Nuns of the unique Joyul (gcod-yul)Sect of Tibetan Buddhism

The Joyul tradition, which was founded in the 11th century, was one of the most important sects of Tibetan Buddhism. This tradition may trace its origins back to Pha Dampa Sangye, a well-known monk who was a native of South India, and was fouded by Macik Labdron (ma-cig lab-sgron), a famous Tibetan Yogini(a female practitioner of the Yogachara school). It was the only sect founded by a female in the history of Tibetan Buddhism, and this is also rarely seen in the world history of world religions. The sect had a unique doctrine and methods of intensive meditative practice. Therefore, it was a distinctive sect in the Tibetan Buddhism. It not only had deep impact on other sects of Tibetan Buddhism, but also had great influence on Tibetan social life. The unique teaching and rituals of the Joyul sect had a great impact on nuns in Tibetan-inhabited areas, and became a common practice of the nuns of all other sects of Tibetan Buddhism.

1. History of the Joyul Sect

             The cave of macig Labdron for practising Buddhism

There are two ways to write "Joyul" in Tibetan, i.e."gco-yul" and "spyod-yul." In the first term, "gcod" means "cut off" or "cut down," and "yul" means "sphere," which refers to the object of mental activities. The term "gcod-yul" means that the teaching of this sect (mainly the idea of emptiness, compassion and Bodhichitta, an altruistic aspiration to attain full enlightenment for the benefit of all beings) might remove human suffering and the cycle of life and death. In the second term "spyod-yul," "spyod" literally means "practice," i.e. "spyod-yul" means to go the way of Bodhisattva's wisdom and to know the nature of all things is empty. Although there are two ways of writing the name of this sect, yet their meanings are basically the same, i.e. to nullify the ego with Bodhichitta or compassion, to nullify the ego with Prajna and emptiness.

The Joyul sect might trace its origin to Pha Dampa Sangye (pha dam-pa sangs-rgyas) (?-1117), a prominent monk from South India. Therefore, some Tibetan historical documents refer to this sect as a branch of Shichepa (zhi byed-pa), another sect founded by Pha Dampa Sangye. According to the Life of Pha Dampa Sangye, when Pha Dampa Sangye came to Tibet for the fourth time (some other documents say it was on his coming to Tibet for the third time), he met with Yarlung Mara Serpo (yar-klungs rmara serpo), who was coming back from India after having learned Buddhist dharma there. Pha Dampa Sangye taught Mara Serpo of Yarlung Mandrol, Kyo Shakya Yeshe (skyo sha-kya ye-shes), a well-known Nyingmapa siddha (siddha,-one who has attained spiritual accomplishments) and his two disciples Tsangpa Drachen and Drajung (who came from Nyangtod) the teachings of Joyul that enable one to achieve enlightenment. Later, the two young men Tsangpa Drachen and Drajung cultivated themselves in accordance with the teaching and attained enlightenment, becoming two siddha Yogins. This was the earliest situation of Joyul teachings in Tibet.

In line with Pha Dampa Sangye's instruction, the Joyul teaching was only circulated secretly among his disciples. Yarlung Mara Serpo, in his old age, passed on the Joyul teachings to his close attendant Nyingpa Bere. Kyo Shakya Yeshe, Pha Dampa Sangye's another disciple, passed on this teaching to his nephew Kyo Sonam Lama (skyo bsod-nams bla-ma). From then on the teaching of Joyul sect began to spread in Tibetan-inhabited areas. As most of the successors to this lineage were male, this lineage was called "male lineage of Joyul sect."

The teaching of the "male lineage of Joyul sect" was mainly concentrated on meditation, in order to negate ignorance, disease and other delusions and temptations of the ego. The subject matter of this teaching remained fixed and so its sphere of influence in Tibetan society was limited.

