Friday, September 30, 2011

The Sacred Feminine and the Collective Unconscious Today

Insights about the Sacred Feminine occurred during my morning meditation today, while I was contemplating Nicholas Roerich’s paintings of Tibet and the Himalayas, particularly the one he calls “Mother of the World. A subject taken by the Dharmakirti College.
Painting by Nicholas Roerich, archetype of the Divine feminine.
Roerich’s painting of the “Mother of the World,” as a figure without a face, revealing its condition of great mystery and depth as an archetype of the unconscious  is very inspiring and touching. Its vision touches that depth of energy inside of us, which we call sacred and feminine. His paintings of Himalayan landscapes took me to these mountain tops, which Sri Aurobindo said are within us ("The Himalayas are within of us"). In this exercise, I was overcome by the oceanic feeling of overwhelming devotional and evocative emotion. Bliss and insight followed. In that state I also examined the monastic retreat I attend at TMC and the feminine issues on the Vinaya which we discussed. I also remembered several occasions, in the west, in which nuns have been offered khatas by sangha members and how uncomfortable it made them, especially if monks were present. In the same line of thought I tried to remember when I have seen a nun giving empowerment, and I could not remember such an occasion. It is not that women cannot give empowerment, lay masters do it all the time, the reality is that women are not comfortable with it or have not been authorized by their mentors and teachers to do it, although young monks can do and are encouraged to do it.

Despite all the progress that has been achieved regarding women’s condition in our society the sacred feminine archetype is not yet internalized in equal condition with the masculine archetype as representative of the divine archetype. The situation of equality, in which both genders can represent equally the deity’s qualities, is not yet established in our “collective unconscious.” As it was coined and defined by Carl Jung, the collective unconscious is a product of ancestral experience, “a reservoir of the experience of our species.” Images that represent multidimensional experience; it is how the psyche organizes collective experiences of the psyche . The issue is much bigger than religious orders and even feminism—the greatest majority of feminists do not understand what their task really is, they are just reacting to archetypal emergence without insight.

Jung’s insight explains why men can do it so naturally. Men have internalized the idea and experience of themselves as representatives of the deities and their authority for many millennia. They carry the collective unconscious experience of the species, they have internalized the archetype (deity); men are the patriarchs, the judges, the prophets, the priests and monks, and the idea of being the "sons of god" during the age of patriarchalism.

Traditionally men embodied the archetype (internalization and repetition of acts of an image which represents a profound and complex story) in their daily lives by being the providers for their families and presiding over the dinner table, religious and governmental ceremonies and ritual (repetition of symbolic acts). It is true that we are in the middle of a major social, economic, and political paradigm shift, however, despite the fact that many women are occupying high positions of authority everywhere, even while continuing to be the carrying nurturers of their families and many times providing for then, many in equal or superior position than their male counterpart--the truth is that the archetype is not internalized (or alchemized in equal conditions yet. It is only in the last 50 years that women have started to be elevated to that position--the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in Catholicism is only 69 years old, 1950; the first woman to hold a position of Prime Minister and the first woman President of a country also happened in the 50s. There is not enough conscious experience accumulated in the memory of the human species for the assumption, or ascension of women to an equal place of holding the divine archetype in the collective unconscious.

The consequence is that to exert authority and receive homage outside the home is not yet natural for women or accepted in many sectors of our society all over the world. This is revealed in the way women conduct themselves in a society set up for masculine authority leading women to low self-esteem, looking up for masculine authority and guidance while avoiding conducting religious rituals, even when that would be permitted. The shift to achieve balance between the two archetypes is still ahead of us. The alchemical change (inner transformation) is yet to take place. We got freedom, freedom to live, to receive equal education, to exert some authority, to speak up to a certain extent, freedom of movement and of self determination (although not for everyone yet), but women have not achieved the level of representation, the energy and the power that comes with the internalization of symbolic images and the transformation that it can bring to our psychology and social behavior.

