book excerptise:   a book unexamined is not worth having

Courtesans and Tantric Consorts: Sexualities in Buddhist Narrative, Iconography and Ritual

Serinity Young

Young, Serinity;

Courtesans and Tantric Consorts: Sexualities in Buddhist Narrative, Iconography and Ritual

Routledge, 2004, 256 pages

ISBN 0415914833, 9780415914833

topics: |  buddhism | tibet | sex | tantra | gender

The chapter 9 deals with Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), the legendary
Tantrist who brought Buddhism to Tibet in the 7th c.  

Excerpts: Padmasambhava

The great 8th c. Indian mahAsiddha, tantrika, and missionary to Tibet,
Padmasambhava, is a figure of unparalleled significance in Tibetan Buddhism.
In iconography he is often depicted flanked by his two most accomplished
tantric consorts:  the Indian prioncess MandAravA and the Tibetan queen Yeshe
Tsogyel.  Like the historical Buddha, Padmasambhava was a prince who married
and lived surrounded by beautiful women, all of whome he two, abandoned, but
not for long.  ... For non-tantric Buddhists a significant difference between
them is that P returned to the world and practiced sexual yoga with several
different consorts.  For tantric Buddhists however, several other traditions
exist, such as the CaNDasamhAroShaNa Tantra, which describes the Buddha in
his tantric form.  Also, according to Tsongkhapa's student Khadubje (mKhas
Grub rJe, 1385-1438), the Buddha practiced with an actual consort just before
incarnating as ShAkyamuni.  ... in the tenth stage of a bodhisattva, in order
to achieve enlightenment, he needed the initiation of wisdom (prajn~A), which
required practice with a consort.  The celestial buddhas summoned the divine
courtesan (divyavesyA) TilottamA [book has TillottamA] (Tib: Thig le mchog
ma) and then gave him initiation.   149

Further notes on Padmasambhava

Consorts of Padmasambhava


There were Five historical spiritual and sexual consorts of Padmasambhava:

- Mandarava of Zahor, considered an emanation of Vajravarahi's Body
- Yeshe Tsogyal of Tibet, emanation of Vajravarahi's Speech
- Belmo Sakya Devi of Nepal is considered an emanation of Vajravarahi's Mind
- Belwang Kalasiddhi also of Nepal, emanation of Vajravarahi's Quality
- Mangala (Monmo Tashi Khyeudren) emanation of Vajravarahi's Activity

Mandarava became the first of Padmasambhava's sexual consort in Maratika
(known as Haleshi in the local dialect), the Cave of Bringing Death to an
End. (Maratika Cave, and later Maratika Monastery, is located in Khotang
District of Nepal, circa 185 kilometres south west of Mount Everest.) Both
Mandarava and Padmasambhava achieved the unified vajra body on the vidyadhara
level of mastery and realised some of the practices of long life or longevity
that were concealed in the Maratika Cave as terma by 'Dakini Sangwa' (Wylie:
mKha' 'gro gSang ba), the terma constituted the teachings of Buddha Amitabha
and they were elementally encoded as terma at the behest of Bodhisattva

Yeshe Tsogyal

[Yeshe Tsogyal is a Dakini or female tantric deity, often represented in
Thangka paintings as in a Yab-Yum position with Padmasambhava (he, lotus
position, she on his lap).

w: Although she was originally one of the Queen consorts of Trisong Detsen,
she was given to Padmasambhava and became his main spiritual consort. After
many years of diligent study she achieved a level of enlightenment equal to
his. Yeshe Tsogyal was the main compiler of Padmasambhava's teachings]

...interesting facts about Tithapuri, also known as "Tirthapuri". I have never
been there, but I just consulted one of my favorite books,"The Tibet Handbook"
by Gyurme Dorje, which is actually an indispensable Tibet travel book (Lonely
Planet doesn't even come close.

He writes about a cave in Tirthapuri on page 349:

"Inside a temple enclosure is a small cave where Padmasabhava meditated with
his Tibetan consort Yeshe Tsogyal. It contains two granite stones in which
indentations of their footprints are clearly present, and a hole through which
Padmasambhava is said to have extracted the consciousness of the ogress who
previously inhabited the cave... - tibet travel blog

Yeshe Tsogyal purchased a young brahman slave boy, Atsara Sale, whom she
trained and initiated.  Earlier in her biography, Padmasambhava tells her:
"Now, girl, without a consort [dPa' bo, hero], a partner of skillful means,
there is no way that you can experience the mysteries of tantra." (equally
true for both male and female).  He then tells her to go to Nepal where she
will meet her future consort.

