Wednesday’s Wise Women … Janice Willis and Yeshe Tsogyal
Since beginning my preparations for Amy’s home coming from Brazil at Xmas, her return and then my subsequent visit in March, my Tibetan studies have lain dormant. While I have continued to study Sanskrit, I don’t regret my decision to take a break from Tibetan. However finding the time and motivation to continue will be difficult.
Amy in her wisdom preempted this downfall and bought me book that might help me gather up the threads and get me back on track. While the exercise will be long and slow I hope that Feminine ground : essays on women and Tibet edited by Janice Willis will help. Janice Willis also wrote Dreaming me : black, baptist and Buddhist one woman’s spiritual journey.
Janice Willis was born in 1948 to a Baptist minister and a steel worker in Birmingham, Alabama, the most segregated city America at that time. Undeterred by the Ku Klux Klan she went on to face racism in an Ivy League University, where she was recruited by the Black Panther Party. Instead she chose to travel India and Nepal where she met Lama Yeshe; a Tibetan monk who was to become one of the most influential Buddhist teachers in the west. Lama Yeshe encouraged her to continue her academic pursuits in the USA where she received a BA and MA in philosophy and PHD in Indic and Tibetan Studies. Janice Willis is a Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University where she teaches Sanskrit and Tibetan Buddhism.
Tibetn Buddhism. In 2000 she was named as one of the six spiritual innovators for the new millenium.
I am a woman – I have little power to resist danger.
Because of my inferior birth, everyone attacks m.
If I go as a beggar, dogs attack me.
If I have wealth and food, bandits attack me.
If I do nothing, gossips attack me.
What ever I do, I have no chance for happiness.
Because I am a woman, It is hard to follow the Dharma.
It is hard forme to stay alive!
This is a song sung by Yeshe Tsogyal (757-817) a tantric consort of Padmasambhava, quoted by Willis as a very sad song. However she goes on to say that the Guru publicly praised her as being a ‘Wonderful Yogini, practitioner of the secret teachings .. are you not the embodiment of bliss?
Now that you have achieved what you wanted for yourself,
Strive for the benefit of others’
This book written in 1987 goes some way to bring to the fore the achievements of women in Tibetan Buddhist religious life in a rich and positive way. I hope this little exercise will propel me a bit!