NOW OUT OF PRINT (October 2017)
Yeshe Tsogyal (circa 757 to 817-837), the 'Wisdom Lake Queen', was the foremost Tibetan disciple of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), and the most important of his five main consorts. She is regarded as a manifestation of the goddesses Sarasvati, Vajravarahi, Locana and Tara, who later incarnated as Machig Labdron (1055-1149). The final level of her realization is considered to be equal to that of Guru Rinpoche himself.
She was auspiciously born as a princess in the Karchen clan of Central Tibet, and after her painless birth the sacred lake (tso) of her namesake miraculously sprang forth near her house. Like Sarasvati, the goddess of knowledge, she had developed great intelligence and a phenomenal memory by the age of ten, and later had total recall of all the oral transmissions and teachings that she would receive throughout her life. But her early life as a teenage girl was traumatic, until the Buddhist King Trisong Detsen adopted her as a wife or consort. After having received Tantric initiation from Guru Rinpoche the king later bestowed this beautiful sixteen-year-old girl upon his guru as a mandala offering.
Yeshe Tsogyal specialized in the practice of the wrathful yidam-deity Vajrakila, the transmission of which she received from her 'precious guru' (Guru Rinpoche), along with many of his other profound teachings. Under his instruction she later traveled to Nepal to become the spiritual consort of a yogin named Atsara Sahle, with whom she practiced in remote caves. It was during their long retreat together at the mountain hermitage of Paro Taktsang in Bhutan that Yeshe Tsogyal attained the initial stages of her enlightenment. After many years of austerities and intense practice she then returned to Guru Rinpoche in Tibet, traveling with him to countless places throughout the Tibetan and the Himalayan region. Together they gave teachings, subdued negative forces, and consecrated hundreds of caves, mountains, temples and sacred sites with their blessings. At many of these places they concealed specific teachings and empowered objects as termas or 'hidden treasures' that were later to be revealed by the future incarnations of their most accomplished disciples. Throughout the centuries many of these 'treasure-finders' or tertons have since recovered hundreds of these terma treasures hidden in rocks, caves, earth, lakes, the sky, and through pure vision or direct mind transmission.
Around the age of forty-two Yeshe Tsogyal went into solitary retreat for nine years, emerging as a fully enlightened Buddha. But by this time Guru Rinpoche had already left the land of Tibet for the luminous dimension of his 'Copper-coloured Mountain'. She possibly lived and taught in Tibet for about another thirty years, during which time she compiled her own life story and several biographies of Guru Rinpoche in varying lengths, which she then concealed as termas. Finally she ascended from this world in bodily form to abide with her precious guru in the pure dimension of his Copper-coloured Mountain.
I came upon this representational form of Yeshe Tsogyal in Lhasa in 1988, when I was helping to clean the original wall paintings in the Lukhang Temple behind the Potala, which were painted during the short lifetime of the Sixth Dalai Lama. Later I redrew her iconographic form from a slide-photo, changing the cave and its landscape to accord with my own artistic style. Some years later my friend Marc Baudin had this and many other drawings of mine made into paintings by two skilful Indian miniature painters, who were instructed by Marc and myself at his studio in Jaipur. Executed in pure mineral pigments, this painting depicts Yeshe Tsogyal as a human manifestation of Vajravarahi, who kneels upon her moon disc and lotus holding a curved knife and a skull-cup of blood. These dakini attributes represent her ability to sever all delusions and cultivate great bliss. She wears golden ornaments, a floral tiara, upper and lower garments of multicoloured silks, and the rainbow trousers that enlightened dakas or dakinis may wear.
© text by Robert Beer