GOING BACK TO THE ROOTS OF VAJRAYĀNA: A 21st Century review of the female and yogic roots of Vajrayāna, monastic vows and tantric practice, and the invisible, silent female consort

“My female messengers are everywhere;
They bestow all the spiritual attainments
By gazing, touching, kissing, and embracing.
The most excellent place for yogis is
Wherever there is a gathering of yoginis;
There all the magical powers will be attained
By all those blissful ones.”


“As The Great Tantra of the Primordial Buddha
emphatically forbids it,
those observing celibacy should never
receive the secret and wisdom empowerments.

If those practicing celibacy and asceticism
were to receive those empowerments,
they would be obliged to practice what is forbidden,
and their vows of austerity would thus deteriorate.”
–Atiśa, Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment[1]


Today for the Winter solstice and New Moon (depending on where one is in the world) am happy to launch a video presentation of a talk I originally gave at the 4th Vajrayana conference in Bhutan on 3rd October 2022. The video of that talk has still not been published (or released) [2] (even though the talks of all the other speakers on the same panel as me have now been published) so I decided to re-record it and publish it so that people can listen to it, in particular, the people who kindly sponsored my flight to Bhutan.

The theme of the conference in Bhutan was ‘Modernity of Buddhism’, and the issues I raise in it are very much connected to that issue, and the role and status of women in the Vajrayana and Himalayan Buddhist culture, history and texts. The fact that the theme was ‘modernity’ and yet none of the speakers at the conference opening ceremony were women was a glaring omission indeed, and one I briefly mentioned to the CBS Director, Dasho Karma Ura in person.

In the talk, which is an edited version of the paper I submitted to the CBS for the conference (which will be published next year), I discuss the following topics:

00:00:00 Going Back to the Roots of Vajrayāna
00:00:40 Bhutan Conference theme Modernity of Buddhism: what does ‘modernity’ mean?
00:01:37 Atisha’s quote about monastics and Vajrayāna empowerments
00:02:36  Outline of the presentation
00:04:25  Introduction – reasons for writing on this topic
00:06:01  The Vinaya rules, the four defeats and the Individual Liberation Vows
00:08:36 The yogic and female roots of Vajrayāna practice
00:13:04 The monastic takeover of tantric and Vajrayāna practice by monastics post-tenth century in Tibet
00:14:10 Combining Sūtra and Tantra – Je Gampopa
00:16:10 Atiśa, the Kadampas and the Gelugpa
00:19:43 Je Tsongkhapa’s ‘pure’ monastic discipline and the symbolism of empowerment
00:21:30 The silent, invisible female consorts and the recent amplifying of women’s voice and experiences – Sera Khandro, June Campbell and others
00:23:53 What is a ‘celibate’ practitioner and why it is relevant to sexual union/tantric practice?
00:27:05 The superiority of the monastic vs the layperson Vajra master –the Kālacakra Tantra
00:28:17 Conclusions: is mass monastic culture still relevant, and safe for women and children?
00:29:54  A time to ‘fight the enemy within’? Challenging and eliminating patriarchal and misogynist religious culture and attitudes

I conclude that as a result of recent sex scandals involving monastic Buddhist lamas (or at least resembling monks) and women, as well as the ‘tension’ between the strict celibacy and monastic vows and Vinaya rules, and the Vajrayana/tantric union and engagements with women, that the time is ripe for monastics to abandon such practices, or (if they seek the company of women) for practice or for worldly relations and flirtations, then they should follow the example of the great Mahāsiddhas such as Tilopa and leave the comfort and financial support of the monasteries.  The video is transcripted and I provide copies of all the slides, and a bibliography of books and articles I refer to in it below.

Music? I began the talk in Bhutan with Going Back to My Roots by Odyssey, and ended the talk with Sinead O’Connor ripping up a photo of the Catholic Pope on US television in 1992 to protest religious corruption, see here.  So, in that spirit of brave female rebellion and audacity, here is Sinead O’Connor’s Nobody’s WomanSurvivor by Destiny’s Child and Respect by Aretha Franklin.

Wishing you all a happy holidays and winter solstice!

