It was with relief and recognition that I read the interview with June Campbell in your Winter 1996 issue. For the first time, I have read of someone who acknowledged similar experiences to my own (and who implied the prevalence of that experience). I too had an affair with a rinpoche, and then a long-term relationship with a former Tibetan monk. While the former relationship was necessarily more secretive than the latter, I can personally attest to the layer of secrecy, shame, and internal conflict that continues to prevail in the male/female relationships of those who have been immersed in the monastic system. Whether the secrecy may be externally justified by these Tibetan men because of the sexual nature of the relationship (as with the young rinpoche) or because of the “Westernness” of the partner (as with the ex-monk), what is clear is that individuals who have been monastically trained hold a great deal of ambivalence towards their relations with women, and a need to contain the woman in specific, limited roles.
This, as June Campbell indicates, should not be unexpected given their monastic training. But, as more monks leave the monastery for a layperson’s life, and Tibetan culture changes and adjusts in response to continued exposure to the West, how will this training impact on the survival of Tibetan culture?
What is particularly interesting to me is the cultural role that Western women are playing in the perpetuation of this secrecy and ambivalence with regard to male/female relationships. I could relate and admit to the feelings of specialness and chosen-ness that June Campbell describes (these wise spiritual men had chosen me!); the possible allure of a Tibetan monk/ex-monk may be the obstacles he must overcome in order to be partnered with a Western woman.
Perhaps it is Western women’s own lack of identity that encourages this objectification. It is my belief that Western women participate in these relationships for all the normal relationship reasons, but perhaps most significantly to achieve “wisdom” vicariously, and an “interesting-ness” or specialness through the lens of another person and culture. Western women collude in the secrecy, perhaps with the hope that their role will one day be integrated and recognized. It is my experience that it never will.
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