Yeshe Tsogyal sacred sites in Tibet, Bhutan, and Nepal
Tsogyal Latso-Tsogyal Life-Spirit Lake
Here in the Seu valley of Drak which adjoins 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 Life-Spirit lake which miraculously overflowed and turned to milk at the time of her birth, and due to which, her parents named her, Tsogyal (Victorious Lake), thinking she might be destined to become a queen.
Today Tsogyal Latso is actually a small pond surrounded by a few retreat huts. It is revered as the life-spirit talisman of Yeshe Tsogyal and is said to reveal the secrets of the past and future in its waters. A nearby temple contains an image of Yeshe Tsogyal herself.
Samye is a magnificent temple complex established in the 8th century by Padmasambhava, King Trisong Deutsen, and Shantarakshita. Designed to resemble the mandala cosmology of the universe, the original 8th century buildings have been re-constructed throughout the centuries. Today there are four gates, four stupas, the central temple and several secondary temples.
When King Trisong Deutsen, an emanation of Manjushri, rescued Yeshe Tsogyal from her suitors, he brought her to his court here at Samye. Then he invited Guru Rinpoche who had appeared in the hills above Samye to come to Samye. On this occasion both he King and Yeshe Tsogyal became disciples of Guru Rinpoche
Throughout her life, Tsogyal passed in an out of Samye many times as this was the political capital her era. Many of these visits were associated with her key role in establishing Buddhism in Tibet and as such she was usually accompanied by Guru Rinpoche. One of her most outstanding visits was her presence at the Great Debate which was held for two years in Samye to determine if enlightenment was best attained gradually or instantly. On this occasion Tsogyal performed miracles which surpassed those of her opponents. Clearly, Yeshe Tsogyal was not a mere meditator. She played an active role in the politics of her day and as such helped shape Tibet as a Buddhist country.
Samye Chimphu-Upper Hermitages
Chimphu is a mountain retreat area above Samye revered as the sacred place of Guru Rinpoche's speech. Here, Guru Rinpoche taught his twenty-five disciples and ever since then, numerous others have had profound experiences at Chimphu. Today, there are about a hundred or so yogis in retreat.
Chimphu 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, Yeshe Tsogyal's meditation cave and that of her consort, Atsara Sale.
The first teachings Yeshe Tsogyal received from Guru Rinpoche were at Chimphu. A little further inland, at Yamalung, she received further instruction, but unfortunately we will not have time to hike to Yamalung. (See below for events that transpired at Yamalung).
Towards the end of her life, Tsogyal spent eleven continuous years at Chimphu with Guru Rinpoche. Then, after the Master left, Tsogyal herself began to teach and guide disciples here at Chimphu.
And again, later, having concealed countless treasures all over the Himalayan region, Tsogyal returned to Chimphu. Here, she taught extensively once more and gave empowerments. At one point, she invoked Guru Rinpoche who then 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.
Onphu Taktsang-Onphu Tiger Lair
A Tiger Lair is a power place established by Guru Rinpoche. They are generally powerful geomantic sites where many treasures were hidden. The three Tiger Lairs which are in Tibet are analogous to Guru Rinpoche's body, speech, and mind. Onphu Tiger Lair corresponds to his body.
The forested hillside of Onphu Tiger Lair is said to resemble Guru Rinpoche's glorious Copper-Coloured Mountain. The caves are marked with prayer flags and some are still occupied. The middle cave on the high ridge to the south is where Tsogyal once lived.
Advising Yeshe Tsogyal on her practice, Guru Rinpoche instructed her to practice first at Onphu Tiger Lair and then at the Tiger Lairs in Nepal, Khams, and so forth.
As a young maiden, it is to Onphu that Tsogyal fled to escape her suitors. Determined to avoid marriage and to dedicate herself to Dharma, she survived alone in this wilderness, wearing only cotton garments and living on fruit.
Much later, after she had mastered the eight austerities at Zhoto Tidro, she returned to Onphu Tiger Lair to meet with Guru Rinpoche. He then gave her a Vajra Kilaya empowerment and thereafter, Vajra Kilaya was her personal yidam practice.
On yet another occasion, returning to Onphu, Tsogyal met again with Guru Rinpoche who this time instructed her in longevity accomplishment and bestowed the empowerment of Amitayus.
Yarlung Sheldrak-Crystal Cave of Yarlung
A short distance south of Tsetang, Crystal Cave is one of the five major retreat places of Guru Rinpoche. It is revered as the place of his buddha qualities. Several great masters have discovered treasures here. In addition, there is a monastery, sacred springs, and great views of the Yarlung valley and Mount Yarla Shampo where Tsogyal encountered bandits and converted them into practitioners.
At Crystal Cave, Tsogyal hid five sky treasures and meditated here for thirteen months. There are three important meditation caves here: Guru Rinpoche's, Yeshe Tsogyal's secret meditation cave identified by a distant prayer flag to the south of Guru Rinpoche's cave, and the cave where Orgyen Lingpa discovered Pema Kathang, a treasure text hidden here by Yeshe Tsogyal for 600 years.
Kongpo is a low-lying, verdant, moister region of Southern Tibet. Buchu is one of the four border-taming temples built in the 7th century according to geomantic theory. Yeshe Tsogyal hid one hundred fifty treasures here. We will be in this area when we visit Lamaling, the newly re-constructed temple of Dudjom Rinpoche who often mentions in his colophons that he wrote the composition at his hermitage in Buchu.
Zhoto Tidro-Terdrom-Treasure Box of Zhoto Tidro
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. We can reach this cave by hiking a steep trail, crossing a sky burial area, and finally, climbing a limestone rock face with a rope ladder. This will be the most arduous hike of the entire pilgrimage.