2. Yogini Macik Labdron (ma-ciglab-sgron) and the Formation of Joyul Sect

Macik Labdron (1049-1144) was a well-known Yogini (a female practitioner of Yogachara school) in the second propagation period of Tibetan Buddhism. She was born at Tsome (mtsho-smad) in Shannan (Lho-Kha). Her father, Chokyi Dawa (chos-kyi zla-ba), was a manorial lord, and her mother, Longmo Palgyan, came from a rich family and enjoyed a splendid education in her childhood. Macik Labdron's parents were kindhearted, piously believing in Buddhism and contributing alms generously. So local people held them in high esteem. Owing to her family influence, Macik Labdron began to study from a very young age. She could recite the "six-syllable dharani" and "dharani from the Dakini Sutra" at the age of three. From the age of five onward, the learned to read and studied grammar from her mother and Drakpa Odser, her family-supported monk. At the age of eight, she was reading and comprehending advanced texts. She could read "Eight Thousand Verses on the Perfection of Wisdom".(or, the Smaller Prajnaparamita-sutra) twice a day. Her genuine and unique understanding of the Prajna doctrine made her well known in the locality. People called her Shes-rab Dronme instead of her original name Rinchen Dronme. "Labkyi Dronme" means "the wisdom torch of the locality of Labshi." Macik is an honorific title, meaning "the sole mother" or "the only respected mother."

                The dorm of Macig Labdorn

While she was beginning to acquire fame, misfortune befell on her. When she was 13 years old, her mother died. She then lived with her elder sister Tontso Rinchen Bum(ston-mtsho rin-chen-vbum) and studied "Six Paramitas" with Geshe Aton(dge-bshes a-sto). At age 16, she studied Buddhism with Lama Geshe Drakpa.(dge-bshes grags-pa). Soon afterwards, her father died. In spite of the grief in her heart, she continued her studies in Smaller Prajnaparamita-sutra, Middle Prajnaparamita-sutra, and Greater Prajnaparamita-sutra with Geshe Drakpa. Her intelligence and perfect understanding of sutras surprised Geshe Drakpa, who praised her very much and bestowed monastic rodes and a throne on her. When she was 20, her sister Tontso Rinchen Bum also died. Although she had suffered these repeated emotional setbacks, she was all the more determined to pursue Buddhist truth. In the same year she met with Kyotongpa Sonam Lama, also called Lama Sonam Drakpa, a well-known Tantric siddha (one who has attained spiritual accomplishments). She received from him "Four Samadhi Consecrations," "Great Empowerment Consecration" and "Illusion Consecration," as well as other teachings. Afterwards, she learned from Shamarpa "Five Works of Maitreya", from Lama Pa Donpa (vbav-ston-pa)"Great Perfection (Tib. rdzogschen)" from Lama Yathangpa (g.ya-thang-pa)"Great Mudra," "Six Yogas of Naropa," "Sacred Taro," "Karachakra, or the Wheel of Time," "Three Songs," and Action Tantra, one of the Four Classes of Tantra.

At that time Macik Labdron had gained a fine reputation in Tibet. Macik Labdron, Majo Changchub of Nyaldoi, Shanmo Gyaltang of Tsang, and Nyalma of Lhasa were called the Four Dakinis of Tibet. They were four eminent nuns of Tibet in the 11th century. Macik Labdron, when she learnt Buddhism from Lama Geshe Drakpa of Drathang, met Pha Dampa Sangye. Pha Dampa Sangye praised Macik Labdron saying, "Macik Labdron has four great wisdoms. She is the incarnation of Dakini. She opens the door of Samadhi. She can subdue evil spirits. We pay respect to her." I Macik Labdron learnt from Pha Dampa Sangye the teachings of Joyul sect such as Heart Knowledge of Vacancy, Four Consecrations of Samadhi, Instruction on Meditation, Six Ways to Remove Hindrance, and Secret Instructions on Removing Illusion.

Macik Labdron at the age of 23 went to Yuchong to chant confessional sutra. On her way to Yuchong she engaged in philosophical debate with seven geshes who learnt Prajna-paramita Sutra from Mahasiddha Tonpa Sherab. She won the debate with her profound Buddhist theory and rigorous philosophical logic. Monks paid high respect to her. They invited her to sit on a throne with incense and music. Her reputation was rapidly growing. She learnt from Mahasiddha Tonpa Sherab the circulation of Twelve Nidanas and the teaching of returning to nirvana and escaping from the backward flow to transmigration.