Yeshe practiced such austerities in the harsh climate of Tibet that she was
often on the verge of deathy.  On one such occasion Padmasambhava appeared to
her in a vision, offering a "skull cup of chang" that sustains her.  The skull
cup symbolizes a vagina, and the white chang, (barley beer) represents semen.

There are several visions with sexual imagery - e.g. once she sees a naked
red-skinned woman put her vagina (bhaga) against Yeshe's mouth.  Being a
true tantrika, she drinks the blood that flows from it and is restored in
her practice.  At another point, she is tormented by sexy young men, equal to
any ascetic's dancing girls:
	[T]hese demons projected themselves as charming youths, handsome, with
	fine complexions, smelling sweetly, glowing with desire, strong and
	capable, young me at whom a girl need only glance to feel excited.
	They would begin by addressing me respectfully, but they soon became
	familiar, relating obscene stories and making lewd suggestions,
	gradually they would expose their sexual organs, whispering, "Would
	you like this, sweetheart?" and "Would you like to milk me, darling?"
	all the time embracing me, rubbing my breasts, fondling my vagina
	(mtshan ma), kissing me, and trying all kinds of seductive

Later, she is at one point gang-raped by seven bandits while meditating in a
remote area.

Sakya Devi

Belmo Sakya Dema (or Sakya Devi) was Guru Rinpoche's first Nepali consort. He
met her at Sankhu, in the north-east corner of the Kathmandu Valley. It is an
ancient pilgrimage site where people stopped on the way from Tibet to India.
It was also a centre for master bronze workers.

(The shrine of Sankhu Vajrayogini is now known as the temple of Ugratara where
the female deity is depicted wielding a sword and as such is called Khadga

Legend v.1:
Princess Sakyadevi was the daughter of King Sukkhadhara of Nepal. Her mother
died in childbirth and she was displaced by the next queen and abandoned by
the court. When she grew up she became a Yogini and resided near present day
Parphing, in the mountains just outside the Kathmandu Valley. There she is
said to have become a consort of Guru Padmasambhava and received teachings
from him. The two lived together at the yogi's cave of Langlesho, above
Parphing, where they mastered Vajrakilaya-practice. It is said that she
eventually attained "Rainbow Body" as a realized female Buddha."

Legend v.2:
Belmo's legend tells how a local queen died in childbirth, but when her corpse
was taken to the cremation ground the tiny daughter survived.  Suckled by the
monkeys, she is raised by them.  When she was found by Padmasambhava, he
noticed that her hands and feet were webbed (one of the characteristics of an
enlightened being. )  He takes her with him to P'harping at the southern end
of the Valley, where he teaches and initiates her.

Many years later, when Tsogyel visited Yanglesho, the Guru's former consort
was still practicing as a yogini.  Some Tibetans think that the Raj-Kumari,
the so-called Living Goddess of Kathmandu, is an emanation of Belmo Sakya

Lesser-known Consorts

Kalasiddhi was also from Nepal where her parents were weavers.  Her parents,
Bhadana and Nagini, named their child Khandro, or Dakini.  Her father
abandoned her in the charnel ground when her mother died.  There, it is
believed that Mandarava, in the form of a tigress, suckled her and kept her

She grew up and managed to earn her living as a spinner and weaver of cotton.
When Yeshe Tsogyel was on her second visit to Nepal, she came across the
14-year old girl and took her under her wing renaming her, Kalasiddhi.  Dowman
explains that here kala means humours as in "bodily essence."

She accompanied Tsogyel to Tibet's first Buddhist monastery, Samye, and to the
Master's retreat centre at Chimphu.  There, she becomes his consort to further
the progress of Buddhist tantra in Tibet.  When Guru Pema leaves for the
Southwest, Kalasiddhi is left in Yeshe Tsogyel's care and receives
transmission of zap-lam from her.

Tashi Khyidren was the consort from Bhutan.  She may have been the
daughter of the legendary King of the Iron Palace, who invited the Guru to
Bhutan to cure his disease.  However, The Life says that Tashi Khyidren was
the daughter of King Hamra.  At the age of thirteen, she met Yeshe Tsogyel who
was meditating in the cave called Nering Drak but was being tormented by local
spirits.  In admiration for the yogini, she brought her milk and honey.

Finally, Tsogyel succeeded in subduing the spirits and also the hostile
locals, and so the king grants her a boon.  Tsogyel then asks him for his
daughter, and she changes her name from Khyidren to Chidren.

