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“The spiritual journey can be very tricky.” Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
Just as the American Revolution began as a misunderstanding between loyal British subjects, so is this crisis of faith we now face as Karma Kagyu in America.
We have just experienced our equivalent of the Boston Massacre, a local decision made in the heat of the moment, with historic global implications.
What began in 2008 as a dispute over someone not cutting a Tibetan nobleman’s lawn has resulted in a full blown schism in our sangha.
I have spoken at length, on background, with both patriot and loyalist representatives since I became aware of the recent incident which has so divided us.
Personally, I have seen this coming since the parinirvana of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa in 1981, so I’m not at all surprised that it has come to this.
I was shocked though when I was told that the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra board of directors had decided to ban Bardor Tulku Rinpoche from teaching.
Not only did they ban him from teaching at the monastery he literally built with his own hands, like an ordinary laborer, despite his exalted status as a lineage holder.
Adding insult to injury, to the outrage of Karma Kagyu patriots, they have shamelessly cast Rinpoche as the disloyal instigator of this crisis.
The loyalists claim, without proof, that this is the will of HHK17, while the patriots dispute this with documentation contradicting such a claim.
This is typical of Tibetan tradition though. In the past Rinpoche would have been imprisoned for siding with the patriots as he has.
I have contacted the KTD board of directors for their side of the story but I have not heard back from them as of yet unfortunately.
A representative of Bardor Tulku Rinpoche did respond immediately to my request for a statement and we spoke at length on the phone about the subject.
Also, my guru, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, is a loyalist in this dispute, while my wife recently took refuge with Bardor Tulku Rinpoche and is a patriot as such.
As a matter of principle I have never supported either Karma Triyana Dharmachackra or its local affiliate center Karma Thegsum Choling.
Although it was the wish of HHK16 to establish a monastic seat here I have always believed that to do so would be to repeat the mistakes of Tibetan history.
And here we are thirty years later, and that effort has been laid to waste because someone neglected to mow a Tibetan nobleman’s lawn like a good peasant.
It was the failure of the British to control the Hudson River that flows to the east of Woodstock, New York, that led to their defeat in North America.
Those Tibetans who doubt what we Americans are made of need only read of what happened to General Burgoyne in 1777 up river at Saratoga.
If HHK17 doesn’t personally intercede in this crisis it will result in the failure of the Karma Kagyu as a religion in North America as we know it.
I can’t verify this number, but my loyalist source has indicated that 80 percent of KTC members have taken refuge with Bardor Tulku Rinpoche.
They consider his banning to be an insult to their guru and have responded as one might expect them to, despite their loyalty to HHK17 and the lineage.
Previously, before this most recent development, a disciple of Situ Rinpoche shared with me that key benefactors have withdrawn their support for the monastery.
It was only a matter of time, from my perspective, but my fellow Karma Kagyu have finally begun to tire of being treated like we are a bunch of peasants.
All this began as a cultural misunderstanding over the privileges of a Tibetan nobleman, who was made president for life of KTD as a matter of his birthright.
As my patriot source put it to me, all they want is the nobleman to retire and an elected board of directors be put in charge; to hell with Tibetan tradition.
On the other hand, my loyalist source reminded me that the Karma Kagyu isn’t a democracy and none of this should come as a surprise to anyone.
Either way, as Julius Caesar is supposed to have said when he crossed the Rubicon, “the die has been cast,” and we are witnessing the end of an era for our lineage.
The monastery is likely to fail, thanks to the failure of Tibetans to accept Americans as their equals. It is as simple as that. We are peasants to them.
As my patriot source told me, Bardor Tulku talks regularly with HHK17, who continues to support his dharma activity here.
On a personal note, Rinpoche has recovered from his stroke. He limps, reminiscent of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, but is otherwise doing well.
He has a new dharma home, Kunzang Palchen Ling, across the Hudson River from KTD, and the support of some of our lineage’s best and brightest disciples.
We may look like sheep, sound like sheep, smell like sheep, feel like sheep, but we aren’t sheep. Some Tibetans have a problem with this.
Everybody needs to chill and remember that we all are Karma Kagyu, patriot and loyalist, and trust that His Holiness will address the concerns of all factions.
(Please follow me on Twitter @Ryderjaphy)
A persistent young man I met on Twitter named Waylon Lewis asked me to write something for Elephant Journal. I’d just been diagnosed with severe congestive heart failure. Tibetan Buddhists tend to be pretty tight lipped about their experiences but I figured given the circumstances I might as well break the silence. EJ readers have taken to what I have to say about my life as a Tibetan Buddhist and what it’s like to be sick and dying as one so now I’m a columnist here. I write to engage my audience and try to respond to every reader’s comments as frankly as possible which isn’t always pretty but at least it’s real. Karmapa Chenno!
This is the first I've heard of this. Does anyone know if there have been other pieces from both sides written so I can make a more informed judgment?