In high school debate, one of my better accomplishments was putting together an effective “queer theory kritik” from Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble. You could read it on the affirmative or negative, whenever the other team spoke of advantages or disadvantages for women, gay people, etc. The footnote on page 212 gave the argument surprisingly strong “impacts” and turned into a deciding issue:
Although Wittig herself does not argue the point, her theory might account for the violence enacted against sexed subjects–women, lesbians, gay men, to name a few–as the violent enforcement of a category violently constructed. In other words, sexual crimes against these bodies effectively reduce them to their “sex,” thereby reaffirming and enforcing the reduction of the category itself. Because discourse is not restricted to writing or speaking, but is also social action, even violent social action, we ought also to understand rape, sexual violence, “queer bashing” as the category of sex in action.
What is the relationship between conceptual systems and how we treat each other? Recently, it’s felt pretty helpful to think about gender and symbolism in Tibetan Buddhism. Then I read June Campbell’s case that Tibetan Buddhism is the patriarchy. Judith Simmer-Brown’s book tries to salvage the inspiring, egalitarian parts and airbrush the misogyny. It’s also very compelling in parts. The symbolism is so complicated that “dakini” can mean anything. People can project all over it. Simmer-Brown distinguishes 4 layers of interpretation: secret, inner, outer, and outer-outer. These refer to the ultimate emptiness of all dualities, meditative imagery, imaginary energy stuff, and actual women.
In Traveller in Space: Gender, Identity, and Tibetan Buddhism, June Campell explains that Tibetan Buddhism adopted imagery and practices from earlier Goddess worship by Hindus.
The social context was quite different:
Evidence for the existence of Buddhist Tantras in India is dated as early as the fourth century, when the amalgamation of the ancient Hindu Tantras with Buddhist thought began to emerge. Bhattacharyya, in his study of Tantra, describes it as being compatible with the philosophy of Pythagoras. In essence, he states, the Tantric maxim is, “That which is not of the body is not of the universe,” and that the matter from which the body and the universe is composed is the female principle, known in the Hindu tradition as shakti, or power, and in the Tibetan tradition as yeshi (Tibetan yes.shes.), or wisdom. Bhattacharyya writes, “Wisdom, conceived as the Female Principle, and the means of its attainment through the male, are to be combined in one’s own self for the purpose of liberation which is perfect enlightenment through the practical experience of the Female Principle (italics mine [hers]). The emphasis in Tantra on the centrality of the female principle can be traced historically to the pre-Vedic period in India, when devotional activities were focused upon the worship of the Great Mother, and women in general. In one of the very early Hindu Tantras, the Kularnava, it is stated that, “every woman is born in the Kula of the Great Mother and hence she must be regarded as an object of veneration (italics original) (Kula being the Sanskrit word for family, or race).
June Campbell’s argument is that the symbolism is attractive on the surface, but ultimately it serves men, and women can’t build a viable subjectivity from it. The prose is not my favorite.
One only has to glance at the particular form of the dance position adopted by the ancient Tantric goddesses in paintings and sculptures, including the important Vajra Varahi or Dorje Phagmo, as she was known in Tibetan, to see how viable a subjective presence she has. Furthermore, it is known from Hindu Tantric sources that the dancing posture of the female, especially when depicted as dancing on top of the male, suggested her active sexuality, something which was crucial to the early Tantric philoosophy. Bharati declares that sexual advances initiated by the male were, in these times, considered as “crude,” and that the desired role of the sakti was active. The reversal of this role in Tibetan Tantrism therefore gave different meanings to the depictions of the dancing goddesses whose images were retained in the Tibetan iconography. The comparisons between contemporary western psychoanalytical thought and the images of Asian cultures may not be as far fetched as they might seem. If the Tantric teachings originated, as I have already suggested, at a time when female subjectivity was acknowledged and represented in societies which recognized the powers of female creativity and fertility, then the sacred rituals, diagrams, and spaces created by such a philosophy would have had to reflect in some way a subjective essentialism of the female form. Also, if mundane subjectivity is achieved in different ways by men and women, then the symbolic representations of that subjectivity would have to take account of the ways in which the two sexes express their subjective desire for union with the mother, or in metaphysical and historical terms, the Great Mother. This appears to have been done through the image of the dance.
