Assignment Shambhala: Ari Goldfield and Rose Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Karmapa Chenno

(Please follow me on Twitter @RyderJaphy)


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

  1. rheilbrunn says:

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

  2. Bill Schwartz says:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  3. Bill, I think you must be feeling a bit down, which is understandable given the obstacles life has presented your path of late. I can just offer this: from a bird's eye view as editor, seeing every writer and every article every day, no one—not one—has been so good as you at consistently sharing and opening up and getting dialogue going, which could be said to be the highest achievement of web 2.0.

  4. Bill Schwartz says:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  5. Elize says:

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


  6. mike says:

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

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

    om mani padme hung

  7. Bill Schwartz says:


    I'm often criticized for writing about myself. The use of the proper personal pronoun terrifies Buddhists for some reason. It's McBuddhism's equivalent to the mark of Satan.

    I've been reading Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche's "Stars of Wisdom" and when I turn to chapter five on Milarepa's song "The Eighteen Kinds of Yogic Joy," the song begins with "I" of course.

    Thus the importance for me as a columnist to write first and foremost of my personal experience. The fact that it upsets Buddhists only makes me want to do it more of course.

    Although Milarepa is today regarded as a saint by all Tibetan Buddhists in his time he was regarded by scholars and lamas who made the dharma their livelihood with derision.

    It drove them crazy that ordinary people when they heard that Milarapa was in a neighborhood cave they would flock to hear him sing his songs of realization.

    As a columnist I know I would get more views telling people what they should be doing instead of what I'm doing but that isn't how Karma Kagyu roll I'm afraid.

    We don't tell people what to do. It may be no way to run a religion from a western perspective but we are what we are. It's not like "I" really exists after all.

    But as I learned from Khenpo when I met him in 1985 when he was here in Chicago there are two truths, relative and ultimate, and both are equally true.This equality is at the very heart of his teachings.

    When I mentioned to Ari my intent to write about the controversy that arose when Khenpo became ill he emphasized the importance of presenting both sides equally.

    My wife had a good day yesterday but today she is feeling the exhaustion I feel every day. I told her, "Welcome to my world." Fortunately, in 6-8 weeks she will be as good as new.

    I'm not going to get any better of course. I had always expected a sudden death. Dying in increments, slowly but surely, is much more challenging.

    It does provide me something to write about even if not many people want to read about it. Ironically I'm actually writing about sustainability which is a important topic to Elephant Journal readers.

    There is no such thing as something being sustainable without there being something being unsustainable. No better example of this than life itself. There is no life without death.

    It's snowing in Montreal today. My wife is on the phone with my mother who lives there. Happy Mothers Day all you mothers out there. I miss Montreal.

    Thank you for commenting Mike. When readers don't comment I feel like I'm talking to myself in a bar which makes me feel like just paying off my tab and calling it a night.


  8. nealjsivula says:


    I'm not familiar with Karma Kagyu either, but have really been enjoying your writings. So don't get up from your stool just yet…


  9. MaryLouise says:

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

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

  10. John Morrison says:

    Hey Bill:

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

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

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

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

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

  11. John Morrison says:

    And if you really want to run up the view count – your next article should be entitled "Naked Mahamudra" – at least based on how popular the infamous "Naked Yoga" article was….

  12. John Morrison says:

    Speaking of KTGR – I love his explanations….such as this one, contrasting Pinocchio and sub-atomic particles: "they would not take seriously the story of Pinocchio, where a simple piece of matter, a stick, inexplicably develops a mind experiencing hopes and fears, pleasures and pain, and so on, they would not find it strange if sub-atomic particles, atoms or molecules started to produce thoughts and feelings. However, not only is there no scientific evidence whatever that such a phenomenon is possible, but it represents a semantic confusion of categories."

    Why your writing resonates with people is because it is experiential and you don't gloss over the bad parts. It's not a "I-found-the-dharma-rainbows-shot-into-the-sky-and-I-rode-a-garuda-to-Dewachen-The-End" story. I love your quote from Khandro Rinpoche "Don't give me the book answer." Well, don't give me the blog post about what you read in a book. Experience is what resonates with people. Tsem Tulku is another who brings experience to his talks and a lot of people in the west find his teaching very helpful.

    I've never practiced mahamudra in a Himalayan cave or visited Bhutanese cliffs where Guru Rinpoche meditated, but I know what it's like to have people around you pass away, and to struggle personally – and of course, one day we will all face death – and that's why I relate to your writing – so keep it up….

