Engaging Body and Soul

Additional Information

Foreword by Robert Thurman 

Robert A. F. "Tenzin" Thurman 

Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies 

Columbia University

Ganden Dekyi Ling October 14, 2014  

I am honored and humbled by Tahseen Béa's invitation to contribute a foreword to her remarkable work. She kindly included me in thanks for having helped her with some aspects of it some time back, and there are some traces of our conversations, though during the times of our conversations, I did not realize quite how wonderful her work was going to become on its own, way beyond any help I could offer. Now I am grateful that I can have this joy to read it all through in full form, learning so much more from it than I would have been able to teach.

I am so happy that I can applaud her for the incredibly rich journey she takes us on. She is truly a wisdom guide on an astonishing tour through the infinite soul—nondual with the triumphant, ever-evolving body—of the feminine. In the course of it, like an impassioned symphony conductor, she marshals the amazing women writers she travels with in her quest for the "body-and-soul wisdom of the feminine," as they inspire and reinforce her own fluent and evocative thoughts with their equally deep insights. All together they open up for us a new horizon of a lived nonduality of spirit and matter.

As I beheld its suggestively limitless yet delicately careful unfolding in the course of the work, I felt myself witnessing the dawning of a vision of the real millennium humanity faces right now. Not some sort of further blood-drenched apocalyptic time of war and catastrophe, but the coming millennium of freedom, secure survival, and even universal joy on earth. Béa's work helps me see that such would not be possible until and unless women come out from under their long oppression everywhere and take up their full spiritual/physical freedom and unique and independent power. Only then can women assume the full responsibility of their long-denied, totally vital, full equality of partnership with men.

In this fascinating work, each chapter is a journey through the minds and words of various women writers, led by Béa's gentle but insistent quest and exploration and elucidation, as she seeks and gives a mutual empowerment, bringing out things in their work they may not have been as conscious of as she is due to her particular sensibility and purpose, inspiring her unusual mode of inspirational criticism. Her work acknowledges but also differentiates itself from mere literary criticism, which would have the purpose of understanding things from outside, so to speak, as a long string of subjects.

In Buddhism, in the exoteric teachings, bodies are developed and abandoned, while the continuum of mind (not often referred to as any sort of "soul," due to Buddha's healing practice of not indulging the human psychosis of what he called the intrinsic self-identity habit) evolves upward and downward due to the causality of ignorance or wisdom, patience or hatred, greed or generosity, and so forth. The ultimate reality of it all, which Buddha called ultimate mutual relativity, after he confirmed experientially that the absolute was neither a divinity or a nothingness, a self-emptying transcendent emptiness that made the relativity of love and compassion an inevitable imperative. This discovery is associated esoterically with the divine feminine, Transcendent Wisdom, mother and lover of all buddhas and all beings, who embodies the ultimate in infinite manifestation out of love for beings, every one potentially capable of experiencing their own divine beauty, truth, and blissful goodness. In this realm, in the Tantras, the body-and-soul evolution toward bliss-void-indivisible is openly revealed as ever reachable in the supersubtle mindbody dimension every being will eventually not fail to experience for herself or himself.

Béa's visionary guidance through such realms, so graciously shared with and received from the great writers she communes with, leads us in exploration of the rare tastes of the infinite varieties of such supersubtle wisdom—enlightened wisdom not being restricted to any special realm of Buddhism or any other -ism, but rather the intelligent and sensitive embrace of the exquisitely detailed richness of reality itself. I welcome this journey under her honest graciousness, am grateful for her effort, and am happy to invite the readers to embark upon it for themselves.

Prefatory Note by Stephen D. Ross

Stephen David Ross

Distinguished Research Professor

Binghamton University

February 26, 2014 

I call your attention to the voice, and I call your attention to the beginning. They are both beautiful. I say, and I ask you, are they not beautiful? This is a beautiful book, in its soul and in its body, from the beginning and throughout.

Here is how it begins: This book is about our humanity as body and soul, natural and divine. It seeks to cultivate the divine within us, demanding full engagement with our humanity.

And it continues: Body and soul, in their materiality and fluidity, in their sensuous and numinous potential, in their knowledge and mystery, are ways of connecting with erotic desire as well as desire for the mystical.

Such a voice is rarely heard; it carries the breath of distant lands into contemporary Western thought, enriching both of them. This is a way of writing, and a way of thinking that travels, it has taken a journey from Asia to the United States, as has its author, who brings before us ways of listening and reading and remembering that we may have forgotten, reminding us of souls and bodies together, whispering and breathing air together.

I do not suggest that bodies and souls are absent in Western writing, but that they fall apart into preconceived categories, secular and religions, rigorous and easy. Here these categories are less recognizable, they have taken a journey across the seas that brings us to a different landing, puts us in a different place in which to live, and from which to learn.

The most important thing for me, in reading this book, is not only the many ways of thinking I can learn, the many kinds of readings that open before me, but the way in which the poetry of the writing joins the testimony of a mind that has been formed, and expanded itself, in a larger space than most of us know, living as we do in a narrower frame of thought than is commonly accessible to us.

Every word and phrase is touched by sounds and echoes from other places, by murmurs and whispers of spirits passing, yet as deeply moving as these are in presenting the wisdom to which the book testifies, they contribute as well to ways of thinking that enlarge more familiar understandings common to the West, among people who read and think. I could also say dream.more familiar understandings common to the West, among people who read and think. I could also say dream.

The central understanding offered in this book is, as it says, feminine wisdom. As it also says, it is a wisdom for men and women, ways of being and thinking that expand and enrich our humanity, whether it be common or different. It offers a rich and powerful sense of bodies, an engagement with bodies and their souls, that few are able to realize in a changing, global world.

The language of bodies has been taken over by material sciences. The language of souls has been relegated to churches and temples. Many thoughtful writers have sought languages consonant with all these places and practices, but without taking segregation for granted, whether between bodies and souls, science and religion, men and women, and West and East. This book, in a knowing yet magical way, offers a possibility for experiencing these disjunctions in a different, more harmonious, yet also demanding way.

The book speaks of women’s experience at a time when many questions arise about the continuity and accessibility of women’s lives and of shared experiences in different times and places. Many of these questions are important and legitimate, and this book does not take them up. What it offers is an insight into realms of experience that are largely hidden from the public discourses of West and East, hidden especially from modern understanding. In this way, the author reopens worlds of experience, known especially to women but by no means restricted to them, that we will all benefit from encountering and thinking of again.

To say this differently, engaging bodies and souls, entering into feminine wisdom, offers a recognition of possibilities, alternatives, and real encounters that hover at the boundaries of acknowledged daily life. This is a remarkable contribution. It is possible only by carefully reading, and thinking carefully about many different women and men philosophers, fiction writers, essayists, poets, of different races, of different spiritual and sexual orientations.

This is a book by a woman writer. That is its great appeal, for both men and women readers. Its singularity lies in its voice, a woman’s and a writer’s voice, speaking of solitude and of writing, body and soul. It speaks of a right to write, in memory of countless women—and many men—who were denied such a right, and yet despite that wrote, in secret and in solitude.

I again call your attention to the voice, and I call your attention to the beginning. They are both beautiful. I say, and I ask you, are they not beautiful? This is a beautiful book, in its soul and in its body, from the beginning and throughout.

You will enjoy reading it. And perhaps become a little wiser about the mystery of life.