Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

Identified as a trouble maker by the authorities since childhood, and resolved to live up to the description, Charles Carreon soon discovered that mischief is most effectively fomented through speech. Having mastered the art of flinging verbal pipe-bombs and molotov cocktails at an early age, he refined his skills by writing legal briefs and journalistic exposes, while developing a poetic style that meandered from the lyrical to the political. Journey with him into the dark caves of the human experience, illuminated by the torch of an outraged sense of injustice.

Re: Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

Postby admin » Thu Mar 19, 2020 3:10 am

Twilight of the Tulkus
by Charles Carreon
March 16, 2020

THE CURRENT SITUATION

A THIRD OF AMERICANS BELIEVE IN REINCARNATION, IN LARGE PART BECAUSE THE DALAI LAMA HAS SERVED AS EVIDENCE OF THE DOCTRINE’S VALIDITY; HOWEVER, THE DALAI LAMA HAS JUST DECLARED THAT HE WILL NOT REINCARNATE, BECAUSE THE TRADITION OF SELECTING A NEW DALAI LAMA AFTER THE DEATH OF THE PREVIOUS ONE IS A FEUDAL ANACHRONISM. WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US?

HISTORY OF THE TULKU SYSTEM

THIS ARTICLE PRESENTS THE HISTORICAL ORIGINS OF THE “TULKU SYSTEM” IN TIBET, THE WAY THAT TULKUS ARE RECOGNIZED TODAY IN THE WEST, AND THE EFFECTS OF THE SYSTEM ON TULKUS, THEIR STUDENTS, AND THE PROCESS OF TRANSMITTING BUDDHISM TO THE WEST.

SEVEN QUESTIONS TO ILLUMINATE HIS HOLINESS' MOTIVATION

WE THEN PRESENT SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE DALAI LAMA ABOUT THE TULKU SYSTEM, AND VENTURE SOME ANSWERS WHICH, WE HAZARD TO SAY, WILL ILLUMINE HIS HOLINESS’ MOTIVATIONS IN TERMINATING THE TRADITION OF REINCARNATING A DALAI LAMA.

His Holiness did not explain his motives further, and the incurious press has neither inquired of his office nor engaged in conjecture. But let us think it through. This is a super-heavy thing to say, assuming it will get around to the Tibetan people, both those living in Tibet and in émigré communities around the world. To say his announcement will be a disappointment is a serious understatement. The central tenet of the faith has been removed. The Tibetan Atlas has submitted his resignation. The throne of Tibet will soon be vacant, because its next God King has prospectively abdicated. The skies of Tibetan Buddhist cosmology are shaking on their medieval foundations. If the Fouteenth Dalai Lama really believed himself to be the “tulku” of Chenrezig, the Father of Tibet, who has altruistically, intentionally reincarnated fourteen times to lead the Tibetans, he wouldn’t abdicate.

THE LORD OF COMPASSION AND HIS WRATHFUL COUNTERPART

Chenrezig is a timeless figure. He’s not going to let some political changes on twenty-first century planet earth impede the fulfillment of his commitment to bring benefit to all living beings in general and Tibetans in particular. That would be backing down in the face of a worldly challenge, as Chenrezig would never do. Indeed, when the going gets tough, Chenrezig gets tougher, and becomes Hayagriva, whose wrath has been legendary for a thousand years, ever since he dealt with a traitor to the Buddha’s Sacred Doctrine by turning into a horse, riding straight up his anus, and out his mouth. While painful, Hayagriva’s wrathful therapy abruptly and totally rehabilitated the heretic, who attained Tibetan Buddhist liberation as the result of the apparently fatal rape.

This type of brutal spiritual parable often recurs in Tibetan Buddhism, because Tibetans were an extremely rough people. Although today, Tibetans are marketed as the spiritual athletes of the planet, this is a western fantasy. They have been better known throughout history by their neighbors as untameable brigands mostly likely to kill you on sight, who worship demons whose external forms appear as mountaintops, and to whom they offer simulated and non-simulated blood sacrifice. The Tibetan feudal system suffered from a shortage of arable land, so younger sons did not inherit, and rich and poor alike, one in four boys, were packed off to the monasteries, where the social divisions in the society at large were replicated. The abbots of major monasteries would all be tulkus, who enjoyed a plush lifestyle, eating much better, living in warmer, cleaner accommodations, enjoying an abundance of leisure.

TIBET -- A MUCH ROUGHER TURF THAN YOU HAVE BEEN LEAD TO EXPECT

Yes, the Dalai Lamas have been known to play rough -– the Fifth Dalai Lama made common cause with the Mongol conquerors to acquire monasteries and monks at the point of the sword. The Dalai Lamas have been treated roughly as well -– the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Dalai Lamas all died before reaching the age of majority. Their convenient deaths allowed Regents to rule uninterruptedly for nearly a hundred years, and malignant cliques within the Potala are presumed to have poisoned the young prelates. The situation of some tulkus today is little better. First, it is not beneficial to remove young children from their parents at an early age to be raised among male clergy. Second, hard evidence of sexual abuse in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries has come from many sources, eg., in 2013, Bhutanese health authorities were forced to distribute condoms at all Buddhist monastic schools to “stem the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV among young monks who are supposed to be celibate.”

THE NO-WAVE TULKUS

Today, because the young tulkus have ceremonial value, and can be toured as spiritual entertainment in China, Europe, and the US, collecting substantial donations for the clerical impresarios who mount these international tours, many tulkus are raised in an excess of indulgence and wealth, as the irascible tulku Dzongsar carped in a typically rambling screed a few years back. Most American-born tulkus would fall into the class of the needlessly pampered. They are never discovered, like occasionally happened to the old Tibetan tulkus, to have been born into a farming family from the hustings; rather, they are uniformly the male offspring of lamas or of women who have carried on with lamas, in and out of wedlock. These innocent souls are discovered as tulkus in their toddler years, when brother lamas recognize each other’s offspring as divine in exchange for love donations and future reciprocal recognitions.

Unfortunately, these bizarre titles of Tibetan clerical royalty are of limited value in the modern world, and really of no value at all to those unwilling to mime the appearance of sanctity and conduct meditation retreats. While the recipients of these bizarre titles may enjoy marinating in the rote adulation bestowed by abject believers, they rarely “train in meditation,” and many clearly suffer from impostor syndrome. They simultaneously benefit from their titles and connections -– getting jobs with UNESCO and other NGOs like some of the multiple Trungpa tulkus -– and wish to come across as “ordinary people” who are “not full of themselves.” In other words, they have been backed into a lie that they had no part in creating and have no idea how to carry off.

Some of these young people try to throw it off, declaring they’re done with the sanctimonious pose, but then, they end up back in the mind-healing business, like a Spanish boy who was “recognized” as a tulku, trained in India at a monastery, rejected the indoctrination and proclaimed his training a form of captivity in a degenerate environment, and left his robes behind, only to succumb to the allure of guruhood again, which he seems to be pursuing against his own better judgment. Some cases end up like Dzongsar, a bitter, bile-spitting little man who exhibits a fascination with spiritual totalitarianism and a raunchy sexuality that many would say ill befits a cleric.

