The Dharma of Twitter? ~ Thubten Gonpo Yeshe (David) Williams

Via on Nov 11, 2010

A Twittering Monk.

Give Me That Old Time (Vajrayana) Religion.

Having spent a year in the Twitterverse, it’s been an eye opener for me how much interest there is in Buddhism, and in particular, the aspect of Buddhism that is practiced in Vajrayana or what’s commonly referred to as “Tibetan” Buddhism.

The Vajrayana path rests on one principle and can be expressed in one word: View. The point of Vajrayana practice is to actually realize or accomplish (not intellectualize about) the emptiness of all phenomena.

This is what I try to keep in mind as I am opening up my Tweetdeck program. Some days I am successful in practicing View as I tweet, other days it’s as if the concept had never been taught to me. My Teacher and true Spiritual Friend, Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo, calls this the “rubber band” mind: stretch and snap back based on our habits of mind. So I set my intention daily, do my practices and trust in her wisdom that over time View will become effortless.

Back to the present: why is a monk on Twitter? There are many reasons for me not to be. An argument could be made that tweeting is inconsistent with my vows. The head of our Palyul lineage, His Holiness Karma Kuchen Rinpoche, has chosen explicitly not to be on Twitter (the tweets that you may have seen from @karmakuchen have been tweeted by an imposter). He said there is too much talk there. A reason to be on Twitter would be to teach, but I am not a teacher, so I can only share personal experience. No wisdom mind here. I could use my time to debate with others some obscure (or sometimes not so obscure) point of Buddhadharma, but what is the point of that other than to indulge the habits of mind that I am trying to purify? So on the intellectual front I am somewhat of a buzzkill for those who do enjoy that type of engagement.

I am on Twitter because my teacher is on Twitter. Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo has always been, and always will be, a trailblazer for Vajrayana in the West. She was the first woman recognized as a Tulku (consciously reincarnating being that chooses deliberate rebirth in time and place). She was recognized in the mid-1980s by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche and enthroned as a Tulku in 1988. Together with His Holiness Penor Rinpoche she established a Temple in Poolesville, MD that has been Holiness’ seat in the West; built dozens of stupas including three 36-foot stupas, and two 22-foot stupas. She has written and recorded original music, gave her blessing for more than 60 Westerners to take ordination in the Palyul lineage; gathered sangha, ordained and lay, throughout the US, Canada and Australia; started animal rescues and animal sanctuaries; taught prolifically leaving for us a treasury of Dharma teachings. Her most recent endeavor has been to get on Twitter.

I recall that Jetsunma checked out Twitter for about a month, just watching how it works and doing some tweeting, then said,

“there is potential to reach many beings through Twitter who otherwise may not be able to connect with Dharma in this lifetime. I am going to use Twitter to reach students.”

I am not sure what is in the giving of a name at ordination, whether latent qualities are recognized, but His Holiness gave me the name “Gonpo Yeshe,” which roughly translates to “Protector of Dharma Wisdom.” To me Jetsunma is Dharma Wisdom, so to a large extent my response to her going on Twitter was to follow her as a support and, if need be, protector.

At this time, female + Tulku + assertive (which Jetsunma is) = controversy.

Like a theorem in geometry class, that formula has always been the case for Jetsunma. Whether it is that she didn’t cut her hair, or that she paints her nails, or that she hasn’t studied in a monastery, or her spoken Tibetan is rough, or that she pays hommage to her Guru in one tweet and then drops the “F-bomb” in another—people react to her. Recently, sadly, this has developed into a situation that may be on the brink of becoming violent with threats, bullying and an orchestrated campaign of slander. I imagine that as the reactivity has mounted, she has reconsidered whether to be on Twitter. So far she has stayed put, I imagine, because she is accomplishing her purpose by reaching more and more people daily and providing them a connection to Dharma.

I intend to be on Twitter with her as long as I can be of service.

I have learned a lot during this last year on Twitter. My admiration for Jetsunma has grown as I have witnessed her steadfast commitment to end suffering unfold in the face of various obstacles. She’s taught me a lot by her example of selfless love. Because I am not attending in her personal household, I do not have daily contact with her, but Twitter has opened up a new opportunity for contact. Twitter has also given me the opportunity to challenge latent concepts of what I am doing as a Buddhist monk.

