With her book, Traveller in Space: In Search
of Female Identity in Tibetan Buddhism, the Scottish philosopher of
religion, June Campbell, opened the floodgates for an honest and sound
debate about Tantric Buddhism. She worked as a translator for Tibetan
lamas, including Kalu Rinpoche, whose "secret sexual consort" she
became. Here we reproduce an article about her from the Independent.
The Independent - 10. February 1999 - Paul Vallely
I was a Tantric sex slave
For years June Campbell was
the`consort`of a senior Tibetan Buddhist monk. She was threatened with
death if she broke her vow of secrecy. But then enlightenment can be like
Feet of clay? No, it was a
different part of the anatomy - and of all too fleshly substance - which
caused the trouble. But, I suppose, you don`t expect Tantric sex to be a
straightforward activity. Then again, sex of any kind isn`t really what
you`re planning when you become a celibate nun.
It was, said June Campbell
as she began her lecture, only the second time she had been asked to give a
talk to a Buddhist group in this country since her book. Traveller in
Space came out three years ago. Small wonder. The topic of her talk was
"Dissent in Spiritual Communities", and you don`t get much more
potent types of dissent than hers. For she not only revealed that she had
for years been the secret sexual consort of one of the most holy monks in
Tibetan Buddhism - the tulku (re-incarnated lama), Kalu Rinpoche. She also
insisted that the abuse of power at the heart of the relationship exposed a
flaw at the very heart of Tibetan Buddhism.
This was heresy , indeed.
To outsiders, the Rinpoche was one of the most revered yogi-lamas in exile
As abbot of his own monastery, he had taken vows of celibacy and was
celebrated for having spent 14 years in solitary retreat. Among his
students were the highest ranking lamas in Tibet. "His own status,
was unquestioned in the Tibetan community", said Ms. Campbell,
"and his holiness attested to by all".
The inner circles of the
world of Tibetan Buddhism - for all ist spread in fashionable circles in
the West - is a closed and tight one. Her claims, though made in a
restrained way in the context of a deeply academic book subtitled -
"In Search of Female Identity in Tibetan Buddhism" - provoked
what she described as a primitive outpouring of rage and fury. "I was
reviled as a liar or a demon", she said during a public lecture last
week at the nonsectarian College for Buddhist Studies in Sharpham, Devon. "In that world he was a saintly figure.
It was like claiming that Mother Teresa was involved in making porn
But it was not fear of the
response which made her wait a full 18 years before publishing her
revelations in a volume entitled Traveller in Space - a translation
of dakini, the rather poetic Tibetan word for a woman used by a lama for
sex. It took her that long to get over the trauma of the experience.
"I spent 11 years without talking about it and then, when I had
decided to write about it, another seven years researching. I wanted to
weave together my personal experience with a more theoretical understanding
of the role of women in Tibetan society to help me make sense of what had happened
What happened was that , having become a Buddhist
in her native Scotland
in the hippie Sixties, she travelled to India where she became a nun.
She spent 10 years in a Tibetan monastery and penetrated more deeply than
any other Westerner into the faith`s esoteric hierarchy. Eventually she
became personal translator to the guru as, during the Seventies, he
travelled through Europe and America. It was after that, she
said, that "he requested that I become his sexual consort and take
part in secret activities with him".
Only one other person knew of the relationship - a
second monk - with whom she took part in what she described as a
polyandrous Tibetanstyle relationship. "It was some years before I
realised that the extent to which I had been taken advantage of constituted
a kind of abuse".
The practice of Tantric sex is more ancient than
Buddhism. The idea goes back to the ancient Hindus who believed that the
retention of semen during intercourse increased sexual pleasure and made
men live longer. The Tibetan Buddhists developed the belief that
enlightenment could be accelerated by the decision "to enlist the
passions in one`s religious practice, rather than to avoid them". The
stategy is considered extremely risky yet so efficacious that it could lead
to enligthenment in one lifetime.
Monks of a lower status confined themselves to
visualising an imaginary sexual relationship during meditation. But, her
book sets out, the "masters" reach a point where they decide that
they can engage in sex without being tainted by it. The instructions in the
so-called "secret" texts spell out the methods which enable the
man to control the flow of semen through yogic breath control and other
practices. The idea is to "drive the semen upwards, along the spine,
and into the head". The more semen in a man`s head, the stronger
intellectually and spiritually he is thought to be.
"The reverse of ordinary sex
expresses the relative status of the male and female within the
More than that, he is said to gain additional
strength from absorbing the woman`s sexual fluids at the same time as
withholding his own. This "reverse of ordinary sex", said June
Campbell, "expresses the relative status of the male and female within
the ritual, for it signals the power flowing from the woman to the
The imbalance is underscored by the insistence by
such guru-lamas that their sexual consorts must remain secret, allowing the
lamas to maintain control over the women. "Since the book was
published, I`ve had letters from women all over the world with similar and
So why did she stay for almost three years?
"Personal prestige. The women believe that they too are special and
holy. They are entering sacred space. It produces good karma for future
lives, an is a test of faith". The combination of religion, sex, power
and secrecy can have a potent effect. It creates the Catch 22 of
psychological blackmail set out in the words of another lama, Beru Kyhentze
Rinpoche: "If your guru acts in a seemingly unenlightened manner and
you feel it would be hypocritical to think him a Buddha, you should
remember that your own opinions are unreliable and the apparent faults you
see may only be a reflection of your own deluded state of mind...If your
guru acted in a completely perfect manner he would be inaccessible and you
would be able to relate to him. It is therefore out of your Guru`s great
compassion that he may show apparent flaws... He ist mirroring your own
The psychological pressure ist often increased by
making the woman swear vows of secrecy. In addition June Campbell was told
that "madness, trouble or even death" could follow if she did not
keep silent. "I was told that in a previous life the lama I was
involved with had had a mistress who caused him some trouble, and in order
to get rid of her he cast a spell which caused her illness later resulting
in her death.
There are those Buddhists, like Martine Batchelor
- who spent 10 years as a Zen Buddhist nun in a Korean monastery and who
now teaches at Scharpham
College - who insist
the religious techniques the Buddha taught can be separated from the
sexist, patriarchal and oppressive culture of many Buddhist countries. But
June Campbell is not convinced. "You have to ask what is the
relationship between belief and how a society structures itself," she
said. In Tibetanism, power lies in the hands of men who had often been
traumatised by being removed from their mother at the age of two and taken
to an all male monastery. "Some were allowed visits from their mothers
and sisters but always in secrecy - so that they came to associate women
with what must be hidden".
But there is more to it, she believes than that.
Teaching at Sharpham last week she gave the students a whole range of
material about different kind of feminism - from the political to the
psychotherapeutic. She then asked them how it relates to the fact that
there are no female Buddha images or to why in Tantric sex images the woman
always has her back to the viewer, or to why Buddhist women are told to
pray that they will be reborn into a male body in their next life -for only
in a man`s body can they attain full enlightenment.
"Once I started
unravelling my experiences, I began to question everything," she said.
That meant not just the actions of a particular guru But the very idea of
the guru. She began to wonder whether the Tantra was just a fantasy, and
whether there is really any difference between Tantric sex and ordinary
sex. She questioned the very concept of enlightenment itself and the
practice of meditation. "I realised that in order to be myself I had
to leave it all - completely an utterly."