The Woman Illusion?
Research into the Lives of Spiritually Accomplished Women
Leaders in Tibet of the 11th and 12th Centuries.*
Note: This is a pre-published draft that differs in significant ways from the version published in: Hanna Havnevik and Janet Gyatso, eds., Women in Tibet, Hurst & Company (London 2005), pp. 49-82. The main difference is that it gives the names in Wylie transcription. The Wylie makes it possible for Tibetanists to locate these names through an internet search (with phonetic versions of names this is impossible). If you want to make a reference to this article in a publication, make reference to the published version, please.
“When people who have, like myself, taken [rebirth] in ‘low’ bodies
realize the meaning of the Mother of [All] Buddhas (Prajñāpāramitā),
even when they transcend, through reflexive awareness, the spheres of objectifying (or goal orientation),
they still ought to grasp onto these [Cutting] teachings which, like lamps, [cast light on] the supreme objective.”
[Commentary:] “Although the words ‘low bodies’ might, in line with ordinary worldly conventions, signify a discarding of self-importance, still, since the woman herself is an emanation body, she cannot be ‘low.’ The Vajra Tent says, ‘With the illusory form of a woman, [the Buddha] teaches the Dharma for those with desire. The woman illusion, Buddhahood itself, exorcises all illusions.’ The Supreme Bliss says, ‘Of all illusions, the woman illusion is particularly sublime [holy].’”
(from the Hair-Tip, by Ma-gcig Lab-sgron, the commentary possibly composed by the Third Karma-pa; Orofino 1987: 42-43, 74 [column 531])
As an approach to the study of women in Tibetan history, it is not entirely necessary to adopt any particular theoretical line. The minimum is a basic recognition that at any given point in time women have formed slightly less or, more likely, slightly more than half the population. Any attempt to do history without taking account of what women were accomplishing and contributing will be unsatisfactory, and will fail to do justice to the period under consideration. In the following, there are no great conclusions in terms of gender theory, just some research into the literary sources that might be taken as bases for further reflection and argument. The main question is simply how much can we find out about the lives of people who were  Tibetan-born and  women, who  lived in the 11th through 12th centuries and  achieved public recognition for spiritual accomplishment or religious leadership? Indian and Nepalese Buddhist women leaders like Ni-gu-ma, Dge-slong-ma Dpal-mo, Bha-ri-ma and Grub-pa'i-rgyal-mo are excluded from consideration here, regardless of their undeniable importance for the Indian and Tibetan religious lineages they initiated.
Since this paper is not about eleventh through twelfth-century Tibetan women in general, but about women who were recognized for their accomplishments in the area of Buddhist religion and spirituality, we should add one important observation. If there was, and I believe this was so, a reluctance in those and later times to recognize, and therefore record for posterity, the accomplishments of women, it becomes justifiable and even necessary to magnify what evidence we do have (and this holds regardless of their potential value as models for contemporary emulation). It will then be true that our history of the past will be different from the past’s sense of its own history, but as the historian more than anyone else is acutely aware, history has a history of its own, and always has. What is arguably necessary is a ‘usable past’ — as that term is used by Rita Gross (1993) — that will not erase the past’s usages of its pasts, which is in itself an important object for historical exploration and understanding.
We might further reason that canonization is itself a temporal phenomenon, and the criteria for sainthood in the past are not at all likely to be identical to the criteria for sainthood in the present. Saint recognition may be granted many centuries after a person’s death, but that person will nevertheless be every bit as holy as if they had been canonized within their own lifetimes. We might assume, although here we feel the rising heat of potential controversies, that there were in fact many more women than those mentioned in the sources who led accomplished Buddhist lives and were influential during their times, but nevertheless were minimized or even left out of the historical record because of a tendency to exclude them from the (over the next centuries progressively more and more) predominating male monastic institutions who reserved for themselves responsibility for the record keeping. Tibetan Buddhism, unlike Roman Catholicism, never had a formal legal mechanism for saint canonization. In Tibet, canonization (if we may call it such) was a question of record keeping, of history and biography writing, depending on the continuity of particular spiritual lineages.
It is just a fact that much less is known about accomplished women during this time than is known about accomplished men. With some effort, I could compile a list of over a hundred religious men with clear identities — including birth dates and in most cases death dates as well — born between the years 1100 and 1178. To do the same for women, I came to realize, would be much more complex since it is very difficult to establish clear identities for most of them (in many cases we are left with only a little more than a name), and they are rarely supplied with birth and death dates. I would estimate very roughly that the amount of biographical information available for individual women leaders of the 11th and 12th centuries is about one or two percent, as compared to 99 or 98 percent for the individual men. The disparity has a distinctly blinding glare.
There are a number of difficult questions regarding women during this period. For example, were there active nunneries in Tibet during this time? Were the nuns fully ordained as bhikṣuṇīs? Were the nuns active, influential and respected in their local communities or regions? Were there sectarian differences in the recognition of laypersons’ spiritual accomplishments? Was there a tendency in the Tibetan historical tradition to progressively obscure or confound the contributions by ordained or lay women religious leaders? Were the circumstances of women's lives such that they were less likely to achieve prominence? In the following, we hope to beam some thin rays of light on a few of these more particular historical issues, without necessarily proposing overwhelming ‘conclusions.’ We will start with the most famous women, without going into much detail about their lives, since there exists already a literature about them that is easily available in English.
The three best known women:
To begin with, by far the best known of women leaders for posterity was Ma-gcig Lab-sgron. Lab-sgron, perhaps the most significant disciple of Pha-dam-pa Sangs-rgyas, is most famous for the ‘Cutting’ (Gcod) lineages which flowed from her into the Rnying-ma-pa, Bka'-brgyud-pa and, still later, the Dge-lugs-pa sects. All her teachings were ‘received’ Buddhist teachings, conveying the esoteric sense of the Perfection of Insight, but she might have been responsible for bringing these received teachings into an array centered on the metaphor of Cutting, meaning a spiritually sophisticated ‘exorcism’ of the outer and inner ‘demons’ that hinder the unfoldment of Full Knowledge (Jñāna) and Complete Enlightenment. The Tibetan sources provide widely differing dates for her. Even though modern authors may confidently state her birth and death years, they are not to be trusted. She most probably lived from about the middle of the 11th century to about the middle of the 12th. Since there is a considerable amount of material available in English, we will say no more about her here.
Probably the second most illustrious woman of the times was Ma-gcig Zha-ma. She was famous for a particular lineage of Path Including Result (Lam-'bras) teachings, primarily absorbed by the other Lam-'bras lineages that flowed through Sa-skya-pa lineages, although it also entered into various eclectic traditions of other sects in the late 12th and 13th centuries. Unique among the women religions leaders of her times, her dates are quite clear and uncontroversial. She lived from 1062 to 1149 ce. Various forms of her name are Zham, Zha-ma-chung-ma, Zha-chung-ma [Zhwa-chung-ma and Zhang-chung-ma also occur, although the latter, like Zham, may be considered a mistake] and Lha-rje-ma. She had a quite well-known younger brother named 'Khon-phu-ba Chos-kyi-rgyal-mtshan (1069-1144), and so she may also be referred to as 'Khon-phu-ba Lcam-sring (‘Sister of 'Khon-phu-ba’). Her youngest brother was to become Zha-ma Lo-tsā-ba Seng-ge-rgyal-po, a translator responsible for many canonical translations from Indian language works still found in the Tanjur collection. She was born in southern Tibet, in Pha-drug, the fourth of six (some say seven) children and the only daughter. Her father’s real name was Zha-ma Rdo-rje-rgyal-mtshan (d. 1098), although he also had the curious nickname Byi-ba-hab-sha (‘Mouse Quarrel’). Her mother was called Rgya-gar Lha-mo (‘Indian Goddess’). In her 14th year, a marriage was arranged for her with one A-ba Lha-rgyal, but she found married life uninspiring and turned her mind toward religion, eventually escaping her unhappy marriage by pretending to be insane. From age 16 through 21, she was a phyag-rgya-ma (a mudrā or ‘consort’) of the Rma translator Dge-ba'i-blo-gros (1044-89). When she was 27, Rma was poisoned to death, and she had to go to Shab to arrange for his cremation. In her early thirties she struggled against seven difficult obstacles, including serious medical conditions, and in part in order to find a cure, she visited the widely renowned Indian teacher Pha-dam-pa Sangs-rgyas. Apart from him, she studied with a long list of teachers, including Vairocana, the Orissan translator and teacher of the radical spiritual songs of the Mahāsiddhas. Most crucial for posterity was her meeting with Se-ston Kun-rig, since it was through him that she received the Path Including Result teachings which would be passed on in subsequent centuries under the name Lam-'bras Zha-ma Lugs (‘The Zha-ma System of Path Including Result’). During the later years of her life (beginning approximately at age 40), she travelled about teaching together with her brother 'Khon-phu-ba, and their fame spread far and wide. There is an interesting story about her relationship with her nephew, the son of 'Khon-phu-ba, who would later become a significant Lam-'bras teacher. His name was Lha-rje Zla-ba'i-'od-zer (1123-82). His mother died when he was two, and he was raised by his aunt Zha-ma, about 60 at the time, who, it is said, nourished him with milk from her finger for the first 10 years of his life. Zla-ba'i-'od-zer spent most of his later years in Nepal, but he was able to amass a considerable fortune, and it was he who had erected the two silver reliquaries for enshrining the remains of his father and his aunt. Among the famous men who received esoteric teachings from Zha-ma were Khyung-tshang-pa and Phag-mo-gru-pa. Zhang Rin-po-che received (and practiced) her lineage indirectly, through his teachers Gling-ka-ba and Yer-pa-ba. Yang-dgon-pa eventually made known the titles of three of her instructions on the ‘intermediate state’ (bar-do) between death and rebirth. Unfortunately, nothing longer than a few lines of her teachings seems to survive in writing. The degree of the impact her teaching activities had on Path Including Result lineages that have survived is one of those unfortunate historical unknowns.
A third figure who will not be discussed here in detail, although she must belong to the 12th century, is Snang-sa 'Od-'bum, native to the region that includes the town of Gyantse (Rgyal-rtse). Her story has been summarized and translated a number of times. It is very difficult to judge the historicity of her life, but even if it is in some part fiction, as is often the case, fiction can be made to tell cultural truths larger than any set of supposed facts. Her involuntary marriage, her thwarted desire to lead a life of religion, and the injustices she suffered at the hands of her inlaws reflect the experiences of many Tibetan women in history, which may largely explain her story’s popularity. It belongs to the 'das-log genre in that it includes an account of her return from the dead. It is extremely popular as a subject for laypeople’s masked dance-opera performances called Lha-mo (‘Goddess’), and might also be told at home, or by a more professional storyteller (called a ma-ṇi-pa) in the marketplace illustrating the story by pointing to a scroll painting with narrative scenes. It certainly provided Tibetan women with a model for transcendence, as well as a rather complete or at least partial mirror of their social situations.
All the remaining women share one characteristic besides their gender, and that is that there is relatively little literary information on them, and generally not much prospect of drawing out a complete biographical sketch. I have arbitrarily divided them into the categories of  prophets,  disciples,  lineage holders (which ought to include the lineage founders Lab-sgron and Zha-ma),  leaders of popular religious movements,  teachers, and  nuns, with the recognition that these categories are based on the roles they play in the limited literary references we have located. The categorical lines are blurred, and increasingly so the more we learn about them. In particular, the women in the category of lineage holders are likely, at some point in their biographies, to have filled most or all of the other roles.
Primarily known for her prophetic role is one Dngul-mo Rgyal-le-lcam. She was a disciple of 'Dzeng Dharma-bo-dhi (1052-1168) who was in turn a disciple of Pha-dam-pa and Lab-sgron and many other luminaries of the day. While he followed the Cutting and other esoteric teachings, 'Dzeng’s greatest fame was due to his spreading of the Rnying-ma-pa teachings known as the Vajra Bridge, and his rather unusual ascetic practices which would remind us today of ‘extreme sports’ (or of Japanese Shugendô). For five years he wandered about Gtsang Province stark naked, taking high-dives into icy waters, leaping into abysses, striking his head with rocks and burning himself alive. His biography mentions that he gave esoteric precepts to Dngul-mo, which included the ‘Four Statements’ (Yi-ge Bzhi-pa) and the Great Perfectedness. She is referred to here as a ‘superhuman zhig-mo.’ This word we are accustomed to seeing in the masculine form zhig-po, which means a person who has totally ‘dissolved’ (zhig-pa) ordinary clinging to the ‘self’ concept as well as the usual bonds of social life. Zhig-po and zhig-mo are people who act out their realization of Buddhist truths in unconventional, ‘crazy’ ways.
The only other known episode of her life would be the prophetic statements she made to Rten-ne (a follower of Pha-dam-pa’s Peacemaking [Zhi-byed] teachings, he lived 1127-1217), explaining how he obtained his name. There are three literary sources of this story known to me. The story may be paraphrased as follows:
When Rten-ne was three years old, he asked his mother, “Where is the region of Mal Brtson-'grus-bla-ma?” His mother replied, “In the gorge of Lho-brag. Why do you want to know?” “Because these are the region and name of my previous rebirth.” he responded.