…Within this tradition, however, it is possible to see that for women the potentiality for positive identifiable representations is discernable in certain aspects of the symbolism, but very often it has been engulfed by the over-riding needs of the male, who has either objectified the female or incorporated her image for his own purposes. This has happened in relation to the imagery of the mother in her form as Yum Chenmo, or Kuntu Zangmo, and in the imagery of the consort, in her forms as dakini. As a result, it has been difficult for women to achieve any degree of autonomy or subjectivity, equated with the symbolic representations of “enlightenment,” under the divine law of men. Much as the prospect of being a participant in male sacred rituals might be attractive, it in no way compensates for the lack of understanding which dictates the law which states that gender, or more specifically, sexuality, is ultimately insignificant in the quest for enlightenment. The iconography itself makes quite clear that this is not the case.
Campbell has a lot of relevant experience:
Even in contemporary works by Tibetans or their followers, the songyum is often described as the visualized deity of the monk’s imagination, the female consort to a male deity, whose presence had to be conjured in order for the meditator to realize certain insights pertaining to the symbolic union of so-called opposites, the male and female. However, this aspect of the practice was only part of the whole story, for in the actual social world of the monastery, the lama often acquired the secret services of a real woman in order, allegedly, to achieve these insights. In my own experience, as the songyum of a tulku-lama of the monastic Kagyu order, Kalu Rinpoche, only one other person had knowledge of the relationship, which lasted for several years, and which took place within the strictest bounds of secrecy. When the biography of this high lama was written it included periods of time during which I acted as his songyum, yet there was no mention whatsoever of my name in the text, or even references to a metaphorical “consort.”
I totally like Kalu Rinpoche’s reincarnation, who was molested by lamas.
If we could just do these very simple things, it would be so much better.
The interesting thing about Campbell’s Traveller in Space and Simmer-Brown’s Dakini’s Warm Breath is that Simmer-Brown wants to fuck the Rinpoche, and Campbell did fuck the Rinpoche.
Compare Kalu Rinpoche’s calm explanation of how your teacher won’t solve all your problems with Simmer-Brown’s account of Trungpa enlightening her out of feminism:
Later, eschewing another full-time academic appointment for full-time intervention with rape victim, my feminism emerged full-blown. I saw myself burning in all women’s rage, rage against the violence, the brutalization and objectification of us all. Even as I became outraged, I continued to sit. Alternating confrontation therapy with convicted rapists and long periods of intensive meditation, I learned that rage is bottomless, endless, the fuel for all-pervading suffering in the world. I began to feel directly the sadness at the heart of rage, sadness for all the suffering that people–female and male, rape victim and rapist–have experienced. I knew then that feminism saw a part of the truth, but only a part. Having experienced my own suffering, I began to sense its origin and to glimpse its end.
That is when I came to teach Buddhist Studies at Naropa University, at the end of 1977. Several years earlier, I had met my teacher, Ven. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and recognized at once that I had everything to learn from him. He completely knew the rage and he knew the sadness, and yet he had not lost heart. He thoroughly enjoyed himself, others, and the world. And he introduced me to a journey in which I could explore rage, sadness, passion, and ambition and never have them contradict my identity as a woman and a practitioner. My feminist theories wilted in the presence of his humor and empathy, and my consuming interests turned to Buddhist practice, study, and teaching.
OMG he understands your pain like no one ever has before! It’s like a scene in Groove (?) I couldn’t find on YouTube, where a guy offers a woman on ecstasy a bottle of water and she’s like, “Oh, wow! How did you know?!”
June Campbell psychoanalyzes the monastic system and especially the custom of recognizing reincarnations at an early age and removing them from their parents. Trungpa was one of these “tulkus.”
