Great Sakya Women: Great Khön Jetsunmas As told by His Holiness the Sakya Trizin

There have been very great female Sakya practitioners ever since the very early days of the lineage. Jetsun Kunga Tenpey Nyingma, for example. She lived some 300 years ago. She’s actually one of the Vajrayogini lineage gurus. She was an outstanding master, and was the guru of many masters – mostly Sakya, but from other schools as well. She was the teacher of many Khön Dungseys and of many great khenpos.

A little more recently, there was a very great female master called Damzhin Wangmo. She was extremely important, because not only was she very learned, but she was also a great practitioner. She travelled in Kham for some time. Because Kham is very far away from Sakya, it was very difficult and very rare for people there to come to Sakya and receive blessings of the Khön lineage. So when she went there, people felt very great devotion, especially the Sakyapas in Kham.

During her travels there, she went to Tri Hor, east of Derge. Nowadays, Tri Hor is in Sichuan. There was a local governor who was in charge of the area. He was not a good man, because he was a womaniser, always chasing beautiful women. And when he heard that Kanding Wangmo was attracting so many people, he decided that he wanted to meet her. She was very holy, but also very beautiful. And so Kanding Wangmo received a message that the governor wanted to meet her, and that she should set a time for him to come. Her attendant was alarmed and told Kanding Wangmo that they should leave, as he was a bad man and might harm her. But Jetsunma said: “No, it doesn’t matter. You can make an appointment. He can come to see me. It’s all right, there won’t be any problem.” And so they made an appointment.

On that day, he appeared and entered Jetsunma’s room to offer her a khata. But he quickly offered it and rushed out of the room, shaking like a leaf. His attendant asked him: “Why did you do this? Why did you leave so quickly? Yesterday you were so eager to meet Jetsunma, and now you just left straight away. Why did you do this?” And the governor said: “Oh, she was so terrifying! She had a human body, but she had the face of a pig, with long tusks!” He was so scared that he ran out. This shows that she was a real Vajrayogini.

And another time, while she was travelling in the Kham area, her party came to a place where there were many bandits. Some of them stole all the horses and mules that carried their luggage. And so everyone in the party wanted to go and get the animals back. But she said: “No, no. This won’t be necessary.” And she did a Mahakala puja. And suddenly black dogs and black birds appeared from everywhere and surrounded the bandits’ tents, threatening them and frightening them. They were so terrified that they immediately brought all the stolen horses and mules back to Jetsunma.

There’s actually quite a lot of information regarding Kanding Wangmo in the Sakya lineage history – a full chapter. Because she was also a guru. She was my grandfather’s main guru, his main guru, one of the most important gurus from whom he received Lamdre Lobshey and the Vajrayogini circle of teachings and the Vajramala circle of empowerments. He received all these from her. So my grandfather always used to refer to her as Vajrayogini in person.

And even more recently, there was Jetsunma Pema Trinley. She was my grandfather’s sister. I know she was born in 1874. I remember the year, because when I checked it in my grandfather’s biography, I noticed that it was exactly 100 years before my son Ratna Vajra’s birth. She was also a very great practitioner. She also went to Kham and travelled in the same area as Kanding Wangmo had. There were very powerful monasteries from other traditions in that area, and they ruled the region. Our Sakya monasteries were small and scattered.

And so, Jetsunma was giving initiations in one of the Sakya monastries. When the other monasteries heard about this, they were very critical, first of all because other traditions could not perform initiations without permission. Secondly, because they said that it was very inauspicious for a woman to give initiations. So they sent tob tobs to beat her (tob tobs were a sort of monk police – they were very big and very harsh!). And so the tob tobs came and she was giving an initiation in the temple. As they could not enter straight away, they peeked through the curtains, and Jetsunma saw them. Then she placed her vase in the space before her, arranged her zen, and then again took hold of the vase. They were so astonished that they went in, and instead of beating her, they did prostrations and received blessings from her. So I was told.

My sister remembers her very well. She told me many things about her, but I don’t remember her. I vaguely remember her funeral – vaguely – like in a dream.

And then there was my aunt, Jetsun Kunga Tenpei Nyima. She wasn’t a Khön, but she was my father’s first wife. My father first married her, but she didn’t bear him children, and so he had to remarry. He married her sister, my mother, but my mother passed away soon after my birth. So my aunt was like my mother. Although she didn’t give birth to me, she was the one who brought my sister and myself up. She also was a very good practitioner. She didn’t sleep at night – only one or two hours. She never lay down. She sat in a box. She was a very great practitioner – she did about 600,000 prostrations and she made about 1,000,000 mandala offerings. She also did 20,000,000 guru yoga. I’m not certain about the exact numbers, but it was around that. Plus, she prayed and did sadhanas day and night. She was very, very kind, just like a mother.

Of course, there were many more female Sakya practitioners. These three are only a few of them.

Source: Melody of Dharma, Issue 7