Venerable Chöje Lama Phuntsok


Presented at Karma Theksum Tashi Chöling, Hamburg, in October 2011.

This article of teachings that Venerable Chöje Lama Phuntsok generously imparted
is dedicated in memory of His Eminence the Third Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche,
Karma Lodrö Chökyi Senge (1954-1992),
to the long life of His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Lodrö Chökyi Nyima,
His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje,
all prestigious Khenpos and Lamas of the Karma Kagyü Lineage, and
to the preservation of the pure Lineage of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye.

*     *     *

Namgyälma is a yidam deity. She is never separate from and is always together with Tsepame and White Tara. Namgyälma’s full name is gTsug-tor-rnam-par-rnam-gyäl-ma in Tibetan, Ushnisavijaya in Sanskrit. Tsepame is spelled Tshe-dpag-med in Tibetan and is Amitayus in Sanskrit. White Tara is sGrol-ma-lha-mo in Tibetan. All three yidams are deities for long life (tshe-ring in Tibetan).

Nobody has power over their life-span. Some people have a long life, and others have a short life. What is a life? When the body and the mind are together. What does it mean to have a long or a short life? When ones body and mind are strong, one has a long life. When they are weak, one has a short life. That is how we generally see it. But it does happen that a strong person has obstacles, in which case his or her energy force (tshe-dbang) is influenced and thus diminishes. When it is lost due to an obstacle, a person has a premature death. It is necessary to dispel obstacles when they arise, and it would be very beneficial to do so.

There are people who seldom get sick because they are healthy and therefore they can engage in daily activities with ease. But there are strong and healthy people who encounter an obstacle through an accident and die in a car crash, for example. There are also people who get sick very often but live a long life. Most people who don’t get sick think that they will live long. Only few people who never get sick are fully aware of the fact that they will die. People who aren’t aware of this fact also die. People usually think, “I am healthy. I’m not sick. So why should I die?” The thought that they will die never occurs to them.

Even if one is young and healthy, one will die one day or obstacles might arise that cause an earlier death. Older people are more apt to be aware of the fact that they will die soon and many of them get scared. Since every one who was born dies, being frightened of death is useless. In short, every one has a specific life force that enables that individual to have a certain life-span. Come what may, it is our responsibility to eliminate obstacles that impede us from living a long life.

Through the skilful means that are enlightened activities of great compassion, an awakened Buddha, like Buddha Shakyamuni, can help us live up to our responsibility to remove obstacles and live a long life. An awakened being who can help us is called “a deity.” Medicine Buddha, for example, is an enlightened specialist who can best help beings become free of sicknesses and suffering. Likewise, Namgyälma is an enlightened specialist who can best help beings become free of obstacles that cause a premature death. Depending upon the needs, disciples meditate a specific enlightened specialist who is called “yidam.” A yidam (spelled yi-dam inTibetan) is a tutelary deity that forms the main object of ones meditation.

Buddha Amitayus, Tsepame in Tibetan, is the main yidam deity that enables practitioners to live a long life. In order to fulfil the varying needs of disciples, Tsepame has two helpers who can be meditated on for more specific purposes. As mentioned, these two helpers are Namgyälma and White Tara.

Tsepame appears as a male deity, and Namgyälma and White Tara appear as female deities. In Buddhism, specifically in Vajrayana Buddhism, it doesn’t matter if a deity is male or female. Why? Because there is no difference at this level. Deities simply are in a male or female form. Male appearances of a yidam represent skilful means, thabs. Female appearances of a yidam represent wisdom, shes-rab. We need to integrate the practices of both skilful means and wisdom to accomplish the final result, which is perfect enlightenment. If we do not do this, we will not be able to surmount limitations and restrictions that everyone encounters and has.  

In Vajrayana, there are deities in yab-yum, i.e., male deities in union with their female consorts. This has nothing to do with worldly ways, rather, it is the unity of skilful means and wisdom. One can have strange thoughts if one sees pictures or statues of these Vajrayana deities and doesn’t know what they mean. So, it is good to know. Looking at Namgyälma, she is the emanation of wisdom, shes-rab. Since she is never separate from Tsepame, her essence is skilful means, thabs.

To know what meditating Namgyälma means, we need to understand the four sections of tantra (rgyüd, ‘continuity’). The practice of Namgyälma belongs to the first section, which is kriya tantra (spyöd-rgyüd). The other three sections are charya tantra (bya-rgyüd), yoga tantra (rnäl-‘byor-rgyüd), and annuttara yoga tantra (bla-med-‘byor-rgyüd). The four sections of tantra are quite a vast field. The practice of Tsepame and White Tara belong to annuttara yoga tantra, which is also called “maha yoga.” Since different skilful methods are needed for the many different types of disciples who want to tame their mind, there are these four sections of tantra (rgyüd-sde-bzhi). It would be good to know about them, so let me explain.