Others end up like the child that Chogyam Trungpa sired upon the body of a Tibetan nun, then abandoned in childhood -– Osel Rangdrol Mukpo, aka the Sakyong Mipham. No one would envy young Osel’s upbringing -– life in India must have been tough with his mother, who received no support from his father Chogyam, and worked on a road crew after Osel was born; however, it was probably better than the two years he spent in an orphanage in England while his father was litigating over his custody with a family of English Buddhists who believed Trungpa and his sixteen-year old bride were a bit too punk rock to be raising children. When Trungpa finally got custody of Osel and brought him to his Boulder, Colorado enclave, he was whisked into a weird world where his father was a god to legions of dazzled Americans, and spent most of his life in a booze & coke haze, delivering himself of unusual Buddhist lectures that wordsmith students pounded into core Buddhist bestsellers, the backbone of the Shambhala Publishing empire.

Osel was not trained extensively in meditation, and it is rumored by those present during his internment at the Karmapa’s monastery that he was an impulsive sort, more given to blasting about on his motorcycle than engaging the “three wisdoms” of “hearing, contemplation, and meditation” that ripen a lama’s spiritual wisdom. Osel was not at all prepared to lead a spiritual movement. Nevertheless, when Trungpa’s chosen Regent, Thomas Rich, fell into disgrace and killed two students with a sexually-administered dose of AIDS, the original Trungpa succession plan was scrapped, and Osel found himself in the role of Top Banana.

Ultimately, Osel’s legacy was consumed by the absurd excesses his father engineered into the social structure of his “Kalapa Kingdom.” The “Kalapa Court” was a locus of licentiousness during Trungpa’s life, a playground of sex, drugs and alcohol that ensnared seven women that Trungpa married. Trungpa had been married to Diana for a few years when he started marrying seven other women, and she played turnabout deftly, cohabiting with Mitchell Levy and bearing his child, Ashoka. The extra seven women, called “Sang Yum,” received marriage licenses from the Kalapa Kingdom, and comprised the core of Trungpa’s inner social circle. One young woman, inducted into an intimate relationship at an early age and married to Trungpa at 18, later committed suicide. Among those who remain, some are venerated as near-saints, and appear in gushing profiles as ideals of the spiritual woman on the Shambhala.org website. Most of the surviving Sang Yum have kept their silence about the iniquities they observed and engaged in while serving as one-eighth of Trungpa’s sex life. One of the Sang Yum has broken silence, however, revealing Trungpa to be a cocaine addict, explaining, metabolically, how he could drink alcohol to extreme excess and remain mobile, if not ambulatory. This toxic lifestyle put an end to Trungpa’s earthly adventures at the age of 46 in 1987, but the shenanigans continued in the Kalapa Kingdom.

Trungpa’s love of intoxicants and an abundance of sexual encounters had spread throughout the group. Two teachers are currently incarcerated awaiting trial on charges of child molestation. Numerous others have been credibly accused of using their teacher status to extract sexual favors and obeisance from women and men. And Osel himself, the Sakyong, the monarch of his father’s spiritual kingdom, was outed in 2018 as the beneficiary of an entire system that, Weinstein-like, captured and sacrificed female followers to his drunken lust. Shambhala exhorts its followers to believe that their religion will someday take over the entire world and save it from a Moslem horde, which might seem a bizarre notion for modern American students to hold, but once you know that Trungpa was a rake and yet the founding saint of the religion, nothing is too crazy to believe. So just as sure as dogs come back and lick up their vomit, the Shambhala organization is moving with all deliberate speed to place Osel back on his throne, which, by the way, is ten feet high.

Asked about his father in a hagiographic video advertising Chogyam Trungpa’s “Crazy Wisdom” persona, Osel’s half-brother Gesar obliquely reveals that his father was a distant figure who gave him kingly respect, not fatherly affection: “My father respected me, and would listen to what I had to say. He treated me like a reincarnated lama -– like the king of another country.” Gesar has chosen not to act out the role of tulku, but wants to be a good Buddhist. Gesar’s half-brother Ashoka is the product of the loose sexual mores prevalent in Trungpa’s group, born to the extramarital union of Gesar’s mother Diana and Trungpa’s disciple Mitchell Levy. Ashoka has not donned Buddhist robes, currently is a staff reporter for the ACLU, and has enjoyed a series of plum jobs as a journalist, if his own webpage is accurate.

The son of Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche was offered a job that might have seemed attractive to many -– to take over the guidance of the spiritual flock amassed by his father, numbering into the thousands. But he was born in Italy to an Italian mother, his name is Yeshi Silvano Namkhai, and he got himself a western education and a job with IBM. In the movie, “My Reincarnation,” Silvano is depicted as a highly conflicted person. Silvano’s father is another distant type. The old lama grew up in a monastery from childhood, and although he was groomed to play father figure to thousands, and obviously does that job well, he didn’t bounce his kids on his knee while singing silly songs, or read them stories before bedtime. There’s this huge gap between father and son, and then the son is told that he’s a tulku. Silvano even goes off to Tibet and meets people who think he’s a reincarnation of their former guru. These people make it clear that they sacrificed much to care for his former incarnation. But now, what can he do for them? He doesn’t speak the language, he doesn’t know the rituals, he’s a hollow shell. In “My Reincarnation,” the narrative arc leads us to think that he’s actually beginning to warm to the role of spiritual leader, and since his father’s death, he has taken on the leadership role in the community; however, there are reasons to believe that his engagement is strictly limited by his own awareness of the limits to his personal commitment to the role.

For example, this April, Silvano was planning on giving a “transmission” of his father’s teachings, but only to those who have never received the transmission before (excluding all old students), and only in Italian (no translation provided). This is a strangely provisional approach to propagating a religion that I would venture to say springs more from Silvano’s respect for his father than from any inner impulse to teach Buddhism. Finding himself put upon by hundreds of people who say, “Don’t let your father’s lineage die,” he has given in, and is going to deliver a “transmission.” But such a transmission is more in the nature of a placebo than anything else. His father’s students are looking to Silvano to give them access to their own “true nature,” as his father taught. How can it be that they seriously believe they will receive it? Because they have psychologically transferred their power to the guru, and now need to get it back, even from a person who knows darn well he doesn’t have it.

Ironically, the Twelfth Trungpa tulku, whose eleventh incarnation as Chogyam Trungpa is lauded as the pre-eminent transmitter of the Kagyu lineage to the west, has been supplanted by his mere physical progeny, i.e., poor old little Osel. So now, the Twelfth Trungpa lives isolated in Tibet, neglected by his spiritual relatives. The Twelfth Trungpa has never been taught English, has begged on YouTube to have the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa translated into Tibetan so he can read them, and lives in an isolated monastery in Tibet. Meanwhile his American “relatives” give him the sop of faint praise, a stipend and some building funds, while the Sakyong parties like a rockstar, and a small coterie of insiders live well by exploiting the mass of students accumulated by the original “crazy yogi.” Memories are indeed short in the spiritual world, and the irony of the mistreatment of the Twelfth Trungpa tulku seems to elicit no comment from spiritual writers. While other Tibetan Buddhists rush to re-enthrone their deceased teachers and exalt them in their new life-form, Trungpa’s devotees frankly don’t seem to give a damn where Trungpa’s incarnation ended up. But it doesn’t matter, because Shambhala has simmered down to being what all religions are at bottom -- social clubs that profess a faith, collect donations and bequests, and issue insurance redeemable in the afterlife. American Tibetan Buddhists have been groomed to expect the tulku tradition to continue, but as Shambhala’s disappearance of the Twelfth Trungpa Tulku illustrates, the outlines of that tulku tradition are quite unclear. The fact that Shambhala students tolerate the conceptual sleight of hand that makes Trungpa disposable while all other tulkus are venerable tells you something about the effect of good mental programming. Get people to accept contradictory ideas early on, and eventually, they don’t even notice them.

