Monday, November 28, 2016

15th Sakyadhita International Panel: Bee Scherer on Buddhist Tantric Thealogy?

Tara Kalasan Tara 8th c. famous Tārā temple near Yogjakarta, Java (Indonesia).
Photo by Patrick de Vries & Bee Scherer.


Buddhist Tantric Thealogy?

The Genealogy and Soteriology of Tārā

Tara Bodh Gaya
The wish-fulfilling Tārā;
Pala era (?) relief at the
Mahābodhi temple in
Bodh Gayā (Bihar, India)
Photo credit Patrick
de Vries & Bee Scherer
The-a-logy can be seen as a feminist religious subversion of (hetero-)patriarchal theology. Thealogy stresses nurturing, motherhood and wisdom; the body and the embodied spiritual journey in aid of liberating women (and men) from patriarchal silencing, power, and oppression. Thealogical narratives have employed empowering female divine archetypes such as Ishtar, Isis, Gaia, Demeter, Diana, Sophia, and the Virgin Mary. I argue that Tārā can provide (and is indeed already providing) such an empowering frame in contemporary global Buddhist traditions.

In this presentation, I gauge the possibilities of developing ‘Thealogy’ in the Buddhist context by discussing the genealogy, narratives, iconography, and soteriological conceptualisation of Tārā (Chin: Duōluó,Tib: sgrol ma), the “Saviouress”. In her form, Mahāyāna and Vajrayāṇa traditions provide a unique pathway to enlightened female compassion. Tārā first appears as a supporting figure to Avalokiteśvara (Guānyīn or Guānshìyīn), the embodiment of enlightened compassion who remains completely male gendered in South Asia and the Himalayas. I demonstrate that Tārā fulfils many functions within evolving and changing contexts. Such frameworks include her origin in hybridity with the Hindu goddess (Devī/Durgā) traditions; her conceptualisation as Avalokiteśvara's compassion; as saviouress from the ‘eight great dangers’; as transcending the limitation of twofold gender in the form of Princess Ye shes zla ba; her rise in Tantra; in her connection and identification with the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajñāpāramitā); and as consort in the Mahāyoga and Yoginī Tantra traditions. In conclusion I reflect on the challenges and opportunities Tārā provides for liberating female/feminist enlightened thought: Buddhist Tantric Thealogy.

21 Taras Late 20th c. Tibetan
thangka (painted scroll)
of the 21 aspects of Tārā
(private collection).
Photo credit Patrick
de Vries & Bee Scherer

Professor Bee Scherer, PhD

Bee Scherer is a professor of Religious Studies and Gender Studies and the director of the Intersectional Research Centre for Inclusion and Social Justice (INCISE) at Canterbury Christ Church University, U. K. A Classical and South and Central Asian philologist by training, and the author of more than a dozen monographs and edited volumes, Bee’s research interests lie in the field of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist philology, philosophy, and contemporary practices; Mythology; Queer Theory; and Transfeminism. Bee is the founder-facilitator of the Queering Paradigms social justice research and activism network and conference series and is the editor of Peter Lang’s Queering Paradigms book series. A longtime practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism (Karma Kagyu), Bee currently serves as the vice-chair of the International Lay Buddhist Forum (ILBF).

You can find Prof. Scherer on Instagram or contact her via email.

Learn More About the 15th Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women

The theme for the 2017 conference to be held at The University of Hong Kong is “Contemporary Buddhist Women: Contemplation, Cultural Exchange & Social Action.” This theme highlights the diversity of contemporary Buddhist women throughout the world.

For more information on the conference please visit the Sakyadhita International website and download a brochure.

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