Authors: Matteo Pistono
Pema Dündul’s realizations surpassed even those who can direct their next rebirth, for he attained a deathless state called “rainbow body.” Pema Dündul’s consciousness did not depart his body at death. Instead, through the skill of specific esoteric Dzogchen meditations, he purified the last cognitive and emotional stains in his mind. At that point, the five coarse elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space of Pema Dündul’s body dissolved into their pure subtlest qualities of light: yellow, white, red, green, and blue. Then, Pema Dündul’s wisdom and the lights merged indivisibly; the union of innate awareness and appearances—the attainment of buddhahood, the unborn primordial nature of all—leaving behind only hair and nails. Pema Dündul’s potential for awakening was fully actualized.
Enlightenment is possible in this very lifetime; yet the time of death is uncertain. Pema Dündul’s attainment of the rainbow body motivated Sogyal more than ever to strive to realize the depths of his teacher’s instructions. As Sogyal’s resolve and own meditation deepened, his demeanor and attitude shifted from the rambunctiously unconventional to the profoundly wise. To some living at the hermitage, Sogyal appeared like a wide-eyed, crazed wanderer whose actions seemed erratic, while others saw him as a serious hermit. None of his cohorts, however, could fathom the deep catharsis that was happening within Sogyal whereby he was purifying his mind and heart. Nor did they know that Sogyal was discovering mystical maps and esoteric keys to hidden treasures.
Sogyal was also beginning his lifelong relationship with the class of beings known as treasure guardians. When Padmasambhava hid the treasure teachings in the 8th century, he entrusted them to a class of protector dakinis—treasure guardians—whose sole job was to safeguard the teachings until the revealer they were meant for and the appropriate time coincided. These guardians’ personalities, ornery and a bit jealous, was appropriate to the task of serving their role as gatekeepers to the treasure teachings. Padmasambhava most often enlisted local spirits whom he had subjugated to serve as the guardians—these were sometimes embodied as animals—while other guardians remained in the formless realm, invisible to most people. Most took mountains and other places in the Tibetan wilderness as their abodes. Treasure revealers communicated with these guardians in numerous ways, sometimes sweet-talking them and presenting offerings to obtain their help, while at other times the tertön would sternly remind them of their pledge to Padmasambhava and command them to deliver the treasure.
Though the tertön may know of the location of a treasure and the entrusted guardian, many varied causes and conditions need to be present for the revealer to bring forth a treasure either from the earth or from the depths of his mind. There are no guarantees termas will be discovered. When the interdependent factors coalesce auspiciously, a successful treasure revelation is imminent. Should there be a flaw in the circumstances, the treasure revealers will likely be unable to reveal the treasure, postponing Padmasambhava’s instruction, sometimes losing the opportunity altogether.
In the first month of the Wood Dog year (1874), Sogyal was reading by a single butter lamp before dawn at Drikok. The winter morning was wrapped in a deep, frozen silence. At Drikok, the countryside mirrored the internal landscape of the yogis—vast and crystal clear. Voiced mantras and prayer accentuated the stillness of the meditators’ minds. On this morning, after Sogyal supplicated Padmasambhava with the request, “Come and bless me with your grace,” and while he was making prayers to propitiate the local treasure guardian, his room spontaneously filled with white light. The light began waving into colors like the aurora borealis. The scent of sandalwood permeated the room. Sogyal rested for a few moments, utterly awestruck. Then, when he looked toward the shrine, he saw that the offering tray of
cakes made of barley, honey, sugar, yogurt, and butter he had earlier presented was taken and in its place was a dark stone treasure casket the size of his fist. Immense joy arose in his heart as he reached for the treasure casket to inspect, but he did not open it. He remained in meditation for the remainder of the day, with the casket placed before him.
The next day before sunrise, Sogyal was preparing to recite prayers when his normal perception again ceased. The room filled with light and perfume, and from out of the clear light, ethereal dakinis danced around him in celebration. He did not cling to the appearance of light, nor was he distracted by the surging bliss that arose from seeing the dakinis. Rather, Sogyal allowed the vision in front of him to arise and dissolve on its own accord while he remained in a state of equanimity. Sogyal prayed:
Hum. Padmasambhava and your hosts of dakinis, arise!
Buddhas of the past, present, and future and the ten directions, please pay attention.
Most revered wrathful Guru Padmasambhava, please come from the land of the accomplished ones.
Please think of this place with compassion and come here now.
Until we gain the heart of enlightenment, please subdue the obstructers, misleaders, and obstacle makers.
Please bestow supreme and general accomplishments, and take us from samsara’s ocean of suffering.
Sogyal’s mind then merged with the wisdom mind of Padmasambhava, and he remained unaltered in this state until the sunlight entered his room. When he looked again at the stone treasure casket on the shrine, he saw that it had opened by itself, revealing five compartments. Inside each compartment was a rolled golden parchment with dakini script. Like steam rising from a boiling kettle spout, wrathful and peaceful deities began to emanate from the paper and took up their place in the form of a mandala in the space before Sogyal. The script on the golden paper was the key for Sogyal to open a portal in his mind to a teaching from Padmasambhava. Sogyal remembered having been initiated into these wrathful and peaceful mandalas, which were appearing before him, when he was Dorje Dudjom. Sogyal reached for a pen and paper and wrote down liturgies associated with two of the mandalas. He then took the parchment scroll from the north and south compartments and unrolled them to discover they were prophetic guides for two treasure teachings on Vajrakilaya, one entitled
The Most Secret Wrathful Vajrakilaya
and the other
The Razor of the Innermost Essence.
