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Buddhadharma : Winter 2007
winter 2007| 40 |buddhadharma by successive tertöns, or “treasure reveal- ers,” during times of strife. In her well-known namthar, or story of “complete liberation,” which was revealed by the seventeenth-century ter- tön Taksham Nuden Dorje (available in English translations by Keith Dowman and the Padmakara Translation Group), Yeshe Tsogyal is portrayed as a gutsy woman striving for enlightenment. She faces vari- ous trials while practicing meditation in mountain solitudes: scorn from villagers, torment by demons, starvation, and even rape. Through these trials, she is shown transforming adversity into fuel for her practice and gaining realization. Moreover, in her namthar, one finds the striking state- ment by Padmasambhava that a woman with strong determination has a greater potential for attaining enlightenment than a man. In this way, Yeshe Tsogyal serves as an important example of a woman who traversed the Buddhist path. However, if we think of Yeshe Tsogyal primarily as an ancestor who demon- strates that enlightenment is possible in female form, we grossly underestimate her significance for Tibetans. Moreover, we run into the problem (as with so many female figures in Buddhist literature) of establishing her historicity. For Tibetans, Yeshe Tsogyal is not just a figure from the distant past; she remains an active and enduring presence. In the outer frame of her namthar, we see her portrayed as a timeless being—an Yeshe Tsogyal is the preeminent lady of Tibetan Buddhism. While most—if not all—of what we know about her life is highly mythologized, she is revered by Tibetans as a foremost disciple and consort of Padmasambhava, the eighth-century tantric master credited with a seminal role in establishing Buddhism in Tibet. Yeshe Tsogyal is also celebrated for transcribing Padmasambhava’s teachings and conceal- ing them as treasures across the Tibetan and Himalayan landscape, to be revealed holly Gayley iS currently completinG her diSSertation on the life and WritinGS of khandro tare lhamo for a ph.d. in tibetan StudieS at harvard univerSity. in January, She beGinS teachinG at the univerSity of colorado at boulder. C The Many Lives of Yeshe Tsogyal D holly Gayley discusses the power of Padmasambhava’s foremost disciple and consort, Yeshe Tsogyal, and the life of one of her modern emanations. women ancestors uSedWiThThekindpermiSSionofhiSeminencenAmkhAdrimedrinpoche