The Story of a Tibetan Yogini

Shungsep Jetsun (1852-1953)
Prepared by Kim Yeshi & Acharya Tashi Tsering
With the assistance of Sallie Davenport & Dorjey Tseten

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Shungsep Jetsun

Shungsep Jetsun was born Lochen in Tso Pema, a holy place associated with Padmasambhava in the hills of north-west India. Her life, characterized by incessant wanderings throughout the Himalayan regions of India, Nepal and Tibet, emulated those of Tibetan yogis who had roamed these regions, meditating and teaching, for hundreds of years. She is probably one of the last examples of this lifestyle, which came to an abrupt end in the 1950s, with the Chinese invasion of Tibet.

Lochen’s childhood was marked by the domestic difficulties and squabbles of her wandering parents. Her father, Dondrup Namgyal, was quarrelsome and inclined to drink. Originally from the U province of Central Tibet, he was send away as an adolescent to serve his nephew, an incarnate lama called Yandro Yonten Tulku, at his monastery. He soon quarrelled with the local people and left both the monastery and the area, telling his nephew, ‘You are like a wolf and your monastery a wolf’s lair.’ He did not return home, but wandered here and there, ending up in Bhutan.

There he met a local lama by the name of Khanden and was taken into his service. The Swayambu stupa in Kathmandu had been under Bhutanese care until it was lost to the Nepalese a few years before.  Shortly after Dondrup Namgyal’s arrival, Khenden Lama went to Kathmandu and managed to regain custody of the stupa.
Feeling that Dondrup Namgyal had bought him good fortune, he told him, ‘Your name may be Namgyal, but I’m going to call you Thong (which meant good luck like Tashi in Tibetan).’

The Early Years

Dondrup Namgyal stayed in Khenden Lama’s service for several years, then went to serve another Bhutanese lama, Kalwar in the monastery of Thong Hago. Kalwar Lama was old and passed away soon afterwards, leaving his young wife, Tsentsar Pemba Dolma, who originally hailed from Nepal, alone and childless. Pemba Dolma was much grieved by her husband’s death. Declaring that she found cyclic existence quite meaningless, she planned to renounce the world and spend the rest of her life visiting the pilgrimage places of Western Tibet, India and Nepal.

Taking Dondrup Namgyal with her, she wandered from place to place, leading the life of a pilgrim, begging from falling back on the resources left her by Kalwar Lama. A relationship eventually formed between them and Pemba Dolma, who had regretted remaining childless, began to follow the advice of an older village woman on an infallible method for bearing a male heir. It involved her collecting stones from holy places and carrying them on her back. She went about lugging and increasingly heavy loads until she began to have unusual dreams and felt her wish had been fulfilled. In one particular dream she was standing by a crowd of women washing their hair in a spring. She suddenly looked up and saw staring down at her someone attired like the deity Heruka. In another, she was returning from Tibet and came across women wearing ornaments who told her, ‘You bathe first and when you are finished, you can look after our ornaments while we bathe.’

Pemba Dolma was convinced that the dreams were special signs concerning the child she had conceived. She felt very happy and announced that the infant in her womb must be a lama or at least some special being.

On the fifteenth day of the first month of the wood ox year (1852), Pemba Dolma gave birth in Tso Pema to a female child. The delivery was painless, accompanied by a slight earth tremor and a rain of flowers. Voices were heard reciting manis, the six-syllable mantra of Avalokiteshvara. It is said that the child was born cross-legged, her arms crossed on her chest in the gesture of holding a bell and vajra and that many heard her say, ‘Om mani padme hum.’

Though most people who witnessed these events were filled with respect and awe, Dondrup Namgyal remained unimpressed. The birth of a daughter made him feel he had somehow been cheated and he directed his discontent at his wife, sneering, ‘You said you were giving birth to a lama and you had only a girl. Throw her out!’ He continually mocked her for her previous dreams and statements concerning the child. After Lochen’s birth, things went from bad to worse between her parents, her father drinking and mistreating her mother. When Lochen was a few months old and they were staying in Gashar, in the Indian Himalayas, he sold mother and child to some chang sellers, probably in payment for drink. For Pemba Dolma he took three silver rupees, and for Lochen two. The incident was reported to the local official, who objected to such transactions under his jurisdiction and ordered Lochen and her mother to be returned to Dondrup Namgyal. When she heard the official’s decision, Pemba Dolma begged him to just let her go, for she had no wish to stay with her cruel husband. Hearing this, Dondrup Namgyal was filled with remorse and broke down in tears. He asked the official at least to give him custody of his daughter. Trying to resolve the dispute, local people advised Dondrup Namgyal to treat his family better and made him promise not to beat his wife. Pemba Dolma finally agreed to stay with him and they left together for Spiti, Lochen strapped to her mother’s back.

On the way, they came to a large river, on the banks of which they found a sword. Pemba Dolma, worried about the future for herself and Lochen, felt this was a special sign. Picking up the sword she prayed, ‘If my daughter is to be of benefit to the doctrine and beings, may we cross that river. If not, let the water carry us both away.’ There was neither bridge nor ferry, but Pemba Dolma resolutely entered the water and began to ford the river. Due to the strong current, she soon lost her balance and mother and daughter were nearly drowned. Suddenly, a woman appeared out of the sky and grabbed hold of Pemba Dolma’s hand. When they reached the other side, she disappeared and Pemba Dolma was unable to find her though she looked everywhere. Some people said they had seen a woman flying away.

Although apparently fond of his daughter, Dondrup Namgyal continued to drink and was often short of money. One day, he sold Lochen to a merchant for a handful of silver. Pemba Dolma had to wait outside the merchant’s house until she came out, when she picked her up and ran off with her. Coming to the hot springs in Kulu, they found Dondrup Namgyal there before them. After he promised never to sell either of them again, they were reconciled once more.

The First Teachings

One day, when the family was living in a tent, Dondrup Namgyal came home drunk and told his wife he wished to leave her. He proposed that since they had only one daughter, they should cut her in half so they could each have their share. Lochen, who was listening outside, ran away terrified to hide under some thorny bushes. Crouching in her hiding place, she suddenly felt very light and heard melodious voices all around her.

Immersed in physical and mental bliss, Lochen did not notice time go by and one week passed without her knowledge. Her family and all the local people had searched high and low and failing to find her, concluded that she had been eaten by wild animals.