Written and produced by Adele Tomlin, 23rd December 2022.


“So, this presentation is called going back to the roots of Vajrayana. It’s a 21st century review of the yogic roots of Vajrayana, the monastic vows, and tantric practice and the invisible silent female consort, as I call it. This was presented in Bhutan in October this year but as the video has yet to be released or published, I thought it would be beneficial to re-record it and offer it to people. In particular, to the sponsors who very kindly sponsored my flight to Bhutan as they have also indicated a wish to listen to it.”

“So as I said the theme of the Bhutan conference was modernity of Buddhism, and of course to address this theme one has to consider what does modernity mean? What does it mean to be modern? And for most people I think, these days that would be some sense of an inclusive society, which is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-belief, free of racism, sexism, ageism, and homophobia and nepotism. In particular, I think people would also be looking at how free is that society from patriarchal religious cultures. For example, do we still need to ask this question: where are the women in those religious structures and institutions? Then quickly, also another modern question is about the monastic vinaya being compatible with Vajrayāna practice? If it is what are the potential issues with it? If it’s not, then why are monastics still practicing it?”

“So, this quote here from the great master Atisha really kind of forms the centerpiece or backdrop, if you like, for this presentation. So, as you can read, he says “As the great Tantra of the Primordial Buddha emphatically forbids it, Those observing celibacy should not adopt or receive the secret and wisdom empowerments. If those practicing celibacy and austerity were to hold those empowerments, they would be obliged to practice what is forbidden, and their vows of austerity will deteriorate.” Now this is taken from Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, Jangchub gi Dronma. The Tibetan here for celibacy, is actually Tshang Cho. Now this is sometimes translated as pure conduct, but what it really is referring to is the celibacy. So, it is referring specifically to monastics and people who have celibacy vows.”

“So, this slide very quickly gives an outline of what I’m going to be presenting. So first, there will be a brief introduction this will be followed by the Vinaya Rules, including the four defeats and the Individual Liberation vows. Then, I will consider the yogic and female roots of Vajrayana practice and then the monastic ‘takeover’ of Vajrayana practice as I call it, and the transmission in Tibet. I will be looking at three examples in particular. So, within the Kagyu Je Gampopa, and then atisha the Kadampas and the Gelugpa, and then Je Tshongkhapa’s idea of pure monastic discipline and the four empowerments.”

“Then, I consider what I call the silent, invisible, female consorts and the recent amplifying of women’s voices and experiences, such as those of Sera Khandro, June Campbell and others including myself. Then looking at the question of what is a celibate practitioner, and why is that important for tantric practice? Then looking at whether or not a monastic or a lay person is considered superior as a vajra master? Finally, as a conclusion, I consider and recommend maybe now is the time more than ever to go back to the layperson roots, the yogic roots of the Vajrayana and for monastics to abandon practicing, particularly the union practice in Vajrayana but also to fight the enemy within, which in this case, like in all other sort of patriarchal religious cultures is the patriarchal culture which demeans, diminishes, overlooks women and their voices and their experiences and their bodies.”

“So, with this brief introduction, I’m just quickly going to consider some of the reasons that I decided to write this presentation. The first was to do with obviously the recent sex scandals between monks and women, and women feeling abused and used, and feeling that the monks are breaching their vows and so on and so forth. I include myself within that experience. Now the other reason was looking at the roots of the Vajrayana, such as the yogic mahāsiddhas, the female roots of Vajrayana, the yoginis, the female teachers and so on. So, I also felt that this was something that had been overlooked by the sort of predominant monastic culture and patriarchal culture. Then moving on to the invisibility and silence of women’s voices, as teachers ་and consorts, not only in the historical literature but in textual accounts, but also even until recently very few women are represented as being of interest to write about, to translate about and so on. Then this led to this other question, which was about the connection between the Vinaya and the monastic vows and the Vajrayana tantric practice, and whether in fact they do actually mix well and could this be the reason why more and more women are feeling abused and used? Because in actual fact the Vinaya and Vajrayana do not mix well? And in actual fact they were never really meant to be practiced together?”

