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The Lost Sadhanas Project
Chen Ma - The Life of a Vajrayana Buddhist Nun (Himalayan Region)

This is the life of Chen Ma who was a Buddhist nun, in the Vajrayana tradition. She was a visionary with excellent inner vision and was fortunate to gain an inner spiritual guide, a dakini, at a young age. Her life is an example of a life of spiritual awakening, and elements in this life laid the foundation for the Jivamala practice today.

Section I - The Call of the Yogini

I am Chen Ma. I currently live in the realm of a bodhisattva where I live a life of service. You cannot free me - I have no desire to be freed.

But if you wish to know me, I will speak of my life. I am not a partial being, but fully existent. I exist as you exist, but in a different place.

I was born in the mountains, in a place called Long Chen Po. Both of my parents were dedicated Buddhists. I was one of many children. From a young age, I cared for animals and tried not to eat them for food. I had many pets. Each night I would say prayers for their well-being.

One night, in a dream, I saw a woman with a bird's head. She danced, and her arms were like wings. She looked at me deeply with her bird eyes, and she called to me. She said that I must follow her. I saw her fly high up into the turquoise sky, and fly down to a monastery that I did not know. But I could vaguely recognize the area.

In the morning, I told the dream to my parents. I was eleven or twelve. They were disturbed, and did not know who the figure was. My father said, "This is not a child's dream - our little girl has become a woman. We shall have to decide on whether she will marry, or follow the dream."

My father was a good man, and my mother was also good - they did not beat me as some children were beaten. I liked them, and also got along with my brother and sisters. I had three sisters, and two brothers.

I did not want to marry. I was not interested in having children - I wanted to learn things, and travel the world. I wanted to see new lands, and live under skies of other colors. I wanted to fly with my bird-lady.

My mother was more cautious. She said, "This dream may not be a real call. Let us wait and see if it comes three times."

My father said, "Fine, but I will speak with a priest. I want to know what somebody who is a professional at this would say." My father makes wheels, and chains, and necklaces, and amulets - he works with metal. He knows that it is important to be a professional.

When I slept the next night, nobody came. I was disappointed. But the following night, she came back. She had a plate made of feathers, and she pointed that I was to sit on it. There were beautiful feathers, turquoise and deep blue. They were like the evening sky in winter, or the mountain lakes when the ice is gone.

I sat on it, and it spun, and rose up into the air. Rays of light came out from it. We traveled together, and she pointed out the mountain path the I must follow to get to the temple-monastery. I can see the house, and how to get there by the path. The temple is brightly colored, and the monks wear red. I do not see any women, and I wonder if that is where I should go. She says in my mind, "That is where you go first - not where you stay". I see an old monk there, with many wrinkles on his face. He is stooped over, but when he stands his eyes are sharp, and clear. She says, "When you go, speak to him. He knows the yoginis."

Then we fly up, and over many lands. I see skies like yellow wheat, like green barley, and like the peach color on brocades. Then we rise, and the sky spins, and I see that space is filled with jewels, like diamonds, and then I awake.

I tell my parents who are impressed. My father did not have a chance to speak with the priest, but he will do so tomorrow. My brothers and sisters think that it is a stupid dream, and I should dream about lots of food, and warm furs. My mother says to wait for the third dream.

My father speaks with the priest who wants to speak with me. We go together to see him. He takes care of the temple at the far end of the village which is dedicated to the Lord of the Mountain, the great god who rides a bull, and sleeps in rocks and crystals. There are also Buddhas in meditation there, and one is very well done - the Buddha's face looks alive, only asleep.

The priest says, "Tell me about your dreams." So I tell him and he asks many questions. He asks if the bird woman has said anything to me. So I tell him that the old man knows the yoginis. He is very interested in this.

I didn't think anybody in this region had that knowledge. Yoginis can be from many different traditions, but your family is Buddhist, and your temple is Buddhist, so your bird-woman is also Buddhist - a Buddhist yogini. She has a bird-head because it represents her powers to fly and explore, and because she likes to be part of nature. She is a hawk. So she is strong, and can protect you.

A few nights later, I have a third dream. The bird woman comes to me and raises her arms, and I can fly by myself. We fly together over mountains and hills and into the dark night sky. I ask her, "Who calls me?" I see a star which grows bigger and brighter, and becomes a giant shining jewel. Colors glitter on all sides, and rays come out all around. Within the jewel is the figure of a Buddha in meditation, and he wears a crown. I say, "Who is he?", and she says in my mind, "You will find out", and I wake up.

I tell my father and we go to see the priest. He says, "You must take her to the temple. I have never seen such a clear call."

My father takes me back to the house, and my mother is unhappy. My sisters and brothers are happy. They will get more food.

Section II

I tell my father where the temple is - it is a walk of at least a day. There are oxen in the village that we could buy, but my father says it is not worth it for only one day's walk. Besides, he has many children to feed, and oxen are expensive. He tells me that the priest wishes to come along. I think that is fine. I know that sometimes there are bandits in the hills, and an extra person (especially a priest) would be good to have. We have food - cereal and tea, and wait for the priest.

He comes to our house carrying a sack. We leave together. I made a map of the way - as best I could. The temple is deep in a kind of niche where nobody goes. I haven't heard of the temple from the traders who visit our village (not that traders are much interested in temples).

We walk all day, but still do not reach it. My father knows of a village that is not too far, and we go there to stay overnight. The inn is dark and smells like animals but we are glad to be off the road. It is not too expensive when we split the price with the priest, and when the innkeeper saw the priest, he gave us a special discount, and asked for blessings.

In the morning, we ask the innkeeper about the temple. He knows it and gives us more detailed directions. He said that they worship many Buddhas, not just one, and that some of them are magicians, and can make things appear and disappear. My father is skeptical of this - he does not believe in magic, but he is polite.

We go on to the temple and reach it near noon. The weather is cold at night, sunny in the morning, and not too cool during the day. The temple has a yellow roof, and brightly painted pillars. It has a great door, with designs of the Buddha worlds and animal worlds. We ring the great bell outside the temple, and wait.

A monk comes to answer the door. He has a red robe, and does not have any hair. He bows, and asks us what has brought us here.

My father tells him a little about my dreams. He frowns and looks uncertain. I tell him that I must speak with the old man with the wrinkles, and the bright eyes. He hesitates, and then asks us in. He says to wait a little while.

We go in and it is dark inside. It smells like some kind of incense. At the far end of the room is an altar with many statues on it. There are candles, and bowls of water, and on the table are many offerings. There is food, and drink, and bright scarves, and drums. There are layers of rice, and little sculptures made of wheat.

Some of the Buddhas look friendly, and some look unfriendly. I don't know why anyone would pray to an unfriendly Buddha. It seems to go against the idea that the Buddhas are enlightened. How can you be enlightened and hostile?

As I pondered this, the monk returned to us. With him was the man in my dream. I went to him, and bowed deeply. I looked up at him, and he was sort of stooped over, but his eyes were bright. I said, "My dreams have called me to you."

He smiles, and said, "Little girl, tell me about your dreams." So I told him, and the smile disappeared from his face. He grew serious, and silent. Then he said, "Let me greet our other guests."

My father bowed to him, as did the priest (he didn't really have to bow, as they were both old people, and probably didn't have to bow to each other). The priest opened the sack, and gave a long white scarf to the old monk. It was embroidered with letters (though I could not read them). It was pretty.

The old monk smiled when he saw it, and said, "You have traveled far. This is a wonderful gift." He thought for a moment, and said, "Let me give you something in return." He walked out, and came back with a great crystal. He said, "A devotee of your god brought this to us as an offering, but it is really more suitable for your temple than for our monastery." He gave the crystal to the priest, who looked very impressed, and thanked him enthusiastically.

He then turned to my father and said, "It may be that you have a greater gift for us. But I must meditate, and find out what is the intention of the deity who sent your child the messenger in her dreams. This bird woman is called a yogini, and I must find out about her."

The priest said, "When you are finished, there are some things I would like to discuss with you." The old monk nodded. "You may rest here. I must spend some hours in meditation. We will provide you with some food."

He called some younger monks, who gave us barley and millet, tea, and some kind of dried fruit. We looked around and the young monk told us about the temple. It was built when a Buddhist sage who was meditating high in the mountains got a command from his tutelary Buddha, his special form of the Buddha. I asked him, "What forms does Lord Buddha have? Was he not a man who lived as we did, but gained knowledge?"

He responded, "There are many understandings of Buddha. For us, there is one buddha-mind, but many buddha-bodies, who share in the mind. While ultimately, all share the same buddha-mind, still we call them by different names."

I thought this was strange, different bodies sharing the same mind. The priest asked, "How do you relate the Buddhas and the gods?"

The young monk answered, "That I do not know. I think that gods too may share in the buddha mind, but I have never been instructed."

We rested on pillows, and after the monks left I took a nap. I awoke when my father was shaking me, and the old monk had returned.

He said,

I have meditated and seen your yogini. It is indeed a call, based on your previous life, when you were a Buddhist nun. You cannot stay here, but there is a convent of Buddhist nuns, which might be suitable for you. The call is for you to become a nun, a renunciant. You would have to leave your family, and your village, and live apart. Is that something you wish to do?
I said, "I would like to do it now, but could I leave if I miss my family, or if the bird-woman does not return?"

He said,

The first year is not binding - you could see if you want to live in that way. After a year, you must make your decision. Many people visit their families then and discuss the situation.
Then he said to my father, "Are you willing for your daughter to become a nun?"

My father said, "It is her choice. I want her to be happy. I do not like the renunciant life, but we are poor and she will have no wedding money. That doesn't matter to her now, but it could make her unhappy when she is older. Perhaps this is the best way."

The old monk said, "You will leave her here, and I will bring her to the convent. She will stay a year, and then return to you for a discussion."

My father nodded, and the priest supported him. The old monk said, "Our offerings have been good this season. You have given us the gift of a daughter. Let me give you some food for your wife and the other children." He gave my father a bag of grain, and my father's eyes were happy. He said, "It is getting late. You can stay at the monastery and get started in the morning, or you can go to the inn where you stayed last night." My father said, "I will stay here tonight with my daughter, and you can speak to the priest."

The old monk and the priest went off, and my father said, "You can leave at any time - nobody forces you to stay a monk or a nun. If you are unhappy, return to us immediately. There is always room for you at our house. Don't let anybody treat you badly, or starve you, or make you work too hard. You are a free person coming of your own accord."

I agreed, and hugged him.

Section III

The priest and the old monk talked long into the night, and seemed happy with each other. I slept next to my father, and held onto him. Soon I would not see him anymore. I wondered if I made the right decision. But I did not want to marry any of the lumpish unintelligent boys I knew. Their greatest goal in life was to be yak herders, or wine merchants. I could not stay with my parents forever, and I suppose I could have helped my father at his forge, but it is heavy, dirty work, and you need to be very strong. Nobody likes for unmarried girls to stay in the house anyway. It is supposed to be bad luck.

We wake in the morning, and my father and the priest go off, and bid me farewell. They will travel faster without me. I don't think my brothers and sisters will miss me, and my mother never paid that much attention to me. It is one less mouth to feed.

The old monk showed me around the temple, and introduced me to the deities. He said that the statues have Buddhas in them, and that the Buddhas are so compassionate that they will come down to earth to help people and listen to them. I had heard of Lord Buddha, but all of these different Buddhas were confusing.

The old monk said that I should not go into the monastery, for I was a young girl, and these were unmarried men. I said that I thought that monks did not care about women - only about praying. He smiled, and said that monks were still men, and some of them thought about other things than praying.

He went to talk with them about who would go to the convent. He felt that I should not travel alone, and needed an escort. He was willing to go himself, as there were things he wanted to see in that part of the country. He found three younger monks to go with him. They decided that we should travel the next morning.

