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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Where is Guru Rinpoche's Bhutan?

July 20, 2010

Dasho Karma Ura
Kuensel Online (Bhutan)

Part 1:  Many Sources on Guru’s Life
June 19, 2010

21st June marks the birth anniversary of Guru,
the son of King Indrabhuti in some accounts, or
the lad of lotus blossom in most accounts , born
in Udiyana in a place that we cannot identify exactly now.

His emergence out of a lotus flower may escape
the understanding of history and science, or even
anthropology. But to deny multiple meanings and
realities is uni-dimensionally narrow. The
awesome life, travels, works and ideas of Guru
are subject of numerous terma biographies,
revealed by Nyangrel Nima Yoser (1124-1192), Guru
Choewang (1212-1270), Ugyen Lingpa (b.1323), and
Pemalingpa (1450-1526). There is one written by
Jonang Taranatha (1575-1634) from Indian sources.
Jamgon Kongtrul (1813-1899), who came from a Bon
family, added a Bon version of Guru’s biography
(Ngawang Zangpo 2002). The terma biographies are
rich literature written in allusive, metaphorical
language. Among them, Ugyen Lingpa’s Padma
Kathang is crowning jewel of many colours:
lyrical, stirring, vast, shocking, raw, baffling,
mysterious, tense and inhumanly brilliant.

Other books yield direct, additional information
about Guru’s life. Guru’s relationship with
Bhutan (Monyul) is clearer from biographies of
other individuals. The Hagiography of Sindharaza
and Clear Mirror of Prediction’ by terton Ugyen,
who was an emanation of Denma Tsemang, is a key
text. A version of this story was documented
first by a certain Tibetan terton Molmokhyil
(1087-1146), and incorporated into Jamgon
Kongtrul’s (1813-1899) Rinchenterdzod in 1880
(Aris 1979: 50-82). The terma biography of Guru
by Pemalingpa (1450-1526); the biography of
Yeshey Tshogyal, originally written by Gyalwa
Jangchub and Namkhai Nyingpo but revealed as
terma by Taksam; the fragments of biography and
works of Terton Sherab Member (contemporary of
Ugyen Lingpa and Longchen’s root lama Rinzin
Kumara raza, hence much before Pema Lingpa); the
biography of Ratna Lingpa (1403-1478), the author
who redacted Nyingma Gyudbum (100,000 tantras of Nyingma) are useful sources.

Vajrayana Vision of Human Potentials

Guru is still active, through his promised
appearances in the pure vision of adherents,
particularly on his birthdays. As a dharmakaya
figure (chos sku), Guru exists in the fourth or
primal time that is not past, present or future.
Through his real activities in the 8th century
and emanations’ deeds, he animated consciousness
of accomplished practitioners and nourished a
particular kind of civilization in this country
known as Monyul in his time. The complex concept
of chos sku represents both a potential for human
existence (Samuel G. 1993: 19) and a social,
economic and cultural pattern that favour the
realization of the Vajrayana view of human
potentials. There are now other competing views
of human existence and potentials which drive the
activities of the people and the State. But the
Vajrayana view of human potentials was what Guru
brought to us in the 8th century, along with an
approach to structuring the mind towards
non-duality and the cultivation of a different kind of consciousness.

Guru came at a moment in history, the 8th
century, when tantric practices dominated
Buddhism in India. The word, Vajrayana, itself
had appeared in the tantric texts only in the
late seventh century, although tantric texts
appeared first in the 3rd century (Williams P.
2000: 194-199). Guru’s coming Bhutan and Tibet
was of gigantic socio-economic and political
consequences, beyond his introduction of sutra
and mantra. Tantra-based Buddhism he brought
oriented people towards an alternative state of
consciousness about a more humane relationship
among people and between people and the natural
order. This alternative consciousness emerged
from shamanic process that led practitioners into
visionary states or revelation (see Samuel 1993:
363-377 for an extensive discussion on shamanic
process). Samuel contrasted shamanic process with
rationalized process. The word shamanic, being
associated with pawo and nenjom, is likely to be
misunderstood in Bhutan without a couple of
examples. Key Buddhist practices can be seen as
shamanic. Insight meditation is a shamanic method
to enter into a visionary state. Buddha’s
overcoming of Mara’s attack was a shamanic
control that Guru repeated with his symbolic
control over spirits over and over again. A
wandering ascetic like Thangtong Gyelpo
(1385–1464?) or Drukpa Kunlay (1455-1529) was an
enlightened shaman drawing authority and
inspiration from beyond the organized, monastic structures.

Against this broader background, Vajrayana
variety Guru brought can be seen as particularly
more yogic, shamanic, tantric, de-centered and social centric.

As we will come across later, all of Guru’s great
heirs, such as Dorji Lingpa, Thangtong Gyelpo,
Guru Choewing, Ratna Lingpa, Sherab Member, Pema
Lingpa, Drukpa Kunley, Dudjom Rinpoche who
operated in Bhutan were part of this visionary
tradition. Others like Phajo Drukgom and
Zhabdrung Rinpoche were more clerical and
institutional. Guru’s introduction of Vajrayana
resulted in dominant national characteristics of
which a few can be discussed briefly here.

Inner and Outer Healing

The first effect we still enjoy is that our land
became broadly pacified and peaceful under the
influence of Vajrayana. It is important to
appreciate the cause of peace, just as the state
of peace itself. Because of the spread of
Buddhism by Guru and his disciples and their
disciples during both the first and second
transmissions (bstan pa snga ‘gyur dang phyi
‘gyur), a particular world view took hold and
that influenced polity and culture. The stress on
cultivation of peace within people led broadly to peace in communities.

To the North, Guru’s conversion of Tibet to
Vajrayana pacified Tibet’s imperial ambitions so
that it became a non-threatening empire, as its
polity changed (Ngawang Zangpo 2002: 87-88).
Tibetan legislation since Trisong’s reign
harmonized relatively more with Buddhist moral
principles, with certain exceptions (see Kapstein 2000: 57).

