My advise for choosing a Karma Kagyu sangha in today’s post-Karmapa Kagyu lineage

I submit for your consideration the following comment posted here earlier which I would like to expand upon, if I may.

“Ryder, if someone is just starting out,should they choose the lineage of Karma Kagyu as headed by Ogyen Trinley Dorje or the one by Trinley Thaye Dorje. Does it make a difference? TTD seems to be more accessible and generally seems to be enjoying his life more than OTD who is always quite uptight. Though as a neophyte I don’t know whether such extraneous behaviour amounts to anything.”

My response.

“Before joining any Sangha, for anyone contemplating doing so in 2017, I recommend that you first have a practice to share with any Sangha you decide to become a member of.

How said Sangha responds to what you have done on your own is the best way to know whether it is right for you as a dharma practitioner.

Now regarding the Karmapa Controversy, as it pertains to your question, I have this to say on the subject for anyone considering a sangha exclusively representing the interests and agenda of Ogyen Trinley Dorje as 17th Karmapa, I recommend that you don’t do so at this time.

There are no shortage of Sanghas for a Dharma practitioner to practice with here that do not require you to pledge allegiance to Ogyen Trinley Dorje as 17th Karmapa.

Regarding other Karma Kagyu sanghas, those not requiring you to pledge your allegiance to Ogyen Trinley Dorje, for example, Yongey Mingyur Dorje sangha, I leave it to those that know these sanghas to comment here as they
see fit.

Regarding Karma Kagyu sanghas associated with the Tibetan tradition of succession which has the Shamarpa and Karmapa succeeding each other as they did in the earliest days of the lineage, whom as such associate themselves with Thaye Dorje as 17th Karmapa without requiring you to pledge your allegiance to him, and so on, I leave it to those that know these sanghas to comment here as they
see fit.

Again, and I can’t emphasize this enough, I recommend that before even thinking of sharing your practice with others and becoming a member of any Sangha, given the abundance of information on how to practice available today to the public, do your due diligence first, determine for yourself what work for you and what doesn’t so that you can make an informed choice, based on how whatever Sangha you are interested in joining responds to what you have done on your own as a dharma practitioner.”

After responding to the above comment I noticed that the reader used the British spelling of “Behavior”, so I wish to apologize for my responsding as if the reader was asking about sanghas in the United States as I did.

In my defense I am more than a bit preoccupied this morning with the latest antics of Donald Trump on Twitter which I began my day with, Trump’s response to Civil Rights icon John Lewis questioning the legitimacy of his presidency, citing the role Russia played in his election, which brings us to the problem of the role China played in making Ogyen Trinley Dorje the 17th Karmapa, as it pertains to choosing to join his sangha in the United States today.

Like it or not, here in the United States ours is a post-Karmapa Karma Kagyu, a new era for us as dharma practitioners.

For us there is no question today whether or not the Chinese Government interfered with the selection of the 16th Karmapa’s successor.

All that is in question today is how best to respond to this interference.

Thus my reference to those Karma Kagyu sanghas that require a pledge of allegiance to Ogyen Trinley Dorje as 17th Karmapa.

Here in the United States the 17th Karmapa’s sangha is a dumpster fire to be avoided at all costs.

I know not what the situation is elsewhere.

Other than this I have nothing to add to my original comment.

Wherever you live it is my recommendation that you have a practice which you have established for yourself before sharing it with a prospective Sangha so that you can see how they respond to what you have accomplished on your own.

In my experience this will tell you everything you need to make an informed choice as to whether a sangha is right or wrong for you.



Filed under Buddhism

10 responses to “My advise for choosing a Karma Kagyu sangha in today’s post-Karmapa Kagyu lineage

  1. In addition to Bill’s comments I would share the following from the TTD side. You should know that there are many lamas who have commented on this question over the years. A good read would be, in The Torch of Certainty by Jamgon Kontrul in the introduction. It deals with the teacher student relationship and the question is answered by three lamas.
    Secondly the regular practice that the group has must attract you and inspire you. If you are a nube your current practice is of little importance.
    Thirdly the lama is the most important question ,the Karmapa as the head of the school is important but honestly the lama that you will have the most contact with the one who shows you the true nature of your mind for the first time needs to be checked out thoroughly. It is not likely the Karmapa will be you root lama. A good way to do this in a short amount of time is to closely examine his long time students. Check out the people who have worked or practiced with him for the longest and see, do these people have qualities that I too would like to develop? Are they stable are they wise and compassionate at the same time. Can I imagine being much like them in 10 or 30 years? As you will take these qualities on if you stick around long enough.
    I hope this helps.


    • It is worth noting that OTD is 31 years old and TTD is 33 years old so we cannot take the measure of either based upon how their disciples turn out.

      I do appreciate where you are coming from as such.

      By all accounts TTD is a credit to Shamar Rinpoche.

