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Spiritual Messenger

The dakini fulfills the role of messenger somewhat in the way that the angel does in theist religion.  For example, when the Mahasiddha, Tilopa, was doing a long meditation retreat in a cave, it is recounted how Nagarjuna, who was not in the human realm at the time but was giving teachings in the realm of the devas, sent the dakini, Matongha, to him.   She told Tilopa about that, saying that Nagarjuna had known where Tilopa could be found and had sent her to give him teachings.

Matongha knew that Tilopa had once been the ruler of a province and that because of his caste and worldly position, he was still possessed of a strong arrogance that was hindering his spiritual progress.  Therefore she gave him the instruction to go to a certain village where he would find a woman who was a sesame oil seller during the day, but who at night was a prostitute.  Tilopa followed her directions and went to work for the city woman.  By pounding sesame seed during the day and working for that woman at night, Tilopa's pride and vanity were overcome.

The Padma Dakini, Drimima

In the "Merits of Practice" section of Machig Lapdron's namthar [hagiography] she sends a dakini to care for her son who is in retreat. 

When he was sixteen Machig said: "Now go to practice on the 'Snow Mountain of Sampo' (Shangpo Gangri).  You have a good connection with that place." 

He [her son Tonyon] left with three friends, and they walked for a month before they arrived. The morning they arrived at Shampo they were making a feast offering and Machig appeared there miraculously.  She asked "Are you tired?" 

He said: "No, thank you. We are honored by your visit." 

Then she gave him the greatest initiation of her lineages and the initiation of the Five Dhyani Buddhas, and the Five Secret Vajra Varahi. The initiations were perfectly performed. She stayed there in the cave for seven days. Many dakas and dakinis were present. The son saw his mother become Vajravarahi, and there was a rain of flowers, rainbows and many miraculous signs. 

Machig ordered a local guardian called Shambo not to disturb her son's practice and he promised to assist Tonyon.  She ordered a Padma Dakini called Drimima, which means "Without Obstacles," to serve Tonyon and provide everything necessary for his retreat.  She promised to do this. 

Machig said to her son: "Practice for thirteen years and aggregations, manifestations, dimensions in space, objects and subjects of the sense will manifest as mandalas* of the deity.  Try to stabilize the pure vision of illumination. Don't worry about your livelihood, there are those who will serve you." 

So he entered the cave and made a seat of kusha grass and sat in the position of Vairocana.  The door was sealed and no one else entered.  Then Machig disappeared into the sky with a retinue of dakinis in the direction of Zangri. 

After three months he had a vision of hunger and thirst.  He remembered that his mother had said that someone would feed him, but he saw no one who could keep him and feed him.  But he thought: "This place has been empowered by my mother.  I should be able to remain with just the food of meditation empowered by my mother.  It would be impossible for me to die of hunger."  A while later a red lady appeared on a ray of sunlight.  She was very elegantly dressed and was bringing a bowl of nectar for him to drink.  She said:  "Practitioner, drink this and reach the depths of your practice." 

He drank the bowl full of nectar and it had a wonderful taste, and afterwards bliss spread through his whole body.  He lost his desire for worldly food and he thought: "Probably this is the Wisdom Dakini.  This is a sign of progress in practice." 

Then the dakini said: "I was ordered by Machig to bring you what you need.  I am not your teacher, so do not tell me the signs of your progress. Keep it hidden in the space of 'suchness.'  You still have the desire to tell everyone the signs of your practice. Observe your mind well.  When you have doubts or decisions to make, use your own innate knowledge, do not go to others. Unite your way of seeing with your way of behaving." 

As she said this, the [ray of] light stopped shining and disappeared.  Every three years she came back and gave him this amrita.  After five years Machig sent a yogi to check up on Tonyon and see if he was dead or alive.  The yogi arrived outside the cave.  "Tonyon!" he called out. 

"Ah" was the response. 

"Your mother sent me to see if you are hungry or cold. Do you have any difficulties you cannot overcome?" 

"Aren't you tired?  I am glad to know my mother is alive and well.  I am living on the food of meditation -- How could I be hungry?  I have the clothes of the internal inner heat, and because of this I have overcome attachment to warm clothes.  My visions are great companions, so I do not miss my friends.  Everything that I see is full of light, so I have no  attachment to places," said Tonyon from inside the cave. 

Then the yogi went back and told all of this to Machig.  She was happy and she said, "Oh, he has this ability." 

The disciples of Machig became as limitless as the sky.  They came from Central Tibet, Amdo, Kham and even Nepal.  Great gurus, scholars, monks, kings, noblemen, ministers, queens, princes, ambassadors, common people, lepers and beggars, all went to Machig, bowed and received teaching from her.  Eventually her fame spread to India. 

~ Tsultrim Allione's Women of Wisdom. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984 ed.

The Message

Sometimes, the dakini is not merely the messenger, but more like an embodiment of the Message itself.  Herbert Guenther called them "ciphers of transcendence" and thought they might be symbolic projections of one's psychological state. 

Vajradakini appeared to Abhayakirti (Tib., who is usually called Naropa.  While he was studying: " . . . a terrifying shadow" fell upon his books. When he turned his head to see what was its source, he saw an old woman with 37 ugly features:

. . . her eyes were red and deep-hollowed; her hair was fox-coloured and dishevelled; her forehead large and protruding; her face had many wrinkles and was shrivelled up; her ears were long and lumpy; her nose was twisted and inflamed; she had a yellow beard streaked with white; her mouth was distorted and gaping;  her teeth were turned in and decayed; her tongue made chewing noises and licked her lips;  she whistled when she yawned; she was weeping and tears ran down her cheeks; she was shivering and panting for breath; her complexion was darkish blue; her skin rough and thick; her body bent and askew; her neck curved; she was hump-backed; and being lame, she supported herself on a stick.  

