Woman and the Dakini
Published as a commentary in Sky Dancer.
'Do not question woman. Adore her everywhere. In her real nature she is Bhagavati! Perfection of Wisdom; and in this empirical world Bhagavati has assumed the form of woman.' Tantric metaphysics are derived principally from the Prajnaparamita sutras, and this prajnaparamita sloka clearly states the tantric view that there is no distinction between the ultimate metaphysical nature of woman and the relative human reality. Woman is the Dakini and is to be worshipped as such. Further, the Prajnaparamita gave Tantra the concept of woman as the Perfection of Wisdom, perfect insight (shes-rab, prajna), which is defined as 'awareness of all phenomena as Emptiness'. However, in Tantra, since 'Emptiness is not separate from form, nor form from Emptiness', this Awareness that is the Dakini is the nondual, gnostic awareness.of which the male principle manifest as form is an aspect. Thus the totality of reality as Awareness can be represented by the Dakini alone, or it can be indicated by the inseparable union of male and female principles. In the latter case the Dakini's perfect insight into Emptiness is in contradistinction to skilful means (thabs, upaya), the Guru's ever compassionate, dynamic motivation that manifests as phenomenal appearances. When the Dakini alone is all-embracing Awareness (mahajnana, ye-shes-chen-po), she is the blissful cosmic dance of illusion. The existential experience of the Dakini is one, but the multiplicity of means to attain that experience, and the different ways of conceiving the inexpressible, create a seemingly complex metaphysics.
After that attempt to clarify basic concepts, it is relevant to ask the question, has woman been arbitrarily assigned these existential values, or do Emptiness and Awareness relate to her essential nature? According to the metaphysical systems that frame the psychological insights of numerous ancient cultures the physiological-sexual and psychological nature of woman is receptivity. The quality of receptivity, 'an enveloping openness', is evident in tantric symbols of the goddess: the lake, the well, the empty vase, and most graphically and ubiquitously, the yoni (vagina).
In so far as Tantra takes sexual processes as analogous to spiritual processes and relates sexual principles to mystical principles, if the essential nature of woman's anatomy and of her sexual response is receptivity, then receptivity can define the female principle. Receptivity is a condition of awareness of empty form. Practically in the yogin=s meditation upon Emptiness, receptive relaxation is imperative; in total mental relaxation, consciousness perched at the doors of the senses achieves perfect insight into the forms of perception (vipasyana meditation). These forms of perception, into which insight is achieved, are the compassionate forms of the Guru's skilful means. In the same way that the female's sexual receptivity invites the male's creative sexual activity, the Dakini's mental receptivity facilitates her perfect insight into the Guru's dynamic forms, and the resulting union is of Emptiness and form, perfect insight and skilful means, Awareness and compassion.
Expressed in terms of receptivity, Awareness and Emptiness, the female principle may appear irrelevant to woman herself conscious of her human condition. But it cannot be sufficiently stressed that in the realm of tantric practice there is no distinction between woman in her everyday reality and the all-inclusive divine female archetype that permeates her being and dominates her mind (the Yidam Vajra Yogini, for instance). Every woman is the Dakini. Her third initiation is the empowering recognition of that fact, and her post-initiation practice the sadhana (spiritual practice) of maintaining and substantiating the Dakini's Awareness. Whether or not woman knows herself as the Dakini, the Guru and yogin see her only in her divine form. A yogin can evaluate the maturity of his practice by judging the constancy and depth of his vision of woman as the Dakini. That is not to say that he should see every woman as Tara, the goddess of devoted service (although he should be able to discern that syndrome in every woman to some degree), for there are innumerable types of Dakini, even as many as there are psychological types of woman. The tantric pantheon includes eldritch blood-sucking, flesh-eating and child-devouring Dakinis, binding, beating and destructive Dakinis, besides the sublime consorts of the Bodhisattvas. The constant in the adept's vision of them all is their empty dance of Awareness, whereas the mutable forms of their dances, and their functions, are like make-up and ornaments.
It is already clear that 'Guru' and 'Dakini= are internal metaphysical realities. Evidently each human psyche contains both male and female principles; the male principle and its qualities are recessive in woman and the female recessive in man, even as the Dakini's dominant Emptiness cannot be separated from the recessive skilful means, which is ever present but unstressed. In the symbology of anuyoga, both the white and red elixirs run in the psychic veins of both men and women, although the Guru's complexion is white while the Dakini=s is red. In atiyoga, when the recessive and dominant are nicely balanced, the elixirs are blended and the complexion of the Dakini is 'blushing fair'. When an anchorite or a monk or nun describes his or her state of being as a union of Guru and Dakini obviously there is no equation of Guru with man nor Dakini with woman. But when yogin and yogini are described as Guru and Dakini cohabiting in perfect awareness and pure pleasure in a Buddhafield, this lay tantrika couple are projecting their recessive principles upon their partners. Or to formulate it in another way, when man and woman, yogin and yogini, recognize he the Emptiness of her and she the compassion of him, their relationship is a union of Guru and Dakini. The emotional vicissitudes of their personal relationship, the love and hate, the pride and jealousy, are the Dakini's fine ornaments, while the gamut of response that she inspires in him are reflected in her face and in her stance.
