Assignment Shambhala: Ari Goldfield and Rose Taylor

Via elephant journal
on May 7, 2010
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“The most important of a lama’s activity is his speech, his teaching.”—His Holiness the 17th Karmapa

What follows are my thoughts after a weekend spent with Ari Goldfield and Rose Taylor at the Shambhala Meditation Center of Chicago.

My wife had a total hysterectomy this week which has overtaken the events of last weekend at Shambhala Meditation Center of Chicago.

The surgery was a success, the cancer had not yet begun to spread, and it was not necessary to remove her lymph nodes.

Both of her parents died of cancer, and we had been down the oncology rabbit hole twice, so I’m relieved not to have to go there again.

I’ve spent the entire week camping out at the hospital reading the Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche text that Ari’s and Rose’s teaching followed.

In 1985 when I met Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, four years into my marriage with the Karma Kagyu, we weren’t on speaking terms.

His Holiness the 16th Karmapa had died, my guru no longer visited Chicago, and I didn’t like the direction my sangha had taken.

I had my practice, my commitment remained firm, so I had reached that point where so many of us go lone wolf as dharma practitioners.

Once I met Khenpo, although none of the facts of the matter had changed, he taught me a dharma perfectly suited to an American Buddhist such as myself.

Not that I don’t support Tibet as a cause and enjoy the company of Tibetans, but I was born in Paterson, New Jersey, and I’m American and not Tibetan.

As His Holiness the 17th Karmapa writes in his foreword to Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche’s Stars of Wisdom (Shambhala Publications, 2010):

“I have always admired Rinpoche’s way of training his students. His approach is direct, sincere, and uncontrived, and he is not afraid to use unorthodox methods when necessary. I find this unique and commendable.”

Unlike my sangha, KTC Chicago, which after the 16th Karmapa’s paranirvana went very Tibetan, I personally needed Khenpo to keep me in the fold.

Although Rinpoche’s teaching days are behind him, in his students Ari Goldfield and Rose Taylor we are in good hands moving forward.

I say this having spent last weekend enjoying their presentation of Rinpoche’s analytical meditation, songs of yogic joy, and prayers of aspiration.

Not that Ari solo isn’t a wonderful teacher, I especially appreciated his wife, Rose’s, coteaching on this tour with him.

Between marriages I spent thirteen years following Khenpo’s approach to the dharma solo and have found that being in a relationship only enhances my practice.

At the end of the teaching I gave Ari a hug and told him that if this is my last time attending a dharma teaching this weekend will be my favorite.

I’ve dreamed my entire life as a Karma Kagyu for someone like Ari and Rose to bring the Karma Kagyu lineage home for us.

A true wandering yogi who called the globe his home, Rinpoche always enjoyed teaching at Shambhala Meditation Centers around the world.

Their dedication to clarity and an open investigation of Tibetan Buddhism for a non-Tibetan audience worked quite well with his approach to the dharma.

I don’t get Shambhala Buddhism personally but I really enjoy the sangha here in Chicago and appreciate its support of Khenpo’s teachings.

I was quite disappointed that nobody from my own sangha, KTC Chicago, took the opportunity last weekend to do the same.

I spent most of the weekend on a couch outside the meditation hall listening to Ari and Rose on a small speaker.

My dying in slow motion is proceeding apace, and my days of attending weekend dharma teachings are behind me, but at least I made the effort.

Just as I was delighted the weekend before to watch my grandson hit a double in his Little League game I felt the same joy this last weekend.

After His Holiness the 16th Karmapa died and Tibetan Buddhism went its way and I went mine, it was Khenpo who showed me a way to remain Karma Kagyu.

I’m just glad I stuck it out, thanks to Rinpoche’s reframing of my relationship to the lineage; otherwise it never would have been possible for me.

My wife is being discharged this afternoon, but I wanted to post a column for this week, even though it doesn’t do justice to its intended subject.

I had discussed with Ari the sensitive subject of Khenpo’s sudden retirement for health reasons and its fallout.

