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A ḍākinī (Sanskrit: डाकिनी; Tibetan: མཁའ་འགྲོ་མ་, Wylie: mkha' 'gro ma, THL: khandroma; Mongolian: хандарма; Chinese: 空行母; pinyin: kōngxíngmǔ; lit. 'sky-going mother'; alternatively 荼枳尼, pinyin: túzhǐní; 荼吉尼, pinyin: tújíní; or 吒枳尼, pinyin: zhāzhǐní; Japanese: 荼枳尼 / 吒枳尼 / 荼吉尼, dakini) is a type of female spirit or demon in Hinduism and Buddhism.
The concept of the ḍākinī somewhat differs depending on the context and the tradition. For instance, in earlier Hindu texts and East Asian esoteric Buddhism, the term denotes a race of demonesses who ate the flesh and/or vital essence of humans. In Hindu Tantric literature, Ḍākinī is the name of a goddess often associated with one of the six chakras or the seven fundamental elements (dhātu) of the human body. 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.
In Japan, the ḍākinīs - held in the East Asian Buddhist tradition to have been subjugated and converted to Buddhism by the buddha Vairocana under the guise of the god Mahākāla (Daikokuten in Japanese) - were eventually coalesced into a single deity called Dakiniten (荼枳尼天, 吒枳尼天, or 荼吉尼天), who, after becoming syncretized with the native agricultural deity Inari, became linked to fox (kitsune) iconography associated with the latter.
The Sanskrit term ḍākinī is related to ḍīyate, "to fly", as in uḍḍayanam (meaning "flight"). The Tibetan khandroma (Tibetan: མཁའ་འགྲོ་མ་, Wylie: mkha' 'gro ma), meaning "sky-goer", may have originated from the Sanskrit khecara (of the same meaning), a term from the Cakrasaṃvara Tantra. The masculine form of the word is ḍāka, which is usually translated into Tibetan as pawo, "hero" (Wylie: dpa' bo).
In Chinese, ḍākinī is transcribed mainly as 荼枳尼 (pinyin: túzhǐní), 荼吉尼 (pinyin: tújíní), or 吒枳尼 (pinyin: zhāzhǐní); other less common alternative transcriptions include 陀祇尼 (tuóqíní), 吒祇尼 (zhāqíní), 吒幾爾 (zhājǐěr), and 拏吉尼 (nájíní). It is also translated as 空行母 (pinyin: kōngxíngmǔ; lit. 'sky-going mother'), a calque of the Tibetan term. In Japanese, these transcriptions are all read as dakini (katakana: ダキニ; also ダーキニー, dākinī).
In certain passages in Hindu Purāṇic literature, ḍākinīs are depicted as flesh-eating demonesses in the train of the goddess Kālī. For instance, in the Shiva Purāṇa (2.2.33), Vīrabhadra and Mahākāḷī at Shiva's command march against Prajapati Daksha accompanied by the Nine Durgas and their fearsome attendants, namely "Ḍākinī, Śākinī, Bhūtas, Pramathas, Guhyakas, Kūṣmāṇḍas, Parpaṭas, Caṭakas, Brahma-Rākṣasas, Bhairavas and Kṣetrapālas." In the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa (3.41.30), Paraśurāma sees ḍākinīs among Shiva's retinue (gaṇa) in Mount Kailash.
In the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (10.06.27-29), after the young Krishna had killed the demoness Pūtanā, the cowherd women (gopis) of Vrindavan carry out protective rites to keep him safe from future harm. At the end of the ritual, they declare:
The Dākinīs, the Yātudhānīs, the Kūṣmāṇḍas, the infanticides, the goblins [Bhūtas], the Mātṛs, the Piśācas, the Yakṣas, the Rakṣasas, the Vināyakas, Kotarī, Revatī, Jyeṣṭhā, Pūtanā, and other Mātṛkās, Unmāda, Apasmāra, and other devils inimical to the mind, the body and the senses, and other evil omens and calamities dreamt of, and the slayers of the old and the young,—may these and all other evil spirits be destroyed, being terrified at the recital of the name of Viṣṇu.[a]
Other texts meanwhile apparently use 'Ḍākinī' as the name of a goddess. In the Lalitopākhyāna ("Narrative of [the goddess] Lalitā") section of the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa, Ḍākinī is one of the deities who guards the chariot of the boar-faced goddess Daṇḍanāthā, one of Lalitā's generals.
