoche for a divination. He told her, “Let your daughter do whatever she feels like doing. She is completely different from ordinary people and will be successful.”

At that time, Lochen was practising the initiation and commentary of The Wishfulfilling Gem of Liberation, which she had received from Drupai Tenpai Gyeltsen. As a result of her practice, she achieved some feats and no matter on what object she placed her mind, it remained there undisturbed. The various beings of the six realms spoke to her in their own tongues and she could perceive the beings in the three realms of desire, form, and formlessness as clearly as if they were in the palm of her hand.

Experiencing great physical well-being and mental bliss, she never stopped singing, her hands always performed mudras, her mind was ever in samadhi, and her deep awareness was unobstructed and free of extremes. She had many such experiences at this time.

She reached the stage at which the winds enter the central channel and she spontaneously and unrestrainedly started jumping, dancing, producing various sounds and running ceaselessly in and out of her cave. Once, while in the midst of such an experience, she suddenly fell. Her physical heat dwindled away and her breath stopped. Only her subtle mind remained, totally concentrated, abiding on its object. Her mother and her friends decided she had passed away and prepared for her funeral, crying and lamenting.

Though there was no movement in her body, her increased awareness was nine times sharper and clearer than normal. After some time, a one-eyed lady with green hair appeared before her and asked, “Lady, do you want to go to Padmasambhava’s Pure Land?” Lochen assented and the strange woman took her, without their feet touching the ground, to the realm of an elaborately roofed celestial mansion. There, she came face to face with the great Padmasambhava. His face smiling, white and radiant with a tinge of red, his peaceful aspect with a hint of wrath, like a white conch shell with a light red hue. On his head, Padmasambhava wore a hat marked with a vulture’s feather, the sun and the moon. In one hand he held a vajra and in the other a vase of the nectar of immortality and a scarf. He was dressed in tantric regalia, a blue robe over the three robes of a monk, and was sitting in the regal posture, one leg outstretched and the other withdrawn. He was surrounded by all the great Indian and Tibetan Mahasiddhas and scholars, including his twenty five main disciples in Tibet. All these great beings held different attributes in their hands, and though there seemed to be no space between them, each of them was very clearly defined. Padmasambhava spoke to her, calling her the mind manifestation of the Dakini of Shining Blue Light. He then conferred all the four initiations on her. Out of great faith Lochen sang verses of praise and Padmasambhava placed a long-life arrow on her head, granting her special blessings.

Then Lochen felt she was returning to an ordinary level of perception. She visited the heavens, saw Brahma and Indra, all the kings and the demi-gods and the realm of the hungry ghosts. Wherever she went she practised the exchange of self and others. Visiting the hells, she saw unbearable suffering. In the hot hells were red-hot iron houses full of molten metal and burning floors, beings whose bodies were of one entity with fire, others being boiled and cut to pieces. All the while, she felt as if she were experiencing these sufferings herself.

In the cold hells were snow and blizzards, beings with bodies as blue as utpala flowers with blisters cracking into a hundred different pieces. In other hells, Lochen saw beings being eaten away by worms, being pierced by weapons, having their hearts torn out, dreadful birds describing and picking up their eyes, dogs gnawing their flesh, molten liquids being poured upon them and others being pressed down under stupas, books and statues. The sight of so much suffering was unbearable to Lochen. Tears of compassion sprang from her eyes and she sang many verses of prayers.

Suddenly the dakini with an iron hook in one hand and a lasso in the other appeared before her with Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion who relieves the sufferings of beings in the six realms. They said,

“Om Mani Padme Hum, please listen to me compassionate dakini. You have from your previous lives, the seeds of the two minds of enlightenment, and those seeds have been moistened by the collection of merit and purification, you are now like a plant, accomplishing the welfare of beings. You should practise all the great qualities of Avalokiteshvara, expressed in his six-syllable mantra which alleviates the sufferings of beings in the six realms. You should also meditate on the seven causes and one result mind training precepts which are:

  • Recognising all sentient beings as one’s mother
  • Remembering their kindness
  • Repaying their kindness
  • Love
  • Compassion
  • The Special Resolve, and
  • Mind of Enlightenment”

Lochen immediately meditated in the way and saw fire and ice, sharp weapons, and cauldrons gradually melt away. The hell beings’ shrieks and screams slowly quietened down until all became silent and they sat still with their hands folded, an infinite crowd of beings, stretching as far as Lochen’s eyes could see. The dakini then taught her the use of Avalokiteshvara’s six syllable mantra and told her to meditate on it. This Lochen did and gradually the remaining sufferings of beings before her vanished and they uttered the verse for taking the refuge.