In relation to the yogin practitioner the female principle may be conceived in four modes which are known as mudras. Maintaining the integrity of union with these four mudras sustains the samaya of the Guru's Speech which is identity with the Yidam. These mudras are best conceived as lovers with whom the yogin must retain an unbroken intimate, intense and true relation wherein no trace of doubt or infidelity arises. The first is the samaya-mudra, the verbal promise to keep the root and branch samayas. The second is the Guru's Consort herself in whom is embodied the five Dakini modes of Awareness. A consort is a Dakini by virtue of her involvement in a moment, or rather an unbroken succession of moments, of integration and enlightenment. In fact, rather than define the Dakini as a human being, she is better understood as a moment's intuition of the Emptiness and purity in passion when perfect insight and skilful means integrate. The third mudra is hand gesture and posture, and the relationship with her is maintained by practising according to the Guru's instruction. The fourth is mahamudra; she is inconceivable, since she is an anthropomorphic representation of Emptiness - transforming, magical illusion, pure, all-inclusive sensual Awareness.
It can be useful here to distinguish between the siddha-adept's view of the Dakini and the neophyte or yogin-practitioner's experience. To the former, a woman is the Dakini, but even in a sexual situation she is of no higher order of Dakini, or source of visionary instruction, than any other complex of sensory stimuli. This is no slur on woman but rather a manner of evincing the constancy of a siddha's feeling tone of pure pleasure no matter what the content of his perceptual situation. There are no degrees of Emptiness for him. For the initiate on his way to the centre of the mandala, however, a woman as a karmamudra of Awareness is a guardian of the mysteries, a guide through the doors of the mandala, a bestower of initiation, and the object of the initiation itself. She provides the first glimpses of a nondual reality; she reveals what is the Emptiness of phenomenal appearances; she demonstrates the dance of magical illusion. Such experiences may be related to a particular woman until the initiation is complete, or knowledge of the Dakini may be limited to a succession of encounters with many women, or the Awareness Dakini may never embody herself in a human woman, and in the latter case experience of her need be no less intense or efficacious.
Thus it should be clear that although woman is the Dakini, it is not woman as a discrete isolate in time and space. It is not the concept 'woman' that men usually project upon the Dakini-woman who is a total experience of empty form, taste, touch, smell and sound. Due to our conditioned craving for the security of the concrete, our desire to possess something or someone tangible, and any of a welter of causes derived from uncontrolled emotivity, the mind fabricates an objective delusion and reifies it as woman, or at least all women are perceived through this screen of delusion. From the point of view of ignorance where the Dakini is not recognised at all, woman is a symbol of the Dakini, and further, if the aspirant cannot achieve the samaya of union with a Dakini and know her directly he can project his vision of the Dakini upon her and worship her, adoring her as a goddess. This last is the way of kriyayoga-tantra, in the Outer Tantra.
Finally, in the non-dual reality of Buddhahood all phenomenal appearances are space and Emptiness on one hand and magical illusion, fairyland, and the reflection of the moon in water on the other hand. Understanding this, following Tsogyel, a yogini-practitioner will know that her body-mind is empty of a substantial, discrete 'ego' and that her individual personality is an integral part of a dynamic field of relativity encompassing all living beings, embodied and disembodied, in all time and space. And detached from that field, identifying with the constant 'suchness' of experience, dynamic primal space, with Tsogyel she can then say 'I am the principal of the whole of samsara and nirvana... I live in the minds of all sentient beings, projecting myself as the elements of the bodymind and the sense-fields, and by secondary emanation projecting the twelve interdependent elements of existence'. Or, identifying with the empty ground of her own being she discovers the universal ground of relativity that spontaneously emanates the universal illusion. This universal illusion is her Guru: his body is phenomenal appearances; his speech is all sound; and his Mind (thugs) all Mind.
These visions of Guru and Dakini are quite different from the dictionary definition of Guru as a spiritual teacher, and the current occidental notions of a Dakini as an embodied goddess, or as a nubile, sexually available cult-follower. The exoteric meanings and connotations of the word Dakini in the common parlance of India, Nepal and Tibet cast another light upon her. Originally, it appears that the Buddhists borrowed the word from the shaktas, where in the cult of the Devi the Dakinis were flesh-eating attendants of Kali, who is the destructive aspect of Shiva's consort. In the Hindu Tantra. Kali vanquishes Shiva and consumes him; the inert yogin beseeches the Goddess to cut out his heart, representing his ego, and to unite with him so that his passive consciousness is vitalised by her power (shakti) and awareness. As a popular cult goddess Kali bestows boons and favours upon those who make blood sacrifice to her; she is a blood-drinker. The fanatical devotees known as the thugs offered her human sacrifice until the British Raj virtually eradicated the cult last century. Thus from the beginning the Dakinis were associated with the meta-psychotherapeutic function of ego destruction and the initiation of yogins into the mandala of pure being, consciousness and ecstasy (satchitananda). Like the retinue of Kali, Vajra Yogini still carries the hooked knife (trigu, karttari) aloft in her right hand to cut away belief in an ego and to rend the blinds of emotivity. In her left hand she holds a skull-cup to catch the blood of her victims.
