Meeting the Great Bliss Queen:

Buddhists, Feminists and the Art of the Self. By Anne Carolyn Klein

Philosophy East & West
Vol. 46 No.2
Apr 1996
Copyright by University of Hawaii Press

. Meeting the Great Bliss Queen is a significant contribution to the field of Buddhist studies and offers critical insights into the growing dialogue between Buddhist and Western feminists struggling to reenvision subjectivity. Yeshey Tsogyel, a semimythological figure from Tibetan history, becomes the metaphorical Great Bliss Queen, an enlightened embodiment of wisdom and compassion. Klein presents her as a potential bridge between two seemingly antithetical philosophical positions on subjectivity: essentialism (women are their feminine essence, however broadly or narrowly defined)and constructionism (womenbecome women as a result of their cultural and political contexts). Klein acknowledges that Buddhism may not and probably should not be asked to provide answers to thorny political questions, especially in this nascent stage of development in the West when it is still poorly interpreted and frequently misunderstood. What Klein does offer is a sketch of a possible path to connect these diverse philosophical and cultural contexts of Buddhist philosophy and practice and Western and postmodern feminist positions on subjectivity. She begins by detailing the very different understandings of the individual and the self acted upon by Westerners as inheritors of the Enlightenment tradition and by Tibetan Buddhists (specificallythe Geluk and Nyingma traditions most closely associated with the Bliss Queen sotras and practices) with whom she has studied and practiced. Westerners coming to Buddhist practice have an innate understanding of the individual as a unique, self-contained unit, the result of specific personal choices and preferences. Tibetans (and other Asian Buddhists)have an understanding of the self that is part of more extensive social ties to family, community, village, and the cosmos. This interpretation of the self, as nondualistically conceived, offers a middle path between essentialism and constructionism. Klein argues that rather than see these positions as dualistically opposed to one another, Buddhism offers a way to understand them as mutually dependent, dependently arising. Nondualisim--ontological nondualism (themutual dependence of conventional reality on its own emptiness) , cognitive nondualism (themutual dependence of subject and object), and evolutionary nondualism (themutual dependence of the enlightened and unenlightened mind)--is reified and practiced in the Bliss Queen ritual. The philosophical non-dualism embodied by the Bliss Queen makes it possible for the feminist to understand the self as both conditioned and unconditioned, as essential and constructed, and that the two positions, diametrically opposed in the Western mind, are in fact dependent on one another for their existence. Klein offers the Great Bliss Queen as a potential bridge between Buddhist and feminist discussions on subjectivity and with the hope of facilitating the continued conversation in this very rich field.