In the Indian languages, the word dakini connotes someone who is not quite human, not an ordinary girl or woman. The image it conveys is a little scary: a blood-drinker with fangs, red hair, long nails, and so forth, who can perform a few miracles now and then. In India, generally speaking, there are quite a few of them, especially in the twenty-four sacred places and valleys, and particularly in Dhumathala, which is the most eminent among all the sacred places. This is, shall we say, the capital of the dakinis. There is also a place in Pakistan, which seems to be the present-day region of Uddiyana, where a lot of women have facial hair resembling a mustache. They are naturally somewhat fierce and have certain tricks, or miracles, they can play, just by their nature. So the word generally refers to some kind of witch.

Dakini is translated into Tibetan as khandro, which doesn’t have exactly the same meaning. The Tibetan connotation of khandro is “great gals,” but in India if you call somebody a dakini, they will scratch your face and get angry, as it implies somebody who eats flesh, drinks blood, and casts spells. Most of the witches in Uddiyana could fly through the air. That’s why they’re called “sky-farers,” or khandros, but I hear that these days only a few remain.

There are various types of dakinis, such as wisdom, karma, charnel-ground, and flesh-eating dakinis. The wisdom dakini, according to the Sarma schools, is Vajravarahi, or Dorje Phagmo in Tibetan. According to the Nyingma school, she is Samantabhadri, and so forth. The other primary wisdom dakinis, according to the Nyingma traditions, are the eight consorts of the eight great herukas and the five consorts of the five male buddhas. Among the five buddha families, the males represent the upaya aspect, skillful means, while the females represent the prajna aspect, insight.

There’s also a dakini that is not necessarily a wisdom dakini or a flesh-eating dakini: She is known as the Queen of Dharmadhatu, Ekajati. Also, there are five classes of karma dakinis, corresponding to the four activities of pacifying, increasing, magnetizing, and subjugating as well as the supreme activity. The charnel-ground dakinis are the eight sisters, and so forth.

Those are the main ones, the chiefs of the one hundred thousand different types. In short, every woman is a dakini. They’re more intelligent than men and more sharp-minded. Nevertheless, they seem to think more; in other words, they have more plans, but more worries too.

Each of the main dakinis has a sadhana practice. The Padma Khandro practice belongs to the cycle of the Lotus Family of Speech, Pema Sung, which has many inconceivable sadhanas. Among these, some are for the yab, or male aspect, and others are for the yum, or female aspect. While many vast collections of extensive sadhanas exist, they can be condensed into the sadhanas of the Three Roots, the lama, yidam, and dakini. The lama is the source of blessings, the yidam is the source of accomplishment, and the dakini is the source of activities. The dakini carries out the activities for the lama and yidam. The ultimate view of the tantras, in both the new and old schools, is that the blessings from the male are received more quickly through the female. Once you obtain the blessings and achieve the accomplishment, you need to make use of them; enacting them is called the activity. In other words, the virtue of blessings and accomplishment is the activity, which is the dakini. Buddhists and Hindus alike say that the female deity is swifter than the male deity in bestowing blessings and accomplishments.

The ultimate yidam for the Kagyus is Chakrasamvara in the male aspect and his consort Vajravarahi in the female aspect. Most Kagyu lamas have received the blessings based upon Vajravarahi and attained accomplishment through her. The Indian Pandita Naropa, the Tibetan Lotsawa Marpa, Jetsun Milarepa, Dakpo Dawa Shunnu, and others received the extraordinary blessings of inner heat, tummo, and attained the coemergent state of Mahamudra based on Vajravarahi.

Practitioners do the recitation-meditation for Chakrasamvara during the development and completion stage practices. At the time of the extraordinary practices, they do the outer, inner, and secret recitations of Vajravarahi. After finishing those, they train in the Six Doctrines of Naropa: tummo, illusory body, luminosity, dream yoga, bardo, and transference of consciousness, powa. Accomplishing the vital point of these and attaining the supreme accomplishment of Mahamudra are based on Vajravarahi.