The same dakini also taught her the nature of all phenomena, which are totally devoid of an inherent self. Receiving these teachings and meditating simultaneously on the four immeasurable wishes, immeasurable love, compassion, joy and equanimity and the perception of their ultimate nature, all the remaining parts of the hells turned into a land of happiness and the former hell’s beings were transformed, gained faith and were able to take refuge. Lochen prayed and meditated even harder and many of the creatures appeared before her died and took birth in better realms. She felt infinitely grateful to the dakini who had taught her how to help sentient beings.

Suddenly, Lochen felt she should meet Shinjey, the Lord of Death and King of Hells. She found herself in a radiant cave, at the end of which appeared sixteen fearful buildings without doors. In one of them, standing on a sun, moon and lotus seat, trampling a human corpse, was the Lord of Death, with a dark brown body, holding a slate in one hand and a mirror in the other. He was clothed in shrouds and performing the nine wrathful dances. Accompanied by his retinue of grimacing monsters, he came up and asked in a booming voice, “You have come before the time of your death, while everyone else comes after. Can you explain the meaning of this?” In response, Lochen requested that he release all the beings in the hells from their suffering.

Meanwhile, Shinjey’s attendants were busy searching for her name in their records. They told her, “There is nothing on you here which justifies your presence. Please proceed to one of the heavens.” Lochen replied, “It would be shameful for me to leave for the heavens alone, while all mother sentient beings remain in the hells. We should all go to the happy realms together, and you, King of the Hells, should help me to bring this about.” The King replied, “Listen, that has been tried before. Avalokiteshvara, the god of compassion himself, with his unique disposition to help beings came and three times attempted to transform the hells. It didn’t really help. In spite of all his good will, beings continue to accumulate the negative karma which brings them here. After that, the dakini Yeshey Tsogyal came, and she also transformed the hells once. But again, it didn’t help. After a while, the hell-beings start coming again and the hells are filled up once more. There is no end to the karma which continues to ripen and bring about the miseries of beings. No one can transform the fruits of other beings’ good and bad actions, so what can you do?”

There was a silence, and the Lord of Death resumed, “Before doing anything else, religious guides and teachers should examine themselves. As community leaders they should be truthful and observe the laws they prescribe. Ordained monks and nuns should avoid transgressing their vows. Tantric practitioners should be well-versed in the two stages of generation and completion. Those who have attained powers should use them carefully and not be misled by circumstances. Realized persons should not chase conceptual thoughts and practitioners on the path should not run after the appearances of duality. Practitioners of Chö should not see one thing as the devil and another as divine. Learned scholars should not be satisfied merely with words. Tantric practitioners should not change to the Hinayana path, and those whose realization is gradual should not be satisfied merely with hearing teachings, but must generate experience. Men should avoid lustful actions and women should not be misled or mislead others through deception. Religious patrons should not feel that they have done something splendid and religious practitioners should not chase after offerings from the lay community. Holders of the doctrine should keep their lineages pure and not mix them up with others.”

The hells around her disappeared and Lochen’s mind re-entered her body. She resumed a normal life and remained in Namkha Dzong, giving an oral instruction entitled The Garland of Flowers. She had other experiences in which she saw the ten directions becoming filled with tigers. She was afraid, not knowing where to hide. Then her body took the form of a syllable HUM and she flew away.

