Art Story – Buddha Dakini

Buddha Dakini is a mixed media art piece I completed as a meditation and concentration in the Tibetan-Buddhist mythology of the female energy Buddha’s called Dakinis.

Story behind the creation of the artwork

Learning about the 5 Dakini’s was a life changer for me.

Just before the pandemic of 2020 I picked up the book Wisdom Rising: Journey into the Mandala of the Empowered Feminine by Lama Tsultrim Allione. Even though I’ve been a practicing Buddhist for over 30 years I had not heard of the Dakini’s. They are fascinating and I’ll tell you more of their mythology and meaning below.

One of the many things I was taken by was the multiple symbolism in their individual descriptions. The visual is so important to a Dakini. Every aspect of their visual has meaning. As a visual learner, I love this.

After finishing Lama Tsultrim Allione’s book I went to the website for the Tara Mandala Center she founded. I was hoping to visit but this was at the start of the pandemic and everything was starting to lockdown.

I applied for an artist grant to visit the Tara Mandala Center when it re-opened to do focused retreat and learn more first hand Dakini energy. I wanted to incorporate the Dakini teachings into my art, my writing, but also to help the Gal’s Guide Library Perhaps because travel was involved in a pandemic, I didn’t receive the grant. No stranger to learning from books and meditation I decided that one day I would take make a large scale torn paper piece of each Dakini and use it as a meditation.

Staring the piece

On August 1, 2021 I started with the Buddha Dakini. The Buddha Dakini is the center of the 5, she is also the one I most connect with. I wanted to make an art piece using torn paper but also incorporate in 3D elements to really bring this piece to life.

Using a 24×36″ canvas I sketched out the piece. As a guide, I used various Thangkas. A Thangka is a Tibetan-Buddhist painting on silk or cotton. They are rolled up when not in use and generally not framed. They are teaching tools that are loaded with symbolism.

I would incorporate a lotus pedestal from one Thangka, the mountain-scape from another, the clouds from a different Thangka etc.

What I learned

From canvas sketch to final bead placed, it was a 28 day project. I learned a lot on this one about layering, depth, and movement. I took a new route and left somethings in a large torn paper piece (hills) to contrast with the tiny torn pieces (fire). It was actually hard to tear one big piece and get the right shape then to tear hundreds of smaller pieces and create the shape. I loved the challenge. I love learning something new with each piece.

Using beads and ribbons was new for me in an artwork. Also I used metallic paints to enhance the energy. I have used gold metallic paints in the Wise Queen and Breaking Free and I really liked how they catch the light. For Buddha Dakini I used the same gold metallic but I also added a light silver wash to the Dakini’s skin. It was a struggle with having a white focal point and having her look different than the clouds. Painting the papers with the metallics and also adding a wash, helped. There is a slight green shimmer if the light catches her just right.

See Buddha Dakini in person

September 3 – October 30, 2021

Dreamscape & Belief Exhibit at Nickel Plate Arts

107 S. 8th Street, Noblesville, IN

Hard Elements & Favorite Elements

As I worked on each element I was mindful of how the placement and the representation of each object was meaningful. I blocked out my daily work on certain elements so I would focus on the various lessons. The ego was the hardest.

So in traditional pieces, each Dakini is standing on their own ego. This is represented visually with the Dakini standing on a woman. And when I say ego that’s the metaphysics part of me. The Buddhist side of me means Anãtman which translates to “self, ones self, essence of a person.” Because as a Buddhist there is a focus on non-attachment the anãtamn/ego is a difficult one at times. To use a movie line to explain it quickly it’s, “There is no spoon” from The Matrix. In this case it’s rejecting the body as self. I highly recommend the DVD Sukhavati by Joseph Campbell if you can find it. It is 79 minutes long and I think it still give a good starting point of understanding anãtman/ego.

The reason why it was the hardest element for me was two things. #1 On the surface it looks like violence against women. I founded a women’s history library, I speak out against violence against women in panels, interviews and workshops. This is something that visually is something I’m against depicting regardless of the context and the lesson behind it.

