Whole Earth Review

Passionate Enlightenment.

Passionate Enlightenment. – book reviews

Hacsi Horvath

The role of women in the history of Tantric Buddhism is poorly understood. And small wonder beyond the systematic erasure of women’s history by nearly every culture worldwide, text after scholarly text has proclaimed Buddhism’s inherent male-centeredness. Miranda Shaw argues that in fact some of ready tantra’s most creative and influential adepts were women, and that they were never meant to be men’s tools in attaining spiritual power. Breaking the years’ accretion of male-dominant interpretations, Passionate Enlightenment is a beautiful, genuinely useful book that bring long-needed balance to tantric study.

Identification with divine female role models gave women an unassailable basis for self-confidence, namely, the “divine pride” that comes from awakening one’s innate divinity. The presence of divine female exemplars who openly rejoice in their femaleness, free from shame and fear, seems to have empowered women to speak the truth fearlessly, to be physically and mentally adventurous, and to be argumentative and aggressive when it suited them. In the Tantric biographies, women freely and without apology reprimand men who need to be recalled to a direct vision of reality, by challenging his prejudices, shattering a cherished illusion, or puncturing an inflated self-image. Women’s sense of freedom from male authority in this movement was reinforced by the fact that women were not dependent upon male approval for religious advancement either in theory or in practice. There was no male clerical body to bar their way and no promise of metaphysical gain by submission to male authority. Women could pursue Tantric apprenticeships on their own initiative. They needed only to be accepted by a guru, and that guru might be male or female.

Tantric Buddhist women’s absence of fear and submissiveness is consistent with the nature of Tantric partnerships. The women did not need to seek relationships with men in order to gain self-approval, maintain their social respectability, or uphold the moral order. Psychologically this freed a woman to undertake relationships solely for her own enlightenment. Unlike arranged marriages, Tantric relationships were voluntary. Their basis was a passionate commitment to the same religious goals and ideals. A woman sought companionship for one reason: to achieve the religious ideals of complementarity and harmony that could be perfected in such a relationship. The woman’s spirituality could nurture that of a man, but this was not the focus of her religious life, which was her own enlightenment.

COPYRIGHT 1994 Point Foundation

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group