During the times of Buddha Shakyamuni, 2500 years ago, there were four different groups of people in India. They were divided into castes. The highest group in society were the priests, the brahmans (bram-ze in Tibetan). Directly below the brahmans were the second highest group in society, the ksatryia (rgyäl-rigs). They were members of the royal family and were rich and stately. The third group was the vaisya (rig’u-rigs). They were the merchants and tradesmen. The fourth group of people were the working folks and they were looked upon as belonging to the lowest sudra caste (dmangs-rigs).

Hinduism was the only religion in India at the time of Buddha Shakyamuni. There was no other group of Hindus who were higher than the brahmans. This caused them to be very proud of themselves and they thought, “We are the best and the cleanest in the whole land.” To remedy their pride, Lord Buddha taught the skilful methods of kriya tantra. To tame the minds of individuals belonging to the ksatriya and vaisya castes, Lord Buddha taught the charya and yoga tantras. Most citizens belonged to the sudra caste. They were people who had different jobs, lived different lives, and were, of course, very poor. To help them tame their mind, the Buddha taught the fourth and highest section of tantra, the annuttara tantra, which is also called “mahayoga.” The yab-yum deities belong to this highest section of tantra.

Everybody can reflect and think about which class in society they belong to. Maybe we think, “My way of thinking is more like that of the brahmans.” Or, “I am of the rich, powerful, and beautiful class of individuals in my society who are very influential. I belong to the royal class.” Or, “I am a worker and am common.” Is there anybody here who thinks they belong to the priestly caste? It would be very good for you to engage in practices of kriya tantra. Is there anybody here who thinks they belong to the royal and influential group of citizens in their society? If you want to deal with your negative states of mind and tame your mind, it would be good to engage in practices of the second kind, charya tantra. Is there anybody here who thinks they belong to the merchant caste? You should resort to the practices of yoga tantra. Is there anybody here who thinks they belong to the lowest class in society? You should engage in the practices of highest yoga tantra.

Looking at the mentality of those persons who thought they belonged to the brahman caste, they thought, “I am the greatest. Only the cleanest and the best are good enough for me. I don’t waste my time doing things that ordinary folks do.” They were very concerned about cleanliness and rejected anything that they thought was dirty. Therefore they didn’t drink alcohol and didn’t eat meat, garlic, and onions that poor people relied upon for their meals. Brahmans only ate food or drank liquids that they thought were clean and pure, like milk, especially cow milk. This is one reason the cow was seen as pure. It was declared to be holy, which is why it was thought that eating beef meant consuming the body of a divinity. That was the way brahmans thought, which is still the case for brahmans living in Nepal. There are still many people in modern societies who think that common people are impure, refuse to associate or have anything to do with them, and don’t even allow them to enter their kitchen. Should anyone they consider impure visit them, they have to eat outside; even the dishes they ate from are washed outside. Westerners do not think like this, or? Has the cow been declared holy in your country because of its milk? Westerners don’t have a second thought about eating beef. In any case, this is how it was in India during the times of Buddha Shakyamuni and it is the reason he taught the practices of the first section of tantra. The Buddha taught highest tantra for the benefit of common people who ate meat and drank alcohol. The deities of highest tantra also appear in yab-yum, in union with their consort. When seeing images of these deities, it is important to know that they belong to highest yoga tantra.

Now that you understand which mentality is addressed in the different sections of tantra, you can better choose which practice would be best for you. For example, Japanese and Korean Mahayana Buddhists mainly engage in the practices of the first two tantras. Mahayana Buddhists from Mainland China practice the first tantra. Mahayoga tantra was and is the main practice of Tibetans. Buddhists living in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Burma, etc. practice neither mahayana nor vajrayana, but engage in the practices as taught in the theravada tradition of hinayana. To find out which practice is best, it is important to know that Buddhism is not just one set of practices and to know how Buddhists living in other parts of the world think and act. Many doubts and questions arise if one isn’t informed about the differences. In short, it is best to practice a yidam that accords with ones wishes and needs and with whom one has a close connection. If one meditates on a yidam that doesn’t harmonize with ones character, then the benefit is minimal.