She then left the monastic order in Yuchong and married Indian Pandita Topa Draya. (thod-pa gra-ya) They had two sons and one daughter (or three sons and two daughters by some accounts). Her second son Tonyon Samdru(thod-smyon bsam-grub)became her main successor and propagator of Macik Labdron's teachings. He became a monk at the age of 15 under the tutorship of Pha Dampa Sangye. Pha Dampa Sangye's original name was Dampa Sangye. Tonyon Samdru(thod-smyon bsam-grub) treated him as stepfather and called him Pha Dampa Sangye, with "Pha" meaning "father." Since then he was named Pha Dampa Sangye.

               Macig Labdron, the founder of Foyul sect

        Tangkha of Macig Labdron, the founder of foyul sect, preserved in Taiwan

Macik Labdron became a nun again after age 34 under the tutorship of Sonam Lama and Lama Drapa. She learnt "Five-Deities Consecration of Pamu Siddhi" from Sonam Lama. Sonam Lama gave her the tantric name of Dorje Wangchuma(rdo-rje dbang-phyug-ma), which means "Diamond Independent Goddess." Then she went to Dingri and again received consecration from Pha Dampa Sangye and learnt from him many secret ways to practice meditation. She made pilgrimage to 108 snowy mountains and the places of "Nyan" (gnyan) (one of aboriginal Tibetan deities), and devoted herself to hard practice of Buddhism in the light of Dampa Sangye's instruction. Her achievements were great and she became a well-known female master of Tantra.

At the age of 37, Macik Labdron took the meditation cave in Sangri Karmar as her fundamental site. She recruited many disciples, taught them her unique Buddhist teachings and unique methods of intensive meditative practice of Tantra. As a result she founded Joyul sect, a specific school of Tibetan Buddhism, which was also called Female-line Joyul sect(mo-gcod). Macik Labdron won a high reputation in the whole of Tibet. She, like a tall and erect tree, stood on the roof of the world: the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. With her Buddhist wisdom and extensive learning she began to show her talent among the numerous monks of snowy Tibet. She became a female mahasiddha and a wellknown master of Tantra. Her teaching spread from Tibet to India and Nepal and had great influence there. Her biography had the following record. "As many people came from Nepal to worship Macik Labdron, her reputation and teaching spread far and wide in India. Many Panditas of Indian Diamond Throne said that the source of Buddhism was in India, but Macik Labdron founded the Joyul teaching of great Mudra, hitherto unknown in India. She put the whole of Nepal under the influence of her teaching. This woman was perhaps the incarnation of the consort of a Tantric deity. Otherwise she was an awesome daughter of Mara. She has subdued Tibet and begun to have impact on India."2 Exactly as her biography puts it; the Joyul sect was the only Tibetan Buddhist sect that spread from Tibet to India and Nepal at that time. From this it may be seen that the Joyul sect was very influential.

When Macik Labdron was 43 years old, her husband left Tibet for India. He left their children in her care. Since then Macik Labdron had to take care of her children alone while spreading Buddhist teaching. She taught her children the teaching of Joyul sect. Her children, except the eldest son Drupa (grub-pa), learned Buddhist teachings from her, and became her main successors and propagators of Joyul sect. Macik Labdron devoted herself whole-heartedly to propagating Buddhism. She was engaged in writing and compiling Buddhist works and set forth her teaching. She wrote and compiled the following works: Essence of Doctrines and the Most Important Secret of Joyul Sect on Prajna-paramita, A Great Buddhist Version of the Secret Teachings of Joyul Sect on Prajna-paramita, The Grade of Quintessence and The Grade of Essence.

With these works her teachings were improved and systemized. According to Annals of Tsang, "Shanggyurme, or gyurme Jodam, inherited the tradition of Kang Yeshe Gyaltsen and that of his tutor Chatsa Marpo in Lhonam to the southwest of Shekar and Gyantse. He knew very well the teachings of Shichepa (zhi-byed-pa). He wrote "The Teaching of Nine Grades of Four Ears." There was a stupa at this place for the remains of Shanggyurme and a Kangchen Monastery of Macik Labdron."3 It shows that Macik Labdron spread the teaching of Joyul sect in Tsang, or the place including Gyantse of Shigatse area today.

