The Red Dakini and Enlightenment: By Satya Chaitanya
Paulo Coelho’s The Manual of the Warrior of Light begins with the following story:
‘Just off the beach to the west of the village lies an island, and on it is a vast temple with many bells,’ said the woman. The boy noticed that she was dressed strangely and had a veil covering her head. He had never seen her before.
‘Have you ever visited that temple?’ she asked. ‘Go there and tell me what you think of it?’
Seduced by the woman’s beauty, the boy went to the place she had indicated. He sat down on the beach and stared out at the horizon, but he saw only what he always saw: blue sky and ocean. Disappointed, he walked to a nearby fishing village and asked if anyone there knew about an island and a temple.
‘Oh, that was many years ago, when my great-grandparents were alive,’ said an old fisherman. ‘There was an earthquake, and the island was swallowed up by the sea. But although we can no longer see the island, we can still hear the temple bells when the ocean sets them swinging down below.’
The boy went back to the beach and tried to hear the bells. He spent the whole afternoon there, but all he heard was the noise of the waves and the cries of the seagulls.
When night fell, his parents came looking for him. The following morning, he went back to the beach; he could not believe that such a beautiful woman would have lied to him. If she ever returned, he could tell her that, although he had not seen the island, he had heard the temple bells set ringing by the motion of the waves.
Many months passed; the woman did not return and the boy forgot all about her; now he was convinced that he needed to discover the riches and treasures in the submerged temple. If he could hear the bells, he would be able to locate it and salvage the treasure hidden below.
He lost interest in school and even in his friends. He became the butt of all the other children’s jokes. They used to say: ‘He’s not like us. He prefers to sit looking at the sea because he’s afraid of being beaten in our games.’
And they all laughed to see the boy sitting on the shore.
Although he still could not hear the old temple bells ringing, the boy nevertheless learned about other things. He began to realize that he had grown so used to the sound of the waves that he was no longer distracted by them.
Soon after that, he became used to the cries of the seagulls, the buzzing of the bees and the wind blowing amongst the palm trees.
Six months after his first conversation with the woman, the boy could sit there oblivious to all other noises, but he still could not hear the bells from the drowned temple.
Fishermen came and talked to him, insisting that they had heard the bells.
But the boy never did.
Some time later, however, the fishermen changed their tune: ‘You spend far too much time thinking about the bells beneath the sea. Forget about them and go back to playing with your friends. Perhaps it’s only fishermen who can hear them.’
After almost a year, the boy thought: ‘Perhaps they’re right. I would do better to grow up and become a fisherman and come down to this beach every morning, because I’ve come to love it here.’ And he thought too: ‘Perhaps it’s just another legend and the bells were all shattered during the earthquake and have never rung out since.’
That afternoon, he decided to go back home.
He walked down to the ocean to say goodbye. He looked once more at the natural world around him and because he was no longer concerned about the bells, he could again smile at the beauty of the seagulls’ cries, the roar of the sea and the wind blowing in the palm trees. Far off, he heard the sound of his friends playing and he felt glad to think that he would soon resume his childhood games. The boy was happy and – as only a child can – he felt grateful for being alive. He was sure that he had not wasted his time, for he had learned to contemplate Nature and to respect it.
Then, because he was listening to the sea, the seagulls, the wind in the palm trees and the voices of his friends playing, he also heard the first bell.
And then another.
And another, until, to his great joy, all the bells in the drowned temple were ringing.
It is a beautiful story that tells us many things about spiritual life and about learning to see and hear, and about learning to live.
It is said that the Buddha underwent every spiritual practice known on his day and still he did not reach Buddhahood.
It is not that the Buddha was not sincere in his efforts. He was totally sincere.
He failed to reach the goal because it is not through struggles that you awaken to the Truth. It is when you give up all struggles and relax in the giving up, in the letting go, relax deeply, that you awaken to the Truth.
Struggles never take you to the truth. Relaxation does.
In fact, our struggles are the greatest obstacle to our awakening to the Truth.
The more you struggle, the more your mind becomes strong. And the mind can never awaken to the Truth, however strong it is. As the Upanishads say, the Truth is “yan manasa na manute” – that which the mind cannot contemplate, comprehend. A very beautiful statement in the Upanishads says: yato vacho nivartante, aprapya manasa saha. The Truth is that “from which words return, along with the mind, unattained.”
The only way to comprehend the Truth is through the cessation of the mind. When the mind ceases to be, you awaken to the Truth.
The mind is the obstacle. That is why Patanjali defines yoga as chittavritti nirodha – the cessation of the vrittis in the mind. The vrittis – changing ‘thought waves’ – are the mind. When they cease to be, the mind ceases to be. And you comprehend the Truth, you awaken to the Truth.
And struggles make the mind stronger.
So the way to reach the Truth, hear the temple bells the boy was struggling to hear, is to give up all struggle.
And that is what the boy in Polo Coelho’s story does.
In Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, the boy Siddhartha leaves his home in search of the Truth and practices all kinds of sadhanas just as the other Siddhartha – the Buddha – does. Years pass but he does not reach his goal. He meets the Buddha and then moves on, realizing no Buddha can give him his Truth, he has to attain it by himself. And then one day he gives up all the sadhanas he has been practicing so far. And then it happens. He has his first powerful mystic experience. Here is how Hesse describes Siddhartha’s first experience:
“He looked around, as if he was seeing the world for the first time. Beautiful was the world, colourful was the world, strange and mysterious was the world! Here was blue, here was yellow, here was green, the sky and the river flowed, the forest and the mountains were rigid, all of it was beautiful, all of it was mysterious and magical, and in its midst was he, Siddhartha, the awakening one, on the path to himself. All of this, all this yellow and blue, river and forest, entered Siddhartha for the first time through the eyes, was no longer a spell of Mara, was no longer the veil of Maya, was no longer a pointless and coincidental diversity of mere appearances, despicable to the deeply thinking Brahmin, who scorns diversity, who seeks unity. Blue was blue, river was river, and if also in the blue and the river, in Siddhartha, the singular and divine lived hidden, so it was still that very divinity’s way and purpose, to be here yellow, here blue, there sky, there forest, and here Siddhartha. The purpose and the essential properties were not somewhere behind the things, they were in them, in everything.”
Siddhartha gives up and it happens.
That is exactly what happens to the boy in Paulo Coelho’s story too. The beautiful young woman he meets, the strange woman with a veil over her head, tells him about the temple and the temple bells on the island. And he starts out on a journey to discover what the woman had told him about.
“Seduced by the woman’s beauty” – says the story. That is beautiful too.
The Tibetans have a name for that woman. In the esoteric writings of Tibet she is called the Red Dakini. Dakini is a Tibetan yogini. The Red Dakini is the one who initiates man into the higher mysteries of life. And she is incredibly beautiful.
The desire for the Truth is the most beautiful thing in the world. It is what makes life beautiful. Minus that, life is plain and monotonous.
The Red Dakini gives you the key to the mysteries of life. And she is so beautiful that her beauty will haunt you day and night. Once touched by her, you never escape her. You surrender to her seductive charms completely, you are infatuated by her hopelessly.
And that is the most beautiful thing to happen in life.
This introduction is something that happens to the rare fortunate individual, say the Upanishads. Something that happens to one in a million individuals.
She chooses the individual and reveals herself to him.
And once you are chosen there is no escaping her.
The boy goes to the place she has indicated. He sits down on the beach and stares out at the horizon, but he sees only what he has always seen: blue sky and ocean.
But of course, he does not give up. He cannot give up. She has initiated him into the path. She has held his hands and led him to the path. Now there is no walking back.
When he does not find the island and the temple, he walks to the nearby fishing village and asks the fishermen about it. Of course, they know about it, they have heard about it. But the temple is no more. It used to be there in the days of their great-grandparents, but has been destroyed by an earthquake and swallowed up by the sea.
They tell him: ‘But although we can no longer see the island, we can still hear the temple bells when the ocean sets them swinging down below.’
The boy cannot hear the temple bells, but they can.
The ordinary fisher folk can hear the temple bells that the boy is not able to hear.
The boy goes back to the beach and tries to hear the bells. He spends the whole afternoon there, but all he hears is the noise of the waves and the cries of the seagulls.
This is something tremendously beautiful. What the boy cannot hear with all his efforts, the fishermen are able to hear without any effort.
But of course, they are not obsessed with it. The temple bells mean nothing to them. Their chimes are mere sounds to them, like the crashing of the waves, the chirping of the birds and the shrieks of the winds.
They hear the bells, but are not initiated into their meaning. They have not met the Red Dakini.
They hear them not consciously, but unconsciously, absent mindedly. And attach no significance to them.
They have not been initiated. The Red Dakini has not visited them.
The boy cannot hear them now. But when he hears them, they would mean something very different to him. They would have great significance to him. Because he would be hearing them consciously, wide awake, with an awakened mind. The fishermen hear them as though in their sleep. He would hear them awake.
But that would be later. At the moment he cannot hear them at all.
He goes back to the beach and sits listening again.
At night his mother and father come looking for him and take him back home. But the next day he is again at the beach.
He cannot hear the sounds but he trusts the beautiful woman. She could not have lied to him – she is so beautiful.
A long time passes and yet he has not been able to hear the bells. Not once.
“Many months passed; the woman did not return and the boy forgot all about her; now he was convinced that he needed to discover the riches and treasures in the submerged temple,” says Paulo Coelho.
Of course it is Paulo Coelho’s story, and he can tell it the way he wants, but I disagree with Paulo Coelho here. One never forgets the Red Dakini. The boy cannot forget the beautiful woman who initiated him into the path. She has to be there in his mind. One does not forget one’s initiatrix. He might forget her after he has heard the bells. But not so long as he has not heard them.
At this stage it is for her that he wants to hear the bells, more than for himself. What Coelho said earlier is more true – he wants to hear them and tell her that he has heard them. If hearing them is a need, telling her that he has heard them too is a need. An equally powerful need, if not more.