Guru brought peace to Bhutan in an overt way by
stopping the war between King Sindharaza of Mon
Bumthang and King Nauche of India. But external
peace cannot be sustained without peace at heart.

For inner development and peace, the peace
conference between the two was concluded by
giving empowerment of Druba Kagyed or the Eight
Great Herukas (sgrub pa bka brgyad), making the
two kings become friends. Guru also gave
heart-essence (snying gyi thigs pa) teachings of
‘dzogpa chenpo selwai melong’ to a 500 strong
entourage of Sindharaza and Kyikha Rathoed in
Kurjay, leading them to the fruits of
enlightenment on the spot. It was a devotional
scene reminiscent of events down the centuries
where lamas gave teachings to lay people and
nobles in the wide meadows of Kurjay. Thus
Dzogchen teachings started early in Bhutan by this account.

Enlightenment Education

The second effect of Guru’s visit to the
Himalayas was the spread of enlightenment
education through translations of Indian texts
into classical Tibetan which are read increasing
widely today among scholars. Guru was a colossal
engine of translation and transmission of works
from Indian civilization to the Himalayas. Two
chapters (87 and 88) in Padma Kathang enumerates
the translation Guru carried out with 108 Tibetan
translators and 21 Indian pandits (KMT edition of
mkha’ ‘dro Yeshey Tshogyal gyi rnam mthar 2005:
151. Hence abbreviated to KMT) at Samye under
Trisong’s magnificent patronage. Among the
sutras, almost all the classic authors studied
today like Vasubandhu, Nagarjuna, Santarakshita,
Kamalasila, Asvagosha, Chandrakirti, Dinaga,
Asanga, Shantideva, Dharmakirti, and Arya Deva
were translated at that time in Samye. The list
of tantras translated is far longer. Without the
availability of these translated texts, Buddhism
would not have cascaded down the slopes of
Himalayas and spread over the wide plateau of
Tibet. Nor would 73 million-words long Kanjur and
Tenjur get compiled gradually over the centuries
without the high, initial burst of translation
(Tharthang Trulku in Introduction to Toussaint
1978). Through the transmission of learning based
on these classic texts, the same ideas about
cosmology and causation framed the views of most
Bhutanese, until Western schooling started in the
1960s. Though people do not believe in world
geography according to Abhidharma, a lack of
reasoning among a growing section of the
Bhutanese in the necessary connection between
samsara and karma is surely a profound shift
occurring today (see Khewang Tshultrim Lodrey,
2003 for a lucid defense of such classic
reasoning). From our cultural point of view, it
is even more radical that big private and public
organizations do not take account of this ethical
reasoning in their operations. Ministries and
corporations hedging under corporate social
responsibility may fall far short of this fuller ethical reasoning.

Silent Zones
The third result of Guru’s visit is the notion of
living in the midst of sacral sites associated
with Guru such as Kurjay, Singye Dzong, Gomokora
and Taktshang. Guru visited numerous parts of
Bhutan for teaching and practice. They are our
holy lands. Take Singye Dzong’s direct
association with Guru. Nyangrel’s Phurba Yangsang
Lamed (p. 2) names five key disciples of Guru,
namely, Namkhai Nyingpo, Gyalwa Chogyang, Nanam
Dorji Dudjom, Ladrong Konchog Jungney, Shelkar
Za, and Yeshey Tshogyal as having received
Vajrakila teachings at Singye dzong from Guru.
There is a big flat boulder in Singye dzong
claimed to have been the place, according to oral
tradition, where Guru and his disciples sat in
discourse. Yeshey Tshogyal was in Singye Dzong,
arriving first with her two companions. One of
the companions was her ritual partner, an Indian
youth (Acharya) from Nepal who had a Yemenis
sounding name called Saleh (KMT: 7). As foretold
by Guru, she had fetched him earlier at great
price from Nepal. Guru gave thirteen teachings on
Vajrakila at Singye Dzong to Yeshey Tshogyal
(bdag mkha’ chen bzas/ rdo rje phur pai skor la
yang zab snying poi chos skor cu gsum zhus). From
Singye Dzong, Yeshey Tshogyal and her fellow
practitioners went to live at least seven months
in Paro Taktsang to meditate on Guru Amitayus.
Guru stayed for three months in Singye dzong,
four months in Taktsang and two months in
Chumophug and for more than year in other places
including Cheldrag in Paro (see Pema Lingpa’s
Chos ‘gyung Mun sel sDron me smad chag: 277).
Padma Kathang notes that Guru spent, among other
places in Monyul, three months in Mon Gom, or
Gomokora. In Mo rgyud kuntu bzang mo klong gsel’
bar ba Nyima’ gsang rgyud, Terton Sherab Membar
reveals that this female tantra text was recorded
by Yeshey Tshogyal during its teaching by Guru at
Taktshang. The omnisient Jigme Lingpa
(1729–1798), who hardly missed anything printed,
also noted that Guru stayed for three months in
Singye Dzong and four months in Paro Taktsang
(see Jigme Lingpa’s gTam tshog: 608).

These holy places of Guru have triggered that
part of us as pilgrims, in search of our own
divine nature that is increasingly obscured.
Travels in the footsteps of Guru are a way of
re-igniting his teachings and practices among us
on the pilgrimage process. Yet commodification of
these spiritual arenas will hollow them, instead
of hallowing them. The outbreak of tourists to
fulfill their momentary curiousity about these
places, as opposed to pilgrims on the path of
spiritual renewal, presents new problems. If the
key sacral places become spectacles of tourism,
they lose their attributes as isolated mountains
sites for contemplation (dba’n pai ri khrod) (See
Kumar Satish, 2009 for differences between pilgrims and tourists).