I spoke with the old monk for the rest of the day. He said that the call from the bird-woman yogini was very important - that was how Buddhas sometime got in touch with people, especially in formal situations. It meant that in a past life, I had practiced meditation, and been a nun. Now I must figure out again what I had learned in the last life, and forgotten when I got a new body in this life.

He said that it was unusual for a call to come so young. Usually, people get calls in later life, after they have worked out their karma, and contributed to their villages and countries. Or it comes to monks and nuns who are people already following a religious life. Or sometimes it comes to people out traveling seeking their destinies. But I was not yet a woman - perhaps this early call meant that I must not experience life as an earthly woman but instead become a nun before the temptations and grief of ordinary female life besieged me.

I said that it was just as well that I came while I was young - I did not want to marry some yak-herder and live in a dark hut with too many children. I wanted to live in a great beautiful building with Buddhas, and bird-women and piles of food, like here. But I hoped it would be warmer, and that maybe I could have some pet animals.

He smiled and said, "The convent is large, and has Buddhas, but I do not know if it is warm. Nuns normally do not have pets, but you are a child, and the head of the convent may decide to be generous. We shall see."

We left the next morning, bundled up with blankets and robes. I carried some food, and statues, and rocks to offer to the convent. The monks carried food for the journey.

It was a long walk, and we mostly slept out on the ground. Once we went to an inn when there was a storm. The convent was very far away, and it took weeks of walking. My legs were strong because I used to go out through the mountains every day looking for pieces of wood for our fire, but I was still tired as the weeks wore on. We passed many fields, and then rockier mountain slopes. Some areas were green and fertile, some were dry and barren. We passed few people on the way - some merchants and traders in large caravans, and yogis or magicians traveling alone or with disciples. It was not pilgrimage time, and in between pilgrimages, things were quiet.

Section IV - The Emerald Garden Convent

We went to the convent, which was partway into the mountain. The rock cliff above could shelter it from storms and hail. It was not easy to reach - there were very narrow paths that no caravan or large group of people could travel down. We went carefully, one by one, on a trail not wide enough for a full footstep. It was hard, even just carrying the things we had.

There was a great and forbidding door to the convent, with heavy metal hinges. It looked strong - even if thieves or warriors got down that tiny trail, they could never batter the door down. They would need a great tree, which they could never carry.

The old monk knocked on the door, and chanted a mantra of strange words three times. He stood outside the door with his head bowed, and his hands together. We waited. After about fifteen minutes, the door opened slowly, only a little bit. A strong woman with a great stick stood there, and asked us what we wanted.

The monk said he wanted to speak with the abbess. He pointed to me, and said that I had had a call from the yoginis. After a while, another woman came to the door.

She was old and wrinkled, but also had bright eyes like the monk. She said, "Welcome, elder brother. I have not seen you for many years. Enter, and we shall talk."

We came into a large empty hall. The ceiling was high, and it was dark, but it smelled like incense, and it gave me the urge to breathe deeply. There were no other nuns there, except the strong woman with the staff.

The old monk told her a little about me, and asked me to tell her about my dreams. I did, and she looked very serious. She asked me to describe the bird-woman in detail. I told her as best I could remember. She asked me to wait, and came back carrying a scroll. She opened it, and asked if any of the figures looked like the bird woman.

There were many figures with animal and bird heads, but one in the corner looked just like her. I pointed her out, and she said, "This yogini is our protector, and messenger to the Buddhas. It is a sign that she has come to you. It means that you are to enter our convent. Welcome, daughter". We bowed to each other.

The abbess was kind to us, and it seems that she knew the old monk from elsewhere. She entertained him, and the other monks with food and drink, and they told stories together. Eventually, they left saying that they had other business in the area. I was left behind at the convent.

The abbess said, "Come let me show you around." I saw a great building, bigger inside than it looked outside, which was very dark. The worship room was large, with many mats and pillows for meditation. The entrance room was also dark, but edged with many lamps, and there were carpets on the floor. There were empty rooms for private meditation, and a dining hall with benches. The kitchen had fire-pits, and many shelves for pots and pans, and pantries with mostly dry food. There was a big pot just for tea, and that cooked all day. Towards the back were the rooms for the nuns, and the rooms with water pots for private things.

Most of the rooms looked out over the mountains, and had small windows through which one might see. The abbess said that I would meet the other nuns at dinner, and asked me about my life. I told her about my parents and my pets, and I asked if I could have a pet here. She smiled and said, "We will see. If an animal comes to our door for shelter, you may become its mistress." I agreed.

She said that nuns must follow many rules. I must eat and sleep sparingly, and must spend much time in meditation and prayer. I must be kind to other nuns and not criticize them and fight with them - they are all older than me, and I must respect my elders. I should not grow vain, and care about my looks, and I should not envy anything about others. I should not seek men to be lovers, or to marry. I must dedicate myself to the Buddha body and soul, and my life will be to please and serve him, and grow so close, it is like we are the same being. I shall not have money, or fine clothes, or jewels - I am to be humble. I must obey the abbess at all times. Did I have any questions?

I said there was one: "I have always been taught that Lord Buddha was a man who became enlightened, and taught how we might attain this state, which was a very good one. Who are all these other Buddhas - are they his relatives? I told her what the monk said about one Buddha mind but many buddha bodies, and that I did not understand how different buddha bodies could share the same mind. Didn't we each have our own minds?"

She said,

This is a very interesting question. Usually novices ask if they can bring gifts or special items, and want to know how often they can visit people they know. You ask a philosophical question which is very deep, and hard to answer. It shows that your inclination as a nun is knowledge, and that is rare. Most nuns emphasize compassion in our tradition, and building up merit for good deeds. You must start taking classes, and learn the beliefs and practices of our tradition.

She showed me to my room, which was small and empty. She said that some convents had the nuns sleep together all in one big room, but we each stayed in separate rooms. There was a board for a bed, and a few boards along the walls. There was a mat for meditation. She said, "We live simply here. You may put your blanket on the bed. We will give you a nun's robe to wear. You must cut your hair - our nuns do not wear long hair. Here is a mala, on which to count your prayers - a good nun does 100,000 prayers a day. But you will be instructed on how to pray and meditate. Rest here until dinner. You will hear a great bell, and then you must come to the dining room."

She left, and I put my blanket on the bed, and I took off the clothes I was wearing. I put them under the blanket for bedding. I put on the nun robe, which was sort of like my old clothing. It was faded yellow, but soft and warm from much use. I rested on the bed, wondering at all this.

A loud bell rang several times. I got up and went down to the dining room. There were many women, some of them perhaps in their twenties, and some of them very old like the abbess. Nobody was as young as I was. The abbess introduced me to them, and said that I was a new nun. She said that I had no name yet, and one of the first things that they must do is to give me a name.

The other nuns welcomed me - some of them simply nodded their heads, and some of the younger ones smiled. One asked the abbess if novices were getting younger these days. She smiled, and said my case was special.

Section V

The food was not appealing, but it was hot, and I was hungry. We ate silently, and afterwards the abbess said that I could speak with the others. Not too many wanted to speak with me. There were about thirty women, but only half a dozen came over to me - mostly the younger ones. I told them about the dreams and some were interested, and some looked like they didn't believe me. I asked why they came to the convent. Some said they were unhappy in their marriages, some were widows, and one had a poor family, and no money to marry, and felt this was her only other choice.

I went to bed, and the next day the abbess brought me to the worship room. She pointed out the different Buddhas, dakinis, and yoginis, and said that the universe was full of beings just like our land. They just looked different, and some could change their looks. Going to the world of the Buddhas was like going to another country - you have to learn their language and customs, and respect their way of life, and try to get along with them. They are happy if you know their names, and give them gifts.

She said that in these worlds, people can share minds. They can know each other's thoughts and feelings, and even enter each other's bodies. People on earth can learn these skills but really they belong to the Buddha worlds. On earth, it is important to learn how to help other beings, to pray for them if you are a nun, and make things, and sell them, and work with other people, if you live outside the convent. In the Buddha worlds, it is important to feel love for the whole world so that you become love itself, and to help beings on the path to enlightenment. Other skills are much less important.

I asked her again about this sharing of minds among Buddhas. She said,

Beneath the earth there are many lakes. Their water comes up to us through rivers. Each river has water from the same lake in this range of mountains. Can you imagine that? Each river has a different name, and some come up through rocks, and some flow from caves, but they share the same water. The buddha-mind is like that - it enters into caves of individual minds, but the great mind is the same. The mind is like water, it can flow into many places. As water can carry leaves and sticks, so mind can carry ideas and images. It just carries more of them.

I could see that. I said, "But why do they call it buddha-mind if Lord Buddha died long ago."

She said, "Because we know that his mind was part of the great lake. Many other people also share in this mind, but he was the most famous person to do so. So we named it after him."

That made sense. It was not really his mind, but was some bigger lake of mind before him that he knew about. The idea of a lake of mind was peculiar, but I suppose it was possible.

The abbess said, "I think that someday, you will know this lake. But for now, we must train you for the journey. Come and look at this mandala."

She showed me a picture painted on cloth, of squares and circles, with Buddhas and dakinis dancing, and said, "Close your eyes, and place your finger somewhere on this picture, lightly so as not to mess the paint." I closed my eyes, and moved my finger until it hit the painting. When I opened them, my finger was right in the center.

She said,

This is most unusual. Most people choose one of the four sections with colors. You have chosen the center, and its color is white. Your Buddha is 2: Command not found. tradition, he does not talk directly to people, but communicates through another being, a bodhisattva. There are several bodhisattvas he may choose. We shall find which one is best for you. Since you have chosen white light, your name must reflect white light. I will ask for a dream about it tonight. Meanwhile, you must learn to sit properly in meditation, and then we will cut your hair.

All of the nuns gathered together, and chanted mantras, as one of the nuns first cut my braids, and then shaved my head. I felt bald and cold. The abbess said, "I name you daughter of light, shining rainbow of the old school. For short, we will call you Chen Ma. Welcome, Chen Ma, to your sisters."

There was an official naming ceremony, where I was brought to the altar and named before the pictures of the Buddhas, and other beings. All of the other nuns together welcomed me to the convent. It was interesting to hear them all speak at once. Usually they were quiet. Then I heard them sing - or at least mumble. Every few days, we chanted long poems to different Buddhas and others. A few days later, we chanted to our founder.

The convent was begun by a woman renunciant, who lived a long time ago. She had been a princess, and came from a wealthy family, but she did not want to marry - she wanted to meditate. Her family insisted that she be married. So she pretended to be mad, and horrified everybody. Some people thought she might be pretending, but nobody would marry her, even for all of her parent's money. Then one night she left and never returned.

She wandered in rags until she met a bodhisattva disguised in human form, as a male renunciant. They did many practices together, and she attained enlightenment. She left him to wander, and she sought people who would support the building of a convent.

Eventually a local ruler was willing to gain merit by doing this after she had shown him some miracles. She promised him at least a temporary birth in a pleasure world. His men built the convent into the mountainside, and made sure that thieves and rapists could not enter. They hacked off the part of the mountain that they had used for travel, and left only the narrowest of trails when they were done. They made escape routes into the mountain too, which are secret. They are known only to the abbess, and handed down to be used in case of emergency.

She found other women who sought to enter the convent, to seek Buddha, or to escape the world. They came together and swore vows that they would practice meditation, follow the traditional Buddhist rules for monasteries and convents, and never leave. People have come after that, but never in large numbers. The convent was something of a secret place, and little known. Women came who were desperate, or who were called.

The foundress was a woman who became a bodhisattva, almost a Buddha. She was our Emerald Princess of the Thunderbolt, and our convent was the Emerald Garden.

Section VI

The convent was not really emerald, though some of the pictures had dark green edges. The biggest picture in the convent was of the bodhisattva Tara, and the women here believe that our foundress was really Tara in human form. She only pretended to seek enlightenment as a model for us - really she was already enlightened.

