Dorje Pakmo - History and Background

History and Background

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Her seat, Samding (literally, 'the temple of soaring meditation') was in many ways unique in that about half of the inhabitants were monks and the other half were nuns, while the head of the monastery with all its branches was (and still is) a woman. It is a Geluk Ani gompa (or nunnery) – which also housed some monks – and was built on a hill on a peninsula jutting into the sacred lake, Yamdrok Tso.

The female tulku who was the abbess of Samding monastery, on the shores of the Yamdrok Tso Lake, near Gyantse, Tibet was traditionally a nirmanakaya emanation of Vajravarahi (Tibetan: Dorje Phagmo). The lineage started in 15th century with the princess of Gungthang, Chokyi Dronma (Wylie: Chos-kyi sgron-me)(1422–1455). She became known as Samding Dorje Pagmo (Wylie:bSam-lding rDo-rje phag-mo) and began a line of female tulkus, reincarnate lamas. She was a contemporary of Gendun Drup (1391–1474) and her teacher Bodong Panchen Chogley Namgyal also was one of his teachers. Charles Alfred Bell met the tulku in 1920 and took photographs of her, calling her Dorje Pamo in his book. The current incarnation, the 12th of this line, resides in Lhasa. where she is known as Female Living Buddha Dorje Palma by the Chinese.

The present incarnation of the divine Dorje Phagmo is a lady of twenty-six, Nag-wang rinchen kunzag wangmo by name. She wears her hair long; her face is agreeable, her manner dignified, and somewhat resembling those of the Lhacham, though she is much less prepossessing than she. It is required of her that she never take her rest lying down; in the daytime she may recline on cushions or in a chair, but during the night she sits in the position prescribed for meditation.
I learnt that the Dorje Phagmo, or the "Diamond Sow," is an incarnation of Dolma (Tara), the divine consort of Shenrezig (Chenrezig). In days of old, before the time when the Buddha Gautama appeared, there was a hideous monster called Matrankaru, who spread ruin and terror over all the world. He was the chief of all the legions of demons, goblins, and other evil spirits; even the devils (raksha) of Ceylon had to become his subjects. He subdued to his rule not only this world, but the eight planets, the twenty-four constellations, the eight Nagas, and the gods. By his miraculous power he could lift Mount Ribab (Sumeru) on the end of his thumb.
Finally the Buddha and gods held council to compass about Matrankaru's destruction, and it was decided that Shenrezig should take the form of Tamdrin ("Horse-neck"), and his consort, Dolma, that of Dorje Phagmo ("the Diamond Sow"). When the two had assumed these forms they went to the summit of the Malaya mountains, and Tamdrin neighed three times, to fill the demon with terror, and Dorje Phagmo grunted five times, to strike terror into the heart of Matrankaru's wife, and soon both were lying prostrated at the feet of the two divinities. But their lives were spared them, and Matrankaru became a devout follower of the Buddha, a defender of the faith (chos gyong), and was given the name of Mahakala.
In 1716, when the Jungar invaders of Tibet came to Nangartse, their chief sent word to Samding to the Dorjo Phagmo to appear before him, that he might see if she really had, as reported, a pig's head. A mild answer was returned to him; but, incensed at her refusing to obey his summons, he tore down the walls of the monastery of Samding, and broke into the sanctuary. He found it deserted, not a human being in it, only eighty pigs and as many sows grunting in the congregation hall under the lead of a big sow, and he dared not sack a place belonging to pigs.
When the Jungars had given up all idea of sacking Samding, suddenly the pigs disappeared to become venerable-looking lamas and nuns, with the saintly Dorje Phagmo at their head. Filled with astonishment and veneration for the sacred character of the lady abbess, the chief made immense presents to her lamasery."
"Her monastery belongs to one of the red hat or unreformed orders, which are frowned on by the prevailing yellow-hat hierarchy, but an exception has been made in her case, and she is treated with royal honors by the Lhasa government, sharing with the Trashi- and Dalai-lamas the privilege of riding in a sedan-chair when she travels. She is also exempt from the rule that all nuns must shave off their hair and is permitted to wear her hair long, but on the other hand she is never permitted to assume a recumbent position. In the daytime she can sleep sitting up in a chair, but the whole night she must spend in meditation in the rigorous position demanded in this practice."

Samding gompa was destroyed after 1959 but is in the process of being restored.

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