Simhamukha Wrathful Lion-Headed Dakini by John Myrdhin Reynolds
In terms of these Higher Tantras, a Meditation deity (yi-dam lha) who is both wrathful and female is the Jnana Dakini Simhamukha. It is important to understand that, despite her exceedingly wrathful appearance and animal head, she is not a guardian spirit (srung-ma), subdued by magic, converted to the Dharma, and bound by oaths of service by some powerful Mahasiddha in the past. Rather, she is a wrathful manifestation of Guhyajnana Dakini, who, according to the Nyingmapa tradition, was the principal Dakini teacher of Padmasambhava in the country of Uddiyana. Therefore, although Simhamukha is a Dakini in her aspect, she functions as a Yidam or Meditation deity and her special functions are averting and repulsing (bzlog-pa) psychic attacks that may assault the practitioner and the subduing of negative female energy as personified by the Matrikas or Mamos. These latter are wild uncontrolled female spirits inhabiting the wilderness, both the mountains and the forests, beyond the confines of patriarchal civilization. These female spirits are generally hostile to the male Gender. Simhamukha appears in a Form wrathful, feminine, and demonic; indeed, her Form is said to be actually that of a Matrikia or Mamo, not because her nature is Evil or demonic, but because her wrathful aspect (khro gzugs) skillfully overcomes and subdues those violent negative energies. Simhamukha is a Jnana Dakini or Wisdom goddess. According to Jigmed Lingpa (1726-1798), the famous Nyingmapa master and discoverer of hidden treasure texts or Termas, Simhamukha represents a Nirmanakaya manifestation, appearing in time and history, whereas her Sambhogakaya aspect is Vajravarahi and her Dharmakaya aspect is Samantabhadri, the Primordial Wisdom herself.
Very often the Dakinis and the Matrikas were the old pre-Buddhist pagan goddesses of the earth and sky, although generally the Matrikas always tend to be more local in their nature. Dakinis may appear in many different female forms, young and old, some with animal heads. In Hindu tradition, the goddess Durga is called the Queen of the Dakinis and Matrikas or witches. In many ways, Simhamukha represents a Buddhist version of Durga, but instead of riding on a lion and brandishing her Weapons with eighteen arms, Simhamukha has the head of a lion. Among the eight Tantra sections (sgrub-pa bka’ brgyad) transmitted to Tibet in the 8th century by Padmasambhava, there is the section called Ma-mo rbad gtong, “the cursing and spell casting associated with the witch goddesses,” wherein Simhamukha, as the chief divine figure, very much assumes the role of the Hindu goddess Durga in subduing demons and Evil spirits and protecting practitioners from negative provocations of energy coming from the Mamos. Like other nature spirits, the Mamos are disturbed by mankind’s destruction of the natural environment and therefore inflict plagues, new diseases, earthquakes, madness, wars, and other calamities upon human civilization.
As we have said, the principal magical function of Simhamukha is the averting or repulsing (bzlog-pa) of negative energy and sending it back to its source, whether that source is a black magician or an Evil spirit (gdon). Such a provocation of negative energy is called a malediction (byad-ma, byad-kha), and this is illustrated in the story of Bari Lotsawa . Most often the Goddess is invoked to avert psychic attack. As indicated previously with the Dakini Kurukulla, Tantric Buddhism sees this working with energy in concrete ways in terms of the four magics or magical activities. Although Simhamukha can work with any of the four, she principally relates to the fourth function or fierce magical actions (drag-po’i ‘phrin-las). Therefore, the dark azure blue-colored Vajra Simhamukha is placed in the center of the Mandala. Spiritually, she represents the transformation of Anger or wrath into Enlightened awareness, and psychically or magically, she accomplishes the subduing and vanquishing provocations of negative energy (gdon) personified as demons and Evil spirits. She is surrounded by her retinue of four Dakinis who resemble herself, except for their Body-color and certain attributes: in the east there is the white Buddha Simhamukha who has the magical function of pacifying circumstances and Healing, in the south is the yellow Ratna Simhamukha who has the magical function of
increasing Wealth and prosperity, in the west is the red Padma Simhamukha who has the magical function of enchanting and bringing others under her Power, and in the north is the dark green Karma Simhamukha who has the magical function of vanquishing and destroying negative forces. Each of these aspects of Simhamukha have their own mantras and rituals. If the practitioner is working which a specific function, say for example, becoming successful at business or winning at the horse races, he would put Ratna Simhamukha in the center of the Mandala, doing the visualization while reciting her action Mantra. But in thangkas, Vajra Simhamukha is usually represented as a single figure without the accompanying retinue.