There were also dakinis that could help us. They came in different colors to represent the kinds of work they could do. The Green Dakini could do miracles, and action in the world. She was most like Tara, and also Lord Buddha who lived in the world. The Yellow Dakini brought peace, harmony, and love, and also good health. People who were sick prayed to her. The Blue Dakini helped to get rid of obstacles in meditation, and helped one to get clear focus and concentration. People who had trouble meditating could call on her. The Red Dakini brought enthusiasm for meditation, and love of the Buddhas, abbess, and companions. If a person felt unhappy at the convent, or restless or depressed, it was advised that she meditate on the Red Dakini before leaving. The White Dakini had a rainbow body, and she was for those souls that had a natural love of the buddha-mind, and the Buddha worlds that one visits on the way to attaining the buddha-mind.

I must meditate and learn about the rules before they assign me a bodhisattva, or a dakini.

I wear faded yellow cloth, and I do not speak much with the other nuns. I am lonesome. No animals have come here for shelter, and I have no pets. At least nobody yells at me, or harms me, and the work that I do here is much less than the work at my parent's house.

I ask the abbess how long it will be before I get beings to pray to who will be my friends. She said that that was not the right way to look at it. The bodhisattvas and dakinis are not friends. They are spiritual guides. They are great teachers, and noble beings - they must always be respected, and not treated like ordinary people. I said that was fine - when will I get my guides? She smiled and said that I was young, and must learn discipline. I must learn to focus my mind, and grow mature, in order to be initiated. Now I was just learning their ways of living.

I said, "Abbess, I cannot practice meditation with no instruction at all. How will I know when I have focused my mind?"

She said,

Very well, you must do practice. Concentrate on Tara, and meditate only on her name, and ask her to come down and help you. You could also meditate on some other being - simply chanting the name over and over again in your mind will still its tremors. You will see discipline when you can think only about that name, and nothing else, for an hour.

That seemed very strict, but if I was to be a good nun, I must do it. I sat before the picture of Tara when nobody else was in the room, and I thought about it at night when I was in bed. That's when I used to think about my pets. But I thought of her name over, and over, and over again, and nothing happened.

One day when I sat before her picture, I turned, and I saw the White Dakini. She was smiling at me in the picture, where she had a blue circle around her head and blue clothes, and she was dancing in a beautiful world, with a turquoise lake, and great white mountains. The trees all had flowers and fruit. She was very lively, and had a cup, and a small sword in her hand.

I smiled back at her. I heard her in my mind. She said, "Do you like to play games?"

I answered, "Yes, but I don't know many. My sisters taught me to make dolls, and jump over rocks, and tree stumps, and to race, and my brothers wanted me to hunt animals but I wouldn't do that because I liked animals. I don't know any others."

She said, "I have a game for you. Let's talk to each other without telling anybody, even the abbess. I like you, and it will take her a long time to initiate you. You want to be friends - well, so do I."

I thought this was wonderful - I could have a dakini just like the older nuns. I told her that I could keep a secret and would not tell the abbess. I said, "Was keeping the secret the game?"

She said,

That is part of it. I will take you places, and you can tell me what you think of them. Or, I do half a dance, and you figure out the other half. Or I can show you funny creatures, and you can make up other funny creatures.

I said,

That is much more interesting than saying the same word over and over again. I have been doing that as the abbess said to do, but it seems pointless. I have thought of dances in my mind (though I could only dance a few times with other girls). I think I could make good dances, and I would like to travel.

She smiles, saying, "It will be our secret."

Section VII - Traveling with Vajra Dakini

So the White Vajra Dakini came to me, and I began to meditate on her. She was wonderful, so kind and playful, and very beautiful. She came to me when I meditated at night, and showed me many worlds, and the beings in them. Some of them were funny - pink, and blue, and orange, and they looked like talking pillows, and plants, and fish. We would imagine them with feathers, with halos, wearing clothes, wearing masks, and shoes. I could change their colors, and their faces. Sometimes we would go to animal worlds, and we would talk to them and they would talk back to me. Mostly they were concerned with food, and sometimes with a comfortable place to sleep. They weren't good at playing games.

I am still young and not a woman, but she could make me grow up twenty years old, and I could change how I looked, and what I wore. She wore amazing things - great circles of bird feathers, tight fish scales, gloves, boots, and robes like empresses and queens might wear. I could wear them too - I dressed in stars and moons, and rippling water.

Sometimes she came while I was meditating with the other nuns, but it was embarrassing, because she would do funny things, and I would laugh. The abbess would glare at me, and afterwards tell me that I was an immature child, and it would be a long time before I would get a dakini. If she only knew. I already had the nicest dakini in the world!

She made life in that dull convent worthwhile. I asked her what to do if the abbess ever found out. She said,

"Oh, I suppose you can be honest with her if necessary, but she is such a killjoy. If she finds out, she will try to stop you from meditating - she thinks it must be grim and serious, or it should not be done."

They gave me more work to do than the older nuns. I suppose it was because I was young and strong. I don't mind - I probably am stronger, and it is still less than I was used to. But it seems to say that they don't value me.

This would bother me, except the Vajra Dakini values me. She says that I am more fun than the nuns who have no sense of humor. I am getting used to traveling with her. We walk over rainbows, and roads of stars, and visit blue-green kingdoms under the water. She has taught me to fly by myself, and sometimes I lead when we fly over mountains and I dip over flowerbeds. She is my life, and both my dark cramped family house, and my dark large convent seem like dreams. They are so dull by comparison. I am glad I didn't marry some dull oaf who only wants to talk about taxes and drinking and wars. I wonder if I would have met the dakini if I didn't come to the convent - I don't think so.

One day she said I should learn the kind of meditation that other nuns do. I said. "Fine, then the abbess would be happy." She said that they learn how to visualize spiritual things, and absorb spiritual energy from them. This was good because they could store spiritual energy like animals storing food for the winter, and they could use it when they needed it.

She said that I must see the universe as a vast ocean of spiritual energy, and that the many universes we had seen were all part of it. I could see that - especially the under-water worlds. The other worlds were under invisible water. All the invisible water had tiny dots of light and I must gather these. She said that certain words attracted these sparks of light, like bees go to flowers and honey, and that I must say these words over and over again to gather the sparks of invisible light.

I asked, "Is that why the abbess told me to say Tara's name over and over?"

She said,

Indeed, but you won't get much light from her. She doesn't keep it for herself - she is always running around using it. If you want to gather light, you must concentrate on Buddhas, and bodhisattvas who stay in paradises or in the Void light. I am white light, so you can get it from me but you should also meditate on Vajrasattva, who is a great diamond. Vajradhara is also powerful, and so is the Lord of the Flaming Jewel, Ratnapani, bodhisattva of the Golden Buddha. They are both friends of mine. I think that I will introduce you.

But you must meditate on the diamond light, which is like a million suns bursting open. If it is hard for you to concentrate, think of lord Vajradhara who stands above the world, holding the vajra of creation. The light comes out from him. You should visualize him - he is more serious than I.

I agreed and I began the meditation.

Section XIII

It was hard to meditate on light - every time I seemed to have it, it disappeared. It came when I wasn't looking, and it disappeared when I looked. I went into the worship room and looked at all the pictures of deities. I figured they were all like Vajra Dakini - they could take on any form they wanted, and these [pictures] were just examples for us.

She pointed out Vajrasattva, and Vajradhara and I thought they looked pretty similar. She said that I should see them inwardly - Vajrasattva was a great shining diamond with brightly colored rainbow light going out in all directions, while Vajradhara was more like the moon reflected on snow - cool, bright, like a quiet night, but strong and enduring.

I couldn't really see them but I pretended I could, and I talked to them, and told them how nice Vajra Dakini was, and how kind she was to take me traveling. Sometimes I could sense a smile but maybe I was imagining it.

Time went on at the convent and I learned to sit quietly and not laugh, no matter how silly the dakini was. I was there for six months, and then a year. I could sit with a straight face when she turned into a purple dancing yak, and when she sat on the abbess' head pretending to chop vegetables.

One day the abbess called me to her room. She said,

You have been here a year, and see how we live. You must decide if you want to stay here, or return to the world. Dolma, our guard will escort you to the inn. I have had a message that the head of the monastery and his monks have come for you, and to do business here with other abbots, trade for food and salt, and then return. If you wish to stay, I will test your spiritual development, and if you are ready, you will be initiated. What are your plans?

I bowed my head, and said, "I will stay here." She said, "Very well. In that case, you need to take very little with you. Get ready, and you will go."

I went out with the strong woman Dolma, who carries a great staff. It did not take so long to reach the inn, perhaps half a day. I saw the old monk. He smiled at me, and I thought he was nicer than the abbess. Dolma grunted farewell, and returned to the convent. The innkeeper said that she had been an orphan, too unattractive for anyone to want, and the nuns took her in. They gave her a home when she had none. I could see why she felt loyal to them.

I wished I could live with the abbot in his monastery, but nuns cannot live with monks. It is a shame - I would like to introduce him to the dakini, and then we could all go traveling. But perhaps he has his own dakini.

He took me aside and asked me what my life was like there. He was surprised that I had not been initiated yet. I asked him if he could keep a secret and he nodded. So I told him about Vajra Dakini, and gathering light, and the invisible ocean, and trying to see Vajrasattva. He was very surprised - he said that dakinis normally only come at initiation, and that this was special. I asked what I was supposed to do, since they would not initiate me. He shook his head, and said that many people on the spiritual path were blind to the miracles around them. But he congratulated me - he said he knew I would be on the fast path.

We ate, and then we set off for my parent's house.

Section IX

I was so tired of being quiet in the convent that I chatted the whole way home, even when I almost hurt my leg. The abbot just smiled - he thought it was funny that I was to be a nun. He said that I was full of life, and that it was too bad there was no other path available for me. Perhaps I should be a wandering entertainer, and do plays in different towns.

I thought that sounded like fun, but most actors were men, except occasionally a dancer, and they had to be very good. He said that he and the monks were willing to go back with me to the convent in two weeks. time, even though they really didn't have to go there. He would take other monks. He thought it was good for them to do some traveling, and he was a tough old buffalo. I thought of the dakini and her yak dance, and smiled.

They left me off at my parents' house. My father was working at the forge in the back, and my mother was cleaning the house. They were happy to see me, and said that I had grown. Some of my sisters and brother were also there, and I told them about the convent, and what we did, and how it was dull, but I decided to stay there. I did not want to get married - I told them I would pray for them to be wealthy every day, and the Buddha would listen to me because I was a nun. They would not need a marriage price for me, and could save their money for the other children. My father looked relieved at that. The abbot gave me a gift for my parents - a large block of tea, and they were happy. The abbess of the convent did not give me anything to bring.

I stayed for two weeks and played with my friends, and the animals. The horses were small and wide, and they always nuzzled against me. We had goats, and not many people did. The ox was never unfriendly, but he wasn't friendly either. I visited relatives and people I knew, and bade them farewell.

Soon it was time to return, and part of me was sorry to go. I liked my family. But my mother said that soon I would be a woman, which didn't sound very appealing, and that I could not live with them. So I hugged all the people and animals, and left to see the abbot. On the way back to the convent, he wanted to know more about my experiences. I told him everything - even how silly the dakini was. He smiled at the thought of a silly dakini. He said she was playful only with special people. Usually, she was a guide to the worlds of the Buddhas who held a knife, and who chopped away the sinful parts of the self. This was very painful for people attached to those sins. Many people found dakinis to be frightening.

I couldn't imagine Vajra Dakini as frightening - I loved her more than anybody else (except maybe the abbot, but he was so little and wrinkled up, and maybe my pets). Sometimes the shapes the dakini took were pretty strange. And she did dress up in skulls and animal skins, and tiger teeth, but the next minute she would be in leaves and stars.

