Ego, Where Art Thou?

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When you awake, you laugh. – Terchen Barway Dorje

It sure has been one hell of a ride: my life keeps getting more and more surreal the closer I get to its end, kept alive by a defibrillator and a kitchen-sink-full of medications.

When my wife’s gynecologist called Saturday morning to inform her that she needs to see an oncologist, we didn’t know whether we should laugh or cry.

I wish there were such a thing as a real ego, a redoubt, a rock to hold fast to, a higher ground we could seek refuge in—but there isn’t, I’m afraid.

According to Buddhist teacher Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, “A view to hold, a person with a theory, all of this is just conceptual activity.” So we laugh instead.

This doesn’t mean Buddhists don’t have egos or that we’re supposed to be egoless (a common misconception among people more interested in psychology than Buddhism).

In Tibetan Buddhism we are instructed to contemplate what we call self-existence, which is the closest we ever come to discussing the subject.

Take a table, for example. We then take the table apart, and piece by piece we look for the table among all the parts until we can without a shadow of a doubt say that there is no such thing as a table.

Then we have a good laugh at ourselves and enjoy our table for what it is instead of what we thought it was before we contemplated its true nature.

My path began one winter evening in 1972 when I went to bed, a relatively well-adjusted 13-year-old kid enjoying my middle-class suburban life in Yorktown Heights, New York.

I actually thought I was someone—just as most people think a table is a table; is what it appears to be until some tragedy comes along and reduces it to a pile of splinters.

My dad had chest pains and was admitted to Peekskill Hospital, and then while preparing to be discharged, he suddenly died of an aneurysm of the aorta and…was gone forever.

Not quite 10 years later when I met Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, my view of Buddhism was based solely on what I had read up to then. I was totally miserable.

I can laugh about it now, but at the time I sobbed like a baby as I told Rinpoche how it felt to be me, and then I placed my life in his hands. And it has remained there to this day.

When Ngodrup Tsering Burkhar translated my story to Rinpoche, he didn’t respond with “Everything is empty, I’ll fix you in a jiffy,” thankfully.

Instead, Rinpoche listened attentively to Ngodrup, and then he took my hands in his and placed his forehead on mine and said “We will never be apart again.”

Years later, around the time Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche died in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, I remember thinking how the worm had already turned.

That’s how quickly everything changed for Tibetan Buddhism; not that it’s over for us, but we definitely squandered our first attempt at making it our own.

By that time, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche traveled not to any of the 16th Karmapa’s centers (not his choice) but instead he traveled to Taiwan, where the benefactors are, I’m told.

The monastery in Woodstock limped along and the emphasis became the retreat center in Delhi, New York, which is basically where we are today as a lineage.

A friend of mine shared with me recently, from his days as the director of Chicago KTC, the perspective of the home office in India, and what he shared came as no surprise.

After repeatedly extending an invitation to His Eminence Tai Situ to visit Chicago without success, it was explained to him that the old days are gone forever.

We would be more than welcome to visit and study at Palpung Sherab Ling, in Himachal Pradesh, Northern India, for example, but otherwise we were wasting our time.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche taught Tibetans a lesson they won’t soon forget (the opposite of what we think of as his legacy): We really aren’t worth the effort.

When I look at the past 30 years’ history of the Karma Kagyu in America I can hardly find fault with Tibetans taking care of Tibetans.

This of course is but the perspective of a dying man (now with a sick wife) who chose the Dharma over being a better person (“Look mom, I have no ego!”).

I look forward to hearing what others have to say as to where we’re at as Tibetan Buddhists, especially in light of the cancellation of the 17th Karmapa’s European tour.

As always, my purpose here is to initiate a frank discussion of a topic that concerns me—not to be disrespectful of the tradition to which I’ve committed my life.


Karmapa Chenno

(@RyderJaphy on Twitter)

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anonymous Aug 30, 2010 4:14pm

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anonymous Aug 30, 2010 3:35pm

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anonymous Apr 20, 2010 6:20pm


My body appears to exist yet lacks self existence like a water-moon that appears to be the moon in a body of water but upon closer examination the result of causes and conditions.

I may not be my body but that is because just as my body lacks self existence I too lack self-existence and only appear to exist based on the very same causes an conditions as a water-moon.

When the time comes that my body fails me the illusion of my self-existence will end with the end of this all important condition for my appearance in this world as being self-existent.

I've tried my best to prepare myself for the moment when the bottom falls out of this condition like the bottom of a bucket full of water gives way emptying the bucket of its water-moon.

In the past year twice my heart has stopped and I have felt my life slipping away yet fortunately for me enough water remains in my bucket to maintain my water-moon like existence for the moment.

According to Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche all that keeps my bucket in tact is the merit I have accumulated not just in this but all my life times.

When this cause is exhausted so will this condition which results in my appearing in this world like a water-moon in a bucket appears to exist but lacks self-existence.

My bucket is leaking and there is no getting around this fact by denying the relative existence of the bucket and the belief that my relatively existent water-moon will persist.

It is true that if I fail to gain enlightenment when the bottom of my bucket falls out there will be another bucket of water and the wheel of this mill we call suffering will continue to turn.

I take no comfort though in such a flow and when my time comes if I've accomplished anything through my practice I will be free of turning this mill stone of a life and gain enlightenment.

There is nothing to be gained by denying the relative existence of my body and the state for I am done going around and around like a bucket in this water mill of suffering.


PS Thank you for supporting the Elephant Journal and I encourage anyone that can afford it to do as you have and become a monthly contributor.

anonymous Apr 18, 2010 2:08am

With all respect My Friend..and I do respect your Path…I truly feel that Tibetan Buddhism ,along with Christianity,All of the Worlds great Faiths , well as the other schools of Thought,,are quietly merging into a One Very Clear Understanding ,of what the hell is going On.Why we are here….How do our different Beliefs connect,and how are they coming to a common Point.Buddha was Christ to me…Pointing the way to Walk,.. Pointing the Way for Us Beings to Wake Up .All of this must have a common Source…and a common destination,,which is our Becoming aware of our True Nature..Our United Path…Our Oneness.Tibetan Buddhism in America is not is evolving and joining with New Thought…New understandings…It is Being True to its Original Intent..which is to Free Us from this Dream..To show Us all how Beautiful and incredible we Are..Peace

    anonymous Apr 18, 2010 10:08pm


    I've never personally thought of the Buddha like a Christian thinks of Christ so I have to imagine what that would be like which is an interesting contemplation in itself.

    I remember reading of conversations between Thomas Merton and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche which touched upon how Tibetan Buddhists are so inexplicably uninterested in the original Buddha.

    Whereas Christians are quite vested in Jesus we aren't all that concerned with the Buddha as much as we are concerned with his enlightenment.

    However we think of the Buddha himself what matters most to us is not who he really was as much as what he accomplished and how we can accomplish his enlightenment ourselves.

    From my personal perspective what's really going on is that life sucks but it need not be experienced as such which is the key to unlock that which fetters us to our suffering in this life.

