The Shadow of the Dalai Lama – Part I – 1. Buddhism and misogyny – an historical overview

© Victor & Victoria Trimondi




Part I





Are you actually interested in the topic of sex?

(14th) Dalai Lama:
My goodness! You ask a 62-year-old monk

 who has been celibate his entire life a thing like that.

 I don’t have much to say about sex

 — other than that it is completely okay

 if two people love each other.

(The Fourteenth Dalai Lama in a Playboy

interview (German edition), March 1998)






A well-founded critique and — where planned — a deconstruction of the Western image of Buddhism currently establishing itself should concentrate entirely upon the particular school of Buddhism known as “Tantrism” (Tantrayana or Vajrayana) for two reasons. [1] The first is that the “tantric way” represents the most recent phase in the history of Buddhism and is with some justification viewed as the supreme and thus most comprehensive doctrine of the entire system. In a manner of speaking Tantrism has integrated all the foregoing Buddhist schools within itself, and further become a receptacle for Hindu, Iranian, Central Asian, and even Islamic cultural influences. Thus — as an oft-repeated Tantrayana statement puts itone who has understood the “Tantric Way” has also understood all other paths to enlightenment.


The second reason for concentrating upon Tantrism lies in the fact that it represents the most widely distributed form of Buddhism in the West. It exerts an almost magical attraction upon many in America and Europe. With the Dalai Lama at its head and its clergy of exiled Tibetans, it possesses a powerful and flexible army of missionaries who advance the Buddhization of the West with psychological and diplomatic skill.


It is the goal of the present study to work out, interpret and evaluate the motives, practices and visions of Tantric Buddhism and its history. We have set out to make visible the archetypal fields and the “occult” powers which determine, or at least influence, the world politics of the Dalai Lama as the supreme representative of Tantrayana. For this reason we must familiarize our readers with the gods and demons who –not in our way of looking at things but from a tantric viewpoint — have shaped and continue to shape Tibet’s history. We will thus need to show that the Tibetans experience their history and contemporary politics as the worldly expression of a transcendental reality, and that they organize their lives according to laws which are not of this world. In summary, we wish to probe to the heart of the tantric mystery.


In light of the complexity of the topic, we have resolved to proceed deductively and to preface the entire book with the core statement of our research in the form of a hypothesis. Our readers will thus be set on their way with a statement whose truth or falsity only emerges from the investigations which follow. The formulation of this hypothesis is necessarily very abstract at the outset. Only in the course of our study does it fill out with blood and life, and unfortunately, with violence and death as well. Our core statement is as follows:


The mystery of Tantric Buddhism consists in the sacrifice

of the feminine principle and the manipulation of erotic love

in order to attain universal androcentric power


An endless chain of derived forms of sacrifice has developed out of this central sacrificial event and the associated power techniques: the sacrifice of life, body and soul to the spirit; of the individual to an Almighty God or a higher self; of the feelings to reason; love to omnipotence; the earth to heaven; and so forth. This pervasive sacrificial gnosis, which — as we shall see — ultimately lets the entire universe end in a sea of fire, and which reaches its full maturity in the doctrine of Tantrism, is already in place in the earlier phases of Buddhism, including the legend of Buddha. In order to demonstrate this, we think it sensible to also analyze the three Buddhist stages which precede Tantrayana with regard to the “female sacrifice”, the “manipulation of erotic love”, and the “development of androcentric power”.


The history of Buddhism is normally divided into four phases, all of which found their full development in India. The first recounts the legendary life and teachings of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, who bore the name Siddharta Gautama (c.560 B.C.E.–480 B.C.E.). The second phase, which begins directly following his death, is known as Theravada Buddhism. It is somewhat disparagingly termed Hinayana or the “Low Vehicle” by later Buddhist schools. The third phase has developed since the second century B.C.E., Mahayana Buddhism, or the “Great Vehicle”. Tantrism, or Tantrayana, arose in the fourth century C.E. at the earliest. It is also known as Vajrayana, or the “Diamond Vehicle”.