We traveled back, and the weather was very cold. There was a storm, and we took shelter in a cave behind some rocks. I could hear the wind whistling, and it was like the dakini singing. There was snow, and I saw her standing on the snow in a white fur cap with a hood. All around her the snowflakes danced, and then she threw off the fur, and she was dressed in jagged pieces of ice, with a crown of ice that looked like jewels. She came to me through the storm, and put the ice crown on my head. She said, "Child and friend, you will dance as I do." Then, I fainted.

The abbot woke me, and the snowstorm stopped, and I told him about her, and he nodded. We continued to the convent, and he left the monks at the inn, and he walked with me to the convent.

He went in to talk with the abbess, and I could hear raised voices. After he left, the abbess called me in. She said,

"The abbot demands that we initiate you. I prefer to wait, but he said that he had a dream revelation by his tutelary deity, who said you must be initiated immediately. It is not good for monks to command nuns, but sometimes they do, and can threaten us with the loss of village offerings, and the condemnation of high lamas. I do this against my will."

I asked, "Why is it against your will? The abbot said that many monks and nuns are initiated young."

She said, "Those are for the ones who deserve it - whose parents give wealthy donations to the order, or have noble blood, or can help their sisters. You are poor, and can do nothing - you do not deserve initiation. But I am forced."

So she went grudgingly to prepare the ceremony. I was shocked - what did money have to do with Buddhas? The abbot said she was very dedicated when she was young, and worked very hard as a nun, but it seemed that she had not grown spiritually as she aged. He said it was more like she went backwards. But he didn't know of any other convents within several weeks of walking.

So later on in the afternoon, the lights were brightly lit, and I came into the worship room. The abbot was going to do the initiation himself. Sometimes abbots came to observe, but it was rare that they performed the ceremony.

Everybody chanted for a long time. I knew some of the chants, and I took refuge within the tradition, and with my chosen dakini, and bodhisattva. He knew I would like Vajra Dakini for my dakini, and I vowed to worship her, and place my faith in her. She came by and stuck her tongue out at the abbess. Then she put on a high hat and a coat with long tails hanging down, and her legs were bare with strange shoes with high heels. She lay upon the altar like a cat. I didn't say anything.

Then the abbot asked me to choose a bodhisattva. Had I felt closeness to any? The dakini said, "Choose Vajradhara", and I did. The abbess objected saying that was too advanced. The abbot said I was naturally advanced, and chanted the link with Vajradhara. I vowed to obey him, and depend on him. The abbess would not participate in the chanting, and at the end shrieked, "I forbid her to meditate upon him - he is my deity, and she cannot have him! I hereby cancel this ceremony!"

The abbot said, "It has been performed, you cannot cancel it." The abbess said, "I forbid her to meditate upon him. Girl, if you meditate upon Vajradhara, you must leave this convent, and never come back. That is my word."

The abbot bade her come into the next room, and I heard raised voices once again. They lasted for a long time. Both eventually came out looking unhappy. The abbot said, "You have been ritually linked with Vajradhara, and Vajra Dakini, but the abbess will not allow you to meditate upon him. She does not have ritual power, but she does have power over the nun's style of meditation here. I am afraid that you must obey her."

We walked out of the room, and I said, "Well I never really saw Vajradhara anyway. So it is no great loss. I can meditate upon Vajra Dakini, but who will be my bodhisattva?"

He said,

The abbess has acted badly towards you - you cannot be initiated into another bodhisattva. But Vajra Dakini will probably help you. You will have to follow Vajradhara, later in this life, or perhaps in another life. I don't know what is the matter with that woman - she acts as if she is jealous of you. But you never told her of your experiences. Perhaps she misses having children as some women do, and she has come to hate you as the child she could never have.

At any rate, I will try to find out about other convents. You must try to live here as best you can, and that may not be easy. But you already have a dakini who can help you inwardly. So your worldly locale doesn't matter. All things can be solved in the Buddha worlds.

Section X

The ritual and disruption caused no end of disturbance and gossip within the convent. People never really talked much, but I heard whispers as I never did before. Only a few of younger ones sympathized with me. As far as I could tell, the older ones thought that the abbess knew some horrible secret about me, and that is why she had wished to deny me initiation.

I tried to ignore them, and do my work, and meditate on the dakini. She was sympathetic, and said that it was unlikely that the abbess had ever seen Vajradhara - he really would have her standing on her head in penance for her pride. She said the initiation was only a formality - she could get me in touch with any bodhisattva I chose. I figured that but I wasn't in a rush towards any particular bodhisattva.

So I worked and meditated with the other the nuns when they met. One day the abbess called me in.

She said, "You had no right to any initiation, but certainly not to Vajradhara. You are a poor, and stupid, and immature girl. I want you to renounce any intention of ever meditating on Vajradhara, or I will expel you from this convent. You must swear this very minute."

I said, "Why don't you like me? You seemed friendly when I first came. What happened?"

She looked angrily at me and said, "You have been seeing deities, haven't you? I once saw one hovering over you in meditation, and you were both talking mentally. How dare a mere chit of a girl have experience that the rest of us have suffered for? You don't deserve it and I forbid you from having them."

She was angry with me because she knew about the dakini, and she was jealous. I said, "I don't lie. I saw the yogini who brought me here, and Vajra Dakini who is my initiated guide. This should not be wrong."

She said, "You will swear to never meditate on Vajradhara, or you will leave."

I said, "For how long do you require this?"

She said, "For the rest of your life. He is mine and you cannot have him. I don't know what evil magic you use, but you will not seduce him. He is beyond your power." I said, "I am not a magician, and surely a bodhisattva is more powerful than a little girl. But I will swear to make you happy. I never saw him."

She said, "And you never will. And because you have already been initiated into one bodhisattva, you cannot have another. That ought to stop your vanity, thinking that you are better than we are." She was red [with anger].

She said, "It is only for nuns that deserve it. You deserve nothing but being a servant - which is how I will address you from now on. It will keep you from the sin of pride. Now go and wash the pots."

Actually there wasn't much difference in being a nun and a servant, except that I did a little more work. I was just amazed at her anger towards me, for no good reason. It seemed mean for her to deny me initiation, and a bodhisattva. An abbess is supposed to be compassionate, like the Buddha himself.

When the other nuns heard her call me a servant, they were confused. Some shook their heads at the abbess' behavior, and a few also started calling me a servant. I obeyed them outwardly, but inwardly I ignored them. It was not a nice game.

Vajra Dakini said that it was good - bad treatment makes people use up bad karma. I would have been willing to keep the karma a little longer, but I had no choice.

So life went on. I stayed there with my new status, and I spent my time in meditation happily. I became a woman, and one of the younger nuns, Lozen Ma, told me what to do about it. Really life there was pretty dreary, and I still didn't have any pets. I was there for perhaps another year when a group of lamas came to visit. Dolma barred the door, and the abbess tested them on their knowledge of Buddhist texts. When she was satisfied that they were really Buddhist lamas, she let them in and took them to the worship room.

She addressed me as a servant before them, and I took their extra clothing and bags, and put them off in a corner. They asked how she had gotten such a young servant, and she said that I was a young sinner on whom she had taken pity - I was not virtuous like the nuns.

I was angry at this - It was a lie and she knew it. I was led here by the abbot and the yogini and the dakini, but why?

The younger lamas quoted scripture, and the abbess and the nuns listened. The oldest lama said he wanted me to serve him and bring him food - he was tired from his trip. So the abbess told me that scripture was too advanced for me, and that I should serve the lama. I got food for him, and took it to his room for visitors, which was far away. Dolma stayed with her staff to guard the nuns just in case.

The old lama took the food and said, "Wait girl, you are no servant. What is your situation here?"

I told him about the yogini, and the abbot, and the dakini, and how the abbess had disrupted the ritual, and had forbidden me to meditate. His forehead became more and more furrowed. He said, "We are not here by accident. The abbot told me about the situation, and asked if we could come. Let me ask you some questions."

He asked about the dakini, and the worlds we visited, and the invisible water, and how I understood liberation. I wasn't sure about some of the questions - I asked if I could ask the dakini for help. He said, "No, I am testing you, not her - you must answer from your own experience." So I did as best I could.

Then he said, "The abbot was right - your experiences are extraordinary. They would be rare for a person four times your age, but in one so young, I have only seen such experiences in reincarnations of high lamas, and embodied dakinis and yoginis. Are you any of them?"

I said, "I don't think so. I grew up poor, and nobody ever treated me as a deity. In fact, I am a servant, but I respect lamas and yoginis."

He said,

Your abbess is part of the Old Tradition, and we outrank her. I thought the abbot was right in his initiations, and we have been figuring out what to do with you. We have found a small convent where this friction with the abbess will end. You will go there.

I said, "I don't know if the abbess will be happier to be rid of me, or unhappy to lose a servant."

He said, "It doesn't matter what she thinks. She must listen to us." He dismissed me and I went back to the nuns, who were asking questions about the discourse. They were happy to see visitors.

Then the lamas asked to speak with the abbess and I heard her voice raised, but they did not raise their voices. She yelled at them, but I could not really understand what was going on.

Then she came out to me and looked at me with hatred. I thought perhaps she would hit me. She said, "These lamas want a servant and have chosen you. I have said that you were unworthy but they would not listen. They demanded that you leave with everything you came with."

This bothered her - I think that she wanted my bedding. I told her I would leave when they wished to which was the next morning. She did not curse me but told me it was cold outside, and I might well freeze, or fall off the trail. The next morning I took my bedding as robes, and left with the lamas. I bade the nuns farewell, but most of them would not speak to me. A few wished me luck and the Buddha's blessings. The abbess turned her back on me.

The lamas were nice, though they were well educated, and sometimes their discussions confused me. I could not talk about Buddha incarnations and writers of books. I wished they could talk about something where I could join in the conversation.

We trudged on long hard paths, and ducked under crags and into caves when storms came. We walked for many weeks and I felt like some kind of pack animal, doomed to eternal walking. But the lamas were kind and told me stories about Buddhas who came to earth to fight evil, and bring knowledge. I liked them better than the nuns, who never wanted to talk to me.

I asked about their lives before they were lamas. Some did not want to talk about this but others were willing to say a little. Some came from wealthy families who had many sons, and some had grown children and wives who died. Some just felt they could do the most good there.

We passed many high mountains and the lamas said there were Buddhas and gods on top of them. They said that some dark and ugly mountains had demons on them but they were rare. I looked at the mountains we passed, and wondered who lived on each. I wondered if Vajra Dakini had a mountain.

Eventually we reached a high mountain and started climbing. We reached areas that were like bare rock with tiny footholds, and climbed like slow heavy-laden monkeys. I was afraid that I would fall many times. But the lamas encouraged me and each other.

At the top was a large white building made of stone and wood. Its outside was plain. There was a large bell of dark metal, and one of the lamas rang it hitting it with his staff. An old woman came to the door and asked what we wanted. They said they had a girl who was a nun and needed to live with women. She looked at the lamas, and then invited them in. She did not test them like the abbess.

Here, they were dressed in black robes. The woman who was the head of the convent came out, and she looked strong - like she could walk the distance we had and not even be tired. The oldest lama took her aside and talked for a long time. They offered us hot tea and pieces of bread, and I was starving and ate everything they gave me (though is it always polite to leave crumbs for hungry ghosts, and I always do when I am not so hungry myself).

The woman who was the head came out with the old lama, and welcomed the monks to stay overnight. They had a separate visitor's house, and a good area for fire, and sleeping. She told me to stay, and escorted the lamas to the guesthouse.

Then she came back and said, "I know you have told the lama your story - now tell it to me." I did, and she nodded as I spoke. She said,

You know that that convent was once famous for its living statues, and pictures. That must be how you contacted Vajra Dakini. Perhaps that is why you needed to spend time there. While the abbess sounds like a spiteful woman, maybe it was the only place you could meet the dakini. Was your guide worth your abbess?