As embodied beings the Dakinis were known as malicious witches performing no positive function, feared by all but siddhas. In contemporary India the word seems to be seldom used, and those who know it attach the same negative connotations. Similarly in Nepal, on the level of the uninitiated, the word dankini is used as an expletive or slur on a vile woman. It is also applied to a witch, an enchantress, a manipulator of the spirit world and a seductress who abuses her sexual powers. There are only a few Newar vajracharyas who know the esoteric meaning of the word. In Tibetan the word Khandroma (dakini) is reserved as an epithet for the consorts of Lamas, esteemed yogins' consorts or for realised yoginis and tulkumas (female incarnations). In Tibet it is also a personal name.
A further important classification of Dakini is the fourfold personification of the Guru's karmas (or functions). These four activities may be conceived as the functions of the Dakinis in enlightening the initiate, in which case they may be performed by karma Dakinis (mundane or human Dakinis - 'jig-rten-kyi mkha'-'gro), or they may be seen as the personifications of the Guru's enlightening skilful means. These four activities are pacifying, enriching, controlling and destroying. These karmas are employed only for the conversion of sentient beings, in their spiritual evolution, and for spreading the tantric doctrines. Pacification (zhi-ba) implies the calming of aggression or anger. Enrichment (rgyas-pa), or growth, development, potentiating, etc., is a function of a woman's motherliness, and its effects are a sense of security, optimism, strength and confidence. Then control (dbang-ba) is the function of the wrathful Dakini who firmly restrains futile emotivity and ratiocination. Destruction (drag-pa) may be performed by an aggressive woman who can undermine a yogin's conception of an objective reality, destroy his fixed beliefs, eradicate his pride and even crush his ego so that his way of being is radically and irrevocably changed. Destruction can also imply death. But these powers are all relative siddhis; the functions of the Dakini pall into irrelevance when compared to the intuition of her essential nature which leads to the ultimate siddhi, Buddhahood itself.
'Without karmamudra no mahamudra.' The nature of the Yogini ideally suited as the Guru's consort is described by Guru Pema like this: 'she must be of good family, faithful and honour bound, beautiful, skilful in means, with penetrating insight, full of generosity and kindness; without her the factors of maturation and release are incomplete and the goal of tantric practice is lost from sight.' The phrase 'good family' may imply that this ideal Dakini should belong to one of the five principal Dakini families - lotus, jewel, vajra, karma or Buddha - rather than to a lower class of Dakini, such as 'ashen' or 'flesh-eating' types. But it also implies that she should be of high caste, or, in Tibet, of high class. The ladies who accompanied the Twenty-five Siddhas of Chimphu in their principal initiations were all high class women. This injunction that the yogini should be of high caste conflicts with the prescriptions of some root tantras, and Indian practice, where low caste or outcaste women were preferred, a Chandali, Dombhi or Shavari, etc. When the Indian initiate belonged to a twice-born caste there is obvious motive for the Guru to employ an outcaste woman in the initiation rite; destruction of social conditioning, reduction of pride and cultivation of the wisdom of equality may result from such an association. But practical considerations also necessitated the use of low-caste women. Rigid caste rules chained all but the most karmically-favoured high caste women to orthodox Brahmanism, while the moral and sexual prejudices of high-caste girls ill-fitted them for the role of Dakini in tantric ritual. On the contrary, outcaste girls were more promiscuous, uninhibited by Manu's laws, and further, since they would probably be of non-Aryan or Dravidian stock they could already be familiar with the Mother Goddess tradition from which Tantra sprung. In Tibet Tantra had the novel status of established religion, and was thus deprived of the negative social pressures that in India were conducive to the growth of the cult and the development of the individual.
Both in India and Tibet there was a custom for the initiate to offer the Guru a woman at initiation. Sometimes the woman would play a role in certain initiations. For Naropa the act of giving his woman to Tilopa was in itself an act of self-denial, yet he said, 'Bliss is to offer unhesitatingly the mudra as fee to the Guru who is Buddha himself.' Here the act of offering the karmamudra to the Guru is a skilful device provoking the emotional attachment that has as its real nature the discriminating Awareness of Amitabha. Figuratively, the initiate is offering the karmamudra of perfect awareness of empty form to the Guru of skilful means to attain the bliss of spiritual wholeness. As the yoginis sing to Tsogyel when she marvels at their apparent stupidity at offering their physical body to Vajra Yogini, 'In so far as your perception of ultimate truth is instantaneous, it is as fast as a flash of genuine faith; if you fail to offer Awareness (the Dakini) to the Guru the moment it dawns, procrastinating, merit is lost.' And, finally, the disciple is offering to his Guru what is most dear to him as an act of worship and a demonstration of his devotion, and also as some small recompense for the Guru's great generosity in bestowing the initiation upon him. Trisong Detsen gave Tsogyel to Guru Pema as part of the initiation price.
When Naropa proves his blissful detachment to Tilopa, Tilopa praises him and then gives him instruction in mahamudra. 'You are worthy of eternal bliss, Naropa, on the path of infinite reality. Look into the mirror of your mind, mahamudra, the mysterious home of the Dakini. Here the mirror of mind is the cognitive aspect of the universal plenum of non-dual reality, and the Dakini is the flux of insubstantial reflection in the mirror. Mahamudra can be defined in the formula: non-dual Knowledge (rig-pa) and pure pleasure (bde-chen) in a primal existential state of being (dharmakaya). An instant's experience of that naked existential reality as instructive, visionary lightform is Vajra Yogini (sambhogakaya); and if a karmamudra embodies the experience, she is the apparitional body (nirmanakaya) of the Dakini. Developing this thorough-going nondual (advaya) analysis further, since union with the karmamudra creates the pure pleasure of the dharmakaya and ultimately mahamudra, because all women are Dakinis, an intense, integral sexual encounter or relationship is a means to attain siddhi. Then sexual practice is tantra-yoga.
