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Padmasambhava - Life and Liberation Canto 38

by Sangharakshita

All hyphens were missing from this file. Spellchecking replaced some of them.
Questions and Answers with the venerable Sangharakshita on Canto 38, The Life and

Liberation of Padmasambhava
Rivendell, July 1987.
PRESENT: Sanghadevi, Vidyasri, Vajragita, Sridevi, Vidyavati, Punyamegha, Dayamegha,
Ratnamegha, Tessa Harding, Christine McCluskey, Caroline Gutt, Maggie Graeber.
S: There are five questions. One is divided into (a) and (b). All right, first question: Is there a
significance in Padmasambhava having close women disciples, say, in contrast to the
Buddha? Maybe once again we have to look at the assumptions underlying the question. Is it
true that the Buddha did not have close women disciples? What does one mean by close? He
had arhant female disciples.
Dayamegha: I think it was more that it seemed that Padmasambhava's most immediate
companions were Mandarava and ... where as the Buddha seemed to be surrounded more by
... There just seemed to be quite a difference.
S: Though, of course, in the case of Padmasambhava, he did have a long period as a monk,
didn't he, and he studied at the Nalanda monastic university. Perhaps we are concentrating
rather more on his later career?Also, in the case of the Buddha here I am just sort of, I
suppose, questioning assumptions in the case of the Buddha's teachings, they were
transmitted by the bhikshu sangha, weren't they? And even as transmitted by the bhikshu
sangha, there are some accounts of the Buddha's teachings to his women disciples. But I
wonder why the bhikshunis didn't transmit the teachings. That is a separate question, why
they didn't, because there were lots and lots of bhikshunis, including theris, including arhants;
why didn't they transmit a corpus of teachings, in the way that the bhikshus did? But, leaving
aside the question of why they didn't do that, if they had done it they surely would have
transmitted much more material about the Buddha's teachings to women and dealings with
them than the monks had done, simply because they would have known more about the
Buddha's teachings to them and contacts with them. No doubt the Buddha did go about during
the latter part of his life with Ananda, not (so far as we know) with any bhikkhuni; but none
the less, perhaps we shouldn't underestimate the Buddha's contacts with his female disciples.
And, of course, there is this question of what one means by closeness; because there is
spiritual closeness as well as physical closeness. And well, the Buddha said to one of his male
disciples that 'If you want to be' (I am paraphrasing what he said) 'to be close to me, practise
the Dharma. He who sees the Dharma sees me.' He says also that even if one was to follow
after him holding the edge of his robe, but did not practise the Dharma, he would not be close
to the Buddha, whereas one who lived many miles away but practised the Dharma would be
close to the Buddha, would be near the Buddha. So we have to look at it in those terms too. It
can mean inasmuch as some of his female disciples were spiritually developed, they must
have been near, must have been close to the Buddha, in the sense which the Buddha himself
considered important.
Dayamegha: It is just that perhaps the Buddha was not a good choice to compare with but it
does seem like Padmasambhava was a very macho-type figure. (Laughter.)
S: I hope not!
Dayamegha: I mean that in a very positive sense! ((Loud laughter.) ... that somehow it was
interesting in that sense that he therefore had someone who was obviously also a very female
companion, in that she is said to be very beautiful and all that sort of thing.
S: That was a pure accident. I have just read, in one of these chapters, that she disfigured
herself in very monastic fashion. I am sure Padmasambhava didn't have her with him because
she was beautiful
Dayamegha: Oh no.
S: but because she was a sincere practitioner of the Dharma.
Sridevi: One does get this impression that Padmasambhava did not have the same hesitation
that the Buddha seemed to have to include women in the Sangha.
S: Well, yes and no: when you say Sangha, what do you mean? Because the context of most
of these activities of Padmasambhava that we read about is the Vajrayana, where you don't
have a Sangha in the Hinayana-cum-Mahayana monastic sense; you have the gana, you have
the Tantric assembly, where you have men and women both. But when Padmasambhava was
a monk at Nalanda, presumably he was a member of a monastic sangha which was quite
separate from that of the women
assuming theirs to have still existed, which it probably did. But, having said all that, there is
