As a Karma Kagyu lama I don’t do one size fits all Tibetan Buddhism 

I submit for your consideration the following from our discussion here of what to look for in a sangha as it pertains the post-Karmapa Karma Kagyu lineage of today in the United States, specifically.

I happily defer to Karma Kagyu elsewhere to speak of their experiences as it pertains to choosing a Karma Kagyu sangha in their country if they are so inclined, but I say this for the sake of providing a context for my comments here.

That being said I don’t know where the person whose comment follows here is from so I can’t speak to how it fits into our discussion as such but I thought it worth responding to nonetheless.

“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.

Here’s my response to the above.

“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.”

For 22 year old me, and my generation of dharma practitioners, we approached 57 year old Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche and his generation of Tibetan exiles in our country at the time with a skepticism born from cutting our teeth as children on Watergate, “don’t trust anyone over thirty” were words to live by for us, which is why my meeting 29 year old Shamar Rinpoche had such an influence on 22 year old me.

His was the path not taken here in the United States if you were a disciple of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche as I have been for the past 36 years, that being said, the wisdom Shamar Rinpoche shared with me in 1981 remains an important part of the dharma practitioner I am today.

Much has changed over my years as a dharma practitioner but this remains as relevant today as it was in 1981, what matters is not how Tibetans elsewhere practice the dharma is irrelevant to how we practice the dharma here.

How Tibetans practice the dharma has an obvious place in the process of how we practice the dharma here if your teacher is Tibetan, or a disciple of a Tibetan such as I am.

My daily practice, what I have done day in and day out for the past thirty six years is Tibetan in origin, but for the fact that I’m doing it not as a Tibetan but as I do it, which is ultimately unique to me personally, as Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche instructed me to do these practices over the course of our 36 years years together as guru and disciple.

I can’t emphasize this point enough here.

If you ever find yourself speaking to someone at a Karma Kagyu dharma center in the United States of America in 2017 and they are talking to you about Tibetan tradition in regards to your practice you are talking to the wrong person.

As a founding member of Chicago KTC I tell you that in even the best of sanghas there are the wrong people to associate with and the right people to associate with and whom you choose to associate yourself with is the most important decision a person new to a sangha can make in my opinion.

Anyway, the decision is yours, but these are my thoughts on the subject this morning, such as they are.

Say no to one size fits all Tibetan Buddhism and you will never regret having done so.

For better or for worse it is your practice, accept no substitute for what works for you in your practice.



Filed under Buddhism

4 responses to “As a Karma Kagyu lama I don’t do one size fits all Tibetan Buddhism 

  1. okiebuddhist

    Bill, what’s your purpose of using the term, lama? Are you using it in defiance of the concept of a U.S. retreat lama, who may not have realization and receives the title of lama anyway?

    • Actually in 1981 57 year old saw in 22 year old me a lama. In 1983 he gave me the lung and tri for Mahamudra, confirming this.

      That 58 year old me has come out as a lama is not to cast shade on Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche’s retreat lamas but instead simply me owning what I am at this point in my life, a Karma Kagyu lama.

  2. If you can make something a habit through ritual, then it’s very easy to think you’ve mastered something. I think people like that instant gratification, that feeling of mastery. However, for a habit to be effective, there can’t be a deviation from the environment in which the habit was trained. I got up from the cushion one day and realized it really wasn’t going to help me.

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