Gullible students are a valued commodity, however, and they are not always present to make every modern tulku’s life comfortable. The tulku of Kalu Rinpoche, who had thousands of students worldwide, was routinely raped by multiple monks and nearly murdered by his tutor, a matter to which the young, victimized Tibetan boy testified on YouTube. It appears that such occurrences have not been unusual in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and the current pampering that tulkus receive in the west is essentially an anomaly. Dzongsar reports that, “As a child I had just two handmade toys that I made myself. Worse, my tutor confined me to one room not just for a few weeks or months but for a whole year, so that even going to the toilet became a long awaited excursion. We also suffered regular verbal and physical abuse that went as far as making us bleed from the head and whipping us with nettles.”

PREDATOR-GURUS

Tulkus aren’t the only ones abused in this system. Some people pretend to be tulkus, and pay lamas to agree that they are tulkus, in order to wield mind-control powers over gullible students, who will accept any type of abuse from people who are called “Rinpoche,” the honorific that is properly applied only to reincarnated tulkus. Sogyal formerly-known-as-RInpoche is the scariest case of a self-annointed tulku disporting himself like a wolf among the spiritual sheep. Sogyal Lakar was born to a family of hereditary retainers for the legendary Nyingmapa tulku, Dudjom Rinpoche, and educated by Jesuits in India. His first efforts at establishing himself in the spiritual fields of America misfired, and after he was sued for sexual assault in California, he decamped for Britain, where his schtick found a warm reception. Still, nobody recognized him as an altruistically, intentionally reincarnated being until he began generating large numbers –- as in sales of his “Tibetan Book of Living and Dying,” ghostwritten by Andrew Harvey, a British writer who has published a number of books with spiritual themes, none of which sold anywhere near as well as what he wrote for Sogyal. The dynamic of branding has tremendous power in the spiritual field, where devotees will vacuum up all of the literature offered by a popular teacher, often in a first rush of enthusiasm, sometimes over a lifetime of deepening devotion. Besides publishing a runaway spiritual bestseller, Sogyal had other techniques for gathering disciples.

First, he got folks to call him Rinpoche. It may have seemed a harmless indulgence to the lamas who knew he was lying, which was all of them, given how much money he could spread around. An invitation from Sogyal to teach at a Rigpa center could provide a Tibetan lama with more money in a weekend than he would otherwise make all year. Sogyal also targeted the vulnerable for sexual and financial predation. He preyed upon the bereaved, using his bona fides as a Tibetan lama to enviegle his way into the confidence of those who had lost their loved ones. Sometimes women weeping for their lost loved ones were subjected to crass advances, or worse. He demanded sex and got it from the willing and the unwilling alike. Sogyal often threatened students with hell in the afterlife, a serious threat when leveled by a Rinpoche, whose actions are presumed to carry weight with the karmic authorities. When his desires for worldly comforts, food, and lavish amenities were not swiftly fulfilled, he struck students, sometimes causing serious injury, and always causing psychological pain.

A lawfirm hired by Rigpa Foundation, the organization Sogyal founded to spread Tibetan Buddhist teachings, advised Rigpa’s leadership to separate the corporation from Sogyal permanently, because it had discovered pervasive evidence not only of Sogyal’s direct misconduct, but of widespread enabling of abuse, denial of its existence, and retaliation against those who complained about the sick situation. A trustee of Rigpa, Patrick Gaffney, was banned from serving on the nonprofit board after the UK’s Charity Commission investigated, and found Gaffney “had knowledge of instances [of] sexual and physical abuse against students [and] failed to take appropriate action and is therefore responsible for misconduct … in administration of the charity.” Nor was Gaffney alone. After the entire affair had burst like a pustulent boil on the front pages of the world periodicals, a considerable group of high-level followers wrote a letter to the Board asking for Sogyal to be reinstated as Rigpa’s head. Sogyal’s madness had corrupted an entire organization.

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE DALAI LAMA THAT MAY ILLUMINATE HIS DECISION NOT TO REINCARNATE

After this discussion, we might ask ourselves again why the Dalai Lama declared his own reincarnations at an end. First, he might have reflected on the psychological cost to the young men, like himself, who are recruited for these strange jobs without consent. Second, he might have considered whether creating tulkus serves any use in the modern world, where they aren’t needed to serve as the abbots for huge monasteries. Third, he could have reflected on how badly some of the new tulkus are doing, and have seen that when tulkus are created for no purpose, they may suffer from a lack of clear mission or purpose, perhaps for their entire lives. Fourth, he could have reflected on how the misuse of the tulku doctrine causes injury to everyone when lamas engage in sexual, physical and financial abuse of their students. Fifth, he could have reflected on how, since tulkus have no real purpose, the doctrine will tend to be used by pious frauds who adopt the name of tulku for selfish purposes, which will bring Tibetan Buddhism into discredit, and render it an inappropriate vehicle for sharing his message of compassion and humanism. Sixth, he could have considered how the Chinese and his other political opponents will make the next Dalai Lama’s selection a circus, and that he will not be around to make it turn out right. Seventh, he might have realized that the tradition of “recognizing” tulkus such as the Dalaia Lama, is inherently a vehicle subject to manipulation by deception, and should be put to rest before he dies.

Considering the first question, the Dalai Lama would certainly probably agree that kidnapping young boys early in life and grooming them to be abbots might have been somewhat functional in Tibet’s feudal theocracy, but there’s no need for that sacrifice anymore. The Chinese have utterly altered the society, and the centers of culture are no longer isolated monasteries lodged in craggy mountain ranges, requiring the stabilizing belief in an enduring local ruler who reincarnates to maintain the ritual practices that assure good fortune on earth. Estimates made by China in the 1950s placed 24% of Tibet’s male population in monasteries, approximately 120,000 monks in 2,700 monasteries. (M.C. Goldstein, Tibetan Buddhism and Mass Monasticism) The Chinese have reduced the monastic population to 46,000, still a substantial number, but due to Han immigration from China, there are now 3.18 Million people in Tibet, so their influence on society is no longer vital. In truth and in fact, continued fidelity to the image of the Dalai Lama as Lord Chenrezig, the God King of Tibet, while a source of comfort to many of the faithful no doubt, seems unlikely to bring substantial benefit to the Land of Snows.

Second, the Dalai Lama could see that making tulkus is not in any way necessary to the propagation of the Buddhist Dharma, as he has formulated it, which is a form of non-sectarian humanism with an emphasis on compassion and optimism, and a meditation practice founded in “mindfulness,” a practice style that is more common to Thailand and Burma than Tibet. The colorful gods and demons who ruled Tibet with splendor and terror are not making the jump from their land of origin to the west, and for good reason. The Tibetan sorcerers would contend with bad weather by casting spells, legendarily standing on a mountaintop going toe to toe with demons, being battered with hail and snow to fight them with the magic of the Lotus-Born Guru. Ah, those were the days, and they’re gone forever. Even the staunchest Tibetan Buddhist doesn’t think we’re going to exorcise our way out of global warming. Just as we have no place for sorcerers, so we have no need for tulkus. If gurus want to pass their students on to their children, there’s nothing to stop them –- they don’t need to pretend their children are divine. Zen teachers have passed temple abbot positions down through a hereditary system for centuries. The famed Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s father was a Zen master, and he ultimately took over the family temple after serving elsewhere, and before traveling to establish Zen Center San Francisco, and the Tassajara and Green Gulch monasteries.

