The Shadow of the Dalai Lama – Part II – 2. The Dalai Lama (Avalokiteshvara) and the Demoness (Srinmo)

© Victor & Victoria Trimondi







History as understood in the Kalachakra Tantra is apocalyptic salvational history, it is — as we have said — an alchemic experiment aimed at producing an ADI BUDDHA. The protagonists in this drama are no mere mortals but gods. History and myth thus form a union. If we take the philosophy of Vajrayana literally then all the events of the tantric performance ought to be able to be found again in the history of Tibet. The latter should therefore be interpreted as the expression of a sexual dynamic. Before we ourselves begin to search for symbolic connections and mythic fields behind the practical political facts of Tibetan history, we should ask ourselves whether the Tibetans have not of their own accord conducted such a sex specific and sexual magic interpretation of their historical experiences.


We know that the rules of the game demand two principal actors in every tantric performance, a man and a woman, or, respectively, a god and a goddess. In any case the piece is divided into three acts:


1. The sexual magic union of god and goddess

2. The subsequent “tantric female sacrifice”

3. The production of the cosmic androgyne (ADI BUDDHA)


Let us turn our attention, then, to the individual scenes through which this cosmic theater unfolds on the “Roof of the World”. Here, the country’s myths of origin are of decisive significance, then they provide the archetypal framework from which, in an ancient conception of history, all later events may be derived.


The bondage of the earth goddess Srinmo and the history of the origin of Tibet

The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is considered the progenitor of the Tibetans, he thus determines events from the very beginning. In the period before there were humans on earth, the Buddha being was embodied in a monkey and passed the time in deep meditation on the “Roof of the World”. There, as if from nowhere, a rock demoness by the name of Srinmo appeared. The hideous figure was a descendent of the Srin clan, a bloodthirsty community of nature goddesses. “Spurred on by horniness” — as one text puts it — she too assumed the form of a (female) monkey and tried over seven days to seduce Avalokiteshvara. But the divine Bodhisattva monkey withstood all temptations and remained untouched and chaste. As he continued to refuse on the eighth day, Srinmo threatened him with the following words: “King of the monkeys, listen to me and what I am thinking. Through the power of love, I very much love you. Through this power of love I woo you, and confess: If you will not be my spouse, I shall become the rock demon’s companion. If countless young rock demons then arise, every morning they will take thousands upon thousands of lives. The region of the Land of Snows itself will take on the nature of the rock demons. All other forms of life will then be consumed by the rock demons. If I myself then die as a consequence of my deed, these living beings will be plunged into hell. Think of me then, and have pity” (Hermanns, 1956, p. 32). With this she hit the bullseye. “Sexual intercourse out of compassion and for the benefit of all suffering beings” was — as we already know — a widespread “ethical” practice in Mahayana Buddhism. Despite this precept, the monkey first turned to his emanation father, Amitabha, and asked him for advice. The “god of light from the West” answered him with wise foresight: “Take the rock demoness as your consort. Your children and grandchildren will multiply. When they have finally become humans, they will be a support to the teaching” (Hermanns, 1956, p. 32).


Nevertheless, this Buddhist evolutionary account, reminiscent of Charles Darwin, did not just arise from the compassionate gesture of a divine monkey; rather, it also contains a widely spread, elitist value judgement by the clergy, which lets the Tibetans and their country be depicted as uncivilized, underdeveloped and animal-like, at least as far as the negative influence of their primordial mother is concerned. “From their father they are hardworking, kind, and attracted to religious activity; from their mother they are quick-tempered, passionate, prone to jealousy and fond of play and meat”, an old text says of the inhabitants of the Land of Snows (Samuel, 1993, p. 222).


Two forces thus stand opposed to one another, right from the Tibetan genesis: the disciplined, restrained, culturally creative, spiritual world of the monks in the form of Avalokiteshvara and the wild, destructive energy of the feminine in the figure of Srinmo.


In a further myth, non-Buddhist Tibet itself appears as the embodiment of Srinmo (Janet Gyatso, 1989, p. 44). The local demoness is said to have resisted the introduction of the true teaching by the Buddhist missionaries from India with all means at her disposal, with weaponry and with magic, until she was ultimately defeated by the great king of law, Songtsen Gampo (617-650), an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara (and thus of the current Dalai Lama). “The lake in the Milk plane,” writes the Tibet researcher Rolf A. Stein, “where the first Buddhist king built his temple (the Jokhang), represented the heart of the demoness, who lay upon her back. The demoness is Tibet itself, which must first be tamed before she can be inhabited and civilized. Her body still covers the full extent of Tibet in the period of its greatest military expansion (eighth to ninth century C.E.). Her spread-eagled limbs reached to the limits of Tibetan settlement ... In order to keep the limbs of the defeated demoness under control, twelve nails of immobility were hammered into her” (Stein, 1993, p.34). A Buddhist temple was raised at the location of each of these twelve nailings.


Mysterious stories circulate among the Tibetans which tell of a lake of blood under the Jokhang, which is supposed to consist of Srinmo’s heart blood. Anyone who lays his ear to the ground in the cathedral, the sacred center of the Land of Snows, can still — many claim — hear her faint heartbeat. A comparison of this unfortunate female fate with the subjugation of the Greek dragon, Python, at Delphi immediately suggests itself. Apollo, the god of light (Avalokiteshvara), let the earth-monster, Python (Srinmo), live once he had defeated it so that it would prophesy for him, and built over the mistreated body at Delphi the most famous oracle temple in Greece.


The earth demoness is nailed down with phurbas. These are ritual daggers with a three-sided blade and a vajra handle. We know these already from the Kalachakra ritual, where they are likewise employed to fixate the earth spirits and the earth mother. The authors who have examined the symbolic significance of the magic weapon are unanimous in their assessment of the aggressive phallic symbolism of the phurba.


In their view, Srinmo represents an archetypal variant of the Mother Earth figure known from all cultures, whom the Greeks called Gaia (Gaea). As nature and as woman she stands in stark contrast to the purely spiritual world of Tantric Buddhism. The forces of wilderness, which rebel against androcentric civilization, are bundled within her. She forms the feminine shadow world in opposition to the masculine paradise of light of the shining Amitabha and his radiant emanation son, Avalokiteshvara. Srinmo symbolizes the (historical) prima materia, the matrix, the primordial earthly substance which is needed in order to construct a tantric monastic empire, then she provides the gynergy, the feminine élan vitale, with which the Land of Snows pulsates. As the vanquisher of the earth goddess, Avalokiteshvara triumphs in the form of King Songtsen Gampo, that is, the same Bodhisattva who, as a monkey, earlier engendered with Srinmo the Tibetans in myth, and who shall later exercise absolute dominion from the “Roof of the World” as Dalai Lama.


Tibet’s sacred center, the Jokhang (the cathedral of Lhasa), the royal chronicles inform us, thus stands over the pierced heart of a woman, the earth mother Srinmo. This act of nailing down is repeated at the construction of every Lamaist shrine, whether temple or monastery and regardless of where the establishment takes place — in Tibet, India, or the West. Then before the first foundation stone for the new building is laid, the tantric priests occupy the chosen location and execute the ritual piercing of the earth mother with their phurbas. Tibet’s holy geography is thus erected upon the maltreated bodies of mythic women, just as the tantric shrines of India (the shakta pithas) are found on the places where the dismembered body of the goddess Sati fell to earth.


Srinmo with different Tibetan temples upon her body


In contrast to her Babylonian sister, Tiamat, who was cut to pieces by her great-grandchild, Marduk, so that outer space was formed by her limbs, Srinmo remains alive following her subjugation and nailing down. According to the tantric scheme, her gynergy flows as a constant source of life for the Buddhocratic system. She thus vegetates — half dead, half alive — over centuries in the service of the patriarchal clergy. An interpretation of this process according to the criteria of the gaia thesis often discussed in recent years would certainly be most revealing. (We return to this point in our analysis of the ecological program of the Tibetans in exile.) According to this thesis, the mistreated “Mother Earth” (Gaia is the popular name for the Greek earth mother) has been exploited by humanity (and the gods?) for millennia and is bleeding to death. But Srinmo is not just a reservoir of inexhaustible energy. She is also the absolute Other, the foreign, and the great danger which threatens the Buddhocratic state. Srinmo is — as we still have to prove — the mythic “inner enemy” of Tibetan Lamaism, while the external mythic enemy is likewise represented by a woman, the Chinese goddess Guanyin.


Srinmo survived — even if it was under the most horrible circumstances, yet the Tibetans also have a myth of dismemberment which repeats the Babylonian tragedy of Tiamat. Like many peoples they worship the tortoise as a symbol of Mother Earth. A Tibetan myth tells of how in the mists of time the Bodhisattva Manjushri sacrificed such a creature “for the benefit of all beings”. In order to form a solid foundation for the world he fired an arrow off at the tortoise which struck it in the right-hand side. The wounded animal spat fire, its blood poured out, and it passed excrement. It thus multiplied the elements of the new world. Albert Grünwedel presents this myth as evidence for the “tantric female sacrifice” in the Kalachakra ritual: “The tortoise which Manjushri shot through with a long arrow ... [is] just another form of the world woman whose inner organs are depicted by the dasakaro vasi figure [the Power of Ten]" (Grünwedel, 1924, vol. II, p. 92).


The relation of Tibetan Buddhism to the goddess of the earth or of the country (Tibet) is also one of brutal subjugation, an imprisonment, an enslavement, a murder or a dismemberment. Euphemistically, and in ignorance of the tantric scheme of things it could also be interpreted as a civilizing of the wilderness through culture. Yet however the relation is perceived — no meeting, no exchange, no mutual recognition of the two forces takes place. In the depths of Tibet’s history — as we shall show — a brutal battle of the sexes is played out.


Why women can’t climb the pure crystal mountain

Even the landscape is sexualized in Tibetan folk beliefs (this too squares with the ideas of Tantrism). In mountain lakes, the water of which has taken on a red color (probably because of mercury), the lamas see the menstrual blood of the goddess Vajravarahi. In rivers, lakes, and springs dwell the Lu, who resemble our nixies. They are hostile towards we humans, yet they were nonetheless preferred as spouses by the kings of the highlands in ancient times and brought their magic abilities with them in the marriage. We learn from the Fifth Dalai Lama that they leave no corpse behind when they die.


The myths have also divided the massive snow capped peaks along sexual lines. It was hence not uncommon for particular mountains to marry and the descendants of such alliances are supposed to have grounded powerful royal houses. One of  the mountain goddesses is world famous, because it rises above the other peaks of the planet as the highest mountain of all. We know her under the name of Mount Everest, the Himalayan peoples, however, pray to her as the “Mother of the Earth”, the “White Heavens Goddess”, the “White Glacier Lady”, the “Goddess of the Winds”, the “Lady of Long Life”, the “Elephant Goddess”.


In his study with the descriptive title of Why can’t women climb pure crystal mountain?, the Tibet researcher Toni Huber describes an interesting mythic case where a mountain goddess was deprived of her power by a tantric Siddha and since then the location of her former rule may no longer be visited by women. The case concerns the Tsari, a mountain which was the seat of a powerful female deity in pre-Buddhist times. She was defeated by a yogi in the twelfth century. The brutal battle between her and the vajra master displays clear traits of a tantric performance. As the yogi entered the region under her control, the goddess let a series of vaginas appear by magical manipulation so as to seduce her challenger, yet the latter succeeded in warding off the magic through a brutal act of subjugation. As she then, lying on the ground, showed herself willing to sleep with her conqueror, she was at first rejected on the grounds that she was of the female sex (!). But after a while the yogi accepted her as a wisdom consort and took away all her magic powers once they had united sexually (Huber, 1994, p. 352).


From this point in time on, Tsari, which was among the most holy mountains of the highlands, became taboo for women, both for Buddhist nuns and for laity. This ban has remained in force until modern times. Groups of pilgrims who visited the mountain in the eighties sent their women back in advance. Toni Huber questioned several lamas about he significance of this misogynist custom. The majority of answers made reference to the “purity of the location” which in the view of the monks formed a geographic mandala: “Because it is such a pure abode, .... women are not allowed. ... The only reason is that women are of inferior birth and impure. There are many powerful mandalas on the mountain that are divine and pure, and women are polluting” (Huber, 1994, p. 356).


But there was also another justification for the exclusion of the female pilgrims which likewise shows how and with what presumption the androcentric power elite of the land seize possession of the formerly feminine geography: “The reason why women can't go up there is that at Tsari are lots of small, self-produced manifestations of the Buddha genitals made of stone. If you look at them they just appear ordinary, but they are actually miraculous phalluses of the Buddha, so if women go there these miracles would become spoiled by their presence, and the women would get many problems also. They would get sick and perhaps die prematurely. It is generally harmful for their health so that is why they stopped women going to the holy place in the past, for their own benefit. The problem is that women are low and dirty, thus they are too impure to go there” (Huber, 1994, p. 357). It is no wonder that in feminist circles the future climbing of Tsari by a woman and its “re-conquest” has become a symbol for female resistance against patriarchal Lamaism.


Matriarchy in the Land of Snows?

Siegbert Hummel sees remnants of a long lost maternal cult in the Tibetan female mountain deities and their attributes. These could have already reached India and the Tibetan plateau from Mediterranean regions in the late stone age (from 4000 B.C.E.). It is a matter of one of the two contrary cultural currents, which may have embedded themselves deeply in the Tibetan popular psyche thousands of years ago: “The first is lunar in character and could be connected with the Tibetan megalithic. ... Its world view is triadic, exhibits chthonic, demonic and phallicist tendencies, snake and tree cults, as well as the worship of maternal deities ... The other component is markedly solar, dualist and heaven-related, primarily nomadic. Shamanist elements, probably from an earlier solar, hunting basis, are numerous” (Hummel, 1954, p. 128).


In that he nominates the sexual discord which has kept the civilizations of the Land of Snows in suspense since the earliest times, Hummel speaks here with the vocabulary of Tantrism, probably without knowing it. In his view then, the two heavenly orbs of moon and sun already stood opposed as two polar, culture-shaping forces in pre-Buddhist Tibet. Following the solar Bon cult Tantric Buddhism has taken over the sunly role since the eighth century. In contrast, the moon cults have been — the myth of the nailing down of Srinmo teaches us — overthrown by the sun warriors.


According to Hummel the lunar and solar cultural currents are graphically demonstrated in the very popular garuda motif in Tibetan art. The garuda is a mythical sun-bird. Not infrequently it holds in its beak a snake, which must be assigned to the lunar, matriarchal world. There was thus a fundamental clash between the two cultures: “Since the garuda is thereby understood as an enemy of the snakes, it seems natural to suspect that there where the snake-killing garuda arose, the lunar and solar cultures encountered and opposed one another as enemies” Hummel writes (Hummel, 1954, p. 101).


There are in fact numerous historically demonstrable matriarchal elements in the old Tibetan culture. In this connection there are the still unexplained and mysterious stone circles which have been brought into connection with matriarchal cults and were already discovered by Sven Hedin on his research trips. In contrast, numerous prehistoric shrines found in caves offer us less ambiguous information. It has been clearly proven that female deities were worshipped at these chthonic sites. In this century such caves were still considered as birth channels and a visit to them was seen as an initiation and hence as a rebirth (Stein, 1988, pp. 2-4).


A further secret concerns the mythic female kingdoms which are supposed to have existed in Tibet — one in the West, another in the East, and the third in the North of the Land of Snows. The in part detailed reports about these stem from Chinese sources and may be traced back to the seventh century C.E. We learn that these realms, depicted as being very powerful, were ruled by queens who had command over a tribal council of women (Chayet, 1993, p. 51). When they died several members of court voluntarily joined the female rulers in death. The female nobles had male servants, and women were the head of the family. A child inherited its mother’s name.


On one of his first expeditions to Tibet, Ernst Schäfer encountered a matriarchal tribe who distinguished themselves through their cruelty. In his book, Unter Räubern in Tibet [Among Robbers in Tibet], he reports: “As we learn in Dju-Gompa, primitive matriarchy is still practiced by the wild Ngoloks. A great queen, Adjung de Jogo by name, reigns autocratically over the six main tribes that are governed by princes. As the reincarnation of a heavenly being she enjoys divine honors and at the same time is the spouse of all her tribal princes on earth. She rules with a strong hand, is pretty and clever, possesses a bodyguard of seven thousand warriors, and handles a gun like a man. Once a year Adjung de Jogo proceeds up the God-mountain with her seven thousand men in a grand procession in order to meditate in the glacial isolation before she returns to the black tents of her mobile residence.


It is not just about the intrepid courage of the Ngoloks but also their cruelty that people tell the most terrible stories. Of all the Tibetan tribes they are supposed to have figured out the most ingenious ways of despatching their victims off to join their ancestors. Chopping off hands and splitting skulls are minor things; they can be left to the others! But sewing [people] up in fresh yak skins and letting them roast in the sun — disemboweling while alive, or launching the entrails skywards on bent rods, these are the methods that are loved in Ngolokland.