Namgyälma is a female deity of kriya yoga. She belongs to the group of deities that are practiced to have a long life. Her specific attribute is to remove obstacles that shorten ones life-span. Nyungne (smyung-gnäs) is also a practice of kriya yoga. It is the practice of fasting while focused on the Buddha of Compassion in his eleven-faced and thousand-armed form.
Student: “Is Green Tara practice also kriya yoga tantra?”
Chöje Lama: There are Green Tara practices on all four levels of tantra.
Next question: “Is Medicine Buddha, kriya yoga or mahayoga?”
Chöje Lama: There are also practices of Medicine Buddha on all four levels of tantra. There are also practices of Buddha Amitabha on all four levels.

Next question: “Does it make sense for me to meditate Namgyälma if I’m meditating Medicine Buddha?”
Chöje Lama: One accumulates merit by meditating on Medicine Buddha. One experiences to which level one has progressed and realizes when one has perfected the practice.
Another student: “The yidam is the same. The tantric level depends upon ones attitude.”
Translator: “This means one can practice on the highest level.”
Student: “If you haven’t advanced as far and are still practicing dualistically ...”
Translator: “In the teachings on Medicine Buddha that are being taught this weekend, we heard that he belongs to the highest tantric level. If one practices on the kriya tantra level, then it is a kriya tantra practice. If one is like a brahman who rejects anything that is dirty, then, although one is practicing a yidam of highest yoga, one is actually on the first tantric level.”

Next question: “Would Rinpoche explain when it is correct to practice a yab-yum deity and the difference to practicing Medicine Buddha of highest yoga tantra that is not yab-yum?”
Chöje Lama: As you said, Medicine Buddha of highest tantra does not appear in yab-yum. The difference is that the outer appearance symbolizes the unity of wisdom and skilful means.
Same student: “My question is whether the practice of a yab-yum deity is the same or is different?”
Chöje Lama: You should do whatever is best for you. If you think a yab-yum deity is best for you, choose one to meditate on. For example, if one wishes to meditate the Six Yogas of Naropa, then it would be important to meditate Vajrayogini. One isn’t inclined to meditate the Six Yogas of Naropa when one meditates Medicine Buddha. Vajrayogini is not in yab-yum but only appears as a female deity. The staff (khatvanga) that she carries represents her male consort. Guru Rinpoche is also depicted with a khatvanga, which represents his female consort. Since the consort is present in another form in some practices, it isn’t always necessary to choose a yidam that appears in yab-yum.

Next question: “Can one practice Green Tara and Medicine Buddha or does one have to choose between the two?”
Chöje Lama: You can do both. When one is hungry, one can eat more than just bread. This means, there is no reason not to eat rice just because one has bread.

Next question: “I have a question about Namgyälma. Is she connected with Buddha Amitabha?”
Chöje Lama: He is the papa -- that was just a joke. Buddha Amitabha (‘Öd-dpag-med-pa, ‘Measureless Light’) is the dharmakaya aspect of Tsepame, who is his sambhogakaya emanation. Dharmakaya (chös-sku, ‘truth body’) is the first of the three perfect bodies of a buddha. Sambhogakaya (long-spyöd-rdzog-pa’i-sku, ‘the body of perfect enjoyment’) is the aspect of a buddha that appears to advanced practitioners. Namgyälma is a female nirmanakaya (sprul-pa’i-sku), which is the aspect of a buddha that appears to ordinary beings. The essence of Tsepame and Namgyälma is the same as the essence of Buddha Amitabha. That is why I joked that he is the papa.

Next question: “Is Tseringma also a female goddess?”
Chöje Lama: Tseringma is a name that means ‘long life.’ Are you mentioning her because of her name?
Same student: “Is Tseringma a yidam deity?”
Chöje Lama: Tseringma you are referring to is not a yidam meditation deity. She is a protector.
Next question: “Will you explain Namgyälma’s attributes later?”
Chöje Lama: We can do it now.

Namgyälma has eight arms and holds different implements in each hand. Her hands and the implements symbolize her enlightened activities that benefit others. The four arms on each side show that she accomplishes four activities in helping others. The four activities (läs-bzhi) are: pacifying, increasing, magnetizing, and subjugating. Namgyälma holds a double-vajra in her upper right hand and a lasso in her upper left hand; both are held to her chest. She has her second right hand in the mudra of generosity and holds a vase in her second left hand, which is in the meditation position. She holds an arrow in her third right hand and a bow in her third left hand. She holds an image of Buddha Öpame in her fourth right hand. Her fourth left hand is placed in the mudra of protection.

