STRIPPING THE GURUS
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CHAPTER XXII

HELLO, DALAI!

(THE DALAI LAMA)



THE DALAI LAMA IS THE HEAD of the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism.

The title “Dalai Lama” itself is Mongolian, meaning “Ocean of Wisdom” or “Oceanic Wisdom Master.”

Each successive Dalai Lama, beginning with the first such leader born in 1391, is regarded as being an incarnation of the previous one. They are also seen as incarnations of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva/Buddha of Compassion.

Upon the passing of the Dalai Lama, his monks institute a search for the Lama’s reincarnation, who is usually a small child. Familiarity with the possessions of the previous Dalai Lama is considered the main sign of the reincarnation. The search for the reincarnation typically requires a few years which results in a gap in the list of the Dalai Lamas (Wikipedia, 2003).

The current Dalai Lama—the fourteenth in that spiritual line—Tenzin Gyatso, was born in 1935. He has lived in Dharamsala, India, since fleeing the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959.

Previous incarnations in that same lineage have left their own marks on history:

[T]he Sixth Dalai Lama ... was said to have been unsuited for his office, said to have loved many women, as well as having a fondness for gambling and drink (Carnahan, 1995).
He did not observe even the rules of a fully ordained priest. He drank wine habitually....
“Ignoring the sacred customs of Lamas and monks in Tibet he began by bestowing care on his hair, then he took to drinking intoxicating liquors, to gambling, and at length no girl or married woman or good-looking person of either sex was safe from his unbridled licentiousness” (French, 2003; italics added).
One of the early Dalai Lamas was particularly known for his love of women. It was common practice for households in which a daughter had received the honor of the Dalai Lama’s transmission through sexual union to raise a flag over their home. It is said that a sea of flags floated in the wind over the town (Caplan, 2002).

That Sixth, Tsangyang Gyatso, lived only a few hundred years ago, from 1683 to 1706, in traditional, agrarian Tibet.

Given this reincarnational lineage, then, we need hardly be surprised that the current Dalai Lama has himself voiced a thought or two concerning sexual matters. For, when questioned as to which common experiences he had most missed out on, the retirement-aged monk “pointed at his groin and laughed: ‘I obviously missed this’” (Ellis, 2003).

The non-violent winner of the Nobel Peace Prize also admitted that he “would not have made a good father as he had a bad temper”:

I used to be somewhat hot-tempered and prone to fits of impatience and sometimes anger. Even today, there are, of course, times when I lose my composure. When this happens, the least annoyance can take on undue proportions and upset me considerably. I may, for example, wake up in the morning and feel agitated for no particular reason. In this state, I find that even what ordinarily pleases me may irritate me. Just looking at my watch can give rise to feelings of annoyance (Lama, 1999).

At any rate, other lamas from the Dalai’s own country of birth have evidently not “missed out” on sex to the same degree, as one Western female teacher and devotee of Tibetan Buddhism noted, in attempting to sort through her own feelings on the subject:

How could this old lama, a realized master of the supreme Vajrayana practices of Maha Mudra, choose a thirteen- or fourteen-year-old nun from the monastery to become his sexual consort every year? What did the lama’s wife think?....
I talked to a number of Western women who had slept with their lamas. Some liked it—they felt special. Some felt used and it turned them away from practice. Some said they mothered the lama. But no one described it as a teaching; there was nothing tantric about it. The sex was for the lama, not them (in Kornfield, 2000).

Of course, there are two sides to every issue. Thus, Tenzin Palmo, who herself spent years in Tibet as the only (celibate) woman among hundreds of male monastics, after having earlier laughed off Chögyam Trungpa’s “wandering hands” in England, noted:

Some women are very flattered at being “the consort,” in which case they should take the consequences. And some women only know how to relate to men in this way. I sometimes feel we women have to get away from this victim mentality....
A true guru, even if he felt that having a tantric relationship might be beneficial for that disciple, would make the request with the understanding that it would not damage their relationship if she refused. No woman should ever have to agree on the grounds of his authority or a sense of her obedience. The understanding should be “if she wished to, good; if not, also good,” offering her a choice and a sense of respect. Then that is not exploitation (in Mackenzie, 1999).

