Courtesans and Tantric Consorts: Sexualities in Buddhist Narrative, Iconography and Ritual

By Serinity Young | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9

TANTRIC CONSORTS: TIBET

PADMASAMBHAVA

The great eighth century C.E. Indian mahāsiddha, tantrika, and missionary to Tibet, Padmasambhava, is a figure of unparalleled significance in Tibetan Buddhism. In iconography he is often depicted flanked by his two most highly accomplished tantric consorts: the Indian Prin-cess Mandāravā and the Tibetan Queen Yeshe Tsogyel (Plate 14). Like the historical Buddha, Padmasambhava was a prince who married and lived surrounded by beautiful women, 1 all of whom he, too, abandoned, but not for long. He went to practice asceticism in cemeteries, a favorite haunt of tantrikas, where he gave and received teachings from

ākinīs, somewhat imitating the Buddha, who also entered a cemetery, put on the shroud of a dead woman, and began his slow reconciliation with women before achieving enlightenment. 2 For non-tantric Buddhists a significant difference between them is that Padmasambhava returned to the world and practiced sexual yoga with several different consorts. For tantric Buddhists, however, other traditions exist, such as the Caasamhāroaa Tantra, which describes the Buddha in his tantric form. Also, according to Tsongkhapa's student Khadubje (mKhas Grub rJe, 1385-1438), the Buddha practiced with an actual consort just before incarnating as Śakyamuni. He had reached the tenth stage of a bodhisattva, but in order to achieve enlightenment he needed the initiation of wisdom (prajñā), which required practice with a consort. The celestial buddhas summoned the divine courtesan (divyavesyā) Tillottamā (Tib: Thig le mchog ma) and then gave him initiation. 3 This meant that the Buddha was already enlightened when he took birth as Śakyamuni-his enlightenment under the Bo tree in India was a display for the sake of others.

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