Look into the mirror of your mind . . . the mysterious home of the dakini.
So taught Tilopa to Naropa, according to the Life and Teaching of Naropa in the episodes on the “twelve great acts of self-denial.”
The mirror of your mind . . . is there such a place? Does it lie within, a purely psychological state? Do we practice deity meditations and mantras until we reprogram our brains to reflect the nature we aspire to manifest? No doubt that there is validity to the idea of neural remapping, but is that a mirror? Or is it simply how we explain away events in the outside world? Giving meaning to both the good and the bad in our lives; finding spiritual solace in supernatural interventions. Our state of mind certainly seems to be reflected in the outside world at times. When we wake up feeling good, that first morning coffee tastes fabulous. And even if it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter—we smile at the world and it seems to smile back. But wake up feeling stressed, tired, and annoyed, and that first coffee doesn’t just taste terrible—before you even take the first taste, you’ve already managed to spill coffee grains all over the countertop, you’re out of sugar, you’ve splashed milk on the floor, slipped on the water you used to mop it up, dropped the spoon behind the cooker, and scalded your tongue on the first sip. The day inevitability continues in the same vein.
We’ve all been there, coffee or not.
But should we look for meaning in potentially random happenings? Such as a rainbow arcing over the stupa after a deep meditation session within, thus calling it auspicious (yes, this actually happened to me during a confusing period in my life and I took it as beautifully meaningful). Can we give meaning to other seemingly arbitrary events, such as a black cat crossing one’s path? Is there something more, somewhere “mysterious,” as Tilopa said? Somewhere that exists in the in-between state, or may I call it the unknown universe? The “dark” that comprises most of the measurable universe. If, as calculated by astrophysicists, only 4 per cent of the universe is known to us, and let’s face it, the minute percentage that we call our entire reality, well that leaves a vast, expansive majority of whatever is left. Dark matter and dark energy. The mathematics also suggests multiple universes or dimensions, which suddenly gives us a lot more more. Perhaps alternate realities that we may recognize as akin to our own, or ethereal realms just beyond our mundane perceptions. Dimensions that may well be mysterious and offer space for mirrors.
And so to the Pure Lands, the compassionate red lotus of the Padma family of Amitabha, and the beautiful Kurukulla. She is often considered the Red Tara of subjugation, coercion, and fascination, shooting her sacred red uptala arrows of love at all, even those who are sworn against the Dharma, and hooking them and with her binding noose, reeling them and us into her embrace and into higher realms of consciousness. Her crown of five skulls represents the five transcendent insights of a Buddha—compassion, effort, mindfulness, concentration, and the ability to clearly mirror reality. She represents the beauty of the Dharma and speech. Her Tibetan name, Rigiyedma, translates as “mistress of magic,” “mistress of knowledge,” and “cause of knowledge,” though none are literal translations of the Sanskrit.
Atypically for the Buddhist pantheon, with her charms of love, seduction, and even sex, it is easy to associate her more with Aphrodite wielding Cupid’s bow and arrow rather than the more typical flaying knife and skull cup wielding deity we’re more accustomed to seeing in Buddhist iconography. In fact, within the Buddhist world, where attachment and desire are aspects to be purged, Kurukulla is nothing but attachment, which seems curious. But like the mesmerizing nature of clouds, hypnotic running water, or leaves swaying in the warm breeze of a lazy day, Kurukulla’s way is to enchant us into her wisdom, to transmute our passions into that wisdom. Like rays of sunshine, she reaches out to us all. Her noose is the red of uptala flowers, the red of passion and compassion, a red thread that lovingly wraps itself around us. And the red thread has long been associated with love and romantic interconnection, as well as the more obvious symbolism of the veins of our lifeblood.
There is a beautiful Asian belief about the red thread of fate that connects those destined for each other. No matter how knotted, tangled, or stretched that thread may become, it will never break, and eventually, at the right time, the couple will meet their shared destiny. In India, the red thread binds us in love and protects us, and there is a feeling of protection when life feels written. In fact, similarly, there were also the Three Fates of ancient Greece spinning and issuing the threads of our lives from birth till the very end, as well as the Three Norns doing the same in old Norse mythology.
As if the thread was a way to free us from the labyrinth of our life, we have the Greek myth of Theseus, who, having been given a red thread by Ariadne, rescued himself from the Minotaur’s labyrinth. If we are Theseus, Ariadne could be Kurukulla with her red noose. The red noose is our umbilical cord and we are nourished by her. She is red like blood—like menstrual blood, which carries everything needed for the growing embryo. Because there seems to be even more than the gorgeous icon seducing us to the Dharma. Because while she may be like a pinup superstar, using her allure and influence for a worthy cause, she is also associated with magic. And what could be considered more magical than the creation of life? Kurukulla was absorbed into the Tara pantheon of Buddhism as a goddess personification from a long tradition of Indian love magic, yet she now holds the positions of both buddhahood as well as the sky-dancing nature of the dakini . . . where the mirror lies.
Earlier in this essay, I mentioned the unknown universe, and before now I have suggested that the Prajnaparamita texts describe an understanding of the universe that we only now refer to as quantum physics. Within this “spooky” world,* where everything is vibratory and connected in ways hard for our brains to fathom, there cannot be separateness from anything due to nothing inherently existing in this illusion of solidity we call physical reality. Thus, calling the energy of Kurukulla is, in my opinion, how we interface our wishes with manifestation. Dare I say it, almost like the fabled “law of attraction.”
Is this where the mirror of our mind resides? Dakinis may act as “muses of the transcendental” according to the author Vessantara (Tony McMahon) in his book Meeting the Buddhas: A Guide to Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Tantric Deities (2004), ever inspiring us toward enlightenment. But are they also mirrored manifestations in the energetic web-space just outside of our slim perception that trained minds can touch? And in the case of Kurukulla, the web is red, like a thread that we can mentally wrap around our desire and bring to fruition. . . .
The essential mantra of Kurukulla is:
Oṁ Kurukulle Hrīḥ Svāhā
Be careful what you wish for; it may come true!
* A reference to Albert Einstein’s dislike of quantum entanglement theory, which he derided as “spooky action at a distance.”