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<-Back to WTN Archives When Buddha Chooses to Be a Woman
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World Tibet Network News

Published by the Canada Tibet Committee

Monday, August 8, 2005

3. When Buddha Chooses to Be a Woman

The New York Times
August 7, 2005

TIBETANS who trekked to the caves and forests of India to absorb Buddhist
teachings a thousand years ago discovered female tantric masters, called
yogini, practicing esoteric disciplines with bands of female followers.
Fierce, independent and strict, yogini conveyed their secrets to men longing
to be initiated, propelling the development of tantric Buddhism. Then these
extraordinary women dropped out of sight.

But not out of mind. Their beatified counterparts dance in the heart of
mandalas throughout the Tibetan pantheon. "Female energy is as capable as
male energy in the spiritual field," said Kyabje Gehlek Rinpoche, a Tibetan
lama and Buddhist teacher ("rinpoche" means "precious one") sent to the West
by the Dalai Lama's tutors. Gehlek Rinpoche, known in spiritual circles for
his closeness to the poet Allen Ginsberg (and for ministering to Ginsberg as
he died), is the founder of Tibetan Buddhist centers in Ann Arbor, Mich.,
and in SoHo.

On a recent morning, he was sitting before the deity Tara, envisioned in an
18th-century thangka (at right), on display in "Female Buddhas: Women of
Enlightenment in Tibetan Mystical Art," at the Rubin Museum of Art in
Chelsea. "The need of this time is for a female presence," he said.

Tara made a vow to manifest in the world as a female, Gehlek Rinpoche
(pronounced Rin-po-shay) explained. "The bodhisattvas all said, 'Tara, you
could be anybody you want; you could be male.' Tara replied, 'Thank you, but
no thank you.' " She chose a female body to illuminate the way for all
beings. "Her image helps us envision the buddha within ourselves," he said.
"It helps remind us we are not just physical beings."

In practicing tantric secret teachings, women are thought to have an
advantage, according to the current Dalai Lama, whereas men get higher marks
in the public forms of Tibetan Buddhism. The first Dalai Lama (1391-1475)
composed a mystical song of 21 praises to Tara, who is said to have sprung
from the ocean of tears flowing from Tibet's chief deity, Avalokitesvara,
bodhisattva of compassion.

Tara, whose name means "star" - as in the North Star, the guiding light of
those who are lost - is enlightenment energy personified. She is passionate
mother, wrathful protector, swift and fearless subduer. Eyes flashing like
lightning, she stamps her feet and sends tremors through gods and demons
alike, correcting great wrongs and fulfilling her promise to bring divine
female energies into the world.

Her exalted sisterhood is anything but meek or submissive, as is strikingly
evident in the Rubin's show and a related exhibition of the same name at the
Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn. Tara and her cohort drink the blood of
enemies of the dharma, prance naked on the bodies of those they have
defeated, and join with male consorts in passionate sexual union. They are
transcendent liberators, defenders of enlightened mind, the birthright of
each of us, when we turn to the wisdom within.

Articles in this Issue:
  2. Selected Essay Writers and Nominees to Join Dalai Lama On Stage
  3. When Buddha Chooses to Be a Woman
  4. S ecurity and foreign policy imperatives

Other articles this month - WTN Index - Mail the WTN-Editors

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