In his autobiography, Trungpa states that his mother left him when he was five years old. Initially, after his enthronement, she visited him every day, but Trungpa writes, “her visits became more spaced out, until after a fortnight without seeing her, she came to tell me that she was going back to Dekyil; I missed her as only a small boy can.” (italics mine [hers]). As to the status and image of the mothers of tulkus he alludes only fleetingly in one of his many books to his own relationship with his mother, and how it affected him. He recalls that his mother was shy, and as a child he had once asked her about his family name. “Then I remember asking her whether I was her son who came out of her body…”Well,” she replied, “maybe I’m an inhuman being, a subhuman being. I have a woman’s body; I had an inferior birth.” Trungpa writes of this exchange, “We had an intense moment of relationship with one another.” He also adds, “I learned a great deal about the principles of human society from the wisdom of my mother.” (italics mine [hers]).
Forced into the all-male society of the monastery at such a young age, perhaps it is not surprising that Trungpa did recall this particular exchange, out of all possible exchanges with his mother, for it seems to encapsulate everything which the tulku system represents. That his mother’s pathetic statement about herself should be associated in Trungpa’s mind with wisdom, underlines his own conditioning into a system in which men can achieve the status of divine, whilst women are viewed as inferior vessels. Furthermore that Trungpa should also associate this event with his understanding of “the principles of human society” is highly significant, given that it does indeed essentialize the elements of the Tibetan patriarchal system, the only “human society” of which he was aware. One can only imagine the heart-breaking sorrow of a child such as this, subjected suddenly to the rigors of the monastic life and a new identity, and betrayed by the terrible rejection which he experienced at the hands of his mother. Is it any wonder that, once grown, these men would have little difficulty in promoting the ambiguous teachings concerning the female? Is it unsurprising that future relationships with women might be characterized by a disdainful distancing, or by the desire to become involved in secret relationships which carried no responsibilities, were completely in control of the lama, and which were conducted in such a way as to enable the lama to maintain his position within the all-male hierarchy?
I’d never thought of emptiness as gendered at all, until seeing an article about Kali. I’ve had a yab-yum statue since I was about 19, and learning about the topic has improved my motivation.
Another thing I never understood is why emptiness is supposed to be good news, logically. Logically, why isn’t Buddhism nihilistic?
It makes a lot more sense after realizing that tantric rituals involved hallucinogens. Loss of self and love feelings are just what tripping or meditation feel like. The connection between ego loss, euphoria, compassion, and lightness of body is somehow physiological.
The next passage is from Timothy Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. I had a period of being really into his “8-circuit model of consciousness” after reading Robert Anton Wilson’s Prometheus Rising. The things you could learn on deoxy.org and The Lycaeum over dial-up:
This doctrine underlies the whole of the Tibetan model. Faith is the first step on the “Secret Pathway.” Then comes illumination and with it certainty; and when the goal is won, emancipation. Success implies very unusual preparation in consciousness expansion, as well as much calm, compassionate game playing (good karma) on the part of the participant. If the participant can be made to see and to grasp the idea of the empty mind as soon as the guide reveals it – that is to say, if he has the power to die consciously – and, at the supreme moment of quitting the ego, can recognize the ecstasy which will dawn upon him then, and become one with it, all game bonds of illusion are broken asunder immediately: the dreamer is awakened into reality simultaneously with the mighty achievement of recognition…
Liberation is the nervous system devoid of mental-conceptual activity. The mind in its conditioned state, that is to say, when limited to words and ego games, is continuously in thought-formation activity. The nervous system in a state of quiescence, alert, awake but not active is comparable to what Buddhists call the highest state of dhyana (deep meditation) when still united to a human body. The conscious recognition of the Clear Light induces an ecstatic condition of consciousness such as saints and mystics of the West have called illumination…
If the Primary Clear Light is not recognized, there remains the possibility of maintaining the Secondary Clear Light. If that is lost, then comes the Chonyid Bardo, the period of karmic illusions or intense hallucinatory mixtures of game reality. It is very important that the instructions be remembered – they can have great influence and effect.
