With the global #MeToo movement underway, and recent disclosures of sexual improprieties and alleged abuse within Tibetan Buddhist communities, it seems timely to revisit the topic of sexuality in Buddhist tantra.
My newly published article, “Revisiting the Secret Consort (gsang yum) in Tibetan Buddhism” (Religions, June 2018) offers a historical lens on consort relationships to help inform contemporary contexts and controversies. I discuss shifting views and practices toward sexuality and secrecy in Tibetan Buddhism and provide examples of 20th century women who have engaged in consort relationships.
Is the consort relationship (heterosexually conceived) empowering or exploitative to women? I try to complicate this question, first raised by feminist scholars in the 1990s, by showing the variety of experiences women have had across spacial and temporal distances–from eastern Tibet to North America.
I also call attention to current voices advocating for greater transparency around sexual misconduct and alleged abuse in Tibetan Buddhist communities in Europe and North America.
Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyal in union, photo by Holly Gayley.