Just as we have introduced the whole text with a core hypothesis, we would also like to preface the description of the four stages of historical Buddhism to which we devote the following pages with four corresponding variations upon our basic statement about the “female sacrifice”, the “manipulation of erotic love”, and the “development of androcentric power”:


1.       The “sacrifice of the feminine principle” is from the outset a fundamental event in the teachings of Buddha . It corresponds to the Buddhist rejection of life, nature and the soul. In this original phase, the bearer of androcentric power is the historical Buddha himself.

2.       In Hinayana Buddhism, the “Low Vehicle”, the “sacrifice of the feminine” is carried out with the help of meditation. The Hinayana monk fears and dreads women, and attempts to escape them. He also makes use of meditative exercises to destroy and transcend life, nature and the soul. In this phase the bearer of androcentric power is the is the ascetic holy man or Arhat.

3.       In Mahayana, the “Great Vehicle”, flight from women is succeeded by compassion for them. The woman is to be freed from her physical body, and the Mahayana monk selflessly helps her to prepare for the necessary transformation, so that she can become a man in her next reincarnation. The feminine is thus still considered inferior and despicable, as that which must be sacrificed in order to be transformed into something purely masculine. In both founding philosophical schools of Mahayana Buddhism (Madhyamika and Yogachara), life, nature, the body and the soul are accordingly sacrificed to the absolute spirit (citta). The bearer of androcentric power in this phase is the “Savior” or Bodhisattva.

4.       In Tantrism or Vajrayana, the tantric master (yogi) exchanges compassion with the woman for absolute control over the feminine. With sexual magic rites he elevates the woman to the status of a goddess in order to subsequently offer her up as a real or symbolic sacrifice. The beneficiary of this sacrifice is not some god, but the yogi himself, since he absorbs within himself the complete life energy of the sacrifice. This radical Vajrayana method ends in an apocalyptic firestorm which consumes the entire universe within its flames. In this phase the bearer of androcentric power is the “Grand Master” or Maha Siddha.


If, as the adherents of Buddhist Tantrism claim, a logic of development pertains between the various stages of Buddhism, then this begins with a passive origin (Hinayana), switches to an active/ethical intermediary stage (Mahayana), and ends in an aggressive/destructive final phase (Tantrayana). The relationship of the three schools to the feminine gender must be characterized as fugitive, supportive and destructive respectively.


Should our hypothesis be borne out by the presentation of persuasive evidence and conclusive argumentation, this would lead to the verdict that in Tantric Buddhism we are dealing with a misogynist, destructive, masculine philosophy and religion which is hostile to life — i.e., the precise opposite of that for which it is trustingly and magnanimously welcomed in the West, above all in the figure of the Dalai Lama.


The “sacrifice” of Maya: The Buddha legend

Even the story of the birth of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni exhibits the fundamentally negative attitude of early Buddhism towards the sexual sphere and toward woman. Maya, the mother of the Sublimity, did not conceive him through an admixture of masculine and feminine seed, as usual in Indian thought, nor did he enter the world via the natural birth channel. His conception was occasioned by a white elephant in a dream of Maya’s. The Buddha also miraculously left his mother’s womb through the side of her hip; the act of birth thus not being associated with any pain.


Why this unnatural birth? Because in Buddhism all the female qualities — menstrual blood, feminine sexuality, conception, pregnancy, the act of childbirth, indeed even a woman’s glance or smile — were from the outset considered not to be indicators of the joys of life; rather, in contrast, human life — in the words of Buddha — ultimately exhausts itself in sickness, age and death. It proves itself to be an existence without constancy, as an unenduring element. Life as such, with its constant change and variety, stands opposed in unbearable contrast to eternity and the unity of the spirit. With the abundance of being it tries to soil the “pure emptiness” of consciousness, to scatter the unity of the spirit with its diversity, or — in the words of the best-known contemporary Buddhist cultural theorist, the American Ken Wilber — the “biosphere” (the sphere of life) drags the “noosphere” (the sphere of the spirit) down to a lower evolutionary level. Human life in all its weakness is thus a lean period to be endured along the way to the infinite (“It were better I had never been born”), and woman, who brings forth this wretched existence, functions as the cause of suffering and death.