Rocks Archives of Ter

Most of these sacral places are also venues where
Guru and his root-disciples deposited texts and
other relics as ter. Some of the ters were
concealed by Guru but a vast number of teachings
by Guru were recorded textually by Yeshey
Tshogyal in dakini and other scripts and hidden
as ter. Taktshang, Kurjay, and Singyedzong are
hallowed not only because Guru practiced and
taught in these places. They became charged with
ters that were retrieved later by pre-ordained
masters to reinvigorate teachings. From
Taktshang, Thangtong Gyalpo retrieved 1 scroll of
yellow paper (see his biography: 202); Dorji
Lingpa (1346-1405) retrieved a zab ter
Sethurma(see his biography: 56, see Karmay
Samten); and Dudjom Jigrel Yeshey Dorji
(1904-1987) revealed Phurpa Pudri Regphung
(Samuel G 2008). Sherab Member retrieved a list
of ter he was to extract from a cave called
Zangphug behind Singye Dzong. Ratna Lingpa also
visited Singye Dzong and revealed a text titled
‘glong gsal snying tig’. In his biography (bka’
‘bum: 70), Ratna Lingpa gives a description of
Singye Dzongsum in terms of Pawo Padma dzong on
the right, Khando Rinchen dzong on the left,
Drakar Singye Dzong at the centre and Nering
meadows in the front. Ratna Lingpa reveals zab
ter dam chos klong gsal nying tig while he was at
Singye Dzong ((bka’ ‘bum), The latest terma text
was the corpus of ‘chimed srog thig, revealed by
Terton Zilnon Namkha Dorji in 1908 (Dudjom 1999,
Vol 14; Cantwell Cathy et al 2009). Other places
where Guru’s ters were found repeatedly by
successive tertons were concentrated in Bumthang:
at Rimochen, Nering Drag, Jamba Lhakhang, and Tselung Lhakhang.

Many extraordinary individuals have been thrown
into a visionary state when they were at
Taktshang. They included Chogyam Trungpa
(1940-1987) and Dilgo Khyentse (1910-1991) both
of whom composed at Taktshang in a visionary
state. Most recently, on 21 February 2010, His
Majesty the King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck,
had a solitary day of prayer in the cave of
Taktshang, during which he had a sublime
experience and a powerful impulse to write a
supplication text to Guru (HM Khesar 2010).

Ideals of Relationship

The effects that we just discussed are familiar.
But the others are far more subtle. Space hardly
allows us to go over them, but let us take one
example for the fourth effect. Vajrayana notion
of ideal of relationship, in which damtshig or
lifelong faith in a guru is a key value, has
shaped wider relationships, beyond itself.
Relationships such as the ones between parents
and children, and lords and subjects were often
homologized with that of a lama and disciple. As
the archetypal lama, Guru was both the personally
experienced, transmitter of fast-track Vajrayana
enlightenment techniques and the lightning rod
for the beneficence of yidams (deities of
sadhanas). In most visualization schemes, Guru is
envisaged as both a lama and a tantric deity.
Take one element of a complex visualization
scheme. A mental image of Guru merges into the
disciple in incredibly radiant colours, light,
details, and vivacity. The disciple holds on the
generated images for a long time (for broader
discussion, see Harrington A. et al 2006: 96). By
transforming the disciple’s consciousness, and
arousing Boddhicitta, the meditator becomes
mentally the meditated, Guru. (Samuel G. 1993:
250-257). This transforms the afflictive mental
states (nyon mongs) into five forms of
transcending awareness (yeshey nga), triggering
off Buddhahood present in an accomplished
meditator. However, the other kinds of binary
relationships like ordinary school teacher and
student, and employees and employers are
qualitatively different because they are not
oriented toward enlightenment. Yet the lofty
ideal of guru-disciple relationship has inspired
the best of human relationships.

Consciousness and Its Pathologies
The most important effect stemming from Guru’s
teachings has been on the reduction of all too
human pathologies and compulsiveness towards the
self. The philosophy of freedom from
self-afflictions is a general Buddhist theme, but
Vajrayana expanded the path and perspective. In
brief, the Vajrayana path to freedom from
self-afflictions consists eventually of being
just aware of pure awareness that has no content
in terms of sensory inputs from memory, external
perceptions, concepts, or thought about past or
future. But such an achievement does not come
easily, unless one learns through hard practice
to hold visualized imageries, whether dynamic or
still, in a stable and vivid way for a long time
with appropriate changes in mental faculty.
Imagery training is ultimately intended to
promote emotional balance as well as cognitive
balance (Harrington A. et al 2006: 100-114,
135-137). But the use of the mind in
visualization and meditation is not the only
method as it is in the sutra system. In
Vajrayana, the mind as well as the subtle body
energy system - the basis of mind - is mobilized
(Dalai Lama 2005: 165-183). The subtle body
energy system, known as rtsa-klung-thigle,
involving neural, circulatory, respiratory and
libido channels are activated and ‘awakened’ to
improve physiological and psychological
functions. Some sadhanas Guru’s devised, such as
the longevity practice focused on Amitayus,
entail nutritional changes called consumption of
essences (blends) made from rocks (minerals) and
herbs (Terton Zilnon Namkha Dorji, see Dudjom Vol. 14 1999: 449-450).

Vajrayana method of meditation and visualization
is seen as an advancement because it can combine
generation of skillful means with wisdom and
compassion (thabs dang shesrab), corresponding
with simultaneous experience of bliss and
voidness (bde stong gzung mjugs). Buddhist
understanding states that in the shortest
possible split second, mental activity can only
have one way of apprehending (hear Alexander
Berzin on It also says that
in the shortest possible split second, we can
either have a visual phenomena or a mental
phenomena (concepts, emotions), but not both
(Harrington A. et al 2008: 42). The implication
is that even if we try to foster single-pointed
concentration, our concentration will alternate
between compassion at one moment and voidness in
the next moment, without being able to
subjectively experience it simultaneously.
Vajrayana applies this understanding of mental
constraint to improvise further techniques. Let
me jump over the many stages, simplify and
compress the visualization process to bring out
the main technical improvement, as I understand
it. The generation of the appearance of a deity
like Amitayus in the mind of meditator during
Amitayus practice is considered symbolic of
voidness. Of course, creating clear imageries
bathed in radiant colours and light is much more
taxing than perceiving them from external
objects. But it is now known from scientific
experiment that being able to do so activates the
same areas in the brain which are usually engaged
during visual perception of external objects. The
strength of the activation depends on the
capacity of the meditator to create more vivid
and stable imageries. If the images are dynamic,
harder still is the mental exertion to create
them. As the meditator merges himself mentally
into the meditated deity, and the meditator
imagines himself as Guru Amitayus. With the
meditator becoming more able, the meta-awareness,
the awareness that he is just trying to imagine
he is Amitayus while he is not, should decrease
and disappear. At a successful stage of
meditation and visualisation, it is the Buddha
figure performing mental rotations of various
multi-coloured mantra letters and holding in view
other subsidiary Buddha figures. The implication
is that the body image of the meditator has
transformed “into the healthy, vital and
enlightened being of the central deity” (Samuel
G. 2008, 2009). In this context, Amitayus is the
exemplar of compassion. Enlightenment is defined
by compassion. At the level of subjective
reality, this meditation and visualization thus
brings compassion and voidness together within
every shortest possible split-second. That means
that consciousness, which is subjective, is
transformed for that moment. More moments of such
kind can create notions of continuum.

