Za-hor rgyal poʼi sras mo Lha-lcam Man-dha-ra-waʼi rnam par thar pa.
The Lives and Liberation of Princess Mandarava : the Indian consort of Padmasambhava / translated by Lama Chonam and Sangye Khandro ; introduction by Janet Gyatso. (Wisdom Press: 1998)
Abstract: This text is perhaps best summed up by Janet Gyatso, in her introduction to this translation, when she writes, “recounted from the magisterial perspective of a female Buddha Pandaravarsini and her emanations in the world, this story tells of life after life of compassionate manifestations in samsaric trouble spots where the heroine uses her splendour, magical powers, and often, her feminine charms to tame demons and teach the Buddhist message of impermanence, and enlightened insight to all.”1 Indeed, messages about the impermanence of things, and the cultivation of karma, permeate the text, the bulk of wich focuses on Pandaravarsini’s reincarnation as the Princess Mandarava. Mandarava rejects multiple marriage proposals, and instead takes off with the Guru Padmasambhava,2 causing much consternation. Eventually, through a display of their powers, Padmasambhava and Mandarava overcome opposition from the King. Padamasambhava then announces his departure and instructs Mandarava to abandon samsara. She retreats into a “posture of equipose”3 and finally encounters Padmasambhava again as she achieves her Dharma. Having achieved her Dharma, she is dispatched by Padmasambhava to various realms to “turn the wheel of Dharma.”
The Story of Mandarava as related by Padmasambhava to Yeshe Tsogyal4
This text begins with praise to the Dakini known as the Princess Mandarava. Following that, Yeshe Tsogyal and a gathering of the Guru Padmasambhava’s disciples implore him to share the story of the “life and liberation” of Princess Mandarava:
“In the country of Zahor, you encountered the goddess of long life known as Mandarava, one whose abilities to benefit sentient beings were more sublime than any other- a glorious woman whose fame pervades the three realms of existence. O Guru, I implore you, out of your great kindness and for the benefit of those who have gathered here and for those of future generations, please share with us the story of her life and liberation.”5
Padmasambhava accedes to this request and begins to relate the story, stating that “whoever sees, hears recalls or encounters this biography will be placed on the path of perfect enlightenment.” This indicates that the story of Mandarava is intended to inspire individuals on their path towards achieving the Dharma and thus should be read in this light: as a text with religious, or perhaps philosophical, underpinnings and not simply an account of an individual’s life. Indeed, it is difficult, to divorce this text from its Buddhist frame given the numerous instances of reincarnation, display of magical powers, and references to “turning the wheel of the Dharma,” that can only be understood if one has the Buddhist worldview in mind.
Prior to Reincarnation as Princess Mandarava
The first part of the text relates the previous incarnations of Princess Mandarava. First, her birth to King Indradeva and the Queen Taye Dzsema is foretold by several auspicious signs and finally, an announcement from the womb that she is “the great consort Pandaravasini, blissfully appearing for the benefit of sentient beings.”6 The King consults a Sage on whether his daughter will become “queen to a chakravartin”7 and is told instead that “the status of a queen of a chakravartin is far beneath her.”8 Instead, as an “object of devotional offering,”9 she should not be regarded as “one who holds a place in samsara.”10 Gyatso suggests that this significant because it challenges conventional notions that suggested women were stuck in samsara and could not achieve enlightenment.11 In this case, Pandravarsini, contrary to such conceptions, is depicted as gaining enlightenment. After achieving enlightenment, she vows to “manifest herself in ways inconceivable to the mind in order to empty the depths of samsara.”12This thus marks the start of her descent into the realm of human suffering and her many reincarnations in this realm, where she will encounter uniquely feminine problems. In fact, the King’s question about her fate as a chakravartin queen foreshadows one of the key obstacles she will face, particularly when she incarnates as the Princess Mandarava: the expectation of women to enter into marriage.
