Book Review: Dakini Power

2013 May 21
by Tanya McGinnity


I was so very excited to read of this book as I am an avid ‘devourer’ of books written to express the experiences of fellow sisters on the Buddhist path. From Women of the Way: Discovering 2,500 Years of Buddhist Wisdom by Sallie Tisdale to Women Of Wisdom by Tsultrim Allione and several other books that rest on both my physical and digital bookshelves, this book has now become a treasured guide to help inspire me through its presentation of strong, determined and steadfast feminine energy.

In her book ‘Dakini Power’, author Michaela Haas has gathered together the fascinating biographies of 12 diverse women who have been pivotal within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition as it moved from East to West. The women featured (from left to right in the image below) are: Khandro Tsering Chödrön, Pema Chödrön, Roshi Joan Halifax Jetsun Khandro RinpocheJetsunma Tenzin Palmo, Thubten Chodron, Dagmola Kusho Sakya, Karma Lekshe Tsomo, Sangye Khandro , Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel , Chagdud Khadro and Lama Tsultrim Allione .


Each story unique and each biography offers up a vibrant glimpse of how these women discovered the dharma, met their teachers and the challenges and successes they may have encountered on their individual paths as dakinis – “female messengers of wisdom”. Several married, others unmarried or previously married (some have even married their teachers) and many have borne children and balanced motherhood with spiritual practice and study. A fully detailed experience is presented here via the stories and interviews between the pages of ‘Dakini Power’ and as such, topics including: geography, politics, cultural barriers for female practitioners, love, the issue of women’s ordination within Buddhism, sexual abuse within the Buddhist community among many other aspects of the human condition all are presented and explored with a mixture of humour, wisdom and passion.

The impact that each of these women has made in the global community is also highlighted as each have used their precious human birth to assist in the spread of the dharma in their own ways, be it through becoming high ranking spiritual teachers, authors, lecturers, translators or founders of spiritual centres. To read of their motivations and their desire to be of service is truly a gift.

‘Dakini Power’ isn’t afraid to dive into the choppy waters of gender politics and Buddhism and the book opens with a quote from Padmasambhava “Whether male or female, there is no great difference. But if a woman develops the mind of enlightenment, her potential is supreme.” A nuanced approach to gender runs through the book and each biography offers up whether the woman featured has a specific take on feminism as it has applied in their respective lives. In the case of Tenzin Palmo, she mentioned how at one time or another each of us has been male and female and she is dedicating herself to becoming enlightened in a female form since she believes in the importance of there being more women teachers and role-models. Khandro Rinpoche in the book when commenting on why some female students place so much importance on having a female teacher or on gender politics, she dismisses this kind of thinking and says, “If being a woman is an inspiration, us it. If it is an obstacle, try not to be bothered’ and later goes on to say, “There is no need for aggression or for sadness about discrimination. One just works harder, works harder… This is what I would like women to know – you need a lot of patience, you have to work towards it, and if you are really serious about equal qualities of women, then you have to work by example”.

With her book ‘Dakini Power’, Michaela Haas has provided an important contribution to Buddhist scholarship in compiling research and conducting interviews with these twelve women as it is an essential snapshot of time showing the contributions of several modern female Buddhists and to see where the future of Buddhism ends up. Several of the women featured are some of the first wave of Tibetans to be forced from their land by the Chinese and this book captures their stories. Other women were those who traveled from the West over to India and Asia to experience and discover the wisdom traditions of the East. We must ask ourselves now what the next generation of female Buddhists will contribute.


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