In the days of the great yogi Milarepa, there were many male and female yogic practitioners called ‘Togden’ and ‘Togdenma’ (literally meaning ‘realised ones’) who chose to follow the ascetic path to enlightenment.
The Drukpa Kagyu lineage, which was founded in the twelfth century by the first Gyalwang Drukpa Tsangpa Gyare, was renowned for its highly accomplished yogis and yoginis. Out of compassion for the world, many practitioners adopted this austere path in order to accelerate the attainment of spiritual realization.
Unfortunately, this precious tradition was almost lost following the Cultural Revolution. Ironically these attempts to uproot Tibetan Buddhism forced it into the world at large and it has now returned to its birthplace in India and Nepal.
Khampagar Monastery in Eastern Tibet was famous for its monk Togdens and some of these were able to escape to India and so continue this precious tradition. However there were also nunneries under Khampagar with highly reputed Togdenma. Despite not having formal scholastic education, these nuns were great practitioners. Whilst it was long thought that none had survived the destruction of the nunneries, it seems that there is presently a revival taking place in remote areas of eastern Tibet.
“At one time the previous Khamtrul Rinpoche had formally placed a long silk khata around my neck and said that in Tibet there had been many togdenmas but now the tradition had been broken. Therefore he prayed that I would re-establish this precious yogini lineage. For me this has been a sacred commitment.”
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo
DGL Nunnery has several nuns who already aspire to train as Togdenmas and are prepared to undertake the long, rigorous and austere practices which require many years in retreat, in order to attain enlightenment in one lifetime. Towards this aim, four nuns have already completed eight years of strict retreat and others have now joined, including two nuns from one of Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s nunneries who had already completed a 3 year retreat in Nepal. They are being personally instructed by Togden Achoe who is the most senior yogi at Khampagar monastery in Tashi Jong.
The Kagyu lineage emphasises direct spiritual realisation. So these nuns – though usually unseen – with their total dedication to yogic meditation practices and their aspiration to become togdenmas, are the heart of the DGL Nunnery.
The efforts being made to re-introduce the precious Togdenma lineage to DGL Nunnery is strongly supported by the senior lamas of the Drukpa Kargyu Lineage. Likewise Lamas such as HH Karmapa, Khamtrul Rinpoche, Tsoknyi Rinpoche and Mingyur Rinpoche have visited these retreat nuns and given them teaching and individual instruction.