Tango with the Dancing Bear.

Via elephant journal
on Mar 29, 2010
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Ryder Japhy as Dancing Bear

If it displeases you, leave it alone. Terchen Barway Dorje

I’m having a hard time getting this article past my wife, the editor. I suppose my tone is spoiling for a fight.

It’s times like these that I find myself discovering a whole new level of appreciation for the teachings of the whispered lineage.

Every week I do my best to engage my little audience here (either Karma Kagyu or sympathetic enough to consider a lineage-holder-based transmission of the dharma).

But as inevitably as mud beckons an eight-year-old boy come the first mild day of spring after a winter stuck indoors, I can’t resist messing with people.

Someone gets hurt, or offended, or simply doesn’t take a shine to me, and the trolls come out (love my trolls: like hitting pay dirt, it never gets old for me).

I readily admit that I am who I am, and not much has changed over the past half-century of my life since I took refuge, I’m afraid.

No surprise then that Taming the Wolf author Greg Stone (conflict resolution consultant) is so pissed at me (thank you Greg for making me so popular).

Call me whatever you like, the dancing bear a favorite (an interesting approach to conflict resolution): like Atisha taught, I’ll keep you in my mind.

More than a few here can distinguish between the swan song of a Karma Kagyu and the siren song of someone making it up as he goes along, and I write for those more than a few.

Like the 17th Karmapa said, we aren’t looking for converts to our lineage, so step off or step up; it makes no difference to me (both equally empty as far as I’m concerned).

As Terchen Barway Dorje (1836-1918) sang, “cast praise and disrespect to the winds.” My path is clear, regardless of whichever you choose.

All of my life I’ve had awkward encounters with people who can’t deal with me personally, or with the dharma of lineage holders (and, therefore, I must be a fraud).

It’s a bit like the government of Sri Lanka using Buddhism to justify suppressing the freedom of expression (there’s some dharma involved but it’s mostly personal).

I can’t speak for my readers, but I get a kick whenever trolls pop up calling me names (as if I actually cared what they think—this old bastard too far gone to care).

First it begins with talk of ego as if my beloved trolls would want to live in a world in which nobody has an ego.

In the seventies we had a problem with cults during the New Age epidemic before teachers such as Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche arrived to instruct us.

You always knew you were dealing with a cult when you began to feel your self-esteem being undermined.

At first they are nice but then they really begin to rag on you, going on about your ego and how it would so much easier if you didn’t have one.

It’s called psychology, and as Traleg Rinpoche has noted, whenever some cult goes off the deep end there’s always a psychologist leading the way.

We have no need for such nonsense as Buddhists unless our audience is made up of a bunch of shrinks in search of a deeper understanding of the mind.

“There’s nothing that needs to be discarded or abandoned and nothing that needs to be cultivated or added onto,” according to Kyabgon Traleg Rinpoche.

That’s always been my approach and the approach of every Karma Kagyu lineage holder from whom I’ve ever received the dharma.

Last appointment, my cardiologist called me the poster child for severe congestive heart failure (having lived to tell of the hell I’ve been through the past year).

In truth when he asked how I was doing all I could say was “I’m alive but I have no life” (which prompted his remarking how amazing it is that I’m even alive).

I credit the blessings of all of the ripening empowerments I’ve ever received from lineage holders (and their pointing-out instructions) for surviving it all.

If I didn’t have my ego, if I wasn’t who I am and didn’t have complete confidence in everything I’ve been taught by my teachers, I don’t know what I’d do.

In the end, as Barway Dorje sang in his day, “there are no words here meant to irritate anyone.” Step up or step off; the choice is yours.

Either way I’m more than glad to be a bear dancing for your amusement (writing about my life and times as a Karma Kagyu for my friend Waylon).

All I ask is that instead of spitting in my tip jar, make your voice heard politely and respectfully (and enjoy the conversation here that I hope I’m responsible for starting).


Karmapa Chenno

Ryder Japhy

Bill Schwartz (@RyderJaphy on Twitter)


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71 Responses to “Tango with the Dancing Bear.”

  1. bill schwartz says:


    The first time I ever travelled for a dharma teaching in my entire life was in 2008 when my wife and I spent our last penny in our savings to fly to Seattle to see the 17th Karmapa.

    I wanted something to remember what was a trip of a lifetime for me and I braved the souvenir table at the last moment Sunday afternoon and it was a terrifying experience for me.

