Karma Triyana Dharmachakra {KTD} in Transition: A Closer Look. ~ Alex Garden

Via elephant journal
on Aug 30, 2010
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Two weeks ago, elephant journal’s Bill Schwartz broke the story of the parting of ways of Bardor Tulku Rinpoche and Karma Triyana Rinpoche, the Tibetan Buddhist center and Western seat or home of the Karmapa that Bardor Tulku Rinpoche had helped to build with his own hands. At that time I explained that while Bill had solid sources for the sad story, it was a complex story, and Bill’s post was intended to be an “op-ed”—opinion piece—not a piece of journalism. Bill, backed up by myself, appealed to those in the know to contribute more information and context.

I received the below note followed by another take on the situation. Hopefully this will go a long way toward clarifying any confusion about events. ~ Ed.

Dear Waylon and Editors,

The attached article is a response to Bill Schwartz’s August 20, 2010 blog titled “Karma Triyana Dharmachakra bans Bardor Tulku Rinpoche?” I spoke with contacts at KTD and in the Karmapa’s Office of Administration who provided a much different view of what happened with the resignation of Bardor Tulku Rinpoche.

Click below image for Bill Schwartz’s piece:

The 17th Karmapa is one of the most fascinating spiritual leaders of our times—combining the passion of youth with the wisdom of his Buddhist teaching lineage. You may know that the Karmapa is already making a name for himself by instituting strong environmentalist measures in the Kagyu monasteries in the Himalayan region. Maybe you saw him teach in 2008 on the environment in Boulder [yes, I met him and was honored to present him with a copy of elephant magazine ~ WL]

Bill’s blog piece elides critical points about the Karmapa’s role in the Woodstock situation. I follow the Elephant Journal and know that you make a genuine effort to balance passion and resources. I also know that in this particular case, you expressed some misgivings about the lack of more journalistic research, and that Bill himself expressed concerns about his ability to offer much more than his personal take on the situation.

Below, I made an effort to document everything in endnotes and sourced most of the article to publicly available information. I am also happy to answer questions you or the community may have [in the comments section below].

With respect,

Alex Garden

Karma Triyana Dharmachakra {KTD} in Transition:

A Closer Look at the Changing of the Guard in Woodstock.

~ Alex Garden

Bill Schwartz in his August 20th blog entitled “Karma Triyana Dharmachakra [KTD] bans Bardor Tulku Rinpoche?” provides a view of recent events at KTD. Having been involved in Karma Kagyu Buddhism for many years, I recently spoke with Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche and a representative of the Karmapa about the situation at KTD. Here is my unofficial take.

Two Karmapas Visit America

In 1980, a year before he passed away, on his third and last visit to America, His Holiness the 16th Karmapa purchased a parcel of land on the top of Mead’s Mountain in Woodstock, New York.

Over the next 30 years, KTD—a monastery and surrounding monastic complex—would be built there for the Karmapas, heads of the Karma Kagyu lineage. The 17th Karmapa, His Holiness Ogyen Trinley Dorje, was finally allowed to visit KTD in 2008, ushering in a new era of a Karmapa’s spiritual presence in America. To fully support the activity of this young and dynamic 17th Karmapa, KTD would have to change.

At the time of the visit, the leadership of KTD was vested in a Board of Trustees that had been appointed by the 16th Karmapa in the late ‘70s. The three active members included Tenzin Chonyi, President and the most visible administrator. However, equally involved in all decisions were Bardor Tulku Rinpoche and Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, who for over 30 years had been partners in the stewardship of KTD. Moreover, Bardor Tulku Rinpoche’s influence had increasingly grown as Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, the third Trustee, now 80 years old, dedicated himself primarily to presiding over the three year retreat facility owned by the Monastery in Delhi, New York, 90 minutes away from Woodstock.

Shortly after the visit, dissatisfaction with the capability of the current KTD leadership to meet the organizational challenges of the KTD’s expanding activity came quickly to a boil. In October 2008, Bardor Rinpoche offered his resignation. In response to the opportunity for administrative reconfiguration, the 17th Karmapa personally and through his Office of Administration took practical actions in accord with current American systems of organizational governance.

In November, 2008, a meeting was held at KTD, involving key KTD and KTC staff, members of affiliate centers and other valued supporters. Important issues were aired, and His Holiness spoke to the conference participants by telephone. The Karmapa promised to send a representative to KTD to thoroughly review the administrative situation.

In May of 2009, Karma Chungyalpa, Deputy General Secretary in His Holiness Karmapa’s Office of Administration, flew from India to KTD. He conducted a thorough multi-week review of the administration of KTD, interviewing the staff, surveying the workings of the programs, inspecting the books and becoming familiar with operations. He provided this detailed information to His Holiness and made recommendations.

The Karmapa acted decisively. He set the acting number of Trustees at five and appointed three new Trustees. These changes shifted Board control away from those Trustees who had been in charge almost exclusively for 30 years. His Holiness also established a new executive director position to take over day-to-day leadership of the administrative activities of KTD, so that the President and other Board members could focus on large picture issues.[i]

New appointments do not by themselves bring change. Yet, the restructuring created substantial opportunities for a significant shift in the management of KTD activities, in a manner aimed to provide a smooth transition to the new structure.

Bardor Tulku Rinpoche Resigns

Why did Bardor Rinpoche offer his resignation?

The August 20th blog by Bill Schwartz focuses on events involving lawnmowers and disputed staffing. These features of the situation are of much less significance when looking at the bigger picture, which can be drawn from the statements and actions of the Karmapa, the Board of Trustees and Bardor Tulku Rinpoche himself.

In 2000, Bardor Tulku Rinpoche started the Raktrul Foundation and a meditation center, Kunzang Palchen Ling in Red Hook, New York, a few minutes’ drive from Woodstock. Over the following years, he devoted increasing amounts of his time and resources to building this multi-million dollar center and foundation headquarters. KTD also had its own multi-million dollar building project underway at the same time, involving the building of the monastic center a few miles away in Woodstock.[ii]

Spiritually, KTD represents the Karma Kagyu lineage and focuses on preserving and offering the teachings of the Karmapas and their Kagyu lineage. Bardor Tulku Rinpoche’s center and foundation are dedicated to preserving a different lineage of teachings, which Bardor Tulku Rinpoche has described as a combination of the Barom Kagyu and certain Nyingma lineages.[iii] The Karma Kagyu and Barom Kagyu teaching lineages are known as two of the “Four Great Kagyu Branches.” The Karma Kagyu and Barom Kagyu maintain a line of distinct teachings, even though both were established by two disciples of the great 12th century master Gampopa: Dusum Khyenpa, the First Karmapa, started the Karma Kagyu order; Barom Darma Wangchuk founded the Barom Kagyu. [iv]

The Kagyu teachings from Karmapa were passed down orally from “mouth to ear,” that is, from the oral teachings of the First Karmapa to his student (who then becomes a lineage holder), to that teacher’s student, and so on through the 17th Karmapa. Indeed, “the Karma Kagyu tradition has remained strong and successful due mainly to the presence of an unbroken reincarnate line of the founder, the successive Karmapas. All the successive incarnations of the Karmapas are well known in every part of Tibet and among all Tibetan Buddhist practitioners for their accomplishments in meditation, scholarship, and the activities of benefiting beings.”[v]

The Barom Kagyu teachings were transmitted differently. Bardor Tulku Rinpoche has explained that for the span of 13 generations, the Barom Kagu teachings were not available, until revived by Terchen Barway Dorje, the first Bardor Tulku Rinpoche, who rediscovered them as concealed teachings in the 19th century, a form of transmission known as terma lineages.[vi]

For centuries, the lineages of the Barom Kagyu and Karma Kagyu have not been mixed. Lineage teachers take these commitments seriously, as we would wish. No one claims otherwise. Indeed, Bardor Tulku Rinpoche has himself publicly stated that while working for the Karmapa, he felt bound not to teach Barom Kagyu texts:

“You might wonder why I have never talked about the Barom Kagyu. My root guru was the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, and because of great devotion for him and great faith in him for more than 36 years I thought only of the service to his teachings, service to his activity, and service to his particular lineage. Out of devotion for my root guru I never mentioned the Barom Kagyu, even by name.”[vii]

Bardor Tulku Rinpoche seems to have come to a point in his life where he felt that his responsibilities to the teachings of his incarnation lineage called him away from his years of selfless service to His Holiness Karmapa.

