The pilgrimage destinations of Yeshe Tsogyal's life story are intimately connected with the renowned spiritual hermitages of the Tibetan heartlands — from her birthplace at Drakda Latso, to the sanctuaries of Yamalung, Chimphu, and Zhoto Tidro where she perfected her practices; to the Crystal Cave of Yarlung Sheldrak, one of her foremost repositories of hidden teachings (terma), and finally to the remote hermitage of Zabbulung in Western Tibet where she attained the supreme transformation of the rainbow body.
Along the way, the pilgrimage also visits places and temples associated with the Nyingma lineage and the life of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche such as Mindroling, Dorje Drak, Longchenpa's hermitage of Gangri Tokar, Draksum Tsodzong, and Lamaling.
The concept for this pilgrimage was developed by Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo. After careful research and planning with Dr. Gyurme Dorje of Trans Himalaya, the first pilgrimage took place in May, 2009. Free of major obstacles and filled with blessings, we discovered that pilgrimage begins the moment you decide to go and after that, it never ends--your experiences and the blessings of those sacred places remain with you forever, inspiring and guiding you to the culmination of the Vajrayana path. During the pilgrimage, there is time for touring and hiking as well as teachings, meditation, and other Dharma activities.
Sunday, Oct 10:
Chengdu, China (1,640 feet) This city of 11 million, is the capital of Sichuan in Western China and an important economic center. On arrival at the international airport, each person will be met by a Trans Himalaya staff member.Our hotel is the Zen Buddha Hotel adjacent to the famous thousands-year old Wenshuyuan Buddhist Temple. Zen Buddha offers vegetarian cuisine and affordable spa services. There will be a Welcome Dinner.
Monday, Oct 11:
Fly to Gongkar, Southern Tibet: (11,000 feet) This is a truly memorable flight, crossing the great snow ranges of Eastern Tibet and the mighty river gorges of the Yangtze, Mekong and Salween. 1 hour 45 minutes; tickets arranged by Trans Himalaya.
Dorje Drak Monastery, the seat of the Northern Treasures founded in the 14th century. Revered copper-colored Mountain int he background.
Drakda Tsogyal Latso: In the Seu valley of Drak adjoining the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra river, near the small village of Drakda, Yeshe Tsogyal was born amid several miraculous signs. Amid a grove of tall silver oaks, we will find the Tsogyal Latso, spring-fed pond which manifested at the time of Tsogyal’s birth. It is regarded as her talismanic or life-energy lake and considered to be prophetic, revealing the secrets of past and future events. During the Cultural Revolution, much was destroyed here and the Latso itself was used as a cess pool. The Latso has been cleaned several times and the whole area is being restoration. Nearby, is the birthplace of Nubchen Sangye Yeshe, one of the foremost disciples of Guru Rinpoche and custodian of the Anuyoga teachings in Tibet.
Next to the Latso, the Life-Energy lake of Yeshe Tsogyal, is Kazhima Lhakhang, a small temple containing images of Guru Rinpoche, Vajrayogini, and Yeshe Tsogyal, as well as several Yeshe Tsogyal stone imprints of her hands. The temple serves as the focal point for a small group of twelve nuns. Nearby, a newly restored stupa commemorates Yeshe Tsogyal’s birth, and next to the stupa, there is tree believed to be Tsogyal’s energy life-force tree offered to her at the time of her birth by the nagas. There is also a large uterine shaped spring bubbling with the secret breast milk of Yeshe Tsogyal.Camping in a scenic and beautiful valley.
Tuesday, Oct 12:
Tsogyal Latso: We remain at the Latso. Same campsite.
Wednesday, Oct 13:
Zurkhardo: After we have spent the morning and lunched at the Latso, we will drive to Samye, stopping along the way at the Zurkhardo stupas built by Shantaraksita to commemorate the place where King Drison Detsen first met Guru Rinpoche. There are five resplendent stupas representing the Five Lineages of Enlightenment.
New Samye Monastery Hotel
Our hotel is the new Samye Monastery Hotel. Trans-Himalaya will cook in the courtyard where our dinning tents will be pitched.