    It's not like the Buddha discovered this key but the key is within each and every sentient being who has ever been or ever will be whether enlightened or not as our Buddha-nature.


anonymous Apr 12, 2010 5:49pm

Laughing at “get married and have kids and try to make that work without losing your mind."
Yes, I agree. Thank you for saying it.
I’m not sure what magazine it was, maybe Ascent. I remember reading an article written by a female teacher. She was going on about how hard it was for a householder to give the time necessary to deepen their practice and how it took a full-time commitment. I had an intense urge to shred the article and fire off an opinionated response. After thirty years of marriage, raising two daughters and one granddaughter—and not going insane—yeah, that’s the practice—a full tilt engagement with life.
I enjoy your perspective and honesty.

    anonymous Apr 12, 2010 8:28pm


    According to Bardor Tulku Rinpoche when discussing recently here the part of a teaching where the author discusses the necessity of doing the practice in strict retreat advised us to try our best given our respective circumstances.

    If you can manage simply to find a moment in your day when you have half a chance at not being interrupted that is far better than trying to reduplicate the causes and conditions characteristic of a bygone era.

    My kids drove me as ragged as Marpa did Milarepa to say nothing of being married so for me the secret sauce of getting the recipe right for mahamudra is the endless suckage of my life and not anything I have any control over.

    The more my life sucks the deeper my practice goes so I share your feelings for people whining about if only they had less suction in their lives and could get away from it all their practice would somehow be better.

    For me I've never even had the opportunity to entertain such nonsense and every person I know that has had such an opportunity are no better off in terms of their practice than anyone else I'm afraid.


anonymous Apr 11, 2010 9:30pm

I enjoy your fresh perspective. I am not Buddhist, though I have studied Tibetan Buddhism and I have traveled to the monastery in Woodstock many times. I follow a Yogic path.

Your words cut through the cloudiness and get to the heart of the matter –it appears that this is the case with whatever you are writing about. For me, its all about the challenging questions and being willing to sit in the hard places—the places that don’t always provide answers. I find that the most transformation happens when there is dialogue instead of set views.

I too am in a place of crisis—not the same as yours, but very challenging. Whenever I read your work I always walk a way with a new perspective. I find this helpful. Thank you.

I will keep both you and your wife in my thoughts as you journey into rocky places.

anonymous Apr 10, 2010 11:29am

i embrace this dialog. i also wonder who will be remembered as the embodiment of Padmasambhava coming to the West. best to you and your wife bill~~~

    anonymous Apr 11, 2010 5:43am


    We can only become the embodiment of Padmasambhava coming to the West as Westerners which is where we must start or the arrival of Tibetan Buddhism here will be as forgettable as the arrival of Indian Buddhism in Tibet was.


anonymous Apr 10, 2010 9:03am

and the karmapas get married, move to the west .. and the more tibetan than the tibetans learn the language and move to the east .. every one of them trying to be somebody .. oh well 🙂

    anonymous Apr 10, 2010 11:53pm


    The 15th Karmapa was married and the 16th Karmapa brought his lineage of the mahasiddhas to the West and today the 17th Karmapa speaks more languages than any previous Gyalwang Karmapa so we can check those points off our to do list.

    No Karmapa needs to try to be somebody, they simply need to be born, and the rest is entirely up to us as Karma Kagyu to uphold their unbroken lineage as we received it which is the real question.


anonymous Apr 9, 2010 9:40pm

well bill,
who said l was a proud dharma brat i just tried to intoduce myself without writing my whole biographie. i guess a long time is a relative term. Being 30 this year 10 years seem long to me( its the third of my life) for others it might be short, but who actually cares.
Still Bill- all the best for you, your wife and you friend.


anonymous Apr 9, 2010 6:47pm

Dear Bill,
I think there are some points mixed up here. As an european second generation Karma Kagyu Dharmabrat I also indulged myself long time in seeing mistakes in our western sangha, and yes things didnt really work out perfect I agree. But on the other hand the fact that we live in the darkest of dark times( as the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa writes in the foreword to the Sadhana of Mahamudra) doesnt just apply to the west, but also to our eastern Dharma peers.
There is a thin line between seeing ones own mistakes in an authentic Patrul style on one hand and being self flagellating on the other hand.
As you pointed out previously we are the mishap lineage,so do mishaps happen. So what to do? Imo complaining doesnt work (I tried), each one of us just has to live the Dharma he can, as Khandro Rinpoche once told us: manifesting the qualities of the Dharma really being soaked into the minds and hearts of the students is the offering that will please your Lama. I heard HH the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa and Situ Rinpoche say the same thing, so I think that is what we should do. Focusing on our imperfections and ideas of how we messed can be such an ego trip.

All the very best to you and your wife and thank you for your blogging I really enjoy reading you posts very much


p.s.: It is a well known fact that Tai situ Rinpoche is not travelling at the moment because India will not grant him permit.

anonymous Apr 9, 2010 5:13pm


I am curious why you think that things ended badly with Trungpa Rinpoche? Is your argument here (which seems to be implicit, not explicit, unless I am missing something) that Tibetan lamas as a whole think that Westerners chewed up CTR and spit him up, drunk and dead, and didn' t appreciate his teachings or put them into practice? Are you saying that Tibetan lamas are justifying their disdain for Western culture because Trunpga Rinpoche died at a young age? If so, there are many ironies here. Firstly, CTR had been all but disowned by his "own people" by the time for de-robing, marrying a young woman, and for his unconventional views and method of teaching. He was not recognized as a siddha until Khyentse Rinpoche and the 16th Karmapa gave their blessings to his work. He was being badmouthed by most Tibetan lamas and then they wanted to claim him as "theirs" when his brilliance/wisdom was recognized through the "proper channels". Secondly, you, yourself, pointed out some examples of the disdain that Tibetan lamas hold for the West. This seems to be a condition that existed before Trungpa and after Trungpa. There are still many Tibetan lamas who refuse to learn about what makes Westerners tick, who refuse to learn the English and western languages, that are more interested in fund-raising and building up the numbers of their sanghas. There are also many Tibetan lamas who are immersed in our culture and see not only the neuroses of the West, but also our inherent wisdom.

In short, I am confused b/c in part I hear you blaming Westerners for what you view as a terrible state of dharma here. Could you clarify? Thanks.

anonymous Apr 8, 2010 10:28pm

That is such a shame. Chogyam was here during a wild time. We shouldn’t be branded by that experience.

We need some fearless western lama’s that are willing to really make a difference and have a little moxie. Obviously it can be done, just look at Pema Chodron.

It must be tough though, looking back on that enthusiasm that never manifested, knowing that more could have been done. But I’ve seen a few young guys that truly seem to connect with the western mind so I think they are headed in the right direction. I like to be an optimist though.

    anonymous Apr 9, 2010 6:47am


    I'm waiting for Bardor Tulku Rinpoche's translator Lama Yeshe Gyamtso to teach on his own and recently discussed with Lama Sean about inviting him to Chicago.

    We shall see regarding the young Rinpoches raised in India how much freedom they will have or whether they end up rare birds in gilded cages under the "you come to us" paradigm.

    After Richard Gere's PBS Buddha which I fell asleep watching after fifteen minutes they aired an Independent Lens about discovering the recognition of a recently deceased Rinpoche.

    I woke up near the end were the young parents had to leave their child at the monastery and the child is crying for his parents which was heart breaking.

    When that child reaches the age that Chogyam Trungpa was sent to school in England I doubt very much a future young Rinpoche will have such freedom.