  13. John Morrison says:

    ….or Milarepa's GMO-free, organic, free-range, non-gluten nettle diet….

  14. Bill Schwartz says:


    I couldn't have been more alienated from my sangha than I was in 1985 when I met Khenpo. The moment he said "There are two truths and both are true," it really spoke to me.

    In my sangha there was only one truth "Rinpoche says" as interpreted by those that had access to KKR since he stopped visiting Chicago, which wasn't an option for me at the time.

    I was married to my first wife, my second child had just been born, the economy was just coming out of the worst recession since the depression, and we were struggling to just make ends meet.

    Not a sangha member that could afford to go to KTD to visit Rinpoche whenever I felt the need to and write big checks for the building of the monastery I had no place in my own sangha.

    This was the "Reagan Revolution" when the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. It was also when Tibetans went from being our guests to being our feudal masters as they were in pre-communist Tibet.

    After HHK16 died everything had changed quite dramatically if you were an American Buddhist. All we heard was "build it and he shall return" from Tibetans.

    If you could show them the money, you were good, and if you couldn't you no longer matter. It was a classic bait and switch as far as I was concerned.

    They claimed to come to bring us the dharma. It turned out they wanted a monastic seat and property owning affiliate centers with dues paying members instead.

    And then here came the wandering yogi, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, a Tibetan without his hand out, which was a rarity at the time, who was actually here to teach the dharma.

    After years of robes, brocades, and thrones, I found myself before this most ordinary appearing of Tibetans that looked like he just rolled out of bed, and my heart burst with joy the moment I saw him.

    I had my practice which I had maintained out of devotion to HHK16 and KKR but access to neither. I was heartbroken and Khenpo healed my broken heart.

    He taught me that the teaching is more important than the teacher, the path of reasoning, instead of the path of blind obedience that ruled the day in my sangha here in Chicago.

    For the first time since the great bait and switch the ability to intelligently examine a teacher's explanation of the dharma mattered more than the accumulation of merit that comes with receiving the explanation itself.

    Khenpo gave me permission to think for myself at a time when being a Karma Kagyu had become a matter of accumulating merit by doing what you were told to do.

    No longer could my sangha marginalize me for being disruptive of the sangha's harmony because I questioned everything including what "Rinpoche said" to those with access to him.

    With Khenpo's example being intelligent could no longer be dismissed as belligerence but instead had to be respected, or at least tolerated, even though not welcome in my sangha.

    I could call myself Karma Kagyu without hesitation despite not being able to call myself a Tibetan Buddhist. I could resist being forced into the Tibetan mold I was being forced into thanks to Khenpo.

    If not for Khenpo I would have kept up my formal practice and become one of those tap dancing Buddhists with a practice but no lineage to call their own.

    You know the type, the Buddhist with the carefully parsed narrative, but a total fraud as dharma practitioner. Khenpo saved me from that fate.

    Now with HHK17 back in charge and turning those of us who haven't questioned a thing in a quarter century on their heads speechless I am finally free to have my say as an American Buddhist Karma Kagyu.

    I never lost the faith. I knew that HHK17 would be schooled by teachers such as Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche and Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, our best and our brightest.

    I knew that an American Buddhist Karma Kagyu would emerge from the bankrupt Tibetan Buddhism in America that here in Chicago is on the brink of failure through no fault but our own.

    If not for Khenpo, like so many who have abandoned the Karma Kagyu in search of an American Buddhism over the years here in Chicago, I too would have abandoned the lineage.

    That's what I got from Khenpo, and why I hugged Ari last weekend for bringing the path of useful meditation, the path of reasoning, back to Chicago where it is so desperately needed today.


  15. integralhack says:


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


    Matt (DIY McBuddhist Whippin' Boy) Helmick

  16. Bill Schwartz says:


    Recommend Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche's "Stars of Wisdom" (Shambhala 2010) which is written to be followed as a step by step introduction.

    Better still the translators have set up a web site where you can ask questions as they come up in your reading of the text.

    If you commit to it you will get results. All this teaching requires is an open mind. Khenpo's teaching is the heart of the Karma Kagyu lineage. There is no better introduction.