Looking at the meaning of the implements and the gesture of the right hands, the double vajra is the very symbol of enlightened activities. We saw that Buddha Öpame is the dharmakaya aspect of a perfect buddha, Tsepame is the sambhogakaya aspect of a perfect buddha, and Namgyälma is the nirmanakaya aspect of a fully accomplished buddha. This is shown by the image of Öpame. The arrow symbolizes shes-rab, ‘wisdom.’ The gesture of generosity shows that Namgyälma gives everyone what they need. Looking at the left hands, the lasso symbolizes snying-rje, ‘compassion.’ The gesture of protection symbolizes thabs, ‘skillful means.’ The bow symbolizes being a protective refuge for all living beings. The nectar that is in the vase symbolizes medicine that dispels the suffering and pain of all living beings.

Namgyälma has three faces. Her middle face is white in color, her right face is red, and her left face is blue. Her white face expresses that she is neither peaceful nor wrathful but is fully balanced. The expression on her white face means that she removes all obstacles that endanger the life-span of sentient beings. Her red face that faces to her right side symbolizes her pacifying activities. Her blue face that faces to her left side symbolizes her subjugating activities. Namgyälma has three faces because she deals with a great variety of sentient beings. Some of them are in need of wrathful methods to relinquish obstacles and thus to tame their mind. Others need peaceful methods to help them tame their mind. Others do not need the one or the other but a state between the two, which is why Namgyälma has a smile on her middle face.
Question: “Why learn about Namgyälma if one has another practice?”
Chöje Lama: She is in the entourage of many deities, so it is good to know about her.


A Few Teachings during the Empowerment

Now I will impart the empowerment of Namgyälma. The first thing we do is to offer a gtor-ma. Torma is called “baling” in Sanskrit and means ‘food offering.’

Making a torma that has a specific form is a Tibetan tradition. Since there wasn’t a large variety of food in Tibet, they used flour mixed with butter to make tormas. If it isn’t possible to make a torma, one can offer cookies or something edible, which is just like a torma and serves the same purpose. Because we know that it is necessary to remove obstacles to our practice of Dharma, we offer a torma or food. To whom do we offer a torma? We offer it to obstacle-makers, which can be evil spirits or malevolent demons. We imagine that after having accepted our torma, they leave.

By making an offering of the visualized universe, called “mandala offering,” disciples request the Lama, who is inseparable with Namgyälma, to allow them to receive the empowerment.

The empowerment consists of five parts. They are the empowerments of body, speech, mind, qualities, and enlightened activities. The purpose of the first part, the body empowerment, is to be purified of all negative physical activities that one carried out with ones body and to receive Namgyälma’s blessing to become inseparable with her body. Her body is represented by the vase during the ritual. The purpose of the second part, the mantra empowerment, is to be purified of all negative speech that one spoke and to receive Namgyälma’s blessing to become inseparable with her speech. Her speech is represented by the mala during the ritual. The purpose of the third part, the mind empowerment, is to be purified of all negativities of the mind and to receive Namgyälma’s blessing to become inseparable with her mind. Her mind is represented by her picture. The fourth part, the empowerment of her qualities, is carried out to receive Namgyälma’s blessing to have the same qualities that she has. Her qualities are symbolized by the implements that she holds in her hands.

The purpose of the fifth empowerment is to receive Namgyälma’s blessing so that one can carry out the same enlightened activities that she does. Her enlightened activities are represented by five colors. They are seen by visualizing white light streaming from her forehead and dissolving into ones forehead; red light streaming from her throat and dissolving into ones throat; blue light streaming from her heart center and dissolving into ones heart center; yellow light streaming from her navel and dissolving into ones navel; and green light streaming from her secret center and dissolving into ones secret center.

By having dissolved into a disciple, each color removed a specific obstacle. The white light is merit that has enabled all sicknesses to be overcome and cured. The yellow light is merit that has enabled obstacles to ones life-span to be removed. The red light is merit that has enabled the energy force of ones life to be condensed. The green light is merit that has enabled all obstacle-makers, i.e., demons and evil spirits, to be removed. The blue light is merit that enables one to have all enlightened activities that Namgyälma has.

While touching the implements of the empowerment with folded  hands, the disciples pray to His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa by repeating “Karmapa khyenno.” Having received the five empowerments, disciples trust that they received Namgyälma’s blessings of body, speech, mind, qualities, and enlightened activities.

