Pema Tötreng Tsal

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Pema Tötreng Tsal (Tib. པད་མ་ཐོད་ཕྲེང་རྩལ་, Wyl. pad ma thod phreng rtsal), 'Powerful Lotus of the Garland of Skulls', as Khenpo Chemchok explains, "is the secret name of Guru Rinpoche". So, he adds, "when we call him by this name he cannot help but respond quickly."[1]

Guru Rinpoche came to be known as Pema Tötreng Tsal after he arose unharmed from a pyre, where the people of Oddiyana tried to burn him alive with his consort. He transformed the fire into a lake, and was found sitting in a lotus flower at the center of the lake, wearing a garland of skulls to symbolize his activity of liberating all sentient beings from samsara.[2]

Alternatively it is explained:

According to Guru Rinpoche’s life story, after he left Tibet he went to the land of the rakshasas to subjugate them. It was here that he manifested as the powerful, wrathful vidyadhara, the subjugator of the rakshasas, Pema Tötreng Tsal, which means ‘Radiant Garland of Skulls’. He’s called Pema Tötreng Tsal because he wears as an ornament a necklace of fifty-one skulls symbolizing the pure essence of the fifty-one mental formations. The rakshasas are wild, untameable beings, rather like Western people, so when we invoke Pema Tötreng Tsal, we are invoking the aspect of Guru Rinpoche we need most at this time, the aspect that has the power to subjugate the wild ‘rakshasa quality’ prevalent among so many of us today.[3]


  1. Khenpo Chemchok, The Words of the Vidyadhara which Bestow the Majesty of Great Bliss
  2. Based on Jamgön Kongtrul's biography of the 108 main tertöns found in the Rinchen Terdzö.
  3. A Guide to Vajrayana Practice for the Rigpa Sangha (Lodeve: The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2006), 'Section 3. Riwo Sangchö', page 17, note 14.