Featured image: Simkamukha fragment. From thangka-art.com
Simhamukha is a supreme dakini in Tibetan Buddhism, who combines anthropomorphic and zoomorphic features. She is an wrathful emanation of Guhya Jnana Dakini (Tib. Sangwa Yeshe Khandroma) and is revered in the Nyingma school as one of Padmasambhava’s main teachers.
In Hevajra Tantra, she appears as one of the eight female spirits (tranen gye)* who arise during the intermediate state between lives (bardo). In this role she is also found in the cycle of tantric texts The Web of Magical Illusion (Gyütrül Drawa) to which the Guhyagarbha Tantra belongs. In the Eight Sadhana Teachings (Drubpa Kagye), transmitted in the 8th century in Tibet by Padmasambhava, she appears as a goddess who subdues demons and evil spirits.
Simhamukha is associated with exorcist rituals that prevent black magic and eliminate harmful effects. The ritual practice includes the use of a kapala and a metal mirror on which dharmodaya (“the source of reality”, symbolically depicted in the shape of a tetrahedron) is painted with red powder, in the center of which is written HUNG, the bija mantra of the wrathful goddesses. The mantra of Simhamukha, AH KA SA MA RA TSA SHA DA RA SA MA RA YA PHAT, is known as “the fierce mantra of fourteen letters that averts all magical attacks” (ngag drag log yige chuzhipa). It can be pronounced in a reverse way during extremely wrathful rituals, and it can also be written on the human body to create the so-called “vajra armor” (dorje gotrab) of the subtle body.
Simhamukha’s practice is based on the tantric principle that emotions are an integral part of human nature and must be cultivated and subordinated to the ultimate goal. Through the process of transformation (gyur lam), negative emotions transform into enlightened awareness, which is symbolically expressed through the manifestations of various deities. The figure of the lion-faced goddess symbolizes the enlightened essence of anger, which is the wisdom, clear as a mirror. The goddess embodies the higher wisdom that realizes emptiness and is beyond dualities.
Although she is completely liberated from cyclical existence, Simhamukha manifests in a divine body to help sentient beings attain the Buddhahood through a process of meditative identification with her enlightened qualities. Her divine forms appear as a result of her great compassion for the sole purpose of freeing beings from their suffering. Her figure is also an embodiment of great bliss (dechen), which is spontaneous because it does not depend on external objects and great because it can never be destroyed. According to Vajrayana philosophy, this bliss is related to the original nature of the mind and manifests itself spontaneously when the attachment to the illusory world, which is the real cause of suffering, is completely removed. This is what leads to the achievement of absolute freedom.
As a supreme dakini, Simhamukha presents the feminine principle as an independent force that is not merely a complement to man. She is also the embodiment of the strength needed to achieve the ultimate goal. Without the merging of the masculine and feminine aspects, consciousness cannot reach the necessary wholeness and attain enlightenment. This is the meaning of the third empowerment** in the system of Anuttara Yoga – to initiate the practitioner in the various aspects of wisdom that appear in the form of dakini.
* The eight tramen (Skt. piśacī) are animal-headed deities (tramen literally means “hybrid”). They are: Simhamukha, Vyaghrimukha, Srigalamukha, Shvanamukha, Gridhamukha, Kangkamukha, Kakamukha, and Ulumukha.
** According to the inner tantras (gang gi gyu), there are four types of initiations (wang): vase empowerment (bum dbang), secret empowerment (sang wang), knowledge-wisdom empowerment (sherab yeshe kyi wang) and precious word empowerment (tshig wang). They aim to purify the physical, verbal, mental, and subtle defiles and to develop the potential for attaining the four bodies of the Buddha – Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, Dharmakaya, and Svabhavikakaya.