Given how strongly Rinpoche’s students feel about the subject, it requires my undivided attention to write about, which this week hasn’t afforded me.

When I told Ari I wanted to write about it he cringed at the thought of what I might say and asked me to email him a link to my column.

I’ve seen that look of horror before on people’s faces when they don’t know what I’m going to say about a sensitive subject.

Perhaps I will write about it at a later date when I can devote an entire column to how people responded to an end of an era for Khenpo’s students.


Karmapa Chenno

(Please follow me on Twitter @RyderJaphy)


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45 Responses to “Assignment Shambhala: Ari Goldfield and Rose Taylor”

  1. rheilbrunn says:

    bill~~as always you call it as you see it and i feel your admiration for Dharma and your personal Path i understand your distraction and continue to wish you and your wife the best. this article, has kindled another little fire to get my butt up to Chicago to visit both KTC and the Shambhala Center. Peace Brother~~~

  2. Bill Schwartz says:


    I wish I had been able to do last weekend's teaching justice but I was barely home enough to feed our cat much less devote the necessary time and effort to explore the experience.

    The elements of Shambhala, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, Ari Goldfield, and Rose Taylor, each in themselves deserve a column to flesh out their stories adequately.

    Instead I ended up only being able to render a thumbnail sketch touching on these elements hoping my readers would appreciate a hurried dispatch given my circumstances to nothing.

    In the end the end my confidence in my tiny little audience here won over my dissatisfaction with the column I had managed to produce this week because I knew they would understand.

    My audience here has been declining anyway since becoming a columnist given that my subject is of such a narrow interest and lacking in the topicality necessary to appeal to a wider audience.

    I've also alienated those interested in Buddhism here by the narrowness of my focus upon the Karma Kagyu instead of attempting to be all things to all people for the sake of being popular.

    On the bright side people I respect such as yourself and others have been quite supportive of this column and have encouraged my development as an up and coming writer on the dharma scene.

    If I was to write about whether or not carrots are sentient beings I would fare much better as a contributor here but have chose to write original content instead that comes from my heart.

    When I recently offended fellow columnist John Pappas on Twitter when I responded to a snarky comment of his there which I didn't appreciate I lost his support and his readers too.

    One of the things Waylon told me early on as a contributor here was that he liked my not being "PR-ish" as an author which I didn't quite understand at the time but I'm beginning to get what he meant.

    I should have sucked up more to people before my novelty wore off as it has here instead of being true to myself but I've lived my entire life being myself and refuse to pretend otherwise for the sake of getting more views.

    The columns I am most proud of as a writer was "Confessions of an American Idiot Buddhist" and it was my biggest failure in terms of views here which spoke volumes to me.

    Fortunately I'm dying and have no future as a writer anyway so I really don't care at this point other than that as for long as I am able to continue to write be real and well written.

    In that regard "Assignment Shambhala" meets my personal criterion for publication despite knowing that it will otherwise be a failure in terms of views.

    My wife is home from the hospital, her surgery was a success and she is cancer free for the moment, and that is all I really care about at this point.

    Hopefully people will continue to comment on this column as they have consistently done so in the past but if they don't I'll be disappointed but I'll soldier on regardless.

    The elements of a discussion are present in the column despite my not being able to pull it together as much as I would have liked to so I leave it to my readers inclination to discuss what I have written.


  3. Bill Schwartz says:


    Your feed back is appreciated and explains much of the circumstance I find myself in as a writer. I continue to write because I made a commitment to Elephant Journal when I was asked to become a columnist.

    As far as the writing itself it isn't an issue. My wife is a book editor for a major publisher and I trust her judgment. And trust me, she is a tough editor and has rejected many a draft she found not up to her standards.

    She edits each column and although she likes some more than others no column is posted without first being subjected to her professional judgment as an editor.

    I also have the complete support of Waylon, the publisher of Elephant Journal. We have even discussed what my next step is as a writer, as have other readers of mine in the publishing business.

