Eyes Wide Open….

This blog has already made note of problematic issues in practice communities and/or with teachers from a variety of traditions. Am learning just now about the following story, a clear indicator that the politics and corruption all too evident in spiritual communities are in this day and age going to lead to new structures and processes to support a person’s practice. The Guru function of the past will yield, no doubts about this, to the original point made by the Buddha, which in so many words was to follow the light of your own lamp. Here is the article from http://guardian.co.uk:

The YouTube confessional sending shockwaves through the Buddhist world
Young Kalu Rinpoche’s traumatic revelations highlight the dissonance between Tibetan tradition and 21st-century life

Mary Finnigan
guardian.co.uk, Friday 9 March 2012 05.44 EST

Young Tibetan Buddhist monks in Bodh Gaya, India. Photograph: Manish Bhandari/AP Photo
He is 21, a handsome, charismatic Tibetan who describes being a lama as his job. He is passionately keen on music, he raps, break-dances and parties in capital cities around the globe. Kalu Rinpoche chronicles his moods, his existential angst, his activities and philosophical insights on Facebook – and he recently broke the most profoundly entrenched Tibetan Buddhist taboo with a confessional video that received more than 23,000 hits on YouTube.

It is hardly surprising that Kalu is agonising over what the future holds for him. As a baby, he was recognised as the reincarnation of the deeply revered previous Kalu, who was one of two lamas largely responsible for the worldwide explosion of interest in Tibetan Buddhism during the late 1970s and throughout the 80s.

Old Kalu was seen as a bodhisattva – a person who has attained a level of realisation similar to that of the historical Buddha. He spent 13 years in solitary retreat as a hermit yogi in eastern Tibet, before escaping to India following the Chinese invasion. Kalu had his headquarters in the Himalayan foothills, but he spent the rest of his life travelling the world, setting up meditation centres, teaching and attending to the needs of many thousands of followers.

Old Kalu died in 1989 after establishing a formidable reputation. He was an impossible act to follow, leaving his successor with responsibility for over 70 centres across four continents, together with a duty of care for the spiritual wellbeing of the people involved in them. Young Kalu’s father, Gyaltsen, was old Kalu’s personal assistant. In his confessional video, young Kalu says the traumatic events he experienced during his teenage years started after his father died when he was nine.

He relates how he was moved to a different monastery and at the age of 12 was sexually abused by older monks. He goes on to reveal that when he refused to obey instructions, his tutor tried to kill him.

“It was all about money, power and control,” he says.

Kalu did the traditional three-year retreat from the age of 15, but after that his training came to an abrupt end. “I went crazy,” he says. “I became a drug addict and an alcoholic.”

Kalu’s exposure on the internet of the dark underbelly of Tibetan monastic life is unprecedented in modern times. People who knew his predecessor say that he was sometimes critical in private, but the rule in lama land is that you never air your grievances to the outside world. Above all, you never cause loss of face by criticising a fellow lama in public.

The shock that reverberated across the Tibetan Buddhist community following these revelations is still making waves. In his Facebook posts, young Kalu seems undecided about what to do next. He is no longer a monk and appears to have moved on from drug and alcohol excess, but there is no teaching schedule for 2012 on his website.

The respected British lama Jampa Thaye sympathises with Kalu: “Ideally, a young incarnate lama should be given time to mature – intellectually and in contemplation,” he says. “But all too often they are thrust into teaching tours in order to raise funds for their monasteries or in Kalu’s case, the organisation he inherited from his predecessor.” Lama Jampa points out that Kalu does not benefit from “the protective cocoon of a monastery” and also has to cope with the unrestrained adoration of his western devotees: “No wonder he’s floundering. Sadly, I think his suffering will continue for some time. In my view the best thing he could do is try to live an ordinary life.”

According to his recent public utterances, Kalu has this idea in mind. Instead of urging his followers into the study and long retreats essential to serious Tibetan Buddhist practice, he asks them to be kind to each other and to take care of the poor and the needy. He often talks about love and insists that he is just an ordinary person doing his best to lead a good life.

Young Kalu demonstrated his moral fibre shortly after he first arrived in France to check out the meditation centres set up by old Kalu. He discovered that one of them had been taken over by a group of corrupt Bhutanese monks, who were breaking their vows and wallowing in self-indulgence. Most of the French Buddhists who had supported the centre for many years had fled in disgust and the place was no longer functional. Horrified and distressed, Kalu ordered the monks to leave. They refused to acknowledge his authority and were only persuaded to return to Bhutan after Kalu enlisted backup from Tai Situ Rinpoche, the senior lama of his lineage.