Years later, when Rten-ne reached his 25th year, he conceived the idea to visit what had been his home country in his previous rebirth in the gorge of Lho-brag. On his way, in Yar-'brog, the region surrounding the the famous lake by that name, he met two lamas from E-mnyal and the three of them went about begging. His two new companions recommended that together they should visit the nearby Sla'u Monastery before going on to Lho-brag, saying that there was to be found in that monastery a group of chaplains who had dissolved worldly bonds (mchod-gnas zhig-po) serving a Sprul-sku Se Jo-sras. One of the four, they said, was Ma-jo Rgyal-le-lcam, an old beggar woman who was always laughing but possessed the powers of clairvoyance. Before telling the story, it is necessary to know that, at the time, Rten-ne had the name Jo-sras 'Jig-rten-grags. When they met with Rgyal-le-lcam she didn’t speak to the other two men, but grabbed 'Jig-rten-grags by the hand and exclaimed, “Goodness! Goodness! If it isn’t big brother Rten-ne! What a surprise! What a surprise! Drink from these breasts of mine! Child, don’t go to Lho-brag gorge! The house of Snang went to war and was destroyed without a trace. Child, your teacher is in the northern sun, so do go to Dbu-ru and there you will meet the son of G.yas-mo-dpal-'dren.” On the basis of this prophecy, Rten-ne eventually located his teacher Pa-tshab and received the complete one-on-one transmission of the Peacemaking teachings.
Another prophet was Bgres-mo. The very name means ‘old woman,’ and therefore is more likely a nickname than a proper name. It is said that Rngog Mdo-sde (1090-1166), while staying at some springs in Gtsang province, was preparing to visit his consort one evening when a woman siddhā appeared at his doorstep and said, “If you go tonight there may be an accident. But if you go tomorrow night an exceptional child will be born.” This prophecy came true in 1115 when his son Gtsang-tsha Jo-tshul was born.
This woman is almost certainly the same as a known disciple of Ras-chung-pa (1083-1161). The story goes that Ras-chung-pa was travelling through the gorge of Snubs territory when, “at a place called Spang-chen, one of his disciples was bitten by a dog, forcing them to stay there a few days. During this time, he gave initiations and precepts to one Jo-mo Btsun-ma, who was quite amazed at this, and said not to bite a still more serious bite than that dog (?!). Then the woman went to her own home area, Sham-bu. There she meditated and turned out to be a siddhā known as Jo-mo Bgres-mo.”
But there were other women by the same name (well, the same apart from minor spelling differences), and they are already confounded with each other in the sources. One Jo-mo Sgre-mo of Rong Chu-tshan (‘Hot Springs Gorge’) had been a disciple of the 8th-century Indian teacher Vimalamitra. The Blue Annals author believes that this 8th century woman was the same one who made the prophecy to Rngog Mdo-sde, “This Sgre-mo was a great siddhā and lived long. It is said that Vimalamitra had entrusted to her many Vajrayānic Tantras. Sgre-mo’s prophecy came true...” It seems just possible that, as the same author suggests, our prophet Sgre-mo was the same nun who presented Atiśa with a gift of a model horse made of gold with a turquoise boy riding on it. However, it hardly seems possible that, regardless of how ‘old’ her name might seem to make her, she could have been quite so long lived as to last from the 8th century into the 12th.
One woman known to us simply as 'The Mad Woman of Lhasa' (Lha-sa'i Smyon-ma) had a role in the discovery of the so-called 'Pillar Testament' (Bka'-chems Ka-bkol-ma). This might merit her placement among the prophets.
We might also mention, although she doesn’t fit our criteria since she was not a Tibetan but an Indian (or Nepalese?), the Yoginī Me-tog (‘Flower,’ perhaps her real name was *Puṣpā). A story of her prophetic statements made during her visit to Tibet in about 1160, may be found in English elsewhere. As an example of the many more obscure prophetic women, we might mention the unnamed woman at Thang-skya, a returnee from death, who prophesied to Stag-lung-thang-pa (founder of the Stag-lung-pa lineage, he lived 1142-1210) about the future gathering of his disciples.
I decided not to lay too much emphasis on women who were disciples of famous religious figures, mainly because disciples, as such, are followers, not leaders. Nevertheless, it may be that many of these achieved publicly (or at the very least literarily) recognized signs of advanced spiritual attainment, or that they in fact had leadership roles or lineages that have since been obscured. Therefore they do belong here, and we will mention some of their names.
We begin with the 11th-century women disciples of 'Brog-mi. His full name being 'Brog-mi Lo-tsā-ba Shākya-ye-shes, he is best remembered for introducing the Path Including Result teachings into Tibet. The initiator of the Sa-skya tradition, 'Khon Dkon-mchog-rgyal-po, was among his followers. He was also a translator from Indian languages. His dates are not very certain, but they might be 993 to 1050 (or 1077?). Among a group of seven disciples who achieved ‘accomplishments’ (siddhis) four were women: Stod-mo Rdo-rje-'tsho, Bzang-mo Dkon-ne, Shab-mo Lcam-cig and 'Chad-mo Nam-mkha'.
Among the disciples of that most famous of Tibetan yogīs, Milarepa, is his sister Pe-ta and his childhood fiancé Mdzes-se. According to Sangs-rgyas-dar-po’s 16th-century history, five women, Pe-ta, Mdzes-se, 'Gri-lcam-ma, Sa-le-'od, and Dpal-dar-'bum were among his disciples that entered the sky life without leaving physical bodies behind, a traditional ‘sign of saintly death.’ It lists separately a group of his disciples, ‘the four sisters,’ as Ras-chung-ma of Mtsho-lnga, Sa-le-'od of Snya-nang, Dpal-dar-'bum of Cung, and Lcam-mo Be-ta (i.e., his sister Pe-ta). It would seem that another interesting woman disciple would be Gshen-rdor-mo, said to have entered the initial stage of the spiritual Path at the moment of death. However, Gshen-rdor-mo was most definitely a man. Their stories will not be told here, but it is interesting to notice that most of the women disciples of Milarepa tend to be referred to with the rather unusual term nya-ma, an obsolete word, still remembered but difficult to define or etymologize. There are times when the word is used to cover both disciples and patrons regardless of gender.
Of other early Bka'-brgyud-pa teachers — three of Ras-chung-pa’s women disciples have been mentioned already — we might mention that Sgam-po-pa wrote a few of his works for the benefit of a ‘woman patron of 'Ol-ka’ ('Ol-ka'i yon-bdag-mo). Since these texts include quite advanced Mahāmudrā instructions, we may assume that she was among his more spiritually advanced students. Her’s would seem to be just one among a number of other stories of remarkable women unfortunately left untold.
There were three groups of Ma-gcig Lab-sgron’s disciples who are said to have held her lineage. The second group is called the ‘four daughters,’ but we have no information about them apart from their names and localities. Also in the Cutting lineage, we might mention Lcam-mo La-'dus, aka Grub-chung-ma, born to Ma-cig Lab-sgron when the latter was in her 30th year; and Lan-thog-ma (Lan-to-ma), daughter of Thod-smyon Bsam-grub. We save our comments on the largest group of women disciples, totalling 24, for later discussion.
Sa-chen Kun-dga'-snying-po (1092-1158) had a group of three women disciples. Their names are simply listed as  Jo-lcam Phur-mo, the mother of his son Kun-dga'-'bar,  Jo-mo Ba'u-ma (or 'A-'u-ma) of G.ya'-lung, and  Jo-mo Mang-chung-ma of Mang-mkhar.
 Lineage holders:
‘Lineage holder’ is here defined not only as a person who holds the main teachings (secret precepts and the like) from a particular teacher, but one who also passed them on in a lineage significant for posterity. Apart, of course, from Lab-sgron and Zha-ma, one of the most intriguing personalities in this category was one Jo-'bum, important for holding a place in the transmission of the Kālacakra Tantra of the 'Bro system. Her location in the lineage clearly places her in the 12th century. Her father’s name was Dharmeśvara (a Sanskritized form of his Tibetan name Chos-kyi-dbang-phyug), while her grandfather was Yu-mo, both of them very important figures in the early history of Kālacakra in Tibet. Her brother, Se-mo-che-ba Nam-mkha'-rgyal-mtshan, although he suffered in childhood from serious speech and hearing problems, went on to master the extensive Kālacakra commentary known as the Vimalaprabhā and the practices of the Six Limbed Yoga. The brief account of Jo-'bum in the Blue Annals translates as follows:
The daughter of Dharmeśvara was Jo-'bum. In her childhood, she was urged by her mother to study magic (mthu) and destroyed many enemies. After that she practiced the Six Limbed Yoga, and during that same incarnation became a saint ('phags-pa-mo) of equal fortune to the naturally-born yoginīs.
She appears in a, for most part, quite standard lineage of the 'Bro system of Kālacakra by Tshe-dbang-nor-bu, where a single line, with added refrain, is devoted to each lineage holder. Her line reads: “Chief of all who live their lives in the sky [the ∂ākinīs], [attainer of the] rainbow body, Jo-'bum-ma. [refrain:] I pray to you, hold me in your thoughts with compassion. You hold the lineage; bless me to have a life comparable to yours.” She is preceded in the lineage by her father, and after her comes her student 'Jam-sar Shes-rab-'od-zer, although it is curious that she is not mentioned in the role of teacher in the latter’s biographical account in the Blue Annals, where he studies instead with her brother Se-mo-che-ba.
The most detailed biography of Jo-'bum was found in the Kālacakra history by Tāranātha (1575-1635). It runs as follows:
Of the three children of Chos-kyi-dbang-phyug, there were two who served animate beings. The Lady Lha-rje Jo-'bum was renowned as being the emanation body of Indrabodhi’s Lady Lakṣmīnkāra. She had such great knowledge that she had thoroughly mastered the tantras and commentaries of the Kālacakra. In her younger years she engaged in all kinds of activities. When she became a young woman, at her mother’s urging, she practiced the Yamāntaka Gesture of Vanquishing and beheld His visage. She coerced Life Lord (Tshe-bdag) and Great God Blazing Glory (Lha-chen Dpal-'bar) into her service. She practiced life magic (srog mthu). She made magical displays, hail and so forth. She spent all her time on this. The magical powers of her coercive mantras were extremely great. During her 36th year (i.e., age 35) she was suffering from a severe illness which convinced her that nothing was of any importance apart from realizing the way things truly are. She meditated on the Six Limbed Yoga which she had learned from her father and during the first day she completed the ten signs. In the 7th day, the internal winds dissolved into the central vein. She became a great woman siddhā (grub-thob chen-mo). In her retreats she would go entirely without human food for about half a month or about a month, but her physical strength would become much better. She stayed in rock shelters at Srin-po-ri, and travelled in areas impassable to humans, meditating. She was able to stop outbreaks of contagious diseases simply by pronouncing the Power of Truth. A simple touch of her hand would free the sick from their sicknesses. These and other such signs [of her accomplishments] became known.
About her dates, or how long she lived, we are told nothing, only that she died before her brother Se-mo-che-ba.
I was also able to locate a brief reference to Jo-'bum in a defense against critics of the Rnying-ma-pa school, one attributed to the famous Klong-chen-pa. The general context is an argument that many members of other schools have benefitted greatly from their study of Rnying-ma-pa teachings, in particular the Great Perfectedness. In the narrower context, it seeks to show that Kun-spangs-chen-po (this is a way of referring to the founder of Jo-nang Monastery, who lived 1243-1313) received Rnying-ma-pa teachings. It says, “Then he requested the Royal Manner Anointment initiation from Ma-gcig Jo-'bum, the daughter of the great siddha Yu-mo.” This is quite a puzzling statement, first of all because nothing that we know connects Jo-'bum to Rnying-ma-pa teachings, and secondly because of the obvious chronological problem. I would suggest that the author of this work has confounded Jo-'bum, the [grand] daughter of Yu-mo with another person with the same name. One candidate might be the wife of Nyang-ral Nyi-ma-'od-zer, whose name was Jo-'bum-ma, or the male Rnying-ma-pa teacher [Rta-ston] Jo-'bum (1124-1174), or a person [male?] Gnyan-thob Jo-'bum (1235-1273). Only the last-named would solve the chronological problem, but this person also was, being connected with the transmission of Cakrasamvara, free of any apparent Rnying-ma-pa connections. This unsolved and perhaps insoluble problem is offered as an example of the confusions of identity that we find so often in the sources, and we take our leave of Jo-'bum with some reluctance, since there must be more literary sources about her somewhere. For the moment, we have done our best.
The 15th and 16th century teachers Gtsang-smyon He-ru-ka, most famous for compiling the life and songs of Milarepa, and Padma-dkar-po, 4th 'Brug-chen incarnation and perhaps the most important intellectual of the 'Brug-pa school, both belonged to lineages of the esoteric ear-whispered teachings called the Ras-chung Earwhispered Transmission (Ras-chung Snyan-brgyud). This lineage included two women, Ma-gcig Ong-jo and Kun-ldan-ras-ma (aka Ye-shes-kun-ldan, daughter of Dha-ra-shri). Only the former, Ong-jo, belonged to our time period. Since one biographical source (which provides only a few biographical details, however) has been translated, we will not translate it once more, but rather summarize and add some further sources.
