“Thus I have heard—at one time the Buddha stayed in the vagina of the admantine woman, who is the essence of the body, speech, and mind of all buddhas.” – Shakyamuni Buddha
“Wherever in the world a female body is seen, That should be recognized as my holy body.” –Vajrayoginī , in Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa Tantra
“Even if you fear bondage and death thereby
Withstand all that.
On this path, women must not be abandoned!
Free from trickery, arrogance, and shame,
Always helping with whatever is needed,
The real bestowers of the spiritual attainments,
They should be honored with all one’s possessions.
One must not disparage women …
One should speak with pleasant words
And give a woman what she wants.
Having worshipped with one’s belongings,
Accordingly one should not despise her.
Never abandon women! Heed the Buddha’s words!
If you do otherwise, That transgression will land you in hell!
–from ‘In Praise of Women’ in Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa Tantra
Today, on one of the most sacred days of the Buddhist calendar, Vesak Day (Saga Dawa, Buddha Jayanti), a time when followers remember the enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha, I share a new research post on the fully enlightened goddess, Vajrayoginī and how remembering her forms, words and male consort, might help bring us all back to a balance and respect for the sacred feminine as embodied in all women, in all their forms and guises.
The Oxford English dictionary defines the phrase, ‘scarlet woman’, as a woman who is notorious for having many casual sexual encounters or relationships, a sexually promiscuous woman, or a woman who commits adultery, a hidden/secret woman. Desired by many, yet at the same time frowned upon as morally subversive and a dangerous ‘femme fatale’, the scarlet woman also symbolizes the ‘whore’ of the Freudian virgin-whore complex that afflicts those in patriarchal cultures and religions. It is no coincidence that many fully enlightened female deities in Vajrayana Buddhism are bright, scarlet red. Red being the colour of magnetizing, blood and fiery heat, they are fully enlightened female forms representing the energy of lust, love, sex, desire, female power, magnetism, and the inner heat fire of passion and wrath. Vajrayoginī, a prime example of such a ‘scarlet woman’, in all her forms, is venerated and worshipped for her mandala of beauty, power and bliss, which are represented in monasteries and temples all over India, Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan.
However, we also live in times when violence, humiliation and degradation against women is commonplace, and often used as entertainment. Gender inequality is still rampant in most cultures and races. Even though, respect and veneration for women is still publicly advocated as a necessity in most religious cultures and traditions, still the majority of those traditions maintain and promote men in positions of influence, power and visibility.
Even within a goddess-worshipping culture such as Vajrayana/Tantric Buddhism, females have often been publicly and privately degraded as a group, and as individual practitioners/consorts. Yeshe Tsogyel’s gang-rape being a clear example. The last thirty years has seen increasing public exposure and censure of serious downfalls and transgressions by senior male teachers against females, and the trauma and harm it causes people within those communities, of which I recently wrote about my first-hand experience here.
In the first section, I consider the pervasive spread and influence of male monastic culture and privilege, with its emphasis on (often forced) celibacy, ‘taught’ aversion to female bodies and sexuality and its oppressive and misogynist effect on the treatment and perception of females by male practitioners (monastic and lay) as human beings, nuns, consorts, spiritual teachers and even as a deity in yab-yum union. Citing the severe and catastrophic consequences of disrespecting women, as embodied by the male consort of Vajrayoginī , Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa, this is followed by an overview of the invisibility of female incarnation lineages in Tibet, yet the undeniable presence of ‘mother’ teachers of the founding fathers, and female lineage founders such as Jomo Menmo and Princess Laskhminkara.
In the second section, in order to address this ‘mistaken’ yet often unconscious, ‘inferior’ perception of the ‘female’, I consider the visceral example of two forms of Vajrayoginī : one with severed head, bringing to the forefront, ‘mother’ lineage holders such as Lakṣmīṅkarā. The other, Vajrayoginī as the female-centred deity, in reversed yum-yab with male consort, highlighting and reversing unconscious male-centric, sexist perceptions of consorts and deity visualization. It is hoped that citing these examples helps to re-balance and re-store the perception of the full and sacred equality of the female, as human, consort, teacher, lineage holder and deity.
PART I: MALE MONASTIC SUPREMACY AND DENIGRATION OF WOMEN
Male monastic prudish privilege and the repression of the ‘wild’ female
In the ground-breaking work of scholars such as Miranda Shaw (1994), Tsultrim Allione (2000), Adelheid Herrmann-Pfandt (1997), Ulrich Timme-Kragh (2011), Nicola Schneider (2015), and historical and contemporary examples of female masters, it is clear that the role of women in Tantric Buddhism was never merely that that of ḍākinī/consort to the main realized male/hero/master.
Yet as male monastic and patriarchal culture hijacked Buddhist ideas (and boys without genuine renunciation were put in monasteries), the female became downgraded as something inferior, to be feared and avoided by celibate males wanting to be free from the suffering of desire and lust. This misogyny (which bypasses the original intent of the Vinaya and purpose of monasticism, the abandoning of desire, not fear and loathing of women) became an unspoken institutional norm for monks, many of whom did not freely choose to enter monastic life as children.
As many scholars have asserted, this normalization of female’ inferiority’ meant that Buddhist culture in Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan, gradually became dominated by notions of male supremacy and power, represented and symbolised by ‘heads’ of the major Tibetan Buddhist lineages (the vast majority of whom are red-robed male monastics, or whom perpetuate the inequality that men are superior to women). This male-dominated control of male (and female) sexuality via monastic celibacy as the prime example of a ‘spiritual practitioner’, led to an increasingly ‘unhealthy’ type of hidden consort practice and sexual union, which was driven more ‘underground’, secret and hidden. Not in healthy, respectful ways though, rather in ways that led to more misogyny, domination, fear, hypocrisy, transgression and repression of all things female (unless the female is submissive and deemed acceptable to that male perception).
Monastic rules, intended to benefit women in the highly patriarchal culture of India, also led to a mistaken perception of nuns as inferior and unequal to monks, as Herrman-Pfandt says (1997: 15):
This subtle, and sometimes outright, perception of the female, as inferior, or less prominent/important within early Buddhist monastic culture, later then spread into Mahayana Buddhist cultures, in which women were advised their highest goal was to be re-born as men, as the male body was seen as superior to attain enlightenment. As Herrmann-Pfandt points out, there were dissenting voices that asserted biological sex was not sustainable with the genderless view of emptiness, as well as the example of Bodhisattva Noble Tara, who vowed to attain enlightenment in a female body. Yet, this contradictory view of females as both inferior and yet still capable, led to a decline in the number of nuns and a perpetuation of inequalities within the tradition.
