The Excellent Path of Devotion
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The Excellent Path of Devotion
An Abridged Story of a Mendicant’s Experiences in Response to Questions from Vajra Kin
by Sera Khandro
Eh ma ho!
In the pure realm of the dharmakāya, you are the teacher Samantabhadra.
In the pure realm of the sambhogakāya, you are Vairochana of the five buddha families.
You are the nirmāṇakāya Padmasambhava, Lord of Three Protectors.
I pray to Pema Ledrel, the lord on the crown of my head, dharma master, and guide of disciples.
Having ripened and freed my mind, may you abide as the Lord of Families on my crown chakra of great bliss and completely bestow the blessing of supremely sharp intelligence!
As clearly predicted in the vajra prophecies,
the dharmakāya Samantabhadrī, the sambhogakāya Vajravārāhī,
and the nirmāṇakāya Yeshe Tsogyal of Karchen—
as well as her mind emanation of enlightened speech Dorje Shyiwa Tso—
are all my illusory emanations from several past lives.
Yet, I remain a simple woman
with little knowledge and an ordinary form.
Lacking even minor qualities from study, concentration, and meditation,
I am tormented constantly by forces of laziness and distraction.
For an unworthy person like myself to write a profound tale
about the arising of excellent teachings and noble qualities
can be likened to sky-lotuses—everyone knows they don’t exist.
Nevertheless, two close vajra siblings earnestly requested me to write this;
and in order not to disappoint them,
I explain here a small factual description of my present birth,
which has come about through previously accumulated merit.
May the assembly of space-dwelling ḍākinīs grant me their permission!
Long ago, at the feet of the Buddha, I was known as Utpalma,
In the land of India, I was Rolang Derol;
and in the presence of Padmasambhava, I was Dorje Shyiwa Tso.
In Khotan, I was the Nepalese lady Changchub Drön.
Then, after many rebirths,
I was born as Kunzang Dekyong Chönyi Wangmo in Lhasa, Tibet
to a family of imperial rank who were noble and rich.
From the time I was young, I loved the dharma
and yearned to awaken for the sake of all beings.
Having seen that the eight worldly concerns were meaningless,
I constantly prayed to the Triple Gem.
Due to such aspirations: when I turned eight,
the ḍākinīs blessed me, took care of me,
and protected me as their own cherished daughter.
Noble Tārā, appearing as a nun, accepted me as a disciple
and gave advice on arousing bodhichitta.
Kungabüma, led me through the door of the dharma
by giving me refuge vows and so on
and showed me the path to liberation.
Though my parents were from a good family
with virtuous minds inclined toward the dharma,
they were influential in society and had an interest in power.
Therefore, for some years I led a life
that mingled both spiritual and worldly affairs,
while managing our subjects and servants.
It was my father’s command that I marry,
and this order brought me great torment and despair.
Resolved to avoid this, I prayed to Padmasambhava,
Yeshe Tsogyal, and the space-dwelling ḍākas and ḍākinīs;
and by the strength of those supplications,
I was able to overcome this obstacle of saṃsāra.
When I was twelve, my positive karma blossomed
and Saraha, accepted me as his disciple.
He taught me the paths of ripening and liberation
and the pith instructions of the fourth chakra.
He bestowed this transmission completely,
like giving his most cherished wealth.
Through [engaging in] this practice,
the obscurations of my channels and winds were reduced a little;
and I progressed in the six signs of entering, abiding, and inseparability.
Magical displays of wisdom and worldly deities and demons
enhanced my realization, and I realized awareness-wisdom.
Knowing that the arising of the forms of deities and demons
were the appearances of my mind,
I didn’t need to mentally fabricate a mask of realization.
For a while, I cared for these deities and demons as my own disciples.
When I was thirteen,
due to the potency of previously accumulated prayers,
I met the powerful Siddha Kukupa.
He introduced me to the pith instructions
on dispelling obscurations in the channels and winds.
Using the five chakras as a support,
he taught the stages of the path of outer and inner mahāmudrā
and the secret teachings.
Through the power of releasing the knots of my heart channel,
the wisdom beings gave me unmistaken symbolic scrolls;
and I actually beheld the faces of Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyal.
I was empowered as an emissary of these wisdom beings,
who prophesied that the time was ripe to benefit others
and gave advice on how to gradually accomplish the two purposes:
In the direction of Kham—the land of cannibals—
your consorts, dharma holders, and disciples reside.
You will guide them humbly and skillfully in the three lands.
Thus they gave many prophecies and advice,
And I received transmissions of both secret treasuries of the dākinīs.
They gave the symbolic scrolls,
which foretold present and future occurrences.
They said that in the future,
I would have the power to lead those connected to me
to the realm of the ḍākinīs, a self-appearing pure land;
and they entrusted me with these decrees in writing.
Yudrönma helped me directly by writing down
the ḍākinīs’ indications of what would happen.
In particular, she taught me the methods
of examining consorts from the five classes
and the activities of magnetizing, training, and ripening.
Having presented me texts with the symbolic communications
of the vidyādharas, Orgyen of the Copper Island,
and the ḍākinīs, she gave oral instructions
with predictions concerning the present and future.
Based on these, I was able to benefit formless gods and demons.
The protectors and local spirits of Tibet,
such as Nyenchen and others, created favorable conditions;
and even though they handed me several treasures,
I concealed them once again for the [future] well-being of Tibet.
At this time, one nun who was believed to be Kungabüma said:
Do you know the meaning of emptiness?
If you do not realize the meaning of emptiness—
even if you are inspired to speak and act virtuously—
benefits will be insignificant.
Tied to everything by the tight bonds of self-cherishing,
you will spend your life juggling both virtue and vice.
The results of this are rebirth in the three higher states,
as well as in the lower realms,
and revolving among them while remaining within the limits of saṃsāra.
Hence, don’t be blind to your own wisdom.
Knowing what to accept and reject,
sustain the practice of this self-abiding wisdom—
the great secret of the mind.
Principal among the three-kāya ḍākinīs, Varāhī—
yoginī of the magical wisdom dance—
I pray to you with irreversible devotion.
Please show me the secret of my mind.
Bestow your blessings, Noble Lady, so I can become like you,
rather than remain in saṃsāra in this life.
The Goddess spoke:
Eh ma ho!
Listen, pure Fortunate One,
to this explanation of the oral instructions on the secret of mind.