When she finally emerged from her hiding place, Lochen was greeted by many children who, bewildered at seeing her alive, prostrated to her, blew trumpets and asked her for teachings. Sitting on an elevated spot, she recited these verse,

In order to lead all sentient beings to Buddhahood,

One must accumulate merit

And with great motivation one must listen (to the teachings).

She taught refuge and other basic practices. Stating that Tibet’s protective deity was Avalokiteshvara, she instructed her young listeners to meditate on him and to recite his mantra, OM MANI PADME HUM, saying it was the essence of the Buddha’s doctrine. At that time many took refuge in the three jewels as well as making commitments to recite the mantra.

When this took place, Lochen was about four and still drinking her mother’s milk. Many people criticized her, saying it was wrong to preach at so young an age, but a mani master called Gonkar defended her saying she was either an emanation of Tara or Machig Labdron. He gave her many transmissions on ways of reciting Avalokiteshvara’s mantra and said that when she reached six, Lochen would be a mani lama in her own right, having mastered all the necessary transmissions and ways of reciting the texts.

Dondrup Namgyal was never really kind to his wife, but he learned to love his daughter. When Lochen was five, he felt she should learn to read and took her to a former government official, who having become a devout practitioner, the local people respected the lama. He taught Lochen to read and write and she learned quickly and easily.

At the age of six, Lochen began to give teachings. She had a patron, a Khampa merchant called Tashi who asked her to travel from town to town, explaining the meaning of mani. People would assemble in the marketplaces by the thousands to hear her. Tears sprang from the eyes of the crowd as they watched this tiny figure standing on tiptoe to point an enormous stick at an even larger thanka, teach and comment faultlessly on the stories concerning Avalokiteshvara’s mantra.

Slowly, her fame spread and while travelling in the Western Tibetan area of Rampur, the local king asked her to teach. She inspired such faith that people started referring to her as dakini. In a place called Tsondarong, people offered her money and valuables, sheep and goats. She returned the former and left the few sheep and goats to her mother.

One cold, rainy morning, when the family was staying in a straw hut, Lochen heard a voice singing from the roof. She was busy lighting a fire and looking up, saw a bearded Indian sage. He sang, ‘Father who sells his child eats his own flesh, drinks his own blood.’ He remained there, singing about Lochen’s father. Next day, the sage returned, bringing a partly burned rosary. He showed it to Lochen and asked, ‘How did this happen?’ Her father who had been eyeing the sage curiously replied for her with a flow of insults and the sage disappeared. Later, while the father and daughter slept, the fire from the stove suddenly spread through the hut until the flames were licking their feet. Both awoke in pain. The sage appeared, picked up Lochen and carried her to the river where he dipped her burned feet into the cool water. They were instantly healed.

Thinking the sage had stolen his daughter, Dondrup Namgyal ran out of the hut shouting, ‘Don’t take my child!’ when he reached the river bank, he found Lochen alone. The sage had disappeared.

Lochen continued to travel and teach throughout Western Tibet and the adjoining areas of Ladakh. At Pitu monastery during the cham festival she saw the ritual dances and had visions of many gods riding dragons about to speak to her.

One New Year, the family came to Tso Pema. Dondrup Namgyal continuing to drink heavily, threatened to burn down a local house. Outraged, the people beat him with burning sticks until Lochen begged them to stop. When they asked her for teachings, some pointed out that it was ludicrous on the one hand to beat up the father and on the other to ask the daughter for teachings and they promised to let him alone, however unpleasant he might be. They mused, ‘The father is like a devil, the girl like a goddess, where can these people be from?’

Lochen liked to save animals from slaughter and often spent money given to her on buying sheep and goats, especially in the nomad areas. She kept a large female goat on which she rode. It was so tame that it would get down on its knees so Lochen could mount it without difficulty. She travelled throughout Western Tibet riding that goat. When they encountered difficulties, they were helped by the protectors. In one dangerous place, full of wild animals, they could find no water. Lochen spotted a raven flying above them and following it, found a spring where they all quenched their thirst.

Lochen’s parents continued to accompany her on her travels, and though her father’s mood and behaviour had its up and downs, he didn’t really change. Once when they were in Purang, he fell in love with a woman called Doltso, and decided to stay with her. Thinking it wiser to let him have his way, his wife and daughter left him there and went to Nepal. A few days later, he joined them where they were staying. He asked where they planned to go, but before they answered, added, ‘If you go east, I will go west.’ He is mentioned no more in Lochen’s biography.

Lochen Finds Her Root Guru

When Lochen was thirteen and travelling through Tso Pema, she met a lama of the King Sawor who told her, ‘Ani Dolma, my uncle Pema Gyatso is a disciple of Shalikar Rinpoche. He lives in Kyirong (Western Tibet). You should go there and meet him.’ Hearing the name ‘Pema Gyatso’ (though she had never met him), Lochen felt very moved and was determined to find this lama, wherever he might be. She took several months to reach Kyirong, where she heard that Pema Gyatso was staying in a cave a few hours walk away. Lochen and her mother had prepared offerings and were about to set out to meet him, when they heard there was an epidemic in the area. Pema Dolma decided to stay behind, but Lochen went ahead, though night was coming on.

That night, she slept under the stars and at daybreak had an auspicious dream about the lama she was going out to meet. She awoke in a very joyful mood, bought a clay pot full of milk from some nearby nomads to give as an offering, and set off towards the cave. On the way, she saw a nun collecting water from the river. The nun stopped and looked her up and down. Later Lochen said that meeting this nun holding a vessel filled with water was an auspicious sign of her future fame. She asked the nun, whose name was Tsultrim, where the lama was to be found, and if she could meet him. Tsultrim offered to show her the way.

Lochen met the lama in his cave, made her offerings and paid her respects. It is said that as a result of Lochen’s  offering of a vessel of milk to her lama, many years later someone offered a cow to her nunnery at Shungsep. And though it bore no calf for eight years, it provided milk continuously.

Pema Gyatso blessed her and told her that if she were willing to observe the ascetic precepts known as the Ten Innermost Jewels of Kadam, he would accept her as his disciple. She decided there and then that whatever might happen, she would put all her heart into these practices and told the lama so. Pema Gyatso began to explain the meaning of the Six Causes and One Result method for generating the altruistic mind of enlightenment. It was difficult and Lochen was unable to grasp the meaning. Her lack of comprehension brought tears to her eyes and she begged for further explanations. Those present were amazed to see such a young girl paying such close attention to religious teachings.