After Guru Pema had accepted Yeshe Tsogyel from the King Trisong Detsen, she was thoroughly instructed in the ontology and epistemology of the mahayana before he initiated her into the Tantra. Before he bestowed the three initiations he explained the nature of his desire, 'I am free of every germ of desire whatsoever; the aberrations of lust are absent.' Another Dzogchen Guru, the first and greatest of the lineage, taught this precept and statement of the nature of his desire. 'Have no desire for what you see. Desire not; desire not. Desire; desire. Have no desire for desire. Have no desire for desire. Desire and freedom must be simultaneous.' It is in the third initiation rite and post-initiation practice that the karmamudra plays her part in formal tantric training; but in the space that the initiation reveals to the initiate, the nature of the Dakini! is equivocal and ambiguous, never localised as a woman as conceived in dualistic ignorance.
The treatment of woman as an object that can be 'used' in tantric practice, and 'given' by disciple to Guru, and vice versa, and the language that describes woman as 'an ingredient of Tantra', may appear inconsistent with the admonition to 'adore woman everywhere'. However, such phraseology is merely semantic convention and does not reflect the Guru's attitude. In fact the woman is worshipped as the Dakini in rites in which she participates, and this worship should not stop when the rite is over. Lamas customarily treat women with great respect, in an exemplary fashion. Their treatment of women compares favourably with that of the hinayana bikkus who should disdain contact with women in obedience to their vinaya vows. Sakyamuni adamantly refused to ordain women until the last years of his life, fearing that they would bring the entire community into disrepute. His favourite disciple Ananda, who consistently fought the women's case, finally persuaded him to establish an order of nuns; their disciplinary code was even more rigid and extensive than the voluminous strictures governing the personal and social behaviour of the monks. We can only surmise that it was the very quality that Sakyamuni felt to be an impediment on the nuns' path that Guru Pema considered a valuable aid on the path of Tantra when he said, 'The gross bodies of men and women are equally suited (as temples of the Yidam), but if a woman has strong aspiration her potential (for existential realisation) is greater'. A woman's greater capacity for sensation and feeling, her innate receptivity and her greater powers of intuition are obvious qualities that can define 'greater potential'. If a woman has a strong karmic propensity to self-abnegation, or sufficient lust to overcome instinctual desire for security and motherhood, if her aspiration is clearly defined, strong and constant, her natural capacity for Awareness can be potentiated with less difficulty than a man's. Even though she limits her options by choosing motherhood, she can still utilise that karmic situation to attain the aim of Buddhahood; the stronger her attachment the greater potential energy to be directed as shakti (the energy that vitalises and galvanises the yogin's kundalini). Further motherhood can quicken her social virtues (the four stations of Brahma), and cultivate compassionate skilful means, although in general anuyoga characterises woman as passionate rather than loving, and it is a male Bodhisattva who symbolises compassion. Finally, in the mahayana it is said that woman should be considered pure as she is, and in the view of anuttarayoga-tantra both men and women are Buddhas from the beginning, through eternity; but with application of the Guru's skilful means, with a minimum of formal meditation, passively relaxing into her own receptivity, it is easier for a woman than a man to recognise our pristine existential condition: such is Guru Pema's implication.
Although the yogini may possess a few constitutional advantages in the Tantra, she is constrained by some severe handicaps. Tsogyel begs her Guru for initiation into the Dorje Phurba mandala so that terrific deity may protect her from the stresses and strains, the demonic and aggressive forces, that her receptive nature naturally draws into her mandala. Social disapprobation, thieves and fornicators are Tsogyel's bane. In eighth century Tibet, Tsogyel would have been wandering in a predominantly Bon society, and it is certain that many Bonpos were hostile to the Buddhists. In Taksham's eighteenth-century Tibet, and throughout the sub-continent until the present day, hostility arose from disingenuous peasants incredulous of the nun or yogini's motivation, and believing that the robe was merely a cover for sloth and a trick to exploit hard-working people's charity. A Sanskrit adage has it, 'A woman is a thousand times more lustful than a man.' Consorting with her Guru, or a yogin, the yogini's motivation was in constant doubt, and ignorant of secret tantric samayas but knowing that nuns were pledged to celibacy, and aware of the notoriety of some nunneries, the layman was quick to cast aspersions upon an indiscreet female tantrika.
There is little evidence of suppression of women in the period of the kings. In fact the palace women, the queens and princesses, appear to have carried some weight in politics, in which they played an active part. But in an era of heroic warfare it is easy to conceive of a degree of machismo prevalent amongst the menfolk. 'Even a woman can defeat you!' shouted the crowd at the Bon magicians after they had been discomfited by the Buddhists, Tsogyel amongst them. We do hear of Bon priestesses, however, and Tsogyel herself is proof of female participation in the most sacred and significant of her society's activities.