Seven deities called Dhātunāthās were stationed in their respective places beneath the same step. They were Yakṣiṇī, Śaṅkhinī, Lākinī, Hākinī, Śākinī, Ḍākinī and (another) Hākinī who had the united (and combined) forms of all of them. All these demonstrated the exploits of their mighty arms. They appeared ready to drink (i.e. destroy) all living beings and the Earth. They drank and consumed the seven Dhātus, essential ingredients, of the body (viz. the blood), skin, flesh, fat, bones, marrow and the semen of enemies. They had hideous faces. With their harsh leonine roars they filled ten quarters. They were called Dhātunāthās and they were the bestowers of eight Siddhis beginning with Aṇimā (minuteness).
They were experts in deluding, slaying, paralysing (stupefying), striking, swallowing, and exterminating the wicked Daityas. In regard to those who are habitually devout, they were competent to annihilate all adversities. They were called Dhātunāthās (since) they were present in all Dhātus (essential secretions of the body).
A chapter detailing the mode of worship of the goddess Kubjikā contained in the Agni Purāṇa instructs that the goddesses "Ḍākinī, Rākinī, Kākinī, Śākinī, and Yakṣiṇī should be worshipped in the six directions (coming) from the north-west."
In Tantric literature, Ḍākinī the goddess is usually associated with the saptadhātus (the seven primary constituent elements of the human body) or the six chakras. The Kubjikāmata Tantra for instance enumerates seven yoginī goddesses (Kusumamālinī, Yakṣiṇī, Śaṅkhinī, Kākinī, Lākinī, Rākinī, and Ḍākinī) to whom the ritual practitioner symbolically offers his semen, bones, marrow, fat, flesh, blood and skin, respectively. A nearly identical listing of goddesses can be found in a later text belonging to the same tradition, the Śrīmatottara Tantra: here, the names listed are Dākinī, Rākinī, Lākinī, Kākinī, Śākinī, Hākinī, Yākinī and Kusumā. Another chapter in the Kubjikāmata Tantra lists two sequences of six goddesses, assigned to each of the six chakras: the first denotes the creative "northern course" of the six chakras, from the ājñā down to the ādhāra, while the latter - comprising Ḍākinī, Rākinī, Lākinī, Kākinī, Śākinī and Hākinī - denotes the destructive "southern course", in reverse order.
Later Tantric texts such as the Rudrayāmala Tantra identify Ḍākinī, Rākinī, Lākinī, Kākinī, Śākinī and Hākinī with the six chakras, the dhātus and the five elements plus the mind. This work associates Ḍākinī with the mūlādhāra chakra, Rākinī with svādhiṣṭhāna, Lākinī with maṇipūra, Kākinī with anāhata, Śākinī with viśuddhi, and Hākinī with ājñā. The Śrīmatottara Tantra places Kusumamāla (absent in the Rudrayāmala Tantra) at the feet, while other texts place a figure named Yākinī at the level of the sahasrāra.
Ḍākinīs as flesh-eaters
In a chapter criticizing meat-eating in the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, Gautama Buddha refers to dākas and ḍākinīs - described as "terrible eaters of human flesh" - as the offspring of the carnivorous King Kalmaśapada ("Spotted Feet"), who was born after a human king had mated with a lioness.
In East Asian Buddhism, the locus classicus regarding the ḍākinīs is the story of their subjugation by the wrathful deity Mahākāla found in a commentary on the Mahāvairocana Tantra (also known as the Vairocanābhisaṃbodhi Sūtra) by the Tang dynasty monk Yi Xing. According to the story, the buddha Vairocana, wishing to stop the ḍākinīs from preying on humans, took the form of Mahākāla, summoned the ḍākinīs before him, and then swallowed them all, declaring that he will release them on the condition that they cease devouring human flesh. When the ḍākinīs complained that this would lead them to starvation, Mahākāla as a concession allowed them to consume the vital essence of deceased humans known as 'human yellow' (人黄, pinyin: rénhuáng, Japanese: jin'ō / ninnō) - an elusive substance (often described as five, six, seven, or ten grains resembling grains of millet, dewdrops or white jade) believed to be found either inside a person's liver, heart or at the top of the head - instead, teaching them a method enabling them to know of a person's impending death six months in advance so that they could obtain it before other demons, who also coveted the substance as it conferred various magical powers to the consumer. Other texts meanwhile assign the taming of the ḍākinīs to other figures such as Vajrapāṇi or the wisdom king Acala (Fudō Myōō in Japanese). Indeed, in Japanese esoteric Buddhism Acala is believed to have the power to extend the lifespan of his devotees and was thus invoked in certain life-prolonging rituals against soul-stealing demons such as ḍākinīs. Like Mahākāla, Acala is interpreted in the Japanese tradition as a wrathful avatar of Vairocana, with some texts even identifying Mahākāla as Acala's "trace" (suijaku) or manifestation.