The Ras-chung Earwhispered Transmission was a special tradition centered on Cakrasamvara and Vajravārāhī. Some of its teachings were received by Ras-chung-pa from the Indian Ti-phu-pa, and not from his main teacher Milarepa (some parts of these teachings were in fact given by Ras-chung-pa to Milarepa). It was certainly esoteric in the sense that it existed independently of the public arenas of Buddhist teaching, and could freely pass inside monastery walls and out again. Its existence outside the institutions, as well as its deliberate fostering of ‘individual’ spirituality, made it rather suspect in the eyes of some of the more scholastic leaders, for example Chag Lo-tsā-ba. One consequence of this independence of monastic institutions was that its lineage members continued to include laypersons. Another consequence may be that it had less problem accepting women as bearers of the blessings of the lineage.
The one independent biographical source would appear to have been written by Ong-jo’s follower in the Ras-chung transmission, Zhang Lo-tsā-ba. Her outward life is covered in just a few lines, which tell us that she was born in 'U-yug, that her family had achieved great wealth in both field and livestock agriculture, and that she belonged to the Rgya-mo clan. She was extremely sad during her youth, refused to remain in the household life and escaped to the mountains. She ‘entered the door of religion’ (she took lay vows) and studied and reflected on many of the esoteric precepts, but most importantly, she met Khyung-tshang-pa. He said to her, “You are a reincarnation of the Total Knowledge Sky Goer Bde-gter-ma,” and with compassion accepted her as a disciple. She received the earwhispered teachings three times, the first time as a layperson, the second and third times as a fully ordained nun. Of her degree of attainment after receiving and practicing the esoteric precepts, one of the manuscripts says, “An extraordinary realization of the way things are took birth in her mind.” The remainder of this ‘biography’ illustrates how she brought to perfection in her life the six transcendent qualities of generosity, disciplined conduct, patience (including tolerance and longsuffering), energetic application, meditative absorption and insight. These virtues, universal to Mahāyāna, she actualized within the tantric realm of the Vajrayāna.
Only one of the manuscripts says that Ong-jo received the one-to-one transmission (chig brgyud) from Khyung-tshang-pa. In fact, Khyung-tshang-pa also passed the earwhispered transmission teachings on to three men, one of whom had the name Dge-sdings-pa. But these three along with Ong-jo were all teachers of Zhang Lo-tsā-ba (d. 1237). Zhang Lo-tsā-ba, who had many teachers, first studied with the three men, but had some doubts. Padma-dkar-po’s 16th-century history says, “When he had some doubts because no text was forthcoming, Dge-sdings-pa told him, ‘Ma-cig Ong-jo is the Lama’s consort (gsang-yum). It seems she has [the texts]. Go to her.’ ” He went to her twice, but she did not speak, let alone say what she had. Meanwhile he went and took complete ordination from the Great Pundit of Kashmir and studied the monastic rules. Only then did she very happily grant him the precepts.
The Lho-rong History has nothing to add to Ong-jo’s biography, of which it gives brief extracts, but it does tell in a different way how Zhang Lo-tsā-ba received the earwhispered transmission from Ong-jo, “He went to the presence of Ma-gcig Ang-co three times, but the first two times she did not grant [the precepts]. The third time, she said, ‘[Khyung-tshang-pa] told me to give them to a suitable vessel, and that means you.’ She gave him the initiations and guidance instructions of the earwhispered teachings as well as the Revered One’s personal books and sacramental objects. Then she made a prophecy.”
The only passage about Ong-jo that seems to be in some degree independent of all the other sources that stem from the only biography there is, is a brief one in a 16th century history already cited above. Notice the very unusual spelling for her name:
“The Heart Disciple of Khyung-tshang-pa by the name of Ma-cig Kong-'byo was born in U-yug. From her youth she had very great faith and compassion. When she went to the presence of Khyung-tshang-pa she heard the complete precepts of the earwhispered transmission, and countless good qualities were born [in her]. She helped many fortunate disciples such as Zhang Lo-tsā-ba, and then departed for the sky life.”
Although they might fall outside the chronological boundaries set for us, we should at least mention two other women lineage holders, Ma-gcig Re-ma and her spiritual granddaughter Mdzes-ma. It seems that Re-ma must at least have been born sometime in the 12th century. She was a direct disciple of the Indian teacher Mitrayogin, a historically shadowy but nevertheless extremely popular figure in Tibetan literature. She passed the lineage of the ‘Cutting the Flow of Sangsara’ ('Khor-ba Rgyun Gcod) teachings on to a man called 'Khrul-zhig, who in turn passed them on to Mdzes-ma of 'On. Mitrayogin’s dates are unsettled, but based on his presence at the beginning of the building of the Great Maitreya image (80 cubits high, or about 120 feet!) at Khro-phu, he must have come to Tibet sometime in the late 12th or early 13th centuries. We may attempt to be more precise, in that Khro-phu Lo-tsā-ba (1172-1236) invited Mitrayogin to come to Tibet when the former was in his 26th year. This means he must have been invited in 1197, some 7 years before Khro-phu welcomed the Kashmiri teacher Śākyaśrī (1127? or 1140?-1125?) to Tibet in 1204. Re-ma would have met Mitrayogin, who stayed in Tibet only 18 months, in 1198 or 1199.
The Lho-rong History has by far the most detailed account of her life, but spells her name Reb-ma:
Ma-gcig Reb-ma Dar-ma-byang-chub received the name [Reb-ma] from her native area. She met with Lord Kun-ldan-ras-pa [1148-1217] and requested all the secret precepts. Then she did the practices single pointedly. Her realization reached the point that is like when both the blade and the whetstone disappear. Scholars rank her by saying, “She is a great yoginī who clearly did realize the way things are, Emptiness.” She had unrestricted clairvoyant abilities, and knew that there would come to a fisherman in the lower 'Jad Valley [in Gtsang] named Lug-skyes a child who would be a reincarnation of Dam-pa Rin-po-che. The morning that child was born, she carried him to the first feeding ceremony and then she raised him. Later he would turn out to be an unimaginably great siddha known as Lce-sgom-rdzong-pa Shes-rab-rdo-rje who would found and reside in a monastery at the rock of Mkha'-skyong in Rta-nag, and thereafter be called Mkha'-skyong-brag-pa. In later times, this same Ma-gcig Reb-ma would clear away obstacles for this very person. The Six Treasuries of Dohā [songs singlehandedly translated by Vairocana] were obtained from Bla-ma Zhang by Tshong-ston Sgom-pa and, just like the latter, this one [Lce-sgom] mastered them. When it is said that this person [Lce-sgom] met with Gtsang-pa Jo-sras, it is referring to the memories of five hundred rebirths found in the biography. Some say that it refers to Kun-ldan Gtsang-pa, while others say, to a disciple of Kun-ldan. This requires more research. This person’s Buddhist compositions were very fine and many, and the Dharma transmission has continued until now (it is said). What this refers to is the fact that this person had two transmissions going back to some masters of the Bka'-gdams-pa. This person had many students including 'Brom-ston Lha-ri-ba, Sangs-rgyas Ba-lam-pa, Sangs-rgyas-'dul-ba, and the siddha Hûm-'bar-ba. Hûm-'bar-ba had a transmission lineage [list of names omitted]. There were many other transmissions as well, but they are not recorded.
 Leaders of popular religious movements:
Sometime in the decades before or after the year 1100, two women led broadly based religious movements. Literary sources place them in groups variously characterized as “The Four Children of Pe-har,” “The Six Black Yogis,” or “The Four Total Knowledge Sky Goers.” Their names were Shel-mo Rgya-lcam and Zhang-mo Rgya-'thing. Although all but one of the sources provide them with dubious reputations, some even denying their human embodiment by ‘spiritizing’ them, and although nothing survives in terms of self-representation, it is clear that they were widely followed during their times, and their movements may well have continued into the 14th century. Their stories have already been told elsewhere, so it will suffice to say here that, like so many of the women mentioned here, one or both of them were in (or came into) close relationships with Pha-dam-pa and his circle.
There would seem to be little point to this particular category, since so many of the women mentioned above did have teaching roles. Here it is just a category to fit some of the more obscure figures who do not fit in one of the others, and who happen to be mentioned in the role of teacher. One of these was Skal-ldan (or Skal-ldan-mtsho), daughter of Rten-ne. Two sources tell us that she passed teachings on to Rog Shes-rab-'od (1166-1244). This probably occurred during the first two decades of the 13th century, since Rten-ne was extremely old at the time, perhaps also blind.
It seems Lce-ston Rgya-nag (1094-1149) received teachings from one Jo-mo Myang-mo. These teachings belonged to the system of Great Perfectedness known as Khams A-ro.
Two women are mentioned by Zhang G.yu-brag-pa (1123-1193) among his many teachers. One, Ma-jo Sgron-ne, is likely to be the same as the Jo-mo Sgron-ne mentioned in a previous footnote. She gave Zhang teachings on the direct introduction [to the nature of mind] according to the Ke'u-tshang-ma system. Zhang’s mother was herself an ex-nun who evidently preserved her association with her former convent. The Lho-rong History provides some unique information. It says that his mother was Shud-mo-za Mang-skyid, as is well known in many sources, but adds in a footnote that the name Ma-jo G.yang-mo also occurs. When she was evidently still a nun, a woman who was recognized as a Total Knowledge Sky Goer named Ma-jo Ra-ma prophesied to her, among other things, that she, Mang-skyid, was like the bhikṣuṇī* Prasannaśīla who became the mother of Vasubandhu and Asanga, that she must take up the household life since it would be a great benefit to the teachings. As a consequence of this prophecy, Zhang and an elder brother were born. When Zhang was 4 (i.e., 3), he asked his mother what Ma-jo Dar-ma was like. His mother told him how, while she was in the stomach of Ma-jo Sangs-rgyas-skyid, the latter would recite the Names of Mañjuśrī, that when Ma-jo Dar-ma was born she knew it without studying, that she was known as a sky goer and natural yoginī who was able to interpret the words of the text. Then Zhang and his mother went together to Sne'u-gdong to meet her. Zhang recited a brief text for the assembled nuns on the nature of mind. Ma-jo Dar-ma was the first to recognize him as an emanation (a sprul-sku) and foretell his future greatness. She was not only his first teacher, but also his first disciple (so says the Lho-rong History). Years later when she died, it was Zhang who made the necessary arrangements for her funeral and cremation.
It has often been suggested that the lineage of fully ordained nuns might never have been instituted in Tibet, and in recent publications this idea seems to have become an article of faith with a life of its own. We have already seen that Ong-jo did became a fully ordained nun, a bhikṣuṇī. If we may be permitted to use an example that lies outside our time frame, in a history of his monastery Rtse-le, Rtse-le Rgod-tshang-pa (b. 1608) tells this story of a fully ordained nun (who may, with more research, prove datable):
“Lcam-mo Rje-btsun-ma Dkon-mchog-'tsho-mo took the complete vows from Rje Mi-skyod-zhabs, and became an actual bhikṣuṇī (dge-slong-ma). She faultlessly practiced all the most minute rules of the Vinaya. In Zhong-kha Convent, in the midsts of over a hundred nuns (btsun-ma) she taught the Dharma. Her life span and her practice were brought to perfection and she was honored with the prostrations and offerings of all the people of Dwags Valley.”
While there may have been Tibetan-born nuns already during imperial times (I haven't really looked into the question), there were surely both nuns and nunneries during the time of the Second Spread, as newly published evidence would indicate. The daughter of King Ye-shes-'od named Lha'i-me-tog, who took (unspecified) nun’s vows herself, “instituted the custom of women (bud-med) becoming nuns (btsun-ma),” founded a nunnery called Kre-wel, and provided for its maintenance.
In reading the English translation of the Blue Annals it is important to realize that the translation ‘nun’ is used to cover a number of Tibetan terms, including jo-mo, ma-jo and btsun-ma. While these terms are likely, in most cases, to refer to ordained women, in fact, ‘nuns,’ none of them necessarily imply the full ordination of the bhikṣuṇī. Three mentions of ‘nuns’ occur, for example, in the stories of 'Dzeng (1052-1168) and his disciple 'Dzeng Jo-sras. 'Dzeng was conceived when his mother, named 'Tshar-dgu-gza' Skyid-de, when she had been a ‘nun’ (btsun-ma) at Thang-chung in the Yarlung Valley, was forced to descend from her vows by the eldest son of the Thang-chung ‘Emperor.’ A ‘nun’ (ma-jo) named Zlo-ba, among others, requested 'Dzeng to teach the Vajra Bridge, while the mother of Kun-bzang (a disciple of both 'Dzeng and 'Dzeng Jo-sras) is said to have studied religion with a ‘mad nun’ (ma-jo smyon-ma) named Bsam-grub. These nuns may or may not have been bhikṣuṇīs, but bhikṣuṇīs probably did exist in those days, despite the not-quite-total silence of the literary sources on this point.
Encouragement and discouragement. Women’s spirituality in the circle of Pha-dam-pa:
One general observation that might be made is that the majority of these women had some direct contact with Pha-dam-pa Sangs-rgyas, or at least with his immediate circle of followers (Jo-'bum and Ong-jo being the foremost exceptions). Pha-dam-pa, a native of the region of Andhra on the eastern coast of south India (his father was a sea captain), is said to have visited Tibet a number of times, but it was only during his last visit, after going into retreat at Ding-ri Glang-'khor, that his fame spread all over the Tibetan plateau and people flocked to see him from far distant valleys. Although he still used intermediaries or ‘interpreters’ such as Kun-dga' when people came to ask him questions, there is also evidence that he knew Tibetan quite well, that he was able to translate Indian texts into Tibetan by himself (the colophons to these works use the word rang-'gyur, indicating that he did it himself without working with a Tibetan), although these translations were then scribed, proofread and corrected by native speakers. Few other Indian teachers in Tibet have been credited with such translations (another is the Vairocana mentioned above). He was known for strange and highly symbolic utterances and behavior, and knew how to deploy a gesture or interjection to cut more directly through the illusions brought by his listeners. He was famous for his parables, paradoxes and riddles. Much to the discomfort of conventionally minded Tibetans, he seems to have given most of his teachings naked, or at least nearly so. He must have been one of the very few to provide Tibetans an opportunity to directly communicate with an Indian Buddhist tantric master.