“This slide looks at the Vinaya rules and what are called the four defeats and the dress codes of monastic sangha and householders. This year the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, gave extensive teachings and overview of the origins of the vinaya rules and the Pratimoksha Sutra, and for those of you who are really interested in this, I would recommend listening to that in particular. Now, in sum, the Buddha created rules as and when situations arose, which later became written down as the vinaya Sutras, in particular the Pratimoksha Sutra. The Buddha told his Sangha that the teachings that were both the Dharma and the Buddha was the Pratimoksha Sutra. So, it’s a very important Sutra. The Vinaya texts do differ depending on what tradition they were written down in. But at the heart of the Vinaya are what are called the four defeats, and these four actions when done intentionally, or with knowledge, require automatic and lifelong expulsion from the monastic Sangha. Now there are various details about how and when this is implemented, which I will not go into. However, the spirit of them is clear, the four are basically: no sexual activity. No killing, or inciting other others to kill beings. No stealing or taking what is not freely given. And no lying or dishonesty. Lay people also follow these precepts and they form the heart of Buddhist ethics. The main distinguishing feature then between the precepts of a layperson and monastic, is the sexual activity one, as this defeat covers all sexual activity, whether it leads to orgasm or not. Now, the 17th Karmapa recently stated that what distinguishes a monastic from a layperson, in his view, is having less desires for food clothing and sensual pleasures. But one could argue that this also includes many lay people too. In my view, the key differentiating factor is abstention from sexual activity, and it is this key difference which has led to confusion and degeneration in Vajrayana practice, when celibate monastics then engage in consort practice. Now to be clear, vinaya applies to those with monastic vows, such as monks in training or the fully ordained, but simply wearing monastic robes themselves does not make someone a monastic. As the 17th Karmapa advised recently, ideally non-monastics should not shave their heads and wear robes that resemble monastics, as it causes confusion, and makes other people think that monastics can have wives, children, families and so on, and this brings the whole Buddhist Vinaya into disrepute.”

“Turning now to the yogic and female roots of Vajrayana practice, unlike original Buddhism and the vinaya the roots of Vajrayana and tantric practice are found with the great Indian mahāsiddha yogis and their female yogini teachers and consorts. For example, in the Karma Kagyu the forefathers like Tilopa, Nāropa, Saraha, Milarepa and so on, and their female teachers and consorts, many of whom are invisible in the Refuge field diagram depictions and so on, were all lay people or yogis who were not staying in monasteries with monastics. In fact, several of the most well-known mahāsiddas had previously been monastics like Tilopa, but were subsequently told to leave the monasteries by the monastery, or by their female teachers, or they decided to leave of their own free will. For example, the 17th Karmapa relayed a story about the white cotton clad Yogi, Rechungpa who is a famous student of Milarepa, who was kicked out of a Kadampa monastery temple where he’d sat down. He was told “white goats are not welcome” because he was a yogi, and they even crushed his foot in the door while forcibly ejecting him. So, the question as to whether this abandonment of monasticism by these siddhas was because tantric practice and karmamudrā was incompatible with the monastic vows and lifestyle, or was it due to the social morals and confusion that such practitioners staying in monasteries cause, it’s not clear. Either way, they left a monastic setting and lifestyle. There are some cases where the opposite was said to have happened, where Yogis doing tantric practices later became monastics. Yet what is clear is that the roots and origins of tantric practices in India, and later in Tibet with Indian teachers like Guru Padmasambhava came predominantly from non-monastics. So, the question as to how or why that happened will be considered in due course. Also, I will also briefly consider the question of the three types of vows so the Hinayāna, Mahayāna, Vajrayana, and if someone holds all of those vows, which vows are superior and take precedence? Particularly, if one is a monastic and one holds the vinaya rules, let’s say or the vows of individual liberation.”

