In the Shangpa tradition's collections of the early masters' life stories, Kunga Ö's Biography of the Wisdom Dakini Niguma covers a mere six pages, most of which amount to verses of praise. Only the following words are pertinent to her life:
- This wisdom dakini was born the daughter of the great Brahmin Shantivarma [Zhiwé Gocha] and the Brahmini Shrimati [Palgyi Lodrö]. Her name was Shrijnana [Palgyi Yéshé]. She was pandit Naropa's sister and a member of the Brahmin caste.
- During three previous incalculable eons of time, she actualized her training on the spiritual path. In the continuity of that path, during this lifetime she received a little instruction from a few accomplished spiritual masters and, based on their teaching, directly saw the truth of the nature of reality. Her illusory body of obscuring emotions appeared as a pure body of enlightenment. Having reached awakening's three pure stages, she actually met the great Buddha Vajra Bearer [Dorje Chang, Tib, Vajradhara. Sanskrit] and received from him the full four empowerments of Great Way tantra within an emanated sacred circle of deities. The wisdom of her understanding of every sacred teaching, such as Buddha's discourses and tantras, profound instructions, and treatises, flowered to include direct [knowledge and sight] of the nature and multiplicity of all phenomena. She reached awakening's tenth stage, Cloud of the Doctrine. Her obscurations of knowledge became finer and finer until no veils remained; she became one with enlightenment, an epitome of the three bodies of enlightenment. She reached perfection in renunciation and realization, the achievement of her own goal. Her enlightenment's two form bodies appear for the benefit of others until the end of existence and bring benefit to beings in ways that can purposefully guide them. In åparticular, she watches over those who preserve her lineage with a compassion that knows no distance; she blesses them and ensures the success of their enlightened activity. (The Collection of Shangpa Masters' Biographies, pp. 40-42)
Niguma far exceeded the stage of awakening of all but a very few before or after her in that she received a large corpus of instruction directly from Buddha Vajra Bearer In A Supplement to the History of the Lineages, Taranata relates that she gained realization after just one week of meditation:
- The account of the wisdom dakini Niguma as the sister of Naropa and so on is well known everywhere. It should be added that she received a few instructions from the master Lavapa of the East. After meditating with the master for one week, she became a wisdom dakini, who exhibited a rainbowlike physical form and attained spiritual realization that reached awakening's eighth stage. It is said that Lavapa of the East's body dissolved into light, leaving only a palm-sized portion of the crown of his head behind. He was also known as Lavapa the Younger.She is called Nigu, Nigupta in Sanskrit, said to mean “definite secret” or “definitely hidden,” although her name is really from the dakinis' symbolic language. From her, the great accomplished Kyungpo Naljor, endowed with five ultimate teachings, received many of the tantric transmissions known throughout the land of exalted ones [India]. In particular, her special instructions included the Great Empowerment of Illusory Body, which she bestowed to him on the night of the fifteenth day of the fourth lunar month, by the light of the full moon. The following morning, she taught him the entire Six Doctrines in his dreams. He later received these instructions from her in waking life twice, a total of three times. (pp. 2b-3a)
Niguma transcended human limits and attained a rainbowlike body, thus she is sometimes praised as a nonhuman being, i.e., a buddha or dakini. She has continually watched over those who preserve her lineage and has renewed the vitality of her instructions by appearing over the centuries to many of her spiritual children.
The supplication to Niguma that follows was written by Jamgon Kongtrul as part of a collection of supplications to the Shangpa masters, A Garland of Udumvara Flowers: Supplications to the Lives of the Wonderful Lineage of Jewels, the Masters of the Glorious Shangpa Instruction Lineage. Kongtrul wrote to inform and to inspire, and usually included in each supplication the main events of each master's life. In Niguma's case, he had little choice but to depart from his seminarrative style. Instead, he praises her for having followed the path to enlightenment, without having “to rely on exhausting training,” and he describes her realization of the view, tantric meditation's four stages of familiarization and accomplishment, postmeditation conduct, and the final result. Despite its lack of new information on Niguma's life, I have included this supplication in part to give non-Shangpa readers a chance to read something they have probably never seen before. Where else in this world can we read devotional supplications to a dark-brown woman as an enlightened being, a buddha, and as head of a living, worldwide spiritual lineage?