At nearly all times of the year, but especially in early fall when the marshes are dried out and the animals are best nourished, the Ngoloks undertake their large-scale plundering raids to as far as Barum-Tsaidam in the north, Sungpan in the south, and Dju-Gompa in the West. Even for Chinese merchants they are the epitome of all the terrible things that are said of the “Western barbarian country” in the Middle Kingdom. (Schäfer, 1952, pp. 164-165)


In the nineteen fifties, to the south of Bhutan a matriarchally organized tribe by the name of “Garo” still existed, the members of which were convinced that they had emigrated from a province in Tibet in prehistoric times (Bertrand, 1957, p. 41). We may also recall that in the Shambhala travel books of the Third Panchen Lama there is talk of regions in which only women live.


It would certainly be somewhat hasty to conclude the existence of a matriarchy across the whole Himalayas solely on the basis of the material at hand. But at any rate, the male imagination has for centuries painted the inaccessible highlands as a region under the control of female tribes and their queens.


The western imagination

As early as the thirteenth century the myth of the Tibetan female kingdoms had reached Europe. Speculation about this have had a hold upon western travelers up until the present day. Likewise noteworthy is the frequent allegorical connection of Tibet to something enigmatically feminine, that is, a western imagining which is congruent with the traditional Tibetan conception. Since the nineteenth century European researchers, mountain climbers, and followers of the esoteric have enthused about the Land of Snows as if it were a woman who ought to be conquered, whose veil should be lifted, and into whose secrets one wished to “penetrate”. The Tibet researcher, Peter Bishop, has devoted a detailed study to this occidental fantasy (Bishop, 1993, p. 36).


Probably the most absurd depiction of a western encounter with the “Great Mother Tibet” can be found in the travel report of the Englishman, Harrison Forman, from the nineteen thirties. To offer the reader some amusement, but above all to show how strongly the culture of the Land of Snows can over-stimulate the masculine fantasy of a westerner, we would like to present one of Forman’s lively recounted experiences in detail.


The Briton had heard of the Abbess Alakh Gong Rri Tsang (Krisang), a living “female Buddha” who aroused his curiosity immensely. He visited her convent and was given a most friendly reception. During a tour he asked about a mysterious grotto, the entrance to which could be seen on a mountainside. The Abbess gave him a sharp look and announced she was prepared to show him the “shrine”. In that moment Forman felt a painful bout of nausea, but was nonetheless prepared to follow. Thus, after a difficult climb, they both — he and the Abbess — reached the grotto. Alakh Gong Krisang lit two torches and they entered the cave. They were met by a thick darkness, a musty smell, and dancing shadows. Squeaking bats fluttered through the stale air. The ghastly ambience made the Briton nervous and he asked himself, “A thought struck me. Good Lord! Just what was this woman Living Buddha? Reason struggled with emotion. This was Tibet, where millions believed in ever present evil spirits and their capriciousness” (Forman, 1936, p. 179).


Without looking back, and with a firm footstep, the Abbess proceeded further into the grotto. „Do not be afraid, my friend!”, she calmed Forman. They progressed deeper and deeper through passages filled with stalactites and stalagmites. Then they came to a space in the center of which four pyramids of human bones rose up, with a golden statue in the middle of them. The Abbess smiled as if in a “hysterical ecstasy”, writes Forman. Immobile, she stared at the golden sculpture.


Alakh Gong Rri Tsang, the woman Grand Buddha of Drukh Kurr Gomba


And now we should let the author speak for himself: „And as I watched her, my jaw dropped. I stared as she began to disrobe. A shrug of the shoulders her and her long toga slipped to the floor. Then she loosened the silken girdle at her waist and let drop the voluminous skirt-like garment. Her other garments followed, one by one, until they formed a red pile at her feet. And I saw, what I am sure no white man ever saw before me, or ever will see again, the nude body of Alakh Gong Rri Tsang, the woman Grand Buddha of Drukh Kurr Gomba. Her body was amazingly voluptuous, and, I suppose, beautiful. Her breasts stood like those of a schoolgirl, firm and round – like hemispheres of pure alabaster. Her figure was magnificent and of sinuously generous proportions. I was minded of the substantial nudes of Michelangelo and his school. And amid the ever-encircling bats she stood there – still gazing ecstatically upward” (Forman, 1936, p. 183). If we examine the photo which Forman took of the Abbess in the convent and in which she is not to be distinguished from a portly male Abbot, one is indeed most amazed at just what is supposed to be hidden beneath the clothes of the Living Buddha.


But there is better to come: „The bats had suddenly settled on her - like vultures to a feast. In a moment she was covered from head to foot. Like lustful vampires they sank their horrible libidinous beaks into her flesh and the blood began to flow from a hundred wounds” (Forman, 1936, pp. 183, 184). Forman turned to stone, but then — even in the most hopeless of situations a gentleman — he came to his senses, and began to shoot madly at the bloodsuckers with his revolver. He emptied more than seven magazines before the Abbess, to his great astonishment asked him with a smile to calm down. With a majestic gesture she reanimated the bats which he had killed. There was not the slightest trace of a wound to be seen on her body any more. „And in that moment”, Forman reports further, „had she been the loveliest woman in all the world [...] Nothing remained of the grisly scene of a few moments before to prove t me that it had ever happened at all, save the nude woman and the solid golden idol with its four guardian pyramids of human bones. Somewhere off in the blackness I could still hear faintly the obscene screaming of the hordes of bats” (Forman, 1936, p. 185). As they left the grotto, Forman commented upon the incident — typically British — with the lapidary words: „It must bee the altitude!” (Forman, 1936, p. 186).


As absurd as this story may seem, it nonetheless quite exactly hits the visual world which dominates the tantric milieu, and it in no way exaggerates the often still more fantastic reports which we know from the lives of famous yogis.


Women in former Tibetan society

How then is the fate of Srinmo expressed in Tibetan society? We would like to present the social role of women in old Tibet in a very condensed manner, without considering events since the Chinese occupation or the situation among the Tibetans in exile here. Their role was very specific  and can best be outlined by saying that, precisely because of her inferiority the Tibetan woman enjoyed a certain amount of freedom. Fundamentally women were considered inferior creatures. Appropriately, the Tibetan word for woman can be literally translated as “lowly born”. Man, in contrast, means “being of higher birth” (Herrmann-Pfand, 1992, p. 76). A prayer found widely among the women of Tibet pleads, “may I reject a feminine body and be reborn [in] a male one” (Grunfeld, 1996, p. 19). The birth of a girl brought bad luck, that of a son promised happiness and prosperity.


The institution of marriage itself is definitely not one of the Buddhist virtues – the historical Buddha himself traded married life for the rough life of a pilgrim. To be blessed with children was, because of the curse which rebirth brought with it, something of a burden. Shakyamuni thus fled his father’s palace directly following the birth of his son, Rahula. With unmistakable and decisive words, Padmasambhava also expressed this anti-family sentiment: „When practicing the Dharma of liberation, to be married and lead a family life is like being restraint in tight chains with no freedom. You may wish to flee, but you have been caught in the dungeon of samsara with no escape. You may later regret it, but you have sunk into the mire of emotions, with no getting out. If you have children, they may be lovely but they are the stake that ties you to samsara” (Binder-Schmidt, 1994, p. 131).


According to the dominant teaching, women could not achieve enlightenment, and were thus considered underdeveloped. A reincarnation as a female being was regarded as a punishment. The consequence of all these weaknesses, inabilities and inferiorities was that the patriarchal monastic society paid little attention to the lives of women. They were left, so to speak, to do what they wanted. Family life was also not subject to strict rules. Marriages were solemnized without many formalities and could be dissolved by mutual consent without consulting an official institution. This disinterest of the clergy led, as we said, to a certain independence among the women of Tibet, often exaggerated by sensation-hungry western travelers. Extramarital relationships were common, especially with servants. A wife nevertheless had to remain faithful, otherwise the husband had the right to cut off her nose. Of course such privileges did not exist in the reverse situation.


The much talked about polyandry, discussed with fascination by western ethnologists, was also less of an emancipatory phenomenon than an economical necessity. A wife served two men because this spared the money for a further woman. Naturally, twice the work was expected of her. Male members of the upper strata tended in contrast toward polygyny and maintained several wives. This became quite a status symbol and having more than one wife was consequently forbidden for the lower classes. In the absence of cash, a husband could pay his debts by letting his creditors take his wife. We know of no cases of the reverse.


A liberal attitude towards women on behalf of the clergy arises out of Tantrism. Since the lamas were generally viewed to be higher entities, women and girls never resisted the wishes of the embodied deities. The Austrian, Heinrich Harrer, was amazed at the sexual freedom found in the monasteries. Likewise, the Japanese monk, Kawaguchi Eikai, wondered on his journey through Tibet about „the great beauty possessed by the young consorts of aged abbots” (quoted by Stevens, 1990, p. 80). A proportion of the female tantric partners may have earned a living as prostitutes after they had finished serving as mudras. There were many of these in the towns, and hence a saying arose according to which as many whores filled the streets of Lhasa as dogs.


But there was a married priesthood in Tibet. For members of a monastery the relaxation of the oath of celibacy was nonetheless considered an exception. These married lamas and their women primarily performed “pastoral” work in the villages. As far as we can determine, in such cases the wife was only very rarely the tantric wisdom consort of her husband. In the Sakyapa sect the great abbots were married and had children. A proper dynasty grew up out of their families. We know of precisely these powerful hierarchs that they made use not of their wives but rather of virgin girls (kumaris) for their rites.


The “freedom” of the Tibetan women was null and void as soon as sacred boundaries were crossed — for example the gates of the monastery, which remained closed to them. Only during the great annual festivals were they sometimes invited, but they were never permitted to participate actively in the performances. In the official mystery plays the roles of goddesses or dakinis were exclusively performed by men. Even the poultry which clucked around in the Dalai Lama’s gardens consisted solely of roosters, since hens would have corrupted the holy grounds with their feminine radiation. A woman was never allowed to touch the possessions of a lama.


The Tibetan nuns do admittedly take part in certain rites, but have in all much more circumscribed lives than those of lay women. Did not the historical Buddha himself say that they stood in the way of the development of the teaching, and long hesitate before ordaining women? He was convinced that the “daughters of Mara” would accelerate the downfall of Buddhism, even if they let their heads be shaved. Still today the rules prescribe that a nun owes the lowliest monk the greatest respect, whilst the reverse does not apply in any sense . Rather than being praised for her pious decision to lead a life in a convent, she is abused for being incapable of building up an orderly family life. Despite all these degradations, to which there have been no essential changes up to the present, the nuns have , without concern for life and limb, stood at the head of the emergent protest movement in Tibet since 1987.


The alchemic division of the feminine: The Tibetan goddesses Palden Lhamo and Tara

In our explanation of Buddhist Tantrism we repeatedly mentioned the division of the feminine into a gloomy, repellant, and aggressive aspect and a bright, attractive, and mild one. The terrifying and cruel dakini is counterpointed by the sweet and blessing-giving “sky walker”. Femininity vacillates between these two extremes (the Madonna and the whore) and can be kept under control because of this inner turmoil. In the same context, we drew attention to parallels to Indian and European alchemy, where the dark part is described as the prima materia and the bright as the feminine elixir (gynergy) yearned for by the adept. Does such a splitting of the feminine also find expression in the mythical history of the Land of Snows?


Palden Lhamo — The Dalai Lama’s protective goddess

A monumental dark and wrathful mother par excellence is Palden Lhamo, who, like her “sister” Srinmo, was a wild, free matriarch in pre-Buddhist times, but then, brought under control by a vajra master, began to serve the “true doctrine” — but in contrast to Srinmo she does so actively. She is the protective deity of the Dalai Lama, the whole country, and its capital, Lhasa. This grants her an exceptionally high position in the Tibetan pantheon. The Fifth Dalai Lama was one of her greatest worshippers, the goddess is supposed to have appeared to him several times in person; she was his political advisor and confidante (Karmay, 1988, p. 35). One of her many names, which evoke both her martial and her tantric character, is „Great Warrior Deity, the Powerful Mother of the World of the Joys of the Senses” (Richardson, 1993, p. 87). After the “Great Fifth” had repeatedly recited her mantra for a while, he dreamt “that the ghost spirits in China [were] being subdued” (Karmay, 1988, p. 35). Since then she has been considered to be one of the chief enemies of Beijing.


In examining a portrait of her, one becomes convinced that Palden Lhamo would be among the most repulsive figures in a worldwide gallery of demons. With gnashing teeth, bulging eyes and a filthy blue body, she rides upon a wild mule. Beneath its hooves spreads a sea of blood which has flowed from the veins of her slaughtered enemies. Severed arms, heads, legs, eyes and entrails float around in it. The mule’s saddle is made from the leather of a skinned human. That would be repulsive enough! But the horror overcomes one when one discovers that it is the skin of her own (!) son, who was killed by the goddess when he refused to follow her example and adopt the Buddhist faith. In her right hand Palden Lhamo swings a club in the form of a child’s skeleton. Some interpreters of this scene claim that this is also the remains of her son. With her left hand the fiendess holds a skull bowl filled with human blood to her lips. Poisonous snakes are entwined all around her. [1]


Like the Indian goddess, Kali,  she appears with a loud retinue. One can encounter her of a night on charnel fields together with her noisy flock. Just what unbridled aggression this army of female ghosts kindled in the imaginations of the monks is best shown by a poem which the lamas of the Drepung monastery sing in honor of their protective lady, Dorje Dragmogyel, who is one of Palden Lhamo’s horde:


You glorious Dorje Dragmogyel ...

When you are angry at your enemies,

Then you ride upon a fiery ball of lightning.

A cloud of flames — like that at the end of all time -

Pours from your mouth,

Smoke streams from your nose,

Pillars of fire follow you.

Hurriedly you collect clouds from the firmament,

The rumble of thunder pierces

through the ten regions of the world.

A dreadful rain of meteors

and huge hailstones hurtles down,

And the Earth is flooded in fire and water.

Devilish birds and owls whir around,

Black birds with yellow beaks float past,

one after another.

The circle of Mnemo goddesses spins,

The war hordes of the demons throng

And the steeds of the tsen spirits race galloping away.

When you are happy,

then the ocean beats against the sky.

If rage fills you, then the sun and moon fall,

If you laugh, the world mountain collapses into dust ....

You and your companions

Defeat all who would harm the Buddhist teaching,

And who try to disrupt the life of the monastic community.

Wound all those of evil intent,

And especially protect our monastery,

this holy place ....

You should not wait years and months,

drink now the warm heart’s blood of the enemies,

and exterminate them in the blink of an eye.

(Nebesky-Wojkowitz, 1955, 34)


In our presentation of the tantric ritual we showed how the terror goddesses or dakinis, whatever form they may assume, must be brought under control by the yogi. Once subjugated, they serve the patriarchal monastic state as the destroyers of enemies. Hence, to repeat, the vajra master is — when he encounters the dark mother — not interested in transforming her aggression, but rather much more in setting her to work as a deadly weapon against attackers and non-Buddhists. In the final instance, however — the tantras teach us- the feminine has no independent existence, even when appears in its wrathful form. In this respect Palden Lhamo is nothing more than one of the many masks of Avalokiteshvara, or — hence -of the Dalai Lama himself.


We know of an astonishing parallel to this from the kingdom of the pharaohs. The ancient Egyptians personified the wrath of the male king as a female figure. This was known as Sachmet, the flaming goddess of justice with the face of a lioness (Assmann, 1991, p. 89). Since the rulers were also obliged to reign with leniency as well as justly wrath, Sachmet had a softer sister, the cat goddess Bastet. This goddess was also a characteristic of the king pictured in female form. Correspondingly, in Tibetan Buddhism the mild sister of the Palden Lhamo is the divine Tara.


Even if the dreadful demoness is in the final instance an imagining of the Dalai, this does not mean that this projection cannot become independent and one day tear herself free of him, assume her own independent form and then hit back at her hated “projection father” as an enemy. Such radical “emancipations” of Tibetan protective deities are not at all rare and the collected histories of Tibet are full of reports, where submissive servants of the lamas free themselves and attempt to revolt against their lords. Right now, the Tibetan exile community is being deeply shaken by such a rebellious protective spirit by the name of Dorje Shugden, who has at any rate managed to disfigure the until now completely pure image of the Kundun in the West with some most persistent stains. We shall return to report on this often. From Shugden circles also comes the suspicion that Palden Lhamo has failed completely as the spiritual protector of Tibet, Lhasa, and the Dalai Lama, and has delivered the country into the hands of the Chinese occupiers. Whatever opinion one may have of such speculations, the extreme aggression of the demoness and the practical political facts do not exclude such a view of the matter.


In the life story of Palden Lhamo her relationship to her son is particularly cruel and numinous. Why a woman who is revered as the supreme protective spirit of Tibet and the Dalai Lama must be the slaughterer of her own child, may seem monstrous even to one who has become accustomed to the atrocities of the tantras. If we interpret the case psychologically we must ask ourselves the following questions: As a mother, is Palden Lhamo not driven by constant horror? Is her bottomless hate not the expression of her abominable deed? Must she not in her heart be the arch-enemy of Buddhism, the cause of her infanticide?


Is this repellant cult even more murderous than it already appears? Is the goddess perhaps offered sacrifices which simultaneously appease and captivate her? Since the demoness had to slaughter the utmost which a mother can give, namely her child, for Tibetan Buddhism, the sacrifice which is to fill her with satisfaction must also be the highest which Lamaism has to offer.


