The Boundless Momentum of Tsogyal Latso
The Drak valley near Samye where Yeshe Tsogyal was born, is a natural power-place flanked by Mount Lady Turquoise and Mount King of Power. The valley is fed by the Drak river, a tributary of the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra River.
In legendary times, Drak was hailed as the abode of Vajra Varahi, where the Tenma Sister, Turquoise Lamp, “drew the boundaries between good and bad in the Land of Turquoise“.
Today, a Vajra Varahi cave is still visible in the mountainside.
During the Imperial Period:
755-730: Fulfilling a prophecy, an emanation of Manjushri, Tri Song Detsen, ascends to the throne at age thirteen. This king is hailed by historians as the monolithic force that established the Buddhist doctrine in the Land of Snows. During his time, Drak is called Land of the Karchenpas and is one of his vassal kingdoms. Among the Dharma King’s many rebirths is the renowned 18th century master Jigme Lingpa, who played an important role in the history of Tsogyal Latso.
762: At the request of the King, Shantarakshita, one of the most important thinkers in the history of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, begins building Samye—The Sublime Palace of Inconceivable Self-Manifestation.
777: In the Year of the Wood Bird, Yeshe Tsogyal is born in Drak as a Princess of Kharchen. Her arrival is marked by earthquakes, thunder claps and many auspicious signs. Most notably, a nearby spring-fed pond, frequented in antiquity by Saraswati, spontaneously increases in size and overflows. At the edge of the lake, unimaginable red and white flowers rise in full bloom. Seeing these signs, her father names his daughter Tsogyal, Queen of the Lake.
Today, this miraculous pool of water is revered as Yeshe Tsogyal’s life force lake that anchors her energy in the world. It is held in high esteem as a repository of spiritual treasures (termas), both in the past and future.
810: According to Dudjom Rinpoche, the Master Padmasambhava arrives in Tibet during the Iron Tiger Year. He is invited by the King and Shantarakshita, who are encountering tremendous obstacles in building Samye.
In the 14th century or perhaps later, long after the palace of Kharchen had fallen apart and Tsogyal’s birthplace existed in name only, a small, four-pillared temple is built next to Tsogyal’s life force lake. It is named Jangchub Ling, Sanctuary of Enlightenment and the area is named Tsogyal Ling, Tsogyal’s Sanctuary.
Also, around this time, a stupa marking the exact place of Tsogyal’s birth, a short distance from the life force lake, is built, possibly by Longchenpa.
The great master and treasure revealer Jigme Lingpa (1730-1798) offers a jewel wheel and a white silk scarf to Tsogyal’s life force lake and falls asleep, leaning against a tree. In the morning, he sees the impression of his back and shoulder on the tree. Then he has a vision of Yeshe Tsogyal in the sambhogakaya form of Dechen Gyalmo, rippling in its waters.
His mind is imprinted with a secret dakini script he later decodes as the Longchen Nyingtik Yumkha Dechen Gyalmo.
1969: Ani Nyiten Samten, who later becomes the first abbess of Tsogyal Latso, is born in Drak, just north of Tsogyal Latso.
1970: The Cultural Revolution reaches its peak in central Tibet.
1979-80: The revitalization of Tsogyal Latso begins. Newly released from prison, Gochen Tulku Sang Ngak, inspired by Yeshe Tsogyal’s life story, makes a pilgrimage to Tsogyal Latso in the Monkey Month of the Monkey Year. He stays there in retreat for seven days. While there, he cleans out the temple that was used as a granary during the Cultural Revolution and commissions a statue of Yumkha Dechen Gyalmo to be made in Lhasa. He also cuts a trunk from Tsogyal’s life force tree that was grown by a naga king and offered at her birth and places it inside the temple. At this time, a woman appears and returns the Yeshe Tsogyal stone footprint she had kept hidden beneath a pile of stones.
Tulku also meets Ani Samten who is just a little girl at the time. She begs him to take her with him on pilgrimage. Unable to do so, he leaves her behind in tears.
1985 circa: An enlightenment style stupa is built next to the temple at Tsogyal Latso by Tseleb Tulku Gyurme Jangchub Dorje.
1991: Dorje Drak Rikzin Chenpo, Thubten Jigme Namdrol Gyatso,10th throne holder (1936- ) asks that Yeshe Tsogyal’s life force lake be cared for.