Based on the literary remains of his school, he was surely an advocate of a kind of women’s liberation, both in the spiritual and mundane senses of the word. He taught the highest teachings to men and women alike, but for women in particular he demanded the courage to break free of the household life and to stop slaving for their husbands. “A woman who cannot leave the household life behind and who produces Dharma I have not seen.” “A woman who cannot cast the household life to the winds will not get Dharma.” “A beggar woman without a husband is happier than a wife of a bad husband.” “Women cannot have Dharma, and if they get Dharma, they have to cut off their connections to the household life. Even if they got Prince Rtse-lde for a husband, they are just high class slaves.” “Women who practice Dharma need a bone in the center of their hearts (they need courage).” What other teacher in Tibet of those times was telling so many woman to break free of their servitude to house and husband to seek the highest spiritual liberation?
It follows that in Pha-dam-pa’s circle, more than others, the spiritual potential of women would have been recognized. There is one text, perhaps the finest literary monument from our era of concern on the spiritual abilities of women, entitled Answers to the Questions of the Twenty-Four Jo-mo, together with Their Stories. It is contained in a wonderful old manuscript now available in a 5-volume reprint edition (for convenience, we will just call it the Peacemaking Collection). The original manuscript, with an undeniable and unrivalled importance for understanding the Peacemaking teachings, dates from no later than the late 13th century (some of its titles do date to the mid-13th century). It was kept until recently at Ding-ri Glang-'khor as a kind of ‘speech receptacle,’ an object of worship, a ‘relic,’ even, of the early lineage. It consists in large part of a collection of teachings put together by Kun-dga', who is said to have received the one-to-one transmission from Pha-dam-pa, and it was Kun-dga' who composed the text on the Jo-mo. The Peacemaking Collection deserves a full study not practical here, and we may hope that someone will undertake the task of overcoming the problems due to its old orthography and vocabulary and do just that. The stories of the twenty-four Jo-mo have long been available in English, based not on the original, but on the later Blue Annals, which quite possibly made use of the very same manuscript we have today.
Just because it is so clear that, more than any other group, the circle of Pha-dam-pa supported women’s practice, it is all the more surprising and even dismaying to find more and less negative statements on women’s spiritual potential. There is a tenuous but nevertheless crucial distinction between men saying that woman have it bad, a statement with which many women of past and present would agree, and saying that women are bad. I believe at this stage of my research that Pha-dam-pa himself never unequivocally crossed that line. His actions in teaching women clearly show that no matter how unconducive women’s home lives might be to spiritual practice, if they are freed from their household duties they are capable of pursuing Enlightenment. It does not necessarily follow that his followers followed suit. Even the text on the 24 Jo-mo, composed by Kun-dga', mentions that women are of ‘small accumulation.’ Perhaps, but only perhaps, the intention was to say that they had little learning, although it could also intend that their accumulation of merit and total knowledge, and hence their spiritual status, was low; other statements from the early Peacemaking Collection will be adduced that lend support to the latter interpretation.
The entire fifth volume of the Peacemaking Collection is taken up by a major commentary on a text recording interviews Kun-dga' had with Pha-dam-pa. The commentarial portions would seem, basing ourselves on a passage in the Blue Annals, to have been composed by Zhig-po Rin-chen-shes-rab. However, in Zhig-po’s untitled history of the lineage, he says that the Bshad-'bum was granted to the master, with his servants, Spangs Jo-'dzin, a Lama of 'Phrang-po, and from them it is said to have spread. Of its 55 chapters, the 9th is entitled, “Showing how, women being bad receptacles, the thought of practicing [religion] dawns with difficulty.” We will start with the words spoken by Pha-dam-pa to Kun-dga', which will be translated completely, while the much more lengthy commentarial treatment will be excerpted.
“It is as if the likes of women were cut off from the inheritance of the Buddha.”
Kun-dga', “But what about the saying that, in Enlightened Mind, there is no gender (pho mo)?”
“Firstly, their rebirth is low (skye-ba dman) by virtue of not having accumulated the accumulations. In their bodies there is opposition. Because they have no bone in their hearts (no courage), they are unable to do the practices. In their youths, without remembering Dharma, they do everything they can to start a family. When they are old, although they may wish to do something, their bodies are unable. If they take renunciate vows, they are shadowed by the habit. [But] then, if birth and shape are good, they are picked out once more. The women who have obtained independence (rang-dbang) are few.”
The commentator elaborates these statements with typical commentarial pedantry under ten different categories spread over several pages. It is far from certain that these elaborations would have been countenanced by Pha-dam-pa himself (and it definitely post-dates our period of preoccupation), which makes it less interesting for present purposes. A few of the more remarkable passages will suffice for the present.
“The likes of women are bad receptacles (for the teachings); they clearly place their trust in the causes of suffering. Having little sorrow for their lot in sangsara, since they view suffering as an ornament, they do not escape from household work, and get no chance to work on Dharma... It is because they have no escape (bud) from routine chores, that they are called ‘women’ (bud-myed) ...”
“ ‘Because they have not accumulated the accumulations, they take <low rebirth>.’ This means, firstly, that because their bodily receptacles are inferior, the minds that rely [on those bodies] are also inferior. Their minds being of limited scope, their thoughts are incapable of anything more than minor objectives.”
He makes part of his argument the idea that women are subject to 32 diseases that men do not have, and since their possible physical sufferings are greater, their minds are more prone to emotional afflictions. “Women’s bodies are vessels of pain, and women’s minds are vessels of suffering.” Commenting on women’s lack of independence, he does make use of an unfortunate animal (as in four-legged beast) metaphor,
“The receptacle for finding ones way to heaven and liberation is the precious human body. Even those who do find human rebirth, if they are simply born as women, they turn into the unadulterated [nature?] of animals, so their nose ropes are lost to others (i.e., they lose their independence). Even if the attainment of independence is rare [for anyone, for them] it is more rare, [and they are] extremely few.”
He ends by quoting a verse from an unspecified nītiśāstra,
“In their youths they are kept by their parents,
as young women by their husbands,
in old age by their children.
Women do not obtain independence.”
If women are so handicapped by their bodily sufferings, lack of courage, and social position, there would seem to be two different responses here, one by the man Pha-dam-pa and one by the man who elaborated on his comments. Pha-dam-pa’s response would probably be that, on an individual basis (not, nota bene, as part of any program of social reform), their bodily sufferings need to be alleviated, they need encouragement, and above all they need emancipation from their particular social situations. But his commentator crosses over the line. The alleged handicaps are given such weight and emphasis one wonders whether he would have found teaching Buddhist spirituality to women worth the bother. Both men agree that the reason for low birth as a woman is that they have not ‘accumulated the accumulations,’ and although neither explicitly draws this consequence, this would imply a lack of spiritual cultivation in previous lives, and could mean that they would not be considered suitable for the higher meditative precepts, like Great Seal (Mahāmudrā) or Great Perfectedness, which are often said to require prior cultivation. There are still a number of tensions tending toward contradiction in both men’s positions. For example, if women are in fact inordinately suffering entities, it is still the case that suffering itself is, along with impermanence, the strongest motive for the Buddhist quest. Suffering, including in particular bodily sickness and pain, is not a necessary block to spiritual progress, but might to the contrary be directly employed as an expedient (lam-khyer) on the Path. Therefore, if it is in fact the case that women have greater suffering, they will be even more driven to undertake spiritual disciplines and faster in reaching spiritual goals than men are. Even the nagging concerns of the day-to-day life of householders would not necessarily have to bar them from spiritual development. Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava could even say, in a passage in which he prophesies Ye-shes-mtsho-rgyal’s future rebirth as Ma-gcig Lab-sgron, “The basis for realizing enlightenment is a human body. Male or female — there is no great difference. But if she develops the mind bent on enlightenment, the woman’s body is better.”
Conclusions and a recommendation:
Contemporary western feminisms find their necessity in their own cultural past, and their justifications within the current socio-ideological atmosphere. It may not even be very fruitful to compare the semi- or ‘proto-’ (?) feminism of Pha-dam-pa’s circle with any or all of the feminisms of the present. Still I think it would be fair to say that Pha-dam-pa himself (along with some members of his immediate circle), more than any of his contemporaries in Tibet, advocated a particular kind and degree of women’s liberation with strongly Buddhist characteristics. His ‘feminism,’ unlike most modern feminisms, was not aimed at emancipating all women from a socially endemic inequality, nor did it demand for women economic or occupational parity with men. It simply made individual emancipation from women's social conditions prerequisite for spiritual emancipation. In so far as the spiritual emancipation and socio-religious recognition of women is an issue for today's advocates of feminism, they may find in Pha-dam-pa one historical man with whom they could possibly forge an alliance, even if an uncomfortable one.
There are just a few less momentous conclusions that we would hazard to make, and a few possible objections to answer at the same time. We know that women’s status in 11th to 12th century Tibet was not high. We may know this from at least two angles. One angle would be to listen to the words of Pha-dam-pa himself, as a rather critical and outspoken outside observer (both as a man and as a foreigner with considerable experience of Tibetan culture). Another angle would be to simply observe the relative scarcity of historical evidence about women. If women did have identical opportunities for education and employment to men in those days, we ought to find just as much written about women as we do about men.
From a cynical perspective, it might be argued that most of the women who did gain prominence for spiritual realization and religious leadership gained this recognition because of their family connections. The lives of Ma-gcig Zha-ma, with her illustrious religious family, of Jo-'bum, who received her spiritual lineage through her family lineage, and of others could be brought forward to support this argument. Although I believe that this is a line of thinking worth testing against the evidence, others did not belong to charismatic or privileged families (for example, Lab-sgron's father may have been a semi-nomadic chief, but she was orphaned in her early teens). If a number of prominent women did have such connections, it might, however, suggest little more than that, generally speaking, family connections play a strong role in achieving social recognition for sanctity or leadership. This would also hold true (in equal degree?) for men.
Another cynical observation might be that all or nearly all these women belonged to esoteric orders with little public exposure. Despite some arguable truth in this, Zha-ma is clearly one who had a great deal of public exposure, even widespread fame, during her later life. Some of the others probably were recognized for their sanctity at the very least in a specific locality. Their transmission lineages might have been quite restrictive and exclusive, but the sanctity they achieved was palpable to those who came in contact with them, even to those with no inkling about their secret teachings.
Momentarily taking leave of the Tibetan for the general Buddhist realm, it is well known that Buddhist scriptures sometimes recommend that in order to strive for Enlightenment, women ought to first transform their bodies, either miraculously in the present life, or ‘naturally’ in a subsequent rebirth, into bodies of men. It is also well known that Buddhism frequently recommends, at a particular stage of spiritual training, meditations on the foulness of women’s bodies (along with the foulness of human bodies in general, particularly dead ones). These meditations are bent on making men more realistic by deconstructing the illusions projected by male desires on the bodies of women, to make it possible to eventually achieve freedom from the entanglements of the desires themselves. Although clearly androcentric (women are never explicitly advised to perform foulness meditations on men’s bodies), this practice is not misogynistic, or if it is misogynistic it is misogyny aimed at illusions about women, not at women as they (truly?) are.
Finally, a few significant points for historians — if we want to learn more about women of a particular time period, it will be essential in the future to use historical sources composed in, or as close as possible to, those very times. Later sources, because of their greater distance from the realities of the times of which they speak, tend to idealize, regularize, encapsulate and at times reinterpret the past according to the lights of their own times. One effect of this is that there is likely to be less about women in, say, a 15th century source about the 12th century than there would be in a 12th century source. From a historian’s angle, those places where women’s (and not just women saints’) lives do surface in the traditional historical sources are precisely those places where we may glimpse the kinship and gender concerns of the traditional historian. Understanding these concerns may open a window on the larger social conditions of the times, through which might emerge insights that no contemporary history writer can afford to dismiss or miss. Knowing the past, like knowing women (or religion, or life, or oneself...), may involve struggling through any number of illusions projected by both self and other both past and present. There are many barriers in the way, which is not to say that we should allow ourselves to be discouraged.
Allione 1986: Tsultrim Allione, Women of Wisdom, Arkana (London).
Anonymous 1982: Anon., Rgyud-pa'i Lo-rgyud (i.e., Brgyud-pa'i Lo-rgyus), contained in: Dwags-po Bkra-shis-rnam-rgyal, Shar Dwags-po Bkra-shis-rnam-rgyal-gyi Dmyal-ba'i Bskal-chags Rin-chen Phreng-ba Cha-lag Dgos-'dod Kun-'byung Mthong-ba Don-ldan Yid-bzhin-nor-bu Bde-legs Chen-po 'Dra-ba, Tulku Pema Lodoe (Bir), pp. 507-21.