  17. Ann says:

    Wow, Bill, you just keep blowing me away. How you ever had the audacity (I mean this is the best sense) and presence and strength of mind/heart not to succumb into being a "Tibetan" Buddhist is astonishing to me. It took me years to separate out what Tibetan cultural norms (and cultural arrogance) from the essence of the Buddha's path. The wounds from separating the two are only starting to heal. Of course I have to take responsibility for swallowing the party line whole. You wrote of KTGR: "He taught me that the teaching is more important than the teacher, the path of reasoning, instead of the path of blind obedience that ruled the day in my sangha here in Chicago." In my experience, blind obedience is still alive and well among many Americans practicing in Kagyu and Nyingma lineages. If I would have to guess, I would say it is the norm still. I am so grateful to you for writing about it. Most practitioners are quite oblivious to it and when it becomes part of the group/cultural dynamic it is hard to point out the elephant in the room. No one wants to see it.

    I am happy that your wife's surgery went well and hope for her comfort and healing.

    As your health allows, please keep writing. I, for one, find your stories, while candidly personal, also universally relevant to this condition of being human. I am grateful.

  18. Kris says:

    Thanks for the book recommendation Bill, I will look to pick it up. Always good to expand ones understanding of other paths.

    While I'll agree with you that not committing to a particular path or teaching can at times lead to confusion, I wonder that maybe my comment was misleading (for which I apologize). I have definitely committed to a path – I have taken refuge, my precepts, and even bodhisattva vows under the guidance of Venerable Master Hsing Yun and the Fo Guang Shan Order at Hsi Lai temple. Definite commitment 🙂

    Karma Kagyu is something I'd not heard of much (out of my own ignorance – nothing more) until more recently. Yourself, and another Buddhist I have a lot of respect for follow this path, and I would love to know more about it so again, thank you for the insight, and the book recommendation.

    …joining palms

  19. Bill Schwartz says:


    I'm glad to hear that you have taken refuge with a lineage holder which is the key for me personally. I think you will find "Stars of Wisdom" quite helpful regardless of the particular tradition you follow.



  20. John Morrison says:

    ….and I forgot Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche who I think has incredible vision in establishing Buddhism here. Not to mention numerous accomplished Americans like Tyler Dewar and Ari etc. etc. Don't want to not give credit where credit is most certainly due…

  21. integralhack says:

    Thanks so much, Bill! I'll check those out.


  22. Bill Schwartz says:


    In his "Stars of Wisdom" Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche specifically addresses our common concern in the first chapter "The Path of Faith and the Path of Reasoning."

    It isn't an either/or proposition. They are equal, like two wings of a bird. Both faith and reasoning are needed for flight. There are many species of birds. There are many different kinds of dharma practitioner.

    For some of us faith in our teacher comes first and faith in their words follow. We first believe in the authenticity of our tradition's exponent or teacher.

    For some of us we instead emphasize the path of reasoning. The actual teachings that are given are more important than whomever the individual teacher may be.

    Just as we can't walk without a left and a right foot without both faith and reasoning we can't move forward as dharma practitioners in my experience.

    My first step was the path of faith. I first met Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche in a neighbor's kitchen. I was having a cup of tea and unexpectedly he appeared from his room.

    I immediately stood up and spontaneously did three prostrations before him. It was a tight fit for someone over six feet tall in a tiny kitchen with three people in it.

    I'd never felt so compelled to prostrate before anyone before or since. I have authority issues. I almost cracked my head on the kitchen table. Rinpoche's presence simply overwhelmed me in the moment.

    I stood on one leg as such for years as Rinpoche taught me and I put what he taught me into practice. Then Rinpoche stopped visiting Chicago. I was devastated.

    Without him I was lost. He promised me we would never again be apart in our first meeting when he accepted me as his disciple. His absence forced me to examine what that truly meant.

    I could either feel betrayed or stand on my own two feet. During Rinpoche's last visit to Chicago he spontaneously gave me the mahamudra transmission. He said "you will need this."

    He knew we may never see each other again I presume. I don't know. KTC Chicago almost disbanded. The couple that hosted the center divorced. It seemed like it was over.

    The center regrouped as a Tibetan Buddhist meditation center with a proper shrine room and all that goes with being a dharma center. The days of the living room sangha was a thing of the past.

    Then one day in 1985 I spotted a flyer on a bulletin board at the Occult Bookstore. It was the only bookseller back then that carried books on Tibetan Buddhism.

    It announced that Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche would be teaching on Buddhist meditation and philosophy. I was estranged from my sangha but I had to check it out.