    I'm undecided whether that is a good thing or a bad thing for the lineage given how badly things ended with Chogyam Trungpa (would have died an old Rinpoche in a monastery if he stayed in India I suspect).


anonymous Apr 8, 2010 7:02pm


I can imagine that looking at the West from the outside, and most especially at its foreign policy, would lead most observers to the conclusion that it is very heavily influenced by icchantika thought. As you rightly say though, once inside the West it must become clear that we are not all psychopaths!

People are people: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.


anonymous Apr 8, 2010 4:04pm

As you know, Bill, I'm not a Tibetan Buddhist in the real sense of the words, so I can't comment on the thrust of your article.

I will say that when I read "Look Mum, no ego" I laughed. In fact, writing the words out now makes me smile broadly. Been there, done that, taken the wheels off, as they say over my side of the pond.

Just to bring out into the fore, really, something we talked about on twitter just to see if anybody else here fancies commenting. The idea that Tibetan Buddhists may view us here in the West as Icchantika, that us here in the West may be in denial about being viewed as such, and that Tibetans may be in denial about viewing us as such. Not being in touch with the Tibetan community at all, but perfectly understanding that we here in the West could be viewed as psychopathic/Icchantika, I would be interested in hearing anything anybody has to say about it.

    anonymous Apr 8, 2010 5:19pm

    That's very interesting. It would certainly have to be unspoken – the impermanence dharma talk will clear a room – the icchantika dharma talk will get you deported (anti-American socialism will be the headline on Fox News). I can see why Tibetans might think that – especially if they caught a couple episodes of "My Sweet Sixteen" or any number of other vapid television shows.

    I hope the teachers that have worked with students here and in Europe would not think so – but I could see that the decision makers in the Himalyas might worry about it.

anonymous Apr 8, 2010 2:56pm

I watched "The Buddha" last night on PBS. Perhaps some part of the answer you seek is to return to the source and look at Buddhism with a beginner's mind. In any case, I hope you continue to experience the ecstasy of this sweet life in each moment as life does what it does. Namaste'

anonymous Apr 7, 2010 7:27pm

But then again – I’m sure you do have a point about Tibetan reticence to send their best and brightest here. The West is more known for steamrolling minority cultures and then selling the marketable aspects of them as kitschy trinkets (Wal-Mart t-shirts with Native American imagery for instance). So, I guess they do have a point to be somewhat wary. But with the right support structure for a young lama, we shouldn’t be THAT dangerous. Yes, if you cast a young man who has lived most of his life in monastic seclusion into the midst of the U.S. plus add a cadre of adoring students that want to spend every minute with the newfound teacher, then trouble could arise, but we have support structure these days for monastics and it’s a global culture – the only time I’ve seen Himalayan monasteries is on Youtube – monks aren’t venturing into the great unknown when they come here anymore.

And, not to get on a high horse, but why is it that our lineage holders have to look for money in Taiwan. This is a country obsessively focused on cutting taxes and having high percentages of income. Of course, not all of us have this. But I’ve never seen so many BMWs in one place in my life as at Karmapa Seattle 2008. If I’ve got money for a 5 Series – I ought to be able to support my dharma center. After all – what are you getting lasting value from – your practice or the car that loses 30% of it’s value when you pull off the lot?

    anonymous Apr 7, 2010 7:38pm

    Last one – and support doesn't equate to money alone. I can't imagine how many people have positive thoughts of KTC Chicago and Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche due to you spreading the word via social media – so hats off to you, Bill – keep at it.

anonymous Apr 7, 2010 7:27pm


I’m either at the bargaining stage or just an eternal optimist – but I fall in line with what Tyler is saying that I’m very hopeful the garden that at least two generations of us having been cultivating in the West will blossom.

Like you said, there was a pretty big bump in the road of the Dharma entering Tibet. There have been and will be more rough patches in the U.S. as well (especially in a country with such deep Protestant / Christian / monotheistic / eternalist roots.

There are a lot of lamas that seem to sincerely care about the West – especially the Karmapa.

anonymous Apr 7, 2010 6:29pm

Thanks for this post, Bill, and prayers to your wife and you. I think it would be difficult for anyone to say exactly where we are with regard to transplanting the particular streams of Buddhadharma that began in India, flourished in Tibet, and are now taking root here in the West. I can't help but think that everyone involved from the outset knew that there would be major obstacles and disappointments along the way. But my personal feeling is that we are making genuine, positive progress. We have beautiful Tibetan lineage holders who have wholeheartedly dedicated themselves to helping the dharma flourish in the West, and we have wonderful students of theirs taking their seats as teachers and lineage holders in their own right. We have the traditional Buddhist philosophical teachings of the Nalanda tradition taking root gradually in the English language through teaching, discussion, and writing, and we have strong practice communities developing around the traditions of the quintessential instructions of Mahamudra, Dzogchen, and the Vajrayana. Of course it has been a process that, I'm sure, has always involved difficulties, and we will surely do well to be ready to welcome more difficulties as we move forward. But the seeds are there. They are being watered, and they are getting their share of sun. I think we can look forward to a beautiful garden.

anonymous Apr 7, 2010 5:05pm

Like John, I can't say anything about the state of Buddhism of any kind anywhere. I appreciate the chance to be able to read, and thank you for that.

My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your wife.


    anonymous Apr 8, 2010 7:37pm


    Thank you for your best wishes and encouragement, it helps just knowing that so many people have us in their thoughts and prayers these days.

    I disagree that you have nothing to say about the state of Buddhism in the West though because it is for you that the 16th Karmapa sent the best and the brightest of the lineage here to teach us as he did.

    My generation may have dropped the ball from a Tibetan perspective (when lineage holders die prematurely the disciples are always blamed) but we haven't given up on fulfilling his wish of bringing the dharma to the West.

    We have given up on trying to be Tibetans which perhaps was a necessary step in fulfilling HHK16's wishes for us (we are now experts in Tibetan arts and crafts but afraid to teach the dharma) which is a start.

    Now we must make it our own so I can think of nobody more qualified to comment on how we are doing than people such as yourself who are interested in hearing more about Tibetan Buddhism.


anonymous Apr 7, 2010 4:55pm

Tried to post this Bill, but it said my comment was too long so I posted it in a blog my friend.

-Sir WIlliam (TianMind)

anonymous Apr 7, 2010 4:09pm


Positive thoughts and prayers going out to you and your wife. Hang in there!

-Matt Helmick

anonymous Apr 7, 2010 6:27am

When I first met Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, I did the same thing – cried like a baby. His wife, Jane, was was there to translate for him, but somehow I understood every word he spoke as he gave me the Dudjom Tersar Ngondro transmission. Jane said, “Did you understand any of that?” “All of it, I said” — she said that it was the fastest, most intense, transmission she’d ever witnessed.

Since then a picture, a memory, or the sound of Rinpoche’s voice can completely alter my mental state (the same is true of Nyoshul Khenpo, but that’s a different story — though my picture of the two of them together in one of Guru Rinpoche’s caves is a prized posessession).

But Chagdud Rinpoche was transitioning to Brazil, so I experienced what you’re describingwith respect to “the lama afar” nearly simultaneously with my most complete refuge experience.

    anonymous Apr 7, 2010 3:33pm


    I can't express adequately how much I appreciate your comment above all others for although we have never met both my wife and I feel we know you simply by following you on Twitter.