Soon after, Khyidren accompanied Tsogyel to Womphu, Taktsang in Tibet, where
she meets Guru Padmasambhava.  He asked Tsogyel for the girl to be his mudra
in the practice of Dorje Phurba, which he would perform for the protection of
Tibet.  She is the one who is depicted as the tigress upon which the Guru and
Tsogyel ride (as Vajrakila and Consort.)  She remained a devoted disciple of
Yeshe Tsogyel's, and it is believed that she later was reborn as Machik
Labdron's daughter.

From the biography of Milarepa
Milarepa: Karmamudra
(autobiography of Milarepa)

[this wikipedia page has no reference to this meeting;

Jetsun Milarepa (Rje-btsun Mi-la-ras-pa), (c. 1052-c. 1135 CE) is generally
considered one of Tibet's most famous yogis and poets, a student of Marpa
Lotsawa, and a major figure in the history of the Kagyu (Bka'-brgyud) school
of Tibetan Buddhism.

They are popularly known from the romanticized biography Mi-la-rnam-thar by
Gtsang-smyon he-ru-ka rus-pa'i-rgyan-can (1452-1507); although they may be of
questionable historic validity, the biographical details given in this article
are based upon this account or its derivatives.

Quoted from "The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa" as translated by Garma
C.C. Chang, Shambhala Publications, 1962.

Tseringma and the Practice of Mudra

Late on the night of the eighth day of the Month of the Fire Rooster, a great
light shone upon Milarepa's quiet hermitage in Chu Bar. Milarepa then sensed a
fragrant odor he had never smelled before and heard the sound of approaching
voices. While he was wondering about them, the Auspicious Lady of Long Life
[Tseringma], well-dressed and wearing beautiful ornaments, appeared with her
sisters —one bringing various kinds of incense; one, many delicious foods and
drinks; one, musical instruments; another, fine and pretty clothes; and still
another, beautiful flowers. They all bowed down before the Jetsun [an
honorific title], circumambulated him many times, and offered him desirable
oblations conjured by their miraculous powers. Then they sang in chorus:

	To the left of the mountain, Lhaman Jalmo,
	Stands your hut by the bank of Lodahan River.
	The King of the Nagas [“serpent people”] sounded
	His magic conch-shell trumpet,
	And into a wish-fulfilling Palace
	Was this hut transformed.

	On this river-bank in Medicine Valley,
	You, a wondrous yogi,
	Industriously practice the Pinnacle Teachings [highest tantras].
	Renouncing the Eight Worldly Desires,
	From Samsaric temples you are freed
		[he is not subject to illusory religions].

	Through our wondrous powers
	We five girls have come
	To praise and sing for you
	With sweet words and tuneful voices.
	We represent the four known types of womanhood
	Called Lotus, Conch, Mark, and the Elephant
	Pray, practice Karma Mudra with us.
		[named thus by the shape of the yoni or feminine sexual
		 organ; these names have levels of meanings].

		Karmamudra: (Sanskrit: literally, “action seal.” Tibetan: las
		ryga) In Tantra Yoga, a “mudra” is a female consort or sexual
		partner. Karma simply means “action.” Karmamudra is the
		tantric method of sexual transmutation accomplished through
		the sexual union of man and woman while restraining desire and
		the orgasm. The restrained creative energy is transformed into
		bodhichitta: the energy of the awakening wisdom mind.]

    Will you grant our prayer?
    Do you know well
    The four techniques of Karma Mudra
    Called falling, holding, turning back, and spreading —
    If so, you may apply them now,
    For your servants are prepared.

    It is said in the Supreme Tantra,
    [That the qualified yogi] should attract the maids of Heaven,
    Of Nagas, of Asuras, or of human kind.
    It also says that of all services
    The best is Karma Mudra.
    Thus we come here this evening.
    Pray witness this, oh great Yogi,
    Whose naked body is full of splendor and radiance.

The Jetsun answered:

    At this late hour
    I hear your tuneful voices raised,
    And your thoughts expressed in song.
	    [From whence come you, fair ladies?]
    Does not your abode
    Stand on the shining summit,
    The Snow Mountain's crystal peak?
    Towers not a palace
    Under the canopy of clouds
    ‘Midst the flower-galaxy of stars?

    Long are your lives and great your powers —
    This of your mercy is the reward.
    Your fortune rivals that of the God of Wealth —
    This of your bounty is the reward.
    Your servants are faithful and obedient —
    This of your patience is the reward.

    In practicing meritorious deeds
    You are full of aspiration —
    This is the sign of your diligence.
    The fact that you have met me in this life
    Proves your good wishes in past lives.
    I sing this song for you
    To reveal the deep relationship.

    I am a follower of Naropa's Lineage,
    Who has mastered Prana and Bindu
    	 [prANa: life force or energy] [bindu: “drop” or “dot”: masculine sexual energy].
    'Tis true that of all offerings
    A qualified Mudra is the best.
    Most wondrous indeed are the four perfected Mudras.

