Dakinis Bibliography

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Dakinis Bibliography from the THL Bibliographies

Overview of Subject

The role of the dākinī could be considered the most consistently prominent female position in Tibetan Buddhist history. Dākinīs are depicted in many different forms, and the term covers such a wide range of ideas that it is difficult to clearly define the term. These female deities, who may or may not appear in human form, are depicted as wrathful goddesses, as enlightened dispensers of dharma, and as the muses of tantric adepts. Frequently represented as female enlightened beings, they direct treasure revealers to texts, and provide inspiration to dejected or confused siddhas. As guides and protectors of the dharma, they impart information in dreams, visions, and revelations. Not only do they advise, inspire, and protect tantric practitioners, they are themselves tantric masters. They provide a critical link between the mundane human world and access to treasure and teachings. According to Willis, "'Her' appearance catches the future siddha's attention, and creates a space in which old, habitual, patterns are either mildly called into question, or shattered completely.... 'she' ushers in insight which is totally new…" (Willis, 1987, pg. 66)

According to Willis, there is no doubt that dākinīs are an extremely important tantric symbol (Willis 1987, pg. 56). They represent the centrality of the feminine in treasure revelation and tantra. Beyond their specifically feminine role, "…within Buddhist tantric contexts, dākinī is viewed as the supreme embodiment of the highest wisdom itself. Embracing such wisdom, one becomes Buddha." (Willis 1987, pg. 58) They provide a crucial link in the enlightenment process. Some famous dākinīs include the non-human Vajrayoginī, and human women such as Padmasambhava's consort Yeshe Tsogyel, Marpa's wife Damema, and Machik Labdron (ma gcig las sgron ma, the matriarch of the gcod tradition and Padampa Sangye's consort). Indeed, many women in the Buddhist tradition have been considered dākinīs, frequently including female treasure revealers and meditators.

This bibliography is an initial attempt to compile source information on all of the scholarship regarding dākinīs and their role in Tibetan Buddhism. While many of the articles and books listed below provide information specifically about Tibetan dākinīs, the scholarship listed here goes somewhat beyond this realm to discuss other Indian Buddhists goddesses, female Buddhas (such as Tārā), and the broader role of the consort in Tibetan Buddhist ritual.


Alison Melnick, Feb. 2007


Bautz-Picron, Claudine. 2000. "Between Sakyamuni and Vairocana, Mārīcī, goddess of Light and Victory." Silk Road and Archaeology 7:263-310

Beyer, Stephen V. 1978. The Cult of Tārā: Magic and Ritual in Tibet. Hermeneutics, Studies in The History of Religions No.1. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Bhattacharya, Bholanath. "Some Aspects of the Esoteric Cults of Consort Worship in Bengal: A Field Survey Report." In Folklore: International Monthly vol. 18 nos. 10-12.

Cabezon, Jose Ignacio. "Mother Wisdom, Father Love: Gender-Based Imagery in Mahayana Buddhist Thought." In Buddhism, Sexuality, and Gender. ed. Jose Cabezon. Albany: SUNY Press, 1992.

Campbell, June. 1996. Traveller in Space: In Search of Female Identity in Tibetan Buddhism. London: The Athlone Press.

Chandra, Raghu Vira and Lokesh Chandra, eds. 1961-1972. A New Tibeto-Mongol Pantheon Satipitaka Series no. 21. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture.

Changchub, Gyalwa and Namkhi Nyingpo. 1999. Lady of the Lotus-Born: The Life and Enlightenment of Yeshe Tsogyal. Trans. by the Padmakara Translation Group. Boulder, CO and London: Shambhala Publications. A translation of a treasure text discovered by Terton Taksham Samten Lingpa (and recorded by Changchub and Nyingpo) called "The Lute Song of the Gandharvas. A Revelation in Eight Chapters of the Secret History of the Life and Enligthenment of Yeshe Tsogyal, Queen of Tibet." The book does not seem to provide any analysis of any of the discoverers or recorders of the text, it merely gives a translation of the text itself.

Dowman, Keith. 1984. Sky Dancer. The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyel. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. A translation of the secret biography of Yeshe Tsogyel followed by Dowman's commentaries on Women and Tantra, Women as Dakinis, Nyingma Lineages, and the specific historical role of Yeshe Tsogyel in Tibetan tantra.