First, rest your body, speech, and mind at ease;
the key points of the body are the seven points of Vairochana.
The key point of speech is to stop talking,
like the strings of a vina breaking.
Don’t attempt to speak.
Rest your voice and breath in their own places.
The key point of mind is to rest
in an uncontrived, clear, and empty state.
The mind’s nature is empty—
the dharmakāya, free from elaboration.
Its clear-light aspect is sambhogakāya,
Its radiation and reabsorption, the appearances of whatever arises,
Awareness, inseparable from the three kāyas,
is perfected in the ground.
For those of sharpest faculties
who can understand self-appearances as awareness,
these essential oral instructions are supremely profound.
Those of intermediate faculties, whose minds rely on objects,
need the oral instructions on destroying the house of dualistic fixation
through discerning saṃsāra and enlightenment with body, speech, and mind
and through the mind’s arising, abiding, and so forth.
You must take my advice—these profound oral instructions—
to heart without being lazy like a child
or allowing them to dissipate.
The view of emptiness is nothing more than this.
The awareness of the three kāyas is this itself.
Great self-originating wisdom is this.
Even if you search the entire three-thousandfold universe,
you won’t find a higher secret of mind.
Because your mind is actually the perfected buddha,
do not search elsewhere for some other so-called buddha.
Then she disappeared like a rainbow into the sky.
I resolved to exert myself in practice until my death
according to this ḍākinī’s advice.
From the time I was fourteen until I was eighteen:
in order to accomplish the dharma,
I engaged in many physical and verbal austerities.
Even though I did not eat a morsel of food for almost one month,
I did nothing that was not dharma.
From the time I was young, I had placed my trust in the lama,
the Triple Gem, and the wisdom deities;
so no matter what unbearable suffering occurred,
I considered it all to be the result of my previously accumulated karma.
I felt that if I could not accomplish the sublime dharma in my present life,
then I would be without any means to repay the great kindness
of all sentient beings in general and in particular of my parents.
Thinking that way – with great effort from the depth of my heart,
I abandoned my homeland, which had become like a land of cannibals,
and I was propelled by the force of my previous aspirations
and karmic fortune to the eastern land of Amdo-Golok.
Because of my lowly status and state of poverty,
I was reviled and abused by practically everyone.
So—although I had the capacity to reveal profound earth treasures—
due to not having the appropriate companions,
dharma holders, and the like, this didn’t happen.
When tormented by many negative circumstances,
I offered a gaṇachakra to the maṇḍala of space-activity ḍākinīs
and invoked them with this prayer:
Alas! O Wisdom Ḍākinīs –
please do not rest your compassion in the expanse of peace.
Look upon this unfortunate girl with loving-kindness.
Although I have acted in accord with the ḍākinīs’ instructions,
it is difficult for me to benefit the teachings and beings.
In these degenerate times,
people are deceived by wrong views and demons;
and those who practice in accord with dharma
are as rare as daytime stars.
People regard food that has been obtained from harmful
religious offerings and wrong livelihoods as medicine.
They cunningly deceive others, thinking this will not affect them.
Taking food given in faith by the living,
accruing the debts of the dead,
and disregarding the law of cause and effect,
such people engage in all kinds of negativity.
When such obvious signs of these degenerate times appear,
how can someone like me
help end the decline of the doctrine and beings?
These pigheaded people full of wrong views
show anger when confronted with kindness.
They say people who act harmoniously with the dharma are foolish.
Even though, in accord with the teachings of the Buddha,
I cherished them more than myself
and donned a suit of patience—
viewing good and bad with one taste—
they said I was a bad person,
like a dog that doesn’t understand good and evil.
These many judgments and criticisms,
resulted in everyone thinking I lacked noble qualities.
Being the target of such abuse, slander, and wrong views –
forget about benefitting others—
I have been the cause of everyone’s ruin!
Therefore, may I discard my unworthy body
and be reborn as a male with the freedom to practice dharma.
And yet still I will endeavor to fulfill the aspirations
of the guru and consort and to benefit the doctrine and beings
in line with the ḍākinīs’ instructions.
Please listen to me now,
you who reside in the wisdom expanse!
By the force of my intense wailing and cries to them,
the emanations of space arose as ornaments of the expanse.
The great mother of the expanse, the all-illuminating queen of space,
revealed these words in the secret signs of the space-appearing ḍākinīs:
Eh eh ya!
The luminosity of the jewel of the eastern sky
impartially dispels the darkness of beings.
How can a view of good or bad then be possible
regarding the body of a messenger of the mother ḍākinīs?
Everything depends on your disciples and their karmic aspirations.
Don’t let your heart become weary, sad, or discouraged.
From the time you were eight until fourteen:
due to the strength of your previous prayers to the Lotus Born,
you were able to benefit gods and demons a little bit.
There is no reason to be proud, as this was your previous karma.
From age fifteen until twenty,
you will experience unendurable suffering.
Don’t become disheartened;
it will be the end of this karma. From age twenty-one until twenty-eight,
due to corrupt conditions surrounding your disciples,
your negative connections with people
will be more than your positive ones.
Nonetheless, by diligently supplicating Padmasambhava
and Yeshe Tsogyal without any hesitation,
you will encounter your destined treasure companions
and karmic dharma holders.
From then on, gradually,
your ability to benefit the doctrine and beings will increase,
and steadily, your negative connections
will decrease in comparison with good ones.
Once again—whether the people with whom
you are connected are good or bad—
since they are still your disciples to tame,
you must rid yourself of likes and dislikes, joy and sorrow.
Your view of equanimity must be steadfast.
For those who are emissaries of the mother ḍākinīs,
everything depends on auspicious connections.
It is important to be careful and act skillfully.
Whether you become a treasure revealer or not
depends on you yourself.
If you do not carry out the instructions of the wisdom ḍākinīs:
even though you have a mandate to discover treasures,
this could be obstructed by negative events;
and you could bring unwanted results upon yourself.
Although you have treasure authorization,
other circumstances could overpower you.
You could become a householder’s wife by falling in love,
thereby losing your spiritual aims;
and then your treasure activities would be hidden.
If you engage in this kind of conduct, it will be such a shame.
Whereas if you fulfill the ḍākinīs’ commands,
you will surely benefit yourself and others.
Do you understand these prophecies, young lady of noble family?
I, a manifestation of space, dissolve back into space!