For monastics in Buddhists monasteries, especially when we share the stage, nuns defer to monks, even in nunneries when some nuns assume a kind of masculine authority--the model is masculine, and in general they are supervised by monks or priests. It is obvious that issue is more complicated and complex within the Vinaya system. Women, it is said in history books today, created civilization because of the need to organize and distribute within the families and clans, and new studies show that democracy is more natural for the feminine aspect than for men, who defer to their own authoritarian system. Even when token situations are set up and the situation is apparently of equality, it does not reflect the integration of the archetype in the collective unconscious.

Tibetan Buddhism has had and has a major role to play in this evolution, especially for us Tibetan Buddhist nuns, because it holds the archetypes (symbols of transformation) and the methods to work the transformation, and  has the advantage of carrying well developed methods. However, we need to be aware of the cultural differences and of the meaning of symbols. It is from the monks that we receive the so beautifully preserved and developed teachings and techniques, but awareness in this matter is essential, because they are not prepared to make the change for us. It does not come from within them or their methods. As the Dalai Lama alerted followers of Teachers and Gurus, we must keep our own judgment about what we are told, and not follow blindly, despite the recommended devotion. Garchen Rinpoche says that "the ultimate guru is within," and that it is not suppose to have separate sets of rules for monks and nuns. But they exist. It is very encouraging that we find help in this issue from within our own Western culture. Through Carl Yung, we also received the concept of "individuation," which is the realization of our full development as a human being. “Individuation is the process of transforming one’s psyche by bringing the personal and collective unconscious into consciousness. Individuation has a holistic healing effect on the person, both mentally and physically.” Jung, C. G.

Samantabadra deity, archetype, representation of masculine enlightenment 
Carl Yung, received teachings and initiations from a Tibetan Lama in Switzerland, practicedd Mudra Tantra and Kundaline yoga, and traveled and studied cultures and traditions throughout the world. According to him this individuation process can only take place with the internalization of the union of the masculine and the feminine inside, which he recognizes as a psychological and a spiritual process (it was this concept of psychology and spirituality that separated him from Freud). Both in Western and Tibetan Vajrayana tradition, this union is symbolically represented by the alchemical symbol of the union of the sun and the moon. Furthermore, Vajrayana offers us the symbolism and the beauty of the yab-yum images, male and female deities in blissful union that is supposed to happen within the psyche, in the mystic Catholic tradition called "sacred marriage." They also offer us the historical accounts of the realization of several women who attained Buddhahood, and a few who were elevated to the state of Lineage Protectors.
It all seems very contradictory, since women in Tibetan society still holds the traditional position of a pastoral patriarchal society, full ordination for women was never brought to Tibet, and education was never offered to them within the so many lineages and monasteries. Why then, in the pantheon of deities of the lineages we see all these displays of the sacred feminine? The secret resides on the meaning of the sacred feminine for men. The sacred feminine represents the aspect of Transcendent Wisdom in the process of enlightenment. Without developing feminine qualities such as receptivity, nurturing, lovingness, compassion and wisdom, their knowledge is just scholarship--not wisdom or realization. Without developing their feminine aspect they cannot be open and receptive to the "divine" (Buddha nature, within themselves, and without the integration of the feminine they cannot achieve enlightenment--the entrance of the sun and the moon energy within the central channel, bringing about insight and ultimate realization.

The practice of visualizations and other practices bring psychological changes, transforming the chemistry (emotional poisons of the body which in turn, among other causes and conditions, change the wind--prana energy circulation within the channels. Hence, in most yab-yum representations, the feminine aspect is depicted much smaller that the male aspect, with the male looking ahead and the feminine on its back and smaller than the masculine. But it should be so, because they are visualizations for the male, they are archetypes for men. The same is not true for women. The imagery has to show the opposite--the female representation has to be larger and the male in union has to be smaller with the deity depicted looking forward and the male giving his back to reflect the feminine inner process, representing all the qualities to be developed and worked from within by women. This kind of representation hasn't been taken yet by artists, although recently I saw one picture in a book by Glenn Mullin (Female Buddhas), a green Tara as a dominant figure, represented in Arya Tara Anuttaratantra Mandala Tanka, Fifteenth Century, that is appropriate for women, represented as dominant. The reason is because in our bodies and psyches we are still male and female. Only after the inner sacred marriage we become complete and integrated individuals, that is why Jung calls it individuation process.

