Taktshang was built in the 17th Century over a cave where Guru Rinpoche and his consort, Yeshe Tsogyel, arrived on the back of a flying tigress.
Yeshe Tsogyel, mystic, ascetic, poet and the most famous of Tibet’s enlightened women, is a female emanation of the Buddha. She is a dakini, magic skywalker and Great Mother.
But I have no sky dancing dakini or flying tigress to ride. I climb to Taktshang alone, one step, one breath at a time, up the steep, boulder-strewn trail to a sanctuary built over the cave where Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyel meditated. Guru, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, subjugated the bloodthirsty demons of Bon and forced them to serve the Buddhist dharma of compassion. With equal skill, he transformed Tsogyel into the goddess Kuntuzangpo, a visionary rainbow-being, to instruct and delight the world
Tsogyel was born the Princess of Karchen in 8th Century Tibet and grew into a beautiful, obstinate girl. At twelve, besieged by hordes of suitors, she ran away, fleeing south across the high frozen passes. At thirteen she was found and Tibet’s Emperor Trisong Detsen took her as his queen. When she was fifteen, the Emperor gave Tsogyel to Guru Rinpoche as a gift of gratitude for the Emperor’s initiation into Tantra. Then Guru instructed Tsogyel in the mandala of mystic union and set her on the path to enlightenment.
By age thirty Tsogyel had performed miracles and raised the dead; suffered assault and torment, and was accused of being a whore. She had spent three years meditating in high frozen wastelands, wearing only cotton, then going naked and coming close to death. She had mastered both physical and mystic yoga perfected her healing arts and was attacked for being a witch. Walking across the Himalaya she was robbed and raped by seven bandits. They became her disciples when she sang them a spontaneous song of enlightenment and initiated them into mahamudra, the insight of emptiness and wisdom, mind with no object, pleasure without lust. Tsogyel transformed all into awareness and let whatever happened, be the path to enlightenment.
I stand on the wall of the temple’s stone terrace, looking straight down a thousand meters to the valley floor. Watching the patterns of tidy villages marked with shrines and prayer flags, I raise my eyes to the sun sinking behind forested mountains and imagine that this is what Tsogyel and Guru saw 1200 years ago.
My mind is like a waterfall cascading over a cliff, always there, ever changing, never still, sometimes raging, only slowing to a murmur when I walk. It will be dark soon. Looking for the dancing light, listening for the Guru’s voice in the song of birds, the wind in the trees, the sound of falling water, I turn and walk.
From BHUTAN: Hidden Lands of Happiness, by John Wehrheim (Serindia 2011)