At the age of 21, Kalu has been traumatised by an attempt on his life, sexual abuse and a massive load of expectations and responsibilities. He is a deracinated Tibetan, born in exile – and also a high-profile guru with a worldwide following. The intensity of his experiences so far highlights the cultural dissonance between Tibetan tradition and the challenges of 21st-century life in the developed world. Kalu is probably seen as a loose canon by older lamas, but he gets away with it because of his status. In one sense he is a victim, but perhaps he will turn out to be a pioneer. Or a bit of both.

For more background on how issues like this are being addressed by mature practitioners and teachers (from different traditions), see Jack Kornfeld’s “After the Ecstasy, The Laundry” and Marianna Caplan’s “Eyes Wide Open”.

Here’s one of many discussions, examining and pondering the issues arising from the particular case of the young, and clearly admirable, young Kalu Rinpoche:


“Kalu” recently announced on his Facebook page that he has a new website up: http://www.paldenshangpa.net

Shangpa refers to the name of his lineage and just a couple of weeks ago, “Kalu” posted the following statement which dramatically alters the nature of perceptions long established in Tibetan culture regarding Teachers, Lamas, and spiritual leaders:

In order to diffuse some tension and confusion within the Paldenshangpa community and dharma students at large, I feel there is a need to re-define the whole concept and relationship between teacher and student as least within our Paldenshangpa lineage .

In general terms, the concept of “master” and “disciple” fosters a certain rigidity and exclusiveness that may mislead students as well as teachers. Students may tend to abdicate personal responsibility for their spiritual path and develop a personal attachment to “my master” or “my lama”. Teachers may subsequently be seduced by the illusion of spiritual authority associated with the idea of “my disciple” or “my student”. Both cases result in an unhealthy attachment and co-dependency which can become an obstacle to spiritual independence, personal empowerment, and natural awakening which are the actual point of our buddhist path.

Once such co-dependency develops, it often becomes impossible for other teachers in the community or whoever it might be, to give students needed instructions – the exclusiveness in the student’s mind blocking such advice. Students may of course respect different teachers according to their personal connections, but it is not appropriate for the student or the teacher themselves to determine the extent of the authority that will operate in their connection within the lineage. Determining and designating such authority is in fact the responsibility of the officially recognized holder of the Shangpa lineage. Such designation does not reflect a measure of respect , which is equally due to any one who has completed three-year retreat, long retreat or long study, but rather clearly separates respect from function.

Respect arises naturally toward any individual who kindly leads us to understanding, be it in the religious, academic, therapeutic and social context. The over-expectation and reverence to a “root teacher” within Tibetan Buddhism can become so solid that even if the “root guru” makes a mistake, students may feel inclined to accept it blindly, losing their discernment which is one of the essential qualities to be cultivated in the Buddhist path.

I feel it is important that students, as awakening individuals, learn to see their teachers – as great as they may be – not only as teachers but as human beings, and not idealize them beyond our commen human experience. This is an important protection for the students as well as the teachers.

Function reflects the tasks related to different needs of the student’s growth as well as the qualities of a teacher toward those specific tasks. If there is no specific function defined, then “lamas or teachers” tend to be considered equally qualified for any and all tasks, leading to either too much expectation from students or to a slide down towardspiritual shopping which happens when students start listening only to the teachers or instructions they like, instead of following the personal spiritual guidance given to them as part of their training process.

In setting up this student-teacher configuration for our Shangpa lineage, I wish to place the student’s development and welfare firmly at the center of our educational dharma activity while the four specific educational roles described below will surround and assist the students in their awakening process. Those roles should not be viewed as linear or hierarchical but rather as cyclic, part of an upward spiral that will continue to awaken, deepen, enrich, and integrate dharma comprehension, realizations and values in students’ daily lives.

Here is how I would like to define and distinquish the roles of teachers in our Paldenshangpa community :

-Dharma instructor/lecturer : Correctly introduce students to basic and common understanding of dharma principles and practices. Dharma lecturers may talk about classic and vajrayana buddhism in order to facilitate and transmit basic buddhist and meditation concepts within the reality of people’s life in their different environments; They may not teach vajrayana visualization or techniques, nor give transmission of refuge vows, or bodhisattva vows .

Dharma instructors are naturally very involved in public and private questions and answers with students. These teachers use their position (function) to continuously refresh the student’s mind and reset them back to the reality of dharma in their specific life. By doing so, Dharma instructors foster openness and comprehension through the different phases of the student’s path.