Third, considering whether it is good for the tulkus to be created to live in a world that doesn’t need them, he has probably seen enough of the results. There was a time, from the 1970s into the first decade of this century, when there was a lot of enthusiasm for traditional Tibetan Buddhism. Americans and Europeans were excited by the idea that tulkus might be born into American and European Buddhist families, and indeed, they have been recognized. But the crop has pretty much rotted in the basket. As we’ve discussed above, these young men are lost, having been inducted into a system that no longer exists except for sentimental purposes. If they take themselves seriously, they risk becoming corrupted by an idea in which they have no basis for real belief. None of these boys “remembers their past life.” Consider the strangeness of the Twelfth Trungpa’s plea to be able to read the works of the Eleventh Trungpa in Tibetan. For heaven’s sake, the whole purpose of being an intentionally reborn being was to remember the wisdom from your past lives! If you need to read books to learn this stuff, where’s the inherent wisdom? So being called a tulku is actually just a ticket to becoming disconnected from reality.

Not only Tibetans can be afflicted with the tulku delusion. Plenty of westerners are afflicted by the belief that they attained wisdom in past lives and are here to dispense it. For example, a couple of years ago, I ran into a man in his fifties whom I have known for thirty years. A fringe player in the Oregon Buddhist community, he was the big fellow with the deficit of smarts who tagged along, drove cars, hauled loads, smiled, bowed, and basked in every ounce of love that ever came his way from the lamas. Unfortunately, one of them heedlessly told him that he was actually a tulku. Ever since then, this poor man has felt cheated out of the assistance that he has been lead to believe tulkus should receive. He desires fervently to be recognized by others as a saintly man, so much so that he’s become lonely, isolated, resentful, and frankly lost. Stories like these are far from uncommon, because many lamas will use this sort of flattery to extract favors from the gullible, who allow themselves to be paid for labor and devotion in false praise. Like a fetish that gives pleasure merely from being handled and gazed upon, the delusion that one possesses inherent spiritual eminence feeds a spiritual narcissism that is no less toxic than the worldly variety.

Fourth, there have been enough stories of recognized and unrecognized tulkus abusing their students, and the Dalai Lama has not been pleased by any of them. He hasn’t said much about them, either, but that is probably because the massive pedophile scandal swallowing the Catholic Church dominates the airwaves, and a compliant press never asks the Dalai Lama anything embarrassing. But he has to see that the conduct of Sogyal, Trungpa and Osel Mukpo has injured their students and besmirched the Buddhist doctrine. So he may not say much about it, but he certainly has it in mind.

Fifth, the continued existence of the tulku tradition corrupts lamas into selling recognitions, and results in the devaluation of the entire concept of Tibetan Buddhism, when gauche American clowns ape the ecclesiastical elite. The absurd “recognition” of Steven Seagal, now recognized as one of Hollywood’s merry band of celebrity rapists, is a classic example. Seagal has always been a self-impressed blowhard whose primary gift is his enormous body, his ability to use it to kill people, and his willingness to display that skill in dreadful movies where the body count is the measure of Seagal’s star achievement. The same lama who recognized Seagal also recognized a woman whose given name was Alice Zeoli, who renamed herself Catherine Burroughs and became a Washington DC psychic catering to the spiritual element in the nation’s capitol, then snagged a tulkuship and become Akon Jetsun Norbu Lhamo, aka Jetsunma, aka “The Buddha from Brooklyn,” as Martha Sherrill’s book on the woman is entitled. Zeoli fled Maryland after being charged with beating one of the nuns in her compound, and has found an appropriate perch in the land where anything might be true –- Sedona, Arizona.

Sixth, the Chinese are wily adversaries who have been playing politics with Tibet for a couple of millennia. They have conquered the land, they are subjugating the people and flooding the region with the Han ethnic Chinese settlers, and they regulated Buddhism in Tibet as they do in China. Temples require licenses to operate, their doctrines are subject to censorship, and the monastic population has been greatly reduced, initially by outright murder and imprisonment, and today by the imposition of coercive forces usually less extreme. The Chinese have always exercised as much control as possible over Tibetan reincarnations. The Panchen Lama’s latest rebirth was dictated by the Chinese. There are two Karmapa tulkus, because the Chinese chose one, and a Tibetan faction chose another, and both have continued to represent themselves as the Seventeenth Karmapa. Tai Situ, a high Kagyu lama, has made himself very comfortable as a creator of fake tulkus for power and profit, and he has close Chinese connections. Thus, the manipulation of the next Dalai Lama’s birth by the Chinese is a foregone conclusion.

Seventh, death makes fools of us all when we try to exercise control from the grave. It just doesn’t work. We control the earth while we live, and then death takes our power and hands in to the next generation. Chogyam Trungpa thought he could control the future. He made his intentions crystal clear, and it wasn’t to spend his next incarnation as the Twelfth Trungpa in a remote monastery in Tibet, uneducated in the English language, and ignored by the students of his Eleventh incarnation. He trusted his boyfriend Thomas Rich, a lascivious bisexual with whom Trungpa may have had intimacies, to serve as his Regent, and trusted his lawyer, Alexander Halpern, to fulfill his intentions. But Halpern is a practical man, who provides legal advice to the Dalai Lama and many other Tibetan lamas, and Halpern unloaded the bad press associated with Trungpa’s name deftly and permanently, cutting the Twelfth Trungpa out of the action by changing the Articles of Incorporation, structuring authority around Osel Mukpo, and changing the name of the corporation from Vajradhatu to Shambhala. Everything is now precisely as the Eleventh Trungpa did not want it to be. He is on the outside, his blood kin on the inside. The Dalai Lama can see these dynamics could afflict his own succession. The Fifteenth Dalai Lama could be chosen by China, and put to work undoing the current Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s life work. Questions arise, as well. Presumably, the Fifteenth Dalai Lama would be the ruler of the Tibetan Government in Exile, and from that position, he could declare the existence of Tibet null and void. The world would not shift in its course, if he did.

Tibet is in fact, already a historic relic. As the source of virtually all of the rivers that pour through China and India, it was inevitable that the Chinese would take over what they saw as an unoccupied square on the chessboard of the Great Game. The fantasies of Tibetan Buddhism were like rarefied species that live only on high mountains. As the Tibetans rightly feared when they left, their culture has not proven particularly useful to them or to the other inhabitants of the world beyond the mountains that ring the Land of Snows. Because this is the way of impermanence. Things arise based upon the confluence of conditions, and they disappear along with those conditions. The conditions that gave rise to the tulku tradition are gone, and with them all need for the tradition. The Dalai Lama has recognized this. Whether American Buddhists will is an open question.
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Re: Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

Postby admin » Mon Jun 15, 2020 2:38 am

The Absent Oxonian -- Musings on Trungpa’s Faux Academic Credentials & Why So Few Cared to Inquire
by Charles Carreon
May 26, 2020

What’s the difference between a foreign accent and an exotic one? Chogyam Trungpa knew. He claimed to have an “Oxonian accent,” acquired during his “matriculation” at Oxford College. At least that’s how Diana, the first of Trungpa’s eight wives, put it in her Dragon Thunder memoir, that details her maturation from child bride into den mother of a global cult devoted to the worship of her man, during a breathless two decades that passed in a whirl of booze, ménages-of-however-many, producing children from multiple unions who were uniformly recognized as reincarnated Tibetan saints and tossed to the winds.