Lochen also did a twenty-one day retreat in darkness under Trulshig Rinpochey’s guidance.  When she emerged she felt her mind was very clear and found that just by thinking about a place, she could actually be there. She realized this when one day she strongly felt that she should go to meet Karmapa Khakhyab Dorjey. Though it was a feeling, it took her to him and she received teachings without any of his attendants knowing. Meanwhile, her companions thought she was still in her retreat cave.

Eventually, Lochen’s eccentric behaviour, death-like states and mystic experiences worried her mother who decided she needed the constant and direct guidance of a lama. She packed a yellow cloak and they set off for the dwelling of a famous adept called Semnyi Rinpochey. Prostrating before him and offering him the cloak, Pemba Dolma told him that so far she had been looking after her daughter in her retreat, but now she wanted to pass the responsibility to him. She pleaded that he would not let her indulge in strange behaviour and that whenever she was not attending teachings, she should be made to stay in retreat. She said that if she was not controlled, the two mad lamas, Ragshar Jetsun and Taglung Matrul Rinpochey would make her daughter go here and here and her practice would not lead her anywhere.

Thus, Pemba Dolma left Lochen in the care of Semnyi Rinpochey. Though she was an ordinary woman, she devoted the rest of her life to religious practice and said ten million Amitabha mantras. Lochen had said that if her mother remained at Shungseb Nunnery she would suffer from defilement which would harm her practice so she dwelt in a cave below the nunnery. She lived to the age of ninety-nine, becoming smaller and smaller. When the dakinis saw that she would not remain on the earth much longer, they prepared to welcome her to their realm. On the eighth day of Sagadawa, while praying to Amitabha and facing to the west, she passed away.

From then on, to pray for her mother, every year in the fourth month Lochen would perform eight sets (sixteen days) of the fasting retreat, a practice which entails taking only a vegetarian meal every other day in conjunction with reciting manis.

Soon after the death of her mother, Lochen became very ill and made up her mind that she was going to die. To that end she did the practice of generating a feeling of disgust for cyclic existence through body, speech and mind, meditated on the winds and channels and applied the Six Yogas of Naropa. These made her feel as light as a piece of wool. In the morning and the evening she performed highest practices of Dzogchen, watching the sun and rising and just setting, and perceived all phenomena as heavenly appearances.

In the dog, pig and bird years, Lochen was often very seriously ill.  Her disciples became worried and bought a doctor to see her. After taking her pulse, the doctor declared that Lochen’s illness was definitely not due to a disorder of the elements. He advised her disciples that instead of giving her medicine they should offer her long-life prayers to drive away the dakinis, who were trying to take her to their pure lands. They followed his advice and Lochen soon recovered.

Spiritual guidance of the Shungsep nunnery relied very much on Lochen, who came to be known as Shungsep Jetsun. One day a young girl came to see her and asked her to be ordained. She was accepted as a novice and named Urgyen Chözom. Soon after she had begun the preliminary practices, everyone realized she was exceptionally gifted and hard-working. In a short time, she had memorized one of the principal Dzogchen texts, Tri Kunzang Lama Shelung by Patrul Rinpoche.  She rapidly became capable of leading the classes on all the texts and the lama at Shungseb began to hope that this girl would succeed him as throneholder.

Because of Urgyen Chözom’s increasing responsibilities, Shungsep Jetsun had more time for retreat. She spent one year meditating on White Tara, after which she gave a series of oral transmissions which included, the brief, intermediate and extensive Perfection of Wisdom Sutras in twelve volumes, the collections of precious sutras and tantras known as Sungdu and the Seven Treasures of Longchenpa, and its commentary, the Songs of Milarepa and the Songs of Shakpar Rinpoche. Following these transmissions, she would break down the ritual cakes that had been offered, roll them into small pellets and put them in her soup. This is what she mostly lived on, boasting that it was tastier than the noodle soup of the Lhasa aristocracy.

