TR: Marcuse coined the phrase "The Great Refusal." The Great Refusal is the refusal to sell short our potential for liberation for the paltry comforts of consumerism. In Golok, in Tibet, they say that the desire for comfort is the death of honor and truth. My denunciation of the "Western Buddhist Movement" stems not from political conservatism but from my embrace of Marcuse's Great Refusal; the refusal to trade freedom and happiness for cheap consolation. Surya Das - the Barnum and Bailey of the dharma, Helen Tworkov - the propagandist, Stephen Batchelor - the anaemic intellectual, and Thich Nhat Hanh - the token Asian, are merely foot soldiers in service of a megalithic delusion which shapes and controls our culture. They are sheep in lion's clothing.
Marcuse wrote about their movement when he said, "The new totalitarianism manifests itself precisely in a harmonizing pluralism, where the most contradictory works and truths peacefully coexist in indifference." In the context of the struggle of the Great Refusal, I really cannot find words strong enough to express my revulsion for these peoples' activities and my disgust for their behavior.
Q: That is a strong statement. It makes me think of another criticism I have read of your writing which is that you are not nice and that what you are doing is contrary to the compassionate roots of kindness at the heart of Buddhism.
TR: Yes, it seems that to be "nice" one must cease and desist from all critical dissent and debate. To be nice, one must say things obliquely rather than directly, or better yet, say nothing at all. One should try to focus on points of agreement and smooth over differences in a fog of blandness.
This emphasis on being nice is a form of oppression. Feminists pointed this out in the 70's and encouraged us not to teach our daughters to be "nice" because it was disempowering to them. Now we just want our Buddhists to be nice. This niceness which is being referred to is what Trungpa Rinpoche called "idiot compassion." It seems that it is fine for the Western Buddhist Movement to castrate the power of the Buddhadharma, but if anyone says "Hey, wait a minute, you are distorting the teachings of liberation," then they are branded with the scarlet letter - "not nice."
This supposed niceness is in fact merely a tool for the suppression of radical critique that often takes its form in disagreement, debate and critical discussion - all forms of interaction which are historically central to Buddhism. Are we, as Western practitioners of Buddhism, so scared of our internal rage that we imagine any serious disagreement might turn into violence?
I found it interesting at the American Buddhism Conference that, while pretending to offer an "atmosphere of serious discussion and the possibility of strong disagreement," great lengths were taken to insure that there was no face to face interaction of any real depth between opposing viewpoints. The entire event was structured to protect the environment and its participants from heated debate or serious disagreement. In this fashion, we allowed ourselves the luxury and comfort of being avant-garde while saving ourselves from the discomfort of Buddha's radical critique. In other words we become, and turn Buddhism into, exactly what Marcuse predicted - tools for the mechanics of conformity (while maintaining our veneer of spiritual specialness). In short, the stance that we should not disagree or denounce is merely the command, by dominating forces, that we should conform.
This vision of being "nice and compassionate" is different from the Buddhist vision. Compassion and kindness demand strong dissension and response in the face of harmful delusion. It is, of course, a matter of motivation. The precious Buddhadharma teaches me that all people have been at one time my mother, my lover, my child, and my best friend. One day my friend becomes my enemy, and then later my friend again. When we contemplate Buddhadharma we come to a stance of vast equanimity in the midst of debate, but this equanimity does not deny the need for valid, well-reasoned response.
I understand that each of these people I have mentioned, like all of us, only wants happiness. Sadly, they are ignorant as to the causes of happiness. They are excellent examples of the manner in which those who are deeply oppressed and alienated are often completely ignorant as to the existence and source of their alienation. In fact, they confuse the sources of suffering with the cessation of suffering, and so they are like moths drawn to the flame.
Is it kinder to let the moth burn alive or to point out to the moth that the object of it's obsession is, any moment, going to become the source of its greatest suffering. What is compassion? The prefix "com" means "with" and the body of the word passion, from the root pathos, means suffering. Compassion is to be with the suffering of others; not to turn a blind eye to the suffering of all sentient beings. In the Buddhist sense, compassion means to actively remove the causes of suffering as a function of love. It is not kind, loving or compassionate to see the causes of suffering and not try and remove them.
The great Buddhist teacher Atisha said we should drive all blame into one. I am not saying that that the "one" is Surya Das or Helen Tworkov. It is, of course, ignorance. Compassion and kindness for all beings demands that we respond when, out of ignorance, someone is acting in ways which cause suffering; especially if that ignorance is dressed in the garments of the liberating wisdom tradition of Buddhadharma. Surya Das and Tworkov are seducing people who have a genuine spiritual longing into their sphere and then offering them a teaching which will never liberate them but only increase their ignorance and suffering - and presenting it as the precious Buddhadharma.
adds: The nice Buddhists that Traktung talks about are not
necessarily taking this lying down. Many Tibetan practitioners are
very concerned about lineage, and Traktung's lack thereof is pointed
to. That, and his association with the (questionable?) Aro gTér group
are explored negatively here.