    You don't put yourself as a Buddhist to follow on Twitter but I knew from the get go that we tread the same path as young men sitting at the feet of our respective gurus.

    You as I survived the guru from afar as our respective lineages have celebrated in songs of longing for centuries and obviously we are both better for the experience.

    I always focused on every moment spent with Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche as if it was the last but nothing could prepare me for the despair I felt when I could no longer see him.

    For years I bitterly blamed KTD our monastery in Woodstock, New York, and it was only recently that a lama friend told me the truth that he wasn't sick or too busy but instead focusing as directed on Taiwan where the money is.

    Fortunately we both lived long enough to reunite as guru and disciple for the auspiciousness of our samaya set forever when I took refuge so long ago with him.

    It has been quite a journey we have been on as Tibetan Buddhists, us old dogs of the dharma in America, unrecognized, unappreciated, marginalized, but not yet done serving our gurus to the bitter end.


      anonymous Apr 7, 2010 7:30pm

      Bill & Dirk:

      I love both of your stories of your meetings with your gurus. Bill – your first meeting with KKR is such a poignant moment – gives me chills. I see what you are saying clearly – must be something about Tibetan lamas that can bring the tears – I cried for no apparent reason when I met Thrangu Rinpoche – and I wasn't the only one in the room doing so….

        anonymous Apr 7, 2010 11:48pm


        I dragged my wife to seven years of Friday evening public talks at KTC until my wife connected with Bardor Tulku Rinpoche last year and took refuge with him.

        She complained at first but she was fascinated by a chance encounter with Traleg Rinpoche in which she was trying to make a quick escape from shrine room and found herself eyeball to eyeball with him.

        In her haste she had forgotten that Rinpoche as is tradition had already made his exit and was waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs smiling and she was hooked.


          anonymous Apr 9, 2010 7:50am

          Bill, Dirk, & John,

          I couldn't help but be profoundly touched by your stories of meeting your Gurus. That connection just shakes us to the core, doesn't it? Mine was more like being hit by lightening, then fubbling nervously when I asked if I could humbly be his student. Thanks so much for sharing, it brought a tear to my eye.


anonymous Apr 7, 2010 9:35am

So. We are not victims. We have the luxury of access to many Tibetan Lamas who take on teaching roles. We have masses of books on Buddhism written by many well qualified Lamas. We have internet which has a plethora of resources available to us to download, read, listen to & watch.
Most of us have the '8 leisures & 10 endowments' for which we should feel very fortunate. We are taught this is the degenerate age where less people are interested in the dharma & are more interested in worldly things. That we are interested in the dharma as well as practising it is something to rejoice.
The fact the His Holiness Karmapa cannot travel at present is disappointing, but think how difficult it must be for him. For sure he has more difficulties in his life than I do. Same for His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche.
As for Tibetans taking care of Tibetans as you say, why should they not? They are a society in exile with many struggles which most of us don't have. They are very busy trying to keep their culture & dharma alive as well as the countless other things which result when you are a refugee. Then of course there is the real worry regarding all those living in Tibet. The Tibetans owe us nothing, nor are their Lamas obligated to visit us. The Lamas have been enormously generous in teaching us Vajrayana. Perhaps the issue is that we should be helping them.
To my mind, you are extremely fortunate to come across Tibetan Buddhism as well as find your Root Guru at such a young age & it pleased me to read this. Your Teacher has given you all the tools that you need, again this is a gift which is priceless especially at this difficult time of your life. I say the same for myself. If I never got to see my Teacher again, I have the tools to attain enlightenment which he kindly gave me. What I do with them is up to me.
May all beings have happiness & the cause of happiness.

anonymous Apr 7, 2010 9:35am

So. We are not victims. We have the luxury of access to many Tibetan Lamas who take on teaching roles. We have masses of books on Buddhism written by many well qualified Lamas. We have internet which has a plethora of resources available to us to download, read, listen to & watch.
Most of us have the '8 leisures & 10 endowments' for which we should feel very fortunate. We are taught this is the degenerate age where less people are interested in the dharma & are more interested in worldly things. That we are interested in the dharma as well as practising it is something to rejoice.
The fact the His Holiness Karmapa cannot travel at present is disappointing, but think how difficult it must be for him. For sure he has more difficulties in his life than I do. Same for His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche.
As for Tibetans taking care of Tibetans as you say, why should they not? They are a society in exile with many struggles which most of us don't have. They are very busy trying to keep their culture & dharma alive as well as the countless other things which result when you are a refugee. Then of course there is the real worry regarding all those living in Tibet. The Tibetans owe us nothing, nor are their Lamas obligated to visit us. The Lamas have been enormously generous in teaching us Vajrayana. Perhaps the issue is that we should be helping them.
To my mind, you are extremely fortunate to come across Tibetan Buddhism as well as find your Root Guru at such a young age & it pleased me to read this. Your Teacher has given you all the tools that you need, again this is a gift which is priceless especially at this difficult time of your life. I say the same for myself. If I never got to see my Teacher again, I have the tools to attain enlightenment which he kindly gave me. What I do with them is up to me.
May all beings have happiness & the cause of happiness.

anonymous Apr 7, 2010 7:33am

I'm ill-prepared (as a longtime yogini of a different tradition come late to the party in America) to comment on the state of Tibetan Buddhism here, but I do find wisdom in Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso's blessing of a teaching that our views, theories, and our "person" are mere conceptual activity. So what can we do but look squarely, relax and, seeing, laugh? Strong stuff, but there it is. 🙂

anonymous Apr 8, 2010 6:03am

"I've argued at length that we need to work together for ourselves, like real Buddhists (I love loaded words), instead of like a bunch of babies in need of a diaper change as he described my generation when young kids. "

This is why I read your writing!!!

anonymous Apr 8, 2010 8:58pm

Nella Lou,

I like to cross the abyss the internet represents to the "serious" dharma practitioner who can't wipe their ass without permission from Rinpoche and consulting an oracle without a net.

Whenever my cell found rings and it comes up "New York" (where our KTD monastery is located) my defibrillator almost goes off (always expecting to be shut down by the home office).

When I submitted with reservations to Elephant Journal "Ego Where Art Thou" (not sure I should publish) Waylon responded with a Trungpa Rinpoche quote: "Have confidence to go beyond hesitation."

That's a lot easier to say than do when it comes down to subjecting yourself to the kind of criticism and hostility I get from open mouth insert foot approach to the internet.

Ironically I have to be personal and real online unlike in real life where I can skate by on "Noble silence" and allow people to think I actually know something about the dharma.


anonymous Apr 8, 2010 9:00pm


It’s funny, but I can find very little of CTR’s mishaps in England. I’ve read the official stuff, including about the car crash, but it would be interesting if somebody could point me to a few more details I could read.

As one of DPR’s recent tweet’s read, “What's dharma PATH? "The obstacle is the path." —Zen "Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet." —Roger Miller”. So yes, I think it is clear that Tibetans must have learnt that it is not always easy to stop their young Lamas getting wet when they walk in the West’s heavy rain.

If scientists are at all to be believed, which is a rather out-of-fashion point of view these days, then we should be taking note of what people like Dr. Robert Hare [ ] tell us of the problem of psychopaths. There are a lot of them about and there are many, many more in than out. In fact, Dr. Hare likes to say that if he couldn’t have studied psychopathy within the prison population then he would have had no problem with doing so within the population that constitutes the financial markets.