Finally, the object of meditation, the meditation
and the meditator are all made to dissolve first
into a seed syllable letter, and in turn the seed
syllable letter into dark space. As images come
from within voidness at the beginning of a
visualization session, they return to voidness at
the end. The idea is to see the phenomenal world
(consciousness) just as an appearance. The
process combines understanding of voidness with
the generation of compassion. But it is well said
that it can be experienced, not explained because
bde stong gzung mjugs is considered ineffable part of Vajrayana.

Exploring the relationship between the observed
external objects, the perception of the objects,
and the images felt by the observer is perhaps
the most crucial part of neuro-science studies.
None of the parts in the process can be
independent of consciousness, because that is
where reality is apprehended. Was enlightenment
education started by Guru primarily about
restructuring consciousness? Was Guru trying to
teach neuro-science to the 8th century Bhutanese
in a different module and language? Are the 21st
century Bhutanese any better students, 1200 years
after Guru’s visit? I will take up these and
other questions in my next article.

Part 2: Mon Kings and Mon Consort
June 27, 2010

Very little about economic and social conditions
in Bhutan are recorded in the Hagiography of
Sindharaza or old terma writings. There are,
however, nuggets of other information. Gold dust
was the high currency. Sindharaza sent escorts
with pouches of gold dust to fetch Guru from
India. Silk seems to have reached the court of Sindharaza.

Guru sat on a three-tiered silken (za ‘og)
mattress and was served grain-drink (‘bras chang)
as well as drink made out of date fruit (rgun
‘brum) in a golden cup in Bumthang. Yeshey
Tshogyal was served honey and buffalo milk by
Tashi Chidron in Singye Dzong during a brief
break from her partial fasting and solitary meditation in the cave.

At the time of Guru’s visit, patchy information
tells us that Bhutan had two kings: Sindharaza of
Mon Bumthang, who worshipped Shiva until Guru
converted him; and Mon King Hamray (Ham Ras) in
the East, perhaps ruling some areas of Kurtoe
often referred as Kurulung or Kurilung in old
texts. King Hamray was the father of Khidren
(khyi ‘dren), who was renamed by Jomo (lady)
Yeshey Tshogyal as Tashi Chidron (Krashi sPyi
sdron). I mention these facts categorically to
correct the rampant errors about her origin and
name repeated from secondary sources in almost
all books. The Bhutanese born Tashi Chidron
should have been a subject of debri portraiture
and statue. She became a highly realized person.
At one stage in her life, she enterred into an
eleven year retreat with Yeshey Tshogyal at Shang
Zabu. Tashi Chidren was present at the time of
Yeshey Tshogyal’s passing away through ‘ja’ lus
at Pama Gangphug. At 16, some three years after
Yeshey Tshogyal first met her at Singye Dzong,
Tashi Chidron played the role of supporting
consort (gzungs ma) in the cycle of Vajrakila
with Guru in Onphu Taktshang (See mKha’ ‘dro
Yeshey Tsho rgyal gyi rNamthar KMT 2005: 120-122,
hence abbreviated to KMT 2005). Guru selected her
for this role because of her wisdom dakini
attributes. Guru foretold that the diffusion of
Vajrakila depended on her. She was regarded as
one of the five emanations of Dorji Phagmo
(Thunderbolt Sow). Besides Hamray and Sindharaza,
there was an exiled Tibetan prince, Khikha
Rathoed, living in Khenpajong, who had moved from
place to place and was finally resettled by Guru in Choskhor Jalikhar.

Buddhist temples such as Tselung, Jambay and
Genyen Lhakhangs and a fantastic palace of
Sindharaza could be seen in Choskhor at the time
of Guru’s travels. An oral tradition of the
Monpas of Tongsa maintain that Guru came up from
India through Nabji, Kubrag, Phrumzur and Jangbi
and reached Bumthang via Ngangdagla. Their King
Marapai (the one with long beard in Monpakha)
played host to Guru. His modest palace foundation
can be seen today at Kubrag on the Nabji Korphu tourist trial.

When Guru enterred Monyul, perhaps for the third
recorded time, later through Singye Dzong (often
known as Monkha Nerengphug in old texts), he came
from Mangyul Gunthang and Lhodrag Karchu. Kyikha
Rathoed invited Guru to Khenpajong. Although
Bhutan figured strongly in the map of the tertons
and other religious figures, not being explorers,
they hardly mentioned routes in their writings. A
few do vaguely. Terton Sherab Member, who lived
before Pemalingpa; Pemalingpa; and Trulku Chogden
Gonpo, a younger contemporary and disciple of
Pemalingpa, visited Khenpajong (see Choden
Gonpo’s and Sherab Member’s autobiographies).
Sherab Member and Chogden Gonpo, the emanation of
Terton Dorji Lingpa (1346-1405), who was in turn
the emanation of Bairotsana (750-835) (see Jamgon
Kongtrul’s autobiography) mentioned that they
went to Khenpajong via Khoma Pangkhar village
crossing Zela. In all likelihood, Guru travelled
from Lhodrag to Khenpajong along the route
connecting Lhodrag, Boedla, Gangla, Singye Dzong,
Denchung, Khomakang, Khoma Pangkhar and Khenpajong.