During this period, the flow of consciousness, microscopically clear and intense, is interrupted by fleeting attempts to rationalize and interpret. But the normal game-playing ego is not functioning effectively. There exist, therefore, unlimited possibilities for, on the one hand, delightful sensuous, intellectual and emotional novelties if one floats with the current; and, on the other hand, fearful ambuscades of confusion and terror if one tries to impose his will on the experience.
The purpose of this part of the manual is to prepare the person for the choice points which arise during this stage. Strange sounds, weird sights and disturbed visions may occur. These can awe, frighten and terrify unless one is prepared.
The experienced person will be able to maintain the recognition that all perceptions come from within and will be able to sit quietly, controlling his expanded awareness like a phantasmagoric multi-dimensional television set: the most acute and sensitive hallucinations – visual, auditory, touch, smell, physical and bodily; the most exquisite reactions, compassionate insight into the self, the world. The key is inaction: passive integration with all that occurs around you. If you try to impose your will, use your mind, rationalize, seek explanations, you will get caught in hallucinatory whirlpools. The motto: peace, acceptance. It is all an ever-changing panorama. You are temporarily removed from the world of game. Enjoy it.
The inexperienced and those to who ego control is important may find this passivity impossible. If you cannot remain inactive and subdue your will, then the one certain activity which can reduce panic and pull you out of hallucinatory mind-games is physical contact with another person. Go to the guide or to another participant and put your head on his lap or chest; put your face next to his and concentrate on the movement and sound of his inspiration. Breathe deeply and feel the air rush in and the sighing release. This is the oldest form of living communication; the brotherhood of breath. The guide’s hand on your forehead may add to the relaxation.
Contact with another participant may be misunderstood and provoke sexual hallucinations. For this reason, helping contact should be made explicit by prearrangement. Unprepared participants may impose sexual fears or fantasies on the contact. Turn them off; they are karmic illusory productions.
The tender, gentle, supportive huddling together of participants is a natural development during the second phase. Do not try to rationalize this contact. Human beings and, for that matter, most all mobile terrestrial creatures have been huddling together during long, dark confused nights for several hundred thousand years.
Breathe in and breathe out with you companions. We are all one! That’s what your breath is telling you.
Is the psychedelic movement Vajrayana with more enlightened gender relations and a spirit of empiricism? This is what German hippies with an India fetish dance to under the moonlight in the forest. Naturally, it channels the spirit of Detroit:
Campbell’s take on the monastic system is more psychoanalytical:
Whilst relinquishing one identity in order to take on that of a dead person, the young boy must have felt neither one nor the other. From this unique position one can imagine how he could come to view with equanimity the inconsistencies and dualities which characterize reality. The alternative would surely have been despair. As Trungpa says of his “nameless child,” “The child’s world has no beginning or end. To him colors are neither beautiful nor ugly. He has no preconceived notion of birth and death…The child exists without preconceptions.” In the language of the Madhyamika school of Buddhist thought, these sentiments have meaning, and can easily be accommodated, whilst in the language of psychoanalysis they describe a time, before entry into language, when his body and that of the mother were experienced as indistinguishable. It would be to this time that the growing tulku would yearn later in life–a deeply embedded memory of relationship with the mother from whom he was forcibly separated.
Meditation is an elaborate set of practices that, when followed diligently, self-soothes alienation and lack of physical contact.
The lack of physical intimacy in childhood was not, however, the only facet of the tulku’s life which distinguished him from others. Brought up in an atmosphere of adulation, where his position inspired nothing short of awe in others, he was never in a position to define himself in human terms, or strike up his own identity, given that he already carried the name, spirit, and responsibilities of a dead, divine lama. In the claustrophobic environment where every small gesture and word was often thought to be “meaningful,” because wisdom and divinity were believed to lie behind them, the child was taught quickly to suppress his own needs and take up the mantle of “lama,” whose role was to become the “Great Mother” to others. Having been, to all extents and purposes, abandoned by his own mother, this was an ironic position to take up; however, if one considers the degree of “difference” which such a child must have felt, then an identification with the female, already defined as “different” in male eyes and ideologies, was not wholly inappropriate. That “difference” was manifested in the unique environment created around the tulku.
