When I was in India in August, I became friends with a wonderful woman. Kristin Brudevold is a graduate of Naropa Institute and a walking resource of all things Buddhist. Our conversations as we trekked through the mountains of Ladakh were very rich and provocative.

One of Kristin’s projects before leaving Naropa was to research the Buddhist concept of the dakini, a mysterious and fascinating aspect of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. For all of us who have struggled with the suppression of feminist principles in most religious traditions, the dakini is a worthy area to explore.

The dakini is a bit elusive. In the Tibetan language, dakini is a term that means “she who traverses the sky” or “she who moves in space.” Sometimes the term is translated poetically as “sky dancer” or “sky walker.” It is a concept and term used to describe a female embodiment of enlightened energy.(*For another portrait of that enlightened energy, see below.)

Kristin recommended a book written by one of her professors, which I have just started reading. Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism, by Judith Simmer-Brown is readable and compelling, even for the non-Buddhist (like me.)

Here’s a taste from the preface:

The inspiration for this book is my encounter with the symbol of the dakini, who personifies in Tibetan Buddhism the spiritual process of surrendering expectation and concept, revealing limitless space and pristine awareness. But while her feminine face drew me inward, what I have found is far beyond gender concerns. She is a powerful religious phenomenon, a fertile symbol of the heart of wisdom to be realized personally by every practitioner and to be respected and revered throughout the Tibetan tantric tradition. Her manifestations and meaning are profound, experiential, and hidden from rational strategy. Yet she appears everywhere in tantric literature and practice, mystifying and intriguing all tantric practitioners.

So begins a new stream of study, one that feels particularly apropos at this point in time for so many reasons. More to come.

*As airy and light as this description sounds, the dakini is often portrayed with a breathtaking viscerality. According to June Campbell, “Iconographic representations tend to show the dakini as a young, naked figure in a dancing posture, often holding a skullcup (kapala) filled with menstrual blood or the elixir of life in one hand, and a curved knife (kartika) in the other. She may wear a garland of human skulls, with a trident staff leaning against her shoulder. Her hair is usually wild and hanging down her back, and her face often wrathful in expression, as she dances on top of a corpse, which represents her complete mastery over ego and ignorance.”

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