Still, much as one might agree with the need to “get away from this victim mentality,” when a “great spiritual being” or an “infallible god” asks you to do something, you are entitled to feel flattered, to even enjoy it ... and still, to not be able to say, “No.” After all, it is not possible to separate one’s “sense of obedience” and need for salvation out of all that, perhaps even moreso when God “asks nicely.” Webster (1990), quite honestly, covered all of those points over a decade ago. Only because all indications are that they have not yet properly sunk in is it worth repeating them here.

We will return to that issue in a later chapter.

In any case, Janwillem van de Wetering (2001) related further experiences with an eighteenth high-lama (i.e., one who had ostensibly been recognized as a lama in seventeen lifetimes before):

Rimpoche [sic] had been given [a] car by his support group of London-based backers and often took girl disciples on outings to the seashore. A month later, when I was in Amsterdam, an accident interfered with the temple’s routines. Rimpoche, driving home after visiting a pub in a nearby town, accompanied by his favorite mistress, hit a tree. “Alcohol-related”....
Rimpoche drank constantly and became irritable at times. My wife was about to whap a fly that was bothering her during dinner and Beth [the favorite, mini-skirted mistress] screamed, “Don’t kill a sentient being!” and got whacked over the head by Rimpoche, who told her to keep her voice down.

The amorous lama in question, after years of hard living, died in his early forties. A Mohawk Indian shaman, to whom that story of debauchery was told, offered her scattered analysis:

“Yes,” she said, “I’ve heard of that happening before. It probably was the only way Rimpoche could have stayed here” (van de Wetering, 2001).

The ridiculous idea there is, of course, that the more elevated the soul is, the more he must ground himself into the earth to keep from simply leaving his body and returning to the bardo realms or astral worlds, etc.

By contrast, though in line with the teachings of his own more conservative lineage, the current Dalai Lama obeys and enforces well-defined limits on the “pleasures of the flesh”:

His adamant stand on sexual morality is close to that of Pope John Paul II, a fact which his Western followers tend to find embarrassing, and prefer to ignore. The Dalai Lama’s U.S. publisher even asked him to remove the injunctions against homosexuality from his [1999] book Ethics for the New Millennium, for fear that they would offend American readers, and the Dalai Lama acquiesced (French, 2003).

Expounding further on such restrictions, the Lama (in P. Harvey, 2000) has said:

Sexual misconduct for men and women consists of oral and anal sex.... Even with your wife, using one’s mouth or other hole is sexual misconduct.
As for when sexual intercourse takes place, if it is during the day it is also held to be a form of misconduct (Lama, 1996).

Thankfully, some “fun” is still allowed, albeit not during daylight hours:

To have sexual relations with a prostitute paid by you and not by a third person does not, on the other hand, constitute improper behavior (Lama, 1996).

Interesting. Yet still, speaking of “the other hand”:

Using one’s hand, that is sexual misconduct (the Dalai Lama, in [P. Harvey, 2000]).
Masturbation ... includes emitting semen on another person, a monk getting a novice to masturbate him, or himself masturbating a sleeping novice, which could be seen to include homosexual acts. It is a lesser offence, of expiation [i.e., atonement], for nuns “tormented with dissatisfaction” to slap each other’s genitals with their palms or any object, with the slapper “enjoying the contact” (P. Harvey, 2000).

“Nuns just wanna have fun.”

The present Dalai Lama’s views on reincarnation, too, stray somewhat from the spiritual norm:

There is a possibility that a scientist who is very much involved his whole life [with computers], then the next life ... [he would be reborn in a computer], same process! Then this machine which is half-human and half-machine has been reincarnated (Hayward and Varela, 1992).