    The radiant Face and Lotus promote bliss;
    The shell-shaped Nadi speeds the ecstasy
    	[energy passage, meaning the yoni];
    The Mark in the deep recess prevents all waste
    	[mark-shaped yoni, prevents waste of energy];
    While through the "Elephant" Reality is realized.
	[reality = Shunyata, the Absolute]

    You are the auspicious, noble, and fault-free Lady of Long Life.
    In your secret Wisdom Lotus [yoni]
    Lies the bija: "Bham" shaped like the sign "e";
	[a mantric sound representing the receptive feminine sexual forces]
    The male gem is likened to the blue bija "Hum";
	[a mantric sound representing the projective masculine sexual forces]
	[male gem = sexual organ or vajra]
    And, when combined with "Pad,"
    	 [a mantric sound representing the conciliating force that joins and
	  harmonizes the male and female]
    fixes Tig Le well.
	[tig le: Tibetan for seed or essence. A reference to sexual energy]
    When Wisdom and Method together join The Bliss of Two-in-One is offered best.
	 [w & m: Father and Mother, male and female]
    The Four Blisses and Four Moments are
    The essence of the Four Bodies of Buddha.
    Like the crawling of a tortoise
    [Slowly Tig Le, sexual energy] should drip down.
    	    [In Tibetan medicine, sexual energy is considered to originate at
	    the top of the spinal column.]
    Then hold it in the Central Channel [an energy channel within the spine],
    And like a coursing beast,
    Reverse it [to the head].
    Later when you spread it [through the nervous system],
    Use the Liberating Mudra [of meditation].

    "Tig" is Nirvana Path!
    'Le" the Bliss of Equality;
    “Las” [Tibetan: “action”] means the various actions and plays,
    "Kyi" [Tibetan: “of”] the intercourse 'twixt Bliss and Voidness [Reality];
    "Phyag" is this and that to hold;
    And "rGya," to embrace Nirvana and Samsara.
	[Phyag rGya: Tibetan for mudra]
This section is a poetic play on words revealing deeper meanings of the
components to the Tibetan phrase “las kyi phyag rGya,” which means
“karmamudra.” Milarepa does this again here:

    "Las" is to contact this and act on that,
    "Kyi" to do this and that for the associate;
    "Phyag" is the Union of the Bliss and Void;
    While "rGya" is not to go beyond [restrain the orgasm].
    This is the speed-path of Union,
    A path full of retained-bliss [retaining sexual energy],
    A path to consummate the accomplishment
    Of the Illuminating-Void [sunyata, emptiness, ultimate reality],
    Leading toward undiscriminating Dharmakaya
	[the highest Buddha body; in Kabbalah: Kether],
    Directing one to the perfect Samhhogakaya
	[second Buddha body or state of attainment],
    And leading to the Manifesting-Void of the Nirmanakayas
	[third Buddha body or state of attainment].
    This is a path of bliss — of voidness, of no thoughts, and of two-in-one,
    A path of quick assistance by a goddess.
    Following this inspiring way
    You, fair ladies, will reach Liberation,
    And, in the Realm of No-arising [the Absolute] will remain.
    Oh gifted fairies, you are indeed well qualified!

The Karma Mudra was then performed, during which the five goddesses offered
Milarepa their bodies, words, and minds — also many foods and drinks to please

Among the five Dakinis — the Auspicious Lady of Long Life, the Drogmanzulema
of Lashi Snow Mountain, the Mannmo of Linpa Draug, the Tsomanma of Nepal, and
the Yidagmo of Yolmo Snow Mountain — the Auspicious Lady of Long Life was the
one who gained the best Karma Mudra inspiration from the Jetsun.

This is the story of how the Repa, "Laughing Vajra," the great Yogi who was
capable of attracting and using goddesses for his Mudra practice, met with the
Lady of Long Life; and in which the songs of inquiry and the answers, named
"The Rosary of Bliss-Void Wisdom," are found.

The wisest teachings of Buddhism say that one must move beyond gender. But, as
Serinity Young shows in this enlightening work, the rhetoric of Buddhist
texts, the symbolism of its iconography, and the performative import of its
rituals, all tell different, and often contradictory, stories. In Courtesans
and Tantric Consorts, Serinity Young takes the reader on a journey through
more than 2000 years of biographical writings, iconographic depictions, and
ritual practices revealing the colorful mosaic of beliefs that inform Buddhist
views about gender and sexuality.

amitabha mukerjee (mukerjee [at-symbol] 2010 Mar 02