This is a very valuable book in my opinion, both for the stories of Tibetan yoginis and the personal stories Tsultrim Allione shares. The stories of her own life are also fascinating.
Readers should be warned, however, that the analysis of Buddhist history in the preface and introduction is flawed. Tsultrim Allione seems mostly to rely on feminist histories and theory and her own speculations when discussing things like the Buddha's attitude towards women, the attitude towards women of the early male Sangha, and the roots of Indian and Tibetan tantra.I want to be clear that I have no problem with feminist scholarship per say, and I completely support the resurrection of the female monastic tradition and the full integration of women's participation and perspectives in Buddhist culture.
My issues with Tsultrim Allione's analysis are too many to go into here but I'll mention some examples. When Allione discusses the Buddha's attitude towards women she quotes a Mahayana Sutra (one written to encourage women to aspire towards rebirth as men) where the Buddha says women have more defilements then men. From a historical point of view this makes little sense; no scholar would accept this sutra as written by the historical Buddha. Of all the Mahayan sutras this particular sutra is one of the least likely, in fact, to have much of a connection to Siddhartha Gautama. In the Pali sutras, which have a greater claim to represent the historical Buddha's words, the Buddha explicitly denies that women have more defilements then men (he says they have an equal chance of attaining enlightenment (arhatship)- this would not be the case if they had more defilements). In another Pali sutra the Buddha denies that there is any distinction in worth among beings based on birth, and specifically says "not in the eyes, ears, etc....and not based on sexual characteristics" is there any distinction. The Buddha hesitated to admit women to the monastic orders because he said it would shorten the life of the order if he did; he did not say this was because of any defect in women and although we automatically assume, based on our cultural assumptions, that he said this for sexist reasons, the sutra does not explicitly state its reasons. Allione says the Buddha hesitated due his perception that women were insatiable sexually and would crave motherhood. I am not sure where she got this from; the Buddha does not say that is his reasoning in any sutra. He does mention the dangers of masculine sexual desire in many places and the nuns rules contain several rules to protect them from rape by monks or laymen. It sounds like this speculation of Allione's is based on the motifs in ancient Indian literature that present women this way. This is a complex issue but I'll leave it at that.
Second Allione makes other historical errors about the birth and development of Tantra. She states that Indian Tantra viewed the feminine as active and the masculine as passive and Tibetan Tantra viewed the feminine as passive and the masculine as active and speculates that this change in status may be due to Tibetan patriarchal biases.
This is a problematic analysis for a number of reasons for anyone who has studied Hindu and Buddhist tantra in India and Tibet. 1) Tibetan and Indian Buddhist Tantra both viewed the feminine as the ultimate principle: emptiness, or wisdom (which Allione characterizes oddly as "passive), and the masculine as upaya- skillful means or compassionate action. Allione's speculation that the source of this symbolism is Tibetan patriarchy is a result of unclear analysis and an example of the type of analysis that occurs in several places in the introductory material. This symbol does not stem from Tibet but from India. 2) Allione writes as if the feminine=wisdom; masculine=skillful means symbol is a downgrading of femininity compared to the Hindu femine=shakti/prakriti (energy, nature) and masculine=shiva (transcendent consciousness). This does not hold up to scrutiny. In most Hindu symbolism the God is clearly superior to his shakti, the energy that he emanates. (Sometimes they are equal and sometimes Shakti is primary to be fair, as in Kali Tantras). In most Hindu thought stillness is superior to activity, the idea that activity is superior to passivity is a western bias!
Lastly, skillful means rely on wisdom to be effective in Buddhist thought. If either wisdom or skillful means has to be regarded as primary or superior, the Buddhist tradition clearly sees wisdom as primary. Therefore the fact that the wisdom principle is feminine if anything is an upgrade in the symbolization of the feminine, not a reduction. For an amazingly clear and impeccable discussion of these issues, see Judith Simmer-Brown's "Dakini's Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism".
Although I could write a whole book as a rejoinder to other unfortunate errors in Allione's otherwise wonderful book, I have one last minor correction and I'll close my yap. In the intro Allione writes that the Buddha taught that "all experience is tainted with suffering" and seeks to eliminate that suffering; and contrasts that with the superior Wiccan view of life (quoting Starhawk) which transcends suffering through acceptance of it as part of the fabric of life. The Buddha never said that all experience is suffering (see [...]). He said, simply put, that unenlightened experience is suffering and enlightened experience is not. If all experience was tainted with suffering, what would be the point of teaching a path to the end of suffering? This is a common misquote and misunderstanding of Buddhist teachings, see the article above for further clarification.
Just to be clear I would not argue that Buddhism has not been corrupted by patriarchal cultures, resulting in women being denied full access to monastic life and spiritual teachings. It has been and still is. But I think it is very important to be accurate about where sexism has and does occur, both out of respect to the tradition and its past teachers, and so that when we move to address these things are efforts are not pointed in the wrong direction, and we do not throw out babies with bathwater. Also faith in the Buddha and other pre-modern masters might be needlessly strained if we think they were more blinded by sexism than they in fact were.
With the caveat emptor aside, I recommend this book for its stories of Tsultrim Allione's path and the path of these other remarkable practitioners.