‘La Femme Dangereuse’: Woman as Dākinī Goddess in Tantric Buddhism
In tantric Buddhism, the female was clearly put on a pedestal of veneration and devotion. Instead of female minds and bodies represented as fearful objects of lust to be avoided, realized female practitioners were represented as beautiful (and ugly), playful, naked erotic goddesses called ḍākinīs, (sky-goers). However, despite this, the male gaze and view also fixed the ḍākinī goddess as centred around, and for, men: part male fantasy, part male fear, as symbolized by the femme fatale. As Timme-Kragh (2011) puts it:
“In spite of their tantalizing appearance of sexual empowerment for both genders, the male-authored Tantras—like their monastic counterpart emulating the ascetic ideal—were nevertheless fixed in an androcentric mind-set. Female Tantric practitioners, viewed as feminine embodiments of insight requiring male worship and seduction, were often represented as goddesses called ḍākinī, literally meaning “capable of flying” or “those drumming with th sound of dak.”The use of the word ḍākinī intimates a male fantasy and fear of the female, casting the feminine divine in a sense of la femme dangereuse, because, outside of Buddhism, the ḍākinī signified ferocious, carnivore, female attendant-deities linked with the cult of Mother-goddesses.”
Herrmann-Pfandt (1997) claims that even within Tantric Buddhism though, the gender inequalities persisted:
The ‘crime’ of disrespecting women and Vajrayoginī ’s feminist male consort, Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa
Yet, as one of the opening quotes of this article shows, the consequences of such double standards and disrespecting women are severe indeed. Shaw (1994: 47) explains:
“Unconditional respect for women was so integral to the Tantric ethos that men who failed to take seriously this aspect of Tantra were severely criticized and rebuked. Men were instructed regarding what behaviors and attitudes toward women were to be cultivated and which were inconsistent with the Tantric world view. Male practitioners were warned to dispense with any denigrating attitudes they might have about women and admonished that these were incompatible with the Tantric path. The special commitments of a Tantric initiate include, as the culminating vow, a pledge never to disparage or belittle women.”
Citing Tsongkhapa’s Chakrasamvara commentary, Shaw shows how even anger and aversion towards women has dire consequences:
“If one who aspires to enlightenment
Generates anger toward a female messenger,
The merit accumulated over ten million eons
Will be destroyed in an instant.”
Shaw (1994:50) also gives the example of how Vajrayoginī herself does not suffer misogynist fools who belittle women gladly, and pronounces hyperbolic curses on those who think they can scale the Tantric peaks while disparaging women:
“Chattering fools …who disparage women out of hostility,
Will by that evil action remain constantly tortured
For three eons in the fathomless Raudra hell,
Wailing as their bodies bum in many fires.”
Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa, Vajrayoginī ‘s consort in the Tantra text from which these quotes are taken, has as his general function the subduing of the evildoers of the world, yet he singles out in particular those who transgress against women. “He assures her that he keeps his sword and noose at the ready as he scouts for men who fail to pay homage to women, so he can slash the scoundrels to pieces.”
This disrespect of women, individually and as a group, has clearly led to a major degeneration in our times of Buddhist monastic culture, with monks (and laypeople) practicing sexual tantra without the requsite qualities, taking consorts, wives and even having children (with the pressure to keep it hidden) and the public outcry and horror when the duplicity and hypocrisy is revealed. This is why some have said that Sutra should be practiced by monastics and Tantra by lay-people (or tantrika yogis) and that these should not be mixed, even that a person’s clothes should clearly distinguish between the two.
Tantric practice with a female consort does not sit well with monastic celibacy and professed revulsion of women and female sexuality and desire. It was the reason ‘founding fathers’ of tantric Buddhism, intentionally (or were forcibly) disrobed and left monasteries when meeting yogini female teachers or consorts . Although a consort is not essential, it is still a commonly used method and relied on by many teachers and students, as a way to reach liberation.
Nonetheless, as Shaw (1994:194) concludes such practices were created by and for women, not to be used by men to exploit them:
“There may be Buddhist doctrines and practices that developed in the hothouse environment of a monastery, but the sexual yogas cannot lay claim to such a genesis. The sexual sidhani provided a natural arena for the expression of women’s interests and aspirations. Since women were among the early teachers and formulators of this genre of practice, it is reasonable to maintain that women did not create or view this practice as one in which they would be manipulated and exploited. It was conducive to women’s enlightenment because women helped to design it.”
‘Cherchez la femme’: The invisibility of female lineages in Tantric Buddhism
The effects of this downgrading of women and their role in tantric Buddhism can be seen in the lack of prominent women as incarnations, lineage heads and teachers in both historic literature and in contemporary reality. Female deities such as Tārā, Vajrayoginī or Samantabhadrī are often cited as the source of female incarnation lineages, yet they are few and far between in reality.
Despite the visible presence of female lineages and incarnations such as Machig Labdron, Jomo Menmo, Lakṣmīṅkarā, Gelongma Palmo, Samding Dorje Phagmo and several others, there are still very few compared to men within the male tulku system, said to have originated from the 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (1110-1193).
This predominance of male incarnation (tulku) lineages, as opposed to female incarnation lineages (and lineage holders) has also entrenched and exacerbated an unconscious perception of females as ‘inferior’ or ‘not qualified’. As Nicole Schneider says, in Female Incarnation Lineages: Some Remarks on their Features and Functions in Tibet (2015) :
“While male incarnation lineages are well known for the religious, political and social roles they played and continue to play in Tibetan societies, not much is known about female lineages, of which there are only very few.”
