Sera Khandro: A Reader's Guide

Sera KhandroSera Khandro (1892 - 1940), also known as Kunzang Dekyong Wagmo,  was one of the great masters of the early 20th century and the English speaking world is fortunate now that both her story and her writings have been emerging more and more over the past few years.

Her story is at once fascinating, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting.

Tulku Thondup Rinpoche, in his remarkable Incarnation: The History and Mysticism of the Tulku Tradition of Tibet gives a superb overview:

"This great yogini was known as a tulku of Yeshe Tsogyal, the consort of Guru Rinpoche and many others. She is an exemplar, similar to many tulkus who pursued the missions of their incarnation from childhood, even when it seemed almost impossible to succeed. Throughout her childhood and teenage years, and even into adulthood, she received transmissions and prophesies in many pure visions of wisdom dakinis and adepts. Sera Khandro Dewe Dorje was born as a beautiful princess in a rich and influential noble family in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. While she was still in her early teens, her father arranged her future marriage. The princess strongly wished to dedicate her life fully to Dharma, and she vehemently opposed the marriage arrangement. Finally, after attempting to commit suicide, she successfully undid the arranged engagement. One day, a group of rugged nomad pilgrims from Golok province arrived in Lhasa, after many months on the harsh trail. By chance, they camped on the compound of Sera Khandro Dewe Dorje’s family palace. Through a window, the young princess looked down on the compound and glimpsed Tulku Drime Ozer (1881–1924), the leader of the pilgrims. She instantly felt an immense devotion to the tulku, and from that point forward, he became the innate symbol of her spiritual direction.

"Before long, the time came for the pilgrims to return to their home. The fourteen year old princess renounced her possessions and made a dangerous escape in order follow the pilgrims. From that day forth, Sera Khandro Dewe Dorje’s life changed drastically. She had to learn how to beg for food to survive. Her fancy clothes gave her little protection when crossing the harsh terrain of the high northern plateaus of Tibet. And her fancy, flimsy shoes gave up on her. The young princess had to keep up with the caravan by walking and running barefoot month after month with little or sometimes no food. Because of their ignorance and prejudice, no pilgrim would extend any support or protection to the princess. She hardly had any opportunity to exchange words with the tulku, as he was always strictly guarded. But she used all of these difficult circumstances to invigorate her spiritual dedication.

"The party finally reached their home in Golok, and even there Sera Khandro Dewe Dorje endured harsh treatment from wild and jealous nomads. For over a decade she survived by taking on the lowly job of caring for the animals of nomad families. Despite these hardships, she didn’t once consider returning to the luxuries of her home in Lhasa. And during this time, she continuously received transmissions and prophesies in pure visions, enjoying the highest spiritual ecstasies with total dedication to serving the dharma and the lineage of Guru Rinpoche — the sole mission of her reincarnation.

"At the age of thirty, Sera Khandro Dewe Dorje became the consort of Tulku Drime Ozer. For the last few years of Tulku Drime’s life, the two of them discovered many ters (the mystical revelations of esoteric teachings) together. Sera Khandro Dewe Dorje also wrote a number of scholarly texts and became a highly respected teacher of esoteric Dharma, with many mystic followers."

Tulku Drime Ozer was the son of Dudjom Lingpa (and brother of the third Dodrubchen Rinpoche) and his tulku was Thinley Norbu Rinpoche.

Tulku Thondup also discusses Sera Khandro in several places in his classic Masters of Meditation and Miracles.

Sera KhandroThe most comprehensive treatment of Sera Khandro to date is Sarah Jacoby's Love and Liberation: Autobiographical Writings of the Tibetan Buddhist Visionary Sera Khandro.  This is an academic work, though of great value for anyone interested in this amazing master's life and work.

An excerpt from Love and Liberation can be found on the Yogini Project website.  

For a concise biography see the entry at the Treasury of Lives.

She is also discussed in Wisdom Nectar: Dudjom Rinpoche's Heart Advice  and The Light of Fearless Indestructible Wisdom: The Life and Legacy of HH Dudjom Rinpoche.