A time might come in his spiritual journey when he would possibly forget her and the search will become meaningful in itself, the search will gain other purposes than hearing the temple bells. But for that he will have to become an old man, past boyhood, past youth. In our story, our boy does not reach that stage. He is still a boy of school-going age. So he has to be still enchanted with the Red Dakini.
His school friends taunt him. He becomes the butt of their jokes. ‘He’s not like us,’ they say. ‘He prefers to sit looking at the sea because he’s afraid of being beaten in our games.’
The world never understands people who are not like themselves. The world never understands people who have other calls, people who are on other journeys, people who are not interested in what they are interested in.
In this story, they just taunt him. But worse things could have happened to him. They could have attacked him. They could have pelted stones at him, calling him mad.
Even his parents could have misunderstood him.
I used to know a young boy some years back. He became interested in what other people were not interested in. His parents consulted doctors and, unknown to him, they fed him sedatives mixed with his food. For years. With every meal. Until he became so dull, his eyes lost all brightness, and when he spoke you could hardly make out what he was saying.
The boy in Coelho’s story was more fortunate.
He continues to sit there, oblivious to the ridicule of his schoolmates, oblivious to their laughter.
Now even the fishermen are scared by his commitment. They tell him that perhaps only fishermen can hear the bells, no one else.
At last he decides to give up. Who knows if it is all not a myth?
One afternoon he decides to give up and go back home.
He walks down to the ocean to say goodbye. He looks once more at the natural world around him and because he is no longer concerned about the bells, he can again smile at the beauty of the seagulls’ cries, the roar of the sea and the wind blowing in the palm trees. Far off, he hears the sound of his friends playing and he feels glad to think that he will soon resume his childhood games.
And then, at that moment, he hears the bells. He hears them for the first time.
He was not trying to listen to bells any more. And at that moment, he hears them.
It happens by itself. When you are least expecting it.
This is how Coelho puts it: “Then, because he was listening to the sea, the seagulls, the wind in the palm trees and the voices of his friends playing, he also heard the first bell. And then another. And another, until, to his great joy, all the bells in the drowned temple were ringing.”
He gives up the struggle to listen to the bells, and the moment he gives up the struggle, he hears them. Along with the sounds of the sea, of the seagulls, of the wind in the palm trees and the voice of his friends playing.
Because he is no longer concerned.
It is not that he is still interested in it and gives it up. No, he gives it up altogether. His mind is free from his need to hear it. And at that moment it happens.
The Buddha gives up all sadhanas and sits under the Bodhi tree and he attains enlightenment.
It is not in struggle that enlightenment happens. For enlightenment to happen you need relaxation. Stillness born of relaxation.
Struggles make your mind noisy. When struggles cease, when all noises end, when your mind is free, still, then you hear. Then you see. For the first time.
And this seeing is different from the seeing of the common man. This hearing is different from the hearing of the fishermen.
This is conscious hearing. Awakened hearing. As though you are hearing for the first time.
Does it mean that all struggles are useless, all sadhanas are useless? Does it mean that dhyana is useless, yoga is useless?
Sadhanas are required for creating that relaxation. Dhyana is required to create that stillness. Yoga is needed to create that stillness. The struggles are needed so that you can go beyond them and be still.
Without them, you do not reach stillness.
What is required for enlightenment is relaxation and stillness. The sadhanas are for creating this relaxation and stillness. That is the purpose of all yogas – jnana yoga, dhyana yoga, bhakti yoga, karma yoga. They create relaxation and stillness and the moment you reach this relaxed, still state, and give up all struggles, it happens.
The bells start ringing.
And you realize the bells have always been ringing. They have been ringing even when the sea was roaring, even when the seagulls were crying, the wind was whistling and your friends were playing noisily.
The bells are ringing even now. When you are busy in your office, in the market, or wherever you are.
Once you hear them, you realize you can hear them everywhere. You can hear them in the middle of your conferences, in the middle of your negotiations, in the middle of your presentations, in the middle of working to meet your deadlines, in the middle of whatever you are doing.
Polo Coelho tells us that years later the boy comes back to the beach as an adult and there he meets the beautiful woman again. He notices that, despite the passing of years, the woman looks exactly the same; the veil hiding her hair has not faded with time.
The Red Dakini does not change.
She is beyond time and beyond space.
Eternally waiting to tell all about the temple bells.
Here is a song of the Red Dakini from the Tibetan tradition:
“I am the Vajra Dakini, of light
The color of crimson roses and flowing blood
I transmute the life energies into their spiritual origin
By filtering out gross elements, and giving them form
By changing weak currents into strong ones,
Dribbling energy into pounding waves
Opening blocks and barriers.”
“I am the guide and introducer of men to the spiritual path
I strengthen and purify them
That they may encounter the great Buddhas of Light
I prepare them for the Great Awakening
I harmonize the spiritual striving of all beings
I call them forth, into the realms of the enlightened ones
That they may pass through the dangerous waters
To watch the rising of the sun upon the other shore.”