After appearing as the daughter of King Indradeva, Pandravarsini is reincarnated in several other Indian kingdoms to spread the teachings of Buddhism and the Dharma. Specifically, she does this by appearing as a bride to various Kings, marrying them, and then using her position, as well as her supernatural powers, to promote Buddhism as the state religion. For example, in the Kingdom of Damaru, she slayed the evil Demon King Yaksha (p47), and also marries the Prince who, in attempt to persuade her to stay, allows her the reign of the secular affairs of the Kingdom.
In fact, Pandravarsini’s reincarnations do not just occur in the realm of human beings, but also in the realms of the gods and the underworld. In Chapter 7 she, manifests as the daughter of the God Ratnadhara and the Goddess Kunzing Onang and used her powers to defeat the demigods. In Chapter 8, she appears in the realm of the nagas, and manifesting as a “female nagini replete with full ornamentation,”13 she cures them of all their diseases and dissolves them of all their negative karma which she tells them, had caused their suffering. She then instructs them to liberate themselves from “negative emotions” which are the “roots of samsara”14 and thus placing them of the path to enlightenment, leaves to continue similar work in other realms.
Reincarnation as Princess Mandarava
Pandravarsini’s reincarnation as the Princess Mandarava and her encounters with Padmasambhava is first foreshadowed when the “powerful shravaka Kashyapa” reveals that he will be incarnated as the Guru Padmasambhava. In response to this, the states that “the goddess of longevity Pandravarsini was inspired to manifest herself for the benefit of sentient beings”15 Thus, the text shifts it focus to Pandravarsini’s incarnation as Mandarava.
• Before Encountering Padmasambhava
Pandravarsini chooses to be reborn to the King and Queen of Zahor, as the Princess Mandarava and her rebirth is preceded by auspicious signs. Upon birth, she reveals herself to her parents as the “wisdom dakini”16 and this revelation is received with much celebration in the Kingdom. When the Princess Mandarava was eight years old, she ventures beyond the palace walls for the first time and encountered individuals struggling with physical disabilities and suffering from contagious diseases such as leprosy. She is deeply affected by what she witnesses and decides that she must find liberation from samsara and practice the “sacred Dharma.”17 At her parent’s insistence, she agrees to stay on in the palace to practice the Dharma instead of going away. Thus, she began studying extensively, “mastering every science that existed in India at that time, she became a scholar without rival.”18
Soon after pursuing the Dharma, she begins to display her powers, and teach others about how to escape samsara. First, she is invited to the Indian Buddhist Kingdom of Gautala where a “heretical teacher” whose “negative prayers were so powerful that no one could defeat him in dialetics,”19 had taken root. She defeats the teacher in a debate on the “inner meaning of the six treatises teaching,”20 and then defeats him after he attempts to use his powers against her, deflecting the hails of meteorites and poisoned arrows that he sends at her. After this episode, she goes back to the Kingdom of Zahor to continue pursuing the Dharma and instructing others on the path to escape samsara. For example, she instructs three hundred noble women about how “hankering after ordinary pleasures”21 would obstruct their path to liberation and after receiving her instruction, they are moved to take the bodhisattva vows, renouncing many worldly things including marriage.
After Mandarava helps to end a war between the Kingdom of Zahor and the Kingdom of Beta by counselling both Kings, Mandarava’s fame spreads across India and she begins to receive many proposals for marriage. She rejects these proposals, influenced by a Dakini who appeared to her and told her, “the king will search the four principle and eight cardinal directions to find a suitable man for you to wed, but you must realize that if you only consider the wishes of your mother and father, this will merely bring you the karma to remain in samsara.”22 Eventually, all these suitors from India, Tibet, China and beyond, arrive at the Kingdom of Zahor and demand that Mandarava be married to one of them. The King agrees and makes clear that Mandarava has to leave Zahor. She ignores this declaration and insists on only following the Dharma, leaving the King no choice but to disperse all the suitors, showering them with expensive gifts. It is at this moment that, unbeknownst to the King, Mandarava seeks out a Bodhissatva and is finally ordained. Hearing of her ordination, the King builds a palace for her to stay and pursue her vows.
