How exactly does motherhood fit in with Buddhism? This is a question many women face when juggling a family life, a job and the sincere aspiration to follow a spiritual path. The charismatic American Buddhist teacher Lama Tsultrim Allione raised this question when she found herself, as she puts it, "cooking in the cauldron of motherhood" as the mother of three after the death of her twin daughter from sudden infant death (SIDS).
Coming from an illustrious East coast academic and publishing family (her grandmother was one of the first women to get a Ph.D. from Harvard-Radcliffe, and her father served as a judge for the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism) she was one of the very first American women ordained as a nun in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition in Nepal in 1970. But after returning from Asia to America, she gave back her vows to raise a family.
The historical Buddha Shakyamuni clearly encouraged nuns and lay women along with men to be the pillars of his community. He was the first religious founder after the Jains who allowed women into the ranks of his order -- a revolutionary decision at the time, more than 2,500 years ago. Yet, he left his infant son and wife in order to search for nirvana.
After the death of her infant daughter, when Tsultrim looked at the life stories of the great saints of her lineage, almost all of them were male, and the few women had either abandoned their children or were celibate nuns. "I had no role models for women in my position, no stories to follow," she says in the new book Dakini Power. "It seemed that because of my choice of disrobing, I had lost my path."
When she could find no comfort in the traditional texts, she made a decision, "Okay, I have to create this for myself and for all the women in a similar situation." In her groundbreaking book Women of Wisdom she sought out six biographies of female Tibetan masters, longing to discover "some thread that would help me in my life -- which was, of course, very different than the lives of the ancient yoginis and yet I felt, their stories would begin to feed me." She connected with the Buddhist principle of the powerful feminine, the Dakini, and she established an impressive retreat center on 700 acres in Colorado, Tara Mandala, which is dedicated to the "enlightened feminine."
She now balances the commitments for her family, three adult married children, and four grandchildren, with the passion to bring century old healing practices to the West.
Photo: Tara Mandala
"Women need to become aware of what practices are adapted to our energies and our life situations," she writes in Women of Wisdom. "We cannot be satisfied with just doing something because it is supposed to lead to enlightenment or blindly obeying the edicts of teachers and administrators. We need to observe what actually works."
Starting this spring, Lama Tsultrim Allione has launched "Dakini Wisdom," a multi-lineage collaboration seeking to enhance the understanding of the sacred feminine as expressed through Buddhism's female heritage, wisdom practices and female deities. "More than just a conference, we want to ignite a movement! Dakini Wisdom workshops will be held all over the country, during the next two years, culminating in the Dakini Wisdom Conference in July 2016 at Tara Mandala."
Check out the trailer for the Dutch documentary film about her life! Feeding Your Demons: The Life and Work of Lama Tsultrim Allione will screen this spring in N.Y.C., Los Angeles, Bay Area, Seattle and Boulder.