The Fierce Empowered Feminine

Tami Simon: Welcome to Insights at the Edge, produced by Sounds True. My name’s Tami Simon. I’m the founder of Sounds True. I’d love to take a moment to introduce you to the new Sounds True Foundation. The Sounds True Foundation is dedicated to creating a wiser and kinder world by making transformational education widely available. We want everyone to have access to transformational tools such as mindfulness, emotional awareness and self-compassion, regardless of financial, social or physical challenges. The Sounds True Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to providing these transformational tools to communities in need, including at-risk youth, prisoners, veterans, and those in developing countries. If you’d like to learn more or feel inspired to become a supporter, please visit

You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is Lama Tsultrim Allione. Lama Tsultrim is an author and internationally known Buddhist teacher and the founder of Tara Mandala, a mountain retreat center of 700 acres south of Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Lama Tsultrim was the first American woman to be ordained as a Tibetan nun by His Holiness, the 16th Karmapa, at the age of 26. After four years as a nun, she returned her monastic vows, married, and raised three children. Lama Tsultrim is the author of the book Women of Wisdom and also Wisdom Rising, and Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict.

With Sounds True, Lama Tsultrim has released a new ten-part audio series. It’s called The Empowered Feminine: Meditating with the Dakini Mandala. In this conversation, we talk about what is the dakini principle in Tibetan Buddhism, and Lama Tsultrim actually takes us into a meditation, an invitation to become a wrathful dakini. We get a chance to feel how that meditation transforms us and transforms our capacity to be clear, cut through, and create change in a compassionate way. Here’s my conversation with Lama Tsultrim.

Great to be with you, Lama Tsultrim. It’s always a treat and a delight. Thank you.


Lama Tsultrim Allione: I’m happy to be with you too, Tami.


TS: Here, as we start, for listeners who are just getting to know you, I would love for them to understand more how your own life and path of being a teacher has emphasized bringing out the empowered feminine in terms of practicing and teaching—and that being an aspect of Tibetan Buddhism that many people, I think, are not familiar with. Why was this focus, in your own life, on the empowered feminine in Tibetan Buddhism so important to you personally?


LTA: It really came very directly out of my own experience. It wasn’t something that I developed because of something I read or even some teachings I heard. It came out of the death of my daughter, Chiara. So she died of sudden infant death in 1980, and sudden infant death, sometimes called crib death, it happens in the night. It’s every mother of a newborn’s worst nightmare. So I found her dead in the morning, and my experience of that was turning to my practice, turning to my lineage, turning toward the dharma. I had already been a Buddhist nun. I had already had two children. This was the second of two twins … or of twins, not two twins.

So when it happened, I turned toward the dharma and realized there were no stories of women in my experience, in what I had read, in what I had heard. I wasn’t finding the story of the Buddha helpful. The Buddha left his family. I wasn’t going to do that. I didn’t find the story of Milarepa, who was a renunciate also, or even Marpa, who was a layperson, but it didn’t have a relationship like a mother would to her children. So I set out to look for the stories of women, and in that process I also started reading about women’s spirituality as it was being developed in the West at that time, about particularly in the United States and in England, the United Kingdom scholars. So I started reading them for the introduction to what became my first book, Women of Wisdom, which has a pretty lengthy introduction about women in Buddhism and women’s spirituality in general.

Then I ended up writing a personal preface in that book of why I was writing this book. I felt sort of embarrassed to write that personal preface because I felt like, well, who cares about you? There’s these fantastic, great women practitioners. Who cares about your story? But it felt relevant to tell the reader why I wrote the book and why I felt it was important. So in the process of writing Women of Wisdom, a lot of interesting questions came up, like, what would spirituality be like if it was developed by women, for women, as are all the major religions in our world? What would it be like? What would the practices be like? What would the attitude toward the material world be like? Lots of questions like that, as well as developing an inspired relationship with things like the dakini principle and the feminine principle, which I studied for the introduction of the book.

So the death of Chiara—that was her name—was really the event that spurred me into this whole question. I was never really interested in it. I wasn’t a feminist. I hadn’t felt particularly discriminated against as a woman who had been studying in Asia for quite a few years. I didn’t feel I was treated differently by my teachers. But I later realized that, if I had been an Asian woman or a Tibetan woman in those situations, I probably would have been. But in any case, that was what started me off on this tangent that has really defined my life in many ways.


