This article is the second in a series of four. Feel free to check out the first in the series, The Rogue Yogis & Buddhist: Ikkyu Sojun.
One shiny morning I came to the realization that many mystics, great teachers and yogis throughout history were rogues and rule-breakers.
They broke concepts, codes and vows, and were often condemned by the society around them or even by members of their own lineages. Yet hundreds of years later we esteem these rebels.
It makes me wonder what it would be like to have such people in our midst today. Would our enlightened middle class, western yoga and Buddhist culture admire such people if they existed now? Or would we condemn them just as our predecessors did? It’s easy to accept a wild mystic that was written into a book in the past, but it’s probably a lot more difficult to accept him or her in daily life.
In light of all this, I have decided to write about my favorite rogues and rule-breakers from history and mythology to remind me to keep an open mind about what it means to be on the spiritual path.
Yeshe Tsogyal: Tibet’s Great Yogini & Rogue
One of Tibet’s great semi-mythical yoginis was Yeshe Tsogyal. Her name means Princess of the Wisdom Lake in Tibetan. I visited her nunnery high in the mountains when I was in Tibet.
There was a hot spring there where I soaked and pondered her life. It is said that she hid many Terma (treasured teachings) throughout Tibet to be found by the worthy when the world is in need… We should get on that.
Yeshe Tsogyal was Padmasambhava’s consort and student in the 8th century. She was forced to marry the King when she was 12 and in his court she met her teacher. The king offered Padmasambhava anything he wanted in return for the Tantric teachings: Padmasambhava said he wanted Yeshe Tsogyal.
They ran off into the mountains and practiced Tantra yoga. Their exploits are wonderfully described in Keith Dowman’s book Skydancer.
They were a wild pair: living in caves; entering the Mandala of mystic union; singing songs; talking to dakinis and Bodhisattvas. They were unconventional and pushed the boundaries of their predominantly Bon society and were held in contempt by many of their contemporaries.
A thousand years later, I look at their society and think of how foolish they were for not accepting such great teachers. But, then I contemplate what would happen nowadays if there were rumors of teachers and students singing songs to dakinis and meditating naked in caves: such people might still be frowned upon in 2011…
Yeshe Tsogyal underwent many hardships in her life. The average, everyday folk of her time did not approve of her lifestyle. But, she persisted. She meditated alone in caves half naked for years. Was attacked by villagers, rapists and called a demon. She managed to convert some would-be rapists into disciples because she was so at ease with her own nature, she sent them into bliss states.
All phenomena are only tricks of the mind
I see nothing to fear in inner space.
All this is nothing but clear light’s natural radiance.
There is no reason at all to react.
It is said that she entered empty space and reached the mind of absolute, empty being.Photo: Sarah E. Truman
I think it is important to note that she did all of this as a woman.
Padmasambhava said that although many scriptures say that you must have a male form to achieve enlightenment, Tantra teaches that the female form, already receptive by nature is a quicker vehicle for seeing the ultimate emptiness of existence:
The gross bodies of men and women are equally suited,
But if a woman has strong aspiration, she has higher potential.
Yeshe Tsoygal, to this day is probably the most famous Tibetan yogini yet she was held in contempt by her contemporary society.
If someone like Yeshe Tsogyal showed up in your midst would you accept her?
Quotes from: Skydancer, The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyal. Keith Dowman, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1984.