Both of those authors, Jeremy Hayward and Francisco Varela, have been followers of Chögyam Trungpa. Hayward helped to found, and has taught at, the Naropa Institute/University; he is currently the “Acharya-in-residence” at the Dechen Chöling meditation center in France. He also sits on the Board of Editors of the refereed Journal of Consciousness Studies. Varela sat on the same board until his passing in 2001, and was a founding member of Wilber’s Integral Institute. No word on his reincarnations yet, but if your new Xbox or iPod is acting up....

For my own part, though, I do not consider that proposed reincarnational scenario to be at all likely. In the interest of full disclosure, however: I myself used to program computers for a living. Yet, in spite of those sixty-hour weeks, the “non-human” half of me is still more Vulcan than semiconductor.

Interestingly, Ken Wilber (2001a) offered his own opinion on a very closely related subject to the above reincarnational suggestions:

[T]his whole notion that consciousness can be downloaded into microchips comes mostly from geeky adolescent males who can’t get laid and stay up all hours of the night staring into a computer screen, dissociating, abstracting, dissolved in disembodied thinking.

Well, “geeky adolescent males” ... and certain respected lamas. Also, sort of, Allen Ginsberg’s semi-coherent, unapologetically misogynistic friend and fellow admirer of Chögyam Trungpa, William S. Burroughs. (Burroughs was also a huge fan of the work of the orgone-fancying and orgasm-celebrating psychologist, Wilhelm Reich.) For, when not busy playing “William Tell”—and missing the target, if not the devoted head supporting it—with his thence-late wife, Burroughs (1974) mused the following:

They are now able to replace the parts [of the human body], like on an old car when it runs down. The next thing, of course, will be transplanting of brains. We presume that the ego, what we call the ego, the I, or the You, is located somewhere in the midbrain, so it’s not very long before we can transfer an ego from one body to another. Rich men will be able to buy up young bodies.
* * *

Interestingly, the hardly pacifistic actor Steven Seagal has been declared, by Penor Rinpoche, to be a reincarnated lama, i.e., a sacred vessel or tulku of Tibetan Buddhism. Perhaps for that “trailing cloud of glory,” Seagal was once seated respectfully ahead of—i.e., closer to the stage than—Richard Gere, at a Los Angeles lecture given by the Dalai Lama. Of course, if Penor is wrong about Seagal, the former is nowhere near as wise or intuitive as his followers believe. On the other hand, if he is right and Seagal is a tulku, that only shows how little such titles (including Penor’s own, as Rinpoche) mean.

[I]n 1994 Seagal [reportedly] split with Kusum Lingpa, the exiled Tibetan lama also then favored by Oliver Stone and a number of other Hollywood stars, when Lingpa refused to declare him a tulku. Then in 1995, Seagal went to India and chartered a plane to tour Tibetan monasteries looking for another spiritual master....
In his audience [with the Dalai Lama], according to Dora [M.], Seagal felt that something “unique” had transpired between him and the Dalai Lama. “He claimed that His Holiness bent down and kissed his feet,” she said. “And Seagal took that to mean that the Dalai Lama was proclaiming him a deity” (Schell, 2000).

In June of 1997, the deified god-man Seagal was formally recognized as the reincarnation of Chungdrag Dorje—the founder of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism—by Penor Rinpoche.

Penor was in the process of setting up dharma centers around the world when Seagal invited him to L.A. and reportedly made a substantial [monetary] contribution to ... his “seat in the West”....
The editor of the Buddhist journal Tricycle, Helen Twerkov [sic], was blunt about her suspicions: “It’s a difficult situation, because no one who knows Steven Seagal—who’s been around him—seems to think he demonstrates any elevated spiritual wisdom” (Schell, 2000).

Such apparent dearth of spirituality, however, has evidently not dampened Seagal’s enthusiasm for the numerous daft superstitions inherent in the Tibetan Buddhist path:

[A]ctor Steven Segal [sic] declared, “My chakras began spinning and then went into balance after putting on my [Shaolin] Wheel [of Life pendant]” (Randi, 2003).

