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Painting of Vajrayoginī in the form of Nāropa's Ḍākinī

Vajrayoginī (Sanskrit: Vajrayoginī वज्रयोगिनी; Nepal Bhasa:Hyāu Khwā Māju ह्याउ ख्वा माजु, Tibetan: རྡོ་རྗེ་རྣལ་འབྱོར་མ་, Wylie: rdo rje rnal ’byor ma, Dorjé Neljorma; Mongolian: Огторгуйд Одогч, Нархажид, Chinese: 金剛瑜伽母; pinyin: Jīngāng Yújiāmǔ) is a Tantric Buddhist female Buddha and a ḍākiṇī. The Vajrayogini cult dates back to the tenth and twelfth centuries. Vajrayoginī's essence is "great passion" (maharaga), a transcendent passion that is free of selfishness and illusion—she intensely works for the well-being of others and for the destruction of ego clinging. She is seen as being ideally suited for people with strong passions, providing the way to transform those passions into enlightened virtues.[1]

She is an Anuttarayoga Tantra iṣṭadevatā (meditation deity) and her practice includes methods for preventing ordinary death, intermediate state (bardo) and rebirth (samsara) by transforming them into paths to enlightenment, and for transforming all mundane daily experiences into higher spiritual paths. Practices associated with her are Chöd and the Six Yogas of Naropa.

Vajrayoginī is often described with the epithet sarvabuddhaḍākiṇī, meaning "the ḍākiṇī [who is the Essence] of all Buddhas".

According to scholar Miranda Shaw, Vajrayoginī is "inarguably the supreme deity of the Tantric pantheon. No male Buddha, including her divine consort, Heruka Cakrasaṃvara, approaches her in metaphysical or practical import."[2]

Origin and lineage[edit]

Vajrayoginī's sādhanā originated between the tenth and twelfth centuries against the backdrop of non-Buddhist Shaiva tantras.[3][4] The Buddhist Yoginitantras that deal with yoginis and dakinis draw from Saiva scriptures. The Cakrasaṃvara Tantra in particular contains numerous passages that were adapted from Saiva sources. The text and its commentaries have revealed numerous attempts by Buddhists to enlarge and modify it, both to remove references to Saiva deities and to add more Buddhist technical terminology.[4]

In the Cakrasaṃvara Tantra, Vajrayoginī appears as his yab-yum consort,[5] to become a stand-alone practice of Anuttarayoga Tantra in its own right.[6] The practice of Vajrayoginī belongs to the Mother Tantra (Wylie: ma rgyud) class of Anuttarayoga Tantras along with other tantras such as the Cakrasaṃvara and Hevajra Tantras.

Vajrayana teaches that the two stages of the practice of Vajrayoginī (generation stage and completion stage) were originally taught by Vajradhara. He manifested in the form of Heruka to expound the Root Tantra of Chakrasaṃvara, and it was in this tantra that he explained the practice of Vajrayoginī. All the many lineages of instructions on Vajrayoginī can be traced back to this original revelation. Of these lineages, there are three that are most commonly practiced: the Narokhachö lineage, which was transmitted from Vajrayoginī to Naropa; the Maitrikhachö lineage, which was transmitted from Vajrayoginī to Maitripa; and the Indrakhachö lineage, which was transmitted from Vajrayoginī to Indrabodhi.[7][8]


Vajrayoginī is visualized as the translucent, deep red form of a 16-year-old female with the third eye of wisdom set vertically on her forehead and unbound flowing hair. Vajrayoginī is generally depicted with the traditional accoutrements of a ḍākiṇī, including a kartika (a vajra-handled flaying knife) in her right hand and a kapala filled with blood in her left hand that she drinks from with upturned mouth. Her consort Cakrasaṃvara is often symbolically depicted as a khaṭvāṅga on Vajrayoginī's left shoulder, when she is in "solitary hero" form. Vajrayoginī's khaṭvāṅga is marked with a vajra and from it hangs a damaru drum, a bell, and a triple banner. Her extended right leg treads on the chest of red Kālarātri, while her bent left leg treads on the forehead of black Bhairava, bending his head backward and pressing it into his back at the level of his heart. Her head is adorned with a crown of five human skulls and she wears a necklace of fifty human skulls. She is depicted as standing in the center of a blazing fire of exalted wisdom. Her countenance shows both erotic and fierce features, "in the fullness of bliss, laughing and baring her fangs."[9]

