What is a Dakini?
A dakini (Sanskrit: डाकिनी ḍākinī; Standard Tibetan: མཁའ་འགྲོ་མ་ khandroma, Wylie: mkha’ ‘gro ma, TP: kanzhoima; Chinese: 空行母) is a tantric figure representing a female embodiment of enlightened energy. The Tibetan form of dakini, khandroma, translates as ‘she who traverses the sky’ or ‘she who moves in space’ or, more poetically, as ‘sky walker’ or ‘sky dancer’.
The dakini is so central to a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner attaining full enlightenment as a Buddha that she appears in a Vajrayana formulation of theThree Jewels Buddhist refuge formula, known as the Three Roots. Most commonly she appears as the dharma protector, alongside a guru and yidam, but Judith Simmer-Brown points out that:
The dakini, in her various guises, serves as each of the Three Roots. She may be a human guru, a vajra master who transmits the Vajrayana teachings to her disciples and joins them in samaya commitments. The wisdom dakini may be a yidam, a meditational deity; female deity yogas such as Vajrayogini are common in Tibetan Buddhism. Or she may be a protector; the wisdom dakinis have special power and responsibility to protect the integrity of oral transmissions
As a key tantric figure the dakini also appears in other forms of tantric Buddhism such as the Japanese Shingon school from where she disseminated into Japanese culture, evolving into Dakini-ten and becoming linked to the kitsune iconography. The origins of the dakini figure are uncertain but she continues to this day as a part of Indian folklore, generally in wrathful forms, and remains a part of Hindu tantra.
In Tibetan Buddhism
Classes of dakiniAlthough dakini figures appear in Hinduism and in the Bön tradition, dakinis occur most notably in Vajrayana Buddhism and play a particular role in Tibetan Buddhism. There the dakini, generally of volatile or wrathful temperament, acts somewhat as spiritual muse (or inspirational thoughtforms) for spiritual practice. Dakinis are energetic beings in female form, evocative of the movement of energy in space. In this context, the sky or space indicates shunyata, the insubstantiality of all phenomena, which is, at the same time, the pure potentiality for all possible manifestations.
Judith Simmer-Brown, based on teachings she received from Tibetan lamas, identifies four main classes of dakini. These follow the Twilight Language tradition of esotericism in referring to secret, inner, outer and outer-outer classes of dakinis.
- The secret class of dakini is Prajnaparamita (Tibetan yum chenmo) or voidness, the empty nature of reality according to Mahayana doctrine.
- The inner class of dakini is the dakini of the mandala, a meditational deity (Tibetan:yidam) and fully enlightened Buddha who helps the practitioner recognise their own Buddhahood.
- The outer dakini is the physical form of the dakini, attained through Completion Stage Tantra practices such as the Six Yogas of Naropa that work with the subtle winds of the subtle bodyso that the practitioner’s body is compatible with an enlightened mind.
- The outer-outer dakini is a dakini in human form. She is a yogini, or Tantric practitioner in her own right but may also be a kamamudra, or consort, of a yogi or mahasiddha.
- The Dharmakaya dakini, which is Samantabhadri, represents the Dharmadhatu where all phenomena appear.
- The Sambhogakaya dakinis are the yidams used as meditational deities for tantric practice.
- The Nirmanakaya dakinis are human women born with special potentialities; these are realized yogini, the consorts of the gurus, or even all women in general as they may be classified into the Five Buddha Families.
When considered as a stage on the Vajrayana Path, the dakini is the final stages: the first is the guru, which corresponds to the initial realization of the true condition of reality, as this is introduced by the guru in the empowerment, if the disciple obtains what the Inner Tantras call peyi yeshe (dpe yi ye shes) o the clarity of shunyata. The second is the devata, which corresponds to the meditation insofar as the devata is the method used for developing the state discovered in the initial realization of the true condition of reality. The third stage is the dakini insofar as the dakini is the source of the activities based on the realization of the guru and the meditation of the devata.
In Dzogchen these three correspond to tawa (lta ba), gompa (sgom pa) and chöpa (spyod pa): the first is the direct vision of the true nature of reality rather than an intellectual view of reality, as is the case with the term in other vehicles; the second is the continuity of this vision in sessions of meditation; and the third is the continuity of this vision in everyday activities. As a tantric practice, imperfections are utilised to make the vision uninterrupted. As the Base, the dakinis are the energies of life; as the Path, they are the activities of advanced practitioners; as the Fruit, they are the actionless activities of realized Masters.
In Anuttarayoga Tantra
Being associated with energy in all its functions, dakinis are linked with the revelation of the Anuttarayoga Tantras, which represent the path of transformation, whereby the energy of negative emotions or kleshas, called poisons, is transformed into the luminous energy of enlightened awareness yielding the most profound experience of clear light. Thubten Yeshe explains:
When the completion stage practices have been mastered and we have gained control over our subtle energy winds and so forth, there will come a time when the dakas and dakinis will come… physically embracing such a consort is necessary to bring all the pervading energy winds into the central channel, a prerequisite for opening the heart center and experiencing the profoundest level of clear light.
There is some disagreement amongst Western scholars as to the meaning of the term daka. Some see it as the same as a dakini but in its male embodiment, and thus to be the partner of a female practitioner or yogini, or to identify a daka as the consort of a dakini. However in consort yoga, the consort of a dakini is a yogi. For example, the most famous instance of consort yoga in Tibetan tantra involved its founder, the Indian Mahasiddha Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyal, a Tibetan princess and yogini. Padma Sambhava was known as a yogi and Yeshe Tsogyal as a dakini. Miranda Shaw, associate professor of religion at University of Richmond, said in an interview in 1995, “In Sanskrit there is only one word, Dakini. There are only female Dakinis… there is no male Dakini. It is an impossibility and a contradiction in terms.” Whereas Jan Willis in the chapter Ḑākinī; Some Comments on Its Nature and Meaningpoints out that “”she” is not “female”. Though the ḍākinī assuredly most often appears in female form… this is but one of the myriad of ways Absolute Insight chooses to make manifest its facticity”.
However, Tibetan Lamas trained in the Gelug school, such as Sermey Khensur Lobsang Tharchin and those of the Karma Kagyu school such as Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, write freely of “dakas and dakinis”. Thubten Yeshe clarifies their meaning: “what are dakas and dakinis? Simply speaking they are males and females who possess advanced experiences of tantric transformation and control and are therefore able to increase the blissful wisdom of a highly qualified practioner”.
- ^ Simmer-Brown, Judith (2002). Dakini’s Warm Breath:The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism. Shambhala Publications Inc. pp. 139–40. ISBN 978-1-57062-920-4.
- ^ Simmer-Brown, Judith (2002). Dakini’s Warm Breath:The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism. Boston and London: Shambhala Publications Inc. pp. 69–79. ISBN 1-57062-920-X.
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