What are Dakinis?

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Dakini Definition

Dakini is a type of female being in the Tantric Hindu and Buddhist traditions. The precise etymology of the word “Dakini” is unknown, but the Tibetan word for Dakini, “Khandroma,” or “Khandro,” means “sky dweller,” “sky dancer,” or “sky goer.”

Dakini Deep Dive

Dakini take on many forms depending on the spiritual tradition and time period. They may be a benevolent or wrathful deity, or sometimes a muse for spiritual practice. They may even take a human form.

What is certain is they are not one thing to all people, and this may be the point. Their manifestations and purposes seem as varied as the lives they are said to influence.

In some early Hindu texts, Dakini is one among six to eight female deities. Sometimes she is related to the chakras, specifically the muladhara (root) chakra. They may also appear grotesque and fierce in Buddhist traditions and Hindu traditions alike. It is sometimes said she appears this way only to cut through erroneous perception and conceptual thinking.

In Japanese Buddhism, there is a cult called “Dakinten” which worships Dakini. She is here known for inducing rapid rises in power and status – as well as equally rapid declines – and is often associated with or symbolized by foxes.

However, Dakini are most prevalent and influential in Tibetan Buddhism, especially in Buddhist Tantra, known as Vajrayāna. In these traditions and spiritual practices, the feminine principle is expressed through the lore of Dakini. She is the symbol of meditation, the protector of wisdom, and the one who opens the gates of wisdom.

Vajrayāna often sees Dakini as somewhat symbolic of prajna (wisdom, representing the feminine), in contrast with upaya (skillful means/cleverness, representing the masculine).

a bronze sculpture of a dakini

The Four Main Classes Of Dakini

Judith Simmer-Brown, based on teachings she received from Tibetan Lamas, claims there are four main classes of Dakini:

1. The secret class, existing at the most ethereal level as a gatekeeper to the enlightened state.

2. The inner class, or meditational deity with which you can identify.

3. The outer class, existing at the subtle body (energetic or spirit) level.

4. The outer-outer class – a Dakini in human form.

Simmer-Brown claims Dakini are known for their ability to cut through concepts and storylines from the past, and projections for the future. They are here to bring us back to the moment, as a reminder of what can be if we can remain open to what is here and now.

Others, like Khandro Rinpoche, say if you cut through deception enough you will see that Dakini aren’t exclusively feminine at all, and certainly don’t exhibit any of the traits associated with traditional femininity. Rather, the Dakini principle stands for an intuitive force, direct and uncompromising. This is why they are often associated with the “fierce feminine,” as Tsultrum Allione puts it.

a wooden sculpture of a dakini

Dakini In Your Life

Balance and harmony in many aspects of your life can go a long way. Balanced diet. Balance in your doshas. Balanced chakras. And balanced feminine and masculine principles.

The Dakini point us to the importance and interplay of prajna and upaya. “Wisdom” and “skillful means.” They’re best used together, because wisdom – sound knowledge – lets you take the best course of action. In this sense, Dakini are reminiscent of Sophia in Gnostic Christianity and Shakti in Hinduism.

Some say the power of Dakini may be accessed using techniques that open the muladhara (root chakra), the foundation of your subtle body. Such techniques include hatha yoga, asanas like pavanamuktanasana and malasana, and chanting the sound LAM. There are also some beautiful Dakini mantras you may want to try. Check out this rendition of bam ha ri ni sa.

If Dakini are of particular interest to you on your yoga journey, it is worth checking out Vajrayāna Buddhism. Vajrayāna may be translated as “the way of the diamond-thunderbolt.” As the name implies, it offers a fast – but also quite rigid – path towards enlightenment.

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Hailing from the Yukon, Canada, David (B.A, M.A.) is a yoga teacher (200-hour therapeutic YTT) and long-time student and practitioner of various spiritual disciplines including vedanta and Islam.

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