Yet, in one of the most comprehensive studies of the existence of female adepts and lineage holders in the history of Tantric Buddhism, Miranda Shaw’s monograph Passionate Enlightenment (1994), clearly demonstrates that the relevant literature contains numerous traces evidencing the active participation of women and their bearing on male figures. As Shaw states:
“My method is what in crime fiction is called cherchez la femme, the principle that when one is looking for the cause or root of something one should “search for the woman.” The purpose of this exercise is to question the current portrait of the Tantric movement as strictly and exclusively a male cultural creation by exploring whether women may be found at its roots.” (1994: 136)
In her ‘search for the woman’ Shaw discovered that Tantric Buddhism was created by women who were the ‘mother’ teachers of the so-called founding fathers:
“A question of origins is always a hard one to answer, but based on the available evidence-namely, the tradition’s own legendary sources of its origins and founders-the trail does not end at the male founders but rather leads to a deeper stratum, to their female teachers: their mothers, female companions, and gurus. The identity of the women’s teachers poses another question regarding the historical origins of the movement, but the fact remains that the historical trail runs cold not at the so-called male founders but at their female mentors and gurus.” (1994: 138).
Ulrich Timme-Kragh (2011), using the example of 8th Century female masters from Uddiyāna , also asserts that female lineages form the heart and life-blood of tantric Buddhism, which turned away from the dominant, repressive male monastic culture. The reason for their ‘invisibility’ being widespread male appropriation of history and women’s voices:
“In the context of Tantric Buddhism, the legacy of every female master has invariably been transmitted to posterity through a male reception. In this process, past women became embedded in an androcentric perception of history, subject to male appraisal, and often downplayed to relative insignificance. The male appropriation of the past, which is meant to record the saga of his own subjectivity, is an appropriation of the very performativity of the female gender, because the female spiritual experience is recast in male memories and retold by male voices.” (2011: 91).
Such appropriation of women’s voices and stories by men, continues even today in contemporary scholarship and translation, as I wrote about recently here in relation to Jonang female lineage holder, Kunga Trinley Wangmo.
PART II: VAJRAYOGINI AS EVERYWOMAN, LINEAGE HOLDER, CONSORT, MASTER AND DEITY
Having set the background to the denigration and suppression of the female in both monastic and even tantric Buddhist cultures, I now turn to how considering the role and forms of the fully enlightened ‘scarlet woman’ goddess, Vajrayoginī to subvert and re-balance such misleading and biased representations of the female in Buddhism. Vajrayoginī is often described with the epithet sarvabuddhaḍākiṇī, meaning “the ḍākiṇī [who is the Essence] of all Buddhas”.
According to Shaw (2006: 360), Vajrayoginī is “inarguably the supreme deity of the Tantric pantheon. No male Buddha, including her divine consort, Heruka-Cakrasaṃvara, approaches her in metaphysical or practical import.”
As enlightened Goddess in human form
Firstly, Vajrayoginī is a prime metaphysical example of the tenet that human women are embodiments of the great goddesses of Tantric Buddhism. As Shaw (1994: 41) explains:
“The identification of human women and goddesses is often voiced by a female deity. For instance, in the Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa-tantra, Vajrayoginī repeatedly states that she reveals herself in and through women. She claims that all forms of female embodiment-including supernatural beings, women of all castes and forms of livelihood, female relatives, and female animals-participate in her divinity and announces:
“Wherever in the world a female body is seen,
That should be recognized as my holy body.”
Vajrayoginī insists that all women and female beings in the universe are her embodiments (rilpa), or manifestations, and thus should be respected, honored, and served without exception.”
Vajrayoginī even declares that whatever a woman may do, if she meditates on her form and divine pride arises, she can literally do no wrong:
“In the Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa Tantra which addresses this theme, the female Buddha Vajrayoginī (also called Devavajri, or “Diamond of Hatred,” in the text) reveals her metaphysical link with women and expresses her special concern for them. She announces that she is fully immersed in emptiness and bliss, and thus on some level is formless, but that she appears in bodily form “for the benefit of women who do not know that I exist in the bodies of all women.” Vajrayoginī takes form so that women, seeing enlightenment in female form, will recognize their innate divinity and potential for enlightenment:
“When [a woman] meditates on my form,
If supreme pride in her innate divinity arises,
She will not be stained by sin,
Even if she kills a hundred Hindu priests ….
Even if she is pitiless, fickle, and irascible and considers taking life for profit,
That yogini will remain stainless.”
As this vehement defense of women is placed in the mouth of a female deity, it reminds her devotees that her gender is a trait she shares with human women.”
For more on the forms of Vajrayogini, see Elizabeth English (2002). For more on the ‘feminism’ of Vajrayogini, see Shaw (2000)”Is Vajrayogini a feminist? A Tantric Buddhist Case Study?”.
Vajrayoginī as Lineage Bestower: Jomo Menmo and Princess Lakṣmīṅkarā
There are many examples of Vajrayoginī appearing to female (and male) practitioners and bestowing teachings directly on them. In that respect, she is the queen female lineage master and holder.
Jomo Menmo and the bestowal of Sangwa Kundu
One such example is of Vajryogini bestowing teachings of the Sangwa Kundu to the 13th Century female terton, Jomo Menmo (1248-1283):
“When she was thirteen years old, one day, at noon, she was minding the cattle near the sacred cave, when she slipped and fell. Then she heard a sweet voice calling her from the cave. She was awakened by this very pleasing voice and she looked into the cave and saw a door at the back. She opened the door and saw a heavenly cremation ground, with Vajravārāhī in the center, surrounded by many other ḍākinīs. They were making a feast offering. Vajravārāhī said to her: “So, my girl, you have arrived?” She took a text and placed it on Jomo Memo’s head, blessing her with it. Then she gave her the text. She said: “This is the teachings of the ḍākinīs, ‘Sangwa Kundu’; if you do this meditation you will reach liberation. As soon as she received the book, she knew immediately all that it contained. · After she had feasted with the ḍākinīs and eaten the feast offerings, she awoke and found herself in the place where she had fallen. After this experience, she became suddenly all-knowing and very learned. Teachings she had never studied came into her mind spontaneously. She could leave footprints and handprints in stone.” (Allione (2000: 292-293)).
For more on Jowo Menmo and the Sangwa Kundu, see here.