The experience of the very young tulku was characterized by his position as the centre of attention, surrounded by hundreds and sometimes thousands of followers who would prostrate before him, receive blessings by his hand, and never communicate in an ordinary way with him. These actions must have added greatly to the experience of isolation which the child developed, and which had been already established by the sudden detachment from his mother and from women in general. This, together with the monastic attitude to women as being either polluted or dangerous to the monk’s essential celibacy, must certainly have bred in the young boy at best an apprehension or fear of women, and at worst a hatred of them. In their theological world too, the monks learned to develop a philosophy of the female, which was graphically portrayed, as I shall show later, both in language and through the texts and iconography. This philosophy fulfilled the dual function necessary to the monastic male practitioner–on the one hand the denegration of the female as inferior, and polluting, and on the other the idealisation and transcendentalisation of her in order to make use of her imagery in his religious practice.
Religion, after all, is described in psychoanalysis as, “a system of internal objects constructed socially and over generations” which “by its manifold repetitions” seeks to create and maintain the internal world. The outward ambiance of the lama’s spiritual cell, together with his appearance and an often covert, or suppressed, aura of sexuality do imply for some people a connection with female experience, in a way which has sometimes been viewed as idealistically androgynous. This kind of ambiguity, where there is a perceived merging together of male and female roles, may indeed hold its attractions for women not wishing to be compromised sexually by the “guru” figure, but who find a dearth of women teachers to follow. In addition, for men, the often gentle, passive image of the all-caring lama in his attire of long skirts, and absence of stereotypical masculinity, create an ideal of androgynous sexuality with which to relate in the quest for the extinction of the subject/object dichotomy. Yet as I have already illustrated, the importance of sexuality is stressed in the Tantric teachings, but its manifestations largely hidden, through the requirements of the lineage system, which has an elaborate code of expressing sexuality in profoundly ambiguous ways. What is clear from the way in which the actual lives of the lamas intersect with the philosophical teachings, and in particular the expression of sexuality, is that there is an absence of a philosophy of female physicality which would translate into a radical enactment in the social sphere of the egalitarian principles enshrined in Buddhism in general. Additionally, the very complex and elaborate mechanisms which attempt to address the problematic areas of the inner lives of men (and which, perhaps, ought to be questioned in the contemporary context), fail to address the different experiences of women.
At this point I laughed when I remembered the first passage of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, which illustrates why it’s such a profound book:
People say that practicing Zen is difficult, but there is a misunderstanding as to why. It is not difficult because it is hard to sit in the cross-legged position, or to attain enlightenment. It is difficult because it is hard to keep our mind pure and our practice pure in its fundamental sense. The Zen school developed in many ways after it was established in China, but at the same time, it became more and more impure. But I do not want to talk about Chinese Zen or the history of Zen. I am interested in helping you keep your practice from becoming impure.
In Japan we have the phrase shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind.” The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind. Suppose you recite the Prajna Paramita Sutra only once. It might be a very good recitation. But what would happe to you if you recited it twice, thee times, four times, or more? You might easily lose your original attitude towards it. The same thing will happen in your other Zen practices. For a while you will keep your beginner’s mind, but if you continue to practice one, two three years or more, although you may improve some, you are liable to lose the limitless meaning of original mind.
For Zen students the most important thing is not to be dualistic. Our “original mind” includes everything within itself. It is always rich and sufficient within itself. You should not lose your self-sufficient state of mind. This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.
It’s never fully occurred to me before that the reason I understand so much about “purity” is the Jehovah’s Witness childhood. It’s an integral part of the religion that everyone else isn’t being Christian nearly hard enough. If you’re a Jehovah’s Witness, it’s important that you say a short prayer before every meal, even just silently bowing your head and thinking it (having an elder guy say a prayer out loud is best). All prayers must end with “In Jesus’ name, amen.” Humans, as imperfect beings, do not pray directly to Jehovah. They let Jesus know, and he tells God. There is no Trinity.
