Since becoming ordained four decades ago, Lama Tsultrim Allione has faced her share of challenges and sexism. Throughout it all, Tara’s vow to work for the benefit of all beings in a woman’s body has been a source of guidance and inspiration.
When I think about women and Buddhism, the first thing that always comes to mind is the story of Tara’s vow. This story expresses our situation so clearly and applies equally well to both ancient and modern times. It is a story that originated when Mahayana was integrating with tantra, ultimately forming what became Vajrayana in India. It is emblematic of a wave of stories that followed about powerful women who valued themselves as women within Buddhism. Many of the stories from that era in India (around 700–800 CE) tell us what was happening both sociologically in the culture, and developmentally in Vajrayana. During this period, for the first time Buddhism had women teaching men. It was also the dawn of female buddhas and the feminine wisdom principle, which began with Prajnaparamita, the “Mother of All the Buddhas,” in the Mahayana period.
Lama Tsultrim Allione is the founder of the Tara Mandala retreat center in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, and author of Women of Wisdom and Feeding Your Demons. In 1970 she became one of the first American women to be ordained in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. She was a 2009 recipient of the Outstanding Women in Buddhism Award.