1992: Khandro Tare Lhamo and Namtrul Jigme Phuntsok from Eastern Tibet visit Tsogyal Latso in the Monkey Year while on pilgrimage to Central Tibet. They stay just over seven days, practicing Yeshe Tsogyal. When it comes time to receive siddhi, Tare Lhamo sees the Dechen Gyalmo statue blinking. Also, a young woman called Yeshe Tso offers a self-arisen crystal and sindhura. Then, when the eminent couple confer the empowerment of Blue Blazing Dakini (a form of Yeshe Tsogyal,) a tent of rainbow light appears. A trail on the mountainside, taken to be a path for others to attend the empowerment, appears as well. The eminent couple repair and rearrange the temple, invite painters from Samye to paint murals and they commission statues of Chenrezig and Vajravarahi, that are later brought to Tsogyal Latso. The first monastic rooms are built near the temple. After their visit, the ecological health of the entire valley improves and is revitalized.
1994: Ani Nyiten Samten begins her Dharma studies in Dzayul (Nyingchi, Southern Tibet) and stays there for two years.
1995: Dorje Drak Rikzin Chenpo, Thubten Jigme Namdrol Gyatso appoints a monk to be the shrine keeper at Tsogyal Latso. He re-consecrates the temple and performs several rituals. With his students and patrons, they clean the lake once again and build a a mani-wheel wall around it.
1996 or ‘97: Ani Samten moves to the nunnery at Shugseb Kangri Tokar, a famous Longchenpa site where he wrote Seven Treasuries. Ani studies and practices there for three years with Shugseb Rinpoche.
2000 or ’01: Ani Samten returns to the Drak valley to live at Chusi Nunnery at Drak Yongdzong, a treasure site of Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal that symbolizes Guru Rinpoche’s wisdom body. She stays there for four years.
2003: Ani Samten requests Kunzang Drodul/Kelzang Lhundrub to write a pilgrimage guide to Tsogyal Latso.
2004: An unnamed lama from Samye, now deceased, requests Ani Samten to move to Tsogyal Latso and assume responsibility for its restoration. At the time, Tsogyal Latso is isolated and run down. One evening, overwhelmed by her mission, Anila begins crying and prays to Yeshe Tsogyal. The next day, three nuns suddenly arrive. Together, they begin to travel around the county, begging for donations for Tsogyal Latso.
2005: With funds from begging, the nuns build a wall to enclose the property.
Chonyi Rinpoche, son-in-law of Dudjom Rinpoche residing in Kongpo at Lamaling, visits Tsogyal Latso and bestows Dudjom New Treasure empowerments and teachings. The Dudjom Throma sadhana becomes a central focus at Tsogyal Latso to this day.
2006: With more funds from begging, the nuns clean out the life force lake.
2007: With still more funds from begging, they build an earthen floor inside the temple.
2008: Finally, the nuns are able to expand their residential quarters. Chonyi Rinpoche visits a second time.
Jnanasukha Foundation & Tsogyal Latso: 2009 - Present
2009 June 2: Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo visits Tsogyal Latso for the first time, arriving on Guru Day with twenty pilgrims. During the Shower of Blessing feast offering, the nuns come to offer white scarfs.
Ani Samten and the nuns take the group on a complete tour of the temple, the nearby Tsogyal Breast Milk Springs, then to Tsogyal’s birth stupa and thriving life force tree. The day passes quickly!
Ani Samten requests financial assistance to build a new stupa that will replace the crumbling 14th century birth stupa.
2010 October 2-4: Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo visits a second time with another group of twenty pilgrims.
Following Lama Tharchin Rinpoche’s advice to build a new stupa on top of the crumbling one instead of demolishing it, the nuns receive sponsorship from an benefactor and the new stupa is built.
Offerings are made to help purchase land for a future retreat facility for the nuns.
Ani Samten formally requests Lama Yeshe Wangmo’s financial assistance by presenting an official letter in Tibetan and Chinese. The letter lists what is needed for the nuns’ livelihood, administering the nunnery and the longed-for retreat facility. Lama agrees to help by fundraising through Jnanasukha Foundation.