Lochen stayed a few days with Ani Tsultrim and was soon joined by her mother. They built a small house of bamboo in the mouth of a cave and Lochen attended the lama’s teachings during the day. They were rarely over before dark, and her mother would wait for her outside the lama’s cave with a bamboo torch. Lochen received transmissions of Kunzang Lama and all the empowerments. Transmissions and explanations of Longchenpas’ Heart’s Drop instructions of the Dzogchen or Great Completion, as well as one hundred initiations of Chö, the ritual for severing the ego.

One day, as Lochen went begging for alms, she came to a small nunnery where a young nun was churning milk. The nun welcomed her and offered her a bowl of milk. It was poisoned and Lochen became violently ill. She prayed hard and practised the Vase-liked Wind meditation with the result that she threw up the milk riddled with snakes.

Training and Hardship

Lochen had met her lama in the summer. In winter, he moved from his cave to another small nunnery nearby, where he gave extensive teachings and their food begging alms and wherever Lochen went, people showed her great respects and generosity. Close by was a lama who received far fewer alms than Lochen and consequently highly resented her popularity. Finally, feeling he could bear it no longer, he went to see Pema Gyatso and told him that Lochen received a great deal of offerings. Pema Gyatso asked what was wrong with that and he replied, ‘Nothing, but she goes around saying she is an incarnation of Dorjey Phagmo’. Pema Gyatso said nothing, but when Lochen appeared before him a few days later with offerings she received, instead of accepting her gift, he grew very angry and accused her of lying and pretending she was an incarnation of Dorjey Phagmo. As she stared at him in disbelief, he grabbed her offerings, climbed up to the roof of the nunnery and flung them down at her along with his boots. Though Lochen was hurt, she crouched down to pick up the boots and placed them on her head as a mark of respect.

After this incident, Lochen continued to attend her lama’s teachings though he ignored her. One day, he gave each of his disciples a clay statue of Machig Labdron, but when Lochen came to receive hers, Pema Gyatso told her sarcastically that being either an incarnation of Machig Labdron or Machig Labdron herself, she didn’t need one.

Lochen began to meditate on the psychic channels and energy winds at the age of seventeen. From the outset she consulted her lama who consented to guide her and gave her a text. The following day, he called her back and asked her to return the book. He explained that he had had a bad dream and consequently felt she shouldn’t be doing this practice. Instead, he taught her the practice of the Vase-like Wind for a few days and stopped there. Since they were receiving no teachings, Lochen and a few companions decided to go begging for alms. While they were away, Pema Gyatso gave his remaining disciples an explanation of the way to meditate on the channels and winds, a prerequisite for the practice that Lochen was so much aspiring to. When she returned and found out that she had missed the teaching, she was very upset, but nonetheless decided to ask her lama to give it to her as well. To her joy, he agreed and she immediately went to buy the meditation band and white shawl required to do the practice following the initiation.

The twenty-one day of that month was an auspicious date, and Pema Gyatso assembled all his disciples to bestow on them once more the explanation of the practice of wind and channels. Some days earlier, Lochen had come to know that Ani Tsultrim, the nun who had originally shown her the way to the lama’s cave, had stolen some corals. Shocked and upset, she mentioned it to several people. Pema Gyatso caught wind of the rumour and called Lochen in to see him. He told her in a dry and cutting tone, ‘You have three faults. You criticize the Ani Umzey, you lie by pretending to be the incarnation of Dorjey Phagmo, and you accused your friend of stealing. I cannot have you here any longer. You are not fit to be given these precious teachings.’ He then stamped her forehead with a seal representing a dog and ordered her to leave both the nunnery and the locality immediately and go to a place called Pomdra in Nepal.

Miserable and deeply humiliated, Lochen begged her lama to let her stay. Her pleas failed to move him and feeling totally dejected, she packed her belongings and left with her mother and two friends, who insisted on accompanying her.

After some distance, they came to a crossing. Pondering which path to follow, a nomad suggested the right as the other led to a region stricken with disease. They followed his advice, though with little joy, for the road was steep and rocky, which made travelling difficult. Finally they reached a village, set in a narrow valley, where the people spoke a dialect they could barely understand. No one offered them a roof  for the night, so they slept out in the open and were bitten by insects. In spite of such hardship, Lochen clung on to her faith in her lama and did not forsake her compassion for all beings. That night she had a very clear dream of him giving teachings. She woke feeling sad and sang,

I prostrate to the great yogi Pema Gyatso,

The exalted Heruka,

All-encompassing Lord Vajradhara

Of all infallible objects of refuge

I, Mani Lochen, am just a beggar

Vowed to accumulate merit

And purify and purge my sins for three years

Near the mirror-like rock hermitage.

Amidst the Hai mountains, in the western direction.

Father-like holy root guru

Following your instructions, I meditate on this life

As a free and fortunate human being

And the stages of the path without any mental distraction.

And when I meditate with undivided attention I experience (the following):

Ordinary appearances having simply ceased,

(Intuitive awareness) appears vividly to my mind

Yet is inexpressible by speech.

When mind is relaxed, I experienced that beyond mind

In my experience of peace, I ecstatically uncovered non-conceptual reality

I meditated on that which is neither continued nor reversed,

Earlier or later not just once, but again and again.

I burst into natural laughter

Upon seeing the self-nature and self’s spontaneity,

I can definitely ascertain there is no more to look for.

Thus this offering of the mode of appearance of a beggar

I offer to the Victorious Ones and their Sons.

Through the kindness of my lama

I sing a song of spiritual experience

And dedicate my virtues to all mother sentient beings.

May this be a cause for realizing the Great Completion (Dzogchen).

Unfortunately, an attendant of the local king overheard her song and misinterpreted it as criticism of his master. He reported that a young nun was singing strange verses about him. The king was annoyed and sent out men to punish her. Unable to find Lochen, they caught her friend Tsering Gyalmo and locked her in prison. Lochen, her mother and Kador, their other companion, pleaded before the king, but he remained unyielding. Lochen then decided to go with Kador begging for tsampa, leaving her mother to look after her imprisoned friend. They came to a frail rope bridge over a broad river. Kador was crossing first when one of the ropes suddenly snapped. With a jerk, Kador fell straight into the torrent below.

Observing her friend from the edge of the precipice, and pondering a few seconds over her bad luck – of her two companions, one was in prison, and the other in the river below – she made up her mind. Praying to her lama, she meditated on the Vase-like Wind and wishing that all sentient beings be freed from cyclic existence, she jumped down into the water. She landed near Kador who was struggling for breath and managed to pull her onto a large rock. Local people, who had been watching from the river bank, concluded she must be a dakini and reported what had happened to the king. Realizing his mistake and filled with regret, he summoned Lochen, her mother and Kador and had Tsering Gyalmo released immediately from prison. Then bowing before Lochen, he begged her for religious instruction and offered her many gifts. She gave him teachings on the meaning of Avalokiteshvara’s six-syllable mantra and how to practise it.