In fact, the early deaths of the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Dalai Lama give rise to the question of whether a deliberately initiated sacrificial offering to Palden Lhamo could be involved here? All four god-kings died at an age before they were able to take over the business of government. In each case, the regents who were exercising real power until the new Dalai Lamas came of age were suspected with good reason of being the murderer. In the Tibet of old poisonings were a regular occurrence. There is even said to have been a morbid belief that whoever poisoned a highly respected man would obtain all the happiness and privileges of his victim.


These are the historical facts. But there is a mysterious event to be found in the brief biographies of the four unhappy “god-kings” which could lend their fate a deeper, symbolic meaning. We mean the visit to a temple about a hundred miles southeast of Lhasa which was dedicated to one of the emanations of Palden Lhamo. We must imagine such shrines (gokhangs), dedicated to the wrathful deities, to be a real cabinet of horrors. Stuffed full of real and magic weapons, padded out by all manner of dried human body parts, they aroused absolute repugnance among visitors from the West.


In order to test the psychological hardiness of the young Kunduns, at least once in their lives the children were locked in the morbid temple mentioned and probably exposed to the most terrible performances of the goddess. “Young as they were, they had insufficient knowledge to persuade her to turn away the wrath, which came so easily to her, and, accordingly, they died soon after the meeting”, Charles Bell wrote of this cruel rite of initiation (Bell, 1994, p. 159). Whatever may have taken place within this gokhang, the children emerged from this hell completely disturbed and were all four close to madness.


The lot of the young Twelfth was particularly tragic. His chamberlain, one of his few intimates, was caught thieving from the Potala on a large scale. He fled upon discovery of the deed, was caught up with, and killed. The body was strapped astride a horse as if it were alive. The dead man was thus led before the young Kundun. Before the eyes of the fifteen year old, the head, hands and feet of the wrongdoer were struck off and the trunk was tossed into a field. The god-king was so horrified by the spectacle of the body of his “best friend” that he no longer wanted to see anyone at all any more and sought refuge in speechlessness. Nevertheless, the visit to the horrifying temple of Palden Lhamo was still expected of him afterwards. In contrast the “Great Thirteenth” did not visit the shrine of the demoness before he was 25 years old and came away unscathed. Even the Chinese were amazed at this. We do not know if the Fourteenth Dalai Lama has ever set foot in the shrine.


If one pursues a Tibetan/tantric logic, it naturally makes sense to interpret the premature deaths of the four Dalai Lamas as sacrifices to Palden Lhamo, since according to tradition it is necessary to constantly palliate the terror gods with blood and flesh. The demoness’s extreme cruelty is beyond doubt, and that she desires the sacrifice of boys is revealing of her own tragic history. Incidentally, the slaughter of her son may be an indicator of an originally matriarchal sacrificial cult which the Buddhists integrated into their own system. For example, the researcher A. H. Francke has discovered rock inscriptions in Tibet which refer to human sacrifices to the great goddess (Francke, 1914, p. 21). But it could also– in light of the tantric methods — be that Palden Lhamo, converted to Buddhism not from conviction but because she was magically forced to the ground, was compelled by her new lords to murder her son and that she revenged herself through the killings of the young Dalai Lamas.


Even an apparently paradoxical interpretation is possible: as a female, the demoness stands in radical confrontation to the doctrine of Vajrayana, and she may have sold her loyalty and subjugation for the highest possible price, namely that of the sacrifice of the god-kings. Such sadomasochist satisfactions can only be understood from within the tantric scheme, but there they are — as we know — not at all seldom. Hence, if one set a limit on the sacrifice of the boys in terms of time and headcount, then they may have been of benefit to later incarnations of the god-king, specifically, that is, to the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dalai Lamas. The exceptionally long reign of the last two Kunduns would, according to tantric logic, support such an interpretation.


Tara —Tibet’s Madonna

In the mytho-historical pantheon of Tibetan Buddhism, the gentle goddess Tara represents the exact counterimage of the terrible Palden Lhamo. Tara is — in the words of European alchemy — the “white virgin”, the ethereal-feminine supreme source of inspiration for the adept. In precisely this sense she represents the positive feminine counterpart to the destructive Palden Lhamo, or hence to the earth mother, Srinmo. The divided image of femininity found in every phase of Indian religious history thus lives on in Tibetan culture. “Witch” and “Madonna” are the two feminine archetypes which have for centuries dominated and continue to dominate the patriarchal imagination of Tibet just like that of the west. If all the negative attributes of the feminine are collected in the witch, then all the positive ones are concentrated within the Madonna.


The Tara cult is probably fairly recent. Although legends recount that the worship of the goddess was brought to the Land of Snows in the seventh century by one of the women of the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo, it is historically more likely that the Indian scholar Atisha first introduced the cult in the eleventh century.


Unlike the many repellant demonic gods who attack the tormented Tibetans, Tara has become a place of refuge. Under her, the believers can cultivate their noble sentiments. She grants devotion, love, faith, and hope to those who call upon her. She exhibits all the characteristics of a merciful mother. She appears to people in dreams as a guardian angel. She takes care of all private interests and needs. She can be trusted with one’s cares. She helps against poisonings, heals illnesses and cures obsessions. But she is also the right one to turn to for success in business and politics. Everyone prays to her as a “redemptress”. In translation her name means “star” or “star of hope”. It can be said that outside of the monasteries she is the most worshipped divinity of the Land of Snows. There is barely a household in Tibet in which a small statue of Tara cannot be found.


A number of colors are assigned to her various appearances. There is a white, green, yellow, blue, even a black Tara. She often holds a lotus with 16 petals whish is supposed to indicate that she is sixteen years old. Her body is adorned with the most beautiful jewels. In a royal seated posture she looks down mildly upon those who ask pity of her. Naturally, one gains the impression that she is not suitable for tantric sexual practices. The whole positive aspect of the motherly appears to have been concentrated within her. She is experienced by Europeans as a Madonna untouched by sexuality. This is, however, not the case, then in contrast to her occidental sister with whom she otherwise has so much in common, the white Tara is also a wisdom consort. [2]


Sometimes, as is also known of the European worship of Mary, her cult tips over into an undesirable (for the clergy, that is) expansion of the goddess’s power which could pose a danger to the patriarchal system. Tara is known, for example, as the “Mother of all Buddhas”. A legend in which she refuses to appear as a man is also in circulation and is often cited these days: when she was asked by some monks whether she did not prefer a male body, she is said to have answered: “Since there is no such thing as a 'man' or a 'woman', this bondage to male and female is hollow. ... Those who wish to attain supreme enlightenment in a man's body are many, but those who wish to serve the aims of beings in a woman's body are few; therefore may I, until the world is emptied out, serve the aim of beings with nothing but the body of a woman” (Beyer, 1978, p. 65). Such statements are downright revolutionary and are in direct contradiction to the dominant doctrine that women cannot attain any enlightenment at all, but must first be reborn in a male body.


Tantric Buddhism’s first protective measure against the potential feminine superiority of Tara is the story of her origin. Firstly, she does not have the status of a Buddhas, but is only a female Bodhisattva. Her head is adorned by a small statue of Amitabha, an indicator that she is subject to the Highest Lord of the Light (who allows no women into his paradise) and is considered to be one of his emanations.


Furthermore, Tara is nothing more or less than the personified tears of Avalokiteshvara. One day as he looked down filled with compassion upon all suffering beings he had to weep. The tear from his left eye became the green Tara, that which flowed from his right became her white form. Even if, as according to some tantric schools, Chenrezi selects both Taras as wisdom consorts, they nevertheless remain his creation. He gave birth to them as androgyne, as “father-mother”.


Green Tara


An even cleverer taming of the goddess consists in the fact that she incarnates in the bodies of men. Countless monks have chosen Tara as their yiddam and then visualize themselves as the goddess in their meditative practices. “Always an in all practices, he must visualize himself as the Holy Lady, bearing in mind that the appearance is the deity, that his speech is her mantra, and that his memory and mental constructs are her knowledge” (Beyer, 1978, p. 465). Her role as the “mother of all Buddhas” is also taken on by the male meditators, who thus say the following words: “[I am] the mother who gives birth to the Conquerors and their sons; I possess all her body, speech, mind, qualities, and active functions” (Beyer, 1978, p. 449). In one of his works, Albert Grünwedel reproduces the portrait of a high-ranking Mongolian lama who is revered as an incarnation of Tara. Even modern western followers of Buddhism would like to see the Sixteenth Karmapa as the green Tara.


Like Palden Lhamo, Tara also plays a role in Tibetan realpolitik, then the latter is — in their own view — played out by gods, not human agents. Hence, the official opinion from out of the Potala was that the Russian Czars were supposed to be an embodiment of Tara. Such image transferences are naturally very well suited to exciting the global power fantasies of  the lamas. Then, since the goddess arose from a tear of Avalokiteshvara, the Czar as Tara must also be a product of the Dalai Lama, the highest living incarnation of Avalokiteshvara. Further to this there is the idea derived from the tantras that the Czar (and thus Russia) as Tara could be coerced via a sexual magic act. This appears downright fantastic, but — as we know — the tantra master does use his karma mudra as symbols for the elements, planets, and also for countries.


In the nineteenth century the idea likewise arose that the British Queen, Victoria, was a reincarnation of Tara, yet on occasion Palden Lhamo was also nominated as being the goddess functioning behind the facade of the English Queen. It was thus more natural for the Dalai Lama to cooperate with the British or the Russians — since the Chinese had been possessed for centuries by a “nine-headed demoness” with whom it was impossible to reach an accord. The China-friendly Panchen Lama, however, saw this differently. For him, the Chinese Emperors of the Manchu dynasty, who professed to the Buddhist faith, were incarnations of the Bodhisattva, Manjushri, and could thus be considered as acceptable negotiators.


Tara and Mary

A comparison of the Tibetan Tara with the Christian figure of Mary has by now become a commonplace in Buddhist circles. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama also makes liberal use of this cultural parallel with pious emotionalism. For the “yellow pontiff” Mary represents the inana mudra (the “imagined female”) so to speak of Catholicism. „Whenever I see an image of Mary,” — the Kundun has said — „I feel that she represents love and compassion. She is like a symbol of love. Within Buddhist iconography, the goddess Tara occupies a similar position” (Dalai Lama XIV, 1996c, p. 83). Not all that long ago, the „god-king” undertook a pilgrimage to Lourdes and afterwards summarized his impressions of the greatest Catholic shrine to Mary with the following moving words. „There — in front of the cave — I experienced something very special. I felt a spiritual vibration, a kind of spiritual presence there. And then in front of the image of the Virgin Mary, I prayed” (Dalai Lama XIV, 1996 c, p. 84).


The autobiographical book with the title of Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna by the American, China Galland, reports on the attempt to incorporate the Catholic cult of Mary via the Tibetan cult of Tara. After the author’s second marriage failed, she returned to the Catholic Church and devoted herself to an excessive Mary worship with feministic undertones. The latter was the reason why Galland felt herself attracted above all to the black Madonnas worshipped in Catholicism. The “Black Virgin” has already been worshipped for years by feminists as an apocryphal mother deity.


One day the author encountered the Tibetan goddess, Tara, and the American was instantly fascinated. Tara struck her as a pioneer of “spiritual” women’s rights. The goddess had — this author believed –proclaimed that contrary to Buddhist doctrine enlightenment could also be attained in a female body. The author felt herself especially attracted to figure of the “green Tara”, whom she equates with the black Kali of Hinduism at one point in her book: “The darkness of this female gods comforted me. I felt like a balm on the wound of the unending white maleness tha we had deified in the West. They were the other side of everything I had ever known about God. A dark female God. Oh yes!” (Galland, 1990, p. 31).


In Galland we are thus dealing with a spiritual feminist who has rediscovered her original black mother and is seeking traces of her in every culture. In the Buddhist Tara cult this author thus also sees archetypal references to the many-breasted Artemis of Ephesus, to the Egyptian Isis, to the Phoenician Alma Mater, Cybele, to the Mesopotamian goddess of the underworld, Ishtar. Once more her trail leads from the dark Tara to the “black Madonnas” of Europe and America. From there the next link in the chain is the Indian terror goddess Kali (or Durga). “Was the blackness of the virgin a connecting thread of connection to Tara, Kali or Durga, or was it a mere coincidence?” asks Galland (Galland, 1990, p. 50). For her it was no coincidence!


With one word Galland activates the gynocentric world view which is familiar enough from the feminist literature. She sees the great goddess at work everywhere (Galland, 1993, p. 42). The universal position which she grants herself as the first creative principle is depicted unambiguously in a poem. The author found it in a Gnostic Christian text. There a female power, who sounds “more like Kali than the Mother of God”, says the following words:


For I am the first and the last.

I am the honored and the scorned one.

I am the whore and the holy one.

I am the wife and the virgin


I am the silence that ist  incomprehensible

(quoted by Galland, 1990, p. 51)


In spite of her unmistakable pro-woman position, the feminist met her androcentric master in October 1986, who transformed her black Kali (or Tara or Mary) into a pliant Tantric Buddhist dakini. During her audience, for which she feverishly waited for several days in Dharamsala, she asked His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama: “Did it make sense to link Tara and Mary?” — “Yes,” — the Kundun answered her — “Tara and Mary create a good bridge. This is a direction to go in” (Galland, 1990, p. 93).


He then told the feminist how pro-woman Tibetan Buddhism is. For example, the Sakya Lama, the second-highest-ranking hierarch of the Land of Snows, had a wife and daughter. Somewhere in Nepal there lived a 70-year-old nun who was entitled to teach the Dharma. When he was young there was a famous female hermit in the mountains of Tibet. For him, the Dalai Lama, it made no difference along the path to enlightenment whether a person had a male body or a female one. And then finally the climax: “Tara” — the Kundun said — “could actually be taken as a very strong feminist. According to the legend, she knew that there were hardly any Buddhas who had been enlightened in the form of a woman. She was determined to retain her female form and to become enlightened only in this female form. That story had some meaning in it, doesn’t it?” — he said with “an infectious smile” to Galland (Galland, 1990, p. 95).


"Smiling” is the first form of communication with a woman which is taught in the lower tantras (the Kriya Tantra). The next tantric category which follows is the “look” (Carya Tantra), and then the “touch” (Yoga Tantra). Galland later reported in fascination what happened to her during the audience: “He [the Kundun] got up out of his chair, came over to me as I stood up, and took me firmly by the arms with a laugh. The Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is irrepressibly cheerful. His touch surprised me. It was strong and energetic, like a black belt in aikido. The physical power in his hands belied the softness of his appearance. He put his forehead to mine, then pulled away smiling and stood there looking at me, his hands holding my shoulders. His look cut through all the words exchanged and warmed me. I sensed that I was learning the most about him and that I was being given the most by him, right then, Though wat it was could not be put into words. This was the real blessing” (Galland, 1990, p. 96).


From this moment on, the entire metaphysical standpoint of the author is transformed. The revolutionary dark Kali becomes an obedient “sky walker” (dakini), the radical feminist becomes a pliant “wisdom consort” of Tantric Buddhism. With whatever means, the Dalai Lama succeeded in making a devout Buddhist of the committed follower of the great goddess. From now on, Galland begins to visualize herself along tantric lines as Tara. She interprets the legend in which the goddess offers to help her tear-father, Avalokiteshvara (Tara arose from one of the Bodhisattva’s tears), lead all suffering beings on the right path, as her personal mission.


The “initiation” by the Kundun did not end with this first encounter, it found its continuation later in a dream of the author’s. There Galland sees how the Dalai Lama splashes around in a washtub, completely clothed, and with great amusement. She herself also sits in such a tub. Then suddenly the Kundun stands up and looks at her in an evocative silence. “There was nothing between us, only pure being. It was a vivid and real exchange. — Suddenly a blue sword came out of the crown of the Dalai Lama’s head over an across the distance between us and down to the crown of my head, all the way down my spine. I felt as though he had just transmitted some great, wordless teaching. The sword was made of blue light. I was very happy. Then he climbed into the third tub, where I was now sitting alone. We sat side by side in silence. I was on the right. Our faces were were next to one another, faintly touching” (Galland, 1990, p. 168). The Dalai Lama then climbs out of the tub. She tries to persuade him to explain the situation to her, and in particular to interpret the significance of the sword. “But every time I asked him a question, he changed forms, like Proteus, the old man of the sea, and said nothin” (Galland,1990, p. 169). At the end of the dream he transformed himself into a turquoise scarab which climbed the wall of the room.


Even if both of the dream’s protagonists (the Dalai Lama and China Galland) are fully clothed as they sit together in the washtub, one does not need too much fantasy to see in this scene a sexual magic ritual from the repertoire of the Vajrayana. The blue sword is a classic phallic symbol and reminds us of a similar example from Christian mysticism: it was an arrow which penetrated Saint Theresa of Avila as she experienced her mystic love for God. For China Galland it was the sword of light of the supreme Tibetan tantra master.


Soon after the spectacular dream initiation, the “pilgrimages” to the holy places at which the black Madonnas of Europe and America are worshipped described in her book began. Instead of Marys she now only sees before her western variations upon the Tibetan Tara. The tear (tara) of Avalokiteshvara (the Dalai Lama) becomes an overarching principle for the American woman. In the dark gypsy Madonna of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (France), in her famous black sister of Czestochowa (Poland), in the copy of the latter in San Antonio (Texas), but above all in the Madonna of Medjugorje, whom she visits in October 1988, Galland now only sees emanations of the Tibetan goddess.


