Lama Drama

It was with relief and recognition that I read the interview with June Campbell in your Winter 1996 issue. For the first time, I have read of someone who acknowledged similar experiences to my own (and who implied the prevalence of that experience).  I too had an affair with a rinpoche, and then a long-term relationship with a former Tibetan monk. While the former relationship was necessarily more secretive than the latter, I can personally attest to the layer of secrecy, shame, and internal conflict that continues to prevail in the male/female relationships of those who have been immersed in the monastic system. Whether the secrecy may be externally justified by these Tibetan men because of the sexual nature of the relationship (as with the young rinpoche) or because of the “Western­ness” of the partner (as with the ex-monk), what is clear is that individuals who have been monastically trained hold a great deal of ambivalence towards their relations with women, and a need to contain the woman in specific, limited roles.

This, as June Campbell indicates, should not be unexpected given their monastic training. But, as more monks leave the monastery for a layperson’s life, and Tibetan culture changes and adjusts in response to continued exposure to the West, how will this training impact on the survival of Tibetan culture?

Courtesy of Suzie Rashkis.
Courtesy of Suzie Rashkis.

What is particularly interesting to me is the cultural role that Western women are playing in the perpetuation of this secrecy and ambivalence with regard to male/female relationships. I could relate and admit to the feelings of specialness and chosen-ness that June Campbell describes (these wise spiritual men had chosen me!); the possible allure of a Tibetan monk/ex-monk may be the obstacles he must overcome in order to be partnered with a Western woman.

Perhaps it is Western women’s own lack of identity that encourages this objectification. It is my belief that Western women participate in these relationships for all the normal relationship reasons, but perhaps most significantly to achieve “wisdom” vicariously, and an “interesting-ness” or specialness through the lens of another person and culture. Western women collude in the secrecy, perhaps with the hope that their role will one day be integrated and recognized. It is my experience that it never will.

New York, New York

June Campbell should be spanked and taught a lesson in gratitude for her interview about Kalu Rinpoche in your Winter Tricycle. She should know that when a lama asks her to do or not to do something he has a good reason that she may not understand.

Lee T. Wallace
Central, Utah

It’s hard to agree with everything that Ms. Campbell asserts, particularly doctrinal points such as the “fact” that having an “actual sexual consort is considered the most important ingredient in the path of tantra.” Many of her statements reflect resentment, or have a zealous quality that one wishes simply wasn’t there. Most incendiary may be the recounting of her own story, which would seem to charge the Ven. Kalu Rinpoche, a beloved and highly respected Tibetan teacher, with sexual (mis)conduct.

Courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
Courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

The emotional response provoked by her remarks may unfortunately serve to obscure a larger discussion: that of the relationship between the tulku system—so­ called “power by incarnation”—and the patriarchal structure of authority in the religious society of Tibet. How that system may have subjugated women, and how it may best translate within the very different context of Western societies are also subsets of a more general conversation currently taking place in our own culture about balances of power between the genders. It may be far too easy for some to be side- tracked in this interview by Ms. Campbell’s own story, her tone of victimization, or questionable dogmatism, to see the insight in what she is presenting.

As the dharma finds a home in the West it seems only natural that it will be scrutinized in the light of the contemporary philosophical issues within this culture. Many dharma students feel that the influence of women will become a great agent for changing the shape of Buddhism in this historic transition by giving voice, like Ms. Campbell, to their own experience and insisting upon inclusion within communication and power structures.

Some will undoubtedly find it impossible, even dangerous, to submit the sacred to examination. After all, lineage, the transmission of the teachings, and the system of incarnate teachers (tulkus) are inextricably linked through devotion in Tibetan Buddhism. This “treasury of jewels” is the source of inconceivable wisdom and is a central tenet of the faith. Yet certainly there is a way to look at every aspect of experience with unflinching clarity, equanimity, and respect—as the teachings themselves indicate—with the intention of understanding how the truth of compassionate reincarnation may best manifest given a different cultural balance. In fact, Ms. Campbell would seem to be espousing no less.

Through the courtesy, and blessings, of the tulku system, Ms. Campbell may someday have the opportunity to meet the “new” Kalu Rinpoche, now a young boy in India. May it be, for each, like meeting an old friend.

Michele Laporte
New York, New York

I admire June Campbell’s courage on coming forward. She intelligently and unemotionally addresses issues that have never been publicly discussed. Rather than play the victim, she offers some insightful analysis. It is time for more honest discussion about abuses of power especially when its dressed up in tantric garb.

I consider Ms. Campbell’s questioning to be dharma practice, even though some may see this as an attack on the Tibetan tradition. It is not. As members of the Sangha, we have a core obligation to be questioners. We are responsible—i.e., we are able to respond as spiritual adults. As the Dharma comes west, blind devotion to every oriental tradition or practice is irresponsible and foolish. Tibet produced an extraordinary spiritual tradition and it was a medieval culture filled with magic and superstition that have nothing to do with the Dharma. It is our job to discern what is Dharma and what is cultural karma.