Tsogyel does not stress the danger of rape or theft, but like most yoginis she was confronted by both in her lifetime. It would appear that these tribulations of yoginis are universal and perennial. However, in Tantra personal vulnerability, such as that of a lone woman, presents important opportunities for exercising skilful means in conversion - pacifying, enriching, controlling or destroying. If a woman's rapists can be led to a profound recognition of their existential reality through the experience a woman gives them, there is no situation whatsoever that cannot be turned to advantage on the path. In this most poignant of all episodes in her life, Tsogyel not only demonstrates a valid and effective method of assimilating rape, but she shows how fortuitous sex can be an initiation with implicit formal stages. Tsogyel's method of making rape a positive experience was to accept the situation and then control it. Through visualisation identifying herself with Tara, the Goddess of Service, who is willing to do whatever is necessary to serve the Guru who is all sentient beings, the victim was transformed into the Saviouress. Unfortunately not all women have the shakti that can raise a rapist's kundalini and propel him through the levels of bliss in such a way as to give him total realisation. But just as all women become Dakinis when relating to the Guru who sees them as such, here the rapists are transformed into the Dakini's Gurus by force of her visualisation of them. The Dakini sees all men as her Gurus; it is the sexual metaphor describing her lack of discrimination and her willingness to unite with all men that gives her a reputation for promiscuity. Lastly, confronting every situation on the path, both adversity and good fortune, with an equanimity that permits a spontaneous response free from fear and emotivity, seeing every moment through 'the third eye', the eye of non-dual ,awareness, the Bodhisattva Vow (sems-bskyed) automatically motivates the Dakini's word and action.
The ambiguity of the word Dakini is amply demonstrated above; perhaps there is error in attempting a too specific conceptualisation, for if the Dakini is caught on the point of a nice definition she becomes a dead concept. She belongs to the equivocal language of the twilight world, where she can make a mind-changing verbal impact. The Dakini remains a profound tantric mystery, an enigma that is only resolved upon initiation, when the yogin gains experiential understanding of her. In his introduction setting the stage for Tsogyel, Taksham is typically equivocal, 'It was this Buddha (Padma Sambhava), who served as skilful means to spread the Tantra. He had a greater number of accomplished mystical consorts than the number of sesame seeds ( thig-le, seed-essence) it takes to fill a room supported by four pillars (the four kayas), and all of them came from the Highest Paradise ('Og-min), to inhabit the cremation grounds, the heavens, the human world, the great power places, the naga realms and the realms of the celestial musicians. In this world of Jambudvipa, . . . he had not less than 70,000 accomplished girls, and among them were the five (nirmanakaya) emanations of Vajra Varahi (sambhogakaya), the five from whom he was never separated: the emanation of Varahi's Body, Mandarava, the emanation of her Speech, Yeshe Tsogyel, the emanation of her Mind, Sakya Dema, the emanation of her Quality, Kalasiddhi, the emanation of her Activity, Tashi Chidren (Khyidren), and the emanation of her essential indefinable individuality, Khandro Wongchang (mKha'-'gro dbang-'chang). These six were the six aspects of his apparitional being (nirmanakaya). We know too little of the actual life stories of Kalasiddhi, Tashi Khyidren and Sakya Dema, and nothing at all of Khandro Wongchang, while concerning Mandarava there are several extant biographies and substantial mention of her in Guru Pema's own biographies. Here are brief sketches of the lives of the five.
Mandarava is the daughter of the King of Zahor, born into the royal family of a small but strategic Himalayan Kingdom in the middle of the eighth century. She is born an Awareness Dakini (ye-shes mkha'-'gro) and a prodigy. At marriageable age, like Tsogyel, she refuses all attempts to marry her, but fails to convince her father that she is destined to take ordination as a Buddhist nun. She serves the flesh of a Brahmin's corpse to her father to eat - a heinous offence - and then she absconds from the palace, assuming a beggar's robes. After she had been ordained by the Abbot Shantaraksita (also a native of Zahor), her father comes to terms with his daughter's predilection for the religious life, and provides a palace for her meditations.
When Padma Sambhava, the youthful prince turned ascetic yogin, appears in Mandi from Orgyen, Mandarava is immediately entranced by him - she swoons as he floats up into the sky. As predestined, she becomes his disciple. But malicious gossip reports to the King that his daughter, the nun, is misbehaving herself with an unprincipled tantrika, and the outraged king is led to seize Guru Pema and burn him at the stake. The Guru is sustained by Dakinis, and the fire is transformed into a lake that smokes for seven days. On the eighth day the King finds Guru Pema as an eight-year-old boy sitting upon a lotus in the middle of the lake. Mandarava has been thrown into a pit covered with thorns. Most thankful to find his daughter still alive, the King reunites her with Guru Pema and worships them both. Until the Guru goes to Tibet it appears that he and Mandarava are inseparable.
The Guru remains some time in Zahor, and after having converted the populace, he and his consort go to the Maratika Cave at Heileshe in Nepal (near Lamidada, east of Okhuldunga) where they practise the yoga of immortality in the mandala of Amitayus, Guru Pema attaining the level of Knowledge Holder of Immortality (tshe'i dbang-la rig-'dzin). From Nepal they travel to Bangala where Mandarava is transformed into the Cat-faced Dakini, and assists in the conversion of the country (early Pala Bengal). Returning to his homeland, because no prophet is recognised in his own land, he is again burnt at the stake, this time with Mandarava, and again they are unharmed. Thereafter Mandarava becomes Queen of the Orgyen Dakinis - Orgyen is the Pure-land of the Dakinis, a nirmanakaya Buddhafield. Towards the end of Mandarava's life she appears to Tsogyel while the latter is meditating at Phukmoche, and requests Tsogyel to teach her the twenty-seven secret precepts that Guru Pema had not taught in India, a rare admission that the Nyingma doctrines contained precepts that had no Indian antecedents.