Ardussi & Epstein 1978: Larry Epstein & John Ardussi, The Saintly Madman in Tibet, contained in: James F. Fisher, ed., Himalayan Anthropology: The Indo-Tibetan Interface, Mouton (The Hague), pp. 327-38.
Bacot 1936: Jacques Bacot, Three Tibetan Mysteries, tr. by H.I. Woolf, George Routledge (London).
Bde-mchog Mkha'-'gro 1973: Bde-mchog Mkha'-'gro Snyan-rgyud (Ras-chung Snyan-rgyud), “representing the yig-cha compiled by Byang-chub-bzang-po, reproduced from a rare manuscript in the library of Apho Rimpoche,” n.p. (New Delhi), in 2 volumes.
Bde-mchog Snyan-brgyud 1983: Bde-mchog Snyan-brgyud Biographies, “reproduction of a collection of rare manuscripts from the Stag-sna Monastery in Ladakh,” Kargyud Sungrab Nyamso Khang (Darjeeling).
Btsan-lha 1997: Btsan-lha Ngag-dbang-tshul-khrims, Brda-dkrol Gser-gyi Me-long, Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang (Beijing).
Campbell 1996: June Campbell, Traveller in Space: In Search of Female Identity in Tibetan Buddhism, Athlone (London).
Chang 1977: Garma C.C. Chang, tr., The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, Shambhala (Boulder).
Chaoul 1999: Marco Alejandro Chaoul, Tracing the Origins of Chö (gcod) in the Bön Tradition: A Dialogical Approach Cutting through Sectarian Boundaries, Master’s thesis, University of Virginia (Charlottesville).
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'Jig-rten-mgon-po 1969-71: The Collected Writings (Gsung-'bum) of 'Bri-gung Chos-rje 'Jig-rten-mgon-po Rin-chen-dpal, Khangsar Tulku (New Delhi), in 5 volumes.
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Kong-sprul 1985: Kong-sprul Blo-gros-mtha'-yas, Shes-bya Kun Khyab, Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang (Beijing), in 3 volumes. Reprint of 1982 edition.
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'Phags-pa 1968: Chos-rgyal 'Phags-pa, Lung dang Brgyud-pa Sna-tshogs Thob-pa'i Gsan-yig, contained in Sa-skya-pa'i Bka'-'bum, The Toyo Bunko (Tokyo), vol. 7, pp. 286-97.
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Schaeffer, forthcoming: Kurtis Schaeffer, The Religious Career of Vairocanavajra: A Twelfth-Century Indian Buddhist Master from Dakṣina Kosala. Unpublished paper.
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Sørensen, forthcoming: Per K. Sørensen, The Ascetic Lce-sgom Śes-rab rdo-rje Alias Lce-sgom `zig-po: Prolific, Allusive, but Elusive. Unpublished paper, now published, although not yet seen, in the Journal of the Nepal Research Center, vol. 11 (1999), pp. 175-200.
Stag-sham 1983: Stag-sham Nus-ldan-rdo-rje (b. 1655), gter-ston, Mother of Knowledge: The Enlightenment of Ye-shes mTsho-rgyal, “text by Nam-mkha'i snying-po, oral translation by Tarthang Tulku, edited by Jane Wilhelms,” Dharma Publishing (Berkeley).
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Stearns, forthcoming: Cyrus Stearns, “The Early History of the Lam 'bras Teachings in Tibet: A Study and Translation of the Zhib mo rdo rje of Dmar ston Chos kyi rgyal po.” Tentative title of an unpublished book.
Sunim 1999: Hae-ju Sunim (Ho-Ryeon Jeon), Can Women Achieve Enlightenment? A Critique of Sexual Transformation for Enlightenment, contained in: Karma Lekshe Tsomo, ed., Buddhist Women across Cultures: Realizations, State University of New York Press (Albany), pp. 123-41.
Tāranātha 1983: Tāranātha, Dpal Dus-kyi-'khor-lo'i Chos Bskor-gyi Byung-khungs Nyer-mkho, contained in: The Collected Works of Jo-nang Tāranātha, Smanrtsis Shesrig Dpemdzod (Leh, Ladakh), vol. 2, pp. 1-43.
Tāranātha 1990: Lama Chimpa & Alaka Chattopadhyaya, trs., Tāranātha’s History of Buddhism in India, Motilal Banarsidass (Delhi).
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Thondup 1990: Tulku Thondup, tr., Enlightened Living: Teachings of Tibetan Buddhist Masters, Shambhala (Boston).
Tshe-dbang-nor-bu 1979: Kah-thog Rig-'dzin Tshe-dbang-nor-bu, Dpal Mchog Dang-po'i Sangs-rgyas-kyi Man-ngag Zab-lam Rdo-rje'i Rnal-'byor Byin-rlabs Bka'-brgyud Bla-mar Gsol-ba 'Debs-pa Brgyud-'dzin Mchog Rgyas (Brgyud-'debs), contained in: Kong-sprul 1978, vol. 15, pp. 327-9.
Tsomo 1989: Karma Lekshe Tsomo, Tibetan Nuns and Nunneries, contained in: Janice Willis, ed., Femine Ground: Essays on Women and Tibet, Snow Lion (Ithaca), pp. 118-34.
Tsomo 1996: Karma Lekshe Tsomo, Sisters in Solitude: Two Traditions of Buddhist Monastic Ethics for Women, State University of New York Press (Albany).
Tsonawa 1985: Lobsang N[orbu] Tsonawa, tr., Indian Buddhist Pandits from ‘The Jewel Garland of Buddhist History,’ Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (Dharamsala).
Uebach 1990: Helga Uebach, On Dharma-Colleges and Their Teachers in the Ninth Century Tibetan Empire, contained in: Paolo Daffinà, ed., Indo-Sino-Tibetica: Studi in onore di Luciano Petech, Bardi Editore (Rome), pp. 393-417.
van der Kuijp 1994: Leonard W.J. van der Kuijp, On the Lives of Śākyaśrībhadra (?-?1225), Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 114, no. 4, pp. 599-616. A review article on Jackson (1990).
Vitali 1996: Roberto Vitali, The Kingdoms of Gu-ge Pu-hrang: According to Mnga'-ris rgyal-rabs by Gu-ge mkhan-chen Ngag-dbang grags-pa, Tho-ling Gtsug-lag-khang Lo Gcig-stong 'Khor-ba'i Rjes-dran Mdzad-sgo'i Go-sgrig Tshogs-chung (Dharamsala).
Waddell 1972: L. Austine Waddell, Tibetan Buddhism with Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology, and in Its Relation to Indian Buddhism, Dover Publications (New York). First published in 1895.
Willis 1984: Janice D. Willis, Tibetan Ani-s: The Nun’s Life in Tibet, Tibet Journal, vol. 9, no. 4 (Winter), pp. 14-32.
Willis 1999: Janice D. Willis, Tibetan Buddhist Women Practitioners, Past and Present: A Garland to Delight Those Wishing Inspiration, contained in: Karma Lekshe Tsomo, ed., Buddhist Women across Cultures, State University of New York Press (Albany), pp. 145-58.
Wilson 1996: Liz Wilson, Charming Cadavers: Horrific Figurations of the Feminine in Indian Buddhist Hagiographic Literature, University of Chicago Press (Chicago).
Yu-mo 1983: Yu-mo (11th century; mistakenly attributed by the publisher to both Bu-ston Rin-chen-grub and A-wa-dhû-ti-pa Bsod-nams), Gsal-sgron Skor Bzhi (Khrid Material to the Practice of the Sadangayoga of the Kālacakra), Sherab Gyaltsen & Lama Dawa (Gangtok, Sikkim).
* Dedicated to my sister, Kim Martin. A dictionary of Tibetan women by Mr. Tashi Tsering of Dharamsala has been long under preparation for publication. Unfortunately it is not yet available to me. The present paper has a dual audience in mind. On the one side, it supplies references to relevant English studies and translations whenever possible, and on the other, it supplies references to the Tibetan language sources in order to encourage criticism and to further research by specialists. Tibetan texts have not been transcribed (or ‘Romanized’) here, but with a little goodwill and an inter-library loan librarian, nearly all of them are available, at least in North America. English translations have been supplied here for the sake of those who do not read classical Tibetan. Those who do read Tibetan ought to ignore the translations, read the Tibetan sources for themselves and come to their own conclusions. Claudia Seele-Nyima, Kurtis Schaeffer and Cyrus Stearns read earlier drafts of this paper, and some of their suggestions have been incorporated, with thanks, in this essay.
It is quite impossible to convey the pregnant sense of this passage. Gautama Buddha’s mother had a name that means [projected] ‘Illusion’ (Sgyu-'phrul[-ma], Māyā or Māyādevī). Insight is primarily gained through illusion (to state it differently, illusion serves as both medium and means in the pursuit of enlightenment). Insight (the main emphasis of the Prajñāpāramitā) is the Mother of All Buddhas, the source of all Enlightenment. These associations are clearly intended (Lab-sgron even identifies herself with Māyādevī at one point; Savvas 1990: 61). The statement, “Of all illusions, the woman illusion is particularly sublime,” is also found in the Five Stages (Pañcakrama); see Snellgrove (1987: I 302).
One further refinement should be added here. Tibetan personal names do not often carry explicit gender markers. Even when they do, men’s names may, rather often, contain feminine gender elements (like the endings -mo and -ma in Lha-mo, ‘Goddess,’ and Sgrol-ma, Sanskrit Tārā). Unless unambiguously feminine-gendered terms like lcam or jo-mo are used, or unless the context clarifies matters, we cannot be sure if a figure was a woman or not. There is also the problem that names of men like Ras-chung-pa or Kun-ldan-ras-pa may be confounded with the women’s names Ras-chung-ma and Kun-ldan-ras-ma. Women’s names not supplied with feminine gender markers of some sort may be, and have been, taken for men’s names. A name with an apparent feminine gender marker like Yu-mo or Gshen-rdor-mo (both appear later on) might be mistakenly assumed to belong to a woman.
The question of the possible priority of Bon in the history of Cutting teachings is one that I will not go into here, although it is certainly worth pursuing. See Chaoul (1999). For a general analytical study of Tibetan historical and biographical sources for both Cutting and Peacemaking (Zhi-byed) teachings, see Kollmar-Paulenz (1993).
The historical emergence of Cutting is quite a difficult issue (as are its ‘differences’ from Peacemaking). Some of these Buddhist teachings are believed to have been received by Lab-sgron through direct visionary encounters with high forms of Buddha. (There is a very useful discussion of this issue in Gyatso 1985: 331-3.) A text of the Indian Cutting teachings by the Brahmin Aryadeva (who may or may not be the famous one by that name; ibid.: 326) exists in two different Tibetan translations. The Tibetan translation used by the Cutting tradition itself, accomplished by Pha-dam-pa alone, but then written down and edited by Zha-ma Lo-tsā-ba (brother of Ma-gcig Zha-ma, on whom more shortly), is available in English in Edou (1996: 15-23). Although Lab-sgron is often portrayed in more recent sources as an long-time disciple of Pha-dam-pa, this is probably not historically accurate. The Peacemaking Collection (Kun-dga' 1979: II 313) does say, "He [Pha-dam-pa] had no more than one personal conversation with Ma-jo Mchod-gnas-ma. She was a wild woman (mo rgod-ma)," and this "Mchod-gnas-ma" has been identified as referring to Lab-sgron (Chos-kyi-seng-ge 1992: 49; cf. Roerich 1976: 982). She does merit a single mention ("Zangs-ri'i Ma-cig Lam-sgron") in an early 13th century history contained in the Peacemaking Collection (IV 346), as one who received the Cutting precepts from Pha-dam-pa during his 'middle' visit to Tibet. It is entirely possible that the true origins of Cutting are to be found in teachings given by Pha-dam-pa, during his previous visit to Tibet, to Skyo Shākya-ye-shes, who then passed them on to Lab-sgron (see the discussion in Edou 1996: 37). This line of argument might make Lab-sgron to be not the founder of Cutting (Gcod), but rather of the more specific lineage known as Women's Cutting (Mo Gcod).
The dates that have been proposed for her birth include the years 1031, 1055, 1099, 1102, and 1103. The dates 1055 to 1154 (as in Savvas 1990: 3) or 1055 to 1149 (as in Kollmar-Paulenz 1993: xi, but note, too, on p. 70, the dates 1049-1155) seem the most likely, although they are far from being well established. Her age at death ranges from 91 to 99. There are some sofar not utilised sources on her life in Gcod Tshogs (1985), and this volume also includes several of the works she composed. The dates for Pha-dam-pa Sangs-rgyas, too, are unsettled, although I believe that his period of greatest influence was his stay in Ding-ri that lasted from about 1097 until his death in 1117 (see Chos-kyi-seng-ge 1992: 61, 117). But a large number of other dates have been given in the Tibetan sources.
