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Vajrayāna Buddhist Sexual Ethics: Vantage Points from the Margins of the Tibetan Monastery

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Abstract for Online Program Book (maximum 1200 characters including spaces)

This paper takes up a single question reverberating around anglophone Tibetan Buddhist sanghas in the wake of the recent crises involving guru-disciple sex abuse: When, if ever, is it appropriate for a Tibetan Buddhist guru to have sex with his (or her) disciple? I turn to passages from the Tibetan autobiographical writings of Sera Khandro (1892-1940) and Lelung Zhepé Dorjé (1697-1740) to shed light on the still poorly understood history of sexuality in Vajrayāna Buddhism. As two figures who lived on the margins of the monastery in the sense that they negotiated between the at-times competing demands of celibacy and religiously-purposed sexuality, their writings can tell us a great deal about the purposes of practices involving sexuality as well as the critiques and dilemmas they elicited in Tibet. This paper applies feminist hermeneutics to read select Tibetan passages out of a conviction that a better understanding of the socio-cultural contexts, gendered experiences, and embodied knowledges pertaining to sexuality in Vajrayāna contexts can serve as a resource for envisioning a less harmful and more inclusive Buddhist sexual ethics for the future.

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