Vajrayana View as I understand it essentially asks that we drop our preconceived notions, recognize our reactions and why they arise from an internal perspective. For example, I always get a little bit interested, excited, when I see a hot, fresh Krispy Kreme donut. Is that because of the donut? Probably in part, but mostly it is because it is my habit to like a hot Krispy Kreme donut. That desire, the reaction, comes not from the donut to me, but arises in me because I like donuts. To stretch the analogy ridiculously, Twitter is one big conveyor belt of donut after donut, just like in the Krispy Kreme store. The opportunities to react are endless, the stimulus just keeps coming. With that much stimulation, it’s easy to forget about View. Eventually the desire just takes over, and I am just blindly following my habits. Dropping the preconceived notion of the donut takes work—otherwise things stay superficial and I kid myself about any real change (which is the purpose of View) taking place. I could end up looking nice while inside burning with craving and greed.

As I watch my Teacher work on Twitter, I see a person who wants us to go beyond the superficial and work at personal change. It has been her life’s mission to lead beings in that process. If we are practicing Vajrayana, we need to keep the fundamentals intact in order for there to be a potent result. Vajrayana View directs us to accept our Teachers, our Root Guru, as perfect. I don’t think they meant perfect in the “good girl, good boy” sense (though there is nothing wrong with that), but perfect in terms of having the qualities and capacity to guide us to enlightenment. In this regard, it doesn’t matter really what the Teacher looks like or says or does. In fact, we are better off if we do not attempt to judge a Teacher based on those superficial qualities—not because Vajrayana asks students to be dumb, but because the real action takes place at a different level and we need every precious moment to devote to deep spiritual change.

Most of the ordained I know who are Westerners and live in the West have to work in addition to their duties as a monk or nun. Most lay people work and have families. Since we don’t have a lot of time available to contemplate and practice as it is, why waste a bit of it on activities that, while feeding the ego, don’t address the fundamental change that we could undergo with the blessing of our Teachers?

The centerpiece of our practice in the Palyul lineage is the Guru’s blessing and our intention with regard to it. If our intention is to cultivate ordinary View (for example, arguing with the Guru, having an arrogant attitude, etc.) then the result of our practice will likely be ordinary. If our intention is to cultivate extraordinary View, the result can be extraordinary. This is the old-fashioned Vajrayana-style path. My Teacher, Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo (who tweets as @JALpalyul) with deep compassion appears in a form as a human (so that we can recognize and relate to her) to liberate beings from their suffering. That’s enough for me. I see her as my pure Teacher. I see her as my true Spiritual Friend. I see her as the source of the blessings of the Buddha. It’s all true; she is all this; this is the beginning of View that liberates.

This is the context of my thoughts while I am tweeting. Many people understand the context, but some don’t. There is a bevy of folks on Twitter—mostly men, coincidentally—who see themselves as smart and insightful (all true) and who find it difficult to grok that their opinions and so-called insights are impediments to their enlightenment. Consequently, they don’t get me and they don’t get my Teacher. It’s not so important that they don’t get me (it would be inconsequential if they did), but it is a missed opportunity to not get what Jetsunma is offering. So far it looks like they have missed it, based on their harassment, name-calling, and questioning of her as they would me, displaying that lacking View which is essential for accomplishment on the Vajrayana path.

If I were a betting man, I’d put down money that she will continue to “tweet” you exactly what is on her mind regardless of what that may look or sound like. Whether from my Teacher or any qualified Buddhist Teacher, the challenge from an old time Vajrayana perspective is to use the moments that have caught our attention to deepen in our practice, rather than increase our poisons.

After all, this is the purpose of a spiritual life in Buddhism, isn’t it?

Find Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo on Twitter @JALpalyul.

Visit KPC’s website at

Gonpo Yeshe (David) Williams is an ordained monk in the Nyingma Palyul tradition. He is a student of Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo and lives at the Temple that Jetsunma and His Holiness Penor Rinpoche founded in 1985, Kunzang Odsal Palyul Changchub Choling in Poolesville, MD.  He also works with homeless and chronicallly mentally ill adults.

