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And another thing … we could do ourselves an enormous favor by remembering that we are not practicing Tantra alone but have an immense amount of help coming to us from the Dakinis and Dakas, the Tantric Buddhas. People aren’t always feeling this — so I thought it’d be nice to say something about it, seeing as it is Vajrayogini Day today.
Carrying on from this article, I’m sharing more thoughts with those of you who have received Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments.
One reason we start Vajrayogini practice with the yoga of sleeping is because:
During the night the Dakinis of the twenty-four places visit sincere Vajrayogini practitioners and bestow their blessings… They may go to bed with a mind preoccupied with the problems of the day, but wake up refreshed, with a clear and positive mind … They may also find that obstacles to their Dharma practice inexplicably disappear overnight… Dakinis are able to help a practitioner in this way when he or she establishes a connection with them through pure Vajrayogini practice. ~ New Guide to Dakini Land, page 27-8
I believe this is so, that Dakinis are helping practitioners all the time, especially if we let them. This has been my experience in any event, including when I was on a longish retreat.
“Dakini”, or “khandro” in Tibetan, means “space goer” or “sky dancer”. (“Kha” means space or sky, and “dro” means going or dancing.) In Tantra we learn to fly in the sky of bliss and emptiness where we belong, instead of lumbering along the long and painful paths of samsara; and we let the Dakinis help. We want to come under the care and guidance of the Dakinis and Dakas of the twenty-four places and their emanations. This includes the wrathful Dakinis, Kakase and so on, who protect us from malevolent forces and everything else with flames of wisdom fire.
What or who exactly is a Dakini?
For Tantric realizations, we need complete reliance on the Spiritual Guide (Guru), Yidam (Deity), and Protector. We also need to rely on the Dakinis. But I sometimes observe that people don’t feel as guided and cared for by the Dakinis as they do by these other Buddhas.
These are some of the things I have heard about Dakinis: They are not “real” Buddhas. They are not historical figures with their own stories. They’re abstract. You can fit them all into one, for example Tara and Vajrayogini are the same; so there’s really only one Dakini!
People don’t always feel a strong personal relationship with the Dakinis. I don’t know, I’ve just heard people talking like this. Even someone said the other day that Dakinis were just the invention of men with too much time on their hands, to help male practitioners! And that view is not uncommon.
This is not the way to think about Dakinis, especially if you are a woman, or maybe even more so if you are a man!
A life-changing conversation with my Spiritual Guide
Once upon a time, I asked my teacher Venerable Geshe Kelsang: “There are a ton of male lineage Gurus and Buddhas, but there are really no role models for women in this tradition, apart from Tara and Vajrayogini — who are even supposedly one person. So where are the female Buddhas I’m supposed to be becoming?”
Geshe-la then spoke to me for an hour on this subject. He explained about misogyny in ancient India and Tibet, explaining that there were many enlightened females, but due to the structure of society they were either not able to teach or else they were only able to teach a few disciples. Therefore, they didn’t become famous, or known as lineage holders even if they were.
But actually, he continued, you have many role models, because every female Dakini in Heruka’s mandala was a female practitioner just like you. They all have stories. They all have names.
This conversation changed everything for me. I realized Dakinis were real. Not “real” in the sense of inherently existent, but you know what I mean — they really existed. They were actual people. They had histories, even if those were lost to the mists of time. They were role models. They were powerful. We still have their names. And the more over the years as I’ve gotten to know them, as I’ve felt more and more guided by them, the more enjoyment I have gotten from my Tantric practice.
Geshe-la also went on to explain and demonstrate all the good qualities of female practitioners, including their relative humility and fearlessness compared with men. He talked about the vital need for female teachers, both ordained and lay, in the modern world. But I won’t rub it in!, there are men reading this, lol 😄
Dakinis are extraordinarily free, blissful, transcendent beings. Every one of us, male or female, has not just Buddha nature but Dakini nature.
The terms “Hero and Heroine” and “Daka and Dakini” are interchangeable. Shantideva said that a real Hero or Heroine is someone who has destroyed their enemy, the self-grasping and self-cherishing minds, has conquered their delusions, and has developed the courage to help countless living beings. ~ page 191
Sometimes I think we’re attracted to Buddhism and to Tantra in particular because we have this yearning for freedom and unconventionality, there’s this little bit of rebelliousness in all of us. But we can sometimes find ourselves in what may seem to be a hierarchical spiritual society; and may perhaps feel intimidated by how conventional and even rigid things can appear to us.
If this is the case, it’s worth remembering that all outer structures, all Buddhist hierarchies, are ways of helping others that are emanating from bliss and emptiness, and designed ultimately to guide everyone into bliss and emptiness.
Our main object of refuge in modern or Kadampa Buddhism is Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka – our Spiritual Guide is appearing as Je Tsongkhapa, with Buddha Shakyamuni at his heart, and Buddha Heruka and Vajrayogini at his heart. This reveals our outer, inner, and secret Dharma practice through which our Spiritual Guide is drawing us all into his heart of bliss and emptiness.
Guru Tsongkhapa is the embodiment of moral discipline and renunciation and, totally relatable, represents the visible or outer structure for helping others, such as the organized centers, ordained community, and lay Pratimoksha community. We can “remain natural while changing our aspiration” as the Kadampa motto goes – obeying traffic rules, for example, improving our ethics, showing the genuine example of humility and trustworthiness, while inside things are changing.
Je Tsongkhapa emanates from Guru Buddha Shakyamuni at his heart, who is the embodiment of his inner realizations of love, compassion, and bodhichitta, which flow effortlessly throughout the whole world of living beings.
And Buddha Shakyamuni in turn emanates from the ultimate Daka and Dakini, Heruka and Vajrayogini, at his heart, who are the embodiment of the secret or hidden Tantric practice of bliss and emptiness that sources and pervades all phenomena, that is reality itself, that already exists as the solution.
As it says in Great Treasury of Merit:
According to Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition, a skilled teacher will gradually lead his or her disciples through the stages of Lamrim, Lojong, and Secret Mantra (Tantra), and show how to combine all these into a regular practice.
(You can find out more about this outer, inner, and secret Dharma practice in Great Treasury of Merit and in this article.)
So we need to keep in mind our secret Dakini nature, which is completely free from protocol, actually, even rather anarchic. Every ordinary appearance and conception – whether it is virtuous or non-virtuous, it still has to go. If we remember how everything is pervaded by Pure Dakini Land, then we don’t have to feel oppressed by any seeming hierarchical structure because we understand its real nature and intention.
Identifying with this secret nature is crucial if we are to use our realization of bliss and emptiness to overcome ordinary appearances and conceptions to attain inner Dakini Land, ie, meaning clear light and enlightenment. Otherwise, if we are not careful, we can just get bogged down with more appearance and more elaboration, even judgment of ourselves and others.
We need never feel constricted, staid, boring, inadequate, or bad about ourselves. In fact we are better off just forgetting all about our ordinary mistaken sense of self, dissolving it into emptiness every chance we get and joining the Dakinis instead.
We can embrace our unfettered Dakini nature, just as Je Tsonghapa did. In the Tantric tsog offering, which we do on the 10th and 25th of every month at Kadampa Centers worldwide, we sing the Song of the Spring Queen. Je Tsongkhapa originally sang this to the Dakinis, and the Dakinis also sang it to him. He was completely free, Je Tsongkhapa, a Tantric Buddha. Je Pabongkhapa had visions of him riding on a tiger.
Part 2 of this article coming up on Heruka Day, January 25th.
Meantime, your comments are welcome below 😊