In any case, the aforementioned Penor Rinpoche is the same one who has expressed deep appreciation for Andrew Cohen’s work. It is also the same Penor Rinpoche—now head of the Nyingma lineage—of whom Ken Wilber himself (2000a) has spoken approvingly:

Although I have been meditating for around twenty-five years—and have tried dozens of different spiritual practices—most of those that I do at this time were received at the Longchen Nyingthig given by His Holiness Pema Norbu (Penor) Rinpoche.

Further, this is also the very same Penor Rinpoche who, in 1986, recognized one Catharine Burroughs as the first female American tulku, saying that “the very fabric of her mind was the Dharma” (Sherrill, 2000). Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche later confirmed that reincarnation, i.e., of a sixteenth-century Tibetan saint, Genyenma Ahkön Lhamo—co-founder of the Palyul tradition of Tibetan Buddhism within the Nyingma School—as Burroughs. (Khyentse was the Dzogchen teacher of the Dalai Lama. He was also, of course, the same sage who reassured Trungpa’s and Tendzin’s followers that those gurus had given them authentic dharma, after Tendzin had already given some of them AIDS.) Burroughs herself, renamed as Jetsunma Ahkön Norbu Lhamo, went on to accumulate around a hundred followers—well short of the fifteen hundred which Penor Rinpoche had predicted would come. She also founded the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the United States, located outside Washington, DC.

The great, recognized female tulku had reportedly earlier claimed to be the reincarnation of one of Jesus’ female disciples, entrusted in those earlier times with the passing-down of Gnostic texts. She had further apparently told her future third husband, in channeled sessions, that the two of them had ruled ancient, unrecorded civilizations on Earth. They had also supposedly governed galaxies in previous lifetimes together (Sherrill, 2000).

That, of course, could account for Jetsunma’s fondness for Star Trek and science fiction movies in general.

In any case, the responsibilities given to the tulku in this present life were only slightly less impressive than galactic leadership:

“The future of Dharma in the West is riding on us,” she told her students (Sherrill, 2000).

Nor was the Dharma everything to wind up “riding on” the former Brooklyn housewife. For, as her androgynously appealing, strong body of a triathlete, female personal trainer (Teri) was to reportedly discover, in the midst of a “very personal” relationship:

While Buddhists aren’t really supposed to proselytize, lamas are known to be very crafty, and they use all kinds of techniques—flattery, promises, even lies—to expose a student to the Dharma. And it is thought to be an enormous blessing if a lama chooses to have sex with you (Sherrill, 2000).

Oral sex and masturbation, out. Lesbian sex, in.

“Enormous blessings.”

Thence followed much additional reported financial and personal nonsense—including the forty-plus Jetsunma dropping Teri and instead taking one of her twenty-something male disciples as a “consort.” The latter was, however, himself apparently cut loose a year later. He was further unbelievably talked into becoming a monk in order to “keep the blessing” conferred upon him in having had sex with his lama/guru, by never again sleeping with an “ordinary woman.”

Soon thereafter, the space-age Jetson-ma, ruler of remote galaxies, became engaged to another male disciple, two decades her junior. (Her mid-life tastes in clothing correspondingly began to gravitate toward skin-tight jeans, black leather boots and alleged frequent Victoria’s Secret catalog purchases. Those were apparently paid for out of a six-figure annual personal allowance which reportedly amounted to half of the perpetually struggling ashram’s operating expenses [Sherrill, 2000].) That latest, vacillating follower separated from Jetsunma in 1996, reunited in 1997, separated again in early 1998 and reunited once more later that year, then separated again in 1999.

At the start of her “personal involvement” with the bisexual Teri, Jetsunma had been married to her third husband, in a relationship dating back to when she was near-completely unknown. In what must surely be one of the odder divorce settlements ever negotiated, that former, embittered husband received $2500 in cash and a “large crystal ball”—presumably to aid himself in not getting involved with any comparably mixed-up women in the future. The same man apparently later worked in public relations for the Naropa Institute for several years (Sherrill, 2000).

Well, “better the Mara you know,” etc.