In the Autumn, following a Phurba retreat, she gave her annual teachings, mainly on some of preliminary practices of the Nyingma. These teachings involved trying to separate and clearly identify, the worldly and the transcendental aspects of one’s own mindstream. These techniques, which can be taught from texts, are the best explained from experience. Mastering these doctrines is the most useful at the time of death. If the practitioner is unable to discriminate between the various appearances that arise at death, then he will be led by his karma and winds to another existence. By clearly identifying and recognizing what appears before him, he has a chance of becoming liberated. Shungsep Jetsun had great mastery over these techniques and was particularly capable of experiencing and teaching them simultaneously. That year, as she was giving such teachings she suddenly became seriously ill and died. Her teacher Semnyi Rinpochey was about to perform the transference of consciousness, when a lama called Sargu Rinpochey advised that it was not yet appropriate, as there was still some warmth at her heart.

During that short period of death, Lochen had an opportunity to sharpen her practice of the subtle primordial awareness. She then suddenly returned to life and her disciples requested Semnyi Rinpochey to perform long-life rituals for her. He became very angry and chose to give her the wrathful aspect of Guru Rinpochey, Garuda, and Hayagriva, and performed the long-life ritual of the essence of the five Buddha families. Placing the vase on Shungsebma’s head and the vajra in her hand, he said scoldingly, “If you don’t live long your disciples will accuse me of killing you! They will wage war against me!” Then he appealed, “You must stay for a period of 100 years, like Machig Labdron.” Since this was her guru’s order, she had no choice but obey, and her illness disappeared.

The mistakes of some of his followers caused Semnyi Rinpoche to fall ill one winter. Though he usually opposed long life rituals, he consented to let his disciples do one for him, and he recovered after a month. However, his recovery was short lived, and two months later, on the first of the third month, he passed away.

Every year Shungseb Jetsun performed many prayers and rituals for her deceased lama. She had two stupas erected, one made of silver and one made of clay. The silver stupa was given to Yarlun Tsering Jong in accordance with the lama’s last instructions. The clay stupa and an image of Semnyi Rinpochey made by Sagur Rinpochey became the main objects of worship in Shungsep nunnery.

Now that her lama had passed away and her mother had died, Shungsep Jetsun thought that she should make a pilgrimage to Kailash as Trulshig Rinpoche had instructed her sometime ago. She made secret preparations, consulting only her closest disciples. Just as she was about to leave, Sagur Rinpochey and some of Semnyi Rinpochey’s other disciples came to know of her plans. They refused to allow her to go, saying that Semnyi Rinpochey had held the special seat of Longchen Rabjampa and that she should help them preserve the monastery’s tradition and agree to be his heir. She conceded and accepted the position. She gave many teachings and the number of disciples increased. Though the monastery had 300 residents, nuns and some monks, thousands came to attend her teachings.

In the year of the iron sheep (1930), the Dzogchen Abbot Ngawang Norbu came to serve the general doctrine of the Buddha, and the doctrine of Longchen Rabjampa in particular. He gave extensive teachings to the local people advising them that the best way to ensure the flourishing of the doctrine was to become ordained and many agreed to take vows. Shungsep Jetsun made several religious robes from yellow cloth she had and gave them to the poorer disciples. After the ordination the Abbot told them that merely taking vows as not enough, disciples should know and understand the vows, how they should be kept and preserved. He then explained Ngari Penchen Pema Wangyel’s Clear Realization of the Three Vows.

Urgyen Chözom had become a learned and highly realized nun, sharing many of the virtuous qualities of Shungsep Jetsun. Unfortunately, she suddenly fell seriously ill and died. Shungsep Jetsun sang many songs lamenting the death of one so young and well qualified.

Sometimes when she was in retreat, disciples visited her, seeking special teachings. One, Tenzin Yeshe, came to perform self-initiation after completing a retreat meditating on Avalokiteshvara. Although the cave had walls, he could only feel empty space and walked right through them. While performing the self-initiation he saw Shungsep Jetsun in the form of Avalokiteshvara with one thousand arms, and thought, ‘What are all those arms for?’ Returning to his own retreat house, for nearly a week his mind never turned towards food or mundane activities. Everywhere he looked the space was filled with deities and he found himself speaking religious words he had never thought of before. His mind remained in a clear and blissful nonconceptual state and he experienced happiness as if he were in a pure land. He felt that anything could appear if one’s vision was pure.

