Ogyen Trinley Dorje and his exploitation of people who work for a living

I submit for your consideration “So that happened…”, an account of Ogyen Trinley Dorje’s visit to Chicago KTC from @copedog, Rob, who reached out to me on Twitter in response to my post on the subject. He had posted on his account of it on his blog “Chard Times” based on his role in the historic visit.

I know Rob as a frequent re-tweeter of my content on Twitter. Like me he lives in Chicago, but in Bucktown, on the near Northwest side though, a historically sketchy neck of the woods here. Unlike nearby Wicker Park, Milwaukee and Damen, further northwest, Bucktown, Milwaukee and Western, on the CTA blue line has yet to be gentrified, which is to say, like myself he is no stranger to life on the streets here.

He’s a carpenter by trade, like my son, Jeff, who joined Habitat for Humanity when he was younger. Ogyen Trinley Dorje’s visit to Chicago wasn’t his first rodeo. He sat around the Shambhala “campfire” as he put it to me, so he knows our common history as it pertains to how the swan came to the lake. He can write, too. We had an interesting discussion of the exploitation of labor, which Tibetan Buddhism has a long and sordid history, of which Ogyen Trinley Dorje supports in the name of “preserving” Tibetan culture. I took him to task for not charging Ogyen Trinley Dorje for this labor as a carpenter.



Filed under Buddhism

22 responses to “Ogyen Trinley Dorje and his exploitation of people who work for a living

  1. It is my blog post which is referenced here, and I feel I should add some clarity to this matter, “so that confusion may dawn as wisdom,” as we like to say around the campfire. .

    I do not regret the time I have volunteered to support KTC in Cicero, the years I volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, or my efforts to help KAM Isaiah Israel in Hyde Park, Openlands, the Peterson Garden Project, the list goes on.. I believe strongly in the principle of “tithing,” however you want to interpret that, whether it be a financial contribution, or a contribution of time and labor. Call it “paying it forward” or whatever you like. If I were solely focused on my own material advancement, I would never have become a carpenter in the first place. It was during my stint with Habitat for Humanity where I first learned the skills that have become my trade, in fact.

    On a practical level, we are, collectively, in a heap of shit. If we don’t all start looking out for one another, immediately, that heap of shit is going to catch fire. I do not relish the though of living atop a heap of flaming shit, and so I do what little I can, here or there, to try and lighten the collective load. Many hands make light work, and so forth. I do not expect to see earth shaking consequences as a result of my meager actions, but I continue to trudge along, knowing that in a small way, I have made a difference. Occasionally, that small impact has a big payoff, like when a little girl takes the time to tell me that the community garden I have tended is her favorite place in the neighborhood, because it is the one quiet place where she can read and reflect. That was a good day.

    There have also been days which were not so great. I have been burned before, and I did reference this obliquely in the same blog article which was linked above. There is a short list of organizations, both local and international, of which I’ve grown weary. Aside from my volunteer endeavors, I’ve also been screwed over while on the clock, been denied pay that was owed to me, and so forth. If I feel that my time or my livelihood are not being respected, I will forget all about my vows and precepts, and hulk out. There are certain organizations with which I can only remain involved on the most guarded of terms, and there are other organizations with which I will have nothing to do forevermore. There are local businesses which I will not support, clients I will refuse to work for, and so on. It’s sort of like karma, only with less equanimity.

    I’m no fool, and I take full account for my own actions. I volunteered my time freely to help out where I could at KTC, but I was also very guarded regarding my time and my priorities. I do not in any way feel that I was taken advantage of, duped, betrayed, exploited, or any such thing. As far as being paid for my labor, I feel this is silly. It is common to make regular financial contributions to an organization, church, synagogue, or whatever sort of membership one believes in. Some would argue this is materialistic and unnecessary, but the electric bills have to get paid, buildings need upkeep, soup kitchens need soup, and so on. Making my living as a carpenter has not been all that I had hoped it would be financially, which is another article entirely, but in lieu of contributing monetarily to any of the organizations with which I have been involved, I often contribute my efforts, where I can, and within my limited means. Frankly, I would rather just cut a check and sit at home eating lobster pad thai, but so far all of my efforts at magnetizing winning lottery tickets have failed me. Fodder for another blog post perhaps.

    It seems there is a greater subtext here which is unaddressed. I am not ignorant of the controversies within the Tibetan religious lineage, locally or internationally. Perhaps I will expand upon those thoughts in another blog post, but for now, I will simply say that I am more or less comfortable with my place in the universe and my involvement within it.

    As I am concluding these thoughts an email has just made its way to my inbox from another member of the wider sangha, regarding this exchange. I will quote it here nearly in its entirety because I find it brilliant.

    “He is probably right and everybody else is probably right. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt when they express themselves forcefully.”

    • Ogyen Trinley Dorje’s perpetuation of Tibet’s long and sordid history of exploiting working people, KTD’s business model is as it has always been offensive to me as a dharma practitioner. Khenpo Karthar’s father and his children belonged to his teacher. I find this disgusting. Nothing has changed since, Tenzin Chonyi being a perfect example of how Ogyen Trinley Dorje exploits working people.

