Authors: Matteo Pistono
When Sogyal practiced deity yoga, he utilized mantra, sacred hand and bodily movements, and unwavering concentration to nurture and ultimately unite with awakenend qualities of Vajrakilaya. To unite inseparably with Vajrakilaya meant that Sogyal’s mind realized internally the qualities that the deity represents—fierce compassion and enlightened action. It was not as if the qualities of active compassion and wisdom that perceives reality as it is did not exist within Sogyal’s being previously, but through deity yoga, such enlightened qualities manifested, just as polishing a diamond brings out the brilliant shine.
Year of the Wood Monkey to the Wood Bird, 1884–1885
In the autumn of the Wood Monkey year (1884), Sogyal traveled to the fertile Mesho Valley to Dzongsar Tashi Lhatse Monastery to seek out the great master Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. Sogyal sought out Khyentse because Padmasambhava had prophesied the elder master as custodian for
The Most Secret Wrathful Vajrakilaya
. For every treasure teaching, Padmasambhava specified a holder, or custodian, whose duty was to protect and propagate the study and practice of the discovered teaching. The most important role of the treasure holder was to spread the treasure teachings. In the treasure’s prophetic guide, Padmasambhava had written of the importance for Sogyal to find the guardian: “If you hand
The Most Secret Wrathful Vajrakilaya
over to Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, it will eliminate obstacles and this profound treasure will have great benefit.”
Khyentse, along with his close friend and fellow visionary, Jamgön Kongtrul, were inspiring a nonsectarian movement that was reinvigorating Buddhist scholarship across Tibet. The Rime, or ecumenical movement, was a response to the radical changes in the previous century to Tibet’s religious environment when different religious traditions—namely, the Kagyu and Gelug schools—competed for political power and financial sponsors. Political and territorial competition were often conflated with doctrinal disputes of a philosophical nature, which created a twisted dynamic, and quarrels fed upon one other. The reformist Gelug school, aided by Mongolian military support, gained political supremacy and exerted its intellectual conformity throughout its vast network of monasteries. The Gelug influence permeated all levels of Tibetan government officials. Intolerance among the Tibetan Buddhist schools toward practices other than their own gained traction during this time, leading to solidified sectarianism. These divisions were most pronounced in central Tibet. It was against this backdrop of sectarianism and hardened divides among Tibetan Buddhists themselves that the Rime movement arose.
Khyentse’s and Kongtrul’s philosophical scholarship, encyclopedic knowledge, esoteric abilities, and spiritual insights were unmatched in the middle of the 19th century. Such authority was the backbone of their nonsectarian approach to the Dharma. The attitude of Rime honored the thousands of teaching and practice lineages in Tibet instead of proselytizing harmful biases. Rime was not so much a tradition as an attitude. Mingling all the old traditions together did not create it. Rather, Rime cultivated pure perception toward all the teachings of the Buddha, with the recognition that the different traditions are all valid means of bringing about liberation from suffering. While respecting other approaches, Rime adherents almost always follow one lineage as their main practice. As Sogyal came into his own as a treasure revealer, he developed profound spiritual relations with the senior Khyentse and Kongtrul and was himself an example of the Rime approach whereby one embodies fully one’s own tradition while respecting the paths of others.
Sogyal’s solo arrival at Dzongsar Monastery, two days’ ride from Drikok, to see Khyentse Wangpo was unannounced. A group of monks and village boys watched him ride through the dusty town up the hill to the monastery that stretched along a ridge. His Nyarong heritage was visible in the self-assuredness with which he cast a deadpan stare at the locals. Everyone at Dzongsar remembered when, 20 years prior, they had watched most of the monastery burn to the ground by the Nyarong chieftain Amgon. Anyone whose bone-lineage came from Nyarong was suspected of allegiance to Amgon, and Sogyal’s tough demeanor did not allay suspicion. As in most parts of Tibet, memories were extremely long here, especially for atrocities. Considering sending the Nyarong yogi back where he came from, three local village boys twisted fist-size rocks into their long sleeves, ready to use as an improvised mace. But nothing came of the ruffians’ challenges save a few insulting words hitting Sogyal’s back as he turned from the group.
From Dzongsar Monastery’s hilltop, Sogyal could see the dirt path leading north toward the holy pilgrimage sites around the Crystal Lotus Cave. To the southwest, barley fields stretched as far as the eye could see. Hundreds of tents were pitched in the fields and along the river below, with horses grazing in the distance. When Khyentse was seeing visitors, the number of tents often swelled to more than a thousand, filled with pilgrims and disciples hoping for a blessing from the great master.
Sogyal was shown into the 64-year-old master’s room, which was called the Joyful Grove of Immortal Accomplishment because Khyentse had experienced many visions there. Sogyal’s rigid jaw and high forehead framed his leathery cheeks roughened by the wind. He prostrated and offered Khyentse a white scarf and began narrating the revelation of
The Most Secret Wrathful Vajrakilaya
. Watchful for propitious signs, he asked Sogyal about his meditative experiences and dreams after the revelation. Khyentse listened intently. Sogyal also presented the prophetic guides, the golden parchment scroll with Yeshe Tsogyal’s dakini script, and the liturgies he had written thus far. Khyentse told Sogyal to return the next day. He needed to assess Sogyal’s authenticity.
This would not have been the first time that a so-called tertön approached Khyentse and laid out bags full of rocks and scraps of paper and other possible self-styled treasures and asked him for authentication. Khyentse had seen fraudulent treasure scrolls; fake tertöns had been around Tibet for centuries. It was believed that some such charlatans were the reincarnations of government ministers, who, possessed by demons, had nefarious intentions toward Padmasambhava.