Round Sitting Peace Conference

During another of Guru’s visits, most likely the
second one, the purpose was to restore peace
between the warring kings, Sindharaza of Bumthang
and Nauche of India. Both were summoned by Guru
at the border of India and Mon as Bhutan was
known then (rja mon gyi mtshams su ‘bod par byao).

Sindharaza and his 50 ministers, and Indian king
Nauche with his entourage of 80 met at the wide
treeless plain that was named Nathang (Oath
Ground) after they pledged not to fight anymore.
The two embattled kings and Guru erected the
Immortal Stone Pillar of Peace (‘chi med zhi wai
rdoring btsugs), placed their hands on it, and
swore that their forces will not cross over this
point. Future archeological investigations into
the intact stone pillar will settle the question
of when Guru visited Bhutan precisely. Due to
lack of official attention, the temple of Nabji
which contains the Immortal Stone Pillar of
Peace, is not widely known. This hardly noticed
site is of monumental importance to Bhutan.

The successful ‘roundtable’ peace conference
(dbyen zlum zhing ‘cham par bya ste) was
concluded by Guru giving empowerment of Druba
Kagyed or the Eight Great Herukas (sgrub pa bka
brgyad), and making the two kings become friends
in this life, and enabling them to meet in
heavens in the afterlife. Druba Kagyed consists
of gshin rje gshed, rta mgrin, yang dag, che
mchog, phur pa, ma mo rbod gtong, dmod pa drag
sngags, and ‘jig rten mchod bstod. Empowerment of
the Druba Kagyed would mean the initiation of
those present at Nathang into the practice of
these eight deities. The teachings of Druba
Kagyed is considered to be one of the main
teachings of Guru and the texts on Druba Kagyed
(titled bKa brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa’i chos
skor) were discovered later as terma by Nyangrel.

Pioneering Longevity Extension Technique

Guru also first came to Bumthang to heal King
Sindharaza whose his bLa and life force (bla
srog) had been robbed by the spirit, Sogdag
Shelging Karpo. bLa and srog has no appropriate
words in English (see Cornu P.1997: 85-87). The
bla of an individual, which cannot reincarnate,
resides normally in the person but it can wander
off and live in other parts of our physical
environment. Srog (life force or biologically
heart condition) is located in the heart and
lasts as long as life does. The idea that bla is
separable from the body by means of theft by evil
forces is considered a pre-Buddhist idea. Guru
returned the lost bla and life force to
Sindharaza, healing him. The spirits who attacked
Sindharaza were turned into positive agents. The
widespread narrative of conversion of various
kinds of spirits from harmful to helpful
dispositions demonstrates the classic role of
Guru as the moral and psychological teacher. It
is also symbolic of the view that there is no
absolute evil. However, to me, local deities of
mountains, forests and rivers are personification
of these complex ecologies, having spirits and
life of their own. It has a parallel, in my
opinion, to Giai hypothesis (Lovelock J. 1979),
though at a micro level. What I conclude from
terma text of ‘chimed srog thig is the important
view that causation of illnesses can lie in wider
environment. For people to have a fuller
wellbeing involves the concepts of bla, life
force (vitality), lus (energy level of the body),
wangthang (dbang thang), which is capability and empowerment to achieve goals.

At the recovery celebration, Guru gave the
entourage empowerment of Chana Dorji (Vajrapani).
The whole episode about healing is very short:
the Hagiography assumes a greater understanding
about healing rituals by Guru on the part of
readers. For readers unfamiliar with corpus of
life extension technique, the act of restoring
life force must seem mystical and irrelevant to
health practices. Blaming displeased deities,
malevolent spirits for illness is part of a
personalist medical system, while the naturalist
system traces the cause of illness to virus,
weather, pollution etc (Samuel G. 2009: 7-10). If
the spirit approach works, it is assumed to work
on the psychological level rather than organic
level. However, spirit approach also works on the
body level because psychological changes affect
physiological processes. The question is how the
mysterious placebo effect arises. The issue is
relevant in Bhutan where the performance of
healing and protective rituals to block the
threat of illnesses caused by spirits and other
malicious causes are widespread. It is also
important to demystify how Guru healed Sindharaza from a spirit attack.

