Vajravarahi Caves in China
Vajrayogini is well known to have emanated within the Himalayan regions of Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia and even China. According to Buddha Shakyamuni, as years progressively become more distant from the time when the Buddha was alive, the “effectiveness” of the Tantras will diminish as the merits to uphold these teachings decrease. But for the Heruka and Vajrayogini tantras, it is the opposite. As we get further away from the time of the Buddha, our desires increase. Thus, the effectiveness of the Heruka and Vajrayogini tantras also increase as they use our desire as a tool to bring us to Enlightenment.
The Vajravarahi/Yogini Cave (Dorje Phagmo Cave) is located within the boundaries of Vajravarahi Hill (亥母山) in Liangzhou in Gansu Province, China. The origins of this cave dates back to the year 1004 AD. According to records, on the 25th day of the 1st lunar month, Vajravarahi reincarnated in human form together with her four other dakinis. These dakinis began to make tsog offerings and perform tantric rituals at the age of five in this sacred cave every 10th and 25th of the lunar month until they reached the age of eight. At that age, on the 25th day of the 12th lunar month, they ascended to Kechara Heaven.
Throughout the centuries, many high lamas of the Tibetan Buddhist order have visited this cave. For instance, in 1244, the great Tibetan sage, Sakya Pandita went to Liangzhou for a meeting with the officials of China and brought with him his younger sister, Drukpa Rangmo and his nephew, Chogyal Phagpa. At this sacred site of Vajravarahi, the entourage made extensive offerings and performed tsog. It was during this time that Drukpa Rangmo made a Dorje Phagmo statue from clay and enshrined the statue in this very cave. On another occasion, the 6th Dalai Lama on his way home from a pilgrimage to Wutaishan stayed in this cave for a long duration in retreat and prayer. To mark this occasion and also the sacred space of Vajravarahi, the 6th Dalai Lama erected a stupa made of clay in the cave.
A temple stands at the mouth of the cave, said to be one of the last temples built during the Western Xia or Tangut Empire. During this period, the Sutra and Tantra teachings of Lord Buddha were very much practiced and, according to Chinese sources, many practitioners would go to this cave to do extensive retreats on Vajravarahi. Today, a huge entrance marks the location of the cave and butterlamps are offered inside daily.
A group of Chinese devotees decided to take responsibility for this cave in 2004 and with the help of the Chinese government, rebuilt the temple complexes. Today, Chinese representations of Vajravarahi can be seen in this new temple. The central figure of Vajravarahi is wearing the royal clothes of a Chinese princess. This is a very special form of Vajravarahi as it is not found in any of her scriptures prior to this. Vajravarahi must have manifested in this manner in China to suit the people of that time and culture. Thus, it is clear that her lineage also has close ties to China and has become part of Chinese culture in this part of the Dragon Kingdom. The temple also has statues of five other dakinis which represent the five directions, each holding a damaru in their right hands. The wall mural behind these dakinis depicts the lineage masters and also Tibetan representations of Vajrayogini herself.
The Western Xia Empire
Western Xia, also known as the Tangut Empire is located in the northwestern Chinese provinces of Ningxia, Gansu, eastern Qinghai, northern Shaanxi, northeastern Xinjiang, southwest Inner Mongolia, and southernmost Outer Mongolia. As it is geographically part of the Silk Road, the country was very much influenced by Buddhism. Many of the cave murals are those of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas which are still preserved until today.
The Tibetans refer to the Tangut Empire as Minyak, which existed from 1038 to 1227. The entire empire is very advanced as it has received a lot of influence from earlier dynasties Tang and Ming. They have their own language and script which is similar to Chinese characters. As Buddhism is very widespread in Western Xia, the monks and monasteries had used 50 years to translate the entire Kangyur (words of the Buddha) from Sanskrit into the Tangut language. This is remarkable because it is about the same duration taken by the Tang Dynasty to translate the Kangyur into Chinese. The Tanguts did it with less resource with the same faith to the Three Jewels.
Buddhism practiced during that time was predominantly Chinese Mahayana with focus on the Vinaya. The monastic system was very strict with the government imposing strict rules according to the Vinaya. It was recorded that any religious master who was caught fortune-telling would be arrested as this was prohibited within the Vinaya.
Tangut Buddhism was strongly influenced by Tibetan Buddhism, especially from both the Kagyu and Sakya lineages. Like the Vajravarahi cave, there were many pilgrimage and retreat sites for predominantly Kagyu and Sakya practitioners. This is clearly written in texts on Tangut Buddhism. For instance, the book “Latter Days of the Law” states that murals of Heruka Chakrasamvara and Vajrayogini were present in the caves of Western Xia.
In summary, the people of Western Xia had the necessary foundation of Buddhist study and practice to be able to receive higher teachings such as Vajravarahi. Through their study and practice of the Tripitaka, and the stringent adherence to the Vinaya, they were in general fit vessels for higher trainings. To increase their faith in the deities and the lineage, Vajravarahi also emanated in this cave, a testament for those who would enter her path that it will lead them to inner and secret Kechara.
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