Article #4: “His Master’s Voice”
Response to Mick Brown’s Story About Shamar Rinpoche by Dawa Tsering ( IKKBO )
|Below is a response to a story in Mick Brown’s The Dance of 17 Livesconcerning Shamar Rinpoche.
One Western devotee recalls being with him in New York, in an apartment on 5 th Avenue, with a wealthy sponsor, “and he extracted this $25,000 donation, just like that. He had enormous charm and personality. It was just his way.” (p. 103)
The book by Mick Brown
|According to Shamar Rimpoche’s [SR] letter to Mick Brown [MB] and from other sources, it is obvious that MB’s story about the $25,000 donation at 5 th Avenue, NYC is a counter-ploy conceived to cast aspersion on SR, and undercut his authority. SR has uttered unambiguous criticisms of Kagyupa lamas who raised funds by fantastical but dubious means in Taiwan [TW] and Singapore [SGP]. He called them ‘Buddhist charlatans’. Understandably, they got angry at him.
It all began in 1985 at the Karma Kagyu [KK] Centre in SGP when SR warned a young monk called Tenpei Gyaltsen in front of several members of the Centre about making claims of spiritual power for the purpose of ‘fund raising’. This particular Tibetan monk – claiming authority from SR in recognition of his ‘enlightened’ realizations – would ware a flamboyant Tibetan style jacket of red silk of his own invention and design when performing his prediction rites, which consists of eccentric body movements that were special mudras that could ‘hook sky Garudas’ to make the predictions.
SR explained in front of the gathering, “If you don’t stop this kind of cheating, then it will be contagious one day, and you will be the cause of the Dharma’s ruin.” Heedless, this young monk went ahead any way after SR had left SGP and – with open advertisement – managed to make a lot of money in just one night at a hotel. Later this monk used the money to build a palatial home for himself at Bodhanath, Kathmandu. Owing to this, the following year in SGP again SR gave the same warning at a public lecture about Dharma charlatans but at much greater length. He warned the public lest they too became unwitting accomplices in bringing disrepute to the Sangha.
SR has always said that the Taiwanese, Singaporean and Malaysian followers are particularly gullible to Buddhist charlatans, consequently they are prone to giving away donations in direct proportion to the latter’s claims, whilst Hong Kong [HK] followers of Tibetan Buddhism are generally cautious and skeptical of large donations.
The cautious character of the HK followers notwithstanding, SR was the first Tibetan master ever to have taught a Sutra (Alankara Sutra) at the University of HK. Prior to that, he had also taught the ‘Moon Beam’ commentaries on samadhi meditation to his HK disciples. The two series of teachings spanned over a period of five years in all. These teachings are sobriety itself, if nothing else, in stark contrast to the lucrative instincts of the Buddhist charlatans who practiced their craft in TW and SGP.
We had the opportunity to interview Lama Tashi Wozer, a Taiwanese monk who had often translated for SR. He told us that the only project outside of TW that SR had raised funds for was the late 16 th Karmapa’s project in Delhi , namely the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute; and though SR had met many wealthy patrons he never approached them individually on matters of providing funds. SR was also well acquainted with a number of wealthy HK families (of the Sun Hung Kai and the New World properties companies and the Fok family) for nearly twenty years, but never had money been involved at anytime in their relationships.
It is with deep regret that we have to bring ourselves to recounting these unsavory and depressing stories about Buddhist charlatans that have become prevalent since the parinirvana of the late 16 th Karmapa. We wish that they had never happened. Yet, we would be cowards and silent accomplices if we did nothing while the Dharma is being corrupted right under our nose. We have no choice but continue to inform the public of the facts in all their ugliness.
