"Buddha-gate:" Scandal and cover-up at Naropa Revealed

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"Buddha-gate:" Scandal and cover-up at Naropa Revealed

Postby admin » Mon Apr 19, 2021 2:05 am

“Buddha-gate:” Scandal and cover-up at Naropa revealed
by Robert Woods
Boulder, Colo.
Berkeley Barb
Vo. 28, No. 13, Issue 698
March 29-April 11, 1979


Ginsberg and Rinpoche (right): Conduct unbecoming a guru



Although it once seemed as permanent a local feature as the hulking shadow of the Rocky Mountain foothills, the monolithic façade of public respectability acquired lately by Boulder’s Naropa Institute melted away like a pound of yak butter in the hot sun this month. A local metropolitan magazine has published documents containing sensational revelations about the group’s inner workings, detailing drunken orgies, coercion and bizarre means of discipline.

“Boulder,” says the Naropa Institute’s catalog, “is a cosmopolitan town of 80,000 – unique in the West. Drawn to its beauty, its tolerant attitude and pungent mix of lifestyles, many have settled here from all parts of the country in search of everything from a good ski slope to a spiritual path.”

The one spiritual trail selected by more searching Boulderites than any other is that blazed by Vajracarya the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, heir to ancient Tibetan religious lineages, spiritual leader of the Vajradhatu Community and President of the Naropa Institute. It is to Trungpa (who left Tibet in the 1950’s and established his school here in the early 1970’s) that the 800n members of the Boulder Buddhist community pay their dues – in the form of monthly financial contributions and total spiritual obedience.

Trungpa’s supporters also include several notable poets. Perhaps the most publicized element of his organization is the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, a division of Naropa Institute. Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman, codirectors of the Poetics School, have succeeded in adorning it with a national reputation. The school has a summer program attended by many of Ginsberg’s and Waldman’s poetry colleagues, and has attracted to Naropa not only students and publicity but also funding, from various private and governmental sources.

Until this year, an aura of well-organized calm and serenity floated over the Buddhist community of Boulder like a pleasant halo, almost completely undisturbed by the local press. Resentment against the alleged Masonic-styled mutual-interest procedures of Buddhist businesses were dismissed by representatives of “the Community” as symptoms of mere envy. Inquiries into Trungpa’s finances were turned away by confident Buddhist P.R. men, invoking First Amendment rights to religious privacy.

Rumors of secret orgies and behind-the-scenes para-military activities were meanwhile deflected and diffused before ever making their way into print. When in the summer of 1977 poet-investigator Ed Sanders conducted a course in poetic detective work at the Poetics School of Naropa, his students chose these rumors as the subject of their research, and under his direction compiled a report on a much-gossiped-about 1975 incident involving the harassment, humiliation and stripping-naked of a National Book Award-winning poet and his girlfriend during a Halloween party at a Trungpa seminary.

But the Sanders report, titled The Party, remained unknown except among a few curious poets, who slowly circulated it in xerox obscurity around the country. Without the existence of a publicly available edition of the Sanders material, the adverse reactions of a few offended poets could easily be passed off by Trungpa’s followers as mere backbiting and sour-grapes gossip. As far as most of Boulder’s non-Buddhists were concerned, the Trungpa organization was as harmless as Lord Fauntleroy. Then the Jonestown tragedy hit the headlines and the rumors about dark secrets at Naropa were given added credence.

The March 1979 issue of Boulder Monthly, with a cover photo of Trungpa in a tuxedo at his 40th birthday party at the Denver Hilton, made the scandalous episode public knowledge at last.

In the magazine, a shocked Boulder populace found the very literal details of how Chogyam Trungpa, the Venerable One, had given National Book Award winner W.S. Merwin a trick or treat experience to remember. Presented by Boulder Monthly in cold black and white documentary form, testimony straight out of the mouths of the participants, the class report recounted the following series of events:

Merwin enters the Trungpa seminary. Merwin and his beautiful Hawaiian girl friend make out a lot at the seminary. Trungpa’s personal guards shoot peas at the seminarians with pea-shooters to enforce discipline at the seminary. Pacifist Merwin and his girl friend refuse to perform prescribed violent chants. Trungpa announces a lecture and doesn’t show up but instead arranges a snow ball attack by the guards on the seminarians leaving the lecture hall. Merwin and the other seminarians revolt and counterattack, briefly isolating Trungpa in his seminary headquarters. Trungpa reestablishes power. A Halloween party is staged. Trungpa gets drunk at the party and bites the face of a girl he’s dancing with. Trungpa has his guards carry him around the room naked except for a red kerchief tied around his glans penis. Trungpa orders his guards to strip several people. Merwin and his girl friend leave the party and return to their room. Trungpa sends his guards to retrieve them. They won’t come, but Trungpa insists. The guards break down Merwin’s door. Merwin defends himself and his girl friend with broken beer bottles. The guards smash through the plate glass and come in the back way. The guards seize Merwin and his girl friend and bring them down to the party where on orders from Trungpa (and after personal remarks to the girl from Trungpa concerning her Asiatic roots), they are forcibly stripped by the guards, resisting all the way and unaided by any of their hundred-or-so fellow seminarians.