A dictionary compiled by the Tang dynasty monk Huilin (慧琳) titled The Sound and Meaning of All Sūtras (Chinese: 一切經音義, pinyin: Yīqièjīng yīnyì) defines ḍākinīs (荼抧尼) as demonesses who bewitch people and have sexual relationships with them.
Dakiniten in Japanese Buddhism
Emergence and development of cult
The ḍākinī imagery arrived in Japan via Kūkai's introduction of Tangmi (East Asian esoteric Buddhism) to the country in the beginning of the 9th century (early Heian period) in the form of the Shingon school. The Womb Realm (Garbhakoṣadhātu) Mandala, one of the two main mandalas of Shingon Buddhism, depicts three ḍākinīs in the southern (right-hand side) part of the mandala's Outer Vajra section (外金剛部院, gekongōbu-in) in the court of Yama (Enmaten in Japanese), next to the Saptamātṛkās and other similar deities. The figures are half-naked and seated on circular mats next to a human corpse. One of the ḍākinīs is shown devouring a human arm and a leg; the other two hold skulls (kapāla) in their right hands, and one holds a chopper in her left hand. All in all, the ḍākinīs represented in this mandala are more akin to the demonesses of Hindu and early Buddhist texts and iconography than the female personifications of enlightenment found in Tibetan Buddhism.
The ḍākinīs were, as per their placement in the Womb Realm Mandala, originally revered as part of Yama's (Enmaten's) retinue, mainly figuring in rituals centered around the deity. A ḍākinī (not yet the medieval Dakiniten), depicted as a long-haired woman holding a bag, also appears in the Enmaten mandalas of the late Heian period as one of the god's attendants. It was after the Insei period of the late 11th to mid-12th century, during which Japan was effectively under the rule of retired ("cloistered") emperors, that a cult centered around the deified ḍākinī as a single goddess named 'Dakiniten' emerged independent of the Enmaten ritual. As the cult of Dakiniten flourished, its rite became famous for being particularly effective for obtaining worldly benefits and was thus especially attractive to the politically ambitious; at the same time, however, the ritual was viewed with suspicion within some circles as a dangerous, "heterodox" (外法, gehō) practice due to its supposed subversive, black magical aspects.
It is difficult to trace the exact origins of the Japanese Dakiniten cult. While a number of medieval texts claim the ritual's lineage started with eminent esoteric masters such as Amoghavajra or Vajrabodhi, the lineage may more plausibly be traced back to 10th century Shingon monks such as the Jingo-ji priest Kengyō (鑒教) or the Tō-ji abbot Kanshuku (観宿, fl. 926-930). Although one legend claims that Saichō, the founder of the Tendai school, brought with him Dakiniten ritual texts from China which he buried under the sōrintō at Mount Hiei, there is actually no historical proof that he or any of the other monks who went to China to study esoteric Buddhism - Kūkai, Jōgyō, Engyō, Ennin, Eun, Enchin and Shuei - brought home any such texts with them, suggesting that the Dakiniten rite developed in Japan well after their time.
The rapid rise of certain notable figures to prominence, as well as their decline, have been popularly attributed to Dakiniten. A certain anecdote regarding the military leader Taira no Kiyomori found in the Genpei Jōsuiki (one of a number of variants of the Heike Monogatari) claims that Kiyomori once shot an arrow at a fox during a hunt. The fox then transformed into a beautiful woman who promised to grant Kiyomori whatever he wanted in exchange for her life. Kiyomori, realizing the woman is none other than the goddess Kiko Tennō (貴狐天王, lit. "Venerable Fox Deva-King," i.e. Dakiniten), spared her life. He subsequently became a devotee of the goddess, despite his awareness that the benefits obtained through the Dakiniten rite (吒天の法, Daten no hō) would not be passed on to his progeny. The story thus attributes both Kiyomori's rise in power and the subsequent fall of his clan to his performance of the Dakiniten ritual.