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33 Responses to “The Dharma of Twitter? ~ Thubten Gonpo Yeshe (David) Williams”

  1. Padma Kadag says:

    I am curious as to why you have chosen to write this blog. Two things come to mind. One is that you are defending her use of Twitter. Two is you are drumming up support on a public scale. It is one thing to reach out to those already on a mailing list…quite another to broadcast support for your teacher publically. Not only are you and she breaking ground being on Twiiter but also breaking new ground by publically seemingly asking for support from non sangha members and those who have not taken Vajrayana vows. What do you think?

  2. michelle says:

    I feel that in this day and age it is a true Blessing to have Teachers that are willing to Teach where ever possable, not just in the traditional ways. It is a shame that she has been slammed the way she has… It does not speak highly of humans.. or of buddhist students… I too hope she continues as well as the other Masters who r currantly using Twitter

  3. Ani Thupten Palmo says:

    For 30 years I have revered and greatly respected my heart teacher Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo. At the time of my ordination, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche told me, "follow her, she will lead you to enlightenment". Of this I have no doubt.

  4. Blake Wilson Blake says:

    I'm sorry to hear that you and your teacher have been attacked. People seem to latch on to views like a pit-bull on a tire swing and will be just as tenacious to knock others down so they don't have to let go. Good luck and let me know if I can help!

  5. Yogiman says:

    Jetsunma demonstrated to the world through her new found communication network "Twitter" how she can attack people who work in veterenarian offices in Ohio, including the head veterenarian:… and she called a fellow Buddhist whom she didn't know on twitter an Asshole for no apparant reason. Even if sombody gives a Buddhist a reason for calling them some derogatory name, as a Buddhist practitioner there is no need to call them an asshole, or anything else derogatory for that matter. Her students said it was because she was doing him a kindness to call him an asshole, many students of hers view whatever she does as "right" or "kind", for instance her bug zapper in the tree next to the stupa is a witness to what she thought was the kind way to kill them, had she had proper training she would have never hung a bug zapper up in a tree right next to a stupa, so she demonstrates she is not infallible, like some kind of a god, and she can make mistakes, like bug zapping! (continued)

  6. Gonpo Yeshe says:

    It looks as if those who hound, harass and stalk Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo have now shown up on Elephant Journal. The blog cited here is simply a hate blog created by an obsessed individual (or group of individuals). It is anonymously authored because the content under law would risk a libel lawsuit (which would be successful). This is one of three comments from this obsessed person. I wish him or her well and ask that their obsessive stalking of Ahkon Lhamo cease. By their own admission, these "anonymous' bloggers have acknowledged they have never met Ahkon Lhamo. What they have to say is regrettable. I think it reinforces the message in my article.

  7. Kunzang says:

    I have read many of the timelines. I personally don't consider criticism to be attacks or harassment, particularly when those criticisms are reasonable. For example, I think any reasonable person would consider a Mahayana Buddhist nun selling meat for her livelihood as controversial and inviting criticism.

    Insults, even the potty-mouthed ones of @vajragurl are not harassment in the context of twitter, since you can always choose whether to view them. No one forces you to read them. You can do a few things, such as unfollow, and block individuals that you don't like what they say about you. Internet 101: don't feed the trolls.

    Twitter has further helpful suggestions for what steps to take if you think people are being abusive:

  8. Gonpo Yeshe says:

    Please Yogiman, you have made your point. Your foul language and claims on behalf of Palyul is not welcome. Please if you are a practitioner, go back to refuge in your Root Guru and start again from there. You will benefit and one day beings with whom you have a connection with you may benefit eventually. Please just stop. Thank you. ~ Gonpo

  9. Karma Tashi says:

    Thank you, Gonpo Yeshe, for modeling devotion and aspiration to be of benefit. Those qualities need to come forward in Buddhist "debate," on twitter and elsewhere. They need to supercede the aggressive clinging to being "right," which only reinforces the delusion of separation of self and other.

  10. kpcmonk says:

    Yes, thank you.