The image of the fire and immolation appears twice in this legend. In the first instance, sustained by Dakinis Guru Pema alone is rejuvenated; the fire of the Dakini in the belly melts the concrete view of reality centred in the head, and in the lake of Emptiness that results grows the lotus of compassion wherein sits a resplendent, virgin youth embodying the miraculous psychic qualities of prepubescence. The essential existential cause of this transformation is the passion of the Guru's relationship with Mandarava. In the meantime Mandarava was sitting in meditation in a pit - a symbol of the universal yoni. In the second instance the Guru and Dakini are burnt together. The fire of passion occurs repeatedly in tantric legend, signifying its important place in tantric practice. In general, the story of the yogin and yogini's perambulation about India is an oft repeated spiritual love story.
This context offers an excellent opportunity to present the facts of Tsogyel's existence from a radically different standpoint. Stripped of the hagiographic trappings, what do we know, or what can we infer, of Tibet's greatest female mystic? When Tsogyel was about to leave this earth, asked by her disciples what they should tell posterity about her, she offers them some humanistic realism. First, she calls herself an 'unlovable spinster rejected by Tibetan men', and since the lack of physical attraction, real or imaginary, together with rejected love, are possibly two causes of women cloistering themselves for life, we are led to a possible inference that Tsogyel was only spiritually beautiful. Further, a sensitive young girl is wont to be resentful of being courted merely for her royal status and wealth. Rather than endure an arranged marriage she fled, an event not uncommon in contemporary India where the vision of nuptials with an unknown man inspires virgin horrors. Whichever way it was, we have Tsogyel fleeing to religion as an escape from a harsh world. She calls herself wanton, uninhibited, passionate and obstinate. Her wantonness is evinced by the quality of her erotic fantasies while in meditation at Nering in Bhutan, where she dreamed of verbal and physical seduction. But this should be considered normal for a nubile young woman deprived. of all male company, and, likewise, the excessive sexual activity in which she indulged with three healthy young men in a further retreat is also a natural development. The purchase of a male slave smacks of Freudian fantasy. Her other sexual partners, the Emperor, who gave her a magnificent wedding, and the Indian Guru, were both much older than herself, and must have provided her with much mature experience. Her obstinacy and incorrigibility were probably her most unattractive qualities, but essential factors in her ability to endure three winters on the snow-line with only intermittent signs of success. It was a strong-willed adolescent who roundly cursed the minister Shantipa as he performed his duty; and it was a mature woman who knew what she wanted and how to get it when she prevailed upon her Guru to give her the Dorje Phurba initiation after he had decided otherwise. Of her 'deceitfulness, propensities to intrigue and over-extend herself in power play', there is the evidence of the attempt upon her life and her subsequent banishment for causing conflict and schism within the government after the old king died, and the implications of her maintaining a relationship with the 'foreign devil-priest' against the wishes of the majority of ministers, and also of her evasion of the first sentence of banishment, with the connivance of the King, when she accompanied her Guru to Tidro. When the occasion demanded it she was quite capable of taking life while keeping her hands clean - the Bonpo leaders committed suicide at her behest. Towards the end of her life she succeeded in amassing a very large following and establishing several monastic establishments. She was the Emperor's priestess, the abbess of the principal monastic academies, and the Guru of many prominent figures in government. In the literary world she attained immortality by having a large proportion of Nyingma scriptures ascribed to her.
The above vignette, composed in samsara of samsara, is derived from internal evidence in The Life, which in general is written of nirvana in nirvana. The facts of Tsogyel's personal life are irrelevant; only her mythos has significance. Taksham's purpose was surely not to provide an objective statement of Tsogyel's life, but to use her life-story as a peg upon which to hang his purpose of throwing the reader out of his normal habits of thinking and being into a visionary realm of pure perception. Whether Tsogyel was a giant manipulative ego or a saint is irrelevant providing the reader gains some intimation of the Tantra (thread), in which moments of psychotropic experience are counted off like beads on a thread, each as a Mystic union of Guru and Dakini.
Sakya Dema, or Sakya Devi, is Guru Pema's first Nepali consort. He finds her at Sankhu in the north-east corner of the Kathmandu Valley on his way to Tibet A vihara of great antiquity, Sankhu sheltered pilgrims from Tibet en route to India. It was a vihara of master bronze smiths who were creating some of the finest art of Licchavi Nepal about the time of Pema's visit. The shrine of Sankhu Bajra-Jogini is now dominated by a temple of Ugratara called Khadga Jogini (the Yogini of the Sword). Perhaps the name Bajra-Yogini had its origin in Sakya Dema's association with the establishment. A local queen dies in childbirth and her corpse is taken to the cremation ground with her new-born daughter. The baby survives, suckled by monkeys, and grows up with them; but her hands and feet are webbed for she is an Awareness Dakini (ye-shes mkha'-'gro). Guru Pema finds her there and brings her to Pharping at the southern exit to the Valley, where at Yanglesho he performs his mahamudra meditation practice with her, utilising the mandalas of Yangdak and Dorje Phurba. This is all we know of Sakya Dema except that when Tsogyel visits Yanglesho some years later, the Guru's former consort is still living there as a yogini. The yogas which Sakya Dema relates to Tsogyel are the simultaneous creative and fulfilment processes of meditation that lead to mahamudra; the fulfilment process of 'burning and dripping'; the zap-lam yoga of co-incident pleasure and Emptiness; the togal yoga of the four visions leading to rainbow body; and sleep-yoga. A post-script to Sakya Dema's story is that some contemporary Tibetans believe that the Raj Kumari, the so-called Living Goddess of Basantapur Kumari Bahal in Kathmandu, is an emanation of the Goddess Sakya Dema.
