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“Makye-ame” and the Dakini

By Tianyi Chen

Face pure like a young virgin, delicate harp decorated with a phoenix’s head in hands, sitting tranquilly in the center of a lotus flower, this is the stone image of a “Dakini,” that is, a “fairy of the sky” on an antiqued wall of Tibet’s Drepung monastery. Dakinis, in charge of keeping calamities away from people, have served as a main Buddhism Goddess. Standing in front of the stone image I tried to seek some tender emotion from her benign eyes, since her mysterious smile and serene glance were leading me to an ancient Tibetan poem in the sixteenth century. I kept wondering and as the violet watercolor of dusk faded and white moonshine shed her soft, transparent veil on the Dakini’s face, I recalled that poem.


“On the top of the Eastern mountain, the white moon came out. And the face of Makye-ame, gradually appeared in my mind.”


Written by the sixth Dalai Lama, this poem is constantly considered by local Tibetans as a description of his mundane lover, Makye-ame, from the city of Lhasa. However, when I felt a resonance from the stone Dakini when I read the word Makye-ame, it seems that there must be connections between them. Thus, I began to develop an increasing craving o deny the conventional idea.


I scoured all the Tibetan historical contexts in my mind without spotting a single trace of a girl “Makye-ame.” Instead, I found that the literal meaning of this sound in Tibetan languages means “the unborn mother,” or, under the atmosphere of Tibetan grammar, “the mother who has not born me.”

So I ensured that the Lama should not have been describing a lover, since the image of a kind “mother” does not fit a girl. Seeking more mantras of Tibetan Buddhism, I discovered that the sound Makye-ame in Tibetan language contains a typical syllable that is used to address a deity. Being both a deity and a loveable mother, the word Makye-ame must have referred to a kind goddess, in Tibetan Buddhism, the Dakini. To explain the line “gradually appeared in my mind,” I recognized that a method of studying esoteric Buddhism, mainly called “tantra,” requires a monk to create the figure of a Dakini in his mind, perfectly fitting the poem’s description. As a result, this piece by the sixth Dalai Lama, which has been spread and sung as a famous love poem, may have instead recorded one of the monk’s tantra practices; and the word Makye-ame, which was considered a lady’s name, proved an appellation of reverence to the goddess “Dakini.”


Under the bright moonshine of the plateau, I looked deep into the stone Dakini’s eyes. The beautiful word “Makye-ame” fits her well, I thought, a Buddhism goddess who had not born me but seems like a mother. Staying in the tranquil night of the Drepung monastery, I felt a bliss that I had built a bridge between the goddess and the ancient Tibetan poem. This bridge, combining the human world of poems with the immortal world of Buddhism, seems holy in the clement glance of the Dakini.


There are even more bridges I want to build. Reading tens of ancient Tibetan poems, I have an ardent wish to explore their intrinsic connections with Tibetan Buddhism, which has dominated the plateau for several hundred years and has had a strong impact in every part of Tibetan literature. More impassioned am I to build a bridge between human feelings and religious texts, which usually display a great sense of literature. How could they have an overwhelming effect on attracting people’s emotion? How ancient Tibetan poems show austere thoughts of religion? These questions are still left for me to solve.

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