Maya dies shortly after the birth of the Sublimity. As the principle of natural life — her death can be symbolically interpreted this way — she stood in the way of the supernatural path of enlightenment of her son, who wished to free himself and humankind from the unending chain of reincarnation. Is she the ancient primeval mother who dies to make place for the triumphant progress of her sun/son? In Ken Wilber’s evolutionary theory, the slaying of the Great Mother is considered the symbolic event which, in both the developmental history of the individual (ontogenesis) and the cultural history of humanity (phylogenesis), must precede an emancipation of consciousness. The ego structure can only develop in a child after the maternal murder, since the infant is still an undifferentiated unity within the motherly source. According to Wilber, a corresponding process can be observed in human history. Here, following the destruction of the matriarchal, “typhonic” mother cult, cultural models have been able to develop patriarchal transcendence and male ego structures.


On the basis of this psychoanalytically influenced thesis, one could interpret Maya’s early death as the maternal murder which had to precede the evolution of the male Buddha consciousness. This interpretation receives a certain spark when we realize that the name Maya means ‘illusion’ in Sanskrit. For a contemporary raised within the Western rationalist tradition, such a naming may seem purely coincidental, but in the magic symbolic worldview of Buddhism, above all in Tantrism, it has a deep-reaching significance. Here, as in all ancient cultures, a name refers not just to a person, but also to those forces and gods it evokes.


Maya — the name of Buddha’s mother — is also the name of the most powerful Indian goddess Maya. The entire material universe is concentrated in Maya, she is the world-woman. In ceaseless motion she produces all appearances and consumes them again. She corresponds to the prima materia of European alchemy, the basic substance in which the seeds of all phenomena are symbolically hidden. The word maya is derived from the Sanskrit root ma-, which has also given us mother, material, and mass. The goddess represents all that is quantitative, all that is material. She is revered as the “Great Mother” who spins the threads of the world’s destiny. The fabric which is woven from this is life and nature. It consists of instincts and feelings, of the physical and the psyche, but not the spirit.


Out of her threads Maya has woven a veil and cast this over the transcendental reality behind all existence, a reality which for the Buddhist stands opposed to the world of appearances as the spiritual principle. Maya is the feminine motion which disturbs the meditative standstill of the man, she is the change which destroys his eternity. Maya casts out her net of “illusion” in order to bind the autonomous ego to her, just as a natural mother binds her child to herself and will not let it go so that it can develop its own personality. In her web she suffocates and keeps in the dark the male ego striving for freedom and light. Maya encapsulates the spirit, her arch-enemy, in a cocoon. She is the principle of birth and rebirth, the overcoming of which is a Buddhist’s highest goal. Eternal life beckons whoever has seen through her deceptions; whoever is taken in will be destroyed and reborn in unceasing activity like all living things.


The death of Maya, the great magician who produces the world of illusions, is the sine qua non for the appearance of “true spirit”. Thus, it was no ordinary woman who died with the passing of Shakyamuni’s mother. Her son had descended to earth because he wished to tear aside the veil of illusion and to teach of the true reality behind the network of the phenomenal, because he had experienced life and the spirit as forming an incompatible dualism and was convinced that this contradiction could only be healed through the omnipotence of the spirit and the destruction of life. Completely imprisoned within the mythical and philosophical traditions of his time, he sees life, deceptive and sumptuous and behind which Death lurks grinning, as a woman. For him too — as for the androcentric system of religion he found himself within — woman was the dark symbol of transience; from this it follows that he who aspires to eternity must at least symbolically “destroy” the world-woman. That the historical Buddha was spared the conscious execution of this “destructive act” by the natural death of his mother makes no change to the fundamental statement: only through the destruction of maya (illusion) can enlightenment be achieved!