TS: You ask rhetorically, here, a question that I think many of us ask, which is, what would our spirituality be like if it was developed by women for women? So when you look at Tibetan Buddhism, which is the lineage framework in which you teach, how can you bring to that view … How do you bring to that view … What if Tibetan Buddhism were developed and articulated by women for women? How would it have to be different?


LTA: Well, architecturally different is one thing. When I began to teach, when Women of Wisdom came out, I used to ask people to close their eyes, and maybe the people who are listening now could try this. Close your eyes, and imagine you’re walking into a temple that is built by women, for women, and the architect is female. What would it be like? What would that temple be like? What shape would it be? What would be in it? What would your relationship to what’s in it be like, if you were male or female going into that space? What’s on the walls? Are there windows? Is it an enclosed space? So I always saw something round. I don’t know what you saw, if you tried that just now. But I always saw something round or perhaps an octagonal shape, and that there would be living things in the temple. There would be plants, and there would be female imagery.

So within the Tibetan tradition, we do have a feminine principal, which is called the Great Mother or Prajnaparamita. We also have the dakini and the dakini principle, which is the wisdom feminine and various different forms and levels of that, which I think we’re going to talk about as well. But how would Tibetan Buddhism be if it had been formulated by women and for women? I think we can look back a bit to Tantric Buddhism in India, because there was a much stronger female presence at that time in India. What we find is a religion that operates very much in daily life. People are practicing within their professions. If they are a jeweler, they’re carving their jewels while they’re doing a meditation, and the actual carving of the jewel, they’re meditating on their own mind and bringing out the luminous facets of their own mind. If they’re a washer person, which there were in India, both male and female, who would do laundry, basically, in rivers, then you would be meditating on purifying your mind as you’re doing that.

There’s a wonderful story about a woman who was a housewife, and she was going to the river to get water. She had been practicing at night. It seems like mostly they practiced after midnight, which is probably when they had time. So she was doing a sadhana, a practice, every night. That’s a tantric deity yoga practice. Then during the day she was doing her housewife duties, and so she was coming back from the river carrying this container of water. On the way up the embankment, she slipped, and it fell. It was clay, so it broke. In that moment of it breaking open and the water going everywhere, her mind did the same thing, and she went into an extremely expansive, all inclusive, non-dual state, and it was her enlightenment moment. So that kind of thing would be present.

There’s another story that—it’s very touching for me—that took place around that same time, which was around the 8th century, Guru Rinpoche, who was the primary person who’s given credit for bringing tantric Buddhism to Tibet. He wanted to receive the empowerments of the eight herukas, tantric deities. He heard there was a woman who was giving these and could give the … who was the one to go to receive this. Her name was Kungamo. So he found her. He found out where she was, and it was in a jungle area. I believe it was in Bengal or East India.

When he got there, he ran into a young woman at the well getting water. He realized that this young woman was probably an assistant to Kungamo, or Leykyi Wangmo is her name in Tibetan. So he asked her to take him to her teacher, and she refused. She acted like she didn’t understand. So he did a mudra, a kind of hand signal, which made her freeze where she was. She couldn’t move. She was just standing there with the water, and then she realized she was up against somebody that she couldn’t compete with in terms of her powers. So she agreed to take him to see Leykyi Wangmo. To me, that’s already an interesting story because of the well and a woman at the well and that sense of the depth coming from the well, which is a kind of eminent essence, water, of life.

He freezes her, and then she complies, and then takes him to her teacher. So when he gets to see Kungamo or Leykyi Wangmo, she’s seated on a throne, and she’s in a house of skulls, which is common in the early tantric period. Those people lived in charnel grounds, where the corpses would be brought at the time of death, and they would actually make things out of the bones, like houses or containers to eat. The skull cup originally comes from that tradition, thigh bone trumpets, so on.

So she’s there, and he requested empowerment from her. Then she turns him into a hung syllable, into a syllable, into a letter. She transformed his body into this letter, which is the sound of hung, and she swallowed him. As he was passing through her body, he received these eight empowerments. When he emerged from her yoni, from her secret place, he had all the empowerments. To me that’s such a feminine metaphor to have it come through the body like that and have his transformation be actually in her body, and have her power be in her body like that, and then to emerge like birth from her, and that’s how he received the eight empowerments, which he subsequently taught.

