As followers of Buddha Shakyamuni, we make the journey to Bodh Gaya. As followers of Guru Padmasambhava, we go on pilgrimage to the caves of Asura and Yangleshö. So vast was Guru Rinpoche’s attainment here that masters such as Kathok Rikzin Tsewang Norbu (1698–1755) have emphasized that these caves are as important as Bodh Gaya for practitioners of the Vajrayāna. This extraordinary place, the single most sacred site connected with Guru Padmasambhava outside the land of Tibet, lies just beyond the Kathmandu Valley’s southern rim, not far from the village of Pharping. For centuries, devotees have traveled to the two main caves here to offer homage at the site of Guru Rinpoche’s attainment of the siddhi of Mahamudra.
Guru Rinpoche engaged in intensive retreat on two of the eight Kagyé deities (Yangdak Heruka and Vajrakilaya) in two distinct caves. The Lower Cave of Yangleshö, or simply Yangleshö, is located just below the village of Pharping. Asura Cave, or the Upper Cave of Yangleshö, is poised in the thick of a forest on the hill immediately behind Pharping. Guru Rinpoche began his retreat focusing on the deity Yangdak Heruka, a wrathful form of Buddha’s wisdom heart, while at the lower cave of Yangleshö. Later at the Asura Cave, he combined Yangdak Heruka with the practice of Vajrakilaya, a deity associated with the Buddha’s enlightened activity and renowned for the removal of obstacles to awakening.
Subsequently, Guru Rinpoche compiled, revised, and systematized the Vajrakilaya teachings. As the result of his exceptional scholarly efforts, the Barché Lamsel prayer praises the Mahaguru as the Pandita of Yangleshö, and invokes him as Guru Mawé Sengé, Guru Rinpoche indivisible from the Buddha of Wisdom, Manjushri.1Asura Cave & Yangleshö: The Place of Awakening