Thursday, Oct 14:
Yamalung, 13,400 feet: This is an important place for Guru Rinpoche, Bairotsana and Yeshe Tsogyal that we did not visit last year. It is here, when Tsogyal was 16 years old, that Guru Rinpoche taught her the Tripitaka, the basics of Buddhism, and bestowed the first tantric empowerments along with the sacred commitments. Afterwards, Tsogyal meditated here, assimilated the teachings, and achieved a high degree of understanding. The goddess Saraswasti appeared to her in a vision and graced her with complete retention of what ever she was taught. Guru Rinpoche concealed many treasures (terma).
Reflecting on her experiences at Yamalung, Yeshe Tsogyal said, "I received all the teachings as if the contents of one vessel were being transferred into another". At the end of this period, Tsogyal returned to Samye and then journeyed to Zhoto Tidro which was to become her principal place of practice. She returned to Yamalung several times and hides secret treasures.We spend our second night at the New Samye Monastery Hotel.
Friday, Oct 15:
Samye Mandala: This was the first Buddhist monastery built in Tibet during the reign of King Trisong Detsen (8th century). The complex is a representation of the Buddhist universe with the main temple and its surrounding branch temples representing Mt. Meru and the continents that surround it. The original buildings have been re-constructed throughout the centuries. Today there are four gates, four stupas, the central temple and several secondary temples.
We have the entire day to visit the temples, circumambulate, and visit Hepori Hill, revered throughout Tibet as an important geomantic power-place, from which Guru Rinpoche brought the inimical forces under allegiance to Buddhism at the time of the monastery’s original construction. Climbing to the summit of Hepori offers a bird’s eye view of the entire Samye complex. Hepori is where a Bon queen attempted to poison Tsogyal.
When King Trisong Detsen, an emanation of Manjushri, rescued Yeshe Tsogyal from her suitors, he brought her to his court at Samye. Then he invited Guru Rinpoche who had appeared in the hills above Samye to come to his court. On this occasion, both he King and Yeshe Tsogyal became disciples of Guru Rinpoche. Yeshe Tsogyal returned to Samye many times to play an active role in the politics of her day and as such contributed significantly to transforming Tibet into a Buddhist country. One of her most outstanding feats occured at the Great Debate, during which she performed miracles surpassing those of her the non-Buddhists. The temple of the Great Debate can be visited.We will spend our third night at the new Samye Monastery Hotel.
Saturday, Oct 16:
Chimphu Hermitage: This mountain retreat above Samye is revered as the sacred place of Guru Rinpoche’s speech. This is where he taught the Twenty-Five Disciples and where numerous disciples had profound realizations. Today, there are a hundred or more yogis, men and women, living there in retreat. As we hike through Chimphu, there are many occasions to meet with them and make personal offerings.
Chimphu view from Tsogyal's hermitageThe topography of Chimphu has a profound outer, inner, and secret meaning in Vajrayana. It boasts many significant sites, such as a 15 meter-high Copper-Coloured Mountain rock, rock-impressions of Guru Rinpoche's hat and Yeshe Tsogyal's foot. The cave of Drakmar Keutsang is where Guru Rinpoche bestowed the first Vajrayana empowerment to his eight disciples including Yeshe Tsogyal. It is also here that Jigme Lingpa, through a series of visions, received the Longchen Nying-thik transmission in the 18th century.
In the upper reaches of Chimphu, one finds Longchenpa’s cave and Tsogyal Zimpuk where Tsogyal practiced with her consort, Atsara Sale. On the descent, we pass the funerary stupa marking the place where Longchen Rabjampa passed away in 1365.
Yeshe Tsogyal took her first Buddhist vows at Chimphu in the presence of Guru Rinpoche and returned there many times throughout her life. We will visit her southern cave where she spent twelve years in retreat. Later in her life, after concealing countless treasures all over the Himalayan region, she returned to Chimphu, teaching and bestowing empowerments. While she was there, she invoked Guru Rinpoche who appeared from the southwest in the midst of a brilliant light and predicted Tibet's future as well as Tsogyal's passing from the world.