So maybe the Karma Kagyu perspective is the right one, at least from an empirical, or conventional, position. From the position of the absolute, psychopaths, as obstacles, *are* the path. It must take a highly realized individual to walk down that one, though.


anonymous Apr 8, 2010 9:05pm

Here's the link again:

anonymous Apr 9, 2010 7:47am


Many thanks for the book recommendation, Bill!

How many Tibetan Rinpoches come over to the West will also depend on the number of Westerners that make it over to India. There is a chance that the “you come to us” paradigm meets with some success and that Tibetan Rinpoches find themselves with their classes full without ever having to step out of Dharamsala.

Focus would then shift on to another point of yours, the seeming reluctance of Westerners who have done the three year retreat to go on and teach Westerners in the West. I wonder why that is? The son of a friend of my parents recently came out of a retreat he did in Samye Ling in Scotland and I asked my mother to pass my email onto him asking him if he would be so kind as to share a little of his experience with me. I didn’t manage to get a word out of him. I honestly can’t say that I know enough about the circumstances of retreat as to speculate on what’s happening here, but I would again be very interested in hearing some opinions.


anonymous Apr 9, 2010 7:53am

I am so sorry to hear about your wife's illness, Bill! I will do tonglen for the both of you tonight.

In solidarity,

anonymous Apr 10, 2010 4:36am


Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, and Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche received in 1959 (the year I was born) the same transmission of the Mahamudra lineage from Khenpo Gangshar.

I received formal transmission of mahamudra from Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche with no more explanation as to why he chose me other than as I was told at the time "Rinpoche says you will need this someday."

So in terms of dharma I have a feeling that we are much more closely related than how different the mahasiddha Trungpa, the Tulku/Khenpo Thrangu, and the monk Karthar manifested their dharma activity.

We practice that same dharma that flourished in the Kingdom of Nangchen before the fall of Tibet as fierce as a bandit when provoked and gentle as a nomad watching over their herd.

This is the dharma I wrote of in a previous article "In Blood": hand rolled and passed from guru to disciple and totally unique to the causes and condition of the transmission.

Not a dharma that requires a life without hardship but instead one full of nothing less than blood, sweat, and tears, that nobody in their right mind would wish on their worst enemy.

I want to see this seed planted by the wisdom and compassion of the 16th Karmapa represented in his sending us his best and brightest that I want to see survive.

And not the industrial farming of franchise Buddhism fueled by book sales and pricey weekend retreats which threatens to leave us so jaded and well read that such a seed stands no chance.

I know I'm cranky and difficult so I appreciate your patience with me for I know that what I write pushes a lot of buttons for people and can drive most dharma practitioners up the wall.


Before last year when I had a heart attack I wouldn't have been so forthright even in private conversations with close friends but like Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche says "Freedom rarely arrives in the form we think it should."

anonymous Apr 10, 2010 8:38am


It would indeed be ironic that Tibetan Buddhism’s strategy towards the West should have turned through 180º in just thirty years.

Maybe the experience with Chögyam Trungpa was pivotal. Thanks to the keywords “Vajradhatu Seminary scandal” you mentioned in another message, I have managed to find some more information on what went on in those years. The piece I’ve found is very explosive, or at least it was to me, but it does have a number of references that can be followed to other texts that have been written by the actors involved to corroborate the story. Here it is:

Please understand that I have no intention of offending or insulting anybody in this exchange. I’m simply trying to understand, through discussion with people directly involved, how Tibetan Buddhism is evolving here in the West.

I’m sure you will have found the article interesting, Bill. It does seem to me that there are more facets to the denial we have been discussing. Firstly we have the facet of denial shown by the Tibetan community with respect to the behavior of some of their Rinpoches and secondly we have the facet of denial shown by students of these same Rinpoches with respect to the same behavior. It seems to me to be a very difficult situation to resolve, especially when concepts such as samaya are thrown into the mix.

As DPR said in his brilliant piece in the Washington Post recently, “We start by bringing an open, inquisitive, and skeptical mind to whatever we hear, read, or see that presents itself as the truth. We examine it with reason and we put it to the test in meditation and in our lives.” It is this spirit of “deep skepticism”, of critically analyzing every part of our experience right down to the smallest detail, which is, in my very humble opinion, the essence of Buddhism. I don’t think anybody should lose sight of this.


anonymous Apr 11, 2010 3:10pm


I knew that Thrangu Rinpoche and Trungpa Rinpoche received the mahamudra transmission from Khenpo Gangshar simultaneously, but I didn't realize that Karthar Rinpoche received the transmission at the same time too. I just don't know much about Karthar Rinpoche, but I have started reading a bit about him since I started reading your articles. I have not formally received mahamudra transmission yet, but I believe I will, not because of any special virtue or ability on my part, but because I recognize my connection to this lineage in my bones. I experience this path as choiceless, in a sense, completely unavoidable, and it has rendered me without any ground. Oh, I scramble to solidify everything, especially my face in the mirror, but the rug keeps getting pulled out from under my feet, again and again. "Freedom rarely arrives in the form we think it should", indeed.

I, for one, am happy to see someone discussing "the industrial farming of franchise Buddhism" in a public forum. It is one of the many forms of spiritual materialism in our culture. Spiritual materialism is insidious. If I don't constantly police myself for the ways I use my practice to try to reinforce my solid sense of self, I get into a lot of trouble.

And I agree that we can only become the embodiment of Padmasambhava coming to the West as Westerners. It is so easy to mistake the Tibetan cultural container (especially Tibetan social values and norms) as the dharma. I am grateful to the Tibetan people who have preserved the lineages for so very long and at such a high price to themselves, but transplanting Tibetan culture in the West does not equate with internalizing the dharma and living its relevancy as Westerners.

Thank you for risking what people think about you; I hope you will keep writing about these subjects.

Karmapa Chyenno!


anonymous Apr 12, 2010 4:23am

Hi Bill,

still am unable to post, I was going to add this to the longer thread about CTR. It's not important, you can post or delete as you like, I know you have a lot going on and your focus may be elsewhere but thought I'd send it along

I was in high school when CTR died and therefore missed the party entirely, but my reaction upon reading of the scandals of his later years and other scandals that followed concerning other teachers was a deep distrust of the Tibetan tradition. That says as much about my state of mind as anything else, but the impossibility of the existence of an ethical basis in a "crazy wisdom" environment was anaethema to me.

Because we live in a time when all scandals are preserved for eternity on the Internet, these things have long shadows. I think that what happened with CTR was a product of a particular time- an epic culture clash easily dissected by social anthropologists. It seems that when trouble does strike, the tendency is to ignore it or cover it up. This isn't specific to the Karma Kagyu, or even to Buddhism- I'm sure you've seen the headlines lately. I just wonder where that leaves us in terms of making sure it doesn't reoccur. I guess what I am asking is, in a tradition where the emphasis is on seeing phenomena as the deities, mandalas and gurus appearing, where, as KTGR puts it, the true nature of reality transcends conflict, how can practioners correctly identify or prevent situations that could damage the dharma? I don't expect you to have all the answers but would be interested in your thoughts.


anonymous Apr 12, 2010 6:46am


Most people distrust Tibetan tradition for it is either too Tibetan or too traditional for their taste and not for the tradition itself.

