This is a great time for women. So many things happening right now that are shifting our deep sense of ourselves. Julia Gillard’s great speech in the Australian parliament on sexism in public life; even the horrors of the Savile scandal do us the benefit of awakening and then clearing long festering memories of abuse. And this weekend, for the first time ever, the Karmapa is conferring the initiation of the Chod practice to women, a powerful practice developed (from an earlier Bon practice) by an amazing, astonishing Tibetan woman, Machig Labdron, in the 11th century.
This is a historic moment for women in Buddhism and by extension, for women around the world. What is so awesome about the Chod is that it is a practice for feeding our demons, for turning to face that of which we are most afraid and offering it our attention, indeed ourselves. This is a major aspect of feminine spirituality, this deep compassion that can transform apparently impossible situations, and also that we can practice towards ourselves and our own beings, as we do with birth, menstruation and menopause, finding that when we give them our all, these mysteries of female life transform into nectar, blessings, enlightenment.
From today’s press release: “His Holiness the Karmapa initiates a historic transmission, mainly for female practitioners (26 October, 2012, Palampur, Himachal Pradesh) In an unprecedented three-day event, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, is granting initiation and teachings on Chöd. A spiritual practice developed by Machig Labdron, a Tibetan yogini in the 11th century, Chöd is practiced by nearly all sects of Tibetan Buddhism to this day. Approximately 1,000 people from across the Himalayan region and around the world are here to attend this historic Dharma transmission, which is being conferred for the first time by His Holiness in response to a supplication made by a western Buddhist woman, Lama Tsultrim Allione, on behalf of all women practitioners. Lama Tsultrim was ordained in 1970 as a Buddhist nun by His Holiness the 16th Karmapa, and later pursued the path as a lay practitioner.
Expressing his delight regarding the occasion, His Holiness the Karmapa said: “Since the time of the 3rd Karmapa who wrote the first commentary on Chöd, the Karmapas have maintained a close connection to this practice. I myself feel a deep bond with these teachings coming from Machig Labdrön. She is the perfect embodiment of wisdom and compassion and has inspired Buddhist practitioners for many centuries. I am especially pleased that I can offer this encouragement and support to female practitioners from around the Himalayan region and the world, and pray that the good merit from this event generates peace.”
I learned the Chod from Lama Tsultrim, whom I have studied with periodically since 1988, and when I first heard of this opportunity to take the initiation from the Karmapa, who I have long felt a deep connection with, I really wanted to go. But it was clear to me that this was not my path. The logistics did not add up and I had other things I needed to be doing.
It turns out that it has never been my path to be a full-on, full-time practitioner of these arcane practices. Instead I translate them. I am a bridge person, as I daresay are many of you reading this. I receive the initiation, do the practice for a while until it is integrated sufficiently for the next stage to emerge, and it then transforms into an understanding that in time becomes part of something I write or teach. I used to feel guilty about dropping and/or adjusting the formal practices, for not practicing several hours a day other than for a few months at a time, but now I understand that that is not the way that works best for me, and that I transform them into modes of expression that can be more widely used. Evolution happens all the time. I feel a lingering melancholy for the path not travelled, that of the committed practitioner secure in the daily religious adherence, but then the wildness in my soul kicks in and I revel in the freedom of my independent spiritual life and its consequent creativity.
Machig was famous for her understanding of reversals: that that which appears good may in fact be bad, and vice versa. There is a stage in spiritual development where this becomes stark, as the spirit tries to shed the last dregs of ego, which always attach to notions of good and bad. Rumi is another great source for this level of teaching. I’ll write more on this sometime, but for now, just really wanted to pass on the great news of the Karmapa taking the respect for women within Tibetan Buddhism to the next stage. Thank you to his Eminent Being! Blessings on all practitioners of great teachings!