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.
While training in the eight austerities, success did not come easily. Alone on the ice cliffs of Terdrom, she cried out, This is almost unbearable, but what else is there to do? There is no end to my vow. Always rejuvenated through the blessings of the Master, in due course she mastered these difficult practices. Then at the Guru's advice, she travelled to Nepal to find her spiritual consort. returning to Tidro with Atsara Sale, the Master appeared in the sky and initiated Sale, after which the Tsogyal and Sale continued to practiced at Tidro.
Regarding the outer practices, Tsogyal remarked, My body has become the deity, my speech Mantra, and my mind Buddha. Regarding the inner practices, she declared that her body, a mere pile of atoms, had been transformed into Mount Meru! Many years later, Tsogyal returned to Tidro for six more years just to practice the path of Atiyoga's "crossing over". 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 with many examples of outstanding compassion, for example 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.
The drive to Zabu from Lhasa is amazing. It includes crossing the high Zhugu La pass at 17,893 ft.!
Located in Shang, the hidden Zabu valley lies in the middle of a mandala of five valleys consecrated by Guru Rinpoche. It is the most revered pilgrimage site in Western Tibet. Renowned also for spectacular hot springs, we will find the meditation caves of Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal.
Tsogyal 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-Colored Mountain from the peak of Zabu.
Here she uttered the well-known verse, If you know Yeshe Tsogyal, you know she resides in the hearts of all beings, and manifests in all realms and all sense fields, and incarnates again and again. You know that we are inseparable. . . but if you do not know me, you are tied to outside appearances.
At the end of her life, some people saw her dissolve into a basket of pearls, some saw her body disappear, and some say that all that remained were small white relics which the King gathered up and placed into an urn. She had attained the rainbow body in Zabulung!
YESHE TSOGYAL SACRED SITES IN TIBET WE'RE NOT VISITING
East of Samye, this is one of four sacred hills in Tibet. it was here that Guru Rinpoche bound the forces under oath to the service of Buddhism. We will see it in the distance from Samye.
Hepori is where a Bon queen attempted to poison Tsogyal.
Kharchu at Lhodrak
This the sacred place of Guru Rinpoche's mind. Tsogyal returned here after the Master foretold that she would leave this world in fifty years. She gave Anuyoga instructions here and herself meditated, attaining the fourth and final realization of Ati Great Perfection.
Tsari-Pure Crystal Mountain
Located in south-eastern Tibet on the border with India, this is the tantric power-place par excellent with four sacred lakes and four central peaks. Identified as one of the twenty-four great power places in this universe, it is difficult to access mostly for political reasons. This is a pilgrimage onto itself for the future! The mountain is 5,735 m.
Tsogyal spent 16 months here hiding thirty great sky treasures.
Although Yamalung is a short distance from Samye Chimphu, there is not enough time to visit this remote hermitage. Nevertheless, it is an important place for both Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal. 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.
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.
This ethereal mountain dominates the Yarlung valley. Hopefully, we will see it in the distance from Sheldrak. Yarla Shampo is one of the four chief mountain gods of Tibet.
It is in the area of Yarla Sampo that Tsogyal was accosted by bandits and converted them into practitioners through the sheer force of her faith and speech.
Rongme Karmo Tiger Lair of Khams
Yeshe Tsogyal visited here with Guru Rinpoche.
The name Jomo (Lady) was given to this mountain in honor of Yeshe Tsogyal and the 1000 nuns who lived with her at Jomonang on the riverside road from Zhigatse to Lhatse. She also hid treasures there.
A forked snow peak to the south of the Yarlung Tsangpo river. Three hundred disciples of Tsogyal gathered here to practice with her.
At one point, Tsogyal lived here with 100 male disciples and 1300 female disciples. Near Shigatse.
YESHE TSOGYAL SACRED SITES IN BHUTAN (MONKHA)
Tsogyal gathers healing nectar.
This is the sacred place of Guru Rinpoche's buddha activities.
Having made the commitment to meditate without speaking and without moving, Tsogyal sat in lotus posture without distraction. She conquered demons and the accomplishments arose.
Paro Tiger Lair
Yeshe Tsogyal came here with Guru Rinpoche and remained to practice the Heruka sadhanas and Anuyoga. She brought the Bhutanese dakini Tashi Kyidren here.
In 1929, His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche received the Dakini Heart Essence here.
YESHE TSOGYAL SACRED SITES IN NEPAL
The village of Godavari is on the far edge of the Kathmandu valley in an area left largely unspoiled by development. Steep wooded hills rise up from the valley floor. Snow peaks can be seen on the distant horizon. From the base of the hillsides clear springs bubble up and become rushing streams meandering between mature oaks and alders. One spring is especially sacred to the goddess in the form of Yeshe Tsogyal. A small shrine with Buddhist and Hindu statues, offerings of vermilion sandal paste and flowers surround the clear pools where fish swim.
On the border of Tibet and Nepal, Tsogyal arrived here with Guru Rinpoche riding upon the sun's rays. They remained in a secret cave for seventy-three days practicing Great Perfection. Tsogyal remained here to practice. Guru Rinpoche predicted that she would accomplish the Ati realizations at Zhoto Tidro and Zabulung and then benefit beings for the next 200 years.
This is where one of the most famous of Tsogyal's realizations occurred. Through her experience of Guru Rinpoche leaving this world, she realized the utter meaninglessness of being together with or apart from the Master. After this, she went to Mang, an area north of the Kathmandu valley.