Home | More Questions

Women in Buddhism
I was wondering if women study a different Buddhism from men and if a woman can even really be a Buddhist?


The last time I checked "Buddhist" is unisex.

I have heard rumors about some male-dominated groups who claim that only men can realize their inherent Buddha nature. And then again I've also heard rumors that some folks in India believe that you have to be born in India to become Enlightened.

These egotistical viewpoints are really quite sad. What a turnoff for a sincere seeker to hear that you have to be male and/or born in India to experience your true nature. Even if you happen to be a man, how depressing it would be to think that your wife or mother or sister could not be free from suffering because her body is female.

Buying into these types myths is just another way for the ego to cling to the self. I mean, why put your whole being into your practice if you really think that you have to wait until that lucky lifetime when all the circumstances are "correct" in order to attain liberation?

While some people may find that it helps their practice to separate from the opposite sex for a period of time, eventually they will need to learn to deal with sexuality. Everything is part of the practice. Everything and everyone - male and female - has Buddha nature. That is the true Self.

My Teacher, Rama, ordained us - both guys and gals - as Buddhist Monks. Not monks and nuns. He called us all Monks.

Many of the traditional schools have separated out the guys and gals and have labeled them as different. Their historic culture bled into their practice. Now that's not necessarily a bad thing. Merging your culture and your spiritual practice helps to strengthen your practice in the beginning. When your awareness expands and your self dissolves, these cultural separations are seen for what they really are: illusion.

Certainly many Buddha's have continued to act in accordance with the current culture in order to spread the dharma to the people. They do this as a courtesy; they do it so they can communicate. Unfortunately, it's usually the unenlightened followers who write down the history.

The stories about them can be hard to find, but there have been (and will be) many female Buddha's. Check out these two books to learn more about Enlightened women:
The Lives and Liberation of Princess Mandarava (translated by Janet Gyatso)
Lady of the Lotus-Born: The Life and Enlightenment of Yeshe Tsogyal (Shambhala edition)

May you attain Liberation in this lifetime!
-Dharma : )


The Buddha is not a man. The Buddha is a manifestation of the soul realizing God. Is your soul male or female? Is God male or female? From my point of view, male and female are just forms that the soul takes. The soul is just the form that Eternity takes to experience creation. Is God Eternity, or is God the soul? Perhaps God the physical form. It all depends on your point of view. My experience is that once the human form has transcended the limitations of the physical universe, all male and female associations are lost in the Void. The experience of the Buddha nature is beyond form and definition.


Inner Truth

This question appears to come from someone who has not been exposed to stories of enlightened women who have existed in the Buddhist tradition and in other lineages of enlightenment and who possibly does not know any women personally who meditate daily.

Rama taught us that throughout history, there have always been women who attained enlightenment. Their stories may not be as well-known as those of enlightened men, in part because the West has not always had accurate translations of all the enlightened literature that has been written. It is very possible that in your lifetime, many more stories of enlightened women will be translated and become available.

It is also possible that in your lifetime, many more women will become fully enlightened in the West as the teachings become more available to everyone and as more women take up the practice of daily meditation. Our teacher, Rama, Dr. Frederick Lenz, did some public meditations in California in the early 80's for women only about "Why Don't More Women Attain Enlightenment?" which greatly inspired some of the women who attended to seriously embark on a practice of daily meditation. During the years I studied with him the student body was usually 50% women, 50% men. He gave the women a full monk's ordination, the same as the men, and gave the women who wanted it and did the tasks for it, the same multi-life teaching empowerment from the world of enlightenment as the men.

Some of the following stories are to show a range of women who attained enlightenment across many centuries. (Space limits this to just a short sampling of the stories about enlightened women.)

In ancient India, long before the Buddha appeared, there are stories of women seers who had the vision of Mantras and Vedic truth. These women are called Brahmavadini. The Upanishads speak of the following women sages in particular: Vagambhrani, Sarparajni, Uma Haimavathi , Maitreyi (Wife of Yagnavalkya), Gargi (Seer at the court of Janaka).