Macik Labdron's biography says: "Her disciples were numerous." Particularly she trained a large number of nuns, who played a great role in improving the quality of and raising the status of Tibetan Buddhist nuns. She promoted the development of nuns in the Second Propagation of Tibetan Buddhism. Besides, she cured the diseases of thousands of people. Particularly she won a high reputation for curing leprosy in Tibet.

Macik Labdron, who was called the "Reverend Mother" or the "Great Mother, "an excellent representative of Tibetan nuns and a female leader of Tibetan Buddhism, died at the age of 95 in 1144.

The Joyul sect of Tibetan Buddhism or female-lineage Joyul sect, which Macik Labdron founded with her unusual wisdom and thinking, unique viewpoint and practical experiences, had a specific religious theory and way of meditation. And so it made a great impact on other sects of Tibetan Buddhism and also on Tibetan society. The teachings and rites of Joyul sect played a certain role in Tibetan social life for hundreds of years. Macik Labdron was worshipped as the incarnation of a Wisdom Dakini. To this day some monasteries still have images and Tangkha pictures of Macik Labdron for people to worship. The Gomrikha Drolma Female Rinpoche lineage, which came from her, continues today.

Joyul sect had several lineages after it's founding by the end of the 11th century, and they spread far and wide in Tibet. This was the first prosperity of the Joyul sect. The sect did not pay attention to the construction of monasteries or temples, nor did it rely on local authorities. It did not have rigid rules for organization. Particularly it had no solid economic base. As a result, its life period was as short as Shichepa. It no longer existed as a religious sect by the late 16th century. However, as a philosophical school it still had its teachings and rites absorbed by the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Its teachings and rites not only became a part of other schools, but also spread among the followers of other schools who did not discriminate alien sects. For instance, the "Ear-tradition of the Joyul Sect" was found in the Gelug sect, the most influential Tibetan Buddhist sect, and the tradition was passed on and had considerable impact on Tibet. The Joyul sect again prevailed in Tibet in the early years of the 20th century. This was its second prosperity. So, we can say that in number of clerical and secular followers the Joyul sect was the biggest one among the sects of Tibetan Buddhism.

Now, some teachings and rites of the Joyul sect and important works by Macik Labdron, as well as some works by eminent monks of other sects such as the works of Gelug sect on the Ear-tradition of Joyul sect and those by Dharmaraja Rinchen Dorje, still exist in Gelug sect, Nyingma sect and some other sects of Tibetan Buddhism. The teachings of Joyul sect are still spreading among the Tibetan people, both clerical and secular.

These classical works on the teachings of Joyul sect still prevail in Tibet. They are rare materials for us to study the teachings and rites of Joyul sect, and also the only important heritage of the sect we can find today in China.

3. Nuns of Joyul sect and their unique way of self-cultivation

The teachings of Joyul sect have spread far and wide in Tibet since the late 11th century when the sect was founded. Particularly, the woman Tantric master Macik Labdron's reputation as well as the Joyul sect's specific teachings, rites and way of self-cultivation attracted the attention of many women. Tibetan nuns enthusiastically supported the Joyul sect.