A few weeks passed and Lochen and her companions decided to return to the nunnery and Pema Gyatso, hoping his anger has abated. For her part, Lochen knew that despite the ill treatment she had received from him, her faith in her lama remained intact and she was more willing to face his anger than to stay away. Upon reaching the nunnery, she prostrated before Pema Gyatso and told him that she and her companions had been to the place he had instructed and had now returned. He seemed to be pleased, though not particularly impressed when they related the incident at the river.

Soon after this, Pema Gyatso, accompanied by Lochen and other disciples set out on a pilgrimage through Western Tibet. They first went to Penchen Pema Wangyel’s monastery in Ngari, visiting the holy sites and viewing the many stones naturally adorned with mantras. When they came to a cavern, Pema Gyatso instructed Lochen to strike a large boulder with her staff. She obeyed and to everyone’s surprise excrement came pouring out. The lama then struck it and a large piece detached itself, revealing a natural image of Avalokiteshvara’s mantra. More and more pieces fell off, creating a shower of naturally formed mani stones. Lochen gathered them up and built a mani wall. As they performed the consecration ceremony, she realized that her lama was clairvoyant.

In the years that followed, Lochen continued to wander throughout Tibet, giving teachings and begging for alms. Sometimes she and her companions came to wild places where, like Milarepa, they lived on nettle soup. In inhabited areas, local people readily offered them food. Once somebody gave them a brick of tea. Having never seen one before they mistook it for a kind of vegetable. Lochen cooked it and carefully removed all the juice before eating the leaves.

At a place called Nagtsel Monastery, Lochen entered a three-year retreat on the Heart’s Drop and Accomplishment of the Guru Milarepa. During this retreat, she had visions of girls wearing beautiful ornaments beckoning her to visit their land. She had an urge to write and thought of gathering tree bark. Then feeling that she was in a pure land, she remained some time in a state of bliss. When she emerged, she found her lap strewn with strips of bark covered in writing. Before she had time even to read them, the nun who was directing Lochen’s retreat, Chu Sang, came into her cell and saw these Hidden Treasures, which had been revealed to her. Seizing the strips of bark, she said these were not for anyone to see. When Lochen tried to retrieve them, she hit her on the head and burned them all. From that moment, Lochen’s realizations disappeared and she was beside herself with regret and disappointment. One of her friends, Ani Woser, tried to console her saying, ‘Don’t worry, although there is much doctrine in this world, it is very difficult to attain any kind of realization. You may not have been able to spread these Hidden Treasures, but they are safe in the dakini’s land, so please don’t worry.’ At the end of her retreat, Lochen reported her experiences to her lama, adding that she had felt great bliss while meditating. He said nothing but ‘Hetta’, meaning that her view on emptiness was correct.

Sometime later, Pema Gyatso and his disciples, including Lochen, went on a pilgrimage to Nepal and many holy sites in Tibet. At Swayambu in Nepal, they repainted the stupa and Lochen gave teachings on Avalokiteshvara’s mantra. Her main aim was to educate the local people in the correct method of practising Buddhism and to put a stop to the doings of a local lama called Ja Lama who, mixing Buddhist and Hindu teachings, sacrificed buffaloes and offered their heads on Buddhist altars. Lochen’s instruction had a positive effect and the sacrifices stopped. Ja Lama said that he regretted his actions and promised to change his behaviour.

At Sakya they met Dagtri Rinpochey. A Phurbu dance was in progress at the monastery and they remained for the whole duration. Lochen had visions of rainbows and rains of flowers and felt that Sakya was a pure land. Sakya Dagmo inspired her with great faith, and throughout her stay, she prayed that she might benefit all sentient beings.

In Tashi Lhunpo, Lochen circumambulated the monastery each morning, reciting a special text. She had a very beautiful way of singing the verses and it is said the Gesheys listened to the melodious sound with great pleasure.

In Lhasa, they met lama Kyabgon Dharma Sengey who lived in retreat in Lhasa Phumba-ri. With him, they had an audience with the Thirteen Dalai Lama. They offered him a mandala and he gave them the transmission of the Hundreds of Deities of the Land of Joy and teachings on the Migtsema prayer to Je Tsongkhapa. Then, they visited all the holy places in Lhasa.

When she arrived at Ganden monastery wearing her thin cotton robe, many of the monks, having heard that a yogini had come, crowded round to see her, staring and whispering to each other. She sang the following verses to them,

Father, revered guru Pema Gyatso

Acharya in Sanskrit and Naljorpa (yogi) in Tibetan

I prostrate to you, who have realized the true nature of the mind

When I arrived at Ganden monastery,

Hearing that there was a yogini,

Many gathered in crowds to stare at me.

I examined myself (to see) whether I was a yogini or not

And it seems you are right (in implying I am not).

The white yogi is Padmasambhava

Who taught the entire doctrine of sutra and tantra,

The white yogi is Tsogyal (Padmasambhava’s consort)

I am just a beggar who is only their follower.

Atisha was the multicoloured yogi

Who has spread the Dharma wide in India and Tibet

And from whom emerged the new and old traditions of Kadam.

The mother Tara is the many coloured yogini,

I am just a beggar who has received her blessing.

The black yogi is the father Dampa,

Who taught the doctrines of peace and of Chö.

I cut off the self-grasping consciousness and realized emptiness.

The black yogini is mother Labdron

Ugly though I am, I preserve her doctrine

All that I hear, see and feel

Are the blessings of three yogis.

May I be the liberator of all mother sentient beings

And may the Dharma shine like the sun.

Lochen and her lamas stayed in Lhasa for some time, Pema Gyatso and Dharma Sengey residing at Tsechok Ling monastery on the other side of the Tsangpo. From Dharma Sengey, Lochen received the teachings of the essence of the Yuthok Chö and initiations for the transference of consciousness, as well as instructions on averting harms from Nagas and harmful spirits. Following these teachings, she made a Chö fire offering and went to sleep while performing it. Dharma Sengey hit her on the head with the butter pourer. Many people were present and Lochen was both frightened and embarrassed by the incident, though the next day her mind felt sharp and clear. The lama asked if she had felt ashamed at his rebuke and although at first she denied it, she finally admitted she had.

