For years June Campbell was the`consort`of a senior Tibetan Buddhist monk. She was threatened with death if she broke her vow of secrecy. But then enlightenment tantric sex methods be like that.
No, it was a different part of the anatomy – and of all too fleshly substance – which caused the trouble. But, I suppose, you don`t expect Tantric sex to be a straightforward activity. Then again, sex of any kind isn`t really what you`re planning when you become a celibate nun. It was, said June Campbell as she began her lecture, only the second time she had been asked to give a talk to a Buddhist group in this country since her book. Traveller in Space came out three years ago.
The topic of her talk was “Dissent in Spiritual Communities”, and you don`t get much more potent types of dissent than hers. To outsiders, the Rinpoche was one of the most revered yogi-lamas in exile outside Tibet. As abbot of his own monastery, he had taken vows of celibacy and was celebrated for having spent 14 years in solitary retreat. The inner circles of the world of Tibetan Buddhism – for all ist spread in fashionable circles in the West – is a closed and tight one. Her claims, though made in a restrained way in the context of a deeply academic book subtitled – “In Search of Female Identity in Tibetan Buddhism” – provoked what she described as a primitive outpouring of rage and fury.
But it was not fear of the response which made her wait a full 18 years before publishing her revelations in a volume entitled Traveller in Space – a translation of dakini, the rather poetic Tibetan word for a woman used by a lama for sex. It took her that long to get over the trauma of the experience. What happened was that , having become a Buddhist in her native Scotland in the hippie Sixties, she travelled to India where she became a nun. Only one other person knew of the relationship – a second monk – with whom she took part in what she described as a polyandrous Tibetanstyle relationship. It was some years before I realised that the extent to which I had been taken advantage of constituted a kind of abuse”. The practice of Tantric sex is more ancient than Buddhism. The idea goes back to the ancient Hindus who believed that the retention of semen during intercourse increased sexual pleasure and made men live longer.
The Tibetan Buddhists developed the belief that enlightenment could be accelerated by the decision “to enlist the passions in one`s religious practice, rather than to avoid them”. Monks of a lower status confined themselves to visualising an imaginary sexual relationship during meditation. But, her book sets out, the “masters” reach a point where they decide that they can engage in sex without being tainted by it. The reverse of ordinary sex expresses the relative status of the male and female within the ritual. More than that, he is said to gain additional strength from absorbing the woman`s sexual fluids at the same time as withholding his own. This “reverse of ordinary sex”, said June Campbell, “expresses the relative status of the male and female within the ritual, for it signals the power flowing from the woman to the man”. The imbalance is underscored by the insistence by such guru-lamas that their sexual consorts must remain secret, allowing the lamas to maintain control over the women.
Since the book was published, I`ve had letters from women all over the world with similar and worse experiences”. So why did she stay for almost three years? The women believe that they too are special and holy. It produces good karma for future lives, an is a test of faith”.
The combination of religion, sex, power and secrecy can have a potent effect. The psychological pressure ist often increased by making the woman swear vows of secrecy. In addition June Campbell was told that “madness, trouble or even death” could follow if she did not keep silent. But there is more to it, she believes than that. Teaching at Sharpham last week she gave the students a whole range of material about different kind of feminism – from the political to the psychotherapeutic. Once I started unravelling my experiences, I began to question everything,” she said.