After the young reincarnation of Semnyi Rinpochey had been found, Shungsep Jetsun gave him a Chö initiation and some objects that had belonged to him in his previous incarnation.

Not much later, Shungsep Jetsun again fell ill and died for one night. During that time, she experienced the full appearance of the 100 peaceful and wrathful deities. She found herself in a happy valley, where she met someone with a human body and a horse’s head, who said he was the king of the Gandharvas. ‘Where is this country?’ she asked. He said ‘This is hell,’ pointing to the empty throne of the Lord of Death.

The next day, while she slept she had a vision of many beautifully adorned women who lifted her up and carried her away through different pure lands. She had one hundred silver coins with which she intended to build a stupa. The Lama Arapatsa came and with one of her disciples he built a stupa which disintegrated after one month. They then invited a Geshey from Drepung to make a victory stupa. Many non-human beings made offerings and some of them made prophecies. One, adopting a human aspect, said there were great obstacles to the building of the stupa, and great danger in attempting to erect it again. Shungsep Jetsun made strong prayers, but even so two or three times people were buried by rocks, although they were uninjured.

Due to these visions, she realized that to attain Buddhahood one must collect great merit and purify unwholesome deeds. And unless one has a very firm understanding of emptiness, all these virtues alone will not give rise to liberation. She realized that a practitioner’s degree of realization can decline. She told herself, ‘I shouldn’t possess all these worldly things and be so involved with composite phenomena.’ She encouraged herself in a series of verses:

As a novice I determined
To follow Mila and Gyalwa Longchenpa
In cutting off the self-centred mind
For the sake of enlightenment.

I wandered everywhere begging for alms in my youth
And engaged in worldly activities as I grew old.

The desires of patrons had to be fulfilled inadvertedly
When they made offerings of their worldly possessions.

Though I meant to accumulate merit
I was unsure whether I did virtue
Unless I realized the nature of unconditioned phenomena.

Slack and lazy though I may be
In my religious practice,
Through the power of my master’s blessings
May I overcome all obstacles.

One day, in the earth tiger year (1938), Shungsep Jetsun’s disciples received a message that the Regent of Reting Rinpochey wished to meet her. Because he was the Regent, they advised that she should call on him, rather than let Reting Rinpochey call on her. She was old and ailing and needed to be carried on someone’s back. While they were preparing to leave for Lhasa, Reting Rinpochey appeared at the door by himself. He asked her, ‘How long have you been here? How old are you?’ She told him, ‘When I came I had a mouth full of teeth and a head full of black hair. Now all the hair has turned white and my mouth empty.’ Then he asked, ’What is the core of your practice?’ ‘The core of my practice is ‘ra-don’,’ accidentally slipped out of her mouth. It was a very sarcastic remark, ‘ra’ for Reting and’ don’ for devil and she wondered whether she should repeat it if he asked. That she had unintentionally uttered this comment was an evil premonition concerning Reting Rinpochey. When the troubles at Sera took place, she realized that that was what she had been referring to.

During the iron-snake year (1941) Shungsep Jetsun was visited by the official Manager of the Great Prayer Festival, Dorjey Damdul and his wife Namgyel Dolkar. They asked to remain at the nunnery and receive her teachings. She replied, ‘The three great monasteries Sera, Drepung, and Ganden are full of great bodhisattvas. Why are you so helpless that you ignore them and come to me with this request? You are being foolish behaving in this way,’ and sent them away. They regularly returned to visit her and renew their request. Telling her they felt worldly life to be senseless, impermanent and unpredictable, they begged her to help them to make best use of their lives.