I said, "Vajra Dakini was more important than anything - I mostly ignored the abbess." She said, "Well, you might want to stay here. There aren't many convents around and many of them are for women escaping unhappy marriages. But here we are sincere about the spiritual path, and it sounds like you are too."

I said, "Do you want me to be a servant?" She said, "No, here all people are equal and all are parts of the Buddha mind - relax." She said that the place was called the Yogini's Nest, because it was so high up that even the birds rarely came here. She thought it was auspicious that I had been led by a yogini, since their foundress was an embodied yogini. I asked if she had a bird's head, but she said, "Only inwardly."

Her name was Golden Smiling Moon and I thought that that was a nice name. She said, "Your Garden seems to have some poisonous weeds, but here we will encourage you to blossom. Little Shining Light, come and meet the other nuns."

The place was much smaller - there were less than twenty nuns and [they were] less suspicious. Moon said, "People here are pious Buddhists, and we have never had a nun attacked. We live in peace and prayer for the people below. They send us food twice a month, and we make lucky charms for them." The other nuns exclaimed at how young I was, but Moon said how the yoginis had wanted me early. They smiled and seemed nicer than the nuns at the last place. Of course, it looked good at the beginning too.

I told the lamas that I would stay, and they blessed me. Then they left me at my new home.

Section XI -The Yogini's Nest

The Yogini's Nest was an interesting place. It did not have the wealth of the previous convent with its pictures and statues, but the people were happier. The woman who ran the convent was old but clearly respected by everybody. And they did not forbid us from talking. I still had my yellow robes from the old convent, and I would keep those until I became fully one of them. She said I should stay there for several months, and then see if anyone got any revelations. If I did (or she did) then I would be re-consecrated, absolved of previous vows, and given new ones. She said that the previous abbess had given me just cause for leaving the monastery, and anyone who knew the story would not condemn me.

I was bound to Vajra Dakini and that would stay. I was bound to Vajradhara and forbidden to speak with him - that would also stay. However they might find someone other than a bodhisattva for a spiritual guide.

My new abbess, Golden Smiling Moon, or Lady Moon for short, called me in and asked if I were settled. Once again, my outdoor robes became my blankets, and we could have separate rooms. I chose a separate one - people might laugh at me when I spoke with the dakini or danced with her. My room was tiny - I could touch opposite walls with my hands - but it was private and quiet and sheltered me. Even the smallest rooms had little areas for fire.

Like the other convent, there were set times for doing things during the day. We woke up very early while it was still dark, drank some water and splashed it on our faces and hands. Then we went down to the meditation hall. We chanted the prayers and mantras and blessed each other and the world. Then we ate breakfast, cereal and tea, and cleaned the floors and walls and pots, and meditated some more. Then we had another small meal with rice and barley, and went out to do other assigned tasks. Lady Moon said that I must learn to read and write, for when I was older, I would have much to say. Another nun there, Venerable Truth, was willing to teach me, and I had lessons every day. At first it seemed strange to have words on pages but I got used to it, and started looking forward to what those odd squiggles on the little papers were saying. Sometimes they had pictures and line drawings and I liked those best. At first my hand wiggled when I tried to write, but later it became strong and I could write letters clearly.

I also found that I liked to draw. I would copy the yogini figures from the few pictures in charcoal on the wall (I would wash the wall afterwards) and even drew the faces of some of the nuns. Lady Moon walked by one time when I had drawn a few, and at first she laughed, and then she looked serious. She said, "So, this is another one of your skills - if I can, I will find someone to train you in this too, but do not draw the other nuns. If the pictures are flattering, they will be proud, and if they are ugly, they will be angry at you. Draw the deities; they seem to be tolerant of you."

So I did - I asked Vajra Dakini to pose for me. First she wore a dress of stars with a crown of skulls. Then she said, "Make it a nude", and she took off the dress, and wore only strands of beads - rudrakshas and onyx. Then she said, "Even more nude", and she dissolved her skin, and became a skeleton. Then she danced on a sea of bones with smoky fires in the distance. It was hard to keep up with her - she kept changing so fast.

I meditated several times a day with the nuns for hours at a stretch, but nothing much ever happened there. The dakini liked to come when I was alone.

One day Lady Moon told me that I should know the work that the other nuns did. There was a weaving room with a small loom, and dark thread was spun for it. Some nuns made cloth. Some chopped vegetables for cooking. Others used the black thread to make necklaces for amulets and lucky boxes. Amulets were flat pieces of metal, and one nun would incise letters into them. The metal was given to us by villagers. The boxes were wooden, and decorated with blessed objects inside.

Another nun was very wise, and she charted the pathways of the stars and planets for people who asked questions about their future. A nun who had once been a mother but her husband and babies died in an epidemic made healing charms. She asked that whatever merit allowed her to remain healthy [rather than die from the epidemic] bless the pieces of root, and drinks that she made.

Lady Moon said that I must find a job worth doing. I said that those little bits of paper that I had could be lost easily, and I wanted to make a long roll of paper with many stories. If we had long pieces of paper, we could have a whole collection.

She said, "I do not know if such paper is available. But we could ask for whole cloth from the village. Would you be willing to do all this writing?"

I said, "Oh yes, it would be good practice. Perhaps I could do a second roll with stories that the dakini tells me. I always forget them, and writing them down would help me remember."

She said, "New teachings from the Vajra Dakini are always welcome. Ask her to give you some very specific initiations to write: royal empowerment, healing, writer/artist, and traveler to Tara's paradise. Once there were initiations for these here but they have been lost. It would be good to recover them. You talk to the dakini, and I will try and find writing materials."

Section XII

Lady Moon sent out to the village, and soon I had a long roll of crackly cloth to write on. Venerable Truth would not let me begin until I had shown her that I could shape all the letters perfectly, that I could use the brush to create even letters, and that I could read the stories we had. I learned quickly and we did not have that many stories. People here didn't seem to value the pieces of paper with stories - they wouldn't harm them but they wouldn't worship them either.

I decided that if perhaps the stories were prettier, people would like them. I remembered the pictures from the old convent (I had secretly drawn some there, when nobody was watching) and I decided to have a picture for each story. I practiced different deities on the wall, until they looked right. Vajra Dakini told me how to fix them if something was wrong. So once I had done all of Venerable Truth's texts and practiced drawing, I began the scroll.

I dedicated it to Vajra Dakini, of course, and her picture was on the front. She posed standing on a lotus, wearing a crown, and holding a vajra and dagger. She was beautiful. I drew waves around the lotus, and the moon, and the stars in the sky (it was dark).

Then I said this was a collection of stories, for the nuns of this convent and all sentient beings who could gain merit and enlightenment from stories of the Buddhas, and bodhisattvas. It was nice to work on a project.

When I finished, I got some dark cloth from the weaving nuns, and some white-wash to draw the moon and stars. I wrapped the scroll in dark cloth with stars, and I offered it to Lady Moon as a gift.

She unwound it, and looked at the scroll. She smiled and said, "This is lovely." She liked the pictures and said I was a girl of many talents. I told her that actually I was a woman now but I would rather be a girl. She said, "There are many advantages to being a woman - you become smarter and more capable and talented than you were as a girl. I will show this to the nuns after the next meditation."

She did, and they all liked it. I told her that really I wanted to paint colors. She said, "Those are difficult to find. We must grind minerals and plants together to make them, and we must find an expert who knows how to do this. That may not be possible." But she sent out messages, and they did eventually find a teacher.

In the meantime, the months were going by. I really didn't count them. But somewhere between six months and a year, Lady Moon said to me, "Child, I have had a revelation. You are indeed one of us. The nuns appreciate your scroll, and your willingness to do work, and you are welcome here. I have heard no complaints all this time." This was very different from the old convent where nobody would speak to me.

Section XIII - The Vajrasattva Initiation

The abbess said,

You have already been joined with Vajra Dakini and Vajradhara, though you cannot speak with him. You will be consecrated here and dedicated to the yoginis, and also to Vajrasattva. Though your bodhisattva is bound, we will let the Buddha decide your path of spirit.

I said that that sounded fine. She said,

We will initiate you in three days. You must only have tea for the next two days, and water on the third. You must meditate very sincerely and ask if this is a suitable path for you. To be bound to a Buddha is not usual practice, but it is my revelation, and I trust it! So I did as she asked, and Vajra Dakini said it was fine. In three days, we all gathered in the meditation room, and Lady Moon had me kneel before her, and call down nectar from the bodhisattvas. First I was to see my sins and impurities emerge, like smoke and fire from the mouth of a great dragon, and then I was to bring cool moonlight down to chase away the darkness. In my heart, I made a lotus upon a turquoise ocean. First I placed Vajra Dakini there, dressed in white with great radiations of light around her. She held a jewel for me - a fiery rainbow pearl, and a fan upon which different dakini manifestations were shown. Then I made a sky-lotus of shining white, against a dark blue sky. In that lotus was Vajrasattva in human form, shining like a diamond.

I visualized him, but then suddenly something changed, and he was really there before me. I was awed by his power and brilliance. My soul bowed before him and brilliant rays of light came out of him. A ray went from his heart to mine, and I could feel it enter like a knife into thickened milk. I was burned as if I had been branded, but then I saw the brand. It was a vajra made of diamond with deep blue crystal along its edges. It was his sign, now I was his. Around it I saw the dakini's lotus - I belonged to them both.

The Buddha smiled. He said,

You are not branded to be a slave, or an animal. That sign means that I am your slave - that you can call upon me and I will come. It is a sign of union to show that we are together, like a marriage necklace. It means you are a part of my world.

He waved his hand. And I saw a world made of diamonds - with jeweled trees and palaces, and sunlight shining with rainbows. There were diamond people with shining light sending compassion to all beings in the universe. It was so bright I could not see. I felt dizzy, and fainted.

The nuns helped me up, and the Lady Moon said, "Chen Ma, you are now one of us. Here are your robes, like ours. As a symbol of our order, I will also bind you to one of the yoginis with which this convent is linked. I link you with Kai-Len, the hawk-headed yogini who I believe is the yogini that led you from your parent's house."

The other nuns chanted blessings, and we all went to meditate.

I came later to talk to Lady Moon. I told her what I saw, and she nodded. She said, "Most initiates do not speak of their experiences, but then, you always do things differently. I am glad you were accepted."

I asked, "Why do nuns get linked to so many different beings? Why not just one being?"

She said,

Well, each person has a male and a female aspect of soul, no matter what gender the body happens to be. So each person needs both a male and a female spiritual being, for each aspect of the self to relate to. The yogini is your link to the convent - an inner link besides the physical head. Who knows when I may die? It could take time to get a new abbess. We are part of a larger order, and I send in my suggestion, but ultimately others decide. Your link to the convent should not be through a finite and ignorant person, but through a spiritual being who will always be there to help you. You must give up most of human society to be a nun, but it does not mean you are totally isolated. The convent introduces you to the spiritual worlds, and your protectors will take care of you like your parents, until you are independent, and strong, and capable of traveling on your own.

I thought this seemed nice. I said, "I would like to be a protector too. Is there an animal that I can have as a pet that I can protect?" She smiled and said,
So, you are not a little girl anymore? It is girls who want pets, not women. But I will send a request down - if any small animals have lived in houses where the owners died, we will offer to care for them. But the responsibility will be yours alone for the creature.

On another topic, there is an elderly artist whose major disciple has died, and he is willing to teach you about painting. He can stay in the guesthouse for a month, and you can study with him. But you must work very hard.

I said, "Lady, I will!"

Section XIV - The Thangka Artist

I was now a real nun - I had the right clothes, and an initiation, and other nuns treated me like one of them. I was not a slave, or a servant, or even an unwanted daughter without marriage money. Nobody here cared about money, and they all liked my scroll.

