– Energy and Wisdom
In general, the Buddhist term “Dakini” can be taken to mean goddess. In the Tibetan language this Sanskrit term is translated as Khandroma (mkha’-‘gro-ma) meaning “she who traverses the sky” or “she who moves in space.” Dakinis are active manifestations of energy. Therefore, they are usually depicted as dancing, this also indicating that they actively participate in the world, or in the spiritual perspective, in both Samsara and Nirvana. In the Tantric Buddhist tradition of Tibet, Dakinis basically represent manifestations of energy in female form, 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. And the movements of their dance signify the movements of thoughts and the energy spontaneously emerging from the nature of mind. Being linked to energy in all its functions, the Dakinis are much associated with the revelation of the Anuttara Tantras or Higher Tantras, which represent the path of transformation. What is transformed here is energy. This method is quite reminiscent of alchemy, the transmutation of base metal into pure precious gold. In this case, the energy of the negative emotions or kleshas, called poisons, are transformed into the luminous energy of enlightened awareness or gnosis (jnana).
These energies may be of a transcendent and spiritual in nature, in which case they are called Jnana Dakinis (ye-shes kyi mkha’-‘gro-ma) or wisdom goddesses. Here “wisdom” or gnosis (jnana, ye-shes) means spiritual knowledge. Wisdom Dakinis are feminine manifestations of Buddha enlightenment and as such they transcend the conditioned existence of Samsara. Or they may be of a worldly nature, in which case one speaks of Karma Dakinis (las kyi mkha’-‘gro-ma) or action goddesses. As such they still belong to Samsara and are not enlightened beings. These Dakinis live and move in the dimension of energy of the earth. Some of these worldly Dakinis, who were once local pagan goddesses and nature spirits, were subdued and converted in the past and now serve as Guardians of the Buddhist teachings. Thus, there are basically two kinds of Dakinis. The corresponding manifestation of energy in a male form is called a Daka (mkha’-‘gro). The term Khandro, or more properly Khandroma, is also applied, especially in Eastern Tibet, to a woman Lama or spiritual teacher, and even to the wife or daughter of a Lama, as an honorific title much like “Lady.” The designation Dakini is also found in Hindu tradition, but here it is applied only to very minor goddesses, resembling more what we would call witches in our Western tradition. They appear as wild female spirits in the retinue accompanying the great goddess Durga.
In the early middle ages, Hindu theologians and philosophers came to speak of the goddesses as shaktis, that is, as the personified energy of their male divine consorts. However, in the Buddhist tradition, the term has a much wider and more important usage. The Dakini, as a manifestation of enlightened awareness, represents wisdom (prajna) and not just energy (shakti). Wisdom (prajna) is that higher intellectual faculty of mind that penetrates into the nature of reality, distinguishing what is true from what is false, and so on. We find here a phenomenon similar to the personification of wisdom as a female figure in the western tradition, as Hochmah or Sophia. Moreover, this wisdom is not a young maiden who is sweet, sentimental, and passive. Rather, a Dakini is an active manifestation of enlightenment. She is a manifestation of energy, although Buddhist texts do not use the term shakti.
Moreover, the Dakini is a manifestation of the energy of enlightened awareness in the stream of consciousness of the individual male practitioner, which awakens that consciousness to the spiritual path, thus playing the role of the archetypal figure the Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung designated as the Anima. The Anima represents the unconscious female side of the male personality. In a female stream of consciousness, the Animus or Daka is the figure that plays the corresponding role. These male counterparts are called Dakas and are usually depicted as Tantric yogis with long matted hair, naked or attired in animal skins, wearing ornaments of human bone, and dwelling in cemeteries and cremation grounds. At certain places of pilgrimage and in cremation grounds, the Dakas and Dakinis will gather at certain phases of the moon in order to celebrate the Tantric feast called the Ganachakra Puja. These nocturnal rites under the moon are reminiscent of the Bacchanalia or the Witches’ Sabbat in the West. The Dakas and Dakinis come to the feast, flying through the sky, and gather around the huge cauldron made from a gigantic skull, where they sing and dance and drink. But because it has been mostly men who have written books and accounts of their meditation experiences throughout Tibetan history, the emphasis has been on Dakinis, rather than Dakas.
According to the system of the Buddhist Tantras, the practitioner goes to refuge not only in the Three Jewels (dkon-mchog gsum) of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, but to refuge in the Three Roots (rtsa-ba gsum) of the Guru, the Deity, and the Dakini. In terms of meditation practices relating to these Three Roots, it is said the Guru or spiritual master grants to the practitioner the blessings or spiritual energy of inspiration and enlightenment. The Devatas or Meditation Deities grant siddhis or psychic and spiritual powers and the Dakinis grant karma-siddhis or magical powers that are of a more worldly purpose.