The ‘Crazy Princess’, Lakṣmīṅkarā and severed-head Vajrayoginī
Another example of a female lineage-holder, to whom Vajrayoginī directly bestowed teachings is that of Princess Lakṣmīṅkarā, said to be the sister of the great king Indrabhuti who ruled over the kingdom of Sambola in the land of Uddiyāna . She was wise and through listening to the teachings of Lawapa, she became well versed in many tantras. When she was of age, her brother arranged to marry her off to prince Jalandhara, a son of the King of Lankapuri. Timme-Kragh (2011), who has written extensively on her, says:
“Particularly, in medieval India, the Tantric community of Uddiyāna included several female teachers and authoresses. Among them, Lakṣmīṅkarā became the most outstanding individual, whose stature reverberates to the modern time. Believed to hail from the ruling family of Uddiyāna , her activities as a guru and commentator date back to the ninth or tenth century, and three works attributed to her are still extant.”
Shaw (1994: 111) explains how Lakṣmīṅkarā got a direct instruction from Vajrayoginī :
“Lakṣmīṅkarā’s story dramatizes the lengths to which a mystic must sometimes go in order to sever the attachments that prevent full immersion into the egoless state. Lakṣmīṅkarā had already received religious training and practiced meditation before she left her palace, but the sojourn in the wilderness catapulted her into a realm of visionary experience in which she could see and communicate directly with Buddhas and bodhisattvas. The Buddhas themselves gave her religious instruction. The female Buddha Vajrayoginī appeared to Lakṣmīṅkarā in a distinctive [severed-head] form that became the basis of a widespread meditation practice. When Lakṣmīṅkarā came out of seclusion, she attracted a circle of disciples, several of whom subsequently became quite famous. Her former fiancé, Prince Jalandhara, even converted to Buddhism and asked her to be his guru, but she assigned one of her low-caste disciples to be his guru instead.”
This was then transmitted to Virupa, whose life-story became more well-known, but the mother of the lineage is clearly Lakṣmīṅkarā. The account of her life in Himalayan Art says that this low-caste disciple was in fact a toilet-cleaner at the palace.
“Virupa, an adept whose idea of religious discipline was to meditate in a tavern over a dozen glasses of wine, is important as the Indian forefather of the Sakya (Sa-skya) school of Tibetan Buddhism, with its distinctive Path and Fruit (Tib. lam-‘bras) formulation of the religious path beginning with Mahayana philosophy and culminating in Tantric teachings on the Hevajra-tantra. According to the official Sa-skya telling of his biography, he received his Tantric teachings and initiations directly from the blue female Buddha Nairatmya… and the practice of Severed-Headed Vajrayogini by its founder, Lakṣmīṅkarā, and then transmitted the practice to his own disciples, who spread it to Nepal and Tibet. Thus, in the case of Virupa, too, we find a spiritual mother.” (1994: 136)
Shaw (1994) also cites a teaching given by Lakṣmīṅkarā on the importance of respecting women:
“In a treatise entitled Realization of Nonduality, Lakṣmīṅkarā argues for this respect on the grounds that women are embodiments of female deity:
“One must not denigrate women,
In whatever social class they are born,
For they are Lady Perfection of Wisdom,
Embodied in the phenomenal realm.”
For more on the symbolism of the severed-head Vajrayoginī received by Lakṣmīṅkarā, see below.
Vajrayoginī ’s Forms: Severed Head, Yum-Yab reversal and Vibrant Vulva
The vast majority of female deities are either pictured alone, or in a yab-yum (male-female) union, with the male Heruka deity figure looking outwards and the female deity’s backside facing the viewer, hair flowing down.
Even though they exist, it is much rarer to find a yum-yab union female deity with face outwards in union with a male consort figure. Even rarer, are male Vajrayana masters giving empowerments or teachings on such yum-yab representations. Herrmann-Pfandt (2015) in Yab Yum Iconography and the Role of Women in Tibetan Tantric Buddhism” refers to this lack of yum-yab depictions as further supporting her assertion that the female is still subtly seen as secondary, even in the traditional yab-yum depiction (see below).
As Solitary Mistress – Red and Black
As I have written here before about the iconography of Vajrayoginī , she is depicted alone in different ways depending on the lineage. The khaṭvāṇga staff carried symbolizes the secret consort. For a woman it symbolizes her hidden male counterpart, skillful means, and great bliss. Again reminding us that the ultimate consort/bliss is within one’s mind and never separate.
There is also a solitary form of her, as the fierce Black One, Troma Nagmo (Krishna Krodhini) a wrathful form of Vajravārāhī, see here.
In Yab-Yum Unions with Male Deities
Vajrayoginī is also often depicted in union with a ‘male’ deity. As Vajravārāhī, her consort is Chakrasaṃvara (Khorlo Demchog), see below:
Vajravārāhī is also depicted as the consort of Hayagriva (Tamdrin) – a wrathful emanation of Bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig). There is a specific form called Hayagriva Vajravarahi Chintamani (Tapag Yishin Norbu) in which the two deities are in union in a dancing pose.
Vajravārāhī is also the spiritual partner of Avalokiteshvara in his specific form, called Jinasagara (Gyalwa Gyatso) – see below. He is red in color, with four hands. With two of his hands he holds a gem in front of his heart, hugging his consort and with the other two holds a vajra in the right and a lotus in the left. Vajravārāhī is also red in color and holds her usual attributes.
As mentioned above, the severed-head form of Vajrayoginī arose from the female lineage of Princess Lakṣmīṅkarā. Shaw (1994) explains, the visualization and practice are visceral and bloody:
“The female deity whose practice Lakṣmīṅkarā introduced is Severed-Head Vajrayoginī. Severed-Headed Vajrayoginī has a yellow body, a dynamic dancing pose, and long black hair streaming behind her. The meditator identifies with her and envisions her as raising a sword, cutting off her own head, and triumphally waving it aloft. Three streams of blood spout from her body at the neck and flow into the mouth of her own severed head and the mouths of two yoginis at her sides. The yoginis are green Vajravarnani (or Vajrapranava) on her left and yellow Vajravairocani on her right. The divine yoginis are naked and have loosely flowing hair. (see image below (1994): 111).
The English phrases ‘lost your head’, ‘off with his head’ all mean having gone insane or having one’s egoic life force severed. There appears to be some connection here to the Chod lineage (also ‘headed up’ by a female, Machig Labdron), which is a rich area for future research.