    I was fortunate in being a big man that looked more like the vendors than like the mosh pit of spiritual "types" waving their credit cards and was waved to the front of the line.

    It is unlikely that I will ever have the funds to ever travel again to see a dharma teaching (even with health insurance the out of pocket is killing us).

    If that is your experience of the Karma Kagyu (put it on my Visa card!!!!) that is something I'm glad to have but once having to have to experience as a dharma practitioner.


  2. bill schwartz says:


    I imagine Waylon to be someone like myself in my younger days never had to pay for a drink (bartenders always assumed I was with the band).

    The only difference being he drinks for free being a great guy and I drank because of my size and my butt-ugly look that made me look like someones muscle.


  3. Shunyata Kharg says:


    I feel privileged to be on the receiving end of your attempts at writing. I truly hope that everybody that has ever loved you, your wife, your children, your grandchildren and your friends (dharma and otherwise) has the opportunity to read what you are writing here.

    I cannot begin to imagine what your life must have turned into after that fateful night. Each person’s suffering seems to me to be so intimate and personal, pushing so many hidden away and private buttons even unknown to the sufferer herself, to be virtually incompressible to another.

    But we all suffer, as the Buddha so rightly perceived. Compared to the loss of a father as a young adolescent, what I have suffered would seem almost trivial in comparison, as a story, but possibly as an internal event wouldn’t be a million miles away from where you were. And so the same could be said for us all.

    Externalizing these demons, these figments of our mind, has got to be one of the best ways of using them in our dharma practice. And doing so in public amplifies by a hundred-fold the merit, an increase only matched by the level of courage required to do so. But then you and I know that you have nothing to lose. Yet again, I will accuse you of being a very fortunate man for being able to live, even for a few years, in that state of being.

    I’ve got “The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa” sitting in front of me, and I know that Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche uses Milarepa’s songs of realization in his teachings. Garma C.C. Chang will tell you that the entirety of the vajrayana path is encapsulated in his teachings. No need to tell you that the tantric aspect of Milarepa’s songs goes right over my head, but then the identicality of Mind and Prana is the fundamental theorem of Tantrism, right? As far as Mind goes, seeing is believing.

    Amor et Pax,


  4. bill schwartz says:


    Was she a nun in Boston living in a monastery or as Khandro Rinpoche calls a Western "lone wolf" monastic for whom the robes are simply a fashion statement?


  5. bill schwartz says:


    Are their still "New Age Buddhists" running about like in the 1980's when my boomer generation figured out they could make a good living off their "Hippy Trail" days smoking hashish and hanging out in some ashram?


    PS love your online handle

  6. bill schwartz says:


    I responded to your comment earlier this afternoon but "intense debate" lost the comment so this is just a second take, your comment still worth responded to a second time.

    As I asked before (lost by Intense Debate) is there such a thing as "New Age Buddhism" anymore?

    For me "New Age" refers to that moment in the 1980's when my generation (baby boomers) discovered they could cash in on their hashish fueled "Hippy Trail" days.


  7. Shunyata Kharg says:


    It seems to me that Milarepa practiced a very wide range of vajrayana techniques, including the Six Yogas of Naropa. Do you know much about these, Bill? I see that just about all Tibetan Lamas know the Yoga of Inner Heat (gtum-mo), as I think that it is this which enables them to wear such little clothing during even the coldest of weather.

    From what I understand, and please correct me if I’m wrong, these Six Yogas are also called the practice of dzogrim, otherwise known as Tantric Mahamudra. Tantric Mahamudra, I read, is one of the three types of Mahamudra, the other two being “Mahamudra of the sutra system” and “Essence Mahamudra (ngo bo'i phyag rgya chenpo)”. So, from this point of view, maybe we could say that the Tantric aspects of Milarepa’s songs form part of the wider practice of Mahamudra itself. What do you think?

    My understanding is that the “big blue book” focuses just about exclusively on Essence Mahamudra, as just about all the other books I’ve read on the subject. I have one book on my shelf, in fact, which I have yet to read which is written by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and is called “Mahamudra Tantra” (http://www.tharpa.com/us/book-Mahamudra.Tantra-59… ). Do you know this book? I would be very interested to hear what experience you have of Tantric Mahamudra!


  8. John Morrison says:

    Glenn Mullin has a fairly recent book about the Six Yogas of Naropa published by Snow Lion that you might be interested in reading. It has translations of commentaries from Tilopa, Naropa, Tsonkhapa, and the First Panchen Lama.