“Continuing with the yogic and female roots of Vajrayana practice, as is detailed in Miranda Shaw’s book ‘Passionate Enlightenment’, the Indian mahāsiddhas often had female teachers or consorts. For example, Tilopa and Tilopa’s teacher as Shaw explains: ” Tilopa’s early spiritual journey was entirely directed by a woman who converted him to Buddhism, advised him to study Buddhist scripture and philosophy, and decided with which gurus he should study. Finally taking it upon herself to give him the Chakrasamvara Tantra initiation and teachings. This woman continued to oversee Tilopa’s development as he left the monastery, as he studied with additional gurus. Then when she perceived that Tilopa was ripe for the complete enlightenment, she sent him to a town in Bengal to find a woman named Dharima ordering him to work for her.” At that time, she was working as a prostitute, in fact she was a very poor, low-caste prostitute. Not only did Tilopa work almost as, effectively as her slave, as her servant, not just for one year but for 12 years in total. He worked as a sesame grinder by day and a servant to her by night. So, this would not have been a glamorous or particularly nice lifestyle, and he was not known within that community for being a great Yogi or mahasiddha. So, I have actually written about in greater detail about some of these overlooked female teachers of Tilopa and Saraha, but I won’t go into much detail here. Nonetheless, the point is this: the Indian Masters who wanted to practice with consorts and the unconventional conduct of Vajrayāna the tulshug, voluntarily left the monasteries or they were expelled.”

“Now, moving on to consider the monastic ‘takeover’, as I’ve termed it, of Vajrayāna transmission and practice in Tibet, well I’m going to briefly look at three examples here. The first is that of the Kagyupas and Je Gampopa, who was a monastic who tried to combine Sutra and Tantra: Sutra from the Kadampa Masters and Tantra from the great yogi Milarepa, who was his teacher. Then, I will also look at Atisha, the Kadampas, and the Gelugpa tradition because this is when the monastic dominance and takeover of Vajrayāna practice and initiation seems to have really taken place, is from the Gelugpa domination of Tibet from the 17th century onwards. Then, I will also consider briefly, Je Tsongkhapa, who was following in the footsteps of Atisha, who also seems to have rejected tantric practice in order to maintain the monastic vows and lifestyle.”

“Now turning first to the Kagyu master, the 11th 12th century Kagyu forefather Je Gampopa whose teachers were monastics the Kadampa, and who were also yogis, for example Milarepa. Now, Je Gampopa was also the teacher of the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa and also another very influential Master called Phagmo Drupa, who also went on to become like the Kagyu forefather, if you like of many other Kagyu lineages. Now, there are discussions as to whether or not Gampopa actually did practice or was given even the Karmaudra sexual yogas of Vajrayāna by Milarepa because in the earliest biographies he is said to have had human consorts and it was a big part of his practice. But it’s not clear whether Gampopa did practice these sexual yogas in secret, while he outwardly remained a monk. This is a complicated subject and not one I’m going to speak much about here. One thing that does seem to be clear is that Gampopa was trying to integrate the two seemingly, or perhaps actually contradictory roles of being a monk and a yogi and to build an institutional system of monk-yogis, such that the Kagu tradition flowing from Gampopa was also an attempt to bring together the Vinaya, the monasticism and monastic institutions, and the Mahayāna of the Kadampas, with the Vajrayāna of Marpa and Milarepa. As I said, this is a very complicated subject and in one book by Jan-Ulrich Sobisch, he does discuss the Karma Kagyu and Gampopa’s attitude to maintaining the Mantra vows with the Hinayāna and Mahayāna vows in a lot of detail. So this is perhaps something that if people are interested in, they might want to look at.”