Then she vanished into space as light.
From the time I was nineteen until I was twenty-eight,
my experiences of joy and sorrow fluctuated like ripples on water.
Half of what occurred was for the sake of the dharma;
the rest was worldly suffering.
In particular, by the command of a lama
from whom I had received empowerments,
I got married and exerted myself in worldly activities.
But I was never able to make anyone happy.
Upset by these situations, I despaired of saṃsāra.
Once, when I was considering departing
to the realm of the invisible glorious mountain,
two beautiful girls from a nonhuman land appeared.
Adorned with many precious jewels, they spoke sweetly:
Eh ma, listen friend, do you know us two?
We are fine ḍākinīs from a hidden pure realm
with worthy advice for you.
Lady, is it good for you to depart
for the blissful citadel of the ḍākinīs?
In degenerate times, aren’t the minds of beings
controlled by demonic forces?
Don’t fight with your companion.
The harm of samaya breakage will affect you, don’t you know?
The lady named Pal,
will be your reminder to practice virtue.
In order to give up attachment or aversion to that situation,
isn’t it best to just let things be?
When the dragon adorns her crown
with [one born in the] Iron Snake [Year] from the south,
you will soon receive the precious jewel.
Isn’t that the accomplishment of the twofold purpose?
Now is not the time for you to come to our place.
Through the encouragement
of the sublime being born in the Year of the Horse,
beneficial conditions will fall into place for this one named Vajra.
Do you understand this?
For three years and three months, don’t see anyone.
If you are diligent in practicing:
on the unmistaken special occasion of the ḍākinīs on Saga Dawa,
he will dispel [your obstacles], don’t you know?
Whatever actions you do,
if you practice perfectly according to the ḍākinīs’ prophecies,
you will attain the banner of the two treasure lineages,
don’t you know?
We will come and give you future prophecies from time to time.
Do not share these with others;
they are sealed in secrecy.
Conceal them in the expanse of your heart.
Then they dissolved like rainbows into the expanse of the sky.
Following that, I became a bit ill.
Then, an actual emanation of the great treasure revealer Karma Lingpa,
Jigdrel Chökyi Lodrö Rinpoche, pursued me,
although knowing [my circumstances].
He emphasized our strong dharma and samaya connections;
but because of the ḍākinīs’ advice,
there was no way I could comply.
Around that time, one monk dressed like a paṇḍita
saying he was Guru Rinpoche
approached me while I was herding animals.
“Do you know me?” he asked three times.
If you are Guru Rinpoche,
you have omniscience of the three times.
Your activity is unfathomable,
and your miracles are unimpeded.
Having achieved the supreme siddhi,
you are principal among all buddhas.
I respectfully bow to you, Unsurpassed Guru.
At the moment when the appearances of this life vanish,
may I and all those connected to me
immediately awaken in the original expanse of the dharmadhātu
inseparable with you, Noble Guru.
When I said that, the monk responded:
I am a nirmāṇakāya free from cause and circumstance,
spontaneously present and naturally arisen for the benefit of sentient beings.
This monk has no purpose other than helping sentient beings.
I achieved the vajrakāya, the supreme body that is formless.
Although ordinary beings are far removed
from directly seeing the Lotus Born—
if they invoke Guru Rinpoche
with the power of previous aspirations and faith,
such devoted ones will see my face, hear my speech,
and receive the blessings of my wisdom mind in the six times.
Since you are also endowed with fortunate karma,
you have met me;
but because you have forsaken your consort
and harbor doubt toward Mantra,
you see me as a common monk.
If you wish to harness the treasures that belong to you,
near here in the direction of the southern sun
is a treasure revealer who is other than myself,
although inseparable from me.
From the vajra family, this bodhisattva’s name is Raśmi,
If you unite with this hero,
then from the south and to the south,
the two foretold treasure lineages will flourish.
If the black iron snake comes to the belly of the dragon,
from all directions a flock of golden birds will gather like clouds.
If the black crow does not rain poison,
for sixty years the barbarian wars will be prevented.
For a while, the sun of bliss and joy will dawn for Tibet.
It is crucial to take great care with the key points
of the prophetic guides to your own treasures,
like timing, signs, interdependencies, and the rest.
So he said; and due to that, my appearances were transformed,
and I arrived among the ranks of an assembly of wisdom ḍākinīs.
From the vina of their melodious speech like the kalapingka bird,
I received the intermediate ḍākinī scroll of my profound dharma treasures.
Immediately thereafter, Vimaraśmi accepted me as his disciple;
and from the western gate
of the second great snow mountain called Machen Pomra,
at the nearby sacred place of the seven wrathful ladies,
I revealed the profound treasure
of the Ḍākinīs’ Secret Treasury of Reality.
Also, at the wish-accomplishing places—the stupa of Ashoka,
Luminous Blazing Iron Mountain,
the sacred place of Dong Dzong, Garuḍa Cliff peak,
the High Lotus Mountain, the Monkey Fortress, and so on—
from the major and minor sacred places,
I discovered some treasures that were intangible
and others that were material.
Each of these treasures included timely predictions.
However, due to corruption among my disciples,
the auspicious connections became obscured.
Nevertheless, timely and auspicious profound teachings
are similar to the emergence of a headwater
that cannot be blocked by earth.
Although negativity was swirling like the wind, I had no fear;
and I gradually encountered the fortunate ones who would hold my lineage.
I became capable of skillfully abandoning activities
of the eight worldly concerns.
From age twenty-nine until thirty-two [and]
based on temporary circumstances and the ripening of previous karma,
I was discarded by my companion like an unwanted dog.
Moved by my condition of intense and unbearable illness,
the Lord of Refuge—protector on the crown of my head, Pema Ledrel—
accepted me and bestowed his dharma treasury
of empowerments and teachings,
which uprooted the dark ignorance of my mind.
He then opened the secret treasury
of the one-hundred gateways of wisdom knowledge,
and my mind was enriched with the wealth of study and contemplation.
In particular, I awakened directly into the inner meaning of wisdom,
and attained the path of liberation’s union of mahāmudrā.
By the power of this, externally, my fame among disciples grew;
and internally, the knots of my central and throat channels were completely released.
Secretly, I actualized non-conceptual wisdom;
and I increasingly spread forth the doctrine
of the profound treasure teachings
through writing them down and propagating them.