Sogyal returned the following morning. Khyentse, standing head and shoulders over Sogyal, pointed to a tray with various golden treasure scrolls.
“I have compared the script on the golden parchment that you presented to me yesterday with the writing on other scrolls revealed by three authentic tertöns,” Khyentse said. “Your treasure scrolls and those from the past are exactly the same in quality and the handwriting of Yeshe Tsogyal is the same. That you are a revealer of Padmasambhava’s treasure I can fully attest.”
The great lama offered a precious terma rosary to Sogyal, along with blessed relics that he himself had revealed. With Khyentse’s authorization, Sogyal was validated as one of Padmasambhava’s representatives and a genuine treasure revealer. From that moment, Sogyal took the formal title of tertön. Later, when Tertön Sogyal affixed his seal to treasures he had discovered or prayers he authored, he sometimes signed with other names, including Lerab Lingpa, or the secret name of Trinley Thaye Tsal, meaning “Potential of Boundless Enlightened Activity,” given to him by Khyentse.
Tertön Sogyal and Khyentse spoke about their previous incarnations. Khyentse had been King Trisong Detsen, who, in the 8th century, had tasked Dorje Dudjom to escort Padmasambhava. They spoke as if death were a mere changing of clothes. A ritual feast was prepared in Khyentse’s quarters to celebrate the occasion. While prayers were being recited, a bejeweled casket spontaneously appeared on the central shrine, delivered by the treasure guardians. Khyentse told his attendant to bring it to him. He placed the casket on top of his own head as a blessing and then held it atop Tertön Sogyal’s crown as he said, “Our meeting has not been by chance.” At this moment, their minds and hearts mingled as one.
Just like a father would care for his only son, Khyentse gave Tertön Sogyal advice on critical matters, including how to reveal termas from his mind and the earth, finding perfect companions to accompany and inspire him, and the duties of the tertöns to mature their own disciples along the path to realization of the Dzogchen teachings.
“You will soon reach a time when your wealth and renown will increase greatly. At that time, do not follow the manner of the aristocrats. Rather, stay true to your mission.”
Before the celebratory feast was concluded, Khyentse told Tertön Sogyal, “To the southwest in the province of Gonjo, in the house of Khangsar, there is a dakini of unparalleled beauty who possesses the qualities of the Queen of Bliss, Yeshe Tsogyal, the spiritual consort of Padmasambhava.”
When Khyentse and others advised Tertön Sogyal on dakinis, sometimes they referred to feminine deities, other times to semi-divine female beings that could guide Tertön Sogyal on the spiritual path. Dakinis sometimes manifested to Tertön Sogyal as women possessing special qualities or meditative realizations. Tertön Sogyal would always check the dynamic physical and psychological traits of the dakinis with the descriptions in the tantras and Padmasambhava’s prophecies to be certain that they were the proper individuals to assist him and with whom to practice ceremonies.
“When the time is right, venture to Gonjo with this letter,” Khyentse said, handing Tertön Sogyal a note with his crimson seal affixed. “Ask the patriarch for the hand of his daughter, Pumo. Should she become your spiritual consort, the door to your storehouse of treasures will be flung wide open.”
Khyentse’s prophecy about Pumo in Gonjo highlighted one of the most significant factors contributing to a treasure revealer’s achievements—connecting with a dakini as a spiritual consort. Tertön Sogyal understood the great significance of finding Pumo, for wisdom consorts are ideal yogic companions for giving rise to the great bliss conducive to spiritual realization. Such consorts ensure that no obstacles arise in revealing maps to the treasures, and safeguard that the meanings of the teaching are decoded perfectly and completely. Similar to a muse who inspires the wellspring of creativity for an artist or the fire of genius for a writer
a treasure revealer’s consort rouses the power and energy required for the discovery and decoding of treasures. While the guru is the source of blessings for the yogi, and the deity is the root of meditative accomplishment, the dakini consort brings the auspicious circumstances that ensure that all the interdependent factors coalesce at the right time in the right place. It is especially through this auspicious link and yogic practice with a consort that the treasures inside the mind of the tertön are unlocked.
Tibetan yogis of Tertön Sogyal’s caliber use a specific understanding of the subtlest aspect of their bodies as the basis for their yogic practice with consorts. The human body has an intricate matrix of psychic-physical channels or conduits that feed into and run out of energy centers known as
these chakras are located at the regions of the crown, throat, heart, navel, and genitals. Vertically connecting the chakras are meridians through which the body’s vital energies flow. Tertön Sogyal practiced yoga to gain control over the flow of the energies, and especially the vital essence within the subtle channels, so as to attain meditative realization and stability. He mastered yogic practices in solitary retreat, including complicated breathing exercises, specific physical postures, and manipulation of energies, for example, by locking the internal energy channels. Outward signs of yogic accomplishment manifested, such as holding his breath for more than ten minutes, or remaining suspended in air while his legs were crossed in a full lotus. Nomads sometimes saw Tertön Sogyal sitting in the frozen landscape of winter in only a cotton shawl, melting snow around him in a ten-foot diameter because of the radiance from his inner-heat practice. Inner signs were evident in that Tertön Sogyal could gather all the energies and
of his body into his central meridian and arrest all thoughts, leaving his unbound awareness to mingle with space. But his ability to abide effortlessly in the direct recognition of nonconceptual wakefulness, whether during the day or during a sleep state, was supreme among his attainments. Never separating from the recognition of his pure nature, Tertön Sogyal mastered his yogic training and attained complete control of his winds, energies, and vital essence.