Q&A with Thanissara: The Source of the Sacred Feminine

Posted by – April 05, 2016
Categories: Spirituality & Religion

Time to Stand UpLast month, Thanissara kicked off her Sacred Feminine Q&A Series with a discussion of Buddhism, feminism, and what women in particular can offer an world and climate in crisis. Today, we talk about the source of the sacred feminine, and how we can reclaim, harness, and direct it for radical transformation.

Thanissara is the author of Time to Stand Up: An Engaged Buddhist Manifesto for Our Earth: The Buddha’s Life and Message through Feminine Eyes.

Q: To you, what is the source of the sacred feminine? Is its domain the heart, the mind, the earth, a combination of these, or elsewhere?

A: That’s a good question. I suppose I would say primarily it is the earth, which is the Great Mother. She nourishes us all. For First Nation Peoples—and those living within a shamanic perspective where consciousness is understood as immanent within all life forms—Earth is sentient, deeply intelligent, and conscious. Back in the mists of time, this immanence within the natural and human world was equated with the Goddess energy of pre-patriarchal religion. Before patriarchal religion placed itself as a conduit for the sacred, shamans engaged directly with cosmic and immanent consciousness, often through the use of sacred psychotropic plants, trance, or meditative based methods. Fortunately, shamanic knowledge and rites could not be completely repressed. In fact, nowadays, there is a revival of interest in these methods, which is helping reclaim the sacred.

Consciousness itself has evolved from the instinctual to being self-aware, particularly within humans. This same consciousness is mapped in Buddhist, and other, contemplative traditions. Outside much of Western Buddhism, many Buddhist schools attribute consciousness to the earth and elemental spirits, as well as to a vast range of subtle realms. In the Shurangama Sutra, a Mahayana text, the primal root of the mind is named as “pure consciousness.”

To say pure consciousness is the “sacred feminine” is not correct, as pure consciousness cannot be located within any attribute. However its essence is buddhi, which means, “pure knowing.” This “knowing” is equated in Buddhism, and other contemplative traditions, with the feminine. Buddhism has the female figure of prajna-paramita, who represents the deepest wisdom that emerges from intuitive knowing. It is this space of intuitive insight that gives birth to the wisdom of the Buddha’s. Ultimately, we have to acknowledge that consciousness is a mystery. We could therefore say that the sacred feminine, while profoundly ancient, instinctual, embodied, self aware, and immanent, is also profoundly mysterious.

Q: How can we reclaim and mobilize feminine energy to transform ourselves, and the world?

A: That is another good question; one that I am still pondering! To tell you the truth; I’m not altogether sure. This is because we are so deeply immersed in patriarchal conditioning it’s hard to recognize there are other ways of being and living. Probably a good place to start is to explore cultures that still remember and honor the primal Mother, the living Earth, and who have direct knowledge of the web of life. For that we need to, very humbly, look toward those First Nation Peoples who have managed to maintain their spiritual and cultural integrity. They should be invited to advise and lead at this moment, while at the same time, our Euro-centric world should express profound regret at their decimation, and seek to make amends.

We can also pray. That means we need to recognize our lost-ness, acknowledge our pain, and ask for guidance from the forces of wisdom and compassion. Then, we need to listen into the living silence. We should do this together, through ceremony, and carefully held spaces where we can share, and talk authentically.

We can also resist the force of violence that inverts and undermines a more caring relationship to our selves, our bodies, and so on. We should protest against the abuses and destruction of other beings—the animals, the forests, the oceans, and the great expanse of Mother Nature. We should join forces with others to protect the earth at this time. We should also move toward a plant-based diet, as the extreme cruelty of factory farms is a travesty and affront to Mother Earth. The animals are her children, and not ours to exploit.

Q: What are some consequences of failing to recognize and incorporate the sacred feminine in one’s own life and what impact might this have on others?

A: Well, unfortunately, society tends to remunerate the narcissistic, sociopathic behavior we see in the uber-billionaire class, in corporate excesses, Wall Street, the NRA, and the military-industrial complex. Historically patriarchal power is rewarded, and what is ignored are the voices of parents, for example, losing their children in another mass college shooting, or in wars, or as a result of political demagoguery that crushes careful, diplomatic processes, for example, in Iraq, where children now suffer from extreme birth defects due to the “dirty bombs” loaded with depleted uranium that were dropped by the U.S.

In the face of an out of control capitalist empire, that pays corporate CEO’s thousands of dollars an hour, and school teachers, maybe $15 to $20 an hour, it is hard to have courage and confidence in the power of the sacred feminine. But, at this critical juncture, we face a clear choice: either we learn to enter a respectful relationship with the earth, to live sustainably, and to negotiate careful international relationships, or we must prepare for the appalling impact of a warming biosphere, increased desertification, extreme weather events, resource wars, continued mass migrations, and the likely collapse of human civilization.

Tags: Buddhism Thanissara
About the Author

Bevin is the associate comms director at North Atlantic Books.