According to this tradition, the ultimate wisdom is realized by relying on the example wisdom. If you want to practice the path of great bliss, based on the power of the channels, winds, and essences, then the skillful means of the female aspect is the vital point. In other words, the practice connected to the vase empowerment is the male aspect, while the more profound parts—the secret and wisdom-knowledge empowerments—are connected to the female aspect of sadhana, which is Vajravarahi in the Kagyü lineages. It is taught that, although Milarepa and his disciple Gampopa had various yidams, they attained accomplishment primarily through Vajravarahi practice connected with the second and third empowerments.

In the Sakya tradition, one of the principal yidams is the male Hevajra, whose female counterpart is Khechari (Kachoma), a form of Vajravarahi. The Sakyas practice the path and fruition tradition, Lamdre, transmitted by the great mahasiddha Virupa, through a golden chain of masters. However, in this lineage, as well, receiving the blessings and attaining extraordinary realization in this life or in the bardo, relies on consort practice, based on Khechari. A rain of sindura, flowers, and consorts will accompany awakening. All the realized masters of this tradition have practiced in this way. One of the great Sakya masters, Sachen, attained accomplishment through receiving the blessings of Khechari. For instance, at the time of death, he did not leave a corpse behind but went directly in his body to the celestial realms. This mode of departure is depicted as climbing a staircase that descends from above. I’m not exactly sure what that looks like and how it functions, but it definitely works. Having attained this siddhi, he received a lot of pith transmissions through Khechari. The Gelugpa also practice a form of Vajravarahi.

The Nyingmas have a red form of Vajravarahi and a black one, Troma Nagmo. This black form is the exalted deity of many past vidyadharas, who practiced a sadhana revealed by Nyang Ral Nyima Ozer. The biography style supplication to Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo recounts that when he did the retreat of the black Vajravarahi, his skull cup started to blaze with fire, becoming so hot he couldn’t touch it. A large number of sadhanas are now based on Troma Nagmo. Yumka Dechen Gyalmo, revealed by Jigme Lingpa, also has a form of Vajravarahi.

Kurukulle belongs to the family of Vajravarahi and Arya Tara. For Arya Tara, the dharmakaya is the great mother Prajnaparamita; the sambhokagaya is Arya Tara; and the nirmanakaya is the infinite manifestations, as stated in the Tara tantras. There are one hundred and eight main Tara sadhanas. Within these, the outer emanation is Kurukulle, Lhamo Rigzinma, and the inner emanation is Lhamo Uma. Within the Tara emanations, the inner aspect is the magnetizing female deity, Kurukulle, Lhamo Rigzinma.

Other dakini sadhanas belong to a cycle of six dakini practices known as Zurza, the personal practice of the princess of Zur. She was Prince Damdzin’s consort when Padmasambhava was in Tibet. These six practices include the outer Tara, the inner Vajravarahi, the secret Sangwa Yeshe, the most secret Mandarava, and thatness Yeshe Tsogyal, as well as a guru sadhana.

Additionally, the Rinchen Terdzod contains the Padma Khandro practice of Rongzom Mahapandita, an emanation of Vairochana, which Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo rediscovered, and the Seven Profound Teachings on Kurukulle. These are the most well-known in the Nyingma tradition. One of Terton Sogyal’s terma also has a Padma Khandro sadhana that is practiced in Serta in eastern Tibet. In short, in Tibet, both the Kama and Terma traditions have Padma Khandro sadhanas with unbroken lineages and great blessings that are still practiced today.

Among the various treasure revealers, very few have dakini sadhanas. As I have heard it said, this is due to the dakini practices being very profound and the dakinis being kind of stingy with their teachings. They don’t really want to let go of them that easily. Some auspicious coincidence has to fall into place perfectly before they’re willing to pass on such teachings, and that doesn’t happen so readily. Most tertöns have experienced a lot of trouble with trying to land a dakini terma, and they are rarely successful.