    The issue is that I'm dying, of course. If Elephant Journal readers aren't interested in supporting my column, which appears to be the trend, I simply want to know if I am wasting what time I have left.

    Given the medium allows me to ask my audience what they think I've asked the question. My previous column "Confessions" was a critical success as a piece of writing but otherwise not well received here.

    I have no interest in doing what others do here. I'm not a blogger. I don't search the internet for snappy little eye catching tidbits but instead write original content nobody else can write about.

    I have people that have been reading me since 2006 when I started writing about my experiences as a Karma Kagyu on Myspace. I'm not going to abandon my audience.

    I just need my audience's feedback to determine how I want to proceed given the current trend in my numbers. Writing original content takes a great deal of effort given my declining health.

    My physically not being able to even sit through a weekend dharma teaching sitting in the back of the meditation hall on a chair in the senior citizens' section was a wake up call for me.

    Last year I was able to effortlessly sit in the front row for such a weekend. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is coming to Chicago later this month and I won't be able to attend his teaching.

    I have to be realistic. When I post a column I expect my audience to respond in the form of comments about what I have written. If nobody is interested in discussing what I have written that speaks for itself.

    This column "Assignment Shambhala" isn't my best effort given my preoccupation with my wife's medical condition but the elements necessary for discussion are there.

    I'd love to discuss Khenpo, Ari, Rose, Shambhala, or anything else people want to talk about but I have to question whether people here are interested in having such a discussion.

    If not I'll concentrate on writing a book instead based on the columns I have written for Elephant Journal and begin pitching it to publishers which is the logical next step for me as a writer.


  4. Elize says:

    Thanks for writing, Bill. Much strength to you & your wife. I don’t have the background/knowledge to discuss much of anything Buddhist, but I want you to know that if you wrote a book, I’d buy it.


  5. mike says:

    Although I am not that familiar with the background of Karma Kagyu teachings, teachers or practice, I always enjoy reading of your rich personal history with this practice. Your devotion to to the dharma should be an inspiration to all.

    Your sharing of personal information regarding the health challenges both you and your wife face, keeps us grounded with hearts open to the sky.

    om mani padme hung

  6. MaryLouise says:

    Bill, I found out about you from the "Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar " blog, and have been reading ever since. You are a breath of fresh air. I suspect there are many like myself that have not commented. Doesn't mean we are not reading your brilliant, lucid posts. I love hearing about your personal life. Context is crucial. Your style is immediate and to the point.
    We are all dying, at different paces. Thank you so much for the glimpses into your process.

    I plan to read "Stars of Wisdom." Am a Nyingma practitioner, but does that really matter?

  7. John Morrison says:

    Hey Bill:

    Looking forward to you digging more in-depth into your experience with KTGR. Whatever specifics you could share about what he may have taught you that re-focused you on the path would certainly be helpful. We all get discouraged and wander off briefly – Karma Kagyu, Vajrayana fundamentalists, McBuddhists, and DIY-ers alike.

    I wouldn't put too much credence in "only" getting 500 views and 50 comments……I once asked Thrangu Rinpoche what I could do to help the dharma – to which he replied "Be kind to all beings". In that he said it in English – and not through the translator – I had the suspicion that it was a "stock" answer of some sort. Once I finally followed through on Rinpoche's instructions and paid attention to their fruit, I realized they were true and profound.

    If your article got one view and one comment telling you to go to vajra-hell. But years later your experience was helpful to someone – then every minute you spent in this effort was worth it. If one person were to seek out the dharma because they were interested in what you wrote – then what great benefit!

    As Kalu Rinpoche said: "You can give people money or food and help them for a while, you can give them an education and help them for one life, but if you give them an opportunity to really meet with their mind, to understand that their mind is indestructible space, you help them for life, for death, what comes after death and for all future lives."

    Karmapa Chenno! (By the way, did you see the brief interview with the Karmapa in Newsweek?)

