Lama Tsultrim Allione on her journey to embrace the sacred feminine

When we create our stories each week, one of the most agonizing decisions is what to call people. How do you distill a life—in the case of our storytellers, an otherworldly life—into the three or four words of a title scroll?

 

Listen to the full conversation: 

Kathmandu, Nepal, 1967. A 19-year old American seeker, traveling alongside psychedelic pioneer Dr. Timothy Leary, and roommate Baba Ram Dass, befriended a community of Tibetan refugees and found her spiritual home.  In the ensuing years, crisscrossing between East and West—quite literally driving overland in a VW Bus from Scotland to India—Lama Tsultrim Allione became the first western woman to become a Tibetan Lama.

Could Lama Tsultrim have known that cross pollinating tenants of Buddhism with Western science would shape a modern-day mindfulness revolution? In Wisdom Rising: A Journey into the Mandala of the Empowered Feminine, Allione describes her calling to blend essential teachings of both cultures. “What I wanted to do was interface some of what the West understood about psychology and emotions with what the Tibetans know through spiritual practice, out of that came the Mandala of the Five Dakinis.”

When we play with mandalas—symbolic patterns of the universe used in Buddhism as an aid to meditation—by painting, coloring or meditating on them, the wholeness suggested by their pattern soothes our traumatized psyche.  They create an experience of integration that supports healing of trauma, anxiety or depression, Allione explains.  A sense of order is reflected to the person drawing the mandala, transmitting to the brain an orderly pattern of thought that facilitates psychological recovery.

After years of study under the great masters who’d escaped from Tibet, even becoming the meditation teacher to Allen Ginsberg, Lama Tsulstrim made the difficult decision to return her vows.

As a lay practitioner, she married and had four children.  Life as a western Buddhist held great hardship for Allione: a baby lost to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, domestic violence, divorce, post-partum depression, the unexpected passing of her beloved husband of 22 years.

Longing for stories of female spiritual role models to navigate her grief, hungry for a path that integrated spirituality with struggles mothers face, Allione journeyed back to Nepal on a quest that led her to the Dakinis: the most important manifestation of the feminine in Tibetan Buddhism. Intense and fearsome embodiments of enlightened energy, Dakinis are compassionate and relentless as they cut away dualism and ego.

Religious images of devoted, peaceful mothers are safe and acceptable in our patriarchal culture.  Simmering under the surface is our longing for a primal, dancing, active, pulsating, fierce feminine expression.  By activating the dakini power within us, we unleash the repressed feminine part of our psyche and bring forth a fierce power, an explosive inner resource, that should not be underestimated.

The dakinis are not external saviors to be worshipped but are messengers of our true nature.  When we embody this energy, we transform.

Working with the Dakinis through Allione’s book, I started to see how they had supported me, though I didn’t have the name for it at the time, when I needed that forcefulness to push through blockages. A serve case of TMJ (jaw pain cause by clenching) forced me to reckon with how much of my life I’d spent trading my worth for nice.  “As women we are different, and until that difference is known, owned, and maximized, our true feminine potency and capacity to bring this world into balance will not be realized,” Allione writes, connecting my pain to the female collective.

This feminist focus soon drew the criticism for being unnecessarily dualistic.  Allione’s highly respected teacher issued an ultimatum: either stop focusing on the divine feminine, or don’t bother sitting for the next level of exams required to teach in the lineage.

Incredibly distraught, she entered a year-long silent retreat in 2001 with a question: was this a spiritual obstacle to overcome? Or truth?  The answer came as an unexpected knock at the door. Her husband shared the awful news that the Twin Towers had just been hit.

How fitting that our conversation overlooked the September 11th memorial in lower Manhattan where the Towers once stood. As she describes in this clip, the tragedy of 9/11 evoked the fundamental question: where was the empowered feminine in the lives of the terrorists?

Resolute in the fire of her truth, summoning the Dakini’s fierce blaze, Lama Tusltrim Allione released what she held dear to enter the great unknowable path of true liberation.

To learn more about Lama Tsultrim Allione and Tara Mandala Retreat Center, visit: https://taramandala.org/

To learn more and order Wisdom Rising: A Journey into the Mandala of the Empowered Feminine and to see her book tour dates: https://www.wisdomrisingbook.com/

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