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Women’s Superiority and Guru’s Glory

Women’s Superiority and Guru’s Glory

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Sujit Chakraborty delves into Women’s Superiority, the concept of dakinis, and the significant contributions of Guru Padmasambhava’s consorts, highlighting the unique and exalted position women held in medieval spiritual practices.

It may sound like an anachronism, but it is a fact that even in the medieval times, which would be when patriarchy was at its nauseating peak, Guru Rinpoche’s Vajrayaan, based on Tantricism of India, put women above men in spiritual felicity

Guru Padmasambhava had five consorts, two of them – Mandarava and Yeshey Tsogyal, being known widely as beauty queens. But not just physical beauty. It was in both cases rare radiance of knowledge and spirituality.

Besides, there were also Shakya Devi from India; Kalasiddhi from Nepal and Tashi Khyidren: the Himalayan Consort. Interestingly, the last mentioned could have originated in Bhutan but went to Lhodrak in southern Tibet, where she met… guess who?

She met the Guru’s most cherished consort Yeshey Tsogyal. The latter imparted some esoteric spiritual transmissions to her and then she introduced her to Guru Padmasambhava, who took her as his consort.

But if the whole thing seems to us, lowly mortals, as a merry consortium of consorts, we could come to conclude that Padmakara was a maniac. And that is why we are lowly mortals, for we see not what consort meant in Guru’s Vajrayaan.

I am amazed to see what exalted position women enjoyed in Vajrayaan Buddhism. Clearly, they were stated to be far superior to men in spiritual capabilities.

And it is here that we are faced with the issue of dakinis, who form the inner core of Vajrayaan and are seemingly omnipresent in the faith’s canons. So who are these dakinis?

My dear friend, Karma Choda Bhutia, has done us yeomen service by asking about who are rakshashas and dakinis. And researching on that, I came upon this gem: women are superior spiritually.

What It Takes

Let us take recourse to the easiest way out: Wikipedia…

Dakinis, it says, are “in earlier Hindu texts and East Asian esoteric Buddhism, a race of demonesses who ate the flesh and/or vital essence of humans. In Hindu Tantric literature.”

So why is it that Yeshey Tsogyal is called a ‘dakini’? A beauty non-pareil, she widely known as a woman of such high spiritual attainments that when Guru Rinpoche departed from Tibet, he had left her behind to tackle Tibet’s problems. Does that seem to make her the kind of blood sucking vamp as Wikipedia depicts a dakini to be?

Wikipedia writes, of course, that “In Nepalese and Tibetan Buddhism, meanwhile, ‘ḍākinī’ (also wisdom ḍākinī) can refer to both what can be best described as fierce-looking female embodiments of enlightened energy and to human women with a certain amount of spiritual development, both of which can help Tantric initiates attaining enlightenment.”

This is good enough for starters, but like most items in Wikipedia, merely scratches the epidermis of a very serious as well as a secret, esoteric issue. So too seek depth, I requested an expert to explain this concept to me.

His name is Jamyang Dorjee, the internationally feted master of Tibetan calligraphy and holder of the world record for the longest Tibetan calligraphic scroll.

So I shall quote him at length, for when the wise speak, we, the lesser humans must stand aside and listen. And he starts off thus:

Padma’s Premise

“Tibetan Buddhism offers a unique premise: that to be a woman can actually be favourable on the path to spiritual realisation. Padmasambhava, the eighth-century pioneer of Buddhism in Tibet, reasoned that women are better equipped to realise the wisdom of the teachings.

Guru Padmasambhava statue at Ghyoilisang peace park
Guru Padmasambhava statue at Ghyoilisang peace park

Modern teachers have echoed this sentiment. As the Western nun, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo comments: “Many lamas have said that women make superior practitioners because they are able to dive into meditation much more easily than males. This is because many males are afraid of dropping the intellect, especially monks who have been studying for a long time. To suddenly just let that go and be naked in the meditation-experience is frightening for them, whereas women seem to be able to manage it naturally.”

A female embodiment of enlightenment is called a dakini in the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit. But what exactly is a dakini?

Dakinis are elusive and playful by nature; trying to nail them down with a neat definition means missing them, since defying narrow intellectual concepts is at the core of their wise game.

Clarity of Women

“To me the special female quality (which of course many men have as well) is first of all a sharpness, a clarity,” says Tenzin Palmo, who has vowed to attain enlightenment in a female body.

“It cuts through—especially intellectual ossification. It gets to the point. To me, the dakini principle stands for the intuitive force. Women get it in a flash—they’re not interested in intellectual discussion which they normally find dry and cold with minimum appeal.”