Nevertheless, despite her wrathful appearance and her magical activities, Simhamukha is a manifestation of the Enlightened awareness of The Buddha and her nature is Compassion. Like the Archangel Michael, she slays the dragon representing the forces of Evil and chaos. She only shows her fierce and angry face in order to subdue misguided beings, much like a mother disciplining her naughty child. The worldly gods and spirits are not Enlightened beings; they are still conditioned by their Ignorance and their Karma and still abide inside of Samsara or cyclical existence. And sometimes they direct negative energy against humans in the Form of maledictions and the practice of Simhamukha may be used to avert and repulse these psychic attacks.
Transcendent deities like Simhamukha are emanations or projections of Enlightened beings and being archetypes they may serve as Meditation deities. These figures are principally classified into three types, because Meditation on them the serve as antidotes to the three principal poisons that afflict human Consciousness:
- Meditation on peaceful tranquil deities transforms confusion,
- Meditation on wrathful deities transforms Anger, and
- Meditation on lustful or joyous deities transforms desire.
Where do the ornaments, attire, and attributes of a wrathful deity come from? According to the Tantras, in prehistoric times on an island in the Indian ocean, Matam Rudra, a black sorcerer and demon king, threatened the very survival of the primitive human race. Therefore, the Bodhisattvas Hayagriva and Vajravarahi gained entrance into his gigantic Body and blew him apart from the inside. Thereupon, they donned his attire and ornaments and proceeded to subdue the lesser demons, terrifying them with their wrathful appearance. Simhamukha wears these same ornaments. As the Queen of the Night, she keeps at bay the nightmarish demonic entities who ever seek to invade our sunlight World of Consciousness from the twilight realms beyond. As the active manifestation of Emptiness and Wisdom, her lion’s roar disperses discursive thoughts. And she is naked because she is equally devoid of discursive thoughts.
If the Great Goddess can be said to manifest herself in the three archetypes of Maiden, Mother, and Crone, Simhamukha represents the Crone aspect of feminine Wisdom. She is the archetype of the destructive Terrible Mother, who destroys and yet regenerates all Life out of her cauldron. All Phenomena dissolve into Shunyata or Emptiness, and again all Phenomena arise out of Shunyata. In many ways, Simhamukha appears to correspond to the Ancient Egyptian lion-headed goddess Sekhmet, whose very name comes from the root “skhm” meaning Power, reminiscent of the Sanskrit word Shakti. Sekhmet represented the fiery energy of the sun, the energy of her father, the creator God Ra.
But in the Western monotheistic tradition, there has been the tendency to suppress the archetypal feminine. She became eclipsed by the male Sky God of the Biblical tradition. This exclusively masculine Godhead could be tyrannical, vindictive, and punitive, as well as kind, fatherly, and forgiving. But in the Christian tradition, there has been the tendency to see God as all-good and therefore his dark side has been projected on to the Devil, who was expelled from Heaven and now dwells beneath the earth. This reflects the psychological process of denying the Evil within oneself and projecting it on to others. But in the Tantras, one fights Fire with Fire. To those who are without Knowledge, Simhamukha is the demonic Terrible Mother, who threatens to devour her son, threatening his very existence. She represents everything that men find most terrifying in womankind. What is more terrifying than the lion’s roar heard in the dark jungle in the middle of the night? She represents the primordial fear of being killed and devoured by a savage female beast. It is the threat of annihilation. But to those who possess Knowledge, the lion-headed goddess is the very Form of Emptiness. They have nothing to fear from the great void. She is the terrible lion-headed sentinel of time (chronos leontocephalus) who stands at the portal, the active manifestation of primordial Wisdom, who destroys the notion of an unchanging permanent ego or substance.
