The Jivamala
The life of a Vajrayana Buddhist Nun

The Jivamala  Logo
Chen Ma

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.

He said,

"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 said, "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 renunicant. 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.

To continue with the life of Chen Ma, click on the link below :

Chen Ma's Life Continued

Introduction | The Bhairava or Spiritual Guide | Lives of Spiritual Weakness | Lives of Spiritual Awakening | Conclusion


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