A brief biography is supplied in Allione (1986: 150-87), another is found in Crook & Low (1997: 297-315), and still another in Savvas (1990: 52-81). For an important discussion of the biographical sources see Kollmar-Paulenz (1998). A major monographic study, Edou (1996), contains a translation of the same biography translated by Allione, noting the critical comments in the review by Herrmann-Pfandt (1998). For remarkable studies of texts composed by Lab-sgron, see Orofino (1987), where there are Italian translations of the Bka'-tshoms Chen-mo and the Insight’s Hair-Tip (Shes-rab Skra Rtse, with its commentary attributed to Karma-pa III Rang-byung-rdo-rje) and Savvas (1990: 154-194), where we find a translation of Lab-sgron’s Eight Added Chapters on the Teachings Extraordinarily [Pertaining to Cutting] (Thun-mong-ma-yin-pa Le-lag Brgyad). I am aware of many other studies on Cutting, but will not list them all here. More works by Lab-sgron remain untranslated, although they have been available to the world now for decades in the reprintings of the Gdams-ngag Mdzod. According to Chos-kyi-seng-ge (1992: 232) and Gang-pa (1992: 316), there was a complete set of Lab-sgron’s works (a Bka'-'bum) which included most prominently the texts with the titles Bka'-tshom Chen-mo, Yang-tshom Chen-mo, Nying-tshom Le'u-lag, Gnad-them, Khong-rgol, Gsang-ba Brda'-chos La-bzla Skor Gsum, Gzhi Lam-du Slong-ba and Khyad-par-gyi Gdams-ngag. All of these just-mentioned titles were put in writing during her last years, and were translated into an Indian language. Most of these titles have in fact been preserved in the collection known as the ‘Treasury of Precepts’ (Gdams-ngag Mdzod: for English translations of the titles, see Edou 1996: 163; and see also Kollmar-Paulenz 1993: 193-194).
English literature on Ma-cig Zha-ma, not nearly so abundant, includes Diemberger & Hazod (1994) and Lo Bue (1994: 482). Also available in English is Roerich (1976: 210, 219-226, 229-230. 919), but be aware of the confusion in this translation of the two identities of Lab-sgron and Zha-ma, first noticed in Gyatso (1985: 329). One of the most important sources, given its relatively early date, is the Zhib-mo Rdo-rje, a history of Path Including Result teachings composed somewhere between 1216 and 1244. I could make reference to this rare work only with the generous permission of Cyrus Stearns, who is preparing a translation for publication. More details about Zha-ma’s life are to be found there.
The Path Including Result teachings originated in a vision of the divine consort of Hevajra, named Nairātmyā (in Tibetan, Bdag-med-ma, [f.] ‘Non-Self’), beheld by the Mahāsiddha Virûpa. It was first taught by a divine female form of Buddha (a ‘focus of high aspirations,’ a yi-dam). The fourth member in the line of transmission, the lay master Gayadhāra (d. 1103) brought these teachings to Tibet in the year 1041, where they were (orally) translated into Tibetan by 'Brog-mi (on whom, see below). For more details, see Stearns, forthcoming.
The name Zhwa-chung-ma (meaning ‘she of the small hat’) is said to have been given by Grwa-pa Mngon-shes to Ma-gcig Lab-sgron. See Kollmar-Paulenz (1993: 139). However, in Chos-kyi-seng-ge (1992: 96) and in the text on the 24 Jo-mo (discussed below), it is clearly a name for Ma-gcig Zha-ma.
Feigning insanity in order to escape duties or responsibilities is especially well known in the history of Chinese Daoism, but cases of it are known in Tibetan history as well. For examples, see Roerich (1976: 99, 1030). Of course, psychologically speaking, impossible social conditions, in particular an unbearable family life, may strongly contribute to very real mental problems. It may be, too, that the perception of such psychological disturbances as ‘feigned’ or ‘real’ may also depend in some part on a process of social recognition (saints are never ‘really’ insane...). On the other hand, feigning insanity, since it is conscious and calculated, would seem to be quite distinct from the utterly free and spontaneous activities of the mad Buddhist saint, as depicted in Ardussi & Epstein (1978) and Silver (1987); compare the discussion of zhig-po and zhig-mo below. The first kind of insanity breaks oppressive social ties in order to practice religion, while the second is a celebration of spiritual attainment.
On Vairocana (aka Vairocanarakṣita or Vairocanavajra), see Martin (1992: 254-5) and Schaeffer (forthcoming).
His story is to be found in Roerich (1976: 229-32). A biography of both him and his father was written by one Jo-ston Dbang-phyug-grags, but I have been unable to learn about its present existence. The account of Zha-ma causing a jet of milk to fall from her ring finger may be connected to the idea that saints no longer have ordinary blood, but milk instead (the story is told, for example, about her near contemporary Khyung-tshang-pa).
One brief passage has been identified in Stearns (forthcoming). I have noticed two further brief samples of her teachings in 'Jig-rten-mgon-po (1969-71: V 85).
There are some general discussions of the Path Including Result transmissions, for example in Mang-thos (1988: 133) and Kong-sprul (1985: I 522-3), which would at least indicate that the Zhwa-ma system was adopted or mixed into still other Path Including Result transmissions. Still, there is nothing in these sources about what in particular the Zhwa-ma system contributed. It is interesting that Kong-sprul (ibid.) names three direct disciples of Zhwa-ma herself, one of which was a woman who was evidently a locally prominent political leader, named Dpon-mo Sher-tshul, who continued one of the Zhwa-ma lineage streams. A dpon-mo is a woman chieftain of a local administrative area (of a township or rdzong).
For examples, Allione (1986: 61-140), Bacot (1936), Cunningham (1940), Ross (1995: 83-90) and Waddell (1972: 553-65). The Tibetan text has been published several times in differing versions. Her name sometimes has the variant spelling Snang-gsal 'Od-'bum. Because of her association with Ras-chung-pa (1084-1161) among others (Milarepa and Pha-dam-pa are also mentioned), she must belong to the late 11th or more likely 12th century. I have not yet been able to locate her name in the biographies of Ras-chung-pa. One source, which spells her name Snang-sa 'Od-de-'bum, after telling how she was forced against her will to marry a chief after she was seen at the festival at Gyantse, quite improbably has her go on to become the famous wife of Mar-pa named Bdag-med-ma (Khyung-po-ras-pa 1984: 29-33; a translation of this important woman’s biography is said to be forthcoming). On 'das-log stories in general, see in particular Epstein (1982).
Das (1992: 177-180) and Roerich (1976: 180-1). Mentioned here, too, is a ‘nun’ (ma-jo) who vanished without leaving any trace at a lake called Mon-kha Zer-mo. Ma-jo is a title of problematic meaning used with some frequency in genuinely 12th century works which then became obsolete (and is not in any dictionary). It is possible that it is a contraction of ma-gcig jo-mo. My impression is that it means something more than simply ‘nun,’ perhaps ‘abbess’ or ‘nun teacher.’ One way Pha-dam-pa would address Lab-sgron was “Ma-jo Mchod-gnas-ma,” according to Chos-kyi-seng-ge (1992: 49) and Roerich (1976: 982), in which mchod-gnas-ma means ‘woman chaplain.’ For sources on the ‘Four Statements,’ an especially esoteric Bka'-brgyud-pa Mahāmudrā transmission based on the words of Saraha delivered to Mar-pa in a dream, see Martin (1984: 91-92).
In Roerich (1976: 181), zhig-mo is translated ‘one who had abandoned all worldly laws,’ but elsewhere in Roerich (1976: 132), zhig-po is translated ‘mad ascetic.’ Don-grub-rgyal-mtshan (1985: 585) defines zhig-po as bdag-'dzin zhig-pa-po, ‘one who has dissolved selfish grasping [grasping to the illusion of the self].’ It seems to be more or less closely synonymous with the appelative 'khrul-zhig[-pa], ‘one who has dissolved erroneous appearances,’ further interpreted as one who has realized Emptiness (cf. Roerich 1976: 960).
Chos-kyi-seng-ge (1992: 210); Roerich (1976: 930-1); Kun-dga' (1979 IV 405).
This refers to E (Dbye, E-yul) and Gnyal, two adjacent regions, both located to the east of Tsethang (Rtses-thang) along the Brahmaputra River. Lho-brag is close to the modern northern border of Bhutan.
The implication of this story is, according to my current understanding, that Rgyal-le-lcam had been Rten-ne’s sister in his previous live as Mal Brtson-'grus-bla-ma in Lho-brag. As one proof of her familiarity, she addressed him with a childhood nickname from his previous life Rten-ne, which thereafter stuck as his name in his present life. It is also possible that Rgyal-le-lcam made the nickname Rten-ne on the basis of the second syllable of the name 'Jig-rten-grags. The son of G.yas-mo-dpal-'dren may easily be identified as Rten-ne’s teacher Pa-tshab Tshul-khrims-'bar (1077-1158), in his turn a disciple of Pha-dam-pa’s student Kun-dga' (see Roerich 1976: 923, 925).
His biography is found at Chos-kyi-seng-ge (1992: 205), where his name is spelled Ba-tshab Sgom-pa. He was born in Lower 'Phan-yul to the father Ba-tshab-ston 'Bum-grags and mother G.yas-mo-dpal-'dren in the year 1077. He barely missed meeting Pha-dam-pa himself (when Pa-tshab arrived at Ding-ri, Pha-dam-pa was on his funeral pyre), which made him quite despondent, but a beggar woman, a hidden yoginī, reassured him and made a prophecy which sent him to study with Pha-dam-pa’s student Kun-dga'. This is yet another example of a woman's prophecy helping people to find their way to their most important spiritual teacher. According to Roerich (1976: 929), Rten-ne met Pa-tshab in 1150, and the latter died in 1158, at age 82 (i.e., 81).
Roerich (1976: 408-9). A longer (and probably later) biography of Ras-chung-pa, Rgod-tshang-ras-pa (1992: 378-9), contains a fairly closely parallel passage, except that the ‘few days’ are instead “a few months”, the disciple bitten by the dog is named Rin-chen-grags, and a few other small pieces of information are provided. The same story is told more briefly in Rta-tshag (1994: 55).
Rwa-lung (1975: I 217). She is mentioned again later in the text in a list of Ras-chung-pa’s disciples, where she is called Jo-mo Bgres-mo of Gtsang (p. 222). The name, the appellative siddhā, the location in Gtsang, as well as the time period are shared by both the prophet and the disciple. Therefore they must be identical. There was another woman disciple of Ras-chung-pa named Ras-chung-ma (not the same as the disciple of Milarepa called Ras-chung-ma!) whose story should also be studied. She meditated at Gnam-mtsho, and when she died at Se-mo-do (an island in the lake Gnam-mtsho), she didn’t leave a body behind (her story is alluded to in Roerich [1976: 439], and told in greater detail in the biographies of Ras-chung-pa). Kurtis Schaeffer pointed out to me a third important woman disciple of Ras-chung-pa named Btsun-chung-ma, born to the G.yo family of Lo-ro region. She must have been born in about 1102 ce, because in her 16th year she wanted to travel to Ding-ri to meet Pha-dam-pa, but on the way she learned of his death (in 1117). Her story is told in Rgod-tshang-ras-pa (1992: 466-76), where she is credited with the supreme attainment of Mahāmudrā before dematerializing into a blaze of light in her 48th year. There are other names listed among his disciples that clearly belonged to women, names like Lha-cig Ldem-bu, Ldan-za Lha-bzang and Jo-mo G.yang-'gos, although I haven't located biographical information about them as yet.
Roerich (1976: 126, 177).
Roerich (1976: 409).
Roerich (1976: 256).
Her story has been told in German in Eimer (1983).
Roerich (1976: 135-7). The story is also of some interest because it mentions the receiving of a Vajrayāna initiation by a (Tibetan) woman named Wang-mo (or Wang-chung-ma, or Jo-mo Dbang-mo, she was the mother of the famous Rnying-ma-pa teacher Zhig-po-bdud-rtsi, 1149-99).
Roerich (1976: 611). 'Jig-rten-mgon-po’s mother gave a neighbor who had been bereaved a lesson in impermanence which 'Jig-rten-mgon-po later said was the highest Mahāmudrā teaching, and his grandmother was evidently elevated to become a spiritual guardian of the 'Bri-gung-pa school; see Das (1992: 90-1, 110-1).
These names are according to Roerich (1976: 208). The first three of these women achieved the accomplishments (siddhis) within a single human embodiment. The fourth achieved only the ordinary siddhis (miraculous powers). Elsewhere, their names appear in the forms Rtod-mo Rdo-rje-'tsho, Dbrad Sgom-ma Dkon-ne, Shab-pa-mo Lcam-gcig and 'Phyad-mo Nam-mkha'-mo (see Madrong 1997: 73, in turn based on Grags-pa-rgyal-mtshan 1968: 174; the latter is source of the spellings given here). Mang-thos lists the four names as  Sham-mo Lcam-gcig,  'Phyad-mo Nam-mkha',  Srad-mo Ko-ne, and  Stod-mo Rdo-rje-mtsho. More details about these women, based primarily on so-far extremely rare sources, will become available in Stearns (forthcoming).
Sangs-rgyas-dar-po (n.d.: fol. 51). I was able to make use of a photocopy of this manuscript thanks to E. Gene Smith. Unfortunately, large portions of it are nearly or entirely illegible. (For more on this work, see Martin 1997: no. 167. Kurtis Schaeffer has informed me that other copies are to be found in the Nepalese National Archives.) Accounts of all these women may be found in Milarepa’s famous biography and song collection, available in English in Lhalungpa (1977) and Chang (1977). Account of Dpal-dar-'bum (“Bardarbom”) in Chang (1977: 136-48), Sa-le-'od (“Sahle Aui”) in Chang (1977: 408-20), and Ras-chung-ma (“Rechungma”) in Chang (1977: 259-74). The chapter about Sa-le-'od was composed by Ngan-rdzong Ston-pa, himself a disciple of Milarepa. The history by Nyang-ral (1988: 493) mentions, unfortunately without listing the individual names, a group of nine women disciples of Milarepa who were siddhās (grub-thob-ma).
