The Mother Essence Lineage

Part 1 – Yeshé Tsogyel

Ngak’chang Rinpoche

The greatest inspiration and rôle model for women, in terms of Tibetan Buddhism, is the enlightened yogini Yeshé Tsogyel (Ye shes mTsho rGyal). Yeshé means ‘primordial wisdom’, and Tsogyel means ‘queen of the ocean-like quality of Mind’. She is the female Buddha of the Nyingma School. As a historical figure she is mother of all Nyingma Lineages. Yeshé Tsogyel, together with her incarnation and emanations are an inspiration to women as rôle models, and to men as a teachers.

Trakngak Lingpa stated:
The gö-kar chang-lo’i-de, the lineage of ordained white skirt long hair practitioners, is the very heart of the Nyingma lineage. The great gTértöns, the great masters of inner tantra, are usually Ngakpas or Ngakmas. From Saraha to the present the lineage of the white skirts has been vital to the survival of Vajrayana. In Tibet, there are many women and men who are Ngakmas and Ngakpas. I have heard in the west that some people think the Ngak’phang lineage is not real or that there are no female Ngakmas. This is absurd and based only on ignorance.

In the Mother Essence Lineage, there are three styles of teacher-student relationship; according to mDo (Sutra), rGyud (Tantra), and rDzogs-chen (Mahasandhi). According to Sutra one needs a teacher of the same gender. According to Tantra one needs a teacher of the other, or inverse gender. According to Dzogchen the gender of the teacher is irrelevant. From the perspective of Tantra, therefore, female teachers are rôle models for women and teachers for men – whereas male teachers are teachers for women and rôle models for men. Within the Mother Essence Lineage, the practice of everyday life is approached from the View of Tantra, and formal practice is approached from the View of Dzogchen. This account of the Mother Essence Lineage is written in a style that emphasises View rather than practice; and so it emphasises the perspective of Tantra. There is tremendous emphasis on what is called living the View in the Mother Essence Lineage, and this is a style of practice that is particularly suited to women.

Yeshé Tsogyel was the sang-yum or spiritual consort of Padmasambhava. Padmasambhava is known in the Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism as the Second Buddha. Padmasambhava was the founder of Buddhism in Tibet, and the Nyingma (Ancient) School represents the first spread of Buddhism in Tibet when it surged with the spiritual dynamism provoked by Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel. Padmasambhava’s birth and activity were predicted by Buddha Shakyamuni, who said that a being of tremendous power and compassion would appear after his death, who had the capacity to transmit the teaching and practices of Tantra. The two primary aspects of the practice of Tantra consist of wisdom and active-compassion, and these are regarded as being female and male qualities respectively. Wisdom and active-compassion are fundamentally the enlightened human qualities of Emptiness and Form – the ornaments of non-duality. (This is a teaching that is also fundamental to the Sutric teaching. It is found in the Heart Sutra, in which it is stated that form is emptiness and emptiness is form.) With regard to Tantra, Padmasambhava is Form or active-compassion, and Yeshé Tsogyel is emptiness or wisdom. From this perspective, the whole of reality is seen as the dance of Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel. Within the Ngak’phang Sangha of the Nyingma School, every Lama and her or his spiritual consort are Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel as far as their disciples are concerned.

In the Mother Essence Lineage Yeshé Tsogyel and her incarnations and emanations are of primary importance, because she is the Mother of Vision, and therefore the Mother of non-dual experience. Tantra contains methods that are particularly valuable for women, because of their emphasis on the development of Vision. It is said, within the Tantric teachings, that women have greater capacity for realisation than men because of their greater natural resonance with the sphere of Visionary practice. The most inspirational example in the Tantric tradition of the profound capacity of women is Yeshé Tsogyel. She was the first Tibetan woman to achieve Buddhahood and has had numerous incarnations and emanations in Tibet and the other Himalayan countries. The Visionary origin of the Mother Essence Lineage is Yeshé Tsogyel, and her influence can be traced forward to the twentieth century through her incarnations. The incarnations of Yeshé Tsogyel include: Ma-gÇig Labdrön; Jomo Menmo; Jomo Chhi’mèd Pema; and, Aro Lingma – the women who gave birth to the pure-vision revelations that are called the Aro gTér.