Tulku Ogyen’s blog, ogyentulku.blogspot.com, has recently been resurrected after lying dormant during the time that William Cassidy was held in detainment facing charges of Cyberstalking by US Marshals.
Protecting Nyingma consistently sees activity from the various centers and locales that have connection to or supported by Tulku Ogyen, and one such reader, who wrote in to us over a year ago, disclosing her knowledge of Tulku Ogyen’s connection to Cassidy, out of fear of retaliation, asked us to remove the post disclosing her knowledge. Out of concern for her safety, we have removed the blog post.
William Cassidy is attempting to make his way into a legitimate lineage for the purpose of portraying himself as someone of authority in Dharma. Seeing this type of activity motivates investigators to continue this blog, for sangha, for Dharma students worldwide, in hopes that no other sangha or student will be duped by William Cassidy. For the students of Tulku Ogyen, please beware of the dangers of this connection, and should you ever meet William Cassidy, know that he is not a man to be trusted.
An important part of this story is an old one: sexism. Sexism reared its ugly head in the time of the Buddha. India, like most societies at the time (about 2,500 years ago) was a male-dominated society. Women appear to have been treated as equals in ancient times in India. They were educated, had a say in family matters, made decsisions for themselves, and were free to marry whomever they pleased.
There was no tradition of child brides and arranged marriages. But over time this changed. Women lost the right to engage in political discourse. Polygamy increased, and the institution of child marriage became popular. Female children were often relegated to doing household chores. Widows were not allowed to remarry. Instead, they were seen as a disgrace to their family and forced to dress in plain clothes with shorn hair.
The ordination of women is said to have originated when the Buddha’s stepmother and aunt, Maha Pajapati Gotami, sister of the Buddha’s mother, Maya, who died a few days after his birth, asked to join the Sangha as a nun. At first the Buddha refused, but eventually he relented. However, he placed certain restrictions on women that he did not place on men. While the Buddha acknowledged that women had the same chance of attaining enlightenment that men did, he apparently foresaw that allowing women to be ordained would cause problems in the male-dominated society of the day. Indeed, he is said to have prophesized that his teachings would survive only half as long if he agreed to ordain women, 500 years as opposed to 1,000. Whether the Buddha actually made this prediction or not is doubtful. Fortunately it did not come true.
Ordaining women was a revolutionary act. No other religions of the time in India had such a provision. He may have added so many restrictions to protect women who would be seen by society as living outside of the protection of a father or husband. The end result, however, was that nuns were seen as inferior to monks, mirroring their status in society. This situation unfortunately persisted. When the orders of Theravadan Buddhist nuns eventually died out in India and Sri Lanka, conservative monks refused to allow new orders to form, citing the rules calling for ordained nuns to be present at nuns’ ordinations. This Catch-22 situation persisted until only recently when some Theravadan nun orders were allowed to form. However, the ordination lineage for nuns in Theravadan Buddhism has been broken.
The situation in the other schools of Buddhism varies. The ordination lineage of nuns in Mahayana Buddhism is generally strong and appears to be unbroken from the time of the Buddha. The Mahayana tradition tends to be more liberal in their interpretation of the ordination vows, mainly because of the Bodhisattva vow of compassion for all other sentient beings, which is held to be a higher vow. Zen Buddhism,which technically is Mahayana, is something of a sp ecial case. In 19th Century Meiji Japan, there was a big push to Westernize the country. As part of this rush to modernization, celibacy rules for Zen Buddhist monks was abandoned, although there is a long history of Zen monks and priests marrying prior to this. This situation continues to the present day, although in some Zen centers in the United States, the vow of celibacy has been reinstated. In Vajrayana Buddhism, the lineage of ordination for women was broken early on during the reign of King Langdarma, who persecuted Buddhism in Tibet. Virtually all Buddhist nuns in Tibet were killed or driven underground (as were their male counterparts), with the result that the lineage of full ordination was lost. The Dalai Lama, however, is of the opinion that full ordination of women never existed in Tibet, and there is no known written record of full ordination ever existing there.[i]
Full ordination of women in schools of Buddhism that do not now have an established lineage of full ordination is being reestablished by having nuns take ordination from existing lineages, such as Chinese Mahayana lineages, even if the lineage belongs to a different school. Several senior Buddhist teachers have supported this effort, including the Dalai Lama and Karmapas XVI and XVII in Tibetan Buddhism and Ven. Hawanpola Ratanasara in the Theravadan tradition,[i] but the main impetus has been the arrival of Buddhism in the West.