none the less a difference of tone. I think one can't altogether ignore developments in Indian
culture itself. Taking Padmasambhava's having lived in the what was it? eighth century that's
1300 years after the Buddha that is like the difference between, say, in European history, the
third century and the sixteenth century: what a tremendous difference! I get the impression
that the cultural atmosphere in the days of Padmasambhava was quite different from what it
was in the days of the Buddha. That must have had an influence. There is a very good book
by Lal Mani Joshi(?) called oh dear, I can't remember the title it's about Buddhist culture in
the eighth and ninth centuries; it deals roughly with that Padmasambhava Santarakshita
period. We don't have as much information about Indian history and culture as we would like,
but he has gathered together quite a lot in this volume. We've got it in the Order Library, and
it is generally available, it is in print. It gives a lot of Shantideva's background, too. It is
roughly about Indian culture, especially Buddhist culture, in the, I think, eighth and ninth
Vajragita: Who is the writer?
S: Lal Mani Joshi. It is a very readable book.
Sanghadevi: Bhante, would you just say again something about the Vajrayana Sangha was it
S: Gana (spells it). Sometimes it is called the cakra or the gana cakra. Gana simply means a
group, but it was a term generally given to a specifically Tantric assembly, which
corresponded to the sangha considered as a more monastic type of assembly.
: Would that have been people who were practising on their own, mainly?
S: Well, no, it would have been people practising under a guru; because in the Vajrayana the
guru is even more essential than other forms of Bodhisattva.
Dayamegha: Why do you think the bhikkhunis didn't transmit [teachings]?
S: I really don't know! Why is it that women do this or don't do this? It is very difficult to tell.
But it does seem a little odd, if you look at it quite objectively, because there was a
considerable bhikshuni sangha; even supposing it was smaller than the bhikshu sangha, it was
still there. They did have teachings by the Buddha. They did practise the Dharma, they did
gain Enlightenment. So why did they not, after the Buddha's death, have an assembly similar
to that of the bhikshus and transmit the teachings that had been handed to them? It seems
really quite odd assuming that they couldn't join with the bhikshus, they could have had their
own separate assembly. They did have their separate assemblies on the full moon days, just as
the bhikshus had; so it does seem rather strange.
Sanghadevi: Could it be that there was a ..., but because ... had been written down, that
women tended to be illiterate and so they didn't have access, perhaps, to the written form later
S: There is no proof that women were less literate than men. In fact, in the Divyavadana I
think I have mentioned this in The Eternal Legacy there is a reference to women reading the
scriptures by lamplight. So they couldn't have been all illiterate.
Vidyasri: Is it they didn't meet with the bhikshu sangha during those assemblies?
S: Well, perhaps they didn't well, they probably didn't but why didn't they have their own
Sridevi: Wasn't it that they had to ask permission from the monks to do almost everything?
Maybe because we know it was the men who wrote the scriptures maybe it's cultural
S: But then, many of those bhikshunis were arhants, so one would have thought that they
were not limited by conventional considerations. So that is a bit of a mystery. But, leaving
[that] aside, I get the impression that, by the time of Padmasambhava, there was a different
cultural atmosphere in India, and perhaps women joined in things more freely than they had
done in the Buddha's day and perhaps it was simply for that reason that Padmasambhava did
have close women disciples, in a sense that the Buddha had not had. This is taking it that the
biography of Padmasambhava is at least to some extent historical.
Dayamegha: We wondered also if it had anything to do with the atmosphere in Tibet at the
time as well; given that he had gone to subdue demons, perhaps that pulverization(?) needed
to be dealt with as well.
S: Well, the Buddha subdued demons! Also Padmasambhava was a representative of the
Indian Vajrayana, and in having close women disciples he seems to have been following the
Indian tradition, and introduced that into Tibet. Of course, one could argue that perhaps
conditions in Tibet are being reflected back into this biography. Do you see what I mean?
Because the biography is a Tibetan composition, it is not a translation of an Indian work; and
perhaps it does reflect conditions in Tibet rather ...

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