    (continued next post)

  23. nealjsivula says:


    Great response. I've got to get the book! Thanks for the link to the "Stars of Wisdom" website as well. That response really gives me a lot to think about and fills in some gaps as one of your newer readers- give me an idea on where you're coming from.


  24. Robert Bullock says:

    Awesome post, Bill, absolutely awesome!

    That is all.

  25. Bill Schwartz says:


    My response was longer than my column. Chris always gets me thinking. I depend on the generosity of my readers. Their comments make me dig deeper than I otherwise would.

    Feedback is so essential in life. Elephant Journal makes a perfect host for a good exchange of ideas without the noise you get elsewhere. It's my kind of audience, open-minded and inquisitive.

    I'm putting the finishing touches on my next column "How to Pound Sesame" which is about friendship. It's
    a commentary on KTGR's song "Friends":

    Friends are empty forms like a water moon
    To think of them as being truly real
    Will only make your many sufferings increase

    To know they’re empty forms like a water moon
    Will make illusion-like Samadhi increase
    Compassion free of clinging will increase.

    And non-referential view will also increase
    And meditation that’s fixation-free
    And conduct free of doer, deed increase.

    Of all the many marvels, this by far the most marvelous
    Of all the many wonders, this is the most wonderful.

    Just as I never tire of water moons I never tire of making new friends and acquaintances here. Sometimes it's wonderful. Sometimes it's exasperating. It's always appearance emptiness.

    The more people that purchase "Stars of Wisdom" and visit the better. It's one of those teachings that takes all practices up a notch.

    I think of it as a condensed self-diagnostic tool that any dharma practitioner regardless of their particular form of practice can read and benefit from its straight-forwardness.

    That is why Khenpo students consider themselves to be so lucky. They are lucky to be able to stand on their own two feet as Buddhists. That is a lucky Buddhist indeed.


  26. Neal Sivula says:

    Thanks Bill,

    I really look forward to the next column. Thanks for taking the time and expanding the discussion. The discussion surrounding this column has been really thought- provoking.


  27. Bill Schwartz says:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  28. Bill Schwartz says:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  29. Shunyata Kharg says:


    Looks like IntenseDebate has lost one of my posts, the one to which you replied above. Again the comments are not displaying properly in my browser. If I were responsible for the technical aspect of ElephantJournal, I would most certainly ditch it.

    I agree that the reasoning process doesn’t have to be lengthy. Listening, contemplating and meditating on authentic dharma teachings can lead to certainty about the nature of self and phenomena in a relatively short time. It took me about five years of study to reach a rudimentary intellectual certainty of emptiness, which isn’t that long. Under more auspicious circumstances that length of time could be greatly reduced.

    My view is that the Buddha was quite explicit in stating that we shouldn’t take anybody’s word for anything, even his own. He actively encouraged his listeners to apply their own critical analysis to what he said. At the end of the day, he knew that only we are capable of liberating ourselves. Nobody else can do it for us.

    Amor et Pax,


  30. Bill Schwartz says:


    Actually the more auspicious your circumstances the more difficult it is to understand emptiness. To understand emptiness you have to experience it.

    If you can afford to hop on a plane anytime you feel the need to consult with your guru, have a front row seat at every teaching, you will never experience emptiness.

    You think yourself at the center of the universe. You take the composite result of your causes and conditions and think yourself golden forever.

    That's Tibetan Buddhism in America, in a nutshell. In Tibet, the guru's of yore we celebrate today would pull the rug out from under you and laugh in your face.

    As Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche once noted regarding such crazy wisdom, "my insurance doesn't cover that." Nobody since Chogyam Trungpa has dared to go there.

    As a result what you get are a bunch of benefactors who think themselves devoted disciples; all hat and no cattle as they say in Texas. It's really quite sad. Consider yourself lucky.

    Such Tibetan Buddhists of today wouldn't be Tibetan Buddhists if their guru pricked their bubble of self importance. They would be madder than a wet hen.

    There would be nobody to pay the mortgage on the monastery. The house of cards would come tumbling down. It would be a scandal.

    Unfortunately for Tibetan Buddhism in America the guru never lives forever. They get old, sick, and die. Then the scandal comes even if the guru treated you like an egg while alive.

    I discussed this with Ari when he was here, the blame game Tibetan Buddhists play when their guru gets sick and the party is over. There has to be someone to blame.

    As Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche's secretary it was Ari that people blamed. Fortunately, Khenpo recovered enough to retire from teaching, and had his back.

