Machig Labdrön

Tib., ma gcig lab sgron: Sole Mother Lamp (of Dharma)
1031-1129 or 1055-1143

Machig Labdrön is a famous female adept who finalized the teachings and set up the lineage known as Chö or Chöd (cutting through the clinging to ego). As such, she is one of the women who deeply influenced the development of Vajrayana; and it is through her that a number of the most ancient shamanic practices have passed into some of the Tibetan schools.

Machig Labdrön had to leave her hometown La-phyi (Tibet) after her ‘scandalous’ cohabitation with Lama Thod-pa Bhadra (Tib., thod-pa, skull cup) at Grwa-thang monastery, by whom she had one daughter and two sons. The founder of this monastery, the terton Grwa-pa (1012-90), had been her first teacher.

However, her most important teacher was to be Phadampa Sangye (1045-1117), the "official" founder of the Chöd tradition, who taught her his specific manner of attaining mahamudra.

At some point, he told her to go to the charnel grounds and to the mountains, to leave studying behind and to become a wandering yogini.

She followed his advice, left her family and went to live in caves and among the outcasts of society. Later, Machig Labdrön also formed a specifically female branch (mo-gCod) of Chöd, and her teachings are still alive in this century.

Machig Lapdrön is generally believed to be an incarnation of Yeshe Tsogyal, yet sometimes of other historical figures. Legend has it that she received direct attention and initiation from the goddesses Mahamaya, Tara and Prajnaparamita.

One of her more recent lineage-holders was A-Yu Khadro (1837-1952!), who lived and taught in both Tibet and Nepal. Today, this tradition is represented in the West by Chödrön Namkhai Norbu.

A detailed biography of Machig Lapdrön can be found in Tsultrim Allione's Women of Wisdom.

Note
Apart from the Labdrön here used, one also finds the following spellings and transliterations, although all refer to the same woman:
Machik Lapkyi Drönma (ma gcig lab kyi sgron ma), Machig Lapdrönme (ma gcig lab sgron ma), Machik Labdron (ma gcig lab sgron), Maji Lab Dran (ma gcig lab sgron).
Last not least, the version ma-gcig la-phyi sgron-ma refers to her place of birth, La-phyi in Tsang (Tibet).