In Tibetan historical annals, Macik Labdron's disciples were too numerous to be mentioned. Her best known disciples included dight individuals whom she taught heart-to-heart, eight disciples whose capacity was equal to hers, and twenty-one disciples who were Mahasiddhas (tantric yogini with great spiritual accomplishments). The first group consisted of four male disciples (her son rgyal-ba don-grub, stong-sde ngag-gi dbang-phyug, grol-sde rgyal-ba vbyung-gnas, and khu-bsgom chos-kyi seng-ge) and four female ones (vbrog-tshan spyan-ne of Lerong, She-lcam dpal-rgyan of Kambar Tsedrong, lung-da mdo-tsha vbum-rgyan,and vphan-yul myang-mo bsod-nams-rgyan.) The second group consisted of Sgye-med gar-yam of Dwaksporong, who was equal to Macik Labdron in perceptual knowledge; Phu-myang rdo-rje seng-ge of Latho Phagdru, who was equal to her in enlightenment; byang-mo de-nyings-pa rang-rong, who was equal to her in empowerment; rdol-ba seng-thar of Samye, who was equal to her in prohibitions; zhig-po sher-vbum of lob-brag Tenshu, who was equal to her in capacity; dgeldan seng-ge of Phanyul, who was equal to her in mercy; me-dro rgyal-mgon hag-ston, who was equal to her in supernatural power and magical power, and mgon-po rje-btsun si-lung, who was equal to her in blessings (for the future)and joy (for present). Among them four of the heart-to-heart disciples were female; eighteen of the twenty-one mahasiddhas were female.

Macik Labdron's well-known female disciples in turn had their traditions formed in the process of propagating the teachings of the Joyul sect. The traditions spread far and wide in Tibetan areas. For instance, Macik Labdron's female disciple gtsug-ta-ma founded her tradition and taught disciples such as Dharmaraja Rinchen Dorje, disciple of gnam-mtshoba mi-skyod rdo-rje, founded the Rupa (herdsman) tradition of the Joyul sect, from which came Nedo tradition and Gyache (Great Protection) tradition. These traditions had great impact on Tibetan areas.

Macik Labdron's four female disciples whom she taught heart-to-heart founded a tradition called "Terma (Hidden Treasure) of Female Lineage," which spread wide in Tibetan areas, particularly in the Kham region (present-day Tibetan areas in Sichuan, Yunnan and Qinghai).

Besides, Macik Labdron's daughter Lha-lcam and granddaughter gang-pa mug-yan were well-known nuns of the Joyul sect. Lha-lcam founded a tradition based on quiet practice, violent practice and quiet-violent practice. This tradition had three branches, of which the most influential was the "rgyal-thang Joyul tradition," founded by rgyal-thang-pa bsam-gtan vod-zer.

Macik Labdron's granddaughter Gangpa Moyen, daughter of her second son Toling Sandrup, learned the teachings of Joyul sect from her father, She taught disciples and propagated the Joyul sect.

Machik Lhadron's second son Toling Sandrup founded the "Tradition of Black Hat of Snowy Mountain." This tradition had many nuns of Joyul sect. Toling had "twenty-one male and female chief disciples" and "eighteen female disciples of achievements". Most of them were nuns.

From this it is clear that Joyul sect had many wellknown nuns. They were chief successors and propagators of the teachings and rites of Joyul sect. To this day the teachings and rites of Joyul sect are still cultivated and propagated by the nuns of all sects of Tibetan Buddhism.

                 Preserved in sangri Karmar

The nuns of the Joyul sect had their unique way of self-cultivation. The second chapter of The Happy Thunderbolt Sutra, which Joyul sect observed, says, "Graveyard, wasteland, desolated place and wilderness in the night are the best places for self-cultivation," and "take your body as alms to give out. You may cut off all desire for the outer world." Here the sutra pointed out where and how to cultivate oneself. Joyul sect particularly stressed self-cultivation in forests, snowy mountains and graveyards. It held that self-cultivation alone in a wilderness could eliminate one's desires for and clinging to physical things. In other words, when one stays in the emptiness of space without any thought, or in the voidness of self-liberation, his holding to the concept of the ego would be naturally cut off, and he would be accustomed to the deserted wilderness of not-men. So the Joyul sect attached importance to self-cultivation in wilderness.

               Preserved in Labrang Tawani Monastery

Joyul nuns selected the place for self-cultivation in accordance with their teachers on the teachings of Joyul sect. For instance, "108 springs cultivation methods" was the cultivation by the side of 108 springs; and "108 'Nyen'(gnyan) (one of Tibetan aboriginal deities) cultivation methods" was the cultivation at 108 places of 'Nyen.'Besides, the Joyul cultivation method of "sacrificing one's body as alms" was a kind of cultivation method practiced in a graveyard or at wilderness in the evening. Joyul sect had many of such methods of self-cultivation. So Joyul nuns did not have a fixed place for cultivation. They cultivated in caves, deserted houses, snowy mountains, forests and graveyards. They wandered from place to place, eating in the wind and sleeping in the dew. They attached great importance to ascetic practices. This was the reason why nuns of Joyul sect did cultivation differently from other sects.