Although Tibetans and Buddhists in general recognize that women can achieve the same state of Buddhahood as men, and carry the stories of a few women who have achieved, and have integrated them into their pantheon, there is no tradition of developing causes and conditions, methods, for these achievements for women. Effort is taking place right now by many lineages in India and Tibet, including the Drikung Kagyu and by the Dalai Lama himself, but it is not yet a priority. Monkhood and priesthood is still a main profession for men in many Buddhist countries and in the west. So they are targeted to receive education in larger numbers, and their monasteries and schools are better funded.

Tibetan Buddhism was and is a powerhouse, a true millenary industry for male achievement. They have developed, tested and implemented thousands of systems for their processes, for the different types of men, not for women. Only a few women were able to achieve enlightenment despite all the adverse cause and conditions. But they were the exception to the rule. We, women, lay and nuns will have to do it for ourselves. We will have to add education, intellect and discrimination, i.e. method and thinking, to our sense of community, nurturing, feeling and wisdom. We have to learn not just how to create and manage monastic houses in the 21rst Century, but how to develop yogas appropriated for women without the excesses of the masculine rational system and develop informal and formal networks to support nuns and their projects. Man have developed formal and informal systems of mutual support, taking apprentices, teaching, mentoring, giving references and placing their favorites in high positions.

As we receive ordination, many of us have to take monks as mentors. Not always they have our best interest in their directives or knowledge of our needs. I have seen young Western novice monks immediately given functions as teachers as well as centers in which to work and direct, some times unprepared for those functions. The same is not true for women, even for accomplished, mature women, with high education with a life long spiritual and religious training. Some monks expect us to take positions as secretaries, translators or cooks, instead of writers or teachers even when they are capable of taking those roles. The Drikung Kagyu, my lineage, is the only one recognizing women as Khemos, and allowing nuns to receive the same education as monks; we have also two recognized teachers. But it is not the rule, in fact the two Khemos are not considered "true Khemos."

Machig Labdon, picture by Ani Chime
We will have to work the differences with true humbleness and lovingness, listening to the divine feminine intuition, sometimes taking issue,without being hostile, with our mentors which can be a difficult task because of the devotion and spiritual authority involved. But that is the riddle of our times, as would say Marie Louise von Franz, a Jungian analyst, a psychological and social dilemma which we have to resolve in each generation. The search for the solution of this riddle is the task that each one of us has to take for the benefit of our psychological individuation process and spiritually to achieve enlightenment(more).

Some Yoginis such as Machig Labdron, Sukhasiddhi, Achi Drolma and Niguma, who were historical women, among a few others, who achieved in their own authority, without being a consort (the consort position favors the male authority and teacher's position, and fosters lower self-esteem in women, unless they were queens or princesses), and became Buddhas on their own right. They had to face tremendous hardship and discrimination within their society, their families and from the monks to be able to practice and receive the teachings they needed for achievement. Even while learning about the science of energy, winds and channels from the monks, we have to be aware. Some women's channels are on different sides than those of men. Most monks don't know this. In some yogas like Dream Yoga, we need to learn the proper position for women to lie down, the lion position is inverse. There are books and teachers who are aware of that, but not all. All this is going on while in the West, women are the majority of donors, or push their husbands into doing it, and most of the sanghas and center leaders are composed by women.

We have a long way to go in a road less traveled. There is much we can learn from the monks, but there is much that we will have to work out by ourselves. Fortunately, there are some good heroine models both in Tibetan pantheon and within the Western tradition, which offer us larger than life figures such as the pioneer work of contemporary Western Tibetan Buddhist nuns, and the ones like the recently discovered Catholic giant of spirituality, wisdom and creativity, the now famous religious artist, abbess, musician, healer, visionary, founder of monasteries, counselor of kings and popes, just elevated to the status of Doctor of the Church, being just the 4rth added to the list in 2,000 years: Hildegard von Bingen of the 12th century. The question for us is how did they do it, and how are they doing it? We must learn their biographies and become acquainted with their conflicts and successes within patriarchal societies.