Anguish of his students at such a parting is understandable. Tibetan Buddhism is still new to us, and as the Buddhist teachings take root in America they will no doubt transform into shapes yet unrealized. It is critical for the authentic transmission that the lineage holders of the Karma Kagyu remain free to teach the Karma Kagyu teachings, the holders of the Barom Kagyu free to teach their own lineage, and the students remain free to study what they wish. Freedom of religion is for everyone.

Transition in Context

In this context, events are cast in a new light.

The 17th Karmapa visited Kunzang Palchen Ling in August of 2008. Within a few months, Bardor Rinpoche resigned from KTD.[viii]

His Holiness Karmapa met personally with Bardor Tulku Rinpoche and Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, where Bardor Tulku Rinpoche personally submitted his resignation letter to His Holiness. His Holiness Karmapa further took the actions outlined above, restructuring the administration.

On 12 August, 2009, the new board officially accepted the resignation of Bardor Tulku Rinpoche, thanking him for his long service to Karmapa. The KTD Board’s acceptance letter stated:

“We appreciate that you now must dedicate your efforts to fostering and teaching the termas of the Terchen Barway Dorje, and to establishing a center for those teachings at Kunzang Palchen Ling.”[ix]

In recent remarks at the last day of the North American Monlam, held at KTD, presided over by Thrangu Rinpoche, His Holiness addressed KTD via video-conference, naming in particular “Thrangu Rinpoche, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche and KTD President, Tenzin Chonyi” and pointedly omitting Bardor Tulku Rinpoche, even though he was in attendance at the Monlam.[x] This statement was understood at KTD as His Holiness’s confirmation of Bardor Rinpoche’s resignation. His Holiness has handled these changes as a principled parting of the ways.

Those in the Kagyu sangha troubled by this will find their footing again, and all the lineages of the Kagyu will continue to benefit from the Karmapa’s activity.

[i] The new Board signed the letter to Bardor Rinpoche published at the Kunzang website, at http://www.kunzang.org/assets/btr/btr_biography/ktd_to_btr.pdf. The new executive director is noted at http://www.kagyu.org/ktd/contacts.php.

[ii] According to the center’s home page, the Kunzang Palchen Ling is now seeking an additional $900,000 to engage in further development to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy. http://www.kunzang.org/.

[iii] For Bardor Tulku’s own explanations of these teachings, see the transcript at the Kunzang Palchen Ling blog, at http://kunzang.org/kplblog/2010/03/23/the-lineage-and-treasures-of-terchen-barway-dorje-and-the-lineage-of-barom-kagyu/ and http://kunzang.org/kplblog/2010/06/27/the-barom-kagyu-continued/.

[iv] For more details about Kagyu lineages, see Gene Smith, Among Tibetan Texts at pp. 39-46 (Wisdom 2001) and Kagyu Office website at http://kagyuoffice.org/kagyulineage.html. The other two of the four main Kagyu branches are the Phaktru Kagyu and the Tsalpa Kagyu. According to Smith, of these, the Karma Kagyu has been a significantly more active lineage.

[v] See Kagyu Office website page referenced in note iv. See also the explanation of the meaning of “Kagyu” and the short histories of the “Golden Rosary” of the Karmapas and lineage heirs students in the transmission lineage starting at http://www.kagyuoffice.org/kagyulineage.goldenrosary.html.

[vi] http://kunzang.org/kplblog/2010/06/27/the-barom-kagyu-continued/. A terma lineage involves teachings that are deliberately concealed and then rediscovered, sometimes centuries later, by enlightened masters. Tulku Thondup Rinpoche, Hidden Teachings of Tibet , (Wisdom 1986, 1997). The teachings may be unearthed written texts, visionary transmissions, and other modes; terma transmissions are distinguished from the “mouth to ear” historical transmission from teacher to student. Terma lineages are far more prevalent among the Nyingma order, but Kagyu masters have incorporated some Nyingma terma lineages into their traditions as well. Thondup at 167.

[vii] Transcript of teaching by Bardor Rinpoche, Kunzang Palchen Ling blog, at http://kunzang.org/kplblog/2010/06/27/the-barom-kagyu-continued/

[viii] Letters to the Karmapa and his General Secretary are posted at Kunzang Palchen Ling’s website, at http://www.kunzang.org/assets/btr/btr_biography/letter-to-hhk-eng.pdf and http://www.kunzang.org/assets/btr/btr_biography/letter-to-gs-eng.pdf.

[ix] See the letter of the Board to Bardor Tulku Rinpoche, referenced in note i above.

[x] Noted at http://www.kagyumonlam.org/English/News/Report/Report_20100717_1.html.

Alex Garden stumbled upon Rumtek and met the 16th Karmapa while travelling around India during the late ‘70s. That led to a lifelong connection with the Karmapa’s Buddhist lineage. Though her passion is the history of central Eurasia, she decided early on to make a living through a law career. She enjoys trekking, reading and Buddhist yoga. Her work in NYC keeps her occupied most of the time, but she remains available to the lineage when it seems she can be of service.


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62 Responses to “Karma Triyana Dharmachakra {KTD} in Transition: A Closer Look. ~ Alex Garden”

  1. Linda says:

    This is a more sane article on the Kagyu split. It helps and makes more sense to understand the already existing divisions of the Kagyu than to blame it on a spat over an unmowed lawn! Goodness! I have great respect for both Khenpo Kartar R. from whom I received a most powerful Marpa Empowerment, and for Bardo Tulku and his years of service at KTD. May equanimity prevail! This is not a popularity contest to see who should get voted off the mountain! Everything changes. Let go and relax.

  2. Lilith says:

    That does not shed a new light on anything. I took refuge under BT but I consider myself Karma Kagyu. I have no idea what Barom Kagyu teachings are about. This explains what they've done but the larger issue of lack of consideration for the general sangha members still has not been shown to be present. All of these decisions were made by those in position of powers. Your article actually proves that they made these decisions as political motivations without consulting or considering the welfare of the sangha members. It's nice that all of the powerful figures talked about our interests without haveing someone there to represent our own interests. Your article just proves this even more. Nothing indicates that they ever polled the sangha members or even requested their opinion in any regard.

    But, most importantly, never expressed so much as a bit of sympathy or explanation in how that should be received by the sangha members.

    Am I now Barom Kagyu because I took my refuge under BT? Or, Karma Kagyu because I took my refuge at a KTD center?

  3. Rita Ashworth says:

    I dont know isnt KTD big enough to contain both lineages? Did Gampopa envisage all this splitting off of various factions when he was teaching way back -why were the teachings 'hidden' for so long -dont know that really sounds funny to me, like stuff remains hidden for 800 years -do people believe that? After thirty-one years at KTD – why now the decision to resign?

    Yes I agree the whole sangha should have been voicing their views on this matter as they are the ones that are keeping KTD afloat. Is what is happening Tibetan politics?

    More articles on the whole thing Waylon -especially interviews with people in the sangha and BTR himself -think he would speak even though the interview might be courteous as the resignation letter hinted at his attitude to people at KTD -you can put up the resignation letter. Waylon try to get BTR to do an interview with Elephant -it would reveal lots of stuff about politics in Tibet society.

    Also Waylon you are the journalist and you have put up an article written by a lawyer and it reads like a lawyers article too -cant we not have a proper journalistic piece?

  4. Ghassan says:

    Thank you for the much needed better researched article on this matter. While perhaps something even more is needed examining and explaining this issue, this is a great start.