“Now, I’m going to consider the influence of Atisha, the Kadampas and the Gelugpa on the dominant monasticism in Tibet and in Vajrayāna. So first, I’ll consider the analysis of Mahāyoga and yoginī tantras that was kind of ordered by the Guge king, who at that time, according to David Gray, had some concerns and doubts about the authenticity of these relatively new Mahāyoga and Yoginī tantras, especially the Hevajra Tantra, and some of the rites there to violently destroy enemies and sexual union and so on. So, he sent the young Tibetan monk translator, Rinchen Zangpo to India to investigate these and to check whether or not they were in fact considered orthodox texts by the Buddhist pandits there. So, Rinchen Zangpo went there and he confirmed that the texts were considered orthodox. In fact, he actually then translated the Chakrasamvara Tantra which was considered one of the more transgressive yogini tantras into Tibetan. So despite this assurance, it is said that the King wanted to invite Atisha to Tibet and so while on route to Tibet, Atisha who was probably fully aware of the skepticism around the orthodoxy of the tantras by some of the royal family is said to have composed his very well-known text this Lamp for the Path to Awakening which is a concise introduction to the Buddhist path of practice. In this work he addresses some of the most controversial aspects of the new Mahayoga and yogini tantras in particular the sexual consecration and the secret consecration of the Vajrayāna empowerments. It is at this time that Atisha makes this statement where he forbids the second and third empowerments of those initiations for monastics, for those who hold the celibacy vow. Now, obviously there’s a lot more that can be said about this and I do say a little bit more in the paper that I submitted. However, for now, I would just say that according to one scholar, Longchenpa and other Tibetan authors actually explained that Atisha only intended to encourage Vinaya practice and that such teachings were intended for those of inferior capacity, if you did not have many great realizations and so on.

Now, in terms of the Kālacakra Tantra and what it says about monks and consorts, well again a lot can be said about this, but certainly Vesna Wallace in the Inner Kalacakra explains that celibacy is interpreted as someone who can hold the sexual fluids and not release it as an orgasm. In terms of it basically means someone who has control over the inner channels and winds and can maintain the stability of the channels and the Bodhicitta. Now this year, I attended a highest yoga tantric Gyelwa Gyamtso empowerment given by the 14th Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India and he informed all those present, including the many monastics, that they could not receive the second or third empowerments and so that, although they should wear tantric dress, because they are monastics they should regard the female consort more as a kind of a spiritual friend, rather than as a natural union with a consort. So clearly this view is still seen as important and relevant enough for the 14th Dalai Lama to mention in the 21st century.

“Now, Je Tsongkhapa also takes up this point about the second and third empowerments in his commentary on the Chakrasamvara Tantra ‘Illumination of the Hidden meaning’ ‘Bedon Kunsel’ in Tibetan. Now, Tsongkhapa, as well following up from Atisha there, he also says that a monastic can receive the second and third empowerments, only symbolically but cannot actually do the sexual union practices. Now according to the Gelugpa these sexual union practices are essential to attaining enlightenment, so for that reason, it is said that Tsongkhapa did not attain full enlightenment in that life, because to unite with a consort would have led to breaking his monk’s vows. So instead, he is said to have attained it in the Bardo. Now again, the question here is do the Vinaya rules take precedence over unconventional Vajrayāna conduct and vows? While apparently there is a story about Tsongkhapa which says that he went on pilgrimage to a ḍākinī mountain and a ḍākinī there offered him a skull cup of alcohol, but he turned it down because monks are not supposed to drink any alcohol. Here it is said that Tsongkhapa showed that he chose the Vinaya over Secret Mantra conduct. However, there are other stories which are the opposite of that, wear a ḍākinī, or a female offered alcohol to the student who drank it, and showing that they were willing to put aside the Vinaya for Vajrayāna blessings and empowerment. Again, this is another I will get on to this topic again a bit later.”

“Now I turn to the issue of the silent, invisible, female consorts and the recent amplifying of women’s voices and experiences. Now, as is often the case, in Tibetan Buddhist texts, and even in contemporary male-dominated scholarship the male voice and perspective is taken as the norm and very little mention has been made of the female, the consort and her experience of consort practice and so on. Now this is changing, as we can see from more female survivors who are speaking out about how they felt used and abused by Vajrayāna teachers, some of whom were and are monastics.In particular, there’s one recent account of a woman’s voice and experience of the practice and cultural norms within Tibet which is provided in the autobiographical account of Sera Khandro who was a 20th century treasure-revealer and yogini, who was also a consort. She often refused to take monastic consorts, even when they needed her for long life or treasure-revelation and so on, out of a concern for not causing the monastic vows and lifestyle to degenerate. Now one scholar Sarah Jacoby has written in detail about Sera Khandro’s life, which I won’t go into detail in here. Another recent example of female voices speaking out being the tantric consort of a monastic is that of June Campbell who is uh who was a Dharma translator and student of the former first Kalu Rinpoche and in her book Traveller’s in Space, and in interviews, Campbell clearly states how, in hindsight, she felt harmed and exploited by the sex unions and her role in them. Further than that, she stated hers was not an isolated case, and that in fact, since her book was published that she’d had letters from women all over the world with similar, and even worse experiences. Then of cours,e there is the #metoo movement, which has encouraged women to be more vocal and speak out against what they perceive as a man in power and influence abusing women as sexual objects. Then, there is my own direct experience of the use of subtle body union practice, in particular, as a lay woman with a well-known monastic teacher and how myself and other women felt harmed by it and raised concerns about it privately to the relevant people.”