    It did cause a bit of a stir at the time. I've seen this phenomena before over the past thirty years. It's a symptom of not having experienced emptiness.

    The last thing such Tibetan Buddhists want to hear is what the Buddha taught when their world is falling down around their ears.

    Consider yourself lucky for your first hand experience with emptiness as hard as it was for you to live to tell the tale. That's where your understanding of emptiness comes from.

    It may have taken five years to be able to connect the dots through studying, contemplating, and meditating upon your experience in terms of the dharma.

    Your understanding came from your experiences in life and not the teachings you studied over those five years which gave you confidence in what you had already learned.


  31. Colleen Reed says:

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

  32. Bill Schwartz says:


    Me a heretic? Thus the importance of Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche in my life. From the moment Khenpo visited Chicago in 1985 I was good with my sangha.

    The bitterness has continued to this day between myself and individual members but otherwise time has sorted out our differences more the most part.

    It's not like I have anything against Tibetans or Tibetan Buddhism. I just didn't want to be forced into something that wasn't me. And I put up a fight.

    They have their traditional Tibetan Buddhist monastery and three year retreat. I have the life I wanted to live. We both are equally Karma Kagyu, thanks to Khenpo.

    If not for Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche teaching the path of reason I would have indeed been burned at the stake as a heretic 25 years ago.

    The problem isn't with Tibetans and their Buddhism. It's not like they are forcing themselves and their religion down our throats.

    My inquisitors both then and now are no different than me. They sometimes like to act like they are better of course.

    I'll concede they are better at being Tibetan. I'd go so far as saying they are even better than most Tibetans when it comes to arts and crafts.

    I refuse to concede that they are better Karma Kagyu or disciples to our guru Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche. I just don't buy that.

    You can buy your way into Tibetan Buddhism in America. Being an American Buddhist simply is a matter of being yourself and a Buddhist. It's priceless.

    There is no enlightenment without there being its opposite. The problem isn't clinging so much as not being able to let go that binds us.

    Helping someone understand this is rarely pretty in the Karma Kagyu lineage. We need only read the stories from Tibet and India.

    Tilopa was brutal with Naropa. So was Marpa with Milarepa. Obviously they didn't have to worry about bad press and being sued by their disciples.

    Trungpa never apologized for his unorthodox methods. It drove Allen Ginsberg crazy during the Naropa Poetry wars.

    He owned his process for both better and for worse. He didn't try to evade responsibility with an apology or try to cover it up by not talking about it.

    If it meant Naropa Institute wouldn't become an accredited university he was okay with that. In time Ginsberg saw the wisdom of his guru's ways. It was a tough roe to hoe though.

    If Trungpa wasn't Karma Kagyu he could have covered the scandals up or if something leaked out apologize for it quickly and be done for it.

    He could have checked himself into rehab, or simply return to India where no Tibetan would question how he conducted himself.

    I wouldn't wish what you went through on anyone. It was a genuine experience of the luminous nature of the mind though for you.

    You got through the husk of Tilopa's sesame seed of appearance and experienced emptiness. Then with study you came to understand the experience.

    If not for surviving what you did you might have the words from your studies but no experience of what they mean to those that do.

    Suffering doesn't make us realized. That requires working with what appears to us a hardship and experiencing its true nature which is emptiness.


  33. Bill Schwartz says:

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

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

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

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

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


  34. Zendette says:


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

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

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

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


  35. Bill Schwartz says:


    The missing comments I posted haven't reappeared as of this evening. I'll simply have to find someone interested in publishing my column elsewhere. I said I would do so when this problem began.

    If Waylon's takes his word as seriously as I take mine Elephant Journal will disappear next month so I needed a new home anyway. Rest assured I'm not going to stop writing.

    Unfortunately Elephant Journal and Intense Debate didn't believe me when I said they had to fix the comments or I would sever my relationship with Elephant Journal citing Intense Debate as my reason for doing so.

    My next column is ready to post. Anyone wishing to publish it are welcome to it. I'm willing to re-write it for anyone interested. It won't appear here if missing comment doesn't reappear.

    I'm not happy with the editorial support I've been receiving of late either.I need more front page visibility. If people can't find me they can't read me obviously.

    We can continue to talk here for the meantime. Hopefully someone will be interested in my writing. I have a small but loyal audience which I'm confident will follow me wherever I end up.

    Thankfully Tibetan Buddhism doesn't burn heretics or I would have been toast years ago. I posted a long comment on the subject which was deleted by Elephant Journal or Intense debate.