    I agree with many of the above comments, regarding this issue and how it came about in regards to how it affects the sangha. Of course, it is well known and stated by one of the first lamas in the West, Trungpa Rinpcohe, that Tibetan Buddhism is "not a democracy". So, we cannot expect the Trustees of KTD to involve the sangha in such a decision.

    However, it does present difficulties to those of us who never felt, nor currently feel, that a choice needs to be made between these obviously separate lineages. My initial reactions to first learning of this situation included confusion, disgust, and anger. I took refuge with BTR, and I took Bodhisattva Vows with KKR. My refuge name begins with Karma, denoting that I took refuge under the lineage of the Karmapa. However, the Ngondro I attempt to practice is of the Barway Dorje lineage, a lineage tree which includes the Kagyu lineage masters and the Karmapa.

    I always recognized the separation of the Karma Kagyu and the Barway Dorje lineages. I also recognized the similarities. There is a great beauty in both. It is difficult for those of us who feel a connection to both lineages, and there have been many throughout the ages who have felt similar multiple-connections. Indeed, even in the Karma Kagyu, there has been a rich history of tertons (treasure revealers), who often hold the Kagyu and Nyingma, or other lineages, simultaneously.

    Not to say that us lazy Western students are even close to doing the same as the tertons. But, if one has devotion for Shakyamuni, Samantabadhra/Vajradhara, Padmasambhava, or any other manifestation or emanation of buddhas, and feels that their teacher is the embodiment of those buddhas, then the worry over choosing sides or lineages becomes pretty pointless.

  5. Waywuwei says:

    Thanks Alex for a very well researched piece. There is a lot of valuable information here.

    However, I think this just skims the surface and completely ignores the Tibetan politics that are at work at KTD. Even the title "the changing of the guard" leaves me with a cognitive disconnect. What guard are you referring to? The one person who has been at the center of all the negative karma at KTD is still there and is still fully in control.

    In your piece you state:

    "In November, 2008, a meeting was held at KTD, involving key KTD and KTC staff, members of affiliate centers and other valued supporters. Important issues were aired, and His Holiness spoke to the conference participants by telephone."

    Here is Khempo Rinpoche's recollection of that same meeting:

    "So, when Bardor Tulku Rinpoche held his conference at KTD in November 2008, I felt it was like a public inquisition, like a Communist government action, aimed at punishing one person. During that time Bardor Rinpoche brought many people together against Tenzin-la and I couldn't take it, especially when I remembered the expression of his Holiness the 16th Karmapa, and the words His Holiness had said to me. So it is that I and Tenzin-la worked together for KTD and are working together now. "

    Alex, you cannot ignore the fundamental cultural disconnects here. If Khempo Rinpoche was so upset by that meeting which most of the Westerners felt was long overdue imagine how Tenzin felt, Tenzin who is an upper class Tibetan and who is not used to having anyone question him? He lost face in that meeting something extremely important to an oriental. Consider what the tack taken by the Western sangha to institute a larger board had as it's objective: the reduction of Tenzin's powers. And can you guess who won that battle? Tenzin has been hatching this plot for over a year. In one fell swoop he got his revenge on Bardor Tulku and he fired a shot across the bow of any Americans who think they can challenge him.

    It would be nice if we could all just have total faith in the Karmapa and that everything is just going to be fine, but it is already too late for that.

    Alex, I came here to Woodstock 4 years ago to spend the summers here and be closer to KTD and to see and attend teachings by my teacher Khempo Karthar Rinpoche. The first two years were basically uneventful, but I found that being too close to KTD (I was volunteering there) was too difficult. There were many very dedicated and very wonderful people there, but they were all exhibiting the signs of people who were living with constant intrigue and drama and whose effectiveness was constantly being drained by the negative atmosphere there. Last summer after the events of the previous winter, I made a decision to give KTD a year to see if it could make some strides to improve the way it was being run and bring about a more positive and more dharmic atmosphere. I continued to support KTD as a member. When I returned this June I found that in effect nothing had changed if fact things had deteriorated from the previous fall. Then the other shoe dropped and what we are now dealing with is as bold a statement as one could expect, that KTD will always be a purely Tibetan institution, it will be run autocratically by one man in concert with his other relatives who control the Karmapa and our shattered illusions about the dharma in America have been laid to rest. In truth the only thing monastic about KTD is the word monastery attached to the name. It has never been a real monastery although in the early 80's it showed some real possibility.

    So I want to say this first of all: we have no right to expect that because we built a building for the Karmapa that we would have any say in how it was run. If they want to run it their way we have no real recourse except to vote with our feet. That is what I have chosen to do. This situation has presented us with some unwelcome choices. I have chosen to support my refuge lama: KKR and Bardor Tulku Rinpoche and reject KTD. Others have made different choices. It is sad that such choices have been foist upon us, but that is the reality of the situation. In the end I see this as a positive situation because it will shake a few of the senior American students into taking up the mantle of the dharma and trying to bring it to life here in America and that was the purpose of KTD.

  6. elephantjournal says:

    I'm with you, but sadly I'm not a journalist, anymore, for now—I was trained as one but elephant is a community-created blog.

    The difference? Readers read free, writers write for free. As soon as we're sustainable, http://www.elephantjournal.com/member , we'll pay writers and be able to up our editorial bar toward original, investigative when necessary, researched journalism.

    I'd be honored to supplicate Rinpoche for an interview for the purposes not of scandal or gossip but elevating confusion into constructive clarity. That's what sanghas are for.

  7. Waywuwei says:

    I would also point out that the Karmapa also holds dual lineages in the Karma Khagu and Nyingmapa (Great Perfection) lineages dating back to the time of Longchempa.

  8. Rita Ashworth says:

    yeh waylon -thanks for the feedback and the donation page! yes I would supplicate for an interview as the issues are quite important as to how dharma institutions are run around the world and the delegation of power to sangha members aswell – I just dont know how you could not get a better story about the teachings than this. Dont think any of the shambhala media will touch it -its too divisive and of course you too may not get that interview but at least you will have tried -and thats what I did too in NS with all the patronage politicians up there. You know read one article in the former Daily News in NS actually praising patronage -jeez!

    Anyway still in the UK exploring stuff journalistically and art wise too -have not given up the ghost on this in this present nutty age -well best to you Rita Ashworth

  9. Lilith says:

    I'm not offended. This is a point about the obvious fact that there is an American way that was completely disregarded and now it is threatening an extremely valuable opportunity for Buddhism in America. It's ridiculous to me. It's no secret. Our ancestor's fought bloody wars for these rights and independence and for good reason.

    We are not Tibetans. Why do I have to act like a Tibetan when I am an American? I don't even get that whole idea of us having to behave and practice like Tibetans just to get the teachings. I don't know why we've agreed to humor them anyway. We are not Tibetan and no matter how long we "do as we're told" we will never fully grasp a Tibetan form of Buddhism – because we are American.

    This is an opportunity for us to make this point clear. We can work together and we can demand respect that allows our interests to be served as well. BT probably would have resigned anyway but we have a right to address how poorly this was handled. This is America. We made sure of that.

  10. JimWilton says:

    Teachers often hold multiple lineages. Taking refuge with BT at a KTC Center would certainly be in the context of the Karma Kagyu lineage. However, more importantly, I do not believe that refuge is in any sense limited to a particular lineage. Refuge is in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and is common to all lineages.

    Barom Kagyu is Tulku Urgyen's Kagyu lineage. Tulku Urgyen is one of the greatest 20th century meditation masters and the father of several of the greatest living teachers in the West (Mingyur R., Tsoknyi R., Chokyi Nyima R.). Tulku Urgyen is also the holder of the New Treasures lineage, the Nyingma terma lineage for which he is best known.

  11. Shelli Meyers says:

    Thanks Alex for this chronology, it was just what those of us who were so initially confused were looking for. Thanks too to Elephant for trying to do right by the initial confusion.

  12. JimWilton says:

    In case you haven't read it yet, Bardor Tulku's resignation letter to HHK17 (link in footnote viii above) in the form of a poem has to be the greatest resignation letter ever.