Kalasiddhi is also born in Nepal. In ancient times Nepal was famous for its wool; Nepali blankets were sold in the market of Mauryan Pataliputra. Kalasiddhi's parents are weavers, Her father and mother, Bhadana and Nagini, name their child Dakini. Like Sakya Dema she grows up in a place of the dead, her father having abandoned her in a charnel ground with her dead mother. Mandarava, in the form of a tigress, suckles the child while keeping the mother's corpse warm so that the child will still cling to it. When Dakini is old enough she spins cotton during the day and weaves it by night. The fourteen-year-old Dakini is found by Tsogyel on her second visit to Nepal, where she comes to teach the Guru's secret precepts. Tsogyel names her Kalasiddhi: kala is the name of the substrata of the elements of the human body (bile, phlegm, semen, etc.) or 'atoms', and since Kalasiddhi belongs to the 'Body' family (kayakula) of Dakinis (and specifically to the conch type of Dakini, (samkini, which refers to the physical nature of the yoni), she will gain siddhi through realisation of the essential Emptiness of the 'atomic' structure of the body. In Mangyul, across the Tibetan border upstream of the Trishuli-kola, Kalasiddhi receives initiation into the Tantra Lama Mandala (gSangs-sngags bla-ma'i dkyil-'khor) and after extensive meditation she gains siddhi. She accompanies Tsogyel to Mutri Tsenpo's court at Samye and to the retreat centre at Chimphu where she meets Guru Pema. The Guru immediately perceives Kalasiddhi's potential as a mudra in his practice to increase the Tantra in Tibet and asks Tsogyel to give her to him for that purpose. Very soon after, Guru Pema leaves for the South-west leaving Kalasiddhi in Tsogyel's care. It is to Kalasiddhi that Tsogyel gave the detailed zap-lam instruction as her parting gift.
Tashi Khyidren of Bhutan is a well-known folk-figure in western Bhutan, where she is known as Bhutan's gift to the Great Guru in his work of propagating the tantras in Tibet. One Bhutanese source relates that she was the daughter of the legendary Sindhu Raja, King of the Iron Palace (lCag-mkhar rgyal-po), who invited the Guru to Bhutan (the Bum-thang area) to cure his disease. Jamgon Kongtrul makes 'Tashi Khyeudren' (Khye'u-'dren - the preferred form of her name in Bhutan) and 'Tashi Chidren' two separate consorts of the Guru, informing us that the former was from Tsha-'og and the latter was the daughter of King Ha-mar or Hamra.
The Life confirms that Tashi Khyidren was the daughter of King Hamra(s). At the age of thirteen she meets Tsogyel meditating in the Nering Drak Cave subjected to the wiles of the local spirits and demons. Full of admiration for the yogini, from time to time she brings her milk and honey. After Tsogyel has succeeded in subjecting the spirits and also the hostile local populace, Khyidren's father comes to pay her homage, and Tsogyel asks him to give her his daughter. King Hamra(s) obliges, and Tsogyel changes his daughter's name from Khyidren to Chidren, although Taksham still uses her former name. Soon after, Khyidren accompanies Tsogyel to Womphu. Taktsang in Tibet, where she meets Guru Pema. He asks Tsogyel to give him Khyidren to perform as his mudra in the initiatory rites of Dorje Phurba, which he was to perform for the protection of Tibet. Khyidren plays an important role as the secondary consort of the Guru in this initiation. In the symbology of the Phurba-tantra, Khyidren is the tigress upon which Guru Pema and Tsogyel, as Phurba and Consort, ride to subject the gods and demons of Tibet. She remains a disciple of Tsogyel for the remainder of the Dakini Guru's life. Khyidren is reborn as Machik Labdron's daughter.
Tsogyel lived during the climax of the Tibetan monarchy. Some years after her death there was a period of anarchy in Tibetan society out of which grew the roots of the theocratical system that was to develop and endure with various changes of direction until Mao's Chinese invasion. Despite the early political revolution there is little evidence of drastic social change in Tibet since Tsogyel's era. Except for some Indian, Mongol and Chinese influence, Tibet has remained socially isolated, and since Buddhism was assimilated underlying values have remained unaltered. The Buddhists (and Brahmins) teach the myth of an initial golden age, and a theory that recognises four ages, four stages in a process of inexorable decay from the glory of heaven on earth in the dharmayuga to the moral and physical corruption of the final cataclysmic kaliyuga in which we now find ourselves. These concepts imbue a profound conservatism and an intractable attachment to the status quo, so that the tendency is to conceive of any change as for the worse and to treat the past as a model for the present. After the end of the second period of propagation of the dharma (thirteenth century), the general bias was to consider foreigners, who inevitably brought new ideas with them, as harbingers of disaster. It was this xenophobic attitude, shared with the Chinese, that made Lhasa a forbidden city to the British Raj and gave Tibet a further century of moribund social and political existence. But the very isolationism that protected Tibet from the British left the country hopelessly vulnerable to Mao's Chinese. Due to imperceptible social change in Tibet down the centuries, we can deduce the nature of eighth-century Tibetan womanhood from contemporary observation.