Let me briefly weave the role of longevity ritual
into the narrative of restoring the health of
Sindharaza. The longevity ritual is known as tshe
drup (or bla ma tshe dpag med kyi sdrup pa in
full). The question ultimately is about validity
and efficacy of tshe drup or tshewang because
restoring bla and life force is part of it. The
longevity rite originated with Guru and Madarava
who practiced it in the Maratika cave, and was
practiced later by disciples of Guru. Singye
Dzong and Takstshang were important sites where
Yeshey Tshogyal and other disciples practiced and
witnessed the mandala of Guru Amitayus Yab-Yum.
The central diety for visualization was Guru
Amitayus, also known as Guru Pema Thodthrengtsal,
and his consort (blama tshe dpag med yab yum).
The origin and transmission of the tersar text of
longevity practice ‘chimed rsog thig’ (Immortal
Life’s Creative Seed) is a subject of
illuminating joint article by Cathy Cantwell and
Robert Mayer (Cantwell G and Mayer Robert, 2009).
The terma hidden by Yeshey Tshogyal was revealed
in 1908 at the cave of Singye Dzong by Zilnon
Namkhai Dorji (1874-), the root lama of the late
Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-87) and Karmapa Khachap
Dorji. The deduction of terma text of ‘chimed
srog thig from dakini script was carried out most
likely when Zilnon lived in Bumthang with the
patronage of King Ugyen Wangchuck, because its
colophon mentions the palace and king of Lhomon.
The terma titled ‘chimed rsog thig corpus was
incorporated by Dudjom Rinpoche in his gsung ‘bum
dam chos rin chen nor bu’i mzodm, Vol pha
:193-554. ‘Chimed rsog thig corpus suggests that
longevity is affected not only by theft and
attack on life force by various powerful spirits
such as driza, shinje, luwang, nodjin, firegod,
cannibal, wind god, and four kinds of demons.
There are other credible factors: (1) the decline
of life force and breath, (2) the loss of body
and mood, (3) the interruption in the subtle
neurological, respiratory and libido processes
(rtsa-rlung-thigle) (Dudjom 1999: pp. 110-122).
Accordingly, a comphrehensive method of
recovering longevity encompasses five elements:
(1) ritual seeking jinlab from the assembly of
Amitayus Buddhas and protector deities: (2) burnt
offerings to the fire gods of wisdom (yeshey kyi
me lha); (3) casting away of effigies of
scapegoat as substitutes for meat, blood and life
force to repurchase bla and life force (sha rin
khrag tsab srog gi glud, see Dudjom 1999: 354);
(4) consumption of herbal pharma products and
other essences such as that of minerals (Dudjom
1999: 449-450); (5) the ultra secret practice of
union following sbyor dnyos rje gsum (Dudjom
1999: 492-506); (6) longevity blessing (tse
dbang), and (7) psycho-physical yogic exercise to
work on subtle parts of neurological, respiratory
and libido systems; and, more importantly, (8)
visualisation and meditation that activates
perceptional mechanism in a different way and
reorients consciousness (see Part 1 of this
article). In the case of longevity blessings with
longevity nectar (‘chimed rdud tsi), longevity
arrow-silk (tse dhar) and longevity pill (tse
ril), the recipient visualizes Amitayus blessing
the recipient with healing power and energy
through the performing lama. One of the key
assumptions behind the longevity practice is the
body as an open system influenced by the
environment (psychological, sociological,
nutritional, spiritual etc.) in the widest sense
of the term. If the body is an open system, then
a mix of naturalist and personalist approaches to health is more comprehensive.

This broader context was drawn to provide an
understanding that Guru’s healing of Sindharaza
by returning his life force stems from a more
complex longevity technique Guru developed. This
explanation is also applicable to the content of
longevity practice of Guru Amitayus that Yeshey
Tshogyal took at Paro Taktshang that I will elaborate later.

Part 3: Liberation Partners of Yeshey Tshogyal:
Archarya Saleh and Pelgyi Singye
July 10 , 2010

Relatively less famous places such as Kurtoe
Khoma Sawa Dhadrug cave, Minjay Choor Tshal
Lhakhang, and Khenpalung are associated with Jomo
Yeshey Tshogyal. An understanding of the wondrous
and gritful life of Kharchen Za, Jomo Yeshey
Tshogyal is as important as understanding the
life of Guru himself for Bhutan. But, here, I
have to confine myself to the wider reasons for
her visits to Bhutan propelled by Guru.

During Yeshey Tshogyal’s meditation in Tildro,
Guru explained about the indispensability of
ritual partner (thabs kyi grogs dpa’o), as a
means to realization, in the practice of Secret
Mantrayana (KMT 2005; 87). Guru asked Tshogyal to
fetch 17 year old Archarya Saleh from Nepal. I
mention Archarya Saleh here because he had a role
in Tshogyal’s liberation, and much of Tshogyal’s
meditation took place in Bhutan with him. To
avoid confusion, it should be noted that Archarya
Saleh is not the same as Saleh the Mon boy who we
will come across later. Both of them and Monmo
Tashi Chidren were present with Tshogyal at
Singye Dzong and Paro Taktshang. The whole
incidence of finding Archarya Saleh and bringing
him to Tibet is described in great detail (KMT
2005; 56-74). She bought Archarya Saleh with
great difficulty for 1000 sang (measure of
weight) of gold. He had come to Nepal from
Serling in India. As Guru admonished Tshogyal
that she should never part from Archarya Saleh
(KMT 2005; 72), he was with her till the end of
her life in Pama Gang Phug. He was not the only
ritual partner for Yeshey Tshogyal. At another
occasion later, Guru identified and initiated
Lhalung Pelgyi Singye as Tshogyal’s practice
partner necessary for both Vajrakila and Amitayus
intiations (KMT 2005; 120-122).

To find and bring Archarya Saleh to Tibet was
Tshogyal’s first journey to Nepal. Her second
trip to Nepal was to bring the 14-year old
daughter of Bhadena and Nagini, known as
Kalasiddhi, to become another zungma of Guru
during his practice at Mangyul. Yeshey Tshogyal’s
third trip to Nepal was to Tsha Shodrong to bid final good bye to Guru.

Yeshey Tshogyal and Archarya Saleh took retreat
in a secret cave in Lhodrag for seven months soon
after they came from Nepal. Guru joined them
towards the end of their meditation at Lhodrag.
 From there, Guru and the two of them came to
Phugmochey cave, which probably is the Phugmochey
above Rolmoteng valley next to Singye Dzong.
While in Phugmochey, Trisong invited Guru and
Tshogyal back to Tildro, and thence to Samye for
giving him more teachings (KMT 2005; 75). It was
on this return journey that several Tibetan
ministers, who had been opposed to Guru, changed their attitude to him.

Soon after this event at Samye, Guru and his
teeming 304 disciples gathered at Chimphu where
he gave pith instructions on specific practices
for carrying out at different named sites (KMT
2005; 78-82). The disciples included 21 rje
‘bang, 32 mchen bu, and seven rigs ldan ma.
Distribution of sites and practices according to
the distinct capacities of each person suggests
almost tailor made life programme for his
numerous disciples. The sadhanas Guru prescribed
for different individuals ranged from sdrub chen
bka’ brgyad, ma mshin phur pa, dgongs ‘dus, zhi
khro, snying thig, man ngag, thugs bsgrub, etc.
For Tshogyal, Guru specifically instructed her to
practice mandala of guru and rtsa-rlung-thigle at
places where there are Guru’s body prints,
especially at Onphu Taktshang, Kham Takstshang
and Paro Takstshang and Tildro (KMT 2005; 82). At
face value, this suggests that Guru had prior familiarity with Paro Taktsang.

