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Buddhadharma : Spri 2007
spring 2007| 72 |buddhadharma liberally from the scriptures, Shaw charts the growth of her devotional cult from the third to the seventh century, when her iconography emerged, and discusses her subsequent assimilation to Nepali and Tibetan forms. Descriptions of contem porary Tibetan and Nepali practice give her cult fresh vitality. Shaw emphasizes Prajnaparamita as a goddess rather than the wisdom of emp tiness itself. While there is no question about the centrality of the Prajnaparamita cult in Mahayana Buddhism, it is odd to isolate the goddess from the historic cult, which highlighted the genderless experi ence of the wisdom of emptiness over and above any deity, iconography, or myth. Another chapter profiles Tara, the sav ior goddess so important in Indian and Tibetan Mahayana traditions. Shaw calls Tara the Buddhist Madonna, protector and comforter of all who call upon her aid. Historically, Shaw correlates the growth of Tara to the great goddess traditions of India, as well as associating her with the male bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, a more frequent narrative in the literature. Like that of Prajnaparamita, Tara’s devotional following grew rapidly in the seventh and eighth centuries in India, until she was overtly called a Buddha in her manifes tation of the auspicious marks and the three bodies. More warmly depicted than Prajnaparamita, Tara eclipsed her prede cessor in late Indian Buddhism in her per sonification of “lush maternal compassion as well as liberating wisdom, offering a more complex, dynamic, and hence satis fying ‘mother of Buddhas.’ ” In her assimilation into Tibet, Tara relieves the eight mortal fears (of lions, elephants, fire, snakes, thieves, drowning, captivity, and evil spirits) and takes on multiple forms in order to provide precise succor for every possible obstacle. While there is an increasing amount of litera ture currently available on Tara and her cult, Shaw’s chapter offers a particularly rich and comprehensive overview of the history and dynamic power of Indian Buddhism’s most famous goddess. In the early Buddhism section, Shaw profiles the earth goddess Prthivi, who, representing the primal forces of nature, legitimized the Buddha’s awakening by witnessing his spiritual power and authenticity. She also includes sections on the Buddha’s mother, Mayadevi, and stepmother, Gotami, who are mythically important in many Buddhist traditions. They are depicted primarily through their lore and meaning for devotional Buddhists, but Shaw includes critical per spectives as well, questioning the historic integrity of various texts that glorify or exaggerate their many accomplishments. The section on tantric goddesses expands Shaw’s previous work, here fea turing Vajrayogini, the most important and prominent of Buddhist female deities. Vajrayogini is depicted as a purely tant ric goddess, severing bonds of attachment and dissolving conventional thought, a manner of operating that is quite different from that of the Mahayana goddess, who fulfills the petitioner’s needs and desires. Oddly, Shaw says nothing about the association of Vajrayogini with Prajna paramita, which is commonly expressed in tantric ritual texts. The only flaw in Shaw’s extensive research is her tendency to resurrect her gynocentric theories from her earlier work, insisting upon the superiority of the feminine. Here she depicts Prajnaparamita as “more important” than the Buddha, Vajrayogini as “primary” in comparison with her consort Heruka Chakrasamvara, and Tara as “supreme.” Such an ideologi cal tone, combined with the extravagant language used to depict these female dei ties, raises concerns about the author’s underlying agenda. Of course it is impor tant to retrieve the history, iconography, and significance of goddesses in Indian Buddhism, for this redresses the layers of androcentricism so prevalent in its history and traditions. However, exaggerating the importance of female deities may not be the best strategy. A comprehensive presen tation of deities in the Buddhist pantheon that shows the relationship between the male and female representations would correct these androcentric tendencies. One hopes that such a work will appear in the future. All in all, Shaw’s book is a valuable resource for the scholar, the practitioner, and the student of goddess traditions. Her rich profiles provide the necessary histori cal, iconographic, and ritual background for us to understand the meaning and context of these goddesses, and the art she has chosen and represented with vivid colored plates (supported by subventions) beautifully illustrates the variety, vitality, and power of the goddess traditions of Buddhist India. Hakuin on kensHo the four ways of knowing EditEd with CommEntary by Albert low $14.95 paperback Japanese Zen Master Hakuin (1689 –1769) considered Kensho—the Zen experience of waking up to one’s own true nature — to be essential. His text on the subject, “Four Ways of Knowing of an Awakened Person,” is a little-known Zen classic. This volume provides profound wisdom and inspiration for deeper practice. Shambhala Publications $14.95 paperback Visit www.shambhala.com to receive a 20% discount on this and over 600 other great books!