Once someone such as my wife who recently took refuge with Bardor Tulku Rinpoche gets past the Tibetanness and the traditionalness of the experience the distrust lessons.

Better distrust than jadedness or worst of all the naivety of my generation which made the party fiasco almost an inevitability.

I think Westerners are so jaded and easily disappointed these days that a Vajradhatu seminary like fiasco could never happen again.

I don't think anything can damage the dharma or we would have broke it by now, like HHK17 responded when asked about the lineage responded: it can take care of itself.

Bardor Rinpoche tells a story of the 15th Karmapa who was married and not a monastic and how whenever he visited the monastery how he liked that everyone was always happy.

Apparently, they were a little too happy for some who didn't like monks gambling and otherwise amusing themselves as much as they did.

Whenever someone would bring the issue of how his monks behaved themselves he would here nothing of it despite the petitioners' earnest wish that he do something about.

According Rinpoche he couldn't bring himself to demand compliance with all the rules a monk is expected to follow because he knew his future incarnations already.

Or at least the hey day of wisdom over merit in Tibet wasn't going to last forever so he was always cutting his monks some slack.

He knew how much his predecessors were going to have to ask of their monastics in the name of preserving the dharma as the story goes.

A perfect example of this is Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche who was sent here by HHK16 to plant the flag of the lineage in North America in his name.

Rinpoche had very specific marching orders when he arrived and while everyone was talking about how amazing Trungpa was he quietly went along with his business without fanfare.

I've always been amazed by how Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, then a middle aged Tibetan with a history of medical problems, presented himself with such grace and dignity

Where as with Trunpa he would make his students wait for hours after his appointed arrival time for him to show up drunk and unprepared.


anonymous Apr 12, 2010 6:54pm


I had to ask my friend Lama Sean Jones to confirm for me that Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche was one of three disciples who received Khenpo Gangshar's mahamudra transmission.

There was an article in the Shambhala Times about a webcast of Thrangu Rinpoche's teaching on a song written by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche when he was 19 years old on the subject.

To say that Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche is tight lipped when the subject of his own experiences is the topic of conversation is an understatement.

In his biography "Amrita of Eloquence" KTD Publications, 2009, there isn't a single reference of course of the 1959 event but fortunately in retreat he spoke of it in passing.

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche's nephew and biographer Lama Karma Drodul did the three year retreat with Lama Sean so he had heard about it but otherwise it wasn't common knowledge.

Apparently Lama Karma Drodul has collected all the stories of "The Masters of Kham" (unpublished manuscript unfortunately) he was able to get from Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche while in retreat.

As my guru he has always been a man of few words who listened patiently to me go on and on about something only to respond with a cryptic remark like "stranger things have been known to happen."

Friends lament that people tend to admire and respect Rinpoche but take his Tibetan habit of self-denigration literally and assume that he really is the nobody he describes himself as being.

I've always known that there was a connection between Khenchen Thrangu, Khenpo Karthar, and Trungpa that goes back to Tibet but it isn't common knowledge.

The article I read in the Shambhala Times misspelled Rinpoche's name (dropped the letter "H" from his name) and suspect that the author didn't know who was being referred to.

I tried to contact the editor, called KTD, and spoke to people but nobody really seemed to care about the historic event in our history as a lineage.

It really doesn't fit in with the industrial farming of the Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche hagiography so it makes no difference that Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche was one of the three chosen.

Not that knowing he holds the transmission would make any difference anyway because it isn't like it's something you can ask him for and receive but I'm a stickler for such details.

In mahamudra having a solid sense of yourself makes you all the more ripe for the transmission in my experience so try not to be so hard on yourself in this regard.

Of the four people present (not including Rinpoche and his translator Ngodrup Tsering Burkhar) two were tourists and had no idea what was happening and one has never spoken of it.

I had seen the word "Mahamudra" in reading about the Karma Kagyu lineage but at that time there were no books on the subject available and it wasn't something talked about in public anyway.

Somehow the moment Ngodrup began hurriedly translating the text Rinpoche was speed reading through and placing on our heads I knew exactly what he was saying though.

He was describing what I experienced the moment it hit me that my father had died and the thirteen year old boy I thought I was at the time wasn't me anymore.

The entire transmission plus Rinpoche's explanation was over so quick if Ngodrup hadn't told me how important what had just happened was I might never of even remembered it.

I suspect, not that anyone will talk about it, that the transmission is given to his retreatants after completing Ngondro but I have never heard of Rinpoche repeating what he did that day with anyone else.

All that I have received from Rinpoche was given without preconditions to me so I feel comfortable is speaking and writing about it although I know my doing so pisses a lot of people off.

No Tibetan would of course but I've never been one for going Tibetan and have never considered trying to measure myself or my practice against such a standard.

If anyone had tried to force me to do so I would have immediately taken a powder thirty years ago because I don't take kindly to being told what to do by anyone other than Rinpoche himself.


anonymous Apr 13, 2010 4:03pm

Hi Sharon,

I'd like to address these expectations people have about westerners who have completed a three year retreat. The problem seems to be that once someone finishes this retreat they get this title "lama" which has been mystified beyond belief. This is a Tibetan word used to translate guru. However, it no longer refers only to qualified gurus and this seems to be causing confusion. Just because someone has completed a retreat does not make them an accomplished master. Not only that but we are not even trained to teach while in retreat. This is why we should leave the teaching of the dharma to the pros. So what do we do for three years?

(continued on next comment)

anonymous Apr 13, 2010 4:06pm

You spend each day for 1000 days from 4am to 10pm doing sadhana practice and meditation. This means doing pujas in Tibetan, reciting mantras, doing the visualization practices of our major yidams. After the pre-requisite number of mantras is complete, then the practice is concluded with a fire puja. Once one has done these practice over the 3 year period, they receive the title druppey lama. This can be translated as lama of practice/or accomplishment. Meaning that you completed the practice, not necessarily that you achieved realization!

Due to the demanding schedule and number of mantras one has to recite, one must do these practices in a closed retreat. Can you imagine raising a family with a vow of silence for long periods of time? There is not much time devoted to study, only practice. There is very little philosophical study, or other traditional Buddhist teachings that someone would receive in a monastery or shedra. That is the realm of Geshes and Khenpos. These degrees take much longer to get, more than a decade. These are qualified dharma teachers. Three years is just not that much time believe it or not.

(continued yet again on next comment)

anonymous Apr 13, 2010 4:07pm

Another point I'd like to address is the approach of our center, Chicago KTC. In no way do we turn people away because they have not done ngondro. I spend time with the newcomers and give them a detailed history of Buddhism and how our lineage fits into it. I never push a practice on anyone but open our Chenrezig practice to everyone. We also spend a great deal of time doing sitting meditation. Because that is what most people want to learn about. They are not that interested in other Vajrayana practices.

You do not have to do retreat to realize the nature of mind. You do not need to be Tibetan to achieve enlightenment. No one owns it. So please follow the Guru of your own mind and achieve awakening for all beings! There are no secrets, please demystify any notion you have about retreat, practice, and the path of meditation. Rest in awareness itself and relax! Or as we say in my neighborhood, chill out! 🙂

With love,

anonymous Apr 13, 2010 7:36pm


Many thanks for the clarification. Interesting.