It was in response to Guru’s instruction that
Tshogyal and her companions left for secret caves
at Tildro, Singye Dzong and Paro Taktshang, in
that order. At Tildro, Tshogyal and Archarya
Saleh practiced rigorously leading them to
various meditative successes and visionary
experiences. Her meeting with Guru after these
metaphysical experiences brought additional
instructions for her to overcome the eight super
adversities (bka’ chen brgyad).

Scheme of Practicing Eight Super Adversities
In a moving poem, Guru explained the eight super
adversities to Tshogyal at Tildro (KMT 2005; 88-
90). Tshogyal visited Singye Dzong and Paro
Taktshang to act on and overcome some of these
adversities, after a few years of practice in Tildro.

Let me sketch what the eight adversities are. The
first one is the adversity of food (zas kyi dka’
wa) by living sheerly on wind, and on essence of
herbs and rocks. The second one is the adversity
of cloth (gos kyi dka’ ba) by generating body
heat through gtum mo exercise, while being clad
first in a thin cotton, then being unornamented
only human bones, and finally being naked. The
third one is the adversity of speech (ngag gi
dka’ wa) by maintaining a vow of silence except
for mantra recitations. The fourth one is the
adversity of body (lus kyi dka’ wa) by sitting in
lotus position in meditative absorption and by
performing prostrations and circumambulations.
The fifth one is the adversity of mind (yid kyi
dka’ wa) by training on inseparability of
meditative concentration (zung ‘jug ting ‘zin),
through generations and completion stages, with
training on essence-drops of bliss and emptiness
(bde stongs thig le sbyang). Just before she
passes away, Tshogyal herself emphasised the
strong point to Kalasiddhi that if bliss is not
combined with voidness through mutual support
between male and female, the Secret Mantrayana is
rather meaningless (KMT 2005; 222). The sixth one
is the adversity of doctrine (bstan pa’i dka’ wa)
by explanation, debate and writing about
Buddhism. The seventh one is the adversity of
altruism (gzhan phan dka’ wa) by wishing well for
others in the Mahayana way and by giving away, if
necessary, life and body. The eight one is the
adversity of compassion (rnying rje’ dka’ wa) by
loving others more than oneself, and by equating
ones children with ones enemies, and by equating
gold with anything bulky (dgra dang bu mnyam gser
dang bong wa mnyam). In an unequivocal note, Guru
told her that Tshogyal would be indistinguishable
from a nihilist (mu stegs rgyang ‘phan) if she
did’t practice these adversities. By these high
standards, almost all Bhutanese are nihilists.

Having promised Guru to practice all adversities,
Tshogyal took them up one by one. The price of
practice was high. Tshogyal admittedly came close
to death three times in Tildro (KMT 2005; 91, 93,
114). It happened once in peak of snow clad
Tildro peak during a year of practicing heat
generation with only one cotton robe. She nearly
died for the second time during one year practice
of emaciated living on water and essence of
rocks. The third risky incidence took place
during another year of living on wind while naked
with bone ornaments on. Her fourth near death
experience occurred in Paro Taktshang while she
was training on the inseparability of bliss and
emptiness (bde stongs zung ‘jug thig le’ dka’ wa)
while living on essence of herbs. We can make out
the toughness of the regime from the fact that
her fellow practitioners, Archarya Saleh,
Archarya Pelyang and Mon boy Saleh, became
mentally disturbed and physically ill at Paro Taktshang before they succeeded.

Paro Taktshang was one of the prescribed
locations for Tshogyal’s spiritual maturation.
Likewise, Guru chose Singye Dzong and Rolmoteng
(Phugmochey) valleys because of their efficacious
attributes for spiritual progress. These places
have special powers, but for ordinary eyes too,
they are wonderful natural landscape that ought
to be protected from further construction and
motor traffic so that the essence of the place,
in terms of human beings coming to terms with and
overcoming adversities, is preserved. My next
article shall describe her experiences at Singye Dzong and Taktshang.

Part 4: Many Sources on Guru’s Life
July 18, 2010

Yeshey Tshogyal was 80 when Guru left Tibet. For
67 years, i.e., between 16 and 80 year old, she
was in regular contact with Guru as his key
disciple (KMT 2005; 217. All references are to
KMT 2005). Her biography notes that she came to
Bhutan again, to Khenpalung to be specific, for a
year’s practice after Guru left Tibet. She lived for 106 years.

Her life span is converted from the 211 years
mentioned in her biography, which was counted in
a different way (pp. 239, 217). Ancient Tibet,
like ancient India, counted six month as a year
(see Tsele Natsok Rangdol 1993, The Lotus Born).
Because of her longevity over a hundred years,
Yeshey Tshogyal’s life spanned the reigns of
Trisong Detsen, Muni Tsedpo (p.162), Mutri Tsedpo
(p.195) and Tri Ralpachen (p.249).

Yeshey Tshogyal, who transcended ordinary
dualistic existence, left behind a candid
biography with a degree of realism that we often
do not have in modern literature. Tshogyal’s rich
and literary biography unfolds with a drama
played at different levels that has, in my
opinion, hardly any parallel. Tshogyal’s
biography is a multi-dimensional account of court
intrigues, subtle cultural clash, doctrinal
conflicts, philosophical and pure visions,
commitment to the bonds of inner tantra at
physical and moral levels, physical and
psychological sufferings, achievement of
abnormal, but certainly possible, bodily
abilities. It dwells mainly on teachings, though this is not the focus here.

She was inhumanly beautiful, often attracting
unwanted attentions. Her father, who wanted to
avoid matrimonial conflicts among four competing
princely suitors, made her marry Emperor Trisong
at the age of 13, making her his fourth queen. At
16, Trisong offered her to Guru as his consort.
The offer of Tshogyal to Guru triggered an
increasingly irreconcilable split between
Buddhist ministers and outer Bon ministers in
their attitude to Guru. Tshogyal was given her
share of blame in the rising recrimination in the
court. As for Guru, outer Bon Ministers called
him Master of Black Mantra, the Wanderer Atsara
(p.36). The pressure of the ministers on Trisong
was so acute that he had to pretend to send Guru
back to India and exile Tshogyal to Lhodrag. In
reality, they lived in Tildro secretly, with the
knowledge of Trisong. The split in the court
resurfaced viscerally later during a ritual for
Trisong at Samye where both Buddhist and outer
Bon priests participated. The acrimony finally
boiled over in the Samye debate between Bon and
Buddhists, involving 25 learned Indian Pandits
and 120 translators from Tibet from the Buddhist
side. Tshogyal was pitched against Chokro Za
Yungdung Bonmo Tsho, during the debate. Yungdung
Bonmo later attempted to poison her.