    Hopefully, someone will man up and take responsibility for dropping the ball and I can post my column here for the last month of Elephant Journal's existence.

    The opportunity to make this right is still on the table. We shall see. My next column "How to Pound Sesame Seed" is written and ready to be posted.


  36. Zendette says:


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

  37. Zendette says:

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

  38. Cheryl says:

    Yes, Bill you can set up your own blog – very easy to do through Gmail. Other avenues too. Hope you do not disappear.

  39. Bill Schwartz says:


    I value my relationship with Elephant Journal and will honor my commitment to the as a columnist. Waylon values my column and considers my return a priority.

    Intense Debate doesn't share this concern. They ruined a conversation here. I write not to be published but for the discussion what I write inspires in my audience.

    To lose a single comment is unacceptable to me. To lose a comment I spent twenty minutes writing in response to a reader even more so.

    This has been an ongoing problem I have had with Intense debate over the past six months. Instead of improving it has only gotten worse. Quitting Elephant Journal isn't an option.

    I made a commitment to Elephant Journal and I shall keep it. I also made a commitment to Intense Debate months ago as to what would happen if this problem continues.

    At the time Waylon asked me to back off Intense Debate which I did at the time. It's quite a pickle. My only option is to not post any further columns anywhere until I'm satisfied with Intense Debates ability to handle comments.

    I'll continue to respond to reader comments here. If we no longer have any complaints about Intense Debate I'll return to posting my column here as I have committed to do as an Elephant Journal columnist.


  40. Zendette says:

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

  41. Bill Schwartz says:


    I feel much more comfortable as a columnist here than on MySpace trying to hold a conversation with someone on a message board. We had a problem with comments not posting the past week. I'm glad your comment wasn't lost.

    I can't remember "dancing unicorns" but if you weren't somewhere I stand corrected as a matter of fact. I'm glad you were able to find it. I thought it lost in the archive. If I recall it was a popular one. I'll correct it in the book.

    The tenant downstairs was cutting the lawn with the same lawn mower from when I lived in the basement in 1989 and I mentioned to her that I remember the very same lawn mower. She was born that year.

    I was thinking of you this afternoon so I was pleasantly surprised to hear from you when I noticed I had new comments. I'm glad they appear have to resolved the problem with comments, or at least are making progress.

    People have a lot of misconceptions about Tibetan Buddhists. I had hoped Lama Kathy would comment given her background in journalism. I had asked a student of her's to put a bug in her ear.

    Lama Sean has commented here. I'm delighted that you have found me here on Elephant Journal. I'm still waiting for Marvin to take the plunge. We talk regularly but can't convince him to participate.

    I don't know what he is worried about. I don't know why anyone would be worried about posting a comment to Elephant Journal. There's nothing to be afraid of here.

    Tomorrow Gigi has a follow up visit with her oncologist. I walked to Devon Market with my little cart for groceries. It was exhausting but Gigi can't drive for at least another week.

    I'm afraid she is enjoying my waiting on her hand and foot. It has been like a second honeymoon for us since her hysterectomy. We are unlikely to ever have this much time together again.

    This has been a pleasant surprise. I had no idea you were an Elephant Journal reader. I've come a long way since I first started posting comments to MySpace message boards. It has been an interesting journey.


  42. Monique says:


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

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

    Keeping you and your wife in my thoughts and prayers,


  43. Bill Schwartz says:


    I'm working on my next column, a re-write of what I was going to post this week. It has become something different than it was when I was ready to post it Monday.

    My hope is that the problem with the comments will be sorted out by next Monday. I'll let Waylon sort it out. I hate losing a column but I'd rather lose a column than risk losing a single comment.

    I feel bad for the trending columnists just finding an audience here. I've found my niche and can take a week off without worrying about it other than perhaps getting used to it.

    I'm writing every day still. Once the problem with the comments is sorted out I hope to be able to pick up where I left off. This has been an unwelcome break. I miss my weekly routine.

    I suspect the lost comments are lost forever. I just want to be sure that it doesn't happen again. I leave that to Elephant Journal and Intense Debate to figure out.

    In the meantime I'm still here. If anyone wants to discuss something I'm available to do so. I can't guarantee people that their comment won't suddenly disappear. I'm game though for anyone interested in a conversation.


  44. We've been having problems with Intense Debate for two weeks. We don't delete comments.

  45. ceciliawyu says:

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