Shaw (1994: 113-117) gives a whole section on two female gurus, Mekhala and Kanakhala, who continued this particular lineage and practice (more on them in another post). Mekhala (Mekhalā or Mahakhala – “Elder Mischievous Girl”) “The Elder Severed-Headed Sister” and Kanakhala (Kanakhalā – “Younger Mischievous Girl”) “The Younger Severed-Headed Sister”) are two sisters who figure in the eighty-four mahasiddhas of Tantric Buddhism :
“Mekhala and Kanakhala were sisters who both undertook Tantric practice and attained enlightenment together. They devised the authoritative version of the inner yogas of Severed-Headed Vajrayogini. Lakṣmīṅkarā had introduced meditation on this deity, but perhaps because of their special expertise it fell to the sisters to provide a definitive
formulation of the inner yoga.”
“Mekhala and Kanakhala are usually portrayed with swords, either dancing with the swords held aloft or in the act of cutting off their heads. By cutting off their heads they demonstrated that they had severed their egos with the sword of wisdom. One interpreter suggests that the sisters beheaded themselves to show that they had conquered the “self-centered conceit” and “vanity” that characteristically afflict women; however, nothing in their story indicates that the sisters were vain. To become the object of unjust accusation is something that could befall anyone, male or female, and the guru gave them the Buddhist teachings as a remedy not for specifically feminine weaknesses but for the core of human suffering, namely, attachment to an illusory self.”
The sisters’ iconography also refers to their mastery of the practice of Severed-Headed Vajrayogini. Portraying someone with attributes of a deity shows that she has fully identified with that deity through meditation. Portraying the sisters in a manner that likens them to this form of Vajrayogini-naked, with flowing hair, and with swords or flaying knives in the act of cutting off their heads-expresses their identification with the female Buddha and the successful awakening of their divine potentialities.”
Taranatha (1575–1634) in his Historical Works – Kahna pa ‘i mam char (a biography of Kanhapa) also describes the life of some of the Mahasiddha, Kahnapa’s disciples including Mekhala and Kanakhala.
As Yum-yab deity union with male consort – gender reversal
Although Vajrayoginī is normally in a male-centred union as yab-yum, there are a few forms of her (published by Herrmann-Pfandt (1997)) where she is the central deity with a male consort, standing or in her lap. Above is a form with a single head, two-armed Heruka in her lap. Below is a two armed form of her with a standing Heruka.
I have already written here about how the traditional yab-yum depiction in images (but also in reality) is strictly male-female, and why this biological nature cannot be changed for union practice, due to inner hydraulics of the channels and chakras. In the union, the male and female are considered to be equals, nonetheless, the deity unions are generally male facing, female back facing the viewer, with the male deity’s face(s), arms and legs clearly visible.
Citing a modern-day meditation manual on Kalacakra visualization, Herrmann-Pfandt contends that this traditional yab-yum depiction leads, particularly for monastic, celibate practitioners, yet again into a male-centred visualization and perception. First, Pfandt says that it lends the viewer to focusing mainly on the male who remains more in focus whether the female figure is present or not. However, imagining the female without the male figure becomes very difficult.
She then questions why so few female deities were accorded a female-centred yab-yum:
Herrmann-Pfandt then posits the possibility that as the lack of female-centred yab-yum cannot be anything to do with the inferiority or lack of practice of the female deity, it may be yet again a ‘subtle attempt’ of sparing men the humiliation of being subordinate to the feminine:
Pfandt then discusses two Indo-Tibetan Tantric Buddhist female-centred VajraVarahi yum-yab depictions and practices, one of which she is surrounded by eight goddesses who are also in the yum-yab form. Pfandt says this tradition was continued in the 17th Century by Jetsun Taranatha:
Herrman-Pfandt states that a possible source of this Vajravarahi yum-yab tradition might be the Indian tantric yogini, Dombiyogini, who sings about it while meditating in the middle of a lake:
For more on the song and Dombiyogini, see Shaw (1994: 63-68). I will also do a future post on this woman and the song in a series of posts on female gurus and lineage holders.
Vibrant Red Vulvas – a Vajrayoginī sand mandala and thangka made in Bhutan (2021)
In a recent short film, The Mandala of Vajrayoginī : Tantric Goddess of Enlightened Wisdom’ , Dasho Karma Ura, Director of the Centre for Bhutan Studies, charts the creation of a Buddhist sand mandala (see image above) commissioned by the British Museum in response to the exhibition, ‘Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution’. Made almost 5000 miles away in the mountains of Bhutan, depicting Vajrayoginī , the mandala was intricately constructed by nuns and monks from across Bhutan, before being ritually destroyed as a metaphorical expression of the impermanence and transformation of all phenomena.
Dr. Ian Baker  a scholar-practitioner and National Geographic-designated ‘explorer for the millennium’, who was actively involved in the production of the film, told me that during the making of the sand mandala and thangka painting, a discussion was had about the depiction of her prominent vulva.
Dasho Karma Ura’s thangka painting (which has yet to be exhibited in the British Museum, see secreenshot of the unfinished image below) presents Vajrayoginī’s anatomy more naturalistically and again a clear depiction of her vulva beneath an apron of bone ornaments. But as Baker noted, the unabashed representation of female genitalia was initially a concern for the British Museum’s acquisitions department, which recognised that the vast majority of viewers would be unaware of the transcendent symbolism. He said: “Displaying Vajrayoginī in a museum context raises inherent challenges, particularly in regard to her nudity which symbolises, in the context of Tantric Buddhism, the unconditioned nature of the mind.” 
Conclusion: Praise and bow down to the vulva, source of all the Buddhas
For me, watching the Bhutanese monks and nuns together constructing the sand mandala’s huge vulva, was a timely reminder of the inherent conflict in tantric practice within monastic culture. On the one hand, monks socially and culturally obliged to be separate from females/nuns, who are still seen as inferior to the monk and something to be avoided and repressed. Yet, openly creating in a sacred space, the female genitalia of an enlightened goddess, next to a nun, could not have symbolized better the contradictions and conflict between monastic and tantric culture. On the one hand, maintaining a public image of celibacy and purity, on the other, imagining and gazing at the majestic red clitoris and vulva of a goddess, completely oblivious to – the glaring blind-spot of – that sacred divinity in the female sitting right next to him.
So, the question remains can monastics engage in tantric union practice with females, when females are still continually looked down upon and denigrated? The answer, especially judging by recent public scandals, is a shrieking sow’s squeal of NO!
