Buddhist Visions of the Feminine

Buddhist Feminisms and Femininities (cover)

When recounting the life stories of female visionaries, male cleric authors build on specific gendered ideals of sanctity. What is the rationale for and impact of their choices? My chapter in the newly published volume, Buddhist Feminisms and Femininities (2019), edited by Karma Lekshe Tsomo, compares three different versions of the life of Khandro Tāre Lhamo (1938–2002), a contemporary visionary from the Tibetan region of Golok. Each version was composed by Tibetan cleric-scholars from different regions and offer divergent perspectives on her life. Whereas in earlier hagiographic writings, Tāre Lhamo’s life is to a large extent subsumed into that of her second husband, Namtrul Rinpoche (1944–2011), the newest namthar (or story of “complete liberation”) by Khenpo Rigdzin Dargye from Tsimda Gompa, the monastery founded by her father, presents her story on its own terms. Based on interviews with locals in her homeland, especially female companions in youth, this namthar sheds new light on Tāre Lhamo’s early years and local understandings of her religious vocation and standing. A comparison of these three versions of her life promises to reveal the surprising ways that attention to geographic and institutional situatedness can nuance our understanding of the models male authors choose to depict their female subjects.

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