In the United States, Canada and Western Europe in particular, women’s status in society has been undergoing great changes in the last century. Feminism has introduced an often controversial and revolutionary dialogue into Western societies. It is only natural that this dialogue would be extended to Buddhism as it became more and more popular in the West. The drive towards equality for women has created some tension between traditional Buddhists in Asia and their counterparts in the West.[i] It has also met some resistance from Western Buddhist men who retain traditional views of women and resent any hint of feminism.
Such has been the story with the recognition of Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo as a tulku. His HolinessPenor Rinpoche has been criticized by some Westerners for his recognition of Jetsunma since the day he formally announced it. He later recognized Steven Seagal, the Hollywood actor best known for starring in hyperviolent martial art movies, as a tulku as well. This recognition added to the heat of the criticism, some implying that he only recognized Seagal in return for a substantial contribution. The difference in the two recognitions is that only Jetsunma was formally enthroned, giving her the authority to teach.
There were others who complained that Jetsunma continued to wear Western clothing, painted her nails, did her hair, and was not ordained. The fact is that when His Holiness recognized her in India, she asked if she should get ordained, and his response was no, that she would attract more students as a lay teacher.
Some students who have come to hear her teachings have been put off because she is Western and a woman and not ordained. People tend to have an idea in their head of what a Buddhist teacher looks like and how they should act. Typically that reconception takes the form of an Asian man in robes. But the practice of Guru Yoga teaches us that our root teacher, the one with whom we make a strong heart connection, is in reality a reflection of our own Buddhanature. We are taught that we have yearned for such a teacher for lifetimes in order to escape the suffering of samsara. The teacher appears in the form that the student will best relate to. As it is said, there is only one teacher and one teaching. What the teacher looks like is irrelevant.
However, sexism and misogyny run deep in certain segments of Western society. Discrimination against women is particularly strong in those who subscribe to the tenets of patriarchy, a social system in which the role of the male as the primary authority is central to social organization. Feminism regards patriarchy as unjust and oppressive to women. Certain religions, such as Islam and Mormonism as well as any Asian Buddhists, are very patriarchal in their teachings. Therefore someone with a patriarchal leaning would most likely find a spiritual teacher who is a woman threatening and offensive.
When Jetsunma began to use social networking as a means of reaching out to the greater world to bring the Dharma to the maximum number of people, sexist attacks on her began in earnest. It is difficult to imagine the same criticisms directed against a male teacher. It is indeed a sad comment on our society to see so much hate directed against one who has no other desire than to teach love and compassion for all sentient beings. In spite of retreating in hiding, out of fear for her safety, she continues to teach through her blog and other social media venues. The recent court ruling allowing her stalker to go free is yet another example of how women are continued to be treated differently.
Prospects for a Bhikkhuni Sangha in Tibetan Buddhism”, by Judith Simmer-Brown,
in Buddhist Studies from India to America,
Damien Keown, editor, Routledge, 2006, p. 54.
“Emerging New Trends in Buddhism and Their Doctrinal and Organizational
Implications”, by Asanga Tilakaratne, in The
Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Universities, 2:107
In Theravada Buddhism” by Karen Andrews, Institute of Buddhist Studies,
 Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Universities, 2:107
Buddhism is sometimes given a bad rap by women for being male dominated and misogynistic. For instance, there are some Buddhists who say that the only way to attain enlightenment is to be reborn as a male, and in the Vinaya, the monastic code of conduct, women have more vows than men. Buddhist leaders in Asian countries are almost always men. Is it true then that Buddhism is anti-women?
In Vajrayana Buddhism, women have always played key roles. Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), the Indian tantric master who introduced Vajrayana into Tibet, had many consorts. Among these were two who played pivotal roles in his teachings. One was the Princess Mandarava of Zahor in India who chose the Dharma over wealth and power that was hers for the taking if she had so chosen. Padmasambhava came to Zahor specifically to teach her and make her his consort. After some initial problems with her family (her father attempted to burn him at the stake when he found him in her quarters), Mandarava was allowed to become his consort. Padmasambhava took her to Maratika Cave in Nepal where they accomplished the unified vajra body of life mastery as master and consort. She is considered to be a wisdom dakini who has manifested numerous times, including the yogini Mirukyi Gyenchen, Risulkyi Naljorma, Drubpey Gyalmo, Niguma, and Chusingi Nyemachen, the consort of Maitripa. Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo has been recognized as an emanation of Mandarava.