The reason I’m always disappointed with everyone is that they weren’t brought up to reflect on every meal.
Reading June Campbell’s book felt like, “Wow, someone who understands all the subtleties.” When she started invoking Lacan, I realized it might actually be easier if I wanted to have sex with mythological creatures. There’s conventions downtown for that, at least.
Like, I totally get that the person is feeling the shamanic call with the imagery available to them. It also makes me cringe a bit. And they’re probably poly, anyway, which would drain me emotionally to death.
Lacan and Tibetan Buddhism in the same thought process is esotericism squared.
One could argue that the suppression of meaning vis-a-vis the position and subjectivity of the female has become an habitual tendency in different cultures throughout history, and that this has both preserved male power and neglected women. These powerful systems have, until modern times, either co-opted, cajoled, or bullied women into colluding with the negation of representations of the female experience, and this has allowed men to dictate their world view at the expense of a balanced position. I have already shown how yab-yum symbolism is declared to be of benefit to men in their struggle for subjectivity, meaning and enlightenment, but what use is it to women, whose practice might require them to take account of their sexuality in forms which relate to her perspective? Perhaps one of the clues to the prospect of reversing the debasement of female subjectivity lies in the images of the female herself, and the meaning behind her gestures. It is certainly possible that the actual symbols used may not in themselves be detrimental, but the interpretation of their meaning has tended to be very one-sided. As I have described, the word for the female sexual partner is mudra, or chaja (Tibetan byags.gya) which literally means (in both Sanskrit and Tibetan) “seal,” “symbol.” The word is also commonly used to describe the ritualistic and symbolic hand gestures or body postures which are adopted by deities within the iconography. From these meanings it can be seen that the female is clearly identified as the signifier. In Lacan’s work, he theorises that “the Other represents language, the site of the signifier” where “the Other is the locus of constitution of the subject or the structure that produces the subject.” In other words, the mudra is significant in the constitution of the male subject. However, in its usage as the female sexual partner, it is usually written as karma mudra, or lae chi chaja (Tibetan las.kyi byags.gya) where karma (Tibetan las) meaning “action,” clearly suggests movement. This kind of linguistic representation implies that woman is not sexually passive, but rather finds her expression in movement.
In the texts the karma mudra, in her form as a human dakini, classically appears to men at difficult moments, to clear away obstacles or to provide the sexual experience by which spiritual realisation could be achieved. The concept, however, of female movement embedded in this term , and also found in her iconographic representations which invariably show her as dancing flying, is one which has been taking up by Irigaray, in a different context, in her analysis of the development of subjectivity in the female. She maintains that dance is one way in which the female “can create a territory of her own in relation to the mother.”
In my younger phenomenology days, I was impressed by a simplification of a Simone de Beauvoir quote: “the body is a situation.” Campbell has in common with Andrea Dworkin the fact that she emphasizes the inescapability of sex over the fluidity of gender. I note that they were both sexually abused more than most people. Keeping it Real:
…for while it may be easy to abstract gender from either the male or the female body, it is impossible to abstract the human body from its sexuality. This means that whilst men and women may all be variations of a prescribed gender ideal, which in Buddhist terms is ultimately a manifestation of illusion, they are nonetheless restricted as different individuals to the experiences of their different physical bodies in relation to sexuality. It is this sexuality which is represented so vividly in the art of Tibet, not least in the images of the female form, with her nakedness, her swinging breasts, detailed vagina, and often wrathful appearance, which suggests something more than the simple gender category of “femininity,” as it has traditionally been defined…
In order to reach that position as a speaking-subject, women would have to attain enough autonomy to speak and act outwith the approval, control, or supervision of men. This would return them to a position of philosophical equality with men. However, it is often extremely difficult for women to extricate themselves from male-dominated systems of religious power, principally because the ideals of these systems are often akin to the kinds of experiences women have in day-to-day life. This means that their experiences are perceived to fit in with the ideals of the religion, even though these experiences are the ones they wish to change. As Irigaray states,
If…the mystical experience is precisely an experience of the loss of subjecthood, of the disappearance of the subject/object opposition, it would seem to hold a particular appeal for women, whose very subjectivity is anyway being denied and repressed by patriarchal discourse.