In terms of contextual comparison, Jetsunma predictably fares no better than any of the other “sages” whom we have previously seen:

[Jetsunma’s husband at the time] felt her distance, and he felt her growing contempt for him—and for her students. At dinner she would imitate them, make jokes about them (Sherrill, 2000).

Such reported private imitations and jokes about disciples whose primary failing was to consider their guru-figure to be a great and holy being could, of course, have been indulged in for no one’s spiritual or psychological benefit but her own.

Jetsunma’s monastery exhibited a ratio of four nuns to every monk. Thus, the reported problems with her and within that community cannot be blamed on any mere “patriarchal” or “male” considerations. Further, to charitably regard her (and her ilk) as being innocent victims, who have simply been “corrupted by the [existing] patriarchy” (cf. Harvey, 2000), would not likely pass muster with the more courageous Tenzin Palmo, for one. For, all indications are that Jetsunma went voluntarily into the Tibetan Buddhist system, knowingly increasing her own power at every step. In fact, she allegedly explicitly pressured Penor Rinpoche for his recognition of her as an incarnation, before he wanted to give it. Indeed, she was further reportedly initially openly disappointed when that reincarnation turned out to be of an “unknown” saint. At the time when she first met Rinpoche, well prior to the formal recognition, she and her husband apparently almost didn’t even know what Buddhism was (Sherrill, 2000). Nor would they likely have been so eager to learn, one suspects, had doing so not increased their own stature in the world.

Jetsunma and many of her followers moved in the late ’90s from coastal Maryland to higher ground in Arizona. That was done in anticipation of the fulfillment of apocalyptic Hopi prophecies—her new boyfriend at the time was an American Indian shaman—that earthquakes, floods and famine would strike the United States in 1999 (Sherrill, 2000).

As of this writing, however, the U.S. thankfully remains very much geologically intact, with no excess of flood water and no shortage of food. And if you’ve “felt the earth move” recently, it probably didn’t register on the Richter scale.

After all that, Penor Rinpoche could reasonably be feeling somewhat burned by his experiences with Jetsunma and Steven Seagal—the latter of whose purported “divinity” was not welcomed by many Buddhists. Indeed, in an interview with Martha Sherrill in 1997, Penor declared that he “would not be recognizing any more Americans as tulkus.”

So it looks like Richard Gere’s out of luck.

* * *

The tulku phenomenon itself has an interesting, and very human, history.

The system of recognizing reincarnations was established at the beginning of the thirteenth century by the followers of Dusum Khyenpa, the first Karmapa Lama. As the religious influence of Tibet’s lamas came to be adapted for political purposes through the centuries, internally and via influence from China, the process of recognizing new tulkus was rather predictably affected.

The traditional method of scrutiny whereby the young hopefuls had to identify objects belonging to their past incarnation was often neglected.... It wasn’t at all uncommon to have two or more candidates—each backed by a powerful faction—openly and violently [italics added] challenging one well-known tulku seat (Lehnert, 1998).

Such intrigues are by no means buried merely in the dim and distant past. For, when it came time to recognize a new (Seventeenth) Karmapa Lama in the 1980s and ’90s, that allegedly entailed:

  • An attempt to steal (literally) the previous Karmapa’s heart during his 1981 cremation ceremony

  • A short-lived claim by a Woodstock, NY, tulku that his wife was about to give birth to the reincarnated Karmapa, discounted when she delivered a baby girl, as opposed to the expected male reincarnation

  • Billions of mantra repetitions (as a probable delaying tactic) enjoindered on devoted followers to allegedly “remove massive obstacles” before the new incarnation could be revealed

  • An attempted coup d’état for the leadership of the Karmapa lineage, with written replies to it being initially smartly given on (unused) toilet paper

  • Reported naïve back-room deals with the calculating Chinese government on the part of one of the four “highly evolved” lineage holders responsible for collectively recognizing the next Karmapa. The involved lama had as his emissary to China one Akong Tulku—Chögyam’s old nemesis—who came to be regarded as “the main felon splitting the lineage” (Lehnert, 1998)

  • Alleged “forgery, deceit, and a looming fight right at the top of the lineage,” with the high-ranking lamas there reportedly displaying “greed, pride, and lust for power”: “People were being intimidated, forced to sign petitions; some had been beaten.” Against that was heard the voice of one (European) Lama Ole Nydahl (Lehnert, 1998).