The other principal consort of Padmasambhava was Yeshe Tsogyal, a highly realized Tibetan yogini. Originally one of King Trisong Deutsen’s queens, she later became Padmasambhava’s spiritual consort. She was responsible for compiling the inconceivable teachings of Guru Rinpoche and assisted him in hiding termas (hidden treasures) throughout Tibet and surrounding countries to be revealed in later times when they would be of supreme benefit. According to Jamgon Kongtrul, she was “a direct incarnation of Vajra Varahi.” Padmasambhava considered the accomplishment of both Mandarava and Yeshe Tsogyal to be the equivalent of his own. Thus two of the foundational figures of Vajrayana Buddhism were highly accomplished women.
The history of Vajrayana in Tibet and other countries where it flourished, such as Mongolia, Nepal and Bhutan, is replete with stories of highly accomplished female practitioners or yoginis. Among these, the great yogini Machik Labdron is particularly significant. Said to be a reincarnation of Yeshe Tsogyal, she studied under Phadampa Sangye, a great master believed to be the reincarnation of Padmasambhava. She originated and propagated the Chöd practice, the only Vajrayana practice to originate in Tibet and spread to India rather than vice versa. Tsultrim Allione, a Western female lama, has been recognized as an emanation of Machig Labdron.
These are but a few of many highly realized female practitioners in the history of Vajrayana. They make up an important and vital segment of the fabric of Vajrayana. But beyond the historical figures, there are also a number of female Buddhas and dakinis (female wisdom beings) that are included in Vajrayana deity practice, Buddhas such as Tara, the female Buddha known as Mother of all Buddhas as she represents enlightened wisdom. She is said to have sprung from the tears of Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig in Tibetan), the bodhisattva of compassion, as he looked out upon the suffering in the world. In other stories she is said to be a fully enlightened Buddha who, when she was an ordinary sentient being striving for enlightenment, was told that she could only attain enlightenment as a male. Therefore she made a vow to attain enlightenment and always return in a female form for the benefit of sentient beings – the ultimate feminist!
Protectors of the Dharma in Vajrayana at times appear in female form, such as Palden Lhamo. She is the consort of Mahakala and is the tutelary deity of Tibet. She is closely identified with the Dalai Lamas.
For the ordinary practitioner, the role of women in Vajrayana Buddhism is equivalent to that of men. While it is true that in Tibet monastic institutions were nearly always headed by men, female practitioners were greatly respected and revered. For example, Genyenma Ahkön Lhamo, the sister of Kunzang Sherab, first throneholder of the Palyul lineage of the Nyingma School, was widely considered to be a living saint during her lifetime. So many nuns came to hear her teachings and practice with her that the hills around the cave in which she lived in retreat became known as the “Red Hills”, a name which persists even today.
Women are considered to be superior practitioners to men as they are said to have a greater capacity for wisdom. In the Vajrayana view, the female is symbolic of wisdom, while the male is symbolic of compassion, which is somewhat opposite of the way the sexes are viewed in the West. The union of the male and female principles, compassion and wisdom, is known as bodhicitta and is enlightenment itself.
Dakinis – enlightened female wisdom beings – are said to reveal the teachings to practitioners who are ready to receive them. Dakinis also represent the Three Roots as they may manifest as a guru, a yidam or a protector.
It is clear that women play a vital role in the practice of Vajrayana Buddhism and are essential to the attainment of the ultimate goal, enlightenment. Without them, there would be no Diamond Vehicle.
Lives and Liberation of Princess Mandarava, revealed by Samten Lingpa, translated by Lama Chonam and Sangye Khandro, Wisdom Publications, 1998
The Lotus-Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, recorded by Yeshe Tsogyal, translated by Erik Pema Kunsang, Shambhala, 1993
Lady of the Lotus-Born: The Life and Enlightenment of Yeshe Tsogyal, by Gyalwa Changchub and Namkhai Nyingpo, Padmakara Translation Group, Shambhala, 1999
The Biography of Machik Labdron (1055-1145), in Women of Wisdom, by Tsultrim Allione, Snow Lion Publications, 2000
In Praise of Tara: Songs to the Saviouress, by Martin Wilson, Wisdom Publications, 1992
The Religions of Tibet, by Giuseppe Tucci, University of California Press, 1970
Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism, by Judith Simmer-Brown, Shambhala, 2002