Her super human achievements were a result of her
super human commitment to prolonged practice.
Life threatening hardships of practices of inner
tantras are described without any pretensions.
Accounts of prejudice of Tibetan ministers. The
encounter with seven Tibetan bandits of
Shambugang, who raped her, add realism to her
biography. There was, however, a twist to the
nature of their consummation It became purely a
means for them to realize voidness and
uncontaminated bliss (bde stong zag med logs na
med) (pp.165-166). The ripening effect on the
spot (smin sgrol dus gcig tu gyur) of the
teachings turned the bandits into her disciples.
On one occasion when she was on the verge of
collapse in Tildro, she dreamt of drinking
mentrual blood from a maroon naked girl (p.94).
She woke up revived, with the strength of a lion.
Screaming at her as a Tibetan beggar, Bhutanese
(Mon) herdsmen assaulted her during her
meditation, blaming her for catastrophic weather
and epidemics in Mon. According to an oral
tradition, people attacked her at a place called
Dungzurphug (brdung rzob phug, literally the hill
where she was beaten) near Tshonag Lake above
Singye Dzong. It is a pilgrimage spot today. Mon
herdsmen attempted to drive her out of her
retreat-cave. Practitioners are not always
revered. At another stage in her meditation in
Singye Dzong, spirits in the guise of several
handsome and fragrant youth molested her (p.104).
As in the case of Buddha’s temptation by Mara,
she was undisturbed, and her concentration power
turned them into corpses, and into sick, lame and dumb people.

Years at Singye Dzong

By the time Tshogyal and her companions,
including Acharya Saleh, came to the three dzongs
at Singye Dzong, she had already practiced at
many other places in Tibet. The three dzongs are
Pwo Padma dzong to the right, Khandu Rinchen
Dzong to the left, Darkar Singye Dzong at the
centre, according to Ratna Lingpa’s biography.

She did a number of different things at Singye
Dzong, described in detail over 17 pages
(p.98-115). She began her stay with the practice
of consumption of herbal essence, and essence of
limestone rocks (chong zhi). Above Yeshey
Tshogyal’s famous meditation cave, Khandu
Sangphug, at Singye Dzong, there is a flat stone
for grinding herbal mixture, and a stone mortar
and pistle for pounding herbs. These stone
implements are said to be the ones used by
Tshogyal, and her friends Acharya Saleh and
Dewamo. The mixture Tshogyal consumed was
composed of 128 herbal medicinal plants attesting
to the knowledge as well as the fecund supply of
such herbs in Singye Dzong area (p.102). I should
add that the valley of Menlungma at roughly a
day’s distance from Singye Dzong, in the
watershed of the equally famous Rolmoteng valley.
Yak herdsmen recounted an oral tradition to me
that Guru blessed Menlungma as a hidden valley of herbal medicine.

In what follows, I will give a glimpse of her
esoteric practices at Singye Dzong in a
chronological manner. Tshogyal launched into vow
of silence, except for reciting mantras. Her
inner cave (called Khandu Sangphug where she
practiced) reverberated with mantras throughout
nights and days. The inner cave, fortunately, is
in an unembellished state today, as it might have
been during her time, though outer cave and the
approach has a small temple. The upper cave is
small enough for one to hear the rythm of ones
own breathing. Her first mantra session was on
Varjasattva (yig brgya of rDorji semspa) before
reciting mantras of confession and purification
(bshags sbyang). Then she continued with
dharani-mantras of various deities. She read
prayers and confessions according to Sutra and
Vinaya. Rather unexpectedly, she studied logic
and memorized Abhidharma. These unrelenting
activities led her to have a painfully dry
larynx, and to vomit blood and pus from her
throat, bringing her to the brink of death. At
the end, her voice turned melodious, enriched
with a repertoire of sixty notes (yan lag drug
cu’i sgra dang ldan pa). The other notable
transformation at that stage was that Tshogyal
acquired the seven powers of an unforgettable
memory (mi brjed pa’i gzung bdun). Her memory
became photographic and capacious.

Then, Tshogyal practiced harder, staying in the
mudra of concentration and posture of meditation,
until signs of success appeared, in the form of
blazing lights, and she witnessed deities. She
attained the eight accomplishments of meditation.
It seems to me that meditation sessions
undertaken could not be a question of months, but
of years, although her biography does not specify
the duration she spent in Singye Dzong.

She then continued her meditation, focused on the
mandala of Lama Gongdu (bla ma dgongs ‘dus, a
cycle revealed later as terma by tertön Sangye
Lingpa (1340-96)). In absolute concentration, she
recited mantras, and practiced rtsa-rlung-thigle.
Her resolve, despite illnesses of various kinds
that nearly killed her, led her to gain power
over the channels of nerve-breath-reproductive
essence (rtsa-rlung-thigle gyi rang dbang). The
chakras in her body were awakened, and the knots
of her subtle energy, referring possibly to the
knots of afflictive emotions, opened. Once again,
she was able to behold an assembly of deities.

Finally, Tshogyal undertook another round of
meditation in various secluded caves around
Singye Dzong. Before retreating into solitude,
Tashi Chidren met her. During that meditation, as
I alluded above, spirits, jealous of her
equanimity, tried to distract her through various
phantasmal appearances. It was also during that
stint that Mon herdsmen tried to attack Tshoygal
as a black-magician creating bad weathers and an
epidemic in Mon. From Singye dzong, she and her
companions proceeded to Paro Taktshang, about
which I will discuss in my next article.
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