Exploration and Freedom: Womanhood, Relationships, and Love

Making women’s issues more visible is not just about putting more females in positions of religious authority, like fully ordained bhikkhunis. It is about discussing and acting out ways of relating and loving that women feel liberated by and unleash everyone’s potential to provide fulfillment, satisfaction, and even enlightenment for others. When it comes to the thorny subject of love, I want to look at relationships beyond the simple dichotomy of non-attachment or pure passion and possession. Life is not so simple and I firmly believe that Buddhism understands this.

I was struck and inspired by a post from fellow blogger Lyudmila Klasanova, which was about the “Dharmodaya”: a sacred tetrahedron that symbolizes the female reproductive organ and the source of wisdom and birth.

Traditionally, wisdom, space, and emptiness have characterized the female essence or principle. True freedom, according to Lucy, is realized when it unites with the male principle of compassion and skillful means. It means that all things are devoid of absolute and fixed essence, and when we discover this infinite emptiness and interconnectedness with all beings, “this blissful freedom allows us to play harmoniously with all other relational things.”

Does the symbolism of the Dharmodaya have anything heuristic to say about human eros and feminine sexuality? While I’m sure Lucy was speaking more about insight and less about mundane, samsaric life, I believe that blissful freedom and harmonious play can enrich significantly how we interact with and treat the one we love. In a general sense, we could simply call this subject the Beloved.

What do we truly want from the Beloved, as a human being? How can we discuss and negotiate—respectful of boundaries and deep-rooted desires—the love that we wish to explore with the Beloved? How can we be open and allow the Beloved the space to become the intimate partner that he or she wants to be for us? These are a few of the questions worth mulling over if we start to think about what harmonious play and relational freedom could mean for us, who despite seeking enlightenment are still embodied creatures who more often than not yearn for physical attention and affection.

Perhaps a great deal of unhappiness (for both genders) generated over the past several millennia is the social expectations we demand of each other. Because society is such a powerful glue that binds a community of individual human beings together, it can be anathema to try alternative ways of relational loving. One obvious restriction on love that has fallen rapidly out of fashion in some societies is the censure against homosexuality, which is increasingly seen not as a lifestyle choice but the natural and inevitable expression of a gay man or lesbian woman.

So in some ways the Dharmodaya does not simply speak to women. So many heterosexual men who grew up in cultures of machismo and emotional repression need to be liberated in love too, to be vulnerable as they please and to allow themselves to be tender and noble. Masculinity can be expressed most effectively in gentle voices and soft caresses.

Censure against homosexuality and other debates centered on social justice shine an important light on the socio-cultural aspect of restrictive ideas of love. Yet this is only one aspect of blissful wisdom. It means so much more: expanding the modes of being and relating between husband and wife, women exploring and enjoying their sensual side regardless of their martial status (something that many societies struggle with), and examining deeply what the nature of sexual attachment is and what role it plays in a Buddhist householder’s life (to be fair to a celibate monastic, such a role would be nothing).

Therefore, I believe that being freed in love is about bringing Buddhist compassion and wisdom together so that our lives and relations might be more enriched and multi-dimensional: so that we can enjoy ourselves generously while doing minimal harm and bringing maximum benefit to those we enjoy adoring and being adored by.

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