In the future, these guides would lead Sogyal to the location of two Vajrakilaya practices.
A few days later, Sogyal left his retreat at Drikok encampment to join Lama Sonam Thaye and a group of disciples on a pilgrimage to the famed monastic university of Katok Dorje Den, to receive teachings from its throne holders. Sogyal also visited the hermitage Dzahka Sangak Rabten Ling and received instructions from Dza Choktrul Kunzang Namgyal, who became one of his main teachers. He made sure to keep the prophetic guides hidden from others, even from the masters he met. Anticipation grew within Sogyal’s mind because one of the prophecies indicated that it was at Katok Monastery where he would discover the teaching of
The Most Secret Wrathful Vajrakilaya.
One evening at Katok, when nobody else was around, Sogyal entered a room at the monastery for receiving visitors and saw a wooden chair. He knew this was the location of the treasure. From the arm of the chair, Sogyal extracted a small parchment, the key to the teaching of
The Most Secret Wrathful Vajrakilaya.
He unrolled the parchment that had mystical dakini syllables written in the hand of Lady Yeshe Tsogyal.
The scroll’s secret script was a mnemonic device that spurred Sogyal’s memory of receiving
The Most Secret Wrathful Vajrakilaya
from Padmasambhava and allowed him to reveal it in the present. As if the lock on a treasure chest were clicked open with the turning of a key, the teaching flowed from Sogyal’s mind. This is the special method of tertöns, which is a power arising from the wisdom of rigpa merging with memory. He ran back to his room and took out a pen and began deciphering the meaning of the arcane script. Words spilled forth from his wisdom mind onto the page.
Spontaneously perfect, illusory manifestation, the “Sixth” Buddha Vajradhara,
And, inseparable from them, the all-embodying Vajrasattva, Lord of Secrets and the rest—
Gurus of the lineage, to you we pray!
Pema Tötreng Tsal [Padmasambhava], fully empowered with awareness-creativity,
Yeshe Tsogyal, Blissful Lady of Secrets,
Dorje Dudjom, empowered to practice wrathful action, and the rest—
Awareness-holders of the phurba, to you we pray!
Glorious lama, embodiment of all the gurus, devas, and dakinis,
And deities of Vajrakilaya, magical expressions of compassion,
Together with the Vajrakilaya guardians, who weigh right and wrong, and all the treasure keepers—
To all you glorious deities of the mandala, we pray!
On the basis of our bodhichitta commitment to unsurpassable awakening,
We cultivate the supreme wisdom of the great bliss of union—
Inspire us, yogis and holders of the lineage of the Great and Glorious One,
With your blessings: grant us empowerment, strength, and capacity!
With the wisdom phurba, let us liberate self-clinging into all-pervading space!
With the phurba of great bliss, let us overcome habitual patterns in subtle energy and mind!
With the phurba of skillful means, let us transform all existence into the vajra!
With the phurba of activity, let us steal the life-force of all who harm the teachings!
In this way, may we gain the most supreme and wondrous of accomplishments,
In their entirety and at this very instant!
And, always inseparable from the great and glorious Heruka [Varjakilaya],
May we carry out the activity of spontaneously emptying samsara from its very depths!
Sogyal one-pointedly practiced
The Most Secret Wrathful Vajrakilaya
deity yoga for five years, remembering Padmasambhava’s instructions from ten centuries previous, and wrote associated esoteric liturgies, rituals, and mantras of the practice. A prophecy associated with the teaching instructed Sogyal, “Don’t spread the teaching to others for five years, even if someone approaches you with a request for it.” Indeed, Padmasambhava had warned tertöns, “If you divulge the instructions too early, other people will be jealous, covet the teachings, or slander them; so first bring forth the signs of accomplishment in your own
Of the myriad deity yoga practices in Tibetan Buddhism, Vajrakilaya is central to the tantric tradition of Padmasambhava, and it was Sogyal’s principal deity. Many deities of the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon are depicted as peaceful: sitting on lotus thrones with flowing silk robes, hands positioned in meditative equipoise, eyes softly cast low or inspiringly open. Such images symbolize a specific type of activity—deities such as Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, or Tara represent the Buddha’s qualities of compassion, unexcelled learning, and the granting of freedom from fear. The lineage of the Dalai Lamas embodies the Buddha of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara, who is often depicted in paintings as having a thousand helpful hands.
Vajrakilaya, on the other hand, is striding out of a raging firestorm, rolling between his hands a three-bladed ritual phurba dagger the size of the universe, grunting terrifying noises, and ornamented and clothed with various skins and animal parts. Vajrakilaya is the epitome of wrathful enlightened activity. Wrath is differentiated from anger. The intention behind anger is to inflict pain and harm. The purpose of Vajrakilaya’s wrath is to decisively remove obstacles on the spiritual path and to purify spiritual pollution, which is why Padmasambhava chose Vajrakilaya as his first instructions to his 25 closest disciples. Wrathful action and violent action may appear similar, but the motivations are diametrically opposite. Manifesting Vajrakilaya’s wrathful qualities, practitioners swiftly subjugate obstacles to their inner development and defeat the enemies of compassion by destroying their own self-centered egoism and negativity. Vajrakilaya’s principal armament is the phurba dagger, the great weapon of compassion, brandished to destroy demonic and negative forces. There is a particular emphasis in Vajrakilaya practice to cut through and annihilate anger and vengeance. At times when negativity is intense and pervasive, it is necessary for compassion to be accompanied by the power of the phurba.