If we can judge from our contemporaries, the daughter of Tibet is a hardy soul by nature, physically strong, shrewd, stubborn, slow to burn but fierce and passionate when aroused; she is not devoted to a moral law, has little fear of the karmic repercussions of her acts, has complete faith in the power of her priests to ward off evil and to secure for her her desires.
She is materialistic, but paradoxically she has implicit belief in the fierce and indiscriminately malicious world of spiritual powers surrounding her; she is highly superstitious but her faith in the efficacy of her charms and talismans, in the Lama's powers of sympathetic magic, and in the power and fidelity of her protecting gods, insulates her from morbid preoccupation with an evil spirit world. Unless she is educated in an exceptional nunnery she is illiterate, her sole source of learning being the classical epics, such as the epic history of Gear of Ling and various religious legends, customarily sung around the fireside by a bard or her grandparents. She is eminently practical regardless of her class, and she will often trade or act as family banked, holding the purse strings for her husband; if required to strike a deal it will be a rare man who gets the better of her.
Marriage is not a sacred sacrament in her society, but if conjugal ties prove expedient she is likely to remain faithful to her husband. Polyandry allowed her to be married to two or three brothers simultaneously, but it appears that only the early kings practised polygamy. In general the Tibetan female is not of mystical bent. Frequently the Tibetan female women entered nunneries to solve the problem, of food, shelter and clothing. If popular anecdotes reflect the reality, the nunneries were havens of frustrated women, with discipline lax and meditation an unusual concern. No doubt there were personal and institutional exceptions, periods of reform elevating the tone from time to time and always extraordinary Lamas must have inspired their disciples to practise sadhana. A woman with otherworldly propensities would have been well-advised to marry a Lama or a tantric yogin and thereby gain a very special status in society with many material fringe benefits.
Tsogyel was born into a hierarchical and patriarchal society, in which the clans were still the strongest social groupings. Taksham thought it of sufficient significance to mention that Bonpo fathers exchanged their daughters in marriage. From this can be inferred that marriage was a social device for strengthening political and economic ties within a clan or forming a beneficial alliance with another clan. Dowries were exchanged at marriages, which were celebrated by a secular feast. Arranged marriages were the norm in the upper strata of society, but the wishes of the girl seem to have been given consideration. A woman had certain rights of inheritance; Milarepa's mother, for instance, received land and property from her mother's family. Thus divorce for a woman was a simple matter of separation. Sexual morality seems never to have been puritanical or promiscuous; in general the Tibetans' sexuality appears well-balanced.
The status of women in the society into which Tsogyel was born, practically, could be said to be one of equality with men. True, it was a patriarchal society, but besides the basic power that resides in woman as mother and mistress, a power that unmarried feminists invariably underestimate in their evaluation of the status of woman, in every sphere of human activity women were active. In politics Trisong's queens' opinions carried significant weight, no doubt bolstered by the support of their powerful clans, and their prejudices changed the course of Buddhist history - Vairotsana's exile to Kham, engineered by a queen, carried Dzogchen to eastern Tibet, for instance. In religion the Bon gods were worshipped by priestesses besides male shamans, and in Buddhism Tsogyel herself was the best example of a woman reaching the apogee of attainment. This society was not highly sophisticated; but we need not envision feminine delicacy, intelligence and sensitivity oppressed in a tribal society of male warriors arrayed in skins with uncongealed blood still warm on their recently scabbarded swords. The cult of Avalokitesvara had been propagated amongst a portion of the aristocracy for a century or more, and Bon-shamanism with its vicious gods and demons who demanded even human blood for their propitiation was on the defensive. It was probably the innately conservative women who were the principal votaries of such atavistic spiritual powers. In such a world Tsogyel shines 'like a star in the day-sky'.
To conclude this section on Woman and the Dakini, the word Dakini, or Khandroma, has introduced a valuable new concept to the western world. The value of the concept is in its very lack of precise definition; it embraces a range of meaning - the female principle, a moment of spiritual integration, the Guru's Consort, a female sexual partner - that adds up to an enigma and paradox. The image that 'Sky Dancer' conjures with its connotation of an immaterial, gossamer, shape-shifting goddess-Dakini dancing in the empyreum is no less enigmatic. Such concepts as 'Dakini' fulfil the needs of western yogins trying to find expression of their experience in exploration of ,inner space. Discoveries on this re-found frontier, particularly experiences of gnostic sexuality, are not accommodated by western religious tradition with its equivocal dualistic concept of reality and strict compartmentalisation of sex and god. In the synthetic terminology and existential metaphysics of Tantra the word Dakini is central, just as the experience of the Dakini, by both yogins and yoginis, is central to the inner life.