Again and again, this overcoming of the feminine principle set off by the early passing of his mother accompanies the historical Buddha on his path to salvation. He experiences both marriage and its polar opposite, sexual dissolution, as two significant barriers blocking his spiritual development that he must surmount. Shakyamuni thus without scruple abandons his family, his wife Yasodhara and his son Rahula, and at the age of 29 becomes “homeless”. The final trigger for this radical decision to give up his royal life was an orgiastic night in the arms of his many concubines. When he sees the “decaying and revolting” faces of the still-sleeping women the next morning, he turns his back on his palace forever. But even once he has found enlightenment he does not return to his own or re-enter the pulsating flow of life. In contrast, he is able to convince Yasodhara and Rahula of the correctness of his ascetic teachings, which he himself describes as a middle way between abstinence and joie de vivre. Wife and son follow his example, leave house and home, and join the sangha, the Buddhist mendicant order.


The equation of the female with evil, familiar from all patriarchal cultures, was also an unavoidable fact for the historical Buddha. In a famous key dramatic scene, the “daughters of Mara” try to tempt him with all manner of ingenious fleshly lures. Woman and her erotic love — the anecdote would teach us — prevent spiritual fulfillment. Archetypally, Mara corresponds to the devil incarnate of Euro-Christian mythology, and his female offspring are lecherous witches. But Shakyamuni remained deaf to their obscene talk and was not impressed by their lascivious gestures. He pretended to see through the beauty of the devil’s daughters as flimsy appearance by roaring at them like a lion, “This [your] body is a swamp of garbage, an infectious heap of impurities. How can anybody take pleasure in such wandering latrines?” (quoted by Faure, 1994, p. 29).


During his lifetime, the historical Buddha was plagued by a chronic misogyny; of this, in the face of numerous documents, there can not be slightest doubt. His woman-scorning sayings are disrespectful, caustic and wounding. “One would sooner chat with demons and murderers with drawn swords, sooner touch poisonous snakes even when their bite is deadly, than chat with a woman alone” (quoted by Bellinger, 1993, p. 246), he preached to his disciples, or even more aggressively, “It were better, simpleton, that your sex enter the mouth of a poisonous snake than that it enter a woman. It were better, simpleton, that your sex enter an oven than that it enter a woman” (quoted by Faure, 1994, p. 72). Enlightenment and intimate contact with a woman were not compatible for the Buddha. “But the danger of the shark, ye monks, is a characteristic of woman”, he warned his followers (quoted by Hermann-Pfand, 1992, p. 51). At another point, with abhorrence he composed the following:


Those are not wise

Act like animals

Racing toward female forms

Like hogs toward mud


Because of their ignorance

They re bewildered by women, who

Like profit seekers in the marketplace

Deceive those who come near

(quoted by D. Paul, 1985, p. 9)


Buddha’s favorite disciple, Ananda, more than once tried to put to his Teacher the explicit desire by women for their own spiritual experience, but the Master’s answers were mostly negative. Ananda was much confused by this refractoriness, indeed it contradicted the stated view of his Master that all forms of life, even insects, could achieve Buddhahood. “Lord, how should we behave towards women?”, he asked the Sublimity — “Not look at them!” — “But what if we must look at them?” — “Not speak to them” — “But what if we must speak to them?” — “Keep wide awake!” (quoted by Stevens, 1990, p. 45)


This disparaging attitude toward everything female is all the more astounding in that the historical Buddha was helped by women at decisive moments along his spiritual journey: following an almost fatal ascetic exercise his life was saved by a girl with a saucer of milk, who taught him through this gesture that the middle way between abstinence and joie de vivre was the right path to enlightenment, not the dead end of asceticism as preached by the Indian yogis. And again it was women, rich lay women, who supported his religious order (sangha) with generous donations, thereby making possible the rapid spread of his teachings.


The meditative dismemberment of woman: Hinayana Buddhism

At the center of Theravada, or Hinayana, Buddhism — in which Shakyamuni’s teachings are preserved and only negligibly further developed following his death — stands the enlightenment of the individual, and, connected to this, his deliberate retreat from the real world. The religious hero of the Hinayana  is the “holy man” or Arhat. Only he who has overcome his individual — and thus inferior — ego, and, after successfully traversing a initiation path rich in exercises, achieves Buddhahood, i.e., freedom from all illusion, may call himself an Arhat. He then enters a higher state of consciousness, which the Buddhists call nirvana (not-being). In order to reach this final stage, a Hinayana monk concerns himself exclusively with his inner spiritual perfection and seeks no contact to any kind of public.


