Sky Dancers & Lizard Women: Mo’o & Dakini
These days, dakini manifest their wrathful or compassionate selves on the internet. Sky dancers fly in airships propelled and held aloft by the embrace of machinery with the gossamer energies of air and wind. They are our modern goddess embodiments who have never been without fresh water or clean linen. They are rewarded with the accumulation of “miles” when flying on benevolent mission, giving well-publicized and often costly workshops for the good of all sentient beings.
As for me, when I fly to my sweetheart, turbulence sometimes strikes the plane. I take this as the wind’s request for respect and so I give it. I thank the wind for its generous participation in the safety of my journey. Most of the time, turbulence subsides immediately.
My recent flight to Hawai’i was enlivened less by turbulence than by second reading of Passionate Enlightenment, an accessible and scholarly work on women’s roles in Tantric Buddhism. This book is informed by Miranda Shaw’s own spiritual quest, but the quality of her research is not overwhelmed by it. Shaw’s deep connection with her material functions like a clear goblet in which she serves a fine distillation of the fruits of her inquiry. Shaw is particularly taken with the “female enlighteners” known as dakinis, sky dancers and messenger women:
“The dakinis leap and fly, unfettered by clothing, encircled by billowing hair, their bodies curved in sinuous dance poses. Their eyes blaze with passion, ecstasy, and ferocious intensity... These unrestrained damsels appear to revel in freedom of every kind.”
Shaw presents Tantric Buddhism as a fairly egalitarian movement which included numerous female teachers and students. Women of all social classes were able to access Tantric training, and were responsible for shaping much of the tradition.
She writes, “The most salient feature of Tantric literature in regard to women is an uncompromising attitude of respect and homage” as all, without fail, are to be considered embodiments of the goddess.
But this “embodiment” is not the same as the Western concept of one soul confined within the boundaries of a physical body. This concept is very literal and mostly static. Shaw says tantric concepts of embodiment are fluid, involving multi-layered ebbs and flows of energies, “inner winds and flames.” Even the human body is less of a solid container than we think it is. So the experience of temporarily manifesting as a god or goddess might be as natural as shifting a frequency of vibration, usually through spiritual practice.
Because of the egalitarian origins of Tantra, aspiring men would often encounter women who challenged their egos, class assumptions, and sometimes even their ability to distinguish between human and divine (if there is indeed a distinction). Goddesses and dakini were famous for appearing in the guise of old hags or as laundresses, shepherdesses, wild forest women, and the like. Tantric men who fancied themselves a cut or two above these women often got a rebuke they never forgot. Wrathful dakini were terribly creative and sometimes fierce when snubbed.
Shaw quotes from the ancient Cakrasamvara commentary:
“If one who aspires to enlightenment
Generates anger toward a female messenger,
The merit accumulated over ten million eons
Will be destroyed in an instant."
Doncha hate it when that happens? Dudes, a word to the wise...