Below is a passage from The Buddhist Bible, edited by Dwight Goddard, first published in 1938 and reissued many times. This story illustrates that the Shakyamuni Buddha (the classical Buddha) had no problem with the idea of women attaining enlightenment. It also indicates that a woman does not need to have led a celibate lifestyle to be receptive to the teachings. In this passage, the Buddha is speaking to one of his monks (Ananda) who at the time of the passage has not yet been enlightened:

"Listen, Ananda! At the time you were helpless under the magic charm of the maiden Pchiti, what was it that released you and restored your control of mind? Your coming under her control was not a chance happening of this life, or of this kalpa [an extremely long cycle of time] alone: you had been in affinity with her for many a kalpa. Suddenly when Manjusri repeated this Dharani, the bonds that bound you to her were destroyed, her passion for you was ended, and by once listening to my teachings she became enlightened. Although she was a prostitute and apparently had no interest in the Dharma, by the invisible power of my transcendental Dharani, she immediately attained to the perfection of all dhyana practice. What this Dharani did for her and for you, it can do for all others." (p. 270)

This next story comes from Jamgon Kongtrul's Retreat Manual translated and introduced by Ngawang Zanpo, Snow Lion Publications, 1994. Jamgon Kongtrul was of the great Tibetan Buddhist teachers, and he lived 1813-1899. (Note. This is the same Jamgon Kongtrul who wrote The Great Path of Awakening that Rama recommended.) The retreat manual is describing spiritual practices for persons entering a three year, three month formal retreat. As described below, some of the practices are traced back to two highly regarded enlightened women meditation masters:

The Origin of the Lineage

The next fifteen months of the retreat are devoted to meditations from the Shangpa Instruction Lineage. This lineage is a rarity among the world's living spiritual traditions: it finds its source in the teachings of two remarkable women, Niguma and Sukasiddhi. These two women of eleventh-century India attained such heights or realization that they each received instructions directly from the buddha of the tantras, Vajra Holder. Tibetan texts do not record any meeting between these two women of supreme accomplishment. Their teachings live side-by-side today because they shared a disciple, a Tibetan by the name of Kyungpo Naljor. This extraordinary yogi-monk gathered instructions from 150 teachers-some scholars, some meditation masters; some women, some men-during many journeys to India and Nepal. The collection of the teachings he brought back to Tibet and passed on to others is what is now known as the Shangpa Instruction Lineage (Shang is a place name). Central to this system are the teachings of these two women who are now remembered as two of the greatest meditation masters Buddhist India produced.

The identity of Niguma remains veiled by a quirk of Tibetan language: the honorific words for 'wife' and 'sister' are identical. Niguma is mentioned in many texts as the chamo-mo (lcam mo) of Naropa: does that word here refer to her as a wife or as a sister of the famous Indian scholar-turned-yogi? The word smiles inscrutably from the page.

What is certain is that she surpassed her more renowned brother or husband. While his spiritual apprenticeship lasted an arduous twelve years, Niguma attained spiritual awakening in just one week and far exceeded the stage of awakening of all but a very few before or after her in that she received a large corpus of instructions directly from the Buddha on a non-physical plane. As Taranata states in A Supplement to the History of the Lineages:

'The account of the wisdom dakini Niguma as the sister/wife of Naropa, etc. is well-known everywhere. It should be added that she received a few instructions from the master Lawapa of the East. After meditating with the master for one week, she became a wisdom dakini exhibiting a rainbow-like physical form and spiritual realization which reached the eighth stage of awakening….She is known as Nigu, Nigupta in Sanskrit, said to mean definite secret of definitely hidden, although the name is really from the symbolic language of the dakinis. From her, the great accomplished Kyungpo Naljor…received many of the tantric transmissions known throughout the noble land [of India]….'

Niguma is remembered as being playful as well as fully enlightened; on her first meeting with Kyungpo Naljor, she claimed to be the chief of a group of cannibal witches and advised Kyungpo to run for his life before her coven arrived to feast on him. When she threw away his offering of gold, he began to wonder if she were telling the truth! But he didn't panic; and the rest, as they say is history.

