Simhamukha (Sanskrit) or Senge Dongma (Tibetan) usually is translated into English as Lion-Faced Dakini.
This dakini and female tantric Buddha is regarded as one of the principal wrathful manifestations of Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche). As such, she is connected with many ceremonies of the Dzogchen tradition.
Considered to be the secret form of Vajrayogini, Lion-faced Dakini also has a realtionship to Troma and the practice of chöd. She is appropriate for clearing obstacles of the most pervasive and malignant kind, and cutting through the “three poisons” of mind. This ancient practice has been important in Tibetan Buddhism since the time of Guru Rinpoche. PeGyal Lingpa recieved this revelation directly from Padmasambhava, appearing in a red-black form, instead of the more common dark blue manifestation. This indicates that this is the inner form of the yidam, allied to the Pema family.
Sengdongma is particularly focused on pacifying the destructive inlufence of the Mamos, the forces of distrubed “yin” or feminine demonic energies. The wanton destruction of the environment and degredation of human culture greatly stirs up and enrages these elemental force. They retaliate with disease, epidemics, weather disturbances and calamaties on a major scale. This practice is one of the great antidotes for this critical time of the “five degenerations.”
As wrathful dakini, she is also one of the Phramenma, a group of female deities from the Bardo Thödol, or ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’.
At the time of Buddha Amitabha, many aeons even before Shakyamuni Buddha, there was a demon called Garab Wangchuk whose daughter was a lion-faced demoness called Tramen Sengdongma. She delighted in taking the lives of countless beings, and by harming practitioners she increased the negative forces in the world and undermined the Amitabha Buddha’s doctrine. All the buddhas gathered together and concluded that to tame her they would need to manifest an identical-looking being. The enlightened beings’ collective wisdom arose in the form of a wisdom being – the Lion-faced Dakini, empowered by all the buddhas of the ten directions with their power and compassion to tame the demoness. The Dakini became far more powerful than the demoness, who then began to lose her strength. While the Dakini was in a deep samadhi of taming the maras, countless dakinis emanated from her and subdued all the demons. Tramen Sengdongma, now pacified, took an oath to serve the dharma and became a protector.
Simhamukha is iconographically represented as a wrathful deity who is usually depicted as a dark blue, or maroon, coloured lion-faced female and is associated with the direction East. As Simhavaktra, an alternate form of Simhamukha, she is also an attendant of the Dharmapala Palden Lhamo, in which case she is depicted as carrying both a kapala, or skullcap, and a kartika, or ritual knife.
Snarling and roaring with a gaping large mouth on a white lion face, Simhamukha stands fierce and menacing with two hands, dark blue in color, with protruding fangs, curled tongue, two large round eyes and dark green flowing hair.
The right hand holds aloft a curved flaying knife with a gold vajra handle. The left clutches to the heart a white skullcup filled with blood. Adorned with a crown of five skulls, bone necklace and gold ornaments she wears a green silk scarf and a barely discernable tiger skin skirt. In a dancing posture with the left leg extended and the right drawn up she stands atop a red corpse seat, sun disc and a pink lotus surrounded by a circle of flame and smoke.
With a body black in colour, the face is that of a white lion, with three round yellow eyes, blazing fiercely with a gaping mouth, a yellow beard, eyebrows and hair flowing upward. The right hand holds upraised a curved knife to the sky, left a skullcup of blood to the heart, carrying a khatvanga staff tipped with a trident in the bend of the elbow supported against the shoulder. Adorned with a tiara of five skulls, red scarf, elephant skin, bone ornaments, a long snake and fifty freshly severed heads as a necklace, she wears a tiger skin skirt. Standing on the left leg with the right drawn up, trampling on a double triangle symbol, corpse, sun and multi-coloured lotus seat, Simhamukha in a mood of great fierceness dwells in the middle of a blazing fire of pristine awareness.
In the Sarma (new) Schools the dakini Simhamukha is a tutelary deity arising out of the Cakrasamvara cycle of Tantras and belongs to the anuttarayoga ‘wisdom’ classification. The Sarma tradition Simhamukha is unrelated to the deity of the same name and appearance in the Nyingma ‘Terma’ (treasure) traditions. In that tradition, of the many forms of Padmasambhava, she is regarded as the secret form of Guru Rinpoche.