According to the Kamakura period work Kokon Chomonjū, the late Heian period nobleman Fujiwara no Tadazane commissioned the performance of the Dakiniten rite for seven days as he was about to be sent into exile. At the end of that period, a fox came to eat his offering, a rice cake. He then later had a dream in which he was visited by a beautiful young woman. When she was getting ready to leave, he grasped her hair to hold her back, at which he woke up finding himself holding a fox's tail in his hands. The next day, instead of being exiled, he was promoted to a high rank. Attributing this turn of events to Dakiniten, Tadazane in thanksgiving worshiped the fox tail as a symbol of the deity.
Other people claimed to have attained positions of authority due to their devotion to Dakiniten include the monk Ningai (951-1046), the founder of the Ono branch (小野流, Ono-ryū) of Shingon, and the Shingon Risshū monk Monkan (1278-1357), a close aide of Emperor Go-Daigo whose name became linked to the infamous Tachikawa branch (Tachikawa-ryū). Monkan's enemies in particular painted him in a negative light by emphasizing the dubious nature of the rites he performed; one notable rival, Yūkai, accused him of "making offerings to the ḍākinīs and conjuring dragons while he is reporting to the throne." The Tendai monk Kōshū (1276-1350), writing in the late Kamakura period, wavers in his judgment of the Dakiniten rite: on the one hand, he comments that "he who worships animals is worthy of being a master. He who worships a fox is worthy of becoming a king." On the other hand, he warns his readers about the dangers of the Dakiniten cult.
Dakiniten and the imperial enthronement ceremony
During the decline of the Heian period, the ḍākinī image was mixed together with images of foxes and half-naked women, acquiring the names Dakini-ten (荼枳尼天, Dakini-deity), Shinkoō-bosatsu (辰狐王菩薩, Star Fox Queen-Bodhisattva), and Kiko-tennō (貴狐天王, Noble Fox-Heavenly Queen). In the Middle Ages, the Emperor of Japan would chant before an image of the fox Dakini-ten during his Enthronement, and both the shōgun and the emperor would venerate Dakini-ten whenever they saw it, as it was a common belief at the time that ceasing to pay respects to Dakini-ten would cause the immediate ruin of the regime.
Dakiniten and foxes
Although Dakini-ten was said to be a powerful Buddhist deity, the images and stories surrounding it in Japan in both medieval and modern times are drawn from local kitsune mythology. The modern folk belief, often printed in Japanese books about religion, is that the fox image was a substitute for the Indian jackal, but the black jackal and other black animals are associated with Kali.
In the early modern period, the ḍākinī rite devolved into various spells called Dakini-ten, Atago Gongen. Those who felt wronged in their village could go to a corrupt yamabushi who practiced black magic, and get him to trap a kitsune and cause it to possess a third party. Reports of possession became especially common in the Edo and Meiji periods. For details, see kitsunetsuki.
Ḍākinīs (Khandroma) in Tibetan Buddhism
Although ḍākinī figures appear in Hinduism and Bon, ḍākinīs occur most notably in Vajrayana Buddhism and especially Tibetan Buddhism. The khandroma, generally of volatile or wrathful temperament, acts somewhat as spiritual muse for spiritual practice. Dakinis are energetic beings in female form, evocative of the movement of energy in space. In this context, the sky or space indicates śūnyatā, the insubstantiality of all phenomena, which is, at the same time, the pure potentiality for all possible manifestations.
The dakini, in her various guises, serves as each of the Three Roots. She may be a human guru, a vajra master who transmits the Vajrayana teachings to her disciples and joins them in samaya commitments. The wisdom dakini may be a yidam, a meditational deity; female deity yogas such as Vajrayogini are common in Tibetan Buddhism. Or she may be a protector; the wisdom dakinis have special power and responsibility to protect the integrity of oral transmissions."
