Many Dakinis

February 3rd 2009

Those of you at Gampo Abbey will be happy to learn that Jinpa, Shambhala’s monastic at the Rinchen Terdzo, has passed a step further into the red and yellow world here in Orissa. A few weeks ago he was seen playing the gyalings (Tibetan horns) during the evening blessing while the procession of rinpoches and lamas made their way through the crowd. Today at one o’clock Jinpa was part of the trio of monks (two on gyalings, one ceremoniously waving incense) who lead His Eminence to and from the shrine room. Only ordained monastics can perform this function—and they get to wear the dignified yellow hat. Jinpa and the rest of today’s procession was top notch.

We have officially finished the yidam section, the second major section of mahayoga practices in the Rinchen Terdzo, and, as of late yesterday afternoon, we have started receiving abhishekas for the dakini practices. Dakinis are feminine deities. They can be enlightened or powerful worldly beings. In tantric literature it is explained that women are the embodiment of prajna, transcendent knowledge, and that men are the embodiment of upaya, skillful means, skillfully benefitting others.

Once I was traveling with some friends in Tibet. We were walking through the ridges of Samye Chimpu which are near Samye, the first monastery in Tibet. The brush covered, winding ridges of Samye Chimpu are dotted with retreat caves. A great variety of termas have been discovered there. For example, Jigme Lingpa’s famous discovery, the Longchen Nyingtik was discovered in a cave that I think is one of the blackest places I have ever ‘seen’ (when the butter lamps are out.) There are many miraculous things things to find at Samye Chimpu too, such as Padmasambhava’s head print in rock, and the self-arisen stone dais that manifested beneath King Trisong Detsen’s daughter Pemasal when Padmasambhava brought her back to life in order to teach her the Pema Nyingtik before she went to her next birth.

It was the end of the day at Samye Chimpu when my friends and I passed what looked like another cave entrance hidden in the brush. As soon the Tibetan in our group saw the entrance and noted our curiosity, he scrambled into the cave calling ‘hello, hello’ before we could protest that he might disturb a retreatant. Then he re-emerged saying it was a nice cave, he’d met a yogini and we should come meet her.

A yogini is a way to refer to a female tantric practitioner; a yogi is a male tantric practitioner. Sometimes this word is used loosely in the West, but the meaning is that a yogini is someone who is genuinely practicing union with the ultimate nature of reality, someone who is realized. The essence of the yogini principle is embodied the dakini sadhana called Vajrayogini, indestructible yogini. Several Vajrayogini sadhanas started the dakini section yesterday and continued all day today.

Getting back to the story… When we entered the cave we were introduced to an extraordinarily peaceful, gentle and kind nun with a shaven head and a simple shrine beside her. We were a bit shocked to learn that she’d been in retreat there for eleven years. After finding out it was ok that we’d just popped in, a bit of conversation ensued and she offered us some tea while we talked.

For me the quality around this yogini was that there was that nothing extra happening. She was just plainly who she was, with no neurosis around that. I have experienced this around few a people who’ve spent long periods in retreat. It’s like they aren’t experiencing discursive thoughts and the space around them feels somehow cleaner and saner than what’s accepted to be normal. I don’t know how it came up, but at some point she was telling us that three different rinpoches had said she was a real dakini and asked that she marry them. With each one she said no, and told them she preferred to remain in retreat.

At that point I asked her to tell us what it meant to be a dakini. She replied that it meant your mind was inseparable from Guru Rinpoche, Padmasambhava. 

We stopped the day today part way through a series of ten related Vajrayogini empowerments found in the rediscovered termas of Jomo Menmo, a 13th century yogini who was an emanation of Yeshe Tsogyal, Padmasambhava’s Tibetan consort. Jomo Menmo’s presence in the Rinchen Terdzo is unusual because female tertons are so rare. Vajrayogini herself gave Jomo Menmo the terma called the Gathering of All the Secrets of the Dakinis when Jomo Menmo was twelve years old. Jomo Menmo, then a sheepherder, had been awakened from a nap she was taking near one of Padmasambhava’s caves of attainment. Inside the cave a secret door opened and she joined a feast with Vajrayogini and many other dakinis. Jomo Menmo was told to practice the Gathering of All the Secrets of the Dakinis, but to keep it secret.

She was an amazing practitioner with wonderful qualities, but the majority of people where she lived believed she’d been possessed by a mountain spirit, so she took to wandering the country with no fixed destination. This style of practice is not uncommon in Tibet. Later she met Guru Chokyi Wangchuk who understood that she was Yeshe Tsoygal. For a short while she and he were consorts. Guru Chokyi Wangchuk advised her that it was not the time to reveal the Gathering of All the Secrets of the Dakinis. So, Jomo Menmo continued to wander Tibet accompanied by two accomplished female practitioners. Then, when she was 35, having secretly benefitted many beings she and her two companions performed a feast on a mountaintop in central Tibet and flew off into the sky like birds. They entered Padmasambhava’s pure realm without relinquishing their bodies. 

Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo rediscovered Jomo Menmo’s terma in the 19th century. It is probable that this terma could be recovered because Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo had been Guru Chokyi Wangchuk in Jomo Menmo. 

The Jomo Menmo empowerments are among the most elaborate and complex we’ve seen. As they were happening a large group of dark skinned Indian women appeared at the side door. They were extremely shy; their saris were bright solid colors, red, white, blue, yellow, green, and so on. There were tiny girls and tall women clustered tightly togeher. At first none of them even dared to step over the threshold into the shrine room. They seemed awed by Eminence, and most all of them had their palms pressed together at their hearts. He looked over to the group and gave them several beaming smiles as he continued the empowerments.

Finally, a woman in a deep green sari pushed the rest through the door into the hall. It was amazing to watch this because Vajrayogini has a retinue of many different colored dakinis. The green one in the practice is called the karma dakini; she is the dakini related to action and activity. Watching all this outside the door was the husband, fittingly wearing a blue shirt, the color of Vajrayogini’s consort, Chakrasamvara. And yes, there was a lady in red, the color of Vajrayogini herself. Her sari was the color of dark poppies and she looked like she would be giving birth in the next few months.

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