So those stories give you a little bit of an idea of how it might be if there’s a strong feminine presence in the Tibetan tradition, for example. I think it would have an embodied quality. I think there would be more circular structures and perhaps a more circular approach to community. The Tantric tradition has—and I think this is also because of the feminine influence, which did come in when the tantric influence came into Buddhism—the emphasis on this world. This world that we’re in now is sacred, that our emphasis is not to get up and out of this world, that this world is—which we hear more in earlier Buddhism. It’s bad. It’s all suffering. We need to get out of here approach.

This tantric approach was that actual embodiment is a path, can be a path, and that, for example, the senses can be liberating factors, that sexuality can be a liberating factor, which was a piece that was pulled out of tantric Buddhism in the West and became—that’s what tantra is. But that’s not what tantra is. That’s a very small part of what it is, but it is there. It’s part of this sacralization of embodiment and the idea that we can transform these things into a path. I think that’s typical whenever you have a strong feminine presence in a spiritual path.


TS: Now, Lama Tsultrim, as a woman teacher who was trained in your own life by many Tibetan Buddhist male teachers, is there something definitive that you’ve said, “I’m going to do this XYZ thing differently. I may have been trained this way, but this is how I’m going to do it to bring the embodied feminine into the way I teach”?


LTA: Yes. There was a decision that I made quite early on in my, I guess you could say, teaching career, where I decided I wasn’t going to take the approach that had been used on me, which was to cut through the ego, to try to cut down the student’s ego to, I don’t know, make them egoless, I guess, or to confront their shadow or to transform, whatever the approach was to almost violently and sometimes quite hurtfully to insult the student or to make them somehow—confront them in a fairly aggressive way. I decided not to do that. At first, it was just because I was just uncomfortable doing it, and then I thought about it more. I was like, what is this? I really don’t want to do this, even though that was the model that I had.

Then I thought, I’m working a lot with women, and I don’t think women need this. I think women have enough of that in just being an oppressed part of society, and they need more nurturing. They need more confidence building with kindness. So I decided to take that more nurturing approach. It doesn’t mean I won’t, say, stop a student if I think they’re going in the wrong direction or question what they’re doing or something like that. But, in general, my approach is more to nurture them. I think all teachers, male and female, have fundamentally that idea that they want to nurture their students, but their approach might be different.

I think it’s the same way of raising children, for example. There used to be this idea that spare the rod, spoil the child, that if you don’t act aggressively towards your child, they’ll be spoiled. That’s been disproved. Corporal punishment, for example, has been proven to not create better behavior and to create deep harm in the child. So this was a choice that I made. Another example would be our temple at Tara Mandala. I’m not sure that you’ve been there yet. I hope you come. But it’s round inside. I actually dreamt the temple in 2001. It wasn’t built until 2008 and ‘09, but it has the round shape.

I had studied the temples, for example, in Malta, the goddess temples that are actually like the body of a woman. You actually go in through the yoni, enter into the body, into her body, essentially. The body was a big, round, generous female body. Tara Mandala is a mandala shape with four entrances in the four directions, and it’s all carved by Bhutanese wood carvers and painted by Tibetan artists. It’s really quite an extraordinary building architecturally, and I dreamt it in 2001. So I haven’t been in any round Tibetan temples. I think there’s one in Bhutan that is a little bit like the Guggenheim Museum in New York, where you kind of walk around in it. It’s now a museum in Bhutan. It is a roundish temple, but generally they’re square or rectangular, as are Christian churches.


TS: Now Lama Tsultrim, you mentioned the dakini principle, and with Sounds True, you’ve created this new ten-session audio series on meditating with the dakini mandala. For people who are hearing about the dakini and going, “Not quite sure I know what that is exactly,” is that some beautiful female, fierce deity or something? What is it, and what does it mean to have as part of my spiritual practice this focus on the dakini principle?


LTA: Well, before I begin, I would like to say that what I’ve been talking about in terms of the feminine is something that’s present in both genders. So it’s not just about women. It is about women, but it’s also relevant for either gender. This is true of the dakini principle. There’s equal number of male practitioners who focus on the dakini as female, if not more. So I just wanted to clarify that, that this isn’t a just-for-women type thing.


