Lion-Faced Ḍākinī

Having always felt a close affinity and connection to Lion-Faced Ḍākinī for many years, am happy to announce this new section of the website for translations and research on this goddess deity. First, a brief introduction to the history and mantra of Lion-Faced Ḍākinī, the extensive commentary and texts on the deity by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, followed by some daily sadhanas translated and published for the first time into English (one by Karma Chagme, the other by Tāranātha) that are offered here for free download at the bottom of this page. I plan to translate some more texts from the works of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo in the near future.

N.B: Pre-requisites to reading and practising any of these texts/sadhanas are a Lion-Faced Ḍākinī empowerment and transmission from a qualified lineage teacher.

The Tantric Sources

The Lion-Faced Ḍākinī (Tib: Senge Dongma, Skt: Siṃhamukhā) is a female deity considered to be especially effective for dispelling black magic, curses, obstacles and harm-doers.  In the Nyingma terma tradition, she is considered as one of the many forms of Padmasambhava, specifically a secret form of Guru Rinpoche manifested to avert spiritual obstacles and negativity. In the Sarma traditions she arises out of the Chakrasamvara cycle of tantras and belongs to the Highest Yoga Tantra ‘wisdom’ classification.

According to Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, 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.

According to some sources, it is said that ”at the time of Buddha Amitabha, many aeons even before Shakyamuni Buddha, there was a demon called Garab Wangchuk whose daughter was a lion-faced demoness called Tramen Sengdongma. She delighted in taking the lives of countless beings, and by harming practitioners she increased the negative forces in the world and undermined the Amitabha Buddha’s doctrine.

All the buddhas gathered together and concluded that to tame her they would need to manifest an identical-looking being. The enlightened beings’ collective wisdom arose in the form of a wisdom being – the Lion-faced Dakini, empowered by all the Buddhas of the ten directions with their power and compassion to tame the demoness. The Dakini became far more powerful than the demoness, who then began to lose her strength. While the Dakini was in a deep samadhi of taming the maras, countless dakinis emanated from her and subdued all the demons. Tramen Sengdongma, now pacified, took an oath to serve the dharma and became a protector.

In the time of the 100-year lifespans, Buddha Shakyamuni appeared in the world and turned the wheel of dharma in many places such as Varanasi, Bodhgaya, Vulture’s Peak, and the charnel ground of Lanka, teaching on many levels including Vajrayana. He said that at that time it was as if the sun was in the center of the sky, and there was no darkness anywhere, but when the sun went down then the darkness of ignorance would arise. But Lord Buddha continued that there would be a method to dispel this ignorance, and so Vajrapani requested that Lord Buddha teach this method. Shakyamuni Buddha rested in the samadhi of taming the maras, and then taught the whole cycle of the Lion-Faced Ḍākinī. He taught in many different ways, and these transmissions were concealed by Vajrapani as treasures after he received them.”

Lion-Faced Ḍākinī

The Lion-Faced Ḍākinī is a fully enlightened deity and not a protector spirit or dakini alone. As one source says:

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.

The translator, Bari Lotsawa and the mantra that saved his life
Nyingma image from Tibet, see

The revelation of the root mantra for Lion-Faced Ḍākinī is associated with the name of a famous translator and Sakya master, Bari Lotsawa (ba ri lo tsA) (aka Rinchen Drak (rin chen grags)) (1040-1111) — the second throne holder of Sakya school (Sakya Trizin). At the age of 63, he retained the seat of Sakya for a period of eight years (1102-1110). Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo wrote a history of the hearing lineage of  Siṃhamukhā, which has been translated and published in English online here. According to that biography:

The great lotsawa Baripa of Dring Tsam went to India in order to listen to, study, practice and translate the sūtras and tantras written in Indic languages. Afterwards he travelled to Nepal, where he received teachings from Chiterwa the Newar, and trained and conversed with him. During his stay in Nepal, Baripa engaged in dialogue and debate with the heretic teacher Bhavyarāja. Day after day, Bhavyarāja would defeat the lotsawa and win the debate. Despondent, finally one evening the lotsawa invoked his gurus, iṣṭadevatās and especially Acala and prayed to them for help. The next morning the lotsawa triumphed in the debate, with the heretic Bhavya experiencing a devastating loss. Bhavya became furious, and warned Master Baripa, saying, “You’ve slipped into a bad habit! Now I will cast spells upon you. You will either be left defeated and humiliated in no more than seven days, or you will be forced by the power of my black magic to accept my teachings!”

 In terror, Baripa requested his teacher Chiterwa for help who advised him to go to India to meet with spiritual master Vajrāsana (Dorje Denpa), who advised him to propitiate the Dakinis with puja offerings and pray for their help:

Guru Mahāvajrāsana replied, “O lotsawa! Do not be afraid of the heretic teacher! I have a variety of pith instructions for protection and reversal; one in particular is exceptionally profound and acute. In order to retrieve it, first you must prepare an excellent torma of flesh and blood on the evening of the tenth day of the month. While offering it, one-pointedly invoke and pray to the assembly of the Three Jewels and your gurus, iṣṭadevatās and ḍākinīs. Then at dawn you will receive a prophecy from the ḍākinīs.”