In the sadhana for Vajra Dakini Simhamukha, written by Jamgon Kongtrul, the goddess is described as follows:
“The color of her body is a dark azure, like the dark color of the gathering storm clouds. And she is exceedingly wrathful. She has a single face and two arms. Her lion’s face is white in color and turns slightly to the right. The expression on her face is fierce and wrathful. From her three red eyes come flashes of lightning and her lion’s roar is like thunder. The hair of her head is long and black and made of iron. From this mass of hair that is billowing about everywhere (as if in a storm) is projected miniature phurpas like live sparks. With her right hand she flourished a five-pronged vajra in the sky and with her left hand she holds before her heart a kapala skull-cup filled with blood. She has a khatvanga staff cradled in the crook of her left arm. She girds her loins with a skirt made of a tiger skin and, as a mantle, she wears the hide of an elephant and a flayed human skin. In all respects, she is garbed in the eight-fold attire of the cremation ground. She adorns herself with a long garland of dried and freshly severed human heads, as well as with necklaces of human bone. She is adorned with various kinds of fearful apparitions and at her navel is the sun and moon. Her two legs are extended and drawn up in the dance position of ardhaparyanka, while she stands amidst the blazing masses of the flames of wisdom. At her forehead is the white syllable OM, at her throat is the red syllable AH, and at her throat is the blue syllable HUM. Then from the syllable HUM in her heart center there emanate rays of light, and from the great violently burning cremation ground in the land of Uddiyana, which is in the western direction, is invoked the Jnana Dakini Simhamukha, who is surrounded by retinues of hundreds of thousands of dreadful Matrika goddesses, together with the ocean-like hosts of guardian spirits who are her attendants.”
In the time of the 100-year lifespans, Buddha Shakyamuni appeared in the world and turned the wheel of dharma in many places such as Varanasi, Bodhgaya, Vulture’s Peak, and the charnel ground of Lanka, teaching on many levels including Vajrayana. He said that at that time it was as if the sun were in the center of the sky, and there was no darkness anywhere, but when the sun went down then the darkness of ignorance would arise. But the Lord Buddha continued that there would be a method to dispel this ignorance, and so Vajrapani requested that Lord Buddha teach this method. Shakyamuni Buddha rested in the samadhi of taming the maras, and then taught the whole cycle of the Lion-faced Dakini. He taught in many different ways, and these transmissions were concealed by Vajrapani as treasures after he received them. Seven hundred and fifty years after Buddha’s Parinirvana, around Bodhgaya there was a king called Suraya Singha who invited 500 panditas — great practitioners and teachers of the Buddhadharma — and made offerings to them. At that time, the power of the Hindus was increasing, and they were destroying holy Buddhist teachings and institutes, so a debate between the Hindu and Buddhist panditas was arranged. Suraya Singha and the panditas prayed one-pointedly to Guru Rinpoche for help and he then appeared and tamed the Hindu teachers through miracles. When the Hindus then started using black magic, Guru Rinpoche revealed the Lion-faced Dakini treasure hidden by Vajrapani, did the practice, and in removing all obstacles he defeated the Hindu panditas.
Guru Rinpoche remained in Tibet for 111 years and in his 73rd year there he gave many teachings on the Eight Command Deities and also on the Lion-faced Dakini. The practice was transmitted to Yeshe Tsogyal, who is an emanation of the Lion-faced Dakini, and with her siddha of infallible memory, she recorded the text in dakini script and concealed it, to be revealed later by tertons. This particular treasure was revealed by Dudjom Lingpa, and kept secret for 44 years. When he felt it was the right time, he opened the practice, recorded it in human script and transmitted it to others.
His Eminence Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, Jigme Rinpoche’s teacher and father, said he himself found the practice of the Lion-faced Dakini to be a reliable source of protection when obstacles arise. He explained, “Defilements attract the maras of hindrances and enemies just as a magnet attracts iron filings. When you clear away the negativity of your own poisons, there is nothing to attract the maras.”
Apart from its mantra recitation, Sengdongma practice contains the element of “dokpa” or reversal of negativity. Accompanied by the clapping of hands (bringing earth and heaven together), negative conditions, sickness and misfortunes of all kind are turned away and averted, so that they never manifest or disturb the tantric practitioner’s health, wellness or spiritual progress.