Thus, ending at the beginning- with the first quote of this article:
“Thus I have heard—at one time the Buddha stayed in the vagina of the admantine woman, who is the essence of the body, speech, and mind of all buddhas.” – Shakyamuni Buddha
The undeniable ‘conclusion’ is that the blissful, bhaga mandala, symbolized by the vibrant red vulva, as the blissful, yet empty, source and abode of all the Buddhas, must be respected and revered at all times.
Or as Fatboy Slim sang: ‘I I have to celebrate you baby, I have to praise you like I should!’
Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 26th May 2021 (15th day of the 4th Month, Saga Dawa). Please share, steal and borrow! Copyright.
Allione, Tsultrim (2000). Women of Wisdom (2nd Edition, Shambhala).
Diemberger, Hildegard (2007). When a Woman Becomes a Religious Dynasty: The Samding Dorje Phagmo of Tibet. (Columbia University).
Dowman, Keith The Rape of Yeshe Tsogyel.
English, Elizabeth ( 2002) Vajrayogini: Her Visualizations, Rituals, & Forms. (Boston: Wisdom Publications).
Finnegan, Mary and Hogendoorn, Rob (2019). Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism: The Rise and Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche (Jorvik Press)
Herrmann – Pfandt, Adelheid (1997). “Yab Yum Iconography and the Role of Women in Tibetan Tantric Buddhism.” The Tibet Journal, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 12–34. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43300602.
Karmapa, 17th, Orgyen Trinley Dorje: On Dress-Code of Sangha http://www.kagyumonlam.org/index.php/en/2017-02-12-16-06-48/transcripts?id=727.
Klein, Anne C. (1995). “Nondualism and the Great Bliss Queen.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring, 1985), pp. 73-98.
Penick, Douglas J. THE LIFE OF KANAKHALA AND MEHKALA: http://levekunst.com/the-life-of-kankala-and-mehkala/
Shaw, Miranda (1994). Passionate Enlightenment (Princeton University Press).
———(1989) “An Ecstatic Song by Laksminkara.” In Janice D. Willis, ed., Feminine Ground, pp. 52-56. Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion Pub., 1989.
———(1997) “Worship of Women in Tantric Buddhism: Male Is to Female as Devotee Is to Goddess.” In Karen L. King, ed., Women and Goddess Traditions, pp. 111-36. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1997.
———(2000)”Is Vajrayogini a feminist? A Tantric Buddhist Case Study?” In Alf Hiltebeitel and Kathleen M. Erndl, eds., Is the Goddess a Feminist? The Politics of South Asian Goddesses, pp. 166-80. New York: New York University Press, 2000.
——– (2006) Buddhist Goddesses of India. (Princeton University Press).
Schneider, Nicola (2015) Female incarnation lineages: some remarks on their features and functions in Tibet, in H. Havnevik und C. Ramble (Hgg.), From Bhakti to Bon: Festschrift for Per Kvaerne. Oslo: Novus forlag (The Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture), pp. 463-479.
Timme-Kragh Ulrich (2011). APPROPRIATION AND ASSERTION OF THE FEMALE SELF: Materials for the Study of the Female Tantric Master Lakṣmīṅkarā of Uddiyāna . Journal Feminist Studies of Religion, 27.2, 85–108.
Tomlin, Adele (2020-2021):
 This quote, taken from Timme-Kragh (2011) is explained: “A yoga-seat denotes the locus for performance, a feminine space for male agency, reminiscent of the underlying female locality for the entirely male verbalization of the Tantras, the vagina in which the Buddha delivers his Tantric teaching, as is seen in the opening sentence of several major Tantras: “Thus I have heard—at one time the Buddha stayed in the vagina of the adamantine woman, who is the essence of the body, speech, and mind of all buddhas.”
 This quote is taken from Shaw (1994: 47-48).
 The Glorious Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa Tantra (dpal gtum po khro bo chen po’i rgyud kyi rgyal po dpa’ bo gcig pa) For the Tibetan and English translation of this Tantra, see: https://read.84000.co/translation/toh431.html.
 Freud, Sigmund (1957). “A Special Type of Choice of Object Made by Men, pages 165–175”. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. XI. London: Hogarth Press. pp. 179–190. For a simple explanation see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madonna–whore_complex.
 For recent examples of public exposure of Tibetan Buddhist lama misconduct, see Dagri Rinpoche, Shambhala Mipham Rinpoche, Sogyal Rinpoche and the independent report commissioned by Rigpa here: https://www.rigpa.org/independent-investigation-report. See also Finnegan and Hogendoorn (2019). More allegations about other senior Tibetan Buddhist lamas are coming to the fore, including well-known Bhutanese lamas such as Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, as detailed here.
 One of the few influential Tibetan Buddhist teachers who has done the most work to empower and improve the status of female practitioners is one of my main teachers, 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, as I have written about here.
Bizarrely, the 17th Karmapa is now also facing a serious backlash of allegations from three separate women of alleged sexual misconduct, dishonesty and emotional abuse, including a recently reported ongoing Canadian court case that he fathered a child in 2018 after sexually ‘assaulting’ a nun once. Of course, if true, this would not be the first time teachers have had secret children that they have kept hidden, but it is the first time such a major Tibetan Buddhist lineage head has been sued in court and it publicly reported. See: https://www.buddhistdoor.net/news/karmapa-sued-for-spousal-support-by-woman-who-claims-marriage-like-relationship and https://www.bccourts.ca/jdb-txt/sc/21/09/2021BCSC0939cor1.htm. The case is set for trial in April 2022. It has been most disturbing and heartbreaking to read such reports, particularly when it is a teacher one has followed for many years, as I have. In addition, the privacy of the woman’s child has been seriously compromised by revealing her identity too. One can only pray and hope that HH will soon give a statement on these cases for the sake of his followers and the women concerned.
 As I have already written about here, the question of essential qualities of a teacher for consort practice and the biological sex (not gender) of the traditional yab-yum union, both in terms of representation and practice is strictly male-female, for specific reasons connected to the ‘hydraulics of inner channels and essences that cannot be artificially changed.
 The use of the word ‘mistress’ in English is problematic because unlike ‘master’ it generally has a meaning of a woman who is the secret lover of a man, who is normally married or betrothed to someone else. However, maybe now is the time to reclaim this word to another meaning, that of female master.
