South Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Contemplative Theory and Traxis Tmong Tibetan Buddhist Female Ascetics in South India: A Study of Consciousness and Embodiment

Saturday, July 7
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Rudraksha, Lower Ground Floor

This is an historic moment in Tibetan Buddhist nunneries. For the first time ever, a significant number of institutions are training female contemplative practitioners under the same curriculum as their male counterparts, and granting them the same degree, equivalent to a PhD. This paper examines the practice manuals and philosophical texts currently in use at Namdroling monastery and nunnery in South India that present a Tibetan Buddhist perspective on consciousness and the mind-body connection. I will then explore the hermeneutical strategies employed to adapt practices traditionally designed for men to female adepts.
My paper is circumscribed by a key concept in Dzokchen philosophy and practice: the "body within a body," or "subtle body," a hermeneutical device used to explore consciousness, embodiment, and experience. The subtle body maps philosophy, narrative, and contemplative methodologies across the body to describe human emotion. It is based on the theory of “Buddha nature,” that individuals are enlivened via the body by a Buddha’s essence. However, in this system the female body is inherently inferior. I will discuss how modern nuns use a traditionally male-centered cosmology as an affective map to navigate away from suffering and towards wisdom.
This research entails a methodological pivot away from texts as the primary static window onto the past and toward the complex relationships binding canonical texts to the practice communities they inform. Implementing these approaches, this paper examines how textually transmitted religious philosophies and descriptions of religious practice correlate to lived contemplative praxis among contemporary Tibetan Buddhist female ascetics.

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