Well, not the winds, precisely. Diana’s children, whether sired by Trungpa or Mitchell Levy, Trungpa’s close disciple, were cared for by devotees who treated them like born spiritual athletes –- asking them for spiritual advice, deferring to their presumed wisdom, etc. This did not do them much good, since they were mostly bemused by the unearned respect from clueless Buddhists, and didn’t take to the job of pretending to be founts of Eastern wisdom. Diana certainly taught them little enough, while she sought shelter from domestic chaos by jetsetting from one horsey event to another, buying dressage horses with donor funds as the natural right of ecclesiastical royalty.

As for her much-declared devotion to her husband, Diana greased the skids to Trungpa’s grave, enabling his sordid fate –- death by self-induced coma due to drug abuse and organ failure -- one more rock star sucked dry by the American celebrity-killing machine. Harsh as the assessment seems, evidence for it can be found on every page of Dragon Thunder, that has some of the candor that only the truly dissolute can exhibit. Their goalposts have moved so far, their judgment is faulty –- they can’t quite see when they’re confessing to scandal.

This poor judgment can lead to over-embellishing a cherished myth, as Diana did when she claimed that Trungpa “matriculated” at Oxford College in Dragon Thunder. Because that is a fact subject to verification or disproof, and I have obtained documents that disprove it, and I will share them with the reader. But before I proceed to that reveal, allow me to point out that these documents were not particularly difficult to obtain. It required only a modicum of research, emailing, and persistence in making followup inquiries to obtain them from Oxford College officials. Since virtually all formally published writing about Trungpa is mere hagiographic propaganda, we do not expect fact checking from the Dharma hacks who crank out these obligatory tomes. However, two books on Freda Bedi that pretend to be scholarly works were recently published, and they both repeated the apparent fable that she helped Trungpa get the Spalding sponsorship that "sent him to Oxford." So my question is -– why was I the first to make the enquiry of Oxford?

Trungpa has been the subject of dozens of articles in major periodicals. The Shambhala Publishing empire was built on Trungpa’s oeuvre. The story of his being a student or graduate of Oxford College has been repeated by reputable publications dozens of times, and no one has ever fact checked this? The signs were there all along. Look at the origin of the myth -– Trungpa’s own memoir, Born in Tibet, where he says he went to Oxford on a “Spalding fellowship,” but does not specify which of the twenty-seven Oxford colleges he attended. Searching for objective evidence of Trungpa’s Oxford academic career at The Chronicles of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche turns up absolutely nothing. People talk about his Oxford days as if they knew, but not a soul ever says they saw him attending classes, studying, or any other familiar Oxford collegiate activities. Granted, during the period he was ostensibly attending Oxford, Trungpa was fond of drinking to excess, and crashed his car, crippling himself for life. Since rakish Oxonians have been known to do wild things in drunken sprees, this may have been an attempt by the young Trungpa to fit into Oxford life. However, we cannot give academic credit for vehicular negligence.

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Not all mythologizers have described Trungpa’s “Oxford education” with the careless specificity shown by Diana in her memoir. Crazy Wisdom, a video puff-piece about Trungpa, devotes little footage to the Oxford myth, displaying the word “OXFORD” over a scene of quaint English rooftops, followed by a “class photo” style image, followed by a montage of granite religious statuary and church architecture. The voiceover utters some bland statements suggesting that Trungpa attended Oxford College, without providing date of admission or graduation, course of study, favorite friends or campus hangout, or any of the usual collegiate specifics, whatsoever. Follow-on interviews with three Trungpa acolytes add no useful details, with none declaring that they ever saw Trungpa attending classes, studying, or hanging out with other students.

The Chronicles of Chogyam Trungpa does little better. A site specific search for “Oxford” at chronicleproject.com pulls up a reference to a “Spalding Fellowship Class Photo,” but does not provide it, and there are links to videos with reminiscences by an old English yogi named Ridgzin Shipko, allusions to Trungpa’s meeting with Thomas Merton someplace near Oxford, and of course, lots of comments about Trungpa’s obsession with teaching students the King’s English, with proper “Oxonian pronunciation,” as taught by the officially authorized Trungpa elocution facilitator, Carolyn Rose Gimian.

This is how the fraud has worked so nicely, because of the power of deflection. An Oxford education for a lama whose followers believe him to have been divine from birth is a mere worldly emolument, of importance only because it shows that their guru is really smart, but the diversion Trungpa created by inflicting his “Oxonian English” on everyone was epic. Think about it. What could be more off-putting than having Trungpa, whose accent does not remotely resemble traditional British pronunciation, purporting to teach his students “proper English,” when they came to learn Buddhism? What was the purpose of this game? Well it certainly distracted from whether he went to Oxford. Now everyone just wanted to get away from the man before he taught them more atrocious pronunciations!

During all of these many years during which the un-enquiring minds of American Buddhists have believed that Trungpa was an Oxford College graduate, no one has ever asked what course of study he majored in. Was this from politeness? Or a sort of covert racism, from people who never expected academic excellence from a Tibetan lama, and were impressed by his mere attendance at the world’s most famous institution of higher learning. As is attributed to Samuel Johnson, who apparently held a bias against female intellectuals: "Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” Likewise, we didn’t expect Trungpa to learn anything at Oxford, and had no interest in how well he learned it. It was sufficient that he “went to Oxford.”

Unless of course, he didn’t. And that appears to be the case. On August 7, 2019, I wrote the email attached as Exhibit A to the Information Office at the University of Oxford, requesting “biographical information concerning Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Buddhist lama … said to have ‘attended Oxford University’ and studied ‘Comparative Religion’ at St. Antony's College during the time period from 1963-1967 on a Spalding sponsorship.”

I received a reply (also part of Exhibit A) stating as follows:

“Our degree conferrals team has informed us that they cannot find any record of Chogyam Trungpa having attended the University over that time. However, they only hold information for matriculated students (students who have conferred their membership to the university on full degree programmes). If he studied for a certificate or diploma, the college (St. Antony’s) or relevant department might have some information. I’ve passed the query onto them and am currently waiting for a reply. I can then contact you with any updated information.” (Emphasis added.)


On September 9, 2019, I emailed the letter attached as Exhibit B to James Colman and Lanisha Butterfield, Oxford College media and communications people, and the Registry Administrator, Academic Records Office and Academic Registrar’s Office at St. Antony’s College. The letter begins:

The letter requests that Oxford and St. Antony's College provide copies of academic records pertaining to Chogyam Trungpa Mukpo, a Tibetan Buddhist lama who reportedly attended Oxford University and studied "Comparative Religion" at St. Antony's College during the time period from 1963-1967 on a Spalding sponsorship, pursuant to the Wikipedia's biographical entry of this man. Chogyam Trungpa is the only Oxford Buddhist alumnus listed in Wikipedia's "List of University of Oxford People in Religion.”


On September 12, 2019, I received a very brief reply (included in Exhibit B) from St. Antony’s Registry Administrator Michelle Steers:

We hold no information on this matter.


About a month later, Ms. Steers’ boss, St. Antony’s College Registrar Filiz McNamara followed up on October 8, 2019 with an email confirming that “we hold no information on this matter and therefore we are unable to assist you any further.” (Exhibit C.)

That left only a couple of other sources to contact. First, there was the Spalding Foundation. I found them in London, and on October 9, 2019, I sent a letter to Mrs. J. Rodgers, Secretary of the Spalding Trust, attached as Exhibit D, asking a simple question:

Do the records of The Spalding Trust during the years from 1963-1970 record the award of a sponsorship or fellowship for attendance at any Oxford college to a man with the following demographic description:
Birthplace: Kham, Tibet
Date of Birth: March 4, 1939
Full Legal Name: Chogyam Trungpa Mukpo


I did not receive an answer from Mrs. Rodgers of the Spalding Trust, so in March 2020, I wrote to her again, certified mail, asking for the same thing with a bigger windup:

Mr. Mukpo came to be a figure of considerable public renown, and the truth about his education is of public importance. An Oxford education confers a peerless pedigree among the world’s top educational institutions. The public has long believed that Mr. Mukpo had an Oxford education because the Spalding Trust sponsored it. This fact is repeated so ubiquitously that no citation is required. However, Oxford College has no record of attendance by Chogyam Trungpa Mukpo at any time.

