The Rogue Yogis & Buddhists: Yeshe Tsogyal, Princess Of The Wisdom Lake. ~ Sarah E. Truman

Via Sarah E. Truman
on Jul 19, 2011
get elephant's newsletter

Photo: Wonderland

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.

Parting thought:

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.




About Sarah E. Truman

Sarah E. Truman is an award-winning writer, and the author of Searching for Guan Yin (forthcoming November 2011, White Pine Press.) She teaches high school English literature and is a long-time practitioner of qi gong and meditation. She has an affinity for rogue yogis, Buddhists and mystics. (


18 Responses to “The Rogue Yogis & Buddhists: Yeshe Tsogyal, Princess Of The Wisdom Lake. ~ Sarah E. Truman”

  1. Padma Kadag says:

    We westerners have an affinity for rebels. So much so we misinterpret, more often than not, the "display" that these masters showed. Because this master appeared to go "against convention and broke vows"then certainly "i" can. This breaking of vows, for any of these masters that you site, never broke a single vow. So lets not all go out and "break vows".

    " Yeshe Tsoygal, to this day is probably the most famous Tibetan yogini yet she was held in contempt by her contemporary society." This quote of yours has what source?

  2. Yeshe Dorje says:

    Luckily there are many female lineage holders in the tradition of Yeshe Tsogyal and in the stream that comes on down through the mahasiddhas. This is not something that happened in the past, it is very much alive and thriving today!

  3. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook

  4. Thanks Bob! I hope all is well.

  5. Tsu says:

    A very thoughtful article sarah! I love the way you write.
    My thoughts on vows:
    What is a vow but a specific rule one decides arbitrarily to adhere to? Some believe a vow is handed down by god but I think it’s fairly obvious that vows are distinctly human creations that serve the systems that support them. In many ways a vow is antithetical to the nature of our life as mammals! Adaptation has proven itself not only a better model for behavior but indeed an inescapable facet of our so called evolution.
    What then is the true value in keeping a vow over time?

    My thoughts on rogue humans:
    Makes sense to be an iconoclast despite it’s obvious slanderings!

  6. Thanks for your insights Tsu. Now you've got me thinking!

    Have a splendid day.


  7. Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  8. Thanks for your input, Yeshe Dorje. I'm glad to hear it. Good wishes to you.

  9. tashi says:

    that only shows tibetan farmers so quoted by you were enjoying their right to express.this cant be taken as solid proof that ENlightened being most revered consort of Padma Sambhava could be judged.

  10. Posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  11. […] is the third article in a series of four: Feel free to read the first and second previously […]

  12. Padma Kadag says:

    very good point. yeshe tsogyal was and is beyond judgement whether by those farmers or our judging the reaction of those farmers…

  13. swati jr says:

    love this post! thanx. i call my guru the rebel rishi and i love him for breaking so many of the "rules". thank god for that!

  14. Dylan says:

    Love this, Sarah. Great job.

    Here's a Rogue Yogi you may enjoy…

  15. […] The Rogue Yogis & Buddhists: Yeshe Tsogyal, Princess Of The Wisdom Lake. ~ Sarah E. Truman […]

  16. tanya lee markul says:

    Hi Sarah, are you on Facebook?

  17. […] The Rogue Yogis & Buddhists: Yeshe Tsogyal, Princess Of The Wisdom Lake. ~ Sarah E. Truman […]

  18. […] article in a series of many. Check out the previous articles here, here, here and […]