TS: Very good.


LTA: So the dakini is … It’s quite complex, actually. So there’s different levels of the dakini principle. The first level is the feminine principle itself, which is the ground of being itself, which is emptiness, which contains or embodies cognizance and luminosity, so empty luminosity, which pervades everything. Ground of being is the source of all phenomena, and in that sense it is considered feminine. So you could say, as Joanna Macy said in her book, she called it the pregnant zero, that it’s formless, and yet it contains the potential for all form. In that sense, it’s feminine. It’s pregnant with all phenomena. So that’s the Great Mother. Trungpa Rinpoche, I think, called it the Great Space Wearing Makeup or something like that.

Then there’s a deity level of the dakini, and that would be like Vajrayogini or Vajravarahi, [inaudible], Tara. All those energies could be considered dakini energies. They exist at the level of sambhogakaya. That great mother principle is dharmakaya, this formless, open, vast, empty, pregnant awareness. Then the sambhogakaya is the dimension of luminosity, so it’s pure light. It’s not this dimension that we’re in now. We are in kind of a condensed light reality. The sambhogakaya is a dimension of light, but it also has form. So the dakini at that level is the wisdom energy with which we identify in order to transform ourselves into enlightened energy. So it’s sort of like imbuing ourselves with luminosity.

So at that level, the dakini is usually manifesting as wrathful, and that fierce energy doesn’t mean that she’s angry. It is fast-moving, powerful energy. This is something that I talk about in my book, Wisdom Rising, that the wrathful or fierce feminine is something that has been forbidden in our world. It’s bad. It’s the witch and the bitch. We saw that manifesting so much when Hillary Clinton was running for office and there was all this question. If she was slightly fierce at any moment, she was the bitch, whereas if a male had acted the same way and said the same thing, it would have been considered that he was being forceful, right?

So the dakini is that fast-moving, wisdom energy, and she also moves through space. So the Tibetan word for dakini is khandro. Kha is space, and dro is go. So it’s literally sky dancer or sky goer. Why? Because she’s moving through space, and she’s an expression of that primordial ground of being in form. So when you do Vajrayana practice with the dakini, in most practices, you identify with her. You become her. You are holding certain implements. You’re in a certain posture. You’re emanating wisdom flames. Your expression is wrathful, sometimes extremely fierce. You’re emanating wisdom. You’re embodying wisdom. So you’re taking that forbidden archetype, if you will, and you are transforming that into a positive energy which has a definite force. I think we see this wrathful feminine wisdom aspect in some of the political activism that we see, like with our friend Greta. The way she is … She’s fierce and forceful, but underneath that is compassion. That’s what she’s moving. It’s like a mother animal that’s protecting her young. So that’s at that level of the dakini.

The transformation takes place through identification and mantra recitation. The mantra gives you the vibrational field of the dakini, and then that works within your energy system to transform it into wisdom. So that’s the dakini at the level of sambhogakaya, the level of luminosity.

Then there’s the nirmanakaya level, which is our dimension. Nirmanakaya is this physical world. In Tibetan, the word for nirmanakaya is tulku, which is the word that we use that you may be familiar with for reincarnated lamas, like Tulku Jigme. It’s a title. But, in fact, what it means is illusory body. So a tulku or a nirmanakaya manifestation is someone who’s manifesting a normal physical body, like, for example, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He brushes his teeth. He has a physical body. He eats and so on. But he’s manifesting that body to benefit beings.

So dakinis can be the same way. Wisdom dakinis can manifest in the human body, and then they enact acts of wisdom and compassion. That’s why they’re here. That’s why they’ve chosen to be reborn, and that’s what they do. But they look fairly normal, although there are certain physical signs and so on for recognizing a dakini. Those women are not necessarily pretty, and they’re not necessarily young. This is a misconception that’s also developed is, oh, she’s such a dakini. It’s some pretty, young girl. Often, in the stories, in the old stories like in the story of Naropa, who lived also in the early time of tantra in India, a dakini appeared to him as a ugly old hag. He analyzed her 32 ugly features. She had a beard, and she was drooling. Her eyes were rolling, etcetera, etcetera.