2011 September 22-26: Having created a fund for Tsogyal Latso at Jnanasukha Foundation and completed a fundraiser, Lama Wangmo returns for the third time. She is joined by LeRoy Griggs, OMD and Lynn Van Metre, DC, who provide healthcare to the nuns and teach auricular acupuncture.
Each nun receives a health examination, advice, and a body treatment. Personal medical records are created.
Lama, LeRoy and Lynn clear branches, rocks and glass bottles from around the life force lake. They gut and clean the kitchen and weed the breast milk springs. Busy!
Financial support is offered to provide one year of living allowances for fourteen nuns, to improve the structure of the temple, and to establish a healthcare fund. A simple medical dispensary is stocked with Chinese supplements and a Green Tara prayer accumulation is sponsored.
Watch Throma Chod.
2012: Impossible to visit this year—Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) closed to foreigners.
2013 August 27-29: After a second Jnanasukha fundraiser for Tsogyal Latso, Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo returns for the fourth time with seven pilgrims.
Living allowances for fourteen nuns for two years, dana and pearl malas are offered as well as funding for medical care and ritual items for the temple.
Watch Photo Tour 2013.
2014 September 3-5: Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo returns for the fifth time with twelve pilgrims, offering annual living allowances for fourteen nuns, dana and gifts, health supplements and funding for ritual items. Health supplements are donated by Whole Foods!
Watch Crazy Photo Shoot.
2015: On March 5th, Buddha's Miracle Day, after an arduous three-year permitting process, the 14th century temple is demolished and construction begins on a new temple. Ani Samten requests financial assistance for the new temple.
Jnanasukha Foundation commissions artist Leslie Nguyen Temple, to create a silk applique thangka of nirmanakaya Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal, in collaboration with Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo. The thangka is finished in December. Fine art reproductions are printed and offered to raise funds. Watch Yeshe Tsogyal Nirmanakaya Thangka Project
2015 September 7-8: Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo returns for the sixth time with a group of three, due to difficult political circumstances.
After a very successful fundraiser, Lama is able to make an offering that will meet 75% of the construction costs for the new temple. Later in the year, a second offering is sent to Tsogyal Latso to help purchase a retreat house at Drak Yangdzong that the nuns will share for private retreat.
Watch New Temple 2015.
2016: The nirmanakaya Yeshe Tsogyal thangka is exhibited at the Trace Foundation in New York and purchased by a private collector with proceeds benefiting Tsogyal Latso.
While in retreat at Drak Yangdzong, Ani Samten suffers a serious brain stem stroke and is temporarily paralyzed. While she recovers in the hospital in Tsetang, management of the nunnery passes to a committee of five nuns. Lama sends an offering for Ani’s health care expenses.
Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo does not visit this year but an offering is sent to Tsogyal Latso for the annual living allowances for sixteen nuns, health care, a Green Tara prayer accumulation and new land acquisition.
2017 September 16-19: On their way to Mt. Kailash, Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo returns for the seventh time with seventeen pilgrims.
Ani Samten regains some mobility and returns to Tsogyal Latso.
The nuns furnish the new temple’s interior with old and new statues and they arrange the shrines, ritual items and seating. Then they undertake the tremendous responsibility of commissioning painters for the murals.
Outside, a steel awning is installed over the life force lake to protect it from the elements and a decorative cement border is constructed. Stone walkways are built and flowers and trees are planted. The new kitchen, the bathhouse with flush toilets and hot showers and several new residential rooms are ready for occupancy.
Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo establishes “The Murals Project” to help fund the murals which will take four painters approximately three years to complete. An offering is made for the murals. The nuns decline any financial assistance for themselves until the murals are completed. Watch Cynthia Moku for The Murals Project.
2018 May 28-31: Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo returns for the eighth time with five pilgrims, including Dr. Daniel Rybold and Lauren Phillips, CMT. Several nuns are away in retreat, with family or studying at another monastery. The nuns in residence receive a health examination, body treatments, supplements and self-care gifts. Lama documents the wall paintings.
An offering is made to help the murals progress. Again, the nuns decline any assistance for themselves until the murals are completed.
Watch Lama’s most recent videos:
Interviews with Ani Nyiten Samten, 2010.
The Sound of Melodious and Delightful Laughter: A Clearly Expressed Chronicle of the Site of Drakda Latso, the Unsurpassable Lake of Tsogyal, Kunzang Drodül, 2003.
Jnanasukha Foundation records 2009-2018.