Do you know of any centers in US/Europe that provide for students who wish to study to Geshe/Khenpo level? Not that I would want to, I just wondered if, in your opinion, there would be more Westerners at this level if there were.

Many thanks,


anonymous Apr 13, 2010 8:36pm


I've been sleeping a lot, more like drifting in and out of strange dreams, when lucid I practice, but otherwise just spend my days in bed.

Occasionally the cat climbs into bed to make sure I'm breathing and I consider getting out of bed, the phone rings, I go to the bathroom, and go back to bed.

I've been hanging on like this for months, just hoping you or Marvin would post a comment and break the silence, and finally the silence has been broken.

In your comment you have said more about retreat than I have ever heard pass the lips of my closest friend Marvin since he came out of retreat himself.

I can't thank you enough for what you have done for KTC Chicago since you came out of retreat yourself and reluctantly became Director of a dharma center without direction.

I remember well when I recommended the center to someone and after an appropriate number of trips to establish that they weren't a tourist they asked one of your predecessors about Mahamudra.

It wasn't a flippant question but the response was one I have heard countless times, "Are you willing to do ngondro?" otherwise forget about it.

As you well know I can remember the days before "Ngondro" was routinely used as the secret password used to separate the wheat from the chaff whenever a Rinpoche came to town.

To KTC Chicago's credit such a screening protocol has never been used to separate visitors to the center into categories but it is a common enough practice elsewhere as you well know.

I'm so glad I got out of bed this afternoon to find the comment I have been waiting so long to read here, though not addressed to me, I'll butt in and take it anyway.

This morning my phone rang with an unidentified number while I was dead to the world that showed up in my missed calls and when I later saw it my heart skipped a beat.

Every week I write my little column here expecting a call from the home office in New York informing me that Rinpoche is shutting me down.

That is the kind of fear instilled in me in the 1980's that you as KTC director today have done so much to dispel in your short time at the helm here in Chicago.

Step out of line and you get the "Rinpoche wants" slap down to which as a disciple samaya prohibits any further discussion without risking violating your sacred bond to your best hope at enlightenment.

That's what you are up against my friend, and why people I direct to KTC Chicago, if I hear back from them after trekking out to Cicero, invariably mention the weird vibe of the place.

They ask a question of a random member to just get a feel for the place and there is this awkward silence followed by "that's a question for Lama Sean" though any member should be able to answer it.

Instead of "chill out" it's more like "duck, he has a gun" which is a phrase I've heard more of here in Chicago over the years but perhaps that's just me.


PS I hope to see more comments from lamas here in the future (I'm pushing all the buttons I can to provoke such a discussion but you are the first to break the silence).

anonymous Apr 14, 2010 2:01am

Chris and Bill,

The short answer is I have no regrets at all for doing retreat under the guidance of my precious teacher and wouldn't trade it for anything. Personally, I would have no interest in studying at a shedra. I do agree with Bill, both are wonderful.

Karmapa Chenno,

anonymous Apr 14, 2010 7:42am


Shedra, there you are, another word I knew nothing of until you mentioned it. Many thanks! As I once read, "Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance."

I hope these words of mine find you well.

Amor et Pax,


anonymous Apr 14, 2010 5:14am


I'm trying to get Lama Kathy to weigh in on this conversation so if you could reach out to her it would be appreciated very much for their is nothing to do with the dharma holding back.

I can remember when translators started publishing their translations of Tibetan texts people were aghast at the thought of making the dharma available to people as such.


anonymous Apr 14, 2010 7:38am

Thank you for answer, Sean, much appreciated!


anonymous Apr 14, 2010 5:33am


I always like to direct people to Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche's appendix IV "Looking Back: The Purpose of Ngondro" in his "Mind Beyond Death."

It provides a model for us to discuss the purpose of the various institutions and practices of the past with respect to their purpose to us as a lineage.

But first we have to fight the battle still being fought in the lineage as to whether anything to the lineage is subject to discussion.

There are many that went Tibetan as kids in my generation who aren't too keen that there are those among us that believe everything has to be examined.

To question something doesn't lessen its effectiveness anymore than reading a play by Shakespeare before a performance ruins seeing the play.

We don't have to be afraid to discuss that which have been taught and believe to be true as if such a discussion is somehow disrespectful of our traditions and institutions.

In the end and there is nothing to be done but to rely on the dharma however we practice it in all our imperfection for that moment we have to return our bodies to the elements with equanimity.


anonymous Apr 14, 2010 7:52am


Many thanks for your knowledgeable opinion.

I would completely agree. Isn’t it said that there are eighty-four thousand Dharma doors?

What I would really, really be interested in is access to the curriculum of the Kagyu Shedra. I see that you were the translator of Wangchuk Dorje’s commentary to the Madhyamakavatara, which according to Wikipedia is part of this curriculum, so I have an inkling that I’m talking to the right person! Would you be so kind, please, as to indicate to me the books which form part of the Kagyu Shedra curriculum and that are publicly available?

Many, many thanks,


anonymous Apr 14, 2010 8:10pm


I'm very sorry to hear about the death of your friend. My sincerest condolences.

Being skeptical, from my perspective, is suspending judgment on things, not clinging to them as existing or not existing. So I don’t see being skeptical as contradictory to recognizing, in all its forms, the interdependence of things. The butterfly effect of chaos theory is as real as say anthropogenic global warming.

Many moons ago, I had a very vivid dream in which I was at the bottom of a very deep swimming pool with some of my closest friends. We were kind of surprised to find ourselves there and this surprise led us to panic so we began to make our way to the surface as fast as we could. I woke up just before I drowned. That day, my mother called me and invited me to a restaurant for supper, something that was not at all usual. At the beginning of the meal, I related my dream to my mother and my brother, both of whom seem very reserved in their judgment of it. That weekend, I was invited to my mother’s house for lunch. Having plied me, and herself, with a generous amount of alcohol she went on to explain that she had invited me out for supper the previous evening to tell me that one of my closest friends had died. The mother of this friend, who lives in the US, only had the telephone number of my family home. My friend had died the night of my dream drowned in a white-water canoeing accident.

It really is great that people like Sean Jones and Tyler Dewar are beginning to get themselves involved in these discussion threads of yours, Bill. I’m greatly looking forward to being able to converse with them some more in the future!


anonymous Apr 16, 2010 7:43am


Fantastic, thank you again, it really is very kind of you to assist me in this way.

I do have a couple of questions, unfortunately (for both of us!). Firstly, the URL you give mentions the eight great treatises but doesn't explicitly sate them by name, only giving explicit names to commentaries of the same. Is there any chance you could give me the titles and authors of the root texts (and any English translations you know of)? Maybe the texts you talk of in the rest of your message above addresses this question of mine, but it would be great to have a definitive list anyway.

The second question is a more general one. Wikipedia's entry for Sutrayana states that it is one of three yanas, the other two being Tantrayana and Dzogchen. Would you agree with this? If so, I suppose the Kagyu school doesn't study the Dzogchen yana … or does it?

Many thanks again,


anonymous Apr 16, 2010 7:55am


Ups, please scrap the first question of mine if you consider the list below correct!