    I have never met him — but suddenly I like him a lot.

  13. Bill Schwartz says:


    I was told about the unmoved lawn by Bardor Tulku Rinpoche's personal secretary who responded to my request for an interview. We have statements from both Bardor Tulku Rinpoche and Tenzin Chonyi at the time of the incident which prompted BTR's resignation. He resigned over Tenzin-la firing yet again an American staff member over the objections of both BTR and my guru Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche.These are facts, not conjecture.

    According to BTR's personal secretary when Rinpoche resigned he told HHK17 that he would never teach at KTD again as long as Tenzin-la was president of KTD but that he would continue to teach at the KTC affiliate centers which he did here after his resignation which he did. In October 2009 here in Chicago I received an empowerment from Rinpoche from his terma. My wife took refuge with him. These are facts, not conjecture.

    Regarding Karma Kagyu chops, if this is the subject. I was present for HHK16's parinirvana. I accompanied his body from the funeral home in Zion, IL, to O'hare Airport. I've been a disciple of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche since I took refuge with him in 1981. I received from him the very same Mahamudra transmission that he, Trungpa, and Thrangu Rinpoche received from Khenpo Gangshar before they were forced to flee the Chinese invasion of Tibet. These are facts, not conjecture.

    The KTD board talking points reported here are what prompted a representative of BTR to respond last month to a an interview request. An American, he felt compelled to get in front of this lie. Yes, it's a lie, which is appropriate in Tibetan culture, especially when dealing with Americans. Khyentse Rinpoche has written about the contempt Tibetans have for us and our culture. These are facts, not conjecture.

    This is a rebellion, not a popularity contest. Those of us that have dedicated our lives to the Karma Kagyu lineage, not just ten years, have had enough of Tibetans putting their interests ahead of our own. HHK17 sent a representative to investigate BTR's resignation and an assembly of graduates from the three year retreat at Karme Ling to Drupon Rinpoche we wanted more transparency and accountability. These are facts, not conjecture.

    I have heard people complain about this problem with how KTD is organized with a Tibetan noble with no accomplishment other than his birth as president for life. Yet in this repetition of KTD board talking points there is no mention of these facts. Instead we are told once again that this is a Tibetan matter, as we were in 1985 when Situ and Shamar Rinpoche couldn't agree on which child to choose as the next Karmapa. These are facts, not conjecture.

    Why did KTD ban BTR from continuing to visit the afilliate KTC centers? According to BTR's representative, to scapegoat Rinpoche for the imminent financial failure of KTD. I was forwarded copies of letters from donors to HHK17 withdrawing their support of KTD. I was told gifts in the amount of millions of dollars needed to keep KTD operating are involved. These are facts, documented facts, and not conjecture, none of which are addressed in the KTD board's feeble response.


  14. Bill Schwartz says:


    Someone sits down with the KTD board to take dictation of their talking points and this is better researched than my speaking at length with two graduates of Karme Ling representing both sides of the story and BTR's personal secretary regarding this crisis? This well documented press release for KTD is too little to late.

    Regarding the differences between the Barom Kagyu and the Karma Kagyu is a sectarian smear which presumes an ignorance of Tibetan history only a Tibetan would think could possibly fly with an educated American audience in the 21st century.

    To buy this argument you have to be ignorant of the Ri-me movement, the 19th century non-sectarian Tibetan renaissance that occurred in the Kingdom of Nangchen which transformed Tibetan Buddhism. If you know Tibetan history, you would know that we have grown beyond having to be protected from exposure to other lineages as Karma Kagyu.

    Since the communist invasion of Tibet the Tibetan exile community has despite the best efforts of the Dalai Lama resorted to their 18th century sectarian habits. As Khyentse Rinpoche has characterized this, it is no better than the Taliban; the only difference being we are Buddhists and not Muslims. These are his words not mine.

    Frankly, if this is what Tibetans in India want, it really doesn't concern me as an American Karma Kagyu. What concerns me is when Tibetans here and in India expect us to repeat the very same mistakes they have made. They are our guests in this country. They have no right to tell us what to do.

    Even the most dedicated Karma Kagyu, which I include myself in this category, ever signed up such a one sided relationship. I was there in the beginning. This is not why we opened our homes to Tibetans and embraced Tibetan Buddhism like we did as young people in the 1970's and early 1980's.

    Thus the rebellion of 2010, the necessity of our, with all due respect to Tibetans, telling Tibetans we have had enough of Tibetan tradition. We built KTD because we were told by Tibetans that it if we did so the 16th Karmapa would return to us. It was a lie.

    Thanks to Tibetans in India HHK17 lives under house arrest for his own protection unable to travel freely even in India much less take residence in his monastic seat in North America. Given HHK16 chose to die here it was plausible but it was a lie. I never bought it, but many of us did.

    There was a time when we were so gung ho about Tibetan Buddhism that all a Tibetan had to do was say "jump" and we would respond in unison, "How high Rinpoche?" eager to prove that an American can do anything that a Tibetan can, but those days are long gone.

    We aren't lazy and to suggest that we are is an insult to those of us, as so many of my friends here in Chicago have done, that completed the traditional three year retreat at Karme Ling to prove that we can do anything a Tibetan can.

    They sacrificed careers and families to prove such talk Tibetan bullshit. When these American Lamas asked a representative of HHK17 to investigate our complaints about KTD, their desire for transparency and accountability, as the most devoted of the devoted, nothing happened.

    So what choice do we have but to rebel as American Karma Kagyu against the imposition of a Taliban-like Tibetan Buddhism being forced down our throats? KTD has banned BTR and their only response is Tibetan Buddhist sectarianism? No way; open up KTD or pack it up. It's un-American.


  15. Bill Schwartz says:


    I applaud Waylon for allowing the KTD to respond with their talking points, none of which I had not already received from my source representing KTD before posting my original column on this subject.

    There is nothing new here other than documentation of why BTR's personal secretary broke with Tibetan Tradition and responded to my request for an interview on the subject.

    This is a lie, or what Tibetans call, skillful means if you prefer. The rebellion of 2010 is about the one person not mentioned here, KTD president for life, the son of a noble family, Tenzin Chonyi.

    When BTR resigned he told the Karmapa directly that Tenzin-la must go, and to make it clear how strongly he felt about the subject said he won't teach at KTD again until he was replaced.

    What was KTD's response, a sectarian lie that it is all about keeping the Karma Kagyu pure, despite the fact that BTR's KPL was formed in 2003 at the request of HHK17 and Situ Rinpoche.

    This so called chronology is a total fabrication. There is no "transition" going on at KTD. According to my sources KTD mortgaged the monastery to complete it before HHK17's visit.

    They can't make the payments, thus the crisis. It's about money and years of questionable management practices and not the dharma.

    I have been a devoted disciple of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche since I took refuge with him in 1981 and I remain so. We disagree on this matter,and have for over twenty years.

    This has nothing to do with the dharma, so our sacred commitment as guru and disciple remains unbroken. I know my guru, and his commitment to HHK16's deathbed instructions to him.

    I honor and respect his commitment, as un-American as they are to me. He's a Tibetan, and I would expect nothing less from a Tibetan.

    His commitment is not to us but to the survival of Tibetan tradition. When he was sent here by HHK16 the very survival of this tradition was at risk.

    Today in India the Tibetan tradition has flourished in exile beyond any expectation commonly held thirty years ago. Furthermore, Tibetans don't need us like they did back then.

    The money is in Asia, not America. Tibetans can pull in more cash from a single dinner with benefactors in Taiwan without even teaching a single word of the dharma there.

    If you are confused, that's something for you to sort out for yourself. I'm sorry the facts confuse you. I've been part of this argument going back to the very beginning.

    I have no such confusion, nor do my fellow American Karma Kagyu that first welcomed Tibetans to this country, and dedicated their lives to the lineage, only to be betrayed by Tibetans taking care of Tibetans.