Sera Khandro's Works

The most significant full work of Sera Khandro's in English is Refining Our Perception of Reality: Sera Khandro's Commentary on Dudjom Lingpa's Account of His Visionary Journey.

This book contains four Tibetan texts in translation. First, The Excellent Path to Liberation explains how to give our attention to the teachings, and how to ground our spiritual practice in harmonious relationships with others and the world at large.

Second, Dudjom Lingpa’s account of his visionary journey, Nangjang, Enlightenment without Meditation, translated elsewhere as Buddhahood without Meditation, teaches by example that as practitioners we should ask ourselves sincere questions concerning our perception of reality, and that we should not be content with superficial answers.

In the third text, Sera Khandro presents Dudjom Lingpa’s work within two frameworks. She first clarifies the view on which the spiritual path is founded, the path of meditation; the ensuing conduct that reflects and enriches meditative experience; and the path’s result—awakening and enlightenment. Next she illuminates the subtleties of the great perfection view, the four tantric bonds: nonexistence, a single nature, pervasive insubstantial evenness, and spontaneous presence.

This volume also includes a significant fourth text: a short autobiography of Sera Khandro, translated by Chatral Rinpoché’s disciple-translator Christina Monson.

Please note that Chatral Rinpoche requested that people only read this book if they have completed ngondro, the preliminary practices, of any Vajrayana tradition.  To try to maintain visibility of this requirement, this volume is only available from shambhala.com.

Termas

Sera Khandro's termas are included in four volumes, only a portion of which have been translated into English.

One of the termas she discovered was The Immaculate White Lotus: The Life of the Master from Oddiyana by Dorjé Tso, one of Guru Rinpoche's consorts who Sera Khandro is considered an incarnation of This come from the treasure cycle called The Dakini’s Secret Treasury of the Nature of Reality that was concealed by Guru Rinpoche.  It is ten short chapters that fill 17 pages in English.

This appears in Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, a collection of biographies of Padmasambhava.

Note that the translator of this book referred to  her birth year was 1899 and the discovery of this text as 1927 (she wrote she discovered it when she was 27), but the consensus now puts her birth year at 1892.  So this was likely discovered around 1920.

This treasure is still popular in eastern Tibet, where she spent most of her life.

Additional Resources

For additional works available in English, see her page on Lotsawa House.

Christina Monson translated some additional material including The Excellent Path of Devotion: An Abridged Story of a Mendicant's Experiences in Response to Questions by Vajra Kin that was privately published and may prove tricky to find.

For her works in Tibetan, see the TBRC site, currently listing 19 works.

Sera Khandro's Legacy

Sera Khandro's legacy remains firm today.  There are several teachers who hold the lineage.

Kyabje Chatral Rinpoche was the main conduit to our generation. He received the lineage directly from her.  He passed it on, to among others, to his daughter, Saraswati (pictures, far right), who is considered to be the incarnation of Sera Khandro.  Saraswati has undergone extensive training under her late father’s guidance.

Chatral Rinpoche also passed on  pith instructions from Sera Khandro's guru sadhanas, Dzogchen practices, and Chenrezig sadhanas she revealed to Dudjom Rinpoche as is recounted in The Light of Fearless Indestructible Wisdom: The Life and Legacy of HH Dudjom Rinpoche.

Sera Khandro Lineage

From Chatral Rinpoche's Compassionate Action. Note, the dates are no longer considered correct.

Sera Khandro comes up repeatedly in Holly Gayley's account of the 20th century terton couple in Inseparable Across Lifetimes: The Lives and Love Letters of the Tibetan Visionaries Namtrul Rinpocheand Khandro Tare Lhamo.  Khandro Tare Lhamo is considered an emanation of Sera Khandro (recognized as such by Dudjom Rinpoche, among others) and there are aspects of her life that mirror Sera Khandro's.  For those interested in Sera Khandro, this account is essential as it demonstrates her legacy in eastern Tibet, as well as show all the connections to the present day, in particular through the Dudjom lineage.

Namtrul and Khandro Tare Lhamo

Namtrul Rinpoche and Khandro Tare Lhamo, an incarnation of Sera Khandro