It's Drat Time Again
Like so many of the world's Catholics, Western Tibetan Buddhists have been getting hit in the faith lately by revelations that organized religion is actually organized crime. "Do you believe it?" "Can it be true?" "How is it hitting others?" These question marks crowded my email queue as true believers caught the young, obviously pained Kalu Rinpoche's true confessions on You Tube.
The saddest part of the 21-year-old's litany of crimes against his person and his position-- among them sexual abuse, beatings, lock-ups, confiscation of funds --is that nobody disputes it. Behind the closed doors of the monastic system, robed monks sworn to vows of compassion and the pursuit of enlightened wisdom became horrific monsters. "For power," Kalu Rinpoche says, "for money and its power."
Rumors about dark shenanigans behind those whitewashed walls have long circulated, but talking about it, at least in public, was taboo until Kalu Rinpoche took to You Tube. "They are all still in Tibet even though they've been forced out," one noted Western teacher said upon hearing this news. "The monastic system hasn't changed. It's a medieval 14th Century power structure."
I had already heard ghastly stories, one straight from the abused who, in the stinging sorrow of its aftermath, moved into my house and poured out her heart as though I were her mother. She was the daughter of a very beloved Rinpoche who died when she was young, as did her mother shortly after. She herself had married one of the highest ranked Rinpoche's on Earth, himself a victim of Machiavellian manipulations. They had a few years of personal happiness before cancer took him away. Before he was even cremated, the monks of his retinue threw her out of their house and co-opted their bank accounts, leaving her homeless and penniless and thus no threat to their hegemony.
I can also vouch that very little if any of the money offered to these institutions goes to the care and feeding of its ordinary monks. And even less goes to the women who become nuns. That's why I founded a charity that feeds them all-- interfering with the system. And frankly the fawning gratitude of all those monks and nuns over an apple or some yogurt profoundly pains me. It hints at the enormity and pointlessness of their misery, all the more upsetting because it was created by Buddhists who vow to end suffering as their life's purpose.
Rumors of the sort of pederasty and homosexuality that Kalu Rinpoche alluded to have circulated and been pooh poohed for decades. I guess you have to be there. But embezzling, escrowing or expropriating funds are harder to hide than sexual exploitation or starvation. My Tibetan goddaughter just told me everybody knew that after Penor Rinpoche died, the monk running his luxurious Palyul Monastery the exile community established in southern India and the one westerners had built in New York State helped himself to the memorial offering money that flooded in to buy mansions in Bangalore along with luxury cars for all his family members, many kept in his name. "Everybody said he would come to a bad end because he was creating so much bad karma," she told me, adding proudly, "and now he did. His liver suddenly gave out and he died."
Then there is that cash stash of more than $1 million that the monks surrounding His Holiness Karmapa in India kept on hand in a trunk in their room and were trying to use to do a land deal when the Indian police stepped in. The fact that some of the cache was Chinese renimbi has led to all sorts of allegations that Karmapa is a spy, and his travel has been curtailed while the charges roil around in courts. This is the 21st Century, and India is the land of outsourced customer service rep and computer tech. So you have to wonder why there was no on-line banking.
More than a decade ago, someone confided the outrageously sad story of how a very ambitious young Rinpoche pocketed funds dedicated to the future of nuns at a going monastery in order to establish another nunnery devoted to that Rinpoche only. A trusted Rinpoche affected by the maneuver confirmed it.
Some of us remember a few years back when Karmapa's monastery in Woodstock, NY suddenly underwent a physical metamorphosis. As soon as the money rolling in and the ground broken for building, Karmapa announced he would come, at which point the on-site Tibetan who considered himself Karmapa's personal agent rose up like a coiled snake, threw out the working Westerners and co-opted the funds. In the ensuing melee, the monastery's spiritual leader Khenpo Karthar announced he would leave permanently and go into retreat. The resident tulku bolted to India. Embarrassment made the Tibetan back down. It was not a pretty picture of meditative serenity.
And so the question, one of trust, is how to stay on the Dharma path and not be blown away by a bombardment of revelations about sexual abuse, money expropriation, power struggles, starvation, beatings and all the suffering we don't see on thangkhas. I tell the people who email me, I can only rely on my own Rinpoche saying more than once how he used to notice one of his most precious teachers had very dirty, long fingernails. This really bothered him so much, he couldn't stop focusing on them. But eventually he figured out those dirty fingernails had nothing to do with the pure Dharma coming from his teacher's mouth. "So," he said, again and again, "we are all just human beings. We are all going to have our faults. The trick to judge a teacher as being a genuine one or not is to ignore the personal faults and pay attention to the purity of the Dharma they convey."
At least that way, we can at least liberate ourselves from a little suffering.
And BTW, the teacher with those odiously long dirty fingernails was the highly revered, last Kalu Rinpoche.
Om mani padme hung.
~Sandy Garson"Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
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