The Melody of Wisdom: A Supplication to the Wisdom Dakini Niguma
by Jamgon Kongtrul
Vajra queen, mother of all buddhas,
Dark-brown woman wearing bone ornaments who flies through space,
You bestow supreme accomplishment on your fortunate disciples:
Noble Niguma, to you I pray.
You were born in the wonderful land of Kashmir,
In a sublime city
Known as Incomparable in the Land of Jambu,
Emanated through Madhyantika's blessing; to you I pray.
In the family circle
Of the pure Brahmin, Shantivarma,
Narotapa and you, the wisdom dakini, were brother and sister—
Your karma ripened together like sun and moon; to you I pray.
You are the feminine form of true emptiness,
Sublime among all appearances, giving birth to all victorious buddhas.
Although you manifest in a worldly form,
You renounced any connection to existence through craving and grasping; to you I pray.
During incalculable past lives, you reached the far shore
Of awakening's stages and paths.
Thus, in this life, you gained the inconceivable, perfect freedom of self-manifest accomplishment.
Innate dakini, to you I pray.
You did not have to rely on exhausting training—
When some advice from accomplished masters entered your ears,
You understood all teachings.
Great bliss of natural liberation, to you I pray.
Knowledge of one subject—the tantras' subtle, profound meaning—led to your total liberation
And the flowering of your two forms of knowledge.
You saw directly and without obscuration the truth of the nature of reality.
Illustrious woman of accomplishment, to you I pray.
You bound your mind, eyes, and circulating energy within the expanse of emptiness,
Permitting you to see in the central channel the [empty] forms created by the spring vital essence.
Vajra illusory reflections, such as smoke, developed together.
You completed the branch of familiarization; to you I pray.
You used your breath to block the dark circulating energies and made them descend to your belly.
You joined the vitality and descending energies equally at the six energy centers,
Blocking the movement of the six elements' sun and moon.
You completed the branch of proximate accomplishment; to you I pray.
You transcended the three seals to reach incomparable Great Seal.
The innate light of its unchanging, coemergent bliss
Created your ten-faceted illusory body, replete with all powers.
You completed the branch of accomplishment; to you I pray.
You blocked the twenty-one thousand six hundred circulating energies and attained that many forms of changeless bliss.
At the crown of your head, the mind of awakening became stable,
And you traversed awakening's stages in an instant.
You completed the branch of great accomplishment; to you I pray.
Through engaging in conduct that is enlightenment's direct cause,
You enjoyed many pleasures and were nurtured spiritually by Buddha Vajra Bearer.
Your fortune equaled his—your body of training's integral union
Works for beings whose numbers equal space; to you I pray.
You saw directly all phenomena without obscuration
And opened inconceivable millions of gates to meditative states.
You master the secret treasury of all victorious ones.
Consort of all buddhas, to you I pray.
Body of great bliss, emptiness and compassion inseparable,
Manifestation of blissful buddhas, sovereign of common and supreme accomplishment,
Powerful bodhisattva on awakening's tenth stage, glorious guide for beings,
Wearer of Bone Ornaments, to you I pray.
Sentient beings, our venerable mothers, wander along the wheel of life
In endless and fathomless seas of suffering.
With your universal great compassion,
Lead them to a pure land of flourishing, uncontaminated bliss, I pray.
Nurture fortunate persons who have entered the path;
Pacify all adversity, hindrances, and obstacles;
Continually enhance our experience and realization;
And bless us with the completion of awakening's five paths and ten stages.
(A Garland of Udumvara Flowers, pp. 3a-4a)
Excerpted from Timeless Rapture, by Ngawang Zangpo.