Whilst she reflects upon Mary and Tara in the (former) Yugoslavian place of pilgrimage, a prayer to the Tibetan deity comes to her mind. “In it she is said to come in what ever form a person needs her to assume in order for her to be helpful. True compassion. Buddha Tara, indeed all Buddhas, are said to emanate in billions of forms, taking whatever form is necessary to suit the person. Who can say that Mary isn’t Tara appearing in a form that is useful and recognizable to the West? When the Venerable Tara Tulku [Galland’s Buddhist Guru, a male emanation of Tara] came [...], we spoke about this. From the Buddhist perspective, one cannot say that this isn’t possible, he assured me: 'If there is a person who says definitely no, the Madonna is not an emanation of Tara, then that person has not understood the teaching of Buddha'. Christ could be an emanation of Buddha” (Galland, 1990, p. 311).


What lies behind this flowery quotation and Galland’s eccentric Mary-worship can also be referred to as the incorporation of a non-Buddhist cult by Vajrayana. Then Mary and Tara are both so culture-specific that a comparison of the two “goddesses” only makes sense at an extremely general level. Neither does Tara give birth to a messiah, nor may we imagine a Mary who enters sexual magic union with a Christian monk. Despite such blatant differences, Tantrism's doctrine of emanation allows the absorption of foreign gods without hesitation, yet only under the condition that the Tibetan deity take the original place and the non-Buddhist one be derived from it. In this connection, the report of a Catholic (Benedictine) nun who participated in the Kalachakra initiation in Bloomington (1999). For her, the rite set off a Christian experience: “I’m Christian. Never before has that meant so much. This past month I sat at the Kalachakra Initiation Rite in Bloomington with HH the Dalai Lama as the master teacher, a tantric gure. I have never felt so Christian. […] I was sitting in the VIP section on the stage very near the Dalai Lama. The Buddhist audience seemd like advanced practitioners. The audience was nearly 5,000 people under this one huge tent. When dharma students would know that I was a nun they’d ask me what was in my mind as the ritual progressed through the Buddhist texts, recitations, deity visualizations and gestures. At the time, I must confess, I sat with as much respect, openness and emptiness as possible. My Christain heart was simply at rest being there with ‘others’. […] There’s no one to one correspondence with Buddhist’s rituals especially one as complex and esoteric as the Kalachakra, but there is a way that we live tha creates the same feel, the same attitude and dispositions. (Funk,. HPI 001) The literature in which Buddhist authors present Christ as a Bodhisattva and as an emanation of Avalokiteshvara grows from year to year. We shall come to speak about this in the chapter on the ecumenical politics of the Dalai Lama.


The lament of Yeshe Tshogyal

The tantric partner of Padmasambhava, the founding father of Tibetan Buddhism, is frequently offered as the historical example of a female figure who is supposed to have integrated all the contradictory powers of the feminine within herself. She goes by the name of Yeshe Tshogyal and is said to have achieved an independence unique in the history of female yoginis. Some authors even say (contrary to all doctrines) that she attained the highest goal of full Buddhahood. For this reason she has currently become one of the rare icons for those, primarily western, believers who keep a lookout for emancipated female figures within Tantric Buddhism.


The legend reports that Yeshe Tshogyal married the Tibetan king Trisong Detsen (742–803) at the age of thirteen. Three years later, he gave her to Padmasambhava as his karma mudra. Such generous gifts of women to gurus were, as we know, normal in Tantrism and taken for granted.


Yeshe Tshogyal became her master’s most outstanding pupil. When she was twenty years old, he initiated her in a flame ritual. During the ceremony the guru, in the form of a terror deity „took command of her lotus throne [the vagina] with his flaming diamond stalk [the penis]“ (quoted by Stevens, 1990, p. 70). This showed that she had to suffer the fate of a classic wisdom consort; she was symbolically burnt up.


Later she practiced Vajrayana with other men and subsequently underwent a long ascetic period as an “ice virgin” in the coldest mountains of Tibet. Like the historical Buddha she was also tempted by lecherous beings, it was just that in her case these were no “daughters of Mara” but rather handsome young devils. She recognized their lures as the work of Satan and resolutely rejected them. But out of compassion she subsequently slept with all manner of men and gave „her sexual parts to the lustful” (quoted by Stevens, 1990, p. 71). Her devotion in love is so convincing that she could convert seven highwaymen who raped her to Buddhism.


Padmasambhava is supposed to have said to her: „The basis for realizing enlightenment is a human body. Male or female, there is no great difference. But if she develops the mind bent on enlightenment the woman’s body is better” (quoted by Stevens, 1990, p. 71). This statement is admittedly revolutionary, but nevertheless we can hardly accept that Yeshe Tshogyal traveled an essentially different path to the countless anonymous yoginis who were “sacrificed” on the altar of Tantrism. [4]


Through constantly visions she was repeatedly urged to offer herself up completely to her master — to sacrifice her own flesh, her blood, her eyes, nose, tongue, ears, heart, entrails, muscles, bones, marrow, and her life energy. One may also begin to seriously doubt her privileged position within Tibetan Buddhism, when one hears her impressive and resigning lament at her woman’s lot:


I am a woman

I have little power to resist danger.

Because of my inferior [!] birth, everyone attacks me.

If I go as a beggar, dogs attack me.

If I have wealth and food, bandits attack me.

If I do a great deal, the locals attack me.

If I do nothing, gossips attack me.

If anything goes wrong, they all attack me.

Whatever I do, I have no chance for happiness.

Because I am a woman it is hard to follow the Dharma.

It is hard even to stay alive.

(quoted by Gross, 1993, p. 99)


Many centuries after her earthly death, Yeshe Tshogyal became for the Fifth Dalai Lama a constant companion in his visions and advised him in his political decisions. During a meeting, “Tshogyal appears in the form of a white lady adorned with bone ornaments. She enters into union with him. The white and the red bodhicitta [seed] flow to and fro” (Karmay, 1988, p. 54). Such scenes of union with her are mentioned several times in the Secret Visions of the “Great Fifth”. Some of these are described so concretely that they probably concern real human mudras who assumed the role of Yeshe Tshogyal. Once His Holiness saw in her heart “the mandala of the Phurba [ritual dagger] deity” (Karmay, 1988, p. 67). Perhaps she wanted to remind him with this vision of the agonizing fate of Srinmo, the Mother of Tibet, in whose heart a ritual dagger is also stuck. In another vision she appeared together with the goddess Candali and three further dakinis. They danced and sang the words “Phurba is the essence of all tutelary deities.” (Karmay, 1988, p. 67). [5]


Even if, as is claimed by many contemporary tantra masters and feminists, Yeshe Tshogyal is supposed to be the most prominent historical representative of an “emancipated” Vajrayana female Buddhist, her unhappy fate shows just how degradingly and contemptuously the countless unknown and unmentioned karma mudras of Tibetan history must have been treated. The example she provides should be more a deterrent than a positive one, then she was more or less an instrument of Padmasambhava’s. Her current rise in prominence is exclusively a product of the contemporary Zeitgeist, which needs to generate counterimages to an essentially androcentric Buddhism so as to gain a foothold in the western world.


The mythological background to the Tibetan-Chinese conflict:

Avalokiteshvara versus Guanyin

We would now like to point out that, in the historical relationship between Tibet and China, the latter played and continues to play the feminine part, as if the sky-high mountains of the Himalayas and the Chinese river plains were a man and a woman in stand-off, as if a battle of the sexes had been being waged for centuries between “masculine” Lhasa and “feminine” Beijing. This is not supposed to imply that, in contrast to the patriarchal Land of Snows, a matriarchy has the say in China. We know full well how the “Middle Kingdom” has from the outset pursued a fundamentally androcentric politics and how nothing has changed in this regard up until the present. Hence, what we primarily wish to say here is that from a Tibetan viewpoint the conflict between the two countries is interpreted as a gender conflict. We hope to demonstrate in this chapter that the Dalai Lama is opposed by the threatening and ravenous “Great Female”, the terror dakini which is China and which he must conquer and subjugate along tantric lines.


The reverse cannot be so simply stated: the Chinese Emperor admittedly saw the rulers of Potala as powerful spiritual opponents, but understood himself thus only in a very few cases to be the representative of a “womanly power”. Yet such historical exceptions do exist and we would like to consider these in more detail. There is also the fact that China’s androcentric culture has been repeatedly limited and relativized by strong female elements. Real feminine influences can be recognized in Chinese mythology, in particular national philosophies (especially Taoism), and sometimes also in the politics, far more than was ever the case in the masculine Tibetan monastic empire. For example, Lao-tzu, the great proclaimer of the Dao De Jing, clearly stresses the feminine factor ( or rather what one understood this to be at the time) in his practical “theory of power”:


Nothing is weaker than water,

But when it attacks something hard

Or resistant, then nothing withstands it,

And nothing will alter its way.

[...] weakness prevails

Over strength and [...] gentleness conquers

The adamant [...]


it says in the 78th chapter of the Dao De Jing. Among Chinese Buddhists the greatest reverence is up until the present day reserved for a goddess (Guanyin), a female Buddha and no god. China’s few yet famous/notorious female rulers in particular showed a unique tension in dealings with the kings and hierarchs of the Tibetan “Land of Snows”. For this reason we shall consider these in somewhat more detail. But let us first turn to the Chinese goddess, Guanyin.


China (Guanyin) and Tibet (Avalokiteshvara)

How easily the ambivalent gender role of the male androgyne Avalokiteshvara could tip over into the feminine is demonstrated by “his” transformation into Guanyin, the “goddess of mercy”, who is still highly revered in China and Japan. Originally, Guanyin had no independent existence, but was solely considered to be a feminine guise of the Bodhisattva (Avalokiteshvara). In memory of her male past she sometimes in older portrayals has a small goatee. How, where, and why the sex change came about is considered by scholars to be extremely puzzling. It must have taken place in the early Tang dynasty from the seventh century on, then before this Avalokiteshvara was all but exclusively worshipped in male form in China too.




There is already in the early fifth century a canon in which 33 different appearances of the “light god” are mentioned and seven of these are female. This proves that the incarnation of a Bodhisattva in female form was not excluded by the doctrine of Mahayana Buddhism. To the benefit of all suffering beings — it says in one text — the “redeemer” could assume any conceivable form, for example that of a holy saying, of medicinal herbs, of mythical winged creatures, cannibals, yes, even that of women (Chayet, 1993, p. 154). But what such exceptions do not explain is why the masculine Avalokiteshvara was essentially supplanted and replaced by the feminine Guanyin in China. In the year 828 C.E. each Chinese monastery had at least one statue of the goddess. The chronicles report the existence of 44,000 figures.


There is more or less accord among orientalists that Guanyin is a syncretic figure, formed by the integration into the Buddhist system imported from India of formerly more powerful native Chinese goddesses. A legend recounts that Guanyin originally dwelled among the mortals as the king’s daughter, Miao Shan, and that out of boundless goodness she sacrificed herself for her father. This pious tale is, however, somewhat lacking in vibrancy as the genesis of such an influential religious lady as Guanyin, but nonetheless interesting in that it once more offers us a report of a female sacrifice in the interests of a patriarch.


We find the suggestion often put forward by the Tibetan side, that the worship of Guanyin is a Chinese variant of the Tibetan Tara cult, similarly unconvincing, since the latter was first introduced into Tibet in the eleventh century, 400 years after the transformation of Avalokiteshvara into a goddess. In view of the exceptional power which the goddess enjoys in China it seems much more reasonable to see in her a descendant of the great Taoist matriarchs: the primordial mother Niang Niang, or the great goddess Xi Wangmu, or Tianhou Shengmu, who is worshipped as the “sea star”.


If Avalokiteshvara represents a “fire deity”, then Guanyin is clearly a “water goddess”. She is often pictured upon a rock in the sea with a water jug or a lotus flower in her hand. The “goddess on the water lily”, who sometimes holds a child in her arms and then resembles the Christian Madonna, fascinated the royal courts of Europe in the seventeenth century already, and the first European porcelain manufacturers copied her statues. Her epithets, “Empress of Heaven”, “Holy Mother”, “Mother of Mercy”, also drew her close to the cult of Mary for the West. Like Mary then, Guanyin is also called upon as the female savior from the hardships and fears of a wretched world. When worries and suffering make one unhappy, then one turns to her.


The transformation of Avalokiteshvara into a Chinese goddess is a mythic event which has deeply shaped the metapolitical relationship between China and Tibet. Historical relations of both nations with one another, although they both exhibit patriarchal structures, may thus be described through the symbolism of a battle of the sexes between the fire god Chenrezi and the water goddess Guanyin. What is played out between the gods also has — the tantras believe — its correspondences among mortals. Via the fate of the three most powerful female figures from China’s past, we shall examine whether the tantric pattern can be convincingly applied to the historical conflicts between the two countries (Tibet and China).


Wu Zetian (Guanyin) and Songtsen Gampo (Avalokiteshvara)

Following the collapse of the Han kingdom in the third century C.E., Mahayana Buddhism spread through China and blossomed in the early Tang period (618–c. 750). After this a renaissance of Confucianism begins which leads from the mid-ninth century to a persecution of the Buddhists. In the Hua-yen Buddhism of the seventh century (a Chinese form of Mahayana with some tantric elements), especially in the writings of Fa-Tsang, the cosmic “Sun Buddha”, Vairocana, is revered as the highest instance.


At the end of the seventh century, as the Guanyin cult was forming in China, a powerful woman and Buddhist reigned in the “Middle Kingdom”, the Empress Wu Zetian (c. 625–c. 705). Formerly a concubine of two Emperors, father and son — after their deaths Wu Zetian took, step by step and with great skill, the “Dragon Throne” in the year 683. She conducted a radical shake-up of the country’s power elite. The ruling Li family was systematically and brutally replaced by members of her own Wu lineage. Nonetheless, the matriarch did not recoil from banishing her own son even on the basis of power political concerns nor from executing other family members when these opposed her will. Her generals were engaged with varying success in the most bloody battles with the Tibetans and other bordering peoples.


Probably because she was a woman, her unscrupulous and despotic art became proverbial for later historians. The outrageousness which radiated out from this “monstrous” Grande Dame upon the Dragon Throne still echoes today in the descriptions of the historians. The German Sinologist, Otto Franke, for example, characterizes her with what is for an academic exceptionally strong emotions: “Malicious, vengeful, and cruel to the point of sadism, thus she began her career, unbridled addiction to power, insensitivity even to the natural maternal instinct, and a unquenchable desire for murder accompany her on the stolen throne, grotesque megalomania combined with religious insanity distorts her old age, childish helplessness in the face of every form of charlatanism and complete lack of judgement in administration and politics lead finally to her fall and bring the state to the edge ... A demoness in her unbridled passion, Wu Zetian allied herself with the dark figures of Chinese history” (Franke, 1961, p. 424).


Wu Zetian supported Buddhism fanatically, so as to establish it as the state religion in place of Doism. “The Empress who takes God as her example”, as she called herself, was a megalomaniac not just about political matters but also in religious ones, especially because she let herself be celebrated as the incarnation of the Buddha Maitreya, of the ruler of the of the coming eon. Her she appealed to prophecies from the mouth of the historical Buddha. In the Great Cloud Sutra it could be read that, 700 years after his death, Shakyamuni would be reborn in the form of a beautiful princess, whose kingdom would become a real paradise. “Having planted the germs of the Way during countless kalpas [ages], [she as Maitreya] consents to the joyous exaltation by the people”, it says of the Empress in one contemporary document. (Forte, 1988, p. 122). According to other sources, Wu Zetian also allowed herself to be worshipped as the Bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara, and as the Sun Buddha, Vairocana.

As Buddhist she oriented herself to the Abhidharmakosa’s cyclical conception of the four ages of the world we have described above, and which we also find in the Kalachakra Tantra. Thus, at end of the dark and at the dawn of the new age to come, stood this Chinese Empress in the salvational figure of the Buddha Maitreya. Her chiliastic movement, which she led as a living Buddhist messiah, had no small following among the people, yet came into hefty conflict with established Buddhism and the Confucian powers at court, above all because this savior was also a woman.


From the Buddhist teachings Wu Zetian also adopted the political doctrine of the Chakravartin, the wheel turner who reigns over the entire globe. She would lead her people, we may read in a prophesy, by “turning the golden wheel” (Forte, 1988, p.122). One of her titles was “The Golden Wheel of Dominion Turning God-Emperor”. (Franke, 1961, p. 417). But even this was not enough for her. Two years later she intensified her existing epithet and let herself be known as “ The Holy God-Emperor Surpassing The Former Golden Wheel Turning God-Emperor” (Franke, 1961, p. 417). The “golden wheel”, along with the other appropriate emblems of the Chakravartin were hung in her hall of audience.


So as to visibly demonstrate and symbolically buttress her control of the world, she ordered the entire kingdom to be covered with a network of state temples. Each temple housed a statue of the Sun Buddha (Vairocana). All of these images were considered to be the emanations of a gigantic Vairocana which was assembled in the imperial temple of the capital and in which the Empress allowed herself to be worshipped.