  11. Yogiman says:

    2 quotes from Gonpo monk: "I'm taken aback when lies are told about my Root Guru" and "she admonishes us to, speak the truth." You are speaking YOUR TRUTH not others truth, you speak your relative truth for you, unfortunately making it sound like it should be ultimate truth for everybody else. For me she demonstrates mistakes, that is my own karmic vision, I own it, for you she is a Buddha. For example, today on twiter (Nov 13th 2010) Jetsunma thinks @detchen_dorje who is a genuine Nyingmapa practitioner, a devoted follower of Chagdud Rinpoche, dedicated father, and Dr. is really Bill Cassidy, she said so, she just "thinks so" because she "figured it out" and refuses to follow him as he reaches out for dharma friends on twitter.

  12. Yogiman says:

    Old time KPC student Karma Tashi seems to exemplify a typical dualistic discursive knee jerk tendency, which is you're either "for" Jetsunma or you are "against" her, things are "black" or "white", "right" or "wrong", you're seeing "pure dharma" or "pus and blood". GET OVER YOURSELF! This idea that people are either "friend" or "foe" should have been done with in Buddhism 101

  13. Drolma says:

    For those who wish to criticize Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo, I invite you to please, look at her teachings of the past 25 years. If you want to know who she is- THAT IS THE PLACE TO START. Why listen to those who's intentions are to adversely affect the lives of countless beings who are hungry for pure Dharma teachings. Jetsunmas' students, who have taken their vows seriously, have seen miracles, have become happier, healthier, more kind and sincerely wish to be of benefit, can attest to her sublime compassion. Not those who have examined their teacher, as recommended, taken vows, only to decide later on- to drop not only their practice but their vows. These types of people are the ones who find fault with one such as Jetsunma, who is like a mirror that reveals to the student their mind. Vajrayana is not for the weak, not for those who change their minds later after making lifelong commitments or for those who are unable to develop devotion to anything but their own egos.

  14. Yogiman says:

    "I feel that it is a shame when unenlightened beings, that is mind unware, insult Throne Holders with such disreguard."
    Its an opinion not an insult, to which "unenlilghtened" people everywhere are entitled, both your comments seem to demonstrate some kind of "Magical thinking" .

  15. Yogiman says:

    Gonpo Yeshe, your claim: "Anonymous comments like this one, the one before it, and I am sure the one to come, have become par for the course". This is like the pot calling the kettle black. There are numerous KPC anonymous twitter accounts that are very active. They are often verbally "all over" anybody that has an opinion concerning Jetsunma other than what appears to be KPC "party line". Jetsunma re-tweets these anonymous KPC accounts, just two examples: @shamanspell whose real name on twitter is "OmAhHung" and @puredharma whose real name is "puredharma". The way anonymous KPC accounts hounded @ryderjaphy is enough to make any rational person who voices an opinion to you think twice about exposing identity. He compared the chatter filling up his tweet stream to the sounds a "flying butt monkey" would make!

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  17. Heidi says:

    You are correct about Tibet. They eat meat there, because their agriculture is not great. However, there are still some vegetarians there. I was in Amdo, Tibet a couple of years ago, and we had vegetarian food and meat at the monastery I was at. However, here in the west, it is not difficult to be a vegetarian. We have a choice. As a Buddhist, you have to think about the life you are taking when you eat meat. You can say all of the prayers you want, but that will not change your motivation (you choosing meat over other options). Think about it, Tibetans cannot help but to eat meat. They also have rules when it comes to eating or serving meat. Westerners do not have to eat meat. There is no reason why we should. That makes meat eating a choice for us. You are choosing to eat that animal, and in a way, you are killing that animal for your own pleasure, because you cannot give up that attachment to meat. It is your karma.

  18. theVOICE ofREASOMN says:

    This woman is the leader of a cult. I have nothing against her personally. But as a "leader" – well, just to say she is a leader is a joke. Jim Jones, poeple of that nature come to mind when I think of this woman. What about her well-known sexual relationship with a male "student" who has mental problems, the relationship started before he was 18 – come pon this woman is a crack pot. And she is just getting attention bvy doing this. No one cares enough about hewr to actually harm her. If she ha gone into hiding, why the heck won't she be quiet???

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