So Many Books About Female Bodhisattvas and Women Practitioners, So Little Time
This annotated list of books that we’ve enjoyed about women (and female bodhisattvas and deities) in Buddhism is just a tiny sample of what’s available. We had to cut the list short or risk taking up this entire issue of the KF Communiqué. Please excuse us now while we go spend the rest of the year reading new books about the feminine spirit in Buddhism, and rereading old favorites.
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Bodhisattva of Compassion: The Mystical Tradition of Kuan Yin. John Blofeld. Shambhala Publications, Inc. 1977.
Have you ever wondered how Avalokiteshvara, the male bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas, came to be associated with the female bodhisattva Tara (India), Drolma (Tibet), Kuan Yin (China), and Kannon (Japan). In this beautifully written history and extended meditation on the mystical tradition of Kuan Yin, John Blofeld traces her lineage from India throughout Asia.
Cave in the Snow: Tenzin Palmo’s Quest for Enlightenment. Vicki Mackenzie. Bloomesbury Publishing. 1998.
The amazing story of a Western woman who became a Buddhist nun and spent 12 years meditating in a remote Himalayan cave at 13,000 feet. Tenzin Palmo now teaches in many locations around the world, including Deer Park Institute in Bir, India. She has established a nunnery, Dongyu Gatsal Ling, which houses 75 nuns living, studying, and practicing together. She writes, “My feeling is that in the future well-trained nuns will have an increasingly important role to play in upholding the sacred Dharma and we are committed to helping this come about.
Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism. Judith Simmer-Brown. Shambhala Publications. 2001.
“How is a dakini to be understood – as a human woman, a goddess, an archetype? What is the significance of her gender for the Tibetan tradition and for contemporary Western interpretation?” Judith Simmer-Brown asks and answers these questions and many others in her study of the feminine principle in in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. The title comes from a song of Milarepa: “The teachings of the whispered lineage of the dankini’s warm breath.”
Delog: Journey to Realms Beyond Death. Delog Dawa Drolma. Translated from the Tibetan by Richard Barron under the direction of His Eminence Chagdud Tulku. Padma Publishing. 1995.
Delog Dawa Drolma was an emanation of White Tara and the mother of Chagdud Tulku. From the introduction by Chagdud Tulku: “My mother was revered throughout Tibet for her extraordinary powers as a lama, but she was more famous for being a delog, one who has crossed the threshold of death and returned to tell about it. Hers was not a visionary or momentary near-death experience. For five full days she lay cold, breathless, and devoid of any vital signs, while her consciousness moved freely into other realms, often escorted by the wisdom goddess White Tara.”
Dragon Thunder: My Life with Chögyam Trungpa. Diana Mukpo and Carolyn Rose Gimian. Shambhala Publications, Inc. 2006.
Diana Mukpo was 16 years old when she married Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. This first-person account chronicles her life with one of the first Tibetan masters to live in the West.
Into the Heart of Life. Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo. Foreword by HH the Gyalwang Drukpa. Snow Lion Publications. 2011.
From the preface: “This book comprises some of the talks that I have delivered over the years to audiences in the East and West who are united in the common challenge to make something meaningful of their lives…. This is not a book about esoteric practices or advanced methods of meditation. The contents of this book deal with ordinary practitioners concerned with translating Dharma instructions into an ongoing life experience.”
The Journey of One Buddhist Nun: Even Against the Wind. Sid Brown. State University of New York Press. 2001.
At the age of 17, Wabi left her village in rural Thailand on a quest to become a Buddhist nun (maechi). The story of how Wabi overcame many obstacles to become Maechi Wabi reveals much about life in modern Thailand as well as about her spiritual journey.
Lady of the Lotus-Born: The Life and Enlightenment of Yeshe Tsogyal. Gyalwa Changchub and Namkhai Nyingpo. Foreword by Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche. Translated by the Padmakara Translation Group. Shambhala Publications, Inc. 1999.
From the introduction: “Lady of the Lotus-Born belongs to the class of Tibetan literature known as namthar. It is a ‘tale of liberation,’ an account of spiritual endeavor and achievement. It is primarily addressed to Buddhist practitioners as an instruction and encouragement for the long and arduous path of inner transformation, holding up to their devotion an image of sublime attainment.”
The Lives and Liberation of Princess Mandarava: The Indian Consort of Padmasambhava. Translated by Lama Chonam and Sangye Khandro. Introduction by Janet Gyatso. Wisdom Publications, 1998.
Princess Mandarava was the principal consort of Padmasambhava in India, the Indian counterpart of his Tibetan consort Yeshe Tsogyal. In her introduction to this eighth-century work, Janet Gyatso writes, “The very fact that Mandarava has many accomplished and serious female companions, teachers, and mentors itself makes an important set of womanist points. Surely one of the most basic purposes of the work is to show how women can achieve anything — just as well as, if not better than — men usually do in Buddhist hagiography.”
Meeting the Great Bliss Queen: Buddhists, Feminists, and the Art of the Self. Anne Carolyn Klein. Snow Lion Publications. 2008.
Anne Klein explores the interface between feminism and Buddhism in this unique study of Western and Eastern concepts of selfhood and individuality, mindfulness and compassion, and other issues of concern to women today.
Women of Wisdom. Tsultrim Allione, foreword by Chögyam Trungpa. Snow Lion Publications. 2000.
Tsultrim Allione, a Western Buddhist teacher, compiled and edited the translations of the biographies of six female Tibetan mystics. The biographies include Machig Lapdron (1055-1145), who founded the lineage in Tibet of, or Chöd, cutting through the clinging to ego and Ayu Khandro (1838-1953 – yes, she lived for well over a century), a disciple of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo who was an accomplished practitioner of Chö, or Chöd, cutting through, and Dzogchen.
If you have a favorite book that would fit this list, please share!