Guru Padmasambhava in Nepal
It all started with an aspiration
The Kathmandu Valley of Nepal plays a pivotal role in the life story of Guru Rinpoche. In a previous life, the son of a humble poultry woman, he makes a single, powerful aspiration in front of the Jarung Kashor Stupa, now also known as the Boudha Stupa. Guru Padmasambhava’s enlightened activity in this world thus begins with an aspiration, and it is this aspiration that causes him to become the powerful tantric adept that we remember him as. The story behind how the Guru came to hold this aspiration is found in the History of the Great Stūpa, revealed by Ngakchang Shakya Zangpo.
The Epic of Padma
As told in the terma-history of the Jarung Kashor Stupa, Guru Rinpoche first came to Nepal in a previous life, as the son of a poultry woman. It is then that he made his powerful aspiration in front of the Jarung Kashor of Boudha.
In accordance with this aspiration, Guru Rinpoche took birth within a blossoming lotus flower, and so began his enlightened activity in our world. Guru Rinpoche journeyed to Nepal to practice at Lhundrup Tsek, the Spontaneous Mound charnel ground, an area that includes the modern-day pilgrimage sites of Boudhanath and Pashupatinath. Hundreds of years later, he returned with Mandarava, the princess of Zahor. Together they travelled to the Maratika caves, where both attained immortality – the vidyadhara with mastery over life – upon receiving empowerment from Amitayus himself.
Many years later, Guru Rinpoche came to the naturally arisen stupa of Swayambhu, where he took the Newar princess Shakyadevi as his consort. Together, they travelled to the Asura Cave & Yangleshö, in Pharping. Having overcome immense obstacles, they reached attainment – the mahamudra vidyadhara – through practicing Vajrakilaya combined with Yangdak Heruka, hiding countless terma-treasures and taming hosts of haughty spirits in the process. The Guru then entered a twelve-year retreat at Yarinak, the “Slate Mountain”. Upon attaining the signs of accomplishment there, he continued his journey to Chumik Changchub, the “Spring of Enlightenment”, where he overpowered the local spirits and bound them under oath to protect the Dharma.
Then, on his way to Tibet at the invitation of King Trisong Detsen, the Lotus-Born travelled once again to Nepal. Residing there for three months, he subdued the local spirits of Swayambhu, taught at É Vihara in Patan, blessed the Self-Arisen Avalokiteshvara Brothers in Patan and Central Kathmandu, and hid countless more teachings as terma-treasures throughout the land. At Tsawarong, in the Trisuli River valley, Guru Rinpoche bound more spirits as he made his way up to the Gungthang-Mangyul pass, where he was received by the king’s emissaries and entered Tibet.
Finally, upon leaving Tibet for the last time, flying through the sky to the lands of the rakshasas in the southwest, Guru Rinpoche alighted in Nepal once more. Once again, it was in the area of Tsawarong, and this time his purpose was to bestow his innermost heart instructions upon Yeshe Tsogyal, his closest consort and foremost disciple.
Wisdom Dakinis in Nepal
The landscape of Nepal has been (and one might say still is) blessed by countless female beings known as dakinis. Guru Rinpoche partnered with these wisdom consorts throughout his journey here, and their lives are thus inextricably linked with its main sacred sites. The following female disciples’ lives and activities as dakinis continue to imbue these sites of practice with a special power and charisma.
The three wisdom dakinis and close disciples –Kalasiddhi, Shakyadevi and Kunla Kunsashi– all actually took birth in Nepal. Kalasiddhi was accepted as a student by Guru Rinpoche and Mandarava when they were practicing in Ngatubchen, a mysterious region located somewhere outside the Kathmandu Valley.
Shakyadevi met Guru Rinpoche at Swayambhu and entered retreat with him as a sacred consort at Asura Cave & Yangleshö. After her realization of the practice, she went on to remain in Yangleshö, later bringing the Vajrakilaya teachings into the valley, where they disseminated widely.
Meantime, before Shakyadevi and Guru Rinpoche had completed their retreat, the Guru dispatched his student Kunla Kunsashi, the daughter of king Shilamanju, to India – along with her vajra-brother Jinamitra. Their mission: to bring back the Vajrakilaya teachings to Asura Cave & Yangleshö, so obstacles could be dispelled. Later, though, she was kidnapped by demons, and Guru Rinpoche finally rescued her during his stay at E Vihara.
Finally, Yeshe Tsogyal, queen of the wisdom dakinis, ventured twice to Nepal. Her first trip, at her Guru’s command, was to find a certain Acharya Sale – her destined spiritual consort. Arriving first at Jarung Kashor, she made vast aspiration prayers. She then continued to Bhaktapur, where she did find the young Acharya Sale, though he was bound in servitude to a wealthy family. The family refused to let him go unless Yeshe Tsogyal paid his weight in gold. So on her quest to find this bounty, Yeshe Tsogyal arrived at É Vihara in Patan, where she revived a boy who had just died. Overjoyed, the boy’s family offered her all the gold she needed, and with this she was able to ransom Acharya Sale. Together they returned to E Vihara, where they received teachings from Vasudhara –Guru Rinpoche’s disciple, and brother to Kunla Kushasi. Continuing to Yangleshö, they were able to exchange Dharma teachings with Shakyadevi, after which Yeshe Tsogyal returned to Tibet, spiritual consort at her side.
Yeshe Tsogyal came a second time to Nepal, together with six disciples, though this time not as a student, but as a teacher. She gave many teachings here, and accepted Kalasiddhi as her disciple. Finally, as mentioned above in Guru Rinpoche’s journey, Yeshe Tsogyal accompanied the Guru when he left Tibet for the land of the rakshasas, descending once more into Tsawarong, where she received his heart-essence teachings, the Atiyoga.