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The Auspiciousness of Being a Woman

The question naturally arises: If a woman is so auspicious to the (male) practice, then isn’t it even more auspicious to BE a woman?[1]

In "She Gives the Gift of Her Body"[2] my focus was on the life-giving nurturance of a mother's body supporting a pregnancy and nursing her baby, as well as women’s many essential, evolutionary inventions, such as:

  • Cooking with fire
  • Domestication of animals and plants
  • Grain storage
  • Food preservation
  • Vessels of all types
  • Trance healing and shamanism
  • Birth, blood mysteries, and death rituals
  • Domestication of bees
  • Brewing of beer
  • Ecstatic dance
  • Religion itself

The earliest, most continuous, and most pervasive symbol of this vast matriarchal construct is the vulva, found carved, painted, inscribed, scratched, and sculpted all over the world for tens of thousands of years. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the "yoni" (vulva, cunt, bhaga, slit, hole, "secret place") is a short-cut signifier for the female, not just on a personal individual level, representing Woman, but in the larger sense, Goddess.

The tantric five-fold central mandala of Five Dakinis (with Vajra Varaji in the center) is known as the "bhaga" or vagina, used interchangeably with "circle of great bliss." (English, 187) A red lotus inside a white downward-pointing triangle is the symbol for Dharmakaya, what Buddhists call the "womb of origination," the source or origin "equated with the female sex organ or womb (bhagah, yonih)." (English, 149) The vulva is a euphemism for the center of the universe from which everything springs, and it takes us all the way back to our origins.


"Chimpuk clitoris." This rock outcropping is considered by Tibetans to be the clitoris (the jewel in the lotus) of the Goddess; the valley, her vagina.
Photo © 2007 V. Noble. All rights reserved.

The most popular mantra used by Tibetans is OM MANI PADME HUM—"Homage to the Jewel in the Lotus," or as June Campbell has translated it, the Goddess Manipadme of the "clitoris-vagina." (Campbell, 64) Yet the woman herself (more precisely her body) functions as a largely absent referent in Tibetan Buddhism: Symbols, images, concepts, mantras, prayers, and whole practices point to her origins and even her centrality, though she herself is rarely to be seen in official expressions of the monastic state religion. The worldwide shift from matriarchy to patriarchy that has been voluminously documented elsewhere certainly did not spare Tibet, and women in Tibet are profoundly positioned as second-class citizens — pretty much out of sight, out of mind. Even Tibetan nuns have never received the support given to monks and have therefore languished in poverty; the Tibetan word for woman explicitly declares her "inferior birth"; and most practicing Tibetan Buddhists have been taught that to become enlightened, one must be born in a male body.

Buddhist scholar Reginald Ray states that "Buddhism is a particularly interesting tradition because it has one foot in the past and one in the present," and he quotes the Buddha as saying, "I follow the ancient path." By this, Ray says, "he meant to show a 'way back' to a more fundamental experience of human life than the one evolving in his day." (Ray, 2000, 2)

Tibetan scholar John Vincent Bellezza points to many pre-Buddhist sites where art and ritual have left traces of "multi-sensory experience(s)," (211) including images of women engaged in ritual dances, wearing jewel-studded coiffures, in attitudes of "greeting or benediction." (199) Bellezza states that "women dominated political life across the entire breadth of northern Tibet prior to the Imperial era… until the matriarchal structure had declined and was being replaced by a patriarchal society." (134) He speaks of "vestigial memory of a great goddess who once ruled supreme… suggesting the existence of a matriarchal culture and the supremacy of female deities in prehistory." (308) Rock art, which he believes to be a precursor of temple frescoes (195), and sites he discusses have names like "Dance Concourse of the Dakinis" or "Vulture's Nest." He speaks of ancient "Sisterhoods" and "Lands of Women" that existed prior to the anchoring of Buddhism in Tibet in the 8th century.

Yeshe Tsogyal: Tibet's Most Auspicious Woman
Yeshe Tsogyal was the princess of Chärchän in northern Tibet who became the co-founder, with the guru Padmasambhava, of Tibetan Buddhism as we know it today. She is best known in her role as Padmasambhava’s primary consort (sexual tantric partner). Through his union with her, Tibetan Buddhism was established and permanently secured in Tibet. This story can be taken in several ways. Padmasambhava explained that "such a woman" is a necessary accoutrement in the male initiate's path of enlightenment and without her, enlightenment cannot be gained.