The Hinayana believers’ general fear of contact is both confirmed and extended by their fear of and flight from the feminine. Completely in accord with the Master, for the followers of Hinayana the profane and illusionary world (samsara) was identical with the female universe and the network of Maya. In all her forms — from the virgin to the mother to the prostitute and the ugly crone — woman stood in the way of the spiritual development of the monk. Upon entering the sangha (Buddhist order) a novice had to abandon his wife and children, just as the founder of the order himself had once done. Marriage was seen as a constant threat to the necessary celibacy. It was feared as a powerful competitor which withheld men from the order, and which weakened it as a whole.


Taking Buddha’s Mara experience as their starting point, his successors were constantly challenged by the dark power and appeal of woman. The literature of this period is filled with countless tales of seductions in which the monks either bravely withstood sexual temptations or suffered terribly for their errant behavior, and the victory of chastity over sexuality became a permanent topic of religious discussion. “Meditational formulae for alleviating lustful thoughts were prescribed”, writes Diana Paul, the American religious scholar, “The cathartic release of meditative ecstasy rivaled that of an orgasm [...] The image of woman had gradually developed as the antithesis antithesis of religion and morality.” (D. Paul, 1985, p. 8) The Buddha had already said of the “archetypal” holy man of this period, the ascetic Arhat, that “sexual passion can no more cling to an Arhat than water to a lotus leaf” (quoted by Stevens, 1990, p. 46).


In early Buddhism, as in medieval Christian culture, the human body as such, but in particular the female body, was despised as a dirty and inferior thing, as something highly imperfect, that was only superficially beautiful and attractive. In order to meditate upon the transience of all being, the monks, in a widespread exercise, imagined a naked woman. This so-called “analytic meditation” began with a “perfect” and beautiful body, and transformed this step by step into an old, diseased, and dying one, to end the exercise by picturing a rotting and stinking corpse. The female body, as the absolute Other, was meditatively murdered and dismembered as a symbol of the despised world of the senses. Sexual fascination and the irritations of murderous violence are produced by such monastic practices. We return later to historical examples in which monks carried out the dismemberment of women’s bodies in reality.


There are startling examples in the literature which show how women self-destructively internalized this denigration of their own bodies. “The female novice should hate her impure body like a jail in which she is imprisoned, like a cesspool into which she has fallen”, demands an abbess of young nuns. (Faure, 1994, p. 29) Only in as far as they rendered their body and sexuality despicable, and openly professed their inferiority, could women gain a position within the early Buddhist community at all.


In the Vinaya Pitaka, the great book of rules of the order, which is valid for all the phases of Buddhism, we find eight special regulations for nuns. One of these prescribes that they have to bow before even the lowliest and youngest of monks. This applies even to the honorable and aged head of a respected convent. Only with the greatest difficulty could the Buddha be persuaded to ordinate women. He was convinced that this would cause his doctrine irreparable damage and that it would thus disappear from India 500 years earlier than planned. Only after the most urgent pleas from all sides, but primarily due to the flattering words of his favorite disciple, Ananda, did he finally concede.


But even after granting his approval the Buddha remained skeptical: “To go forth from home under the rule of the Dharma as announced by me is not suitable by women. There should be no ordination or nunhood. And why? I women go forth from the Household life, then the rule of Dharma will not be maintaned over a long period.” (quoted by D. Paul, 1985, p. 78). This reproach, that a nun would neglect her family life, appears downright absurd within the Buddhist value system, since for a man it was precisely his highest duty to leave his family, house and home for religious reasons.


Because of the countless religious and social prejudices, the orders of nuns were never able to fully flourish in Buddhist culture, remained few in number, and to the present day play a completely subordinate role within the power structures of the androcentric monastic orders (sangha) of all schools.


