The Blessings of Guru Rinpoche and Mandarava
Padmasambhava is a name well-known to anyone who is a student of Tibetan Buddhism, and in particular those who follow the Nyingma School. To all Tibetans he is known simply as Guru Rinpoche – Precious Teacher. It was he who singlehandedly transformed Tibetan culture from a warlike society into a deeply spiritual peaceful one that has persevered until today despite obstacles and tragedies with his introduction of Vajrayana Buddhism in the 8th Century c.e.
Guru Rinpoche had two main consorts who helped him establish his teachings in the world. One was Yeshe Tsogyal, his principle Tibetan student who helped him hide his terma teachings throughout the Himalayan region to be revealed in the dark times we now live in. The other was Indian, a princess of the small kingdom of Zahor. That princess was Mandarava, named after the beautiful mandara flowers of the coral tree, one of the five fabled trees that grow in the paradise of Sukhavati.
Mandarava’s beauty was legendary, and suitors from the entire known world sought her hand in marriage, but she refused all of them to devote her life to the study of Dharma. She first met Guru Rinpoche when she was in secluded retreat with 500 female attendants and under strict orders from her father the king to have no males present. But Guru Rinpoche knew his student when he saw her and began teaching her and her attendants. This led to their discovery and the unleashing of the king’s wrath. Mandarava was thrown into a pit lined with thorns as punishment, while Guru Rinpoche was arrested and set upon a pyre to be burnt alive. However, Guru Rinpoche was no mere mortal but a fully enlightened Buddha. He transformed his funeral pyre into a pure lake which exists today as Tso Pema where he was discovered by the king’s ministers seated upon a lotus at the center of the lake. This led to the king renouncing his anger and prostrating to Guru Rinpoche as his teacher. Mandarava was released from her confinement, and the entire kingdom is said to have attained enlightenment.
Mandarava then accompanied Guru Rinpoche to Marathika Cave in the Himalayas where she became the first of his consorts at age 16. It was at Marathika that they practiced and accomplished the heart essence of Amitayus, the Buddha of boundless life. Both attained the rainbow body at this time. Because she attained the rainbow body, she is held to be present in the world today spreading and inspiring the Dharma for the benefit of sentient beings.
And indeed, she is present in the world. Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo was recognized by His Holiness Orgyen Kusum Lingpa as an emanation of Mandarava in 1995. In 1996 she undertook a pilgrimage to sacred places in India and Nepal associated with Mandarava, including Marathika Cave, Tso Pema, and Mandi, the former capital of the kingdom of Zahor. At Tso Pema she visited the small cave where Mandarava practiced. In the wall of the cave near the entrance there still exist the deep imprints of what is said to be the hands of Mandarava who clung to the living rock for dear life when her father’s soldiers came to drag her off to the thorny pit. Those who were present said that Jetsunma’s hands fit into the imprints perfectly. Jetsunma also said that she had a direct vision of Mandarava in that cave. And at Marathika Jetsunma experienced a clear vision of Buddha Amitayus. In 2007 at Dakini Valley, Arizona, Jetsunma’s students were blessed with a transmission of the Chime Tsog Thik, the very practice that was accomplished by Mandarava and Guru Rinpoche at Marathika Cave.
The stories of Guru Rinpoche and Mandarava are told in books like Advice from the Lotus-Born: A Collection of Padmasambhava’s Advice to the Dakini Yeshe Tsogyal and Other Close Disciples (Rangjung Yeshe Publications) and The Lives and Liberation of Princess Mandarava, The Indian Consort of Padmasambhava (Wisdom Publications).
Jetsunma is a living teaching on how a bodhisattva does not abandon samsara but returns again and again, lifetime after lifetime, for the sake of sentient beings, despite obstacles and negative forces. We pray that she may never abandon us.