Yarlung River HotelTsetang 11,650 feet: Leaving Chimphu, we drive to Tsetang on the south bank of the Yarlung Tsangpo River. Tsetang was the fourteenth and fifteenth century capital of Tibet. Today it is the fourth largest city in Tibet and the springboard for visiting the sacred sites of the Yarlung Valley.Our hotel is the Yarlung River Hotel.
Sunday, Oct 17(Guru Rinpoche Day)
Sheldrak Crystal Cave 14,750 feet: Leaving Tsetang on the way to Sheldrak, we will circumambulate the stupa called Tsechu Bumpa, Vessel of Longevity Water, one of the three sacred stupas of Yarlung. It is said to have at its core, a rock-crystal Buddha image from India, which was presented to King Trisong Detsen. Some believe it contains the armour of King Songtsen Gampo. On full moon days the stupa is said to exude the water of life. Circumambulation of this stupa has long marked the beginning or end of a pilgrimage to Sheldrak
Sheldrak is the sacred place of Guru Rinpoche’s attributes, nestled high in the craggy summits. Founded in the 14th century by the treasure-finder Sangye Lingpa, it contains images of Guru Rinpoche with his two foremost consorts, the Eight Manifestations, and Karmapa Rangjung Dorje. The crystal of this site is a highly polished blackish green rock onthe cave floor. Above the temple, there are three important cave hermitages: the main one is Sheldrak Drubpuk, the first of Guru Rinpoche’s meditation caves in Tibet, from where the indigenous hostile forces and demons were bound under an oath of allegiance to Buddhism.
Some beings are born lucky! Sheldrak the hermitage here offers a panoramic view of the entire Yarlung valley, with the sacred snow peak of Mount Yarlha Shampo in the distance. Nearby is Pema Shelpuk, the celebrated site where Orgyen Lingpa revealed Yeshe Tsogyal’s biography of Guru Rinpoche, Pema Katang, and the spring containing water of accomplishment reputedly brought forth by Nyak Jnanakumara, one of the Twenty-Five disciples. Tsogyel Sangpuk, a secret meditation cave of Yeshe Tsogyal, is identified by a distant prayer flag to the south. Tsogyal hid five sky treasures at Sheldrak and meditated here for thirteen months.
Tradruk: Tibet’s oldest geomantic temple, dating from the reign of King Songtsen Gampo built in order to press down the limbs of the supine body of an ogress on which Tibet is believed to be situated.Return to the Yarlung River Hotel for the second night.
Monday, Oct 18:
Mindroling Temple: Leaving Tsetang, we will visit Mindroling, one of the six main Nyingma temples in Tibet, founded in 1670 by Terdak Lingpa who authored the well known verse of Pure Vision. His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche spent much time at Mindroling. He practiced the ritual tradition of Mindroling, famed for its sacred art and quality incense. Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche also studied there for nine years. The ritual tradition of Lama Tharchin Rinpoche is also Mindroling.
Zabbulung: Guru Rinpoche is said to have consecrated five entire valleys for Buddhist practice in each of the four cardinal directions and one at their centre. Zabbulung valley (15, 000 ft.) lies in the middle of this grand design, and as such is the most revered power place of Western Tibet. The topography of Zabbulung is said to have twelve special features which represent the Master, the King and so forth. Jnanasukha is now translating the Pilgrimage Guide to Zabbulung, so we will know even more about this wonderful place this year that we did last year.
ZabbulungTsogyal came here after Guru Rinpoche left this world, initially for a twelve-month period to hide treasures. Later, she returned with her disciples, meditated here for another ten years to complete her Ati Great Perfection training, and then left this world for Guru Rinpoche's Copper-Coloured Mountain from the peak of Zabbu. The main temple provides easy access to the extraordinary hands-in-prayer-mudra cave in which both Yeshe Tsogyal and Atsara Sale attained the rainbow body.