Accomplishing the welfare of those to be tamed occurred effortlessly.
Assemblies of deities, ḍākinīs, dharmapālas,
and treasure guardians accompanied me like my shadow,
ensuring positive circumstances.
Their manner of giving me prophecies and advice is shown in other texts.
Once, after having been advised by the hero who benefits beings
when I was staying near White Crag,
four nonhuman females with the faces of a tiger, lion, bear, and parrot came before me.
In a single voice, they melodiously proclaimed:
Ha ya hi! Listen, Powerful Yoginī!
From the fortress of the ḍākinīs called Tidro,
the all-seeing wisdom lady has sent a sublime message for you.
At the supreme place—Vajra Rock Fortress—
in an assembly of vajra ḍākinīs,
the profound teachings of The Gathering of Wisdom Mind
and The Heart Essence of the Ḍākinīs,
will appear as your unchanging fortune
at the auspicious time and circumstances.
That time will be the Year of the Horse,
and then it is certain that distant guardians
will present to you your treasures.
Due to the profundity [of these treasures], great discord can arise;
so you must be extremely careful regarding that.
Through the panting roar of the earth,
it is possible that the luminous radiance
of the all-radiant sun maṇḍala will diminish
as dark rain clouds are summoned.
At that time, be wise!
People who are influenced by demons
will invite you with pleasing words,
and various unwanted obstacles could occur.
If you follow the one named Ma,
who knows what the outcome might be?
At the appropriate future time,
the ḍākinīs will bring you clear prophecies explaining this.
Did you understand, dear friend?
When I responded by asking “who are you?”
I was not able to finish my question since I woke up due to other causes;
and the vision vanished of its own accord.
Nevertheless, according to the ḍākinīs’ prophecies,
I revealed the profound treasures,
clearly transcribed them, and distributed them to many.
During this time, a dark man wearing a white chuba,
who said he was the King of Gojo arrived.
In a loud frightening voice he said:
You, Strange Lady!
Why did you come to this place and where are you from?
Don’t stay here or we will have a fight!
Thus he snarled, curling his lips.
You, Unfortunate One,
I have never seen a person as odd as you.
The Trom Valley is a passageway for all Tibetans and Chinese.
I didn’t know that it belonged to you alone.
Whatever the case, I have neither home nor parents;
and alone, I wander wherever I please.
I cherish neither my body nor belongings,
but offer them as a feast to gods and demons
of confused karmic perceptions.
I forcefully strike down the ego-pride
of all form and formless beings.
I recognize everything that arises and appears
as mind’s magical manifestation.
I uphold the instructions for destroying grasping
to deluded perceptions and self-cherishing.
Due to chance, you have appeared in my view.
Yet free from benefit or harm,
everything is the manifestation of the dharmakāya
within the expanse of the wisdom intent
of the primordially liberated, unborn Great Mother. Phet!
Having retorted like that, I relaxed momentarily
within great, empty awareness free from limitations,
the space of purity and evenness.
And like a dream,
that confused appearance faded into basic space.
Due to the negative effects of my inadequate merit
when I was thirty-three and thereafter,
the Lord of Refuge, all-knowing jewel of my heart, Pema Ledrel,
departed for the realm of the ḍākinīs.
Without my protector,
I was left behind lacking a home and partner.
I was even banished to a distant land
and became like a thorn, irritating everyone’s eyes.
The heart son of the Lord of Refuge,
my vajra brother Natsok Rangdrol, alone
consoled me by saying,
“You, the supreme consort of His Highness,
must not exile yourself to a faraway place.”
He then bound me by our sacred dharma commitments.
Because of that, I stayed at the holy place
of Sera Monastery for several years.
I held, protected, and spread the profound teachings
of both the great treasure revealer and his son
according to the command of the Lord of Refuge.
I propagated the profound treasures to everyone,
both near and far.
In particular, I entrusted the inheritance
of the two treasures to those fortune ones,
such as the chief dharma holder Prajñā Raśmi.
Furthermore, countless other fortunate beings
maintained the precious teachings in secluded practice.
By enacting the twofold purpose,
I upheld the teachings of the two treasures;
and when the reincarnation
of the Lord Refuge Guru was enthroned,
my heart’s suffering eased a bit.
Moreover, out of his kindness,
my Lord of Refuge, the wish-fulfilling jewel,
actually had regarded a miserable dog like me
as a “lion with a turquoise mane”; and when I reflected on that,
the sadness in my mind never lifted.
When the all-illuminating sun arose,
I was reminded of the kāya of my Lord of Refuge Wish-Fulfilling Jewel.
When its light dispelled the darkness in all directions,
I thought of his enlightened quality of impartial compassion.
From the upper expanse of the sky,
when the sun set behind the western mountains,
I recalled how my master himself came to guide all of us
and had now passed beyond suffering.
When I saw the vast expanse of the sky,
I remembered the appearance of his naturally arising,
spontaneously present rūpakāya
appearing from the expanse of the pure dharmakāya, the ground of basic space.
In all symbols and signs and in everything that I saw and that appeared,
I recalled my Lord of Refuge Wish-Fulfilling Jewel.
Whatever solitary place or monastery I stayed in,
I missed my guru.
When I reflected on my practice and the oral instructions,
I missed my guru.
When I met with my noble dharma brothers and sisters,
I longed for my guru.
No matter what I felt,
I remembered my guru.
I thought only of my guide and teacher, Pema Ledrel.
Missing him so much,
I cried incessantly all the time.
Due to such intense sadness,
my thinking became muddled.
Although I had accompanied him for so long,
it felt like one instant.
I had received so many empowerments and teachings,
but now it seemed that they took place in one second.
When I thought of how everything happened in this way,
it broke my heart.
When I saw his face,
faith and devotion arose from the depth of my being.
Merely hearing his voice brought me
to the path of maturity and liberation.
The enlightened intent of his wisdom mind
opened the hundred doors of the secret treasury.
From him, a shower of dharma teachings rained down
in accordance with the mental dispositions and capabilities of beings,
liberating them from the narrow passageways of saṃsāra.
Having reached the supreme level of unsurpassed, constant exaltation,
he was the guide who liberated beings in the primordial expanse.
His kindness was unfathomable,
and I was without any way to repay him.
Reflecting on the implications of that
stirred up my grief-stricken mind even more;
and I fell into wailing, thinking of my sublime guru.