She asked Naropa what he was studying, and when he replied he was reading epistemology, logic and other such topics, she asked if he understood what he was reading.  When he replied in the affirmative, she wanted to know whether it was the words or the meaning that he grasped, and he confessed that it was the words.  At that she "rocked with laughter, and began to dance waving her stick in the air." So Naropa, thinking to please her further, added that he also  got the meaning.  At that, the dakini began to weep, and threw down her stick.  When questioned about her seemingly contradictory behaviour, she said:

        "I felt happy because you, a great scholar, did not lie and frankly admitted that you only understood the words.  But I felt sad when you told a lie by stating that you understood the sense, which you do not." 

        "Who, then, understands the sense?"  

        "My brother."

        "Introduce me to him wherever he may be."

        "Go yourself, pay your respects to him, and beg him that you may come to grasp the sense." 

Then the dakini faded "like a rainbow in the sky."

     ~ Guenther, H.  The Life and Teaching of Naropa.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1963/1974.   

Sorry I Missed Your Call

Stories are told how yogis, reaching an impasse in their practice and much discouraged, are manipulated by a dakini -- scolded or even seduced, so that they might make progress.  Some of these people who went on to become famous and some of those accomplished practitioners, Hindu or Buddhist, are known as Mahasiddhas.  

There are also accounts of missed messages and failed opportunity. 

Abhayakaragupta (d. 1125) was a Bengali Buddhist monk.  He is considered a source of the Panchen Lama's lineage.  His life story as related by B. N. Datta tells that once, while he was sitting in the cloisters of the monastery, there appeared to him a maiden dragging a large and bloody slab of beef.  She introduced herself as a Chandala, a member of an outcaste group of butchers and those dealing in the by-products of that trade, and offered the meat to him.  He declined, obviously taken aback, saying, "I am a biks[h]u of purer order.  How shall I eat meat that is extraordinarily offered to me?"  

At that ungracious response, "she sank back and disappeared in the court[yard] below.  That was again Vajrayogini who gave him the Siddhi, but he did not take it." 

~ Janice D. Willis. "Dakini:  Some Comments," in Feminine Ground

Lady of the Turquoise Lamp

Another missed opportunity was followed by years of regret.  When Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro Rinpoche was a young man, his preconceived notion concerning social and ritual roles stood in his way:

"One day Khyentse, alone as usual, went to Dodrupchen's shrine room to receive the Rigdzin Dupa empowerment. Dodrupchen was sitting on a higher seat. Khyentse was asked to sit on a cushion by the window.  A monk who was the ritual assistant (chopon) put all the empowerment materials on the altar and left the room. Dodrupchen kept saying the mantras.  Soon the vase on the altar emitted white beams of light, filling the whole room. Then red lights covered the whole room, and it became hard for Khyentse even to see Dodrupchen. When the lights faded, he saw that a beautiful woman with ornaments was there, acting as the 'action master' with dancing gestures.  Khyentse, who was then a monk, thought, "It would have been better to have a monk doing the action-master performances at such an important time." 

At the end of the empowerment, the woman vanished. Dodrupchen told Khyentse, 'Tulku Tsang! I had a supreme accomplishment to confer on you, but because of your concepts it couldn't happen today. But you will get it later. The lady was Dorje Yudronma (one of the main Dharma protectresses of Longchen Nyingthig).' " 

~ Tulku, Thondup. Masters of Meditation and Miracles.  Boston/London:  Shambala, 1996.

Some Dzogchen Dakinis

As prophesied by the Mahasiddha Kukuraja, Garab Dorje (Sri Pramodavajra,) a manifestation of Vajrasattva, was born as an immaculate conception to the princess-nun, Sudharma of Uddiyana.  He grew up at first to be a monk, but later, he roamed and meditated in India as a yogin. 

It was not long before he began to attract a small following of male and female disciples. On Mount Malaya, he was assisted by three Enlightened-women (dakini) disciples in transcribing into book form the complete teachings of Dzogchen. The work of composition was only concluded after three years of unstinting labour on the part of Sri Pramodavajra, the Dakini Vajradhatu, the Dakini Suvarna Shankara, and the Dakini Anantaguna. When the work was finished they stored it in the archives of a cave-temple known as the Dakini-abhivyaktabhava, or the "Dakini's Source of Manifestation", where it was held in the safe-keeping of the abbess, Dakini Cittasana.

With the certain knowledge that the precious, supreme Secret Doctrine was secure, Sri Pramodavajra then proceeded on pilgrimage to Vajrasana (modern Bodh Gaya), the site where centuries earlier Buddha Sakyamuni had attained his enlightenment. With his mystic consort, the Lady Suryakirana, he took up residence in the 'Cool Grove' (Sitavana) cremation ground, which lies about a mile or so north-east of Vajrasana."

~ Dharma Fellowship, San Francisco, CA. 


Dorje Yudronma: Indomitable Lady of the Turquoise Lamp

Mahasiddha:  A yogin of supreme accomplishment, one with "magic" powers.

haoma: ancient fire ritual


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