As Khandro Rinpoche, whose very name literally means “precious dakini,” points out: “Traditionally, the term dakini has been used for outstanding female practitioners, consorts of great masters, and to denote the enlightened female principle of nonduality which transcends gender.”

Khandro Rinpoche defines the authentic dakini principle as “a very sharp, brilliant wisdom-mind that is uncompromising, honest, with a little bit of wrath. This, to me, is a very exact description of the qualities of the teachers who are featured in this book. Despite their gentleness and humour, I experience many of the female teachers as direct, sharply intelligent, radical, and courageous.

“The dakini principle must not be oversimplified, as it carries many levels of meaning.

Three Levels

On an outer level, accomplished female practitioners were called dakinis, and it is in this sense that the term is used in the title of this book.

But ultimately, though she appears in a female form, a dakini defies gender definitions. “To really meet the dakini, you have to go beyond duality,” Khandro Rinpoche teaches, referring to an essential principle in Vajrayaan that the absolute reality cannot be grasped intellectually.

The Tibetan word for dakini, khandro, means “sky-goer” or “space-dancer,” which indicates that these ethereal awakened ones have left the confinements of solid earth and have the vastness of open space to play in.

Practitioner-scholar Judith Simmer-Brown differentiates four levels of meaning:

“On a secret level, she is seen as the manifestation of fundamental aspects of phenomena and the mind, and so her power is intimately associated with the most profound insights of Vajrayaan meditation.

Women: Formless Wisdom

“In this, her most essential aspect, she is called the formless wisdom-nature of the mind itself.

See Also

On an inner, ritual level, she is a meditational deity, visualised as the personification of qualities of buddhahood.

On an outer, subtle-body level, she is the energetic network of the embodied mind in the subtle channels and vital breath of tantric yoga.

She is also spoken of as a living woman: she may be a guru on a brocaded throne, or a yogini meditating in a remote cave, a powerful teacher of meditation, or a guru’s consort teaching directly through her life example.

Finally, all women are seen as some kind of dakini manifestation. Thus, dakinis appear in many forms.

The five Wisdom Dakinis
The five Wisdom Dakinis

“The dakinis are the most important elements of the enlightened feminine in Tantric Buddhism created by Guru Padmasambhava,” says American teacher Tsultrim Allione. “They are the luminous, subtle, spiritual energy, the key, the gatekeeper, the guardian of the unconditioned state. If we are not willing to invite the dakini into our lives, then we cannot enter these subtle states of the mind.

“Sometimes the dakinis appear as messengers, sometimes as guides, and sometimes as protectors.”

High Accomplishments

The Himalaya has always been a nursery for highly accomplished female practitioners and, to some extent, still are. The yoginis might live in remote hermitages or nunneries as devoted practitioners, or as the wives, mothers, or daughters of famous teachers.

Students often sought their advice informally, but women rarely wrote books, sat on high thrones or assumed lofty titles of their own. “There were certainly many great female practitioners in Tibet,” says Tenzin Palmo. But because they lacked a background of philosophical training, they could not aspire to write books, gather disciples, go on Dharma tours, and give talks.

“When we read the histories, we will notice that nuns are distinguished by their absence. But this doesn’t mean they weren’t there.”

While iconic archetypes of feminine enlightenment were erected on shrines, few women in Tibet were actually emboldened to follow in their footsteps.

Despite the encouraging quote of the pioneer of Tantric Buddhism – Guru Padmasambhava ‑ that women’s potential to attain liberation is supreme, most Buddhist cultures throughout the centuries perceived women as lesser beings.

The few encouraging statements are outnumbered by plenty of passages in the writings attributed to Padmasambhava and other masters that lament the hardships of womanhood.

Therefore Dakini Power is dedicated to the female teachers and practitioners, to honour their lives and accomplishments as shining examples of dedication, compassion and realisation.

Now, imagine the struggle of the man who fought to establish women at the level without which no sadhana is complete, because he was functioning in an environment where misogyny ruled.

And this he had to, because tantra is fundamentally based on the intuitive spirituality of the feminine. I have known several tantrics, and none of them dared to even contemplate their ladies as anything less than a goddess, the Bhairavi.

Women is shakti, and so Guru Padmasambhava had taken the path of Shaktaism. No wonder, therefore that goddesses such as Kali, Chamunda, Chhinnamasta and other feminine forms, some becalming, some terrifying, are central to Vajrayaan of Guru Padmasambhava.

Kali, Chamunda and Chinnamasta in Tibetian Tanra Buddhism
Kali, Chamunda and Chinnamasta in Tibetian Tanra Buddhism
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