Among the sacred buildings erected at her command was to be found what was referred to as a time tower (tiantang). According to Antonino Forte, the first ever mechanical clock was assembled there. The discovery of a “time machine” (the clock) is certainly one of the greatest cultural achievements in the history of humankind. Nevertheless we today see such an event only from its technical and quantitative side. But for people with an ancient world view this “mechanical” clock was of far greater significance. With its construction and erection a claim was made to the symbolic and real control over time as such. Hence, following the assembly of the tiantang (time tower), Wu Zetian allowed herself to be worshipped as the living time goddess.


Alongside the “time tower” she built a huge metal pillar (the so-called “heavenly axis”). This was supposed to depict Mount Meru, the center of the Buddhist universe. Just as the tiantang symbolized control over time, the metallic “heavenly axis” announced the Empress’s  control of space. Correspondingly her palace was also considered to be the microcosmic likeness of the entire universe. She declared her capital, Liaoyang, to be not just the metropolis of China, but also the domicile of the gods. Space and Time were thus, at least according to doctrine, firmly in Wu Zetian’s hands.


It will already have occurred to the reader that the religious/political visions of Wu Zetian correspond to the spirit of the Kalachakra Tantra in so many aspects that one could think it might have been a direct influence. However, this ruler lived three hundred years before the historical publication date of the Time Tantra. Nevertheless, the influence of Vajrayana (which has in fact been found in the fourth century in India) cannot be ruled out. Hua-yen Buddhism, from the ideas of which the Empress derived her philosophy of state, is also regarded as “proto-tantric” by experts: “Thus the Chou-Wu theocracy [of the Empress]) is the form of state in China which comes closest to a tantric theocracy or Buddhocracy: the whole world is considered as the body of a Buddha, and the Empress who rules over this sacramentalized political community is considered to be the highest of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas” (Brück and Lai, 1997, p. 630). [6]


Although no historical conection between the Kalachakra Tantra and the “proto-tantric” world view of Wu Zetian can be proved, striking parallels in the history of ideas and symbols exist. For example, alongside the claim to the “world throne” as Chakravartin, the implied control over time and space, we find a further parallel in Wu Zetian’s grab for the two heavenly orbs (the sun and moon) which is characteristic of the Time Tantra. She let a special Chinese character be created as her own name which was called “sun and moon rising up out of the emptiness” (Franke, 1961, p. 415).


But the final intentions of the two systems are not compatible. The Empress Wu Zetian is hardly likely to have striven towards the Buddhocracy of an androcentric Lamaism. In contrast, it is probable that gynocentric forces were hidden behind her Buddhist mask. For example, she officially granted her female (!) forebears bombastic titles and epithets of “Mother Earth” (Franke, 1961, p. 415). In the patriarchal culture of China this feminist act of state was perceived as a monstrous blasphemy. Hence, with reference to this naming, we may read in a contemporary historical critique that, “such a confusion of terms as that of Wu had not been experienced since records began” (Franke,1961, p. 415).


The unrestrained ruler usurped for herself all the posts of the masculine monastic religion. In her hunger for power she even denied her femininity and let herself be addressed as “old Buddha lord” — an act which even today must seem evilly presumptuous for the androcentric Lamaists. At any rate it was seen this way by an exile Tibetan historian who, a thousand years after her death, portrayed the Chinese Empress as a monstrous, man-eating dragon obsessed with all depravities. “The Empress Wu,” K. Dhondup wrote as recently as 1995 in the Tibetan Review, “one of the most frightening and cruel characters to have visited Chinese history, awakened her sexual desire at the ripe old age of 70 and pursued it with such relentless zeal that the hunger and voracity of her sexual fulfillment into her nineties became the staple diet of street whispers and gossips, and the powerful aphrodisiacs that she medicated herself gave her youthful eyebrows ...” (Tibetan Review, January 1995, p. 11).


Did Wu Zetian stand in religious and symbolic competition with the cosmic ambitions of the ruler of the great Tibetan kingdom of the time? We can only speculate about that. Aside from the fact that she was involved in intense wars with the dreaded Tibetans, we know only very little about relations between the “world views” of the two countries at the time of her reign. It is, however, of interest for our “symbolic analysis” of inner-Asian history that the Lamaist historians posthumously declared the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo, who died forty years before the reign of Wu Zetian in the year 650, a Chakravartin. It was Songtsen Gampo (617-650) — the reader will recall — who as the incarnation of Avalokiteshvara nailed the mother of Tibet (Srinmo) to the ground with phurbas (ritual daggers) so as to build the sacred geography of the Land of Snows over her.


Behind the life story of Wu Zetian shines the archetypal image of Guanyin as the female, Chinese opponent to the male, Tibetan Avalokiteshvara. She herself pretended to be the incarnation of a Buddha (Vairocana or Maitreya), but since she was a female it is quite possible that she was the historical phenomenon which occasioned Avalokiteshvara’s above-mentioned sex change into the principal goddess of Chinese Buddhism (Guanyin).


At any rate Songtsen Gampo and Wu Zetian together represent the cosmic claims to power of Avalokiteshvara and Guanyin. We can regard them as the historical projections of these two archetypes. Their metapolitical competition is currently completely overlooked in the conflict between the two countries (China and Tibet), which leads to a foreshortened interpretation of the Tibetan/Chinese “discordances”. In the past the mythical dimensions of the struggle between the “Land of Snows” and the “Middle Kingdom” have never been denied by the two parties; it is just the western eye for “realpolitik” cannot perceive it.


Wu Zetian was not able to realize her Buddhist gynocentric visions. In the year 691 the tiantang (time tower) and the clock within it were destroyed in a “terrible” storm. Her reign was plunged into a dangerous crisis, then, as several influential priests claimed, this “act of God” showed that the gods had rejected her. But she retained sufficient power and political influence to be able to reassemble the tower. However, in 694 this new Tiantang was also destroyed, this time by fire. The court saw a repetition of the divine punishment in the flames and concluded that the imperial religious claim to power had failed. Wu Zetian had to relinquish her messianic title of “Buddha Maitreya” from then on.


Ci Xi (Guanyin) and the Thirteenth Dalai Lama (Avalokiteshvara)

One thousand years later, the cosmological rivalry between China (Guanyin) and Tibet (Avalokiteshvara) was tragically replayed in the tense relation between the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and the Empress Dowager Ci Xi (1835-1908).


Ci Xi appeared on the political stage in the year 1860. Like her predecessor, Wu Zetian, she started out as a noble-born concubine of the Emperor, and even as a seventeen year old she had worked her way up step by step through the hierarchy of his harem and bore the sole heir to the throne. The imperial father, Emperor Xian Feng, died shortly after the birth, and the ambitious mother of the new son of heaven took over the business of governing the country until he came of age, and de facto beyond that. When her son died suddenly at the age of 18 she adopted her nephew, who ascended the Dragon Throne as Emperor Guangxu but likewise remained completely under her influence until his death.


Officially, Ci Xi supported Confucianism, but privately, like many members of the Manchu dynasty (1644-1911) before her, she felt herself attracted to the Lamaist doctrine. She was well-versed in the canonical writings, wrote Buddhist mystery plays herself, and had these performed by her eunuchs. Her apartments were filled with numerous Buddha statues and she was a passionate collector of old Lamaist temple flags. Her favorite sculpture was a jade statue of Guanyin given to her by a great lama. She saw herself as the earthly manifestation of this goddess and sometimes dressed in her robes. „Whenever I have been angry, or worried over anything,” she said to one of her ladies in waiting, „by dressing up as the Goddess of Mercy it helps me to calm myself and to play the part I represent ... by having a photograph taken of myself dressed in this costume, I shall be able to see myself as I ought to be at all times” (Seagrave, 1992., p. 413).


Ci Xi and attendants


Such dressings-up were in no sense purely theatrical, rather Ci Xi experienced them as sacred performances, as rituals during which the energy of the Chinese water goddess (Guanyin) flowed into her. She publicly professed herself to be a Buddhist incarnation and likewise affected the male title of “old Buddha lord” (lao fo yeh), a label which became downright vernacular. We are thus dealing with a gynocentric reversal of the androgynous Avalokiteshvara myth here, as in the case of the Empress Wu Zetian. Guanyin, the Chinese goddess of mercy, makes an exclusive claim for masculine control, and thus has, within the body of a woman, the gender of a male Buddha at her disposal. In the imperialist, patriarchal West, Ci Xi was, as the American historian Sterling Seagrave has demonstrated, the victim of a hate-filled, defamatory, sensationalist press who insinuated she was guilty of every conceivable crime. „The notion,” Seagrave writes, „that the corrupt Chinese were dominated by a reptilian woman with grotesque sexual requirements tantalized American men” (Seagrave, 1992, p. 268). Just like her predecessor, Wu Zetian, she became a terrible „dragoness”, a symbol of aggressive femininity which has dominated masculine fantasies for thousands of years: „By universal agreement the woman who occupied China’s Dragon Throne was indeed a reptile. Not a glorious Chinese dragon — serene, benevolent, good-natured, aquarian – but a cave-dwelling, fire-breathing Western dragon, whose very breath was toxic. A dragon lady” (Seagrave, 1992, p. 272).


Thus, in mythological terms the two Bodhisattvas, Avalokiteshvara and Guanyin, met anew in the figures of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and the Empress Dowager. From the moment Ci Xi realized her claim to power the two historical figures thus faced one another in earnest competition and a discord which extended far beyond questions of practical politics. The chief imperial eunuch, Li Lien Ying, foresaw this conflict most clearly and warned Ci Xi several times against meeting the Tibetan god-king in person. He even referred to an acute mortal danger for both the Empress and her adoptive son, the Emperor Guangxu. The following words are from him or another courtier: “The great lama incarnations are the spawn of hell. They know no human emotion when matters concern the power of the Yellow Church” (Koch, 1960, p. 216).


But Ci Xi did not want to heed such voices of warning and peremptorily required the visit of the Hierarch from the “roof of the world”, so as to discuss with him the meanwhile internationally very complex question of Tibet. Only after a number of failed attempts and many direct and indirect threats was she able to motivate the mistrustful and cautious prince of the church to undertake the troublesome journey to China in the year 1908.


The reception for the Dalai Lama was grandiose, yet even at the start there were difficulties when it came to protocol. Neither of the parties wanted with even the most minor gesture to make it known that they were subject to the other in any way whatsoever. In the main, the Chinese maintained the upper hand. It was true that the Hierarch from Lhasa was spared having to kowtow, then after lengthy negotiations it was finally agreed that he would only have to perform those rituals of politeness which were otherwise expected of members of the imperial family — an exceptional privilege from Beijing’s point of view, but from the perspective of the god-king and potential world ruler an extremely problematic social status. Did the Thirteenth Dalai Lama revenge himself for this humiliation?


On October 30, Ci Xi and Guangxu staged a banquet in the “Hall of Shining Purple”. The Dalai Lama was already present when the Emperor cancelled at the last minute due to illness. Three days later, on the occasion of her 74th birthday, the Empress Dowager requested that the ecclesiastical dignity conduct for her the “Ceremony for the Attainment of Long Life” in the “Throne Hall of Zealous Government”. This came to pass. The Dalai Lama offered holy water and small cakes which were supposed to grant her wish for a long life. Afterwards tea was served and then Ci Xi distributed her gifts. At midday she personally formulated an edict in which she expressed her thanks to the Dalai Lama and promised to pay him an annuity of 10,000 taels. Additionally he was to be given the title of “Sincerely Obedient, through Reincarnation More Helpful, Most Excellent through Himself Existing Buddha of the Western Heavens”.


This gift and the bombastic title were a silk-clad provocation. With them Ci Xi did not at all want to honor the Dalai Lama, rather, she wished in contrast to demonstrate Tibet’s dependency upon the “Middle Kingdom”. For one thing, by being granted an income the god-king was degraded to the status of an imperial civil servant. Further, in referring to the incarnation of Avalokiteshvara as a “Sincerely Obedient Buddha”, she left no doubt about to whom he was in future to be obedient. Just how important such “clichés” were for the participants is shown by the reaction of the American envoy present, who interpreted the granting of the title as marking the end of the Dalai Lama’s political power. The latter protested in vain against the edict and “his pride suffered terribly” (Mehra, 1976, p. 20). All of this took place in the world of political phenomena.


From a metaphysical point of view, however, as Guanyin Ci Xi wanted to make the powerful Avalokiteshvara her servant. The actual “match of the gods” took place on the afternoon of the same day (November 3) during a festivity to which the “Obedient Buddha” was once again invited by Her Imperial Highness. Ci Xi, as the female “old Buddha lord” dared to appear before the incarnation of the humiliated fire god, Avalokiteshvara (the Thirteenth Dalai Lama), in the costume of the water goddess Guanyin, surrounded by dancing Bodhisattvas and sky walkers played by the imperial eunuchs. There was singing, laughter, fooling around, boating, and enormous enjoyment. There had been similar such “divine” appearances of the Empress Dowager before, but in the face of the already politically and religiously degraded god-king from Tibet, the mocked patriarchal arch-enemy, the triumphal procession of Guanyin became on this occasion a spectacular and provocative climax.


The Empress Dowager probably believed herself to be protected from any attacks upon her health by the longevity ceremony which she had cajoled from the Dalai Lama the day before. In the evening, however, she began to feel unwell, and became worse the next day. Forty-eight hours later the Dalai Lama came to the Empress and handed her a statuette of the “Buddha of Eternal Life” (a variant of Avalokiteshvara) with the instruction that she erect it over the graves of the emperors in China’s east. Prince Chong, although he objected strongly because of premonition, was with harsh words entrusted by Ci Xi to do so nonetheless. When he returned to the imperial palace on November 13, the female “old Buddha lord” felt herself to be in a good mood and was fit again, but the Emperor (her adoptive son) now lay dying and passed away the next day. He had been prone to illness for years, but the fact that his death was so sudden was also found most mysterious by his personal doctors and hence they did not exclude the possibility that he had been poisoned. [7]


But the visit of His Holiness brought still more bad luck for the imperial family, just as the chief eunuch, Li Lien Ying, had prophesied. On November 15, one day after the death of the regent, the Empress Dowager Ci Xi suffered a severe fainting fit, recovered for a few hours, but then saw her end drawing nigh, dictated her parting decree, corrected it with her own hand and died in full possession of her senses.


It should be obvious that the sudden deaths of the Emperor and his adoptive mother immediately following one another gave rise to wild rumors and that all manner of speculations about the role and presence of the Dalai Lama were in circulation. Naturally, the suspicion that the “god-king” from Tibet had acted magically to get his cosmic rival out of the way was rife among the courtiers, well aware of tantric ideas and practices. On the basis of the still to be described voodoo practices which have been cultivated in the Potala for centuries, such a suspicion is also definitely not to be excluded, but rather is probable. At any rate, as Avalokiteshvara the Hierarch likewise represents the death god Yama. Even the current, Fourteenth Dalai Lama sees — as we shall show — with pride a causal connection between a tantric ritual he conducted in 1976 and the death of Mao Zedong. Even if one does not believe in the efficacy of such magical actions, one must concede an amazing synchronicity in these cases. They are also, at least for the Tibetan tradition, a taken-for-granted cultural element. The Lamaist princes of the church have always been convinced that they can achieve victory over their enemies via magic rather than weapons.


What is nonetheless absolutely clear from the events in Beijing is the result, namely the triumph of Avalokiteshvara over Guanyin, the patriarch destroying the matriarch. Perhaps Guanyin had to lose this metaphysical battle because she had not understood the fine details of energy transfers in Tantrism? As Ci Xi she had grasped masculine power, as water goddess, fire, and then in her superhuman endeavors she allowed herself to be set alight by the flames of ambition. Perhaps she played the role of the ignited Candali (of the “burning water”), without knowing that it was the tantra master from the Land of Snows who had set her alight ?


But the Dalai Lama’s political plans did not work out at all. The new Regency held him in Beijing until he agreed to the Chinese demand that Tibet be recognized as a province of the Chinese Empire. England and Russia has also given the Chinese an undertaking that they would not interfere in any way in their relations with Tibet, so as to avoid a conflict with each other. Only in 1913, two years after the final disempowerment of the Manchu dynasty (1911) did it come to a Tibetan declaration of independence, and that with an extremely interesting justification. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama issued a proclamation which said literally that the Manchu throne, which had been occupied by the legal Emperor as “world ruler” (Chakravartin), was now vacant. For this reason the Tibetan had no further obligations to China and worldly power now automatically devolved to him, the Hierarch in the Potala — reading between the lines, this means that he himself now performs the functions of a Chakravartin (Klieger, 1991, p. 32).


Jiang Qing (Guanyin) and the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (Avalokiteshvara)

There is an amazing repetition of the problematic relation of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama (Avalokiteshvara) to the Empress Dowager Ci Xi (Guanyin) in the 1960s. We refer to the relation of Jiang Qing (1913–1991), the wife of Mao Zedong, to His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. To this day the Kundun remains convinced that the chairman of the Communist Party of China was not completely informed about the vandalistic events in Tibet in which the “Red Guard” ravaged the monasteries of the Land of Snows, and that he probably would not have approved of them. He sees the Chinese attacks against the Lamaist clergy as primarily the destructive work of Jiang Qing. Mao’s companion did in fact drive the rebellion the young to a peak without regard for her own party or the populace, significantly worsening the chaos in the whole country. In this assessment the Tibetan god-king agrees, completely unintentionally, with the official criticism from contemporary China: “During the cultural revolution the counter-revolutionary clique around ... Jiang Qing helped themselves to the left error under concealment of their true motives, and thus deliberately kicked at the scientific theories of Marxism-Leninism as well as the thoughts of Mao Zedong. They rejected the proper religious politics which the Party pursued directly following the establishment of the PR China. Thereby they completely destroyed the religious work of the Party” — it says in a Chinese government document from 1982 (MacInnis, 1993, p. 46).


