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Buddhadharma : Summer 2006
summer 2006| 24 |buddhadharma I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City on the occasion of their exhibit Female Buddhas: Women of Enlightenment in Himalayan Art. I was happy to see this exhibit – the first of its kind, I believe – which focused on enlightenment in female form. It was long overdue, and I am grateful to the museum for providing such a wonder- ful show. The fact that the show’s title included the word “female” makes it apparent that when we use the word “buddha,” most people imagine a male figure. Although it is true that buddhas can be male or female, it is also true that unless we say female, we assume it is male. That is our cultural baggage. Buddhism arose in the East. And for most of the past 2,500 years, it has been part of the male-oriented culture of the East. It was that way in Buddha’s time in India, and it was that way Gehlek Rinpoche is a lama in the Geluk tRadition of tibetan buddhism. he is the spiRitual diRectoR of Jewel heaRt, based in ann aRboR, michiGan, which has chapteRs in the united states, sinGapoRe, malaysia, and the netheRlands. he is the authoR of Good life, Good death: tibetan wisdom on ReincaRnation. While the images we habitually associate with enlightenment – whether buddhas, teachers, or deities – are usually male, awakened mind equally expresses itself in female form. Gehlek Rinpoche argues that enlightenment is possible only when female and male energies are both fully present. He teaches us Tara practices to bring enlightened female energy into our lives. in Tibet, where I was raised. But the culture in the West today is very different from traditional Asian culture. It’s clear to me that in this time and place, we need to emphasize the femi- nine principle. We live in a time when equality between men and women is increasing. If we cannot take advantage of this present situation to develop the feminine aspects of Buddhism and of our human nature, we will have missed an important opportunity. The favoring of male practitioners did not originate in Tibet. We can see this bias throughout India and Asia. This is the cultural baggage I mentioned. It has nothing to do with the real essence of Buddhism. Women are as capable as men when it comes to spiritual practice. It is time for our tradition to reflect this reality more clearly. It is time for this imbalance to be acknowledged and corrected. There is no reason for this baggage to be carried forward. It does not serve the purpose of our times and has no special spiritual value. We need to do more than honor the feminine as a principle. We need to also encourage and support female practitioners. In Tibetan Buddhism, we acknowledge Buddha Shakyamuni as the historical, or “official,” Buddha. But we also recognize the Enlightenment in Female Form ColleCTionofSHelleyanddonaldRubin,WWW.HimalayanaRT.oRG