  16. Ghassan says:

    Yes, that resignation letter is quite something, isn't it?
    Bardor Rinpoche writes many beautiful poems, some located here: http://kunzang.org/btr-dohas.html

    There is an entire book published of his previous birth Barway Dorje's songs, titled "Treasury of Eloquence", published by KTD Publications.

  17. Bill Schwartz says:

    Ghassan and Jim,

    My wife took refuge with BTR last year here in Chicago at the local KTC and it was an incredible weekend. She was the only person to take refuge.

    BTR did the ceremony just for her in front of the entire assembled sangha. The dharma name given her began with Karma, as do all Karma Kagyu.

    She was given a little booklet with the Mahayana Refuge prayer, and pictures of Shakyamuni, HHK16, and HHK17, the last ever according to the center's director if the ban on BTR is lifted.

    Although a disciple of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, most of the blessing empowerments I've received have been come from HHK16 via BTR.

    Rinpoche would always make a point of reminding us that the empowerment we are receiving is from HHK16. It was like receiving a family heirloom.

    When BTR was here last year he taught the Barway Dorje terma, and shared with us an empowerment not from HHK16 and the difference was obvious.

    He manifested a side of himself he had not shared with me despite our history. It was an electrifying experience for me.

    If this is what KTD feels they need to "protect" me from, forget about it. I can tell the difference. I'm an American, a product of pluralism, not narrow minded Tibetan sectarianism.


  18. Waywuwei says:

    He was also a devoted disciple of the 16th Karmapa. Apparently he didn't find mixing lineages was a problem.

  19. Waywuwei says:

    One element that has been reverberating in the many discussions about KTD has been the notion that we should put our faith in the Karmapa and he will resolve this for us. Many attempts have been made to get communications through to him in the past with the thought that if he knew what the situation was he would resolve it. This has not happened.

    In my opinion, we should not be looking to the Karmapa for help in this but instead should be asking ourselves how we can help the Karmapa. We have this notion strongly supported by his Tibetan disciples that he is some kind of superman, able to put handprints in rocks, see the future, read minds, etc. But the fact remains that 10 years after his daring escape from the clutches of the Chinese in Tibet, he is still a virtual prisoner. It is as if he escaped the frying pan only to land in the fire. Now he is surrounded by Tibetans, Indians and Chinese with Western disciples adding another bit of chaos to the mix.

    When the Karmapa visited KTD, one thing he said really stopped me because it was straight from the heart. He said that for the first time in his life he felt freedom. The truth is incarnate lamas have a lot of stuff projected on to them by their supporters, but they are also just people who because of karma have wound up in positions that often are extremely difficult. We should have deep compassion and realize that maybe they do need our help. Now I know that recently after 10 years of dealing with the imprisonment of the Karmapa in India, many Western disciples started an internet movement to put pressure on the Indian government to allow him to travel. The Karmapa and the Tibetans were taken by surprise at this, and they pushed back at this effort, but this served an important purpose and that is to let them know that we are not just a bunch of powerless minions waiting to be saved. No matter what the Karmapa says (we can not be sure he speaks publicly his true feelings) we as a sangha have to take a more independent tack and try to push to get the situation resolved. We should not do this to be saved, we should do this to give the Karmapa the precious gift of freedom he deserves.

  20. Ronald says:

    This reply states:

    "Bardor Tulku Rinpoche seems to have come to a point in his life where he felt that his responsibilities to the teachings of his incarnation lineage called him away from his years of selfless service to His Holiness Karmapa."

    It is a lie to suggest that BTR resigned in order to devote himself more to his incarnation's lineage teachings.

    He states clearly in his resignation letter that

    "Those who've accompanied me for so long are displeased
    From the mandala of mind, the dharmadhatu wisdom,
    I pray that I may gracefully depart.

    I don't want this job: it causes me suffering.
    Others don't want me to have this job, it causes them suffering too.
    Since no one wants me to have this miserable job,
    Please lovingly permit me to resign."

    Alexa's reply also fails to address the issue of the banning of BTR from teaching at KTD and its affileates

    That BTR has a particular lineage is used as an excuse to ban him, as he has had this lineage all his life(s) and taught at KTD with out any problems for 30 years.

  21. brach says:

    "many Western disciples started an internet movement to put pressure on the Indian government to allow him to travel."

    What site was this? Was a petition started on change.org or somewhere?

  22. Ronald says:

    It is clear that Tenzin Chonyi could not remain in power without the backing of the Karmapa or if not the Karmapa himself, at least the backing of the Karmapa's administration.

    It seems that the powers that be are siding with the aristocrat and not with the working lamas.

  23. Waywuwei says:

    The powers that be ARE the Tibetan aristocrats. They have always vied for control of the Karmapas and the Dalai Lamas as well as other high lamas. It is an intrinsic part of the Tibetan political system. We think of the high lamas as being the source of power, but they are more often just pawns in the system. You should read the history of the Dalai Lamas as well as the history of the Karmapas. Most of the time the working lamas side publicly with the aristocrats because they are the source of patronage and without them the lamas would be out in the cold. This is changing somewhat as the dharma moves to the West, but the struggle of the aristocracy for control is what this is all about.

  24. Waywuwei says:

    Here's a very nice talk he gave recently to the TED conference. What comes across for me is his incredible humanness:

  25. Bill Schwartz says:


    As a Buddhist blogger I've gotten to know Ponlop Rinpoche, we exchange messages on Twitter, and the messages though private aren't very encouraging on the HHK17 front.

    To a Tibetan our behavior reminds them of what happened when the Chinese communists cadres came to their monasteries. Their first targets were the noble families that their monasteries depended upon.

    Our clamoring for Tenzin-la's resignation in public is like a nightmare to a Tibetan traditionalist. Our willingness to publicly discuss as Americans what they consider the domain of Tibetans is seen as a betrayal.

    If this was Tibet we would be in prison. If we tried such a rebellion in India we would need armed guards to protect us as HHK17 does in India.

    We celebrate plurality as Americans but Tibetans find such plurality unacceptable. BTR has to be banned, as a matter of course. He should be thankful he lives in America.

    Public discussion is what Tibetans fear most, so all we can do is keep discussing it in public until we get through to HHK17 how we feel about such narrow minded Tibetan sectarianism.

    He's been here and knows that we are different from Tibetans and have different needs as American Karma Kagyu and that we are an impatient with the Tibetan clock, which remains stuck in the 18th century.

    Personally, I'm depressed. Being told that the lineage and HHK17 were confused by our public discussion of what is happening in Woodstock made me feel sick.

    Perhaps what Khyentse Rinpoche has said about Tibetans and Americans is true. It's a horrible thought that this includes the HHK17 I saw in Seattle. I'm devasted as a Karma Kagyu.


  26. Bill Schwartz says:


    I call it a lie too, but with the appreciation that lying is considered a skillful means in Tibetan tradition. Marpa lied repeatedly to Milarepa. I learned long ago to separate the dharma that comes from the mouth of Tibetans from the Tibetan tradition they can't seem to shake no matter how long they live here, with a few notable exceptions.

    Alex has brought us nothing new here. I had a long interview with a director of a KTC who wishes to remain nameless for fear of retribution. He gave me the very same talking points that this is all about lineage. They were fed him via conference call and email before the banning occurred so every KTC would have the same story when members complained. I'm friends with my source, he knows that given my history with the lineage going back decades I wasn't going to buy the load of shit he was trying to tell me.

    I've listened to people complaining about Tenzin-la running KTD into the ground, ignoring the advise of both Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche and BTR for donkey years. If the KTD board thinks Alex has the chops to plead their case in public they are sadly mistaken. It's time to roll out Lama Kathy Wesley. She has a degree in Journalism and my better as a Tibetan Buddhist. She was chosen the one most likely to carry on Tibetan tradition in her graduating class from Karme Ling. It's time to put in the first string coach.

    Whether KTD likes it our not we are having a public discussion of KTD and there is nothing they can do to stop it as long as I have an internet connection and the strength to fight the banning of BTR. It's the banning which is at issue. It's un-American. It's unacceptable. 80% of KTC members have taken refuge with BTR and I know of none who have taken refuge with him that will turn their back on him so that Tenzin-la remains as president for life of KTD and there is nothing they can tell us that will convince us otherwise.