Niguma's copious teachings made up the bulk of the Shangpa Instruction Lineage but is her contemporary Sukasiddhi, who is considered the figure whose continuing influence sustains and nourishes the lineage. Sukasiddhi had been a housewife until she was thrown out of her house by her irate husband and children: expecting them to return home with money or food, she had given what little they had to a beggar! Already fifty-nine years old, she wandered destitute and alone until she managed to sell some beer she had brewed. She became a brewer and merchant and eventually made gifts of beer to a local yogi, the great accomplished master Virupa. He offered to give her empowerment and instruction, which she gratefully accepted. In the course of a single evening, she attainted enlightenment; her body was transformed from that of a sixty-one year old to that of a rainbow-like appearance of a young woman. Like Niguma, she attained such a high level of realization that she received instruction directly from the Buddha Vajra Holder on a non-physical plane.

When Kongtrul wrote the ritual for offerings to the masters of the Shangpa Instruction Lineage, he placed Sukasiddhi in the center of that assembly. It is to her that most praises and offerings are addressed and from her that empowerment is received at the conclusion of the ceremony. Kyungpo Naljor considered her the kindest of all his spiritual masters, one reason being that she promised to continue to bless and sustain the holders of his lineage. Niguma herself contributed to the renewal of the lineage by appearing in later centuries to Tang Tong Gyalpo on three occasions and to Kunga Drolchok twice, imparting many instructions to both. (pp. 85-87)

There are stories of four enlightened Mahasiddha women in Buddhist Masters of Enchantment: The Lives and Legends of the Mahasiddhas, translated by Keith Dowman and illustrated by Robert Beer, 1998.

Space limits this response to just mentioning a few stories (you can also find a few others in the modern twentieth century classic Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda and in the ancient Vasistha's Yoga (translated by Swami Venkatesananda), but hopefully, this short sampling suggests to you that women have always been involved in practicing daily meditation and studying enlightenment.



It seems that a lot of Rama's program was designed with women in mind. Traditional Buddhism hasn't typically addressed the needs of women; yet Rama's program was already far different from traditional Buddhism and went a long way towards helping women on the Path.

Power is very important to a woman and to her path. Much more so than for a man. You'll notice that if you hear women and men talk about the same group of people, the women will usually be far more sensitive than the men to who has power within the group. It's something that women notice. For a woman to attain Enlightenment she needs to be able to access that power--it's part of who she is, and her self-discovery will demand that eventually she tap into that power and use it. That's why, I believe, a lot of Rama's program was based upon helping students build up their personal power. It wasn't really done for the men--a man can often be happy regardless of what his level of power is--it was done to help the women on their path.

A woman who has personal power has control of her life. She can choose where she is going to live; she can choose with whom she wants to associate--and does not want to associate; she can make choices that will leave her physically safe; she can create a positive environment in which to meditate. Personal power can, of course, be a double-edged sword for a woman just like it is for a man--if misused, it can certainly create bad karma all around. Yet learning to use power effectively-- to use it to help both herself and others--is a significant part of many women's path. As a general rule--there can of course be exceptions--a woman has significantly more personal power than a man and her path needs to address this.

A woman's subtle body has the ability to hold much more Light than a man's, but she will be able to do this most effectively if her personal power is up. Traditional Buddhist teachings have tended to limit women to subservient roles and no, I don't believe a woman will ever achieve her full potential in these traditional programs.

People with experience with other Buddhist paths who have examined Rama's program thoughtfully have observed that there is far more emphasis on power than in most paths. The power in Rama's program is very much the female energy of Enlightenment. Those who understand this energy only superficially often confuse it with ego. But power itself does not involve ego--it is just an energy whose flow must be managed without attachment like any other energy. Yet it is an energy that is especially strong in women--as is a woman's ability to use that power to access kundalini--and it is important for women to learn how to manage this power.

Because of her personal power, as well as her ability to hold Light and raise the kundalini, a woman can make a lot of progress on the path very fast if the men--and, for that matter, other women--will just get out of the way and let her progress. The guys can learn a lot about their own practice by observing how the women go about it--indeed, Rama's focus on the enlightenment and empowerment of women probably ultimately offers the guys as much as it does the gals if they support and don't hinder the women in their spiritual journey.




Legals: All copyrights are maintained by respective contributors and may not be reused without permission. Graphics and scripts may not be directly linked to. Site assets copyright © 1999 - 2003 by Lila Publishing. The opinions expressed here are those of the specific contributor and should not be used in place of qualified professional medical advice. By using this site, you agree to relinquish all liabilities and claims financial or otherwise against Lila Publishing and its contributors. Email