This story has similarities with the tradition of "divine kingship" and "hieros gamos" found in earlier cultures, particularly as it was established in Sumer around 3000 BCE.[3] Through union with a priestess of the Goddess Inanna, the king gained his legitimacy and took office. In Egypt, the king gained his throne by coming to the lap of the Goddess, whose name itself (Isis) meant "throne." I have written elsewhere of marriage as a form of colonization, where priestesses and/or other high-ranking women in matriarchal cultures were forced into "marriage" by invading tribal chieftains. These are frequently described as "intermarriages" by which the dominant tribe has invaded a land and overlaid itself on the indigenous people there, legitimizing this through the marriage of the two "heads of state." (Noble, in Biaggi) There is a long history of women, even high-ranking ones like Yeshe Tsogyal, who attempt to flee every woman’s cultural obligation to be married off to the most strategic or opportune husband.

Yeshe Tsogyal is clearly identified as a tantric consort, and images abound of Tibet's cofounders locked in a passionate sexual embrace. Yet her practices and sexual teachings have not come down to us from her. That’s what’s missing from the Tibetan Buddhist work being disseminated throughout the world today: any direct lineage of teachings from the expressed viewpoint of the woman.


Vajrayogini, Samye Monastery, Tibet
Photo © 2007 V. Noble. All rights reserved.

Tsogyal was believed to be an emanation of Vajrayogini, the naked red Goddess often shown with a crescent knife (chopper) raised in one hand, while she drinks menstrual blood from a skullcup held in the other. In one of the most dramatic sections of Yeshe Tsogyal's biography, she describes being near death from her yogic practice of austerities and calling out for help from the deities. "Then I had a vision of a red woman, naked, lacking even the covering of bone ornaments, who thrust her bhaga against my mouth, and I drank deeply from her copious flow of blood. My entire being was filled with health and well-being, I felt as strong as a snow-lion, and I realized profound absorption to be inexpressible truth." She meditated naked for the next year after that direct transmission from Vajrayogini, healing herself with medicinal herbs and shrubs. (Dowman, 71) Dowman calls this transmission of menstrual blood the "red bodhicitta, the essence of the Dakini," and says it "carries the seeds of passion, thought and samsaric action that provide the modes of Awareness of Emptiness." (Dowman, 201)

The essence of the narrative is the innate teaching (transmission) contained within the menstrual blood itself. I wish to reaffirm what women's spirituality has investigated, confirmed, and encouraged for thirty years of research, practice, and teaching: Contemporary women need to regain positive contact and psychic alignment with the sacred cycle of their menstruation and ovulation. It was the female of the species who precipitated the evolutionary leap into humanity when somehow our fertility synchronized with the monthly cycles of the Moon. In that shift from estrus into a bipolar lunar monthly cycle, humans split off from the other primates and differentiated as a species.


detail: "Captured in motion."
Photo © 2008 Susan Siren. All rights reserved.

During much of our adulthood, women are initiated into the lineage of the "red bodhicitta" every month through our menstruation, which in tantric scriptures is stated to be the "red time," the time of sexual initiation — not, as we have falsely come to believe, a time when women are "unclean" and to be avoided sexually.

Vajrayogini, whose bhaga provided the red nectar of life for Yeshe Tsogyal and "suffused her whole being with bliss," (Changchub, 75) is the red lineage thread leading all the way back to human origins and transmitting through women, down through the ages, this ancient original spiritual understanding." (Grahn, 1993) In a tantric sexual encounter, the dakini blesses her partner 'with her empty and radiant body, a direct transmission of her nature.'" (Noble, in Vaughan, 91)