In these contemporary events, so significant for the history of the Land of Snows, the feminine also appears- in accordance with the tantric pattern and the androcentric viewpoint of the Dalai Lama — as the radical and hate-filled destructive force which (like an uncontrollable “fire woman”) wants to destroy the Lamaist monastic state. Then in the view of the Tibetans in exile the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is regarded as the beginning of the “cultural genocide” which is supposed to have threatened Tibet since this time. Not without bitterness, the current god-king thus notes that the Red Guard gave Mao’s wife the chance, “to behave like an Empress” (Dalai Lama XIV, 1993a, p. 267).


In the case of Jiang Qing it is nevertheless not as easy to see her as an incarnation of Guanyin and an opponent of Avalokiteshvara (the Dalai Lama) as it is with Ci Xi, who deliberately took on this divine role. With her Marxist-Leninist orientation, the Communist Jiang Qing can only unconsciously or semiconsciously have become a “vessel” of the Chinese water goddess. Publicly, she projected an atheist image — at least from a western viewpoint. But this fundamentally anti-religious attitude must — more and more historians are coming to agree — be exposed as a pretence. Maoism was — as we shall later discuss at length — a deeply religious, mythic movement, located totally within the tradition of the Chinese Empire. The Dalai Lama’s suspicion that Jiang Qing felt like an Empress is thus correct.


Incidentally, she did so quite consciously, then she openly compared herself to the Empress Wu Zetian, who — as we have shown — tried as a female Buddha to seize control of the world, and who symbolically preempted the ideas of the Kalachakra Tantra in the construction of a time tower. Jiang Qing also wanted to seize the time wheel of history. In accordance with the Chinese predilection for all manner of ancestral traditions, she (the Communist) had clothes made for her in the style of the old Tang ruler (Wu Zetian).

“Jiang Qing, who had previously taken little interest in Chinese history, became an avid student of the career of Wu [Zetian] and the careers of other great women near the throne. Her personal library swelled with books on the subject. Teams of writers  from her fanatically loyal faction scurried to prepare articles showing that Empress Wu, until then generally regarded as a lustfull, power-hungry shrew, was ‘anti-Confucian’ and hence ‘progressive’. ‘ Women can become emporer,’ Jiang would say to her staff members. ‘Even under communism there can be a woman ruler.’ She remarked to  Mao’s doctor that England was not feudal as China because it was ‘often ruled by queens.’“ (Ross, 1999, p. 273) - “Jiang Qing was deeply interested in the ideas and methods of Emperess Dowager Ci Xi. But it was impossible for her to praise Ci Xi publicly because ultimately Empress Dowager Ci Xi failed to keep the West at bay and because she was too vivid a part of the ancien régime that the Communist Party had gloriously buried.” (Ross, 1999, p. 27)

But can we conclude from Jiang Qing’s preference for the imperial form of power that she is an incarnation of Guanyin? On the basis of her own view of things, we must probably reject the hypothesis. But if — like the Buddhist Tantrics — we accept that deities represent force fields which can be embodied in people, then such an assumption seems natural. The only question is whether it is in every case necessary that such people deliberately summon the gods or whether it is sufficient when their spirit and energy “inspire” the people in their possession to act. What counts in the final instance for a Tantric is a convincing symbolic interpretation of political events: The mythic competition between China and Tibet, between the Chinese Emperor and the Dalai Lama, between the Empress Wu Zetian and the Tibetan kings, between the Empress Dowager Ci Xi and the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, all give the conflict between the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and Jiang Qing a metapolitical meaning and render it comprehensible within a tantric scheme of things. The parallels between these conflicts are so striking that from an ancient viewpoint they can without further ado been seen as the expression of a primordial, divine scenario, the dispute between Avalokiteshvara and Guanyin over the world throne of the Chakravartin.


Before we in conclusion compare the religious-political role of the three “Empresses” with one another, we would like to once more emphasize that it is not us who see in China a matriarchal power which opposes a patriarchal Tibet. In contrast — we plan in the rest of this study to report several times upon Chinese androcentrism. What we nonetheless wish to convey is the fact that from a Lamaist/tantric viewpoint the Chinese-Tibetan conflict is perceived as a battle of the sexes. Tantrism does not just sexualize landscapes, the elements, time, and the entire universe, but likewise politics as well.


From a Chinese (Taoist, Confucian, or Communist) viewpoint this may appear completely different. But we must not overlook that two of the female rulers we have introduced were fanatic (!) Buddhists with tantric (Ci Xi), or proto-tantric (Wu Zetian) ideas. Both will thus have perceived their political relationship to Tibet through Vajrayana spectacles, so to speak.


Wu Zetian let herself be worshipped as an incarnated Buddha and a Buddhist messiah. Her religious-political visions display an astonishing similarity to those of the Kalachakra Tantra, although this was first formulated several centuries later. As Chakravartin she stood in mythically irreconcilable opposition to the Tibetan kings, who, albeit later (in the 17th century), were entitled to the same designation. Admittedly, one cannot speak of her as an incarnation of Guanyin, since the cult of the Chinese goddess first crystallized out in her time. But there are a number of indications that she was the historical individual in whom the transformation of Avalokiteshvara into Guanyin took place. She was — in her own view — the first “living Buddha” in female form, as is likewise true of Guanyin.


Most unmistakably, Guanyin is “incarnated” in Ci Xi, since the Empress Dowager openly announced herself to be an embodiment of the goddess. There are many indications that the Chinese autocrat was deeply familiar with the secrets of Lamaist Tantrism. She must therefore have seen her encounter with the Thirteenth Dalai Lama as an elevated symbolic game for which in the end she had to pay for with her life.


With Jiang Qing, the statement that she was a incarnation of Guanyin is no longer so convincing. The fanatical Communist was no follower of Buddha like her tow predecessors and maintained an atheist image. But in her “culturally revolutionary” decisions and “proletarian” art rituals, in her contempt for all clergy, she acted and thought like a “raging goddess” who revolted with hate and violence against patriarchal traditions. Her radical nature made her into an avenging Erinnye (or an out-of-control dakini) in a tantric “match of the gods” (as the Tantrics saw history to be). There is no doubt that high-ranking Tibetan lamas interpreted the historical role of Jiang Qing thus. All three “Empresses” failed with their politics and religious system.


Wu Zetian had to officially renounce her title as “Coming Buddha”. After her death, Confucianism regained its power and began a countrywide persecution of the Buddhists.


Ci Xi died during the visit of her “arch-enemy” (the Thirteenth Dalai Lama). Within a few years of her death the reign of the Manchu dynasty was over (1911).


Jiang Qing was condemned to death by her own (Communist) party as a “left deviationist”, and then pardoned. Even before she died (in 1991), the Maoist regime of “the Red Sun” had collapsed once and for all.


Starting once more from a tantric view of things, one can speculate as to whether all three female historical figures (who as incarnations of Guanyin are to be assigned to the element of “water”) had to suffer the fate of a “fire woman”, a Candali. Then in the end, like the Candali, they founder in their own flames (political passion). All three, although staunch opponents of a purely men-oriented Buddhism, deliberately grasped the religious images and methods of the patriarchally organized world. Wu Zetian and Ci Xi let themselves be addressed with a male title as “old Buddha lord”; Jiang Qing drove all feminine, erotic elements out of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and issued the young women of the Red Guard with male uniforms. In light of the three Chinese “Empresses” the thought occurs that an emancipatory women’s movement cannot survive when it seizes and utilizes the androcentric power symbols and attitudes for itself. We turn to a consideration of these thoughts in the chapter which follows.


Feminism and Tantric Buddhism

Once the majority of the high-ranking Tibetan lamas had to flee the Land of Snows from the end of the 1950s and then began to disseminate Tantric Buddhism in the West, they were willingly or unwillingly confronted with modern feminism. This encounter between the women’s movement of the twentieth century and the ancient system of the androcentric monastic culture is not without a certain delicacy. In itself, one would have to presume that here two irreconcilable enemies from way back came together and that now “the fur would fly”. But this unique relation — as we shall soon see — took on a much more complicated form. Yet first we introduce a courageous and self-confident woman from Tibetan history, who formulated a clear and unmistakable rejection of Tantric Buddhism.


Tse Pongza — the challenger of Padmasambhava

Shortly after Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, entered the “Land of Snows”, a remarkable woman became his decisive opponent. It was no lesser figure than Tse Pongza, the principal wife of the Tibetan king, Trisong Detsen (742–803), and the mother of the heir apparent. The ruler had brought the famous vajra master into the country from India in order to weaken the dominant Bon religion and the nobility. With his active assistance the old priesthood (of the Bon) were banished and the cult was suppressed by drastic measures. A proportion of the Bonpo (the followers of Bon) succumbed to the pressure and converted, another division fled the country, some were decapitated and their bodies thrown into the river. Yet during the whole period of persecution Tse Pongza remained a true believer in the traditional rites and tried by all means to drive back the influence of Guru Rinpoche.


To throw a bad light on her steadfastness, later Buddhist historians accused her of acting out of unrequited love, because Padmasambhava had coldly rejected her erotic advances. Whatever the case, the queen turned against the new religion with abhorrence. “Put an end to these sorcerers” — she is supposed to have said — “... If these sort of things spread, the people’s lives will be stolen from them. This is not religion, but something bad!” (Hermanns, 1956, p. 207). The following open and pointed rejection of Tantrism from her has also been preserved:


What one calls a kapala is a human head placed upon a stand;

What one calls basuta are spread-out entrails,

What one calls a leg trumpet is a human thighbone

What one calls the ‘Blessed site of the great field’

 is a human skinlaid out.

What one calls rakta is blood sprinkled upon sacrificial pyramids,

What one calls a mandala are shimmering, garish colors,

What one calls dancers are people who wear garlands of bones.

This is not religion, but rather the evil, which India has taught Tibet.

(Hoffmann, 1956, p. 61)


With great prophetic foresight Tse Pongza announced: “I fear that the royal throne will be lost if we go along with the new religion” (Hoffmann, 1956, p. 58). History proved her right. The reign of the Yarlung dynasty collapsed circa one hundred years after she spoke these words (838) and was replaced by small kingdoms which were in the control of various Lamaist sects. But it was to take another 800 years before the worldly power of the Tibetan kings was combined with the spiritual power of Lamaism in the institution of the Dalai Lama, and a new form of state arose which was able to survive until the present day: the tantric Buddhocracy.


As far as we are aware, Tse Pongza, the courageous challenger of the Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), has not yet been discovered as a precursor by feminism. In contrast, there is not a feminist text about Tibetan Buddhism in which great words are not devoted to the obedient servant of the guru, Yeshe Tsogyal (the contemporary of Tse Pongza and her counterpole). Such writings are also often full of praise for Padmasambhava. This is all the more surprising, because the latter — as the ethnologist and psychoanalyst, Robert A. Paul, has convincingly demonstrated and as we shall come to show in detail — must be regarded as a sexually aggressive, women and life-despising cultural hero.


Western feminism

We can distinguish four groups in the modern western debate among women about tantric/Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan history:


  1. The supporters, who have unconditionally subjected themselves to the patriarchal monastic system.
  2. The radical feminists, who strictly reject it and unconditionally damn it.
  3. Those women who strive for a fundamental reform so as to attain a partnership with equal rights within the Buddhist doctrine.
  4. The feminists who have penetrated the system so as to make the power methods developed in Tantrism available for themselves and other women, that is, who are pursuing a gynocentric project.


Outside of these groups one individual towers like a monolith and is highly revered and called as a witness by all four: Alexandra David-Neel (1868–1969). At the start of this century and under the most adventurous conditions, the courageous French woman illegally traversed the Tibetan highlands. She was recognized by the Tibetans as a female Lama and — as she herself notes — revered as an incarnation from the “Genghis Khan race”. (quoted by Bishop, 1989, p. 229).


In 1912 she stood before the Thirteenth Dalai Lama as the first western woman to do so. Despite her fascination with Tibet and her in depth knowledge of the Lamaist culture she never allowed herself to become completely captivated or bewitched. When it appeared there would be a second audience with His Holiness, the Frenchwoman, the daughter of a Calvinist father and a Catholic mother, said : “I don't like popes. I don't like the kind of Buddhist Catholicism over which he presides. Everything about him is affected, he is neither cordial nor kind” (Batchelor, 1994, p. 311).


Alexandra David-Neel had both a critical and an admiring attitude towards Lamaism and the tantric teachings. She was also repulsed by the dirty and degrading conditions under which the people of Tibet had to live, and thus approved of the Chinese invasion of 1951. On the other hand, she was so strongly attracted to Tibetan Buddhism that she proved to be its most eager and ingenious student. We are indebted to her for the keenest insights into the shady side of the Lamaist soul. Today the author, who lived to be over 100, has become a feminist icon.


Let us now take a closer look at the four orientations of women towards Lamaism described above:


1. The supporting group first crystallized out of a reaction to the other three positions mentioned. It has solely one thing in common with a “feminist” stance, namely that it’s proponents dare to speak out in matters of religion, which was very rarely permitted of Tibetan women in earlier times. The group forms so to speak the female peace-keeping force of patriarchal Buddhism. Among its members are authors such as Anne Klein, Carole Divine, Pema Dechen Gorap, and others. Their chief argument against the claim that woman are oppressed in Vajrayana is that the teaching is fundamentally sexually neutral. The Dharma is said to be neither masculine nor feminine, the sexes forms of appearance in an illusionary world. Karma Lekshe Tsomo, a Buddhist nun of western origin, thus reacts to modern radical feminist current with the following words of rejection: “A growing number of women and also some men feel the need to identify enlightenment with a feminine way. I reject the idea that enlightenment can be categorized into gender roles and identified with these at all. ... Why should the awareness be so intensely bound to a form as the genitals are?” (quoted by Herrmann-Pfand, 1992, p. 11). With regard to the social situation of women in the Tibet of old, the authors of the first group proclaim, in comparison with those in other Asian countries they enjoyed the greatest freedoms.


2. The discrimination against the female sex in all historical phases of Buddhism is, however, so apparent that it has given rise to an extensive, in the meantime no longer surveyable, literature of feminist critiques, which very accurately and without holding back unmask and indict the system at all levels. For early Buddhism, it is above all Diana Y. Paul who has produced a sound and significant contribution. Her book, Women in Buddhism, has become a standard work in the meantime.


The sexual abuse of women in the modern Buddhist centers of the West has been made public by, among others, the American, Sandy Boucher. In many of these feminist critiques social arguments — one the one side an androcentric hierarchy, on the other the oppressed woman — are as frequent as theological and philosophical ones.


The points which the neo-shaman and Wicca Witch, Starhawk, brings against the Buddhist theory of suffering seem to us to be of such value that we would like quote them at length. Starhawk sees herself as a representative of the witch (Wicca) movement, as a feminist dakini: “Witchcraft does not maintain, like the First Truth of Buddhism, that 'all life is suffering'. On the contrary, life is a thing of wonder. The Buddha is said to have gained this insight [about suffering] after his encounter with old age, disease and wealth. In the Craft [i.e., the witch movement], old age is a natural and highly valued part of the cycle of life, the time of greatest wisdom and understanding. Disease, of course, causes misery but it is not something to be inevitably suffered: The practice of the Craft was always connected with the healing arts, with herbalism and midwifery. Nor is death fearful: It is simply the dissolution of the physical form that allows the spirit to prepare for new life. Suffering certainly exists in life — it is part of learning. But escape from the wheel of Birth and Death is not the optimal cure, any more than hara-kiri is the best cure of menstrual cramps.” (quoted by Gross, 1993, p. 284).


This radical feminist critique naturally also extends to Vajrayana: the cynical use of helpless girls in the sexual magic rituals and the exploitation of patriarchal positions of power by the tantric gurus stand at the center of the “patriarchal crimes”. But the alchemic transformation of feminine energy into a masculine one and the “tantric female sacrifice”, both of which we discussed so extensively in the first part of our study, are up until now not a point of contention. We shall soon see why.


3. The authors Tsultrim Allione, Janice Willis, Joana Macy, and Rita M. Gross can be counted among the third “reform party”. The latter of these believes it possible that a new world-encompassing vision can develop out of the encounter between feminism and Buddhism. She thus builds upon the critical work of the radical feminists, but her goal is a “post-patriarchal Buddhism”, that is, the institutionalization of the equality of the sexes within the Buddhist doctrine (Gross, 1993, p. 221). This reform should not be imposed upon the religious system  from outside, but rather be carried through in “the heart of traditional Buddhism, its monasteries and educational institutions” (Gross, 1993, p. 241). Rita Gross sees this linkage with women as a millennial project, which is supposed to continue the series of great stages in the history of Buddhism.