One day, Pema Gyatso became very ill after eating pork at a patron’s house. She did her very best to help him, but he never recovered. When he passed away at Banashu, an area of Lhasa, Lochen saw many rainbows overhead.

After her lama’s death, Lochen ceased wandering and settled down. In the winter she stayed in a cave at Sangyey Drak and in the summer at Shungseb, which became her nunnery. It stood near Lhasa, on a pine-covered slope, from which it got its name. She also dwelt in caves on the rocky mountain Thogar-yag. There she taught the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life one hundred times to men, spirits and gods and spent the rest of her time in retreat, meditating on her personal deity.

One day, as she meditated, the yelp of an animal was swiftly followed by a dog trembling with fear, which ran into her cave and took refuge on her lap. Soon after a leopard thrust in its head and was about to pounce on the dog. Lochen firmly meditated a few moments on great compassion, then she gestured to the leopard to sit, thinking there was no need for fear for all phenomena are like illusions. The leopard slowly crouched and sat on her right. From then onwards, both animals stayed near her cave, fearless and harmless, and Lochen preached to them, feeling that the seeds of the altruistic mind of enlightenment had been implanted in their mindstreams.

While in six months’ retreat in the Sangyey cave, Lochen passed away for three weeks, after which she revived once more. The shock of returning to life made her suddenly remember her lama, and she called his name out aloud. Her special faith in him made her spend days and nights in tears and she expressed praised of him and the dharma in the following verses:

Supreme guide, O my root guru,

Look on the sufferings of sentient beings

Who have no dharma,

Have mercy on unfortunate yogini,

Her body moving in different positions

As if she were doing a religious dance.

These came to her spontaneously out of her great faith and the immeasurable compassion she felt for sentient beings. She recited the six-syllable mantra for a long time to a slow tune and through the blessings of Arya Avalokiteshvara, water emerged from the rock. This spring was so abundant that all the lamas and disciples who had gathered in the area used to draw their drinking water from it. They gave her the nickname, Chudon Kushog, ‘the master who extracted the water’.

Lochen’s behaviour at that time was so odd that people wondered if she were mad. Her mother, who was most worried of all, asked Taglug Matrul Rinpoche for a divination. He told her, ‘Let your daughter do whatever she feels like doing. She is completely different from ordinary people and will be successful.’

At that time, Lochen was practising the initiation and commentary of The Wishfulfilling Gem of Liberation, which she had received from Drupai Tenpai Gyeltsen. As a result of her practice, she achieved some feats and no matter on what object she placed her mind, it remained there undisturbed. The various beings of the six realms spoke to her in their own tongues and she could perceive the beings in the three realms of desire, form, and formlessness as clearly as if they were in the palm of her hand.

Experiencing great physical well-being and mental bliss, she never stopped singing, her hands always performed mudras, her mind was ever in samadhi, and her deep awareness was unobstructed and free of extremes. She had many such experiences at this time.

She reached the stage at which the winds enter the central channel and she spontaneously and unrestrainedly started jumping, dancing, producing various sounds and running ceaselessly in and out of her cave. Once, while in the midst of such an experience, she suddenly fell. Her physical heat dwindled away and her breath stopped. Only her subtle mind remained, totally concentrated, abiding on its object. Her mother and her friends decided she had passed away and prepared for her funeral, crying and lamenting.

Though there was no movement in her body, her increased awareness was nine times sharper and clearer than normal. After some time a one-eyed lady with green hair appeared before her and asked, ‘Lady, do you want to go to Padmasambhava’s Pure Land?’ Lochen assented and the strange woman took her, without their feet touching the ground, to the realm of an elaborately-roofed celestial mansion. There, she came face to face with the great Padmasambhava. His face smiling, white and radiant with a tinge of red, his peaceful aspect with a hint of wrath, like a white conch shell with a light red hue. On his head, Padmasambhava wore a hat marked with a vulture’s feather, the sun and the moon. In one hand he held a vajra and in the other a vase of the nectar of immortality and a scarf. He was dressed in tantric regalia, a blue robe over the three robes of a monk, and was sitting in the regal posture, one leg outstretched and the other withdrawn. He was surrounded by all the great Indian and Tibetan Mahasiddhas and scholars, including his twenty five main disciples in Tibet. All these great beings held different attributes in their hands, and though there seemed to be no space between them, each of them was very clearly defined. Padmasambhava spoke to her, calling her the mind manifestation of the Dakini of Shining Blue Light. He then conferred all the four initiations on her. Out of great faith Lochen sang verses of praise and Padmasambhava placed a long-life arrow on her head, granting her special blessings.

Then Lochen felt she was returning to an ordinary level of perception. She visited the heavens, saw Brahma and Indra, all the kings and the demi-gods and the realm of the hungry ghosts. Wherever she went, she practised the exchange of self and others. Visiting the hells, she saw unbearable suffering. In the hot hells were re-hot iron houses full of molten metal and burning floors, beings whose bodies were of one entity with fire, others being boiled and cut to pieces. All the while, she felt as if she were experiencing these sufferings herself.

In the cold hells were snow and blizzards, beings with bodies as blue as utpala flowers with blisters cracking into a hundred different pieces. In other hells, Lochen saw beings being eaten away by worms, being pierced by weapons, having their hearts torn out, dreadful birds describing and picking up their eyes, dogs gnawing their flesh, molten liquids being poured upon them and others being pressed down under stupas, books and statues. The sight of so much suffering was unbearable to Lochen. Tears of compassion sprang from her eyes and she sang many verses of prayers.

Suddenly the dakini with an iron hook in one hand and a lasso in the other appeared before her with Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion who relieves the sufferings of beings in the six realms. They said,

Om Mani Padme Hum, please listen to me compassionate dakini. You have from your previous lives, the seeds of the two minds of enlightenment, and those seeds have been moistened by the collection of merit and purification, you are now like a plant, accomplishing the welfare of beings. You should practise all the great qualities of Avalokiteshvara, expressed in his six-syllable mantra which alleviates the sufferings of beings in the six realms. You should also meditate on the seven causes and one result mind training precepts which are:

Recognising all sentient beings as one’s mother

Remembering their kindness

Repaying their kindness

Love

Compassion

The Special Resolve, and

Mind of Enlightenment

Lochen immediately meditated in that way and saw fire and ice, sharp weapons, and cauldrons gradually melt away. The hell beings’ shrieks and screams slowly quietened down until all became silent and they sat still with their hands folded, an infinite crowd of beings, stretching as far as Lochen’s eyes could see. The dakini then taught her the use of Avalokiteshvara’s six-syllable mantra and told her to meditate on it. This Lochen did and gradually the remaining sufferings of beings before her vanished and they uttered the verse for taking the refuge.