  8. integralhack says:


    I'm with Kris on that one–reference to a Karma Kagyu book would be welcome. I know that a book can't replace practice or time spent with a guru, but it would be appreciated all the same.


    Matt (DIY McBuddhist Whippin' Boy) Helmick

  9. Bill Schwartz says:


    Nice to meet you. I had to split my last response into two posts. I like to ramble. My column is a work in progress and I appreciate your support.

    Feedback from my readers is an integral part of what I do here. I'm not a dharma teacher. I do have a lot of time on my hands at this point in my life though.

    As an American Buddhist I have a perspective on Tibetan Buddhism in America which I'm not afraid to share with people for fear of retribution from Tibetan Buddhists.

    This has begun to resonate with people here. People have begun to talk about their own experiences. Everyone has a story. The American Buddhist experience is nothing if not diverse.

    The other weekend when Ari and Rose were here I had a chance to talk with a lot of aging baby boomers at the Shambhala Center and listen to their stories.

    Whenever I mentioned Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche and KTC Chicago there would be a chill in the room. The last thing they wanted to talk about was Tibetan Buddhism.

    That's why they ended up at the Shambhala Meditation Center. They read Chogyam Trungpa's books as kids and they spoke to them. The center here is a part of their lives.

    Since Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche went over twenty years without visiting Chicago and they only know of his disciples here. That's unfortunate. I appreciate their discomfort with Tibetan Buddhism in America.

    Our path is the path of faith. Although Rinpoche is a Khenpo few of us have a strong sense of the path of reasoning. We tend to be one legged Buddhists in this regard; very one dimensional.

    I spent the 1970's at SIU-Carbondale. And of course I had many an adventure partying on the City of New Orleans. The train was the best party on wheels.

    You could catch the train in southern Illinois on a Friday after class, party with people that have been at it since New Orleans, crash in Chicago overnight, and be back in time for classes on Monday.

    I have many fond memories of Chicago in the 1970's. I'm not a one dimensional Buddhist. I've lived a very full life. I never disowned who I am in the name of the dharma.

    I was able to do this in no small part thanks to meeting Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche in 1985. Although a highly regarded Tibetan Buddhist he taught the path of reason.

    He had faith in us that as our confidence in what he taught grew so would our faith in him as a teacher. He taught us how to stand on our own two feet as American Buddhists.

    I'm sorry about the problem with posting comments. Just split them in two if you like to ramble as I do. I live for hearing from my readers. I love listening to people tell their stories here.


  10. Bill Schwartz says:


    Without an intelligent examination of what one is being taught one can be a Tibetan Buddhist. This is the norm for Tibetans. It has served them well for centuries.

    Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche chose to teach the path of reason. He had faith that if we examined what he taught we would have faith in him as a teacher.

    No lengthy reasoning process is required. It's a common misconception that the path of reasoning is a lengthy process.

    On the contrary, Khenpo teaches the path of reasoning through songs. For example, from his teaching "Stars of Wisdom":

    Even though all phenomena are unborn,
    Beings are born again and again in samsara—
    This is mere dependent appearance, the convergence of causes
    an conditions;
    When we believe it is real, suffering increases.

    We examine how we cling to true existence and suffer for it through listening, contemplating, and meditating upon specific verses until we develop genuine faith in its truth.

    We sing these verses. We make them our own through repeatedly examining them. We don't just take them on faith. One verse at a time, listening, contemplating, and meditating.

    It's quite marvelous really in practice. Ari or Rose would sing a verse. Then the audience would sing it. Then we would sit together. After giving it a moment to sink in we would talk about it.

    The more questions the better. What is phenomena? What does it mean to say that phenomena is unborn? There are no stupid questions. There are no wrong answers.

    There's more dharma practice in one verse of Khenpo thoroughly examined than a volume of dharma simply accepted as a matter of faith in noble silence.

    When asked where he lived Rinpoche would answer that the globe is his home. This is a dharma for the globe. If you are Tibetan it works. If you aren't, it still works.

