Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Women's Buddhist History: Resources

For information on female Buddhas and their stories, visit Druk Galwa Khilwa Abbey, which gives histories of about a dozen great yoginis of tantric Buddhism.

The sad thing about the stories is that all of them are objects for male action. They're kidnapped, beaten, pursued by men -- fathers, suitors, Buddhas -- but stay devoted to the dharma.

Take Mandarava, who " attained a degree of mastery equal to that of her consort, (Padmasambhava) a fact given expression in her honorary title of Machig Drupa Gyalmo, Singular Queen Mother of Attainment."

"In the 8th century AD, the king of Mandi had a beautiful daughter, Princess Mandarava, born with all the signs of a dakini. Although she was not born a Buddhist, she was interested only in solitary retreat, away from the samsaric obstacles of marriage and other activities. She became a nun on reaching adulthood. Her father, who was worried about the possibility of his daughter disrobing which would affect the kingdom's reputation, sent five hundred ordained nuns to live with her, to practice with her and to guard her from male suitors.
When Guru Padsambhava journeyed from the Swat Valley (located in present-day Pakistan) to Tibet, he stopped at Mandi and discovered Princess Mandarava to be a suitable spiritual companion. The princess and her entourage became disciples of Guru Rinpoche. A local shepherd discovered them and news of the princess living with a man finally reached the ears of the king. He was so outraged that he commanded that his daughter be stripped and wrapped in thorns, and locked in the dungeon near the river. At the same time, he demanded that Guru Rinpoche be burned in the charnel grounds high in the mountains, while he watched the smoke from the Royal Park.
Guru Rinpoche turned the fire into a lake and reappeared on a lotus. The sight of this converted all the witnesses into following Buddhadharma, and when the king knew about it, he too became the Guru's follower. Immediately, he ordered that the princess be released from the dungeon. The lake became known as Tso Pema, or the Lotus Lake, and is also commonly known as Rewalsar."

Or Niguma, who passed on her secret teachers to a male disciple -- who then is credited with founding the Shangpa school of Buddhism, based on the teachings he had received from her.

Once Niguma herself had reached enlightenment, she began to pass her knowledge on to others. Her most famous disciple was the Tibetan yogi and BÃnpo Khyungpo Naljor, the only one to whom she imparted her most secret teachings. The Shangpa school, although officially founded by Khyungpo Naljor, is in reality based on this transmission from Niguma.

There are additional stories, all with similar aspects.

Seeing gender fixation and gender privilege as an aspect of ego makes Buddhist patriarchy inadmissible on Buddhist grounds. Rita Gross

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