The same dakini also taught her the nature of all phenomena, which are totally devoid of an inherent self. Receiving these teachings and meditating simultaneously on the four immeasurable wishes–immeasurable love, compassion, joy and equanimity–and the perception of their ultimate nature, all the remaining parts of the hells turned into a land of happiness and the former hell’s beings were transformed, gained faith and were able to take refuge. Lochen prayed and meditated even harder and many of the creatures appeared before her died and took birth in better realms. She felt infinitely grateful to the dakini who had taught her how to help sentient beings.

Suddenly, Lochen felt she should meet Shinjey, the Lord of Death and King of Hells. She found herself in a radiant cave, at the end of which appeared sixteen fearful buildings without doors. In one of them, standing on a sun, moon and lotus seat, trampling a human corpse, was the Lord of Death, with a dark brown body, holding a slate in one hand and a mirror in the other. He was clothed in shrouds and performing the nine wrathful dances. Accompanied by his retinue of grimacing monsters, he came up and asked in a booming voice, ‘You have come before the time of your death, while everyone else comes after. Can you explain the meaning of this?’ In response, Lochen requested that he release all the beings in the hells from their suffering.

Meanwhile, Shinjey’s attendants were busy searching for her name in their records. They told her, ‘There is nothing on you here which justifies your presence. Please proceed to one of the heavens.’ Lochen replied, ‘It would be shameful for me to leave for the heavens alone, while all mother sentient beings remain in the hells. We should all go to the happy realms together, and you, King of the Hells, should help me to bring this about.’ The King replied, ‘Listen, that has been tried before. Avalokiteshvara, the God of Compassion himself, with his unique disposition to help beings came and three times attempted to transform the hells. It didn’t really help. In spite of all his good will, beings continue to accumulate the negative karma which brings them here. After that, the dakini Yeshey Tsogyal came, and she also transformed the hells once. But again, it didn’t help. After a while, the hell beings start coming again and the hells are filled up once more. There is no end to the karma which continues to ripen and bring about the miseries of beings. No one can transform the fruits of other beings’ good and bad actions, so what can you do?’

There was a silence, and the Lord of Death resumed, ‘Before doing anything else, religious guides and teachers should examine themselves. As community leaders, they should be truthful and observe the laws they prescribe. Ordained monks and nuns should avoid transgressing their vows. Tantric practitioners should be well-versed in the two stages of generation and completion. Those who have attained powers should use them carefully and not be misled by circumstances. Realized persons should not chase conceptual thoughts and practitioners on the path should not run after the appearances of duality. Practitioners of Chö should not see one thing as the devil and another as divine. Learned scholars should not be satisfied merely with words. Tantric practitioners should not change to the Hinayana path, and those whose realization is gradual should not be satisfied merely with hearing teachings, but must generate experience. Men should avoid lustful actions and women should not misled or mislead others through deception. Religious patrons should not feel that they have done something splendid and religious practitioners should not chase after offerings from the lay community. Holders of the doctrine should keep their lineages pure and not mix them up with others.’

The hells around her disappeared and Lochen’s mind re-entered her body. She resumed a normal life and remained in Namkha Dzong, giving oral instruction entitled The Garland of Flowers. She had other experiences in which she saw the ten directions becoming filled with tigers. She was afraid, not knowing where to hide. Then her body took the form of a syllable HUM and she flew away.

Lochen also did a twenty-one-day retreat in darkness under Trulshig Rinpochey’s guidance.  When she emerged, she felt her mind was very clear and found that just by thinking about a place, she could actually be there. She realized this when one day she strongly felt that she should go to meet Karmapa Khakhyab Dorjey. Though it was a feeling, it took her to him and she received teachings without any of his attendants knowing. Meanwhile, her companions thought she was still in her retreat cave.

Eventually, Lochen’s eccentric behaviour, death-like states and mystic experiences worried her mother who decided she needed the constant and direct guidance of a lama. She packed a yellow cloak and they set off for the dwelling of a famous adept called Semnyi Rinpochey. Prostrating before him and offering him the cloak, Pemba Dolma told him that so far she had been looking after her daughter in her retreat, but now she wanted to pass the responsibility to him. She pleaded that he would not let her indulge in strange behaviour and that whenever she was not attending teachings, she should be made to stay in retreat. She said that if she was not controlled, the two mad lamas, Ragshar Jetsun and Taglung Matrul Rinpochey would make her daughter go here and here and her practice would not lead her anywhere.

Thus, Pemba Dolma left Lochen in the care of Semnyi Rinpochey. Though she was an ordinary woman, she devoted the rest of her life to religious practice and said ten million Amitabha mantras. Lochen had said that if her mother remained at Shungseb Nunnery she would suffer from defilement which would harm her practice so she dwelt in a cave below the nunnery. She lived to the age of ninety-nine, becoming smaller and smaller. When the dakinis saw that she would not remain on the earth much longer, they prepared to welcome her to their realm. On the eighth day of Sagadawa, while praying to Amitabha and facing the west she passed away.

From then on, to pray for her mother, every year in the fourth month Lochen would perform eight sets (sixteen days) of the fasting retreat, a practice which entails taking only a vegetarian meal every other day in conjunction with reciting manis.

Soon after the death of her mother, Lochen became very ill and made up her mind that she was going to die. To that end she did the practice of generating a feeling of disgust for cyclic existence through body, speech and mind; meditated on the winds and channels and applied the Six Yogas of Naropa. These made her feel as light as a piece of wool. In the morning and the evening, she performed highest practices of Dzogchen, watching the sun and rising and just setting, and perceived all phenomena as heavenly appearances.

In the dog, pig and bird years, Lochen was often very seriously ill.  Her disciples became worried and brought a doctor to see her. After taking her pulse, the doctor declared that Lochen’s illness was definitely not due to a disorder of the elements. He advised her disciples that instead of giving her medicine they should offer her long-life prayers to drive away the dakinis, who were trying to take her to their pure lands. They followed his advice and Lochen soon recovered.