 This phrase, mothers of the ‘founding fathers’ is used by Shaw in Chapter 5 of Passionate Enlightenment (1994).
 For more on the ethical issues of children in monasteries, see: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/06/what-lies-beneath-the-robes-are-buddhist-monasteries-suitable-places-for-children-adele-wilde-blavatsky/.
 Timme-Kragh (2011) explains this androcentricity later on: “As man determines the being of the female, he takes that which has no place of its own and makes it his own. Within the entire androcentric structure, the female appears to be nothing but a male appropriation of the female, and in this regard “appropriation” becomes a fundamental analytical term.” “The male appropriation of the female is likewise an act of taking possession of, placing the female in his own context and ascribing her new meaning. He revalues and devalues the feminine, circumscribing her in a strictly male sense of worth and utility. He sets her aside, allocating her worth, expropriating her for his own consumption. This was a point underlined by June Campbell in her book Traveller in Space, which has provided one of the few feminist critiques of Tantric Buddhism baring the dissymmetries of its male and female sexual roles: Furthermore, in the context of the social and iconographical structures, the exclusion of the female in worldly terms, and the appropriation of the female in transcendental terms, can only be seen to be of benefit to the ruling class—the priesthood of incarnate lamas—and the lineage system.” (2011: 89).
 “Paraphrasing the words of Adelheid Hermann-Pfandt, the ḍākinī represented the “shadow” of the patriarchal Indian ideal of the obedient feminine. By referring to their female Tantric partners as ḍākinīs , the male authors of the Tantras projected such women to be outside the norms of patriarchy, and perhaps also outside the conventional patterns of sexual availability.” Timme-Kragh (2011).
 The 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, recently alluded to the negative consequences of such ‘mixing’ by discouraging the wearing of monastic type robes by lay-practitioners with spouses and children, and vice versa. See: http://www.kagyumonlam.org/index.php/en/2017-02-12-16-06-48/transcripts?id=727.
 “I walked out to the place where the two flooded rivers came together. On the way out I found two stones. Each one had a carving of a trident (khatvanga) on it. This staff is carried by deities and symbolizes the secret consort. For a woman it symbolizes her hidden male counterpart, skillful means, and great bliss. As I sat down to meditate, Machig appeared before me in the sky as a dancing red skeleton surrounded by red gossamer scarves of energy. She said, “The experience of sexual union with an outer consort is something that can be drawn forth from within yourself and need not depend on an external partner. The potential for great bliss is always inside of you.” As she gave this teaching I had an experience of indescribable bliss. and emptiness, beyond anything I have ever experienced with a lover. At the end she said, “There is a union of death and passion. In death we meet wholeness. Death and passion are one, and this is the meaning of my appearance as a red skeleton.” Allione (2007).
 Generally, female Buddhist masters can be categorized in the following way:
- Founders/holders of specific lineage teachings
- Teachers of well-known Buddhist masters
- Consorts of Buddhist masters
 For more on female lineages and holders see Allione (2007), Diemberger (2007) and Shaw (1994). I have also written recent articles on Jonang Shentong lineage holder, Kunga Trinley Wangmo, here and Jomo Menmo, see here.
 This idea that Dusum Khyenpa was the originator of the tulku recognitions was recently challenged by the 17th Karmapa (March 2021) who said the Karmapa lineage actually began with the 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi who was the first to be recognised as Karmapa, and Dusum Khyenpa was subsequently post-humously recognized as the 1st Karmapa, of whom Karma Pakshi was the incarnation. Whatever the case may be, the tulku tradition in Tibet started with male incarnations and those recognized were, and are predominantly male.
 Schneider, Nicola (2015) Female incarnation lineages: some remarks on their features and functions in Tibet, in H. Havnevik und C. Ramble (Hgg.), From Bhakti to Bon: Festschrift for Per Kvaerne. Oslo: Novus forlag (The Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture), pp. 463-479.
 “A decade ago, the French Tibetologist Anne Chayet raised the question of whether there has been some kind of deliberate restriction on female incarnations, pointing to the fact that several famous historical women are said to have been reborn as men, as was the case for Tsong kha pa’s mother, Shing bza’ a chos, for example. Another, more recent, instance is the famous Rje btsun Lo chen Rin po che from Shug gseb Nunnery in Central Tibet, who indicated that she might reincarnate as a boy.Her incarnation was found in ’Chi med rdo rje, the son of Bde skyong dbang mo from the Phreng ring family. Born in 1953, he lives as a layman in Lhasa. However, the 14th Dalai Lama and the 16th Karmapa have also recognized a female incarnation: Rje btsun Padma, daughter of Kazi Bsod nams stobs rgyas (1925–2009) from Sikkim, previously stationed in Tibet and former disciple, together with his wife, of Shug gseb Lo chen Rin po che.” Schneider (2015).
 “Particularly, in medieval India, the Tantric community of Uddiyāna included several female teachers and authoresses. Among them, Lakṣmīṅkarā became the most outstanding individual, whose stature reverberates to the modern time. Believed to hail from the ruling family of Uddiyāna, her activities as a guru and commentator date back to the ninth or tenth century, and three works attributed to her are still extant.”
. Many thanks to Dr. Ian Baker for kindly inspiring me to read Timme-Kragh’s works and ideas on Lakṣmīṅkarā and the form of the severed-head goddess, as well as sending some images that I have used here of her.
 “In Buddhist history, Uddiyāna did play a unique role, because it was a locality where several female Buddhist masters and authoresses appeared in the eighth to tenth centuries, in spite of the fact that nameable female masters otherwise have been rare in ancient and medieval Buddhism. Women had already been allowed the status of professional religious practitioners since the early days of Buddhism, in the fourth to third centuries BCE, when nuns were permitted to join the Buddhist order. However, the nuns were strictly subordinated to the monks, and given monastic Buddhism’s emphasis on the eradication of desire, the bodies of the opposite sex—and in particular the bodies of women—had been portrayed in the all-male-authored contemplation-manual as filthy, repulsive, decaying, or decomposing. Consequently, Buddhist monasticism not only stratified gender roles within a patriarchal hierarchy but at the same time ingrained an ascetic ideal that suggested a gender performativity other than the sexual. With the rise of Tantric Buddhism in the sixth to seventh centuries CE, a novel Buddhist discourse of gender appeared that seems to have had a particularly strong impact in Ud.d.iya ̄na. The valley had been invaded by the Central Asian Huns in the sixth century, which had virtually eradicated the Buddhist monastic culture. The ensuing civilization provided a fertile ground for a new form of Buddhism to grow. Tantrism represented a turn away from the earlier emphasis on celibacy and was instead written in a tripartite grammar of sexual” Timme-Kragh (2011).