    We're Americans, not Tibetans. This offensive sectarianism will not be tolerated. Years ago it was suggested that Tenzin-la quietly retire but that was unacceptable to Tibetans for it undermined the precedent of a nobleman as president for life of KTD and never happened. Now the poor guy has to go through this embarrassment which makes me sad. It makes me sad for how hard this has been on my guru, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, whom although we disagree over KTD, always have and always will, remains my guru. It didn't have to be this way. I'm loaded for bear, bring it on KTD. I have a ton of ammo, do so at peril.


  27. sanghamember says:

    Some of the parties involved are related to Ponlop Rinpoche.

    His mother, Lekshe, is married to KTD President Tenzin Chonyi. Her brother, Phuntsok, served as the Karmapa's general secretary at one point. I believe the current general secretary is Ponlop Rinpoche's half-brother.

  28. Ronald says:

    Bill, you can't classify any ole lie as skillful means even if you are Tibetan.

    Perhaps the party of the aristocrats would like to think this lie is a positive help, but it is so transparently untrue that it would be difficult even for them to pass this off as skillful means.

    As to airing out controversies in public, the Tibetans are no strangers to it.

    There apparently was great brouhaha over the 15th Karmapa taking (not so) secret wives, for instance.

    I think the only way to stop this particular brouhaha, would be to get a definitive statement on this issue from the Karmapa.

  29. Don says:

    Could be worse. Karmapa could still be a prisoner of the Chinese like the new Trungpa, who should have followed his original idea of reincarnating as a Japanese businessman.

  30. Rita Ashworth says:

    there are several issues with the KTD crisis -the Tibetan running KTD Tenzin-la, terma, which some people say the crisis is not about, the development of an American Kagyu tradition, benefactors and their influence, the clash of cultures. I was thinking journalistically that is all well discussing opinions on this thread but you will only get the story by intervewing BTR and perhaps a KTD representative. ____So heres an idea for Waylon if Waylon has not got the time to go to KTD he should send someone on his behalf by issuing a press-card. Heres another suggestion -of course Waylon knows that a newspaper has story meetings to suggest news topics, we could suggest topics over the net to be put to KTD ____-there are several contributors on this thread I think we could come up with a list of questions-in fact we could print them on elephant for discussion.____Also I would like to post BTRs resignation letter as it does not seem to be on this site_ _http://www.kagyu.org/kagyulineage/teachers/tea-imgs/LetterToGS_Eng.pdf. ____ Lastly I think when Waylon supplicates for the interviews maybe we should do tonglen so the interviews go well.Yes the situation is so replete with questions about how we should further the dharma here.________

  31. Lilith says:

    I appreciate that people feel the KTD is not being given a voice in this matter but the fact is that there is too much too lose and they will have to maintain a straight face. They've prepared their statements and I doubt we'll hear anything other than that.

    Do you really think they will own up and say that some people were purposely making things difficult for Bardor and that they allowed this to continue to a breaking point? Bardor did not just wake up one day after putting blood, sweat and tears into the Karma Kagyu for decades and say, "Well, today's the day I'm going to abandon all of that and work on my own lineage." It doesn't take much compassion to realize that something was terribly wrong for him to do that and that the ill-will is still present.

    We owe it to each other to demand that everyone is given the respect they deserve. I don't think I'm the only one that wants Bardor's reputation reinstated. We want him welcome and teaching, if he so chooses.

  32. Bill Schwartz says:


    The first thing we did was request an interview with both a representative of the KTD board and of BTR to which KTD did not respond and BTR did. That was our first step.

    To make sure that I had the KTD perspective I interviewed a director of a KTC whom insisted for fear of retribution that his name not be used.

    Alex pretty much repeated with conviction the exact same KTD talking points he shared with me but without such naivety given he knew that I already knew what was going down behind the scenes.

    There is nothing I would like more than to have a debate sponsored by Elephant Journal with Lama Kathy Wesley, a member of the KTD board where we could hash this issue out in public.

    I would also like to see Tricycle Magazine step up and use their resources to thoroughly investigate the banning of Bardor Tulku Rinpoche and what it means for us.

    I have been told this is the last thing KTD, Tibetans, and HHK17 wants to see discussed in public, which only makes doing so imperative to me.

    I've been asked to fall on my sword for "confusing" Tibetans and HHK17 in particular for going public as I have. It isn't going to happen though.

    It pains me that my guru Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche thinks we are behaving like the Chinese communist cadres in demanding the resignation of Tenzin Chonyi, KTD's noble president for life.

    My late father-in-law was abducted as a 16 year old in Poland and shipped off to Germany as a slave laborer which was a memory that haunted him to his death.

    It breaks my heart that Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche has to suffer re-living what he did when the Chinese Communist cadres showed up in Thrangu monastery.

    The first thing they did was single out the nobles with promises that they would otherwise be left alone to practice as long as they didn't resist the occupation.

    We all know how that turned out, of course. As KKR readily admits he doesn't get American culture, what is important to us, which has never before been an issue.

    Prior to BTR's resignation he always referred to BTR any questions pertaining to how we should organize ourselves as Karma Kagyu to him.

    Now he has been thrust into the center of the storm and has been forced to deal with what he has avoided his entire life here dealing with with only his life experience as an octogenarian Tibetan in a foreign land.

    It is shameful that he has been forced into such a position when there are no shortage of Tibetans both here and in India HHK17 could dispatch here to do what has fallen to him to do.

    I agree Rita, lets get all of this out in the open and discuss it. Unfortunately, as Alex has demonstrated, KTD doesn't want any such discussion to take place.

    As my KTC director source told me, "this isn't a democracy," and the matter isn't subject to discussion. It may be un-American but so is Tibetan Buddhism apparently.


  33. Ronald says:


    I think it is not necessary to cast the issues involved in this case as a clash between autocratic Tibetan system vs American democracy.

    That is what is probably confusing Tibetans.

    The issues as I understand them are much simpler than that.

    First issue is the banning of a popular teacher for no good reason.

    Second issue is a beloved institution is being run by an incompetent autocrate.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that this is what the beef is about.

    Even in democracies some institutions are run by incompetent autocrats.

    I think if you simplified your grievances the Tibetans will be able to understand them.

    I don't think anyone (including Tibetans) likes living under incompetent autocrats.

  34. Ghassan says:

    CORRECTION: I mis-stated by saying that General Secretary Drupon Rinpoche is a son to Lekshe. Technically, he's a son to Lekshe's first husband, hence he and Ponlop Rinpcohe being half-brothers.

  35. Rita Ashworth says:

    Dear Bill

    Trouble posting -main point below

    So yes if KTD is stonewalling you-you look for other sources -that some how does have the effect ‘magically’ that the ‘authorities’ have to say something!

    I would go for Lama Wesley -re her street cred maybe

    Try to get the discussion going re governance does have import for all people practicing in west re in SI or elsewhere.

    As you have mentioned the figure of Lama Kath Wesley you could interview her as she does have street cred.

  36. Rita Ashworth says:

    Dear Bill

    Sorry about replication of sentence in my reply -trying over an hour to edit my response and its not working.

    even worse than rfs!

    Yes journalistic rule I think generally to go for more sources -is there any one else you could interview

    Think CTR would agree you have to have open debate about politics both Tibetan and western in relation to dharma.

    Even with Merwin he did not hassle people investigating that.

    Keep asking questions

    My parents both dead, but I have a stock of war stories in my brain too even tho born in 50s,

    So yes re WW2 and my own experiences in NS and in the UK we have to maintain an open society in the west

  37. Chris says:

    I posted this on the other thread re: Bardo Tulku:

    Could the officlals of KTD explain their machivellian politics which has Akong Rinpoche, high lama of KTD, meeting with high Chinese Officials for the last five years or more, making deals, with the prerequisite of accepting Tibet as part of China, or "the motherland", while bilking Westerners out of billons for a "Free Tibet", alienating China and letting ordinary Tibetans and monks and nuns get their heads bashed in?

