Deconstructing Samaya in the Karma Kagyu tradition for Western minds

Picture of Osel Tendzin who as the story goes believed his samaya with his students whom he was having unprotected sex with would protect them from getting AIDS which tragically did not turn out to be the case and they all died thanks to their misunderstanding of Trungpa’s teachings on the subject back in the day

“As long as I do whatever I think the teacher I consider I have samaya with says my samaya remains pure.”

Jonathan continues.

“If I do otherwise I’m damned for eternity in Vajra Hell for violating my samaya with the teacher I believe I have samaya with.”

Caroline replies.

“Samaya is indeed the touchstone of the Guru-Disciple relationship.”

Caroline continues.

“It is with the true nature of the mind, represented by Vajradhara in our tradition, but in fact, ultimately, our samaya is with ourselves.

Caroline adds.

“And not with the person we think of as our teacher, that’s just crazy talk, which is why it’s best to avoid speaking of samaya in such terms in my experience.”

End scene. Fini.

A teachable moment brought to you by the Naropa Prairie Dog Players for your entertainment pleasure.



Filed under Buddhism

3 responses to “Deconstructing Samaya in the Karma Kagyu tradition for Western minds

  1. Blinde Schildpad

    Gendün Rinpoche used to say I am not the Lama! I am just the door to the Lama. We like to think of extraordinary Gurus because that makes us a little extraordinary by reflection. Being extraordinary certainly conveniently relieves us of raking over the dung heap of kleshas, karmas and the occasional dead dog. What’s actually extraordinary is the ordinary mind of course, but that just sounds boring I guess. Still, we can spend a lot of time admiring all those fancy doors… Might even take some selfies with them while we’re at it!

  2. Anne

    It seems though that Trunpa’s students are not so keen to question him today.
    There’s some evidence that Trunpa knew that Osel Tenzin had HIV and told him not to worry, so long as he kept up his purification practices, he could remain sexually active. You do have to question Trunpa too. He is not above a few hard questions. See here:

    • Those whom today are not so keen to question Trungpa as the founder of today’s Shambhala Buddhism were obviously not around while he was alive.

      I was.

      My generation questioned everything we were told.

      In retrospect, we really were quite obnoxious in this regard.

      These were the times we lived in, and to understand the Trungpa of back in the day, you must take into consideration the times he lived in as such.

      Nobody new what AIDS was or how it was transmitted back then.

      It was a horrific time in which young men were dropping like flies and nobody knew what they were dying of for certain other than that they were homosexuals.

      Trungpa couldn’t have known that Osel Tendzin was HIV positive.

      HIV wasn’t even a thing at the time.

      After Osel Tendzin got sick and he died of AIDS in 1990 rumor had it that Trungpa was to blame.

      This is true.

      Again, you have to remember the time in question though.

      When Trungpa died in 1987 he was widely regarded to have been the worst thing to have ever happened to Buddhism in America.

      Back in the day in Boulder students had flocked to him in the thousands.

      When he died in Halifax his followers number as little as 800 I’m told.

      People are welcome to think whatever the wish, of course.

      As an early adopter of the Karmapa in America I chose to avoid Trungpa’s scene.

      It wasn’t me.

      I didn’t want to associate myself with the lifestyle.

      I preferred practicing under the direct supervision of bona fide Master of Mahamudra, khenpo Karthar, born and trained in Tibet and sent here by His Holiness the 16th Karmapa to teach us as his representative in America.

      Here in Chicago, as students of Khenpo Karthar, we had our own thing, very much on the down low.

      Students of Trungpa had their own thing, a cult of personality in which you were either a part of it, a member, or not a part of it, an outsider to his so-called enlightened society.

      Anyway, it was what it was, and whatever it is is to us today, our challenge as Karma Kagyu is not to judge it but instead to bring whatever we think it was to our practice without getting hung up on it, live with it, for better or for worse, and come to own it as a part of our history as Karma Kagyu in the West.

      Or, not, how you practice Buddhism, being for you alone to decide for yourself as far as I’m concerned.

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