Then there is this contribution offered following the post of
the above to GRF:
The following is a
"rating" from a long time practitioner with the Nyingma
Traktung 'Rinpoche' is one of those self-proclaimed tertons who go
around and find Tibetans to recognize him.
He used to call himself Khepa and his consort, 'Adzom Rinpoche' is
naturally an emanation of Yeshe Tsogyal.
He says he's the tulku of Do Khyentse ...the crazy wisdom yogi who
was one of the three main tulkus of Jigme Lingpa (the other two being
Paltrul Rinpoche and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo)
However the only recognized emanations of Do Khyentse I know of are
Alak Zankar Rinpoche and Hungkar Dorje Rinpoche.
Traktung is a bright guy who claims to have had many intense
visionary experiences of Guru Rinpoche and others....he says his
teachings come from the mind mandate he received from Guru Rinpoche
What he says below about the American Buddhist movement is not
something I completely disagree with...many Tibetans find this
movement to be off the mark because of its de-emphasis of the
importance of the guru...but I think Traktung may just be a part of a
different western buddhist movement...the self-proclaimed lineage
holders...which is cause for equal concern. By coming off orthodox in
his statements he makes his own movement seem more traditional and
therefore more real...but I have plenty of doubts.
All that being said....I've never met the man and don't know if he
has any realization....and I always hesitate to judge without
personal experience. But I do know that his group was linked with the
Aro group (at least for a while) and we all know there are plenty of
questions surrounding them.
And finally, also from the
forwarder of the above, regarding "national" or
"cultural" forms of Buddhism:
Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche said that in Tibet the Dharma was never called Tibetan Buddhism. It was called the Dharma as it has been for 2500 years. While it may be useful to delineate what form of Dharma, i.e. Sutra, Pure Land or Tantra, etc. creating divisions within the Dharma based on nationality is a false construct.
He also said that the Dharma adapts to each culture, so there is a unique flavor to the Dharma as it flourished in Tibet as opposed to say China...but the supremacy of the teaching not the location is the key factor. He said that the Dharma would likewise undergo the same adaptive process in the West, but that this process required adhering to its foundational 'rules'.
As opposed to divorcing itself from the roots of Dharma in India, Tibetans revered the Indian sources and masters of Buddhism as Buddhas. In fact only one lineage of teachings (of the 8 often cited in Tibetan writings) actually originated in Tibet and that is Chod, which was developed by the human dakini Macig Lapdron.
So the very idea of 'American Buddhists' deciding amongst themselves to divorce from the patriarchal Asian sources of the Dharma is like saying 'we no longer need to get water from its source...we're happy to sip at the tide pools left to fester here'
On a slightly different angle of approach, from what I've heard Lama Surya Das made many of these comments in a joint statement with Helen Tworkov, the editor of Tricycle. She has a distinct prejudice against Tibetan Buddhism and for Zen Buddhism. She is a feminist who was burned by a relationship with a guru and so has many issues about 'patriarchy'. So I think it may have been a case of building a consensus base among these highly visible 'American Buddhists' which prompted Surya Das' anti-patriarchy stance.
It's true that the Dharma as it comes from Tibet and as it came from the Buddha in India had a strong outward bias towards the social position of women....however in Tibetan Buddhism we have the examples of Tara who vowed to always be born a woman to prove that enlightenment is possible for all, not just men; of Yeshe Tsogyal who not only became the chief disciple of Guru Rinpoche, but also became the Guru of Tibet herself for many decades after he departed; and of Macig Lapdron, the founder of the only Tibetan originated practice lineage of Chod.
Other great examples of powerful (and feared) women are to be found in Chagdud Rinpoche's mother (see her bio Delog), in Sera Khandro, a female terton of the early 20th century, in the co-founder of the Palyul lineage, in Khandro Rinpoche, daughter of the head of the Nyingma school, Minling Trichen Rinpoche...and the list goes on.
So even though the majority of teachers may be male, and there may be a strong cultural tendency for women practitioners to remain 'secret' there is no problem with women entering, practicing and achieving the path in the Tibetan Tradition.
Chagdud Rinpoche made it a point to not only ordain many western lineage holders and lamas, but to surround himself with powerful female practitioners. Over half of the 30 some-odd westerners he has ordained as lamas have been women...
To our knowlege we know of one western teacher authorized by a true Dzogchen lineage holder to teach Dzogchen - there may be more - and this is Lama Drimed, Chagdud Rinpoche's Dzogchen lineage holder.