So the lotsawa prepared a gaṇacakra using four sang of gold and undertook the invocation. The gurus, iṣṭadevatās and ḍākinīs paid heed and as a result granted him the following prophecy, proclaiming, “O lotsawa! Do not be afraid of the heretic! We will grant you protection!”

The principle ḍākinī of this assembly was the esteemed wisdom ḍākinī Siṃhamukhā, who counselled him, saying, “The supreme among all pith instructions, combining the red, black and mottled like an ocean of amṛta which annihilates all, lies hidden about one krośa to the south of the Vajra Throne. Search there for an iron boulder that looks like a dead yak. Beneath it you will find black earth in the shape of a triangle. If you dig there you will find a small sealed chest covered by charcoal. Inside of this there is a rhinoceros leather chest. Inside of this there is a chest made of the bodhi-tree wood. This chest contains a silver chest. Within the silver chest is a precious chest of gold. Within the gold chest is a turquoise chest. Inside the turquoise chest is a lapis-lazuli chest. Within this is a ruby chest, within which, wrapped in maroon-coloured silk and human skin, you will find ‘the fourteen-syllable fierce averting mantra’, written with the heart-blood of all ḍākinīs; it does not begin with oṃ, and it does not end with svāhā. It is ornamented by neither i’s nor u’s, neither o’s nor e’s. It is written without spaces between the syllables in one single continuous line. Once you have uncovered it, recite it every day twenty-one times, and you will be protected from all evil spells; you will avert all that is harmful, pacify all adversities and obstacles, and all siddhis and all that is favourable will come to you. If you recite it twenty-one times in the morning and strong disturbing negative thoughts arise, do not recite it any more!”  With those words, Siṃhamukhā vanished without a trace, like a rainbow into thin air.

So the lotsawa left before the break of dawn, carrying with him a large red torma as an offering. Soon he reached a yak-shaped boulder. As instructed, he dug where he found triangular-shaped black earth, and first came forth the charcoal. Then, as the prophecy foretold, he took out the chests, and so he revealed the life-force mantra of all the ḍākinīs, the pith-instruction which is like an ocean of amṛta. In exchange for the treasure, the lotsawa placed a precious golden text in the chest and then hid it again just as he had found it. The lotsawa then recited the mantra according to the pith instruction, day and night without interruption.

Eventually, Bari succeeded in hurling all the negative energy back at its source in Nepal. The rebound was so strong that it killed the sorcerer. On hearing this, Guru Vajrāsana ordered Bari to do penance and purification practices in order to cleanse the negativity of his act:

The great Vajrāsana replied, “It would have sufficed merely to wear the mantra I have spoken of on your body, but you have recited the mantra day and night without interruption! Thus you have accumulated the fault of killing. Now you must exert yourself in purifying this bad deed. Do not return to me until definite signs arise that it has been purified.”

For one whole year, then, the lotsawa exerted himself in purifying this evil, during which time he did not have a single opportunity to meet his guru, the great Vajrāsana. The close disciples of Vajrāsana, without any signs of pride, treated Baripa with great kindness, bringing him food and liquor[22] when possible, along with anything else he needed, all without the guru’s knowing. When signs finally arose that Baripa had purified his evil deeds, and his guru’s command, his wish, had been accomplished and fulfilled, he was once again able to meet his guru.

Returning to Tibet, Bari conferred the Lion-Faced Ḍākinī 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 Lion-Faced Ḍākinī from Bari Lotsawa become one of the Thirteen Golden Dharmas (gser chos lugs) of the Sakyapa tradition. These teachings descended to Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, who was himself a Sakya Lama.

Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s Excellent Vase of Precious Jewels sadhanas and commentary

The most extensive Tibetan commentary on Simhamukha practice is that by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892). The text is entitled “The Excellent Vase of Precious Jewels” (Rin-chen bum bzang). 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.  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. It can be read in Tibetan on TBRC 21807, Volume 12, Pages 143 – 326.  Khyentse Wangpo 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). I hope to translate these sadhanas in the future.

Translations and Sadhanas

I myself have received several Lion-Faced Ḍākinī empowerment and transmissions, including twice from HE 12th Gyaltsab Rinpoche (at Bokar Monastery, 2018 and Ralang Monastery, 2019). I have also received the transmission of the Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo sadhanas and texts on Lion-Faced Ḍākinī during the transmissions of his Collected Works by HE Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche, Siliguri India, 2020.

Lion-Faced Ḍākinī sadhana by Karma Chagme. Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin. Dakini Publications 2018. Free download here.

Lion-Faced Ḍākinī sadhana by Jetsun Tāranātha. Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin. Dakini Publications 2018. Free download here.

Shower of Vajras: the Bari Tradition Blue Lion-Faced Ḍākinī and Retinue sadhana by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin. Forthcoming Dakini Publications 2021

Short recitation of Lion-Faced Ḍākinī by 13th Karmapa, Dudul Dorje. Translated and edited by Adele Tomlin. Dakini Publications 2020. Download text here.

Further Reading and Sources