1998 Student-Faculty Fellows: University Of Puget Sound
Tibetan Women and the Feminine Principle in Dharamsala
Mentor: Elisabeth Benard, Asian Studies
Student: Stacey Leigh Brown, Women’s Studies, 98
In the study of Tibetan religions, few publications exist about the roles of oracles. The most extensive one is Oracles and Demons of Tibet by Rene de Nebesky Wojkowitz. Of the two main types of oracles, which are the state oracles who advise the government and oracles who advise “ordinary” people, the former has been documented more. The only study about present oracles, which advise people, is Jose Cabezon’s unpublished research about four Tibetan woman oracles that live among Tibetan communities in India. Stacey and I wanted to extend his research about Yudronma, one of these four oracles. Since she is elderly, we felt it was important to videotape her, as she became possessed by the Goddess Yudronma. We accomplished this. Also we are continuing our correspondence with her to write a brief biography about her and her role as an oracle. Having few publications about Tibetan oracles, this biography and video provide a personal account of a Tibetan woman oracle.
This opportunity to do research together in India was an exceptional chance to share knowledge with each other. I certainly expected to teach Stacey about Tibetan culture, women’s roles in it and how to do research effectively. However, Stacey also became my teacher by causing me to see things anew. She questioned things I just assumed or barely noticed. She related her encounters with Tibetan youth who have distinct ideas from the older generations with whom I had the most contact. This exchange of perceptions, perspectives, and foci created a dynamic dialogue of inquiry and, at times, sheer joy of discovery. Our roles were fluid. Sometimes we were teacher and student, mother and daughter, or simply friends sharing the highlights of the day. In many respects, I felt fortunate that Stacey asked me to be her mentor. We had a wonderful month of being partners in research.
In regard to how this project contributes to my professional development, it is very useful for my 300-level seminar about Asian women and religion. â€¦ I would like to extend my future research to interview and video a Tibetan woman who is a state oracle. Since I have returned, Honors, Asian Studies, and Women Studies Programs have all requested that I give a report about my research with Stacey.
Conducting research in Dharamsala, I was able to see and experience what I was researching, an opportunity most people do not have. As a woman following my own spiritual path, I discovered and journeyed with Tibetan women and with Yudronma on theirs. I believe it is important to document and tell Yudronma’s story. In the sixty odd years she has lived an exciting and terrifying life which many of us could never begin to understand. But as a woman, with her faith, she survives. So, here I am with her words and her pictures opening new doors in my own life, I am only opening the door a bit wider to learn, discover, and tell my own stories of encountering remarkable people in the world.