From the banned book Stick Out Your Tongue, by Ma Jian.
The Ceremony of Empowerment was to be conducted as usual by Labrang Chantso. Sangsang Tashi felt short of breath at the thought that tomorrow she would have to perform the Union of the Two Bodies Ritual with him. She sensed that Labrang Chantso disliked her, and that he hated the thought that his elder brother, Tenzin Wangdu, had been reincarnated in her body. But Labrang Chantso was well versed in the secret doctrines. It was he who had instructed her on the Five Major Treatises, and who had conducted her preliminary vase initiation. Sangsang Tashi pictured Labrang Chantso’s face. His forehead was lined with wrinkles which crumpled to the side when he looked up. Large black pupils filled his small narrow eyes. He was a tall and heavy man.
Sangsang Tashi thought of the wall painting in the Meditation Hall that showed Bodhisattva Vajrapani, Wielder of the Thunderbolt Sceptre, locked in sexual embrace with his female consort. Tomorrow Sangsang Tashi would have to adopt the consort’s position and sit on the Bodhisattva’s lap, her legs wrapped around his waist. A hot, damp feeling stirred inside her. Labrang Chantso’s face flashed before her eyes. His expression was cold and stern.
She quickly banished these visions from her mind and returned to her meditation, reciting the Sakyamuni Mantra. As she concentrated on the life-supporting wind flowing through her heart, three dakinis appeared before her to announce that tomorrow Bodhisattva Vajrapani would take her as his consort.
As they disappeared, the dakini in the red robe looked back at her and smiled. Then her inner deity, Manjusri, Bodhisattva of Wisdom, appeared in front of her, seated on the square mandala. She felt a heat spread through her body, and the drops of vital energy race through her heart like beads of light. Her stomach, thighs, knee caps and the soles of her feet suddenly became as light as feathers. Then Geleg Paljor’s face flashed before her. She felt naked and ashamed, and quickly left the meditation.
Her mind was muddled. She tried to visualize herself as her inner deity surrounded by four guardian Bodhisattvas, but failed to see herself within his image. Her head started to buzz, and the noises from outside her room entered her consciousness. She left her meditation once more, and reflected on what the three dakinis had told her.
A smell of fried bread blew in through the window. She felt hungry. She banged her wooden fish drum, got her maid to bring her a cup of butter tea and then shut the door. It was night now and the sky was black. Sangsang Tashi stared at the charred wick of her butter lamp and tried to picture how she would look tomorrow. The thought of having to lie down naked in the Meditation Hall made her stomach clench with fear.
She tried to wipe this unholy picture from her mind and return to her meditation, but found it impossible to concentrate. She was restless with anxiety. This was the first time in many years that she had been unable to focus her mind. The thought that she was violating her monastic vows frightened her. She relit the lamp that she’d just blown out, recited the Mantra of the Five Bodhisattvas, and at last her mind began to still.
Early the next morning, she woke up and was overcome by the sensation that in every cell of her body, she was a woman. Dawn had not yet broken and a gentle mist still hung in the sky. She felt her breasts press against her nightshirt. Her thighs, pelvis and stomach felt smooth and supple. As she sat up, she became even more conscious of her femininity. Then suddenly she remembered that in a few hours she would be lying naked in front of hundreds of people. She wrapped her arms around her shoulders. With her teeth clenched, she stared outside her window and watched the sky turn from purple to blue, then gradually become lighter and lighter.
A crowd of several hundred monks filled the Meditation Hall. Every butter lamp was lit. Bells, horns, drums and cymbals broke into sound. Wearing a ceremonial robe and a necklace of crimson beads, Sangsang Tashi entered the hall, walked to the hard cushions in the middle of the room and sat down opposite Labrang Chantso. She folded her legs in the lotus position, placed her hands on her knees with palms upturned, and chanted the Mantra of the Five Bodhisattvas. Her mind was still agitated, her hands trembled. She felt embarrassed and ashamed. To reliever her tension she dug her feet into the backs of her knees. When the horns sounded again, she realized that she hadn’t yet entered her meditation. Quickly she tried to whisper the Tara Mantra to summon her inner deity, but the words came out in the wrong order.