However, in order to repay his kindness,
I cast away such selfish thinking based on my own emotions.
I explained and spread the profound treasures to fortunate disciples.
I acted in harmony with the dharma
with all my actions of body, speech, and mind.
Like a rhinoceros, I kept to my practice in solitude.
Even though I had the authority [to reveal] my own treasures,
I felt myself unworthy of treasure activity.
“If the child maintains the father’s lineage,
that is enough,” I thought.
It is said that the locations of my own profound treasures
are the three places of enlightened body,
the three places of enlightened mind,
the three places of White Crag and Fortress,
and two hidden sacred places.
As for the profound teachings,
there are the trunk, branch, flower, and fruition cycles
and the unchanging treasures of enlightened mind, like the earth.
My supplementary enlightened activity treasures are inconceivable.
As for my treasure companions,
they are the two supreme and the three excellent ones,
the five great bodhisattvas belonging to the five families.
As for my dharma holders, there are four heart sons, eight supreme ones,
followed by twenty-five, and then one hundred and so on.
They will achieve the result of the two stages in one lifetime.
The time, indications, and auspicious circumstances
of revealing my dharma treasures are indicated by the ḍākinīs
in the chapters of my treasure inventories, the inner prophetic guides,
the supplementary inventories, the appendices, and so on.
They predicted that my work of benefitting disciples
would spread in five locations, especially in the east and in the south.
In summary, I have put this brief collection of essential words
about my treasures into writing in the form of an autobiography,
as something of great meaning expressed with few words
that would fulfill the wishes of worthy disciples.
How could someone like me, of ordinary inferior birth,
have secret qualities of excellent speech?
In any case, through the compassion of the lineage gurus
and the ultimate ripening of the results of the two accumulations
over many lifetimes, I attained a birth endowed with dharma
and pleased the noble ones.
The holder of profound treasures, Pema Lingpa,
held me with his compassion;
and by his conferral of the ripening and liberating teachings,
my previous karma awakened along with the authority
to reveal some minor profound treasures.
From then onward, I had the ability of undeniable siddhis
[to reveal] profound treasures in several future lifetimes.
Although I had no intention to maintain a retinue of disciples:
because of my previous aspirations,
I cared for them with skillful means.
Lacking any significant secret qualities,
this account is merely an abridged version of how I have lived.
I have not written it for status
or for the eight worldly concerns.
In order not to break my promise to fortunate disciples,
I have put some nonsense into writing.
Through this virtue, may the lotus feet
of the dharma holders remain firm.
May outer and inner auspicious connections be perfected,
and merit increase.
May all decline of the dharma throughout the universe
and among the inhabitants be dispelled.
May the bad times of war and famine be pacified.
May the profound treasure teachings spread in the ten directions,
and the enlightened activities of the ones who uphold them increase.
May the sponsors’ power and wealth spread and increase,
and may sentient beings attain happiness
and practice the fully endowed dharma.
May all beings be liberated in the Lotus Light Palace of Ngayab!,
May they be welcomed by the vidyādharas, ḍākas, and ḍākinīs!
Singing the song of the Guru Siddhi [Mantra],
may we be reborn in the land of the ḍākinīs,
Oḍḍiyāna, indivisible from Pema Drodul Lingpa;
and may teacher and disciple awaken inseparably
in his enlightened wisdom intent!
Thus, this is the story of a mendicant’s experiences. While it is difficult to say the name of the omniscient Lord of Refuge, I say it here for a purpose.
My two vajra brothers, sublime monks of Shākyamuni with minds free of concepts—the sky-like yogis Donli and Rangjung who were actual disciples of the great awareness holder and the Lord of Accomplished Ones, Gelek Palzang—both earnestly requested me for a long time [to write this] with stainless offering scarves and silver. My own student, the vagabond Sherab Özer, who made supports for the three treasure lineages, stayed only in isolated hermitages and propagated the profound teachings however he could. In particular, he offered his body, speech, and mind to the lama and, having forsaken non-virtuous activity, always engaged in practice. He also persistently requested me [to write this].
Furthermore, many faithful students such as Rigzang, Gyurme Trinle and others also earnestly requested me. In order not to ignore their profound requests, the lowliest of all the students of the omniscient lord, I, Kunzang Dekyong Chönyi Wangmo wrote this in the Earth Snake Year (1929) in the ninth month on the excellent sixteenth day, from the isolated retreat place at Sera Monastery. My attendant, the monk Tsultrim Dorje, supplied the writing materials.
May this spread throughout all directions and times, and may everything be auspicious! May virtue prevail in the three times!
Ge’o Ge’o Ge’o. Sarva Mangalam.
| Translated by Christina Monson, 2012. Originally published in "The Excellent Path of Devotion," Kama Terma Publications, Boulder, Colorado.*
*Kyabje Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche is the Wish-Fulfilling Jewel to whom I owe everything. The translation of these precious words of Sera Khandro came about through the support and encouragement of the great ḍākinī Saraswati Devi, Chatral Rinpoche’s daughter. Many people provided invaluable help along the way, including Loppön Jigme Rinpoche, Bhakha Tülku Rinpoche, Lama Chönam, Sangye Khandro, Sarah Jacoby, Heidi Nevin, Elizabeth Monson, Carol Schlenger, Julia Gruberg, Sarah Bolasevich, Wayne Amtzis, Sangye Dragpa, and others. The love and kindness of my parents, John and Susan Monson, have been ever-present, and their support has been invaluable. Kay Henry and David Bolduc facilitated the manuscript and book preparation for the first publication of this translation, which was partially supported by a grant from the Brown-Monson Foundation.