So the dakini in the human form doesn’t always manifest as a beautiful woman. She can if that’s appropriate, and it’s not necessarily true. Dakinis, also, in the human form, are not always nice. They can be wrathful or have other kinds of fierce manifestations. Then there’s the worldly dakinis, and those are women are partially dakinis. They manifest sometimes as dakinis and sometimes as ordinary women. They might manifest in a certain occasion or certain circumstances, but they aren’t enlightened, completely enlightened like the wisdom dakinis. The wisdom dakinis are said to have the same level of realization as a Buddha, and so that’s a very high level of realization. So that’s the three levels, the empty essence, ground of being, Great Mother, formless dimension of dharmakaya, the luminous dimension of sambhogakaya that’s not on this plane of existence. We don’t see it, but we can visualize ourselves as that to literally illuminate our own bodies, then the physical level, nirmanakaya, where that same enlightenment principles manifests in an ordinary body.


TS: All right, Lama Tsultrim, I’m going to ask you a direct question. Are you some type of dakini? If so, what type?


LTA: I don’t think I would answer that question. I think that that’s something that should not be answered.


TS: Let me ask you a different question. Have you ever met a physical wisdom dakini? If so, what was that like? What did you experience?


LTA: Hmm. A wisdom dakini?


TS: We’ll go for both a worldly and a wisdom. Maybe you could give me an example of each. I think that will help make it real.


LTA: Well, I think that Khandro Rinpoche is a wisdom dakini. She’s a Tibetan teacher, a female. She can be very sharp and direct, but also very compassionate. She’s in the female form, and she’s a tulku, a nirmanakaya emanation. I’ve met other women during my lifetime, for example, Sangye Khandro, who is a Tibetan translator. I feel that she is a dakini. I would say she’s a wisdom dakini also. Then I’ve also met, for example, the consort of my teacher, Apho Rinpoche, who was a great yogi, a family yogi, I guess, you could say. He had four children, and he had a sangyum, or a secret consort, a wife. She held a lot in that mandala of him. She wasn’t directly teaching, but she was holding the whole mandala of his world as a teacher, as the mother of his children, and so on. There’s also Chagdud Khadro. She is a dakini. She was the consort of Chagdud Tulki, and she’s now overseeing his temple in Brazil. She’s American, but overseeing his temple in Brazil. I find her really quite amazing as a being.

So those are all sort of identifiable dakinis. There’s also people that I just meet, and I experience that energy from them. It’s a kind of very direct wisdom. Then maybe they are that for some time, and then they’re not. So that would be more like a worldly dakini.


TS: Well, tell me what you mean by that very direct wisdom. Maybe you could share a story. The person doesn’t really matter. But I’m curious to know more when you’re encountering this energy, and you go, oh, that’s it, that’s it. This direct wisdom feels like this.


LTA: I’ll tell you a story. It’s not about me. It’s about my son. So my son was recognized as a tulku in 2001, but it was kept secret until last year, or actually now two years ago, 2019. However, he was recognized as a tulku of Yudra Nyingpo ,who was an 8th century yogi who lived in far eastern Tibet. After Vairochana was exiled from Central Tibet—Varachana was the great translator of that era, and there were very intense political things going on in Central Tibet, and he was exiled. Then the prince, the son of the king where he was exiled, became his disciple, and that was Yudra Nyingpo, who had actually been with him in his previous life. He had a died, but — hadn’t died, and then this person had been reborn.

So, anyway, that’s a whole story about Yudra Nyingpo that’s actually very interesting. But now we’re in this life. So he’s in Tibet. He’s at Samye Chimpu, which is the caves of Guru Rinpoche in Central Tibet. He’s just walking around up there. There’s probably about 200 caves up there. He’s on pilgrimage. Suddenly this woman appears, and she says to him in Tibetan—he speaks Tibetan— “Your cave is over there.” So he’s kind of like, “What?” She starts to get a little wrathful, like, “Your cave’s over there. Go!” So he follows her, and he goes to this cave. Outside the caves there, they have little plaques for whose cave it was historically, and the plaque says Yuduningpo at this cave that she’s directed him to.