The transformation of women into men: Mahayana Buddhism

In the following phase of Mahayana Buddhism (from 200 B.C.E.), the “Great Vehicle”, the relation to the environment changes radically. In place of the passive, asocial and self-centered exercises of the Arhat, the compassionate activities of the Bodhisattva now emerge. Here we find a superhuman deliverer of salvation, who has renounced the highest fruits of final enlightenment, i.e., the entry into nirvana (not-being), in order to help other beings to also set out along the spiritual path and liberate themselves. The denial of the world of the Hinayana is replaced by compassion (karuna) for the world and its inhabitants. In contrast to the Arhat, who satisfies himself, the Bodhisattva, driven by “selfless love”, ideally wanders the land, teaching people the Buddhist truths, and is highly revered by them because of his self-sacrificing and “infinitely kind” acts. All Bodhisattvas have open hearts. Like Jesus Christ they voluntarily take on the suffering of others to free them from their troubles and motivate  their believers through exemplary good deeds.


The “Great Vehicle” also integrated a large number of deities from other religions within its system and thus erected an impressive Buddhist pantheon. Among these are numerous goddesses, which would certainly have been experienced as a revolution by the anti-woman monks of early Buddhism. However, Mahayana at the same time, in several philosophical schools which all — even if with varying arguments — teach of the illusion of the world of appearances (samsara), questions this realm of the gods. In the final instance, even the heavenly are affected by the nothingness of all being, or are purely imaginary. “Everything is empty” (Madhyamika school) or “everything is consciousness” (Yogachara school) are the two basic maxims of cognitive theory as taught in Mahayana.


The Mahayana phase of Buddhism took over the Vinaya Pitaka (Rules of the Order) from Hinayana and thus little changed for the Buddhist nuns. Nonetheless, a redemptive theme more friendly to women took the place of the open misogyny. Although the fundamentally negative evaluation of the feminine was not thus overcome, the Bodhisattva, whose highest task is to help all suffering creatures, now open-handedly and selflessly supported women in freeing themselves from the pressing burden of their sex. If the thought of enlightenment awakens in a female being and she follows the Dharma (the Buddhist doctrine), then she can gather such great merit that she will be allowed to be reborn as a man in her next life. If she then, in male form, continues to lead an impeccable existence in the service of the “teachings”, then she will, after “her” second death, experience the joy of awakening in the paradise of Buddha, Amitabha, which is exclusively populated by men. Thus, albeit in a sublime and more “humane” form, the destruction of the feminine is a precondition for enlightenment in Mahayana Buddhism too. Achieving the advanced stages of spiritual development and being born a female are mutually exclusive.


Only at the lower grades (from a total of ten) was it possible in the “Great Vehicle” for a woman to act as a Bodhisattva. Even the famous author of the most popular Mahayana text of all, The Lion’s Roar of Queen Sri Mala (4th century C.E.), was not permitted to lay claim to all the Bodhisattva stages and therefore did not attain complete Buddhahood. Women were thus fundamentally and categorically denied the role of a “perfected” Buddha. For them, the “five cosmic positions” of Brahma (Creator of the World), Indra (King of the Gods), Great King, World Ruler (Chakravartin), and Bodhisattva of the two highest levels were taboo.


Indeed, even the lower Bodhisattva grades were opened to women by only a few texts, such as the Lotus Sutra (c. 100 C.E.) for example. This text stands in crass opposition to the traditional androcentric views which were far more widespread, and are summarized in a concise and unambiguous statement from the great scholar Asangha (4th century C.E.): “Completely perfected Buddhas are not women. And why? Precisely because a Bodhisattva .... has completely abandoned the state of womanhood. Ascending to the most excellent throne of enlightenment, he is never again reborn as a woman. All women are by nature full of defilement and of weak intelligence. And not by one who is by nature full of defilement and of weak intelligence, is completely perfected Buddhahood attained.” (Shaw, 1994, p. 27)


In Mahayana Buddhism, gender became a karmic category, whereby incarnation as a woman was equated with lower karma. The rebirth of a woman as a man implied that she had successfully worked off her bad karma. Correspondingly, men who had led a sinful life were reincarnated as “little women”.