Spiritual guidance of the Shungsep nunnery relied very much on Lochen, who came to be known as Shungsep Jetsun. One day a young girl came to see her and asked her to be ordained. She was accepted as a novice and named Urgyen Chözom. Soon after she had begun the preliminary practices everyone realized she was exceptionally gifted and hard-working. In a short time, she had memorized one the principal Dzogchen texts, Tri Kunzang Lama Shelung by Patrul Rinpoche.  She rapidly became capable of leading the classes on all the texts and the lama at Shungsep began to hope that this girl would succeed him as throneholder.

Because of Urgyen Chözom’s increasing responsibilities, Shungsep Jetsun had more time for retreat. She spent one year meditating on White Tara, after which she gave a series of oral transmissions which included, the brief, intermediate and extensive Perfection of Wisdom Sutras in twelve volumes, the collections of precious sutras and tantras known as Sungdu and the Seven Treasures of Longchenpa, and its commentary, the Songs of Milarepa and the Songs of Shakpar Rinpoche. Following these transmissions, she would break down the ritual cakes that had been offered, roll them into small pellets and put them in her soup. This is what she mostly lived on, boasting that it was tastier than the noodle soup of the Lhasa aristocracy.

In the Autumn following a Phurba retreat, she gave her annual teachings, mainly on some of the preliminary practices of the Nyingma. These teachings involved trying to separate and clearly identify, the worldly and the transcendental aspects of one’s own mindstream. These techniques, which can be taught from texts, are the vest explained from experience. Mastering these doctrines is the most useful at the time of death. If the practitioner is unable to discriminate between the various appearances that arise at death, then he will be led by his karma and winds to another existence. By clearly identifying and recognizing what appears before him, he has a chance of becoming liberated. Shungsep Jetsun had great mastery over these techniques and was particularly capable of experiencing and teaching them simultaneously. That year, as she was giving such teachings she suddenly became seriously ill and died. Her teacher Semnyi Rinpochey was about to perform the transference of consciousness, when a lama called Sargu Rinpochey advised that it was not yet appropriate, as there was still some warmth at her heart.

During that short period of death, Lochen had an opportunity to sharpen her practice of the subtle primordial awareness. She then suddenly returned to life and her disciples requested Semnyi Rinpochey to perform long-life rituals for her. He became very angry and chose to give her the wrathful aspect of Guru Rinpochey, Garuda, and Hayagriva, and performed the long-life ritual of the essence of the five Buddha families. Placing the vase on Shungsep’s head and the vajra in her hand, he said scoldingly, ‘If you don’t live long your disciples will accuse me of killing you! They will wage war against me!’ Then he appealed, ‘You must stay for a period of 100 years, like Machig Labdron.’ Since this was her guru’s order, she had no choice but obey, and her illness disappeared.

The mistakes of some of his followers caused Semnyi Rinpoche to fall ill one winter. Though he usually opposed long life rituals, he consented to let his disciples do one for him, and he recovered after a month. However, his recovery was short lived, and two months later, on the first of the third month, he passed away.

Every year Shungsep Jetsun performed many prayers and rituals for her deceased lama. She had two stupas erected, one made of silver and one made of clay. The silver stupa was given to Yarlun Tsering Jong in accordance with the lama’s last instructions. The clay stupa and an image of Semnyi Rinpochey made by Sagur Rinpochey became the main objects of worship in Shungsep nunnery.

Now that her lama had passed away and her mother had died, Shungsep Jetsun thought that she should make a pilgrimage to Kailash as Trulshig Rinpoche had instructed her sometime ago. She made secret preparations, consulting only her closest disciples. Just as she was about to leave, Sagur Rinpochey and some of Semnyi Rinpochey’s other disciples came to know of her plans. They refused to allow her to go, saying that Semnyi Rinpochey had held the special seat of Longchen Rabjampa and that she should help them preserve the monastery’s tradition and agree to be his heir. She conceded and accepted the position. She gave many teachings and the number of disciples increased. Though the monastery had 300 residents, nuns and some monks, thousands came to attend her teachings.

In the year of the iron sheep (1930), the Dzogchen Abbot Ngawang Norbu came to serve the general doctrine of the Buddha, and the doctrine of Longchen Rabjampa in particular. He gave extensive teachings to the local people advising them that the best way to ensure the flourishing of the doctrine was to become ordained and many agreed to take vows. Shungsep Jetsun made several religious robes from yellow cloth she had and gave them to the poorer disciples. After the ordination the Abbot told them that merely taking vows as not enough, disciples should know and understand the vows, how they should be kept and preserved. He then explained Ngari Penchen Pema Wangyel’s Clear Realization of the Three Vows.

Urgyen Chözom had become a learned and highly realized nun, sharing many of the virtuous qualities of Shungsep Jetsun. Unfortunately, she suddenly fell seriously ill and died. Shungsep Jetsun sang many songs lamenting the death of one so young and well qualified.

Sometimes when she was in retreat, disciples visited her seeking special teachings. One, Tenzin Yeshe, came to perform self-initiation after completing a retreat meditating on Avalokiteshvara. Although the cave had walls, he could only feel empty space and walked right through them. While performing the self-initiation, he saw Shungsep Jetsun in the form of Avalokiteshvara with one thousand arms, and thought, ‘What are all those arms for?’ Returning to his own retreat house, for nearly a week his mind never turned towards food or mundane activities. Everywhere he looked the space was filled with deities and he found himself speaking religious words he had never thought of before. His mind remained in a clear and blissful non-conceptual state and he experienced happiness as if he were in a pure land. He felt that anything could appear if one’s visions were pure.

After the young reincarnation of Semnyi Rinpochey had been found, Shungsep Jetsun gave him a Chö initiation and some objects that had belonged to him in his previous incarnation.

Not much later, Shungsep Jetsun again fell ill and died for one night. During that time, she experienced the full appearance of the 100 peaceful and wrathful deities. She found herself in a happy valley, where she met someone with a human body and a horse’s head, who said he was the king of the Gandharvas. ‘Where is this country?’ she asked. He said, ‘This is hell,’ pointing to the empty throne of the Lord of Death.

The next day, while she slept she had a vision of many beautifully-adorned women who lifted her up and carried her away through different pure lands. She had one hundred silver coins with which she intended to build a stupa. The Lama Arapatsa came and with one of her disciples he built a stupa which disintegrated after one month. They then invited a Geshey from Drepung and to make a victory stupa. Many non-human beings made offerings and some of them made prophecies. One, adopting a human aspect, said there were great obstacles to the building of the stupa, and great danger in attempting to erect it again. Shungsep Jetsun made strong prayers, but even so two or three times people were buried by rocks, although they were uninjured.