It was too late now. She opened her eyes and saw Labrang Chantso remove his robes and walk towards her. She looked up at him pleadingly then, shaking with fear, let him push her down onto the hard cushions. Very soon, she felt a sharp pain between her legs and the suffocating weight of a body pressing down on her. She sensed that the woman who had woken inside her just a few hours ago was slowly being ripped to shreds.
Soon the pain subsided, and she became aware of the sweat on her back and neck. She let herself roll and shake as Labrang Chantso moved back and forth on top of her. She felt as though she were floating into a black hole. From time to time, an itching sensation spread through her thighs. Inside the black hole, however, she knew that she was alone, and this allowed her a moment of calm.
Then suddenly she remembered that she was performing the Union of the Two Bodies Ritual. She remembered that she must awaken her chakras if she and Labrang Chansto were to achieve a union of wisdom and compassion. But just as her psychic energy was about to reach her Wisdom Chakra, Labrang Chantso dragged her up onto her feet, hitched her right leg to his waist, and shook her so hard that her mind went black.
She felt herself wither and wilt as Labrang Chantso clung to her like a magnet, sucking the energy from her bones. At last, she collapsed on the floor. She was helpless. She had no choice but to let Labrang Chantso do with her as he wished.
When he sat down again in the lotus position and tugged her towards him, she slumped onto his lap and, like the dakinis on the murals, hooked her legs around his back. The breasts that had grown on her chest at dawn were now as shriveled as an old woman’s. Sangsang Tashi gasped for breath as the pain below her pubic bone rose through her pelvis and spine.
She opened her eyes. The entire hall was flooded with sunlight. Above the dark clouds of incense smoke that shimmered around her, she saw a golden smile appear on the face of Buddha Sakyamuni. She turned her head from Labrang Chantso’s foul-smelling mouth and, among the sea of shaven heads, caught sight of Geleg Paljor. She quickly closed her eyes again, dug her head into Labrang Chantso’s chest and clenched her jaw.
It was noon before the Ritual of Empowerment came to an end.
When Sangsang Tashi woke from her sleep, she found herself on the hard cushions, kneeling on all fours like a dog. She was still trembling and soaked in sweat. Her thoughts suddenly turned to her dying mother.
Two nuns walked over, hoisted her up and with water from a golden bowl wiped the blood and sweat from her body. She was paralyzed. Her legs were completely numb.
When she finally made it to her feet, the horns blasted in unison and the air filled with incense smoke and the sound of sacred chanting. The golden bowl was placed on the mandala as an offering to the deities. Labrang Chantso had wrapped himself in his robes again and returned to his woven mat. His cheeks were flushed and glowing. Sangsang Tashi’s legs shook as she waited for the ceremony to end. She was surprised that in just a few hours she had lost all the yogic skills that had taken her so many years to acquire. But the thought that she was a woman, that in every cell of her body she was a woman, no longer astonished her.
It was on her second night in the frozen river that Sangsang Tashi died. According to the rites, she was meant to meditate in the ice river for three days before manifesting her Buddha Nature. Three lamas had taken it in turns to watch over her and crack the ice that formed around her neck. She had tried to recite an invocation to summon fire into her body, which had proved so effective in the past, but it failed to protect her from the freezing temperatures.
On the third day, just before dawn, Lama Tsungma, master of rites, left the campfire, trod through the snow to the edge of the river and saw Sangsang Tashi’s body sinking below the surface. When he pulled her out, he discovered that she had becomes as transparent as the ice. Where the fish had bitten into her knees, there was not a trace of blood. Her eyes were half-open, as they were when she used to meditate on a flame of light.
At daybreak, a group of lamas arrived to greet the manifested Living Buddha. They were dressed in elaborate ceremonial robes and rode horses draped in colored silk. It was not important to them whether the Living Buddha was alive or not. Nevertheless, when they saw Sangsang Tashi’s body they couldn’t help but gather round in amazement. She was lying on her back, frozen to the ice. Cool rays of sun bathed her in a soft light. Everyone stared at the organs floating in her transparent body. A fish that had somehow gnawed its way into her corpse was swimming back and forth through her intestines.