    The Machiavellian politics of these lamas is beyond our imagination.

    In other words, Bardor Tulku is banned for siding with the Westerners, but Akong Rinpoche's machinations with the Chinese is fine?

    Looks like China and environs is going to be much better "pickins" for them, when the America and the West, finally wake up.

  38. Waywuwei says:


    This whole thing is not a case of good guys and bad guys. It is in every Tibetan's interest to try to cultivate relations with Chinese in power with the hopes of swaying policy in their direction. Many Tibetan rinpoches have been supporting and cultivating monasteries in Tibet with the permission of the Chinese government. The Tibetans have been playing these games with the Chinese for centuries and it is very unrealistic to think that they are going to stop doing this when through this means is the only way they can have at least some access to their homeland. There is nothing sinister in this although it is oriental politics at its finest.

  39. Chris says:

    I agree, practical politics, What is not kosher, is that they are not transparent about these oriental politics . I do not think most Westerners understand exactly how practical Tibetans are.,and I do not think they would be sympathetic to this realpolitik of lamas, as they have made lamas "holy men."
    . Its not about good guys and bad guys, as you say, but that is exactly the myth lamas subtly and not so subtly perpetuate about themselves and the Chinese – i.e. we are the "good guys" and over here are the "bad guys." this keeps the sympathies of Westerners and their donations flowing . So it is the disingenuiness of it all. The Machiavellian survival politics going on in the backstage, and the continued pretense that they are not doing this, that they are holy men.. And the root problem is: this has nothing to do with the Dharma. We just have to start separating the wheat from the chaff, i.e. the Tibetan cultural overlay from the Dharma and it will be a great teaching, maybe not the "teaching" they had in mind for us, but a great teaching nevertheless.

  40. 5th September, 2010

    Dear Dharma Friends,

    Instead of flagellating our collective “Western” selves, or non-selves about the variety of situations in Tibetan Buddhism, which conflate the religious and the political powers, we should take an even Bigger Picture View, and look at the History of All Religions, in general. It is of the nature of all transmissions systems, of whatever religion or spirituality, to manifest what I call ‘The Branching Archetype.” And why not? Writing here from Johannesburg, in the Province of Gauteng, which has as its Motto: “UNITY IN DIVERSITY.” Usually, when these transmission splits take place, as in all processes of grafting & pruning, there is a bit of pain & suffering. As one of the first people [the first in the Southern Hemisphere, I think] to be ordained as a Full Gelong by H.H. 16th Gyalwa Karmapa – in Copenehagen, Denmark, in 1975 – I have observed the effervescent of these nodal growths, from the margins. The Teachings continue regardless. The seeming chasm between Oriental and Occidental modes of operation, only exists when we overlook our common humanity. Tibetans are not perfect merely because they are Tibetan. There should be a dual flow of compassion and understanding – as in all accelerating confrontations between diverse cultures in this multi-polar world. As Western Buddhists perhaps we too need to descend from our Ivory Towers of spirituality and contribute to the discourse of creating an enlightened society and not merely a smoothly running Buddhist Centre.

    Yours in The Dharma,

    Samten de Wet

  41. Anonymously says:


    First of all, Akong Rinpoche is NOT "high lama of KTD", he used to be abbot of Samye Ling center in the Borders of Scotland, near Eskdalemuir and Langholm, not anywhere near Woodstock NY I'm afraid. Khempo Karthar Rinpoche is abbot of KTD in Woodstock NY. Lama Yeshe is leading Samye Ling (where Chogyam Trungpa founded it together with Akong Rinpoche), where it continues as a vibrant community I might add, with gorgeous Tibetan sculptures and classes of all kinds. http://www.samyeling.org/

    Akong Rinpoche has met with the Chinese for the purpose of working with them to better the conditions of the Tibetan people, which the Chinese refuse to do with the Dalai Lama. Without Akong R. keeping connections there would not be such a bridge to benefit Tibetans in Tibet, they would be completely at the mercy of the Chinese overlords, and they are much worse than any so-called Tibetan "overlords" we might have at KTD. So let's not jump on the bandwagon with the "Machiavellian survival politics" ho-hum. Your loud assumptions belie your actual knowledge and point to the fact that you are really not interested in the truth, but only in stirring up the "pot" of anti-Lama sentiment for your own purposes. Try to get a bit of understanding and then constructively point out the problems rather than ranting.

  42. Chris says:

    The problem:

    Orientalism on the part of Westerners, that has allowed them to be "Enthralled" instead of waking up.

    Narrowminded racism on the part of most Tibetan Lamas, that cannot think beyond preserving "this thing of theirs."

  43. Bill Schwartz says:


    From the very beginning of my life as a Buddhist over thirty years ago it has been about being an American before I even heard of Tibet. My interest in Buddhism began with reading Shunryu Suzuki's "Zen Mind, Beginner's mind" as a teenager in college at the same time that I was introduced to the poetry of Gary Snyder in a general studies English class I took as a sophomore at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1977. It was an auspicious coincidence.

    As someone who began his introduction to Buddhism as a DIY Buddhist modeled after Gary Snyder who earned his chops in Japan studying with a traditional master and then returning home to his roots as an American I can't see my years of struggle as a Karma Kagyu against Tibetan tradition as anything other than Tibetans forcing their culture upon us.

    If I had been as devoted to Tibetan tradition as I am to the Karma Kagyu lineage in America the banning of Bardor Tulku Rinpoche wouldn't be an issue to me. My guru is Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche. I would be obligated as his disciple to support KTD's position and BTR would be dead to me, regardless. I have fellow disciples who believe the banning of BTR to be wrong and the excuse for his banning a lie who refuse to speak out about it as Tibetan Buddhists.

    For a Tibetan monastic such as my octogenarian guru it is all about KTD being true to Tibetan tradition which means the monastery itself, as in Tibet, being the property of a noble family as its protector and benefactor. I've been told this is why despite both BTR and KTR were against the firing of the staff member which started this mess they had no say in the matter. It was Tenzin Chonyi's decision alone, as is his birthright as a Tibetan.

    My guru is in total support of this Tibetan tradition. BTR resigned in protest, thus breaking with Tibetan tradition, which is why he has been banned. It has nothing to do with the dharma, despite the KTD board's feeble attempt to make this about the lineage. It is simply coincidental that BTR holds the Barway Dorje terma. He would have been banned regardless for resigning in protest as he did. It goes against Tibetan tradition.

    Despite my guru and all my teachers being Tibetan I have always maintained a line which shall not be crossed between myself and Tibetan tradition. I am an American, born in Paterson, NJ, and I never gave a shit how Tibetans practiced the dharma in Tibet when it came to my own practice. I never saw them as being anything to write home about. All you had to do was look at what Tibet was like before 1959 to see what kind of people they were. The place was a corrupt theocracy stuck in the 18th century controlled by nobles in the name of the Dalai Lama.

    KTD is un-American as far as I'm concerned. I felt this way before they even poured the foundation for the monastery. It was their intent to force this Tibetan institution down our throats whether we wanted it or not. Nobody I knew wanted a monastery. We wanted the lineage, the dharma, but most of us went along with it, for the 16th Karmapa. It was what he wanted.

    But HHK16 died, and during the interregnum KTD became what it has become. And HHK17 much to my surprise is not on the American side of this rebellion. I believed HHK17 in 2008 when he told us the time had come to leave behind the traditions of the past and move forward as Karma Kagyu. Many in the audience gasped, but I applauded him for saying what needed to be said in my opinion. Obviously, he didn't mean the operations of his seat in North America.

