The Fists of My Perfect Teacher: A Queer Analysis of Male Siddha Violence

  • Joshua B. Shelton University of Colorado Boulder

Abstract

This paper adopts a queer hermeneutic to interrogate the gendered implications of violent behavior enacted by male tantric accomplished masters, known as siddhas (Tib. grub thob), toward their disciples. Using a 19 th -century case study, it examines a notorious moment in the guru-disciple relationship between the renowned Do Khyentse (1800-1866) and Patrul Rinpoche (1808-1887), when Do Khyentse confers a tantric transmission through a drunken beating. Siddhas, known for their aberrant, shocking, and subversive behavior, often justify their antinomianism as an expression of their high degree of spiritual realization and attendant liberation from the orderly structures of communal life. Thus, disciples interpret any violent conduct, either explicitly or implicitly, as a provocative upāya, or skillful means, to provoke soteriological insight. When viewed in this light, the siddha’s behavior is rendered immune to ethical critique or evaluation by the devoted disciple. Using David DiValerio’s notion of tantric fundamentalism (the strategic performance of siddha qualities), this paper suggests a possible tension in Tibetan biographies between representing siddha identity within legible tropes of antinomian behavior and the authenticity ascribed to ‘enlightened spontaneity.’ This tension is a fruitful site for queer analysis of the gendered dynamics of siddha violence. If the text configures Do Khyentse as a character implicated in the trope of tantric transgression, the informed reader could interpret his behavior as a religiously justified re-inscription of hegemonic masculine violence. In contrast, if Do Khyentse’s behavior is read as authentic enlightened spontaneity, he becomes a queer champion: harnessing the potency of gendered expectation to disrupt Patrul Rinpoche’s fixation on normatively ‘good’ behavior, effectively catalyzing his enlightenment. Through a close reading of this encounter, this paper suggests that the tension surfaced in the text is only partially resolved, charging the reader to reflect on the ethics of tantric subject formation.

Published
2019-11-19
Section
Articles