“We find conflict in so many places today, within ourselves, in relationships, between countries, and even in places we associate with peace, like the Himalayas. What is the solution? The Buddha teaches that violence leads to more violence. So how can we be actively engaged in change, yet not caught in patterns that perpetuate suffering? Meditation can create a working basis for changing the fundamental causes of suffering and moving toward natural liberation.”
Lama Tsultrim Allione, author and international teacher, is the founder and spiritual director of Tara Mandala, a Vajrayana Buddhist community in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. In 2009, Lama Tsultrim was selected by an esteemed committee of scholars and practitioners to receive the International Outstanding Woman in Buddhism Award given in Bangkok, Thailand.
Women, Buddhism and the Absolute and Relative Truth
When I think about women and Buddhism, the first thing that always comes to mind is the story of Tara’s vow. This story expresses our situation so very clearly and applies equally well to both ancient and modern times. It is a story that originated when Mahayana was integrating with tantra, ultimately forming what became Vajrayana in India. It is emblematic of a wave of stories that followed about powerful women who valued themselves as women within Buddhism. Many of the stories from that era in India (around 700–800 CE) tell us what was happening both sociologically in the culture, and developmentally in Vajrayana. During this period, for the first time Buddhism had women teaching men. It was also the dawn of female buddhas and the feminine wisdom principle, which began with Prajnaparamita, the “Mother of All the Buddhas,” in the Mahayana period.
The story tells us that Tara was a princess named Wisdom Moon, who was very devoted to the dharma and had a deep meditation practice. When she was close to enlightenment, raising the intention to reach enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, a monk approached her and said what a pity it was that she was in the body of a woman, because she would have to come back as a man before she could become enlightened. The princess answered back brilliantly, demonstrating her understanding of emptiness and absolute truth, saying, “Here there is no man; there is no woman, no self, no person, and no consciousness. Labeling ‘male’ or ‘female’ is hollow. Oh, how worldly fools delude themselves.”
She went on to make the following vow: “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 indeed; therefore may I, until this world is emptied out, work for the benefit of sentient beings in a woman’s body.”
From that time onward, the princess dedicated herself to realizing complete enlightenment. Once she accomplished that goal, she came to be known as Tara, the Liberator. I like to say that Tara is the first “Women’s Libber” and that Green Tara is the spiritual leader of the Green Party, guardian of the forest, fast acting and compassionate, with one foot in the world and one foot in meditation; a place where many of us find ourselves.
As a practitioner of Buddhism, I don’t think about myself in terms of gender. When I am in my retreat cabin meditating I try to cut through such concepts and rest in the true condition of unborn and unceasing luminous emptiness, the ground of being. However, I have continued to be committed to the reemergence of the sacred feminine in the Buddhist tradition. I don’t see any conflict or dissonance in these two views. This commitment has manifested at Tara Mandala, my retreat center in southern Colorado, where we have built a three-story mandala temple dedicated to the twenty-one Taras, all various aspects of the enlightened feminine. The interior of the temple is home to life-size golden statues of these Taras circling the ground level, similar to the ancient goddess temples of India….
Tsultrim Allione discusses the concept of the Divine Feminine and what it means in personal as well as cultural terms in the video below.