The inner sanctum of the temple houses a “speaking” image of Guru Rinpoche (Guru Sungjonma), which in the 18thcentury is said to have advised the hermits to flee and escape death at the hands of the zealous Mongols. Throughout history, important Nyingmapa masters have undergone profound spiritual experiences here: Dorje Lingpa (1346-1405) and Lhatsun Namka Jigme (b 1597) among them. Currently there are about sixty yogis in residence at Zabbulung.Camping in view of the temple and the Copper-Colored Rock.
Tuesday, Oct 19:
We will remain at Zabbulung. Same campsite.
Wednesday, Oct. 20:
Zhigatse: Spending our last morning at Zabbulung, we will drive to Zhigatse, 12, 664 feet. The second largest city in Tibet, Zhigatse is simple a stop-over to our next destination.Arrivng in the afternoon, we will be staying at the Manasarovar Hotel with Tibetan, Chinese, and Western cuisine!
Thursday, Oct 21:
Shugseb: This important Nyingma nunnery was originally constructed by Machik Labron in the eleventh century. The female incarnations of Shugseb are considered emanations of Yeshe Tsogyal. There are currently 250 nuns living there.
Gangri Tokar: A one-hour hike from Shugseb Nunnery, this area is said to represent the contours of Vajravarahi. The great Nyingma master, Longchenpa, meditated here, edited his termas, and composed The Seven Treasuries and the Three Trilogies here. There is a temple and further uphill various hermitages favorable for the practice of Thogal.
Lhasa. PotalaIn the evening, we arrive at Lhasa, 12,000 feet. Along the way we will stop at the famous hot springs at the entry of Zabbulung which were inaccessible last year. Lhasa is the capital of Tibet in ancient, medieval, and modern times. It dates back to the 7th century when King Songtsen Gampo moved his capital from the Yarlung valley to Lhasa after unifying Tibet. Located on the north bank of Kyichu river, it is the cultural centre of Tibet.Our hotel in Lhasa will be the Heritage or Himalaya Hotel.
Friday, Oct 22: (full moon)
Jokhang Temple: Tibet’s most sacred Buddhist shrine and geomantic temple containing a renowned image of Jowo Shakyamuni.Barkhor is Tibet’s largest traditional marketplace, through which throngs of pilgrims continue to circumambulate the Jokhang. Provides an opportunity to mingle with devout Tibetan pilgrims who converge here from all remote areas of the plateau.Our second night at the Heritage or Himalaya Hotel.
Saturday, Oct 23:
Potala Palace: The enormous thirteen-storied winter residence of the Dalai Lamas was reconstructed in its present form during the seventeenth century. It is considered one of the great wonders of the world.Lukhang Temple: Located on an island behind the Potala Palace, which contains a unique series of murals illustrating themes from Tibetan operas and esoteric yoga practices.Our third night at the Heritage or Himalaya Hotel.
Sunday, Oct 24:
Zhoto Tidro, 14,750 feet: From Lhasa, we drive to the upper reaches of the Kyi-chu valley to the sanctuary of Zhoto Tidro, also known as Terdrom, among the most favored of YesheTsogyal’s hermitages—the place where she secretly hid with Guru Rinpoche in order to escape banishment from the kingdom, the place where she received most of her empowerments and instructions and then practised the yoga of the inner heart and naked austerities for many years. She also practiced here with Atsara Sale.
Zhoto TidroToday there is a large nunnery with their abbess, the elderly Khandroma, an emanation of Yeshe Tsogyal. Nearby there are medicinal hot-springs created by Guru Rinpoche. The average temperature of the water is 40°C.
An arduous hike which takes about 10-12 hours for a round trip, takes one to Kiri Yangdzong, an immense cavern with active hermitages and important meditation caves, the most significant being the Tsogyal Sangpuk, where Yeshe Tsogyel practiced and spent many years in retreat. This hike will be optional.
Dramatically located in the cliff of two mountains with hot springs, this sacred site is known as a gathering place of dakinis. "Opened" by Guru Rinpoche, it is the chief place where Yeshe Tsogyal meditated and emerged a great siddha. She also concealed important treasures here. This is the most significant of all the sites associated with Yeshe Tsogyal whether in Tibet, Bhutan, or Nepal.
Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal first came to Zhoto Tidro to escape the hostile political forces around Samye. In this protected safe-haven, Guru Rinpoche bestowed empowerments and teachings in what is called Tsogyal's secret cave, Kiri Yangdzong.
Here, Tsogyal received the Khandro Nying Thig and was instructed in the outer and inner practices (Mahayoga and Anuyoga). During the empowerments, she underwent a series of exceptional experiential transformations and was given special names, such as Tsogyal of Great Bliss, to mark her purifications and transitions.
Many years later, Tsogyal returned to Tidro for six more years just to practice the path of Atiyoga's Thogal. As predicted, at Tidro, she attained three of the four manifest appearances of this consummate path. Tsogyal's final training, taking on the suffering of others, also began at Tidro. According to her biography, this period was marked withmany examples of outstanding compassion, such as giving her knee caps to three beggars and making love with a lonely leper.
Guru Rinpoche gave many prophecies at Tidro including that Tsogyal would have five incarnations and thirty times would prolong the existence of the Dharma in the world.We will be camping a short drive from the site.
Monday, Oct 25:
We remain at Zhoto Tidro. Same campsite.
Tuesday, Oct 26:
TsodzongDraksum Tsodzong: Driving to the south and coming down in elevation, we arrive at this sacred site of the Nyingma, an island in the midst of Draksum, an emerald alpine lake surrounded by 19,000 ft. mountains. Tsodzong (Lake Dharma Fortress) is the birthplace of the 14th century treasure revealer, Sangye Lingpa. There are many earlier associations with Padmasambhava, King Trisong Detsen, and Gesar of Ling. Many sacred artefacts still remain including images, self-manifest syllables, stone prints, and manuscripts. His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche taught at Tsodzong and his personal hermitage remains. Rinpoche restored the Tsodzong temple statues that were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and his family continued to care for Tsodzong after he left Tibet.We overnight at the Tsodzong Hotel.
Wednesday, Oct. 27:
Bayi: In the morning, we will visit Tsodzong and in the afternoon drive further south to Bayi, 9,827 feet.Our hotel is the Shambhala.
Thursday, Oct. 28:
Buchu Sergyi Lhakhang: Buchu is one of the four border-taming temples built in the 7th century according to geomantic theory. This temple was restored by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche. Yeshe Tsogyal hid one hundred fifty treasures in the area of Buchu.
Temple Lamaling, 10,000 feet, is the seat of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche Jigdral Yeshe Dorje, the former head of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, now under the guidance of his son-in-law Chonyi Rinpoche. The main temple is Zangdok Palri, a Copper-Colored Mountain style temple with exquisite statues and beautiful wooden floors. The gardens of Lamaling are paradisiacal compared to central Tibet. There are several areas to visit here besides the temple, including Dechenteng, a site donated to Dudjom Rinpoche by Midnroling. This is also where Lama Tharchin Rinpoche studied with His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche in the course of a three-year group retreat and a five-year solitary retreat nearby.Return to the Shambhala Hotel. Farewell dinner.
Friday, Oct 29:
Chengdu Drive to Nyangtri Airport and fly to Chengdu, arriving by noon to catch connecting flights home or optionally, stay over at the Zen Buddha Hotel (extra $59). Since there can be delays on the Gongkar-Chengdu flight, leave lots of time for your connection or plan to stay over until the next day.
The upcoming Jnanasukha pilgrimage in October is a rare and unique opportunity to create a personal connection with our larger Sangha in Tibet, to whom we are eternally grateful. Like all Buddhist practices, the power of pilgrimage depends on faith. If we have faith, then certainly, participating in a pilgrimage in any way, shape, or form brings great benefit to oneself and others. Our itinerary brings us into close contact with lamas, hermit-yogins, and monastics at Chimphu, Tsogyal Latso, Yarlung Sheldrak, Zabbulung, and Terdrom Zhoto Tidro. These are isolated places where offerings are especially important and where individuals can greatly benefit from an offering of $15. In addition, we will be making offerings at Samye and other significant Nyingma temples such as Mindroling, Dorje Drak, and Lamaling, residence of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche.
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