In the Vajrayāna tradition, a practitioner calls those who share the same lineage, those who receive empowerments and oral teachings together, and those who share the same guru “vajra brothers and sisters,” or “vajra kin.” ↩
According to the Buddhist tradition, the dharmakāya—or absolute nature or truth body—can be understood as the fundamental ground of enlightenment, which is described in terms of conceptual distinctions as containing the aspects of original purity and spontaneous presence. Within this ground, the primordial buddha, Samantabhadra, is enlightened by recognizing the true nature of reality just as it is, without ever having to stray into confusion as a sentient being. ↩
The five buddha families are the families of Vairochana, Akṣhobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitābha, and Amoghasiddhi. Vairochana is at the center when the five are depicted together. Glacial Lake (gang chen tsho/gangs chen mtsho) is an epithet for Vairochana and refers to the Buddhist cosmological presentation of existence as issuing forth from the scented water that flows from the bodies of these buddhas, manifesting the pure realms and all universes. This is what can be understood as the sambhogakāya, or the enjoyment nature body, which is the wisdom manifestation of the primordial ground of enlightenment as buddhas, pure lands, and various wisdom appearances. For a more extensive explanation see Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé, Myriad Worlds, translated and edited by the International Translation Committee founded by the V.V. Kalu Rinpoche (Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications, 1995) p. 103. ↩
The “three protectors” refers to bodhisattvas Mañjushrī, Avalokiteshvara, and Vajrapāṇi. Padmasambhava, otherwise known as Guru Rinpoche, the great Indian master credited with establishing the Buddhist teachings in Tibet at the invitation of King Trisong Detsen (khri srong lde btsan) in the ninth century, is viewed as the emanation of all of them combined as one. The meaning of nirmāṇakāya, or emanation body, is the wisdom of the buddhas embodied in someone who appears in this world to benefit confused sentient beings, using whatever skillful means may be necessary. ↩
“Pema Ledrel,” Tülku Drime Özer (sprul sku dri med ’od zer, 1881-1924), refers to the supreme guru and spiritual partner of Sera Khandro, Dewe Dorje, (se ra mkha’ ’gro bde ba’i rdo rje, 1892-1940). Also known as Rigdzin Chenpo Pema Drodul Sangngak Lingpa (rig ’dzin chen po padma ’gro ’dul gsang sngags gling pa), Tülku Drimed was one of eight sons of the great treasure revealer Dudjom Lingpa (bdud ’joms gling pa, 1835-1905) and was himself a treasure revealer (tertön/gter ston), though most of his collection has not been located. According to Sera Khandro’s biography of Tülku Drime, among his past incarnations are the Indian khenpo Vimalamitra; the princess of the King Trisong Detsen at Samye, Semo Lhacham Pemasal (sras mo lha lcam pad ma gsal); Yarlha Shampor Pema Ledreltsal (yar lha sham por pad ma las ’brel rtsal), mid-thirteenth century incarnation of Princess Pemasal; and Longchen Dorje Ziji (klong chen rdo rje gzi brjid, or the great omniscient Longchen Rabjam, 1308-1363). Sera Khandro commonly refers to Drime Özer as Pema Ledrel or Pema Ledreltsal in her autobiographical writings. ↩
The vajra prophecies are predictive references found in the writings of many of the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition’s greatest masters, such as Padmasambhava, who—together with his Tibetan consort Yeshe Tsogyal—hid countless profound dharma teachings as treasures to be discovered in future times. Padmasambhava, as well as others, predicted the individuals who would discover these teachings in the future. One such vajra prophecy regarding Sera Khandro is from the profound teaching of the great treasure revealer Pema Lingpa (padma gling pa) called Concise Red Inventory (snying byang dmar po) and is quoted by Khenpo Pema Ösal Thaye, “In the future, at a dharma place of the gods, an emanation of Vajravārāhī with the name Bliss (bde ba), [will come] in the Water Dragon Year. At her crown, throat, and heart, [the syllables] bam and ha, ri, ni and sa will be clearly written. She will assemble the two profound treasure lineages and skillfully support her disciples.” See Khenpo Pema Ösal Thaye, An Abbreviated Biography of the Ḍākinī from Central [Tibet] entitled A Guide for Reaching the Pure Lands (dbus za mkha ’gro’i rnam thar bsdus pa mkha’ spyod bgrod pa’i lam yig bzhugs) in A Little Book called A Pleasure Garden of [Myrobalan] Nectar (deb chung a ru ra’i ga tsal zhe cha wa zhuk/deb chung a ru ra’i dga’ tshal), (Chengdu: Sichuan Nationalities and Languages Press, si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2003), 76. ↩
As the consort of the primordial buddha, Samantabhadra, non-dual with his wisdom mind, Samantabhadrī symbolizes the female representation of this enlightened state and, as such, is presented as the first in the line of Sera Khandro’s previous incarnations. Rather than to be taken literally, this indicates that Sera Khandro’s wisdom mind and lineage flowed directly from the dharmakāya itself, as represented by Samantabhadrī. The sambhogakāya wisdom deity Vajravārāhī, or the “Diamond Sow,” has a very important place in Sera Khandro’s revealed teachings for it is Vajravārāhī who empowered Sera Khandro at age thirteen in a dream with the two collections of treasure teachings that became the core of her practice lineage. Finally, Vajravārāhī’s’ nirmāṇakāya as the great Tibetan consort of Padmasambhava, Yeshe Tsogyal, is the human origin of Sera Khandro’s incarnation lineage; and there are several meditation practices centered on Yeshe Tsogyal within her treasure cycles. ↩
The example of the sky-lotus, or a sky-flower, is often invoked to refer to something nonexistent. In this context, Sera Khandro humbly used this image to imply that she had no special or praiseworthy qualities and that this fact was widely known. ↩
In the colophon to this text, Sera Khandro mentioned two vajra brothers, Donli (don li) and Rangjung (rang byung) who made offerings and requested her to write her life story. In the same place, she also mentioned the names of three others who made requests. ↩
The space-dwelling ḍākinīs, or ḍākinīs who wander or act within the pure realms, were frequently invoked by Sera Khandro in her commentaries and treasure collections. These important, usually female, wisdom beings are responsible for the protection and propagation of revealed treasures and thus play a central role in the lives of the treasure revealers of Tibetan Buddhism. Throughout her life as recorded in her autobiographical writing, Sera Khandro invoked and was approached and counseled by these ḍākinīs on many occasions. Sometimes appearing in human form and sometimes as animals or a combination of human and animal, they repeatedly told Sera Khandro the proper course of action at pivotal moments on her journey. ↩
