The primary emblem of the feminine in Tibetan Buddhism is the dakini, or "sky-dancer," a semi-wrathful spirit-woman who manifests in visions, dreams, and meditation experiences. Western scholars and interpreters of the dakini, influenced by Jungian psychology and feminist goddess theology, have shaped a contemporary critique of Tibetan Buddhism in which the dakini is seenThe primary emblem of the feminine in Tibetan Buddhism is the dakini, or "sky-dancer," a semi-wrathful spirit-woman who manifests in visions, dreams, and meditation experiences. Western scholars and interpreters of the dakini, influenced by Jungian psychology and feminist goddess theology, have shaped a contemporary critique of Tibetan Buddhism in which the dakini is seen as a psychological "shadow," a feminine savior, or an objectified product of patriarchal fantasy. According to Judith Simmer-Brown—who writes from the point of view of an experienced practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism—such interpretations are inadequate.
In the spiritual journey of the meditator, Simmer-Brown demonstrates, the dakini symbolizes levels of personal realization: the sacredness of the body, both female and male; the profound meeting point of body and mind in meditation; the visionary realm of ritual practice; and the empty, spacious qualities of mind itself. When the meditator encounters the dakini, living spiritual experience is activated in a nonconceptual manner by her direct gaze, her radiant body, and her compassionate revelation of reality. Grounded in the author's personal encounter with the dakini, this unique study will appeal to both male and female spiritual seekers interested in goddess worship, women's spirituality, and the tantric tradition....more
Paperback, 432 pages
December 10th 2002
(first published 2001)
You know how every once awhile you read a book and it crashes into you like a torrid new love affair? This book did that to me -- it has taken me weeks to get through it because I keep having to put it down because a sentence has completely engulfed me and I have to let it soak in for awhile. I read this book at the perfect time; it has intersected with my level of spiritual development and the rest of my current practice and journey in a profoundly transformative and powerful way, and left me dYou know how every once awhile you read a book and it crashes into you like a torrid new love affair? This book did that to me -- it has taken me weeks to get through it because I keep having to put it down because a sentence has completely engulfed me and I have to let it soak in for awhile. I read this book at the perfect time; it has intersected with my level of spiritual development and the rest of my current practice and journey in a profoundly transformative and powerful way, and left me dazzled and dismantled. I'm not the same person I was when I started this book a few weeks ago. I don't know how to talk about it.
Since last January I've been journeying through the underworld, and finally after months of slogging I've suddenly burst out into a pure land of emptiness and freedom, and I'm overwhelmed with joy. If I turn around I can still see the mouth of the cave I emerged from, but have no more desire to return there. Everything is dancing and luminous here, delicious and beloved. Reading this book I kept thinking, "Oh, yes, that IS how it is -- how could I have forgotten?" Like coming home. In fact, last week I dreamed that I was Odysseus returning home, and also Penelope waiting for him. I also dreamed that I woke up in a squat with a hangover and suddenly remembered that I have had amnesia, and it is time to go home, and sailed home to a castle to rule as a long lost a Dakini Queen.
A dakini is a multivalent symbol in the tantric school of Tibetan Buddhism that has many meanings. A dakini can be a powerful spiritual being, or the essence of penetrating insight, or the feminine principle of the divine, or a dangerous nature deity. She is the sky-dancer who dances in the endless luminous emptiness that permeates the world of form. Worldly dakinis are dangerous and wicked; wisdom dakinis protect and inspire.
The dakini has four aspects: the tangible physical body, the subtle energy body, the deity nature of coemergent joy, and the self-aware primordial mind. From one perspective, all women are dakinis. From another, all people transcend gender at their essence, being a balance of feminine and masculine forces. In this system, the feminine represents wisdom and the masculine represents skillful means, the two wings that we need to fly to full awakening. The wisdom dakini "manifests these four aspects simultaneously. Secretly, she is pure space-emptiness, vast and inexpressible...she takes whatever form may be of the most benefit for those whom she may meet or instruct."
Here's a great quote:
"From the inner point of view, there is no real separation between perceiver and perceived or between subject and object. Instead, the perceptual and experiential world is understood as an energetic field that is ultimately empty of inherent existence, characterized by limitless space. Within that space, phenomena arise interdependently and fleetingly as the play of color and texture, which is experienced in a variety ways...For the dakini, the inner is expressed through visionary experience. From an inner point of view, there is no judgment, no conceptual overlay. Things are very simply what they are, but seen from a dynamic and appreciative perspective."
Simmer-Brown is an excellent writer; it is difficult to write about interior spiritual experience, and she does so with clarity and nuance. I myself could not possibly do as well, and it is always satisfying when someone described an experience you yourself have had, but been unable to articulate. It is not clear to me, however, if this book would make any sense to someone who had not had the experiences Simmer-Brown writes about. Also, it probably would not be a very interesting book unless you came to it already understanding a good deal about the history and philosophy of Buddhism in general and Shambhala in particular.
I've started meditating with the Seattle Shambhala Center; Simmer-Brown will be in Seattle in September so I'm going to a lecture she is giving then.
For me right now the problem is the skillful means. How do we embody emptiness and compassion? How can I use my time here in this human body most effectively for the benefit of others? Is it OK to spend time doing things -- like dancing -- just because they fill me with joy, since that joy is then infectious and benefits those around me? Or is that just self-indulgence and narcissism? How do I stay constantly awake instead of fading in and out of clarity, like a puppy who keeps keeling over into a nap? My heart is awake all the time, even when my body is asleep, but why does my mind keep drifting off into dream and delusion? Have I really made it home or is it a mirage, is it like when Odysseus can see the shores of Ithaca but is whisked backwards by magic and has to do a big chunk of the journey all over again? Isn't all this just dualism and discursive mind? But how do you effectively benefit those who are suffering without meeting the world on its own terms and getting back down in the mud of samsara again?
Vajrayogini, may I be liberated in this lifetime....more
Quite a remarkable and ambitious book. Quite interesting from either an academic religious studies standpoint or a Buddhist practitioners standpoint (although there are certainly chapters that would challenge someone from each group.)
The feminine principle in Tibetan Buddhism is something I got interested in my recent appreciation of thanka paintings and symbolic art. I keep a dictionary handy for this academic presentation of the material. It will take me a few weeks to finish it.