Yeshe Tsogyal embodies Vajrayogini's lineage as the shapeshifting Dakini par excellence. Dowman says, "Dakini is virtually synonymous with Tsogyel herself," (224) characterized by joy, spontaneity, and generosity of spirit. An altar built to honor Vajrayogini traditionally includes a mirror facing upward to catch her menstrual blood. This harkens back to what David Gordon White describes as the original tantric sexual rites, involving actual bodily substances, especially female sexual fluids. "Most of the messy parts of tantric practice (at least outward practice) were cleaned up, aestheticized, and internalized in different ways." Tibetan Buddhist visualization practices, especially those honoring wrathful, erotic, female deities like Vajrayogini, appear to be living examples of "all such transactions involving sexual fluids [becoming] wholly internalized and incorporated into the so-called subtle body." (White, 1996, 4)

In the 1970s, Australian-born feminist, Germaine Greer, wrote (scandalously) in her book, The Female Eunuch, that if a woman really wanted to be liberated, she should taste her own menstrual blood. That prescription is still just as applicable today.

OM MANI PADME HUM and Homage to the Jewel in the Lotus. May all beings be free. May all beings recognize the dakini. May all beings know happiness and an end to suffering. May all women know ourselves to be Vajrayogini and our bodies to be her sacred temple. May we be strong as snow-lions! Blessed be.

Notes

  1. Final line of Part I of this two-part series, "Deconstructing Yeshe Tsogyal, Tibet's Amazing "Mother of Knowledge" (V. Noble, MatriFocus, Samhain 2008). February 2, 2009. <http://www.matrifocus.com/SAM08/noble.htm>
  2. I presented this as a talk at the Gift Economy conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, November 2004. It was later published as an essay in the anthology Women and the Gift Economy, edited by feminist philosopher Genevieve Vaughan.
  3. For more on the Sacred Marriage in Sumer, see "Inanna and the 'Sacred Marriage'," (J. Stuckey, MatriFocus, Imbolc 2005). February 2, 2009. <http://www.matrifocus.com/IMB05/spotlight.htm>

Bibliography

  • Bellezza, John Vincent. Divine Dyads: Ancient Civilization in Tibet. Dharamsala, India: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1997.
  • Campbell, June. Traveller in Space: In Search of Female Identity in Tibetan Buddhism. NY: George Braziller, 1996.
  • Changchub, Gyalwa and Namkhai Nyingpo. Lady of the Lotus-Born: The Life and Enlightenment of Yeshe Tsogyal. Boston: Shambhala, 1999.
  • Dowman, Keith. Sky Dancer: The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyel. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984.)
  • English, Elizabeth. Vajrayogini: Her Visualizations, Rituals, and Forms. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2002.
  • Grahn, Judy. Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993.
  • Greer, Germaine. The Female Eunuch. Mcgraw-Hill, 1971.
  • Noble, Vicki. "From Priestess to Bride" in The Rule of Mars: Readings on the Origins, History and Impact of Patriarchy edited by Cristina Biaggi. Glastonbury, CT: Knowledge, Ideas and Trends, Inc., 2006.
  • Noble, Vicki. The Double Goddess: Women Sharing Power. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2003.
  • Ray, Reginald A. Indestructible Truth: The Living Spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2000.
  • Vaughan, Genevieve (ed.). Women and the Gift Economy: A Different Worldview is Possible. Toronto: Inanna Publications and Education, Inc. 2007.
  • White, David Gordon. The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Graphics Credits

  • "Menstruating Goddess," Kamakhya Temple, Guwahati, India, Photo © 2004 Laura Amazzone. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
  • Chimpuk clitoris, Photo © 2007 V. Noble. All rights reserved.
  • Vajrayogini, Samye Monastery, Tibet, Photo © 2007 V. Noble. All rights reserved.
  • detail: "Captured in motion," Photo © 2008 Susan Siren. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Copyright / Terms of Use: Contributors retain the copyright to their work; please do not take art or words without the author's or artist's permission. Other graphics and reference materials are used and attributed as per the Fair Use Provision of The Copyright Act and individual terms of use.


MatriFocus Cross-Quarterly
is a seasonal web journal (zine) for Goddess Women and others interested in Goddess Lore and Scholarship, Goddess Religion (ancient and contemporary), Feminist Spirituality, Women's Mysteries, Paganism and Neopaganism, Earth-based Religions, Witchcraft, Dianic Wicca and other Wiccan Traditions, the Priestess Path, Goddess Art, Women's Culture, Women's Health, Natural Healing, Mythology, Female Shamanism, Consciousness, Community, Cosmology, and Women's Creativity.

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