    I bought it recently, but haven't read it yet – thought you might be interested though.

  9. Shunyata Kharg says:

    Great, many thanks John for the recommendation!

    As a man of your experience with Mahamudra, would you be so kind as to give me some sort of indication as to how much "Tantric Mahamudra" you've been taught relative to "Essence Mahamudra"?

  10. John Morrison says:

    I know basically nothing of them – besides intellectually. I'm not the most accomplished of students and have never been on a retreat of any substantial length – which would be the time for refining techniques like the Yoga of Inner Heat, I assume. I will defer this to Bill as I'm sure he knows more than I.

  11. Shunyata Kharg says:


    You’ve made me chuckle too. If I had been able to read a book of any period of my life before I had lived it, I most probably would also have done my best to avoid it! And I would have greatly missed out too.

    So, so much for Inner Heat! That’s a funny story. Just as well I wasn’t planning on hanging around in summer clothes in the winter any time soon (anyway, I can already generate plenty of “Inner Heat” mountain biking up and down the mountains around here)!

    Thank you very much for the two book recommendations, one of which has come up in conversation between us before. You can be sure that I will read that one, at some stage.

    Mercifully, during a rather critical period of my youth, the closest I got to anything meaningful was Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan, so I was also lucky in not ruining a great text for my future self. I was trying to think how I would describe my reading of the “big blue book”. It’s almost a self-replicating assembly manual. That is to say that I read it, very slowly, followed the instructions for a few days, and continued. After a while a kind of structure began constructing itself between my mind and the spaces between the words, a structure which enabled me to understand the text more clearly so reinforcing the crystal framework itself. When sufficiently developed, I found that it could bear my weight, that it didn’t need the support of the book, and I found that I could climb up it. Absolutely incredible, I’d never, ever experienced anything of the sort before.

    Frankly, Bill, my only ambition is peace. I guess I’ve been all the way around the houses with the various texts I’ve read just to find the two or three books that have this profoundly peace-constructing capability, but reading around the houses is a tough habit to break too. It can become just another distraction, like the TV, the Internet and all the rest of the time we spend trying to entertain ourselves. But then there’s reading, watching the TV, twittering etc. and then there’s doing these things with awareness, with mindfulness. As part of the practice. And this is the absolute perfection of Mahamudra. It’s like Martini in the ads of the 1970’s … any time, any place, anywhere.

    Amor et Pax,


  12. bill schwartz says:


    Although any peace that can be constructed will be impermanent and thus only lead to suffering we can experience the peace we all desire to experience.

    It's there in that which ails us when we own that which arises in our mind as our own creation and not something to be rid of.


  13. bill schwartz says:


    So you're done? About time. For future reference the comment listing your trinkets collected as a dharma practitioner (assuming I had the same) was when you lost all credibility here.


  14. snowdrop says:

    Thanks for laughing at my post, John, because you obviously understood it in the way it was offered. I could have gone on and on leafing through the Samadhi cushion catalog.

  15. snowdrop says:

    Thanks for this, I have begun watching it.

  16. snowdrop says:

    May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you be free. May you live with ease.

  17. bill schwartz says:


    LOL, bite me.


  18. acadiechick says:

    Dear Bill,

    Thanks for the comment! I am just learning here as I go and really appreciate the discussions ensued by your articles. I admit very openly that I am probably not half as learned as you are or many of the excellent commenters here and so all that is left to do for me is ¨just let go, and go where no mind goes¨.

    Monique 🙂

  19. […] doesn’t mean Buddhists don’t have egos or that we’re supposed to be egoless (a common misconception among people more interested in […]

  20. amy says:

    dear bill, I think when people give you a hard time about your ego, they are not talking about the ego we all have and need. I think they're saying you come off arrogant. I'm just guessing. Also choosing not to weigh in on that myself.

  21. arcof tern says:

    To me, it seems like you are struggling. But, you already know who you are. You shouldn’t worry. You will live out your days on earth. I read your article…and I’m always looking at some angle. And, this is process in me is just silliness, I think. It is difficult for me to read a sentence…and the skip down to the next one, after a double space, while reading your text. I guess I just like the flow of continuous writing, and I am not adverse to paragraphs. I hope you find what you need. I admire your search. I think I’ve found my path, but I am travelling it. I’m a Christian. Well, I hope you are strong and productive and happy.
    arcof tern