Bodacious bodhisattva boobs, and other brain-twisters

White Tara, showing her ample yet perky boobs.

My third eye’s up here, buddy!

Ever despair at how to cultivate lovingkindness for Dick Cheney, or ponder the effect of anti-depressants on Buddha Nature? If so, check out Auntie Suvanna, who applies her unique wisdom and wit to your queries about life, meditation, Dharma, family and relationship issues, or anything else that comes up. Why not write to her and tell her your troubles?

Dear Auntie,
I’m concerned that all the images I’ve seen of female Bodhisattvas are well endowed with decidedly non-sagging, bodacious breasts. I realize these are images of “ideal” women who are only 16 (so the sagging hasn’t set in yet). But, as a less well-endowed woman, I’m wondering if there is any kind of breast-size requirement to become a Bodhisattva. Seems like it.
Sincerely, Breast Envy

Dear Breast,
Come, Breast, hold my hand, fly with me over North America and Europe. Now we are over the Indian subcontinent … heading north and up, up and up, getting a little chilly, crossing a huge mountain range, over Tibet, just a little further… and now… who’s that down there? It is a kind-looking woman holding a vase. Oops, she seems to be spilling something … do you see her? She is being worshiped by a billion people. This is Kwan-Yin, the Chinese Bodhisattva of Compassion. I don’t think she could be anything larger than a B-cup. She seems a bit older, too. So you see, she has done just fine.

Until one has become a Bodhisattva, it’s probably better not to extrapolate too much about the breasts and other anatomical wonders in Tibetan and Indian Buddhist iconography, not to mention Victoria’s Secret catalogs. But, you may ask, what if I get Enlightened on the way to the plastic surgeon? There is always the possibility, however small … just remember that you can be a Bodhisattva: all you need is the avid wish, and a human body of any shape.

Dear Auntie,
Is it possible to become Enlightened while taking anti-depressants, or does it just feel more possible?
Yours, Ms Informed

Dear Ms,
Perhaps you are referring to what has been called “psychopharmacological nirvana,” an effect that can be produced by some anti-depressant cocktails. Here we find yet another case of the august Sanskrit word “nirvana” being reduced by common usage to meaning nothing more than “lots o’ fun.” You perhaps know that Enlightenment is the English word for nirvana, meaning not what Jean-Jacques Rousseau achieved in 1752, but what Siddhartha Gautama achieved even longer ago — that is, the perfection of Compassion and Wisdom, which at least suggests knowledge of the benefit of Selective Seratonin Re-uptake Inhibitors.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, we can turn to some of the questions asked – usually silently or using bells – within the Rinzai Zen community. Does a person with deficient serotonin have Buddha Nature? Does a person who addresses this lack by virtue of anti-depressant drugs have Buddha Nature? Are anti-depressants intoxicating? Is karma pharmaceutical? Could a pig ever fly?

So let’s see. What was your question again? Oh yes, it’s hard to say exactly what makes E. more possible, Ms, or seem more possible, but Auntie Suvanna thinks you’re highly likely to be on the right track.

Dear Auntie,
If your ex-partner phones you to say that the cat you’d jointly adopted is ill and could you put her (the cat, that is) in your “prayers and meditation”; and if I asked if I could also put her (the ex) in my meditation and she says “yes, if you want,” do you think that means there’s a chance of some, er, healing? Or is it just another way to humiliate me and I should simply concentrate on the cat?
Signed, A Confused Male Buddhist

Dear Confused,
You probably realize that “concentrating on the cat” is an ancient practice wherein monks who are distracted by thoughts of romance imagine themselves being torn limb from limb by either a tiger or an aggressive salesperson. However, I cannot in good faith recommend this practice to you, as it seems that said partner has already exhausted quite a few ways of tearing you up and, as you suggest, may be looking for more. Concentrate on healing yourself, Confused — your letter made Auntie Suvanna sad. Dunk that torch you’re carrying in the sweet waters of loving-kindness. Only after a year of this should you then begin to focus on the cat.

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“Food of Bodhisattvas: Buddhist Teachings on Abstaining from Meat,” by Tsogdruk Rangdrol Shabkar

Shabkar, Food of Bodhisattvas

Available from and

Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol (1781-1851) is revered by all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Living mostly on retreat in the mountains surrounded by a few close and hardy disciples, or on pilgrimages to the holy places of Tibet, he lived an austere life, with no fixed abode and possessing only the most meager of possessions, attaching himself to no monastery, adhering to no school, and remaining free from dependence upon benefactors. Shabkar was famed for his concern with animals, and lived strictly by a vegetarian diet: a rare accomplishment in the harsh climate of Tibet. In fact the practice of vegetarianism is still rare not only in Tibet itself but in Tibetan Buddhism in the West despite the relative ease of adopting a vegetarian diet here, and it this incongruity that this book addresses.

This book presents two of Shabkar’s works along with an introduction by the translators. The introduction is a fascinating work in itself, which gives an account of Shabkar and offers an overview of the historical relationship between Buddhism and vegetarianism from a Tibetan perspective. The translators are anything but impartial on vegetarianism, and advocate a meat-free diet as an expression of compassion for living beings.

The first translated text, The Faults of Eating Meat, is a compendium of extracts from Mahayana and Tantric scriptures and teachings by Indian and Tibetan masters. These are of interest primarily in giving a sense of how widespread the advocacy of vegetarianism was throughout the Mahayana and Vajrayana world. Moreover, many of these texts, such as the Angulimala Sutra, the Sutra of Close Mindfulness, and various tantras, are not readily available to the average western practitioner, and any exposure to them is to be welcomed. Moreover, the wealth of material from authoritative sources may well be effective in motivating followers of Tibetan Buddhism to reexamine their relationship to meat-eating. However, because there is a bare minimum of material connecting the extracts, Shabkar’s voice and personality are only dimly heard, which led to some disappointment for this reviewer.

The arguments against meat eating found in The Faults of Eating Meat are basically the same as those in the second text, The Nectar of Immortality, which is an engaging essay addressing in a more personal way the reasons why meat-eating should be avoided by those following the Bodhisattva path. Many of these arguments are typically Tibetan, such as the idea that all beings have, at some point in the endless rounds of rebirth, been one’s own mother, and that in eating meat one is in effect devouring a parent.

Shabkar also warns of a hellish rebirth for those who consume meat and tackles the idea that one can benefit a slaughtered animal by “compassionately” chanting mantras while eating it. Arguments for or against such propositions will necessarily lack persuasive force for all but followers of Tibetan Buddhism.

However, for a wider audience there are still arguments that may sway opinions. Shabkar writes, for example, that the notion – formulated originally for bhikkhus who lived by accepting whatever was put into their begging bowls – that it’s acceptable to eat meat as long as one doesn’t see, hear, or suspect that the animal was killed especially for the recipient, is not applicable in a market economy. Instead, he argues, the meat-eater creates the demand that the butcher merely fills. Thus, he argues, it is the meat-eater who is mostly at fault and who must take responsibility for his actions if he sincerely wishes to reduce the amount of suffering his diet entails.

The fact that many arguments that Shabkar makes are framed in a Tibetan world view does not of course invalidate the book. Shabkar was a Tibetan writing for Tibetans, and his arguments will remain potent for present-day Tibetan practitioners. This book will hopefully have the effect of encouraging more Buddhists in the West (and not just the followers of Tibetan schools) to become more aware of the suffering that meat eating entails, and at least to begin moving towards adopting a diet that helps avoid unnecessary suffering by animals.

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