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

By Serinity Young | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10

THE TRAFFIC IN WOMEN

At the beginning of this book I suggested that some Buddhist practitioners have remained in the Buddha's harem, where they continue to focus on his initial rejection of women. This rejection has served as a convenient symbol for the limited roles available to women in Buddhism, and the more or less strict separation of women from male monastics. Equally, the Buddha's reconciliation with women and the feminine before he achieved enlightenment symbolizes the necessity of including woman's auspicious powers in order to achieve enlightenment, an inclusion paralleled in the Buddha's past life as Sumati when he initially rejected and then accepted the woman who was to be his wife in all future lives before making his vow to become a Buddha. We have also seen the inclusion of women richly displayed in sculptures and carvings at the earliest Buddhist archaeological sites spread across South Asia, and centuries later rearticulated in tantric texts and iconography. These are indications that male practitioners must personally, either through visualization or practice with a woman, experience the absence of duality in order to achieve enlightenment. Toward this end, actual women were sometimes involved or utilized in tantric practice and female imagery permeates tantric art.

It is clear from tantric biographies and iconography, as well as the tantras themselves, that aspects of women were purposely articulated and incorporated into Buddhist practice. I have argued that this was not a new idea, not a complete turnaround in Buddhist thinking, but rather the development or elaboration of an important theme in early Buddhism, female auspiciousness. In both periods, the incorporation of female imagery did not translate into a new social reality for actual

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