#2 I struggle with ego and self esteem. Sure I know “on the surface (I) look calm and ready” (Sorry, Eminem reference) but I have a major default in self esteem especially when it comes to Buddhism. When I get into a new lesson in Buddhism that takes effort to understand or incorporate or put into practice, I hear people from my past who have said to me, “Oh I went through that Buddhist phase too,” and “You’ll never understand Buddhism because you’re not Asian”, and “You’re going to hell.”

For me it’s a constant battle of hating myself because I’ve disappointed others by choosing a different path, so I try to inflate an ego or sense of self that in this body, with these experiences and wisdoms I can help people. But I have to keep it all in check because I want to be proud of my accomplishments but never to the point where I hurt others. I’m consistently trying to find a middle ground where I don’t hate myself too much and people don’t hate me for existing outside the norm. And it’s hard. I’m trying to kill the ego but I’ve been relying on it for so long.

My favorite element of the piece is the hooked knife. I’m so happy with how that turned out. I also just love that element of a tool that hooks you and drags you out of your unconscious state and cuts you free from poison’s and attachments that make you unhappy. It’s direct action and visual is something that really helped me in this piece and in my Dakini study.

Slideshow of creating the piece

Mythology behind the Dakini’s

Dakini translates to “Sky dancer” or “She who moves through space or sky”

There are five Dakini’s in Tibetan Buddhism that are equal to Buddha’s. They are the embodiment of female wisdom and each one can help you with different poison’s in your life. By meditation, ritual, and instruction these Dakini’s can turn poisons into wisdom.

The poison’s are:

  1. Ignorance
  2. Anger
  3. Pride
  4. Desire
  5. Jealously

Each Dakini helps you with a different poison and is represented with a different color, body shape, time of year and time of day and much more.

They all have a Hooked Knife. It is the Hook of Compassion to pull you out of the ocean of suffering. The blade is to cut though clinging to things that don’t make you happy. 

The Skull Cup has a couple of meanings depending on the lesson. The Skull cup can hold the nectar of knowledge, it can also be empty and be a symbol of emptiness, it can also be the cauldron of transformation. And in this case a cauldron is also a metaphor for a womb that creates life. 

Then there is the Staff. That is usually held in the left arm and it’s an inner consort – it’s basically your inner masculine energy. Now this staff can be a tent pole, a protective spear, or a walking staff. In Wisdom Rising, Lama Tsultrim Allione she says, “With it, she has the power to stand alone, she has internalized the masculine.” 

All the Dakini’s are pictured as dancing. Dancing is symbolic of being awake and being happy – inner ecstasy. 

She’s also naked this is said to be symbolic of unadorned truth. She does have a crown of 5 skulls. This represents the 5 wisdoms. The bone jewelry to remind you that life is not forever and that you can take something scary and make it into an ornament. 

She’s also standing on a corpse of her own ego. 

Lama Tsultrum Allione has a wonderful way of describing the 5 Dakini using your left hand.

The index finger is Vajra (Var -ja) and it turns anger into wisdom.

The middle finger is the Buddha and it turns ignorance into wisdom.

The ring finger is the Ratna and it turns pride into wisdom.

The pinkie is the Karma and it turns envy & jealousy into wisdom.

Lastly the thumb is the Padma and it turns desire into wisdom. 

Now in Tibetan Buddhism the left hand symbolizes female energy of wisdom and the right hand symbolizes male energy of skillful means. So when you put your hands together it’s the union of the male and female energies creating action.

Dakini energy is strongest during the waning crescent moon (10 days after the full moon). There are meditations you can do on those days but you can also look up to the crescent moon and think of it as a hooked knife of a bad ass lady cutting you free of all the things that are making you miserable.

Want to know what Dakini you are?

Because there is so much varied symbolism is each Dakini I made a quiz to give you a starting point of perhaps what Dakini you would relate to. There are no wrong answers.

See Buddha Dakini in person

Buddha Dakini is currently on exhibit at Nickel Plate Arts from September 3 – October 30 as part of the Dreamscape & Belief Exhibit.

Published by Leah Leach

Founder of the Gal's Guide Library. Women's history educator, podcaster, artist and author.

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