Ginsberg: “Maybe Trungpa’s the CIA and he’s taking over my mind.”

According to one news dealer, the March Boulder Monthly sold faster in Boulder than any single magazine issue in recent memory. “A lot of Buddhists are coming in and buying it,” the dealer said. “Some of them buy up to five at a time. You’d almost think they were trying to clean off the racks.”

What about the reaction to the issue in Boulder?

“In some ways the reaction confirms suspicions that all was not as it appeared on that scene — the fashionable Buddhist scene,” Monthly editor Sam Maddox says. “But in some ways there hasn’t been any reaction at all, at least not physically. But the issue has created a lot of buzzing and talking in intellectual circles. I know that a lot of people were affected by it. A lot of people who’ve picked it up have been absolutely flabbergasted to see what went on in that Buddhist scene. We have lost some advertisers, such as the Boulder Bookstore, which is a fairly large economic presence and is owned by Buddhists.” In addition to the operation at its Boulder headquarters, Trungpa’s organization has considerable property and real estate in Colorado and other states of the Union.

The 800 members of “the Community,” as his paying supporters call themselves, are not Trungpa’s only followers. He has hundreds of other supporters, admirers and students in Boulder and thousands more across the country, making up a sect that has considerable importance in the life of this town. The Buddhist community of Boulder publishes its own business-and-services directory. Chogyam Trungpa encourages his followers to be active in business, and indeed they represent a powerful and influential element in the financial structure of Boulder, controlling large amounts of commercial property.

According to Maddox, the effects were felt immediately by the magazine office, where the staff was visited by angry poets Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman on publication day.

The March issue of Boulder Monthly includes, in addition to The Party, a candid interview with Allen Ginsberg on the subject of the Merwin affair. In the interview, published under the title “When The Party’s Over,” Ginsberg proposes, first, that his spiritual advisor’s behavior toward W.S. Merwin and female companion at Snowmass was, within the context of Vajrayana teachings, generous and proper; and second, that Ed Sanders’ treatment of the affair miscasts Trungpa’s motives because it is derived from a negative “mind-bias.”

Ginsberg does, however, admit in the interview to numerous personal doubts and paranoias about his involvement with Trungpa, and even suggests that “in the real world, as we know from Guyana,” such paranoias “could be completely justified,” as when “some big guru makes a mistake and turns out to have been mad all along.”

“Half the time I think, maybe Trungpa’s the C.I.A., and he’s taking over my mind,” Ginsberg tells the Monthly.

According to Monthly staff writer Tom Clark, who conducted the interview, the Naropa poets were upset, first, because the materials on Buddhist activities had been published without their prior knowledge, and second, because Ginsberg had not been given an opportunity to revise statements he had made in the interview.

“Allen Ginsberg now believes that the interview as published does not represent his real views,” Clark says. “He claims that the remarks about Guyana and the C.I.A., etc., are the result of doubts he would not normally entertain, but which were projected into his mind by my ‘aggressive, harsh, journalistic questions,’ and I am quoting him there.

“He also believes the interview as published is corrupt in two ways. First, he believes there are errors of transcription. This is correct, there are a few small errors of transcription that I have discovered. I think there are two or three. The only one I remember is one Allen pointed out to me recently. In the published interview, I have Allen calling Dana Naone (Merwin’s companion) an ‘Oriental slick cunt.’ As Allen pointed out to me, he actually used the word ‘slit,’ not ‘slick.’ So I was in error there, and I will admit it. But I don’t think I mis-conveyed Allen’s intent.

“Allen also regrets my including in the interview his remarks about Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, being ten times better a poet than Merwin. Allen now says that remark doesn’t represent his true feelings and that as a matter of fact he is inviting Merwin back to teach at Naropa this summer. So you live and learn.”

In his Boulder Monthly interview, Allen Ginsberg suggests that ‘‘the Pandora’s Box of the Bardo Thodol has been opened” and predicts that “all the horrific hallucinations of the Tibetan Book of the Dead are going to come true now. Right in Boulder!” But Monthly staffers Maddox and Clark are hoping such doomsday prophesizing won’t come true and that life in Boulder will soon return to low-tension normalcy, whether or not the Buddhist presence in town continues to cast its own long shadow up against the looming bulk of the Rockies.
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