I looked forward to the artist coming here. Drawing with colors would be wonderful. Lady Moon got some more cloth, but said that he was used to paper, and she would try to get some of that. It seemed that there wasn't much of it around.

I planned my major projects. I would draw a big Vajra Dakini in one of her more traditional moods. Then I would draw Vajrasattva, because he was very beautiful. Then I would draw a collection of yoginis. Then I would draw Lady Moon, and surprise her with the picture. I have heard that lamas have pictures of their founder at monasteries sometimes - we can have our leader.

The days dragged by until the artist finally came. He was an old man, and he could not travel quickly. He also came with a big sack, which his attendant carried, on the mule that he rode. I think it was a mule - at least it was a very strange looking horse.

He had white, wispy hair and his face was a network of wrinkles. His eyes were still sharp but you couldn't see them well underneath all his folds of skin. His face seemed loose and baggy.

He wore fur and hides. They looked warm, but as nuns, we avoid wearing animals. I wondered if he had any pets at home. I hoped his clothing wasn't the remains of his pets.

His attendant left with the mule - he blew a horn so that we would know that the artist had arrived. The older nuns led him to the guesthouse, and I met him after he rested. He looked at my scroll, and the nuns told him that I had had no instruction. He said,

Girl, you are talented. But there are rules for drawing. Everything has to be in proportion - there are proper sizes for lotuses, Buddhas, and clouds. Yet your pictures are more detailed than those of many experts - that is because you see these things. So, you are a visionary at this young age. This is an important skill for an artist - we must always try to see the landscapes that we paint. Of course most of us are unsuccessful, and we draw according to formulas.

But you can really see - this will add something special to your art. And I will tell you about proportion.

Section XV

So I met the old man, and we started to work together. His name (or maybe his title) was Ocean of Beauty which I thought was a fine name. I would like a name like that if I ever became a famous artist like him.

He brought something like cloth, and we stretched it out to keep it still, by putting nails into the earth. Then he mixed up white paint, and painted it so it got hard. Then he got out a string, and he made circles, and with the straight edge of a square, he made lines. The whole white cloth had strong lines making it a square, and then it was full of lines and little squares and circles.

It didn't look like anything to me and I was disappointed. I said, "What is this supposed to be?" He laughed, and said, "Nothing little one, not yet. You are so impatient. The universe was slow in coming into being, and you took ten months in the belly of your mother. Relax - all things take time."

He said to bring him his sacks, and there were pots of powders. He said, "This powder mixes with water, and this powder mixes with oil. If you mix the wrong powder, or use the wrong mixture, you will have bad paint. The color will be ugly, and it will fall off the picture in little pieces. Each color is unique - let's make a rainbow." He showed how little bits of color could mix together to create new colors, and how colors mixed together to create yet more colors. I was fascinated. I tried to remember every pot, and what was in it, and what you mixed it with to get other colors. He had a little dot of color on each pot, and a number, and a letter, so he would remember.

I asked, "Uncle, where do these powders come from?" He said, "Oh, from many places. Some come from cave walls, some from seaweed, some from coral in the sea, some from leaves and roots which have been dried. Each has a history."

I said, "Uncle, tell me their stories. You can pretend to be a searcher, and I will be the tree or the rock or the leaf."

He smiled and said, "Child, maybe on a long, cold night when we are awake next to a fire. But for now, you must learn your colors, and your measurements. Let us go over the colors, and then the dimensions of the pictures."

I found measuring pictures boring, but he said the bodhisattva must be in the exact center of the picture, or it would be imbalanced, and wrong. Great lamas always saw Buddhas exactly in the center, and drew them the same way.

I wondered whether to tell him how irritated Vajra Dakini would get at looking the same all the time, but I decided against it. I would learn his way and change things later.

He made me make measurements in the dirt to copy his and explained how far away different lines had to be from each other. I couldn't believe this was painting. Then he said he would show how it worked, and he sketched a Buddha on the lines. It was perfectly in the center, and I could see where the lines for his throne were, and for the lotus petals, and the clouds in the sky, and the dragonflies on the flowers at his feet.

You wouldn't think so to look at them, but the lines were actually useful. They said where everything went. He slowly worked on the Buddha, making robes, and halos. It looked very believable when it was done, and he gave it to the convent when it was finished. He said it was practice.

I was willing to learn this. He told me to rest - there was much that I had to learn, and remember for tomorrow.

Section XVII

So we practiced the next day, and the next day, and the next. I do not know how many days I spent mixing paints and making measurements, but it seemed to last forever. Art obviously had little to do with images.

When I could tell him which powders to mix to get different colors, and measure out the Buddha mandala versus just a yogini dancing, he said that I was ready to start drawing deities.

He took some scrolls out of his sack, and some rectangular piles of paper. He said, "Now you must memorize these deities, so that you can recognize them and draw them." I thought, "Oh no, more boring memorization. This man must be the dullest artist ever born!"

He showed me scrolls with Buddhas, and bodhisattvas, and bhairavas, and dakinis, and other beings, and pointed out their positions, ornaments, and the objects that they held. Each was different in some tiny way - from wearing a bracelet, to holding a jewel or a vajra. They seemed minor differences to me, but I had to remember them - that was how people knew who was who. He would show me the pictures, and I would have to say who it was. Then he would tell me that name, and I had to draw the deity on the ground.

We went over and over the different deities, for days and days, until I could almost see them in my sleep (but not really, they were only pictures). Then he showed me scrolls with colors (the others, were just black lines on white), and I had to remember the colors that went with each deity. This we did this for several days.

One day I drooped over him, and he smiled. He said, "Ah, child, you are afraid of learning things? Actually you have done very well - your mind is retentive, and you learn fast. You are going through this twice as fast as many of my other students. " I felt very sorry for them. He said, "Now, let us look at what we paint on." He took out cloth and different kinds of crinkly paper. He said, "All right, choose a deity to draw. This is practice cloth, very rough." Normally, I would choose Vajra Dakini to paint first, but not on rough practice cloth. She deserves the finest silk. I said, "I will draw the hawk-headed yogini, in honor of the Yogini's Nest."

He said, "Fine, a meaningful beginning. Now what do we do to start painting?" So I took the thorn-like nails and nailed the canvas into the ground, and painted it white, and made a big square of it. Then I did the measuring, even putting some extra lines on for clouds and other yoginis in the background. Then I decided on colors and mixed the paint. Then I drew the yogini, partly from the pictures (he had other yoginis), and partly from memory (I had seen her face). First I outlined her in twig charcoal, and then I got a very thin brush, and drew her outline in black. Then I dusted off the charcoal, and put different colors where they belonged. My teacher alternately watched, and napped.

When I was finished, I asked what he thought. He studied it and he said,

It is well done for a beginner, but it is much too individualistic. To be an artist is to produce what is in the heavens and on earth, but it is only done in certain ways that are acceptable. The images should be simple, so the light can shine through, and people can look through them to what is beyond. Your yogini is heavy - she has mass weight, her limbs have light and shadow, and her head looks like a bird heavy with feathers. Your focus is the picture itself - not what is beyond it. You need to have less focus upon the yogini, and more upon her origin!

I said, "But that is what she looks like. When you see her, you don't see any origin behind her. She is there like a real bird, but she looks at you very intensely, and flies in the air. The scroll pictures are nice, but they don't look like the real deities." He said, "Girl, perhaps you see real deities, and perhaps you do not. That I cannot know. But I do know that emphasizing them as individuals is the wrong way to do art. I am training you to paint properly, so that your work will be able to hang in convents and monasteries, and people will respect your ability. Do you want people to respect your work?" I said, "I suppose so, but I want my pictures to look real, as if people could talk to the deities, and walk into their worlds." He said, "If you paint correctly, those who are skilled will be able to enter the picture. But since it is your first, and for your convent, let us find some strips of brocade to glue around it, and we will show it to your abbess."

We found some strips, and glued them around it. I thought it looked good, and like a worthy offering to the yogini who led me from my family.

Section XVIII

We brought the picture to show Lady Moon, who was very impressed. She said, "It shows a different style, a unique style - it is like the others, but different. You can really see the artist here."

Ocean of Beauty said, "That is true. Of course, the idea is for the artist to be invisible, and only for the deity to show. But invisibility must be learned, just like other skills."

Lady Moon said, "Nevertheless, all reality is both absent and present. Our young painter's presence in this picture is a gift. She will grow invisible soon enough." And she put the scroll with the yogini up on the wall of the worship room, where others could see it.

We went outside and sat on some large rocks, and the artist said, "Let us discuss invisibility. When people are young, they want to stand out. They want to be heroes, great beauties, slayers of monsters, magicians, and warriors. They want people to pay attention to them and respect them, and they want live forever in stories."

But that is not the goal of our path. We who follow the Buddha and his teachings seek only goodness. We do not want to stand out. We want to be quiet and humble. In the vast universe, we are only pieces of dust, and we want to recognize our place. It is not our individual identities that are important - we are only important as parts of the great celestial Buddhas, who are the true beings to be glorified. As humans, we are nothing. And the Buddhas themselves are only images who dance through a great empty sky of light, a great state of spirit and joy. We should be transparent to the Buddhas, as they are transparent to the infinite light.

I said, "Perhaps they are transparent, but sometimes they take on forms. The Vajra Dakini is constantly changing forms, and she always wants me to look at them. She does not tell me to look through her - she wants me to look at her."

He said, "Your relationship is very unusual, and it sounds like the dakini is not doing her job. She should be liberating you from the world of forms."

I said, "Well, I am not a job for her - I am sort of a vacation. The other devotees are work, but I am play." He said, "All right, tell me what you learned from her."

So I told him that I learned to love very strongly, for she was so loving- she loved me more than I loved my favorite pets. She showed me how to travel, and to see strange beings, and to follow her from world to world. She taught me not to be afraid of strange terrible looking beings - they could be wrathful with kind Buddhas inside. She said all beings had a spark of the infinite inside, and should be respected.

He said, "You have an unusual curriculum, but I am not sure you are learning what you need to know. Tell her that you must learn about the Great Void of Light, and to leave behind your ego." I said, "She talks about that sometimes, but says it is for later, when I am old and ugly and wrinkled." He said, "Like me?" I tried to protest but he smiled, "She is playing with you. But it is good play, and it is true. You are young. In fact you are too young to be doing this. Your skills are advanced in some areas, and non-existent in others. You really should have a tutor."

I said, "I am poor, and I could not ask Lady Moon for that - she has brought you, and that is a tremendous favor - even if I don't like drawing all those lines. She would never bring another - our convent is poor."

He said, "I have a friend who has taught in the monasteries. He is very wise, and very spiritually advanced. He could teach you some of the things you need to know. I will see if he wishes to do so. Meanwhile, you must understand the need for invisibility."

I said, "I suppose so, but it depends on what is important to you. I don't really want to be a famous painter, if I am only allowed to paint one way. It is like Vajra Dakini. She is always changing. I want to be an artist with many different styles." He said, "You could design backgrounds for wandering actors, or paint bowls. But outside monasteries, there is not much use for art. Who else cares about deities? Maybe you could make masks for children. But religious people want pictures to look like maps to show them places to go. If you start adding extra roads and mountains to the maps, people will get confused. They will not be able to use them. Your pictures should be useful."

I said, "I think pictures have other uses. I think they can be signs of love, for people who want to remember the people they love. I made pictures of my pets - even of my ox and he was sort of ugly. But they can be beautiful in pictures - even more beautiful than in real life. Pictures can show how you feel - I draw differently when I am happy and when I am sad. And they can give people in plain rooms something to look at."

He said, "These are not art. Signs of love, expressions of emotion, entertainment for rooms - these are all glorification of worldly things. Art is otherworldly - it does not decorate a plain room. It tells how to get out of it. Art is not for emotion - deities would look different on a good and a bad day. Your personal life is not relevant to art - it just distorts it."