    If this was a matter of the competence of Tenzin-la or the popularity of BTR we wouldn't be having this discussion. Tenzin-la would be enjoying his retirement and another noble would be in his place. BTR founded KPL in 2003 at the request of HHK17 and Situ Rinpoche to teach his terma as he has been doing long before he resigned in protest of Tenzin-la firing of a staff member for not mowing his lawn which is why he has been from KTD. I saw BTR here in Chicago in 2009 after his resignation and he was visibly delighted to not have to apology for what KTD had become during the interregnum. This is about Tibetan tradition being at odds with fairness, not something we always practice but something we care about deeply as Americans all the same.


  44. Bill Schwartz says:


    We aren't flagellating ourselves here in America over Tibetan Buddhism. We revolted against the British and fought a bloody Civil War to preserve our union forged in rebellion. Last night I pointed out to my grandson the place on Michigan avenue here in Chicago where the 1968 riot at the Democratic National Convention began. We don't do self-flagellation. Our equality is not just talk but our birthright as Americans. It's part of our constitution Thus our rebellion over the banning of BTR from KTD. It's un-American.

    Unless you are a Native American, every religion here has had to go through something akin to what has become our defining moment as American Karma Kagyu. President Kennedy, as a Roman Catholic, to be elected had to declare himself a loyal American first and a Roman Catholic second. I was raised Roman Catholic and remember adults discussing this very issue as a child regarding what it meant to be an American and a Roman Catholic in the early 1960's when it wasn't entirely clear where a good Catholic's loyalty where. So in a sense this clash of Tibetan tradition and being an American was simply a matter of time in coming.


  45. Anonymously says:

    I do see a problem with some Americans, and some Tibetans, who have done advanced Vajrayana Buddhist practices, and tend to lack common courtesy, instead can be rude and uncaring and seem to have forgotten that compassion and loving-kindness are equal parts of the path along with knowledge of "emptiness". They appear to use the practices to bolster their inflated sense of self rather than using them to look at their minds and actions directly. It is this attitude of certain Lamas and advanced students that I would have to say scares me into believing that the Buddha was right in predicting that one of the downfalls of Buddhism would be the pride of the ordained. Doing Vajrayana practices without a real sense of compassion, humility, and desire to see through the veil of ego is just dangerous. The real Lamas have all warned about this, but I think there should be much more emphasis on doing compassion practice before, during, and after the practices that they all think of primary importance, and not simply repeating that one is doing them "for the sake of all sentient beings" in a rote manner.

  46. Bill Schwartz says:


    Fortunately in my thirty years as a Karma Kagyu I have never experienced such a phenomenon and I personally know a number of graduates of Karme Ling, Delhi, New York, where we transmit our Vajrayana practices in the three year retreat there. The people I know came out the people they were when they went in.

    I remember when the first of them, the first of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche's disciples to complete the three year retreat returned to Chicago, there was this expectation that they would somehow be different people. It came as a shock to some here. They were disappointed.

    Living in a box for three years performing esoteric practices under the supervision of a retreat master serves the purposes of preserving Tibetan tradition but nothing for the retreatants themselves as people. It's a huge sacrifice to make for a set of robes and a clergy card. I have nothing but respect for their accomplishment.

    I would never question the state of their ego. The fact that they came out as they went in instead indicates that they did genuinely experience the true nature of their minds. If they had not they surely would have come out of retreat raving lunatics like Glenn Beck after going through what they did.

    Regarding those that consider themselves Vajrayana without having completed three years in retreat under the supervision of an accomplished master your observation may apply but I wouldn't know. I don't go around judging the spiritual accomplishments or lack of accomplishment of my fellow sangha members. They are my brothers and sisters and would violate my samaya with our guru.



  47. Anonymously says:


    Just because the three-year retreatants come out appearing to be the same as when they went in does not necessarily mean that they are not changed. But lasting change does take time; and retreat is but a large stepping stone, not an end in itself.

    I am disappointed in the reactions of some from time to time, I will have to admit. We have been told by our Gurus that the Vajrayana is a dangerous path just because of the pride it can engender. We have also been told by them that we can only judge the results of our own practices by the qualities they bring out, specifically those of increased loving-kindness and compassion; and if those have not increased after a time, then we're not doing something right.

    You state that three-year retreat only "serves the purposes of preserving Tibetan tradition…", a "huge sacrifice to make for a set of robes and a clergy card". These are serious statements to make. You have not done three-year retreat so you don't know what positive effects it could have had on you if you had done it. The retreatants learn The Six Yogas of Naropa, among much else, which were the vehicles of enlightenment for the Gurus of the Karma Kagyu lineage. I doubt that they would pass them on if they were not convinced of their worth.

    Therefore it is important to keep these practices alive with the warmth of love and compassion, head and heart together. So I would not say they are only practiced to "preserve Tibetan tradition but nothing for the retreatants themselves as people". They are the Vajrayana, and the Gurus have luckily appeared to teach them to us.

  48. Bill Schwartz says:


    I personally know two of the first class of retreatants. They are as close to me as my own brother and sister. I lived with a third friend before he went in turn into retreat. A fourth friend recently graduated from Karme Ling, whom I didn't know well before his going into retreat, has since become a very close friend of mine.

    Since I was around when the idea of three year retreat was first floated by Tibetans and know how my friends reacted to the challenge I can say that it was about proving that it was all about Tibetan tradition. Some may claim otherwise but I was there and can attest to this.

    I don't have to do this anonymously for I have no fear of being contradicted on the subject. I too struggled with the desire to prove that I could do anything a Tibetan could as a dharma practitioner. As a young man in my twenties, if I hadn't already started a family, I may well have ended up with my two friends in the first class of retreatants at Karme Ling. It would have been the biggest mistake of my life.

    When an American graduate of Karme Ling is permitted to transmit the vajrayana practices you describe, which is not the case at present, I will agree with you that the retreat serves the purpose of preserving Tibetan tradition. Otherwise, I stand by my statement and challenge anyone to argue otherwise. All that they have been permitted to share with us after retreat are their mastery of Tibetan arts and crafts.

    Given that here we are in 2010 and so many graduating classes from Karme Ling later and none have distinguished themselves as having anything to contribute to the American Karma Kagyu experience I challenge you to argue others, not anonymously, but with first and last name in public, and citing examples. Until proven otherwise, I stand by my argument despite the value Tibetan Karma Kagyu place upon the three year retreat.

    As Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche states, the purpose of the retreat is for the preservation of an at-the-top transmission of our tradition, which he likens to backing up your computer. That was why he went into retreat, so that he could receive the lineage and in turn transmit it back to another generation. As a tulku, he was born to this obligation. He didn't do it to prove that he was up to the challenge.

    According to my young friend who recently emerged from retreat his biggest complaint is that retreat left him utterly unprepared for the responsibility of his life in robes with a clergy card in his wallet. He learned a lot before going into retreat studying in India, and being a retreatant was an incredible experience, but otherwise it was so boring that the highlights of his time in retreat was when he was let out of his box to make tormas and play with the musical instruments.

    His fondest memories were of horsing around during ceremonies with his fellow retreatants. At a recent empowerment the bumpa was clogged with safron and Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche ended up spilling its contents on a lama's head and I thought he was going to wet his robes. Rinpoche, snapped "fix it" and he knocked over a vase full of flowers spilling water across the shrine room floor.

    When I asked him about how he responded, with laughter instead of embarrassment, he told me such mishaps were common while he was in retreat. I was able to confirm this with a classmate of his whom I shared this story with online. There really isn't much that they can share from retreat. It really isn't for us but for preserving Tibetan tradition I'm afraid. If it was otherwise, by now we would be up to our asses with American Karma Kagyu Lamas.

    But instead we have Americans trained to be Tibetan Karma Kagyu lamas without either the necessary permission nor the confidence to function other than caretaker lamas. I challenge you to argue otherwise. You can't of course. It's secret, and even if a retreatant emerges from retreat with more than robes and a clergy card they aren't permitted to share it. They are but as Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche put it, additional memory for preserving Tibetan tradition.


  49. […] note — The article below was originally drafted as a comment to Alex Garden's recent "Karma Triyana Dharmachakra {KTD} in Transition: A Closer Look". However, our comment application cannot accept comments after a certain length and the author was […]