Diamond Acolyte of Vajrayogini
Tsarchen Losal Gyatso
Many lamas engage in highest yoga tantra but very few come to be included in the line of lineage holders whose blessings are invoked for spiritual success. It is for this reason that Tsarchen Losal Gyatso is considered to be extremely special, for he is the 21st lineage holder of the Vajrayogini tantric tradition that stems from Mahasiddha Naropa. Tsarchen Losal Gyatso was also famed for his deep devotion to his guru Doringpa, for the many mystical experiences he had, and for being the founder of the Tsarpa lineage of the Sakya tradition.
Born in 1502, Tsarchen Losal Gyatso was a young monk in Tashi Lhunpo Monastery when he chanced upon a lady with shimmering eyebrows and facial hair in the monastery’s courtyard.
She said, “Lord Doringpa requires your presence at Khau immediately,” and added, “This is his gift for you.” She then passed to him a small Tibetan manuscript wrapped in cloth before vanishing. The text contained instructions on the three forms of Vajrayogini (or Kechari). Shortly thereafter, a letter from Doringpa arrived, inviting him to visit for teachings and instructions. Instantly, devotion arose in his mind and so Tsarchen Losal Gyatso set out for Doringpa’s hermitage.
Upon arriving at the hermitage near Sakya Monastery, Tsarchen Losal Gyatso was granted audience with Doringpa. He recounted his encounter with the lady at Tashi Lhunpo and showed Doringpa the text as proof. Doringpa, in response, laughed and said, “Oh my! Looks like Kechari herself went to fetch you. This book contains the Vajrayogini cycle of teachings. Please place it on the bookshelves for now.”
When Tsarchen Losal Gyatso went to the shelves, he saw that in the middle of the pile of books was an empty space that was about the size of the text in his hands. He slipped the book into place and it fit perfectly. Realising that the book was originally from this shelf, great faith arose in him. It was apparent that Vajrayogini had appeared to him in order to lead him to his root teacher.
Throughout his life, Tsarchen Losal Gyatso engaged in Vajrayogini as his main practice and had several important visions of her. He would also go on to have many other visions, including of Padmasambhava, Heruka Chakrasamvara, Kalachakra, Yamantaka, and other tantric deities and masters. During a Saraswati retreat for example, a rain of white flowers fell and he heard the melodious strumming of Saraswati’s lute, before he finally beheld her face and received a word of prophecy. She bestowed on him the gift of extraordinary eloquence and after that, whatever he wrote naturally came forth as poetry.
That writing came so easily to him is one of the reasons why extensive records of his life exist today. Tsarchen Losal Gyatso kept a journal, which can be read as a mixture of prose and verse poetry, of such beauty and sophistication that its meaning is simply lost in translation. His journal covers his extensive travels to search for and disseminate teachings; his impact was such that the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, arguably one of Tibet’s most powerful rulers, even took the time to compose a biography about this great lama.
As a master whose life could be characterised by the countless mystical experiences he had, it should therefore come as no surprise that Tsarchen Losal Gyatso’s passing was similarly mystical. In the autumn of 1566, his guru Doringpa suddenly manifested to him while he was in meditative concentration, saying, “Dharma lord, come up,” while gesturing again and again.
This was not the first time Tsarchen Losal Gyatso had been called to leave his physical form. In an earlier incident in the 1550s, he had had a vision of three celestial ladies appearing in the sky before they descended an unusually tall ladder. At the time, they invited him to return with them, an invitation he declined because his parents were still living so the women climbed back up the ladder and disappeared.
This time however, Doringpa’s request was heeded and thus the vision heralded Tsarchen Losal Gyatso’s great passing into the paradise of the dakinis, Kechara Paradise. As can be expected of a lama of his attainments, his parinirvana was accompanied by many signs that an accomplished practitioner had passed. The sky was a luminous dark blue and the area was filled with rainbows so brilliant they looked like they were painted with a paintbrush. A gentle rain of flowers fell all over the earth, filling the air with an ethereal fragrance.
For many years after his death, Tsarchen Losal Gyatso continued to appear to his disciples in dreams and visions, teaching Dharma, giving prophecies, and offering encouragement on their spiritual journeys. These disciples would play a crucial role in the dissemination of the Sakya tradition; all main Sakya tantric teachings and the rare oral transmissions such as Lobshé or Explication for Disciples, have been passed down from Doringpa via Tsarchen Losal Gyatso, and finally via all his major Dharma heirs.
The Vajrayogini tantric lineage from Tsarchen Losal Gyatso has also since been disseminated within the Sakya and Gelug traditions, and continues to benefit countless people. Thus it is impossible to ignore the contributions Tsarchen Losal Gyatso made to the preservation and proliferation of the Vajrayogini practice, such that we might experience the potency of tantra today.