By Judith Simmer-Brown //
During these challenging times, I’ve taken great inspiration from the dakini lore and practices. Introduced to me decades ago by my root teacher, Chögyam Trungpa, I have found that they infuse my life with power and meaning when navigating obstacles, heartbreak, and fear. Tibetan Buddhist lineages have transmitted dakini lore in stories long treasured in the tradition. In this retreat, we will turn to these stories for inspiration and guidance in our practice.
Awaken to the truth of things
Dakinis represent the inner spirituality of the practitioner, especially our insightful discoveries in meditation. Because we often forget or resist those discoveries, dakinis are said to appear in visionary form in dreams or transitions to awaken us to the truth of things. Or they invisibly escort us in our inner journeys, bringing sanity and openness. They also work in surprising and outrageous ways to cut our habitual patterns, embarrass our concepts, and expose our spiritual potential. They communicate symbolically, intuitively, through our own wisdom-minds.
One of the simple truths the dakinis show me is that when things fall apart and I feel heartbroken, it is possible to glimpse vibrancy, clarity, and warmth that seem to dawn from nowhere. These are our very nature. In their iconography, dakinis dance in the charnel ground, celebrating the wisdom power inherent in devastation. It’s like Leonard Cohen’s song, “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. When our plans, dreams, and expectations collapse we have a chance to experience tender openness and caring as well as strength and joy. As I learn to trust this, I begin to see the wakefulness at the heart of all my most difficult emotions—anger, jealousy, and fear. There is wisdom in all of our life experiences, and nothing needs to be rejected.
Freedom and openness come from relaxing with change
Dakinis also celebrate groundlessness. They are known as “sky-dancers” who thrive in ambiguity and openness and invite us to join them. Their dance points to the space in which they move, and they are constantly teaching through symbolic words, gazes, and gestures that groundlessness permeates every moment of our experience. These experiences initially spark fear and uncertainty, but dakinis remind us that eventually freedom and openness come from relaxing with change. We have the resources to be with the many transitions of our lives without staking out ego’s territory.
It is especially in our meditation practice that dakinis whisper these truths to us, drawing out our inherent wisdom, supporting our bravery in uncertainty, connecting us to the way things really are rather than what we often think they are. Of course, these whispers are not in words as such. They are found in the dawning of insight that streams through our intuitive experiences in practice.
Each day during our retreat, we will turn to dakini stories and lore to remind us of our true natures, and to inspire our opening to all experiences of our lives, even the most difficult ones. Dakini’s warm breath refers to the intimacy of these realizations, available to us especially on retreat. Whether practicing White Tara, Vajrayogini, or sitting practice, we will attune ourselves to the wisdom whispered by the dakinis.
Join us March 12-19, 2023
About the Author
Acharya Judith Simmer-Brown, Ph.D., has just retired as Distinguished Professor of Contemplative and Religious Studies at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, where she has taught since 1978. As Buddhist practitioner since the early 1970’s, she became a student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1974, and was empowered as an acharya (senior teacher) by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche in 2000. Her teaching specialties are meditation practice, Shambhala teachings, Buddhist philosophy, tantric Buddhism, and contemplative higher education. Her book, Dakini’s Warm Breath (Shambhala 2001), explores the feminine principle as it reveals itself in meditation practice and everyday life for women and men. She has also edited Meditation and the Classroom: Contemplative Pedagogy for Religious Studies (SUNY 2011). She and her husband, Richard, have two adult children and three grandchildren.