This reference is to the Buddhist nun Utpala-varnā, who went to elaborate means to be the first to greet the Buddha upon his return from the Tuṣhita Heaven, where he had been visiting his mother. ↩
Khotan (li yi yul) was an ancient Buddhist kingdom established around the fourth century B.C.E. in the area of present-day Xinjiang, China, also known as Chinese Turkestan. Legends attributing the founding of the kingdom to the Indian king Ashoka and/or his sons are recorded in the writings of the Chinese pilgrim Hüan tsang and also in the Tibetan chronicle of the Li-yul. See Lamotte, Étienne, History of Indian Buddhism, trans. Sara Webb-Boin (Louvain-La-Neuve: Universite Catholique de Louvain, Institut Orientaliste, 1988) 257-258. ↩
Sera Khandro is known by other names, including Diamond Bliss Ḍākinī from Central Tibet (dbus bza’ mkha’ ’gro bde ba’i rdo rje). The name “Sera Khandro” originates from her residence at Awo Sera Monastery at Serta in eastern Tibet, where she stayed at the request of Sotrul Natsog Rangdrol (bsod sprul sna tshogs rang grol), her guru Tülku Drime’s heart disciple. ↩
Other sources describe Sera Khandro’s birth to a father named Lhasey Jampa Ngonpo (lha sras byams pa mngon po), Lord of Loving Kindness, Son of the Gods, who was a local chief “renowned as an emanation of the old man Rong Tsatra (rong tsha khra) and who had treasure abilities, displayed unimpeded signs of accomplishment, and was a powerful person with strength.” Her mother is described as belonging to the ḍākinī class, a lady from the Nup (gnub) Lineage named Tsering Chö Dzom (tshe ring chos ’dzoms), Long-Life Bountiful Dharma. Her birth took place in the Water Dragon Year in the Fifteenth Rabjung Cycle (1892) in Lhasa amidst many wondrous signs, such as a tent of rainbow light in the sky, a fragrant mist, and the king of the vultures dancing on the roof of her house. See the reference to the work of Khenpo Pema Ösal Thaye in note six above, page 77. ↩
“Bodhichitta,” or an awakened mind, refers to a compassionate and altruistic intention to work for the well-being, happiness, and temporary and ultimate benefit of all sentient beings until all the realms of saṃsāra are emptied. ↩
From a Buddhist point of view, the eight worldly concerns are gain and loss, praise and blame, good and bad reputation, and pleasure and pain. These represent major obstacles to accomplishing dharma practice. ↩
The Three Jewels are the buddha, his teachings or the dharma, and the community of spiritual practitioners or the sangha. ↩
The female buddha Tārā, or Jetsün Drolma as Tibetans know her, is respected and viewed as the great mother of liberation. She appears in many forms and Sera Khandro’s treasures contain many meditations on her as a personal deity. ↩
“Kungabüma” is a reference to Kungabumpa (kun dga’ ’bum pa), the enigmatic fourteenth century treasure revealer who was also believed to be an incarnation of Yeshe Tsogyal. She is most well known for her treasure The Secret Mother Tantra, Daily Practice Cycles (ma rgyud gsang ba lam khyer gyi chos skor). ↩
The Indian mahāsiddha Saraha is believed to have been born to a Brahmin family in eastern India in the late eighth or early ninth century CE. Saraha is well known for his dohās, or spiritual hymns, which express his insights and realization. ↩
These instructions relate to union practice. ↩
These refer to practices with the breath according to training with the body’s subtle energy channels and winds. ↩
Kukurādza, another Indian mahāsiddha, is said to have been taught the inner tantras by King Dza after having received their transmission from Vajrapāṇi, the Lord of Secrets. See Dudjom Rinpoche, Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: Its Fundamentals & History, translated and edited by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston, USA: Wisdom Publications, 1991), 460. ↩
The “two purposes” here means the accomplishment of the benefit of self and other. It can also mean the accomplishment of two kāyas, the dharmakāya and rūpakāya (zük ku/gzugs sku). ↩
These two treasuries are The Dākinīs’ Secret Treasury of Reality (chos nyid mkha’ ’gro’i gsang mdzod) and The Ḍākinīs’ Heart Essence of Reality (chos nyid mkha’ ’gro’i thugs thig). ↩
Yudrönma, or the Adamantine Lady of the Turquoise Lamp, is an important protector deity associated with several important Tibetan treasure lineages. ↩
The “five classes” refers to the five buddha families. ↩
These activities should be understood as relating to consort practice. This means “hooking” an appropriate consort; and then, if this person has not been trained in the practices of the five preliminaries, making sure that he or she trains in these practices and achieves their fruition. ↩
These are awareness holders, a title or way of referring to enlightened beings. ↩
This is another name for Guru Padmasambhava. ↩
Nyenchen Tanglha (gnyan chen thang lha) is a worldly protector deity named after a mountain range in central Tibet. An important protector of the Nyingma teachings, he is regarded as a bodhisattva on the eighth level. ↩
These are instructions on the correct sitting posture for meditation. ↩
A stringed instrument of ancient India, believed to be the antecedent to the sitar. ↩
The practices of discerning saṃsāra and enlightenment involve various types of physical, verbal, and mental meditations, which are categorized as preliminary practices for engagement in the main “crossing-over” (thod rgal) practices of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen) teachings. The examination of the mind’s arising, abiding, and departing is a training that often precedes the essential pointing-out instructions that introduce a practitioner to wisdom awareness, which is primarily sustained by the “cutting-through” (khregs chod) training of the Great Perfection path. ↩
At age fifteen, Sera Khandro made a daring nighttime escape from a family home in Lhasa to join the traveling encampment of Drime Özer and his entourage from Golok. Not understanding or speaking the Golok dialect and unused to any sort of physical hardship in her aristocratic life, she was thrown into the intensely difficult situation of trying to adjust to a rough nomadic lifestyle among people who viewed her with a mixture of suspicion, jealousy, and indifference. Her determination to practice the dharma purely and her faith in Drime Özer eventually resulted in her gaining a tenuous acceptance among his entourage as they traveled east to the highland pasture region of Amdo-Golok, which is located along the border between the two present-day Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Quinghai. It was in these areas that Sera Khandro spent the rest of her life. ↩
There are many categories of treasures, within the scope of the activities of the Tibetan treasure tradition. Earth treasures are usually material objects, such a precious statues, vases, and other ritual implements. Sera Khandro reported discovering such items at later points in her life, but also recounted hiding them for fear of having their authenticity as treasures doubted. ↩