4. The organization of missionary community of Joyul nuns

Joyul sect was the only Tibetan Buddhist sect that did not place any importance on building monasteries. It put stress only on self-cultivation. So the organization of the missionary community of Joyul nuns was unique. Joyul sect held that the merits of doing good in a monastery for 100 days can not be compared with the merits of cultivating merciful mind by way of 'sacrificing body as alms' in the wilderness or graveyards for 7 days. If one wants to attain achievement in self-cultivation in the present life, he should do ascetic practices all his life. Only in this way can he know that all things in the world are impermanent. Therefore he would not have any desire for anything in the world, and would cut off "holding to the concept of ego" through cultivating the concept of "no ego."

Just because of this, the organizations of the missionary community of Joyul nuns were different from those of the nuns of other sects of Tibetan Buddhism. The organization of Joyul sect was not based on monasteries. Instead, they were set up with the teachers of nuns as their centre and with the cultivation places of teachers as their outer forms or fundamental conditions. Joyul sect was different in organization from other Tibetan Buddhist sects. It did not have any fixed places of religious activities and therefore its organization couldn't be set up at such places. So its organization was very simple. A tutor and nun disciples formed a group. In other words, a group of nuns centred around their tutor. Historically, the most known religious sites of Joyul sect were Sangri Kharmar(zangs-ri-mkhar-dmar), which was founded by Macik Labdron, and Khamchen of Tsang. Sangri Kharmar was a monastery standing on a mountain east of Sangri County of Shannan in the Tibet Autonomous Region. It had two floors. The first floor housed an image of Shakyamuni and the images of Tsongkhapa and his two disciples, as well as sutras of Kangyur and Tengyur of Tibetan Tripitakha. The second floor was a big hall housing the images of Macik Labdron and other masters of Joyul sect. Her image and her shoes were in the cave where Macik Labdron meditated. This cave had another cave inside, which was a hall with 108 pillars, called the "Hall of a Hundred Thousand Joys" and in which Macik Labdron secretly practiced religious cultivation. Macik Labdron founded the fundamental religious site of Joyul sect in 1086. Having experienced various vicissitudes for several hundred years, the monastery, though it was not so grand a building, it propagated not only Joyul sect but also Gelug sect and Kagyu sect, still showing the world the unique spirit of Joyul sect.

The size of a community of Joyul nuns depended on the reputation of their teacher. A teacher who enjoyed great reputation would be able to organize a community of thousands or tens of thousands of nuns. Otherwise the community would be small in size. Each nun, after learning some doctrines from ber teacher, would go to cultivate herself in another place under the teacher's instruction. So a community of nuns of Joyul sect did not have a fixed place for cultivation, or a fixed number of nuns, nor rigid organizations and rules. The nuns of Joyul sect treated their community with indifference.

In a word, Joyul nuns did not pay attention to monastery or temple. They put importance on self-cultivation, on cultivation alone in the wilderness. They held that only in this way could one cut off one's desire for all things in the world and her dependence on objective world. So, generally, nuns of Joyul sect did not build a monastery or propagate Buddhist doctrines in a monastery. They spent their energy on ascetic practice in bleak mountains and graveyards. From this we can see that the way of cultivation of Joyul nuns was somewhat like that of primitive Buddhist monks.

5. Religious doctrines and rites for self-cultivation of Joyul nuns

The teachings of Joyul sect were based on Prajna-Paramita and Great Mudra enlightenment, that is, to cut off selfish mind with Bodhisattva (or mercy) mind and to cut off holding to the concept of ego (origin of all misery and trouble in the world) with Paramita doctrine on nature void. So the Joyul teachings were also called Joyul teachings of Paramita Mara or Great Mudra Enlightenment.

