One Buddhist Dakini originating from the country of Uddiyana is the goddess Kurukulla. The name Kurukulla is translated into Tibetan as Rigjyedma (rig-byed-ma), “she who is the cause knowledge.” She is associated with a king of Uddiyana named Indrabhuti. In a sadhana text attributed to her for the red Kurukulla in her eight-armed form. But whether she had eight arms or four arms, she is generally known as the Uddiyana Kurukulla. Most modern scholars believe this indicates that Kurukulla was originally a tribal goddess, much like the Hindu goddess Durga had been in India, who later, because of her popularity, became associated with the Buddhist great goddess Tara. For this reason, Kurukulla is often called the Red Tara (sgrol-ma dmar-po) or Tarodbhava Kurukulla, “the Kurukulla who arises from Tara.
Kurukulla appears to have become popular originally, and she remains so even among the Tibetans today, because of her association with the magical function of enchantment (dbang gi ‘phrin-las) or the bewitching of people in order to bring them under one’s power (dbang du bsdud). More than any other figure in the Buddhist pantheon, Kurukulla becomes the Buddhist goddess of love and sex, corresponding to the Western gooddesses Aphrodite and Venus. She is depicted as a voluptuous and seductive nude sixteen year old girl. Among the attributes she holds in her four hands, four arms being her most common manifestation, are the flower-entwined bow and arrow, reminiscent of the Western Eros and Cupid, although as the goddess of witchcraft, she is more akin to Diana.
It may appear strange to us that Buddhism, originally the religion of celibate monks, should give birth to this attractive and seductive sex goddess. Buddhism as a spiritual path is ultimately concerned with enlightenment and liberation from Samsara. This ultimate goal is known as the supreme attainment or siddhi (mchog gi dngos-grub). But not all Buddhist practitioners are celibate monks living in semi-permanent meditation retreat isolated from the world.
Like everyone else, Buddhists must deal with the practical circumstances of life and society. Sadhana or deity invocation is a meditation and ritual practice where the practitioner in meditation assumes the aspect or form of the deity, who is regarded as a manifestation of the enlightened awareness of the Buddha, and then invokes the spiritual powers and wisdom and capacities of that particular deity as an aid to realizing liberation and enlightenment. In Deity sadhana practice, or in one’s meditation practice, the archetypal form of the deity is considered a particularly powerful method to accelerate spiritual evolution. The meditation image of the deity visualized by the practitioner in sadhana, being an archetype or manifestation of enlightened awareness, and this radiant image opens a channel and acts as a receptacle for receiving the grace or blessings of the Buddha for a specific purpose. The process of visualization in meditation is a method of accessing and focusing spiritual energy, like using the lens of a magnifying glass to focus the rays of the sun in order to kindle a fire. The image of the deity is something that is concrete and accessible to human consciousness. In his own nature as the Dharmakaya, the Buddha is beyond conception by the finite human mind. The meditation deity, however, makes the unmanifest manifest and therefore accessible to consciousness. In the same way, Christians might have visions of angels that might make the grace of God manifest, but in Buddhism there are both male and female meditation deities, and Kurukulla is certainly an example of the latter.
The psychic powers developed through sadhana practice are known as ordinary attainments or siddhis (thun-mong gi dngos-grub)
Sadhana texts speak of the four magical actions or magics:
1. White magic or Shantika-karma (zhi-ba’i ‘phrin-las) has the function of calming and pacifying conditions and healing. White Tara is an example of a deity that specifically has this white function.
2. Yellow Magic or Paushtika-karma (rgyas-pa’i phrin-las) has the function of increasing wealth, prosperity, abundance, merit, knowledge, and so on. Vasundahara and Jambhala are examples of deities with these functions. Hence they are yellow in color.
3. Red Magic or Vashya-karma (dbang gi phrin-las) has the function of bringing people under one’s power, of enchanting, bewitching, attracting, subjugating, magnetizing them. This is the primary function of Kurukulla and hence her red color.
4. Black Magic or Raudra-karma (drag-po’i phrin-las) has the function of destroying evil and obstructions to the spiritual path. This is the specific function of many wrathful manifestations such as the Dakini Simhamukha who is dark blue in color.
These four functions are allotted to the four gates of the mandala palace, namely, the white or pacifying function in the east, the yellow or increasing function in the south, the red or enchanting function in the west, and the black or destroying function in the north. With each of these four magical functions there exists an elaborate system of correspondences. The scientific world-view, which admits mechanistic causality as the only possible natural cause of events. Magic principally relates to our dimension of energy, and this energy, according to the traditional way of thinking, is intermediate between the mental and the physical, just as the soul is intermediate between the spirit and the flesh. Ritual is simply one way to access and direct energy. Although mind or spirit is primary, the other dimensions of energy or soul and body are important.
Where we find sadhana or theurgy, that is, high magic, we also find low magic or goetia, that is, common witchcraft. In the Tibetan view, these practices are not necessarily black, no more sinister than finding lucky numbers for betting on the horses, or making love potions or amulets for protection, and so on. For these common practices of folk magic, it is not even necessary to enter into meditation and transform oneself into the deity. Nevertheless, Kurukulla is also the patron of such activities. She is pre-eminently the Buddhist Goddess of Witchcraft and Enchantment. In a real sense, she represents the empowerment of the feminine in a patriarchal milieu. one might invoke Kurukulla to aid accomplishment wishes on their ambitions. Tibetans take a very clear-eyed and practical view of life, without sentimentalizing spirituality. The Tibetan do not rigidly separate this world, with its practical concerns, from the world of the spirit.
Just as Tara in her usual green form may be called upon by Buddhists to protect them from various dangers and threats, in particular the eight great terrors and the sixteen fears, so in her red form as Kurukulla, she may be called upon to exercise her powers of enchantment and bewitchment to bring under her power (dbang du bsdud) those evil spirits, demons, and humans who work against the welfare of humanity and its spiritual evolution.
However, in terms of practical magic, she can bring under the practitioner’s power a personal enemy, a boss, a politician, a policeman, or a recalcitrant lover, male or female… In Tibet, Kurukulla was also called upon when commencing the building of a new monastery, Kurukulla, who subjugate the demonic and the human forces that stand in one’s way.
Kurukulla is also very popular among the Newer Tantric schools. In particular, she is counted as one among “the Three Red Ones” (dmar-po skor gsum) of the Sakyapa school and she is included among the Thirteen Golden Dharmas, which the Sakyapas had received from India and Nepal. These teachings are called Golden Dharmas (gser chos), not only because they represent very precious teachings, but because in those days (11th century) Tibetan students had to pay a lot of gold for the teachings obtained from Indian masters. Tibet was famous for its rich gold deposits. Moreover, in the large Sakyapa collection of sadhanas known as the sGrub-thabs kun-btus are found five sadhanas for Kurukulla in the Sakyapa tradition. But for the Sakyapas, the source par excellence for the practice of Kurukulla is in the Shri Hevajra Mahatantraraja, according to the tradition of Lalitavajra, and coming to them from the Mahasiddha Virupa and the Tibetan translator Drogmi (‘Brog-mi ye-shes, 993-1050). She is known as Hevajra-krama Kurukulla and appears in the usual four-armed form.