In the Tantric tradition many of the practices explicitly state the undesirability of an attachment to the self, known in Tibetan as dagzin (bdag.’dzin), encouraging instead a symbolic yet sacrificial approach to the human body and mind through meditation practices such as the Chod or the mandala offering. Considering the sacrificial role which women are usually called upon to enact in the social sphere, it is tempting to agree with Irigaray’s notion that women’s affinity with certain religious practices mirrors everyday existential experiences, in particular those which tap into women’s already weak sense of self (or female identity)…
It is my view that an idealistic conception of androgyny which did not acknowledge difference and separateness as fundamental would ultimately be detrimental for women, because in the overall context of a debased female symbolic operative in Tibetan Buddhism, this kind of merging would reinscribe the loss of both male and female bodies to “the phallic economy.”
I think being able to read and understand passages like this means women who think the same way don’t really want to have sex with men, anymore. This is a real thing that’s always been hard to express, but Judith Simmer-Brown is a perfect example. Remember that, at the top of this post, she explained her work surrounding advocacy against rape. Simmer-Brown quotes some text or another about Yeshe Tsogyal, making the case that Tibet has had great female practitioners. Yeshe Tsogyal says:
I am a timid woman and of scant ability; of lowly condition, the butt of everyone. If I go for alms, I am set upon by dogs; if food and riches come my way, I am the prey of thieves; since I am beautiful, I am the quarry of every lecherous knave; if I am busy with much to do, the country folk accuse me; if I don’t do what they think Is hould, the people criticize; if I put a foot wrong, everyone detests me. I have to worry about everything I do. That is what it is like to be a woman! How can a woman possibly gain accomplishment in Dharma? Just managing to survive is hard enough!
Throughout her journey Yeshe Tsogyal worked with these obstacles in skillful ways, ignoring the gossip when she joined Guru Rinpoche in tantric partnership, converting her rapists, finding an additional consort when that was required by her practice, defeating Bon shamans who belittled her, and attaining full buddhahood as a woman.
Simmer-Brown also summarizes Machig Labdron’s life story. It’s what inspired me to get the original text for myself. Simmer-Brown emphasizes the early Burning Man years, deemphasizes her shame as an adulteress, and makes it sound like her marriage was successful. In fact, masturbating in a cave to relieve the stress of her marriage is what led to even greater realizations.
Simmer-Brown read the same text I did, and she read June Campbell’s book. She’s how I discovered Campbell’s book, too. The topic was so interesting and there was something so off about how Simmer-Brown defended so many gross things.
The willful blindness is a problem, the idea that, since the world is a scary place, you can tame your own pet brute to keep you safe, as if you’re not just surrendering dignity to keep a brute around. The fact that it’s completely irrational is supposed to be the romance of it. It’s a cliche topic.
He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man. — Samuel Johnson
I can relate to all the shitty experiences described in this post. June Campbell writes about how linking women with emptiness makes women Other, but this is because people don’t understand “the emptiness of emptiness.” Personifying emptiness encourages doctrinal confusion.
I think it’s interesting that Shakti worship was associated with an extreme outcast sect, and Tibetan Buddhist ideas on female sexuality come from (publicly) celibate monks.
So we have a situation of lonely men symbolically idealizing women, and women identifying with those male fantasies but themselves seeking out more powerful men who don’t have to idealize them at a distance (or respect them as humans).
There are no sexual relationships. All of this is suffering. The unpopular starting point of Buddhism. It’s very important to resolve the Great Matter in this lifetime.