After her arrival in Golok, Sera Khandro found herself totally dependent on others for food and shelter; and she was forced to work as a servant in a household nearby the residence of Drime Özer in order to survive. She was unable to realize her ability to be a treasure revealer at this time because she had not yet connected appropriately with the people who were destined to be the supports for this activity. However, she still engaged assiduously in dharma practice and reported finishing 100,000 prostrations in seventeen days. ↩
This is an elaborate feast ceremony. ↩
When religious specialists are asked to do ceremonies for dead or living people, there is a responsibility for using the offerings appropriately. ↩
Sera Khandro’s wish to assume a male rebirth reflects the patriarchal culture of Golok, as well as the practical realities that made it more difficult for women to be supported in pursuit of spiritual goals. ↩
When she was eighteen, Sera Khandro received transmission from a lama named Kangdon Bonpo Gonwang who directed her to pursue a relationship with the son Gyalse of the great treasure revealer Gara Tertön (1857–1911). Unfortunately, though Sera Khandro had recognized signs that she was meant to be the consort of Gara Tertön himself, she was prevented from realizing this due to the machinations of the wife of Gara Tertön, a woman named Yakza. Sera Khandro did, however, enter into a relationship with his son Gyalse, primarily because of Bonpo Gonwang’s injunction that she help preserve the treasure revelations of Gara Tertön. Yakza maintained an attitude of dislike and acrimony against Sera Khandro throughout the years she lived with her son Gyalse. ↩
Sera Khandro also had a tumultuous relationship with Gyalse, who did not recognize her treasure activities. Her long autobiography details numerous fights between them, despite her efforts to please him. A powerful and prominent Golok lama in his own right, Gara Tertön’s son Gyalse had a dharma relationship with Drime Özer and was very much aware of Sera Khandro’s connection to him. However, up until Sera Khandro took her final leave from Gyalse, he never formally acknowledged her special qualities as a treasure revealer, nor accorded her the position and respect that she later acquired. ↩
This is a reference to Yakza. ↩
The “dragon” is a reference to Sera Khandro who was born in the Dragon Year, while Drime Özer was born in the Snake Year. ↩
This is most likely a reference to one of her close disciples or attendants. ↩
This refers to Sera Khandro, whose name in Sanskrit is Sukhā Vajra. ↩
That is, Tülku Drimed will dispel her obstacles. ↩
These two lineages are the treasure lineages of Sera Khandro herself and that of Drime Özer. ↩
In fact, Jigdrel Chökyi Lodrö played a large role in Sera Khandro’s life as one of the four main disciples who upheld her lineage. Also called Gotrul Rinpoche, he was the first authority to publicly recognize her as a ḍākinī and authentic treasure revealer when she was twenty-four years old. ↩
A paṇḍita is a great religious scholar. ↩
“Raśmi” is the Sanskrit for “özer,” or light rays. Drime Özer’s name in Sanskrit is Vimala-raśmi. ↩
Once again, these two lineages are her own and that of Drime Özer. ↩
This prophecy could have intimated that Sera Khandro should bear Drime Özer’s child, but it is very difficult to interpret such forms of wisdom speech. ↩
A small sparrow-like bird renowned for its extremely beautiful voice, the kalapingka or kalavingka is referenced in numerous sources of Buddhist literature, such as Ashvaghoṣha’s Buddhacharita. ↩
One of Tibet’s most important protector deities and considered to be a tenth-level bodhisattva, Machen Pomra, or Great Peacock [Mountain], resides on the snow mountain of Amnye Machen in Golok, northeastern Tibet. ↩
This is the title of one of Sera Khandro’s two treasure cycles. This collection contains extensive ritual and liturgical practices including A Gathering of Vidyādharas, as well as deity practices focusing on Vajrakīla, Vajravārāhī, Tārā, Yeshe Tsogyal, and others. ↩
The Buddhist King Ashoka (third century BCE) was said to have magically built thousands of stūpas in one night. It is not uncommon to find attribution of important stūpas to him, and this reference may be to a stūpa called Gömang Chorten (Stūpa of Many Doors) near Bümoche Monastery in Golok. ↩
In her long autobiography, Sera Khandro writes in great detail about the years of struggle and misery she spent living with Gara Gyalse. After having one daughter [i.e., Yangchen Drönma] with Gyalse, she later gave birth to a stillborn boy, a tragedy that drew her much criticism from her detractors among Gyalse’s entourage. In fact, she was expelled from his community on more than one occasion before Gara Gyalse himself finally sent her to Drime Özer when she was thirty, despite having agreed many years earlier that she should go and live there. Sera Khandro gave birth to another son [i.e., Rigdzin Gyurme Dorje] in her late twenties and traveled with her two children between the nomadic encampments of Gara Gyalsey and Drime Özer numerous times before she went to live with Drime Özer permanently. ↩
Sera Khandro suffered much of her life from arthritis or gout. This condition worsened considerably in her late twenties; and by the time she made her final departure for Drime Özer’s encampment, she could not walk and had to be tied onto her horse. When arriving at Drime Özer’s encampment, she was almost dead. His healing ceremonies and their practice together revived her and averted this obstacle to her life. In her long autobiography she also recounts another time of intense illness when, in great sorrow over her weak health, Drime Özer cried a tear that landed in her ear and traveled to her heart, thereby reviving her. ↩
These texts are part of her treasure cycles. Her long autobiography also includes sections of extensive prophecies. ↩
This is Drime Özer. ↩
This refers to Yeshe Tsogyal. ↩
This is the title of the second collection of Sera Khandro’s two treasure cycles. ↩
This would have been the year 1918, when Sera Khandro was twenty-seven, but the chronology here may be slightly out of order. ↩
This reference to someone named “Speech” is difficult to accurately identify. Obviously, it refers to someone who might have had a negative influence on her. ↩
“Gojo” is the name of a previous kingdom in Kham, eastern Tibet. ↩
Drime Özer passed away in the year 1924 when he was forty-four years of age. ↩
This is a reference to Sötrul Rinpoche, the head of Sera Monastery, from which Sera Khandro took her name, and one of the Drime Özer’s closest disciples. ↩
This is a reference to Awo Sera Monastery in Serta, eastern Tibet. ↩
Dudjom Lingpa and Drime Özer. ↩
This refers to Sera Khandro’s lineage and that of Drime Özer. ↩
This is a reference to Sherab Özer, a disciple and lineage holder who was mentioned in the colophon to this text, in her long autobiography, and also in the colophons to several of her meditation practices and liturgical writings. ↩
Male rhinoceroses prefer to live alone. ↩
Chāmara Island is one of the eight smaller continents of Buddhist cosmology. ↩