As so many women nevertheless wished to follow the Way of the Buddha, a possible acceleration of the gender transformation was considered in several texts. In the Sutra of the Pure Land female Buddhists had to wait for their rebirth as men before they achieved enlightenment; in other sutras they “merely” needed to change their sex in their current lives and thus achieve liberation. Such sexual transmutations are of course miracles, but a female being who reached for the fruits of the highest Buddhahood must be capable of performing supernatural acts. “If women awaken to the thought of enlightenment,” says the Sutra on changing the Female Sex, “then they will have the great and good person’s state of mind, a man’s state of mind, a sage’s state of mind. […] If women awaken to the thought of enlightenment, then they will not be bound to the limitation of a woman’s state of mind. Because they will not be limited, they will forever separate from the females sex and become sons.” I.e. a male follower of Buddha. (quoted by D. Paul, 1985, p. 175/176).


Many radical theses of Mahayana Buddhism (for example, the dogma of the “emptiness of all being”) lead to unsolvable contradictions in the gender question. In principle, the Dharma (the teachings) say that a perfect being is free from every desire and therefore needs to be asexual. This requirement, with which the insignificance of gender at higher spiritual levels is meant to be emphasized, however, contradicts the other orthodox rule that only men have earned enlightenment. Such dissonant elements are then taken advantage of by women . There are several extremely clever dialogs in which female Buddhists conclusively annul their female inferiority with arguments which are included within the Buddhist doctrine itself. For example, in the presence of Buddha Shakyamuni the girl Candrottara explains that a sex change from female to male makes no sense from the standpoint of the “emptiness of all appearances” taught in the Mahayana and is therefore superfluous. Whether man or woman is also irrelevant for the path to enlightenment as it is described in the Diamond Sutra.


The asexuality of Mahayana Buddhism has further led to a religious glorification of the image of the mother. This is indeed a most astonishing development, and is not compatible with earlier fundamentals of the doctrine, since the mother is despised as the cause of rebirth just as much as the young woman as the cause of sexual seduction. An apotheosis of the motherly was therefore possible only after the monks had “liberated” the mother archetype from its “natural” attributes such as conception and birth. The “Great Mothers” of Mahayana Buddhism, like Prajnaparamita for instance, are transcendental beings who have never soiled themselves through contact with base nature (sexuality and childbearing).


The have only their warmth, their protective role, their unconditional readiness to help and their boundless love in common with earthly mothers. These transcendental mothers of the Mahayana are indeed powerful heavenly matrons, but the more powerful they are experienced to be, the more they dissolve into the purely allegorical. They represent “perfect wisdom”, the “mother of emptiness”, “transcendent love”. When, however, the genesis of these symbolic female figures is examined (as is done at length in our analysis of Vajrayana Buddhism), then they all prove to be the imaginary products of a superior male Buddha being.


In closing this chapter we would like to mention a phenomenon which occurred much more frequently than one would like to accept in Mahayana: “compassionate copulation”. Sexual intercourse between celibate monks and female beings was actually allowed in exceptional circumstances: if it was performed out of compassion for the woman to be slept with. There could even be a moral imperative to sleep with a woman: “If a woman falls violently in love with a Bodhisattva and is about to sacrifice her life for him, it is his duty to save her life by satisfying all her desires” (Stevens, 1990, p. 56). At least some monks probably took much pleasure in complying with this commandment.


In Western centers of modern Buddhism too, irrespective of whether Zen or Lamaist exercises are practiced, it is not uncommon for the masters to sleep with their female pupils in order to “spiritually” assist them (Boucher, 1985, p. 239). But it is mostly a more intimate affair than in the case of the present-day Asian guru who boasted to an American interviewer, “I have slept with a thousand women. One of them had a hump. I gave her my love, and she has become a happy person. ... I am a ‘Buddhist scouring pad’. A scouring pad is something which gets itself dirty but at the same time cleans everything it touches” (Faure, 1994, p. 92).



[1] The Sanskrit word tantra, just like its Tibetan equivalent rguyd, has many meanings, all of which, however, are originally grouped around terms like ‘thread’, ‘weave’, ‘web’, and ‘network’. From these, ‘system’ and ‘textbook’ finally emerged. The individuals who follow the Tantric Way are called Tantrika or Siddha. A distinction is drawn between Hindu and Buddhist systems of teaching. The latter more specifically involves a definite number of codified texts and their commentaries.


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