Each aspect of Vajrayoginī's form and mandala is designed to convey a spiritual meaning. For example, her brilliant red-colored body symbolizes the blazing of her tummo (candali) or "inner fire" of spiritual transformation as well as life force (Shakti), blood of birth and menstrual blood.[9] Her single face symbolizes that she has realized that all phenomena are of one nature in emptiness. Her two arms symbolize her realization of the two truths. Her three eyes symbolize her ability to see everything in the past, present and future. She looks upward toward the Pure Dākiṇī Land, demonstrating her attainment of outer and inner Pure Dākiṇī Land, and indicating that she leads her followers to these attainments. The curved driguk knife in her right hand shows her power to cut the continuum of the delusions and obstacles of her followers and of all living beings. Drinking the blood from the kapala in her left hand symbolizes her experience of supreme bliss.[10]

Vajravārāhī and other forms[edit]

Vajrayoginī is a female deity and although she is sometimes visualized as simply Vajrayoginī, in a collection of her sādhanās she is visualized in an alternate form in over two thirds of the practices.[11] Her other forms include Vajravārāhī (Wylie: rdo-rje phag-mo "Vajra Sow") and Krodikali (alt. Krodhakali, Kālikā, Krodheśvarī, Krishna Krodhini, Tibetan Tröma Nakmo; Wylie: khros ma nag mo, "Wrathful Lady", "Fierce Black One").[12][13]

In her form as Vajravārāhī "the Vajra Sow", she is often pictured with a sow's head on the side of her own as an ornament and in one form has the head of a sow herself. Vajrayoginī is often associated with triumph over ignorance, the pig being associated with ignorance in Buddhism. This sow head relates to the origins of Vajravārāhī from the Hindu sow-faced goddess Vārāhī.[14]

The severed-headed form of Vajrayoginī is similar to the Indian goddess Chinnamasta, who is recognized by both Hindus and Buddhists.[15]


Painted 19th century Tibetan maṇḍala of the Nāropa tradition, Vajrayoginī stands in the center of a red hexagram, Rubin Museum of Art

Vajrayoginī acts as a meditation deity, or the yab-yum consort of such a deity, in Vajrayāna Buddhism. She appears in a maṇḍala that is visualized by the practitioner according to a sādhana describing the practice of the particular tantra. There are several collections containing sādhanas associated with Vajrayoginī including one collection, the Guhyasamayasādhanamālā, containing only Vajrayoginī sādhanas and comprising forty-six works by various authors.[16]

The yidam that a meditator identifies with when practicing the Six Yogas of Nāropa is Vajrayoginī and she is an important deity for tantric initiation, especially for new initiates as Vajrayoginī's practice is said to be well-suited to those with strong desirous attachment, and to those living in the current "degenerate age". As Vajravārāhī, her consort is Chakrasaṃvara (Tib. Khorlo Demchog), who is often depicted symbolically as a khaṭvāṇga on her left shoulder. In this form she is also the consort of Jinasagara (Tib. Gyalwa Gyatso), the red Avalokiteśvara (Tib. Chenrezig).

Vajrayoginī is a key figure in the advanced Tibetan Buddhist practice of Chöd, where she appears in her Kālikā (Standard Tibetan: Khros ma nag mo) or Vajravārāhī (Tibetan:rDo rje phag mo) forms.

Vajrayoginī also appears in versions of Guru yoga in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. In one popular system the practitioner worships their guru in the form of Milarepa, whilst visualizing themself as Vajrayoginī.[17]

The purpose of visualizing Vajrayoginī is to gain realizations of generation stage tantra, in which the practitioner mentally visualises themself as their yidam or meditational deity and their surroundings as the Deity's maṇḍala. The purpose of generation stage is to overcome ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions, which are said in Vajrayana Buddhism to be the obstructions to liberation (Skt. nirvāṇa) and enlightenment.[18]

Vajrayogini temples[edit]

In the Kathmandu valley of Nepal there are several important Newar temples dedicated to different forms of Vajrayogini. These temples are important power places of Nepalese Vajrayana Buddhism[19] and are also important pilgrimage places for Tibetan Buddhists. These temples include the Sankhu Vajrayogini temple, Vidhyeshvari Vajrayogini temple, Parping Vajrayogini temple, and the Guhyeshwari temple.