So he goes into the cave, and she tells him, “Go inside. Meditate.” So he does that, and he comes out. Then he goes over to this little house that she’s come out of when she gave him those directions. He looks inside, and it’s completely empty. It’s like nobody ever lived there, had been there recently. She just completely vanished. So that would be a manifestation of a dakini.

In my life, it happened in Tibet also, also connected to a cave, where I was in this area called Chotero Terdrum, quite an amazing area of Tibet, where Guru Rinpoche lived and where Yeshe Tsogyal lived, who was the Tibetan consort of Guru Rinpoche, Padmasambhava, the one who was eaten by Leykyi Wangmo and received all the empowerments in her body. So this is sacred to him, and also Yeshe Tsogyal who was exiled there and lived there with her consort, who was from Nepal. So I heard that there was an emanation of Yeshe Tsogyal that lived there and that she had vowed to always come back as an emanation that would live in this place.

So I stayed up in the cave. I think it was about two weeks. I was there with my daughter who was then 16 and one of my students. So we were there, and she wasn’t there. Her consort was there, and he sort of took care of us, would make us tea and direct us to different sacred places to go. Then the time ended for us to leave. We went down the mountain, and we went to try to find her. We heard she was building a prayer wheel down in the valley.

So we went to this place, and I was walking up to this place where she was said to reside. Suddenly this dog appeared, Tibetan mastiff, which are very aggressive dogs. This dog came after me and bit me in the leg. My experience of that bite was like the whole world kind of—kind of like the woman who dropped the water. It was just like it was so shocking, and somehow everything just opened. I could see everything with such clarity, and the emptiness of everything. It was like a direct experience, from the shock of it, from whatever happened.

Then right behind this dog was this woman, and she actually threw something at the dog and scared it away, and it was her. I felt that that dog was her manifestation and that that experience brought me to a greater understanding and, really, was, in a way, the most important thing that happened to me during that whole time in that very sacred place in Tibet. So those are encounters that I had in Tibet. That was an encounter that I had there that—she was a dakini, and that dog which was like her emanation was my wake-up experience. Actually, I haven’t told that story for a very long time. I think I wrote about it when I first came back. That would have been in 1992, I think.


TS: I hope it doesn’t discourage people from wanting to do dakini-style meditation. The idea of enlightening dog bite doesn’t sound so terrific.


LTA: I wouldn’t think that by doing a dakini meditation you would be inviting dog attacks. But it is interesting how these things can happen in ways that you might not think, or you might not like the way it happens. I think that does happen around the dakini, that often things will happen that are not in the program. You think, oh, this is really bad, whatever it is that’s happening, a change, usually, because dakinis are change agents. A change will happen in your life, and you’ll be upset about it maybe at the time, but then you realize, oh, that was actually the best thing that could have happened to me at that time, and it led to a major shift that I really needed.


TS: Now let me ask you a question, Lama Tsultrim. You talked about, in the meditation practice, working with the deity level of the dakini and actually transforming ourselves into these dakini figures. Then you described the dakini figures as these fierce, wrathful beings. Why do I need to transform into a being that’s fierce and wrathful? Why wouldn’t it be perfectly helpful and useful and transformative to transform into a peaceful being?


LTA: It is. It is perfectly useful to do that, and, for example, the Green Tara, for example, is a female figure who is peaceful and extremely powerful and beneficial. It’s just another aspect of ourselves, and I think particularly because this archetype has been forbidden to us, it’s like a part of the psyche that has been lost. That aspect of the feminine, I think, is important because, if women can’t be like Greta or other women who are standing up in various ways—I find Simone Biles also—she’s not so much manifesting as wrathful, but she’s very decisive and powerful as a young woman, and her voice is powerful. So that aspect of taking charge and manifesting your power and not apologizing for it, I think, is an important aspect. The gentle nurturing feminine is equally important. But my point is that we need both. We need all aspects. There’s also the seductive or the desire provoking aspect of the feminine as well. They say that each of these aspects transform one of the three poisons. So anger is transformed into the wrathful deities, not only female, male as well. Desire is transformed into what’s called the semi-wrathful deities that are in-between wrathful and peaceful. Then ignorance is transformed into the peaceful deities.

