The Story of a Tibetan Yogini (Part 2 of 2)

18 February 2010 - 1:40am Comments Off

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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 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 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 pulses, 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 the principal Dzogchen texts, Tri Kunzang Lama Shelung by Patrul Rinpoche.  She rapidly became a 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 if 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 vest 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 discovery 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 were 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 and 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 and 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 Tibetan Buddhism’s Spiritual Head. 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 passions 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.

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