I said, "Or improves it. But you are the artist, and I am your student, and I will obey you. I will learn to do things correctly, so that you will approve. But when I have shown that I can paint the way others like, I will someday paint the way I like. I think art is a big area, and people can do it many ways. But for now, I am your servant."

He smiled. "It will not last, this servanthood!"

Section XIX

So I learned to paint the way artists did, which is disciplined and orderly, and nothing like things really look (unless you stand still from some strange angle, and the Buddha also stands still). My teacher stayed a month longer than he planned to and we had many talks. I asked Vajra Dakini to visit him and show him some of her forms, and then he understood what I was talking about.

She said, "It is not his karma, but sometimes there is a moment when it is possible. We shall see." And a few weeks later, he told me that the dakini had visited him in a dream, and done one of her dances. He asked if I had asked her to visit, and I said yes, but it was up to her - she doesn't listen to me. He was impressed nevertheless, and said he understood why I wanted to paint the way I did.

I did paint Vajra Dakini, and other Buddhas and bodhisattvas, and I begged my teacher to let me paint Lady Moon, for she was my bodhisattva. He did not want me to, but he let me at last. I drew her on a scroll, and anybody could recognize her.

Before he was to leave, we presented these scrolls together to the yogini's Nest. Lady Moon bowed, and accepted them - she did not know what was on the scrolls. She looked really funny when she saw her portrait - her mouth drooped open, and all the nuns looked shocked or giggled.

I told her my last abbess was a monster to me, and that she was the bodhisattva who had saved me. She said that she understood my point, but that I must never call another nun a monster. Even if I didn't like her, all souls were seeking liberation. I said all right, but I still thought to myself that she was a monster, and she wasn't seeking liberation very hard.

Lady Moon would not hang her portrait, so I said that I would keep it. I will too, until she dies - then her portrait can keep her smile with us.

A messenger was sent out to get Ocean of Beauty's assistant, and they left on a sunny morning. He spoke to Lady Moon for a long time before he left.

She called me in, and said that he wanted to send a tutor for me. She said that they did not have the money for this, but he knew his friend would want to come, money or no. Also, his friend had long sought real vision, and no lama could give it to him. But since I could gift him with the dakini's presence, perhaps his friend too could get a glimpse. The teaching would be worth it for him, just for this.

I told her I could not guarantee what the dakini would do. I was her servant. She was not mine. Lady Moon, smiled and said, "Oh, he knows that. But he thinks his friend is willing to gamble. Also, he thinks his friend will want to write down some of the things the dakini says to you." I said that that would be good, because I always forget them.

And in a few months, we got a message saying that the old wise man wished to visit and teach. He came down the path to our building, and asked to speak with Lady Moon. They came to meet me, and his eyes were more intense ones than I had ever seen, except for the old lama who brought me. I was drawn to those eyes - he looked so wise like he understood everything. I bowed before him. His name was Karma Sky Of Liberation.

Section XX - The Scholar

Lord Sky was also old but spry. It seems that the young monks are never wise - only the old ones. Lord Sky wore dark robes as we did, but he was a great scholar and everybody respected him. Lady Moon was thrilled that a great scholar and teacher would visit us, and I was happy that she was happy. But really he was coming here because he could not have true vision, even with all of his knowledge. I could not get excited at this. Besides, I thought his knowledge might be boring.

And sure enough, it was. There were so many categories, of who was what, and where it came from, and things it turned into, and things it possessed or didn't possess (depending on how you looked at it) that all he had to do was start talking and I got sleepy. I was just amazed at the excitement of the other nuns. He stayed in the visitors house, and ate with us, and every few days, he gave a talk on some text or aspect of philosophy. The nuns tried very hard to follow him.

I did too, but they did it voluntarily. Ocean of Beauty had told him that I had natural spiritual gifts, but that my mind must be trained. I felt like an ox having to carry an enormous load. But at least he explained that there were different kinds of Buddhism worshiping different kinds of Buddhas - my parents followed the kind from the South, where Lord Buddha was a good man who gained freedom from earthly suffering. But the monks and nuns followed a different kind, where there were many Buddhas, and some were never human. They exist in heaven like stars in the sky, and help others gain freedom. I suppose it is better to have more Buddhas. It increases the chance of finding one who likes you.

Lord Sky talked about many secret teachings that the Buddhas left on earth. Some Buddhas had taken on bodies and written them down or initiated people. Some Buddhas just inspired or possessed people, and wrote things down that way. The teachings talked about paradises and buddha worlds, and also ways to purify the body and mind so the Buddhas won't be disgusted when they see you.

He told me that I might have secret teachings from the dakini. I said I had teachings, but I did not know if they were secret. I could try to pay attention, and tell him, and he could judge for himself.

Section XXI

I told Vajra Dakini about Lord Sky, and she thought he was funny. She is always amused by scholars, and takes their forms. She becomes ponderous, serious, with wrinkled brow, harrumphing, and clearing her throat, making sure that all eyes are upon her. Then she raises her hands and says, "You are human beings, are you not? Perhaps so. Perhaps not. I shall think about it and tell you the answer." Then she struts about some more.

Lord Sky is not that bad, but he does think he knows everything. This is bad - it is vain, and it chases away beings who are friendly. One wonders if he has meditated on compassion, like the nuns here. Perhaps he meditates on always being right.

At any rate, he sometimes gets to something interesting, like talking about buddha-worlds. I didn't know much about them. I only stayed with Vajra Dakini. But some of the buddha-worlds sounded very nice, with jeweled trees and shining swans, and pathways made of pearl pebbles. But one must be a devotee to a particular Buddha to get there, and I don't know if I can be devoted to more than one.

So we studied together, but I don't think Lord Sky was impressed like Ocean of Beauty. I think he thought that I was a silly girl. I asked Vajra Dakini what she thought. She said, "I think he needs a wrathful deity - he is too proud." I asked, "Who would be the best one to visit him?" She said, "There is a horse-headed bhairava with many arms holding weapons. He breathes fire. He might be a good beginning." She smiled. She always does strange things.

The next morning, Lord Sky said he was ill, and he looked ill - he was as white as a sheet. But later in the morning, he called me in, and said, "Did you send that monster into my dreams?" I said, "No, I did not have the power to send anybody." He said, "But you knew about it." I said that I had suspected something like that.

He said, "I came here to be enlightened, not to look at monsters. Is this some sort of joke?" I said, "Lord Sky, you are too proud. Nobody with your vanity could ever gain liberation. The dakini said that this was a beginning for you to gain humility. Once you can fear, then you can learn." He said, "I am already learned - why would anyone need to learn to fear, which is passion and attachment?"

I said, "Look, from what I have seen, Buddhas and bhairavas and dakinis already know everything - they don't need or want to learn from you. They are interested in having devotees or friends, not visiting scholars. They do not need what you offer."

He said, "This is very depressing. I spend my life memorizing texts in hopes of seeing a Buddha, and I have failed." I said, "Well not really. The wrathful deity is a kind of Buddha. You should know that. But you should try to meditate seeking Buddhas with love. Then they can repay you with liberation." He said, "Buddhas are detached, with full awareness and not subject to love. You speak with lesser beings."

I said, "The lesser beings can connect you with the Buddhas. Unless you can find liberation without help, it is important to speak with those who know the path." He said, "And I must be a groveling devotee to do this? What happened to Buddhas loving wisdom?" I said, "I think it depends on the Buddha. The ones who only love wisdom don't like people, and won't help them."

Section XXII

Lord Sky was a bit shaken, but still very vain. However, at least he knew that Buddhas and bhairavas had real power. He stayed his month, and before he left, he asked if the dakini could really send a Buddha. I said, "I am sure she could if the Buddha was agreeable."

He said, "This is the first situation in which an unlearned, ignorant girl might actually be able to fulfill my life's goal. I would be a fool to ignore it, thought it violates so many teachings. What must I do?" I said, "I am not sure. Perhaps if we pray to Vajra Dakini, and you do it with sincerity." He said, "I don't pray - all right, I shall try. Dakini, you are illusion personified, of the diamond lineage, glorious, majestic, and dignified beyond all humans. Hear my prayer. Let me encounter a Buddha."

I said, "That is a good start, but tell her why it is important." He said,

Are you sure she is listening? We didn't invoke her. Oh well, dakini, this is my life's goal. I have studied the major and minor revelations and commentaries, the moral rules, and the stages of reality. It is all theory. I seek something more, if only a glimpse to know that the universe is more than a game in my mind. Many of the great sages could not only argue well but also had insight into the depths of emptiness. I seek to be like them. Two were my ancestors, and at this rate I shall never echo their glory. True, personal glory is fleeting, but I seek to be their equals. I would give up my fame for direct experience of emptiness.

I said, "That sounds honest. I will talk to the dakini. You should stay an extra week, because sometimes it takes a while. Maybe you could do a special teaching for the nuns."

I'm not sure how old I was then. Perhaps I was in my early teens. He did not like listening, but he did. I prayed to Vajra Dakini, who danced in the form of an elephant weighted down with scrolls. She looked like him (the scholar) except with a big trunk. She had not heard him, but she could look in my mind, and see my memories. She said, "He is getting better. Perhaps a glimpse would actually help him - though it might just make him more proud. I will ask around." Then we made fun of the scholars, seeing them walking around with silly objects on their heads.

Lord Sky stayed around for a few days, and then announced that there would be no teaching that day. The nuns were disappointed. This was the most excitement they had had all year.

He called me in and said,

The prayer worked. I was asleep last night and suddenly I was awake while asleep. I was flying through a sky of stars escorted by a bhairava. We arrived at a great gate, which opened for us, and we were in the paradise of the Blue Buddha of Wisdom and Purity. I could not enter the throne room but I saw him in meditation generating the worlds in great halos and rings. The palace was like the center of the universe, and great rings of blue and gold emanated from it. There was a lake at the foot of the throne, and I looked into it. Suddenly, the palace and everyone in it were swept away, and I was in the midst of emptiness. It was vast and beautiful, the source of all things, full of power, beyond everything.

I said, "I'm glad that your prayer was successful." He said, "I suppose it was the prayer after all. Who would have thought such a thing? But nothing else has changed. The vision lasted only a few minutes, or perhaps seconds - I don't even know. But I know that my life has been changed. I do not know how much you had to do with this, but I thank you for the part you played. Now I can die in peace, having attained at least a glimpse of what my ancestors did."

I said, "I don't think the dakini's goal was to give you a happy death. She wanted this to inspire your meditation, to make your philosophy real instead of a game. If it only gives you pride among your ancestors, then it was a failure." He said, "Perhaps. I have been in meditation this morning, and I shall return to it when I leave. It will take some time to determine what to do."

I left and saw Lady Moon, and I told her what had happened. She said, "Child, do not become proud of yourself from such events." I said, "Lady, the dakini does as she chooses. I am her slave, her pet, her devotee. I can't do anything on my own."

Section XXIII

Lord Sky stayed in the room another day, and then had an announcement to the nuns. He said he had had a vision, and that he could not stay a teacher. He had decided to renounce the world and become a monk. He said he had long debated this, and lived a monastic life personally, but he had never joined an order. Now, for whatever years [he had] left, he wanted the blessings of a monastic community. He thanked the nuns for inspiring him, and said that the sincerity and good will of this convent would inspire anybody.

Lady Moon was just thrilled, and all the nuns were happy at this praise from a great scholar. I wondered if the vision had really changed him. This seemed to be an important step for him.

As he left, he stopped to say goodbye. He said he did not know if the dakini really caused the vision, but that I should thank her anyway, and he asked for her blessings. This sounded good.

We went back to dull convent life, praying, and meditating, and sleeping, and working. Now that I knew artwork, I could go out and make paints, and draw pictures. The convent could give them to people who gave donations. I could not afford the wealthy paints - some artists used powered gold and jewels - but I could make paints from local leaves and roots, and from certain rocks. I nailed the cloth onto sticks on the ground, and sometimes put it on a low table. I painted Buddhas, and beautiful worlds, and one for my room - Vajra Dakini dancing with her knees knocking together, and a silly expression.