English, Elizabeth. Vajrayoginī: her visualizations, rituals & forms. A study of the cult of Vajrayoginī in India. Wisdom Publications, 2002. Vajrayoginī is an important deity in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist tantra. English discusses the Indian origins and forms of Vajrayoginī, various Vajrayoginī practices, and the different stages of the Vajravārāhī Sādhana. She commits 70 pages to the Cult of Vajrayoginī in India, including the development of Vajrayoginī (including Vajravārāhī and a few other variations), the different paths of associated Vajrayoginī traditions, and the influence of Nondual Saivism on the emergence of the Vajrayoginī cult. She describes practices associated with different forms of the deity, especially those found in the Guhyasamayasādhanamālā sādhanas. English provides a study and translation of the Vajravārāhī sādhana of Umāpatideva (from the Guhyasamayasādhanamālā) as well as 15 plates of artistic depictions (Tibetan and Indian) of the goddess. She briefly discusses the goddess' role in Tibet, specifically in the Kagyu and Nyingma schools, but primarily focuses on Vajrayoginī in India.

Germano, David and Gyatso, Janet. "Longchenpa and the Possession of the Dākinīs." In Tantra in Practice. Ed. David Gordon White. Princeton University Press, pp. 241-265. This article discusses the 14th Century Longchenpa, his life as a teacher, translator, treasure revealer, leader of a tantric community of yogins, and some details of his esoteric empowerments. The authors provide a translation of an account of one such empowerment event, which took place in 1339. They include commentary and description of various accounts of ritual possession of the female practitioners (yoginis) in Longchenpa's community by (often wrathful) female spirits. The article includes information regarding treasure revelation and women visionaries within Longchenpa's yogic community, and details of how Longchenpa interacted with the female spirits who had possessed his followers. There is discussion about the role of women in tantra, Dakini posession, the mechanics of treasure concealment, the tulku (sprul sku) tradition, the centrality of yoginīs within yogic communities, and Tantric empowerment processes. They also discuss the Seminal Heart literary tradition and its late-flowering association with Padmasambhava, Yeshe Tsogyel, and Lhacham Pemasel.

Germano, David. 1994 "Architecture and Absence in the Secret Tantric History of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen)". Journal of the International Association of buddhist Studies 17 (1) 203-335.

Gross, Rita M. 1989. "Yeshe Tsogyel: Enlightened Consort, Great Teacher, Female Role Model." In Feminine Ground: Essays on Women in Tibet Ed. by J Willis. Ithica, NY: Snow Lion Press. A discussion of the hagiographic depiction of the life of 8th century Yogini.

Gyatso, Geshe Kelsang. 1999. (Reprint of 1991) Guide to Dakini Land: A Commentary to the Highest Yoga Tantra Practice of Vajrayogini. London: Tharpa Publications

Gyatso, Janet. 1998. Apparitions of the Self: The Secret Autobiographies of a Tibetan Visionary. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Herrmann-Pfandt, Adelheid. "Dakinis:Zur Stellung und symbolik des Wiblichen im Tantrischen Buddhismus". Indica et Tibetica 20. Bonn: Indica et Tibetica Verlag 1992.

  • "Dakinis in Indo-Tibetan Tantric buddhism: Some Results of Recent Research." Studies in Central and East Asian Religions 5/6 (1992-3).

Katz, Nathan. "Anima and mKha'-'gro-ma: A Critical Comparative Study of Jung and Tibetan Buddhism." Tibet Journal 2, no. 3. 1977

Kinsley, David. 1997. Tantric Visions of The Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahāvidyās. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.

Klein, Anne C. 1995. Meeting the Great Bliss Queen: Buddhism, Feminism, and the Art of Self. Boston: Beacon Press.

Loseries-Leick, Andrea. "Kali in Tibetan Buddhism." In Wild Goddesses in India and Nepal: Proceedings of an International Symposium, Bern and Zurich. November 1994. ed. Axel Michaels, Cornelia Vogelsanger, and Annette Wilke. Studio Religiosa Helvetica Jahrbuch 2. Bern: Peter Lang, 1996

Macy, Joanna. "Perfection of Wisdom: Mother of all Buddhas." In Beyond Androcentrism: New Essays on Women and Religion, ed. Rita M. Gross. Missoula: Scholars Press 1977.

Mitra, Mallar. 1999 "Goddess Vajravarahi: An Iconographical Study." In Tantric Buddhism: Centennial Tribute to Dr. Benoytosh Bhattacharyya. Ed. by N. N Bhattacharyya and A. Ghosh. pp. 102-29. New Delhi: Manohar.

Orofino, Giacomella. "The Great Wisdom Mother and the Gcod Tradition" in Tantra in Practice. ed. David Gordon White, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000. The gcod tradition was created by Machik Labdron (ma gcic las sgron), the consort of Padampa Sangye (pha dam pa sangs rgyas). She is considered to be a dakini in human form, and is one of the most famous women in Tibetan Buddhist history.

Schmidt, Erik Hein, trans. Kurukulle: The Practice of the Lotus Dakini According to the Terma Revealed by Chokgyur Lingpa 1990. Kathmandu: Rangjung Yeshe 1994.

