Spiritual consort

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Spiritual consort (Tib. sangyum, Wyl. gsang yum) refers to the partner or wife of a lama or tulku. It literally means ’secret consort’.

Tertöns in particular are said to require a spiritual consort who is considered to be an indispensable aid to the discovery and decipherment of termas. In fact, if they do not find the right consort to support them, their discovery might become impossible, difficult, or even threaten the life of the tertön, as was the case with Pema Ledreltsal who died soon after the discovery of his terma because he did not meet the right consort.

Sometimes for the discovery of several major termas by the same tertön, the support of different consorts is required because of their specific aspirations at the time of concealment of the termas. If the particular consort can not be present then an object, such as an ornament, a piece of clothing, or strands of hair, for example, from the consort can be used as a substitute. Because of the nature of interdependence the substituted object could then be the support for the discovery, decoding and propagation of the terma.

A spiritual consort would also at times be recommended in order to rejuvenate and prolong the life-span of the male practitioner, or remove obstacles in his life, especially his health, and to promote his enlightened activities. This was the case with Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö who took as his spiritual consort Khandro Tsering Chödrön.

There are also instances where female practitioners have taken a male spiritual consort as in the case of Yeshe Tsogyal who took Acharya Salé as her spiritual consort.

Further Reading

  • Tulku Thondup, Hidden Teachings of Tibet, edited by Harold Talbott (Boston: Wisdom, reprint edition 1997), pages 82-83.

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