Simhamukha according to the Nyingmapa Tradition
Acording to Khyentse Rinpoche (see below), the original scriptural source for Simhamukha is the Drwa-ba’i sdom-pa’i rgyud. This Tantra, where Simhamukha is linked with the eight wrathful Gauris (ke’u-ri-ma brgyad) and the eight Tramenmas or animal-headed sorceresses (phra-men-ma brgyad), appears to be connected with the Guhyagarbha Mayajala cycle (sGyu-‘phrul drwa-ba). In the “Tibetan Book of the Dead” (Bar-do thos grol), these Gauri witches, representing the eight types of mundane Consciousness, and these eight animal-headed sorceresses, representing the eight objects of Consciousness, appear to the deceased Consciousness on the twelfth and thirteenth days of the Bardo experience after Death. However, it is mainly through the Termas or hidden treasure texts discovered since the 11th century that Simhamukha is practiced among the Nyingmapas.
As we have said, according to the Sutra system, the practitioner takes Refuge in the Three Jewels of The Buddha, the Dharma, and The Sangha. However, according the Tantra system one also takes Refuge in the Three Root of the Guru, the Deity, and the Dakini (bla-ma yi-dam mkha’-‘gro gsum). In the Terma system of Jatson Nyingpo (‘Ja’-tshon snying-po, 1585-1656), known as the dKon-mchog spyi ‘dus, “The Union of all the Precious Ones,” the principal visualization practice is the Zhi drag seng gsum. Here zhi (zhi-ba) means “peaceful,” that is, the peaceful Form of Guru Padmasambhava known as Guru Zhiwa, dressed in his usual robes, holding in his right hand a golden Vajra before his Heart and in his left hand a Kapala containing a long-Life vase. Drag (drag-po) means “fierce,” and refers to the wrathful Form of Padmasambhava known as Guru Dragpo, who is flaming red in color, attired as a wrathful deity, holding a Vajra in his right hand and a black scorpion in his left. And seng means “lion,” and refers to the lion-headed Dakini Simhamukha (sen-ge’i gdong ma). These three, invoked as a trinity, represent the Three Roots of Guru Deva and Dakini. The famous Terton Ratna Lingpa (Ratna gling-pa, 1403-1479) also discovered many Termas relating to Simhamukha. Similarly, the famous child prodigy Tulku Mingyur Dorge (Mi-‘gyur rdo-rje, 17th cen.), who received the gNam-chos or “sky teachings,” channeled certain hidden treasure texts pertaining to her. Here and in other Termas there are presented different histories of how Padmasambhava received transmissions directly from his Dakini teacher in Uddiyana, Guhyajnana Dakini (gSang-ba ye-shes mkha’-‘gro-ma). One of the eight manifestations of Padmasambhava (mtshan brgyad) is Simha-raurava (Seng-ge sgra-sgrogs), “the roar of the lion,” which is linked with Simhamukha because Padmasambhava recived the transmission from Guhyajnana when he was in that guise. As already said, Simhamukha is regarded as an emanation of this Dakini from Uddiyana.
Because of the close link of Simhamukha with Padmasambhava, one could say she represents his Anima. According to the traditional history of the Seven Line Prayer (tshig bdun gsol ‘debs) of Padmasambhava, once an assembly of Buddhist scholars at Nalanda university debated with a group of Hindu scholars over certain matters of philosophy. But the Buddhist scholars soon found themselves loosing, and offered Puja to the Dakinis, praying for their help. The melodious voices of the Dakinis prophesied that their brother, Padmasambhava, would come the next day to help them. The next morning, a wild looking yogi from the Cremation ground nearby entered the hall and engaged the Hindu scholars in philosophical debate. By the end of the day, he had systematically demolished all their arguments. But many scholars remained obstinate, shouted insults at the yogi, and strode about the hall arrogantly. The Guru sitting calmly amidst the storm raging about him, allowed a Thought of Anger to well up within him and then he projected the fiery energy of this wrath into the space before him. It coalesced into the terrifying Form of the fiery lion-headed Goddess. The haughty scholars were terrified at this manifestation and fled the hall. But the goddess pursued them, throwing them down of the ground. Terrified the begged for their lives and submitted to the Guru and his teachings.
