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BOOK REVIEWS - SKY DANCER: The Secret Life and Songs of Lady Yeshe Tsogyel She Who Dances In The Sky: The Story Of A Female Buddha by Adamas

Absorbing yourself in the continuous peak experience of Dzogchen Ati … there is nothing but the spontaneity of pure potential.
There is no other way to dance in the sky.

- Yeshe Tsogyal (p163)

Full of all sorts of Tantric detail, this great book tells the life story of Yeshe Tsogyal, one of the main students of Padmasambhava and an enlightened being in her own right.  It tells of her journey, trials and tribulations as she works through the different practices and stages toward her Body of Light.  For any authentic student of tantra and Dzogchen and for anyone interested in the stories of enlightened beings, this is a must read as much inspiration and insight is to be gained.

The Power of Dakini

Enjoying profound and perfect insight, I am not cowed by visionary experience …
Enjoying the unstructured quality of every occurrence,
I am no coward in the face of my thought-forms …
Enjoying the mind’s immaculate nature, I no longer possess a sense of impurity …
Enjoying the identical flavour of pleasure and pain, I have no preference for good or bad.”

- Yeshe Tsogyal (expressing her realization, p81)

A great example of a female Buddha, it makes for a refreshing contrast in a field which is rather male dominated. 

Yeshe makes Joan of Arc and Mother Theresa look like schoolgirls when it comes to compassion and from and an enlightenment and power perspective there is simply no comparison to be made.  At one stage she is raped by seven bandits but her understanding of the emptiness and purity of all phenomena allows her to raise their Kundalinis, after which they become her students and go forth to spread the dharma.  At another juncture of her life she marries a leper and lives with him as his wife to demonstrate her compassion and non-attachment.  One has to remember that she was a Tibetan princess so all of these activities could not have been easy for her, yet essential to break her identification with the illusion of form.  Her mastery of her physical vehicle was such that when people begged her for help she would take organs or parts of her skeleton out to give to them, regenerating new ones for herself effortlessly.

This book for me shows the pure potential available to the feminine and sets up a powerful and healthy archetype of an enlightened woman as a standard of what is possible, both for women and for men in their interactions with women.

The Role of Dakini in Buddhism

… all-embracing Awareness, she is the blissful cosmic dance of illusion.”
- Keith Dowman (about Dakini, p253)

The book says that the degree of a practitioner’s realization is the degree to which they see all women as Dakini.  From a male perspective I found this book invaluable with regards to the dynamic interplay between the masculine and the feminine and all the subtle nuances in between.  In fact, one could go so far as to say that the degree of a practitioner’s realization is the degree to which they see EVERYTHING as Dakini.

For this reason the understanding of Dakini as manifestation of ‘dynamic emptiness’ as the author calls it, plays a central role in Buddhism and especially tantra and Dzogchen.  Although Yeshe’s life story as a human Dakini is interesting just by itself, there are many tantric mysteries revealed within the pages of the book for those ready and able to receive them as such and this is where the book’s true value lies.

Be sure to read the chapters ‘Path of the Inner Tantra’ (217) and ‘Women and Dakini’ (253) first to provide a platform on which to base understanding as the rest of the book is admittedly quite dense with Tibetan jargon.  Keith Dowman the author is a westerner, and the two chapters are written from a more western psychological perspective.  His understanding and explanation of Tibetan Tantric yoga makes it more accessible to the western mind than some of the purely Tibetan texts.  These chapters will undoubtedly provide you with some worthwhile insight into the book and preparation for appreciating the role of Dakini in Buddhist practice. 

The yoga of sexual union is often alluded to in the book and Keith tackles it with lucid maturity as he clarifies the vast misrepresentation of the so-called ‘modern tantric sex’ nonsense.  As another important aspect in the understanding of Dakini it is well worth paying attention to, especially because the union of masculine and feminine principles in Buddhism takes place on a universal level, not just the mundane, as it represents the state of enlightenment itself.

Strip the yoga of its arcane terminology and there is a simple meditation technique: stimulate desire and then use it as the object of meditation and it becomes Awareness – a field of Emptiness and pure pleasure …
Sexual pleasure as erotic play, intimate dalliance, orgasm or even ‘coitus interruptus’, has no place in this yoga. The equation of sexual indulgence and the Buddhist Tantra has been formed by misguided, commercially motivated individuals pandering to the prurient neuroses of the sexually jaded seeking titillation in the arcane …”

- Keith Dowman (on Sexual Yoga, p249)

Treasure Teaching

Another part of the book that is worth reading before you dive into the main body of text is the ‘Translator’s Introduction’ which gives a bit of insight on where the original text came from.  He explains a little about the text as a terma (teaching treasure) and gives us some information on Taksham, the 18th century tantric yogin responsible for revealing it. 

The following bits might be of interest:
- A quick introduction to Yeshe’s place in Buddhist history and a little about Taksham, (xii to xv). You can quite happily stop reading where the actual various incarnations of Taksham is recounted and skip to the next bit.
- A short paragraph on the nature of terma, (xvi). Just read from the top of the second paragraph until the end of the sentence which starts with, “Further, some treasures were hidden internally …”

Dzogchen Super-Star

If Tantric Buddhism had celebrities then Yeshe Tsogyal would be a superstar and if you can manage to circumvent the abstruse cultural eccentricities in the story, you will perceive her in all her splendid radiance – in much the same way as mysterious, cosmic Dakini herself.

Get the Book.

Enjoy, and don’t forget to check out our Reading Tips to make the most of your Dzogchen reading experience.

From the ashes of the Atomic Fires,

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