We must continue to share experiences and reflections, but the biggest work is within ourselves: it is practice for personal transformation and insight. By practicing properly and understanding what we are doing we will help each other and ourselves in this amazing human journey.

The first step is to use the quality of divine pride taught by the devotional aspect of deity yoga and develop the pride and dignity of the Sacred Feminine in us, which is none other than self-esteem so many times confused with human pride and arrogance. To learn to differemciate humbleness from lack of self-esteem. If we give rise to the deity and keep our visualization of the deity during the day, while we act as nuns or lay leaders officiating rituals, giving blessings, talks and teachings, then we can develop this kind of dignity and internalize the Sacred Feminine, (Garchen Rinpoche said that we can only help when we rise as the deity). That will start to deepen the process of self-esteem (internalization) and then extending its roots to the sacred feminine ground within. This exercise, coming from a monastic community can be a powerful force within the human species collective unconscious towards the integration of the Sacred Feminine archetype in equal conditions to the masculine. It also would be of great help if Tankas representing women in a dominant position were painted for women visualization in all Tantras.
Portion of Arya Tara Anuttaratantra Mandala; Tib.,
Jetsun Dolma Lamey Khyilkhor; Highest Form of the Tara Mandala. Fifteenth century. The only one I could find with a feminine represented as dominant.

May the merits of this contemplation benefit all sentient beings for now and times to come, and advance the evolution of humanity with the blessings of the Great Mother Tara.

P.S all different color words are links. 


  1. I first thank you humbly for posting this article.
    More articles on this subject must be broadcasted! It is time for us women to recognize and feel our divine power within us. Women are the chosen Goddess to create life! What's done is done! Those of us who are aware of this collective unconscious must stand up to teach, mentor and awaken those women who are conditioned to feeling inadequacy or unworthiness. Being from East Africa, most women have accepted that they are under man, although it is changing now slowly but surley. My purpose is to organize a NPO that empowers and enlighten women to their inner voice to self expression and self esteem through yoga, meditation and dance.
    May all sentient beings be liberated.

    1. Dear friend, I hope you are doing well, and going ahead with your work and vision. Please let me know how things are.
      Courage and much energy. Blessings.
      Ani, Chime

  2. Hi Ani Chime,

    I would be interested to know what the experts and non experts have to say about your thesis. Maybe you can put up a poll?

  3. You are newly a Drikung nun? Congratulations, and thank you for having the courage to take this vocation.
    Who ordains Drikung nuns? Where does it happen? (just curious)
    Huzzah on the article, well put without the creeping defensiveness that some on the same subject have. I have often wondered why there are not more femi-centric yabyum icons, I agree with you that it is likely a cultural failing and not a failing of Buddhism.

    One pet theory of mine is that the women's cults of Tibet were hidden and not recorded as the men's were, especially since the feminine aspect of Tibetan Buddhism is Wisdom, not Activity. Something that runs against this, though is the frequency of monks practicing female deities, Tara, Achi and the like, as well as the inclusion of very fierce female deities such as Ekajati.

    Hey, did you say that lay people are giving empowerments? that is worrisome...

  4. I don't know if you're aware af Ani(now Lama) Karma Chotso of S Fl. She's a powerhouse of practice aand energy that's an inspiration to all. She was my 1st formal teacher of Buddhism when I took refuge in the keys. She's the millionth proof that a qualified motivated women can do anything an eqivalent male can do. It seems if you explored some of the topics in this blog it would make an excellent book. but we're all lmited as to time and energy. Frank Henry

  5. Being, in addition to a Drikungpa, a student of the Mindrolling lineage (currently helmed by Her Eminence Khandro Rinpoche and her sister Jetsun-la), I have to say "bravo". I am happy to point out that the Mindrolling lineage has made religious and other education for women a priority from the beginning.
    I have also heard of other examples...a minority, but it's happening....