Josh Baran
New York, New York

Congratulations to June Campbell for her frank discussion of a painful topic: the distorted uses of secrecy in Tibetan tantra. Ethical corruption, the abuse of power, and the use of lies, guilt, and fear to control students has been a problem in some Tibetan Buddhist communities in the West for a long time, and this behavior is by no means limited to male teachers. When the presumed perfection of a guru is used as a smokescreen for selfish activity, what refuge is really left for students except to grow up and start to think for themselves?

Rick Finney
Gaithersburg, Maryland

I very much appreciated the interview with June Campbell. I applaud this courageous effort to deal with feminist perspectives in Buddhism. I believe that articles such as this are needed to help think about and define a modern Western perspective of Buddhism. This is why I subscribe to Tricycle. Keep up the good work!

Edwin Basham
Amarillo, Texas

Bottoms Up

I hated Jeffrey Hopkins’ “The Tibetan Arts of Love,” but Tarma Dode’s “Liberating Self­Righteousness” wasright on! Wow!

Keep stirring us up. That’s why I subscribe to Tricycle.

Basil Langton
Santa Monica, California

 Tibet makes headlines, courtesy of Anthony Paskins.
Tibet makes headlines, courtesy of Anthony Paskins.

I am hoping against hope that the article “Liberating Self-Righteousness” was meant as a parody of the “anything-is-practice-as-long-as-you-can­rationalize-it” school of thought; that the giveaways are the author’s name (should we read Dharma Toad?) and the basic contradiction in the thesis: although it is supposedly an exercise in overcoming feelings of moral superiority, it comes down to the classic rationale for  exploitation—”these people are irredeemable, so it’s all right to use them for your own purpose as long as you talk nicely to them and pay them well.”

If the article is indeed a parody, then it is awfully subtle—perhaps too subtle for the typical American reader who has so little exposure to authentic Buddhist teachings and practice. If it is not a parody, it is a sad commentary on Buddhism here where sexploitation for those who can afford it is seriously advocated as an advanced Dharma practice.

Moreover, it is also a sad commentary on your editorial policy. You have become one of the most audible voices of Buddhism here. For 2,600 years Buddhism has stood for human dignity, compassion, and morality. I would hope that you have a strong sense of responsibility that comes with representing such a noble tradition. Please think carefully about where you draw the bottom line.

Jane Yudelman
Cambridge, Massachusetts

According to Tarma Dode’s logic, it might be spiritually beneficial to go out and get murdered, or better, to murder.

Lenore Baeli Wang
Hillsborough, New Jersey

Courtesy of Frank Olinsky.
Courtesy of Frank Olinsky.

The Dow of Poverty

With regard to political donations made to the Democratic National Committee by myself and other Fokuangshan Buddhists during the recent presidential race: the American public was apparently especially perplexed by how Buddhist monastics could personally have so much money that they would be willing to donate up to $5,000 to the DNC. And, since the monastics and lay members were all originally from Taiwan, why their interest in gaining influence in American politics? Americans are under the mistaken assumption that Buddhist monastics have taken a “vow of poverty.” Buddhist monastics do take many vows (monks take 250; nuns 348), but poverty is not one of them. Although monastics follow a simple life, with few personal possessions, those who have received gifts or inheritances from their families are free to spend such funds in any way they consider beneficial to Buddhism and society. As to the second question, while it is true that the people who donated funds during the Hsi Lai Temple banquet originally hail from Taiwan, all have either U.S. residency or citizenship. As is the case with all permanent residents, it is perfectly legal for us to contribute to political parties or candidates. To assume that we who contributed funds were working on behalf of the government of Taiwan is ludicrous and smacks of prejudice. We contributed to the DNC to demonstrate our respect for Vice President Al Gore and to encourage the government to act in ways that we believe are best for our own ethnic group, American society as a whole, and the entire global village.

Hsing Yun
Founder, Hsi Lai Temple
Hacienda Heights, California

Husbanding the Bodhi Mind

Garage door, San Francisco, courtesy of Stuart Smithers.

Although I’m not a subscriber to Tricycle (I surreptitiously read my wife’s copy) and am a secular humanist, I wish to thank you for the letters of many Buddhists that appear in your fine publication, whose authors provide me with a grateful insight into the beliefs of Buddhism. From the statement by your editor that “tolerance is a quality of being, not the product of liberalism,” to the warning by David Lewis that “you are going to be left with a readership comprising just a load of openminded non­judgmental types who actually welcome having their preconceptions challenged,” to the entire wonderful letter by A. C. German, to Stewart Cadenhead’s “positive unsuredness,” and to J. P. Reel’s obvious enthusi­ asm for life, I thank you.

Dick Cousineau


Thank you for the kind words about my book, How To Be a Help Instead of a Nuisance (reviewed in the Winter 1996 issue). I would like to correct one comment that could be misleading. Tracy Cochran states that the book is meant for “psychotherapists and other helping professionals.” Although the book is, indeed, meant to be useful to helping professionals, it is written for anyone who aspires to be of help to others: “parents with children, adults with aging parents, supervisors with employees, neighbors, friends, colleagues, relatives…”

Karen Kissel Wegela
Boulder, Colorado

Courtesy of Neal Crosbie.
Courtesy of Neal Crosbie.

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