So I emphasized and wrote about in my book the wrathful aspect because I felt it was a part of us as a society that we need. We need her. Obviously, this could be abused and rationalized. Oh, I’m just the wrathful dakini, when actually somebody’s just being mean. So that’s important that that’s not the case. But if you’re working with it at an energetic level and you’re taking that energy that’s wrapped up in anger and illuminating it as fast-moving energy—and this is the way it’s been described to me by my teachers. That fast-moving intense energy of something that is wrathful—I mean, when are we more intense than when we’re mad? We’re manifesting all that energy as humans, which is potentially extremely destructive, but also potentially extremely powerful in removing obstacles and change, in creating change. So that’s why I wrote the book emphasizing that. I could have written a book about the peaceful feminine and the importance of that, because it is very peaceful. But I felt this was something that needed to be brought forward because it’s something that has been disparaged. Women, especially, have been discouraged from expressing that kind of forcefulness.


TS: Can you help me and our listeners understand, if we take something like anger and we work with the dakini energy, the dakini deity, how that anger get transformed into what? How does that work?


LTA: Yes. The clearest way that I’ve heard it explained is as fast-moving energy, movement, whereas the peaceful deities are not movement, stationary. The dakinis were dancing. They are not just standing there. They’re not just running around. They’re actually dancing, and I think that’s interesting also. Dance is such an expression of joy and power and being in the flow of energy. So how does this work? How does this actually work? Do you think we could do a little short meditation to—


TS: Oh, yes, oh, yes. Let’s do it.


LTA: —pull in something a little more experiential. So what I’m going to do is invite you to become a dakini, a wrathful dakini. The reason I want to do this experientially is because I want you to have the feeling of it, because I could describe it, but I don’t think that would be as helpful as you trying it. So what we’ll do is we’ll close our eyes in this experiment. So now I’ve got my eyes closed, and we’re going to work with the syllable, hung, like H-U-N-G, or H-U-M, hum. As we sound hung, I would like you to imagine that your body, whether you’re male or female listening to this, becomes a female form, takes a female form, that you are dark blue, like blue black in color, and that you have your right leg raised and your left leg extended. You’re dancing on top of the sun disk, like a horizontal sun. Then in your raised right hand, you’ll be holding a hooked knife, which represents the ability to cut through discursive thoughts of subject and object, subject-object fixation.

Then at your heart, you’ll be holding a skull cup, human skull cup, which again comes from these charnel grounds in India, these places between the worlds where the dakinis often manifested, between life and death. You’ll be holding that at your heart, and that will be full of a nectar of transformation. Then in the crook of your left arm, extending to your foot, your left foot down on the ground, is a staff. That staff goes into the crook of your left arm and then goes up to just above your shoulder, and on it are three skulls, a freshly severed skull, a few days old one, and then a dry skull. Those represent the three kayas that I spoke about before. Then on top of that is a vajra, which is a scepter that has five points on each end. It has two ends, and then it has a hub in the middle. That symbolizes the sacred masculine. So this staff that you’re holding called a khatvanga symbolizes the sacred masculine. You will be emanating wisdom flames, and your expression is fierce. You have your tongue extended and coiled. You have fangs, and you’re full of wisdom energy of mirror-like wisdom.

So now we will sound the seed syllable, hung, a long deep sounding, and as we do it imagine that your body, wherever it is right now, becomes this wrathful dakini. So take a moment and become present in your body. As you sound the hung, feel that that sound is transforming your physical body into a body of luminous, dark blue light. Hung. Take a moment to feel yourself in the female body. Your body is blue black in color. It’s a body of light. It’s emanating flames that are the flames of wisdom, mirror-like wisdom, the wisdom like a mirror, reflecting all and reacting to nothing. Feel the energy of the wisdom flames emanating from you. Feel your fierceness that is embodying compassion, fierce compassion. Notice what it feels like to have this body of light that’s very intense. The fierce energy is removing all delusion, clarity of mirror-like wisdom.

You have three eyes, the third eye in your forehead that sees beyond two. You’re holding the skull cup in your left hand, at your heart, containing the nectar of transformation. You could put your hand up at your heart, if that feels right, and just feel that you’re holding that skull cup of transformational nectar. Then in your raised right hand—and, again, you can lift your hand—imagine you’re holding this crescent shaped, hooked knife that cuts through subject-object delusion, subject-object fixation. Feel your fierceness. Feel that energy, and feel yourself as female, the fierce feminine, wise, strong, undefeatable, unconquerable. Really allow yourself to feel the fierce wisdom, strength, compassion, and that blue black color emanating wisdom flames.

