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Women of Wisdom
Study Circle

Fall 2017

We explored the lives and teachings of various Buddhist women teachers, particularly in the Vajrayana tradition, starting with the pioneering Englishwomen Freda Bedi and Tenzin Palmo. Woven throughout our exploration were questions about the cultural versus essential aspects of Tibetan Buddhism and whether there are uniquely feminine ways of understanding, teaching and practicing the dharma.  

September 13

What can we learn from Western women's early contacts with Tibetan Buddhism? Is there such a thing as feminine spirituality? If so, what would it say if it had a voice, especially in our current time?

​Before our meeting

  • This interview with Vicki Mackenzie about her new biography of Freda Bedi (1911-1977) 

  • Dakini Power, chap. 3 (Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, 1943-)

Optional reading

  • The Revolutionary Life of Freda Bedi: British Feminist, Indian Nationalist, Buddhist Nun by Vicki Mackenzie.

  • Cave in the Snow by Vicki Mackenzie (story of Tenzin Palmo).

  • This short video interview.

During our meeting

  • We will watch a 20-min. video clip from a 2014 dialogue between Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo and Lama Tsultrim Allione

September 27

What cultural attitudes towards women have been assimilated into Tibetan Buddhism?​ How could feminism enrich Tibetan Buddhism (or any spiritual path), and how could it be an obstacle? Aspiration as practice.​

​Before our meeting

  • In answer to the question, How do we bring the sacred feminine into the broader community? Lama Tsultrim said, "It begins with women valuing their own bodies, loving their bodies as they are. There’s so much hatred towards the female body, including women’s hatred towards their own bodies. It’s never right. It’s never quite good enough. To love our bodies  as they are is a powerful practice." How do we experience our bodies, and the bodies of other women?

Articles in Lion’s Roar online magazine:

Optional viewing
Cave in the Snow (documentary of Tenzin Palmo's story, 50 min.)
During our meeting

  • We will watch a second 20-min. video clip from the dialogue between Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo and Lama Tsultrim Allione

October 11

What do we really mean by feminism in this context? Is there a feminine definition of enlightenment that is different from the status quo definition? How do women teach? How do they learn? Is it true that Western Buddhist women "aren't held back at all"?

​Before our meeting

  • What is my aspiration...for this day? for this life? for all my lives?


  • Dakini Power, chap. 5. (Pema Chödrön, 1936-)

Optional pre-reading

During our meeting

  • We will watch two video clips from a 2015 Tami Simon interview, including an exchange between Pema Chödrön and k.d. lang​

October 25

How do we relate with the intense suffering and destruction we see in the news without shutting down? How do we relate with groundlessness, uncertainty, fear and aversion in our own lives? Compassionate abiding practice. Pema’s advice on aging and death.

​Before our meeting

Padampa Sangye’s advice to Machik Labdrön:​

Confess your hidden faults.

Approach what you find repulsive.

Help those you think you cannot help.

Anything you are attached to, give that up.

Go to the places that scare you.

Sentient beings are limitless as the sky. 

Be aware. 

Find the Buddha inside yourself.


  • The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, chap. 8 & 9

Optional pre-viewing

During our meeting

  • We will watch another video clip from the Tami Simon interview and a short talk by Pema Chödrön on the occasion of her 80th birthday

November 8

Is it possible to be a good parent and practice non-attachment at the same time? Is it responsible or practical to do extended periods of retreat when one has young children? What Buddhist practices and rituals support the dying process?

​Before our meeting

  • Dakini Power, chap. 6. (Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel, 1963- ) 

Optional pre-reading

During our meeting

  • We will watch several video clips from a 2015 dialogue between Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel and Lama Tsultrim Allione

November 22

What is the role of a female consort for male practitioners on the Tibetan Buddhist path? Historically, did women have male consorts? What is the difference between consort practice and mundane intimacy?

Before our meeting
There is no required pre-reading. 
During our meeting
We will hear about the lives of Yeshe Tsogyal and Mandarava, two renowned Buddhist women teachers living in the 8th-9th century who were also consorts of the great master Padmasambhava.

November 29

What is the relationship between personal and social liberation? Is there a "third space" that includes both? What Western blindspots have been assimilated into our dharma communities? Why do they tend to be white?

​Before our meeting

  • Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love and Liberation by Rev. angel Kyodo williams, (1969-)

  • If you are unable to read the book, see this excerpt in Lion's Roar Magazine.

During our meeting
We will watch a video clip of Rev. angel Kyodo williams talking about the dharma of racism. Marguerite Drescher will join us, to share her experience of working with issues of race and inclusion within the Shambhala community internationally.

December 6

Pre-holiday celebration and discussion of where we go from here.

January 10

What does Machik Labdron's story tell us about her cultural context. Where do we see her influence in the stories and teachings of modern women teachers?

​Before our meeting

  • Women of Wisdom, chap. 2, by Lama Tsultrim Allione (Machik Labdrön, 1055-1153)

Optional pre-reading

  • Machig Labdrön and the Foundations of Chöd by Jerome Edou

  • This transcript by Lama Tsultrim Allione

During our meeting
​Barbara Berry will demonstrate a section of chod, which is a core practice and teaching of Machik's lineage.


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