What is a Dakini?
Dakini, the Sanskrit term in the Tibetan language, is rendered Khandroma (mkha’-‘gro-ma) meaning “she who traverses the sky or moves in space.”
Poetically, this is translated as “sky dancer” or “sky walker”. Iconographically, their bodies are depicted curved in sinuous dance poses. They dance as active manifestations of energy or shakti. Often depicted as beautiful and naked, dakinis are not seen primarily as sexual symbols but as symbols of the naked mind, stripped of all obscuration and defilements. And their dance movements signify the movements and thoughts or the quanta of consciousness in the mindstream and dharmakaya as the wellspring of the spontaneously emerging Buddha-mind, or rigpa.
Dakinis are prevalent in Vajrayana Buddhism, conceived in Tibet and the Himalaya where the Dakini, generally of a volatile temperament, acts somewhat as a muse (or inspirational thought form) for spiritual practice. Dakinis are energetic thought forms in female form, evoking energy movement in space. In this context, the sky or space indicates shunyata, the insubstantiality of all phenomena, pure potentiality for all possible manifestations.
Dakinis are known as questing and testing agents. At times, a Dakini comes to test an aspirant’s control over his or her sexual desires, but the Dakini should not be construed as a being of passion and sexuality. Many stories of the Mahasiddhas in Tibet contain passages where a Devi perturbs the aspiring Mahasiddha. When the Dakini’s test has been fulfilled and passed, the aspirant is oft then recognized as a Mahasiddha, and thus elevated into the Dakini Paradise, a place of enlightened bliss.
According to tradition, a Dakini gave a black hat to the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284 – 1339), when he was 3 years old. The Black Crown became the emblem of the oldest reincarnating Tibetan lineage.
Dakinis, associated with all energy-related functions, are linked with the revelation of the Anuttara Tantras or Higher Tantras, which represent the path of transformation. Here, the energy of negative emotions or kleshas, called poisons, are transformed into the luminous energy of enlightened awareness yielding rigpa.
Iconographic representations show the Dakini as a young, naked figure in dancing posture, often holding a skull cup filled with menstrual blood or the elixir of life in one hand, a curved knife in the other. Wearing a garland of human skulls, with a trident staff against her shoulder, her wild hair hangs down her back. Her face often has a wrathful expression, as she dances on top of a corpse, which represents her complete mastery over ego and ignorance. Practitioners often claim to hear the clacking of her bone adornments as Dakinis indulge in their vigorous movement.