Classes of ḍākinī
Judith Simmer-Brown, based on teachings she received from Tibetan lamas, identifies four main classes of ḍākinī. These follow the twilight language tradition of esoteric Buddhism in referring to secret, inner, outer and outer-outer classes of ḍākinīs.
- The secret class of ḍākinī is prajnaparamita (Tibetan yum chenmo), the empty nature of reality according to Mahayana doctrine.
- The inner class of ḍākinī is the ḍākinī of the mandala, a meditational deity (Tibetan:yidam) and fully enlightened Buddha who helps the practitioner recognise their own Buddhahood.
- The outer ḍākinī is the physical form of the ḍākinī, attained through completion stage tantra practices such as the Six Yogas of Naropa that work with the subtle winds of the subtle body so that the practitioner's body is compatible with an enlightened mind.
- The outer-outer ḍākinī is a ḍākinī in human form. She is a yogini in her own right but may also be a karmamudrā, or consort, of a yogi or mahasiddha.
- The Dharmakāya ḍākinī, which is Samantabhadrī, represents the dharmadhatu where all phenomena appear.
- The Sambhogakāya ḍākinīs are the yidams used as meditational deities for tantric practice.
- The Nirmanakāya ḍākinīs are human women born with special potentialities; these are realized yoginis, consorts of gurus, or even all women in general as they may be classified into the Five Buddha Families.
In some instances, the terms ḍāka and ḍākinī have been used for practitioners of tantric yoga themselves. In other instances, just ḍākinī was used for female practitioners, while male practitioners were just known as yogi. Padmasambhava was known as a yogi and Yeshe Tsogyal, a Tibetan princess, yogini and consort of Padmasambhava, as a ḍākinī.
The scholar Miranda Shaw stated that "In Sanskrit there is only one word, Dakini. There are only female Dakinis... there is no male Dakini. It is an impossibility and a contradiction in terms."
Whereas Jan Willis in the chapter Ḑākinī; Some Comments on Its Nature and Meaning points out that "'she' is not 'female'. Though the ḍākinī assuredly most often appears in female form... this is but one of the myriad of ways Absolute Insight chooses to make manifest its facticity."[verify]
Tibetan Lamas trained in the Gelug school, such as Sermey Khensur Lobsang Tharchin, and those of the Karma Kagyu school such as Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, write freely of "dakas and dakinis". Thubten Yeshe clarifies their meaning: "what are dakas and dakinis? Simply speaking they are males and females who possess advanced experiences of tantric transformation and control and are therefore able to increase the blissful wisdom of a highly qualified practitioner."
In Anuttarayoga Tantra
Being associated with energy in all its functions, ḍākinīs are linked with the revelation of the Anuttarayoga Tantras, which represent the path of transformation, whereby the energy of negative emotions or kleshas, called poisons, is transformed into the luminous energy of enlightened awareness yielding the most profound experience of clear light. Thubten Yeshe explains:
When the completion stage practices have been mastered and we have gained control over our subtle energy winds and so forth, there will come a time when the dakas and dakinis will come... physically embracing such a consort is necessary to bring all the pervading energy winds into the central channel, a prerequisite for opening the heart center and experiencing the profoundest level of clear light.
When considered as a stage on the Vajrayana Path, the ḍākinī is the final stages: the first is the guru, which corresponds to the initial realization of the true condition of reality, as this is introduced by the guru in the empowerment, if the disciple obtains what the Inner Tantras call peyi yeshe (Wylie: dpe yi ye shes) or the clarity of shunyata. The second is the devata, which corresponds to the meditation insofar as the devata is the method used for developing the state discovered in the initial realization of the true condition of reality. The third stage is the ḍākinī insofar as the ḍākinī is the source of the activities based on the realization of the guru and the meditation of the devata.
In Dzogchen these three correspond to tawa (lta ba), gompa (sgom pa) and chöpa (spyod pa): the first is the direct vision of the true nature of reality rather than an intellectual view of reality, as is the case with the term in other vehicles; the second is the continuity of this vision in sessions of meditation; and the third is the continuity of this vision in everyday activities. As a tantric practice, imperfections are utilised to make the vision uninterrupted. As the Base, the ḍākinīs are the energies of life; as the Path, they are the activities of advanced practitioners; as the Fruit, they are the actionless activities of realized Masters.
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