Simhamukha according to the Sakyapa Tradition
But the revelation of the root Mantra for Simhamukha is especially associated with the name of Bari Lotawa who came from the region of Dringtsam and it is said he was born in the same year as Milarepa (1040). Traveling to Nepal and India, he studied Sanskrit, translating many texts including a collection of sadhanas and a collection of magical rituals. While in Nepal, he debated with a Hindu teacher named Bhavyaraja, and when he defeated the later, the sorcerer launched a magical attack against the translator. In terror, he fled to Bodh Gaya in India, where his own spiritual master Vajrasanapa advised him to propitiate the Dakinis with Puja offerings and pray for their help. In a dream, Simhamukha appeared to him and instructed him to go to a large rock to the east of Bodh Gaya and dig below the rock where he would find a hidden casket. He followed her instructions precisely and discovered the casket as described. Inside, written in blood on human skin, was the fierce Mantra of fourteen letters that averts all magical attacks (sngags drag zlog yi-ge bcu-bzhi-pa). That night he performed an averting rite (zlog-pa byas-pa) and employing the Mantra, he succeeded in hurling all the negative energy assaulting him back at its source in Nepal. The rebound was so strong that it killed the sorcerer. For the next year, Bari did penance and Purification practices at the Stupa in Bodh Gaya in order to cleanse the sin of his act.
Returning to Tibet, he conferred the Simhamukha practice upon Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (Sa-chen kun-dga’ snying-po, 1092-1158), both the oral instructions and the magical rituals  In this way, The Precepts for Simhamukha from Bari Lotawa become one of the Thirteen Goden Dharmas (gser chos lugs) of the Sakyapa tradition. These teachings descended to Khyentse Rinpoche who was himself a Sakyapa Lama.
In the 17th century there was an important master belonging to the Bodongpa lineage, the Togdan Namkha Sangye Gonpo (Nam-mkha’ snags-rgyas mgon-po), but he followed the tradition of Bari Lotsawa when practicing Simhamukha. He was called a Togdan (rtogs-ldan), literally meaning “one who possesses understanding,” because he was a wandering itinerant yogi. He was cured of leprosy because of a vision of Simhamukha. But later he also had personal contact with Guru Rinpoche in his pure visions and was instructed in Simhamukha practice according to the Anuyoga system of non-gradual or instantaneous generation of the deity. Sangye Gonpo explained that at the end of the practice one should integrate oneself into the state of contemplation that is the Great Perfection or Dzogchen. This is quite different from the usual Simhamukha practice in the Sakyapa tradition and in the Gelugpa tradition that inherited the latter.
The most extensive Tibetan commentary on Simhamukha practice is that by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892). This text draws on both the Nyingmapa tradition, where the Dakini is associated with Padmasambhava and on the traditions of the Newer Schools, especially the Sakyapa and the Bodongpa. The text is entitled “The Excellent Vase of Precious Jewels” (Rin-chen bum bzang). Here are found a number of sadhanas and magical rites connected with Simhamukha, as well as a history of the revelation of the practices connected with Bari Lotsawa and Sangye Gonpo. The text compiled by the first Khyentse Rinpoche is mainly based on the teachings of Sangye Gonpo, but the former collected many different texts and put them together in a single volume.
Khyentse Rinpoche gives three sadhanas for the outer, inner, and secret forms of Simhamukha, composed by Padma Gargyi Wangchuk (Padma gar gyi dbang-phyug), also known as Jamgon Kongtrul (‘Jam-mgon kong-sprul, 1813-1899). The latter was his colleague in the non-sectarian Rimed Movement in Eastern Tibet in the 19th century. The outer sadhana (phyi sgrub) is for the Vajra Dakini Simhamukha, which is the usual Form depicted in thankas (her descriptiojn is given below). The inner sadhana (nang sgrub) is for the Padma Dakini Simhamukha who has a red Body and a yellow lion’s face. She serves for both increasing Wealth and enchantment. The secret sadhana (gsang sgrub) is for the exceedingly wrathful black Krodha Kali Simhamukha (khros-ma nga-mo), “the wrathful black goddess,” who appears to annihilate the Delusion of ego, symbolized by the insatiable demon king Rudra, much like Durga cutting the head off the demon king Mahisha. The secret sadhana is also connected with the practice of Chod (gcod), the severing or cutting off of the ego. For this reason, this Form of Simhamukha is also called Vajra Nairatma (rDo-rje bdag-med-ma), “she who destroys the notion of an ego.”