She finally replied that, although she had no qualities to help people, she could not refuse an earnest request. She said she would pray Tara and see what would be best for them to do. She saw that if they began religious practice it would be very successful, like the sun rising out of darkness and told them, ‘I will pray to the Jo-wo Norbu (the Shakyamuni statue in the Jokhang in Lhasa) to help me fulfil your wish. Please offer this scarf on my behalf and then begin your religious practices. You should know beforehand that there are many obstacles, so don’t ask your father what to do and don’t rely on your mother’s advice; make the decision yourself. Since this is a personal matter, you must decide on your own. You must have courage to follow in the footsteps of the holders of the tantric doctrines.’

In due course, Dorjey Damdul and his wife resigned their duties and abandoned their possessions to come to her and totally dedicate their lives to religious practice. Shungsep Jetsun became their teacher, and gradually gave them all the teachings according to the incapacity. They were very good vessels and she found that whatever she taught was suitable for them. They engaged in intensive meditation at several hermitages and gradually attained high realization.

Shungsep Jetsun had a special karmic relation with Drupchen Rinpochey and saw him in very unique ways. Once, as he was teaching the root text and commentary of Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend, serpents appeared behind his head and he took on the appearance and the voice of Nagarjuna himself. Sometimes, she saw him as having a body made of light and though she could touch his clothes, his body seemed totally insubstantial. On the occasion she received the initiation for trying to identify the nature of your own mind, a special and difficult Dzogchen practice, she had an enduring vision of the 100 deities of the mandala clearly outlined on Drupchen Rinpochey’s body.

When the 16th Karmapa visited her, he told her, ‘Since you are the real Machig, please give me a long-life initiation.’ She replied, ‘If you want to achieve immortality, you should first realize the deathless nature of your own mind.’ The Karmapa replied, ‘Please help me to recognize my own mind.’ She told him, ‘Naropa, it is not appearances which bind us, but rather the grasping nature of the mind, and grasping desire. There is nothing to be meditated upon. Since there is no object of meditation, there is no object of distraction either. Hold on to this nature of non-grasping, my heart-son.’ Then she offered him an initiation of White Tara and asked him to put on the Black Hat three times. The Karmapa offered her a long-life initiation in return.

Shungsep Jetsun was also visited by the father of the 14th Dalai Lama. She offered him the oral transmission and explanation of the mani. On another occasion, Sera Kelda Tulku came and they offered Tsok together. Then she gave him the principal practice of Shabkar Rinpochey on the deities Hayagriva and Vajra Varahi, and an explanation of the permission of the Wishfulfilling Jewel empowerment. She advised him to go into retreat for three years and keep out of trouble. He was unable to do this and returned to Sera, from where he was eventually expelled following the monastery’s rebellion against the government.

Dharma Sengey had willed that certain of his possessions should be given to Shungsep Jetsun. But when he passed away, his disciples put them into a shop to be sold instead. Years later, due to the links of karma someone bought them and offered them to her. There were thangkas, an ivory damaru, a long-life vase, and a vajra and bell. Receiving these objects that had belonged to her guru made her deeply happy and she prayed that she could uphold Machig’s sacred doctrine over many lifetimes.

One of her disciples, Genyen Tsangmo, always saw a white man accompanying Shungsep Jetsun, wherever she went. She finally told Jetsunma, who had no explanation to offer, when suddenly, a white man appeared to her. Surprised, she asked who he was. He replied, ‘Don’t you know me? I have been with you all these years, like a servant, helping you accomplish your good deeds.’ Jetsunma realized she was speaking to Tamchen, one of her protectors.

The biographies stop in 1950, although Shungsep Jetsun lived three years longer. She mainly followed Nyingma lineages, but she was remembered by all as a true practitioner of the non-partisan, Rimey, tradition, having given and received teachings from teachers of all traditions and given them to disciples of all backgrounds. People who visited her at Shungsep remember a very small woman – they say she became smaller and smaller – who could no longer walk at the end of her life. Whoever attended the rituals at her nunnery say everyone was welcome, whether laymen, women and children and all were entitled to a share of the offerings.

[Extracted from:]

[Yeshe, Kim, et al. 1991. “The Story of a Tibetan Yogini, Shungsep Jetsun 1852-1953.” In Chö-yang Vol. 4 1991. Eds. Pedron Yeshi and Jeremy Russell.]

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