The Mantra and Practice

The commitment of the empowerment is to repeat the mantra 7 times a day. If one is meditating another yidam, it suffices to repeat the first three syllables of the mantra, which are OM DRUM SVAHA. If Namgyälma is ones main practice, one repeats the entire mantra. As said, like Tsepame, Namgyälma is a long-life yidam deity. If one meditates Namgyälma to remove obstacles that diminish ones energy force, then one should repeat the entire mantra. The mantra is:


/ Om Drum Svaha / Om Amrita Ayur Dade Svaha //

DRUM is Namgyälma’s seed syllable and represents her mind. It is white. AMRITA means ‘nectar,’ AYUR means ‘life,’ so AMRITA AYUR means “long-life nectar.”  If we want to live long, we have to take long-life nectar. Therefore the translation of the mantra is, “Namgyälma, please give me long-life nectar.” One calls her by speaking the short mantra, OM DRUM SVAHA. If one calls her and she appears, one has to tell her what one wants. Therefore one says, AMRITA AYUR. It’s like calling a waiter when in a restaurant and telling him what one wants to eat. So, OM DRUM SVAHA, “Namgyälma, please come.” OM AMRITA AYUR DADE SVAHA, “Please bring me long-life nectar.” It doesn’t really make sense to just call Namgyälma again and again by saying, OM DRUM SVAHA – OM DRUM SVAHA – OM DRUM SVAHA. So, one says the second part of the mantra, OM AMRITA AYUR DADE, when one speaks the first part of the mantra.
Student: “Does DADE mean life?”
Chöje Lama: You can think of it like that. Repeating the mantra is very beneficial, especially to remove obstacles that shorten ones life-span.

You have received the empowerment that permits you to meditate Namgyälma. Whether she becomes your main yidam practice or not, in any case, you should recite the mantra at least 7 times a day. Having received the empowerment, you promise to do what she says. You need a long life and don’t need obstacles, so you say, OM DRUM SVAHA, “Hello Namgyälma!” OM AMRITA AYUR DADE SVAHA, “Please give me long-life nectar.”

To thank Namgyälma for having received her empowerment, you offer her a mandala. Then you dedicate the merit of having received the empowerment for the well-being of everyone else and recite wishing prayers for them.

Let us repeat “Karmapa khyenno” to help eliminate any hindrances that obstruct His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa from coming to Europe.


Dedication Prayers

Through this goodness, may omniscience be attained
and thereby may every enemy (mental defilement) be overcome.
May beings be liberated from the ocean of samsara
that is troubled by waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death.

By this virtue may I quickly attain the state of Guru Buddha, and then
lead every being without exception to that very state!
May precious and supreme bodhicitta that has not been generated now be so,
and may precious bodhicitta that has already been never decline but continuously increase! 

May the life of the Glorious Lama remain steadfast and firm.
May peace and happiness fully arise for beings as limitless in number as space is vast in its extent.
Having accumulated merit and purified negativities, may I and all living beings, without exceptions,
swiftly establish the levels and grounds of buddhahood.

Closing Words

Organizer: “Speaking the famous last words, I would like to thank Venerable Chöje Lama Phuntsok for having offered very profound, strong, and loving teachings. Many participants told me that they benefitted immensely. I am also very happy to give you a donation for the water pump at Karma Lekshey Ling in Nepal. We want to thank Gyalpur for his untiring help, too, and Hannelore Wenderoth for her fabulous translation.”
Chöje Lama: Next to Kamalashila, the Dharma Center in Hamburg is one of the best in Germany, and I am very happy to have returned this year and to have seen how it has developed positively. You have everything you need -- a stupa in the garden, a resident Lama, and you practice together. This makes me very happy. Thank you very much, especially for being concerned about the water pump at Lekshey Ling. There are so many problems at the monastery -- the water problem, the electricity problem, the bad street, etc. Nothing functions without water, so the water problem is really a big problem. It is embarrassing for me to always have to ask for help for my monastery, but what should I do? It is my karmic duty. I fear that when I visit the next time, you might say, “Oh, here comes Lama Phuntsok with all his problems.” If I’m not careful, I will get the bad reputation of being a problem Lama. We really appreciate your help. Europe is a rich nation, and your donations have an immense effect in Nepal. The water pump has helped us greatly, so I want to thank you very much for your donation.

To help remove obstacles that impede His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa from coming to Europe, let us repeat “Karmapa khyenno” together.


Sincere gratitude to Julia Feichter from Hamburg for having made the recording of the teachings available to us. Photo of Chöje Lama Phuntsok taken by Bema Örser. Photo of Roses of Sharon taken by a friend and offered here. In reliance on the fabulous simultaneous translation from Tibetan into German that Hannelore Wenderoth kindly offered, the teachings were translated into English and the manuscript was arranged by Gaby Hollmann from Munich, who is responsible for any mistakes. Copyright Chöje Lama Phuntsok, Karma Lekshey Ling Institute, Nepal, and Karma Theksum Tashi Chöling, Hamburg, 2011.

May the precious Buddhadharma spread throughout the world and help everybody remove any obstacles that impede them from realizing the true nature of their mind!


©Karma Lekshey Ling Institute