 I am grateful to Dr. Ian Baker for introducing me to the work of Timme-Kragh on this form of the goddess.
 For an earlier article on Lakṣmīṅkarā examining the history of the Tibetan translation of her *Sahajasiddhipaddhati, see Ulrich Timme Kragh, “On the Making of the Tibetan Translation of Lakṣmī’s *Sahajasiddhipaddhati: ’Bro Lotsa¯ ba Shes rab Grags and His Translation Endeavors,” Indo-Iranian Journal 53, no. 3 (2010): 195–232.
 “Her first text is a little treatise on Tantric practice entitled The Accomplishment of Non-Duality. Due to its value, it was later included in a principal Tibetan anthology of Indian Tantric treatises. Her second writing, entitled Method for Accomplishing Vajrayogini is a manual on the goddess Chinnamastā Vajravarahi. It seems that Lakṣmīṅkarā was the originator of this goddess practice, which later became the basis for the Hindu goddess Chinnamastā. Her third work, entitled Guide to the Accomplishment of the Inborn, is an extensive philosophical commentary written on the basis of a short tract attributed to her elder brother, King Indrabuddhi. All these writings were preserved by later traditions and are today found partly in the Sanskrit heritage of Nepalese Buddhism and fully in the Tibetan canon.” Timme-Kragh (2011: 90-91).
 Shaw states that: “Lakṣmīṅkarā transmitted the practice to several female disciples and to the male disciple Virupa, who transmitted it to Nepal and Tibet. Virupa wrote a Severed-Headed Vajrayoginī practice manual that he says is “based on the secret oral instructions of the yogini and should be kept secret.” Although he does not mention her by name, the “yogini” is clearly Lakṣmīṅkarā, the woman from whom he learned the practice. Lakṣmīṅkarā’s transmission of this practice then passed through Virupa, traversed Nepal, and reached Tibet, where it was popular for several centuries. Lineal descendants of the practice are still maintained by the Drigung Kagyu ( ‘Bri-gung bKa’-brgyud) sect and by the Sakya (Sa-skya) school of Tibetan Buddhism, which traces its origins to Virupa. Although Virupa’s reputation eclipsed that of Lakṣmīṅkarā over the centuries, this practice nonetheless had a founding mother” (Shaw: 113).
 “Lakṣmīṅkarā continued to live in this manner and after seven years achieved a level of realization. She then gave instruction to a lowly toilet cleaner who worked in the royal palace and he also achieved success. No one knew of this mans attainment except for Lakṣmīṅkarā and he continued to work in the palace as though nothing had changed.
One day, Jalandhara and his court went out on one of their many hunting trips. While deep in the forest, the prince became separated from his servants. He dismounted to rest while his subjects caught up with him. Tired from the hunt, he fell asleep under a tree and awoke several hours later, only to find that no one had yet found him. Needing to find shelter before nightfall, he began searching for a place of refuge and by chance came upon Lakṣmīṅkarā ‘s cave. Upon entering, he was surprised to find Lakṣmīṅkarā radiating light and being adored by an uncountable retinue of goddesses. This beautiful sight deeply effected Jalandhara who then began making regular visits to the cave. Despite his visits, Lakṣmīṅkarā remained skeptical of his presence and eventually inquired as to his motives. He affirmed his faith in the Buddha and requested teachings from her. She taught him only one single verse of profound spiritual meaning and said that she was not his teacher. She informed him that his teacher is one of his very own toilet cleaners in the palace.
When Jalandhara returned home to the palace, he found the servant that would be his teacher and brought him to his chambers. Paying respect and requesting teachings, the servant that cleaned the toilets for the prince agreed and gave Jalandhara the initiation into the Transference of Consciousness and the practices of the Generation and Perfection Stage Yogas of the meditational deity Vajravarahi.”
Both Lakṣmīṅkarā and the toilet cleaner lived and taught for many years in the city of Lankapuri and performed countless miracles before they each departed in their physical bodies for the pureland of Khechara.” See: https://www.himalayanart.org/search/set.cfm?setID=1054.
 The Tibet Journal, vol. 22, no. 1, 1997, pp. 12–34. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43300602. Accessed 19 May 2021,
 Hayagriva is red in color, with a curved knife in the right and a kapala in the left hand. Vajravarahi is blue in color, with the same attributes. Both deities have wrathful expression and flames of wisdom fire are depicted around their bodies. The couple also appears in the Yangzab cycle of Dzogchen teachings. Through this practice one attains the essence of Padmasambhava as a guru, Hayagriva as a deity of meditation and Vajravarahi as a ḍākinī.
 This specific form of both deities is related to the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism. The Kagyu school in particular revere this form, and she is considered the personal yidam deity of primary teachers Marpa (1012–1097), Milarepa (1052-1135), and Gampopa (1079–1153).
 Ian Baker also served as a liaison between Dasho Karma Ura, in Bhutan, and Dr. Imma Ramos, the curator of the Tantra exhibition, in regard to the British Museum’s acquisition of the life-size painting of Vajra Yogini that Dasho Karma Ura created simultaneously with his production of the sand mandala.
 The equation between the vulva and the mandala is also discussed by Anne C. Klein (1995) in “Nondualism and the Great Bliss Queen.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring, 1985), pp. 73-98.
 Ian Baker further shared that, “Vajra Yogini, dancing in an aureole of flames, symbolises the pure essence of the natural state of the mind, while her genitalia signifies not only a primordial matrix, but the bliss of consciousness divested of egoic identification. But no matter what’s written on an accompanying text panel, casual viewers are likely to see her more in the way that nudes are presented in western art, as an object of naturalistic beauty. The severed heads suspended around her neck, however, speak directly to the ways in which Vajra Yogini, in the context of Tantric yoga, supports self-transcendence through her portrayal of a state of being beyond dualistic conceptions.”