Shaw, Miranda Eberle. Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism Princeton University Press, 1994. Shaw considers the role of women in tantric theory, as actors in tantric communities, and the roles that they have played throughout tantric history. She gives a brief description of Tantric Buddhism in India as background for her discussion of Dakinis in Tantric Literature, both Indian and Tibetan. Simmer-Brown's Dakini's Warm Breath offers a counter-description of dakinis.

  • Buddhist goddesses of India Princeton University Press, 2006. While this book focuses mainly on various goddesses found in Indian Buddhism, it provides detailed information about Indian Buddhist goddesses also located in Tibetan Buddhism. See especially in part three, "Tantric Female Buddhas," the section on Vajrayogini, Dakini as Buddha (359) Nairatmya in Tibet and Nepal (399).
  • (forthcoming) Buddhist Goddesses of Tibet and Nepal.
  • "Is Vajrayogini a Feminist? A Tantric Buddhist Case Study." In Is the Goddess a Feminist? The Politics of South Asian Goddesses, ed. Alf Hiltebeitl and Kathleen Erndl. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.
  • "Magical Lovers, Sisters, and Mothers: Yaksini-sadhana in Tantric Buddhism." in Breaking Boundaries with the Goddess: New Directions in the Study of Saktism, Essays in Honor of Narendra Nath Bhattacharyya. ed. Cynthia Hume and Rachel Fell McDermott. New Delhi: Manohar, forthcoming.
  • "An Ecstatic Song by Laksminkara." In Feminine Ground: Essays on Women in Tibet Ed. by J Willis. Ithica, NY: Snow Lion Press. .Translation of an 'ecstatic song' composed by one of the 4 women included in the 84 Mahasiddhas.

Simmer-Brown, Judith. Dakini's Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism Shambhala, 2001. The author provides a systematic and well-researched discussion of the functioning of the dakini in Tibetan history. According to___, the book "represents the most complete exploration to date of the dakini in a single volume" (Book review by Jan Willis in Buddhist-Christian Studies Vol. 23, 2003. pp. 161-164)

Tharchin, Sermey Khensur Lobsang. 1997. The Sublime Path to Kechara Paradise: Vajrayoginis Eleven Yogas of Generation Stage Practice as Revealed by the Glorious Naropa. Oral Commentary Series. Howell, NJ: Mahayana Sutra and Tantra Press.

Thondup, Tulku, trans 1983. The Queen of Great Bliss of Long-Chen Nying-Thig by Kun-Khyen Jigme Ling-pa. Gangtok, Sikkim: Dodrup chen Rinpoche

Törzsök, Judit. ed 1999. The Doctrine of Magic Female Spirits: A Critical Eidition of Selected Chapters Of the Siddhayogesvarimata (Tantra) With Annotated Translation and Analysis. Doctoral Thesis, Faculty of Oriental Studies. University of Oxford.

Wangchuk, Jamyang Khyentse. The Vajrayogini Teaching According to the Ultimate Secret Yoga in the Naro-Khachod Tradition. Singapore: Singapore Buddha Sasana Society, 1986

Wangpo, Jamyang Khyentse. Appearing Aglow with Active Awareness: The Long Sadhana of White Tara with Consort from the Chi-me Pak-ma Nying-tik cycle. (Booklet) Trans. James Rutke, N.p: Wish-Granting Press, 1989.

Willis, Janice D. "Dakini: Some Comments on Its Nature and Meaning" In Feminine Ground: Essays on Women in Tibet Ed. by J Willis. Ithica, NY: Snow Lion Press. Willis' article reveiws scholarly approaches (Tibetan, Indian, and western) to the idea of the dakini. She provides some details of the history of the dakini in Tibet, as well as a Sanskrit etymology and textual uses of the term.

Willson, Martin. 1986. In Praise of Tara: Songs to the Saviouress. London: Wisdom Publications.

  • 2000. Deities of Tibetan Buddhism: The Zurich Paintains of the Icons Worthwhile to See (bris sku mthon ba don ldan) Boston: Wisdom.

Yeshe, Kim, et al. 1991. "The Story of a Tibetan Yogini, Shungsep Jetsun 1852-1953." In Chö-yang Vol. 4 1991. Eds. Pedron Yeshi and Jeremy Russell. Pp.130-143. The hagiographic life story of a Tibetan woman who lived during the modern period who was considered a yogini with miraculous powers.

Yeshe, Lama. Vajra Yogini. London: Wisdom 1979.

Zanen, M. "The Goddess Vajrayogini and the Kingdom of Sankhu (Nepal)." In L'Espace du temple, vol 2, Les Sanctuaires dans le royaume¸ ed Jean-Claude Galey, 125-66. Paris:Editions de l'Ecole des Hautes Etues en Sciences Sociales 1985.

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