In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, femininity is related to transcendental or primordial wisdom. The concept of feminine wisdom can be found in the Buddhist tradition but also in Western schools of thought in philosophy and science. There are profound representatives of the sacred feminine in Buddhism that share parallels, for example, in the applied science of psychology that embraces all aspects of conscious and unconscious human experience. Among them are the Buddhist goddess Prajnaparamita (from Sanskrit: “the perfection of wisdom”) and Sophia (from Greek: “wisdom”), honored as a goddess of wisdom by Gnostics. Prajnaparamita is a personification of the transcendental wisdom, who reveals the true nature of reality. In a broader context, she is compared with Hellenistic philosophical concepts concerning Sophia, which was developed in Judaism and Christianity.
Another example of the feminine wisdom in the cultural and spiritual exchange between East and West is the Buddhist figure of the dakini. The dakini is related to the female archetype anima, popularized by the psychology of Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961). A dakini is one of the most remarkable manifestations of Buddha Nature in female form. In the Buddhist tradition, dakinis are worshiped as human emanations of primordial wisdom that hold the key to esoteric knowledge of Vajrayana Buddhism and reveal the path to complete freedom.
In the Western culture the figure of a dakini is interpreted from the perspective of psychology, gender studies, feminism, sociology, and more. The main question in relation to their role is how they should be perceived – as archetypes, goddesses or historical women. One of the earliest models associated with Western interpretations of the dakini, is the archetype of the female anima. It is associated with the female aspect of the psyche of a man, which affects his unconscious behavior.
According to Jung, anima development lies at four distinct levels, related to the opening of the man to a broader spirituality and deeper awareness. He named them Eve, Helen, Mary and Sophia. Eve, named after the Genesis account of Adam and Eve, deals with the emergence of a man’s object of desire. Helen, related to Helen of Troy in Greek mythology, is viewed as a woman capable of worldly success as well as intelligence. Mary, named after the Christian understanding of the Virgin Mary, is perceived as one in possession of virtue. Sophia, called after the Greek word for wisdom, is the final phase of anima development, which allows women to be seen as individuals who possess both positive and negative qualities. She is the most spiritual form of the universal mother, who transcends any human or personal aspect. In this role of hers, she is identical to the Buddhist idea of the feminine as the embodiment of wisdom, personified by the figure of a dakini. This concept originates from the goddess Prajnaparamita, identical to the Hellenistic philosophical concept of Sophia.
In the fourth level, as Sophia or wisdom, a man’s anima functions as a guide to the inner life, mediating to consciousness the contents of the unconscious. The female divinities, dakinis, have the same role of awakening the hidden potential of consciousness.
Contemporary science, particularly psychology, proves that the Buddhist emanations of femininity have a timeless role as one of the archetypes of human culture. They can be used as a model that inspires women and men, as well as people from the East and the West, to explore the unlimited potential of their consciousness. The figure of dakini embodies the Buddhist notions of the feminine that developed over the centuries – from the mother’s nurturing love and compassion through perfect wisdom to enlightened power.