1) The Ocean of the Tradition of Reasoning – Rikshung Gyatso

2) Madhyamakavatara – Tak-gyu Druppay Shingta

3) Abhisamayalamkara – Jetsun Ngalso

4) Abhidharma – Drupday Chijo

5) Vinaya – Dultik Nyimay Kyilkhor

6) Ratnagotravibhanga – Midokpa Senggay Ngaro

7) The Profound Inner Meaning – Zabdon Nangjey

8) Hevajratantra – Zhomme Dorjei Sangwa Jepa

I see now how your comments on translations fits in with the above! Many thanks. My second question still stands though (at the moment!).


anonymous Apr 16, 2010 11:58am

Hi Chris, I took a look at that Wikipedia entry and it is quite confusingly written. I am no scholar but I believe the 3 yana classification refers to Hinayana, Mahayana (together classified as Sutrayana) and Vajrayana (which would include Tantrayana/Dzogchen).

So the Kaygu focus would be on Mahamudra, here classified as Tantrayana, the Nyingma on Dzogchen, with its attendant 9 yanas.


anonymous Apr 17, 2010 6:29am


Thanks for sharing what you found. I would be happy to supply a more detailed list, including English translations of the titles, at some later point; I just won't be able to get to it for the next few days.

About the sutrayana question, I'm not familiar with the categorization scheme that appears in the Wikipedia entry. In most Indo-Tibetan philosophical texts I've read, "3 yanas" usually refers to the vehicles of the hearers (shravakas), solitary realizers (pratyekabuddhas), and bodhisattvas. There is also the "hinayana-mahayana-vajrayana" usage of "3 yanas," but this appears to me to be more colloquial (used by lamas in dharma talks). It is true that sutrayana usually appears in a diad along with tantra (or "mantra"), but I hadn't heard before of the presentation that has vajrayana as consisting of the two elements of tantra and dzogchen. There was no link provided in the Wikipedia article so it's difficult to investigate the sourcing on that.

anonymous Apr 17, 2010 6:31am

Chris, it is me, Tyler. Haha, some time ago I posed "anonymously" (I admit when I'm going a little tongue-in-cheek with my comments I do occasionally do that, though hopefully to no grossly unskillful effect), and my computer stored that login. Oh dear.

anonymous Apr 17, 2010 6:40am

Those are some brilliant comments on the three prajnas, Bill, and one of the most eloquent statements of support of this approach I've ever seen. Thank you!

anonymous Apr 17, 2010 1:27pm

Hi all, Tyler is of course correct to point out that Vajrayana should not, even in the more casual categorization, be divided into the two elements of Tanta and Dzogchen, but simply Tantrayana, of which Dzogchen is a part. Sorry if I implied otherwise. Chris, I would love to see that list when you get it finished..


anonymous Apr 18, 2010 3:37am


HHK17 said it best of course, "This is true for Westerners and it is true for Easterners—there is no difference," regarding the three prajnas.

"This is the way that all the siddhas and great masters of the past have done it, and this is the way we have to do it also" according to the Karmapa.


PS I refer those interested in subject of Three Prajnas to talk translated by Jules Levinson and edited by you of HHK17's "Hearing, Contemplating, and Meditating."

anonymous Apr 18, 2010 9:32pm

Tyler and Sharon,

Have twittered you both with this, but thought I'd post it here too just in case anybody else was interested:

The above link is as far as I've got identifying the 8 great texts used in the Kagyu Shedra Curriculum along with any English translations. If anybody has any further information I can add to this, I would be more than happy to do so! Try me on twitter @Shunyata_Kharg ..

Many thanks,


anonymous Apr 18, 2010 10:34pm


Whenever I see a reference to Chandrakirti I'm reminded of a comment made by Khandro Rinpoche when she was here in 2008.

During her days she went to Catholic school and evenings studied the dharma with her father in his monastery.

As a teenager when it came to studying Candrakirti she caused quite a stir when in a snit claimed she wanted to convert to Catholicism.

She so disliked the Madhyamakāvatāra despite being the reincarnation of the dakini of Tsurphu she felt compelled to go there.

Just glancing at the Shedra curriculum I can see why every Khenpo I've ever encountered can only sigh wistfully when the subject comes up.


anonymous Apr 19, 2010 6:18am


Some of these texts are hardly trivial to understand, even as a mature adult. I must admit that in the case of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, for example, that finally understanding it after the second read (thank you Garfield for the translation!) has been very helpful.

For me, the salient feature of this Shedra curriculum is that only a small percent of the texts are actually in English. That is to say, that completing it, even here in the West, means having first to have a strong grasp of Tibetan. As you yourself have mentioned before, it does now seem to me as well that for some aspects of the lineage it is still "go Tibetan or bust".


anonymous Apr 19, 2010 7:17pm


I understand, and I really do appreciate the effort involved. I moved to live in Spain at the age of twenty-eight and had to learn two languages, Catalan and Spanish, to get along so I have a fair understanding of what the task of translation entails. I have also worked in both the printing and publishing industries for a few years each, so do also understand the effort involved in getting printed material out of the door.

Given the choice between writing my own work and translating somebody else’s I would much prefer the former. However, the Tibetan texts we are talking about here are of quite a different character altogether and would even motivate someone like me to get my translators cap on. Shame I can’t either read or write Tibetan, or I’d put my two-cents of effort in as well (no joke).

I am particularly enamoured by Vajrayana’s "songs of realization" and I understand that a significant portion of the corpus of such literature has still to be translated from Tibetan. If I were a young man without the responsibilities I have now, you can be quite sure that I’d be on the first flight to Dharamsala with the express intention of learning Tibetan (and whatever else it took) to be able to bring these into English. Ho-hum, maybe another lifetime 🙂


anonymous Apr 19, 2010 8:09pm

I can't even imagine the time and effort involved in translating some of these texts. (I put plenty of effort into just reading some of these in English). As a literature major in college, you can destroy a text with a poor translation – it's just in the last decade that you have seen what I would consider "good" translations of Dostoevsky. And I have yet to find a "good" English translation of Proust.

And French / Russian are languages with a great number of speakers…

One of my favorite things about Tibetan texts is that they are often written somewhat lyrically, chock full of metaphors, etc. This is what I like about Tyler's translation of "Feast for the Fortunate" is that it remains true to the style of the original.

Much as I'd like to read them all now – I can live with getting an occassional "good" translation that was done with a sense of reverence for the original, rather than having translations available immediately that are basically Copy / Pasted into Babelfish and then published….

Thanks for the efforts both Chris and Tyler (Chris for compiling, Tyler for translating).

anonymous Apr 19, 2010 11:45pm


I'm going to have to add Tyler's "Feast for the fortunate" to my reading list.

Ari Goldfield is going to be in Chicago April 30-May 2 but I won't be able to make it I'm afraid.

He will be up the street at the Shambhala Center teaching on KTGR's latest "Stars of Wisdom."

My days of sitting through weekend teachings are behind me but would gladly give it a try for Ari.

It will be the weekend before my wife's surgery which makes it not a good time unfortunately.

There are so many amazing translations coming out under the guidance of KTGR and DPR it's hard to keep up.

The key is as you note not simply being able to read Tibetan but access to such guidance

It has taken a generation to get up to speed in this regard but we have nothing to complain about.

Thanks to KTGR, DPR, and the Marpa Translation committee we have much to look forward to.


PS We also have the translations of Lama Yeshe Gyamtso and others too so we're good with translations.