Last year Situ Rinpoche celebrated his 50 th birthday by throwing a big party at Sherab Ling Mona stery. Gyaltsab Rinpoche [GR], who was born in the same year, followed Situ’s footstep and celebrated his own 50 th birthday with another big party this year. Big parties are nothing out of the ordinary, but the fact is that in the whole of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition since Songtseng Gampo’s time – more than a thousand years – there has not been a single precedent for this kind of extravaganza. (It makes one think whether the concept of ‘mid-life crisis’ had not already taken hold of us Tibetans!) Yet, it had never happened with the 16 th Gyalwa Karmapa nor with the present Shamar Rimpoche, who is at any rate over this fiftieth year. But it has happened with these two Kagyupa Lamas, who happen to be the principals behind the violent takeover of Rumtek Mona stery eleven years ago – could these be a mere coincidence? At any event, they received thousands of dollars from their well-wishers during these celebrations.
But to return to Lamas’ fund raising: Generally speaking, it has been fairly common knowledge amongst Singaporean and Taiwanese KK followers that, if at all possible, SR would avoid visiting Taiwan in order to distance himself from the odor of corruption. His reluctance is in stark contrast to Thrangu, Situ and Gyltsab Rinpoches’ love of TW. These Rinpoches had many novel ways of attracting donors. The following story was recounted to us by Hannah Nydahl of Denmark, a regular translator for GR and Tenga and Jamgon Rinpoches from 1982 to 1992 in both Europe and Asia :
In the mid-80’s GR had brought thousands of miniaturephurbas (ritual triangular daggers) to TW. What was so ‘special’ about these little daggers was GR’s claim that he saw them ‘dancing’ while he was consecrating them. No wonder, these phurbas were slapped up in no time. The novelty did not stop here: Equally extraordinary was the sort of prices that were being fetched up by Situ Rinpoche’s one-stroke sacred syllable calligraphic paintings, sold for upwards of US$5,000 a piece. Their value of course is not judged by the quality of the ink or the time expended on these master pieces, but rather on their ‘special’ efficaciousness or potency. If this sort of thing is acceptable or even popular by Taiwanese standards, it would be significant to note here that SR had never even tried anything remotely similar.
Anything that extraordinary in fund-raising terms would definitely not pass unnoticed for long. Consequently, due to the ‘news’ value of these charlatans, words soon began to circulate in the Himalayan Buddhist circles or among genuine teachers of Tibetan Buddhism – whether within KK or among the other schools – and praises could be heard on SR’s simplicity of character and his strong opposition to the corrupt practice of selling the Dharma for profits.
It is therefore not surprising in these circumstances that Situ Rinpoche’s party would react with jealousy and wrath.
For, when all the facts are located in their proper contexts, it becomes clear that MB’s various claims are nothing but a desperate attempt to sweeten the deceits of Situ and party, to drag SR to their level and neutralize his good standing amongst the self-respecting Tibetan and Bhutanese circles.
From all the above facts, it is plain that SR is a far cry from all those unscrupulous lamas who had shipped home their ill-gotten millions in order to inflate their power and glory. In sharp contrast to these inequities, SR had voluntarily channeled most of his offerings in his few TW visits to the building of a monastery at Fwa-lien, as he said, “for the benefit and Dharma study of the Taiwanese people.” Only SR has done anything like that to-date. The monastery at Fwa-lien was started in 1997 and completed in 2003.
We have a copy of SR’s letter to MB, which we reproduce here. From it we know that SR had asked MB to disclose the name of the ‘western devotee’, the alledged witness, or the name of the innocent ‘wealthy sponsor’ whom “ ‘he [ SR ] extracted this $25,000 donation, just like that.’ ”
If MB’s honor is at stake as a result of SR’s demand-to-know, he would surely lose no time to supply the name(s) concerned. So far MB has not responded. But, if the alleged donation was part of a well concerted smear campaign directed against SR, (no doubt under direction of SR’s more important enemies) then MB would have no trouble in the circumstances but remain silent whilst pretending that he could and should ignore SR, whose reputation he had thrown into jeopardy, “just like that.” We call on MB to provide those names.