On Gshen-rdor-mo (“Shindormo”), see Chang (1977: 11-2, 23, 33, 552-7); called Rdor-mo in Roerich (1976: 434) and “Shen Dormo” in Lhalungpa (1977: 151). In all these English-language sources he is identified as a woman.
Thanks to Cyrus Stearns for pointing this out to me. The song collection of Milarepa, in the original Tibetan, says that the patron (yon-bdag, not yon-bdag-mo) Gshen-rdor-mo had the greatest faith in Milarepa from the beginning, that he and his spouse Legs-se[-'bum] invited Milarepa to Rtsar-ma... Another clue that Gshen-rdor-mo was a man, he is never listed among the women disciples of Milarepa. Like Gshen-rdor-mo, Legs-se-'bum is said to have entered the initial stage of the Path, only in her case this occurred when she was still living (“Lesebum”; see Chang 1977: 562). Although considered a very significant step, this is quite far from attaining the direct vision of the truth which signals the beginning of ‘sainthood’ ('phags-pa). However, Dpa'-bo (1980: 784) lists the disciple (nya-ma) Legs-se in a list of six women disciples who “went to the sky life in their present incarnations” (these six names evidently are those of the “six women siddhās who kept the appearance of being householders”; also mentioned, without listing, are the “twelve cotton-clad women” [ras-ma bcu-gnyis]).
However, in cases where both genders are intended, the expression would be nya-ma pho-mo-rnams, ‘disciples both male and female’; it is interesting here that the inclusive term for all his disciples is formed upon the term for his women patrons/disciples. The word nya-ma is further discussed in Uebach (1990: 343), citing its single occurrence in the Sba-bzhed.
Although we have no other information apart from her name, there was among the four main disciples of Gtsang-pa Sum-pa (one of the most famous of the disciples of Ras-chung-pa) a woman named Jo-mo Sgron-ne of Gtsang. She must date to the late 12th or early 13th centuries. There is reference to her in the brief 15th-century Bka'-brgyud-pa history by 'Brug-chen II (for bibliographical reference, see Martin 1997: no. 126). It is possible that she could be identical to the Ma-jo Sgron-ne who was a teacher of Zhang G.yu-brag-pa (1123-93).
'Ol-kha is a region within Lho-kha (the general name for the area inside the great bend in the Brahmaputra River). It is unfortunate not to be able to further identify this patron/disciple. Even her proper name is not known (but it is certainly possible it was preserved in one of the many biographical accounts of Sgam-po-pa). Although Sgam-po-pa had already spent some time in 'Ol-kha before, he met this woman patron during one of his lengthy retreats in 'Ol-kha after the death of Milarepa (therefore, in the late 1120’s or 1130’s).
Their names are listed in Gcod Tshogs (1985: 94), in Kollmar-Paulenz (1993: 200, 244, 248), in Chos-kyi-seng-ge (1992: 233) and in Savvas (1990: 73). Even their names are spelled in very different ways. It might prove possible to put together scattered pieces of information about Rgyan-ne-ma (whom I believe to be identical to the first of the ‘four daughters,’ Lab-lung 'Bro-tsha Rgyan).
On La-'dus, see Edou (1996: 91, 93, 108-110, 114-5, 145, 154, 196 [n. 42]), Gang-pa (1992: 285), Kollmar-Paulenz (1993: 71, 144), and Savvas (1990: 71). There is confusion in the sources as to whether her father Thod-smyon Bsam-grub, was Lab-sgron’s son or her great-grandson. On Lan-thog-ma, see Edou (1996: 115, 163, 196 [note 42]), Gang-pa (1992: 320), and “Len-sto-ma” in Kollmar-Paulenz (1993: 198). A daughter of Thod-smyon by the name Nam-mkha'-rgyan is said to have shocked 'Jig-rten-mgon-po into taking monastic vows by running into his presence naked (see Roerich 1976: 597; 'Jig-rten-mgon-po was known for being extremely scrupulous about avoiding even the least physical contact with women). Padma-dkar-po (1968: 426) mentions, without listing any individual names, a group of Thod-smyon’s disciples called the ‘eighteen daughter siddhās,’ and says that from them the Women’s Cutting (mo spyod, i.e., mo gcod) lineages spread. There is considerable confusion about La-'dus and Lan-thog-ma in the sources, which requires sorting out. Lan-thog-ma may belong to a later century.
This is based on Mang-thos (1988: 131).
Yu-mo studied directly with the Kashmiri Kālacakra master Somanātha. Some of Yu-mo’s Kālacakra treatises, although falsely attributed to others in the published version, have miraculously survived. See Stearns (1999: 44-45) for more on Yu-mo and his treatises. Stearns (1996, 1999) has written the most valuable studies of the Six Limbed Yoga. For Yu-mo's Kālacakra treatises, which have been mistakenly published under the authorship of Bu-ston Rin-chen-grub, see Yu-mo (1983), and note (on p. 13, line 1) that Jo-'bum does occur in a lineage prayer (not by Yu-mo) appended to the first treatise (although it spells her name “Ma-1 Lo-'bum”).
Based on 'Gos Lo-tsā ba (1974: 675-6); see the English translation in Roerich (1976: 768).
Tshe-dbang-nor-bu (1979). Checking the lineage of the 'Bro system in the ‘record of teachings received’ (thob-yig) by the Seventh Dalai Lama (Dalai Lama VII 1983: XI 222), one may observe that Sprul-sku Jo-'bum (nothing here indicates her gender) is indeed included. Still, there is a footnote attached informing us that the name does not appear in the 'Bro lineages as included in some seven other thob-yigs, including those of Bu-ston and Tsong-kha-pa. The Seventh Dalai Lama places her immediately after Grub-thob Nam-mkha'-'od (described in the footnote as a shaven-headed white [robed] tantric) and immediately before her brother Se-mo-che-ba. One of the earliest sources for the lineage, 'Phags-pa (1968: 191, column 3), also excludes Jo-'bum.
Roerich (1976: 769-70). Jo-'bum is not mentioned in the brief account of the early 'Bro system lineage in Bu-ston (1965: IV 61-5). A slightly later Kālacakra history, dated to 1360, mentions her only as a teacher of some relatively minor practices and precepts to [her brother] Se-mo-che-ba. Here she is called ‘father’s lady Emanation Body Jo-'bum.’ Here, again, she is left outside the main line of transmission (fol. 38 verso, line 1; the author of this work, I now believe, must have been a disciple of Dol-po-pa and not Dol-po-pa himself; for bibliographical details see Martin 1997: no. 89). Even more confusing, calling her ‘father’s lady’ (yab-kyi lcam-mo) would seem to imply that she was Dharmeßvara’s sister or wife (lcam-mo may serve as an honorific in both meanings).
Indrabodhi, although the name often appears so in Tibetan sources, ought to be corrected to Indrabhûti. For Lakṣmīnkāra, "one of the founding mothers of Tantric Buddhism," see Shaw (1994: 39, 110-13, et passim).
Tāranātha (1983: 17-8).
Klong-chen-pa (1977: 168). Despite the tone of the discussion here, there is evidence that the Kālacakra lineages had a considerable number of exchanges with Rnying-ma-pa teachers. Germano (1994) has attempted to excavate evidence of some of the doctrinal and practical cross-fertilizations that have become obscured in the (generally lineage-specific) histories.
There was also the wife of 'Khrul-zhig Dar-ma-seng-ge (1223-1303, a Peacemaker) named Jo-'bum (Roerich 1976: 960). Clearly, Jo-'bum[-ma] was a rather common name during these and subsequent centuries.
The story of Kun-ldan-ras-ma has been translated in Allione (1986: 221-31).
Allione (1986: 213-9). The translation is generally quite well done, but there are so many explanatory elements added to what the Tibetan actually says, that it would better be described as a paraphrase.
See Martin (1996: 33-4) for more on Chag Lo-tsā-ba’s polemic.
I have two cursive manuscripts to work with. They are not completely identical in content, but I have combined them rather indiscriminately in the following summary. They are located in Bde-mchog Snyan-brgyud (1983: 285-8) and Bde-mchog Mkha'-'gro (1973: 175-6). The latter source, which is the one used by Allione, is somewhat less detailed.
The expression used is bod 'brog 'dzom-pa. This means ‘[sedentary] agriculture and [nomadic, or rather transhumant] shepherding combined.’ This is one of those interesting cases where the word for ‘Tibet,’ Bod, is applied specifically to the farming areas.
It is probable that the manuscript has mispelled the name Bde-ster-ma, ‘She Who Grants Bliss.’ This is known to the Bka'-brgyud-pa tradition as the name of Tilopa’s spiritual ‘sister’ (sring-mo) a Sky Goer who offered him guidance throughout his life. On her, see for example Padma-dkar-po (1968: 246, 248). One manuscript says that Khyung-tshang-pa accepted her as a disciple with “compassion” (thugs-rje), while the other says he did so with "affection” ([b]rtse-ba). Although not necessarily different in meaning, there is certainly a difference in tone, since the latter may connote kindly affection of a less spiritually refined and more familial kind. Even though we will note some later sources which suggest that she and Khyung-tshang-pa had intimate relations, there is really no overt sign of this here, in the primary source of the later literature about her.
This statement, which appears in only one of the manuscripts, is quite significant, since the word dge-slong (notably lacking the feminine ending -ma) is used. This is one of the few pieces of evidence we have that women were receiving (or at the very least keeping) the complete bhikṣuṇī vows in those times. This point will be discussed further in the section on nuns. Note also how one source says that, ending at age 33, Ma-gcig Lab-sgron had been a “vollkommene Nonne” (Kollmar-Paulenz 1993: 142), a ‘perfect nun’ (but as we will see later on, she is said to have had a child in her 30th year).
Based on Padma-dkar-po (1968: 509).
Rta-tshag (1994: 127; with summary of Ong-jo’s life at 119-20). This account is somewhat elaborated in Zhang’s biography composed by his own disciple (contained in Bde-mchog Snyan-brgyud 1983, at pp. 308-9). Here the objects he received from Ong-jo are clarified. The personal books of Khyung-tshang-pa were ‘codified’ (bkod-pa) by himself (a different manucript, however, says it was codified by Milarepa), and the ‘sacramental objects’ included a set of the six ornaments (worn by male wrathful deities) and elixir pellets. But for several years she did not perform the initiations and neither did she explain the more profound precepts. She made a mysteriously worded prophecy which seems to say that he would have to wait until his hair reached his knees, when a student of the great man would arrive and the sky goers would extend an invitation (?). One may consult the Blue Annals (Roerich 1976: 443-4 and 446), but be aware that this text offers no more than a summarized form of the biographies. Note, too, that the few entries in biographical dictionaries devoted to Ong-jo simply copy the Blue Annals. It is curious that the Blue Annals (and sources based on it) say that she served as a tantric assistant (shes-rab-ma) during the performance of initiation rites. The source on which this is based says no such thing, although one of the manuscripts does say (at the same point in the story) that, quite to the contrary, she served as a Vajra Master. The other manuscript says that [she or someone else?] “performed the initiation.”
Sangs-rgyas-dar-po (n.d.: fol. 76 verso, line 3).
The story of Mdzes-ma, not told here, is found in Roerich (1976: 1039-40). Although here it is obviously a proper name, it may be interesting to know that the noun re-ma (also spelled re-rma, re-dma', ri-ma and res-ma) is said to be an obsolete word meaning ‘woman.’ See Btsan-lha (1997: 892-893). One woman disciple of Pha-dam-pa was named Ri-ma (Roerich 1976: 916) although for purely chronological reasons she cannot be identified with the present Re-ma.
The study of the biographies of Mitrayogin will prove a difficult but rewarding effort. There are numerous variant manuscripts, most of them based on a series of miraculous events in his life. Five unpublished manuscripts are described in van der Kuijp (1994: 602), and several more have been published. Also unpublished but potentially quite valuable for research on Re-ma and Mdzes-ma and their circles are some manuscript collections of Khro-phu Lo-tsā-ba’s writings and translations (see van der Kuijp 1994: 600).
On these figures, see especially Jackson (1990) and the review by van der Kuijp (1994). The Kashmiri teacher is said to have died in his 99th year (i.e., age 98).
I suspect this is an oblique reference to the death in 1195 of Rgyal-tsha Rin-chen-mgon-po (1118-1195), leader of the Khro-phu lineage and disciple of Rngog Mdo-sde.
Called here rkan-mar or ‘palate butter,’ since butter is applied to the newborn’s palate. Pats of butter may also be given to women experiencing a difficult delivery; see Pinto (1999: 167). Butter has a number of special usages in Tibetan rituals, particularly in the lay rituals associated with the New Year, where it seems to be associated, quite rightly, with richness and prosperity.
A mistake in the text (do-ra instead of do-ha) made this passage incomprehensible until locating a parallel passage in Rta-tshag (1994: 205), which has the more correct reading and specifies that it was exactly Lce-sgom-rdzong-pa who received the teachings from Tsh[o]ng-ston Sgom-pa. The Bla-ma Zhang mentioned here is of course Zhang G.yu-brag-pa (1123-93), on whom more will be said later on.