      • Xian

        Never think that you will be able to settle your life down by practicing the dharma. The dharma is not therapy.
        In fact, it is just the opposite.
        The purpose of the dharma is to really stir up your life.
        It is meant to turn your life upside down.
        If that is what you asked for, why complain?
        If it is not turning your life upside down, on the other hand, the dharma is not working.
        That kind of dharma is just another one of these New Age methods;
        the dharma should really disturb you. – Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche

  2. Stan

    Taking advantage of ‘free’ labor ain’t all that. Shit. Tibet was a brutal place. The minds of many Tibetans remains a brutal place. The great historian Jamyang Norbu breaks it down:


  3. Jeff

    That’s the Chinese not the Tibetans, Stan. Nice try.

    Tibetans are awesome.

    Are they better than us? I don’t know.

    By the way, so Ponlop Rinpoche is married and has a daughter. Big deal. Where he rests his genitalia is up to him. I don’t know why he hides it though- he should come out of the closet and own his sexuality.

  4. David, leaf or......

    Robes enforce HH the right “not to do labor works”. Others should grant HH that right to practice HIS religion. Robes enforce HH “only move lips”. Others should grant HIM golden thrones to sit on otherwise there are no freedom of a religion that requires “splendid monasteries, golden thrones, fine robes……”
    “Mercy, mercy”, HH is saying:”I am confined on the throne starving to death, compassion = mercy should act.”
    If his mind is “empty”, it is empty. But why he talks “empty” , because his stomach is also empty, which he may not mention – he has to talk. HH has no way to make a living under the spell of “forbidden to do labors”.
    And Tibet could not stand alone under the spell of this region. That is why they are moving, act and harvest……

  5. Kim

    “But according to China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs, there were only 1,700 real Living Buddhas of Tibetan Buddhism as of 2007. The small number of masters is not enough to meet the spiritual needs of the rapidly growing number of wealthy men and women in China.”

    So true!

    • David

      Hey, Bill! How’s the book coming along? Do you have a publisher lined up?

      • It’s early days. It has only been a thing for me since April. My first order of business was deciding on the style sheet. I was leaning towards Anthony Bordain’s “Kitchen Confidential” as a guide. I ended up settling on Elmore Leonard after reading his “Ten Rules of writing,” and began to immerse myself in his Raylan Givens books to get a sense of how these rules read in practice.

        I bought a refurbished Classic fountain pen online, a Sailor, a Japanese company located in Hiroshima since 1921. It arrived the other day. I’m using blue ink cartridges. I bought a package of six yellow legal pads, fifty pages each. At 45 words per page, my work is cut out for me. I’m almost done with my first legal pad.

        My wife, and editor, Gigi, has read what I have written so far. We had already discussed in detail what I was going to right about. I nailed it. It’s all elbow grease from this point forward. I will then type it out to see how it looks as a word document re-writing it again in the process addressing whatever issues Gigi has with it based on my reading what I have read her.

        • David

          Well, my friend Peter is eagerly awaiting your tome. He runs KTD’s bookstore and is interested in carrying it when it comes out.

          • I open chapter one with Colleen and that Tibetan shrine in her living room.

            • Jane

              Chapter 2 could be about how rinpoches are just like you and I.

              • The story begins in early 1981 before the arrival of Rangjung Rikpe Dorje, before I met Colleen’s Rinpoche. It ends with Ogyen Trinley Dorje’s visit to Chicago. In the first chapter I introduce the reader to Chogyam Trungpa, his deal. He knocked up a nun in India, was sent to the UK where he interferred with a teenage girl, they married and fled the country for Canada as Mr and Mrs Mukpo. From Canada they simply drove across the boarder and entered the United States using their newly minted British Passports. In Vermont he went to ground. From Vermont he moved to Colorado where he made a life for himself. There was an incident involving the poet W.S. Merwin at a Halloween Party. It was his undoing, he declared to his followers that he and his wife were in fact the royal family of an Ancient Kingdom and fled the country for a remote village in the Canadian Maritimes. I leave it to the reader what a “Rinpoche” in his tradition is.

  6. David

    Oh very nice. So this is going to be a kind of oral history as experienced through your eyes with larger reflections on the Karma Kagyu in America?

    Timely, to say the least.

    • I am using Elmore Leonard as my style sheet, which means the narrative is driven by dialogue instead of description. I don’t describe the first time I met Colleen as such, describing who she is and so on.

      She said, “This is what Rinpoche wants” as if I was supposed to give a shit.

      I get right to it, how Colleen had her thing and I had my own. She was all about what Rinpoche wanted and was very proprietary about their relationship. Rinpoche told her she needed a shrine. She was a young woman, married, a mom, and she emptied it of all her family’s belongings and constructed to Rinpoche’s specifications a Tibetan shrine. I leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions. I couldn’t have cared less what Rinpoche wanted. I wanted to sit. I had been sitting on my own for years, before moving to Chicago after graduating college in seach of employment.

      • David

        Excellent. Tell it like you see it. I suppose that’s all we can do, unless you want to be an apologist for Old school Tibetan cultural practices and values. We have enough of those types leading dharma centers these days anyway.

  7. Dennis


    My wife and I miss you. Why can’t you write your book and keep this blog floating.

    Right now the internet has lost one of its best centers for debate and exploration of Buddhism in the west: Tinfoil Ushnisha,

    Keep your relationship with us going.

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