For this reason she needs no lesser metaphor to describe her vision than the “turning of the wheel”, in remembrance of Buddha’s first sermon in Benares where, with the pronouncement of the Four Noble Truths, he set the “wheel of the teaching” in motion. If, as is usual in some Buddhist schools, one sees the first turning as the “lesser vehicle” (Hinayana), the second as the “great vehicle” (Mahayana), and the third as Tantrism (Tantrayana), then one could, like Gross, refer to the connection of Buddhism and feminism as the “fourth vehicle” or the fourth turning of the wheel. “And with each turning,” this author says, “we will discover a progressively richer and fuller basis for reconstructing androgynous [!] Buddhism” (Gross, 1993, p. 155). Many of the fundamental Buddhist doctrines about emptiness, about the various energy bodies, about the ten-stage path to enlightenment, about emanation concepts would be retained, but could now also be followed and obeyed by women. But above all the author places weight on the ethical norms of Mahayana Buddhism and gives these a family-oriented twist: compassion with all beings, thus also with women and children, the linking of family structures with the Sangha (Buddhist community), the sacralization of the everyday, male assistance with the housework, and similar ideas which are drawn less from Buddhism as from the moderate wing of the women’s movement.


Like the Italian, Tsultrim Allione, Gross sees it as a further task of hers to seek out forgotten female figures in the history of Buddhism and to reserve a significant place for them in the historiography. She takes texts like the Therigatha, in which women in the Hinayana period already freely and very openly discussed their relationship to the teachings, to be proof of a strong female presence within the early phase of Buddhism. It is not just the lamas who are to blame for the concealment of “enlightened women”, but also above all the western researchers, who hardly bothered about the existence of female adepts.


She sees in Buddhist Tantrism a technique for overcoming the gender polarity, in the form of an equality of rights of course. One can say straight out that she has not understood the alchemic process whereby the feminine energy is sucked up during the tantric ritual. Like the male traditionalists she seizes upon the image of an androgyny (not that of a gynandry), of which she erroneously approves as a “more sexually neutral” state.


4. Fourthly, there are those women who wish to reverse the complex of sexual themes in Buddhism exclusively for their own benefit. The American authors, Lynn Andrews and, above all, Miranda Shaw, can be counted among these. In her book, Passionate Enlightenment — Women in Tantric Buddhism, she speaks openly of a “gynocentric” perspective on Buddhism (Shaw, 1994, p. 71). Shaw thus stands at the forefront of western women who are attempting to transform the tantric doctrine of power into a feminist intellectual edifice. With the same intentions June Campbell subtitles her highly critical book, Traveller in Space, as being “In Search of Female Identity in Tibetan Buddhism”. She too renders tantric practices, which she learned as the pupil of the Kagyu master, Kalu Rinpoche, over many years, useful for the women’s movement. Likewise one can detect in the German Tibetologist, Adelheid Herrmann-Pfand’s study about the dakinis the wish to detect female alternatives within the tantric scheme of things.


But of all of these Miranda Shaw has the most radical approach. We shall therefore concentrate our attention upon her. Anybody who reads her impassioned book must gain the impression that it concerns the codification of a matriarchal religion to rival Vajrayana. All the feminine images which are to be found in Tantrism are reinterpreted as power symbols of the goddess. The result is a comprehensive world view governed by a feminine arch-deity. We may recall that such a matriarchal viewpoint need not differ essentially from that of an androcentric Tantric. He too sees the substance of the world as feminine and believes that the forces which guide the universe are the energies of the goddess. Only in the final instance does the vajra master want to have the last say.


For this reason the “tantric” feminists can without causing the lamas any concern reach into the treasure chest of Vajrayana and bring forth the female deities stored there, from the “Mother of all Buddhas”, the “Highest Wisdom”, the goddess “Tara”, to all conceivable kinds of terror dakinis. These formerly Buddhist female figures — the nurturing and protective mother, the helper in times of need, and the granter of initiations — apparently stand at the center of a new cult. Shaw can rightly draw attention to numerous cases in which women were inducted into the secrets of Tantrism as the dakinis of Maha Siddhas. It  was they who equipped their male pupils with magic abilities. Their powers, the legends teach us, vastly exceeded those of the men. The tantra texts are also said to have originally been written by women. The ranks of the 84 official Maha Siddhas (great Tantrics) at any rate include four women, one of whom, Lakshminkara, is considered to be the founder of a teaching tradition of her own. In the more recent history of Vajrayana as well, “enlightened women” crop up again and again: the yoginis Niguma, Yeshe Tshogyal, Ma gcig, and others.


As evidence for the hypothesized power of women in Buddhist Tantrism the feminist side likes to parade the Candamaharosana Tantra with those passages in it in which the man is completely subordinate to the dictates of the woman. But the hymn to the goddess quoted in the following is still no more a sequence in the tantric inversion process, despite its depiction of the servitude of the male lover: as usual, in this case too it is not the female deity but rather the central male who is the victor in the guise of a guru. Here are the words, which the goddess addresses to her partner:


Place my feet upon your shoulders and

Look me up and down

Make the fully awakened scepter (Phallus)

Enter the opening in the center of the lotus (Vagina)

Move a hundred, thousand, hundred thousand times

in my three-petaled lotus

of swollen flesh.

(Shaw, 1994, pp. 155-156)


Shaw comments upon this erotic poem with the following revealing sentences: “The passage reflects what can be called a 'female gaze' or gynocentric perspective, for it describes embodiment and erotic experience from a female point of view. ... [The man] is instructed not to end the worship until the woman is fully satisfied. Only then is he allowed to pause to revive himself with food and wine — after serving the woman and letting her eat first, of course! Selfish pleasure-seeking is out of the question for him, for he must serve and please his goddess” (Shaw, 1994, p. 156). But the tantra is in fact dedicated to a wrathful and extremely violent male deity and differs from other texts solely in that the adept has set himself the difficult exercise of being completely sexually subordinate to the woman so as to then — in accordance with “law of inversion” — be able to celebrate an even greater victory over the feminine and his own passions. The woman’s role as dominatrix, which Shaw proudly cites, must also be seen as an ephemeral moment along the masculine way to enlightenment.


Yet Miranda Shaw sees things differently. For her it was women who invented and introduced Tantrism. They had always been the bearers of secrets. Thus nothing in the tantras must be changed in the coming “age of gynandry” other than that the texts once more lay the foundations for the supremacy of the woman, so that she can take up her former tantric post as teacher and grasp anew the helm which had slipped from her hands. From now on the man has to obey once more: “Tantric texts “, Shaw says, “specify what a man has to do to appeal to, please and merit the attention of a woman, but there are no corresponding requirements that a woman must fulfill” (Shaw, 1994, p. 70). At another point we may read that, “the woman may also see her male partner as a deity in certain ritual contexts, but his divinity does not carry the same symbolic weight. She is not required to respond to his divinity with any special deference, respect, or supplication or to render him service in the same way that he is required to serve her.” (Shaw, 1994, p. 47). In place of the absolute god, the absolute goddess now strides across the cosmic stage alone and seizes the long sought scepter of world dominion.


Such feminist rapprochements with Vajrayana Buddhism, however, prove on closer inspection to walk right into a well-disguised tantric trap. Precisely in the moment where the modern emancipated woman believes she has freed herself from the chains of the patriarchal system, she becomes without noticing even more deeply entangled in it. This effect is caused by the tantric “law of inversion”. As we know, within the logic of this law, the yogini must be elevated to a goddess before her defeat and domination at the hands of the guru, and the vajra master is under no circumstances permitted to recoil if she comes at him in a furious and aggressive form. In contrast, he is — if he takes the “law of inversion” seriously — downright obliged to “set fire to” the feminine, or better, to bring it to explosion. The hysterical terror dakinis of the rituals are just one of the indicators of the “inflaming” of female emotions during the initiations. In our analysis of the feminine inner fire (the Candali) as a further example, we showed how the “fire woman” ignited by the yogi stands in radical confrontation to him who has set fire to her, since she is supposed to burn up all of his bodily aggregates. On the astral plane the tantra master likewise uses the feminine “apocalyptic fire” (Kalagni) to reduces the cosmos to smoking rubble. The aggressively feminine, which can find its social expression in the form of radical gynocentric feminism, is thus a part of the tantric project. Who better represents a flaming, wrathful, dangerous goddess than a feminist, who furiously turns upon the fundamental principles of the teaching (the Dharma)?


If we consider the feminist craving for fire as an element of power in the work of such a prominent figure as the American cultural researcher Mary Daly, then the question arises whether such radical women have not been outwitted by the Tibetan yogis into doing their work for them. Daly even demands a “pyrogenetic ecstasy” for the new women and calls out to her comrades: „Raging, Racing, we take on the task of  Pyrognomic Naming of Virtues. Thus lightning, igniting  the Fires of  Impassioned Virtues, we sear, scorch, singe, char, burn away the demonic tidy ties that hold us down in the Domesticated State, releasing our own Daimons/Muses/Tidal Forces of creation ... Volcanic powers are unplugged, venting Earth’s Fury and ours, hurling forth Life-lust, like lava, reviving the wasteland, the World” (Daly, 1984, p. 226). Such an attitude fits perfectly with the patriarchal strategy of a fiery destruction of the world such as we find in the Buddhist Kalachakra Tantra and likewise in the Christian Book of Revelations. In their blind urge for power, the “pyromaniac” feminists also set Mother Earth, whom they claim to rescue, on fire. In so doing they carry out the apocalyptic task of the mythic Indian doomsday mare, from whose nostrils the apocalyptic fire (Kalagni) streams and who rises up out of the depths of the oceans. They are thus unwilling chess pieces in the cosmic game of the ADI BUDDHA to come.


Let us recall Giordano Bruno’s statements about one of the fundamental features of a manipulator: the easiest person to manipulate is the one who believes he is acting in his own egomaniac interests, whilst he is in fact the instrument of a magician and is fulfilling the wishes of the latter. This is the “trick” (upaya) with which the yogi dazzles the fearsome feminine, the “evil mother”, and the dark Kali. The more they gnash their razor-sharp teeth, the more attractive they become for the tantra master. According to the “law of inversion” they play out a necessary dramaturgical scene on the tantric stage. As magic directors, the patriarchal yogis are not only prepared for an attack by radical feminism, but have also made it an element in their own androcentric development. Perhaps this is the reason why Miranda Shaw was allowed to conduct her studies in Dharamsala with the explicit permission of the Dalai Lama.


There are internal and external reasons for this unconscious but effective self-destruction of radical feminism. Externally, we can see how in contest with patriarchy they grasp the element of fire, which is also seen as a synonym of the term “power” by the followers of the great goddess. The element of water as the feminine counterpart to masculine fire plays a completely subordinate role in Daly’s and Shaw’s visions. Thus the force under which the earth already suffers is multiplied by the fiery rage of these women. Avalokiteshvara and Kalachakra are — as we have shown — fire deities, i.e., they feed upon fire even if or even precisely because it is lit by “burning” women.


The internal reason for the feminist self-destruction lies in the unthinking adoption of tantric physiology by the women. If such women practice a form of yoga, along the lines Miranda Shaw recommends, then they make use of exactly the same techniques as the men, and presume that the same energy conditions apply in their bodies. They thus begin — as we have already indicated — to destroy their female bodies and to replace it with a masculine structure. This is in complete accord with the Buddhist doctrine. Thanks to the androcentric rituals her femininity is dissolved and she becomes in energy terms a man.


Between March 30 and April 2, 2000, representatives from groups three and four convened in Cologne, Germany at a women-only conference. Probably without giving the matter much thought, the Buddhist journal Ursache & Wirkung [Cause and Effect] ran its report on the meeting at which 1200 female Buddhists participated under the title of “Göttinnen Dämmerung” [Twilight of the Goddesses] — which with its reference to the götterdämmerung signified the extinction of the goddesses (Ursache & Wirkung, No. 32, 2/2000).


Now whether the yogis can actually and permanently maintain control over the women through their “tricks” (upaya) is another question. This is solely dependent upon their magical abilities, over which we do not wish to pass judgement here. The texts do repeatedly warn of the great danger of their experiments. There is the ever-present possibility that the “daughters of Mara” see through the tricky system and plunge the lamas into hell. Srinmo, the fettered earth mother, may free herself one day and cruelly revenge herself upon her tormentors, then she too has meanwhile become a central symbol of the gynocentric movement. Her liberation is part of the feminist agenda. „One senses a certain pride”, we can read in the work of Janet Gyatso, „in the description of the presence of the massive demoness. She reminds Tibetans of fierce and savage roots in their past. She also has much to say to the Tibetan female, notably more assertive than some of her Asian neighbours, with an independent identity, and a formidable one at that. So formidable that the masculine power structure of Tibetan myth had to go to great lengths to keep the female presence under control. […. Srinmo] may have been pinned and rendered motionless, but she threatens to break loose at any relaxing of vigilance or deterioration of civilization” (Janet Gyatso, 1989, p. 50, 51).


The Fourteenth Dalai Lama and the question of women's rights

The relationship of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama to the female sex appears sincere, positive, and uninhibited. Leaving the tantric goddesses aside, we must distinguish between three categories of women in his proximity: 1. Buddhist nuns; 2.Tibetan women in exile; 3. Western lay women.


Buddhist nuns

At the outset of our study we described the extremely misogynist feelings Buddha Shakyamuni exhibited towards ordained female Buddhists. In a completely different mood, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama succeeded in becoming a figure of hope for all the women assembled at the first international conference of Buddhist nuns in 1987 in Bodh Gaya (India). It was the Kundun and not a nun (bhiksuni) who launched proceedings with his principal speech. It surely had a deep symbolic/tantric significance for him that he held his lecture inside the local Kalachakra temple. There, in the holiest of holies of the time god, the rest of the nuns’ events also took place, beginning each time with a group meditation. It is further noteworthy that it was not just representatives of Tibetan Buddhism who turned to the god-king as the advocate of their rights at the conference but also the nuns of other Buddhist schools. [8]


In his speech the Kundun welcomed the women’s initiative. First up, he spoke of the high moral and emotional significance of the mother for human society. He then implied that according to the basic principles of Mahayana Buddhism, no distinction between the sexes may be made and that in Tantrayana the woman must be accorded great respect. The only sentence in which the Kundun mentioned Tantrism in his speech was the following: “It is for example considered an infringement when tantra practitioners do not bow down before women or step around them during their accustomed practice of the yoga [in their meditations]" (Lekshe Tsomo, 1991, p. 34). The Buddhist women present would hardly have known anything about real women (karma mudras) who participate in the sexual magic practices, about the ceremonial elevation of the woman by the lama so as to subsequently absorb  her gynergy, or about the “tantric female sacrifice”.


The Dalai Lama continued his speech by stressing the existence of several historical yoginis in the Indian and Tibetan traditions in order to prove that Buddhism has always offered women an equal chance. In conclusion he drew attention to the fact that the negative relationship to the female sex which could be found in so many Buddhist texts are solely socially conditioned.


When the decisive demand was then aired, that women within the Buddhist sects be initiated as line-holders so that they would as female gurus be entitled to initiate male and female pupils, the Kundun indicated with regret that such a bhiksuni tradition does not exist in Tibet. However, as it can be found in China (Hong Kong and Taiwan), it would make sense to translate the rules of those orders and to distribute them among the Tibetan nuns. In answer to the question — “Would they [then] be officially recognized as bhiksunis [female teachers]?” — he replied evasively — “Primarily, religious practice depends upon one’s own initiative. It is a personal matter. Now whether the full ordination were officially recognized or not, a kind of social recognition would at any rate be present in the community, which is extremely important” (Lekshe Tsoma, 1991, p. 246). But he himself could not found such a tradition, since he saw himself bound to the traditional principles of his orders (the Mulasarvastivada school) which forbade this, but he would do his best and support a meeting of various schools in order to discuss the bhiksuni question. Ten years later, in Taiwan, where the “Chinese system” is widespread, there had indeed been no concrete advances but the Kundun once again had the most progressive statement ready: “I hope”, he said to his listeners, “that all sects will discuss it [the topic] and reach consensus to thoroughly pass down this tradition. For men and women are equal and can both accept Buddha's teachings on an equal basis.” (Tibetan Review, May 1997, p. 13).


Big words — then the reformation of the repressive tradition of nuns dictated to by men is fiercely contested within Lamaism. But even if in future the bhiksunis are permitted to conduct rituals and are recognized as teachers in line with the Chinese model, this in no way affects the tantric rites, which do not even exist within the Chinese system and which downright celebrate the discrimination against women as a cultic mystery.


Tibetan women in exile

As far as their social and political position is concerned, much has certainly changed for the Tibetan women in exile in the last 35 years. For example, they now have the right to vote and to stand as a candidate. Nonetheless, complaints about traditional mechanisms of suppression in the families are a major topic, which thanks to the support of western campaigners for women’s rights do not seldom reach a wider public. Nonetheless, here too the Kundun plays the reformer and we earnestly believe that he is completely serious about this, then he has had for many years been able to experience the dedication, skillfulness, and courage of many women acting for his concerns. All Tibetan women in exile are encouraged by the Kundun to participate in the business of state. The Tibetan Women's Association, extremely active in pursuing societal interests, was also founded with his support.