Origins of Religious Sects, a Tibetan classic work, says: "The essence of the teachings of Joyul sect was based on Prajna-Paramita and Tantra. Joyul teachings originated from the Great, Middle and Small Prajna-Paramita-sutras(particularly Samudaya-sutra), which all accorded with the views of sages. Samudaya-sutra says: "Four elements make one achieve bodhisattva power; and four Maras are hard to defeat. The four elements are: adhering to nature void, not abandoning the majority of people, observing the teachings and Buddha empowerment."4 These were four important points of the Joyul sect."Adhering to nature void" means cultivating the concept of emptiness of nature; "not abandoning the majority of people" means cultivating Bodhisattva (or mercy) mind; "observing the teachings" means that relying on intimate friends of Buddhism is the essence of Buddhist teachings; and "Buddha empowerment" means adhering to Three Treasures, meditation on the field of blessedness (i.e. any sphere of kindness, charity, or virtue) and worshipping seven kinds of Mandala, which were the way of empowerment of Joyul sect. "Four Maras are hard to defeat" means achieving the power of Bodhisattva. That is, Joyul sect's teachings derived from Bodhisattva's wise and convenient power could destroy all evils. This was the highest stage of achievement in the Joyul sect.

The above is the essence of the Joyul teachings and also the fundamental content of the self-cultivation of the Joyul nuns. The Joyul sect used the Great, Middle and Brief Profound Deep Mudra and The Happy Thunderbolt for Tantric cultivation and formed a unique doctrinal theory and a special meditational method.

As the Joyul sect's teachings originated from the Great, Middle and Small Prajna-Paramita-sutras and the Samudaya (Origination) Sutra, Macik Labdron called her teachings "the Grand Meditation on the Mean." She believed that all things exist in the nature of the mind. If one could understand the nature of the mind, one would be able to understand the nature of all things, and this is "the Grand Meditation on the Mean." The most distinct characteristic features of the Joyul sect lay in its teachings and rituals.

The Joyul sect believes its teachings are the cream of all Buddhist teachings, the merging of the exoteric and esoteric Buddhist doctrines; "the wonderful way of expelling all evils, the sword that cut off the Atmagraha (holding to the concept of the ego), and the magic medicine that could cure 404 diseases." The achievements would be gained in the present life, instead of in the next life. That is, to attain buddhahood in the present body; or attain enlightenment in this life, the body has to become consciously Buddha by Yoga practices.5

Joyul's way of treating all things of the world was different from other sects. Joyul sect held that people paid too much attention to pleasure, comforts, fame, interest, power, influence, and high position. It held that people always treated unfriendly beings, including hungry ghosts and "not-men" who caused harm to them, with wrathful incantations to drive them away, because they could not understand correctly the concept of holding to ego. Joyul followers treated all demons, i.e. unfriendly men and "not-men" differently. They brought them into submission with the power of mercy and sympathy.

Joyul sect pursued offerings, sacrifices and giving alms. Joyul followers made offerings of whatever nourishes to all, ranging from the Three Treasures(Buddha, Dharma and Monks) to the six kinds of living beings (the hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, asuras, men, and devas), particularly the men and women who suffered misfortunes, the hungry ghosts and not-men. Joyul followers had a special way of offering sacrifice. They contemplated in meditation their body as a sacrifice of "food" to hungry ghosts and not-men, so as to get rid of the concept of holding to ego. They thought, through bringing hungry ghosts and not-men under control with mercy and sympathy they could attain supreme bodhi.

To Joyul sect, doing meritorious works to bless and give joy to living beings was very important. If one does meritorious works for other people, he will achieve much merit. If one has a good command of Prajna-paramita Sutra and does good things to sentient beings, he will achieve boundless merits. A large "notman" could harm many formed and formless sentient beings, so to bless and give joy to a very evil and powerful formless not-man will achieve more merits than to bless and give joy to a hundred formed sentient beings. In doing so one can bring under control all demons and protect sentient beings from being harmed. So Joyul sect advocated to cultivate a compassionate mind and by this to eliminate all suffering in the world.