If the Spalding Foundation paid for Mr. Mukpo’s Oxford education, but he did not get an Oxford education, then some explanation is required from the Spalding Foundation. Failure to respond with clarification will compel the conclusion that the Spalding Foundation has been complicit in the perpetration of a fraud upon the public of considerable dimensions.


This letter, attached as Exhibit E, fetched no response from the Spalding Trust, leaving me to wonder, “What is this Spalding Trust that sends religious men to Oxford College, but cares not when they fail to actually attend the college, and refuses to discuss this anomaly?” You know, if the Ford Foundation did that, people would give them shit about it. Well, Mr. Spalding was a rich fellow who was very Christian, very patriotic, and the history of his foundation is a little funny. He was very fond of bathing nude with other young men, and funded places where they could do that. He wrote terrible patriotic, religious poetry that absolutely stunk of jingoistic piety. And he endowed a chair at St. Antony’s College, but toward the end of his life, there was some maneuvering, and he lost control of the chair, and others took control of the Spalding Chair, and he was embittered about it.

Wikipedia reports that Trungpa was a Spalding Fellow in Comparative Religion at St. Antony’s from 1963–1968. If anyone at Wikipedia had researched St. Antony’s curriculum, it would not say these things. Trungpa was an undergrad, ostensibly studying comparative religion, who according to Diana, could barely speak any English at all. St. Antony’s was no place for such a student. Despite its name, St. Antony’s does not teach religion. It was and is a graduate school of political science, attended by senior officials and executives. Trungpa would have been unable to understand the curriculum or read the materials, or participate in class. And of course, the Registrar confirms, he didn’t even show up to try.

Vicki Mackenzie and Andrew Whitehead say that Trungpa got his Spalding sponsorship to attend Oxford thanks to the intercession of Freda Bedi and John Stapleton Driver, an Oxford Buddhist scholar who lived in Kalimpong, and taught English to Trungpa and other lamas. Driver passed away in 2014, but I was able to contact his son, Professor Felix Driver, to ask if he knew anything about Trungpa's Oxford history, based on anything he might have heard from his father. He didn't have any recollection of that fact -- only that some Tibetans had lived around Oxford.

There is another person associated with the Spalding Fellowship with whom I would connect a young exiled lama in England, if I were writing fiction. Robert Charles Zaehner was an expert on Persian religious history and literature, the author of books on drugs and mysticism, and held the Spalding Chair from 1952 until his death in 1974. R.C. Zaehner, as he was best known, had a cloak and dagger backstory as an MI5 and MI6 British Intelligence Officer. Based in Tehran during the Second World War and into the cold war fifties, he was credited with handling the MI6 side of the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh as Prime Minister of Iran in 1967 during the joint CIA-MI6 coup. Candidly, I can imagine Trungpa being drawn to a man who could claim credit for having ousted a liberal politician who had sought to bring social justice to downtrodden Iranians. I suspect that Trungpa, a sucker for military display, and loaded with resentment for the loss of his homeland to the invading Chinese, would have been impressed by Zaehner’s intelligence background. However, there is no record of their having met, and the only association is beyond speculative, because although Zaehner was definitely the Spalding Chair, there is no evidence that Trungpa was ever a Spalding Fellow.

What difference does it make that Trungpa lied about going to Oxford College and the whole world just believed him because it made the story so much better? To some, very little. Many loyalists will never hear the truth, regardless of how many times it is shouted in their direction. Others, coming from the alienated end of the spectrum, tell themselves that their cynicism about Trungpa had already overrun the maximum, so this disclosure alters nothing. But that’s not true. Anyone who ever believed the Oxford story has been affected by it. A lie is like a mathematical error. It skews the numbers. Once it is made, everything is off by that much. Nothing is ever quite true again, until we sort out the truth and make our minds clear of the illusion.

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For me, knowing without a doubt that Trungpa was only an Oxford man in his own, deluded mind, is important. It removes a mistaken understanding that Trungpa himself planted in my mind when I read Born in Tibet in a little yurt in Southern Oregon. I was impressed. I didn't know the real author of the book was Esme Cramer Roberts. I wrote a review of the book and published it in the local food co-op newspaper. I began to spread the story. I became a carrier of the Tibetan Buddhist gospel. All things considered, I’d rather have been a messenger for truth.
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Re: Charles Carreon, The Arizona Kid

Postby admin » Mon Jun 15, 2020 7:12 am

To Advance the Cause of Racial Justice Through Dharma, Abandon the Profit Motive
by Charles Carreon
6/14/20

Origins and Expectations of the Religious Life

I was raised in a family of Mexican-American, Franciscan Catholic, New Deal Democrats. So priests, according to my Dad, were not supposed to be money-grubbers. Priests who behaved humbly and demonstrated material simplicity were the objects of my mother’s warm praise. A kind priest was a light in the community, urging us all to show kindness in daily life.

The idea of anyone going into religion expecting a paycheck was antithetical to the nature of the job. The Jesuits who taught at my high school were motivated by their sense of mission, not by their pay, which must’ve been negligible, if their lifestyle was any reflection of it. They certainly weren’t spending on clothes – four or five black slacks and shirts, a few pairs of black socks, a pair of Oxfords and a Roman collar were all they needed to suit up for the day. The best of these men were icons of self-discipline, focused achievers seeking inner compensation, something personal to each one. If you knew what it was, you’d know the mystery of their individual “vocation,” I suppose.

For example, my junior year English Literature teacher Mr. Fitzpatrick started out teaching spoiled suburban Catholic boys. He was a handsome man, passionate about human rights and equality in a time when Jesuit clerics were predominantly conservative. He was serious about bridging the gap between himself and his students. So during spring break 1970, he took a half-dozen of my friends down to Havasu Canyon, an arduous hike in and out, to reach the beautiful turquoise green falls that cascade hundreds of feet from sculpted red rocks into pools that look like translucent, green agates.

Well of course in that environment, with those kids, in those days, you were going to have some drug episodes. The late Bart Ferrante, then a sexually precocious Hawaiian hunk with martial arts chops, ran amok in the middle of the night, delusional from Jimson Weed intoxication, knocking over tents, hiding out in the shallow lake water, being chased by rangers with huge flashlights, and as he told me a few days later, “uprooting trees with my bare hands.”

The next day, Fitz and the boys had to hike out ASAP, but of course Brian, the ethereal Moody Blues fan, had to drop a full hit of windowpane before starting the hike out of the Grand Canyon, and found himself not really up to the physical exertion required. He needed a lot of help to get out. I think Bart, still flying on belladonna and scopolamine, carried his backpack part of the way, since he had stimulated their sudden decampment. Mr. Fitz was just about destroyed with anxiety, and forever after sort of viewed our little crew of psychonauts as feral creatures best kept at a reasonable distance. Quite wisely, he thereafter devoted his life to ministering to Native Americans on the reservation in Pendleton, Oregon, where he’s been for over forty years.

