The Dakini - pure openness, naked energy, red love, sensitive freedom, an ungraspable dance in the fires of transformation. On a retreat from 15th - 22nd July we will explore how this Tantric symbol of awakening can bring us into intimate connection with our body-heart-mind in meditation and ritual, living ever more authentically in the flow of life.
It’s Saturday morning and I’m sitting at my desk. The retreat has got underway and there’s no immediate drama, but my energy is definitely unsettled. Was it something that happened in meditation? Or am I feeling bothered by a slightly awkward conversation that happened earlier today?
Yesterday, I spoke with Moksanandi, who is leading a dakini retreat in July. “Sometimes,” she reminded me, “The energy of the dakini can be quite subtle.” It can be like that with our mental states too, I think. On retreat, or sometimes even just living and working in an intensive situation, we can become highly sensitised so that little things are magnified. Subtle interactions can feel deeply significant.
Given the subtlety of her energy, the imagery of the dakini is nothing if not magnified. Vajrayogini is depicted as a red woman, naked except for a skirt of bones and a garland of severed heads. In one hand she holds a vajra chopper which cuts away all our delusions and in the other she holds a skull cup filled with nectar that looks suspiciously like blood. She is dancing in the sky, trampling the demons of greed and hatred. Other dakinis (for there are many) have similarly intense depictions.
When I first encountered an image of a dakini, I felt simultaneously exhilarated and unnerved. On one hand, the dakinis are the sky dancers (from their Tibetan name, Khandroma), embodying the liberation that comes from letting go of what’s holding you back. But they’re not cuddly. Dakinis are not usually found resting in the shade of the Bodhi tree; rather, they live in the cremation ground, in challenging places.
Most of us probably don’t need to actively seek out these challenging places – we just end up there. An argument with our partner. The offhand comment from a friend. That colleague or family member who just pushes our buttons. When we meet the difficulties of living alongside other humans, these are the times when the dakinis are close. However subtle or extreme the energy that arises, it gives us an opportunity to see the ego that feels threatened, feel the pain of our clinging... and to find out what happens when we loosen our grasp. As Moksanandi says, “She gets us to wake up!”
It might not be surprising then that the dakini is associated with spiritual friendship. Within the Tantra, she is the esoteric counterpart of the Sangha refuge. Moksanandi speaks about the “fires of communication” between friends who are “not just being nice,” to each other, but being authentic. Sometimes this might mean having a conversation that sheds light on a painful aspect of your friendship; sometimes, it is simply the discomfort of your negative self-view being met with great love. “Vajrayogini is actually full of love,” Moksanandi says, but it’s not a sentimental love, and it’s not a love that will collude with your delusions. It’s a love that sees your radiant potential. This kind of love can be hard to accept, because accepting it requires us to let go of limiting views, which we cling to for safety. It feels scary. Sometimes it can feel like death to let go of the voice that says, I couldn’t do that because... I’m not worthy of... or even, I’m justified in my opinions and actions because...
But this is where the dance begins. Vajrayogini is adorned with all these frightful things, and is completely free and joyful. When we let go of fixed ideas of who we are and what the world is about, our greatest fears might just as well be beautiful ornaments, as we dance in the blue sky of liberation.