The Lives and Liberation of Princess Mandarava: The Indian Consort of Padmasambhava Paperback – June 15, 1998


by Lama Chonam (Translator), Sangye Khandro (Translator), Janet Gyatso (Introduction)

This lucid translation of a rare Tibetan text makes available for the first time to Western readers the remarkable life story of Princess Madarava. As the principal consort of the eighth century Indian master Padmasambhava before he introduced tantric Buddhism to Tibet, Mandarava is the Indian counterpart of the Tibetan consort Yeshe Tsogyal. Lives and Liberation recounts her struggles and triumphs as a Buddhist adept throughout her many lives and is an authentic deliverance story of a female Buddhist master. Those who read this book will gain inspiration and encouragement on the path to liberation.


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Introduction (Janet Gyatso)

The Lives and Liberation of Princess Mandarava is an extraordinary story from the heart of Tibetan religious culture about the Buddhist liberation of a woman.1 Recounted from the magisterial perspective of a female buddha-Pandaravasini-and her emanations in the world, the story tells of life after life of compassionate manifestations in samsaric trouble spots, where the heroine uses her splendor, magical powers, and often her feminine charms to tame demons and teach the Buddhist messages of impermanence, compassion, and enlightened insight to all. This superwoman’s story has a fairytale quality that is counterbalanced by the real-life problems of women in Indian and Tibetan society that the work repeatedly addresses: the assumption that all women must marry, their control by the men in their lives, and the lack of respect for them in society at large. In the final long episode of the heroine’s life as the consort of Padmasambhava, these themes are writ large in her struggles with her parents and her censure by those around her on account of her controversial relationship with the tantric master. She is finally victorious in these struggles, but only after an arduous path of self-cultivation and self-expression.

The version of the story translated in this book dates from the turn of the twentieth century, but the figure of Mandarava has long occupied a chapter in the larger narrative of Buddhism’s introduction of in Tibet, in which Padmasambhava plays such a leading role. But like its counterpart, the lifestory of the famous Tibetan female saint Yeshe Tsogyal (who also became a consort of Padmasambhava), the tale of Mandarava and her previous lives goes far beyond its significance for Tibetan national history and identity.2 It is replete with messages of encouragement for women of many Buddhist traditions. In order to appreciate the meaning that its exceptional, proto- femininist themes might have had for its traditional audience-that is, its readers, male and female alike, as well as the auditors of its oral renditions-some general background in the lifestory tradition in Tibet and in Buddhist literature might be helpful to convey a sense of the history and religious practices of the cultural milieu from which the work originates.

All lifestories in Buddhist literature model themselves on the lifestories of the Buddha, which began to be written by the first century B.C.E. Most importantly, the plot of Shakyamuni’s lifestory, his steps to buddhahood and his enlightened activity thereafter, set the standard for all exemplary Buddhist lives. Mandarava’s own story shares this basic orientation. The work translated here recounts how she first achieved enlightenment in the distant past as the buddha Pandaravasini (chapter 2). The process seems to be repeated in her last lifetime as Mandarava when she achieves the status of an immortal awareness holder (vidyadhara, rig ‘dzin) after rigorous training at Maratika (chapter 30) and then wins the ultimate rainbow body at death (chapter 37). The explanation for the repetition may be that Mandarava’s second enlightenment was meant as a display or model for others on the path. In any event, it is the lifestory of Mandarava that is recounted in most detail in this book and that serves most prominently as an exemplary life for the student. Many of its moments repeat similar moments in the lifestories of the Buddha: her deliberate choice of parents; the auspicious dreams of parents and other significant indications at her conception; her precocious words and signs of advanced realization at birth; the sights of old, sick, and dead people that disillusion her and inspire a renunciatory attitude; her escape from the palace and periods of ascetic practice; her later efforts to teach and train. The parallel of her story with that of the Buddha is especially obvious in the overview summary that the text itself provides at the close of chapter 1. When the reader recognizes these elements as typical themes in the lifestory of a Buddhist saint, it becomes an important sign that the life being told is going in the same direction and that the protagonist too is a Buddhist saint. Such conventions structure the large proportion of hagiographical and biographical literature in Tibet-a genre that, significantly, is labelled “full liberation [story]” (rnam thar). Hundreds of such works were produced in Buddhist Tibet; it is important, first of all, to place the work translated in this book within that tradition.

The impact that the story of liberation has on its readers and hearers has been given paramount importance since the inception of lifestory literature in Buddhism…

In Tibetan literature, the lifestory of an enlightened master is also said to have a positive impact by causing marvel and wonder in the reader. This is the expected response to narratives of fantastic powers, intergalactic travel, and scintillating meditative experience. Such features were well known in Indian story literature and became prominent in the Mahayana sutras and the Puranic renditions of the exploits of the Hindu deities and their avatars. Much of the cosmic, miraculous quality of Mandarava’s story can be understood as influenced by this large and heterogenous tradition, as are many other Tibetan narrative cycles. Stories of the founders of lineages are particularly likely to contain such marvelous dimensions; they are certainly central to the cycle of stories surrounding Avalokiteshvara and his manifestations in Tibet, as well as to the lifestory tradition of Padmasambhava, with which the Mandarava story is directly connected.3 The idea is that the spectacular vision of a magnificent cosmic heritage will inspire faith in the religious practices the story represents….

Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Wisdom Publications (June 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780861711444
  • ISBN-13: 978-0861711444
  • ASIN: 0861711440
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5

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