Dharma Re-Education

I daresay a lot of boomer-age Buddhists had similar religious exemplars. Folks raised in Catholic or Jewish families made up the bulk of our sangha for many years, and I know we all shared the normative view of religion as something that you give away. Our Buddhist cohort also had an egalitarian ethic that was established in hippie society. So we liked teachers who sat on the floor, who didn’t ask for money or make it clear that they wanted it, like a waiter, waiting for a tip. But we had re-educators in our sangha, people who told us that “the right way” to deal with Tibetan Lamas was to give them a high throne, offer them little red envelopes stuffed with cash piled up right in front of them as they sit on the throne, give them special food, special beds, and new linens. Ultimately they break it to you that what you need to give the Lamas is all the stuff you’ve never been able to afford for yourself and your family.

The Ram Dass Initiation

To be fair, we were prepared by the Ram Dass initiation. Ram Dass, using the old Theosophical playbook, took us directly from the self-obliterating power of high-dose LSD tripping to the feet of the guru and the art of devotion. Yogananda had offered an “airplane of spiritual realization,” but Ram Dass appeared to have boarded a rocket ship that had put him permanently in orbit. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that? With the Ram Dass initiation we received a whole new catechism that had an interesting, meritocratic flavor. Yoga had a strong flavor of self-reliance.

We are all One. God is us. We don’t know it. Gurus do. If you get a guru, they’ll teach you mantras, meditation, or maybe they’ll just touch you, and your kundalini will rise, open your chakras, and turn you into the equal of the Guru – a self-realized human being. For this, obviously, you have to pay. Even Jesus called the goal of his quest “a pearl of great price,” and said it would be worth selling everything you had to acquire it. The guru’s got the moksha. Do you got the moolah?

Introduction to the Merit Economy

Once Ram Dass had fitted us for the yoke, the Tibetans were ready to do some plowing. The Tibetans elevated material accumulation to a spiritual plane, however. The Tibetans thus revived a practice that the medieval Catholic Church had practiced for hundreds of years until Martin Luther made it the focus of his attacks on Church corruption -– the sale of divine blessings by priests and bishops, who routinely turned cash into heavenly merit, like a banker changing dollars for pounds. By concretizing merit in the form of offerings, Tibetans are able to justify the most excessive wealth accumulations as acts of worship, generosity, and dispassion.

By making physical offerings and labor donations the evidence of devotion, Tibetan lamas encouraged the belief that anything can be fixed with money. This belief is very popular with traditional Chinese Buddhists, who see giving money to Buddhist causes as the right way to cultivate “the two accumulations of merit and wisdom.” As a result, a strong affinity developed between Tibetan lamas and American Chinese Buddhist communities, once they found each other, usually because hippies were flying them around the country. Eventually, bidding for teachers began, and the sangha that I had been part of for over twenty years was ultimately outbid by another sangha. One thing led to another, and eventually, the temple that Rinpoche had built in Southern Oregon was fated to become an empty shell of what all had hoped it would become, when he abruptly transferred his attentions to the Bay Area, where a Chinese Dharma group had actually managed to put the money down to buy a proper building for an urban temple that could fill up with Chinese people who actually understood how Dharma is supposed to work. You pay, you get.

Money is the New Devotion

The trend to cater to moneyed Dharma students was strong from the beginning, but when real rich people started to bring their friends to the temple, it spelled the end for a lot of old relationships. Those who had money were whisked upstairs to lounge in silken luxury, drink from dragon teacups, and enjoy the god realm atmosphere. Family folks struggling to make ends meet, wanting blessings for their kids, asking questions about their pathetic little practices – those folks became a nuisance, and soon Rinpoche’s minders were routinely giving them the brush-off. Mass meetings for plebes. Face-time for those with checkbooks.

We Came by Our Poverty Honorably

Well you know, people can’t help it if they’re poor, and the first generation of American Buddhists got poor trying to be Buddhists. Like Suzuki Roshi said, our style was to try and blend lay and monastic roles. We liked to lay in bed with our spouses, grow organic gardens, home-school our kids, and meditate like monks, which of course leaves little time for playing the stock market. As a result, even people who got professional degrees and jobs did so after a lot of time spent travelling to India, or living in the woods, reading Thoreau, writing for underground papers and presses, teaching community college, or working for social justice for a few years in legal or medical clinics. We got a real late start on capital accumulation, but we thought that was the Buddhist way, at least until the Tibetans came along, recommending that we wear suits, start businesses, work hard, and fund some Dharma projects.

First In, First Out

Realities collided at the Southern Oregon temple, when a group of rich students decided to hijack Rinpoche’s birthday, invite phony tulkus Steven Seagal and Catherine Burroughs to appear as guests of honor, and in lieu of letting the sangha cooks make free food as we always did, hire a catering outfit to charge us for lunch at our own temple. Then it turned out so many dignitaries had gotten reserved seating that the old students who were left out of the planning were evicted from the temple altogether. Sitting out on the verandah with my wife and two other old students, the sense that we had become nobodies was overpowering. I had a bottle of wine that I was going to offer for tsok, but instead I twisted off the cap and passed it to my friend Michael, who was so shook up he practically drained it in a couple of gargantuan chug-a-lugs. I can still see the bubbles rising in the inverted bottle of pink liquid as he guzzled it. He was bound for oblivion. It hurt that bad.

The ethic had shifted, and the message was clear – “Hippies with handmade offerings are no longer needed or wanted.” The outrage was palpable. We helped pay for the land the temple was built on. We gave years of time and devotion, cooking and feeding retreatants, doing free labor on the land, and it was all rendered irrelevant by a few big checks and a B-moviestar’s appearance at the temple, wrapped in about five yards of yellow silk, still looking like he was ready to smash somebody’s face into a parking lot pillar and toss him out into the street to be run over by a bus.

Sincere poverty was out, useless, undesirable, outré. Indeed, poor disciples were becoming an overt embarrassment, to be hidden from sight. Wealth displays of Tibetan rupas, thangkas and jewelry were the order of the day. After all, you buy them from Tibetans, which is an inherently virtuous act. Hollywood had discovered the Little Buddha fashion god realm, and they were all over it like Rodeo Drive. No one could afford to be seen without a bodhi-seed mala hung with heavy silver counters, and women really needed to get some chubas, because nothing makes a lama happier than seeing that little fold in the back, so neat and discreet, that guards feminine dignity. Until of course, it’s time for secret offerings.

Subservience -- the Most Needful Offering

Many Dharma pioneers are pushed aside by the second wave of students, who feel superior to those who haven’t taken the necessary steps to push the teacher into prominence and power and their sangha into the fast lane. The most important thing, after getting a crew of wealthy donors to sponsor the regular expenses, is to get a phalanx of willing, attractive slaves into harness to pull the vajra vehicle, loaded with gurus and dignitaries, as the sweat pours off their bodies. When lamas and their honored guests need attention, poor Dharma students can provide the kind of subservience that really makes a god realm godly.

And it’s not just Tibetan Buddhists doing this. Enslaving poor zennists was the real crime that should have gotten Baker Roshi canned by Zen Center San Francisco. Of course, the book about his misdeeds is entitled “Shoes Outside the Door,” and refers to the former abbot’s predilection for boffing the wives of his students, but Baker’s use of unpaid Buddhists to run the Zen Bakery and several restaurants, and his deployment of more unpaid Buddhists to serve at his table, was injurious to the spiritual and material well being of many, many people who came wanting to practice Zen, and ended up bussing tables for no pay.