This means the spiritual son of Gtsang-pa (and Gtsang-pa often forms a part of Kun-ldan-ras-pa’s name, in forms like Kun-ldan Gtsang-pa). I believe this refers to Kun-ldan’s nephew Khro-phu Lo-tsā-ba, as the spiritual son of Kun-ldan Gtsang-pa.
Ba-lam-pa was a renowned teacher of the Tshal-pa school born at the end of the 12th century or beginning of the 13th.
That he was a student of Lce-sgom-pa is confirmed in Roerich (1976: 1025)
Rta-tshag (1994: 336-7). Part of the problem with translating this passage is that it is in the form of a commentary on a not yet identified text. Various photographic copies of manuscripts of the Lho-rong history have begun circulating in recent years, and it is possible that they may have better readings for this passage. Nowadays Lce-sgom-pa is primarily thought of as a member of the Bka'-gdams-pa school. For arguments about Lce-sgom-pa’s connections with Ma-gcig Re-ma and the Khro-phu lineage, those interested are referred to Sørensen (forthcoming). This study includes further sources for the story translated here.
Martin (1996 & 1996a).
Roerich (1976: 946) and Chos-kyi-seng-ge (1992: 214).
Roerich (1976: 128, 1005). Myang-mo as a proper name is not very specific, and could be used to refer to any woman from the region of Myang (Nyang). One Myang-mo was among the 24 women disciples of Pha-dam-pa (Roerich 1976: 918), but there is no reason to believe that she should be identical to the teacher in the Khams A-ro system. This A-ro system had one of the most obscure transmissions in all of Tibetan religious history (see Karmay 1988: 93, 126, 208), but despite that fact (like everything else, it seems) it now has its own website on the internet. In the 12th century, Phag-mo-gru-pa was searching for a teacher and at one point requested A-ro precepts. Afterwards he said, "It is no help. It has nothing to offer but quiescence meditation (zhi-gnas)" (O-rgyan-pa 1972: 283; compare Roerich 1976: 556). Well, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to please everyone. The only published texts of the A-ro system I know of are in Kong-sprul (1978: I 311-378), although these texts do not include Myang-mo in their lineages (to be sure, a woman named Zur-mo is to be found in the Zur system's Great Perfectedness lineage, but she must belong to the 14th century).
I could not find any other source for the name Ma-jo G.yang-mo. However, the only known manuscript of the rare history by Dge-ye (at fol. 36; for bibliographical references, see Martin 1997: no. 140) supplies Zhang’s mother with the ‘similar’ name Ma-jo Yag-ma. On the title Ma-jo, see the previous discussion.
Her story, although quite fascinating, belongs to an Indian Buddhist context. For English-language sources, see Tāranātha (1990: 155) and Tsonawa (1985: 26-7, 33).
Most of the material for this paragraph is from Rta-tshag (1994: 181-3). The story has been told briefly, without the benefit of the Lho-rong History, in Martin (1996b: 65). The text recited by Zhang, entitled Mind Meditation: Six Meanings of Enlightened Mind, has been translated in Martin (forthcoming).
For examples, in Tsomo (1989: 121; 1996: viii-ix) and in Campbell (1996: 5). The translators of Kongtrul (1998: 26) attribute to Kongtrul the idea that “the ordination of nuns was never introduced into Tibet.” What Kongtrul (p. 129) in fact says is, “...since the nun’s ethical conduct is not observed in Tibet at this time, [the subject] will not be discussed here.” Kongtrul was referring to his own times in the late 19th century. Other references to the literature may be found in Havnevik (1989: 45, 210, n. 37).
Rtse-le (1979: 327). Dwags Valley is equivalent to Dwags-po, a major region in the eastern part of Central Tibet, to the north of the Brahmaputra River.
See Vitali (1996: 55, 60, 110, 178, 209, 274). This evidence was not available to earlier authors such as Gross (1993: 86), who could — quite mistakenly as it turns out — state, “It is uncertain whether nuns’ ordination was ever transmitted from India to Tibet, but certainly it was not transmitted during the second diffusion of Buddhism from India to Tibet, in the tenth and eleventh centuries, and if it ever had existed in Tibet, it had died out by then.”
Roerich (1976: 176).
Roerich (1976: 188).
The percentages might very roughly be estimated at 60 percent for Pha-dam-pa and his circle (including followers of both Peacemaking and Cutting), as compared to 30 percent for the wider Bka'-brgyud-pa group, and 10 percent for all the rest combined. Not a single religiously significant woman could be identified within either the Bka'-gdams-pa or the Bon sects during the times. One reason Pha-dam-pa might have supported women’s spiritual education is the fact that, among his 54 siddha teachers in India, about ten were women (see Roerich 1976: 869, and Chos-kyi-seng-ge 1992: 21, for lists). It is noteworthy that the Zhi-byed literature employs explicitly gender-inclusive language when referring to Pha-dam-pa’s teachers, calling them “the 54 male and female siddhas” (grub-thob pho-mo lnga-bcu-rtsa-bzhi). Lists of their names may be seen in an unpublished paper by Kurtis Schaeffer. By way of contrast, the much better known set of 84 Mahāsiddhas only included 4 women.
We know that he did not wear clothes because his followers would sometimes beg him to put some on. See, for example, Kun-dga' (1979: II 212). As in India, this religious nudity is meant to demonstrate transcendence of the ‘social self,’ the casting off of worldly concerns, and, in spite of the apparent paradox, the ultimate in modesty. In earlier iconographical representations, he is usually depicted seated with a cloth loosely coiled about his lower body.
There are several dozen possible examples of such advice that he gave to particular (named) women in a single volume of Kun-dga' (1979: II) alone. The following examples are from pages 407, 412, 415, 420, and 422. “A bone in the center of [their] hearts” (snying-gi dkyil-du rus-pa cig) plays with the Tibetan word for ‘courage’ (snying-rus). It is worth noting that Pha-dam-pa demands that men have courage, too (Kun-dga' 1979: II 189, for example). He was also of the opinion that Tibetans of spiritual accomplishment are so few primarily because they are servile and do not take matters into their own hands (ibid: II 221).
Rtse-lde was a king of the western Tibetan kingdom of Gu-ge. He probably ascended the throne in about 1057 ce, and was especially famous for the religious council he held in 1076. For more historical details, see Vitali (1996: 72-4, 317-33).
It would of course be valid to ask, What really is the gender difference? If women who break free of worldly concerns can advance their spiritual practice, isn’t this equally true of men? Another question lies behind these questions, which is, What allowances are to be made for religious and spiritual practices for laypersons in general? Despite the now common generalizations to the contrary, there is evidence that early Buddhism did encourage lay practice of meditation (it is not just a modern concept; on this point, see Samuels 1999). Pha-dam-pa taught a form of meditation-based Buddhism with no prerequisite training in syllogistic reasoning and sophisticated scriptural exegesis, and therefore much more accessible to people in general.
The Tibetan text is found in Kun-dga' (1979: IV 302-23). The author, Kun-dga' (at p. 314), explicitly states that he has written down this account as a “message for the women of future generations.” A large part of it was more or less reproduced (often abbreviated, with minor changes and omissions) in the Tibetan text of the Blue Annals translated in Roerich (1976: 915-20) with the life of Kun-dga' following (pp. 920-3). Incidentally, this text has what may be the earliest known reference to ‘carrying corpses to the mountain,’ which is what we, not Tibetans, call ‘sky burial.’ The Peacemaking Collection as we have it was probably first put together (by adding to a nucleus already formed by Kun-dga' and Pa-tshab) by Zhig-po Rin-chen-shes-rab (1171-1245) in 1210, although this original was done in gold letters (see Roerich 1976: 953), and the manuscript we have today would have been prepared near the end of the same century. The miniature drawings have most unfortunately not been reproduced well, and in most cases have simply disappeared.
The Bshad-'bum (short title only) is mentioned as his composition in the Blue Annals (Roerich 1976: 954), but this may in fact refer to a different text. The complete title is however, mentioned in Kun-dga' (1979: IV 418), where it is associated with the ‘six Dharma selling merchants’ (a group of Rten-ne’s disciples, of whom Zhig-po obviously did not approve). The name that appears in the colophon gives the author’s name as Mi-bskyod-rdo-rje. Mi-bskyod-rdo-rje is, however, a common initiation name used by large numbers of early figures (including Yu-mo, Sman-lung-pa and of course the 16th century Karma-pa by that name, among others). The most likely candidate is Gnam-mtsho-ba Mi-bskyod-rdo-rje, a Cutting teacher of the Third Karma-pa (1284-1339). References to him appear in Roerich (1976: 992) and Kollmar-Paulenz (1993: 253, etc.), but the most interesting and puzzling source is a brief and hitherto ignored 14th-century history of an obscure Cutting lineage, Anonymous (1982), which also seems to place him in the end of the 13th century or the beginning of the 14th.
For the passage with Pha-dam-pa’s words about women in the ‘root text,’ the Heart Mirror (Thugs-kyi Me-long), which is a compilation by Kun-dga' of various interviews he had with Pha-dam-pa, there are at least two other textual witnesses. One is in Phyag-rgya-chen-po (1985: 217-8) and the other in Kun-dga' (1979: II 184). It may be useful to look at the wider context of the passage, since Pha-dam-pa, immediately before and after casting doubts on the spiritual possibilities of women, has some skeptical things to say about the local Ding-ri people, about Tibetan Buddhists in general (“Just seeing these Tibetan Buddhists makes me depressed...”), and about the worldly concerns of followers of the Bka'-gdams-pa sect.
A different etymology for the word bud-med (the ‘y’ belongs to a now obsolete orthography) has been proposed in Klein (1995: 51), “those not to be put out (bud med) because a woman is not to be left outside the house at night” (compare also Campbell 1996: 31-2). Modern discussions of the word inevitably take their point of departure in Das (1973: 872), which supplies a Tibetan-language etymology of unspecified origins that is not translated correctly. Instead, it ought to be translated, “Because their [gender] signs do not protrude (bud) outward, they are called ‘women’ (bud-med).”
The words skye-ba dman would appear to provide an etymology of a very common Tibetan word for ‘woman,’ skye-dman (sometimes spelled skyes-dman). Pha-dam-pa never seems to use the word skye-dman, most frequently employing the word bud-myed, as is true also of the earlier Dunhuang documents. Therefore it might seem that the word skye-dman had not yet gained currency in Pha-dam-pa’s time, although this point needs further study. It is likely that the word skye-dman, used as a 'description' of women a few times (in the form skye-ba dman) in the Peacemaking Collection, was 'substantivized' only subsequently. Nowadays, there is considerable pressure to do away with the term entirely. Given its essentially derogatory etymology, this would be an excellent idea.
Kun-dga' (1979: V 94-102). I haven’t yet identified the source of the nītißāstra verse. A nītißāstra is a text of advice in favor of ethical conduct in worldly affairs, frequently addressed to members of royalty.
A separate text on the practice of ‘taking happiness and suffering on the Path’ (skyid sdug lam-khyer) attributed to Shākyashrī is to be found in the Blo-sbyong Brgya-rtsa collection, and this text is the evident basis of a more recent text by the Rdo-ba Grub-chen III (Thondup 1990: 117-29). Pha-dam-pa himself could say (in Peacemaking Collection : IV 131), "Pain grants realization. Pain is a goad for assiduity. Pain brings mindfulness of death..." The same practice appears embedded in a large number of other Buddhist texts, and in fact might be considered universal to Vajrayāna.
Thondup (1986: 82), “For them the household life is a method of practice to transform every source of experience in life as the means of enlightened attainment.” See also the text translated in Thondup (1990: 130-141) on a tantric method for making daily activities take part in the Path to Enlightenment.
Quoted from Stag-sham (1983: 102), following the citation in Willis (1984: 14).
Passages in the Peacemaking Collection (Kun-dga' 1979: II 191, V 257) would suggest that ‘having turned into a man’ (khyo-gar gyurd-nas) is there considered to be a psychological rather than a bodily process. The woman in question who ‘turned into a man’ was born to the 'Jim clan in Mang-yul with the name Chos-rgyan, although here and elsewhere she is generally referred to as Rgya-sgom-ma (she is the one mentioned in Roerich 1976: 919, which should say that Ro-zan-ma married as a bride into the family of Rgya-sgom-ma, not that she was her bride). Her name surfaces frequently in the biography of Pha-dam-pa during his stay in Ding-ri, although she also spent much time in the Nepal Valley. At one point (Chos-kyi-seng-ge 1992: 61) he granted her profound precepts including the direct introduction to seeing awareness in its nakedness (in its irreducible simplicity). Shortly before Pha-dam-pa died, he passed on some of his personal possessions to her, including a robe and a skullcup. In many cases she is called Rgya-sgom or Rgya-sgom-pa, which might lead to the mistaken idea that she was in fact a man (as indeed occurs in Roerich 1976: 914). With further study the Peacemaking Collection will certainly prove a rich source for still more accounts of women’s lives.
For more about gender transformation and foulness meditation (there is now a considerable literature), see the recent works of Havnevik (1989: 27-31, 163-5), Hopkins (1998: 41-3, 114-7), Sunim (1999), Wilson (1996: 77-110), and literature cited therein. For Buddhist Mahāyāna scriptural sources on women, including accounts of gender transformation, the most important book, still unsurpassed, is that of Paul (1985; first published in 1979).