Dakini: The Sky Dancer

January 6, 2018


Dakini: The Sky Dancer


A Dakini is a name given to a Tantric deity described as a female incarnation of enlightened energy. In the Tibetan language, dakini is is a type of spirit commonly mentioned in Vajrayana Buddhism.


A Dakini in Sanskrit means "Sky Dancer," is a Tantric priestess of ancient India who "carried the souls of the dead to the heavens."


The Sanskrit term  for Dakini is likely related to the word for drumming, while the Tibetan term means "sky-goer" and may have originated in the Sanskrit khecara, a term from the Cakrasaṃvara Tantra: "that which crosses the sky" or "she who moves in space."


Sometimes the term is translated poetically as "sky dancer" or "Skywalker."

It is interesting that in many of the ancient cultures, the Dakine withheld the job of directing the souls of the departed to the afterlife. In many ways, they were also Psychopomps, making the connection between this world and the next one.


The Dakini, is an essential figure in Tibetan Buddhism, in all its varied forms. She is so central to the requirements for a practitioner to attain full enlightenment as a Buddha for her to appear in a Tantric practice of Buddhism. We find that, more commonly, she presents itself as the protector, next to a guru and yidam.


The dakini, in its various forms, serves as each of the three roots. She may appear as a human guru, a master vajra who conveys the teachings of the Vajrayana to his disciples and joins them in Samaya commitments. The Dakini of Wisdom can be a yidam, a deity of meditation; female yogas deity such as Vajrayogini in Tibetan Buddhism. The wisdom dakinis have extraordinary power and responsibility to protect the integrity of oral transmissions.


In Tibetan Buddhism


Although the many mentions of the dakini in Hinduism and the Bön tradition, dakinis are particularly prevalent in Vajrayana Buddhism and have been mainly conceived in Tibetan Buddhism where the dakini, usually of a volatile or wrathful temperament, act a bit like a muse (or thoughtform) for spiritual practice. Dakinis are energetic beings in the feminine form, evocative of the movement of energy in space. In this context, heaven or the “space” indicates shunyata (emptiness or nothing-ness), the pure potentiality of all phenomena, in all possible and infinite manifestations.


Dakinis are the personification of beings associated with energy in all its spectrum and functions. They are connected with the revelation of the Tantras Yoga Anuttara or Superior Tantras, which represent the path of transformation, by which the energy of the negative emotions are transformed into luminous energy of enlightened consciousness (jnana).


When considered as a representation of the stages in the Vajrayana Path, the dakini represents its the final phase: the first is the guru, which corresponds to the initial realization of the real condition of reality. The second is odevata, which corresponds to meditation since the devata is the method we use for the development of the actual state of reality. The third stage is dakini insofar as the dakini is the source of activities based on the guru's attainment and the devata meditation.


Classes of Dakini


Judith Simmer-Brown, based on the teachings she received from Tibetan lamas, identifies four main categories of dakini. These follow the Twilight language tradition of esotericism in referring to secret, inner, outer and outer-outer classes of dakinis.


The secret level of dakini is Prajnaparamita or emptiness, the empty nature of reality according to the Mahayana doctrine. The inner type of dakini is the dakini of the mandala, a meditation deity (Tibetan: yidam) and fully enlightened Buddha helps the practitioner recognize his own Buddha.


The outer dakini category is the physical form of the dakini, achieved through conclusion Stage Tantra practices. The outer-outer dakini is a dakini in human form. She is a yogini, or Tantric practitioner in her own right, but can also be a kamamudra, a Yogi consort or a Maha-Siddha.


The Nirmanakaya doctrine, the dakinis are human women born with unique potentialities, which are realized yogini, the consorts of gurus, or even all women in general, as they can be classified into five families of Buddha.


In Hinduism


In Hinduism, the term Dakini often has negative associations. From the ninth, at least until the 13th century, there was an active cult of dakinis. The dakinis are the guardians of the most profound mysteries of being, and it is said that it is only through them that the secrets of inner transformation are opened. The Ranipur-Jharial Temple in Orissa, India, contains stone sculptures of 64 dakinis, ancient symbolic representations of the feminine principles of intuitive wisdom. It is good to mention that there is a distinction between the goddess terms, shakti, yogini, and dakini, shakini though in the general conversation.  But they are all timeless, inorganic, immortal, non-human beings who have co-existed from the beginning with spiritual energy.

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