Due to these visions, she realized that to attain Buddhahood one must collect great merit and purify unwholesome deeds. And unless one has a very firm understanding of emptiness, all these virtues alone will not give rise to liberation. She realized that a practitioner’s degree of realization can decline. She told herself, ‘I shouldn’t possess all these worldly things and be so involved with composite phenomena.’ She encouraged herself in a series of verses:

As a novice I determined

To follow Mila and Gyalwa Longchenpa

In cutting off the self-centred mind

For the sake of enlightenment.

I wandered everywhere begging for alms in my youth

And engaged in worldly activities as I grew old.

The desires of patrons had to be fulfilled inadvertedly

When they made offerings of their worldly possessions.

Though I meant to accumulate merit

I was unsure whether I did virtue

Unless I realized the nature of unconditioned phenomena.

Slack and lazy though I may be

In my religious practice,

Through the power of my master’s blessings

May I overcome all obstacles.

One day, in the earth-tiger year (1938), Shungsep Jetsun’s disciples received a message that the Regent of Reting Rinpochey wished to meet her. Because he was the Regent, they advised that she should call on him, rather than let Reting Rinpochey call on her. She was old and ailing and needed to be carried on someone’s back. While they were preparing to leave for Lhasa, Reting Rinpochey appeared at the door by himself. He asked her, ‘How long have you been here? How old are you?’ She told him, ‘When I came, I had a mouth full of teeth and a head full of black hair. Now all the hair has turned white and my mouth empty.’ Then he asked, ‘What is the core of your practice?’ ‘The core of my practice is ‘ra-don’,’ accidentally slipped out of her mouth. It was a very sarcastic remark, ‘ra’ for Reting and ‘don’ for devil and she wondered whether she should repeat it if he asked. That she had unintentionally uttered this comment was an evil premonition concerning Reting Rinpochey. When the troubles at Sera took place, she realized that that was what she had been referring to.

During the iron-snake year (1941) Shungsep Jetsun was visited by the official Manager of the Great Prayer Festival, Dorjey Damdul and his wife Namgyel Dolkar. They asked to remain at the nunnery and receive her teachings. She replied, ‘The three great monasteries Sera, Drepung, and Ganden are full of great bodhisattvas. Why are you so helpless that you ignore them and come to me with this request? You are being foolish behaving in this way,’ and sent them away. They regularly returned to visit her and renew their request. Telling her they felt worldly life to be senseless, impermanent and unpredictable, they begged her to help them make the best use of their lives.

She finally replied that, although she had no qualities to help people, she could not refuse an earnest request. She said she would pray to Tara and see what would be best for them to do. She saw that if they began religious practice it would be very successful, like the sun rising out of darkness and told them, ‘I will pray to the Jo-wo Norbu (the Shakyamuni statue in the Jokhang in Lhasa) to help me fulfil your wish. Please offer this scarf on my behalf and then begin your religious practices. You should know beforehand that there are many obstacles, so don’t ask your father what to do and don’t rely on your mother’s advice; make the decision yourself. Since this is a personal matter, you must decide on your own. You must have courage to follow in the footsteps of the holders of the tantric doctrines.’

In due course, Dorjey Damdul and his wife resigned their duties and abandoned their possessions to come to her and totally dedicate their lives to religious practice. Shungsep Jetsun became their teacher, and gradually gave them all the teachings according to the incapacity. They were very good vessels and she found that whatever she taught was suitable for them. They engaged in intensive meditation at several hermitages and gradually attained high realization.

Shungsep Jetsun had a special karmic relation with Drupchen Rinpochey and saw him in very unique ways. Once, as he was teaching the root text and commentary of Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend, serpents appeared behind his head and he took on the appearance and the voice of Nagarjuna himself. Sometimes, she saw him as having a body made of light and though she could touch his clothes, his body seemed totally insubstantial. On the occasion she received the initiation for trying to identify the nature of your own mind, a special and difficult Dzogchen practice, she had an enduring vision of the 100 deities of the mandala clearly outlined on Drupchen Rinpochey’s body.

When the 16th Karmapa visited her, he told her, ‘Since you are the real Machig, please give me a long-life initiation.’ She replied, ‘If you want to achieve immortality, you should first realize the deathless nature of your own mind.’ The Karmapa replied, ‘Please help me to recognize my own mind.’ She told him, ‘Naropa, it is not appearances which bind us, but rather the grasping nature of the mind, and grasping desire. There is nothing to be meditated upon. Since there is no object of meditation, there is no object of distraction either. Hold on to this nature of non-grasping, my heart-son.’ Then she offered him an initiation of White Tara and asked him to put on the Black Hat three times. The Karmapa offered her a long-life initiation in return.

Shungsep Jetsun was also visited by the father of the 14th Dalai Lama. She offered him the oral transmission and explanation of the mani. On another occasion, Sera Kelda Tulku came and they offered Tsok together. Then she gave him the principal practice of Shabkar Rinpochey on the deities Hayagriva and Vajra Varahi, and an explanation of the permission of the Wishfulfilling Jewel empowerment. She advised him to go into retreat for three years and keep out of trouble. He was unable to do this and returned to Sera, from where he was eventually expelled following the monastery’s rebellion against the government.

Dharma Sengey had willed that certain possessions of his should be given to Shungsep Jetsun. But when he passed away, his disciples put them into a shop to be sold instead. Years later, due to the links of karma someone bought them and offered them to her. There were thangkas, an ivory damaru, a long-life vase, and a vajra and bell. Receiving these objects that had belonged to her guru made her deeply happy and she prayed that she could uphold Machig’s sacred doctrine over many lifetimes.

One of her disciples, Genyen Tsangmo, always saw a white man accompanying Shungsep Jetsun, wherever she went. She finally told Jetsun, who had no explanation to offer, when suddenly, a white man appeared to her. Surprised, she asked who he was. He replied, ‘Don’t you know me? I have been with you all these years, like a servant, helping you accomplish your good deeds.’ Jetsun realized she was speaking to Tamchen, one of her protectors.

The biographies stopped in 1950, although Shungsep Jetsun lived three years longer. She mainly followed Nyingma lineages, but she was remembered by all as a true practitioner of the non-partisan, Rimey tradition, having given and received teachings from teachers of all traditions and given them to disciples of all backgrounds. People who visited her at Shungsep remember a very small woman–they say she became smaller and smaller–who could no longer walk at the end of her life. Whoever attended the rituals at her nunnery say everyone was welcome, whether laymen, women and children and all were entitled to a share of the offerings.

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