Take a moment to really, really fully embody this energy. Notice how it feels. If you have any anger, imagine that that anger is transformed into mirror-like wisdom, clarity, strength. You have your consort in the crook of your left arm. You have the masculine there with you to support you, to be with you as a walking stick or as a tent pole, as a weapon to protect you. It’s there with you, integrated. You’re noting how this feels, how this wisdom feels, the strength of it, the power. Let that sink into you in a way that you can recall it.

Then we’ll sound the seed syllable again, and as we sound it, we’ll allow this visualization to dissolve from the top down and from the feet up into our hearts, where there’s a sphere of blue light. Then that sphere also dissolves, and we’ll rest for a moment in open awareness. Hung. Down to a tiny point of blue light, and then that blue light dissolves. Rest in whatever’s present after that dissolution.

Then we’ll come back. I’m opening my eyes now. As you come back into your normal body, notice how you feel. Do you feel somehow slightly transformed by this energy in your body? Does it feel destructive, harmful? Or does it feel strong and luminous and forceful? That’s how it feels to me.


TS: Thank you, Lama Tsultrim. Thank you so much. Thanks for giving us that direct experience. I feel so grateful to have had this conversation with Lama Tsultrim Allione. She’s the author of the book, Wisdom Rising, and with Sounds True, we’ve released a new ten-session audio series. It’s called The Empowered Feminine: Meditating with the Dakini Mandala. Here as we close, Lama Tsultrim, I’m just going to ask you to comment on this quote that’s towards the end of your book, Wisdom Rising. You write, “My journey to and with the dakini has been going on for half a century and has paralleled the rapid changes on Earth, changes that have become more devastating daily. I have become convinced that it is her wisdom that we need now.” Why, in your view—and in many ways this wraps up our whole conversation—do you feel we need dakini wisdom now?


LTA: Well, I think, in general, we need the feminine. We need the feminine voice in our world at an equal level to the masculine, which has definitely been dominating for quite a while, so that’s one thing. Then the dakini principle is wisdom. This is different than, say, outer empowerment of women or the feminine that is also important. I’m not diminishing that in any way. But I think the word inpowerment, like I-N, inpowerment, is very important for all of us who are trying to make changes in, for example, climate change, that if we have that inner power to draw on as we are being activists or as we are trying to make change, be change makers, then we will have a strength to draw on that we wouldn’t have otherwise. I think it’s also really important to transform the anger into wisdom, to have it as we are making changes and being forceful, to be drawing on a source of compassion and strength that may appear wrathful, but underneath it is wisdom and compassion. This voice of the feminine has—from the beginning of the ecological movement, it’s been dominated by women. I don’t know if you are aware of that, but that’s an actual fact. So I think it’s up to the feminine to really take this on.

To me, climate change is the big issue of our time. To have an inner practice—and in the book and in our series, there’s an actual meditation on the mandala of five dakinis, which really is very powerful and actually quite simple meditation that you can do as you are a change maker, or even if you don’t see yourself as being an activist, still to access this feminine wisdom which is so important, as I said, for men and women. To actually feel that is crucial. I really feel it’s crucial. It’s not just, “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if that happened?” We have to do this. We have to. I mean, I feel that, more and more every day, this is really getting to a point of no return. If that happens, we’re still going to have to live, and we’re going to have to live within that no return with as much wisdom and compassion as we can. But let’s not get there. Let’s do what we can to turn it around. The dakini mandala meditations and the understanding, the stories of the dakinis will be a force of transformation in your life, as well as in the lives of those around you.


TS: Thank you so much, Lama Tsultrim. Thank you.


LTA: You’re very welcome. It was so nice to be with you today.


TS: Thank you for listening to Insights at the Edge. You can read a full transcript of today’s interview at If you’re interested, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app. Also, if you feel inspired, head to iTunes, and leave Insights at the Edge a review. I love getting your feedback, being in connection with you, and learning how we can continue to evolve and improve our program. Working together, I believe, we can create a kinder and wiser world. waking up the world.


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