Despite these outwardly favorable conditions, progress towards emancipation has been very slow. For example, the three permanent seats reserved for women in the parliament in exile could not be filled for a long period, simply because there were no candidates. (There are 130,000 Tibetans living in exile.) This has improved somewhat in the meantime. In 1990 the Kundun induced his sister, Jetsun Pema, to be the first woman to take up an important office in government. In 1996 eight women were elected to the public assembly.


Sometimes, under the influence of the western feminism, the question of women’s rights flares up fiercely within the exile Tibetan community. But such eruptions can again and again be successfully cut off and brought to nothing through two arguments:


1.       The question of women’s rights is of secondary nature and disrupts the national front against the Chinese which must be maintained at all costs. Hence, the question of women’s rights is a topic which will only become current once Tibet has been freed from the Chinese yoke.

2.       The chief duty of the women in exile is to guarantee the survival of the Tibetan race (which is threatened by extinction) through the production of children.


The Kundun’s encounters with western feminism

In the West the Dalai Lama is constantly confronted with emancipation topics, particularly since no few female Buddhists originally hailed from the feminist camp or later — the wave has just begun — migrated to it. As in every area of modern life, here too the god-king presents an image of the open-minded man of the world, liberal and in recent times even verbally revolutionary. In 1993, as critical voices accusing several lamas of uninhibited excessive and degrading sexual behavior grew louder, he took things seriously and promised that all cases would be properly investigated. In the same year, a group of two dozen western teachers under the leadership of Jack Kornfield met and spoke with His Holiness about the meanwhile increasingly precarious topic of “sexual abuse by Tibetan gurus”. The Kundun told the Americans to “always let the people know when things go wrong. Get it in the newspapers themselves if needs be” (Lattin, Newsgroup 17).


In 1983, at a congress in Alpach, Austria, His Holiness came under strong feminist fire and was attacked by the women present. One of the participants completely overtaxed him with the statement that, “I am very surprised that there is no woman on the stage today, and I would have been very glad to see at least one woman sitting up there, and I have the feeling that the reason why there are no female Dalai Lamas is simply that they are not offered enough room” (Kakuska, 1984, p. 61). Another participant at the same meeting abused him for the same reasons as “Dalai Lama, His Phoniness!” (Kakuska, 1984, p. 60).


The Kundun learned quickly from such confrontations, of which there were certainly a few in the early eighties. In an interview in 1996, for example, he described with a grin the goddess Tara as the “first feminist of Buddhism” (Dalai Lama XIV, 1996b, p. 76). In answer to the question as to why Shakyamuni was so disdainful of women, he replied: „2500 years ago when Buddha lived in India he gave preference to men. Had he lived today in Europe as a blonde male he would have perhaps given his preference to women” (Tibetan Review, March 1988, p. 17). His Holiness now even goes so far as to believe it possible that a future Dalai Lama could be incarnated in the form of a woman. “In theory there is nothing against it” (Tricycle, 1995, V (1), p. 39; see also Dalai Lama XIV, 1996b, p. 99). In 1997 he even enigmatically prophesied that he would soon appear in a female form: “The next Dalai Lama could also be a girl” (Tagesanzeiger, June 27, 1995).


According to our analysis of Tantrism, we must regard such charming flattery of the female sex as at the very least a non-committal, albeit extremely lucrative embellishment. But they are more likely to be a deliberately employed manipulation, so as to draw attention away from the monstrosities of the tantric ritual system. Perhaps they are themselves a method (upaya) with which to appropriate the “gynergy” of the women so charmed. After all, something like that need not only take place through the sexual act . There are descriptions in the lower tantras of how the yogi can obtain the feminine “elixir” even through a smile, an erotic look or a tender touch alone.


It has struck many who have attended a teaching by the Dalai Lama that he keeps a constant and charming eye contact with women from the audience, and is in fact discussed in the internet: “Now it is quite possible”, Richard P. Hayes writes there regarding the “flirts” of the Kundun, “that he was making a fully conscious effort to make eye-contact with women to build up their self-esteem and sense of self-worth out of a compassionate response to the ego crushing situations that women usually face in the world. It is equally possible that he was unconsciously seeking out women's faces because he finds them attractive. And it could well be the he finds women attractive because they trigger his Anima complex in some way” (Hayes, Newsgroup 11). Hayes is right in his final sentence when he equates the female anima with the tantric maha mudra (the “inner woman”). With his flirts the Kundun enchants the women and at the same time drinks their “gynergy”.


The role of women in the sacred center of Tibetan Buddhism can only change if there were to be a fundamental rejection of the tantric mysteries, but to date we have not found the slightest indication that the Kundun wants to terminate in any manner his androcentric tradition which at heart consists in the sacrifice of the feminine.


Nevertheless, he amazingly succeeds in awakening the impression — even among critical feminists — that he is essentially a reformer, willing and open to modern emancipatory influences. It seems the promised changes have only not come about because, as the victim of a traditional environment, his hands are tied (Gross, 1993, p. 35). This pious wishful notion proves nothing more than the fascination that the great “manipulator of erotic love” from the “roof of the world” exercise over his female public. His charming magic in the meantime enables him to enthuse and activate a whole army of women for his Tibetan politics in the most varied nations of the world.


The “Ganachakra” of Hollywood

Relaxed and carefree, with a certain spiritual sex appeal, the Kundun enjoys all his encounters with western women. As the world press confirms, the “modest monk” from Dharamsala counts as one of the greatest charmers among the current crop of politicians and religious leaders. „Any woman”, Hicks and Chogyam write in their biography of the Dalai Lama, „who has had been fortunate enough ton be granted an audience will tell you what a charming host he is” (Hicks and Chogyam, 1990, p. 66). But Alexandra David-Neel had a completely different opinion of his previous incarnation, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, whom she described as stiff, obsessed by power, and heartless.


Just as a major film star is surrounded by enthusiastic fans, so too the Dalai Lama — at a higher level — attracts a crowd of enthusiastic male and female film stars. The proportion of world-famous actresses and singers in his “retinue” has notably increased in the meantime, and among them are to be found many of the most well-known faces: Sharon Stone, Anja Kruse, Uma Thurman, Christine Kaufmann, Sophie Marceau, Tina Turner, Doris Dörrie, Koo Stark, Goldie Hawn, Meg Ryan, Shirley MacLaine and a number of others count among them. “Even Madonna has ‘come out’ spiritually”, the Spiegel reflects, “The 'Material Girl' soon possibly a Tibet sister?” (Spiegel, 16/1998, p. 109). “In Hollywood the leader of Tibet is currently revered like a god”, writes Playboy (Playboy [German edition], March 1998, p. 44).


But what motivates these international celebrities to join the Kundun and his tantric Buddhist teachings with such enthusiasm? We shall speak later about the male stars who are followers in particular, and thus in this section caste a glance at the famous women who have adopted the Buddhist faith in recent years. Bunte, a high-circulation German magazine, has attempted to identify the female stars’ motives for their change of faith. Alongside the usual descriptions of peace, calm, and quiet, we can also read the following:


"More and more women are turning to Buddhism, both in Europe and America. And when you look at them, you might think: hello, looks like she’s had a facelift? — No, it’s the teaching of Buddha which is making her desirable and attractive. Buddhism ... gives them peace — and peace is the basis of the harmony from which alone erotic love can grow. ... In the great religions of the world people, in particular women, are constantly under siege: from commandments, bans, taboos, guilt complexes and mystic visions of purgatory, Judgment Day, and hell. But Buddhism does not threaten, does not punish, does not damn. ... And then — the “boss”: Buddha is no invisible, punitive, wrathful or even loving god. He is a visible person ... a person, who has found his way and is therefore constantly smiling in likenesses of him. But you don’t have to pray to him — you’re supposed to follow him. For women, Buddha is not the omnipotent patriarch in heaven, but rather a living guru [!]. This makes him especially appealing to women. In Buddhism women do not have to deny their sensuality”. Goldie Hawn, Hollywood sex comedian, rapturously claims, “I meditate and I feel sexy, I am sexy”. Anja Kruse, a German film star, enthuses that through Buddhism she has “gained more positive energy and erotic radiance”. The singer Laurie Andersen believes “ Buddhism is so antiauthoritarian that it is attractive”. The actress Shirley MacLaine knows that “You learn that you are also god” (all quotations are from Bunte, no. 46, November 6, 1997, pp. 20ff.).


The manipulation of the feminine sense of the erotic can hardly be better demonstrated than through such articles. Here, the whole misogynist history of Buddhism is transformed into its precise opposite with a few snappy words. This is only one of the deceptions, however. The other is the fact that according to such statements Buddhism holds the dolce vita of the “rich and the beautiful” to be an elevated “spiritual” goal. “For Christians and Moslems”, it says further in Bunte, “paradise beckons from the beyond. Celebrities already have it on earth — completely in accord with the beliefs of Buddhism” (Bunte, no. 46, November 6, 1997, p. 22). The historical Buddha’s rejection of the comforts of life — an important dogma for his salvational way — is turned into its blatant opposite here: Buddhism, the stars would like us to believe, means luxury and complete independence.


This is deliberate and very successful manipulation. The western press is certainly not responsible for this alone. In that the Tibetan lamas further intensify the egocentricity and the secret wishes of the celebrity women and guarantee their fulfillment through Buddhism, they bring them under their control with a similar method (upaya = trick) to that with which they elevate the karma mudras (real women) to goddesses in their tantric rituals. Who as woman would not reach out for the offers which are promised them, according to Bunte, by the monks in orange robes: “Buddhism is eternal life. If one is lucky, eternal youth as well” (Bunte, no. 46, November 6, 1997, p. 22).


In light of the hells, the taboos, the day of judgement, the homelessness, the apocalyptic battle, the absolute obedience, the unconditional worship of the gurus, the patriarchal authority, the disdain for women and for life and much more of the like, with which the “true” doctrine is traditionally weighed down, the temptations offered by Bunte magazine are purely illusory, especially when we consider the harsh discipline and the strictness which must be borne in the Buddhist lamaseries. Perhaps one of the most famous Buddha legends has now been reversed: A future Buddha who wishes to attain enlightenment will no longer be tempted by the “daughters of Mara” (the daughters of the devil), rather, the “daughters of Mara” (the female stars of Hollywood) who are prepared to step out along the path to enlightenment are tempted by Buddha (the Dalai Lama). It only remains to hope that they like the historical Shakyamuni succeed in seeing through the sweet and charming “devil ghost” of the “sincere” and smiling Kundun.


If we adopt a tantric viewpoint then we may not rule out that all these famous women have in a most sublime manner been made a part of the worldwide Kalachakra project by the lamas. They form — if we may exaggerate slightly — a kind of symbolic ganachakra which is supposed to support the apotheosis of the Dalai Lamas (Avalokiteshvara) into the ADI BUDDHA. With the example of the pop singer Patty Smith we would like to demonstrate how finely and “cleverly” feminine energies can be steered by the Kundun in the meantime.


Patty Smith and the Dalai Lama


Already anticonventional to the point of radicalism in her youth, a great fan of the poètes maudits — Arthur Rimbaud, Frederico Garcia Lorca, Jean Genet, William S. Burroughs and others, Patty Smith grew up in the Factory of Andy Warhol, where she learned her “antiauthoritarian” attitude to life. Anarchist and libertarian, she built a career upon a repertoire which opposed every social norm. Outside of society is where I want to be is the name of one of her most famous pieces. In the eighties her spouse and several of her closest friends died suddenly, which affected her deeply. In order to overcome her pain she turned to Tibetan Buddhism. She remembered having wept and prayed as a twelve-year-old girl at the fate of the Dalai Lama. But she first met the god-king in September 1995 in Berlin and was spellbound: “"I learned quite a bit from that man”, she later said, “he had to be constantly putting things into balance” (Shambhala Sun, July 1996).


The antiauthoritarian Patty Smith had met her master, in the face of the smiling Kundun she would hardly have thought that she had before her a pontiff whose history, ideology and visions opposed all of her libertarian and anarchic freedoms as their exact opposite. No — like a compliant mudra this social rebel bowed to the omnipotent tantra master, without asking where he came from, who he is, or where he is headed. In a poem she wrote about His Holiness she shows how unconditionally she as a woman submits to the divine guru and coming ADI BUDDHA. It opens with the lines


May I be nothing
but the peeling of a lotus
papering the distance
for You underfoot


In this poem the entire sexual magic dramaturgy of Tantrism is played out in an extremely fine way. “Peeling” can suggest “peeling off” in the sense of “stripping naked so as to make love”. The “lotus” is a well-known symbol for the “vagina”. Underfoot also connotes being “under (his) control”. Patty Smith, the social rebel and poet of freedom has become an obedient dakini of the Tibetan god-king.


All these beautiful singers and actresses have forgotten or never even known about the heart of their nailed down sister, Srinmo, which still bleeds beneath the Jokhang (the sacred center of Tibetan Buddhism). The lamentations of the Tibetan earth mother, waiting to be rescued and freed from the daggers which nail her down, do not reach the ears of the unknowing film stars. Also forgotten are all the anonymous girls who over the course of centuries have had to surrender their feminine energies to the tantric clergy, so that the latter could construct its powerful Buddhocracy. Palden Lhamo, who still rides through a sea of boiling blood, driven by the terrible trauma of having murdered her son, is forgotten. The apocalyptic future which threatens us all if we follow the way to Shambhala is forgotten. These women — as many say of them — believe they have escaped the Christian churches and the “white pontiff” but have run directly into the net (in Sanskrit: tantra) of the “yellow pontiff”.



[1] A terrible sister of the Palden Lhamo is the goddess Ekajati, the “Protector of the Mantra”.  One-eyed and with only one tooth she dances on bodies covered in scratches, swinging a human corpse in one hand, and placing a human heart in her mouth with the other.  As adornment she wears a chain of skulls.  She is a kind of war goddess and is thus also worshipped under the name of “Magic Weapon Army”.

[2] But Tara like all Tibetan Buddhas and Bodhisattvas also has her terrible side.  If this breaks out, she is known as the red Kurukulla, who dances upon corpses and holds aloft various weapons.  A rosary of human bones hangs around her neck, a tiger skin covers her hips. In this form she is often surrounded by several wild dakinis.  She is invoked in her cruel form to among other things destroy political opponents.

I prostrate to She crowned by a crescent moon

Her head ornament dazzlingly bright

From the hair-knot Buddha Amitabha

Constantly beams forth streams of light.

(Dalai Lama I, 1985, p. 130)

we can read in a poem to the wrathful Tara by the first Dalai Lama.  Above all it is the Sakyapa sect who worships her in this wrathful form.  She is considered to be the specific protective patroness of this order. It is most revealing that the “flesh-eating and horny” rock demoness, Srinmo, who seduced Avalokiteshvara and with him parented the Tibetan people, is also supposed to be an embodiment of Tara.

[3] To see Mary the Mother of God as an emanation of Tara is not historically justified; rather, the opposite would be more likely the case since the Tara cult is more recent than the cult of Mary.  It was first introduced to Tibet in the eleventh century C.E. by the scholar Atisha.

[4] How closely enmeshed Yeshe Tshogyal was with the tantric dakini cult is revealed by the scenario of her “being called to her maker”. They are no angels to bring her to paradise following her difficult life, rather “huge flocks of flesh-eating dakinis, a total of twelve different types, who each consume a part of her human body: breath takers, flesh eaters, blood drinkers, bone biters, and so forth — followed by beasts of prey” (Herrmann-Pfand, 1992, pp. 460, 461). Then spirits and demons appear. The queen of the night sings a song in honor of the yogini’s merits. This goes on for some nine days until she disappears as a blue light into a rainbow on the tenth day and leaves her ghostly flock to its sorrow.

[5] The names and life stories of a number of other yoginis from Tibetan history are known, and these biographies can be read in a book by the Italian, Tsultrim Allione.  All these “practicing” women form so much of an exception in the total culture of Tibet that they primarily act to confirm the misogynist rule.  The current intensive engagement with them is solely due to western feminism which is eagerly endeavoring to “win back” the tantric goddesses.  Hence we refrain from presenting the Tibetan yoginis individually.  In a detailed analysis of their lives we would at any rate have to return again and again to the tantric exploitation mechanisms which we described in the first part of our analysis.

[6] Hua-yen Buddhism, which propagates a Buddhocratic/totalitarian state structure, today enjoys special favor among American academics. The two religious studies scholars, Michael von Brück and Whalen Lai, see it as a none too fruitful yet exotic playing around, and in fact recommend turning instead to the “totalistic paradigm” of the Dalai Lama, which is said to be the living model of a Buddhocratic idea. This recommendation is meant in a thoroughly positive manner: “Yet Hua-yen is n longer a living tradition. ... This does not mean that a totalistic paradigm could not be repeated,” — and now one would think that the two western authors were about to pronounce a warning. But no, the opposite is the case — “but it seems more sensible to seek this in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, then the Tibetan Buddhists have a living memory of a real 'Buddhocracy' and a living Dalai Lama who leads the people as religious and political leadership figure” (Brück and Lai, 1997, p. 631).

[7] In connection with the relationship between the retention of semen and tantric power obsessions which we have dealt with at length in our book, it is worth mentioning that the weak willed Guangxu suffered from constant ejaculations. Every stress, even loud noises, made him ejaculate.

[8] In Bodh Gaya the nuns who attended founded the so-called Sakyadhita movement ("Daughters of Buddha”). This has in the meantime led to an international organization representing women from over 26 countries.



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