    Interestingly, Trungpa himself, in 1984, had Osel Tendzin write to Vajradhatu members, warning them against Nydahl. Indeed, in that missive, Nydahl’s teaching style was described as being “contrary to everything we have been taught and have come to recognize as genuine.” Trungpa was further of the opinion that “there is some real perversion of the buddhadharma taking place by Mr. Nydahl” (Rawlinson, 1997).

    Pot. Kettle. Tibetan Buddhist. Black

  • Finally, two different children, each being touted as the Karmapa by different factions within the global Tibetan Buddhist community. One had the support of the politically manipulative Chinese government and of the duped Dalai Lama. (The latter, having too-quickly given informal approval to the recognition on the basis of reportedly false evidence, could not backtrack and admit that he was wrong.) The other was recognized after a more sincere search

Updates to that continuing dispute exist at www.karmapa-controversy.org.

Interestingly, one of the aforementioned four lineage holders claims to have found the reincarnated Trungpa in eastern Tibet. That same holder, however, was not only apparently making deals with the government of China, but had also recognized over three hundred other tulkus within the space of a mere few years previously.

The fact that most of those came from an area bordering his own primary seat in Tibet (Lehnert, 1998), however, casts a certain doubt....

Still, if Trungpa’s really back in circulation, “Let’s party!”

* * *

It is not only “avant-garde” lamas who have “bent” the rules which one would otherwise have reasonably assumed were governing their behaviors. Rather, as June Campbell (1996) has noted from her own experience:

[I]n the 1970s, I traveled throughout Europe and North America as a Tibetan interpreter, providing the link, through language, between my lama-guru [Kalu Rinpoche, 1905 – 1989] and his many students. Subsequently he requested that I become his sexual consort, and take part in secret activities with him, despite the fact that to outsiders he was a very high-ranking yogi-lama of the Kagya lineage who, as abbot of his own monastery, had taken vows of celibacy. Given that he was one of the oldest lamas in exile at that time, had personally spent fourteen years in solitary retreat, and counted amongst his students the highest ranking lamas in Tibet, his own status was unquestioned in the Tibetan community, and his holiness attested to by all....
[I]t was plainly emphasized that any indiscretion [on my part] in maintaining silence over our affair might lead to madness, trouble, or even death [e.g., via magical curses placed upon the indiscreet one].

And how did the compassionate, bodhisattva-filled Tibetan Buddhist community react to such allegations?

[M]any rejected out of hand Campbell’s claims as sheer fabrication coming from somebody eager to gain fame at the expense of a deceased lama (Lehnert, 1998; italics added).
* * *

Well, enough of Buddhist sex. How about some Buddhist violence?

More specifically, in keeping with such extreme contemporary brutality as is regularly portrayed in tulku Steven Seagal’s movies, it has been whispered that

in old Tibet ... the lamas were the allies of feudalism and unsmilingly inflicted medieval punishments such as blinding and flogging unto death (Hitchens, 1998).
Visiting the Lhasa [Tibet] museum, [journalist Alain Jacob] saw “dried and tanned children’s skins, various amputated human limbs, either dried or preserved, and numerous instruments of torture that were in use until a few decades ago”....
These were the souvenirs and instruments of the vanished lamas, proof, Jacob notes, that under the Buddhist religious rule in Tibet “there survived into the middle of the twentieth century feudal practices which, while serving a well-established purpose, were nonetheless chillingly cruel.”
The “well-established purpose”? Maintaining social order in a church-state (Clark, 1980).