      Nobody ever expected China to allow OTD to leave Tsurphu and be so judged by us as a person.

      That OTD suffers in this regard when compared to TTD should come as no surprise to us.

      • Well Bill you missed my point that while Karmapa one chooses is very important it may not be the most important decision. The root lama the one who opens your mind the one who will guide you along the path is not likely to be either Karmapa. Unless one has amazing karma. Especially from the beginning. One needs someone you can be close to. This would be difficult in both cases. Regardless of the openness of one or the other as most of us western students don’t live or would not survive 6 months in Kalimpong or Tsurphu. The root lama has the hook and you have the ring. The teacher you are karmically connected too will be the right one. And to know this requires more than just luck. Traditionally the student checked the lama for three years and when the student asked the lama checked the student for another three years before giving really deep teachings. Locally this has changed but the root lama, is I think, slightly more important. This is why I can understand one who in spite of the overwhelming negative evidence still supports OTD. Their lama said that OTD was the Karmapa and they trust albeit blindly the lama.


        • I don’t do one size fits all Tibetan Buddhism.

          My bad.

          As a matter of principle I refuse to reference Tibetan tradition as you here do.

          It isn’t relevant as far as I’m concerned.

          You are welcome to do so here of course.

          I welcome it.

          I leave it to readers of this blog to decide for themselves what works for them as dharma practitioners.

          What we have here in your comment is a perfect example of what I recommend people reading this avoid at all costs in a Karma Kagyu sangha.

          The moment somebody gets in my face about Tibetan tradition I know I am speaking with the wrong person.

          This person has nothing to offer me as a dharma practitioner.

          I want to be speaking with someone that has something to offer me as a dharma practitioner.

          22 year old me learned this from 29 year old Shamar Rinpoche in 1981 at a McDonald’s in Zion, Illinois.

          If you find yourself with five hungry monks that just arrived from Rumtek Monastery to be with the 16th Karmapa and there is nothing to eat as I did that particular evening you do what you have to.

          It would have been nice if the person responsible for meal preparation that evening had shown up but they didn’t.

          22 year old me was at a loss as to what to do.

          29 year old Shamar Rinpoche didn’t miss a beat.

          The next thing I knew I was standing in line at McDonald’s in Zion, Illinois, with Shamar Rinpoche, Tibetan tradition be damned.

          If you are with someone with something to offer you as a dharma practitioner everything you do with them points out for you the true nature of the mind as such.

          Tibetan tradition has a role to play in deepening your realization of that which has been pointed out to you if the person that has pointed the true nature of the mind for you is Tibetan as was the case for me 36 years ago.

          This is where Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche came in as such for me as a dharma practitioner.

          Being a member of a sangha is a collaboration of equals as far I’m concerned.

          Everyone has a different role to play in the process.

          Without equality the process fails in my opinion.

          Vajradhara is the only root guru you need concern yourself with if the person who pointed out the true nature of the mind for you is Karma Kagyu.

          Whoever you believe to be the 17th Karmapa is thus seen by you to be Vajradhara, you relate to them as such, for better or for worse, never wavering in your belief that they are Vajradhara.

          If you are so inclined to spending your life drilling down into this as I have I am confident you will not be disappointed with the result.

          This is how I relate to Ogyen Trinley Dorje as 17th Karmapa.

          His Holiness never fails to challenge my realization of the true nature of the mind, just as Vajradhara did for Tilopa, the first of our kind to take on this particular challenge as a dharma practitioner.

          This is the tradition I uphold as a lama, the 16th Karmapa’s Mahasiddha inspired crazy wisdom Karma Kagyu lineage.

          No disrespect to the tradition you speak of here.

          It simply isn’t what I bring to the discussion here.

          Again, I leave it to the readers of this discussion to decide what works for them as dharma practitioners.

          If someone wants to compare themselves to Tibetans as you suggest they do it is no skin off my nose.

          To paraphrase Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche via Pema Chodron, my reading of their words, however you practice the dharma has a way of setting you straight in the process.

          • I agree with you on the tradition, I was suggesting that this person take some time to find what is right for them before just jumping in head first. Too much Tibetan tradition and you will be confused for sure. For me a little keeps it interesting as a lay practitioner. Wise words from Pema Chodon.


  2. Sam

    Seems as if the guru is always coming to you, every moment. Embodhiment of the Dharma so to speak.
    Paying attention counts, practice that and the sangha appears also.
    Then paint the mandala anyway you like.

  3. Harshit

    Thank you so so much Ryder. My apologies, I should have made my location clear. I’m from India. Ironic as it may seem, from my own research it appears that there are more dharma centres accessible to lay people in the West than in India.
    I live in ambala, a place around 200 km north of New Delhi. The KIBI of TTD is holding a 5 day beginners course in Buddhism in March in new Delhi. I will have a break in my university at the time. I think I will try it out.

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