• Time with Padmasambhava
One day, the Guru Padmasambhava appears to Mandarava in a dream and soon after appears at the palace to impart the “Dharma of the secret mantra,”23 including, “the three outer tantras of Kriya, Charya and Yoga, and the three highest tantras of father, mother and nondual.”24 Things go awry, however, when a cowherd catches sight of Mandarava and her followers receiving teachings from Padmasambhava. He begins to spread rumors about Mandarava living with a layman and these rumors reach the King who is furious. He orders that Padmasambhava to be arrested and attempts to burn Padmasambhava at the pyre. Instead, deploying his powers, Padamasambhava turns the pyre into a pool of sesame oil and appears in a lotus blooming in the centre of the pool. The King and his Ministers at once realise their mistake and ask Padmasambhava for forgiveness. The King even offers Padmasambhava the Kingdom of Zahor, and thus Padmasambhava ascends the throne.
While Padmasambhava was being burned at the pyre, the King had ordered that Mandarava be imprisoned in a pit. Upon realising his mistake, the King orders Mandarava’s release but she refuses to leave the pit until the King himself descends the pit and convinces her otherwise. She leaves the pit and is re-united with Padmasambhava. When news that Mandarava “had been offered” to Padmasambhava reached the suitors who had been turned away, they began preparing to wage war on Zahor, but Padmasambhava employs his powers to defend the Kingdom and turn the attackers away.
Eventually, Padmasambhava announces that he will be departing for the Matrika Cave in order to gain immortality. The entire Kingdom pleaded with him to stay but he remained firm in his need to depart. Mandarava asks Padmasambhava to take her along with him, but the Guru instead tells her that “in order to practice the secret path you must have the diligence to persevere and practice.”25 She responds that she would demonstrate her “unceasing great faith” and the Guru thus tells her to “turn to face the East. Remain in your present position. Until we meet again, maintain the courageous dignity of pure perception.”26 Mandarava does as instructed and finds herself in a “craggy ravine”27 and very afraid, she calls out for Padmasambhava who appears to her but reminds her that she had made a “fearless pledge of courage”28 and instructs her that “to discover the illusory nature of the barren frightening land is to discover the innermost sacred Dharma.”29 Upon receiving Padmasambhava’s teachings, Mandarava’s “negativities and obscurations were purified,”30 and she thus achieves liberation from samsara, and follows Padmasambhava to Matrika Cave.
After they achieved their desire goals at Matrika Cave, Padmasambhava and Mandarava embark on journeys to various kingdoms and realms in order to spread the Dharma and “tame the minds of beings”31 who were acting against the Dharma. Occasionally, Mandarava is dispatched to these Kingdoms alone, and on other journeys she is accompanied by Padmasambhava. In each of the different Kingdoms though, Mandarava is called upon to display her powers and sometimes engage in battles. For example, in the Kingdom of Kotala, she transforms arrows aimed at her into flowers, and in the “charnel grounds of Kalinga and Simhavana,” she enters into a meditative state as the demons attack and rape her, eventually emerging as “a blazing fierce female of wrath,”32 transforming the demon’s weapons into burnt wood.
Eventually, Mandarava announces to her disciples that her “time to remain here for the benefit of beings has reached completion,” and instructs them to continue to pursue the Dharma in order to escape samsara. Specifically, she proclaims to her disciples: “As you abide in the equipose of your own true nature, I, the consort Madarava, will appear to you in symbolic visions. Pray to me and you shall encounter your own true face.” With this exhortation, Mandarava and her most devoted followers “simultaneously dissolved into rainbow bodies leaving nothing behind.”33
Thus, the story of Mandarava ends, and the text goes back to the gathering of Yeshe Tsogyal and Padmasambhava’s disciples where a Padmasambhava recites a supplication to Mandarava.
- In her introduction to this translation, Gyatso identifies Padmasambhava as “probably the most important Buddhist teacher in Tibetan history.” (p4) According to Gyatso, he was invited to Tibet to tame its wild demons by the eight century King Trisong Detsen, and was a Tantric Master from an area of northwest India commonly called Oddiyana. (p5)
- Gyatso identifies her as Padmasambhava’s Tibetan consort (p5)