In general, the ritual practice for Simhamukha proceeds in the usual fashion of Dakini sadhana and Puja, as for example, with Vajrayogini. The practitioner places a Kapala or skull-cup filled with wine on a tripod in the center of the Mandala in the shrine. A metal mirror is laid across the skull-cup. This mirror has been covered with red sindhura powder, in which are inscribed the triangles of origination in the Form of a hexagram. This Symbol is called the Dharmodaya, or source of all Phenomena, and at its center is inscribed the letter HUM, which is the seed syllable of the wrathful goddess. A vase containing consecrated water is placed beneath the tripod. The vase, the Kapala, and the Dharmodaya are all conventional feminine symbols. Around them, the various offerings and ritual implements are arranged.
Description of the Dakini Simhamukha
“The color of her Body is a dark azure, like the dark color of the gathering storm clouds. And she is exceedingly wrathful. She has a single face and two arms. Her lion’s face is white in color and turns slightly to the right. The expression on her face is fierce and wrathful. From her three red eyes come flashes of lightning and her lion’s roar is like thunder. The Hair of her head is long and black and made of iron. From this mass of Hair that is billowing about everywhere (as if in a storm) is projected miniature phurpas like live sparks. With her right hand she flourished a five-pronged Vajra in the sky and with her left hand she holds before her Heart a Kapala skull-cup filled with blood. She has a khatvanga staff cradled in the crook of her left arm. She girds her loins with a skirt made of a tiger skin and, as a mantle, she wears the hide of an elephant and a flayed human skin. In all respects, she is garbed in the eight-fold attire of the Cremation ground. She adorns herself with a long garland of dried and freshly severed human heads, as well as with necklaces of human bone. She is adorned with various kinds of fearful apparitions and at her navel is the sun and moon. Her two legs are extended and drawn up in the dance position of ardhaparyanka, while she stands amidst the blazing masses of the flames of Wisdom. At her forehead is the white syllable OM, at her throat is the red syllable Ah, and at her throat is the blue syllable HUM. Then from the syllable HUM in her Heart center there emanate rays of Light, and from the great violently burning Cremation ground in the land of Uddiyana, which is in the western direction, is invoked the Jnana Dakini Simhamukha, who is surrounded by retinues of hundreds of thousands of dreadful Matrika goddesses, together with the ocean-like hosts of guardian spirits who are her attendants.”
Thus, the Dakini, in the Buddhist context, represents a re-emergence of the feminine at all levels in the domain of the psychic and the spiritual, not simply as an adjunct to a male deity, but as an independent force in her own right. According to the Anuttara Tantras, on the occasion of the third or Wisdom initiation, when the candidate is escorted by the Guru from the entrance-way at the eastern gate into the center of the Mandala itself, he encounters face to face Wisdom in the Form of the Dakini. Without this integration with the feminine, the psyche of man cannot become whole or Enlightened.
Historically, Western Consciousness has tended to suppress and exclude from Heaven, the domain of the spiritual, both the feminine and the shadow side of things. However, in the Tantric Buddhism of Medieval India and Tibet, especially in the Anuttara Tantra, we find the interesting process of reintegrating both the feminine and the shadow side back into the Mandala of the psyche, not as secondary or minor figures at the periphery, but taking center stage in the Mandala as the immediate manifestations of Enlightened awareness. The method employed here is alchemy, the process of transformation (‘gyur lam), where the negative emotions are not denied, but their energy accepted and transformed into Enlightened awareness in the Form of the Meditation deity.