“Now, I am going to discuss what is a celibate practitioner? And how is that important for Vajrayāna practice and also for monastics? So, the idea of the celibacy vow is not that it should be imposed on a person, but it should be taking in the full understanding that sexual desire and attachment is one of the root causes of suffering among human beings. The Buddha himself taught this. We don’t need to be Buddhist to understand and see this, we can see that there are sexually transmitted diseases unwanted pregnancies, abortions, unloved children, broken families, and this is all kind of driven by sexual desires from self-pleasure. Now, the spirit of the celibacy vow is also backed up and supported by other monastic vows, such as not being alone with a woman where other people cannot see or hear you. Yet with modern technology it does seem that many monastics are subverting the spirit of this Vinaya rule, by using porn and webcams and online sexual activities which surely breach the vinaya, because the point of that was that it was being alone with a woman where other people cannot see or hear you, which obviously if you are online is the same thing. Now, so the point of the celibacy is to reduce attachment and desire . This is one of the reasons why Sera Khandro who was well known as a Vajrayāna consort generally did not like to practice with monastics. She felt that there was more of a risk in a way of monastics breaching their vows than with laypeople.

So, one might wonder, well how is it possible for any monastic to maintain celibacy and practice Karmamudra with a consort, in person or invisibly, if they cannot be alone with a woman and they’re not supposed to engage in sexual activity? On the surface, it seems obvious that they cannot. However, Sarah Jacoby in one paper she wrote, points to one answer given by the former Dudjom Rinpoche, the Nyingma master who was a lay tantric practitioner. He says that a monk can maintain the celibacy, as can any person with celibacy vows, as long as they’re engage in it with very high realizations and are able to transform the desire into the recognition of great Bliss, and to to be able to hold and not release the bodhicitta and bring it back up the central channel, then it wouldn’t be a violation of any of the vows and this seems to be again is sort of quite a common view outside of the Gelugpa tradition and Je Tsongkhapa. However, the 14th Dalai Lama has also added to that, it’s not just a case of being able to do that, you know, a practitioner who is qualified to practice Karmamudra should be able to eat excrement in the same way they eat food, with the same kind of pleasure and taste, and no aversion, with the same kind of equanimity and have that stable bodhicitta as well.”

“In the paper I submitted for the conference, I go into a quite a bit more detail into the three vows of Hinayāna, Mahayāna and Vajrayāna, and which ones take precedence but I won’t discuss that much here. However, I’m going to briefly look at the superiority of a monastic versus a lay person Vajra master, as this question is also not particularly clear. Now generally, in the Kālacakra tradition, it is said that a fully ordained monk is seen as the best teacher and superior to those without monastic vows. Now, a householder can teach but they should not generally teach fully ordained monks unless they are a highly realized practitioner. However, this is contradicted by Je Tāranātha who says that the Kālacakratantra asserts the superiority of anuttarayoga yogis and yoginis on the ground “there is no monk or celibate who can equal one who has taken the tantric vows and precepts and is self-empowered by means of mantras.” So again, any teacher who does not demonstrate these qualities should not be followed in tantric practice, as they will lead themselves and their disciples to the lower realms.”