-Meditation instructor: Carefully transmit to students basic meditation tools such as meditative stability (shine), meditative insight (lhaktong), and open hearted compassion training (lodjong) ; these instructors may not teach vajrayana visualization or techniques, nor give transmission of refuge vows and bodhisattva vows. In general these instructors should have completed the three-year retreat and of course be accredited as such by the holder of the lineage.

The role of the meditation instructor is to give precise meditation techniques related to mental stability and emotional management, making sure that each student can clearly relate them to their experience and life. They use a question and answer format to lead the student to a full comprension of the meditaiton mechanism and a total clearing of doubts related to the specific practice. By doing so, the meditation instructor helps students build the basic “mental” tools necessary to an effective and harmonious daily life as well as to further their deepening of dharma understanding and practice. Through regular checks and revisions, these careful instructors can continue to refine, refresh and reset the student’s mind toward the use of these tools and their purposes.

-Spiritual advisor : Wisely guide or advise dedicated students through their spiritual path, motivations and practices, leading them toward harmonious development of wisdom in their life. The spiritual advisor is authorized to give refuge vows, bodhisattva vows, deep visualization or meditation instructions, and certain level of empowerments as per his/her accreditation from the lineage holder. By doing so, the spiritual advisor ensures the correct emotional and spiritual balance of the student, accompanies them in their awakening process, and leads them to a more refined understanding of the nature of their own mind.

-Jewel of the lineage : Provide ultimate guidance toward awakening. This person is responsible for transmitting the full cycle of Shangpa initiations and practice authorizations; accrediting Shangpa teachers; and accepting Three-year retreat applicants. Jewels of lineage are also responsible for assuring the effectiveness of the overall educational process, and the fine tuning of both students and teachers, freeing their minds from the last obstacles toward their full spiritual independence and understanding.

In the same way that I have received official letters of appointment as the head of the Shangpa lineage, within this lineage, any individual in a teaching position would have to receive an official written confirmation of his/her appointment to their position from the current head of the lineage or one of his jewels.

Apart from the specific roles described in this educational configuration, there are many other important roles that enhance and enrich the spiritual and cultural life of our dharma community – be they of an artistic, linguistic, cultural, social, or administrative nature – it is very important to have appreciation and respect for anyone participating in and supporting the functioning of our lineage community .

While dharma is still very much in a transition between eastern and western cultures. It is of upmost importance to cultivate a mutual appreciation and respect between Asian and Western teachers or students. Asian, or Himalayan teachers should do their best to teach in the language of their resident country and learn western concepts and ways of teaching. Western teachers should do their best to learn from the heart, depth and simplicity of the Asian teachers’ approach. Both should make sure that students, be they from the east or the west, appreciate and understand the validity and complementarity of both approaches in a way that fosters dharma harmony in their heart and in the community.

I have deep hope and expectation that the setting up of this teacher-student configuration will enable students to cycle more freely and more efficiently through their dharma education, as well as make them gradually more independent and self-sustaining in their own spiritual path of self-discovery. Just as the internet transformed modes of communication and broke many old barriers to personal growth, it is my wish that this configuration and approach open and prepare our lineage and students for the enhanced independence and interconnection that are characteristic of this 21st century.

Kalu Rinpoche’s lineage, the Shangpa, is described at the welcome page at http://www.paldenshangpa.net:

Through his birth and training, Kalu Rinpoché has inherited the full responsibility of a very special and discreet “Dharma school,” the Glorious Shangpa Lineage, dating back to the wisdom enlightenment of two female Dharma practitioners of the 11th Century, Niguma and Sukhasiddi. Without the usual barriers and distance that are too often present in “religious” structures, Kalu Rinpoché welcomes us to the heart of his lineage with deep simplicity, humour and courage. Cutting through inner and social hypocrisies he frees the way for us to see and follow our inner path to peace, happiness and the fulfilment of our deepest wishes. In this way we are able to advance toward being a happy, positive, active and awakened person in this world. You are all welcome !

And, finally, an online forum community, of what seem to be serious practitioners, here provides some thoughts, impressions, and reports that might be useful or of interest. From the fall of 2011, following Kalu Rinpoche speaking in San Francisco:


And, then, after his YouTube video report, described in the Guardian newspaper article above, a very positive reaction to this brave young man:


One thought on “Eyes Wide Open….

  1. As the Dzogchen writers would write in texts, to express their awe and wonderment and total pleasure with something, I just say about the above story and the subsequent developments:


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