When I had become good and confident at painting, and had done it for many years, Vajra Dakini said one day, "You know I can give you some interesting teachings. You have learned reading and writing, as well as painting, and you should not let that skill go to waste. I have some teachings in mind." I said, "I will be glad to write them - I can make straight lines, and then erase them, and I can help the writing with pictures. Do you have stories of Buddhas?"

She smiled, and said, "Oh, I could tell you some stories about those guys. But no, I have ways for people to deal with karma, and travel in the spiritual worlds. You should start with a mantra and a light as initiation, and then we will travel down roads and rivers of light. We start tomorrow."

Section XXIV - The Dakini's Meditation

Vajra Dakini said, "This is a teaching brought by the yoginis, for the sake of aiding in liberation. It was taught long ago, but never spread, and [then] forgotten. It is the intention of this writing to bring this practice back into the world.

This practice is dedicated to the bodhisattvas who came to this region to save mankind from suffering, and died unrecognized. May this practice aid them in their future works." Here, the dakini gives a few meditations or visualizations that are for advanced practitioners. These have been temporarily left out of the text unless she agrees that they should be published. An example of a meditation provided by the dakini which is less difficult follows in the next section.

Section XXV

I meditated on Vajra Dakini in the afternoon, but she would not come. I saw her in the evening meditation. She wore a collection of silk scallops, so that she looked like a flower. The petals faded from white to dark blue-purple.

She said, "Peace child. I give you these meditations because they have not been accepted. You must reveal them."

I said, "I shall Lady Dakini. What shall I do?" She said, "Write this down."

This is a meditation for initiates who are troubled with the sin of pride. The person must first call down his or her Yidam to verify that this is a problem. If his or her Yidam agrees, then the practitioner must find a clean, quiet space, free of danger and distraction. He or she must set out a meditation mat, and sit in a stable position.

The practitioner must invoke the bhairava of anger, Vajra Krodha, who lays the groundwork for pride. The bhairava must be great in size, like a great mountain, while the initiate is a tiny bush upon the mountain, like a piece of dust.

He must look upon the bhairava with fear, and realize that his anger will be tempered by the muscular arms, heavy weapons, strong chest and skull of this wrathful being.

He must then visualize a thunderstorm, tearing out everything from the earth, destroying the worlds of the universe. In the midst of the storm is a bhairava bigger than the mountain, filling the skies. It is Vajragarbha, who chases the unworthy from sacred places. He dances, and trees are uprooted, and the earth quakes with fear.

He chants the mantra HUM, which travels upwards in dark blue letters. From the HUM is squeezed the initiate's pride, which falls upon the earth. It is destructive, melting the earth away, but revealing jewels held beneath the earth as hidden treasure.

Vajragarbha holds a vajra and a bell as he dances upon the crumbling universe. From the sound of the bell come waves, which echo and conflict, creating a womb of creation in organic form. From the vajra comes a concentrated ray of power, which breaks through space, and brings crystalline form, the diamond mind arising from the midst of the void.

The initiate is torn apart in the creation and destruction of worlds, and rests in the dark void. His or her pride appears as illusory ego, a mask held up by a dancing fool. The pride is blown up by the winds of change, and collapses like a kite in a still sky.

The initiate recognizes the illusory nature of his ego, and the false basis of his pride. The bhairava holds up the ego mask, which becomes a skull. Flames rise from it - it is a source of power, of illusion, of death, of emptiness. The skull is turned to ashes and blows away in the wind. The initiate worships Vajragarbha, and bows before him. Vajra Krodha observes.

Section XXVI

I wrote down the meditation, and made a drawing of a dancing bhairava. Lady Moon approved it, and it was put with the other meditations. Now I am the meditation gatherer.

I wonder about my role. It seems such an odd life. I am not like nuns here, though they are much nicer than the nuns at the Emerald Garden. They don't care about bhairavas, and dakinis, and secret instructions. They do their jobs, and they are happy without access to these worlds and beings.

Vajra Dakini says that there is bad karma in my past, and that I will lose my supernatural skills in other lives. This makes me sad. It is a kind of blindness. But I have bad karma, and I must work it off sometime. I cannot remember my past lives.

In this life, the convent is my home. I grow older but I do not wish to leave. Where would I go? These people are kind to me, and I do not have the skills of the world. I could not offer money to a husband, and I do not wish to live with angry and unhappy relatives. The outside world has never been very safe or attractive for me, with its roving bandits, and corrupt officials. All it has to offer is friendly animals.

My life is my small room, and worship with the other nuns. Lady Moon has given me official initiation as a nun, and she gave me Vajra Dakini as my official Yidam (which she was anyway). I am the writer and artist here, so I have a special role. I pass down teachings from the dakini.

I can tell you these but you might want to talk to the dakini directly. She will tell you the teachings too.

I have never explored sexuality, and children. Most women do this. But sexuality seems pointless unless you want a child, and I do not (although I like animals). I would rather write and draw.

I have spent many years here. It is my home. Sometimes visitors come, sent by the old abbot, or by the artist, or by the scholar. I talk to them, but what they seek is beyond my ability to give. I like to meet and talk with new people though.

One man who visits periodically is interested in the teachings. He has told me to collect them, and he said that when I am old, he would like to copy them, and bring them to his monastery. He said that they would be respected there.

Vajra Dakini said that she wanted the teachings spread - perhaps this is the way.

Section XXVII - The Heaven of Vajra Dakini

Vajra Dakini said, "You have lived a good life, and done many kind acts. These will help you in your future. But you had past lives when you were foolish, ignorant, and angry, and the deeds of those lives follow you. You will have to atone for them."

I said, " Lady Dakini, will I be reborn in an animal world as punishment, or in the realm of the hungry ghosts?"

She said,

You are a strange mixture of extremes, but I like you. I'll tell you what I shall do. I will make you my servant in my paradise, and separate this life from your others. Thus you will escape the pains of retribution. This is very rarely done, but I like it because of that. You will still be linked to your other lives, but the light within you will be merged with my light, and our deepest aspects will be one. It will be as if you are an emanation of mine. Then, you will have no need of rebirth. However, you will still be able to communicate with your other lives, should this be necessary.

I said, "Lady, what shall I do with the teachings that you have given me?" She said,

These will stay in your convent, unless the abbess wishes to send them elsewhere. You may leave it as her decision. If the teachings are lost in the future for any reason, I will pass them on to one of your future lives who can hold the same role as scribe that you have held [in this life]. The physical world is a place of passion, and destruction, and it is difficult for spiritual teachings to survive. But we who can watch the world at a distance can sometimes step in and help, and offer guidance and knowledge. Not everybody is interested, but if a special few have access, they can use them wisely and well.

If the teachings are lost, I will give them to you again. When your future life is ready to learn them, he or she will return and encounter you. You will have the unusual experience of speaking to yourself in another personality and body. Of course deities and spiritual beings often do this, but it is rare for humans. You will tell your story, and describe some teachings. It will be up to your future life to get the collection once again.

I said, "Lady Dakini, what does it mean to be your servant forever? It sounds like a dream."

She said, "You will leave the dreary round of births and deaths, and stay in a place of light and beauty. We will travel through the worlds, and play games of creation and destruction."

I said, "Lady, I will follow".

Section XXVIII - Chen Ma's Afterlife

You are interested in my life now. Really, the worlds I inhabit are formless, but my lady the dakini is a lover of form. Nothing makes her happier than the creation of beauty. So I am a light who takes many forms. Some of the forms I have taken are a yogini, a hawk, a mermaid, a golden pony, an Oriental harem slave, a secretary with a bun and glasses, a private eye with a fedora finding out secret information, a fat brothel owner, a large-eyed waif with long curls, a winged snake, and a young girl crowned with flowers.

My life is one of service. My Lady Dakini says that I may enter into the Light of Emptiness if I choose, but then I will no longer enjoy our play. If this is the case, then I will avoid the Void. I value divine love and beauty, and she has done me a great favor. She has brought me here to be with her, so that I need not reincarnate.

The Vajra Dakini's paradise is a world of diamond, and pearl, and crystal, at least in her wisdom form. I do not visit her passionate and aggressive forms. We have lakes and palaces, jeweled trees and rivers sparkling with sapphires. The skies are pink and lemon and melon and lime, and the ponds are bright turquoise. There are golden fish, and white swans with ruby beaks. She is a great queen, on a throne of sapphire and emerald, with shining robes and a jeweled crown of flame.

This is the bright paradise, and there are devotees here who take the form of plants and animals. There are no Buddhas or herukas there. They exist beyond this level of manifestation. This is a heaven of shining substance, and opal winds.

She also has a dark paradise, and sometimes I help her there. Then, the sky is bronze and the land is dark green, and the sun is a copper disk. She takes the form of a bronze harpy on an ebony throne, and it is a world of destruction and transformation. When I have been there, I have taken the form of a gnome, a hag, a dancing shamaness, a badger, and some sort of cave dweller. Her throne is in a cavern, and her entertainment is the panorama of struggle and death. The rivers are blood, and the trees are dark and bare. It is a place for the strange and fierce beauty of death. My lady is the ruler of both paradises, but I mostly stay in the bright one, for it fits my personality. I have visited the dark paradises, but I am not comfortable there. Also it is no place for animals.

My lady has given me a special world to run - for the souls of gentle animals who have died, and not yet reincarnated. I get to take care of them, and give them warmth and satisfaction. I love and respect my lady, but of all her realms, this is my favorite.

Section XXIX - Vajra Dakini Speaks Of Chen Ma

Vajra Dakini said,

Chen Ma died, and was respected by her convent. She was born poor and unwanted, but her special skills gave her a valuable and esteemed role. After her death, she came with me, and is here still. You will not need to rescue her.

You remember her because you are purifying your lives. She has emerged not because of bad karma, but because of her role. The teachings have indeed been lost, in the marching of centuries of conquerors over the mountains. You are the later life with the ability to write them anew.

This practice is not simply Buddhist, hiding behind denominational lines. It is the path of the universe, of spirit, of light, of vast emptiness, and freedom, and infinite beauty.

Yes, you are blind now. It is your curse, for your past deeds. You cannot see the worlds of spirit except under unusual circumstances. But even in this life, you have separated your soul from its karmic connections, and had brief glimpses of freedom. Your glimpses of the spirit will increase as your karma is purified.

This will take a long time. The bhairava is working up from the very bottom. Your conscious mind is far away and will not be able to perceive this. Life will go on but it is changing invisibly.

The pain of your past in this life will still emerge - you will need purification here too, though you have been more sinned against. You are still haunted by the ghost of your mother who hated you. But time will wear this away, as it does all things. Your ghosts will erode, as water erodes rocks, into pebbles, and sand, and then salt.

I will be with you as guide and friend. Besides making enemies in other lives, you have also made friends. But the sheer weight of bad karma has kept them from you, except in distant and disguised form. Over time, you will meet them.

It is your intentions that count, whether other people appreciate them or not.

Section XXX - The Bhairava Speaks

The Bhairava said,
You are going through the Jivamala, purifying lives with curses and serious problems, and now learning from lives that were innocent, artistic, and serious. The writing of lost teachings is a worthy goal for any life, and something that you should do later on in this one.

Your karma is being worn away slowly. You have already accomplished a great deal. You have gotten rid of curses, which is very important. You have found the origin of the conditions of many of your births: of gender, of the anger of demons and ghosts, and of your relationship with deities of the Vajrayana pantheon.

Souls are anchored by karmic glue - like rubber cement. Within the glue are loaded memories, and passages to other lives. In exceptional situations, the soul separates from the body and is free to travel, while the glue stays with the body. But the glue keeps thin threads and these draw you back.

Another life awaits.

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