It's All for Sale

At our temple in Southern Oregon, the venality was more crass, and less effective, than Baker’s forced labor scheme. Going to the temple became like going to the Seven-11 in a bad part of town – you were constantly hit up for money. The acquisition and operation of a big sangha property, like a temple/retreat center, generates financial stress, and dues-paying members are the first to feel the pressure. Ideas for fund-raising proliferate. Sometimes, really bad ideas. Like the day the glad-handing Hawaiian real estate salesman, who’d morphed from New Age healer to Vajrayana dealer, sat in the temple and tried to show us how to raise money. Like a deejay trying to get through a community radio telethon, or an auctioneer driving up the price on some piece of fungible crap, he harangued people to pay for the temple’s new roof, or windows, or doors, or … you name it. He took the temple apart a piece at a time, and tried to sell it back to us in a new, improved form. I don’t know how I escaped, but it was not without bitter resentment for the desecration of what I’d thought was a sacred space.

After this and other extortionistic events, my wife Tara tried to communicate how wrong this was to the temple managers, using the favored communication medium of the day – a fax machine. Tara explained very cogently that by making offerings compulsory, they were destroying people’s opportunity to demonstrate generosity. Willing gifts, she was saying, were the only spiritually valuable offerings. But the comprehension up at the temple had shifted. They didn’t care if it was willing. They just wanted the green. A couple of complaints about pushy fundraising later, and Tara was banned from sending “negative faxes.”

Trapped on the Ladder to Enlightenment

Shambhala has gone much farther than this type of simple venalization of Dharma symbols, however. It has recast the entire Buddhist lifestyle in the profit-making mold by promoting the belief that human beings grow best when guided by a curriculum of spiritual development provided by experts, requiring a lifetime investment of time, money and dedication. This presentation bears more similarities to the Scientology model than most Shambhalians are comfortable admitting. Both place aspirants on an extended ladder of development. Each stage of training has financial and educational prerequisities, and yet, this education will not get you any credits in another educational institution, nor will it qualify you to do anything except teach in Shambhala. And if you have a falling out with Shambhala, you cannot call yourself a Shambhala teacher. So Shambhala teachers, who think they are training into a livelihood as a meditation teacher, find themselves trapped in what former Shambhala meditation instructor Shante Smalls described as a “Ponzi scheme” in her goodbye letter to Shambhala. Like Scientologists, Shambhalians acquire a narrow skill set that qualifies them only to be better cult members.

So what we have in Shambhala is a group of people who would like to be teachers, but are now stuck in a shrinking pool of prospective students. Soon, there will be so many teachers and so few students that they will have to take turns pretending to learn from each other. When they try and push off into the big wide world of independent meditation teaching, they discover there is no such market, and yoga studios are oversupplied with lissome beauties of both sexes able to instruct in asanas for very modest compensation. They must turn to the occupation of last resort – life coach.

What are aspiring Shambhala “teachers” looking for? How do they find themselves enmeshed in the aspirations and jargon of an enlightened society? Well, everyone in the United States needs a livelihood, and when you get into Buddhism, you start getting interested in Right Livelihood. If you were indoctrinated like a Dharma brat, like Ethan Nichtern, for example, whose dad has been in the meditation business since Ethan’s earliest days, then you were conditioned to believe that teaching meditation is the best, highest work a person can do. It is the rightest of livelihoods.

But I think most people want a job that makes them feel important. So, without really giving it too much critical thought, they conclude that if they can pay for meditation classes, other people can, too. So, eventually someone will pay them to teach meditation classes. This passes for career planning for many an American, because researching possible undesirable outcomes of our plans is not a popular approach. Optimism suits us better. Hence, the nation’s vast student loan debt.

Meet the Poor -- a Very Diverse Group!

Let's return to the theme of our essay: how can getting the money out of Dharma bring Buddhism into harmony with the ideals of racial justice? It’s easy to conjure the image of something that is far from our present reality – Buddhist meditation centers filled with people of all skin colors and ethnicities, sitting peacefully in an egalitarian setting where all are respected, and the atmosphere is spiritually nourishing for all. I ask you, what would not be present in such a happy scene? There would be no high throne where someone could raise themselves above others, and abuse their power. There would be no photographs of men in silk robes, emanating superior status, constantly propitiated like gods. There would be no kasungs, sitting pompously in their uniforms, thinking they're spiritual cops. There would be no grim-faced secretary at a folding table, collecting fees before allowing participation.

If you jettisoned all the wealth displays, all the patriarchal worship, all the teacher-worshipping, money-grubbing, and fulsome, phony piety, you would be more than halfway to creating a diverse sangha. The barriers to approaching the Dharma would come down, and people of all types would come pouring in, eager to be in a place of no threat, no sales pitch, no sleaze, no lies, no oppression. What would be lost in such an environment? All existing credentials. Exalted roles and privileged positions. Relationships based on power and subordination. And this would return us to a situation similar to that of the Buddha’s original sangha.

The poor are a diverse group. If you don’t know that, head on down to Walmart in an urban area. Or head out to the farming country where Latinos are displacing Anglo labor and marrying into the Anglo gene pool. Peep into a call center where hundreds of Americans provide customer support for minimum wage. There’s all kinds of colors and faces in there.

There is no better way to step out of the lily-white world than by stepping into the world of poverty. Over twenty percent of Black Americans, and eighteen percent of Hispanic Americans, live in poverty. This compares with around eight percent of white Americans. So when you open yourself to the poor, you open yourself to the minority population. When you orient yourself to the needs of the poor, you will connect with Black and Hispanic Americans, and not just those of some elevated social class, which is a big problem with a lot of programs intended to bring minorities in, but mostly attract people of color from affluent backgrounds who know how to blend in to white society. This improves appearances, but doesn’t really open the door to people who lack access to Dharma practice and teaching.

People act like they can't connect with people of color, or the poor, but that's because they don't really try. Many mainstream churches do it with practiced ease. They run free stores, food banks, clinics, homeless and domestic violence shelters, soup kitchens, etcetera, and now they get government funding for it. And you're doing much more than helping a few poor people. You are finding the people in the community who have the heart for the same type of work you are doing. They just need a bit of ground under them, and they will blossom. Such people are everywhere in poor communities. If Dharma groups can open their hearts to the community, we will grow the Dharma in the way Buddha did -- with the power of love.

It's easy to extend your love to the poor, through straightforward material generosity. The poor have the same common human needs that we have. Just imagine -- a crazy Mahayana wish -- a Dharma center that offers real material support to homeless practitioners -- a clothing exchange, a maildrop, a kitchen, lockers and showers, a free clinic once a month. Homeless meditation hour, counseling, scholarships for retreats. The Buddha would have approved of this sort of Dharma center, of course, given his lifestyle.

Buddha Was a Beggar

Dharma center offerings for poor communities that provide concrete resources will attract a diverse group, some of whom will be practitioners in the making. If you eliminate monetary barriers, you can find those people. And it is much more important to find practitioners and share the Dharma with them than it is to find them and charge them a fee. There are lots of barriers for the poor that you may not think about. People who don’t have nice clothing, whose shoes may be worn, aren’t always comfortable going into places that look like they were furnished at Crate & Barrel, where it looks like everybody bought their clothes at Nordstroms. Of course, even caring about what poor people think challenges the guru-centered Tibetan Buddhist way of thinking.

People who are running centers might do well to turn around, away from the shrine, and look out the door at the people in the world who might come in and ask, “What is this all about? Can I just come and sit here in the quiet? I notice you folks are very quiet. I like the quiet.” If that person is homeless, or has worn shoes and shabby clothing, all the better. Buddha, after all, was a beggar.
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