Joyul sect's view on illness and death is also distinctive and unique. It holds that the most important thing to a person is to know what death is. We should know it is a fact that after death one cannot take away any of the rich materials of the world. If one cuts off the idea of holding to ego, he will not have a longing for the things of the world, nor his body or life, and therefore he should offer all he has to those who want it. So the way to cure disease ultimately is to cultivate "inner quiescence" in a state of non-ego for driving away the devil of disease.

The followers of the Joyul sect were indifferent to fame, wealth and power. Macik Labdron said: "We do not consider body as the foundation of comforts, fame, wealth and power. Instead we consider it as something for blessing and giving joy to other people, as sacrifice given to sentient beings and for undertakings beneficial to all the living. Without caring for our own interests, we always have the bodhi mind of compassion and sympathy in order to achieve dhyana. This is the 'Right and Correct Joyul Sect', or called 'Great Vehicle Dharma' or 'the Great Way of Bodhisattva', or 'the Source of All the Great Achievements', or 'the Source of All Sambodhi'. All these teachings can liberate all living beings from the world, and therefore my Great Mudra teaching is the sun of Great Vehicle teachings, which can drive away the darkness of the world."6

Joyul sect held that it had the following characteristics:

1. All those who have received complete or incomplete commandments could become Yogins and Yoginis of the Joyul sect.

2. Yogins and Yoginis of the Joyul sect could cultivate themselves individually or in groups.

3. The teachings of Joyul sect could be followed independently or together with other sects' teachings.

4. Joyul's teachings could be learned by all followers who were different in intelligence

5. No matter how much one learned of Joyul's teachings it would be beneficial; if one learned much, they would give him boundless virtues and if not so much they would give him boundless virtues and if not so much they would still benefit him and other people.

6. All the followers who have a good command of Joyul's teachings, whether high or low in position, would be greater than others in supernatural power.

Master Thukwan Chokyi Nyima, eminent monk of Geluk sect of Tibetan Buddhism, describe her in a beautiful poem as follows:

She did not have any illusion and discrimination.

To save all those who are influenced by the Buddha she played with supernatural power,

Showing her boundless changes according to the response of the saved, and

Giving supreme siddhi (magic power attained through samadhi) to the saved.

Following her well-known father-like teacher Dampa Sangye,

With the essence of Prajna-paramita and

The most important teachings of Father Tantra and Mother Tantra,

She propagated to the people of Snow-land

The key achievements of all the siddhas.

She collected the cream of all laws,

Which was way to put an end to the misery and trouble of all living beings.

All wise men praised her.

Following the style of Atisha,

She cultivated in the light of the supreme teachings.

Teachings of Joyul sect of Mother Macik Labdron,

Oh, how wonderful they were,

They were essence of Mahayana teachings.

Many religious sects listen to Joyul's voice in propagating Shichepa.

The voice is as beautiful as that of Cuckoo,

Seving as a blessing song to your ear.

It should be noted here that Master Thukwan Chokyi Nyima regarded Joyul sect as a branch of Shichepa. This showed that all sects of Tibetan Buddhism paid much attention to Joyul sect. So, teachings of Joyul sect were accepted and propagated by other sects of Tibetan Buddhism and were transmitted down from generation to generation. Today Joyul sect is still adhered to by many monastic and lay followers of Tibetan Buddhism. It enjoys wide spread popularity in Tibetan-inhabited areas.


1. Gampa, Biography of Macik Labdron, Tibetan version, Qinghai People's Publishing House, November,1992,pp.237-274.

2. Ibid.p.306.

3. Jonang Tara Nata, Annals of Tsang, Tibetan version, Lhasa, Tibetan People's Publishing House,1983,p.65.

4. This is a special Joyul tantric practice, called "sacrifice one's body for worshiping the Buddha".

5. Macik Labdron, The Joyul Prajnaparamita Secret Teaching, Tibetan handwritten copy, p.10.

6. Macik Labdron, The Joyul Prajnaparamita Secret Teaching, Tibetan handwritten copy, p.50.

From: China Tibetology
By: Dekyi Drolma

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