Ayu Khandro Dorje Peldron b.1839 - d.1953
Name Variants: Dechen Khandro ; Tsewang Peldron
Ayu Khandro Dorje Pendron (a g.yu mkha' 'gro rdo rje dpal sgron) was born in 1839 in a place called Takzik (stag gzig) in Kham, and was given the name Dechen Khandro (bde chen mkha' 'gro) by Tokden Randrik (stogs ldan rang rig, d.1865), a local yogi. Her father’s name was Tamdrin Gon (rtam mgrin mgon, d.u.) and her mother’s was Tsokyi (mtsho skyid, d.u.). She had three brothers and three sisters.
At the age of seven, Ayu Khandro went to live with her aunt Dronkyi (sgron skyid, d.1865), a practitioner who lived in a cave near Tokden Randrik. She was betrothed at the age of thirteen to Apo Wangdo (a pho dbang rdo, d.1897), the son of a wealthy family, but she nevertheless remained with her aunt until 1856, when she was eighteen. There she helped her aunt with daily chores and learned to read and write with the help of one of the tokden’s students. At the age of thirteen she received her first empowerments and teachings, those of Rigdzin Longsel Nyingpo’s (rig 'dzin klong gsal snying po, 1625-1692) terma, Longsel Dorje Nyingpo (klong gsal rdo rje’i snying po).
At the age of fourteen Ayu Khandro went with her aunt and Tokden Rangrik to visit the great Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo ('jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse' dbang po, 1820-1892) and Jamgon Kongtrul (jam mgon kong sprul, 1813-1899) at Khyentse Wangpo's monastery of Dzongsar (rdzong sar). Chokgyur Lingpa (mchog gyur gling pa, 1829-1870) was possibly there as well. During this journey Ayu Khandro received many instructions from these and other teachers and upon her return home she began the Longchen Nyingtik (klong chen snying thig) preliminary practices.
She visited Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo again when she was sixteen and received from him the name Tsewang Peldron (tshe dbang dpal sgron) and a number of teachings and empowerments, including his own recently-discovered treasure on White Tārā, The Heart Essence of the Sublime Lady of Immortality ('chi med 'phags ma'i snying thig). Again, on returning home, Ayu Khandro entered into retreat to put the teachings into immediate practice.
In the summer of her nineteenth year, Ayu Khandro was married to Apho Wangdo and moved in with him and his family, against her own wishes and those of her aunt. Within three years, however, Ayu Khandro became extremely ill and it was only when her husband told her that she could return to her cave and continue her religious life that she became better. Ayu Khandro continued to practice under the guidance of the tokden and her aunt until they both passed away in 1865. Grieving the loss of her mentors, she entered a three year retreat.
At the age of thirty, Ayu Khandro decided to begin travelling and practicing Chod (gchod). With several companions she went to meet and receive teachings from masters such as Nyakla Pema Dudul (nyag bla pad ma bdud 'dul, 1816-1872) and Adzom Drukpa Drodul Pawo Dorje (a 'dzom 'brug pa 'gro 'dul dpa' bo rdo rje, 1842-1924), from whom she received the Tsokchen Dupa (tshogs chen 'dus pa) and a number of important Dzogchen instructions.
From Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo they also received several months of teachings in both Nyingma and Sarma traditions, such as the Khandro Sangwa Kundu (mkha' 'gro gsang ba kun 'du), and essential Dzogchen instructions such as the Nyingtik Yabzhi (snying thig ya bzhi). She learned chudlen (bcud len) and tummo (gtum mo) from Lhawang Gonpo (lha dbang mgon po, d.u.), a Chod practitioner she briefly travelled with.
At the age of thirty-two she received from Nyakla Pema Dudul the Longsel Dorje Nyingpo, the instructions for the Yangti Nakpo (yang ti nag po) dark retreat, and the name Dorje Peldron (rdo rje dpal sgron). Nyakla Pema Dudul also instructed her to continue to travel and practice Chod, which she did with her friend, a nun named Pema Yangkyi (pad ma yang skyid, 1837-1911). For the next decade Ayu Khandro moved across Kham, U-Tsang, Nepal, and Ngari, where she visited Mount Kailash, practicing Chod everywhere she went, visiting holy sites, and receiving instructions and initiations. Her companions changed throughout her journey. Only at the age of forty-three that she decided to journey back home.
The following year after her return, Ayu Khandro’s ex-husband and other acquaintances began building her a meditation hut. She also went to visit and receive more teachings from Adzom Drukpa, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgon Kongtrul. In 1885 her hut was completed and she entered into a seven year retreat, focusing on the practice of dark retreat. In 1891, seven months before the end of her retreat, she is said to have experienced a vision of a group of ḍākinī in a tikle carrying Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo inside another tikle; she took this as an omen of the impending death of her teacher. She thus cut short her retreat and went to visit the lama, who clarified all questions and doubts she had about her practice, and told her to return to her dark retreat. In 1892, Ayu Khandro received news of her teacher’s death and decided to commit the rest of her life to retreat. By the end of her life she had spent more than fifty years in dark retreat, although she also made time to give teachings to numerous students.
In 1894 her mother died, and in 1897, her ex-husband also died. Her travelling companion, Pema Yangkyi, came to visit her in 1900 and told her the miraculous stories of one of her other former travelling companions who had attained the rainbow body ('ja' lus) while practicing at Mount Kailash. Pema Yangkyi stayed with Ayu Khandro for a year and then travelled to Mount Khawa Karpo (kha ba dkar po), where she became a famous teacher and also is said to have attained the rainbow body. Ayu Khandro was also visited by Pema Yangkyi’s students and those of her other former companions, to whom she gave as much advice and teaching as possible.
In 1951 Namkhai Norbu (nam mkha'i nor bu, b.1938) visited Ayu Khandro for just over two months and received from her Jamyang Khyentse’s Khandro Sangwa Kundu, the Chod practice of Dzinba Rangdrol ('dzin pa rang grol), Longchen Nyingtik, Yangti and Nyakla Pema Dudul’s Tsedrub Gongdu (tse sgrub dgongs 'dus), amongst others. He requested and received from her the Sakya Vajrayoginī Nāro Kechari initiation and commentary, as she was considered a manifestation of this deity.
During this stay, Namkhai Norbu recorded notes on her life story, which she recounted to him. He later composed these into a biography, without which there would be little documentation left of her existence, as is the case with numerous Tibetan Buddhist female practitioners.
In 1953, apparently having lived to the age of one hundred and fifteen, Ayu Khandro passed away. For the few weeks before her death she spent most of her time seeing anyone who wanted to speak to her and gave away her valuable possessions, such as a precious statue of Padmasambhava which she gave to Adzom Gyelse Gyurme Dorje (a 'dzom rgyal sras 'gyur med rdo rje, 1895-1959), the son of Adzom Drukpa, and a small statue of Jamyang Khyentse, made by his own hand, which she left for Namkhai Norbu. After her death, it is said she remained in meditation for two weeks and by the end of the two weeks her body had shrunk to a fraction of its original size, a sign of her accomplishment of Dzogchen practice.
Allione, Tsultrim. 1984. “A-yu Khadro”, in Women of Wisdom. London: Penguin Group, pp.233-264.
Namkhai Norbu. 1986. The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen. New York; Routledge and Kegan Paul, pp.113-114.
Namkhai Norbu and Michael Katz. 2002. Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light. New York: Snow Lion Publications, pp.130-131.
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- Historical Period