“As a conclusion, I’ll just go through these points. First of all, prior to the Mongolian domination of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism, this kind of separation, or kind of looking down on the yogic lay sort of practitioners was not so prevalent and also in the Kagyu, Nyingma and Sakya, and also even the Jonang, there were very good examples of how yogins and lay practitioners, formed the very heart of their spiritual communities. Also, nowadays in the 21st century the monasteries and Vinaya seem to be becoming increasingly irrelevant, or impractical for lay practitioners, not only outside of Tibet but within Tibet as well. Particularly I think, as more and more issues are being raised regarding children’s rights and safety and monasteries. An issue which I wrote about in 2015 in the “Lies Within, and also the recent case of the current Kalu Rinpoche who detailed his abuse and rape while he was staying in a monastery as a young teenager. Then, you’ve also got, in the 21st century, women’s voices and experiences being more valued and heard, such as those of Sera Khandro and June Campbell and increasing public sex scandals and the #metoo movement, which is tarnishing the name of Tibetan Buddhism and Vajrayāna. So, I conclude that perhaps now is really the right time for monastics to abandon practicing the Vajrayāna union practice with consorts and really for it to go back to its female and yogic and lay practitioner roots.”

“To end, as I’m a big fan of music, I ended with Sinead O’Connor, a very famous musician and singer who controversially ripped up a photo of the Catholic pope on U.S television saying “fight the real enemy”. In this case, she was referring to patriarchal, sexism, and corrupt religious men who disrespect, abuse and suppress women and children. So why do I use her picture? Well, I think it also stands as a good example of some of the issues that I am talking about here, which is the patriarchal sexism and misogyny present within the monastic culture of Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, Buddha himself stated that the Buddha Dharma and Sangha would be destroyed from within by Buddhists, not by non-Buddhists. So it is that respect, that I think this picture and this action by Sinead O’Connor to ‘fight the enemy within’, the real enemy, is actually relevant to this presentation here today.”

“So, that is the end, and if you would like to read any more about women in Vajrayāna, or women being silenced, overlooked or suppressed, or anything to do with the Vajrayāna, there are many articles and research and translations on my website https://dakinitranslations.com, which also happens to be the first female founded and led and authored Dharma translations and research website. Thank you very much.


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Karmapa, 17th, Ogyen Trinley Dorje. 2017. Gyalwang Karmapa’s Advice on Dress Codes for Sangha. http://www.kagyumonlam.org/index.php/en/2017-02-12-16-06-48/transcripts/213-kagyu-monlam/dharma/transcripts/727-gyalwang-karmapa-s-advice-on-dress-codes-for-sangha

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Id. 2020a. Tantric Buddhism, vows, sex and women – the importance of love, respect and consent. https://dakinitranslations.com/2020/12/01/tantric-buddhism-sex-and-women-the-importance-of-love-respect-and-consent/

Id. 2020b. Aspiration for the Prospering of the Ultimate Meaning Teachings by 15th Karmapa. https://dakinitranslations.com/2020/08/11/new-translation-aspiration-for-the-prospering-of-the-ultimate-meaning-teachings-by-15th-karmapa/

Id. 2021a. Dakini is Truth: Tilopa’s Female Teachers and Unconventional Conduct. https://dakinitranslations.com/2021/10/31/dakini-is-truthtilopas-female-teachers-and-entering-unconventional-conduct-tulzhug/

Id. 2021b. Unsung Heroines: Mothers of Mahāmudrā and Sources of Saraha’s Songs. https://dakinitranslations.com/2021/06/05/unsung-heroines-mother-gurus-of-mahamudra-and-sarahas-songs-the-arrow-maker-and-radish-curry-cook/

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[1] This translation of Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment was done in 2021 and published on Lotsawa House website. I also refer to David Gray’s translation of the same passages, further on in this paper. I have changed some terms in the two verses quoted.

[2] In November 2022, I sent an email to the CBS organisers in Bhutan, asking them when (and if ) they planned to publish the video of the talk, but there was no response. However, a couple of days ago, I was recently informed by a third party in Bhutan that the video was ‘lost’, which is odd because the videos of all the speakers who were on the same panel session ‘Women in Vajrayana’ have been published. In any case, this new recording might be better in sound quality and slide visuals than the Bhutan conference version.

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