Samding Dorje Phagmo[edit]

The female tulku who was the abbess of Samding Monastery, on the shores of the Yamdrok Tso Lake, near Gyantse, Tibet was traditionally a nirmāṇakāya emanation of Vajravārāhī (Tibetan: Dorje Phagmo).[20] The lineage started in the 15th century with the princess of Gungthang, Chökyi Drönma (Wylie: Chos-kyi sgron-me)(1422–1455).[21] She became known as Samding Dorje Pagmo (Wylie:bSam-lding rDo-rje phag-mo) and began a line of female tulkus, reincarnate lamas. Charles Alfred Bell met the tulku in 1920 and took photographs of her, calling her Dorje Pamo in his book.[22][23] The current incarnation, the 12th of this line, resides in Lhasa.[24]

See also[edit]



Works cited[edit]

  • Benard, Elizabeth Anne (2000). Chinnamasta: The Awful Buddhist and Hindu Tantric Goddess. Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 978-81-208-1748-7.
  • Diemberger, Hildegard (2007). When a Woman Becomes a Religious Dynasty: The Samding Dorje Phagmo of Tibet. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0231143202.
  • English, Elizabeth (2002). Vajrayogini: Her Visualizations, Rituals, and Forms. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-329-X.
  • Gray, David B.; Overbey, Ryan Richard (2016). Tantric Traditions in Transmission and Translation. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-061378-5.
  • Huntington, J. C.; Bangdel, D. (2003). The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art. Serindia Publications. ISBN 978-1932476019.
  • Lepcha, Rabden (November 1920). Dorje Pamo at Samding Monastery (photo). Retrieved 2022-12-07.
  • Logan, Pamela (Winter 2004). "Tulkus in Tibet". Harvard Asia Quarterly. VIII (1).
  • Payne, Richard K. (2018). Language in the Buddhist Tantra of Japan: Indic Roots of Mantra. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1-350-03727-4.
  • Rhie, M. M.; Thurman, R. A. F. (1991). Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet. Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. ISBN 978-0939117048.
  • Shakya, Min Bahadur (1994). The Iconography of Nepalese Buddhism. Kathmandu: Handicraft Association of Nepal.
  • Shaw, Miranda (2006). Buddhist Goddesses of India. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-12758-3.
  • Simmer-Brown, Judith (2002). Dakini's Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism. Shambhala Publications. ISBN 978-1570629204.
  • Tsering, Tashi (n.d.). "A Preliminary Reconstruction of the Successive Reincarnations of Samding Dorje Phagmo; The Foremost Woman Incarnation of Tibet". Youmtsho - Journal of Tibetan Women's Studies (1): 20–53.
  • Watt, Jeff (April 1998). "Item: Vajrayogini (Buddhist Deity) - Krodha Kali (Wrathful Black Varahi)". Himalayan Art Resources. Himalayan Art Resources Inc. Retrieved 2021-11-04.
  • Watt, Jeff (December 2019). "Buddhist Deity: Vajrayogini Main Page". Himalayan Art Resources. Himalayan Art Resources Inc. Retrieved 2021-11-04.

Further reading[edit]

  • Campbell, June (1996). Traveller in Space: In Search of the Female Identity in Tibetan Buddhism. George Braziller. ISBN 978-0-8076-1406-8.
  • Haas, Michaela (2013). Dakini Power: Twelve Extraordinary Women Shaping the Transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. Snow Lion. ISBN 978-1559394079.
  • Norbu, Thinley (1981). Magic Dance: The Display of the Self Nature of the Five Wisdom Dakinis (2nd ed.). Jewel Publishing House. ISBN 978-0-9607000-0-4.
  • Padmasambhava; Kunsang, Erik Pema (tr.) (1999). Dakini Teachings (2nd ed.). Rangjung Yeshe Publications. ISBN 978-962-7341-36-9.
  • Tharchin, Sermey Khensur Lobsang (1997). Sublime Path to Kechara Paradise. Mahayana Sutra and Tantra Press. ISBN 0-918753-13-9.

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