For instance, Chokgyur Lingpa was predicted to go to Karpo Drak, the White Cliff in Bhutan, where he was to reveal a very grand terma called the Khandro Gongdü, the Embodiment of the Realization of All Dakinis. If he had succeeded in doing this, it would have ensured that all his activity would have reached completion; however, somebody interfered, so he wasn’t able to, and a big obstacle to his life arose as a result. In the prophecy, it also said that there’s a connection between the Khandro Gongdü and his other Dzogchen terma called the Dzogchen Desum, the Three Sections of Dzogchen. It says that if he had established the Dzogchen Desum in writing, it would have become possible to also decode the Khandro Gongdü, and if both of them had been brought into this world at the same time, a huge number of people would have attained rainbow body.

Chokgyur Lingpa’s daughter, Mayum Konchok Paldron, had a parchment from her father with one of the dakini scripts that had never been decoded. After she died, her son Tersey Tulku inherited it. When Tersey Tulku met with Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, he asked Rinpoche to decode it. This turned out to be the sadhana for the eight dakini consorts of the eight herukas. It was eventually written down, but then the lineage was broken. Some years ago, when I went back to eastern Tibet, I got hold of the text, but the empowerment lineage no longer exists.

What is the purpose and benefit of dakini practice? It has outer, inner, secret, and innermost ways to magnetize. The outer way is to magnetize those with and without form, humans, and nonhumans. For humans, the three categories of male, female, and neuter all need to be brought under control. The males subdivide into five families, or as in the Indian system, castes of kings, brahmins, businessmen, workers, and untouchables. The females also group into five families: padma, conch, elephant, drawing, and deer. Many beings live in the three planes of existence—the gods above, the nagas below the ground, and the nonhumans in between—and these make up the eight categories of haughty spirits. We magnetize them all. In addition, we magnetize the five primary elements.

Based on controlling the outer elements, we inwardly magnetize the inner elements, the five aggregates, and ayatanas. When we gain control over the five elements outwardly and the five aggregates, ayatanas, and inner elements inwardly, then we subdue the five poisons, which transform into the five wisdoms. This is the inner way to magnetize.

Secretly, when we gain mastery over the moving winds, the arranged channels, and the blissful bindus, the wisdom of the three vajras arises. Innermost magnetizing means gaining mastery over mind. Mind is what we are trying to control, and right now we do not have this mastery. As for the fruition of magnetizing, I will not tell that now. However, the reason we practice a magnetizing deity is to attain this power of magnetizing.

It is essential to know that you need to dissolve duality in order to accomplish any deity. To attain this within the structure of a sadhana practice, you progress through the stages of approach, close approach, accomplishment, and great accomplishment. That is in the extensive way, which you can condense into approach, accomplishment, and activities. The aspect of approach means the deity is very close. Accomplishment occurs when you recognize that you and the deity are inseparable, which we call realizing one taste. Once you accomplish the deity, you can enact the infinite activities related to pacifying, increasing, magnetizing, and subjugating.

In the Kurukulle sadhana in particular, the vital point is to fulfill the activities. The work, or activity, of the deity is the display of enlightened body, speech, and mind. Individuals who cannot benefit from peaceful and increasing activity can be helped by magnetizing and subjugating activity, which is unique to the unexcelled secret Vajrayana. The other vehicles do not have magnetizing and subjugating activity. Many methods are available for enacting peaceful and increasing activities. However, for completely unruly beings, or ones with strong desire, anger, impure perception, or no faith, only the Secret Mantra activities of magnetizing and subjugating can tame them.

Kurukulle enacts the magnetizing activity that brings profound benefit rapidly. Practicing this sadhana is what we need to accomplish, and to do this we need the empowerment. As it is said, “Without the empowerment, we cannot attain the accomplishments.” In short, dakini practice expedites the process of attaining supreme and common siddhis. It is also especially effective for clearing damages in samayas. As I mentioned before, once you receive the blessings through the guru sadhana and attain accomplishments through the yidam practice, you make use of those by engaging the activity through the dakini practice.

~ Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche, Introduction to Dakini Activity: The Dynamic Play of Awakening by Rangjung Yeshe Publications.