Though I have been practicing for years now, it is only recently that I have begun to look more into the place of women within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. This book is lucid,clear and direct. I love Simmer-Brown's writing style which is very strong and doesn't lose its focus or purpose. There have been some very good books coming out on Tibetan Buddhism recently, of which this is one. I would say that background knowledge is a must for this, as it is not a newbie read!
(One reader from NY,NY stated that the book, or practices for that matter, seemed to be heterosexualy biased. Well, yes they are. In India and Tibet homosexuality would not have been figured into Tantric practices the way heterosexuality was.Since the author was creating a large survey for this book, homosexuality would most likely not be included from the traditional sources she referenced.)
This book is at once both a very much needed manual for serious students of Buddhism as well as a clear and authoritative education for the feminist.
For the Feminist: This is a book that should be savored and closely studied. The wisdom that this research and insight present transcends any idea that anyone--male or female--could have cooked up about any topic adressed here. I doubt that I will ever be able to hold a serious conversation on the subject of gender differences with anyone, male or female, who has not read this book. Every page is filled with the author's insights and detailed instructions gathered during many years of her own personal investigation. Along the way she debunks many previous misunderstandings of respected authors and thinkers who have attempted to prove their biased points of view using Tibetan texts and ideas as their reference points, but have misconstrued the basic meaning due to their own wishful thinking. Simmer-Brown points out that the female mind is neither superior nor inferior to, and not the same as and not different from the male mind. One begins to see that the battle of the sexes has come about from a simple confusion with regard to the mind itself, explained here in terms of the feminine principle of Secret Dakini. Relative differences do exist and when understood properly, become a strength that both genders can draw from. The complex topic of the role of women in religion and for that matter in any society is given a breath of fresh air with keen insights such as:
"For Tibetans, the 'feminine' refers to the limitless, ungraspable, and aware qualities of the ultimate nature of mind; it also refers to the intensely dynamic way in which that awareness undermines concepts, hesitation, and obstacles in the spiritual journeys of female and male Vajrayana practioners. The 'masculine' relates to the qualities of fearless compassion and actions that naturally arise from the realization of limitless awareness, and the confidence and effectiveness associated with enlightened action."(p.33)
For the vajrayana practioner: This book is a very much needed education and elucidation of the four levels of dakini, explained in plain English, with a logical progression through all of the important points. Your understanding will deepen and you will find inspiration to investigate and practice further. For instance, these insights into vajrayana mediation:
"Deity yoga in Tibetan Buddhism gives traditional expression to the fundamental sacredness of human life, our enlightened natures. This inherently awake nature has no conditioned existence, but it arises in radiant forms ceaselessly throughout our lives." (p.166) "The ordinary chemistry between men and women is a powerful expression of the fundamental dynamic of phenomena. For this reason, the realm of gender relationships if of utmost interest for the tantrika, for the dynamic experienced there exposes the heart of the world. The sharp edginess of women reaches for the blunt pragmatism of men; at the same time, men yearn for the emotional intensity of women. Sexual yearning is, at its heart, no different from spiritual yearning. Appreciating contrast and complementarity is central to the tantrika's life, as is tracing the dance between men and women in the ordinary discourse. And sexual passion is a central expression of this dynamic, which goes to the heart of the tantrika's body and mind." (p. 215)
Future generations of tantric practioners will praise this book highly as a clear and concise study aid, unlocking such mysterious topics as the vajra master, the meditation deity, the protector principle, and women and men.