    I'm good with Tibetan Buddhism in America. I don't support it. I appreciate the path of faith and noble silence. I practiced it for years before meeting Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche.

    My faith waned given my circumstances. It wasn't for lack of faith in my guru. It simply never felt right for me at a gut level. It wasn't me.

    I needed the shot in the arm Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche provided me to keep my faith. Both my guru's path of faith and Khenpo's path of reasoning go hand in hand.

    They are two sides of the same coin, heads and tails, you can't pass a coin without it having both sides. Only a fool would accept a coin with only one side.


  11. Colleen Reed says:

    Hello Bill, I recently discovered your columns here on Elephant Journal. Glad to see you've found a congenial medium for your commentaries.
    Just wanted to correct a minor error in one of your previous articles. I think it was in the "dancing unicorns" article that you posted a YouTube video of this year's Losar ceremonies at KTD, and mentioned that I was in attendance. You must have mistaken me for some other person, as I was not present. (Haven't been at KTD or Karme Ling for several years, actually.)
    Best wishes for good health for you and your wife.

  12. Bill Schwartz says:

    Internse debate or someone at Elephant Journal either lost or deleted my response to my last responce to Shunyata_Kharg, Chris Ireland for some reason.

    I'm not interested in any excuse they may have. This will be my last Elephant Journal until resolved. This isn't the first time this has happened. My next column is ready post.

    When or if I post again will be determined by the response by Intense Debate and Elephant Journal I'm afraid. I previously informed both that if comments not fixed will break off relationship.

    Without a functioning comment section I see no reason to post my column here. Again, it's written. My wife ready to edit today. I planned to post this evening.

    If you would like to read my next column bring it up with Intense Debate and Elephant Journal. It will appear when my deleted comment appears. Sorry.


  13. Zendette says:


    I just discovered your writing in the past week and I love reading what you have to say. I also had a problem with Tibetan Buddhism and the whole guru devotion thing that seemed so prevalent to me. Getting whacked really hard by an American Tibetan lama didn't endear Tibetan Buddhism to me, but did result in my seeking out other views. I ended up studying at a Shambhala Center for a while. I liked the fact that they weren't overly Tibetan. They seemed to create space for Buddhism, be it Tibetan, Zen, or a combination, to thrive.

    It is refreshing to read such views from someone who has experienced so much, and isn't afraid to share views in public for fear of retribution from Tibetan Buddhists.

    I'm glad your wife's surgery went well. Please do whatever you can to take care of yourself so your readers can continue to vicariously share your experiences. Thank you for creating the space for discussion on one of the toughest topics facing Western Buddhists of all flavors.

    If you aren't posting here, where else can I read what you write? I follow you on Twitter, so I assume you will update there.


  14. Zendette says:


    You are always welcome to guest blog on my site, although the main focus is not Buddhism.

  15. Zendette says:

    then again, if you want to publish as blog posts, you can set up your own blog really simply, and with no fees at all. I started out blogging on a free WordPress account.

  16. Zendette says:

    Bill, good news, just so long as I know where to find your feisty discussions!

  17. Monique says:


    We might not all have a chance to comment on your articles sometimes but that doesn't mean we ain't reading them or supporting you all the same!

    I hope you keep writing cause each time I read your articles, or the interesting comments that are generated as a result, I always learn something.

    Keeping you and your wife in my thoughts and prayers,


  18. ceciliawyu says:

    I think it is more important to put your faith in the philosophy, than to rely on self-proclaimed so-called students of a famous teacher. Khenpo Tsultrim actually had a lot to say about that in his many decades of teachings and it is interesting that this particular translator…with his penchant for selective truth…and being only one amongst many Khenpo students..decides to market himself as suddenly the great white Marpa in the buddhist world. Beware of false icons and self-appointed heroes choosing to be selective about a teacher's work in order to further their own personal need for control! Last checked, Buddhism should not be a cult of personalities…it should be about what it does for one's personal journeys.

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