The early twentieth-century, Viennese-born explorer Joseph Rock minced even fewer words:

“One must take for granted that every Tibetan, at least in this part of the world, was a robber sometime in his life,” he sardonically observed of the Goloks [tribe]. “Even the lamas are not averse to cutting one’s throat, although they would be horrified at killing a dog, or perhaps even a vermin” (Schell, 2000).

The caliber of monks today has not, it seems, radically improved:

[O]ver 90% of those who wear the robes [in India, and elsewhere] are “frauds” in the sense the questioners would connote by “fraud.” The idea that the monk is more perfect than the non-monk is inveterate, and it is kindled by the monks themselves. If perfection is to mean greater dedication to the search for spiritual emancipation, then there is undoubtedly more of it among the monks. But in terms of human morality and of human intellect, monks are nowhere more perfect than lay people (Bharati, 1980; italics added).
Far too many men become Buddhist monks, because it’s a good life and they have devotion. The Dalai Lama has publicly stated that only ten out of one hundred monks are true candidates (Mackenzie, 1999).

Likewise for Japanese Zen:

It seemed to me that most of the monks [at Suienji] were proud of their position, lazy, stupid, greedy, angry, confused, or some combination. Mainly they were the sons of temple priests putting in their obligatory training time so that they could follow in daddy’s footsteps. They listened to radios, drank at night and had pinups on the wall.
What they were really into, though, was power trips. It’s what got them off.... The senior monks were always pushing around the junior monks, who in turn were pushing around the ones that came after them (in Chadwick, 1994).

The observations of a Thai Buddhist monk, in Ward (1998), at a monastery run by Ajahn Chah, are no more flattering:

The farang [Westerners] at this wat [monastery] who call themselves monks are nothing but a bunch of social rejects who have found a place where they can get free food, free shelter and free respect. They are complacent and their only concern is their perks at the top end of the hierarchy.

For more of the inside story on Tibetan Buddhism, consult Trimondi and Trimondi’s (2003) The Shadow of the Dalai Lama: Sexuality, Magic and Politics in Tibetan Buddhism.

* * *

No discussion of Tibetan Buddhism would be complete without mention of T. Lobsang Rampa (d. 1981).

Rampa was the author, in the 1950s and ’60s, of more than a dozen popular books concerning his claimed experiences growing up as a lama in Tibet. Among them, we find 1956’s best-selling The Third Eye, concerning an operation allegedly undergone by Rampa to open up his clairvoyant faculties.

In the midst of that literary success, however, it was discovered that Rampa was in fact none other than a pen name for the Irish “son of a plumber,” Cyril Hoskins (Bharati, 1974).

Hoskins himself had never been to Tibet.

But then, the average Tibetan, in Hoskins’ day at least, had never seen indoor plumbing.

So perhaps it all evens out.

* * *

As might be expected, radically enlightened practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism counted through the ages and today are as rare as they are on any other path.

When I asked an old lama from Tibet about whether these ten stages [of awakening to Buddha Nature, i.e., bhumis] are in fact a part of the practice, he said, “Of course they really exist.” But when I inquired who in his tradition had attained them, he replied wistfully, “In these difficult times I cannot name a single lama who has mastered even the second stage” (Kornfield, 2000).

Undaunted, the current Dalai Lama himself keeps to a busy schedule of spiritually enlightening meditation—six hours per day. He also continues the non-violent political activities which brought him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

Of course, having so little spare time would undoubtedly help to force the proper prioritization of one’s activities. Nevertheless:

Repeated attempts to get a response to this [critical] article from His Holiness through his New York media representative were met with a “too busy” response. Yet the New York Times reported that the Tibetan leader somehow found time for a photo op with pop star Ricky Martin (Zupp, 2003).

So it goes, when one is “Livin’ La Vida Lama.”

Regardless, His Holiness has left us with at least one eminently good idea to live by, in sloughing through the sorry state of affairs that calls itself “spirituality” in this world:

“Whenever exploitation, sexual abuse or money abuse happen,” the Dalai Lama says, “make them public” (Leonard, 2001).

In the next chapter we will meet a group of courageous people who did exactly that, and more.


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